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This Candle Burns

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Title: This Candle Burns
Author: Anonymous
Prompt: #103
Summary: Draco has discovered the moment when everything changed for his family and doomed them to their downfall post-war. He can go back in time and change that--if he's willing to let the spell burn his life up. But Draco feels he has little left to lose, so he begins the spell, not knowing exactly what will happen at the end.
Rating: R
Warnings: Mixture of past and present tenses, non-linear storytelling, angst, canon-typical violence, minor character death, AU from ending of HBP, ambiguous ending.
Wordcount: 13,800
Author's Notes: Thanks for posting this prompt, SinsofYouth/ea_stofnar! I wanted to write for it as soon as I saw it. I hope you enjoy the story.

Thanks also to my betas, Linda and Karen, for working so hard on this story. The title is a variation of a line from the Edna St. Vincent Millay poem quoted below.

This Candle Burns

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!

Draco opens his eyes.

Before him blazes the fire he will go into, the fire that he has chosen to sacrifice himself to rather than sit here and wait for his death to overcome him. Sixty years since the war. Sixty years of grey, of granite rather than jewels, of firelight rather than sunlight. And he chooses to burn it up.

The fire is on the Manor grounds, dancing back and forth in a circle of black stones. They were marble once. Draco took them from the walls and supercharged them with enchantment: with his determination, with his anger and sorrow, with the fire that has burned in him ever since reading the book that said he could send himself back in time and find the moment that had changed his family's history.

He knows the moment. Hasn't he always known it? He didn't need to think very hard.

The fire blazes white and blue. Draco moves towards it with his hand out. The flames curl over and bend down to touch his palm. It hurts so much that it's as if it doesn't hurt at all.

Few people can use this spell: not because it's hard or because the ritual is complicated. Because few people have the will to sacrifice themselves, their entire present and past, for their family, or even themselves. The heart fears the end of being.

Not Draco. Not him.

The fire keeps dancing. He has to move forwards into it, to show he embraces death and change and the ability to love.

Draco casts a spell that makes a small mirror form on the grass in front of him, and peers into it. His white hair hangs as limp as seaweed around his face. His eyes are glassy, cold grey, ashes that could never have made this fire spring. He is sending his memories back in time to someone who can.

Draco tilts his head back. The words of the book blaze in his memory.

They who would alter the past, must be prepared to sacrifice all futures.

And then comes the description of the ritual. Simple, spare, a twig to kindle flames few people can bring themselves to kindle.

Simple and spare as Draco's life, as Draco's strength.

He walks into the fire.

There is a single moment of pure light, so savage it splits him, so excoriating it devours him. He opens his mouth to scream, but there is no mouth. He has no hands to grasp. Nothing to swallow, nothing to hold himself back, nothing to be.

Then there is only the crackling of the fire.

*

Draco opened his eyes.

He was standing on top of the Astronomy Tower with his wand dangling in his hand, staring at Dumbledore as he waited for some response to his offer of mercy. And Draco could feel the pride pushing up his throat, like a black plug that made him want to vomit. It would hold his hand still. It would control his actions.

Not this time.

Draco lowered his wand and nodded once. “How can you keep me and my family safe, though?” he asked, and heard his voice crack with youth more than sadness or fear. “You—you look like you’re dying.”

Dumbledore’s face softened. Draco hadn't known this was a smile he missed. “There are ways.” He glanced beyond Draco’s head. Professor Snape walked up beside Draco with a swirl of his cloak and bent down. He and Dumbledore exchanged rapid words that Draco didn’t bother trying to overhear.

What mattered was that he and his family would have sanctuary. Survival.

Professor Snape pulled back from Dumbledore and nodded once. Then he spun around and aimed his wand at what looked to Draco like an empty area of the Tower, chanting as he removed a spell. Potter came into view, stumbling out from under his Invisibility Cloak and staring at Draco in fractured astonishment.

Draco felt his memories writhe, and it took more strength of will to keep his face impassive than it did to accept Dumbledore’s offer in the first place. Would he have chosen this moment to come back to if he had remembered that Potter was here?

Probably still, yes. Because Draco was not an idiot, and had outlived their childish rivalry even if his teeth still ground against each other to see how universally beloved Potter was.

But it would have been harder.

“Come,” said Professor Snape briefly, and he swished his wand again. The brooms that came speeding towards them made Draco start. Snape shoved Draco at one of them. “You will leave here. You will fly directly to the home of Potter’s Muggle relatives. I will send a Patronus to your mother and let her know that she needs to pack everything she can and leave, now. She will join you as soon as she can.”

“But, sir—”

“But, sir—”

Potter spoke the same words at the same time, although addressed to Dumbledore instead of Snape, and they paused and stared at each other. Snape gave them no time. He said only, “Go,” and shoved them again.

Potter shook his head as though he was waking from a deep sleep and mounted his own broom with that casual grace Draco had once despised so much. “Come on, Malfoy.” He looked back at Dumbledore as he blasted off the Tower, but he was still flying straight, without the temptation Draco had, to turn and run in the opposite direction.

He didn’t look back after that initial moment, which was why Draco was the only one to see the green light of the Killing Curse as Professor Snape completed his mission.

His mission. Draco’s mission. The mission of the boy he used to be, before this infusion of memories.

Draco wound his hands around the shaft of the broom, and held on.

*

How many times has Draco walked past this library shelf before he noticed the book? How many times has he looked at the thick spines without interest, never knowing that his salvation lay only an arm's length away?

Time to stop regretting, though. He's had sixty years of regret. Reading is more productive.

Draco's eyes devour the words about will and the ability to step back into the past, to fly without a broom, to bring back the dead, to do other things magic suggests are impossible. It's all down to will and to want, as the book says. Most wizards can't do these things because they don't want them enough. They joke or they moan or they regret, but those emotions and sensations by themselves aren't enough to conquer time or space or gravity.

Draco does linger on the ritual that would bring someone back to life, but in the end, he has to shake his head. It would do no good to return his parents to this world where the Malfoys still aren't respected and their name is practically a byword for "Death Eaters" even when two generations have grown up that don’t know the war.

In the end, the fire is the only way.

*

Potter’s family home was nothing like Draco had expected.

There were four walls and a bit of a garden, and that was really all that could be said. There were no moving pictures, no thick blankets, none of the luxuries that Draco would have if he was at home. Even the new, ancient memories in his head agreed that the Manor he had left was better than this. Livelier.

It didn't help that the Muggle relatives yelled at Potter, endless repetitions of “No freaks!” and “No freaks in my house!” and “You’ll pay for this, boy!” and “Leave at once!” Potter simply bore through it, his face as still as Draco's hands when he found the book that would buy him his past.

When they finally got up to Potter’s bedroom, he showed Draco the bed with a curt nod and stepped outside the door again. Draco slid his broom and the small bag of personal possessions he was never without—it included a store of emergency coin, a good idea, said the adult in his head—beneath the bed and went over to the door to listen. Potter was arguing with his aunt.

“He has to stay here.”

“You haven’t told me why, boy.”

“Because Dumbledore says so.”

There was a gasp, and the aunt fell silent. Draco’s brow furrowed. So they knew Dumbledore’s name even in the Muggle world? That was a level of fame he didn’t realize the Headmaster had.

Part of him twinged with jealousy, but he stifled it. He knew what happened to Dumbledore. He knew what happened to his old self. He couldn't do anything about the one, but things had already changed. He wouldn’t waste the chance that his elder self’s sacrifice had bestowed on him.

“And his mother’s coming in a few days, too. Or sometime. I’m not sure when.”

“If you think that I’m putting up with three of you in the house—”

“I won’t be here very long,” Potter said. He sounded almost uninterested. Draco’s insides prickled. Potter was almost the only one who knew that Draco had lowered his wand on that roof, and Professor Snape was surrounded by the sort of people who would—judge Draco the wrong way for it. Potter couldn’t leave. “He and his mother can stay here. His mother’s an adult wizard. She can make the room larger for them without it impacting the rest of the house. And she can use magic to defend them.”

