rurounihime: (Default)
Note that my warning has been changed AGAIN, now that I have finished reading DH. Anyone worried about spoiler issues, please make sure you read it.

Title: The Road (20/?)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] rurounihime
Rating: hard R when all is said and done…
Pairing: H/D eventually
Summary: In the midst of a disintegrating war, Harry awaits the arrival of the Order’s last hope.
Warning: violence, character death, spoilers for all seven books. This fic is now AU because of Deathly Hallows. And at the risk of much silliness, I now discover that there are apparently DH spoilers in this story from the beginning. O.o
Disclaimer: The HP characters and most of the spellwork do not belong to me.

A/N: Thank you to April for her fabulous and attentive beta-ing, and to Coffee for constantly letting me bounce ideas off of her. The other major pairing in this is Blaise/Seamus, but there are minor het pairings as well.



No artwork or music for this chapter.



Previous chapters

Chapter 20: The Trials and Tribulations of Harry Potter


The knock at his door late the next morning was soft. Harry nearly missed it in the swell of Luna’s song. He stood slowly, staring at the door. It could have been anyone. Merlin knew the possibilities were growing with every person who drifted into the castle. But something warned him of the presence on the other side of the door.

When he opened it, there was no surprise at seeing straight blond hair, pale skin and deep-water eyes churning different flecks of grey.

* * *

With a strength born of adrenaline, Harry lifted Draco and settled him back against the head of the bed. Draco’s mouth was all over his face and throat, leaving hot patches that stung in the room’s cooler air. Harry gripped Draco’s naked hips and thrust into him, and the other man arched. His legs wrapped vice-like around Harry’s waist, slipping down. Harry slid his hand under one thigh and held him up. Held him close. Draco’s fingernails dug into his back.

It felt damn good to be inside Draco again, like some sort of taste he couldn’t quite catch as it flowed off the tip of his tongue. He suddenly found it full-bodied, all over the inside of his mouth, with barely time to exhale his relief, to start at the shock of having it before it slipped away once more. He reached between them, nudging his fingers against Draco’s soft belly and sliding down, wrapping his hand tightly around him, and feeling the wordless, desperate sounds Draco made. The other man’s entire body hitched against him. Harry could feel all five of Draco’s fingertips pressing achingly into his side.

It always seemed to come so fast with Draco. Over so quickly. Harry had found over the past few days that he couldn’t hold himself back, and it was something he felt… not quite relieved about, but in the same family, whenever Draco came just as quickly as he did, shaking and knocking his head back against the wall or the mattress, or the wooden bed frame. Grey eyes rolling up, guarded with fluttering ash-coloured lashes. Harry had watched it each previous time in rapidly disintegrating silence, moving more raggedly, barely seeing the final, full jerk of Draco’s body before his own climax inevitably took him and he couldn’t see much of anything anymore.

This time Harry tugged Draco down to the sheets, flat across the bed at all the wrong angles, intent upon the peak that he knew was coming. His own foot hung over the edge, toes cold, Draco’s legs a tensing twist around his sides and his belly taut with the effort of raising his hips off the mattress. Harry found his mouth and his tongue, and even a vocal sigh at the contact. He pulled back to breathe, just touching Draco’s lips with his own as they moved, air rushing in hot, uneven gusts between them over his face.

But Draco went oddly limp just as Harry stroked his free hand over the thin scar running along his side. Harry could still feel Draco’s arousal with his other palm. But the man himself had ceased to move.

Harry breathed unsteadily against Draco’s mouth and curled his fingers gently through the soft, sweaty blond hair beneath them. The roiling heat that had been building in his abdomen began to fade back. “What’s wrong?” he gasped.

“You’re going to do it anyway.” Draco’s voice was devoid of emotion. Soft, as if he couldn’t find the energy.

Harry looked down at him. “What?”

Draco swallowed and turned his head. “Weasley, Potter. For fuck’s sake.”

It took Harry a minute to sort out the jumble in his brain. He wasn’t ready, or prepared, to talk about Ginny Weasley. His reasons for evading it seemed shameful, but it felt like one thing he could avoid. One thing in all this mess that wasn’t careening toward him quite as fast as everything else was. “Don’t,” he whispered. He feared saying any more for what might come out on top of it.

In an instant, Draco was struggling, body still surrounding Harry but trying to gain distance. Harry grabbed his hips instinctively, clenching his eyes shut at the discomfort. Draco halted, shivering, and Harry made a sudden decision, not lifting, not drawing back, but holding Draco firmly where he was. The other man’s fingers curled into a fist against his flesh.

