Don't let Scorpius go flying today.
He will die.
Don't let him go flying.
The short note, red ink on age-cracked parchment, had the look of child's scrawl; it began with a large indent on the left, only to degrade into a jumble of cramped words at the right margin. The words 'He will die' were spaced out across the entire page. The last two letters of 'flying' were smeared and splotchy, like a blood stain.
Draco lifted the letter to his nose. It smelled of Old Ogden's.
Scorpius cleared his throat. "We won't be taking this seriously, I do hope." He crossed one leg, already clad in leathers, over the other. "It's a prank."
"Is it?" Draco sniffed the letter once more. "Maybe." He tossed it to his desk. It landed among a sea of official looking documents, most bearing the seal of the Ministry. All written in black ink.
Scorpius' fingers tap-danced over his leg. "So that's it then. I'm off. The others will be waiting." He rose, a bit too hastily, Draco thought.
"Father, this is ridiculous." Draco's fingernails dug into his palms. His son (his son) glared at him, too old to spank for his cheek, blasted luck. Intimidation would have to suffice. "Perhaps it is a prank." Draco steepled his fingers under his chin. "Perhaps it's a threat."
Scorpius' fist slammed down on the desk.
Draco sighed. "You're being childish."
"You're being childish." Blond hair fell across Scorpius' cheek as he loomed. "I will not be held hostage by threats."
"Nor I by your disregard." Draco stood, evening the playing field, but wondered if he had the energy to see the battle through. Scorpius crackled with righteous indignation and had the belief of his own immortality on his side. Draco had only fear. Not a very finely balanced scale. The will to fight drained out of him. "Fine. Go."
The scrape of Scorpius' boots drowned out his words. Draco stared at the cluttered desk – at the red death note swimming in the sea of black bureaucracy – and tried not to think of losing one more person he loved.
He went, of course. A father shouldn't outlive his son, and Draco didn't intend to give people the chance to exercise the platitude. He concealed himself in a copse some distance from the oak that marked the end of the pitch and scanned for threats – magical or otherwise. There were none. Conditions were perfect.
So when Scorpius began a headlong chase for the Snitch some thirty minutes later, Draco's apathy nearly cost the boy his life. Scorpius sped towards the oak after his prize, then followed at the last moment when the Snitch zoomed left. It wasn't as though the manoeuvre were especially challenging, the Snitch too fast, or Scorpius careless. It was simply an accident. His hand slipped from the handle at the last second, he lost control, and the broom failed to turn.
Draco's wand had been in his hand the entire time, but he nearly dropped it at the critical moment. His panicked Shielding Charm saved Scorpius from the oak, but knocked him square off his broom. To Draco's eyes, the ten foot fall to the grass took forever, but finally Scorpius landed with a grunt and a curse.
Draco was promptly sick over the nearest bush.
Later, after Apparating a bruised and quiet Scorpius to his rooms, he retired to his own with a snifter and bottle of brandy. He drank until he was numb and only half-conscious, but his hands never stopped shaking.
It would have been a messy and inevitable death. Had it not been for the letter.
The glass-paned door rattled under Draco's knuckles. It'd been six months since he'd last come to Knockturn. The Alley's reputation was still foul – the one constant in its equation of usefulness – and Draco hoped, as he always did when he visited, that he emerged with his respectability intact.
"The shop is closed," said the miniature stone gargoyle on the doorstep.
"Not for me," Draco replied. He knocked again.
Greg opened it some minutes later. His stench greeted Draco before he did, a cocktail of stale sweat, booze, and gingerroot. The alcohol he used to blunt the memories. The ginger curbed the nausea. Draco hadn't the faintest idea what smelling like a pig accomplished.
"Greg," he said fondly.
Greg squinted at him. "Is it my birthday already?"
Draco tried to breathe through his mouth and smile at the same time. As a friend, he could manage that at least. "Not yet. You've a few weeks to go. But I have a favour to ask, if you don't mind."
It was said even the most unattractive of faces was beautiful when smiling. Greg's rotted-tooth grin, set low in his doughy face, may have been the exception. He stumbled over the threshold and clapped Draco on the shoulder. "I'm happy to see you, Draco. I'm happy you've come. I'm happy…."
"I'm happy to see you too."
Five minutes was all Draco needed to explain. He produced the letter, then sat on the chair Greg offered him, ignoring how the upholstery stuck to his cloak. "I must know who sent it."
Greg scratched his sagging stomach. "The boy's okay?"
"I think you should've called the Aurors."
"This wasn't a murder attempt. This was—" Draco closed his eyes. "—something else all together."
"It's hardly better than chicken scratch. Looks like I wrote it," Greg mumbled, prompting Draco's first genuine laughter in days. Greg's answering snort divulged more than his limited vocabulary ever could. "I know just who to give it to," he said. "Shall I tell you his name, or…."
"I'd prefer if you handle it. I—" Draco could've used his own dose of ginger at that point. His distaste for the situation was obvious, but Greg didn't seem bothered.
"I understand." Greg reached for the note with a trembling hand. "I'm happy to do it, Draco. Happy."
"Very well," Draco whispered. "Thank you." He passed Greg a bag jingling with Galleons before he left, demanding he accept it, but insisting on little else. "Perhaps a bath," he did murmur as they shook hands.
"Perhaps," Greg agreed. He touched two fingers to his forehead. "I'll be in touch."
And surprisingly, he was. Just two days later.
"It was Potter," Greg said. The antique Chippendale creaked under his bulk when he leaned forward to set the letter on Draco's desk.
"Albus?" was Draco's first thought. Scorpius' friend had a penchant for mischief, but of the harmless variety. Mostly.
