In the Forest
by Mango

Title: Talk In A Daze, Walk In A Maze
Author: lmeden
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama, Gen
Word Count: ~2300
Summary: Draco answers wrongly.
Author's Note: Thank you so much to my betas, eeyore9990 and angela_snape. You were so amazing and wonderful, especially when I got stuck and needed your help desperately. Thank you again and again. The title is taken from a poem by Vladimir Nabakov, from Lolita.

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

The Manor's forests had turned wild while he had been away.

Draco stared up at the golden-skinned trees. They reached high above him, their gnarled branches reaching desperately out. When he was little, these trees had been slim and lovely - their carefully tended branches reaching like delicately curled tendrils towards the sky. Their leaves had shone golden-silver - champagne coloured, Mother had always said.

Now it was his seventh year, and everything was different. Potter and his friends were gone from school, perhaps even dead, and Draco responsible. Draco had given the Death Eaters the keys to Hogwarts and killed the Headmaster. At least, practically.

The world had changed, and Draco wasn't sure that he was ready. He had though that coming home would assuage his unease - his daily fear and loathing and anxiety towards everything and everyone around him. But everything had changed as well.

The Dark Lord was living in his house. He had come the summer before, and he had not left since. Draco was left constantly queasy - sick with his desire to escape notice, and his fear that he would garner it.

The gardens and house elves had run practically wild - the latter responding to orders only with extreme reluctance. Aunt Bellatrix, Fenrir Greyback, and several other Death Eaters had moved into the Manor.

Draco had always fantasized about having a full house - a house that exploded and breathed life. And now he had it, and it felt like a nightmare.

He hated having to watch what he said and where he went - no matter that everyone, including his parents, held him in contempt for failing to kill the Headmaster. He felt like a ghost in his own home - uncared for and unimportant.

He wished that he had never come back for the Easter hols. But truthfully, Hogwarts was little better. At least it was Friday. Only four more days until he could go back to the school.

Every day he had come here, to these gardens gone so wild, to hide from everyone and everything else. He pulled his dark green robe close around himself, wishing that he had worn something warmer. The robe was so thin, and it had been disgustingly humid in the morning. He hadn't thought that it would be so cold. April had been unseasonably warm this year. Now he was shivering in his robes - the air still humid, but now seemingly filled with ice crystals that pricked at his skin and eyes.

He pulled out his wand and whispered 'Lumos', watching as the forest lit up around him. The sun was almost gone, and the forest had turned gray. Now it glittered again, the delicate, curling roots and thick deadly branches shining in the white light.

He began walking, turning slowly back to the house. Despite the fact that he loved these woods - this miniature other-world - he knew that they were dangerous to be in. Especially at night. And especially now, with certain 'residents' in the house.

As he drew close to the Manor, he saw that the house was aglow - golden candlelight spilling from all the windows. Something had happened. Draco's heart began to race and his steps slowed. He didn't know if he wanted to go back, now. He wanted to run away and hide. He didn't want to be involved this time. Couldn't they all just leave him in peace?

He had nearly stopped when he saw the side door to the house swing open. Brilliant silver hair flashed in the sudden light and he knew that it was his mother. He also knew that, standing there, silhouetted with his wand glowing bright ahead of him, he was bloody obvious. He'd been seen.

Sighing, he began to trudge towards the house, only making an effort to seem dignified when he knew that he was close enough for his mother to see the cadence of his steps.

She stood, imperious, in the doorway. She made no move to beckon him closer, nor a sound to quicken his pace. Yet he knew she was impatient. As he walked up the steps to the doorway she swept down and seized his arm, her sharp nails digging into his flesh.

"Greyback has brought prisoners," she hissed, her eyes sharp and tense. Draco could tell that she was worried, but that was a small consideration beside his sudden, paralyzing nausea. He remembered the last prisoners that the Dark Lord had had brought to the house. Tortured and killed at the dinner table. He was nearly sick right there. He wanted to run straight back to the trees and hide among them.

But mother had his arm, so he knew that he couldn't. He swallowed, bracing himself, and tried to stay upright.

"You are needed," she continued, dragging him swiftly through the house. Draco hadn't realized that his stomach could twist so far and drop so deep without him vomiting, but he had obviously been wrong.

When they reached the entrance hall, Draco saw why he was needed. There were several prisoners being held in the middle of the floor, but three caught his eyes. There, with red hair and blue eyes, was Ronald Weasley. Next to him, the Mudblood Granger. And there, with his face distorted and swollen, was Harry Potter. Unmistakably Harry Potter.

Horrified, Draco stared. How had they gotten here? Well, Greyback, but... Draco never thought that Potter would be caught. Potter couldn't be caught, he simply couldn't. He had to stay free, and get the Dark Lord out of Draco's house!

Desperate, Draco clamped down on his despair and swallowed.

For the first time in his life Draco was glad to not have been born Harry Potter.

Mother dragged Draco forward until he was nearly next to Potter. "Well," someone asked, "is that Potter?"

Draco froze. They wanted him to identify the other boy? How could they not know? That famous scar was prominently stretched across his forehead. His eyes, as always, shone a brilliant green. Were they all fools?

Draco felt a sudden, terrifying confidence. It was as if he was on a cliff. He could answer this question truthfully, and his family would be rewarded. He could regain his standing in the eyes of the Dark Lord, and no longer be thought a fool.

He looked down at Potter. The other boy's eyes were dull and resigned. He must have been quite sure that he would be identified. For a long instant, Draco stared, and then turned.