“Let me go, Potter,” Draco said in a low voice.

Harry gave himself the length of a single breath. And then he let go.

But Draco didn’t move any further. It was as if he’d lost the will to follow through. Or maybe— Harry peered at him sharply, at his flushed face and worried, kiss-reddened mouth. Draco’s eyes slid shut, and for just a moment, his body clenched around Harry.

“Please don’t,” Harry murmured, not sure where the words were coming from, but suddenly certain that Draco didn’t want to move. Didn’t want to part them just yet. He stroked a palm down over Draco’s sweat-slick chest, desperate to memorise each arc and hollow in case they should be taken from him.

Draco’s eyelids fluttered. And then snapped open. “Don’t tell me what to do,” he hissed, and pushed Harry’s hand off. His legs rose as if he would roll away. And then they dropped back. Harry drew a deep breath and took a chance, running both hands up Draco’s bare thighs and back down again soothingly. Up. Down. Draco made no move to stop him. Just stared up at him. His face glowed with the sheen of his sweat in the room’s light.

“Would it make any difference if I said I don’t want to do it?” Harry asked quietly.

Draco’s expression hardened and his eyes went flat. Harry felt a momentary surge of nostalgia flood him at the sight, but it was only an echo of the strength Draco had once possessed. Gods, three short years were all it took to drain this man of his vitality. Harry wondered, not for the first time, how he himself looked to everyone else. Had he lost any recognisable lustre or was he the same person they’d always seen? How many of them ever really saw the real him anyway?

How many times did he let any of them see?

“Just fulfilling your bloody duty to the cause then, are you?” Draco’s fingers found Harry’s wrist and tightened to the threshold of pain. “That’s so big of you. Let me be the first to thank you.”

Harry shook his head. “You think this is about being a martyr? This whole thing? Fuck.”

“I respond to what I see, Potter,” Draco hissed immediately, lifting his head off the sheets. He resembled a snake, sinuous and lithe and gorgeous. Spitting angry in a mortal flash. “I suppose this is all part of it.” He gestured, a furious sweep of one hand, and Harry’s own irritation flared. He sat back and Draco winced slightly at the movement.

You’re the one who came back here,” Harry retorted.

Draco’s expression rolled through several emotions, and Harry’s anger compounded, twining into something he couldn’t decipher. He inhaled sharply. Draco’s legs were a close, heat-heavy weight around him.

“Draco,” he whispered. He hesitated for one more instant, and then leaned slowly back over the blond. Draco’s eyes narrowed. His legs bent, sliding higher along Harry’s hips. Harry knew he could feel the movement inside as well, and he saw it pass over Draco’s face, a strange sort of shiver. Draco’s cheeks flushed so gradually Harry couldn’t pinpoint exactly when it began. He braced himself on his arms, a hand on either side of Draco’s head, and shifted his legs closer against the other man one at a time. Draco shuddered bodily, his eyes fixed on Harry’s.

Harry flexed his hips forward gently. Steadily. Draco’s shoulders hunched; his hands tensed around handfuls of sheet. His head fell loosely back to the bed, and Harry felt the faint burning in his belly flicker up out of the depths into which it had nearly disappeared.

“Harry—”

He heard his name on the next thrust, and he just knew Draco hadn’t meant to say it. But the look on his face, open and helpless and weak, told Harry that Draco did not care. Or did not know he’d spoken. Harry kissed the slope of Draco’s throat, and his lover’s head fell to the side, baring a pale expanse that tasted of salt and exertion. Harry gave in and sucked on his skin, light, sweet kisses and presses of his mouth. Getting harder to control. He breathed harshly against Draco’s throat and felt the soft moan ripple beneath his lips. It came out as a weak gasp just at his ear.

“There are a lot of things I don’t want,” Harry managed raggedly. Draco’s hands climbed over his shoulders and clutched there, fingers tightening as he spoke. “This…” —almost shied away from speaking it aloud— “…isn’t one of them.”

“Merlin, Harry—”

He found Draco’s mouth and kissed him into silence. He drew out of it slowly, feeling Draco’s panting breaths rush over his face. His own body was beginning to shake; he was closer than he thought, always so much closer than he ever thought. Harry forced himself to stop moving and nearly broke his resolve immediately as Draco lifted his hips to meet him.

