Well. Speaking of SKOM, I finally finished chapter 19. As a result, I present to you... chapter 18.
Title: Some Kind of Miracle (18/?)
Author: Annie (_pinkchocolate)
Pairings: HP/DM, HP/GW
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to JK Rowling. Well... almost everything.
Summary: Draco is determined to live the last nine months of his life with no regrets. But when a series of unfortunate events exposes a list of his innermost wishes, ambitions, and desires to Harry Potter’s eyes, he might find that facing his imminent death is not so easy after all.
Word Count: 7,290
Notes: Thanks to my gorgeous beta, Vana, for taking time out of her schedule to beta for me! Happy New Year, all!
17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 P
Dancing when the stars go blue
Dancing when the evening fell
Dancing in your wooden shoes
In a wedding gown
Dancing out on 7th street
Dancing through the underground
Dancing with the marionette
Are you happy now?
- Tim McGraw, “When the Stars Go Blue”
Draco spent the remainder of the holidays in a horrible cycle of moping over Harry’s absence and then hating himself for being reduced to a pathetic, lovesick girl. Occasionally he took a break to add more ingredients to the cauldron of Felix Felicis still bubbling in the dungeons, but otherwise, his burning desire to accomplish the goals on his list had been all but extinguished. It just didn’t feel right anymore to carry on without Harry there.
Instead, Draco whiled away most of the days by sitting in what was now widely acknowledged as his corner of the library (it was the only place where the other Slytherins, who were still incensed by his narrow escape into the library the day Harry had left, couldn’t reach him without getting in trouble), staring unseeingly at whatever page Hogwarts: A History happened to be opened to. He would usually stay there for hours on end, running a finger absently over the already softening leather cover as an internal battle raged on in his head.
The less rational half of Draco’s mind was urging him to go ahead, let himself fall for Harry; it wasn’t as if he had anything to lose. This was true – already four of his nine allotted months had slipped out of his grasp; he didn’t have enough time to be choosy if he wanted to finish his list. But, as always, his logical side fought back:
Falling in love with Harry Potter! Are you mental? You’re the one who tried so hard to avoid his mere friendship, and now you’re saying you want to go and start a relationship with him? Ha!
Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? You couldn’t avoid his friendship, and now you’re stuck with him. You haven’t got much to lose, have you? Now’s not exactly the time to be fussy about something like love...
Things are only going to get worse if you give yourself to him! So you didn’t manage to shake him off before; this is different. This is falling in love with him, it’s much more serious! What will the Slytherins think? Not to mention the rest of the school!
Who gives a damn what they think? Like I said, you don’t have anything to lose. Let yourself fall for him, and then get right back up. You can cross one more thing off your list, no harm done.
Who says that Potter will fall in love back, hmm? He’s straight, he said so himself... For the love of Merlin, you’re straight, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation...
Oh, stuff it, will you? We both know that it’s not so much the fact that you’re gay –
Rubbish! What about Pansy?
– that bothers you. And give it up, we both know that Pansy meant nothing to you. Your sexuality isn’t the problem here; no one cares about that. It’s the fact that he’s Harry Potter, isn’t it? You said it yourself: This whole thing terrifies you. But it’s too late, mate... you’ve already kissed him and liked it. There’s no turning back now.
Sometimes this mental war escalated to the point where it actually gave Draco a physical headache. One such incident occurred on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. Draco was sitting in his usual corner of the library, for once attempting to not read Hogwarts: A History, but start an essay Slughorn had assigned before the holidays on the ethics of, ironically, love potions, when the voices – voices? Since when had Draco started acknowledging himself as a schizophrenic? – started up again.
“Shut up!” Draco ground out, putting an end to the argument before it could spiral beyond his control. A pair of passing first year girls shot him scandalised looks that quickly turned to fearful ones when they recognised him. They scuttled away, leaving Draco to bare his teeth unpleasantly at their scrawny backs.
Leaning back on the hind legs of his chair, Draco rubbed his temples and tried to think of something other than Harry. He focused on the Felix Felicis he was brewing, but this didn’t help his foul mood much: the now-black substance was nearing the point where the Mist Lily would need to be added to proceed any further, and Draco still hadn’t found it. Though he still had a little over five weeks to locate the flower before the potion became impotent, he doubted that even five years would have helped, considering he didn’t dare wander any further into the Forbidden Forest than he already had. Perhaps Harry would help when he came back from spending the holidays with... but no, Draco was thinking about Harry again, and that wouldn’t do.