It sounded like a warning. Draco blinked, then blinked again. He went on blinking as Potter strode back into the room and slammed the door.

He still paid no attention to Draco. Instead, he looked out the window. Draco looked with him, but the view was only a tree and some grass. Potter wasn’t looking at that. He had to be making plans.

Draco knew he should do the same thing. This was already such a large change in the timeline that he’d probably succeeded in saving his family, but he needed to know what to say when Mother joined him. Why he took the risk on Dumbledore’s mercy when he’d tried to kill him all year. He’d have to come up with some explanation that didn't involve time travel.

But he didn't want to be left out of Potter’s brooding, either, if only because Potter might do something that jeopardized the nice future Draco was creating for his family. “What are you doing?”

“Thinking.”

Draco rolled his eyes. It was so easy to touch recent (in one way) memories and call up what he felt like when Potter tried to murder him in the bathroom. “It looks like it hurts.”

Potter didn’t even glance at him.

“Why do you live here?” Draco looked around again. There was dust on everything, and broken toys that he could only assume were Muggle. They didn't look as though a wand had even been waved in their direction. “I thought that your Muggle relatives doted on you. I thought you grew up like a prince. I thought—”

“You thought wrong.”

Potter’s words were simple, not even arrogant or angry, but they cut off Draco’s complaining like a swung blade. He found himself sitting back, blinking. He watched as Potter turned and got out parchment and ink and began to write.

That was that, he supposed. He did wonder how in the world he was going to get any sleep when Potter would undoubtedly crowd into bed with him. But for right now, he had it to himself. He supposed that they’d run that road when they came to it.

*

"I can't help you, sir."

Draco stares in wonder and hatred at the face of the witch in front of him. She doesn't look back with hatred, of course. Nothing to do with her. She's already turning over the paperwork that will mean the next case.

"What do you mean, you can't help me?" A few people look up at Draco's voice; some of the old corridors in the Ministry, like this one, have unfortunate echoes. Draco swallows back his next shout and replies quietly instead, leaning over the granite desk at which the woman sits. "It's been fifty-eight years! That's enough time to reverse the prohibition saying I can't name anyone as inheritor in my will, surely."

"You can name the Ministry as your heir, sir. No one else, sir." The woman has fake dyed blonde hair and big glasses. She wouldn't know the name "Rita Skeeter" if Draco screamed it in her face. "That's the way it's set up, sir. Next!" She calls the word over Draco's shoulder, and a woman with a crying baby and a tired look on her face steps forwards.

"I want to name someone unrelated to me," Draco says, not glancing away or moving even when the baby screams right in his ear. "Not someone related by blood. That ought to be enough."

"It's not. The Ministry says that you can't ever name someone to inherit your land or your money or your artifacts or your wand, sir."

Draco wants to snort breathlessly. As if there's any artifacts or money left after what the Ministry took at the close of the second war.

"But you can name the Ministry." The young woman summons a polite smile from somewhere and poises her quill. "Do you want to do that? You can make a donation of your house and grounds to any department you wish, sir. Just say the word."

Draco turns and storms out of the Department of Family Inheritances and Gifts without saying a word. He thinks he hears both women sigh and mutter in relief behind him.

Seventy-six years old, and he's still being haunted by things that happened when he was eighteen. It's ridiculous.

*

Potter slept on the floor.

In all his vague thoughts about what would happen when he came back in time, Draco had never expected that. Then again, he had never thought he would stay in a Muggle house, either.

He didn’t actually realize what would happen the first night. He was so tired he simply tumbled into sleep on Potter’s bed at some point, and then woke up and found Potter curled on the floor, on a ratty pile of blankets and a single pillow. At some point, he’d tugged sheets on the bed over Draco.

Draco lay there and said nothing, blinking a little at times, feeling like a lizard. He watched Potter until he woke. Potter just nodded at him and went downstairs to do—something. All Draco knew was he came back with toast and tomatoes and soup at some point. Draco ate them, watching Potter.

Who had gone back to his list-making.

That was what it had been like ever since. Potter didn’t abuse him, didn’t scorn him, didn’t seem to care about Draco at all, except for giving him the bed and making sure he had food. When Draco asked if he could send a letter to his mother, Potter only shrugged and nodded.

“When Hedwig gets back,” he said. His owl was out at the moment Draco asked, with some letter for Granger and Weasley. Or at least so Draco assumed.

Draco did finally, when he got bored, ask what Potter was doing. “Pacing,” Potter said, and went back to wearing a groove in the floor between the window and the door.

“I mean besides that, Potter,” Draco muttered, rolling his eyes, while inwardly realizing that Potter had more wit than he’d ever supposed. Neither the sixth year that felt like it was just behind him nor the life he’d more recently lived gave him much reason to speculate on how witty Potter was. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Planning how to leave and take on the final quest that Dumbledore wanted me to do. I’ll leave soon after your mum gets here. She can protect you from my relatives and make sure you’re okay.”

Draco stared. He had thought Potter would say something about Death Eaters, not his relatives. “You think Muggles can hurt a Malfoy?”

“I think they can hurt a fugitive who doesn’t dare use his wand.”

Draco said nothing, once again. He only studied Potter, but since Potter was ignoring him, he could do so with impunity. This time, Draco was looking for something specific. Yes, there was something that might be it. A hint of a ragged scar on Potter’s side as his shirt flapped up.

“The Muggles hurt you, didn’t they? That’s why you’re worried about them hurting another wizard.”

For a moment, Potter’s stride jerked to a halt. Then he shook his head and kept going. “That was my cousin, chasing me and beating me up. But they can yell, and they can lock you up, and they can keep you from getting food.”

“They did that to you.” Draco didn't know why he was whispering. No one but dust was here to overhear them, and the dust wouldn’t tell Potter’s secrets. “That’s—why have you been—are you getting enough to eat?” He looked at the locks on Potter’s door. He had thought Potter put them on to keep his relatives out and have a bit of privacy for himself. Draco noticed now, for the first time, that they were on the wrong side for that.

“Enough.”

“That doesn’t answer anything!”

“Yes, it does.” Potter looked at him again, and suddenly Draco understood part of his reactions. He hadn’t suddenly grown immune to Draco’s existence. He’d been holding back anger. “You don’t get to pry into my life, Malfoy. Not after what you were going to do.”

Draco opened his mouth before he even thought about it, because his old and new memories were alike in insisting that he didn't want Potter’s enmity. “But I didn’t do it! I backed down! I took the old man’s mercy offer!”

“And in the meantime, you nearly killed Ron when he drank some of that poisoned mead, and you nearly killed Katie Bell because she touched that cursed necklace. Maybe Dumbledore only cared about saving you and not about Katie or Ron. I know that Snape only cares about you.” There was loathing in Potter’s voice, although Draco thought it was for Snape alone. “You’ve got enough people caring about you. I have things to do.”

And then he shut up and didn't speak to Draco again for almost a full day, until his mother arrived. It didn't matter what Draco thought of for them to argue about or how he complained. Potter was entirely too focused.

He looks constipated, Draco thought sometimes to cheer himself up, but he knew that he didn't really believe that, and it made being ignored all the worse.

*

"I'm here again. To talk to you."

Draco's words echo weirdly in the empty graveyard. He finds himself flushing, as if another person is hiding nearby and might leap out of hiding to take a picture and laugh at his humiliation.

There should be nothing humiliating in visiting the graves of his parents. Draco thinks that as he lays down the handful of carnations on the bare earth. His mother would say that.

There is when the people involved died so young, younger than any Malfoy ever has.

His father would say that.

At least the graves are as beautiful as Draco can make them. They're in a corner of the grounds, one the house-elves barely even visit and the peacocks never stalked, because even ten years after the war when Father died, no graveyard would have taken the infamous survivors of the Malfoy clan. Draco was the one who chose the ground, who ordered the carved marble without telling anyone what it was for, who studied the right spells to make that marble into headstones and a monument of a witch and wizard standing with joined hands.