He meant to explain himself, explain why he couldn’t feel good about any of this, or to ask why Draco was here at all. Why he was with him, after everything that had happened. After everything he’d done. What came out was, “Please tell me what you want.” It was choked, well over the edge into desperate.

Draco’s eyes widened. He stared up at Harry, still breathing hard, naked thighs quivering heedlessly at Harry’s waist. His body was almost too hot.

And then his legs dropped. He reached up and flattened a palm against Harry’s chest. “I— What in hell is this, Potter?”

Harry remained silent, sensing the razor edge and not knowing how he’d gotten there so quickly. Draco’s jaw tightened. His eyes darted over Harry’s face and down his body as if searching. He let out a harsh exhalation. “Doesn’t fucking matter. I never get what I want.”

Harry felt the pressure against his chest, but he didn’t move back, and Draco hovered there on the edge of pushing him away.

“What do you care what I want?” Draco spat suddenly. “We all have our duties, don’t we?”

Harry frowned and sat up, and Draco went the final inch and pushed him off. Out. The loss of contact was sharper than he was prepared for. He knelt between Draco’s knees, staring down at the other man. “We’re in a war, Draco,” he said, low and clear. “Duty is necessary. At this point, it’s become more important than almost anything else.”

“Are you even in love with her, Potter?” Draco shot back.

Fear fed into the pit of his stomach and frothed there like an angry sea. Harry pulled back, jerking a hand through his hair. He shook his head and got off the bed. “You don’t have any idea…”

“Fuck.” Draco rose from the bed stiffly, snatching his shirt from the floor.

“There are things you don’t know, Draco,” Harry said warningly.

“There always are,” Draco replied in a shaking voice, and it wasn’t arousal or sorrow this time, but anger. Helpless anger. He thrust his arm into one sleeve, yanked the other one on, and wrenched the shirt closed so fiercely that Harry was shocked it didn’t rip. Draco bent and grabbed his trousers, but then just stood there, shining with sweat and naked from the waist down, his last article of clothing clutched in whitened fingers. He thrust a hand out at Harry. “Just once, I wish I didn’t care, you know?”

“What do you want me to do, then?” Harry hissed. “You want me to just sit here and not do everything in my power to stop that fucking bastard from ruining the tiny bit of this earth that’s left? Gods, he’s already blighted the entire world! I can stop him, do you understand me? I can. Fuck if I’m just going to hide in here and not use what I have! I can’t let anyone else die!”

“Oh, yes,” Draco seethed. “Your precious bond. Trust me, I know all about it. Weasley isn’t exactly tight-lipped when she’s gloating.”

“You know, I don’t even know if it will work,” Harry snapped. “I don’t know if it can work anymore! Not when I’m in—” He stopped, appalled at how very close he’d come to complicating everything that much more. But he might as well have said the rest of it. He knew it at any rate; he wasn’t in love with Ginny. But that would hardly matter to the damnable bond, would it? Love, while a catalyst for the more fiery components, was not exclusively necessary. Or so Dumbledore had believed. So all the books had said. There were other strengths they could get out of the bond.

Gods, he had to speak to Ginny. It was all rolling over him, taking the chance to slide through kinks he’d not been vigilant enough to close. Harry sank down onto the bed again. He had to make it clear for her, as clear as it was for him. Had to define this bond, whatever it was, and whatever it was on the way to becoming. What sort of future she had to look forward to, in the end.

He wondered what she would say to it all.

He knew he had to go through with it. He was out of options. They all were. It just felt so wrong to drag her into something he knew he himself didn’t want, and as for the person he truly did want—

Bloody hell. He had no right to ask that of him. He couldn’t. He’d asked too much already.

“What do you want me to do?” Harry managed again. It heaved inside of him, the answer he both wanted and didn’t want, and suddenly he couldn’t keep silent. “Choose another person?”

But as soon as he said it, he saw that it had always been there. The strange emptying of Draco’s face showed him where his thoughts had dwelt. Where both of their thoughts lay, nights and days of shared heat building upon each other. The unspoken was not voiceless at all, and the other option for the bond hung obviously before them both. Draco swallowed, his throat rippling arrestingly.

“Would you do it?”

It’s not about what I would do, Harry wanted to shout. There was no point in asking what he would have done. So many things, so very many things. The first thing would have been to live a life that didn’t belong to everyone else. The second would have been to cease taking that which was not his to take.

But the third desire was still something he might achieve now, if he held on tightly enough: the desire to pass through whatever life he had left as fluidly as possible without dragging others down into the depths when his time to sink finally arrived. He’d never felt it so close before, a giant rock on the rim of the horizon.

