I fought in a war and I left my friends behind me
'I Fought In A War' - Belle & Sebastian
He Fought In A War
With a visible effort the pale youth turned his head to the side. Silvery locks fell over his cheek as he spat out a mouthful of blood; a tooth came out as well, rattling small and white on the red-stained stones. Even this small act seemed to drain him and he closed his eyes as he slid to the floor, heedless of the filth.
A cold-eyed young man stood over Draco's slumped figure. There was a wand in his hand, a lightning-scar on his brow, and not a trace of pity in his gaze. He was young, little more than a boy - but as he knelt by his fallen enemy, the curve of his back and the slight baring of his teeth seemed to suggest the wolf at the throat of a deer.
"I win," Harry Potter said softly, lips close to Draco's ear. "This is the end of the war, and I win."
Harry's hand was knuckled tight around the slender wand, broken nails cutting deep into flesh, but his face remained calm beyond belief. Harry had often imagined this scene and even looked forward to it with a vicious sort of joy; yet now the moment had come and all he could think of was the stillness of Ron's face before they closed the lid of the coffin, and Hermione's insane ravings as the nurses dragged her into a padded cell.
'Victory', he reflected bitterly, was a word for fools and innocents.
The man lying at his feet was neither of those. He was a monster with the face of an angel, depravity in the form of a man. He was Draco Malfoy, successor to the Dark Lord himself, and he was defeated.
Outside the high and lonely tower, there were still battles being fought and armies on the march, cities to be taken and re-taken, blood being shed and spells yet uncast. But this was the true end of the war: when Harry stood over the crumpled form of his nemesis on the morning after winter solstice, with words of death nestling heavy on his tongue. Even Draco could have appreciated the symbolism of the moment, the beauty of the dawn that broke through the longest night of the year and painted the clouds with bloody brush-strokes.
The five grinding years of slaughter that had ripped apart the wizarding world were nearly at an end. Within five years more the fields would again be fruitful, the soil made fertile by the bodies of the fallen. And five years after that - the war would be known simply as 'history'.
"It's over," Harry said softly, more to himself than to Draco. Feeling out the words. As though saying it out loud would make it more real. "The end."
Blue eyes flickered open. "Yessss..."
Harry leapt back, heart pounding.
"Oh yes, it's over... But I'm not dead yet." Incredibly, Draco's pale lips curved in a shattered parody of a smile. Somehow he managed to dredge up this gesture of defiance from the depths of his spirit as though to say you haven't broken me yet, and even Harry had to be grudgingly impressed. "Malfoys are hard to kill."
Draco stopped to cough, crimson flecking on his lips, and then looked up with a dark glitter in his eyes. "Not like those stupid Weasleys."
Harry froze. He remembered Ron bleeding to death in his arms (I'm cold, Harry, I'm cold...) and with a shock realised that he was shaking with fury, his hand raised in a fist as though to strike a blow. Slowly, Harry forced his hand to unclench, watching it move like it belonged to someone else, and willed himself not to scream. Don't play his game, he told himself fiercely, don't let him manipulate you.
Harry closed his eyes briefly. Felt an implacable coldness run through his bones. Opened them again. He was ready.
"Shut up." His voice was deadly calm. "Shut up, Malfoy. I've been waiting for this moment since the day I met you," he continued, cold as steel. "I'm going to kill you, and I'm going to enjoy it."
"You won't do it." Draco shook his head as he coughed again, chest wracked and heaving but still smiling that insolent smile. "I know you, Potter, as well as I know myself. You don't have it in you to perform the Killing Curse."
"You don't know me at all, Malfoy," Harry said scornfully. "You never did. You never will." He raised his wand, but his hand was trembling visibly and when he opened his mouth...
"Can you really do it?" Draco asked softly into the silence, blue eyes challenging green and no longer smiling. "Have you truly given up redemption in favour of revenge, Potter? Have I misjudged you so badly?"
"I can do it," Harry said tightly. "I can do it, and it will be right."
"That's where you're wrong, Potter. For if you kill me," Draco said simply, "you only become me. And who's the winner then?"
Draco let the words hang for a moment before sighing and closing his eyes, as though he no longer cared. But his words had hit their mark - a dying snake, but not yet toothless. Harry's hands shook with tension as he struggled to master himself...
(Harry, hold me, I'm cold...)
... And suddenly there seemed no choice to be made. He opened his mouth and said two words. It felt easy. Like he had been born to say them. Harry stared at the body, tilting his head to the side as though he had never seen one before.
"No. You were wrong," he said to the air. "This is justice. This is right."
As though in reply, a thin trickle of blood ran down the dead boy's forehead. Like a lightning bolt. Like a scar.
Harry turned abruptly and left the tower, almost running in his haste to escape its claustrophobic confines. The unlit stairs seemed to spiral on forever and he stumbled down blindly, grazing hands and elbows as he slipped and jolted down the dank stones. And with each misplaced step, Draco's words seemed to ring in his ears - you will become me...
The war was over.
And by the time I get to the bottom of these stairs, he told himself with a sort of desperation, I will remember that it was I who won.