Ron walks. He said he would go back to where they'd been, to where a battle had raged splitting open bodies and ground and sky and ending with absolutely nothing changed. He volunteered while looking directly at Hermione's forehead. She'd been standing next to Harry and had frowned when he made his offer, opened her mouth to reply. He watched her lips move, soundless, and then close. It was then he finally looked at her. She was watching him steadily. He looked away first.
The bodies have started to rot. It doesn't take long these days. There's half a face he thinks he recognizes by his left foot. Hogwarts seems a million dreamy years ago, like it was a story he was told so often he can almost think it's his own. He steps across a shattered leg and arm and skims past a cluster of people queued for coffee. They don't seem to notice the stench. Through the windows of the shop he can bodies lying on the floor nestled next to tables where people sit prying plastic lids off paper cups and having conversations. When he opens the door a woman comes out and walks througharound him. She smells like coffee. She's not looking forward to going back to work. Her collarbone bumps into something below his, twists. He touches and there's a knot forming already, something jarred loose, pushed out of place. It doesn't hurt. She sneezes twice, viciously, once they've passed and a thin red line trickles from her nose. He hears her say "Oh, oh," surprised, as the door closes behind him.
Everyone was dead. All the people Ron had loved and depended on; his family, all the faces he'd learned through school and growing up, all the faces that he'd always been able to look at and feel safe--the adults, he'd always thought, even when he'd become one--they were all gone. Every single one. He'd cried after the first death, the seventh, the twentieth. He cried after every single one. He thought that maybe, maybe, it would get easier but it never did.
It was just them now. Him and Hermione and Harry and once upon a time he thought they would be everything. He hadn't thought of growing up past the three of them being together always. And now they were and it was sad and frightening to be all alone in the world. To be all that was left.
Voldemort was dead. Ron could say his name now but it hardly seemed worth it. It had come at too high a price. They'd stopped him in the nick of time, the three of them pulling off a miracle right before he could destroy everyone and everything that was left, but it didn't seem to matter. His followers still followed, still fought as if there was something left to fight for. They had their losses too, Ron supposed. He'd heard about Draco's mother's death. He'd seen Draco's father die. Draco hadn't been there when that happened and the next time they saw him it had taken a moment for Ron to recognize him. His face was a mask, wiped clean of expression, and it highlighted the raw red mess that was his neck, ring after ring of gaping slashes that ran from ear to ear. There had been rumors about him, whispers of an omen that had foretold Voldemort's end and was somehow tied to him, tired speculation shared before they went out to face death again, but then Draco disappeared and Voldemort was dead and for a while, just a while, Ron thought everything might be ok.
Then the world started to end.
It started as little tears in the sky, blue or gray or white clouds or black brewing storms peeling back to reveal sick yellow underneath, a color so pale you could tell there was nothing to it. Then street corners started showing up, the boundaries that had always kept the world Ron knew where it was supposed to be vanishing, everything blending together and nothing fitting where it was supposed to anymore. He would be stumbling across a field of mud and stone and suddenly trip up over a curb, find himself in a bookstore or in a drugstore dripping blood under fluorescent lights next to a display of cold tablets. Next supermarkets began to appear, the din of battle drowned out by tinny music and old women complaining they'd been overcharged four pence. He hadn't known what to do, where he was, what he was seeing. Harry and Hermione had explained things to him, horror in their eyes. They knew two worlds, together but apart, and now they were crashing together, collapsing into each other. He listened and didn't really understand, but learned soon enough. He didn't really have a choice.
Then people started showing up, appearing anywhere and anytime. A cluster of them seated in a restaurant smiling over their food when sand was blowing in his eyes and Harry was chanting something desperately, people eating obliviously and trying to decide where to go on holiday as something sliced down Ron's arm, a vicious cut sparking pain that made Harry and the people eating bleed together. He heard Harry call his name as another voice said, laughing, "Honestly, Richard, must we go camping every year?"
Ron blinks. The bodies are gone, vanished and replaced with neat beige tile. He can't smell anything but coffee. The walls around him are solid and painted green. People look at him and look away quickly or stare open-mouthed. He's here, in this place, and he likes it. He likes these places he never used to think about, these places where the end of the world seems to be a hidden surprise, something no one wants to see. For a moment he thinks of staying. He could sit by the window. He could sit by the door. He could just sit and drink a coffee.
He won't, and knows it. And besides it's too quiet here, all the conversation around him a whisper, the faintest rustling. This place is here, for a moment, but it's moving on already. He looks around carefully.
There. Almost out of sight, back at the end of a long corridor marked with a sign that says 'employees only' the walls are thin, the green fading. He walks and the walls go fainter the closer he gets to them, not so much disappearing as bleeding away, dripping from green into open space, the tile under him shifting back to ground and bodies. Yellow sky overhead with only the faintest hint of gray and blue at the sides, little tattered strips. The hills are closer now, rising jagged like someone shoved them up into being. On the first low rise he can see the blinking lights of a kebab shop.
