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If stars died of old age

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“So that’s it then?” he asked, fighting the fear swirling in his stomach. He stared him down, letting his tears collect on his lower lashes as Harry stood in the center of their shared apartment, a magicked suitcase in one hand, his key in the other.

“I’m so sorry, Draco,” he said, swaying where he stood like he wanted nothing more than to drop his bag and wrap him in a hug and never let go. Draco kept his arms at his sides with clenched fists. “I have to. We’ve already fought one war. I have to do everything I can to stop another one.”

“And so the price is me?” Draco asked, clinging to anger to cover the yawning hole of fear and terror that threatened to suck him in. “Our life together, for all of the world?”

“If there was anything I could do to stay, or to bring you with me, or stay in contact, you know I would,” he let his hand drop and took a defeated step away. “But I can’t.”

Draco looked away from him, to the ground, to their anxious cat winding circles around Harry’s feet. Tears dropped from his face.

“You’re aware that I love you.” He wouldn’t beg, but it had to be said.

“I know, Draco. I’m sorry.”

He dropped his key on the table by the door and he left.

 

The effects were immediate. By morning he was retching and had constant chills. He wondered if it would’ve been the same if Harry had just left without saying goodbye. He wondered how long it would’ve taken his body to catch on, to figure out that he wasn’t coming back. He soon lacked the energy to wonder.

Draco stopped taking orders, struggling to finish the ones he had already accepted, taking extensions on a few of the larger ones. By the time all the potions were bottled and shipped off, Draco had decided not to sell his business. He notified his customers of his closing and gave no explanation to the owls that flooded in, not having the strength to deal with each individually.

His mother had had six months after his father had died. But it was expected; they had prepared and were already rather distanced. Draco hadn’t been ready, and Merlin, he had been so in love. He knew he was counting down in weeks, not months.

When the Prophet contacted him for a quote about the closing of his multi-million galleon business, he responded with a short missive he’d had looked over by his attorney. He informed the reporter that Dragon’s Breath Specialty Potions would close indefinitely, due to terminal illness. He did not specify, simply informing the paper that the next time they wrote about him, it would be in the Obituaries.

He sold the apartment, furnished, and moved back into the manor. He met with an attorney to arrange his affairs. He left trust funds for Ron and Hermione’s children and up to four children Pansy and Theo might have. He invested in Luna’s sanctuary, as well as donating considerably to Hogwarts. He was leaving everything else to Teddy; the manor and his fortune, and he arranged a time to discuss things with Andromeda.

When he arrived, stumbling woodenly through the floo, she stood in shock, taking in his ashen and sickly form.

“Oh, my, Draco,” she gasped, coming to cup his face in her hands. “So soon?”

“I’m afraid so,” he replied, a tight-lipped, bloodless smile sitting awkwardly on his face.

“I was so surprised when he told us he was leaving. I thought you’d made an arrangement.”

“No,” Draco answered. “It was sudden. Perhaps he thought it was kinder to end it quickly.”

“What will I tell Teddy?” she whispered, searching his face, likely trying to figure out how many weeks he had left.

“I would like to tell him, if I could.”

It was hard to deny the wishes of a dying man. She called for him, and with a bright pop, the boy appeared, hand folded into a house elf’s.

“Draco!” he’d shouted, young and so joyous that it hurt his cousin’s ears. When he ran into his legs, wrapping around them in an ecstatic hug, Draco wobbled, not sure he wouldn’t fall. “Up, up!” Teddy had insisted, and at nearly six years old, he was much too big for Draco to lift in his state. He took his hand instead and suggested Teddy sit on his lap while he told him a story.

“Teddy,” he began, running his hand through hair that was raven black today. “Do you remember what Grandmother told you about Veelas?”

“That they’re the prettiest and most special kind of witches and wizards in the world,” Teddy said, nodding exuberantly.

“Yes, that’s true,” Draco smiled indulgently. “And you know that the Blacks have Veela blood, right?” Teddy nodded again, shifting in his lap, the sharp points of his bones digging bruises into Draco’s fragile thighs. “Veelas are very special,” he began. “You see, Veelas can only fall in love once,” he said, explaining it to him like his mother had when he was around this age. “And once they do, they mate for life. That means that their magic and their life energy gets tied to the person they’re in love with.”