It was as if Draco was standing at the edge of a cliff. Not stopping to think, he plunged over it.

"Yes, that's Potter," he said firmly.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," he managed to drawl. "Perfectly sure. I'd know Potter anywhere. That's him."


Draco woke the next morning feeling guilty. He had given Potter up. Killed Potter. He knew that for sure. He had heard Potter's screams long into the night. And now the Dark Lord had won.

But it was quiet now, and Draco was much relieved.

He got up and went to the loo. Washed his face, and when he felt awake enough, looked for the robes he would wear. He pulled open his wardrobe and found his dark green robe, clean and hanging. It looked fresh. He frowned at it for a moment. The house elves hadn't cleaned his things so promptly since last summer. It usually took weeks to get a robe cleaned nowadays.

Shrugging, he pulled the robe out. He could feel the humidity of the day building already. Just like the day before. He hoped that it wouldn't grow chill again this evening. It was the lightest robe he owned - he should probably be grateful that it had been cleaned so quickly. He slipped it on and felt the slight silk of it glide across his bare skin.

It was a simple robe - long and secured up the front with a spell. It had a small hood, and in the morning light it shimmered slightly blue. It was meant to be worn over trousers and a shirt, but Draco enjoyed wearing it with nothing underneath. It was cooler, and slightly thrilling.

Draco didn't want to stay in the house today. He didn't think that he could stay inside and remember the echoes of Potter's screams, manifold in the twisted halls of the Manor. He walked over to the shelves of books that covered one wall of his room and stared at them for a moment. Snatching a heavy tome, he took the shortest route he knew out of the house and back into the gardens.

For the rest of the day Draco hid himself among the trees of the garden and read.

As evening began to fall, the air cooled, and Draco remembered why he had regretted wearing this robe the day before. He pulled the hood of it up for extra warmth. The forest was growing dark, and the shine of the golden trees fading. Draco lit his wand and made his way slowly back to the house. He hadn't eaten all day, and his stomach felt hollow, but he wasn't really hungry.

All he wanted to do was sneak back into his room and sleep.

As he drew closer to the Manor, he saw that the house was aglow - golden candlelight spilling from all the windows. Something had happened. Again. Draco's heart seized and he stopped dead. He turned and made a detour through the garden. He would go in the back door and avoid it all. He didn't care if there were prisoners or the Dark Lord himself in his house. All he wanted was to be left alone.

He saw the side door open, and his mother stand in the doorway. He continued, walking away from her. She closed the door and disappeared.

Then, as Draco reached for the knob of the Manor's back door, the door flew open ahead of him. His mother stood there, imperious. Draco flinched back unknowingly. Then his mother had grabbed his arm with her sharp, deadly nails and was dragging him through the house.

"Greyback has brought prisoners," she hissed, her eyes sharp and tense.

"Again?" he burst out with, incredulous. That...creature could be doing nothing but scouring the countryside for dissenters at this rate.

Mother looked down, eyes narrowed. "I hardly think this a daily occurrence, Draco. In any case, you are needed."

Again? This time he had enough wit to hold himself silent, though just barely. Why would he be needed a second time in as many days? Oh. He was going to be killed. That was it. That was the only thing that made sense, really.

He had given Potter to the Dark Lord, but it wasn't enough. He clutched his book, feeling his hand go clammy and his heart pound. This was it, then. Sudden resentment whirled within him. He held his face painfully still to avoid giving his newfound hate away.

Draco followed his mother into the entrance hall and received the shock of his life. There were three, kneeling once again on the marble floor. With red hair and blue eyes, Ronald Weasley. Next to him, the Mudblood Granger. And there, with his face distorted and swollen, was Harry Potter. Unmistakably Potter.

"Potter," he breathed. He was alive. could he possibly be alive? Draco had heard him, screaming. And yet here he was, looking just as damaged as he had the night before. Yet no more. Draco pulled his book close to his chest and stared, wide-eyed, at the other boy. It was as if the day before had been merely a dream.

"Well," someone asked, "is that Potter?"

Draco didn't know who had asked, but he knew that it was the same person who had asked him the night before. It was the same timbre, the same cadence, the same tone.

"I...don't know," he said, his voice faltering almost completely. How could this be happening? This must be a nightmare - he was living the same day again. Would he live this day over and over and over and Over and OVER AND --

Draco's fevered mind wrenched itself back to the present violently. He looked down at Potter. The other boy's eyes were dull and resigned. He must have been quite sure that he would be identified.

The question was asked of him again.

Was this Potter?

Here, sitting in front of him? Alive? He didn't know. He was probably mad. He couldn't be living this day twice. And if he was mad, Potter was an hallucination. A sign of nothing but Draco's own weakness.

"I don't know," Draco repeated. "I can't be sure."

He wanted to get out. He wanted to go to sleep, and when he woke up, hopefully, it would be Saturday. He never wanted it to be Friday again.

The faces around him seemed disappointed that he hadn't identified Potter. But he couldn't. He couldn't say that his delusions were reality. He didn't know what to think. Sick to his stomach, he wrenched away from his mother and backed into a corner.


Hours later, Potter fought his way free of the Manor, and Draco lost his wand.

The next morning, Draco woke to dirtied robes and the Saturday sun (and, mercifully, cooler weather).

Weeks later, Potter killed the Dark Lord.

And for the rest of his life, Draco wondered what would have happened if he had identified Potter on that second Friday, instead of saying 'I don't know'.

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