He walks. He pushes past a boy sitting picking his nose and staring vacantly into space with his shop apron draped over his hands. He's reached the last hollow before the hills and his feet crunch over gravel and nothing more. The bodies aren't so thick here.
And there's what he's looking for. Brown bag, painted all over with symbols in thick white. A chance, Harry said when he'd talked about it. Maybe a way to make things right again. It's resting on a rock guarded only by a broken body draped across it. He reaches for it but when he touches it the body moves, one hand grabbing his and squeezing his fingers tight.
He's back in the coffee shop and now he's not holding anything at all. Next to the nose picker a girl has sat down. She's fanning herself with a paper. Ron is close enough to read the headline, tall type screaming scandal. "I wish they'd turn on the air," the girl says. She has a gold hoop in her upper lip and a scab under it. "It's so hot. And today's hopeless enough already, you know?"
A sound Ron knows and he looks away from the girl in time to watch the body slide to the ground, hand falling away from his. Ron looks at the body. Not someone he knows, he doesn't think. The face is even, ordinary. The eyes are green-brown and sightless. Blood is pooling around his feet, catching on the hem of his pants. He doesn't see the bag anywhere.
"Hello, Weasley," Draco says, the bag dangling negligently from one hand. His fingers are streaked with rivers of blood. His voice is the same as ever, a sneer that drips his name into an insult. "Looking for something?"
"Or what, the world would end?" Hermione says, and the gentle steel inflection of her voice is what he concentrates on. It used to be her hair. Ron used to dream about it, used to dream about parting it to see her face peering up at him, her expression a reflection of his own.
"Yes," Harry says, "That's exactly it," and his voice is Harry-tired, set back but not defeated, and Ron hears a smile lurking in it. Harry can always find the strength to face one more threat. "But there's a chance, if we found the bag--maybe then we could make things right again. Maybe..."
Ron stops listening. Harry has so much will, endless exhaustless reserves of it, and it drives him forward no matter what the odds. That is Harry's gift.
Hermione puts her hand on top of his. "What do you think?" She sounds strong, sure. She sounds so interested, like she needs to hear what he has to say. She sounds like she always has.
Her voice doesn't move him like her hair used to.
"Everything will be fine," he says. It is what he always says.
He starts to move his hand away. Hermione's fingers flex but then still, let him slip away. When he looks at her she's watching him. Her eyes are clear, sharp, and she knows him, knows him.
Draco always wanted to be Harry's fight. And for a while, maybe, he almost was. But then Harry simply outgrew him. He'd always outshone him, was always smarter and braver and on a quest that Draco could, at best, hope to be in the thick of and not at the front of. The more Draco tried, the less he actually did. He grew more desperate and cruel and Harry stopped noticing because he was always distracted, always pulled by other things. Grander things. Harry no longer minded Draco. He always rolled right off Harry's back like rain.
Ron minded Draco. He always had. The memory of every little insult burned as sharp in his mind during his last year as it had in his first. Draco was like that too. Both of them had no problems being petty. And at first Draco's inability to see he wasn't Harry's equal was funny--something he'd snigger about to himself and think about sharing with Hermione--and then it was pathetic and then it was infuriating because he always did something stupid at the worst possible time.
Something stupid like send mud frogs and boiling hail to plague them. It was after that Ron decided things had to change. Harry had been startled for a moment, ducking under the hail and shoving at the frogs, but then turned to more pressing concerns, to whatever disaster was bearing down on them at the moment. Ron has forgotten so many of them over the years, the problems that seemed so big when he was young dissolving into hazy memory, stories told with happy endings, but whatever it was it was something bigger than Draco and his conjured disasters that never quite worked. Still, he got hit in the head with a huge hot icy rock as Harry's voice was yelling into a great wind and Hermione's was rising right along with it and when he woke up they'd moved on to whatever was next and he was lying on the ground alone with a very sore head. They'd come back for him and he knew it. They always did and Harry would thank him and tell him how much he'd done a hundred thousand times and the three of them would hug and back then--oh, back then Ron had loved it. He believed the three of them could do anything, even save the world.
But right then he was alone and his head still hurt and there was a sharp angry sting in that, being alone and lying on the ground. If Hermione had been hurt--if Harry--. He pushed the thought away and got up. There were burn marks on his robes--nothing he could do about those--and the muddy footprints of a hundred tiny amphibian feet. He rested his head against the wall for a moment and then went to find Draco.
Draco was on the fourth floor of one of the towers on the west side of the school. Ron remembers this only because he was there when it fell and one of the rocks caught his arm, crushed his shoulder and killed whoever was standing next to him. He'd woken up to Hermione muttering determinedly over him and watched Harry's eyes soften, worry fading away as Ron's gaze met his.
Draco was roughing up someone younger or extorting money from them or something along those lines. He was all sneer and hair in those days, his face hidden behind it, his features still in the process of stretching into what they'd be when they all grew up and went off and destroyed the world.
"What do you want, Weasley?" His voice was dismissive.