He’d known for years. But his own death had never felt so real.

Harry Potter knew what was expected of him. Magic had rules that he, a mere human being, could never hope to break. A random prophecy turned into truth by an overzealous and terrified dark lord had been more than enough, he’d thought. But to have it manifest as it eventually had… Harry had long been wondering exactly how random prophecies really were. But it was beside the point, now; Dumbledore had said as much, many, many times, every time Harry had needed to hear it. Every time he’d needed to stiffen his resolve again. It was just… hard. Knowing that death was most definitely in the cards now.

It was one thing to kill Voldemort. As ugly a person as that might make him, Harry had little doubt that he could find enough incentive. Especially now, with the world half gone.

But… himself? His own death? He was beginning to realise that he might not be strong enough to see it through. And what would the Wizarding world do then, when its own saviour could not even summon to courage to do what was necessary?

Draco was staring at him, glaring at him, hand tight around the waistband of his trousers. Harry wanted nothing better than to grab hold of him, pull him down against his body, relieve him again of those clothes, of that damned sadness just behind his face, of the incredible loss that had been visited upon him. This war, this bloody, fucking war had done it, and it was his war, wasn’t it? Even as a baby with absolutely no control, it had been his war, and it was scything through the people he loved one by one by one.

And now Draco. I want to be enough for you, Harry thought. The mere idea was a fearful yearning in his chest, like being thirsty and bleeding and sick and well all at the same time. I cannot sit by and pave the way for your death, too. Not yours.

“I can’t have what I want either,” Harry whispered. “Especially not…” He heard the intake of a breath. Then another.

“Are you saying you want me?” It came out very quickly, as if Draco were pouring it forth against his will. Harry raised his eyes, looked at Draco, and found him looking back. His face was a worn wall, just barely holding against whatever was behind it. Harry couldn’t speak; every word of substance had left him, as they always did. And this… Well. There was no way to answer that question. Not without putting it all out there, things even he couldn’t face. The anger boiled up quickly.

“What are you saying, exactly?” he bit out.

The pause afterward was much too long; it grated through the air. Draco’s shoulders heaved.

“One of us has to give it up sometime, Potter,” the blond shot at him at last, scowling.

Harry held it off for a final beat of his heart and then lurched forward, throwing his hands up. He was gratified to see Draco flinch back at the movement. “Fine. Fine, Malfoy, here it is. I have nothing to offer you. Is that what you’re looking for? I have nothing to offer you. Nothing you can use, at any rate! Nothing worth offering!”

Draco countered his approach, chin jutting out, hands clenched into pale fists. “For fuck’s sake, you’re going to be the judge of what’s worth it to me? Still the same righteous, selfish—”

“The price will be too high!” Harry shouted, and Draco fell silent.

Gods… his muscles were vibrating, he was so tense. Harry drew an unsteady breath, furious at where the conversation was going. Not yet. Not here, and not yet.

“It’s too high, Draco,” he muttered. Bonds made and then snapped. Made with the idea of snapping them later. He couldn’t look at Draco anymore and gazed at the floor instead. His legs felt weak. “And yes, I am going to be the judge this time.”

There, right in front of his eyes, were his own crumpled trousers in a heap on the floor stones. Harry looked away but the heat rushed up his body anyway. Merlin. He couldn’t breathe without thinking about Draco, about what Draco felt like. Couldn’t even push him away without wanting the exact opposite.

“You are a selfish prick,” Draco ground out. His voice held an ache that surprised Harry. Almost a keening quality to it. Or maybe those were his own keening innards.

Harry shook his head. “Then that’s what I am. And that’s what the bond is, and that is what my duty is. And I’m not allowing the luxury of choice anymore. Every time I do, I end up getting someone killed.”

“So big of you,” Draco lashed back. His tone stung with frustration. “Always something getting in the way. Well, tell me, Harry, if it’s so important to you, then why not with someone else? If that’s what you want so badly.

“It doesn’t matter what I want, don’t you see? It’s never mattered what I want! It has to be her! I don’t know why, and I don’t understand it, but Dumbledore was very clear about his choice.”

“Dumbledore?” Draco cried incredulously. “Dumbledore decided—”

Harry overrode him. “I have to do what will get the job done! I have to…” He faded out, took a deep breath. There are things coming that you can’t fathom. “I won’t push the price any higher. For anyone.”

“What are you talking about?” Draco whispered.

