Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of An Image of Lethe. I'd like to thank everyone who came this far with me through a story that changed a lot from my initial conceptions of it.
Chapter Forty-Three—The Singing Hours
The hardest thing was to tell his parents that he would be leaving with Harry.
Draco chose to do it during one of their largely silent dinners around the main table in the dining room. His father ate with his head bowed, and his mother with her gaze flickering back and forth between them, like a bird looking for insects it could pick up. At least when Draco cleared his throat, they both looked at him.
Draco resisted the urge to duck his head, and simply said, "I'll be leaving with Harry to go abroad tomorrow."
Father put down his fork hard on the edge of the plate. Draco didn't think that someone unfamiliar with his mother would have seen the way she tensed and reared back, but, of course, he was familiar with her, and he saw it. He had seen her look that way when the Dark Lord gave her an order.
The only thing his mother said, however, was, "I see. And you didn't think it worthwhile to stay and help your father regain a position in wizarding society? To help me think of a way that he can avoid going back to prison?"
Draco gripped the edge of his table and said, "I think I've done more—I've done things he should be grateful for—by managing to get him out of the bargain that would have consumed him."
By the way he blinked, that way of thinking didn't seem to have occurred to his father. It only made his mother attack the harder, however. "You haven't answered my questions."
"He was the one who chose to break out of Azkaban," Draco said bluntly, meeting her eyes again. "He might not have been in his right mind towards the end of the bargain, when that—elemental force was consuming him, but he was thinking straight when he made it. His problems are self-inflicted."
He swallowed back the other protests he would have made, the ones that were meant to make his parents think better of him, and added, "And you—weren't there, Mother. I suppose I can't blame you much for that, since you did come to me when I called you. But I don't know how much of that was for—Father and the family, and how much was for me."
Draco was writhing inside as he said that, and he watched his mother's face change as she whispered, "Never doubt that I love you, Draco."
"I don't doubt you love me." Draco closed his eyes. "I just don't think we want the same things anymore."
"What do you want?" His mother had the sound of someone prepared to argue all about the benefits of a family name and a good reputation, but she stopped breathing when Draco said the single word he'd thought about.
The silence seemed to echo with the sound of that word, like a dropped coin. Then Father cleared his throat.
Draco glanced at him and lifted his eyebrows. Lucius keeping silent hadn't gone unnoticed, of course. Draco had simply thought it was shame, or maturity, or not having a single thing to add to the conversation the way it was going.
But Lucius murmured, with eyes steady on both Draco's and his mother's faces, "Maybe this is the way it was meant to be. Draco did his part, and he's already had to live with the legacy of a war that was chosen for him before he was born. Maybe this is what he needs, Cissy."
His mother folded her arms tight enough to make her shoulders look distorted and turned an equally unhappy gaze on Draco. Draco shrugged a little and answered her silent stare. "I think he's right. If I thought I should stay with you instead, that's what I'd be doing."
"Is this about Potter not wanting to stay?" Narcissa asked him quietly. "Or you?"
"Both of us?" Draco shook his head, not knowing what she wanted him to say, what would convince her. "It's true, Mother," he added, when he saw his mother's mouth tightening like her shoulders. "They'll always pursue me, probably, and they might only decide I didn't have to go to Azkaban as a favor to Harry, anyway, which he would hate. And they'll never stop bothering Harry about being a Dark wizard, or wanting him to forgive them." He grimaced. Harry had written him a letter that morning that talked about that starting to happen already. "We both want to leave."
"And if we need you?"
"Then you can send me an owl." Draco looked at her and went on looking until his mother half-turned her head away. "With Apparition, no place on Earth should be that unreachable. We can come back if you need us."
His mother lowered her head. Draco waited her out. He could understand her reluctance, even her anger, but he had already made his decision. Since he did want peace, though, he would prefer to leave after both his parents had already acknowledged that they understood why he was leaving.
Finally, his mother muttered, "I—had not thought that you would choose your lover over your family. But I suppose I understand."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Father chose freedom over remaining in Azkaban and serving out his sentence. You're choosing to go into hiding with him instead of turning him in, which might improve your standing with the Ministry, at least. We all make our choices, and all for what we think are good reasons. I'm just informing you of mine, which is more than what tended to happen with yours." He stared pointedly at his father.