Draco got to his feet, gathered his things, and stuffed them all into his book bag, which he slung carelessly over one shoulder. He didn’t know where he was going, but he knew a walk would help clear his head a little, so he left the library and began wandering down the thankfully empty fourth floor corridor.
As Draco walked, it occurred to him that he was about to spend his very first New Year’s Eve apart from his parents – his first ever New Year’s Eve alone, even. These thoughts made a lump rise in his throat, but he swallowed and tried not to dwell on them, because they brought to mind even worse thoughts about his poor mother, sitting all alone in her cold, silent Azkaban cell.
What did one do in a situation like his? Draco wondered. He didn’t know how to celebrate the New Year without fancy champagne and well wishes from respected Ministry officials. Sighing, he decided that, for the moment, he would return to the Slytherin common room (surreptitiously, of course; his housemates had stopped trying to hex him after being caught cornering him in an upstairs hallway by Flitwick, but that didn’t make the common room any safer) and try to get some rest. Then, if he felt up to it, he would try to think of ways to commemorate the next milestone on the road to his execution – the real celebration, he thought dryly.
Draco woke up a few minutes before midnight, the sounds of the festivities being held in the common room pounding in his ears. It took a moment for him to blink away the exhaustion still clouding his brain and glance down at his watch to check the time. When he did, he bolted upright and frantically looked around his room for a window, wanting to witness the split second when the war-ravaged outside world shifted into a promising new era, desperate to see the instant when the last year of his life burst into life.
But there were no windows in the dungeon, and so, as the earth wearily completed another cycle of rotation, Draco never saw the sole star that shone stubbornly straight overhead him in the cloudy night sky. Instead, while the rest of the world welcomed the New Year, Draco fell back onto his bed with a sigh, pulled the covers over his head, and wondered longingly whether Harry was thinking of him.
“Half an hour now!”
Harry grinned and lifted his champagne glass in acknowledgment of these words. It was New Year’s Eve, and he was sitting in the cosy drawing room of Highcrest Hall, celebrating with a roomful of friends and Order members alike. Ginny was curled up at his side, reading a bookmarked page in The Standard Book of Spells, Grade Six, and Ron and Hermione were sitting across the coffee table from them, arguing over the outcome of a recent Death Eater trial. Remus, Tonks, Bill, Fleur, George, Percy, and Kingsley were all present as well, most of them looking relaxed for the first time Harry could remember.
“How’s the reading going?” Harry asked Ginny, as he idly watched George tease Percy about something on the other side of the room. The surviving half of the famous Weasley duo looked drawn and older than usual – no doubt due to the loss of his twin – but otherwise appeared to be in a good mood, as did his brother.
Ginny glanced up and smiled at Harry. “As well as it can go with reading material drier than Tonks’ mashed potatoes,” she said, loudly enough for Tonks, who was standing behind them and listening to Bill’s report on the current movement of pro-werewolf laws through the Ministry, to hear.
Tonks looked around at the sound of her name. “You watch whose cooking you’re badmouthing, young lady!” she said huffily, when she noticed Ginny. Bill, who had paused to take breath, chuckled at his sister’s cheek. Tonks spared a glare for him before turning back to Ginny and adding, “If you carry on with your insults, you won’t be fed for the rest of break!”
“That’s a relief,” Ginny teased. She winked at Harry, who bit back a laugh.
Harry had approached Ginny after she returned to headquarters on Friday and brought up the matter of their faltering relationship. She had denied that there was anything wrong at first, but after Harry refused to stop pressing the issue, she had given in and admitted that yes, she had also noticed the rift between them growing.
Harry had then apologised for being an incompetent boyfriend, and they had spent the rest of the day at a little Muggle flea market nearby, taking advantage of all the Boxing Day sales. Harry had purchased a golden locket for Ginny – a gift whose significance only he understood – and late Christmas presents for everyone else.
The next few days had flown by. Ron was still refusing to speak to Harry, and Hermione was too busy trying to make him come around, so Harry had spent all his time with Ginny, exploring the large, handsome manor, walking around the neighbourhood, or otherwise sitting by the fireplace and talking about school, the Order, their futures, anything but the war. Harry had found himself falling in love with her all over again – with her passion, her spirit, her determination... in short, he quickly realised, all the attributes that Draco possessed as well. At the same time, though, Ginny’s best qualities also highlighted the biggest difference between her and Draco: While Ginny’s strength of mind was warm and solid, Draco’s was cold and unyielding.