He doesn't think their faces look anything like his parents' faces. Then again, after this long without them, he very much fears that he doesn't remember what they really look like anymore.

"They're still so afraid of me," Draco whispers, watching the same wind that blows his hair around his face stir the petals of the carnations. "They shy away from me when I go to Diagon Alley as if I had a disease. I've never even bothered seeking out a wife or having children. When I couldn't leave property to them, it wouldn't matter anyway."

Silence. Draco knows what his father would say to that, too. He should have found a way. He should have been clever enough.

"I think the Malfoy cleverness died with you," Draco tells his father, tilting his head back to look into the eyes of the carved Lucius. They're no easier to meet than the real ones would have been. "I'm so tired."

*

Mother didn’t let that nonsense persist, of course.

“Why do you never talk to my son, Mr. Potter?” she asked, after she’d been there for a day and enlarged the room with wizardspace, changed the color of the walls to dark blue and charmed images of swimming fish onto them, created a fireplace, arranged several glass ornaments that used to be in her bedroom on the mantel, and Transfigured the bed into three comfortable ones.

“Because he was part of the reason Dumbledore died. And because maybe you never knew this, but we’ve hated each other since first year.”

“I could hardly be unaware of that, when Draco told me the story over and over again.”

Draco flushed and squirmed as her eye fell on him. It was amazing how being back in a teenage body has turned him into his mother’s son again, in some ways. He had assumed he wouldn’t be bothered by scolding or a look; he’d lived out a full lifetime and seen his mother die of heartbreak he was helpless to stop. He'd thought, when he thought about it at all, that they would treat each other like adults.

No. This was a Narcissa who didn't know the future and saw no reason not to treat him as her child.

“Then you know.” Potter went back to pacing.

Narcissa stepped in front of him, and Draco admired her for a moment. There was a subtle strength in her face that he had never seen before. Circumstances were never such that she needed to draw it out, he supposed. In his other lifetime, by the time circumstances arrived that would have forced her to do that, they were already living under the dominion of the Dark Lord in their own Manor, and trying to avoid doing anything that would attract his attention.

“I have created a bed for you.”

“Yes, I see that. Thank you.”

Potter’s steeliness was no match for the stare Draco’s mother leveled at him. “He has told me you were sleeping on the floor.”

“Yes.”

“Why do you let him have the bed if you hate him so much?”

“I don’t hate him enough to make him sleep on the floor. I just hate him enough not to be his friend.”

Draco watched in fascination as his mother put a hand on her hip. Yes, this was pure fire that had disappeared long ago in the woman he knew back in his own time, the woman who had lived to see her husband die in prison and the whole wizarding world turn against them. Even the Black family, revived by Potter, hadn't taken her back. Draco rather suspected that was the final betrayal that had broken her.

But here and now--past, new present, Draco wasn't sure what to call it--she was alive and burning.

"Do you realize that you've rather suggested Draco letting you sleep on the floor implies that he hates you?"

Potter lifted his gaze and met Narcissa's head-on. Draco swallowed breath hard enough to start coughing. He still didn't think Potter was a match for his mother, but then again, he had never known the man could look like this, all strength.

"But he does. I don't mind about that. I know he was forced into hiding here against his will. And mine." Potter cast Draco a fleeting glance before he faced Narcissa once more. "It's unimportant anyway. You two can keep hiding here after I'm gone, and then you don't need to worry about what bed-sharing says or doesn't say."

Potter turned as if to begin another pacing circuit, but Narcissa placed a hand on his arm. "If you are under the impression that my son still hates you, then you haven't paid much attention in the last day," she said, cool as the Muggles' refrigerator device. "Look at him and see what's there."

"The last day? I'm supposed to decide anything from that?" Draco heard Potter mutter, but he did turn around and obediently look at Draco.

This didn't fit in with anything Draco had known in the future or past. The closest contact he'd had with Potter in his own time, at least after the war trials, was seeing his face beaming from the front page. He blinked back.

He had no idea what Potter was looking for. He only knew that Potter's face grew rapt in that short time, his eyes narrowing as though Draco was a source of strong sunlight.

Finally, he turned back to Narcissa and nodded, his hand reaching out. Draco's mother's hand met it halfway to her robes.

"I see what you mean. I'll try to protect him."

*

Draco sighs as he watches the owl soar through the window with his Daily Prophet in one claw. He's thought about giving it up again and again, but part of him retains the mad compulsion to know what the rest of the wizarding world is doing while it marches on without the Malfoys.

This morning, as seems to happen on an average of once per fortnight, the paper falls open to reveal Potter's grinning face on the front page.

POTTER SAVES THE DAY AGAIN!

Honestly, it's become predictable enough to be sad by now, Draco thinks, as he sips his tea. The rate at which the papers have to recycle their headlines to address Potter's activities, that is.

He skims the article. Something about reviving the Black family, reviving hope, catching smugglers, catching Dark wizards, making the world safe for little children...all of those phrases and more are in every paper, whether or not they're true at the time. They have to remind all wizards everywhere every day what they owe Potter for saving them from Voldemort.

Honestly, Draco thinks as he crumples up the paper and calls the house-elves to fetch what remains of his tea away, in some ways Draco's life would be better if Potter never defeated Voldemort. Or at least did a better job of defending Death Eaters at the trials.

The thought lingers.

*

The last few weeks hadn't been bad, Draco thought as he lay in his bed, drowsily watching the shadows of the curtains drift on the wind. The window was open at night now even though it was covered with bars. Potter spoke with them, ate with them, paced or thought less often. He got owls from his friends he never offered to share, but honestly, Draco hadn't shared the few he got from Professor Snape, either.

The way Potter's jaw tightened the one time Draco tried to talk to him about Snape, Draco knew he wouldn't be trying again.

A thump attracted his attention, and Draco turned over in bed and blinked. Potter was packing his trunk. A tap of his wand, and it shrank. Draco cocked his head. He knew Potter's seventeenth birthday had been yesterday and he didn't need to worry about the Trace, but where was he going?

Potter scooped up the trunk and started making his way to the door without a backwards glance.

"Potter!" Draco whispered. He didn't look at his mother's bed. Even if she was awake and listening, Draco knew she wouldn't interfere. She seemed pleased at the way things were going between him and Potter.

"Yeah?" Potter had a hand on the door and was opening it. He didn't turn around, as if he thought he could deal with Draco's request easily.

"Where are you going?"

"On the important mission Dumbledore left me." Potter turned his head, and his eyes flashed blank and pale, marked by the light on his glasses. "I told you that. And I sent a Patronus to your dad to let him know you're all right. So there should be nothing else you need from me as long as you're here and safe."

Draco swallowed. "But you said the blood protections were going to fall on your seventeenth birthday. That's why those other people came and took your relatives away." Draco and his mother had hid while Potter talked with those other wizards. Draco thought they were members of the Order of the Phoenix, but there was no saying that they knew about Dumbledore's promise.

"Oh. Yeah." Potter shrugged. "The Order is going to come back tomorrow and escort you to another sanctuary. They just can't do it right now, what with settling my relatives and everything."

"But--they know we're innocent?"

"They know you lowered your wand. And that your Mum doesn't want anything to do with the Death Eaters."

"But--you're going away."

Potter's face actually softened. "I know," he said quietly. "But I have to. We've wasted too much time already. I was actually going to go to the Burrow before my birthday and wait for a while, but Hermione found something...well, anyway, it's not safe now. But there's no reason for anyone to look here in the next twenty-four hours. I'll be leaving now."

"We want to come with you." Draco had heard the rustle behind him that meant Mother was indeed awake and listening. "Don't leave us here."

“That’s—absurd,” said Potter, after some moments of flailing around in what Draco suspected was a search for the right word. “This is an important mission that Dumbledore entrusted me with. I can’t even tell you what’s it’s about! Ron and Hermione would kill me if I did!”