“That sounds nice,” Teddy said, his hair shimmering to a bright strawberry blond.

“It is,” Draco said quietly, remembering that feeling, the rush he’d experienced when he realized Harry was it for him. The fond memory turned sour behind his eyes and he squeezed them shut briefly before continuing. “But that means that if that person ever leaves, then the Veela gets very sick and has to go away, too.”

“Oh,” Teddy said quietly, the gummy smile dropping off his round, cherub face. “That’s sad, Draco.”

“It’s very sad,” he agreed, running his unsteady hand up and down his young cousin’s back.

“Why are you telling me this?” he asked, brow furrowing, far too perceptive, with an eye for danger that he learned from his godfather.

“I am very, very sick,” he said, swallowing around the lump in his throat that grew as the boy’s lip began to tremble. “And in a few weeks, I wont be able to come around to see you anymore.”

“Why?” Teddy asked, the first tear dropping down over his cheek, his hair falling to a flat, dishwater brown. Draco brushed the tear away, thumbing at his cheek.

“Because I fell in love with a hero,” he whispered, like it was an exciting secret, the beginning of a storybook. “He’s a very good and a very brave man,” he assured the boy, as he would probably understand that it was Harry when he was older. “But the problem with being a hero, is that you need to take care of the whole world, not just the people who care about you. And so he had to leave me.” Draco let his eyes shine, though he hadn’t truly cried since the day he left.

“Did he love you?” Teddy asked, his little lungs shuddering as they tried to fit the sadness in with the air.

“I think that he did,” Draco said, pulling the boy in against his chest, letting him cry. “I think he probably did.” It was getting harder to believe.

“Then why would he go away?” Teddy wailed against his neck, his pudgy little hands balled in his shirt, holding on with the desperate strength only terrified children have.

“Because he had to save the world,” Draco said honestly, pressing his own tears into the top of his head. “And the cost seems to be me.”

After Teddy cried himself to exhausted sleep, Draco held him for a little longer. He and Harry had spoken about the possibility of taking Teddy when Andromeda grew too old to keep up with him. They’d begun planning their futures together, planning for a family. Draco held on to his cousin like he wished he could hold on to that future, the one that would never be.

Eventually, he gave him up, passing him off to a sorrowful looking elf and hugging a tearful Andromeda before stepping into the flames for likely the last time.

 

Pansy was worse.

He’d put off telling her, having the luxury to do so while she was away in Spain. She didn’t know Harry had left, and so when she tried to floo to their apartment only to find the address changed, she was suitably upset.

He owled, in a shaky scrawl, informing her to come to the manor. He stood up slowly and tried to dress himself in a way that would not make his frailty evident. He was dreading telling her, but had become concerned in the last couple days that he would not have enough time for her to arrive home. To say his goodbyes.

He was sitting by the fireplace, breathing heavily from the exhausting process of dressing and walking, when she flooed in. In her arms was a bundle of expensive gifts from her time abroad, and her face wore a winning grin, her brand new wedding ring still glittering on her finger.

When she saw him, she dropped everything but the ring, a startled “What the fuck” resounding with the sound of shattering glass. She didn’t walk but apparated to his side, grabbing his jaw and turning him to meet her eyes. He flinched, and when she jerked her hand away, there were bruises from her fingers already dark under his snow-pale skin.

“What’s happened?” she asked, fearful and angry.

“Harry has left,” he said, inclining his head as if this were a small fact, a change in the weather. Her top lip firmed and her nose wrinkled in that charming way it did when she was utterly furious.

“How could he?” she asked, barely constrained rage clear and fiery in her eyes.

“He didn’t seem to have a choice,” Draco said, exhausted but willing to defend his murderer still. “Voldemort’s remains appear to have been stolen, and a sect of dark magic practioners are attempting to bring him back, to restart the war. Harry has been sent on indefinite assignment to prevent that.”

“There are rules,” Pansy insisted, clutching at her own cloak in her hands like she wished it was Potter’s throat. “Veela mates can’t be sent on long term assignments in the Ministry without their mate. It’s not allowed.”