"No. Not the kid. Potter. The bloke I took it to said there's no doubt. His magic's all over it."
Draco couldn't be sure if it was the name or the implication that rendered him speechless. "I see," he finally managed.
Greg shrugged. The chair groaned. "I don't," he admitted. "But there you have it. Harry Potter sent you the note about Scorpius dying."
He hadn't a soul to consult. Not his parents, gone some five years now, or his wife, lost for nearly as long. His son hadn't the maturity to grasp the layers of history that might come into play, and his only friend – while currently in attendance – wanted merely to get back to his hovel for an early liquid lunch.
He gathered up the red-lettered note and traced the words 'He will die' with his little finger. "Thank you, Greg."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm not certain yet. I suppose I'll have to go and see him." With effort, he lifted his finger from the parchment. "Would you like to come?"
Greg's eyes grew round enough to etch new wrinkles across his brow. "I'd rather die."
"Hello, Weasley." Draco bowed deep enough to see the frayed edges of the straw mat guarding the front door.
"Draco Malfoy." Ginny finished drying her hands, but didn't offer one in greeting. "I believe 'I'll be back when Kneazles fly' were your parting words last time you stood on my doorstep." She edged forward and glanced up. "How do the little buggers look with wings?"
"Ah, that sparkling wit. How did I manage all these years without an infusion?"
"I suspect all that blood money helped," Ginny said, tugging her blouse over ample hips.
Draco crooked a finger at her. Her eyes narrowed, but she leaned forward. "That apron pinches you in all the wrong places, dear," he said in a stage-whisper.
"Was there something you wanted before I slam this door in your face, Malfoy?"
"Sorry," he said, straightening. "Got carried away by old times." He waited while she smoothed back her sloppy, upswept hair, then dropped the flying Kneazle, so to speak. "I'm here to see Potter."
Ginny blinked. "Albus or James?"
Shocked silence followed. "Harry?" she clarified unnecessarily, voice hollow.
It was the fear in her tone that put him on guard. "It's a personal matter."
She wrung her hands in her apron like a little girl. In fact, she looked every bit the child he remembered – both confused and indignant. The Weasley genetics hard at work. "I'm not sure this is a good time," she said.
"I wouldn't ask if it weren't important. You know that."
"Yes. I suppose I do." She bit her lip.
Draco frowned, aware he'd somehow tipped his hand, when he hadn't realized that such a move would be dangerous until that moment. "Please, Ginevra."
The sound she made was almost a laugh, but tears glistened in her eyes. "Merlin, you must be desperate." She beckoned him forward. "All right. Don't say I didn't warn you."
She hadn't, in point of fact, but it wasn't the time to split hairs. He followed her inside the house, down a narrow hall, and into a bright and airy kitchen. Her clone was sitting at the table, nose buried in a book, and she gave a start when he came into the room behind her mother. "Mr Malfoy!"
Draco nodded. "Lily."
"Is Scorpius all right?"
"A few bruises. He'll be fine. Thank you for asking."
Ginny hadn't interrupted, and she remained silent as she led him out the back door into the garden. She guided him through a bramble of bushes and vines and around a corner to the doorstep of another house, this one much smaller than the first. Draco saw he'd have to stoop to enter. "Is this where you keep the bad little Potters?"
Ginny's smile was wry. "Yes, it is." She left him.
His knock went unanswered.
The tableau did little for his confidence. The overgrown rosebushes, the pint-sized cottage, and the tomblike silence from within smacked of an ambush. He half-expected a gaggle of red-headed children to appear, cameras in hand, eager to immortalise the moment: Draco Malfoy seeks counsel with Gnomes.
"Potter!" he cried, rapping harder. "Open up."
The door flew open, and it took all Draco's breeding and courage not to flee. Potter ducked under the curved doorway and stepped out. His hair was the same, except some had migrated to his face, forming a short, unruly beard. Mercifully, his clothing was clean, although it looked to have been plundered from his house-elf. But none of this scared Draco like Potter's eyes. They glowed a vibrant, unnatural green. He sizzled with magic.
"Malfoy." Potter stared at him for several seconds, then offered his hand. "How's young Scorpius?"
"Alive." Draco eyed the proffered hand before taking it. "Thanks to you," he ventured.
Potter swatted the statement away. "No. Thanks to you, I hear. Intervened just in time, Albus tells me. I'm glad you took the warning seriously."
"You sent the letter?" Though there was little doubt now.
"I did." Potter's exuberance dimmed. "Al would never have forgiven me if I'd done nothing."
Draco's voice threatened to abandon him. The things men do for the love of their sons. "I – thank you."
"You're welcome." The silence stretched and Potter took an intense interest in his own feet. "You'll be going now, I suppose."
Yes was at the tip of his tongue, until the scent of Old Ogden's wafted forward from inside the small house. "I have nothing pressing," he said instead.
Potter's eyes widened and shimmered. "Do you have time for a drink?"
Draco nodded. For Scorpius, he might have time for a bottle.
"Go on and ask," Potter said later after he'd poured. He dangled Draco's whisky between his fingers, teasing, before handing it over. A log cracked, shooting sparks up the flue, and Draco nearly fumbled his glass. Potter's hobbit-hole was cosy, he'd give it that. The wing chairs were soft, and the small table between them was dark with age, but clutter-free.
"All right. I will." He gulped his whisky first and slammed the glass down between them. "How did you know what was going to happen?"
Potter bent across the table. The short beard, uneven and peppered with a bit of grey, lent him a wild look, and the manic grin didn't help matters. "I dreamt it," he said before refilling Draco's glass.
"Dreamt it." That deserved more whisky. He obliged Potter and downed the second shot.