“What about Dumbledore?” Mother’s voice was quiet but determined, and Draco leaned back on the bed and grinned. Potter might as well give up right now. “He was the one who thought Draco could be redeemed, who cared enough to forgive him for his murder attempts. And me, by extension, for forcing Severus to swear that Unbreakable Vow,” she added. Potter swallowed and blinked. “Would he be so happy that you were leaving us behind?”

Silence. Potter stood and stared back and forth from bed to bed.

Then he muttered, “But what we’re looking for is so secret that I’d have to tell you lots of things about Voldemort and what he wants.”

“I’m not going to betray you,” Draco burst out, his memories of his previous timeline crowding forwards to dump the words out of his mouth. “I promise. No matter what. Anything is better than going back to the Dark Lord.”

Potter turned his head, eyes piercing. “Even if you thought this was information that would mean you could get his favor back and keep it?”

“No one keeps the favor of the Dark Lord for long.” Mother’s voice was soft, but Draco could feel the scrape of her nails as she reached out and clutched his hand. “Even Severus walks a knife’s edge, and he accomplished an end—on the surface—that the Dark Lord has wanted for a very long time. That means we will not turn our backs on you.”

“If he even let us live long enough to ask us questions, instead of just killing us outright,” Draco added bitterly. It was a nightmare, every day, that they might get an owl or a Patronus from Professor Snape saying Father was dead, and Draco could only endure the suspense because he thought dying that way was better than fading, as his father had done in Azkaban in his own time.

Potter stood still, thinking. Draco only sat and watched him. He still didn’t know why Potter had changed his mind about him and been nicer in the last weeks. He could say nothing that would change the outcome of Potter’s decision which he hadn’t already said.

“All right,” Potter said at last. “Come on.”

*

The days are so much the same that they begin to slide. Draco opens his eyes to the same grey walls, the same solitude. He walks the same circle on the grounds, between the flowerbeds and the gates, past the abandoned nests of albino peacocks that died and he never bothered to replace, around the trees that once grew in enchanted patterns and enlaced their branches with each other’s. He forgets whether it is Monday or Wednesday, March or May.

No one comes to bother him. The only contacts he has with the outside world are occasional trips to Diagon Alley and the Daily Prophet. People stare at him in Diagon Alley with poisoned eyes. No one knows he’s reading.

Draco knows that would change quickly enough if he went into the Ministry and tried to declare who he was, or ask for exemptions. Or if he met Potter and any of his friends.

But nearly fifty years after the war, the shadow cast by the name Malfoy seems to have faded.

It makes Draco hopeful that, someday, the shadow will fade altogether, and Draco can try to end the ridiculous prohibitions and ensure the Manor will go to someone.

If he can survive the solitude.

*

Draco opened his eyes.

He was shivering, and knew it, but he couldn’t remember what had happened to make him do that. They were safe in Grimmauld Place, as they had been for some time now, and—

Then he remembered, and bit his own fingers to keep from crying out.

“Malfoy? Are you all right?”

Potter stirred, a shadow beside the bed. Draco blinked at him. It didn’t look as though he had come into the room just now, but as if he’d been sitting there for a while. He reached out and put his hand on Draco’s forehead, gently smoothing back the hair.

“At least the fever from the wound has faded,” Potter continued in a low tone. He flicked his wand, and a fire came to life in the hearth on the other side of the dusty bedroom. Draco shivered. Normally, Kreacher was fanatical about building up the fires, at least in his and Mother’s bedrooms. He must have been unconscious for a long time if this one had gone out.

“Did Rowle escape?” he whispered.

Potter turned sharply back to him. “He wounded you. I was more worried about your wound than I was about keeping him trapped.”

Draco stared at him. “But he could tell the Dark Lord where we were, or at least that I was with you.”

“Voldemort already thinks of you as a traitor. I doubt this would change anything.” Potter hesitated. “The wound was a really bad one. You had a fever for three days. But you should be healing now. Your mother…”

“I know she’s alive,” Draco said roughly, concealing his horror. His mother hadn’t even been with them on their failed attempt to locate Mundungus Fletcher. She couldn’t have fallen afoul of Rowle’s wand.

Merlin, if coming back in time just makes her die earlier…

“She’s fine. But she found Fletcher,” said Potter quietly. “Dolores Umbridge has the locket. And she’s in the Ministry. And your mum thinks she can go there and get away with taking the locket back. She’s going to stay away from any Marked Death Eaters who would know that she’s out of favor and just go in Mrs. Malfoy, husband of Mr. Malfoy who’s owed lots of favors.”

“My father’s in prison.” Draco licked lips that felt as dry as a beach. “They won’t listen to her.”

Potter picked up a flask of some thick, flavored water and held it to Draco’s mouth. “Drink this,” he said, and refused to say anything more until Draco had. “She says that she still has blackmail and secrets she can call on.”

Draco sighed and let his head drop back. He couldn’t stand in Narcissa’s way; he was too weak at the moment. And she might already have left.

But there was one question he was strong enough to ask as he started to drift again. “Potter? Why are you here?”

“You deserved to hear what your mother was planning as soon as you were awake.”

So she is already gone, then. Draco dropped off to sleep, even as he shivered in apprehension.

Potter’s voice followed him into the darkness. “And you didn’t deserve to be alone.”

That was something that fit with neither the old nor the new memories, and Draco could only think about it in its full extent later.

*

 

Draco closes his eyes. Today is the twentieth anniversary of his mother’s death.

She just—faded. Like a flower cut from the stem. Draco has always thought death by heartbreak was a silly thing, one that belonged in the kinds of stories Muggleborns like more than in the daily, lived reality of a pure-blood family, but it’s the only thing he can think to call it.

Mother would lean on the windowsill and always look in the same direction, no matter what room she was in: towards Azkaban. She would eat food without tasting it, but always avoided anything Father hated. She told stories of Father, their courtship, their marriage, no story unless it had Father in it. Her eyes were always dazed, always distant, her face as pale as the marble they could no longer afford.

And then she passed. Draco walked into her bedroom one morning, and she was there, motionless, looking as though breath had simply given up and passed out of her lungs.

Now Draco is the one leaning on the windowsill, looking in the direction of his parents’ graves.

He will eat the foods she most liked today. He will spend time in the gardens and tend the flowers by hand, which she liked to do sometimes.

She is still more real to him than anyone he has had contact with—walked past in Diagon Alley, spoken to, read about—in the last two decades.

*

“I did it.”

Draco said nothing. His hold on his mother’s wrist must be causing her discomfort, but he needed it, and she didn’t withdraw. To Draco, those were the only facts worth mentioning.

Narcissa leaned down towards him and kissed his forehead. “Your wound is healing nicely,” she murmured. “I truly could not have asked for a better Healer than Mr. Potter, under the circumstances.”

Draco blinked. “I thought you were the one who brewed the potions. Or cast the spells.” No one had given him exact details on how they had cured his wound.

His mother shook her head, a faint smile on her face. Draco looked for some sign of a locket around her neck, but saw no chain. She must already have given it to Potter. “Mr. Potter was the one who caught you when you fell, made Rowle flee, Apparated you to safety, and kept you from bleeding out while I brewed the potion. But he was the one who fed it to you and stayed with you and cast the necessary Cooling Charms when your fever rose.” She hesitated. “Forgive me, Draco. I was so upset that I was—flurried. I could not stand to be in the same room with your death.”

“But I didn’t die.” Draco said it softly, knowledge clanging in his head. In his other time, his mother had died of heartbreak. He would not have died of the same thing, but he could have perished, and all the memories and chances died with him.

He had never thought of that, somehow, even knowing how dangerous it was to be back in the war.

“No.” Narcissa bent down and kissed the inside of his hand. “Now, darling, go to sleep. I have a good idea of how to destroy the Horcrux, but it’s Dark magic, and that’s going to take some time to accustom the Gryffindors to.”

Draco paused. “What about Potter?”

He didn’t know what had made him think that his mother wasn’t including Potter in “the Gryffindors,” but her bright smile told him that was right. “He will be all right with it, I highly suspect. Because—he will.”

That was not an answer, but it was enough of one to send Draco to sleep, probably helped by a flick from his mother’s wand.

