The fog obscured everything, but he still strove to see through the gloomy air. The cold prompted him to wrap his cloak more tightly around him. The air was filled with pale grey and his eyes tired and vision blurred, the weight of the spectacles he wore missing from the bridge of his nose. He was alone, the sheer weight of the feeling burning away the strength in his limbs as he stumbled half-blind through the unfamiliar landscape.
Then he saw the familiar bushy brown hair that stood out like a beacon to him in both mind and heart, and the pounding of his heart moved the muscles of his face into a bright smile. It was enough to see her, touch her and feel her by his side each day sometimes, as long as she was there. He had written a letter to tell her – just in case he died. He hoped that she would not have turned away from him from disgust, or laughed at his stupidity. No, she was not like that. She did not possess great beauty which others would recognize like Fleur Delacour’s, but she shone in his sight, especially when she smiled. She was perfect, just perfect. He still wondered about her reaction, though he supposed he had already thought it out clearly before he had sent himself to presumed death. She would be sitting on her bed, reading the diary that he had filled full with Voldemort’s evil deeds, the Dursleys and mostly of her. Her eyes and how they sparkled when she grinned or was reading some thick book again, or her brown hair that lit up with golden highlights when the sun caught it in its gaze – or just her and everything that made her who she was. He was rambling again, even as he strolled blindly through the fog.
She was there, standing with her back to him and he ached slightly with the regret that he could not see her face. He wanted to sprint recklessly towards her, hoping to somehow know what she felt; to clear the fear in his heart that she did not love him. Then the gusts of great wind carried him away on its wings of flight and far from the woman he loved more than life itself.
Another cave lit up with orange firelight stirred Harry’s consciousness as he tried fervently to awaken from the dream that he wanted to continue. He wanted to see Hermione, even if it was for a split second. He wanted to know she was safe and lived happily, even if he was gone. The nerve-wracking Apparation had brought them to yet another hideout, which Malfoy had wryly described as home sweet home. Even as Harry stared at the little swats Ginny gave Malfoy from time to time, and the mocking comments he made about her, he knew they loved each other. It was not visible in the small movements they had, but in the way they looked at one another. He knew – he had seen many others stare at their lovers in that way. He was positive he looked at Hermione with that sort of love, too. Perhaps she would never reciprocate it, but he could hope.
He had no doubt others would laugh when they realized how ordinary the life of Harry Potter was once Voldemort was vanquished. One enveloped in embarrassing crushes like any other teenager would have, and the eventual discovery of true love. Some would question his capacity to understand the kind of bone-deep love that drove you to die for one another, the type you needed to live, but he knew it all too well. He lived now, only because of love. Because his mother had loved him; had died for him. He knew it better than anyone, probably. He had known the painful feeling when Hermione merely smiled at him in her usual friendly way, although that smile sent jitters through him. She was not beautiful to others, but she was a shining light for him. It was easy to realize that he had fallen in love with his best friend. His own story seemed to be eerily familiar to Lily and James’s love story back then, for they, too, had begun as friends.
At times he wondered if his mother had given her life not just for love. It was a selfish thought, but it never failed to rise in his mind when he was at his worst. Perhaps Lily Potter had wanted to buy the wizarding world peace. He vaguely wondered if his mother knew of his life the past seven years, trapped in life-threatening situations and precipices where he had barely escaped hell. Or life as Voldemort’s slave. Sacrificing oneself for the world. Perhaps his mother was the true heroine, not him.
“Potter, dinner’s cooked,” Malfoy’s haughty voice trailed over and he struggled to get up. They had not spoken for long, and his throat was parched after not speaking – his voice croaking and hoarse. The enticing whiffs of stew drifted through the air, and he walked carefully, not wanting to fall. Perhaps it was a trap, after all. Perhaps Ginny was under the Imperius Curse, and it was all a trap; a sort of revenge. He sat down around the fire, thankfully accepting the bowl of stew and thanking them softly. They ate quietly, and Harry was surprised to see Malfoy admonish Ginny for eating too little food, then ladling more stew into her bowl. He tried inserting Hermione’s and his faces into the scene, but realized it was more suited for the two.
