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Nobody's Hero (Except For Maybe Yours)

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In all the time that Antonin had known her, he had rarely seen Narcissa this worried. It’s not that he can blame her. With Lucius detained and Draco taking the Mark and put on a classified mission for the Lord, she has plenty of reason to be concerned. Yet, he doesn’t quite expect the desperation in her eyes when she meets him in the Malfoy drawing room that day.

“Narcissa, what can I do for you?”

She gives him a long-suffering look and offers tea. Antonin could almost laugh. It is so very like Narcissa to hide her feelings behind social pleasantries.

They attempt a normal conversation but find it almost impossible to sustain. “Do you know what Draco’s mission is?” she asks finally, setting her teacup aside and giving her “serious” look.

“Yes,” he nods.

“Will you help him?”

It is Antonin’s turn to frown slightly and give his words consideration. “I do not believe…the Dark Lord intends this to be Draco’s missions, and, in fact, something this complicated would need plenty of thought and planning. Being on the ground could be vital. Have you spoken with Severus? He is the only other person in the know and he is in a much better position to help.”

Narcissa purses her lips. “Yes, I’ve already spoken to Severus, and he has sworn to me that he would help. But, Mr. Dolohov--" she cuts herself off and sighs. "Antonin…you were always the one to train the recruits. The Young Guard.”

Antonin holds back a wince. “Once upon a very long time ago, Cissy. But I had months, years for some, to train them. Those boys did not see battle until after two years of training. Draco has two months. Besides, training for battle is one thing. This task requires ingenuity and strategy. It’s not exactly something that can be tough in several sessions like a patronus or a modified-for-battle stupefy.”

 

“You’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge, or so Lucius says.”

She is right there and Antonin can only smile sadly at her. What she wants him to do – to make Draco into another Regulus or Barty or Rabastan – is nearly impossible in this timeframe. Not just because there is not enough time for lessons but because there was no time for the boy to accumulate experience. “Does Draco want to do this, Narcissa?”

“Yes. Well. He may be somewhat resentful,” she looks almost apologetic. “But I know he is afraid. He will never admit it but he is. And resentment is the best way to deal with that, in his opinion.”

Antonin nods thoughtfully. “I will do my best. For your sake and Lucius’.”

“That’s all I ask.”

“Please, call Draco.”

***

Lucius’ son looks incredibly like him. They are not exact copies as some of Narcissa’s softer, rounder features did manage to sneak in during puberty, but they have the same eyes, the same elongated straight nose, the same thin but expressive mouth and the exact same air of Malfoy superiority.

When Draco stands before Antonin in the center of the training room in a black cloak – not his Death Eater cloak, this one is too thick and formal to be a mission cloak – with his wand in a present-arms position, he looks every bit the young Pureblood heir: chin lifted, back straight, almost rigidly so, eyes alert but cold. Draco is not as good at feigning indifference as his father, but many of them are not at that age.

“You understand why you are here, Mr. Malfoy?”

“Yes. For training. My mother thinks me incompetent.”

Antonin nearly rolled his eyes. “Your mother is tragically realistic about your current skill set.”

“Isn’t that just a nicer way to say the same thing?” Draco asks with a slightly impish smirk.

Antonin regards him seriously. So he is one of those. Alright. “I am aware of your mission for the Lord and given that we have very little time to get you up to speed, I will try to keep these sessions as relevant to the tasks you may need to perform as possible.”

Draco nods and they begin.

***

Draco’s breathing comes in spurts and huffs. He clutches to his broom, making a rather shaky descent. Antonin watches the boy stumble over with mild disapproval. He can feel the frustration bubbling up – both at Draco and himself. At Draco, because he’s not getting it and Antonin simply feels like the boy is not trying, or trying hard enough.

At himself, because he feels like he should be doing more, better. Because he can’t help but see Lucius when he looks at the boy and expect what he might have expected from his friend when they were younger. It is not that Draco lacks abilities completely, but they are different from Lucius’. And his own.

“It’s not that hard, Draco,” he calls. “Run it again.”

“But I’ve run it nearly a dozen times!”

“Yes, and you’re still not getting it!”

“But I did it! The full run.”

“Your exit was sloppy,” Antonin says in a deadpan, knowing this will probably provoke the boy but not caring. He has to understand.

“Seriously?” Draco’s eyes are wide and just a little pleading. They’ve been at this drill for nearly an hour and that is after the two hours of wandwork. Antonin knows he’s tired but this is also the only way the boy will learn.