Lucius cleared his throat. Draco watched him, not sure what he was going to say. There were so many different ways this could have gone, and he didn't think his father would choose the best one.
But he did. He surprised Draco by coming around the table and hugging him tight. Draco blinked, then rose and accepted that hug that was so much like the hugs he had had when he was young. Lucius's arms closed in as if he didn't intend to let Draco go, either.
"Thank you for forgiving me," Lucius whispered. "You didn't have to, and you did it anyway. Thank you." He stepped back and glanced between Draco's mother and him as if he was trying to make sure they both understood the impact of his words. "And you're right. You saved my life, when I should have lost it to the—bargain. You've more than earned your right to go away and do whatever you want."
Draco smiled at him. "Thank you, Father." He glanced at his mother. "Then we have your blessing?"
"If you want it." His mother drew in a painful breath, and abruptly uncrossed her arms and held them out. "I'm going to miss you."
Draco went to hug her, relaxing as he did so. He should have remembered. This was his mother, who had lied to the Dark Lord for him, who had made Professor Snape swear an Unbreakable Vow for him, who had done everything she could to protect him; she'd even been willing to leave with Draco when she'd thought her husband was unrecoverable. It was—
It wasn't that strange that she would be upset, after all, to see him leave the country.
"I'll owl you on a regular basis," said Draco, and drew back to smile at her. "And we're going to spend at least part of the time with Pansy and Astoria. I want to make sure they're safely settled before we leave them."
"You're a loyal friend," his mother said. "A loyal lover, I suspect, although I didn't have the chance to study your relationship with Potter closely." She hesitated. Draco waited.
"And a loyal son."
Harry leaned back as another owl tried to hand him a letter. In the end, the barrier that Hermione had studied how to raise flashed before him, like a silhouette of a hill outlined in red, and the owl had to circle away, hooting, and deposit the letter on the huge pile of parchment growing in a corner of Ron and Hermione's dining room.
"How many more can they send?" Ron asked with a moan. Pieces of paper lay in his cornflakes. He picked them out and went on grimly eating.
"I don't know," Harry said, and shrugged, rolling his shoulders that felt as stiff as the joints of the chair he was sitting in. "As many requests as they can think of that the Boy-Who-Lived should be able to solve, I suppose."
"There are some requests in here that make a lot of sense." Hermione had picked up a letter that might have come from anywhere in the pile, to Harry's knowledge, and was reading it. "This is a woman whose daughter died, and since then, she hasn't been able to decide what she should do with her money, because her daughter was the only one she wanted to leave it to. She's asking you what she should donate it to—"
"You can advise her, if you want," Harry interrupted her. "I'm not going to."
Hermione gave him a disappointed look and tossed the letter back on the pile. "I do think that you could solve some problems," she whispered. "I mean, not all of them. I would never ask that of you. Just the worthy ones."
Harry snorted. "And then the people I didn't pick would start screaming that they were just as worthy, and where would that end? No." He shrugged and leaned back in his chair, eyes on another owl that was almost to the window. This one seemed to be carrying something a little bigger than a letter. He wondered wearily if it was another gift. "Like I said, some of it sounds interesting for you. Why don't you do it?"
"I'm not the one they want helping them," Hermione said, but she was starting to look more and more interested in the idea the more they talked. She was turning around the letter that she'd showed Harry again, and then she waved her wand and started a duplicate of it on a separate piece of parchment.
The next owl had landed on the windowsill. Harry nodded absently to her and reached out to take the thing it held. He just hoped it wasn't more priceless heirlooms. Returning those to their original owners took a lot longer than ignoring a letter. "And I'm not going to help them. It might as well be you."
The larger thing the owl was carrying turned out to be the paper, and on the front page…
"Mate!" Ron surged to his feet as Harry burst out laughing, holding his sides. "What did they send to poison you this time?"