“It would appear,” Draco said slowly, having reasoned through this himself in the first two or three days of delirious sickness and heartache, “that he either didn’t register himself as a Veela mate, or he did and disregarded that protection.”

“He left you to die,” Pansy asked in a voice so small, Draco’s failing senses almost didn’t catch it.

He leaned his head back on the couch, tired, drained, letting his eyes close.

“He said he was sorry.”

 

Of course, he hadn’t been planning on having to confront the Grangers. But, as life had clearly not been kind to him, he should hardly have been surprised when he ran into one.

He had just left an end-of-life consultation. At first assessment, the Veela witch checked his vitals and aura and wrote a number on her clipboard.

“And when did your mate pass?” she asked, filling out boxes on her scroll, her face a perfectly sculpted expression of professional sympathy.

“He didn’t,” Draco said shortly, his voice a hoarse whisper. “He left.”

A flicker of surprise and genuine pity flashed across her brows and she inked a harsh ‘x’ over the number she’d written earlier.

“I’m sure you're aware that rejection hastens the Wasting process,” she said, grimacing around the word “rejection” as if hearing it could somehow be worse than feeling it.

“I am acutely aware,” Draco sneered, not caring for sympathy or pity. He just wanted to know how much longer he had.

“My previous estimate was two and a half weeks, but I think it would be more correct to say a week and a half.”

“Very well,” Draco sighed, resigned. He didn’t even enjoy being angry anymore, couldn’t even find pleasure in verbally accosting the feeble-minded.

“Have you made arrangements for your remains?”

Draco’s hunched spine straightened with a creak. He hadn’t. He hadn’t even thought of it. Who would want his remains anyway?

He left the appointment with an end-of-life comfort kit, with mostly consisted of bottles of Amortentia vapor rub to provide the scent of mate, and enough pain medication and anti-nausea potions to ease the final days. The mediwitches and Veelas saw him out with pitying glances and sorrowful looks. He tried to hold his head up, but walking was a struggle and he was wheezing by the time he reached the floo.

He was running out of time, so he summoned enough strength for one last journey. Which was how he found himself exhausted and mentally-drained enough to have missed the mass of springy hair until it was right at his shoulder.

“Draco!” she exclaimed, grabbing his shoulder too roughly. “It’s been ages since we’ve seen you.”

The smile that had colored her voice disappeared from her face when Draco turned towards her. Instead, her mouth dropped open in shock, and her hand clenched even tighter around his arm. They both heard and felt the bone snap.

Hermione flew into a fit of apologies and rapidly effective healing charms that had his arm fixed before he could even feel the pain through the fog of potions he was under.

“Jesus Christ, Draco,” she said, sounding dreadfully muggle in a way that Draco had started to find terribly charming over the last couple years. “Are you okay?”

“No,” he said, with a simple, blank shrug. He didn’t want to be here, having this conversation. It’s not that he hadn’t grown to care for her, just that everything about her reminded him of Harry and the times they’d spent together.

“Does Harry know?” She asked, brushing over him with her wand. He knew she wasn’t advanced in healing magic, but being the witch she was, she knew a little bit of everything.

“Of course he knows,” Draco replied tiredly. He had done this to him.

“Surely he would’ve come back if he knew,” Hermione said, as if it were foregone, that Harry would put his comfort before the world. Draco’s weak heart threatened to stall from the pain of it all.

“He knew when he left.” Draco didn’t react when Hermione gasped.

“He would not leave you like this,” she said harshly, loyalty and faith ringing in her every word. Draco wondered, idly, when sickness had robbed him of that sort of strength. He shrugged. He turned back to the urns.

“Obsidian, I think,” he said, gesturing to the one of the shelf in front of him. Hermione didn’t look, still studying his face with concern. “Father's was marble, Mother's was Jade. I imagine they'll make a lovely trio. I don’t want to leave anything garish on Andromeda’s mantle.”

“Draco,” she breathed, sounding of disbelief. “What are you talking about?”

“She'll probably take the remains. My parents are gone. And I never got the opportunity to be a father myself.” His voice caught, too exhausted to keep up a firm upper lip. Here, shopping for urns, the possible aunt to his once possible children gaping at him like she couldn’t believe that future wouldn’t come to pass. "I would've loved it, you know? Being a father. I thought our kids would play together, and it would be dreadful trying to teach them not to tease your horribly ginger husband."