Meanwhile, Harry had resumed his former irregular pattern of waking up most mornings in a cold sweat, sure that he could still hear the rattling of a Dementor’s breath. He didn’t know what had prompted the return of his nightmares, though he suspected that part of the explanation lay in Draco’s absence. However, Harry refused to believe that Draco of all people had been responsible for ridding him of his nightmares, so he had forced himself to enjoy Ginny’s company and not think about his night terrors any more than he had to.
The evening before, however, Harry had been confronted with a dilemma: Ginny had all but told him that she wanted to make love again, this time while Harry was not intoxicated. This had put Harry in a bit of a sticky situation, because as much as he had wanted to prove to Ginny that their romance was back to the way it had once been, he had been reluctant to tumble into bed with her. This was partly because he hadn’t been ready to take their relationship to the next level. To put it simply, snogging was one thing; shagging, quite another. Mostly, though, Harry had felt that not having sex with Ginny was the most he could still give Draco, having made the choice he’d made.
Ginny had seemed disappointed at first when Harry gently turned her down, but then she had shrugged and cracked a joke about Harry being too pure for her, which Harry had recognised as her brave attempt to make sure things didn’t become too awkward between them. Harry had been so grateful that he had grabbed her and snogged her thoroughly, all the while trying not to think about how different Ginny’s kisses felt and tasted from Draco’s.
Lupin’s voice pulled Harry out of his musings. He looked around and was startled to see Lupin leaning on the back of the sofa, smiling at him.
“Hey, Remus,” said Harry, pulling away from Ginny so that he could face his professor. “Where’d Tonks go?”
“She’s upstairs, getting some rest.” At Harry’s puzzled look, Lupin explained, “She gets tired a lot these days, with the baby on the way.”
Raising his eyebrows, Harry said, “You didn’t tell me that Tonks was pregnant.”
Lupin looked rightfully abashed. “I’m so sorry, Harry, I completely –”
“It’s fine,” said Harry, laughing. “She told me already.”
“Oh, did she?” said Lupin, sounding relieved.
“Yeah. Congratulations, you must be really happy.”
“Yes, of course.” Lupin’s smile, however, seemed forced.
“What’s wrong?” asked Harry.
Lupin sighed, now looking decidedly miserable. “I don’t want you to think any lesser of me, Harry. It’s just... I’m worried for Tonks and for the child. I was irresponsible; I didn’t think about the consequences. What if the baby is like me?”
“It won’t be,” said Harry, though he really had no idea whether the child would turn out to be a werewolf or not. “Don’t be too hard on yourself, Remus.”
Lupin nodded, though he didn’t look very reassured.
More to wipe the gloomy expression off of Lupin’s prematurely lined face than anything else, Harry said, “Actually, I had a question to ask you. Could we go somewhere a little more... er, private?”
Lupin looked surprised. “How about the kitchen?”
“Yeah, all right.” Leaning over, Harry whispered into Ginny’s ear, “Be right back.”
She nodded, her eyes still fixed on her textbook.
Harry left the crowded room with Lupin, pausing to say hi to Kingsley, who had been appointed temporary Minister. The tall, broad-shouldered man greeted Harry warmly.
“Long time no see, Harry,” he said in his slow, deep voice.
“And you, Kingsley,” said Harry, grinning up at Kingsley. “I’m surprised you managed to get away from the office for once.”
Kingsley chuckled. “Being Minister does have its perks.”
“Speaking of, what have you been up to since I last saw you?”
“Mostly trying to amend relations with foreign ministers. At the moment, I’m working to get the Dementors out of Azkaban.”
“Really?” said Harry, relief and hope swelling up inside of him like a great balloon. “That’s great!”
“Unfortunately, it will be a while before the law, if passed, will go into effect. A year, maybe two.”
Harry’s heart fell. So Draco wouldn’t be saved after all.
Lupin placed a hand on his shoulder, apparently sensing his unhappiness. “You had something to ask me,” he reminded Harry.
“Yeah,” said Harry, swallowing his disappointment. He smiled tightly at Kingsley and followed Lupin out of the room and down to the kitchen.
They sat down facing each other at the scrubbed wood table. A few seconds ticked by while Harry mentally ran through a number of ways to phrase his question. In the distance, George’s voice could be heard, announcing that there were fifteen minutes left until midnight. Finally, having allowed the silence to drag on as long as it comfortably could, Harry gave in to the expectant look on Lupin’s face and spoke up.
“I was wondering...” he said, trying to keep his tone casual, “do you know anything about life debts?”
Lupin looked taken aback and slightly confused. Harry thought he knew why; Lupin had probably been expecting something more personal. “That’s a strange question to ask me, Harry,” he said.