“Draco, do you want to be a Death Eater?”

“Yes.” The response is automatic.

“Do you want to fight?” The slightest bit of hesitation. “Allow me to rephrase: if you must fight, would you rather know what you are doing out there?”

“…Yes.”

“Then this is the only way to learn.”

Draco crosses his arms. “But I don’t have to fight do I? I just have to fulfill the Dark Lord’s missions.”

“You will need skills for that.”

“No this skill. Not a broom dive. How in Merlin’s name would that factor in?”

“It’s not just about the broom. It’s about endurance. About concentration and balance. Magic is all pulled together from different components, especially battle magic.”

Draco gives an exasperated sigh. He doesn’t understand and doesn’t really want to. But Antonin has a job to do and he will do it as he had done with the boys during the first war. Draco doesn’t look like any of them, doesn’t act like most of them either – except for maybe Avery – but that doesn’t change the fact that Draco is in his care, and Antonin had always held himself to a high standard in that regard.

He is also Lucius’ son, and that means even more.

***

“Again.”

“No.”

This time Draco is outright defiant. Same thing as before they began: chin up, shoulders back, a disdainful expression on his face.

“Draco.” There’s a note of warning in Antonin’s tone, but Draco doesn’t seem to notice it.

“This is pointless. I’m only doing this to oblige Mother.”

“We have that in common, then.”

Draco sneers. “I know you’re supposed to be the Lord’s top officer, but I think Severus has more favor. And Bellatrix.”

Antonin could have laughed. The impudent brat is obviously trying his best to be hurtful. “Our Lord has his fancies. Severus and Bella have their own positions, I have mine.”

Draco looks at his wand despondently. “You’re not easily annoyed.”

Antonin runs a hand through his hair. “Perhaps if you put as much effort into your wandwork as into your efforts to provoke me we’d be getting somewhere.”

Draco obliges, unwillingly.

***

About a week before Draco is due to return to school, Antonin makes the executive decision to take him on a mission. Narcissa is unhappy with him but there is nothing very dangerous in the assignment. A simple retrieval, very unlikely that they would run into any aurors along the way. The idea is to get some artifacts from a group of smugglers. Antonin wouldn’t usually be handling such a mission, but he makes an exception in order to supervise Draco, whom Antonin posts on patrol along with himself and two others as their negotiators go into the rendezvous.

Draco is nervous and jumps at every shadow. Antonin can tell how tense he is just from the set of the boy’s shoulders. “We’re not expecting there to be trouble,” Antonin says, finally taking pity on him. In this light, in a mission cloak, alongside partners three or more decades older, Draco is very obviously just a boy. There is no one nearly as young as him in the Lord’s service. They are starting to bring in new and younger recruits, that is true. Just from Antonin’s immediate circle of friends – Edward Parkinson had recalled his son from abroad where he had been studying for his High Degree. But Draco is still the youngest and arguably the least prepared. Most likely he could have been a politician or a healer, but fighting is obviously not something the boy took to naturally, despite his bravado. It had been that way with Antonin’s boys during the first war too, but that had been a long time ago and he had been a lot younger himself.

Everything had been different back then.

Antonin is about to say something else, but shouts from behind them catch his attention, then the unmistakable cackle and snap of battle curses. Draco jumps, his wand instantly in his hand. “Stay here,” Antonin tells him. “Andrews, Alberton, with me.” They burst into the old warehouse to find one of their negotiators dead or knocked out and the other facing down three men. “Perimeter!” Antonin calls out, putting up a hasty block to a shot fired in their direction. They had already established fields to guard against disapparition and port-keys. The only way these bastards are getting away is on foot and Antonin has no intention of allowing that to happen.

They put up a nasty fight. Andrews is down two minutes into the fight and Antonin, Alberton and their standing negotiator are evenly matched. Antonin manages to get a shot out at one of the smugglers and knock him down. The other two are tougher and well partnered. Their second negotiator goes down and Antonin thinks that they need to train their civilians to at least have proper defensive skills.

The fight continues in a blur. The three men they are up against have obviously been in enough tight places to make them organized fighters. They manage to split Alberton and Antonin up. Antonin circles deeper into the room, drawing the man he is fighting after him, away from the exits. It takes him several passes before he manages to get in a solid hit. The smuggler goes down and Antonin turns just in time to see the second smuggler blast Alberton against the wall and make a run for the exit.