She didn’t say anything, choosing instead to brusquely wipe the tears from her face and mumble more and more healing spells, as if anything could stop the Wasting that had already taken hold in his body. He sighed and turned to her.

“Did he really not tell you?” he asked. He had wondered. Perhaps the guilt would’ve been too much, to share the murder of his lover with his best friends. She shook her head, dark hair bouncing.

“Is it… terminal?” she asked, eyes wide and heart broken. He looked to the urns and back to her, eyebrow raised. “How long?”

Draco sighed, again. It seemed to be the only thing his body was still reliably capable of.

“I imagine Andromeda will put something in the paper, probably invite you to a wake of some sort. It will likely be small and hushed, I don’t want to stress Teddy unduly.” Hermione began to cry openly now and if his skin hadn’t felt like tissue paper, he might have permitted her to hug him. As it was, she’d already broken one of his bones today, he wasn’t feeling strong enough to risk another and still be able to apparate home. “I’m sorry this is a surprise to you,” he said, to be polite, but he wasn’t. In fact, he was a little relieved. That his woman who had worked painstakingly to make him a friend, who had bridged he gap between Malfoy’s and Weasley’s with pure determination and will in a way that Harry never could’ve done himself, Draco was overjoyed that she hadn’t know. That she hadn’t listened to Harry’s plan and condoned it. That her hands were clean of his blood, and that if it had been up to her, maybe Harry wouldn’t have left him. “I will leave you something nice,” he said, suddenly, the burst of happiness feeling so foreign in his weak and clogged chest. “I know you’ve always admired the library.”

“Stop it, Malfoy,” she shouted at him, tears rolling. “Stop it right now. I don’t understand.” And he knew how much she hated that.

“Owl Harry, if you can,” he said ingenuinely, hoping to whatever God there might be that that wasn’t possible, and Harry hadn’t left him to die just to fuck off to someplace any owl could get to. “He can explain it all.”

He left the store without the urn, knowing he couldn’t carry it himself, and not willing to let her see him that weak. He owled in the order the next day, and promised himself he wouldn’t leave the Manor again.

 

He was lying on a chaise in the garden, head propped on a pillow that still smelled like Harry, feeling that he was quite sure it would be soon. He’d picked this place in the garden carefully, and had spend every day of the past three here, listening to the hum of the fountain, smelling the soft fragrance of his mother’s roses, watching the peacocks peck about aimlessly. It was a good spot to die.

He knew he was close. It might even be today. He tilted his head on his pillow, breathing in a shallow breath of air that still smelled like happiness and love. He caught sight of a figure hurrying across the grounds. He smiled, softly, when he saw it was Harry.

“Hello,” he said, extending a shaking hand as soon as he was near. He dropped to his knees next to his seat and held Draco’s hand tightly against his cheek.

“Draco, what is this?” he asked, his green eyes wide and angry looking. Draco hummed pleasantly.

“I can’t say I was expecting hallucinations, but I am not displeased. I must be close.”

At that, Harry cursed raggedly, fumbling his wand out of his pocket and frantically casting spells. Draco felt the invasive tingle of healing and detection spells swamp his whole body. He giggled quietly, slightly delirious.

“Of course, even in a dream, here you are, desperately trying to save me,” he said, closing his eyes, threading his weak fingers into his hair as he leaned over him. “So stubborn, such a hero. You always have been.” The tears he’d been holding back for five weeks began pouring out, and he opened his eyes to get one last look, even if it was all imaginary. “Fuck, I’ve missed you so much.”

“Draco, I am so sorry,” he said, and Draco realized he was crying as he cast.