Harry nodded mutely as he tried to decide how much of his reason for bringing the subject up he should reveal to Lupin. It was a suspicion that had been nagging at him for a while now. He had originally intended to ask Hermione about it over break, but he was feeling less than warm towards her at the moment; she had scolded him for not telling Ron earlier, and though Harry knew she had meant well, he had not appreciated her “I told you so”s.
“Yeah, well,” Harry finally said, “I was just wondering if you could…?”
Lupin chuckled. “Very well. I’m not an expert, but I’ll try to explain to the best of my knowledge.” He paused, taking in Harry’s sudden eagerness with slightly raised eyebrows. “Is there anything in particular you’d like to know?”
“Er – no, not really. Just... everything you know, if that’s all right.”
Looking thoughtful, Lupin paused for a moment, seemingly gathering his thoughts, and then began.
“Life debts are much more complex than most people believe. They require more than just the simple act of one wizard saving another’s life to be put into effect. Essentially, the core of a life debt is formed from the sense of gratitude and obligation felt by the wizard whose life is saved towards the one who did the saving.”
Harry chewed on his bottom lip as he turned this knowledge over in his mind. “But aren’t gratitude and obligation and feelings like that relative?” he asked.
“Very good,” said Lupin, sounding unnervingly like he did when he congratulated Hermione for answering a question correctly in class. “They are. Which is why, when a wizard feels nothing towards the one who saved his life, a life debt is not set. You remember, of course, the situation involving Barty Crouch and his son?”
Harry nodded slowly, understanding dawning upon him as he recalled how Barty Crouch had helped his son escape from prison. “Crouch saved his son’s life, but his son killed him later, right?”
“Precisely. Crouch Jr felt no sense of debt to his father, so he was able to murder him without second thought. Thus, the life debt that should have prevented Crouch Jr from killing Crouch Sr was not set in place.”
Harry felt the familiar leaping sensation in his stomach that indicated that he was on the right path to solving a puzzle. “Is this… common knowledge?” he ventured.
Lupin shook his head. “No, most people never bother researching the specifics of the ancient magic involved in invoking a life debt. Woolly nonsense that can’t be proved, they call it. I believe, however, that a small section of the Life room in the Department of Mysteries is dedicated to studying life debts.”
Frowning, Harry thought hard. If Lupin was right about everything, then there was no life debt between him and Draco. After all, hadn’t Draco himself said that Harry had done him a disservice by delaying his punishment?
Instinct, however, told Harry that there was more to be learned about life debts. “And… say two people feel like they owe each other a life debt,” he said, even more tentatively. “Would their mutual feelings cancel each other out?”
Lupin’s forehead creased; he appeared to be considering Harry’s question very seriously. “I don’t know, Harry,” he finally said. “I would venture a guess and say that in some cases, they wouldn’t cancel each other out, due to what we just discussed: obligation is relative. Assuming that both persons involved were quite sure that they still owed the other their lives – a unique case, indeed, as very few people are selfless enough to not regard saving the life of someone who once saved their life as a form of repayment – I think an unusual kind of bond would be formed between the two of them. Imagine, Harry, that I saved your life. How would you feel?”
“I – er,” said Harry, grappling to recover from being addressed so unexpectedly, “I suppose I’d feel like I owed you my life.”
“Yes, precisely,” said Lupin, nodding. “That’s how life debts are formed; I’m sure you already know that. But what if I felt the same way? What if you saved my life a short while afterwards, a deed which I considered greater than my previous act of saving your life but which you thought was quite the opposite?”
Lupin paused and looked at Harry expectantly. Harry blinked, once again caught off guard. He felt rather like he used to when Dumbledore asked for his opinion on important matters.
“Er, you’d feel the same way I did, wouldn’t you?” he offered, thinking this was a rather obvious answer and wondering where Lupin was trying to go with his analogy.
“Exactly! In short, we’d both still think that we owed each other our lives. I would be carrying a piece of you with me – that is, the life you felt you owed me – and vice versa. Thus, a bond would exist between us until the moment when one of us felt that our deed of saving the other one’s life was repaid.”
Harry stared at Lupin, trying to absorb this onslaught of information, most of which he didn’t fully understand. “Would… would this bond have any effects on our lives or our feelings towards each other?” he asked, once what Lupin was saying had sunk in.
“That I don’t know,” Lupin admitted. He smiled wanly at Harry. “Like I said, I don’t know very much about old magic. Dumbledore” – he paused, looking stricken, but recovered quickly – “Dumbledore would have known more.”