“What happened?” he asked quietly, putting down the bowl that had been scraped clean of stew. “Why am I here?” The couple in front of him exchanged glances, probably debating silently what they could tell him. It was a long while before Ginny’s sigh broke the silence.
“Draco is a spy,” she said softly. Harry could almost feel the worry that exuded from her. So Malfoy was one of the espionage agents, just as Snape had been. He was one of the few who would not be suspected, but the war was over. There was no need for them to hide anymore.
“Why do you need to hide? The war is over. Once they know you were a spy…” Harry reasoned, looking earnestly at the two of them. It was then that he noticed their faces were haggard with worry and exhaustion. It had definitely been a chore to keep hiding and running. Somehow, they were in some sort of trouble and had to become fugitives. At least, that was what he thought.
“The Dark Lord lives, Potter,” Malfoy whispered, the sound a fraction of his normal arrogant tone that he now knew to be a shield that hid his true feelings and outlook on the world. The words he uttered shocked him to the core, and he stood ramrod straight, staring with surprised eyes at them. No, they were lying. He had seen him die; had yelled and screamed the Killing Curse with all the power he could muster, holding two wands in his hands while his scar burned his head open. When that failed, he had stuck a dagger into his chest, and watched the life drain with the black blood out of Voldemort’s body. He was dead. He was.
“It is true, no matter what you think, Potter. He lives, and he knows of my treachery. Soon he will come for Snape, and Granger, and everyone else,” Malfoy continued, a grave expression dominating his features as he curled his fingers in front of the fire, the dancing light from the flames casting shadows on his face. “I am the first, because I provided the information that led you to his location.”
“There’s something else, isn’t it?” Harry said suspiciously as he watched the grief-stricken expression on their faces. They were hiding something even more serious. Malfoy bit his lip, while Ginny stared piteously at Harry, almost begging him to stop asking all the questions that made them feel uncomfortable.
“He gave me a condition. He allows a price to be paid in return. Snape paid with his Potions; and I shall pay with you as my ransom,” Malfoy replied, not looking at Harry. “It is a game to him.”
“A game in which he dispatches what followers he has left to sabotage us from time to time, and we must get you to him by dawn in two days, without any magic helping us to travel more than five kilometres,” Ginny carried on, wringing her hands. “We had no choice.”
“So I’m supposed to go with you to Voldemort, and then offer myself up to him and try to kill him?” Harry said incredulously, gaping at the two serious people in front of him. “I’m not some deity, Malfoy. It is impossible.”
“You have to try, Harry. Please,” Ginny pleaded almost desperately. Only then could he see swirling under the cool exterior the fear that lurked beneath. She feared for Malfoy’s death, just as he had feared every single day and night of battle when Hermione had refused to stay in the hospital wing and help, instead coming out to do battle with them. He knew how afraid she probably was right now, considering he had been through it. He wanted Hermione to be safe, and Voldemort would go after her first.
“I’ll go,” he sighed, plopping down on the log as both Malfoy and Ginny breathed sighs of relief that echoed his, only that they were in different moods. He had held on to the hope that being alive blessed him with, but now he could lose his chance to see Hermione again, even if he had to deal with the awkwardness that would likely arise from his letter. There was not much time left for Malfoy; they had to set off tomorrow.
Soon he would face off with his childhood enemy once again. Harry stared at the firelight with expressionless eyes, trying not to think of anything. Keep your head empty of thoughts, he recited as if by rote. Malfoy and Ginny went off to sleep soon, but he remained awake, images of soft brown hair and smiling brown eyes in his head, wondering if he would ever get to touch or see the authentic one again. It was in this position Draco and Ginny found him the next morning, head slumped over his knees, his arms folded as though hiding from something.
He awoke screaming Hermione’s name.