"Yes." Potter picked up his own glass but didn't drink. "That's the way it always happens. I have a dream. Someone dies. I see it all. They're all strangers to me. Well, most of them. There was Scorpius, after all." He gestured at Draco, who nodded, throat freshly parched at the thought of his son splattered against a tree. "But most of the time, almost all the time," Potter continued, "they're strangers. But you see—" He pressed the glass to his forehead, "—when I wake up…."
There was meant to be more, but Potter chose whisky over elaboration and fell silent. Draco tilted his head back against the cushion. Potter did the same, empty glass held to his lips. The tiny house throbbed with magic, feeding off Potter, no doubt. And Draco, caught in the backwash, was no different.
Wordlessly he held out his glass. Potter refilled it. "I used to try to help them all," he said. "But there were too many."
It was a horrifying prospect to consider. Draco set his glass aside, still full. "How do you pick and choose?"
"I don't. Anymore."
Draco pressed a fist to his chest. "You helped Scorpius."
Dizzy, Draco fumbled for his glass and felt Potter push it into his palm with cool and steady fingers. He murmured his thanks. "When did it start?"
"About five years ago." Potter took up the poker and jabbed the burning logs, a little viciously, Draco thought. "It's been difficult, and Ginny couldn't really cope. I thought about leaving, but the kids… I'm better here."
Here, apparently, was the garden shed. Draco thought back to Ginny's pinched face and the way she'd said 'Harry'. Frankly, he would've voted for a bit more distance, but it wasn't his marriage, so his opinion mattered little. He took stock of Potter's refuge. A battered sofa – pillow and blanket bundled at one end – two wing chairs with the table between them, and a well-stocked drinks cabinet were the extent of the decor. "I love what you've done with the place."
"Potter." Draco licked his whisky-stained lips. "How do you live with it?" Do you enjoy it? he almost added, but playing the higher power had never been Potter's ambition. It would be gauche to suggest such a thing.
"What choice do I have? No potion works. The dreams still come." Potter shrugged. "I won't be suffering for much longer though."
"You—" Yes, it could only mean what he thought it did. "You've seen your own death."
Potter sheathed the poker in its bucket, slowly, like Draco imagined a knight might nestle his sword in its scabbard after a killing blow. He nodded.
"Soon." Potter managed to look haunted and peaceful all at once. It was an unnatural combination and robbed Draco of words. Thankfully, Potter spoke again, filling the shocked silence. "I've fathered three children, nurtured them, and watched them grow into fine adults. Once–" He snorted. "–I had a wife, and all the trappings that come with that." He paused, and Draco rolled the word 'trappings' over his tongue. "I won't have lived as long as some," Potter said, "but I feel… accomplished."
"Accomplished isn't the same as happy."
Potter acknowledged Draco's point with a tilt of his glass. "I'll take it anyway."
Draco sipped, swishing Potter's words together with his whisky. He surprised himself with his next question. "Why is this happening to you?"
"Because I'm lucky," Potter drawled, his irony an art form.
"Do they come often? The dreams?"
"There's no pattern." Potter twisted his hands in his lap and tried to speak twice before finally succeeding. "I had one last night."
His admission trapped the air in Draco's lungs. When he was able to breathe, he found Potter staring at him, eyes flashing with that unnatural light. The fire cracked, but this time Draco didn't twitch. "Tell me about it," he said.
Parenthood defied explanation. Not by any fault of the listener; it just did. Being a father opened the door to a host of complex sympathies that Draco hadn't the propensity to understand. It was enough to know they existed.
He Apparated to the park after sunset and settled on a bench by the edge of the pond. A line of ducks swam across the surface, bright splotches against the black water. There was a splash to his right, and he spun around so fast that a sharp pain flared in his neck, but it was only another duck, wading in the reeds by the bank.
The boy came as Potter said he would: sneaking glances over his shoulder and clutching a loaf of cheap white bread under his arm. Six years old, Potter had said. How he knew was a mystery, but hardly the most important one. The child was overweight and huffing for breath, and he smiled so widely when he saw the ducks that Draco grinned too.
Cautious at first, he threw the bread from several feet away, but as the ducks grew bolder, so did he, tiptoeing closer to the edge of the pond. Draco tensed, but having foreknowledge of the event made it no less shocking. The child's foot slipped in the mud and he plunged into the water, hitting his head on a rock just as his face disappeared beneath the surface.
The ducks converged on their unguarded treat. One quacked.
Draco leapt off the bench. He twisted his ankle in the mud by the bank, had to crawl the last few feet, then surged forward into the shallow muck. The boy was right there, drowning in six inches of water while the ducks swarmed the sodden bread. Even Draco's terrified wheezing didn't scare them off their meal.
He fished the child out by his shirt collar, hauled him up into the grass and flipped him onto his belly. The first smack on his back made his chins jiggle, but he didn't breathe. "Stupid, careless, little urchin!" Draco growled and smacked him again. It was as he was fumbling for his wand that the boy burped, then coughed up a stomach-full of water over the last of his bread crusts.
Draco's anger spilled out of him with the same force. He fell back on his arse, pillowed his head on his arms, and blinked pond scum out of his eyes.
"I'm here," Draco mumbled through the taste of mud.
"I want my daddy." The boy was crying now, and Draco saw a thin line of blood seeping across his scalp. He patted the tiny trembling hand.
"He wants you too."
Lily answered his knock, looking seven instead of seventeen. Her hair was split into two low braids and her jumper was several sizes too big. Draco surveyed the ensemble. "I had no idea dressing like a guttersnipe was genetic. What other unenviable traits did you inherit?"