Harry tried his best to calm down and wipe tears off his face. He supposed Ron had a right to be alarmed. Before Hermione had set up the protective spells to wall the letters off, one had slipped through with poison on it, and Harry had probably jerked and jolted in his chair in much the same way.
"No poison," he said. "Just the headline." He took a moment more to savor it, then turned and handed the paper to Ron.
Ron stared at it, then shook his head. "'The Unseen Destroyed?'" he whispered. "But if they're so hidden and secret, how would the Prophet know in the first place?"
"Because I assume they finally had enough chaos and destruction that they couldn't hide it from the reporters." Harry couldn't stop grinning. For once, the persistence of people who thought the whole wizarding world needed to know about things the instant they happened had worked for instead of against him. "And there might be some indication in the story about who's responsible for it, anyway."
Ron began reading the paper, holding it taut. Hermione got up and came around to read over his shoulder. Harry closed his eyes and lay back in his chair, shaking his head and laughing softly.
He knew who was responsible. He'd want to read the details, he thought, sooner or later, but it was clear that Greyback had achieved much more of a triumph even than Harry had thought he would.
And that meant he was free of one of the most pressing threats. Harry looked thoughtfully at the huge pile of letters and gifts on the other side of the room, and then out the window at the wings of owls who were carrying in still more and more.
If he was free of the Unseen, then he could take actions to rid himself of the other threats. It all depended on his will.
"Greyback?" Hermione's shout made Harry glad that he hadn't been holding anything. She swung around and stared at him, shaking her head. "But how? He has to hate you after he found out what you were doing!"
Harry held her gaze. Now, on the threshold of what might be leaving his friends for a long time, he didn't want there to be any lies between them. "Only if he found out," he said calmly. "Not if he thought there was still a piece of Voldemort alive in me and he was acting in Voldemort's long-term interests even if he died."
Hermione stared at him. She would have said something, Harry was certain, but Ron started reading aloud from the paper, shaking his head as he did.
"'It took much less force than expected to bring down Fenrir Greyback, one of Britain's most notorious werewolves, outside the hidden room that was exposed today as the center of the Unseen's operations. One Killing Curse was sufficient, and although Greyback dodged, he didn't bite even Auror Rigorson, who fell right in front of him.'" Ron put down the paper and stared at Harry in turn. "You told him to do that?"
Harry nodded. "He came here last night, and I managed to convince him that I still had a shard of Voldemort in my soul, but it was fading away. He said that he would go and try to destroy the Unseen as one last favor for him—me." It was sometimes hard to know what he should say about that supposed shard when he was talking to people who weren't Death Eaters.
Or Draco. Draco was the one who understood the most.
But Ron and Hermione were staring at him with openly horrified eyes, and Hermione burst out, "What if he'd bitten someone?"
"I specifically told him not to do that," Harry said firmly. "And it seems like he obeyed me." He nodded at the article. "Otherwise, I think that we would have heard about the new werewolves right away." He grimaced a little. "If only because the papers seem to think that new Dark wizards are top news."
"How could he get through the spells I had up?"
Harry smiled gently at Hermione. "I wondered that, too, but it turned out that he really didn't want to harm me. He simply entered the house and swore loyalty to me and said that he would be happy to die in the charge against the Unseen." Harry reached for the paper, and Ron handed it to him with what seemed to be a numb grasp. Harry looked at it, nodding. "And that's what he did."
"You sent him to his death."
Hermione's voice was small. Harry looked up. "It was the best solution I could think of," he said.
Ron and Hermione exchanged one disturbed glance, and then Ron said, "So playing Voldemort for a while really did change you."
Harry stood up, slowly. He knew Ron didn't mean anything by it. He knew how difficult this was for his friends to understand. If he'd heard about this from the outside, if he didn't know all the details or even if he did know some, he would probably find it just as hard to believe as Ron and Hermione apparently did.
But he was sick of the justification and explanations. And it seemed that no matter what happened, he didn't get any better at giving them, and they didn't get any better at listening. He was going to give one more, exactly one more, and then he would go away for a while and leave things between them to cool off. Maybe they would both have got better at words when he saw them again.