The skies were black with storm clouds, the ominous foreshadowing bringing him the fear he had not tasted in weeks. The rain pelted down heavily, the raindrops quenching the tears he dared not shed, for fear that his own weakness would bring down all of them. They had battled since he was fifteen – three years of bitter war had plunged the wizarding world into chaos as dark and light won and lost constantly, while wizards stole from each other and Knockturn Alley was exploded into ashes together with its brother, Diagon. Black and grey were the dominant colours in the landscape devoid of hope except for the few jokes passed around by grim Fred and George Weasley at times. They brought some joy and cheer in dark times.
The surroundings were familiar. He gulped in a breath of dank air, feeling it reek of darkness and the evil that he knew so well. The air was permeated with the foul stench of Voldemort, once Tom Riddle. It was a perfect day for death and a final showdown between good and evil – or at least, the two extremes who embodied the two qualities. The last time he had dueled with Voldemort, he had barely survived, lying unconscious in the Hospital Wing for weeks. Today he would not fail, for he was prepared to die if he had to.
When the iridescent emerald skull exploded in bright fire, dying the dark sky green, he knew it was time. It was a signal for the Death Eaters to disperse. He would face him alone, as they had so many years ago in Godric’s Hollow when he had been but a sprawling infant and him a powerful Dark Lord. Perhaps today the situation would be reversed, he thought. Minutes later, two black-robed Death Eaters appeared out of nowhere and took his arms silently, the glee radiating off them. The masks obscured their true identities from him, but from their skinny arms he knew they were newly initiated.
Voldemort’s stronghold was as he had expected, dark and reeking of the stench of the evil, painted black, perhaps by Dark Magic and the evil ongoing inside it. The Riddle house and the village around it had been decimated to black soil which looked deceptively fertile but was in fact sweetened and nourished by burning and ashes. Here the destruction of the Death Eaters was most clearly shown to the world. It was a pity no one had survived this place except for perhaps, Severus Snape and the other spy who had chosen to remain anonymous for safety. Those on the side of good, that is.
(There is no good or evil. There is only power.)
He shuddered in the cold, the chill of the words slithering down his spine. Even six years after he had first heard the words, they still haunted him.
Perhaps it was right after all, for this last battle between him and Voldemort would be decided by power. Once he had been a pathetically weak student wizard, but today he was one of the few students given permission to go through the Auror programme early. He would not fall that easily today. The resolution burned deep in his veins, the hot blood giving him sweat. The Death Eaters mistook it for cold perspiration of fear and laughed derisively as they marched him into the Riddle house, transformed into a black ice palace of Voldemort’s will.
The cold black throne room that greeted him still bore vestiges of what it had once been – a cozy sitting room. Some of the paint had flaked from the ceiling and the last bits of carpet still existed at the sides of the floor, but he could picture how it had been. He had had too much practice at it. He wondered how Voldemort’s parents had been like. Genetics had nothing to do with what someone was; Dumbledore had taught him that lesson in second year, when he had asked the Sorting Hat about his identity.
Until yesterday, he could not believe the reason why he looked so similar to Voldemort. It was much too shocking. But he had accepted the fact. It reminded him vaguely of Star Wars, in which Luke Skywalker had to face his father, Darth Vader. Voldemort was in no way his grandfather, but it was close enough. Melissa Riddle, nee Potter, had been his great grand aunt.
Voldemort was his grand-uncle.
Apparently Gerard Potter, his great grand uncle had been a Squib who somehow retrieved his powers and had a son, James, thus continuing the bloodline. He was a descendant of Slytherin, only that he had not been the Heir because Gerard Potter had married a Light Witch loosely linked to Hufflepuff.
And then, the man appeared. Perhaps he should have called him just wizard, because Voldemort was what they called – no longer man. He had died and lived again – immortal was a better word, though he was only temporarily immortal.
“Welcome, Harry Potter,” he smiled. “Or rather, my dear grand nephew.”