Lily clasped her book tight across her chest. "The one that makes me want to squash arrogant, conceited, pureblood snobs."
"I'll make sure to warn Scorpius. Is your father at home?"
"Can't this wait until the morning? It's late."
Draco hesitated. How much did Potter's children know? "I…did some business for him this evening."
"Congratulations. Again, can't it wait?"
His reply was lost in Potter's call of, "Lily? Who's there?" A stroke of luck, in hindsight. Potter looked relaxed and in good spirits. Hearing Draco call his only daughter a mindless cow might've rendered him less cooperative.
Lily spun around. "Dad! I didn't expect to see you here."
"In my own house?" He pulled her into a one-armed hug. "I was just fetching something from your mother's room. An old book of mine." Draco glanced at the tome cradled under Potter's arm. Calling it old was generous; the cracked binding was barely holding the ragged pages together. Potter reached around Lily and drew Draco across the threshold. "It is late, but I'm not tired. Would you like to talk?"
"Yes," said Draco, "if your guard dog has no further objections."
Potter bestowed a kiss on Lily's head. She threw her arms around him and glared at Draco over his shoulder. Laughing, Potter tugged one of her braids and shooed her back to her school books. "Don't fret. It'll be fine."
They walked side-by-side through the overgrown garden. At night, it seemed a wholly different place … sinister rather than magical. "If you're no longer welcome in your own house, perhaps it's time for a new one," Draco said. They stopped at the curved door.
"I have one." Potter spread his hands in front of him and smiled at the shed.
"A bigger one," Draco enunciated. "Or did your wife squander your fortune on Swiss chocolate? And before you dismiss that out of hand, I've seen some evidence that points to the possibility."
"Be nice." Potter mumbled a password and the door swung open. "I like it here. I'm close by if the children need me." He shelved his book in the drinks cabinet and used an unopened bottle to keep it upright. Draco tried and failed to make out the title on the battered spine.
"Well?" Harry asked. He stood by his chair, fingers clenched in the cushion, alerting Draco that he wasn't as calm as he was letting on.
Draco took a deep breath. "He's okay."
Potter sagged. His eyes drifted shut and he muttered something too low for Draco to hear.
"I'm fine. Come. Sit." Potter waved at the second chair, took his own seat, and Summoned a bottle of Old Ogden's. "I feel like celebrating." He pointed the bottle at Draco.
"I certainly wouldn't object."
Potter poured two generous shots. "Thank you," he said, dispensing with any further explanation.
"Thank you," Draco said. "I feel…" powerful he almost said, but as right as the concept sounded, the word itself was wrong. No, the word was, "…alive."
"Alive," Potter agreed. They toasted to it.
"It's typical," said Draco lazily, spinning the glass in the firelight and basking in Potter's backwash of magic, "that you'd be the one to be granted such a power."
"It's a curse." Potter's curt answer should've killed the conversation, but he added, "I'm just a normal person," and that was something Draco couldn't let go.
"You're nothing of the sort. You've led a remarkable life." Not that Potter saw it that way, but truth was truth.
A second swig disappeared down Potter's throat. He belched as he set his glass down. "What is life, but a thread in the fabric of fate?"
Draco poured more whisky and took his turn. "What is fate, but an excuse for those too weak to determine their own destiny?" He drank.
Potter snorted, but followed suit. "Are we to trade quotes all night, then?"
"No. Your cheap whisky's already making my head hurt." Draco pushed his glass across the table. It clinked against Potter's and a drop of liquid sloshed over the side onto a scrap of red-inked parchment. Draco's stomach lurched into his throat. The talk of destiny lost its humorous edge. "Have you had another dream?"
Potter took forever with his answer. "Yes. I always write them down. Even though—"
The hair on Draco's arms stood on end.
"—even though I don't have anyone to help," Potter said. He pursed his lips, frowned at the note, then slid it towards Draco.
The woman was a homeless Muggle. Bent with age, she pushed her junk-filled trolley up and down the streets, asking for spare change and speaking to people who weren't there. On the sliding scale of personal hygiene, she ranked below even Greg.
Draco watched her settle inside her stained, listing cardboard box and toss food scraps onto the pavement. Soon a cluster of pigeons gathered. They tussled to get close, just as the ducks had with the boy. The woman cooed and shushed them. She swiped her fingers along the feathers of the nearest, and Draco grimaced. Distaste nibbled at his detachment.
Then she began to sing. "When I am laid, am laid in earth, May my wrongs create…no trouble, no trouble in thy breast." Her voice cut through his repulsion. It cut through the smelly box and her layers of stained clothing and carried him years into the past, when his mother had sung to him from the same opera. It had been her favorite. She had been the queen and Draco her prince.
"Hello, child," the woman said, startling him – until he realized he had come to sit beside her on the ground amongst the pigeons.
"Please." He folded his hands in his lap, away from the pecking birds. "Don't stop. Your voice is exquisite."
"I don't remember what comes next," she apologized. "It's been so long, you see."
Draco cleared his throat and spoke, though it was his mother's voice that rang in his ears. "Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate."
"Yes!" She laughed with delight. "That's right." She took his hands, which he allowed despite the grime ground into her wrinkled palms, and sang the aria for him.
Draco held his breath until it was over. "You're a beautiful Dido."
"And you are a very handsome Aeneas," she said.
"But unlike him, I won't be abandoning you." Draco lifted her hand and kissed it, then withdrew to watch from the shadows.
The man who came into the alley was pale and shaking, with beads of perspiration covering his face. He wasted little time closing in on his prey. Pigeons scattered as he rifled through her precious trolley, tipping bag after bag out onto the ground, and Draco knew the moment the man's disappointment turned dangerous.