*

Draco opens his eyes.

It is a sunny day, like many another sunny day. Draco looks through the window into the garden, and sips the tea that the house-elves bring him. On a polished mahogany table beside the couch lies the book he’s reading, a collection of Muggle fairy tales translated into wizarding terms. He will pick it up and read it in a moment, and he can gaze at the garden, and he need do nothing at a certain time unless he wants to. He knows it’s a life that most other wizards would envy and trade their jobs and hurry for.

Draco would like to tell them that living that same life for thirty years makes even the most expansive leisure pall.

He clasps his hands and tries, as usual, to think of something else he could do with his day. But he has nothing. Friends are distant, are nothing. His parents are dead. The house-elves are loyal and unvarying. The weather is the only thing within his eyeshot that changes.

The view into the garden, through glass shining as though it’s made of dew, blurs in his vision.

*

Draco watched from behind the carefully-constructed barrier of spells as his mother unleashed Fiendfyre at the locket Horcrux inside a study at Grimmauld Place Potter didn’t mind sacrificing. He thought he heard a distant wail, but it vanished under the pressure of the leaping beasts, the lions with manes of fire and the bears with claws so long and glistening that they looked as if they were made of amber and rubies.

Next to his side, Potter stood in silence. Weasley and Granger had finally agreed to let Mother use the Fiendfyre, but didn’t want to watch. Potter had laid a hand low on Draco’s back. Draco suspected he knew why. Potter thought he needed help and support.

He didn’t know that Draco’s mind bristled with memories of a seventh year that had never happened and horrible Dark magic far worse than a little destructive fire. And never mind that Potter was trembling with carefully-restrained disgust and loathing.

“It’s all right,” Draco whispered, leaning towards him.

Potter started and glanced at him. “What do you mean? If you mean—”

“I mean,” Draco said, “that you’ve tried so hard to keep me safe, including after the fight with Rowle. But you don’t need to do that all the time. Sometimes you can let someone else shelter you.” He leaned further in, until Potter had to either rest against the spell barrier or fit himself into Draco’s side. “Let me.”

Potter bristled for a second. Draco held his breath. It was important to him not to get hard words flung into his face, or his arm flung up as Potter shoved his way out from underneath it.

But then Potter’s eyes closed, and he suddenly sagged against Draco. “That sounds really good,” he murmured.

Draco pulled him in tighter than ever, and watched the flames eat one piece of the Dark Lord’s soul.

*

Draco remembers his father.

It’s in everything he does, even though his father died longer ago than his mother, only ten years after he went to Azkaban. Draco will turn his head and catch a glimpse of his reflection in a mirror, and think he’s looking at Father. He’ll speak to a house-elf and fall silent before the impression of his own words in Lucius’s voice. He’ll look up and think something about the roof or the portraits and stop, knowing it is his father’s thought.

For a while, Draco thinks of that as a way to keep him alive. To incarnate Lucius in his own body, since it’s happening anyway, and keep the memory of the Malfoy line burning like a white candle against the darkness.

But then he remembers, again, that there will be no way to leave an impression of the Malfoy line on the world. And he will falter, again.

*

Draco opened his eyes. But the ground was still farther below them than he had ever flown on a broom. He clutched, harder, at the back of the dragon they rode.

It had been mad, he thought, as he let his head fall on Potter’s shoulder and his eyes seek ahead. It had begun with trying to figure out where the next Horcrux could be, or what it could be, and then Mother had mentioned something Bellatrix had said to her, once, about hiding a powerful artifact for the Dark Lord.

“Where?”

“In Gringotts.”

“We have to go.”

Mother had objected that they had no way to sneak into the bank, and then Potter and his Gryffindors had started debating, and Granger had come up with the idea of Polyjuice, but they had no one to get the hair from, and then Mother had murmured about Dark potions that could change the shape of the drinker to whoever someone else expected to see there, and Granger had exploded at the thought of Dark potions, and Weasley had calmed her down with talk of strategy, and Granger had grudgingly conceded, and Mother had brewed enough for all of them—with Granger’s help—to look like Bellatrix and other customers as they walked into the bank.

The potion had worked, for a while. Goblins escorted them with no more than sidelong looks that Draco thought were probably related to the fact that Bellatrix, and Rabastan, and Rodolphus, were fugitives. As for what other people they saw when they looked at them, the goblins didn’t volunteer anything and Draco didn’t see the need to ask.

Draco shivered as the dragon bucked beneath him, and leaned harder against Potter.

But then they’d passed beneath a waterfall that washed all illusions away, and there had been some quick wandwork to open the vault themselves, and subdue the goblins, and find the real cup among its duplicates, and get away. And in the confusion, Potter had had the brilliant idea of letting one of the guardian dragons loose in order to distract the goblins.

The problem was that the dragon simply wanted to get out, and a swing from its tail had clubbed the sense out of Granger.

Mother was the one who had taken charge of them, herding them out of the bank and shooting curses left and right that Draco had never suspected she knew. She was the one who had lifted Granger to the dragon’s back, and secured the rest of them with straps, and Draco had grabbed onto Potter for extra strength as the dragon lifted and soared away.

Now Potter reached back and squeezed his hand.

Draco knew wherever they landed, Mother could again use Fiendfyre to destroy the Cup. But the knowledge was, somehow, of less solidity than the very ordinary shape of Potter’s fingers clasped within his.

*

Draco stands beside the bed for long, long moments before he reaches to touch his mother’s hand.

But no, she’s gone. Her face never had much color, and even less these last few years. But it was a living pallor, Draco thought. She would move, and there would be a paleness that distinguished her cheeks from the stone.

He thought.

Now, as he stands beside the bed and stares down at the woman who is the only person left in the world he could live for, he realizes the color wasn’t as different as he thought.

Draco will have to go and tell someone. He will have to make arrangements for a funeral and a grave, even though he doubts anyone else will attend the one or visit the other. But this is what Malfoys would do, wouldn’t they. Standards have to be upheld whether or not others are ever going to know about them.

Mother will be buried beside Father, of course. It’s what she wanted.

Draco trails his hand over her forehead, down, to the bed where he can take her hand. He squeezes.

She will never squeeze back.

*

Draco tilted the broom up and soared as hard as he could for the door of the Room of Requirement. Behind them, the Fiendfyre that had got out of control raged. In front of him, blood dripped down the corner of Potter’s face where the fall had clipped his ear against the bust on which Ravenclaw’s diadem used to hang.

He’s still breathing, Draco told himself, swallowing against the memory of the deaths in the other timeline that drained him of life. This time, he thought he might be able to survive Potter’s death. His mother would even be in less danger, since there was no way she would be among the Death Eaters in the Forbidden Forest this time, having to lie to the Dark Lord about Potter being dead.

But he didn’t want to think about that. He soared.

The Fiendfyre had got stupidly out of control this time because the Horcrux chose to fight back with a ringing lash of dark flame that Draco never saw before in either lifetime. His mother’s spell should have gone off perfectly, but it landed in the wrong place instead, and although it did eat the diadem—the way it had already eaten the locket, the way it ate the cup yesterday—it also nearly caught Potter. Potter ducked and fell and caught his head on the bust where the diadem had hung for so long.

If Draco hadn’t thought to call the old school brooms standing in one corner to them, none of them might be leaving the Room alive.

Draco glanced over and saw his mother still perfectly poised on the broom in front of Weasley and Granger. He swallowed and nodded. Mother nodded back.

She’s probably used a Lightening Charm to make herself weightless enough for the broom to carry all three of them.

Knowing that, and knowing that he had been the one to think of Ravenclaw’s diadem when they were racking their brains for important Founders’ artifacts the Dark Lord might have made into Horcruxes, kept Draco steady. He flew for the door because he had to, because he wanted to survive, because he wanted Mother to survive, and because the fire was too bad a death to wish even on Weasley and Granger.

And because of the dangle-headed weight of Potter in his arms, the narrow waist his arms were clasped around.