"Harry's never going to see you," Ron said and for the first time ever Draco Malfoy turned and really looked at him. Ron remembers this because the kid Draco had been holding--Ron can't remember his name but he died last year; Ron picked up what was left of his face in a shop full of carpets--squirmed away and ran, red-eyed and sobbing.
"And what does that mean?" Draco said. "Dare I hope Potter has gone blind and you're attempting to be poetic or--wait, wait--menacing?" He'd sounded as stupid and bored as he always did, all affected ooze with nothing behind it. Ron had truly hated him then, hated him with the pure hate that only the young and naive can afford to have. He laughed and felt on top of the world. He was going to take care of Draco. Harry might not have minded him--he was only Harry's nemesis until something bigger, stronger, more evil, came along--he was marking time, even then--but Ron did. Ron minded him. Ron hated him. He picked a lump of mud off his robes and threw it at Draco.
It caught the side of his head but didn't leave a mark, rolled right down and off his shining hair and disappeared into the floor. Charmed to leave him spotless, Ron thought, and that was just like him. Draco was as vain as Harry wasn't, as stupid and as petty as Harry would never be. He was laughing now and it was so easy to say, "You know exactly what I mean," and hear Draco's laughter falter a bit.
"He's better than you," Ron continued. "Better than anything you'll ever do, ever be. You want to be something, someone, but you're nothing. You'll always be nothing."
Draco wasn't laughing anymore. He was silent now, silent and furious, his face a long stripe of red running from his forehead across both cheeks down to his chin, and Ron felt a kind of vicious joy howl through him, felt the words he said roar out of him. "He won't ever want you."
Draco broke his nose. Didn't say a word, just hit him as hard as he could right away, right when the truth was still hanging spoken in the air between them. Ron laughed and laughed, blood everywhere, and Draco had stared at him, fists flexing and unflexing and something almost like fear in his eyes. He'd spit in Ron's direction and left, muttering something under his breath as he did.
The frogs came back but Ron didn't mind them. He knew he'd won.
"I hate you," Ron says.
"So?" Draco replies. His hand, on Ron's chest, is icy hot, freezing and burning at the same time. His fingers slide inside Ron's shirt, slip over a nipple. Stop, brush. Twist.
"The bag," Ron gasps. "Harry will--"
"What?" Draco says, a sneer in his voice and on his face. "Save the world?" He shoves Ron and the sneer on his face sharpens. "Didn't do a very good job of it before, did he?"
Ron falls and takes Draco with him, the two of them landing in dirt and blood. Draco laughs and kisses him, biting hard. Ron grabs for the bag and Draco laughs more, bends his fingers back. Ron screams and it fills up Draco's mouth.
"He what?" Harry says and turns away from his scrutiny of the sky, of land laid out before them dotted with tears that show parking garages and chip stands, to look at Hermione with startled eyes.
"Wings," Hermione says. "Draco has them." Ron stares at her. She doesn't look at him. "I should have told you before but I didn't--" her voice pauses, cracks, "I didn't believe it until today. The black-eared banshee they want--I found a spell to make it speak and when I asked if Draco commanded it, it laughed. It said an omen like him would never be its master. It said a thing that couldn't even manage to keep useless wings from growing out of its back would never rule it. It said--" She breaks off. Ron stares at his feet and hates himself. He looks at her again and Harry is patting her shoulder, giving him a curious look. He moves forward and touches her arm. She only flinches away from his touch a little.
"What else did it say?" Harry asks but his voice has already gone wandering away, seeing things and putting pieces together. Ron moves his hand away from Hermione and wishes he could hate her. But he doesn't. He loves her.
It's not enough, but he still does all the same.
Hermione doesn't say anything and Ron folds his shaking hands together. This time when he looks at her she is looking back at him. The look in her eyes sends his gaze back down to the floor. He knows exactly what the banshee told her.
"You know, that must be why that serpent we caught said nothing when I asked about him," Harry says. "It seemed surprised by his name, like it didn't even know it. I thought--it seemed too strange, even with the rumors about Voldemort turning on him. But the omen he supposedly received, about his end being marked by flightless wings -- it must have been true. Draco was the omen. No wonder he's disappeared." He tilts his head a little to one side the way he does when he's lost in thought. What's left of the sun sparkles off the lenses in his glasses.
"I wonder what they look like," he says, voice gone far away again, and Ron manages, just barely, to control his start of surprise. The inside of his mouth hurts and he realizes he's biting the flesh of his cheek, clamping it between his teeth. No, he thinks. No.
"So who summoned the banshee?" he says and Harry blinks, sits down and runs through a list of names. Ron looks at him and wonders what would happen if he started talking, if he said all the things he wants to and knows he never will. If he said those things he never has and hopes he'll never have to.