“I’m talking about why it can’t be you!” Harry snapped, stating the unspoken at last. He jerked his head up. “It can’t. I’m not going to let that happen.”

Draco’s face went very white. He stood in front of Harry, eyes wide and beyond injured, falling toward fury. Harry had never expected the results of his statement to cut so deeply. He had no idea why they shouldn’t; everything about this made a warped sort of sense. But actually seeing it on Draco’s face— loss all over again, that perfect mouth twisting, the mouth he’d kissed and breathed into, that body that he’d touched now completely rigid and trembling— It hurt so much worse than he was prepared for.

“Draco…” he tried. His mouth felt so dry.

But Draco spoke first, snapping his words off. “Then you’ll be happy to know that I won’t be around to get in your way.”

Harry blinked. “What?”

“I’m leaving, Potter,” Draco said tightly. He wasn’t looking at Harry anymore. His fingers made knots of his trouser fabric as he struggled to turn them right-side-in. “I’ve got my orders, and I’ll be gone in a few hours.”

Harry’s entire body jerked itself into action; he didn’t even have to think. He pushed up off the bed, not caring how bare he was or how futile it might be to grab for Draco. “What?”

Draco snapped his head up, halting Harry’s reaching arm abruptly. Grey eyes skipped over his body and for just an instant, something flickered there, painful and denied. Then it was gone. “Moody,” was all he said. It came out like a curse.

“Draco,” Harry hissed. But Draco turned out of his reach easily and tugged his trousers on and up, hiding those pale hips from sight. Harry’s chest ached fiercely and suddenly at the loss. Gods, had Draco come here because he knew that he was soon going to be sent away? Harry snatched for his arm again, and the man backed away, fumbling with his shirt and buttoning the bottom two buttons. He wouldn’t meet Harry’s eyes, but Harry could see that Draco’s were dull, too glittery around the edges.

“Fucking hell, Draco, what did he tell you to do?”

Draco said nothing. His hair was a tangled mess, full of light and the dark damp of sweat at the same time. Even his hands ceased their relentless adjusting of his clothing and fell limply to his sides. He glanced up once, as if he couldn’t help himself.

It came to Harry then, what was really going on, and he scrambled for his clothes with such intent that they jumped up off the floor to meet his reaching hand.

“No,” Harry hissed. Draco moved and Harry spun on him, hand slicing through the air. “Stay here.”

Draco stared at him, eyes both empty and full. Muted outrage was there, but it was secondary to the hopelessness. Harry’s chest burst into an angry fire. He pulled his shirt on roughly and then turned and gripped Draco’s arms with both hands. “Do not leave this room. I’ll be back.”

Draco didn’t answer.

Fuck. Fucking, fucking hell. Harry yanked his trousers on. His dresser was rattling, jumping and scraping against the wall, and he could barely see through the red fury in his eyes. He stalked out of his room, not looking at Draco again, slamming the door much too hard.

They had the ability to look for outsiders at their very fingertips and Moody wanted to shove Draco back out into the war, on a bleak mission to find someone he had no way of locating short of using magic. Which was the point, Harry was sure.

It took Harry several minutes to reach Moody’s chambers, and he shoved through the door without knocking. “You told him to go.”

Moody looked up from the parchments he was studying where they were unrolled across the tabletop. He glowered at Harry with his good eye. The other swung back and forth, scanning the room. “You want Finnigan back, Potter?”

Harry bit his cheek hard to keep from lashing out and inhaled deeply. “Of course I do. But not at the expense of someone else!”

“This is war. When are you going to learn that there’s always some sort of ‘expense’?”

Harry stalked forward. “I thought we agreed that—”

Moody slashed a gnarled hand through the air, cutting off his words. “We didn’t agree. You ordered, Potter. Kingsley and I came to a different conclusion.”

“Oh, Kingsley decided this, did he?”

Moody frowned at him and bent back over his parchments. Maps, older ones. It was all they had left. And Harry couldn’t find it in himself to care. He set his hands flat on the table right in Moody’s view, and leaned in. The other man raised his head and stared at him with his both eyes.

“I’m asking you to order him to stay,” Harry said.

Moody scowled at Harry irritably. “You can’t control the entire war, Potter. Malfoy has duties elsewhere.”

Harry forced himself to remain calm. It was becoming habit, but that didn’t make it any easier to retain his self-control. “What, he hasn’t done enough? He’s fulfilled his ‘duties.’ For Godric’s sake, Moody—”

The older man spun on him, lurching forward on his uneven limbs. “Have you forgotten already, Potter? The war’s not going to wait until it’s convenient for us! He’s going.”

