Draco could hear nothing but crunch of his leather boots on the early winter track leading to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The sound would have been relatively pleasant to hear, for Draco rather liked winter, but as he stared at the castle, all his eyes did were look up, not down.
There was still a lot of rebuilding to be done. Hogwarts in its recent blight had been hit hard by the final battle against the Dark Lord in May. It was December, now. For the first few months, Draco had barely been able to stomach the sight of the crumbled castle: he could hardly stomach the thought that more than fifty had died, or were murdered, or had fallen, or had been blown up, or...
Had given themselves to Voldemort.
Draco swallowed a mouthful of cool air, his ribs inflating with ice. His eyes drifted to the Forbidden Forest, untouched, and covered with clouds dumping snow on the trees. On former Headmaster Dumbledore’s trees.
He was alone in the outdoors, but as Draco passed a particular spot in the opening of the trees, his body and soul felt heavy. He couldn’t explain it. It was like the spirits of the dead were holding a meeting, and he was an intruder.
Draco pushed past the weight hanging in the air, taking a few more gulps of raw ice. His pale skin was pink, blushed with his blood attempting to circulate his body. He tried warming charms, but those only worked for a short time. And Draco had been out here since the morning, wondering if the final battle was worth the price of those hundreds of souls.
At the halfway point between that day and the final battle, Draco had a shock, in the sense that he could actually think for himself, finally. Lucius Malfoy, his father, had been sent to Azkaban for good, this time. Draco thought it wise of his father to finally stop pleading Imperius and give up. Besides, the evidence had been stacked against him.
Draco hadn’t been safe from the laws of the Ministry of Magic himself. In fact, there had been a time where Draco was certain he’d end up in a cell adjacent to his mother and father for his following of the Dark Lord and the taking of his Mark.
But surprisingly, it took a joint success between Minerva McGonagall, the new Headmistress of Hogwarts, and one of Draco’s former school nemeses, Hermione Granger, to clear his name.
The Mudblood Granger. Oh, if Potter could see me now, thought Draco, as he kicked up a patch of snow and crunched some more frost. Hermione Granger had testified for him at the DMLE trial, where he remembered being bolted to the chair, white as a sheet. His freedom had been up to Granger.
Draco took another breath of fresh, biting air. It took serious brain work to figure out how it had happened. In the Battle of Hogwarts, it had been Granger, Weasel, and Potter who had saved Draco’s life, not the other way around. But Granger had taken a stand and made a worthy case.
“Draco Malfoy played a pivotal role in the downfall of Voldemort,” Hermione Granger announced boldly, once more in his memory.
Yes. Draco Malfoy played a pivotal role in the downfall of Voldemort. That was her thesis. But Draco had known none of it. The defense consisted of a presentation, reporting the cause of the Dark Lord’s downfall, when Harry Potter utilized a relic belonging to a group of three, the Deathly Hallows: The Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Cloak of Invisibility. Potter had inevitably disarmed the Dark Lord with Expelliarmus, catching the wand of legend, often referred to as the Death Stick. And it was then that Voldemort fell, after all had been done. But why did the Dark Lord fall? It hadn’t been just because of Potter’s prowess.
What Draco got out of Granger’s explanation truly shocked him, his chest tightening and his throat closing up because of it. Because the Elder Wand had once belonged to Albus Dumbledore, and Draco, under Severus Snape’s orders, had disarmed him on top of the Astronomy Tower.
“But Albus Dumbledore was murdered under his own orders,” carried on Granger in Draco’s memory, “By Severus Snape. He ordered Professor Snape to murder him after a year’s time, when he would die anyway, because of a curse placed on him by Voldemort. But Albus Dumbledore’s death would only prove Professor Snape’s allegiance to the Dark Lord…”
Draco blinked, passing yet another area on the edge of the forest, where he could not breathe. The air was heavy, here. He took a bigger gulp of ice as he surveyed his surroundings. McGonagall had sent him away to sleep, but Draco had taken a walk instead. And Draco was a little glad that he had. He yawned, but it was okay. He needed the quiet.
It was in the silence that Draco finally thought about Harry Potter’s death. The air was heaviest here, perhaps it was his spirit, lingering? Codswallop, snorted Draco. No way. But the air was trifling. His emotions were heightened, and Draco knew how it felt when an entity was nearby. He lived in close proximity to many in his years at Hogwarts, and even today, the ghosts of the castle stayed there.
“Is that you, Bloody Baron?” Draco said aloud, suddenly, his lips stretching painfully in the cold. “Peeves?”
Peeves the Poltergeist was invisible. And if he wanted to make himself known, he would. It was not in his nature, and for that, Draco dismissed him.
