the silver trail
Barrelling through bushes and branches, telling himself it was just a stitch in his side and a scratch in his arm, gulping in air through his mouth, Draco ran. The Forbidden Forest was even more forbidding these days-- centaurs hungry for human blood, creatures hungry for worse, curses taking form and stalking victims-- but it was still a better option than what he'd left behind.
A patch of bracken hid a hole ploughed by an ancient root. Draco's heel slid in. He pitched forward, cringing when he heard a snap. Not that he was surprised. This was, of course, apt for the way his day was going.
Merlin's tears, it was on course with the way his life was going.
He gasped a quick spell to numb the pain. He didn't dare look at the new injury. If he looked he would either vomit or faint both of which were going to keep him in the forest longer. He had other places to go, schemes to hatch, people to--
His breath hitched. He was out of breath, that was all.
Draco dragged himself to his feet, testing the ankle. It gave off a slight throb; he refused to acknowledge any pain greater than that. Using a strong healing charm, he pulled energy and raw material from the Earth to reconstruct the broken bones and torn tendons.
Then he ran again.
The trees never thinned. Usually, that alone would give hope. Hope, being in short supply, Draco was again unsurprised that the Forbidden Forest didn't dole any out. It was more precious than Galleons.
He was tired of carrying his wand. The fingers on his right hand felt frozen in a curled position. Ten years was too long to keep your hand perpetually around your wand, always looking over your shoulder, always primed to drain your energy reserves and blast the enemy away.
It was strange how he'd once envisioned the war. Draco read a lot of history; he loved the subject more than Potions. None of the wars he'd ever heard about lasted less than five years, not even the Dark Lord's first rising. He remembered the wars four or five hundred years back that lasted decades if not centuries. Somehow he'd thought that with the advances in magic and the Dark Lord's power, this would all be done in a matter of weeks.
Two months, tops.
Ten years was much too long. Too many things happened in ten years. People lived, married, had children, and died. Never in that order, of course, and never when you wanted to. Ten years left too much time to think, five hundred twenty weeks to doubt, three thousand six hundred fifty days to sit in front of the fire and roll useless thoughts in your head while wounds that should have healed three thousand six hundred forty-five days ago still throbbed and wept poison.
Draco ran some more.
Would the bloody damned trees never thin?
The stitch in his side insisted on making its presence known. Draco muttered a healing charm and kept running. It was just a stitch in his side.
The soil smelled damp here. Damp, not dank, not rotten and spoiling and crawling with life best crushed under the heel. There was still some part of the Earth that gave life, however twisted its offspring. Did the trees here have green leaves? Slytherin's colours were green and silver, but Draco had only seen shades of black for so long, he wasn't sure he'd recognize any other colour. Green leaves would be nice. He'd liked the colour as a child, not only because of Slytherin. He liked the richness of it, the fact that nature created and destroyed at whim. The same power that coaxed a shoot from a seed destroyed it in a hurricane. It was quite exhilarating, that type of control, that type of power. He'd been starved of it all his life.
His shoes weren't made for running. The stiff knee-high leather supported his ankles, but it was also hell on his heels. The robes were just ridiculous; he shed them long before he entered the Forest. His black shirt and trousers were soaked through with sweat, blood, and murky water. He smelled dank. Dank not damp.
There had once been a single green stripe down the left side of this shirt. Ladon loved that stripe. He used to run his pale hand up and down the silkier texture, cooing at the sensations. Ladon took pleasure in the simplest things. His laughter shone light in places that Draco thought were firmly locked.
He shook away the memories and kept running.
Whispers followed him everywhere. They followed him through all of Manchester and onto countless battlefields, into the deepest chamber of the Dark Lord and even into this Forest where Draco thought only he was crazy enough to go into. Not for the last time, he was tempted to deafen himself but logic prevailed. He wouldn't be able to hear more corporeal enemies. The whispers only annoyed him; his enemies would burn his soul into oblivion without a thought of regret.
It would be admirable if it weren't so frightening.
To hell with fear. He was Draco Malfoy! He feared nothing on this earth.
Are you running for aerobic exercise? one of the whisperers sneered.
He didn't deign to reply. They knew very well why he was running they just wanted to hear him admit to it. Draco had precious few things to cling onto at this moment but his pride was paramount. Pride and his wand.
He and the bloody wand had gone through everything together. It and his father were the only constants in his life. Doctrines changed, power shifted, years passed, but the wand and his father were static. Disgustingly so. Father hadn't created an original thought in all the years of Draco's life. It was like Familiar Studies; the same shit over and over again only in greater, more confusing detail. Not at all like history. History ebbed and coasted in unpredictable patterns. Just when you thought trouble was going to Point B, it decided to hit C, D, R, and 7 instead, which led to a whole new set of problems and solutions. Its pattern was too vast to comprehend. And it wasn't the same shit over and over again with no visible lines between black and white.
Grey was Draco's favourite colour next to green. The grey area was always more interesting than black or white. He discovered grey two years after graduating from Hogwarts. It gave space to move, to breathe. Once in a while, you could see hints of other colours in it but mostly, it was just indefinable. Powerfully so. Like the Forbidden Forest with its secrets. Like clouds too far in the horizon to predict but too close to hide from.
He'd never excelled in weather prediction anyway. That mudblood bitch, Granger, probably had long esoteric talks with clouds on whether or not it was going to rain.
Left, right, left, right. He would probably have to teach himself to stop running even if he ever got out of this cursed forest, this hunk of shit hanging from Merlin's arse hairs. What the hell was he going to do when he got to the other side, anyway? Knock on Hogwart's door and politely ask for a drink of water before he went on his way?
This is stupid, the whispers sniggered.
You're stupid, Draco snarled back.
Oh great, now he'd fallen into their taunting. They'd never stop now.
Let's not point fingers on stupidity, Malfoy. The whisperers swirled around his hair and curled around his chest. Let's not forget whole jumped over this cliff without peeking over the ledge to check for a safe landing place. Let's not forget who kept insisting, during the long and fatal fall, that everything was going to be all right even though he could see the jagged rocks and the crocodiles and the merpeople with their nets waiting to drag you in.
Draco drew on his last vestiges of discipline and ignored them. Discipline was the last of the things he could hold on to. So, pride, wand, discipline. Not very impressive for thirty years of living. He'd even lost his bloody wallet, for crying out loud!
The whisperers chuckled amongst themselves. Knowing his iron will, they twinned around his legs, trying to distract him with a fall. Draco did not distract. Only one thing could distract him and that thing did not...
Dammit. Stupid dirt. Draco slashed his arm over his eyes to clear the dust away. When he opened his eyes again, the forest was gone.
Hogwarts stood before him, a mountain of grey amidst a wasteland. It was no longer remotely school-like, more a fortress carved out of a cliff. A deep moat isolated it from the rest of the world in addition to the many guard charms; so many it hurt to look at it.
If his life so far had been falling down a cliff, then this part was when he dashed himself against the cliff-face in a futile attempt to slow down.
His legs didn't stop running.