"Haven't you got anything?" he snarled. He brandished a knife so filthy it failed to glint in the sunlight. But by then Draco was already moving, his objectivity nothing but a memory. He suddenly hated this man for trying to steal something from him.
The spell wasn't designed to kill, regrettably. The man's cries of anguish would have to satisfy. Draco pinned him to the ground with his wand. "You are never to come near her again. Do I make myself clear?"
"Y–yes." Tears fell from the man's eyes, blazing clean paths across his cheeks and down his neck.
Draco refused to let pity take a foothold. He added a Stinging Hex for good measure, then picked the man up and flung him out of the alley. Doing something with his hands instead of his wand had never felt so satisfying.
The woman was crying when he returned. He held her against his chest until she calmed. "You're an angel," she said. "You're my guardian angel." Tears made her voice hoarse, but no less beautiful. Selfishly, Draco wanted her to sing for him again.
"I'm not an angel. You won't be needing one of those. Today," he said, "is not your day to die."
He bumped his head on the doorframe coming in but was too excited to care. Potter's polite concern, oddly touching, was waved off. "She sang," Draco said, breathless, "and then I saved her." Potter laughed, clapped him on the back, even grabbed his shoulders and squeezed them so tight that magic leaked from his fingertips. It was almost an embrace, and Draco shivered. "She called me an angel," he added, and this time a touch of sadness crept into Potter's eyes.
"Tell me what happened."
The story exploded out of him: the pigeons, the aria, the flick knife. Halfway through, Potter reached over and cupped his hand over Draco's knee. "Slow down."
The physical contact gave him a jolt. He slouched and drew a hand across his brow. "Was it like this for you?" he whispered.
Potter's fingers tapped against his kneecap. "It was in the beginning."
Ah yes, the beginning. This was all old hat to Potter. Draco tried to steady his breathing. "How could you give it up?"
"I told you, I couldn't—"
"But you don't have to pick and choose. You can help them all. You have James and Albus. Lily even. They're all capable."
Potter brushed his palms over his beard. He shook his head. "I never once considered it."
Which meant he had, more than once. Agitated, Draco shot to his feet. There wasn't really room to pace in Potter's hidey-hole, but Draco managed by wearing a circle around the table. After three laps, he stopped in front of Potter's chair. "It's too much for them, is that it?" Then before he could change his mind, added, "What about me?"
Potter addressed the first question and ignored the second. The bastard knew very well how to pick and choose. "Is that the type of responsibility you'd want your child to have, Draco?" he asked. "Is it something you could ask of Scorpius?"
"I could," Draco lied.
"But would he understand?" Potter reached to grasp Draco's fingers. "Our children are so young. They still have much to learn. It's too soon to ask them to choose between life and death, don't you agree?"
Their children were spoiled brats, the lot of them. He cursed Potter's honesty. "We managed."
Potter laughed so loudly that Draco jerked back, though not far enough to dislodge their twined fingers. "We survived," Potter said with a shocking lack of bitterness. "I suppose if we managed anything, it was that."
Why couldn't Potter see the truth? "This power you have…it's fantastic."
"No, Draco, it's not."
"You can save people."
"I can't save them all." The earlier sadness was back in his eyes. "And neither can you."
"Wake up." Draco nudged the gargoyle with his boot. It tipped against the brick wall, and the edge of its wing crumbled, spreading stone fragments over the coping. One pointed ear was chipped, and its eyes were closed. Draco frowned. He'd never seen Greg's sentinel asleep. Disconcerted, he tightened his hold on the parcel he'd brought, crushing the silver ribbon wrapped around it.
Leaving the gargoyle to its nap, he knocked again, louder this time. "Greg!" A snigger from behind put him on guard. His shouting had drawn the attention of the local denizens, and now their spying eyes were on him. Without turning, he drew his wand. "Alohomora."
Greg's flat-cum-shop smelled even worse than usual. Draco slammed the door behind him, shutting out the curious. The curtain threw a flutter of weak light over the room. Nothing moved. He walked blindly into the dark, gift held out in front of him. Two steps across the floor, his boot struck something soft, and, startled, Draco's fingers cut through the shimmering wrapping paper and sank into the fine material underneath. Wool with a cashmere collar, the robe was so deep blue that he'd first mistaken it for black. A gift fit for a best friend, and, for once, undrinkable.
The gentle give of the obstacle and the way its bulk formed a dark shadow on the floor numbed Draco's body. His mind received no such reprieve. It was the moment he understood, when Potter's truth became his truth. Acting like a god was different from being a god. As different as life was from death.
Draco's knees gave out. One slammed into the floor, the other into the soft flesh of Greg's stomach. A sigh of air escaped his friend's lips, and his hand, wand still tight in the fist, slipped to the floor with a fleshy thud. "Lumos," Draco rasped.
Greg was twisted at odd angles, with one arm bent in a way that hurt the eyes and one leg folded up under his back. Breath hitching, Draco ripped the last of the paper from the birthday robe and spread it over his friend. It blended perfectly with the darkness, and when Draco stood, he admired again how the deep blue wool matched the softer cashmere.
He noted the upended boxes, the overturned furniture, the missing merchandise, and, most importantly, the remnants of the green aura that surrounded Greg's corpse, then stumbled to the door. The street was deserted when he emerged. "You!" he told the cowards, "are not worth saving. None of you!"
In a rage, he left to find Potter.
Damn the passage of time. There had been a point, not too far in the past, when Draco had towered over Albus Potter. Intimidating the whelp when he was eleven, even fourteen, had been easy. Now that advantage was lost. He glared up at his son's best friend. "Excuse me," Draco snarled.