"Greyback was always going to be a problem," he said. "Aurors would have died trying to take him down. I don't even want to think about how many ordinary wizards he could have killed if he had decided to spend the full moon in some crowded place. And the Unseen were obsessed with absorbing my magic into Lethe. They would try to influence the Ministry into hunting me, maybe years after the fact. Why shouldn't I do something that would take care of those problems?"
"You sent Greyback to his death." Hermione's voice was still small.
"What would you have done to him?" Harry countered instantly. "Azkaban? He evaded capture twice already."
"He still—died." Ron shook his head and then braced himself to look at Harry. "It's like you're playing executioner, mate, choosing who lives and who dies. That's what really disturbs me, more than you playing Voldemort."
"I can see why it would," Harry said. And he could see that, he could see it clearly. He was just finding it harder to remember why he should care. "But the Ministry was willing to do that to me. And the Unseen. And the Death Eaters. Greyback got the death he wanted. He died happy. No one else did, not even the Unseen, but their power's been broken, and they can't use it to hurt me or anyone else now. If you want to look at it in terms of sheer morality, it was one death against many. Wasn't it."
Ron whispered, "I can see it that way."
He didn't need to say more. He wasn't any happier about this than Harry was, even if he could see Harry's point-of-view just like Harry could see his.
Harry sighed a little. "There's another thing I should tell you." Hermione turned towards him with a sad, knowing look in her eyes that made Harry want to delay saying anything, but really, there was no reason to put it off. "I'll be leaving with Draco today."
Ron closed his eyes. Hermione whispered, "But if you think that your enemies have all been defeated—except for Lestrange, I suppose—"
"Greyback killed him. For talking badly about me—Voldemort."
Hermione blinked once or twice, then seemed stoically to accept that. "Then why go? You know as well as I that we'll—get past this. Learn to be comfortable with each other again." She gestured around them all in a circle, never taking her eyes off Harry. "Our friendship has survived worse strains."
Harry gave her a smile. "It has. But there's still that." He nodded to the huge pile of presents and letters in the corner of their dining room. "I don't want to stay in a world where people turn on me the instant they think I'm Dark or evil—and they thought I was Dark or evil faster than anyone else who tested a certain color in the Lightfinder—and then beg me for help again."
"That's happened before, though, mate," Ron said. "They thought you were evil during second year when they heard you speak Parseltongue, and they still honored you for saving Ginny at the end of that year."
"But I'm allowed to get tired of it," Harry said quietly.
"Will you never come back?"
That was Hermione. Harry turned towards her. "I'll come back to visit," he promised. "To see you and Bill and Fleur and anyone else who's still a friend. But I can't sit here waiting for the Ministry's next move and not knowing what it's going to be."
"They might send people after you, though," Ron pointed out, and his voice was muted in a way that reminded Harry of wings fluttering against the bars of a cage. "What will you do if they do that?"
"For what?" Harry gave a small smile. "Officially, I was with you for my own protection. The Wizengamot already heard a confession under Veritaserum of everything I did and didn't do. They could pursue me, of course. They could do the same thing to Draco, and they might, because I never did get a good answer as to why they hadn't just tried him for all his crimes at once. But I think, if I stay out of the country quietly for the most part, and Apparate back in to visit whoever I want to see discreetly, Kingsley will manage to turn things around."
"You shouldn't have to do that," Hermione said. "You shouldn't have to act like it's not your country, too."
"I agree," said Harry, and no more than that. This was the reality he'd shaped, chosen, and fallen into, maybe roughly in that order. Protesting wouldn't change that.
Perhaps Hermione knew that, because she suddenly flung her arms around him and held him in silence. Harry closed his eyes and hugged her back.
"Promise me that you'll write," Hermione whispered, as she opened her eyes and stepped back, wiping them. "I don't want to—to think of you being lonely and not having anyone to talk to."
"I'll have Draco," Harry said gently. "But I know what you mean. Yes, I'll write. I'll get an owl as soon as I think that we're in a place where we won't be recognized." He turned to Ron.
Ron opened his mouth as if he was going to offer a more substantial protest, and ended up saying, "Oh, hell," and hugging Harry as hard as he could, which was hard enough to make Harry's ribs gasp in protest. "Promise me that you're going to be safe."