“Yeah,” said Harry, “I expect he would’ve.” He traced a jagged burn on the tabletop, deep in thought, and then stood up abruptly. “Thanks for telling me all of this, Remus. You’ve helped me a lot.” It was the truth, too, because the parts of Lupin’s information that Harry did understand had partially confirmed his suspicions about his and Draco’s situation.
“Sorry I couldn’t tell you any more, Harry,” said Lupin as they made their way back up the stairs. “If you don’t mind my asking, why the sudden curiosity about life debts? Surely you’re not studying them in any of your classes?”
Harry searched his mind for a plausible excuse. “I was thinking about Wormtail and what happened to him,” he lied.
Something in Lupin’s eyes shuttered. “I see,” he said quietly.
They re-entered the drawing room. Ginny looked up just in time to see them return; she beamed at them and motioned for them to join her on the sofa.
“Tonks is over by the window,” she said to Lupin, just as George declared, “Three minutes!”
Lupin nodded his thanks and left Harry and Ginny to join his fiancée. Harry put an arm around Ginny’s shoulders, pulling her close to him, and buried his face in her thick hair, pushing aside the thoughts his conversation with Lupin had sent whirling through his head for later examination.
“Our first New Year’s Eve together,” he murmured, and he felt, rather than heard, her laugh.
“Together as a couple, you mean,” she corrected him, pulling away and turning her face up for a kiss.
Harry obliged, not caring that Ron was just a few feet away and probably glaring at them disapprovingly. As he pulled away, his mind took advantage of his lowered inhibitions and jumped to thoughts of Draco: of whether he was alone, of what he was doing to celebrate the coming of the last year of his life. He felt a pang of sadness so strong that he knew it couldn’t be entirely his, and shut his eyes tightly, trying to think of Ginny.
But it was no use. Unwelcome thoughts of the boy who controlled Harry’s will, even from a great distance, battled and subdued Harry’s conscious attempts to lock them away, reminding Harry once again of the power of his weaknesses. His throat constricted painfully and he lifted his head, desperate not to enter the New Year wishing he was with Draco, because that somehow seemed worse than anything else he could possibly do at the moment.
As he scanned the blur of friendly faces in the room, he caught a glimpse of the night sky through the window Tonks had now deserted. It was a heavy, oppressive black. But from where Harry sat, he could just discern a sole star, glimmering faintly in the distance despite the clouds trying to smother it. For some reason, some of the sadness weighing down Harry’s spirits lifted at the sight of that star.
The room suddenly erupted in cheers, jerking Harry out of his reverie. Dazed, he blinked rapidly, only vaguely aware of the hands seizing his and shaking them enthusiastically.
“Happy New Year, Harry!” several voices chorused.
Harry nodded dumbly. His eyes impulsively swept over the people crowding around him and sought out the star that had shone so obstinately earlier. As he gazed at the tiny pinprick of light in the black sky, he suddenly knew, with more certainty than he felt towards anything else in his life at the moment, that no matter what choice he ultimately made, everything would be all right.
The sky was grey and overcast on Saturday morning. It was Harry’s first day back at school, and he, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, and Dean were trudging down the snow-packed path leading from Hogsmeade Station to Hogwarts, having just gotten off the Hogwarts Express along with the handful of other students that had left the castle for the holidays.
As the snow-tipped towers of the castle rose into view, Harry looked around in time to see Ron shoot him a surreptitious over-the-shoulder glance. Harry smiled mockingly in return, a gesture to which Ron responded by scowling, moving closer to Hermione, and lowering his head towards hers so as to give off the appearance that they were deep in conversation.
Harry rolled his eyes. He and Ron still hadn’t made up, mostly because of Harry’s refusal to apologise first. He had tried everything to make amends with Ron, including promising to do Ron’s Charms homework for a month and insisting that he wouldn’t kiss Ginny ever again. He had even sworn, quite truthfully, that he would let things between him and Draco return to the way they used to be. The one thing Harry hadn’t done was agree that Draco was responsible for Mr and Mrs Weasley’s deaths, which was apparently the only thing Ron wanted from him. More than once Hermione had begged Harry to concede just for the sake of patching his and Ron’s friendship, but each time Harry had flatly refused, saying stubbornly that he knew exactly how it felt to be wrongly accused of a crime and that he wouldn’t wish it on anyone, not even – or, as his mind had silently substituted, especially – Draco Malfoy.
The meaning behind Ron’s furtive glance, however, did not escape Harry. He was perfectly aware of what the other boy was thinking: Where would Harry’s loyalties stand now that they were back at Hogwarts? Would his promise to end his friendship with Draco prove to be nothing but empty words?