Draco, is all Antonin has time to think, even as he launches a curse, which misses.

A spray of red comes out of nowhere and hits the smuggler square in the chest. He topples in almost slow motion. Antonin stares uncertainly as Draco emerges out of the shadows. He looks half-frightened, half-pleased. “I thought…you could use some back up?”

“Yes, thank you, that was helpful,” Antonin admits. “Could you help me clean up here?”

***

Half an hour later, they are at the closest headquarters with a potions lab. Thankfully, all of their people will be fine, or so Draco promises as he watches over three separate potion caldrons. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Antonin asks, watching the boy work. “I was going to call in Mulciber…”

“I like Potions.” Draco smiles and Antonin thinks this is the first genuine smile he has seen on the boy. “These aren’t very difficult.” He does look like he knows what he’s doing, Antonin has to give him that. Draco’s hands move quickly and surely as he works, the look of concentration on his face is adorable and for once he looks more like Narcissa than Lucius. Antonin thinks that during the first war, he would have sent a boy like Draco out of the Young Guard and to train under Mulciber, as he probably should have done with Mulciber’s younger brother.

“Potions was never really my thing,” Antonin admits.

Draco shrugs. “You fight well, though.”

Antonin can’t help but smirk. “Is that a compliment? Well then, maybe we are getting somewhere.” Draco doesn’t respond other than to chew thoughtfully on his lip. “What is it, Draco?”

“I was wondering…would it be possible for you to teach me…some things. Not what we were going over but more…defensive spells and how to cast a patronus? I know the latter won’t help me on my mission, but I’d like to be able to do it just the same.”

When he looks up, there’s a hopefulness in Draco’s eyes that Antonin can’t say no to. “If you’d like.”

***

Draco’s patronus is a hare. Antonin cannot tell if the boy is annoyed at the shape his patronus took or somewhat in awe of it – his mood seems to swing back and forth.

“Are you going to ask what my happy memory is?”

Antonin is somewhat surprised by the question. “I always thought those things private. But…if you’d like.”

“My seventh birthday. When I got my first wand.” Draco beams and Antonin thinks this is the first time that he’s seen the boy make himself vulnerable willfully.

A wave of nostalgia washes over Antonin. He waves his own wand and mutters, “Expecto Patronum,” unleashing a white wolf. “Mine is the day the Young Guard graduated,” he recalls, watching the wolf make two laps around the training room before disappearing.

“The young guard?” Draco asks, genuine curiosity seeping into his tone.

“A squad I trained during the first war. They came into the academy as boys younger than you and were trained specifically to make up an elite fighting squad. I knew them all – their strengths, weaknesses, fears. We did a training session once where they had to face a Bogart. It was as much for experience as for building trust. If you’re going to put your life in someone’s hands, it’s not much more to trust them with your fears. What I call graduation is when the squad was presented to the Lord as a whole, as a unit, all of them Marked, all of them trained and ready to serve.”

Draco is watching him carefully and Antonin wonders how much of his regret, grief and nostalgia has he allowed to seep through the cracks. “How many of them survived?”

“Four out of eleven.” Draco winces and Antonin thinks this is his chance to get through to the boy. “Mr. Malfoy—Draco, the reason I’ve been hard on you is because this thing we do – the fighting, the war – it’s not a joke. It takes lives, lives of good fighters. By taking the Mark you have put yourself in the center of the battle. Your will and your life are no longer your own and if you want to survive, at the least, you must be able to stand against all odds. One mistake can mean everything.” Antonin doesn’t know how to impress the importance of this on Draco and he doesn’t know why he suddenly cares so much more than he used to. Somehow, at some point, this had stopped being about Lucius’ son and became about Draco. Draco, who wants to be brave and adequate but is completely out of his element in the harsh reality of war.

Draco is quiet for a moment, then says, “I didn’t think you cared. I didn’t think anyone cared what happens to the younger recruits. That’s Blaise’s concern – that we’re all disposable.”

“Rest assured, Draco: not to me.” And for some Merlin damned reason, especially not you.

***

The rest of their training sessions go well. Antonin is almost surprised at Draco’s progress. Perhaps, it’s not what it could have been, but Draco at least does not try to block and provoke him at every turn. He seems to be listening and Antonin sends the boy off to Hogwarts with a heavy heart but not without hope. Perhaps he will succeed and he and his entire family will be rewarded. Lucius could use some favor right now – he had been out of it for quite too long.