He plodded on through his walk. He would not be returning to the castle for an hour, where he would have to lie and say he slept. Draco had trouble sleeping ever since early May.
It was the kind of thing that could ruin a person: The Battle of Hogwarts. For some time, Draco’s mind harbored nightmares that not even a dreamless sleep potion could truly cure. And he was not the only one.
But Draco had so many nightmares. Day-mares, too. His mind was in a constant flux of Room of Requirement, Room of Requirement, Astronomy Tower, Malfoy Manor, Malfoy Manor, Dumbledore, Dumbledore, Voldemort, Voldemort, Harry Potter, Harry Potter…
He would give anything for someone to just take them away. He would give a lot of his life away, if someone could stop his brain from reliving the night Dumbledore was murdered by Snape on the Astronomy Tower, when Draco failed. Who cares if he was selfish, not thinking that Potter and a whole lot of other people were dead? He would rather be dead, at this moment, than exhausted and not able to sleep, for fear of the Dark Lord coming back. The previous night, he had relived the torture session that followed his failure, from sixth year. Each night, Draco awoke with his spine tingling from his own dreamt version of the Cruciatus Curse. He awoke in tears, every night.
And Draco had no one in England to wipe the tears away. He was alone, for now. The wizarding public had certainly a lot to say about Draco himself, even laying claims that he had blackmailed Granger somehow to stand by him. But beyond the trial, and her loyalty to the truth, not even Granger could offer friendship. No one did.
His former Slytherin friends all ended up in Azkaban, at least, the ones he was close to in school. Goyle, for the use of Fiendfyre, an illegal curse, and his Dark Mark. Nott, for his Dark Mark and sworn allegiance to Voldemort, even during the trial. Zabini. And Crabbe, of course, was dead.
The only person in his immediate friend circle to escape trial was Pansy Parkinson, who never took the mark, but stood by her father, who was thrown into Azkaban. Draco had stopped talking to her long before seventh year.
But his mother and father were also in Azkaban. Lost and dead to him. His father, Draco didn’t mind having locked up, but it was his mother’s sentence that would haunt him the most. Narcissa Malfoy, his mother, was his only friend, once upon a time. Back when Draco had been a lonely first or second year, with two goons for company and when the Saviour of the Wizarding World had rejected his friendship.
For a moment, Draco thought back on that day in first year. If he had been sorted into a different house than the one Potter was told was bad, would he have accepted his friendship? Or was it Draco’s preteen, dickish personality? Either way, he wondered what it would have been like. He didn’t expect Potter to see through the Hogwarts Houses, not that early in his life, so perhaps it had been Draco’s fault? Draco had been a bit of a dick, even he had to admit. It was all a front: just his own loneliness causing him to constantly bicker and bite back at those that didn’t understand him. Draco was much, much older now, at age 18, he had begun to suspect that he and Potter’s misunderstandings were all his fault.
And it wasn’t like Potter was alive, now, to hear his apology. He would have to wait until his soul was scorched in hell before he could talk to the bloke again. Even though it was just a figure of speech, Draco snorted. His own soul in muggle hell. That would be the most ironic punishment.
For Draco on that very long walk, it was all about seeing the bigger picture. He was trying to get his image reestablished in the eyes of the Light, volunteering to help the Gryffindorks in rebuilding the castle, avoiding the limited number of students that returned, for they all stared, in Draco’s experience. But he was trying. And now, he was going through his past, trying to figure out where he had gone wrong.
That time he had met Potter on the train. Who was he sitting with? It had to have been Weasel. But had Granger been there, too? What exactly had he said that made Potter hate him so much, immediately?
His dull memories of first-year were all filled with petty taunts and Potter’s big adventure. And Slytherin’s loss of the House Cup that year.
Draco’s stroll was suddenly interrupted by a force slamming into his front, slowing him down and pushing him into a tree. His senses went into overdrive immediately, and as he struggled to pull out his wand from his coat pocket, long, messy black hair invaded his view.
It was the dead Harry fucking Potter. But his hair was long, unkempt, and his face was dirty, his eyes intense, like an animal. His clothing was ripped and he had no wand that held Draco down, rather brute force that Draco could not counter.
What the hell is he doing here? After Draco’s panic, his immediate thoughts were, Actually, never mind what he’s doing here. He’s dead. Potter’s supposed to be dead. Am I getting attacked by an Inferi? A fucking zombie? You have got to be bloody kidding me.
He tried to form words. He made eye contact with the crazed Potter man and simply said, “Let go. You’re hurting me,” in a very, very frightened whine.
Potter’s hands were not around Draco’s neck. He didn’t seem to be choking him. Instead, Potter was simply holding him there, against the tree, his hands digging into Draco’s collarbones.