They did get outside the door, and slammed it shut. The smoke and the devouring heat vanished as if it had never been. Draco swallowed. So far, they had kept their presence in the school a secret from most people except the Carrows, who they’d met on the way of creeping across the grounds from the Whomping Willow and had to bind and subdue. It was the middle of Christmas holidays, and Draco fervently hoped they would get out again without trouble.

Preferably thinking of some way to kill Nagini as we go.

But then Potter, waking up in front of him, made a strangled noise, and Draco looked up swiftly. Professor Snape was standing in front of them, his wand extended and his eyes terrible.

“I must tell you something Professor Dumbledore told me before his death,” he said.

*

Draco watches his mother speak softly to Lucius. Of course that’s who she’s talking to. When Draco’s in front of her, she seals her lips, and looks away with distant eyes, and frowns as she touches her fingers to the base of her thumb.

When she’s alone with him, or when Draco leaves her alone long enough that she can think he’s still alive, she speaks nonstop.

Draco hid once and cast an Eavesdropping Charm, and found it was utterly ordinary things. Mother speaks of times they were young, and times when Draco was trouble as a child and they wondered what they could do to make him less fussy, and times she scolded Father for being arrogant. She scolds him for mistakes he made in the war, too.

She never scolds him for leaving her.

Draco watches now, especially when they’re in the same room together, but he never listens. It’s too painful.

*

Draco opened his eyes. He had listened to Snape’s recitation with them closed.

Now, thinking about it, he really had no idea why. After all, he alone in this room—the dead Headmaster’s office—had the knowledge of two lifetimes. He was the only one who knew that Harry Potter would both die and come back to life.

Even Dumbledore’s portrait, watching them in silence, might not know that.

Draco should have been able to nod, and follow Professor Snape’s plan to slip Nagini a concoction of purifying potions that would neutralize her venom as well as destroy her corrupt body and the Horcrux inside her, because he knew what would happen. He should have been able to put his hands on Potter’s shoulders, and tell him softly that he understood Potter had to do this for the good of the world.

But to his utter astonishment, Draco couldn’t do that.

“No,” he said, when Professor Snape had finished explaining and Potter was still opening his mouth. “You can’t just walk out there and let the—Dark Lord kill you.” He honestly had been about to say the Dark Lord’s name, despite the height of stupidity it would have been.

“Draco.”

There was such overflowing pity in Potter’s eyes that Draco jerked both his head and his hand away. “No,” he said. “You can’t. We’ve fought so hard to destroy the Horcruxes.”

“Yes. That’s why I can go.”

Draco gave a sharp glance at Potter’s friends. Granger was nodding furiously, agreeing with him, but Draco didn’t think Potter was likely to listen to her, either. In fact, they couldn’t have him listen to her, not if they were going to win the war.

Weasley was simply frozen in horror. Mother looked at Draco and then away.

How can I—I have to let him go. But I can’t like this.

With that coherent comment guiding his thinking, Draco pulled Potter roughly out into the enclosed staircase, slamming the door of the office behind them. Not even Professor Snape tried to follow. Potter ended up leaning on the stone wall and staring at him with eyes harder to look at than Fiendfyre.

“We’ve spent so long trying to destroy the Horcruxes, you said,” Potter muttered. He gave a faint smile and touched the scar on his forehead, then jerked his hand away again as if it had frozen his fingers. “That’s why I have to walk to my death, Draco. Because I’m a Horcrux, and there’s no other way to destroy it but his Killing Curse. Do you want to have him alive forever?”

“He’s not even here,” Draco whispered harshly. He felt cold enough that he thought clouds of his breath should have arisen before him, but instead, his hands on Potter’s shoulders burned. “How can you get him to kill you that way? You say his name, the Snatchers will just come. You try to wait until his next visit of inspection that Snape says is coming, he might just take and torture you. How can you be sure?”

Potter swallowed. “I don’t know.”

“Well, I do,” Draco snapped, and his mind was humming with surety. This was the good thing about coming back in time. He carried all his memories with him, even the ones that had grown faint with distance in that other lifetime. “You already have the Cloak. You have that Snitch that Dumbledore left to you in his will, right?”

Potter stared at him. “Yes. How did you—”

“And you know where Dumbledore’s tomb is. So you ought to have everything you need.”

“Malfoy, will you tell me what the bloody hell you’re talking about?”

“The Deathly Hallows.” Draco stared at him and saw the moment when Potter’s hand rose as if to make a kind of warding gesture. “The Invisibility Cloak, you have. The Resurrection Stone is inside that Snitch. And the wand Dumbledore had is the Elder Wand. The wizard who has all three of them becomes the Master of Death. I’m making sure you can come back.”

Potter looked windblown even though there was no wind there. “I—how can you know this?”

Draco put a hand on Potter’s shoulder. It was shaking. He had never seriously thought about revealing to anyone how he had traveled back in time. Why did they need to know it? His parents could be happy, he would live, the Malfoy name would be restored. That was what he had come back to accomplish.

But now, there was something else he needed to do, and the need flayed the inside of him with how strong it was.

“Do it first, all right?” he said. “I don’t know exactly how you get the Stone out of the Snitch, but I know you can. And we have to break into the tomb and get the wand somehow. We have enough to do without bothering about this right now. But I promise I will tell you. Just make sure that you do this first. Later. I’ll tell you later.”

Potter stared at him, eyes long and slow as a summer afternoon’s sunlight. Then he nodded. “All right.”

And that shook Draco. When Potter turned to go back into the office, he caught his shoulders and held him there. “Why?”

“Why trust you? Why listen to you?” Potter’s eyes still had that spark of sunlight that Draco had thought he would see through the windows of the Manor with his mother, and never otherwise.

Yes.”

“Because you haven’t steered me wrong yet. And the way you look at me, and touch me, is the way I want it.”

Before Draco could explain why that was even less coherent than his own thoughts, Potter leaned forwards and softly brushed his lips over Draco’s cheek. Then he opened the door and re-entered the office, and Draco was the one who had to follow him and avoid his blush and listen to the conversation Potter confidently started about how they were going to make him the Master of Death.

And avoid his mother’s knowing gaze.

*

Draco watches his mother bow her head, until her lips almost brush the parchment that brought them news of Lucius’s death. She doesn’t appear to breathe.

“Mother?” Draco finally asks, because he can’t stand sitting there and watching her not move.

“Draco. Leave me alone with this, please. You don’t understand.”

And I’m not likely to, either. No one will marry a Malfoy now.

But Draco doesn’t protest or say that or talk about the time the funeral arrangements will take. Instead, he only stands and watches Mother for a moment. She doesn’t look up.

He thinks about walking over to let his hand brush against her shoulder, but instead, he turns and walks out of the dark library with the low fire burning on the hearth, and down a corridor splintered with sunlight from the windows. Draco casts a simple spell and watches the oak shutters slam closed, one by one.

*

Harry choked on a sick breath beside him as they broke open the door of Dumbledore’s tomb. Draco found himself holding his breath, but no scent blew out that made him want to retch. Instead, it was almost pleasant. He placed a hand on Harry’s back before he thought about it, though.

“It’s okay,” he whispered. Harry glanced at him and away. Draco had tried to go on calling him “Potter” in his head, because that was what he had always called him and he had never thought his second lifetime would make a difference. But after Harry had kissed him, there was no going back.

Draco did keep his eyes averted from Dumbledore’s corpse as Harry reached out to take the wand. He heard the incoherent apologies Harry was giving, though. He couldn’t not, when they stood pressed together from shoulder to ribs.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m so sorry. I wish I could have done something. I wish I’d known about the Unbreakable Vows and what you planned with Snape. I’m sorry you died in pain. I’m sorry it was for nothing but a fake Horcrux in the end.” Harry drew a breath that sounded as if it would drag his lungs out of his chest. “I’m sorry that—for this. But we’ll use it to defeat Tom in the end. I know I’m a Horcrux. I’ll go.”