Moving with excruciating slowness, Albus nudged his glasses higher on his nose, then placed his hands on his skinny hips. He didn't budge from in front of Potter's door. "I don't think so, Mr Malfoy. You look a bit too angry."
Draco cursed his luck. Two minutes later and they would've missed each other. Now the pup had his fur up, acting protective of his father, of all people. "I won't hurt him," Draco lied smoothly.
Inside the house, something exploded with a shatter – like a glass firecracker. It was followed by a faint, "Oops."
Albus widened his stance. "It's not him I'm concerned about. Sir."
"I doubt very much that you're worried for me."
"I promised Mrs Malfoy before she died that I'd take care of Scorpius. I expect that means, by unfortunate extension, not to let you get killed." Albus' lips twitched. "Scorpius would miss you."
Leave it to Astoria to enlist the help of a Potter. She'd always had a soft spot for her son's Gryffindor friends. Draco buried his anger, and even managed to dredge up a tight smile. "I need to speak with him. I'll tread carefully."
The standoff lasted another minute, then Albus stepped aside. "See that you do." He ducked under a hanging vine as he passed.
Draco was surprised to hear himself call out, "Albus!" The boy turned. Draco lowered his voice. "How long have things been like this?"
At his back, the house pulsed with magic. In front of him, Albus hesitated, with more understanding in his eyes than there should've been. "Be careful," he said at last. It was a better answer than Draco had expected. He nodded, then turned and knocked.
Another small explosion rocked the house, shaking the bright red blooms that clung to its stone walls. Then Potter drew the door open slowly. All Draco could see in the darkened room was the outline of the old book, held tight against Potter's body, his dishevelled hair, and his strange glowing eyes. Draco's anger, banked by the strange encounter with Albus, rekindled. "Potter! What the hell are you doing in there?"
The door creaked open a few more inches, but Potter didn't invite him in. "You're angry."
There was no sense refuting it. "You must know why."
"No?" Draco took one menacing step forward. "Greg's dead. He's been murdered." He waited, but Potter didn't speak, and a horrible thought – the one he'd been trying to avoid thinking about – occurred to him. "Did you know it was going to happen?" The world took up a slow spin. Draco put a hand to his chest, willing the air in and out. "No, of course you didn't. Why would you? He was nothing. Unredeemable." He pressed his eyes shut. "It's no loss to anyone."
"It's your loss." Potter stepped forward and wrapped a strong, steadying hand around his arm, but Draco jerked away.
"Why couldn't you save him? Why couldn't you save my wife?"
"Your – Draco, don't." Potter's eyes smouldered. "Can you hear yourself?"
He did, but stopping now was out of the question. "Greg wasn't good enough for you to waste your precious time on, is that it?"
The smoulder in Potter's eyes sparked. "Perhaps that's a question you should be asking yourself."
Only animals use their hands in a fight. Draco's father had once told him that, and he'd been correct. Draco's anger was primal. Nothing could stop him from striking Potter. His fist shot forward, a blur of speed. Effortlessly, Potter trapped it in his own. "Enough." His eyes slid up and over Draco's shoulder. "It's fine, Al. Leave us, please."
Draco glanced behind. Albus stood at the head of the path, wand in hand. Draco hoped he felt as conflicted as he looked. The boy's eyes darted between Potter and Draco. "Are you positive, Dad?"
"Very. Come on, Malfoy." Potter hauled Draco inside, slammed the door, and tossed his precious book on the table. And what happened next was beyond the power of prediction or prophecy. Potter put his arms around him. "I'm so sorry," he said.
Potter's shoulder was too tempting. Draco laid his forehead against it. "He was my only friend."
"No, he wasn't."
Potter was probably lying. But Draco savoured the words.
Eventually, standing like a statue while being held grew awkward, so Draco curved one arm around Potter's lower back. The other he laid across his shoulder, a move that Potter approved of, if his kitten-soft sigh was any measure. Contentment made everything blur around the edges. "Tell me about how you die," muttered Draco.
Potter drew back. Their faces were inches apart. "Why do you want to know that?"
"Must you ask?"
Draco's shoulder must have looked comfortable too. Potter set his chin on it. "I die saving someone."
"You – that's mad."
He felt Potter's lips curve against his shirt. "Why?"
"Because you don't do that anymore, isn't that what you said?" The answering silence made Draco tense. "Why is this one person worth your life?"
Potter took a huge breath. He seemed to swell in Draco's arms. "I never really understood that myself. But recently…it's started to make some sense."
More absurdity. This power of Potter's had addled his brain. Draco framed a scathing reply, but his eyes fell on the table that separated their chairs, and the words never passed his lips. He yanked out of Potter's embrace to get a better look, and yes, there it was. The familiar hue of the ink made Draco's stomach clench.
He snatched the parchment off the table. His hand shook as he held it out to Potter. "Who are these people? Why are they special?"
Potter shook his head. "I'll never know."
"Why would you sacrifice yourself for one of them?"
He'd no answer for that, the crazy bastard. Draco crumpled the parchment into a ball. "I'm finished with this." His hand slashed through the air between them. "Finished."
Potter deflated. The fire in his eyes died. "I understand."
His wife would've rolled her eyes and mumbled something unflattering in French had she seen him. Brooding in the dark was so maudlin. It suited, though. Potter's wrinkled prophecy was on the desk in front of him, invisible in the gloom, thank Merlin. When Draco had said he was finished, he'd meant it, but he had no wish to dwell on the person he was leaving to die.
He avoided Astoria's displeasure by circumstance – though he wouldn't put it past her to scold him from the grave – but his son's was another matter. Scorpius threw open the door, then the curtains, then lit every lamp in the room, before sprawling in the same chair Greg had sat in a few short weeks ago. "I'm sorry about Mr Goyle."