Again, Harry rolled his eyes. He was surprised that Ron didn’t have more faith in his word after six years together. Harry had made a choice and he would stick with it, just like he always did.
They arrived at Hogwarts sooner than they had predicted they would. Despite the early hour – the sun was just beginning to rise outside – the inside of the castle was bustling with activity. Someone had thoughtfully spelled the main entrance with a Drying Charm, so that Harry’s snow-logged clothes returned to their original warm, dry state the moment he stepped over the stone threshold. Harry heard a sigh of relief behind him, turned around, and grinned when he saw Luna and Ginny pulling off their caps and shaking their long hair out, their cheeks rosy from the cold. Dean was right behind them.
“It’s quite nice in here, isn’t it?” Luna commented, as she helped Dean with the fastener on his cloak.
“Yeah, a lot more people stayed for the holidays this year. Because of... you know,” Harry finished, not wanting to bring up the sensitive topic of dead family members in front of his three parentless friends.
Luna was saved the trouble of responding by Hermione, who, noticing that Harry, Ginny, Luna, and Dean had lagged behind, called out, “Hurry up, you four! We can still make it to breakfast!”
The party of six pushed and squeezed their way into the Great Hall, drawn towards the delicious smell of food. At the door, they parted ways with Luna, who hurried off to join the rest of her house. Harry’s gaze absently trailed after her as he seated himself next to Hermione at the Gryffindor table, then ground to an abrupt halt when it caught sight of someone far more interesting sitting at the Slytherin table behind Luna: Draco – and he was staring straight at Harry.
Even from the other side of the Great Hall, Harry could feel the intensity of Draco’s gaze, and it made him blush. Steeling himself, he mouthed, Meet me downstairs after breakfast.
Draco seemed to understand that “downstairs” meant the unused Potions room, because he nodded curtly and lowered his eyes. Upon being released from Draco’s intent stare, Harry breathed a sigh of relief and set to work buttering a scone, keeping his head down so as to hide his flushed cheeks.
Draco stopped outside the door of the unused Potions room and stared at it, imagining Harry standing on the other side. He was probably turning his wand between his fingers, Draco mused. Harry tended to do that when he was waiting for something. Chances were that he was worrying his bottom lip, too, since he was most likely starting to feel impatient with Draco for being late. For once Draco had taken his time at the breakfast table, wanting to delay the moment of truth, whatever it might be.
At last Draco squared his shoulders and flung open the door. Harry was standing near the cauldron of Felix Felicis, a real life replica of the picture Draco’s imagination had weaved. At the sight of him, Draco’s heart rate instantly doubled. Stuffing his suddenly-shaking hands in the pockets of his trousers, Draco strode into the room.
Harry, who had looked up at the sound of the door being thrust open, smiled tightly at Draco over the cauldron of potion. “Malfoy,” he greeted, sounding very strained.
Draco merely jerked his chin. He didn’t trust himself to speak, not when every nerve in his body was screaming for him to move closer and his throat was drier than Pansy’s chocolate cakes.
“Look,” Harry began, his fingers stilling on his wand, “I was thinking about what you said before –“
“Wait.” Before he knew it, Draco found himself on the other side of the cauldron, a few feet away from Harry, who suddenly looked extremely wary. “Before you start blithering, Potter, I just wanted to...” he swallowed, “say something.”
It was too much, being this close after being apart for so long and not doing anything about it. Closing the distance between them, Draco grabbed the front of Harry’s robes with one hand and caught Harry’s jaw with the other. Desperation and desire clouded Draco’s head, so that he wasn’t even aware that he was leaning forward until he felt the firm pressure of hands on his chest and heard Harry’s voice saying loudly, “Stop, Malfoy.”
The direct command was as jolting as the press of an ice cube to his cheek. Instantly, Draco released Harry and stepped back. Embarrassment warmed his face as realisation of what he had just – and almost – done sank in.
“Th-there was a smudge on your g-glasses,” Draco stammered.
Harry sighed. “I’m sure,” he muttered. He removed his glasses, wiped them absently with a handful of his robes, and put them back on. “There. Can I say what I want to say now?”
Draco licked his lips nervously. “Yeah,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound as terrified as he felt.
Draco could have sworn that Harry’s gaze lingered on his lips for a split second longer than necessary, but before he could dwell on it, Harry said in one rush of breath, “Thisngoinoowork.”
“I choose Ginny!” The three words echoed in the small dungeon, the potion behind Draco emitted a loud hiss, and then silence fell. “You told me you were giving me a choice, and I choose her,” Harry elaborated in a smaller, though no less decided, voice.