Ron traces his other hand up Draco's back, fingers tracking up his spine up to the space between his shoulder blades. He twists his fingers into the knot of flesh and bone that lies there hard, harder, fingers cramping, and Draco shudders, arches. The fabric of his shirt splits around Ron's hand and Draco's mouth is cold hot wet against his, pulls away to open in a silent scream. Ron feels his other hand fall free, his index and middle finger cramping in sparking agony. Draco's neck is long, ringed with scar tissue. His eyes are closed. Ron twists his fingers into his back again.
"Show me," he says and his voice is thick, filled with pain and what he's become. What he wants.
Draco's eyes open, meet his. He spreads his wings.
What's left of Voldemort's followers come for the banshee as they reach the caves, a dark army riding fast and hard. Harry hears them first, the muttering of spells filling the air like thunder, and the sky cracks and booms overhead even though it stays washed out yellow.
"Hurry," he says.
The fighting is a nightmare, a dark endless nightmare of tight rocky spaces and spells cast and countercast and Ron shoves away the corpse of something dark and furry with spider legs and an owl's head and heads into yet another tunnel, bracing for whatever else has been summoned.
Draco is there, alone except for the banshee which he is holding in one hand. It's wriggling in his grip, black ears twitching as it turns and twists and screams.
"Shut up," Draco tells it, voice rising in fury. "I'm a Malfoy. Don't you ever--" The banshee screams louder and even though Ron can't understand it he can hear mocking in its voice, lilting through its shrieks. Draco stares at it, face contorting, and then screams back even louder, his voice a sharp crack of sound, "I'm not nothing!" and slices its head off. There's a horrific smell and a puff of burning acrid smoke and then Draco is staring at him, a pair of black ears dangling through his fingers as the banshee's cries echo and then vanish.
Ron takes a step towards him and they are in a record shop. It smells like dust and is full of bins of cds tagged with bright sale stickers. A sign on the window proclaims 'everything must go!' in letters that look backwards. Meant to be read from the outside, Ron thinks.
"Harry knows," he says.
Draco shrugs, dropping the ears into a bin, but Ron can see the question bitter in his mouth. In his eyes. I wonder what they look like.
"He said he felt sorry for you."
Draco hits him and Ron hits him back and bins crash to the floor and then stop, fall right back up. The two of them hit the floor. The ears drift back, rustle between them as they grapple.
"Say it," Draco says, a furious snarl in his voice. Blood is bubbling from his nose. "Say it."
"Show me," Ron says. The words come out slurred, muffled by the rapidly swelling bruise on his jaw.
Draco stares at him, glittering-eyed. His hair is stained gray with ash. Ron pushes it off his face and regrets the gesture right away.
"I never asked for them," Draco says. "I hate them. I hate you."
"Show me," Ron says again and in his voice he hears I hate you too.
Draco arches over him. The sound of a million screams fills the air for an instant, rings painful in Ron's ears, and then there they are. Deep inky glossy feathers, black like darkest night, thousands of them rising out of Draco's back and curved into wings edged sharp like razors. He can see their jagged edges. Blood is dripping from them, black brown red, onto the floor, around them.
The cave floor smells like shit and them and inside the record store a woman croons that she just needs understanding over dozens of speakers. Blood continues to drip around them. Onto them.
Ron thinks about washing later but he's tired and water is so scarce and when he picks at the dried copper flakes under his nails, scrapes them off his skin, it feels right. It feels like what he deserves.
Ron gasps, shoves his fingers into Draco's hips, and thrusts again. Draco grunts and his wings beat the air. The very edges of them cut into Ron's skin, little slashes along his legs, his belly, his arms. The bag is almost out of reach, hanging from the tips of two of Draco's fingers and rocking slightly as the two of them move. Ron reaches the hand that isn't throbbing with broken fingers up, twines his fingers into the cloth. The white symbols spark against his skin. All he has to do is tug a little more.
"You're so pathetic," Draco says, lifting his hand up enough so that Ron has to stop moving if he wants the bag, so that he has to stop what they're doing to reach it. "So--" his hips buck as Ron thrusts again, harder.
He and Draco are fighting.
They fight a lot now, vicious silent bloody fights. Harry asked him about it a few days ago, concern in his eyes. "I don't understand," he'd said. "It's not--it's like it's all you think about. And he's not worth it, Ron. You know that. You've told me that, even. And now we've lost so many points--"
"I'm sorry," Ron said. "I just--" he broke off, not sure of how to finish the sentence. He didn't know why, really. He didn't know why he kept fighting. He'd won. He'd beaten Draco.
He had, and yet it wasn't enough.
Hermione had cleaned up the damage he couldn't the night she and Harry came back and found him with a broken nose, touched his face gently and didn't ask any questions. There was gold in her hair, little hidden strands that glowed in the right light. They'd glowed that night. He'd told her she was beautiful and she'd blushed. The two of them had sat together and watched the sun rise. He'd been so happy. He could almost see her looking at him in the pale light of the rising sun, smiling and--
Draco's fists hit his eyes, his nose, his chin. Just like that, one two three, and Ron shook his head, blood flying, and responded, fury pumping through him.