“Thank you for your help,” Narcissa says when Antonin meets her for tea the day of Draco’s departure to Hogwarts. “He left far more confident than he was two months ago. I think you found a way to connect to him and I’m grateful for that.”

“Your son is something, Narcissa,” Antonin tells her, smiling slightly and wishes he had had a chance to see Draco off.

***

Draco doesn’t write. It isn’t that Antonin had expected him to but he would have loved to know of how his protégé’s mission was going. Severus is constantly glum when Draco is mentioned and Narcissa says that the boy refuses to accept help. Stories of Draco’s failed attempts reach Antonin once in a while and he tries to not think about them too much but it gets harder and harder every time.

Finally, he breaks down and writes a letter.

Draco’s answer does not come for so long that Antonin thinks that perhaps Draco has decided to ignore him completely. Finally, an answer does come. It is short and completely unsatisfactory but Draco insists that he is alright and there is no need to worry about him. He asks Antonin some questions, though, and this turns into a short but rather pleasant exchange of letters on magic theory, transfiguration and magical travel, the latter of which is really not Antonin’s area of expertise.

Draco’s last letter, before everything goes to hell, ends with: Thank you, Mr. Dolohov. You’ve been of great help. I really do appreciate it.

***

The two young men standing guard at the Lord’s audience chamber try to face him down; obviously they’ve been given orders to not let anyone in. “You can’t go in, sir,” one of them attempts to say but Antonin pushes past them and neither of them have the stomach to fire a shot at their commanding officer. Antonin pushes open the double doors of the chamber and stops instantly, his cloak wrapping around his ankles momentarily.

The Lord stands in the middle of the chamber, in front of a large fireplace. Before him kneels Draco, hands flat against the cold stone floor, head hung. He looks miserable and beaten down. Severus stands beside him, expression completely blank.

“Dolohov!” Voldemort hisses, irritation clear in his tone. “What are you doing here? This is a private audience; I gave orders to not let anyone in.”

“Yes, my Lord. But I’ve heard that Dumbledore is dead and that Draco—Mr. Malfoy and Snape have returned. It was chance, really, but I’m surprised I was not informed.”

“Are you questioning my decisions?”

“No, my Lord.” It is hard to tell in the dim light, but Antonin has a sick feeling that whatever the Lord had been saying to Draco was not a congratulations. “But Draco is my protégé and I would like to be present at his debriefing.”

For a moment, Antonin is certain that he will be hexed and then put out of the room, but instead, the Lord laughs and shuts the doors of the chamber with a flick of his wand. “You are losing your touch, Antonin,” he comments. “Mr. Malfoy has failed his mission.”

Antonin notices Draco’s flinch at the words. “Failed, my Lord?”

“Oh it was a good plan. Very well thought out. However, Mr. Malfoy did not kill Dumbledore as instructed.”

“I don’t understand.” Antonin can feel his heart rate rising. This cannot be true. The information came from Bella, even if through a very brief communication, and everyone at Headquarters knows: Dumbledore is dead.

“I was the one who cast the Killing Curse,” Severus chimes in. His eyes are cold and Antonin wonders what he’s thinking. For all that he had trained him, Antonin had never quite felt right about the boy and Severus never cared for him much either. “Draco was unable to finish the task on his own.”

“But it is done,” Antonin insists, now desperately trying to guard Draco from what he knows would likely be a horrible punishment.

“But not by Draco. Mr. Malfoy has proved as useless as his father.” The Lord twirls his wand, considering Draco thoughtfully. Draco is obviously trying to not show fear but Antonin can practically feel it coming off the boy in waves. “What do you think his punishment should be, Antonin? How many minutes?”

Minutes. Antonin understands what this means. He is being asked for how many minutes Draco should be forced to endure the Cruciatus. “I do not think Draco should be punished, My Lord.” Antonin says quietly but firmly. He knows that if Draco is tortured, he will be forced to watch and even if he isn’t, just the thought makes him squirm on the inside. He had taken Draco under his protection, he will not let the mad fancies of their Lord harm the boy; not after Draco has done so much for their Cause.

What?” The question comes out in a vile, threatening hiss.

Because he should be rewarded not punished, Antonin thinks. Instead, he says, “Because it is my fault that Draco failed.”

Draco’s head shoots up and he stares in bewilderment at Antonin. He opens his mouth to protest but Dolohov gives him a silencing look.

“Explain.”