Harry threw a hand out toward the door, feeling his stomach begin to roll and clutch. “He’s in danger! If he leaves, they’ll find him and kill him.”

“Probably what they’re doing to Finnigan right now!” Moody snapped. “You were all so keen on getting him back yesterday. You’d rather I sent out Weasley? Or you? Don’t be an idiot, Potter.”

A year ago, Harry would never have been able to stare Alastor Moody down. Now a glare was too, too simple, considering what was at stake. “This isn’t about the job, and you bloody well know it.”

Moody’s beady eye narrowed fiercely. “Just what exactly are you insinuating, Potter?”

“You know damn well what I’m saying,” Harry snapped. Moody’s jaw tightened, but Harry’d had more than enough. The whole damn day was spiralling on him. He could still feel the heat of Draco’s body around him, the slide and taste of sweat on his lips. And now, there was the horrid feeling that despite his request, Draco was no longer in his bedroom. He just knew it somehow, as if he could see it, and if he’d watched Draco finish dressing and pull open the door to leave. Far away, and getting further away. The candelabra on Moody’s bookshelf began to vibrate heavily, clattering closer to the edge. “He’s not leaving,” Harry ground out. “I’ll make sure of it.”

When Moody said nothing in return, Harry turned away from him and went right out the door. He strode down the hall in a red haze, heading for Luna’s chamber.

She’d as much as said she would look. That it would be little trouble. Luna was many things, but she was not a liar, not to make anyone happy or to suit any outside purpose. Harry was no fool: he knew her wards would be strained. He also knew it was the safer option. Until they exhausted it, it was ludicrous to send anyone out after Seamus. He didn’t need yet another death on his head.

He had no idea what would become of him if that death turned out to be Draco’s. Maybe then he’d be able to let himself die like he was supposed—

“Shite,” Harry breathed, and stopped flat in the hallway. His bones hurt. His muscles panged in a spiteful reminder of how he had spent his morning. And the futility of this walk, this purposeful attempt to make everything right again— things that couldn’t be made right, he was in the middle of a fucking war— struck hollowly on his nerves and body. Doesn’t matter, his mind whispered. You’re not ever going to see the rewards of such a venture. Draco’s acquiescence to his orders stabbed into his ears as if the man were there in front of him, speaking the words again.

Fuck almighty, he wasn’t even with Draco anymore. Twenty minutes ago, he’d thought it one of the best mornings he’d had in years. Funny how everything flipped on its head without so much as a warning.

But he knew he couldn’t let him go. Everything inside him was screaming against it, knowing that to open that door was to let Draco… “No.” Harry clamped down on the thought hard. He wasn’t going there, to the image of blood and lifelessness. Fuck Moody’s bitter little vengeances.

He had a whole tirade of things to rail against when he at last slung open the door to Luna’s chamber. But when he saw her, dressed in lightest rose pink and looking curiously toward him, the impetus left him so quickly it was startling. Harry came to a stop just over the threshold and drew a painful breath. “Luna,” he managed, “don’t let anyone out of the castle. Please.”

She blinked slowly, and it was only then that he saw how vague her eyes really were. Their depths seemed clouded, the usual light turned inward. Is someone leaving?

“Draco,” Harry said, and then feared the use of the name, the tumbling of a secret. But Luna guided her fingers over the strings of her harp gently. Very sluggishly, actually. The tune sounded distorted.

Oh. Yes. I know all about that. Two solid, isolated notes. You should keep him closer, Harry. Always letting him get away from you.

Harry blushed, fiercely and overwhelmingly. Did she know? Did she see it all, or could she hear it? There was no telling what she knew and what she didn’t know. Harry remembered the slide of Draco’s hands down his chest and stomach, then lower, then a mouth. He shook his head, too unsettled by the thought of Luna having ‘witnessed’ it. Knowing what they did.

“Luna, I’m…” Oh, what to say? Please don’t let my clandestine lover out into the chaos because I’m not ready to let him go? “I’m not ready to do anything,” he muttered.

Ready? Her voice sounded far off, more willowy than usual. I don’t think being ready matters.