Suddenly, the speed of the dream increased and the dream blurred into images, zooming past his mind at perhaps the speed of light, making it impossible for him to catch anything. He slumped, clutching his head in his hands. It was too fast, and he remembered only some of what happened.
Only what had transpired so far.
Hermione jerked from her slumber, panting slightly as she relived the events of the dream. The Dark Mark floating listlessly in the sky; the terrifying visage of Voldemort on his throne, laughing triumphantly as Muggles were murdered and Muggle-borns exterminated. She had had many dreams of that sort when Voldemort had first risen, but never any as vivid as this one had been. Never any as filled with hopelessness as this one had been. The thoughts that had been pushed forcibly into her mind during the dream had reminded her immensely of Harry. It was just the way that he would muse or deliberate something, the way that she had gotten used to. Sometimes he was much too thick-headed about something, but never as seriously as Ron.
She almost wished she had the chance to bash some sense into him now, perhaps with a brick or just a good old-fashioned hex. He’s gone, she reminded herself sternly.
It did not help.
She lay back against the numerous cushions that decorated her bed and tried to sink back into sleep. The dream seemed to have deprived her of all rest and she desperately wanted something to keep her unconscious from the world and everyone else. She knew better than to get herself addicted to sleeping pills or potions that aided slumber, though. Professor Snape had often cautioned students in class never to rely on those, for addiction could kill.
Sensible, practical Hermione, she thought cynically. Always right, and almost always perfect. She jumped and almost fell off the bed as the insistent clanging of the doorbell finally cut through to her ears. She pulled herself up and staggered to the door – lying for so long in bed had given her pins and needles in her right foot. It was then that she noticed she was still holding Harry’s diary. She bit her lip, trying to get up the strength to put it down. It was too much of a treasure to her.
It was strangely befitting for the infamous bookworm – to be attached to the book of a deceased love. The doorbell clanged loudly and she shuffled her way out of her room and opened the door to her small apartment. A mop of bright carrot-red hair greeted her, along with slightly weary blue eyes. Somehow Ron managed to look young even if he had been through more troubles than his brothers combined, being the best friend of Harry Potter and all.
“You look terrible, Herm,” Ron commented, scrutinizing Hermione, who suddenly felt very conscious of her bed-hair and faded pajamas, combined with the dark circles she knew the nightmares had caused. Hermione simply smiled wearily and gestured for him to come in. The apartment was as neat and orderly as ever, but its owner was far from it. “What happened?”
“I couldn’t get to sleep,” Hermione replied, plopping down in one of the cozy chairs in the sitting room after pouring Ron some tea into one of the ceramic mugs she favoured. Ron, thankfully, noticed the reason for her unhappiness and decided to change the uncomfortable subject.
“At least we’re at peace now,” he said quietly, rubbing the rim of the mug as though he thought it would produce a sound like the glasses used to drink champagne. Hermione smiled weakly, trying to console herself with the fact that peace had finally been achieved. She had left the celebrations all over Europe, preferring to curl up with a book (specifically Harry’s diary, in this case) at home, as she had always done. Ron and Susan, being the wild party-animals they were, probably danced the night away. She felt a strange sense of foreignness even as she watched Ron put down the mug he had been playing with. It seemed as though their friendship was a forced one.
It had always felt natural when Harry was around, she and Ron bickering, and Harry laughing and breaking up the argument – at times he would stay silent and simply wait out the storm. There was an awkward silence between them, and Hermione bit her lip. It was becoming a bad habit, she thought. Finally, Ron grinned and raised his hands helplessly.
“Want to argue? It seems like the only way we can communicate properly,” he joked, and Hermione could not help but chuckle. He did speak the truth.
“I think I’m getting a sore throat, so it’s better that we talk about something else,” Hermione replied, beaming slightly as though they were in a conspiracy. “Where’s Susan?”