He fell silent after that. Draco waited as long as he thought they reasonably could, and then he nudged Harry’s shoulder with his. Harry started, a motion hardly visible in the starlight, and then nodded and picked up the Elder Wand.

Draco didn’t think it was his imagination that a single note of pure, triumphant song broke into the air around them, the kind of music that might come from the throat of a black phoenix, if such a thing existed. It covered over the memory of the tomb door creaking open.

One Hallow to go.

Draco escorted Harry out of there with the hand on his back, too.

*

“Father.”

Lucius doesn’t turn or speak. He looks instead at the wall of Azkaban, the one closest to the sound of the sea, the one where they might have put a window if they wanted Azkaban prisoners to have such things as windows. His breath keeps softly rasping even when Draco clears his throat.

“Mother sends her love. She would be here, but she has an infection in her lungs.”

Mother visits as often as the Ministry authorities permit, but she won’t sneak in illegally, lest they forbid her from visiting Father in the future, and she won’t risk her health. Draco knows she wants to live until the point when Father goes free. They will be together.

She thinks. She might know. Draco tries not to doubt.

“The last of the Death Eaters just got tried last week.” Draco tries to bring up subjects he thinks might interest his father. And it almost interests him. He has to shake his head when he thinks of how long Rabastan and Rodolphus managed to evade the Aurors. “It’s the Kiss. They’re saying that the ones in Azakban are the lucky ones—”

Father turns his head, the first time in ten visits. Draco’s breath swings up into his throat as he catches his eyes.

Such scorn there that it hits Draco the way the mist and cold wind and Dementors here no longer do. He catches himself with a hand on the slick stone wall and stands again.

Lucius has already turned his head back to where the window could be.

Trembling, Draco turns and lets himself out.

*

I am about to die.

They were in the Headmaster’s office, again. For some reason, Professor Snape wanted Harry to do this in front of him. Draco could understand why Weasley and Granger wanted to be there, and Mother had reason, but Snape seemed convinced that something would go wrong at the last minute.

He never has trusted Harry.

Now that was a thought Draco hadn’t had in either lifetime, either. He turned back in time to see the Snitch open like a hinged box, and a rough-looking little stone bearing the symbol of the Deathly Hallows tumble into Harry’s palm.

Harry made a startled noise that probably would have been a swear word if he had time. Instead, all around him gleamed a grey light, for a second, making Draco think of Azkaban walls. Then Harry held out the Resurrection Stone and stared down at it.

“What will you do?” Snape’s voice was harsh. Draco couldn’t guess at the emotions he was holding back. Two lifetimes had given him little understanding of Snape.

“What we discussed I’m going to do,” Harry said. There was a look in his eyes that Draco remembered from his duel with the Dark Lord in the Great Hall in his first life. “Tom will come for his inspection. You need to warn him that you’ve discovered a potential weakness in the magic forming the ceiling of the Great Hall, and lure him there. It’s the biggest open space, and we don’t want a war in the corridors. Then I show up and taunt him into killing me, and you feed the poison to Nagini while he’s distracted.”

It was the same plan they had discussed for four nights, but Professor Snape leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes as if some smothering weight had been lifted off his chest.

Draco opened his mouth, then closed it. He wanted to ask if Snape cared whether Harry lived or died, but he wasn’t sure he would get any answer to the question.

And he wasn’t sure he wanted it, honestly. He looked at Harry’s clear, determined eyes, and had trouble coping with the strength of his own desire for him to live.

*

“For Lucius Malfoy, imprisonment in Azkaban.”

Mother gives a faint shriek, and then stuffs her knuckles in her mouth as Father glances at her. Malfoy honor forbids any sound. Draco knows that truth as if someone else spoke it.

Father turns forwards again, while the Wizengamot official in turn begins to drone out information they already knew, such as that Draco is forbidden to leave any inheritance to anyone, of family blood or not. Father closes his eyes, and then opens them.

That is the most reaction he shows to his own sentencing.

As they gather up the chains and Aurors to lead Father out again, Draco tries to think of what he can say, or rather what he can look. Father won’t want Draco to make a sound any more than he wanted Mother to. So it’s the eyes, it has to be, with which Draco is going to give him a farewell. The look has to be perfect.

Father is opposite him now. Draco leans a little forwards, letting the motion catch Father’s attention, and stares at him.

Father snaps his head to the side and doesn’t even resist when the Aurors drag him out roughly. Draco lets his hand fall back behind the slight wall that surrounds the family members’ seats, and closes his eyes.

What did I do wrong?

That is a question he will find no answer to, in this life or the next ones.

*

“Voldemort!”

Draco shuddered as he watched the Dark Lord turn slowly, Nagini floating in an enchanted bubble at his side. Harry walked towards him down the middle of the Great Hall, his eyes so flaringly bright that they seemed to cast their own illumination, like the torches on the walls.

Draco couldn’t imagine what this scene would have looked like in the Forbidden Forest that first time. He had no idea how his mother would have done it.

The Dark Lord was staring at Harry as though there was nothing between them, not even air. “Take Nagini, Severus,” he said, in a voice that made old memories crawl out of the back of Draco’s mind and ambush him, and then moved in a slithering stride towards Harry. Draco tried to feel hope. That was precisely what they had hoped would happen, and would give Professor Snape a chance to poison the snake.

But no matter what they’d hoped, he could feel his eyes fighting to turn away as Harry and the Dark Lord halted in front of each other. Harry stood fearless. That was the only word Draco could describe him with. Not defiant, not exactly. Not too bright-eyed, which might have given away their plan. He stood, and the Dark Lord slowly leveled his yew wand at him.

“You have come to die uselessly, then, Potter,” he whispered. “You are saving no one and nothing.”

Harry smiled slightly. “You don’t understand the concept of salvation, Tom. You never did.”

Draco thought it would take more taunts and insults, but seemingly, that hated Muggle name was all it took. The Dark Lord’s mouth contorted, and he shouted the Killing Curse in a voice that seemed to make the rafters of the Great Hall ring.

Avada Kedavra!”

Draco watched the green light streak forwards, watched Harry spread his arms as if to welcome it.

Watched Harry fall.

And if he could barely look before, now he couldn’t take his eyes away.

*

“Draco Malfoy is condemned to house arrest. To not leaving his inheritance in the form of house and lands to anyone else. To surrendering his money in fines to the Ministry. To not using magic for the next year…”

Draco stands with his head bowed before the Wizengamot. He knows he should feel grateful. At least they’re letting him and Mother keep the Manor—and at least Mother was found guilty of nothing more than conspiring with Professor Snape in a way that resulted in Dumbledore’s death, which can be paid with a fine. She can use all the magic he needs. She would never leave him to starve.

He should feel grateful.

He cannot.

“Do you have questions for this court about your punishment, Mr. Malfoy?”

Draco wants to ask them not to call him Mr. Malfoy. That name still belongs to his father, and as far as Draco is concerned, it always will.

But he bites down sharply on the temptation to say it, and says only, “Thank you for your mercy.”

That makes some of the Wizengamot members preen, and lets Draco step away and walk to his mother, who stands with her head bowed over her clasped hands. One look, and she reaches out and touches his shoulder.

The only thing they can do, now, is wait for his father’s trial. And, hopefully, good news.

*

The Dark Lord fell at the same time as Harry. Draco started. Now he remembered his mother telling him that had happened, but he didn’t anticipate it this time around, for some reason.

He started towards Harry, and then saw Professor Snape coolly striding towards the Dark Lord. He looked at him in confusion, only to hear the sharp intonation of a curse he wasn’t likely to forget. “Sectumsempra.”

Draco gaped as he watched the Dark Lord’s throat gape in turn, the bloody hole opening to reveal trachea and windpipe and other things Draco didn’t want to think about. He swallowed and kept his gaze on Professor Snape as he knelt next to Harry. “Why, sir?”

“I have already poisoned the snake. He has no Horcruxes left. Why not kill him now?”

Draco shook his head and turned back to Harry. He was motionless, as motionless as Mother was on the bed the day that—Draco reached out and traced the curve of Harry’s forehead, over the scar that felt no different than it ever had, despite not containing a Horcrux now. “Harry,” he whispered.