Draco stayed slumped in his seat. "You hardly knew him."
"I can still be sorry he's dead."
He could, of course. It didn't mean he was. "You always wondered why I wasted my time with him."
Scorpius tilted his head. "I never wondered that." While Draco tried to pretend he hadn't heard an emphasis on the word 'I', Scorpius continued. "You called him a friend. That was enough for me. And it's not as if you saw him all that often. Once a year on his birthday, isn't that right?"
It was true. But not right, as Potter had already pointed out.
"I didn't have to love him to think he deserved to live," Scorpius said. "I know you don't care for all of my friends, but I can't believe you'd be unemotional about their passing." He cleared his throat. "Except for Albus maybe."
"He's far too tall," Draco said.
Scorpius stood. Draco remembered the note at the last minute and flipped it over with a snap, but if Scorpius noticed, he didn't say. He came behind the desk and stood close. "There's rarely any rhyme or reason to these things, you know. Like with Mum. It just happens. There's nothing you can do to change it."
The note seemed to pulse in front of Draco's eyes, like a beating heart. He half expected to find a puddle of red ink underneath when he picked it up. Potter and his blasted symbolism.
Then, as if Scorpius could read his mind: "You've been over to see Mr Potter a lot."
Draco stared blankly. "And this concerns you how?"
Draco raised a brow.
Scorpius' grin turned salacious.
The insinuation made Draco blush like a schoolboy. "Don’t be ridiculous."
"It's just, even with me and Al growing up friends, you never tried to make amends. Remember the disaster at Lily's birthday party? When you called Mrs Potter a—"
"Enough." Draco held up his hand.
Scorpius crossed his arms. "I thought you and Mr Potter couldn't stand each other."
"The winds of change," Draco muttered. He scowled at his smirking son. "Go to your room."
Scorpius laughed, too delighted by half, Draco thought. He leant down and kissed Draco on the forehead. More benediction. "I'm sorry again," he said. "If there were anything I could do, you'd tell me, wouldn't you?"
It was disquieting - lying to Scorpius even as he was finally being honest with himself. Draco shook his head. "There's nothing, thank you."
Mollified and – bless his youth – already distracted by other things, Scorpius left. Draco grabbed the wrinkled parchment and followed, leaving all the lights burning behind him.
It wasn’t the man he saw first, but his wife and daughter. They stood on the opposite side of the street, smiling and waving. The child hopped up and down, baby-blue dress flapping in the wind as she clutched her mother's hand. Daddy, she said, but her voice was lost in the din of horns and engines.
Draco glanced to his left, to the man returning the wave. In one hand, he clutched a black leather briefcase. In the other, a bouquet of yellow roses. He waved them back and forth over his head.
Daddy! The little girl pulled against her mother's restraining arm. The man bit his lip, squinted up at the light, then looked left and right. He held up a hand. Wait.
She didn't; youth knew no patience. The child twisted out of her mother's hold and ran into the street. The man with the roses dropped his briefcase. "No, Sarah!" He started to step off the curb, but Draco grabbed him. The man twisted around and snarled. "Let go."
Draco ignored the command. He yanked the man backward just as a bus, swerving to avoid Sarah, ploughed up onto the pavement in front of them. A wave of hot air sent them stumbling back another few feet. Someone screamed. Horns blared. The bus bounced off the curb and came to a jerky stop in the middle of the junction, leaving the scent of burnt rubber in its wake.
The man had stumbled and was on his knees at Draco's feet, staring up at him and shuddering. "Who are you? Who are you?"
"I'm nobody." Draco tried to pull away. The man clung, even as his daughter appeared at his side and threw her arms around his neck.
"Are you hurt?" a stranger at his elbow asked. Draco shook his head. He slipped out of the man's grip and backed into the pressing crowd. Not a very graceful escape. Not an escape at all, as luck would have it. The wife saw and followed.
Her hands were pressed to her mascara-stained cheeks. She advanced two steps for every one he retreated. "Thank you," she said. Fresh tears rolled over her fingers. "Thank you so much."
"It was nothing." He tried to turn, but she caught him.
"It wasn't nothing. And you aren't nobody." Her shrill laugh ended on a hiccupping sob. "I'll remember you." She pressed a yellow rose into his palm and closed his fingers around the stem. Beyond words, Draco turned and walked away on unsteady legs. This time the crowd parted for him.
A trip to Potter's was on the agenda, and they were going to have words on this sacrifice business. Death was about as predictable as the weather, as far as Draco could tell. He'd snatched people back from the brink time and time again. He could do the same for Potter.
First, though, he'd attend to Greg. Making amends was beyond him. Balancing the score, however, was not.
He travelled Knockturn with his head held high. Vengeance wasn't a craven's game, and the pretence that he was an innocent lost among the corrupt was the worst sort of cowardice. There were few alliances here, even fewer loyalties. Honour was measured in Galleons, but he had plenty of those. Less than an hour later, he knew who he'd come for and where to find them.
Draco followed the alley until it forked, then turned left. Around another corner, at the end of the cul-de-sac, stood a long, narrow building. No matter that it looked abandoned. Draco knew better. Before long he was inside, standing behind a stack of crates, looking on Greg's murderers.
He counted three men, not that the number worried him. Three against one weren't the worst odds he'd faced. One man was paper thin, the second so round he waddled. The third limped on a misshapen foot. Draco swallowed a snort. The odds were looking up by the minute. Deciding against theatrics, he stepped into the open as soon as their backs were turned. "Expelliarmus!"