Antonin takes a step forward and kneels. “My Lord, I was responsible for making sure that Mr. Malfoy was able to perform the killing curse. He and his mother entrusted me with this task and I have failed. I was inattentive to the task at hand and here is what came out of it. I have failed both Mr. Malfoy and you, My Lord. If there must be a punishment, let me be the one to take it.” He can feel Draco’s disbelieving gaze and the Lord’s cold one.

“You are lying, Dolohov.”

“No, my Lord. If you would like to search my mind…” In a way, Antonin is lying. Draco knows how to cast the Avada; this was never the subject of their sessions specifically. However, he has lots of memories of training Draco and feeling frustrated with him that he could push forward for the Lord to see.

Voldemort considers him, then, finally, says, “Leave us, Severus.”

Snape obliges with a bow. Draco watches him go with forlorn eyes and Antonin wants to throw a hex at Snape. He is the one who had sworn to help and protect Draco, had sworn to Narcissa, indirectly to Lucius, and now he is simply leaving, without even trying to put up a fight for Draco’s sake.

Once they are alone, there is a long silence.

“Stand, Draco.” Draco stands, pale and apprehensive but – thankfully – silent. “Stand there – yes there. You will watch. That will be your punishment. If you look away, I will reinstate my decision as to your atonement. Understood?”

For a moment, Draco is silent and Antonin prays silently that the boy will not try to do anything stupid. Let me do this, Draco, he thinks, meeting the boy’s eyes, I’ve failed most everyone I ever cared about. I don’t want to fail you as well. “Yes, my Lord,” Draco forces out finally.

“Good.” The Lord points his wand at Antonin who takes in a deep breath in preparation. “Crucio.

***

Antonin fades in and out of darkness. Every time he comes back up it is to pain and a feverishly delirious state of mind in which he cannot determine what is a dream and what is reality. All he knows is that he is almost never alone. Someone is almost always beside him to provide water or a smoothing potion which sends him back to sleep almost immediately. Sometimes he thinks he recognizes Teddy Mulciber’s voice, sometimes he thinks the young man beside him is Draco. But the latter is obviously wishful thinking.

Antonin doesn’t know how long he floats in and out of consciousness like that until, finally, when he comes back into awareness, the fever is gone and so is most of the pain. All that is left is a dull aching throughout his entire body and a weakness like he had just been through hours of combat. He blinks several times against the dim lighting of the room and realizes that he is not in a room he recognizes. On the bedside table there is a row of potions flasks and a glass full of water. Across the room a small fireplace burns, spreading a soft, soothing warmth through the room. By the looks of it he has been very well taken care of but by whom? Antonin tries to push himself up into a sitting position but instantly decides that that was a bad idea. He hisses in pain and allows himself to sink back down into the pillows.

“Please, lay down,” comes a quiet voice from across the room. Antonin turns his head to look in that direction and watches in amazement as Draco makes his way out of the shadows. “Your body is still overtaxed. It’s best if you just rest for another day.”

“Draco? Where are we?” His voice is hoarse and Antonin hates that Draco has to see him like this.

“Malfoy Manor. I…it was the first place I thought of after…” He swallows and looks away, guilt visibly etched into his features. “Once Mr. Mulciber came he said it would be best to not move you. He asked if I would be willing to take care of you and I said yes. It’s the least I could do.” He hands Antonin the water glass and begins to mix some potions together.

Antonin drinks most of the water and realizes, with relief, that his throat isn’t quite as sore afterwards. “How long has it been?”

“A couple of days. It was…I was really worried,” Draco admits.

Antonin drinks the potions Draco offers him all the while watching Draco carefully. The young Malfoy sits down on the edge of the bed and carefully, almost hesitantly, makes eye contact. “May I ask you something?”

“Please.”

“Why did you…why did you offer to take my punishment? And—and—I’m sorry—I shouldn’t have let you. If it was a test—“

“It wasn’t a test, Draco,” Antonin says firmly. “But I wasn’t about to fail you.”

“Fail me? How—“

“It doesn’t matter. Please, let’s not speak of it.” How can he tell Draco that he cares about him a little too much, that he has already managed to get attached? How can he explain that he cannot stand the thought of failing another person he cares for as he had already failed so many? His Young Guard. His baby sister, who was killed by a Mudblood auror who was trying to interrogate her about Antonin’s connections to Tom Riddle’s Organization. His mother, whom he had abandoned in her old age to first fight a war and then serve out a life-long term in Azkaban. Lucius, because if Antonin had just insisted a little more that he be put in charge of the prophecy retrieval rather than the very civilian Malfoy… He cannot bring himself to shatter what delicate positive impression Draco might have finally formed of him. Antonin tries to suppress a wave of coughing which suddenly comes over him with limited success. “Fucking hell,” he mutters.