They were outside that day, in the shadow of a tower. Or maybe they were inside, in a long empty hallway clouded with dust and riddled with holes from fallen rock. Ron doesn't remember. He knows it was day, remembers seeing the sun far away as his head snapped back, remembers a glimpse of blue sky. He thought it would be like that forever. He was fighting again and he used to discuss Draco with Hermione, whisper when Draco would hear and snigger when he was around, watch him bait Harry and fail over and over again.
Draco had stopped doing that. He would make remarks still, do things, but aim them sideways so they would tear through Harry and land directly in Ron. And all the little insults Harry was always able to handle better than he could, turn away like he never even noticed--Ron wasn't like that. He noticed everything.
Like now. He noticed the sound of his fist connecting to Draco's face, the swift thud crunch of it, Draco's blood on his hand. Draco's blood on his face, a smear under his mouth. He noticed all of it and loved it.
Draco gave up on the punching and slid into what he was best at, which was fighting dirty, moving close and landing a blow to Ron's stomach that sent him reeling forward long enough for Draco's thumbs to find his face, push towards and into his eyes.
Ron whipped his head forward, right into Draco's hands, right into Draco's forehead. His eyes stung and he could hardly open them but he did and saw Draco stagger back, head cracking against stone with a sickening wet thud.
Everything went still for a moment, Ron staring with watery eyes and blood streaming down his face and Draco back against a wall, eyes closed while a brown-red stain haloed out around him, dripping into his hair.
Then Draco pushed away from the wall, swaying, and looked at him. He was smiling. Not his usual sly sneer, but a smile. Feral, twisted, furious, but a smile all the same.
For a second Ron almost ran. For a second he knew it was absolutely what he should do. For a second he knew exactly why he was fighting and it wasn't nearly as simple as he wanted it to be.
But he didn't run. Instead he felt an answering smile curve his mouth, deep and dark, and it was easy to feel it spread across his face, easy to feel it inside him, and they fought. They fought like they hadn't ever before, blind blood red rage crashing them into each other, into rock, into the ground.
Ron tasted dirt, sharp and flinty, and he rolled, Draco cursing and grabbing his shoulders. Dirt in his hair, in his eyes, and he and Draco were straining against each other, cursing and snapping, his fists pulling hard on Draco's robes, Draco's teeth sharp on his jaw, his neck, his mouth open and wet and tasting of blood, tongue pushing against his, and they were still fighting but they weren't and he couldn't breathe and couldn't think and it felt horribly, shockingly good. He kept his eyes open, watched their fists unfold into strange scratchy touches, rough caresses. He saw Draco's face, as bloodied and as dirty as his own, his mouth open in a silent scream.
When Ron came he thought he saw a shape hovering behind Draco, thought he saw soft tentative tufts of feathers gleaming black. Hallucination, he thought. People didn't have wings, even if they were Draco. Especially if they were Draco. He had one hand on Draco's shoulder still, a clutching almost fist, and he moved it over, down. His fingers slid over torn cloth, over an odd wet mass of sinew and bone and into softness feathering against his hand.
"You--" he said, and he could feel them fluttering against his fingers, sharp somehow in spite of their softness, and Draco had feathers growing out of his back, Draco had--
Draco shoved away from him, spit in his face. Crouched back, panting, on all fours, staring at him. "You tell anyone," he said, "and I'll fucking kill you."
Ron wiped spit and blood off his face. When he was done Draco was gone and if it wasn't for his torn robes and the wet spot on his pants and the fact that he could feel one eye swelling shut and he hurt everywhere it might have been a dream. He wished it was. He decided it would be. He rolled to his feet and staggered inside.
Hermione found him leaning against a wall. She said his name and he heard it, dimly, managed to fasten his pants before she reached him.
"What happened?" she said, and her voice was shaking, her eyes huge and frightened. He shook his head.
"There's--" she said and touched his neck lightly. It hurt, where she pressed, and he felt her fingers trace a shape, round and open. Mouth shaped. Her eyes no longer looked so frightened. She moved her hand to his shoulder, down his arm. Over to his chest, across his heart. He took her hand in his before she could move it lower. It hurt. He looked and his hand was covered with tiny slashes, speckled with glittering dark down.
He'd been in love with Hermione a hundred times since he'd met her and he didn't want her to know. Not about this. "Harry--" he said. He didn't want anyone to know.
Hermione nodded. She moved her hand away. The feathers were clinging to her fingers and she brushed them off. He watched them drift down towards the floor, little black clouds. They left only the faintest of pink marks on her skin. She hadn't really touched them.
"You're going to be very late to class, you know," she said. Her voice cracked a little on the words but when he looked at her she looked fine. Her hair looked brown in the light, plain brown, but he was sure when he looked at it again he'd see it shine.
Hermione's hand is resting on his arm. One small black feather quivers at the tip of her index finger.
"Ron," she says and there is a question in her voice. Her hair is long and brown and looking at her makes his chest ache.
"I can't help it," he says and hears his voice catch, crack.