Mother walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. The weight was lighter than the heavy clamminess of Harry’s hand as Draco tried to shift it around. “You have to accept that he may be gone.”

Draco heard the doubt in her voice, and smiled a little. Mother wasn’t sure. “I’m going to wait, then,” he said, and sat on the floor beside Harry.

“We’ll wait with you,” said Granger, and conjured a bench to sit on. “You’re welcome to come up if you want, Malfoy.”

Even Weasley nodded at that, but Draco only shook his head. Any distance between him and Harry would feel like too much right now, so he contented himself with tracing the lightning bolt scar over and over.

He knew some runes that looked like this, once upon a time. In those years before he came back that could belong to both lifetimes. He knew one as the rune of resurrection.

Over and over again his finger traced the path, and then Harry gasped and opened his eyes.

Draco leaned down to cover Harry’s scar with his mouth, and then his lips.

*

Draco opens his eyes.

It's a grey morning, potentially the first day of the rest of his life, and it's raining. Draco lies in bed and looks out at the silvery mist for long moments. Not even a house-elf coming in to wake him up and escort him to breakfast really shakes his mood. He does dress, he does go to breakfast, he does have a conversation with his mother about whether they should attend the trials of the other Death Eaters whose crimes were deemed more urgent than the Malfoys'.

But their trials are coming up. His father is in Ministry custody. The rain breaks softly past the windows, and washes the stone, and the house-elves stare with wide, frightened eyes in several directions.

Nothing can really alter their fates. Whether they go to the trials or not, whether they visit Azkaban to see Father, whether they mingle with society or shut themselves away as Draco knows his mother would like to do.

Memory presses down on him, heavy as gravestones.

*

Draco opened his eyes.

He rolled over, realizing at once that he was in his old bedroom in the Slytherin dungeons, where he came to sleep after. After other Death Eaters fled the castle, after they concocted the story of what they would tell the press—Professor Snape didn’t want credit for anything but killing Nagini and actually being on their side—after they fought a few minor running duels with the Death Eaters who didn’t flee and suffered through an interview. Draco came here to rest.

But from the muffled snort next to him, followed by an Invisibility Cloak sliding off tangled black hair, he might or might not get his wish.

“Hey,” Harry said, dropping one knee on the bed beside Draco. His gaze was heavier than his knee. “I wanted—”

He didn’t try to describe it in words, a good thing because it might have embarrassed both of them. Instead, his ran a hand down Draco’s neck, grasped the little hairs there, and practically hauled him into the kiss.

But Draco took charge, because he had been thinking about this, and wanting, and rejoicing in his heart that everything was going to be different now, that even Father would have a different fate because he wouldn’t be tried for hosting the Dark Lord willingly in his home. He rolled Harry underneath him, and with a breathless laugh, Harry went.

“So, have you done this before?”

Draco grinned, and wondered for a moment how to explain that he had different memories of doing it “before” that had now never existed, but that didn’t destroy his knowledge. “Sure,” he said, to be contrary to everyone, Harry and his own memories, and cast the spell that conjured lube onto his fingers.

Then he realized that he’d forgotten to undress Harry, and sighed.

Harry did make it easier for him, laughing kindly as he squirmed out of his robes. He was flushed all the way down his body by the time he got down to his pants, but Draco used his free, unlubed hand to urge him to take those down, and then gaped at the pink cock that curved gently towards Harry’s belly.

A much more interesting thing to gape at than the Dark Lord’s throat.

Draco shook his head hard, and slid his fingers into Harry. Harry bucked and hissed, “Warn a bloke, won’t you?”

Draco found his grin again, and said, “Let me do this for a minute, and then still tell me that you want me to stop.”

He worked his fingers back and forth, and Harry went silent. Then he gasped, then he smacked himself in the forehead trying to work his way into a more acceptable position, and then he said, “Draco—Draco, yes.”

Draco did have to smile smugly at the look of open adoration on Harry’s face, but he resolutely went back to sending his fingers deeper, and Harry fell silent and looked at him the way he had when Mother turned his head and really had him see Draco.

Once again, Draco had the impulse to ask exactly what he saw, but right now, it would interrupt them and entail more explanations than he wanted. He widened and opened Harry instead, and by the time he had him making a noise that wasn’t a grunt or a sigh or a moan because it was all of those at once, Draco thought he could conjure some more lube and spread it on his cock.

The first touch to himself almost made him come. Draco hastily slammed his eyes shut and spent some time thinking about ice and his past life, until he knew he was ready.

Then he felt warmth touching his cock, and opened his eyes to tell Harry he might not be ready yet, he might be too sensitive and simply orgasm—

Until he realized it wasn’t Harry’s hand. Apparently Harry was ready and saw no point in lying around while Draco thought about depressing memories. He worked his arse onto Draco with a grunt and then locked his heels in the sheets on the bed, beginning to fuck himself with fury that somewhat made up for his lack of precision.

“Oh my God,” Draco said, and fell back as though he was the one with another bloke’s cock inside him.

Harry pushed him further back into the pillows, with another snort like the one he’d made when he took the Invisibility Cloak off, and began to rut. Sometimes he rose up so far Draco almost slipped out, and Draco would hastily grab him and force him back on. They both cried out when that happened.

It was like no sex Draco had had in either lifetime, carnal, primal, fast. Once he caught Harry’s eyes and saw them shining with some of the same determination they’d showed when he walked across the Great Hall to face Voldemort.

We can use his name now, he’s gone—

But the memory and feeling of what they were doing right now overrode that image, and Draco touched Harry’s cheek for a second before his hand was jolted off by the swift movements, and gave himself up to the now.

To the now that would always be now, he thought, his mind spiraling and leaping. To the now that was Harry, his neck flushed and straining, his eyes closed, his hair flying behind him, his glasses gone somewhere in the scuffle.

To the now that was Draco coming, that was Harry coming, and the way that pleasure crashed him straight into his life.

This was now. There was no need to worry about any other then or when or existence.

*

Draco opens his eyes.

He stares. He thought, when he went into the fire, that the spell would consume his life, would funnel all of him into the past. But it seems he is floating in darkness, among twining strands of stars that look like the Milky Way, and he wonders for a moment if this is the afterlife. While part of him still sees and feels what the other Draco he helped sees and feels, there is also this.

Instead of fading or drifting aimlessly or going back to what he thought was his life, though, he begins to move with purpose, as though following a current. Draco just goes with it, baffled and unsure. Maybe he will see his parents.

He would rather not, though. He would rather remember the happy versions of them from this lifetime he sacrificed himself to create, not—not the ones who perished.

One of the coiled strands of stars turns around on its axis and seems to come closer. Draco realizes he’s about to slam into it. He holds out his hands, and finds them engulfed by cold star-mist, then his arms.

And his head fills with another Draco, another lifetime, to join the contented one with Draco explaining time travel to Harry on their bed in the Slytherin dungeons, and the one that made him do this, and he catches his breath as he realizes what’s happening.

The book said to him:

They who would alter the past, must be prepared to sacrifice all futures.

And the book said the spell would feed upon his life, his soul.

There was no mention of how long it might take a life, a soul, to burn up. Or that there couldn’t be other futures that would open up, that he would have to sacrifice his comfortable existence in just one timeline.

Draco spins and begins to funnel down into another place, another past, while his emotions rebound wildly around him. He’s not sure how he feels about this. He meant to do something that would recover his past, help him, not—not keep him going into Merlin knows how many moments of pain and desperation.

As many as there are stars?

But on the other hand, what other futures might he find, what other moments might there be that he can help other Dracos past? He might see his father free from prison. He might become friends with Weasley. He might walk free and see the Dark Lord killed even earlier. He might kill him himself.

He might see Harry again.

He spins, and he descends, and the future is far wider than what he could see through the windows of the Manor, and there is sunlight, not firelight, jewels, not granite. There is no more grey.

*

Draco opened his eyes.

The End.