Harry grimaced. Wasn’t that the truth. Voldemort waited for no one. But it wasn’t what he meant, and it only exacerbated the problem. He wasn’t ready to bind himself away from the one person he did want, and he sure as all hells wasn’t ready to force such an endeavour on that person when he couldn’t even figure out another way for it to end. Time was what he needed, time to explain himself to Ginny, time to fix whatever it was that made Draco leave every time, as Luna put it. Hells, time to find another alternative besides this damnable bond. And all the while, time was ticking away, Blaise was finishing his assigned task, and Voldemort was drawing ever closer to forcing his hand. Then the bond would not only be necessary, it would be the only fucking thing the Order had left to throw at the Dark Lord. The only thing he had left. “Luna, what do I do? Gods, what do I…”

Her face swung very slowly around to him again, and Harry’s voice died away. He frowned, watching her slackened expression, the almost slow-motion blink of her great eyes. He looked at her hands and saw that they hung limply from her wrists, bobbing up and down to pluck each dragging note and then falling again. The song droned on. Harry straightened. “What’s wrong?”

Wrong? Luna cocked her head to one side, but her eyes remained distant. She stared at the wall behind Harry. There’s nothing wrong, really. It’s just that I’ve never had eyes that could do this.

It was amazing how little it took to jog his mind off of his own problems and onto others. Perhaps he was too willing to push them aside. “You’re looking? Luna—”

It’s fascinating, Harry. I can see everything. Like a little bird, with its tail caught on the turret, spinning round and round... She pointed upward with one finger and turned to him with a vague smile. I’m sorry. My music must sound very odd.

“You…” Harry licked his lips, heart pounding. “How long?”

I woke this morning and thought, yes, I think I shall today, she said reasonably. The hint of a grin crinkled the corners of her eyes. I’ve no idea why I haven’t done this before. It’s so very easy.

Harry looked up at the vaulted ceiling, and then down again at his friend. She was not seeing him, it was obvious now. Her song fluctuated strangely. “What about the castle? Are the wards alright?”

Luna tilted her head thoughtfully, but the movement was disconcertingly slow. I don’t believe I’ll let anyone leave just now. I don’t fancy opening doors left and right. Like falling asleep in the middle of a Quidditch pitch, I should think.

So she was vulnerable, to some extent. And so were they. Harry pressed his fingers to his forehead, unsure whether to feel relief, fear, or vengeful satisfaction. Let Moody make what he would of this. “Luna, can you see Seamus?”

No, she said wonderingly, and then nothing more. She trilled two strings on her harp and the effect was like the ominous ticking of a clock. Harry nodded unsteadily. The comfort of her current actions, while fleeting, was disappearing, leaving him with the same problems, save the one involving Draco’s imminent departure. Salazar, what did he expect, that Seamus’ sudden miraculous retrieval would set everything to rights? He would be right back where he’d started, watching his mortality swing up to meet him like a pendulum. And Luna had her own problems, and here he was, burdening her with his. Harry rubbed his hands over his forearms and nodded again. “Alright.”

He got three steps back toward the open door when Luna spoke over the wavering music.

You’ve changed your mind, then.

Harry stopped, hands helpless at his sides, hovering between flushing and speaking. Finally he got his mouth to work. “About what?”

This time her foggy eyes swivelled to his with a detached sort of exasperation. Him.

Harry straightened, watching her. He let the room fill with discordant music again, and then spoke. “There was never anything to change,” he said quietly.

Oh. Luna blinked, and her eyes grew even cloudier, if that were possible. Almost white; the original blue glowed like an afterimage under the film. It was so eerie. Shouldn’t it be him, though? she asked curiously. Frankly. In the manner only Luna could manage.

Harry shut his eyes. It was like staring at a dead body, one that strummed weakly at a harp and sat straight up, and spoke difficult and all-too-simple questions into his head. “Yes. Gods.”

She nodded once. Twice. Kept nodding, as if her head were bobbing on an axis. Harry grimaced, reading certainty in her face where perhaps there was none, but… “I can’t. I couldn’t make him do that. I can’t make any of them do it! Not when it means I could end up leaving them alone.”

He let it fall away. Luna’s face had sobered in some small way. I would not want to be asked, she reasoned presently. I would not like my future.

It struck Harry as incredibly funny. He snorted. “You wouldn’t like your future? Luna.”

Oh, but I chose this, she said. I think knowing in advance was a good thing in my case.

Merlin, what would she be when the spell ended? If the spell ended. He saw Luna unable to speak, a pale, withered wisp of the woman she had been, every year for the rest of her life. His stomach hurt worse than ever. “Then you know I can’t make them choose the future I have to offer,” Harry whispered.