"Of course you can," she says. She sounds sad. He never wanted to make her sound that way.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I'm so sorry. Hermione, I wish--"
She stares at him and the sentence hangs between them, unfinished.
"You fuck," Draco says and moves his hips restlessly, in a way that makes Ron's vision spark red around the edges. He grinds his teeth together and presses his broken fingers into the dirt, grounding himself. He will not move even though his body is screaming for him to, even though he's shaking with the effort of holding still.
"The bag," he says. "Now."
Draco hisses what could be his name but mostly sounds like a noise of pure hatred. He drops the bag onto Ron's chest.
Ron gasps--it's heavier than it looks and is cold hot at the same time, the power in it throbbing across his skin. All he has to do is grab it. All he has to do is stop this.
"Go on," Draco says, and he's smiling, mouth stretched open and across bared teeth. "Take it and run back to Potter. Maybe he'll look at you, see you--"
"Fuck you," Ron says and his hips are moving hard, fast and Draco shuts up, arching and grinding down to meet him.
Ron is tired. Tired and hungry and his feet hurt and his arms hurt and even his eyes hurt, feel scratched and heavy, and he's sitting in a hallway in what's left of a building that used to matter but didn't by the time they got to it. There was fighting anyway. There's always fighting.
He puts his hands on his knees and tilts his head back. The wall is slick behind him, covered with ooze and blood. A fingernail falls on his shoulder. There's a foot next to his, neatly encased in a boot as if it's waiting for its owner to come back. It falls over when he shifts his weight away from it. He pushes his head against the wall harder, as if he could sink into the stone.
He's in a laundromat. There is a man in the corner staring at a dryer, a woman stuffing sheets into a washer. It smells like bleach and the machines are chipped and dented and the floor is scuffed and worn. Once Ron would have marveled at such things. Now he rises wearily and thinks what's next?
Someone is standing next to him. He turns his head, just slightly, and Draco Malfoy is there, slumped against a dryer. His shirt has been cut open, torn, and there is blood in his hair and on his hands. Smears of it have dried in his neck, along the rings of scar tissue that lie there. It has mottled on his back, across cuts that score a hitch of flesh and bone Ron knows too well. More blood is dripping from his side, raining spatters on the floor. Ron watches as Draco breathes. The blood runs faster when he does.
"They found me," Draco says. "Found me and--" he breathes, a wheezy hitch, and more blood drips onto the floor, "and left me here." His voice is plaintive, surprised. Then he smiles. "Guess you'll be taking me to Potter, then." His face has thinned, whittled itself down to cheekbones and that sneering mouth. Ron touches it with a finger, pressing hard.
"So it really is true," Ron says. "You were Voldemort's omen. Guess they'd be hard pressed to forgive you that."
Draco laughs, hollow sounding, but manages to spit out, "As always, a master of the fucking obvious, Weasley. No wonder all you can do is trail behind Potter."
"Shut up," Ron says and his voice sounds thick, angry and bitter.
Draco sways, straightens up. Stares at him for a long moment. Then, head bowed, he unfurls his wings. The woman stuffing sheets in the dryer slams the lid closed and lights a cigarette.
"I know what you want," he says. He sounds exhausted but smug, his face strained with pain but his mouth is lifted in a smirk and his wings--
"You don't know anything," Ron says and kisses him, forcing open that smirking mouth, silencing it. He lets his hands reach out, slide through cutting softness.
He keeps his eyes open. They're back in the hallway by the end. It's still empty except for body parts and them. Draco is silent the whole time but his wings beat the air, make it hum. When it's over Ron moves away, staggering to his feet. Draco watches him the whole time and then rises himself. There is no expression on his face. When he leaves he walks slowly down the hallway. With his wings folded back he looks slight, a pale nothing. Like what he is. Ron looks away.
"I'm sorry," he tells Harry later and Harry is jubilant and distracted and says that he has nothing to be sorry for. Hermione is silent but as soon as Harry has turned away she hands him a cup and says, "Drink this." He does, and realizes he hadn't known he was thirsty.
"Thanks," he tells her. She nods and brushes her hand down his arm. They both watch as a black feather drifts to the floor. Her face pales and her mouth trembles but she doesn't move her hand away, lets it rest on his arm.
Draco takes the bag back. He comes first, cursing with his head thrown back, and Ron laughs, feels his body draw up tight. He never closes his eyes, not ever, but it doesn't matter because when he comes Draco has leaned down towards him, mouth biting into his shoulder and wings covering him. Covering them. The feathers are so soft and so sharp. Ron comes so hard he sees stars, watches them spark across the arch of Draco's wings.
And then the cold hot sensation burning his chest is gone and Draco is hefting the bag from one hand to another.
"They're quite angry about the banshee, you know," he says. "It was supposed to be my way to make things right. I said I'd get it, they swore if I did it would take care of all of you forever and ever. But then--well, it doesn't matter. The things it said--it deserved to die. But with this...." He smiles. "I bet this will open so many doors...."
"Enough to make them forget Voldemort? Forget what he did when he found out about the wings?"