Draco saw Potter hesitate for a small moment. His expression changed, like he was deliberating something. And then, he spoke, in an incredibly cracking voice, “Will you promise me not to run?”
Draco was in shock. Here Potter was, in all his zombified glory, and he considers letting him go? He thought Inferi weren’t supposed to talk.
“Erm, yeah?” Draco said, unsure, and as soon as he said that, Potter released him. “What the actual bloody-”
“I know you’re wondering why I’m out here,” said Potter quickly, “And I don’t want you to ask questions. Not yet.”
“Ah.” Potter put a finger to his own lips and said, “See that rune circle over there, Malfoy?”
Draco looked, but he couldn’t find what the hell Potter was on about. Everything was happening so quick, it was like he wasn’t allowed to think. It took five seconds of silence before he could spot it, in the opening of the trees. It was cloaked in darkness.
“Now, Hermione and I spent a lot of time on these runes, Malfoy, and I will not have you walking on the edge of the forest and messing them all up. See the rune circle you just stepped in, over there?”
Draco looked backwards. As a matter of fact, buried in the frost he had stepped in, was a rune circle capable of a very powerful spell. But Draco couldn’t dwell on that, now. There was the matter that Potter was alive, clearly at his wits’ end, and dressed exactly as he was in that May, but looking more like Sirius Black when he escaped from Azkaban that one time. It was not pretty.
“And what have supposedly I ruined, Potter?” Draco managed to get the words out of his mouth before he started to realize that it was probably his own wits that were going. His own mind. That had to be it. Potter is dead.
And Potter’s eyes darkened. Draco suddenly began to feel very, very scared.
“You just ruined the back-up plan, Malfoy.”
And then, Draco experienced a type of vertigo like no other as up became down, right became left, and dark became light.
Draco Malfoy awoke with a start in his bed at Malfoy Manor, thinking back on that day he thought he met a dead, older, Inferi-version of Harry Potter on the outskirts of the Forbidden Forest. There was no possible way that had been real. It had obviously been a dream.
As he sat up in his bed, in his head, everything suddenly felt wrong. Draco had awoken with a migraine so terrible it made him want to lay down and sleep forever. He winced, a cry bubbling up in his throat, knowing that when he had these, (for he had them often when he was younger) he would call for a house elf or his mother and they would get them sorted out with a simple headache potion. But the house elves and his mother were not here.
Which is why he cried out in shock when one materialized in his bedroom. “The young master is be crying?” It questioned in a warbling, high voice, “Does Master Draco be wanting his breakfast? A hot morning bath?”
The house elf’s tennis ball eyes were bulging with concern as tears fell from Draco’s. “What is the young master be wanting?”
Draco snapped to attention, the pain from his migraine never waning. “Just a headache potion, Dobby.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, the house elf snapped his fingers, and was gone.
Draco then leaned over to vomit.
“Does the boy need St. Mungo’s?” Lucius Malfoy said, from the big chair in his study. He was going over many Ministry documents, and gave an air that said precisely, ‘I don’t want you here, right now.’
“No. Draco will certainly be alright,” Narcissa replied to her husband, “One of the house elves found him in the early morning with a high fever and complaining of a headache. I will spare you from some of the more graphic details.”
“Yes, yes, very well,” said Lucius, without looking up. “As long as he does not need coddling from you, Narcissa. He will be leaving for Hogwarts, very soon. He will need to learn to get by on his own.”
Narcissa had a mask, but on the inside, she was slightly offended. Her son was only just eleven! Of course he would need coddling!
“Yes, Lucius,” replied Narcissa, instead. “I will leave him to the elves. I have told them precisely the potions to administer.”
Back in Draco’s room, he could hardly believe what he was seeing. Everything seemed like a fever dream. (And a fever dream, it probably was. Dobby had said he was running on 39 degrees Celsius.)
Dobby was there. The old elf that his father had given clothes to back in his second year for helping Harry Potter out all year. Draco hadn’t seen or heard from Dobby after that, except for when he dropped a chandelier on Bellatrix at Malfoy Manor in an attempt to save Potter, Loony Lovegood, Ollivander, the Weasel, and Granger from his father’s cellar as they awaited the Dark Lord. Voldemort hadn’t been happy, then, either.
His heart rate elevated further as Draco thought of that day. He was breathless, perhaps because of the fever, but also because he had a calendar in his room that was stuck on 29th July, 1991.
And if Dobby had been in his room, knowing he had died, for Granger told him so, then the calendar gave him even more proof and suspicion than he really needed.
Of course, as Draco got up to enter his bath, swaying, he saw his reflection in the mirror. A flushed and weak eleven-year-old child stared back at him, and if that wasn’t already enough, Draco was forced to run to the toilet again rather than enter the bath.