The spell disarmed the first two before they could retaliate. The skinny one ran, disappearing into the gloom. His escape dampened Draco's good mood, but only momentarily. He held the captured pair at wand-point. "You killed a friend of mine."
"Which friend would that be?" the fat one asked.
"Goyle!" The man jiggled all over when he laughed. "He didn't have a friend in the whole worl – ow!"
Throwing hexes was like riding a broom. The instinct came back in a heartbeat. "You were saying?" Draco hissed.
"I was saying…" The man's mouth curled up in a sneer just as triumph lit his eyes. Draco sensed the danger too late. A Stunner struck him from behind, and he went down hard, cracking his head against the floor.
The three formed a loose circle around him, laughing. "This is just how it went with your friend," the skinny one said. "You aren't much brighter, are you?"
Draco gritted his teeth as rage shot through him. He stretched for his wand, but Skinny kicked it away. He nudged Draco's stomach with his foot. "Goodbye, Goyle's friend."
The command cut through the room. It carried a hint of magic with it, and Draco's attackers obeyed. So did Draco's heart. "No," he gasped. "Potter, no!"
Potter stepped into the open, eyes glowing with rage, wand at the ready. He said something then – something familiar – but before Draco could place the words, a concussive boom, like exploding glass, ripped through the room, felling everything that stood more than two feet off the ground. Crates exploded. The ceiling bowed outward, but held. Falling debris pummelled Draco.
Two of the attackers went down, but Skinny escaped again, skittering off like a spider into the maze of crates and boxes. Potter cursed, and Draco echoed it. Slippery little bastard.
"All right, Malfoy?"
Draco's head was so full of expletives, he couldn't spit out a proper one. "Potter, you idiot." He crawled to his wand and snatched it up. "What are you doing?"
Potter placed his hands on his hips. "Just how hard did you hit your head?" Draco's scathing answer died in his throat when Skinny stepped into sight behind Potter.
"Crucio!" Skinny shouted, drowning out Draco's warning. And as Potter fell to the floor, writhing in pain, all Draco could think was, no. It couldn't end like this.
The fat one stirred and woke. His beady eyes focussed on Draco, and, with a growl, he lunged for his wand. Draco turned his back on him.
Potter sucked in a breath and managed to spit out three pain-filled words. "Draco, behind you!"
"I see him."
Skinny trained his wand on Potter once more, but Draco was faster. Fear made him ruthless. The last syllable of Avada Kedavra was still passing his lips when the curse left the tip of his wand. It landed perfectly. Skinny made very little noise when he fell.
Potter fought to his knees. He pointed his wand in Draco's direction, expression murderous. Draco blinked the blood and sweat from his eyes. "Don't be such a sore loser, Potter. I apologize for foiling your suicide."
"Don't move," Potter replied. His spell sailed over Draco's head. There was a startled grunt, and Draco turned in time to watch the man behind him slither to the floor, the curse meant for Draco still a whisper on his lips.
The timbers above his head creaked. More dirt and grime rained into his face. Draco tucked into a foetal position, then pushed to his feet. His plan had been to stand in one place until the nausea passed, but out on the street people had begun to shout, some demanding the Aurors. He stumbled over to Potter. "Time to go." He tugged his arm.
Potter didn't budge from his knees. He turned a glazed expression on Draco.
"I wasn't supposed to survive that."
Draco hauled him up. "Don't look so disappointed."
"You weren't supposed to intervene. You were supposed to—"
Blood trickled into Draco's eye. He wiped it away. "Save myself instead?"
"It's nothing to be ashamed of."
Potter's vague tone worried him. Draco led the way across the room, towards the back of the building. "Are you able to Apparate?"
Potter swivelled towards him, throwing them off balance. "I was supposed to die saving you."
"I gathered." They stumbled into a wall, and their heads bumped. Potter winced, and the ringing in Draco's ears grew worse. He had things he needed to say. Things relevant to this disastrous conversation, if he wasn't mistaken. There was one point in particular about the future not being set in stone. Another about a partnership of sorts. But the words skittered away.
They ducked into a small storeroom just as the first Auror arrived. Potter stepped behind Draco, pulled him against his chest, and whispered, "Brace yourself."
That sounded ominous. "Why?"
"I'm going to make the earth move."
"Oh, Scorpius will be so pleased with himself."
Though he doubted his son's expectations involved Draco vomiting into Potter's rosebushes — an unfortunate side-effect of Apparating with a concussion. "You could've warned me," Draco moaned a few minutes later, clinging to the trellis.
Potter slung an arm around his waist and guided him inside the shed. "I believe I did."
At least Potter sounded sympathetic, and his bedside manner was excellent. He produced the proper potions, availed his sofa, and made decent tea. Draco decided he wasn't moving for the next day at least.
He woke from a doze to find Potter in the chair next to him, absently stroking his beard and staring at the fire. Beside him lay a quill, inkwell, and parchment. The parchment was blank.
"You should sleep," Draco mumbled.
Potter sighed. "The dreams…"
"I think they'll stop now." Draco rolled onto his side and scooted against the back of the sofa. Potter watched carefully.
"What makes you say that?"
"Because you want them to?" Draco shrugged, then remembered one of the important things he wanted to say. "We'll deal with what comes."
Potter bent to untie his shoes. They hit the floor one at a time. "I can't believe I'm alive."
Draco lifted the blanket. "We both are. Let's make the most of it."
Potter's beard felt like finely woven thread against Draco's cheek. His whispered words weren't unlike the opening notes of an aria. A promise.
"Yes," Draco answered.
A/N: The first beautiful piece of art was created by the lovely and talented raitala, and the second beautiful piece of art was created by the lovely and talented oldenuf2nb.
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