Draco's eyes narrow. "At least," he says slowly, precisely, rolling his shoulders back, wings rippling through the air, "he had the proper reaction to them. Not like some." He leans in closer, close enough for Ron to see the thick lines of scar tissue that have become his neck, his voice lowering to a whisper. "Not like you."
"I wish I'd killed you," Ron says through gritted teeth, hating his body, hating himself.
Draco looks at him for a long moment.
"I wish you had too," he finally says, no irony, no sneer, nothing in his voice but simple, bitter truth, and then shifts, nudging a thigh between Ron's legs.
It's an accident. Ron is in a pub and hoping it won't shift away from him. Once being here would have been new, strange. Now he doesn't care. He just wants to finish his stout, pick at his basket of chips. He's not unhappy. Not exactly. He's just...he's tired.
He's finishing his beer when Draco walks by. Draco doesn't see him. He's smirking, sauntering, acting as if he's still king of everything even though if he's here he's clearly hiding, and once--just once--Ron wants five minutes where he isn't thinking about the end of the world or fighting or enemies or Hermione's smile when he puts a hand on her shoulder, a million years of almost that have never been anything.
He follows Draco outside anyway. Draco has stopped in the alley, is kicking a body lying curled up and huddled in shapeless formless clothes. He's laughing but that stops when Ron spins him around and back into the alley wall, a knife at his throat. Ron might dream of five minutes where he doesn't have to be on edge but he knows it's just that. A dream.
He presses the knife into Draco's throat. Draco stares at him. Ron cuts a little and Draco arches against him. Sick, Ron thinks, and pushes him away, stares into his glittering eyes. Draco's neck is a mass of scars now, thick long circling bands. Ron wishes he'd given them to him.
"Weasley," Draco says, drawling and managing to sound bored even now. "Where's your lifelong companion? I thought you never left his side."
"Shut up," Ron says and Draco's blood is trickling onto his hand. Draco smells like beer and chips and evil. It has a smell. Spicy, a pepper cut with anger and want. Draco's always smelled like that. Anger and wanting. Ron pushes the knife in a little deeper. "I've been waiting forever for this."
Draco laughs. "I bet you have." He puts both hands on Ron's shoulders and leans forward, mouth opening as the knife works itself in more. "I bet this is all you have to live for."
"Nothing," Draco says, mouth right next to his. On his, a smiling sneer touching him and he tastes like blood and beer and there's a sound, a bright sharp tearing noise, and Draco screams, a hoarse cry that slides down Ron's throat.
He pulls away and Draco is shuddering, chest heaving, a pair of wings spread out dark and heavy all around him.
Ron has never seen anything like them. Before--which he almost never thinks about, except late at night when he's the kind of tired that makes his mind wander back over places he doesn't like it to go, places he closes up quickly and pretends away--before they were nothing, a suggestion. A few feathers struggling up out of his skin.
They've grown. They're hideous. They're beautiful. They're all he can see. He touches them, knife falling from his hand, and Draco's eyes flutter closed, body arching up against his. This time Ron doesn't push him away.
"I don't want this," he says during. Draco bites his lip so hard it bleeds. His feathers cut into Ron's skin.
"Harder," he says, and his voice is a snarl in Ron's ear.
Ron swears to himself, after, that he won't ever do that again.
He lies. The second time is on a hill while fire and brimstone are raining down. Ron's wand is broken. Draco's isn't. Ron is trying to fight off someone with a sword and someone chanting a spell to bind him into something that sounds bad, really bad, and suddenly Draco is there, smirking and laughing and yanking Ron's arm so hard it hurts and the world shudders around them and they're on another hill, the fighting and rain of fire and brimstone a blur in the distance.
Draco doesn't talk. He just shoves Ron down and smacks him when he tries to move. He smiles when he shoves a hand into Ron's pants and then shudders, shaking. Ron hears a ripping sound when the wings spread. Draco's back is slippery under his hands and Ron gouges his fingers into it, holding on.
Draco kisses him after and then smashes a rock into his head. When Ron wakes up the sky is quiet and he's in a library. He throws up and watches a woman walk through it. She stands next to him muttering under her breath about making nan. "It can't be that hard," she says.
It's the first time someone goes througharound him. He's lying there, bleeding and heart sick, soul poisoned, and she picks up a book and walks towards him. Her ankles slice through his legs. She's thinking about flour and sex and whether or not she'll have to pay a fine for that self-help book she checked out. She's pretty sure she returned it on time. She sneezes twice on his other side and cries when her nose starts to bleed. Just past her is Harry, walking with a worried look on his face. Ron crawls towards him.
Harry cries out when he sees him, rushes towards him. Ron tries to lift himself up. He licks his lips. They taste like Draco.
Now, he thinks, and looks at her. Now. Finally in the almost lifetime they've circled around each other and he's wanted this, always wanted this and now. Now. They are alone, tired. He leans over, pushes Hermione's hair away from her face with one hand. Her eyes widen. Harry is in the next room, pacing. Planning. He's worried and angry but they both know it will pass. It always does. Harry will find that place inside him that keeps him going. He always does.