"As much as I can," Harry promised. "I don't have any reason to go charging into the politics of other places. I just—I want to live quietly, and rest." He stepped back and sighed. "I'm really tired."
"I know, mate." Ron nodded, hesitated, and then hugged him again, which had to be followed by another hug from Hermione, and then a moment when all three of them stood leaning together, wrapped in each other's arms, sheltering from the storm.
Harry wondered for a moment if that was the way they also saw it, that they got to stay snug at home while he went out into the storm.
But it wasn't the way he saw it. Along with the desire for rest, there was an excited feeling stirring in him, like the first moments when he stood up and shook off the numbness that came from sitting on his feet.
I want to see what's going to happen, when we go on.
Draco smiled slightly as he turned around to welcome Harry and Sal, who sat on his shoulder. They had agreed to meet in front of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. Harry had said they ought to go from a place that had seen a lot of their plotting. Draco had the impression that Harry might even have preferred to take their leave from in front of the manor house where the Death Eaters had lived, but that was still crawling with Aurors extracting evidence based on Harry's information.
Harry looked weary and dusty-eyed, but he obviously lit up when he saw Draco. "Hi," he said breathlessly, and sped over to clasp Draco in his arms and swing him around, before leaning forwards and mashing his lips against Draco's in a kiss.
Draco, laughing, went with it, and then leaned against Harry and shut his eyes when it was done. He could get used to this, he thought in contentment. More than used to this. "Your friends didn't object?" he murmured.
"Are you kidding? Of course they did." Harry leaned even more heavily against Draco, making them sway for a second until they found their balance again. "But I made it clear that I'd come back to visit them, and I'm—just tired of all the things that so many people are requesting me to do. It started up again the minute they accepted I was innocent, can you believe it? Demands for help and donations and promotions and—I don't even understand what the rest of it was."
Draco gave a small nod of acknowledgement. He knew how annoying it must be, but as far as he was concerned, this was the moment when they started leaving all things like that behind.
Harry seemed to think it was, too, because he smiled and leaned back from Draco. "I have clothes, and books, and the things that remind me of my parents, and a bunch of Galleons from my Gringotts account," he said. "I got the letter from Astoria that she and Pansy are safe in Iceland, and we can join them whenever we want. Where do you think we ought to go first?"
"I thought about that," Draco said. "Because I packed one thing that you didn't." He pulled a map out of his pocket, one of the more recently updated ones that were among his ancestors' books. It showed most of the magical communities and split Muggle-magical communities all over the world, although it got a bit spotty in parts of South America. "What do you think?"
Harry laughed and tilted his head to look at it. "Do you want me to pick one randomly?"
Before Harry could close his eyes and stab with his finger, though—which was sort of what Draco had been picturing—Sal took off from Harry's shoulder, and trailed his tail deliberately down the map. He ended up planted in the sea to the west of Ireland. Draco rolled his eyes at him.
"No, wait," Harry said, and leaned even more precariously, which meant Draco had to push them back into a rough balance again. "There is something there. Molehill Island?"
Draco cocked his head. "So there is. Does it have the symbol for a magical community on it?"
Harry looked the map key, moving his lips for a second. Draco watched the side of his face and felt as if he were physically falling in love right there.
"Hmmm. Only the symbol that means 'there used to be a magical community here, I don't know if there still is.'" Harry pushed the hair back from his eyes and turned to smile at Draco. "Shall we go see if it's still there?"
"We'll do more than that," Draco said, and caught the back of his neck, drawing Harry towards him and watching, enjoying, the widening of his eyes. "We'll talk to the people there, and investigate if there's no one, and find out what happened. And maybe we'll stay there for a while in peace."
"How are we going to get there, when there's probably no Apparition coordinates?" Draco had to smile to hear Harry sound so breathless.
"We'll find out," Draco said, and his hand was on Harry's, and Sal was entwined around both their shoulders as they leaped into darkness on the first of their Apparitions.
This is what we need for right now.
I wonder what we'll find out we need?