You can ask. Luna shrugged. Again, a stilted echo of a familiar movement. She turned a wide, watery smile his way. It never hurts to ask.

It was so simple to her. One step at a time. Why couldn’t he think like that? Instead he kept seeing the ending and all the steps leading up to it. A troubling number of those steps had his name on them, his voice behind them. And they all led to the same place, a place he didn’t want to go. He’d been successfully fighting it since he’d first known how things would turn out. For moments at a time, he thought he’d gotten used to the idea. But it was foolish: no one could ever get used to such an outcome.

They were all on borrowed time. He was nothing special. It just… felt so pungent to him. More immediate.

You should go and find him, Luna said interestedly. He’s happier with you.

Harry blushed and shuffled a step. “Luna—”

You are happier too.

“No,” Harry said shortly. “I’m— No. I’ve made an absolute mess of this. Luna, what about Ginny?” He rubbed his face with his hand and thought about the hope in Ginny’s eyes, and the fact that it stirred nothing within him anymore. She’d been so willing, and he’d bollocksed it all up for a couple nights spent where he yearned to be forever, and for what? To fuck everything up with some well-placed words and a worse-placed similarity to someone else? He wanted Draco, but couldn’t seem to keep hold of him. He had to bond, but he couldn’t ask it of the one person he wanted it to be with.

It’s alright to be happy. People think they shouldn’t be, during a war, but they really should. You could be very happy with the right—

Luna stopped. Her head turned sideways as if she were listening. The index finger of her right hand halted on a single harp string and strummed it over and over and over.

Harry…

A very peculiar expression passed over her face. But a second later, what it turned into shocked Harry completely. Luna’s hands abandoned the harp strings and reached for him, fingers curling. Darting back. She blinked rapidly, her head twitching. Harry lunged forward, snatching at one of her hands. “Luna.”

Found him.

He held her hand tightly, feeling a strange tremble in it. Her calloused fingers clenched and plucked at the air. He pressed her hand hurriedly back to the harp’s strings, uncertain what to do. “Who? Seamus?”

She nodded erratically, not looking at him, not looking at anything, eyes unfocussed and aimed at the floor some ways in front of her. Her mouth opened, but the sound that issued from it broke across the note. Harry’s chest clenched and he looked around, waiting for some sign of falling wards, of… something, and in that instant, Luna’s fingers dug hard and fast into his flesh. She stared straight at him, eyes round and watering.

I’ve found him, I’ve… he’s… Them. Two? Oh, Harry, Harry, I can’t see…

Harry lurched to his feet, hand still clenched in hers, and craned as far toward the open door as he could reach. “Moody! Moody, get in here!”

Seamus? Luna whispered. Oh… close…

Harry struggled to extricate his hand, thinking of Sonorus, thinking of the damage that further magic might do to the wards and to Luna. But she would not let go. She clung onto his hand, and finally he fell back to his knees and grabbed for her shoulders, shaking her once. “Luna! Luna, stop, look at me.”

She did, and he could see her attention being yanked back across an open space he couldn’t begin to understand. Harry grabbed her free hand, ignoring the agony of her nails digging into his wrist, and placed it on the abandoned harp strings. For an instant, her fingers shuddered. And then they began to pluck. Weak notes filled the air once more.

The wards wavered.

“It’s Seamus?” he asked in a low voice. Luna nodded.

Injured. Harry, he’s… They.

And then it hit him. Seamus was with Blaise.

A thousand thoughts flung their way through him: Why should Luna have such trouble distinguishing, why was this arrival different, where in fuck had they come from that she hadn’t felt their approach? He asked none of them.

Footsteps skidded down the corridor and Oliver barrelled into the room. He did not pause, but ran to Luna’s side and dropped hard onto the floor just at her chair, sliding to a stop in an ungainly heap. “Luna, what the hell is going on?”

Harry could hear others running in the hallways, calling to each other, yelling about wands and wards. Luna paid no attention. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she leaned into her chair, the fingers of one hand still jerking intermittently at the harp strings.

I’m letting them in.

Harry felt the wards begin to drop, folding down layer by layer. It was all wrong, something felt wrong about it this time. Harry’s stomach lurched. Something in the castle shimmied violently. He pulled with all his might and finally succeeded in extricating his hand from Luna’s grip. He closed one of Oliver’s hands over hers and squeezed his arm hard until the other man turned to face him.

“Hold her. Whatever you do, don’t let her stop playing!”

He did not give Oliver time to nod. He was already on his feet.

...

Chapter 21
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