“Oh, sleeping off her hangover,” Ron shrugged, raising an eyebrow as though surprised that Hermione would even ask. “She was in a pretty good mood – drank too much of the double-distilled Butterbeer that Fred and George were passing around.” They spent the rest of the afternoon sipping tea and joking about Hogwarts days, but Hermione could not get the heavy feeling that the dreams had imposed on her off her chest.
There was something more to it, she knew. And if it threatened the wizarding world, she had to find out what it was. She would not allow anyone else to lose their loved ones.
“Let’s give it up,” Draco said abruptly, the orange firelight from the flames dancing and forming shadows on his face, his pale hair dyed orange by the light. He was sitting casually on a log, his head on his arms as he tried to get the energy from an unknown source to prepare for the next day of running and hiding. Ginny stared from beside him, her mouth slightly open.
“What do you mean?” she asked softly, a warm comforting hand on his arm as he raised his head to meet her inquiring eyes. He sighed, turning away from her and focusing his attention on Harry, who was dozing nearby, his head wrapped in his arms. Every now and then he would jerk or tremble, at times outright screaming.
“We should go into hiding…give up the deal and all,” Draco continued, biting his lip as he prepared for the blast of cold fury that Ginny was bound to launch into. It was the second time he had broached the topic, and the first time he had, the day had ended with him walking around with wobbly legs and a swollen face. There was no such reaction this time.
“I thought we got over this a long time ago,” Ginny whispered, almost in an exasperated tone as she slipped her hand into his, feeling his cool skin warm to hers as it always did. He looked with some guilt at her.
“We’re being very selfish, Ginny. Look at Potter – he’s in no state to face You-Know-Who again – we were wrong to capture him for our own means,” Draco said, a worried expression on his face as Harry broke out into another yell, his arms seemingly tightening around himself. Ginny bowed her head, deliberating. “We could just…”
“If we could run or escape, don’t you think I would have agreed?” Ginny stared accusingly at Draco. Her hand stiffened slightly around his. “I don’t care what happens or wherever we have to run to, but I want you alive. I want you alive, get it?” He did not reply, merely gathering her into his arms. Ever since the war had begun, they had only had a few meetings now and then whenever he could sneak out of his Death Eater duties. They both knew the wrath of the Dark Lord, and what havoc he would wreck for a traitor. Snape had gone through many bouts of the Cruciatus Curse before the Dark Lord had somewhat given him back his trust. This time, there would be no such mercy.
“Harry’s like a brother to me,” Ginny breathed gently against Draco’s chest. He rubbed her back slightly, his arm encircling her waist. “I don’t want him hurt, too. You used to hate him – yet you can pity him.” She sat up, gripping him by his shoulders as her face took on that of an interrogator. “Okay, what’s wrong?”
“What do you mean?” Draco asked, truly puzzled.
“What’s wrong with you? You’re never this sentimental or altruistic; especially not when it comes to Harry,” Ginny replied. She stood up, perching her hands on her hips in a fashion very much like her mother’s attitude. She cocked her head to the side. Draco mumbled something that was too soft and jumbled to hear, and she kneeled down in front of him to decipher it.
“Come again?” she asked.
“Because I know how unrequited love feels like,” he whispered. Ginny drew back slightly from him, breathing sharply as she bent her head. “He’s in no state to fight anyone right now, with that kind of fear in his heart.”
“I’ve seen the way he looks at Hermione,” Ginny exhaled, settling back into her former position. The fire was dying down now, and she gathered some sticks from the side to stoke it up again. It would have to last all night, and it was best if they did not use magic, for the Dark Lord’s troops could track them easily if they did so.
“The mud – ” Draco ceased saying the word just as Ginny directed a glower at him. He held up his hands in surrender, grinning widely. “I know – no insults to Muggles. Only force of habit, really. No offence meant.”
“Good,” Ginny beamed, leaning back into his embrace. They stayed like that, reveling in each other’s warmth until they dozed off against the wall of the cave, the fire burning down into embers and ash. They awoke only when they heard a scream from the sleeping teenager in the other corner.