It was one of the oddest sensations Draco had ever experienced: Though he inhaled sharply, it still felt as though all the breath in his lungs had vanished. He felt a stabbing pain somewhere in his chest region and was forced to admit it to himself: he felt betrayed. It was strange and foreign to him, this creature that had taken up residence inside of him and now cried with fury and pain too great to put into intelligible words. Draco had felt many things in his lifetime, but never something quite like betrayal. He’d simply never allowed himself to love or trust anyone enough to feel betrayed when they let him down. But now…
“Fuck you, Potter,” he spat, shoving Harry away from him. “Fuck you for all the bullshit you said to me that I almost believed – almost. Fuck! Why am I even surprised that you turned your back on me?”
Harry’s face turned an angry shade of red. He opened his mouth, but Draco continued before he could get a word in.
“So you’re just going to turn around and give up?” he snarled. “Is that it? You can go out and save the fucking world, but you’re too scared to save” – Draco caught himself before he said “us” – “to save this?”
The red drained away, leaving Harry’s face stark white. Noticing this, Draco threw up his hands in exasperation. “I lied, okay, Potter?” he said, the confession tumbling out his mouth before he could stop it. “I lied about how I felt, and it was so fucking obvious. I thought you knew.”
Harry cringed and looked away sharply, as though he couldn’t bear to hear the rest of Draco’s indirect profession of his feelings. “She loves me, Malfoy.”
Draco laughed harshly. “Your dreamy-eyed schoolgirl,” he sneered.
“In ways that you can’t!”
“In ways that I won’t, Potter!” Draco exhaled and shook his head. “Forget it. You’ll never understand what it’s like for me, not when you have the rest of your perfect life ahead of you. You don’t know what it’s like to have no future, to know that everything right now means nothing.”
Harry straightened up, glaring at Draco. “See, there you go again!” he exclaimed. “You never tell me anything. How do you expect us to – to ever work something out if I don’t even know you?”
“If I ever expected that we’d be able to work something out, I expected too much,” said Draco. “Maybe I should have listened when you told me I’d be better off looking for someone else to fulfil my expectations.”
These words seemed to rouse Harry’s anger back into life. Draco swore he could feel the very air between them quiver as Harry stood there, seething almost tangibly. Then, through tightly clenched teeth, Harry hissed, “I never felt anything – anything – for you.”
The words reverberated in the air for several seconds. Then, unexpectedly, another burst of pain seared through Draco, the sheer intensity of it making his vision blur – though the traitorous tears that had welled up in his eyes probably had something to do with it, too. Hating himself for showing signs of emotion, Draco rapidly blinked them away. When he dared to meet Harry’s eyes again, he was relieved to see Harry’s hard expression had not softened or changed at all. It seemed that he had not noticed the effect his declaration had had on Draco, or else had chosen to ignore it.
Draco forced a cold sneer onto his face, drawing strength and comfort from the veneer of composure it gave him. He suspected that he looked madder than his late Aunt Bellatrix when she used to talk about the Dark Lord, but this did not bother him; rather, he hoped that it would remind Harry of who he was dealing with. With just a hint of mockery in his voice, Draco taunted, “Oh really? Then I suppose wanting to kiss me back was another one of your brilliant plans to keep me from escaping, was it?”
Again, Harry’s face went from puce to white. Smiling triumphantly, Draco continued. “I may have been drunk, Potter, but don’t think I didn’t notice. What would your oh-so-virtuous girlfriend think if she knew her brave, strong, masculine boyfriend almost willingly snogged another bloke?”
Harry’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Don’t go thinking you’re so important just yet, Malfoy. Whatever I did, I did out of pity for you.”
Though Draco was prepared for it this time, Harry’s retort still managed to flay open another wound on his dignity. His throat tightened painfully and he jerked his head, trying to shake off the hurtful words. He hated this, hated the way Harry always managed to get under his skin in ways that no one else could. And he hated himself for letting it happen.
“Pity for me?” he said, his tone astoundingly controlled. “How about pity for yourself, Potter? Look at the mess you’ve made out of your life. A hero to all of wizardkind, and you can’t even be honest to yourself. You. Wanted. It.”
Draco braced himself, waiting for Harry to explode, but to his surprise and bafflement, Harry did the exact opposite: His face fell, his shoulders slumped, and the magic rippling in the air around him seemed to fizzle out. Just like that, he gave up.
“I can’t always save everything,” he said, and it was almost like he was begging Draco to forgive him for his one flaw.