He touches her jaw, traces two fingers across it. There's a scar there now, long and curved, still faintly red around the edges. She tilts her chin up, mouth parting. She has the most beautiful mouth in the world.
They are looking at each other. She is so close it would take less than a moment to close any distance between them.
"Ron," she says and he's waited forever for her to say his name like that. Like this. So close. She has a tiny freckle next to one eye.
He isn't moving.
"You don't have to do this," she says.
"I want to," he says and he's moving now, leaning in. "I want--"
"I know," she says and her voice is soft and it's that softness that warns him. Tells him she is about to cut him open. "He's in the other room. But he's---he loves you, Ron, but not like you--"
He takes a step back. "I don't--"
She reaches forward and touches him, pushing aside the neck of his jumper. There's a mark there, fresh and raw and colored a blooming bright blue black. "Ron," she says softly, so softly, splitting him wide open, and her fingers come away stained with dried blood. With the tiniest flecks of glossy black, dust of wings. "I don't understand some things. But I do see what you won't let yourself." She blinks hard once, twice, and runs a hand through her hair. It spills everywhere, falling over his arm. He pushes it away.
"See?" she says gently, so gently, eyes huge and shining, and that's when he knows she's always known. Before this, before Draco, before everything. Back when they were young and the three of them faced everything she'd seen him and known what lay in his heart. Who he wanted to share it with.
Ron shudders, shoulders digging into the ground. The sky overhead swirls, stays the same faint sick yellow. He looks down. Not at Draco. Not at himself. Around. See the bodies? Remember where you are?
He sees the bag. It's lying on the ground, the symbols writhing across it. Ron reaches for it.
"I'll make it slow," Draco whispers, a sly laughing promise, and moves one hand, twisting his fingers. Ron's hand pauses. Stops. Draco's wings beat against the sky, blotting it out. He tastes like cold, like bitter spice. His smile is one Ron hates and knows too well. Around them people are ordering coffee. "Mocha, please. Two lattes. What? A cappuccino and make it to go, please." A woman drops her change and stares at them as she's bent down scooping it into her hand, eyes wide.
Help me, Ron wants to say but he knows it wouldn't do any good. He knows he doesn't mean it.
Everything is falling apart, the world collapsing, blurring and shifting into itself, and soon, Ron thinks, soon there won't be a here. There won't be an anywhere. There won't be anything. It shouldn't be happening. They saved the world, stopped the one person who could have brought it to its knees, prevented him from rending utter destruction. They won. They won and it didn't matter one bit because the world went right ahead and started ending anyway.
He turns and he's in a park, brown-yellow grass under his feet, and shift, he's on a train platform with a pile of severed heads rolling around and people screaming or talking on cellphones. The sky is torn and dropping. It pushes deep holes into the ground when it lands. Everything is turning gray.
"Harry," he says and he has to shout because it's almost impossible to hear now, everything carried away by the sound of tinned music and people talking and fighting and the screaming chanting of spells being cast in a frantic attempt to do something, anything. To survive.
Harry looks at him and what he sees in his face has him racing to his side. "Ron?" he says. "We'll be all right. You'll see."
"Harry," he says again, desperately. There's an axe or a cloud or a dragon or a death veil headed his way. "You and I. I have to tell you. After everything I--"
Harry grins at him, turns away and raises his wand, screams something into the wind of an approaching train and a gaping mawed creature. When he turns back he claps him on the shoulder, tugs them back from the stink of exhaust and the creature's insides spilling out. "Brother," he says. "You and Hermione, you're my family and always will be. I couldn't ask for a better one."
Ron curls his hands into fists by his sides and says the word back carefully. It isn't that hard.
Draco's wings are all Ron can see. They rustle black and shining, a million heartbeats waiting to be taken. His hand is icy against Ron's stomach, moving lower. Ron's heart is beating like a drum, a thrumming trapped hummingbird in his chest, and he's scared and he isn't scared. He's exactly where he wants to be.
He is scared.
Draco is breathing in his ear, a low cruel whisper, and there are car horns bleating and voices speaking and he sees the corner of Draco's mouth, turned up, as the bag melts, symbols sliding into each other and then disappearing.
"No," he says, a cracked cry, and then Draco bites his earlobe.
"Yes," he says, and all Ron can hear is that word. All he can hear is the sound of wings, a dark beating against the sky.
He closes his eyes.
Please post a comment on this story.
Fandom: Harry Potter
Title: world would end
Author: Elizabeth [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | NC-17 | *slash* | 45k | 04/18/04
Disclaimer/Other: It all belongs to someone else
Thanks: Jess, Kate, Lesa, and Sandy for all their help and support, and to Sinead for beta. Tip of the hat to Lesa Soja's divine Pennipotens, which inspired part of this story.
Distribution: Please ask
Feedback: Always welcomed
Written: March/April 2004
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