“Maybe this is why it happens,” he said, feeling more clear-headed than he had in days. “Why we die. You’re so caught up in arranging your affairs and being sick, you don’t even have time to miss them.” Draco’s body continued to tingle, buzzing in an overwhelming way, becoming uncomfortable, painful. This isn’t how he thought it would happen. Mother had told him it was just like falling asleep. He didn’t know it would feel like this. “I’m glad,” he said, gasping as his vision started to tunnel, narrowing until he couldn’t see the garden he’d so carefully chosen, just Harry. Just Harry’s beautiful, worried face, with a few too many cuts and bruises to be true to his memory of him, but him all the same. “I’m glad I got to miss you,” he confessed. "Loving you was the privilege of my life," he admitted in a whisper, before his vision went dark and his body finally went quiet.

 

 

Draco hadn’t really entertained the idea of an afterlife.

But when he opened his eyes, he was certainly not expecting to see a water-stained ceiling and a cross-looking Harry Potter.

He looked around, identifying the room as a St. Mungo’s room, and identifying the frown on Harry’s face as one of his upmost disappointment.

“I’m confused,” he admitted, and was surprised by the strength and volume in his voice. He hadn’t really noticed how quiet he’d gotten over the past few weeks.

“What. The fuck. Is wrong with you?” The cross Harry asked him.

“Well I had been Wasting,” he said, looking at the back of his hand, where before his fingernails had been falling off and his skin dry and broken, now looking whole and put together. “Now, I suppose, I’m in purgatory?” he said, a guess. “Do I wait here for real you to die?” he asked the cross Harry. He rolled his eyes. “That will take for-fucking-ever,” he sighed. “Real you is quite difficult to kill.”

“Stop talking about me like I’m not here,” the cross Harry shouted at him. “Stop talking like you’re not here!”

“Hey,” a healer scolded, poking his head in the door. “Mr. Potter, you cannot shout at the patients here.”

Draco looked at the healer, and then back at Harry, and then back at his hand, feeling whole and strong when he flexed it.

“Oh,” he said, looking back to Harry. Harry, whose jaw was clenched, and his fists balled tightly at his sides. Harry, who looked sallow and scared, and had tear-stains on his cheeks. “Oh,” he said again.

“How could you?” Harry asked, dropping heavily into the chair next to his bed.

“How could I?” Draco asked incredulously, the anger he hadn’t let himself feel, for fear and heartbreak, finally welling up in his chest. “You left me to die!”

“You didn’t try to stop me!” Harry yelled back at him.

“What good would that have done,” Draco replied, bitterly. He’d had this conversation with himself a hundred times. “You’d already decided to go. What did you want me to do? Beg you to stay? Plead for my life?”

Yes!” Harry screamed at him. “You could have told me! If I knew you were going to die, I wouldn’t have left.”

Another healer stuck her head through the door and glared at them, informing them that Mr. Potter would be asked to leave if they could not control themselves.

Harry sat heavily back in his chair, as if his strings had been cut. Draco relaxed against his pillows, realizing that he had the energy to be angry, for the first time in weeks. It was quiet but for their labored breathing, Draco taking stock of his body, realizing he felt healthy again. He heard a snuffling sob, and looked to see that Harry was crying into his hands.

“How could you have not known?” Draco asked quietly, extending one (strong, whole, powerful) hand across the bed towards him. Harry collapsed forward, wrapping his hand up in his fists and pressing it to his forehead. “You knew I loved you. I told you so many times. Didn’t I show you every day we were together?”

“I didn’t know what that meant,” Harry confessed, pressing his fingers to his lips, looking up at him with heartbroken eyes. “I didn’t know you were Veela, I didn’t know what that would mean.” He laughed an ugly, exhausted laugh. “Hermione had to find me. She hacked a Ministry secured floo network to find me and fucking scream at me for not being here for you. And then I find you half dead and all the healers are telling me that it's my fault!” He stood from his chair, leaning on his elbows on the bed, looking at him intently. “I swear, I didn’t know. I would never have left you if I’d known. I’d let the whole fucking world burn to cinder before I’d ever let myself hurt you.”

“How could you not have known?” Draco asked again, his voice light with relief and disbelief. Harry hadn’t killed him. Harry hadn’t known.

“You never told me,” Harry said, brokenly, sagging over him, pushing his face into his chest. Instinctively, Draco flinched, expecting to feel the bend and creak of his fragile ribs. But it didn’t hurt, his bones felt like bones again, not like glass, and he quickly speared his fingers through his partner’s hair and held him tightly to his chest. “How was I supposed to know you were Veela?” he asked, burrowing into his hospital gown.