Draco reaches out and takes his hand. Antonin tries to not allow his own surprise at the gesture to show. He doesn’t want to frighten Draco away. “You’re right,” Draco says quietly. “You should get some more sleep. Do you still feel any sharp pain? If you do, I can brew some more anti-inflammation potions.”

“No. Just this dull ache. I should be fine by tomorrow night, Draco, thank you. I’ll be out of your and your mother’s hair soon.”

To Antonin’s surprise, Draco looks almost hurt. “No, don’t hurry. I don’t mind. Mr. Mulciber and Professor Snape say that after such a long session you should take at least 48 hours of rest after the fever dies down. And that’s a minimum. Please, you…you saved me. I want to help.”

Antonin smiles gratefully at him. “Thank you, Draco.”

***

The following year is hard and bloody. Antonin is constantly busy and Draco is away at Hogwarts. They rarely see each other, but when they do, every time there is always an increasing sense of camaraderie. Antonin can tell, instinctively, that some change has happened to Draco, some shift in the way Draco sees him but he can never quite put a finger on it. Sometimes the boy is brash and cheeky, sometimes he flushes at the smallest compliment. But he is always kind and Antonin is too entrenched in the bitterness of war to not take small comforts where he can.

On the night they attempt to take Hogwarts, Antonin stops for just long enough to wonder if he will ever see Draco again. Draco does not come to join them the way a lot of the other Slytherins do and his bride, Pansy, does not know where he is and Antonin fears that Draco might have switched sides.

His fears are allayed, however, when Draco shows up just before the fighting begins. “Have you come to join the fight, Draco?” Antonin asks. He fears, desperately, that the boy will say yes.

However, Draco merely shakes his head. “I’m going back to the castle. There’s something I need to take care of but…I needed to see you. Mr. Dolohov—Antonin, are you really going to storm the castle?” Draco tries to hide his nervousness but Antonin can tell he is unsettled. He takes Draco by the arm and leads him aside where they will not be easily observed.

“Yes, we must. There are orders. Is there something I should know?”

“It’s practically impossible,” Draco points out, fighting to keep his voice even. “So many people will die.”

“That can’t be what you wanted to tell me, Draco. Come out with it.” In the distance, Antonin can hear shouted orders to begin formation. He knows Augustus and Andre will cover for him for now but the adrenaline of battle has already set in. All of his senses are sharpened and he can see straight through Draco’s attempts to seem unaffected.

“I just wanted to say…I wanted…I’m very glad that…that we got to know each other,” he finishes awkwardly and flushes. “I’m sorry I was such a brat to start with.” Draco looks up and Antonin suddenly sees Lucius but younger and far more vulnerable and open.

“I’m glad too,” he says. “Stay safe, Draco.”

Draco nods. “You too. Please.” He reaches out and his hand comes to rest against Antonin’s forearm. “I know you have to fight…I just don’t...want to lose you.” The last few words come out so quietly that Antonin isn’t quite certain that he heard correctly. “You have been the only person I could truly turn to in the last few months. I’ve come to…I’ve really…” Draco flushes crimson and drops his eyes.

“Antonin, where are you? It’s time we began!” Rookwood’s voice in the distance, quickly approaching, makes Antonin take a step back from Draco. He finds his cloak and takes a step in the direction of the battle preparations, then turns on his heal and takes two large steps back toward Draco. He puts both hands on Draco’s arms and does what he had never dared to do to Lucius, even when they had been young and drunk and the world was at their disposal.

Draco, after a second’s pause, kisses back.

The boy’s hands come up to cup his elbows and they stand there for a very long time before Antonin finally withdraws, embarrassed but not at all regretful. “I’m so very glad, Draco,” he whispers.

“Antonin—“

“Don’t say anything.” He lets go, turns, and walks away toward the formed up ranks of the Dark Lord’s army. Before turning a bend in the road, Antonin looks back. In the faint moonlight, he can just make out Draco’s silhouette and the small, boyish wave that he offers as a parting gift. And Antonin thinks that if this boy could love him, if he has even a fighting chance to see Draco again after all this is over, then he has a reason to fight and to win.

***

They never see each other again.