Rather than soften him up, Harry’s words of surrender only spurred Draco on. Harry had no business being weak when he was the one responsible for the hell Draco’s life had become. Advancing towards Harry, Draco said, “Bullshit, Potter. You refuse to try.”
“I’ve tried all my life.” Harry’s voice was heavier than lead. “Don’t lecture me on the finer points of giving an effort. I don’t need that from you, Malfoy.”
“Then why am I here?” Draco cried. “If you don’t need me, what the hell are we doing?”
Harry stared at Draco. “You need me,” he said. “I told you I was going to help you get through your list, and I’ll keep my word.”
“Oh?” Draco spat out, and his voice was like poison-laced ice, dangerous and razor-sharp. Harry flinched, and Draco felt a surge of savage pleasure. “Well, then, here you are, Potter. Why don’t you take a look at the list and see what you can do for me next?”
And he reached into his pocket, plucked the list out, and threw it to the floor at Harry’s feet.
A muscle in Harry’s cheek twitched. He bent over and picked the worn piece of parchment up. Draco watched with narrowed eyes as he unfolded it and began reading.
A booming silence swallowed the next few seconds, and then Harry looked up and met Draco’s gaze. Holding it unflinchingly, he said, his voice wavering just the slightest, “Why did you cross off twenty-two?”
“Surely you’ve figured that one out already,” said Draco mockingly.
“I want to hear you say it.” Harry held out the list between his index and middle fingers. His fingers were trembling. “Enlighten me, Malfoy.”
Draco saw the contradictory subtext of Harry’s words reflected in his eyes, in the way his whole body tensed when Draco reached for the list: Harry didn’t want to hear it. He was afraid that Draco was telling the truth. And, somehow, that gave Draco the strength to say it.
“I’m in love with you.”
If Draco Malfoy had told Harry Potter that he was in love with him a month ago, all hell would have broken loose. It was a mark of how drastically times had changed that, rather than hexing Draco dumb and then sending him to St. Mungo’s to have his body scoured for traces of Dark magic, all Harry did was take a deep, stabilising breath and say, quite reasonably, “No, you’re not.”
The grey eyes widened and myriad emotions flashed through them before contempt settled in. “And how do you figure that, Potter?” Draco sneered.
“Because,” Harry snapped, “love isn’t something you can concoct for your own convenience. People don’t fall in love because they want to cross a few words off some bloody list. Love is built on loyalty and honesty and friendship. Trust comes before love. You can’t hate someone one day and then decide you love them the next.” He paused to take a breath. “Love exists in the heart, not the mind.”
Draco’s eyes hardened. “Right. And Slytherins don’t have hearts, so that means they don’t get to join in on the fun, right?”
Harry shook his head. “You have a heart, Malfoy,” he said flatly. “You just don’t know how to use it.”
Two blots of red appeared in Draco’s pale cheeks. “You have no right to judge me,” he hissed. Harry ignored him and strode determinedly towards the door, his arms rigid at his sides. Though Draco made no effort to stop him, he did shout, as Harry reached for the door handle, “You’re a coward, Potter, and you’re wrong! I’m in love –”
“No, Malfoy,” Harry interrupted, stopping in his tracks and glaring at Draco over his shoulder, “you’re wrong. The only person you’re in love with is yourself. You can go ahead and use me as a means to accomplishing the things you want to do before you get the Kiss, but don’t involve me in your twisted concept of love. That’s where I draw the line.”
He paused for a beat, then went on coolly: “I’m going to pretend this conversation never happened, and I suggest you do the same if you want to get through your list. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do. That’s the choice I’m giving you.”
And with that, Harry exited the dungeon, leaving Draco standing next to the smoking cauldron. Once outside, he placed a steadying hand on the opposite wall and leaned forward, bowing his head and letting a defeated sigh escape him. He stared blankly at the flagstone floor for several minutes, struggling to wrap his mind around what had just happened. He knew a part of him had been hoping that what Draco had insisted so many times in the past was right: that nothing had changed between them, that Draco would be relieved by Harry’s choice to “go live his life the way it was meant to be lived”. He thought about how backwards the whole situation had become and smiled humourlessly. Never in a million years would he have thought he’d be arguing with Draco Malfoy about whether or not he loved Harry.
Sighing, Harry straightened up and walked away. As he strode down the empty corridor, the wet echoes of his footsteps ringing in his ears, he tried to tell himself that it was the porridge he’d had for breakfast that was responsible for the leaden weight in his stomach... anything but the heavy, inescapable feeling of regret.
A/N: The whole "She loves me in ways…" exchange was stolen from S02E20 of Queer as Folk, aka The Best Show Ever, with much fangirlish love.