“We’ve had sex, Harry,” Draco said, a slightly mocking tilt to his voice. “Did you think that was normal?”

“Yes,” Harry said insistently. Draco looked at him, appalled.

“Is our sex life so terrible for you that you mistook it for regular sex?”

“No, Draco, it’s incredible,” Harry said, pressing his nose into the soft give of his nipple. “I just thought that’s how it was. You’re the only person I’ve ever been with.” Draco released another sound of abject disbelief.

“You were a virgin?

“Announce it a little louder, why don’t you,” Harry groused, sitting back in his chair, though he pulled it forward enough that he could still hold tightly to his hand.

“Why didn’t you tell me that?”

“You said you knew!” Harry exclaimed, cheeks flaming red. “After, you know, you asked me how my first time was.”

“I meant with a Veela, Harry,” Draco explained exasperatedly. “I knew that was your first time with a Veela. I didn’t know that was your first time ever.” Harry just shrugged, face flaming where he’d perched his chin on their joined hands. “You really thought that sort of cosmically explosive connection was normal?”

“I thought we were soulmates,” he confessed quietly, pushing his nose into the cleft between their thumbs. “I thought you were just special. That that’s what it was like when you were really in love.”

“Veela’s mate for life,” Draco told him, gentling his voice. “We are special. It’s not soulmates, but it might as well be.” Draco brushed his fringe back away from his lightning scar, noting the cuts and bruises that dotted his face, marks he didn’t have before he left. “You never noticed I was always sick when you came back from long weekend jobs?”

“You always jumped me as soon as I was through the door,” Harry said, pouting his lip adorably as he defended himself. “I just thought you missed me.”

“I thought you knew,” Draco breathed. “I thought you were just waving the Veela Workplace Protection Act. I never asked you to stay because I thought you’d always come back in time.” Angry, frustrated tears budded in his eyes again and his hand turned to and impotent fist in his partner’s grip. “And then you left, for this mission, and I thought you knew you were killing me. I thought the Ministry knew that sending you away would kill me and they let you go anyway. I thought you did it on purpose.”

“I would never, Draco, I would never,” Harry said, scrambling up into the bed to press himself bodily against him, gathering him up in his arms to hold him against his chest. “I love you so much.” He pressed kisses to his face, the whole side of his face. “I didn’t want to ask you to wait for me. But I never wanted to let you go.” Draco felt the hair by his ear go damp with tears. “I thought that maybe, maybe, I’d come back in a year or two, and you’d still want me.”

“You didn’t know I’d be dead,” Draco said in a quiet, disbelieving voice.

“I can’t believe I almost killed you,” Harry said in a near sob. “How could I have been so stupid?”

“It’s okay,” Draco said, and strangely, he felt as though it would be. Arranging for your own death really put things in perspective. “I love you. For my whole life. How ever long you decide that will be.”

“Forever,” Harry pledged, and their eyes met, both dewy but honest. “I’ll love you forever. I can’t believe I almost lost you.”

“You came back for me,” Draco assured him, tilting his chin to press a small kiss to his lips. Harry exhaled brokenly, pulling him in for a deeper kiss, and Draco realized this was a feeling he never thought he’d get back. He was amazed at how readily his lips remembered the shape.

“I quit my job at the Ministry,” Harry said when they pulled apart for air. “I told them they could hire me as a consultant if they needed me, but right now my priority was you.”

“What about preventing a war?” Draco asked. Harry just shook his head against him.

“When I was there, on the team, there were plenty of other perfectly capable people working on it. Single people who didn’t have families of their own to abandon. I was helpful, I was a good leader, but they didn’t need me as much as I need you.”

“I sold the apartment,” Draco confessed. “And all of our things.”

“I don’t care about our things.”

“I gave the cat to Pansy.”

“I do care about that, we need to get her back immediately.”

Draco chuckled and pushed his face up into another kiss, filling his lungs for what felt like the first time in years.

“Merlin, I love you so much,” Draco sighed.

“I’m never letting you go again,” Harry promised him, and with a stubborn bastard like him, Draco was sure he was telling the truth.