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. Draco's Leader was inspired, in part, by the Bubble device in Lori's PoU universe. The use of the Quick Quotes Quill as a compensatory device, with adjustable Truth settings, is borrowed from CobraGirl's wonderful fic Sounds of Silence. Both are used with permission.
Draco In Darkness
Chapter 2 - Learning
It is not so much our friends' help that helps us
as the confident knowledge that they will help us.
"Where were you last night?" Hermione asked Harry as he came down the stairs to the common room that morning.
"And good morning to you, too," he returned with a smile.
Hermione flushed slightly. "Sorry. But you know I worry about you. I didn't see you when I came back from the prefects' meeting. You must have been out late." She nodded to Ron, who had trailed behind Harry, yawning. "And I can tell you were out late. Honestly, Ron, a date on a school night?"
Ron grinned. "Never fear, we actually did get some studying done, in between ... er ... other stuff. Mandy's a Ravenclaw, remember?"
It was Harry's private belief that Ron continued to date Ravenclaws because they reminded him of Hermione, but he kept his mouth shut.
"Oh, fine," she said, with an impatient wave of her hand. "And please, spare us the 'other stuff'. How about you?" she pointed at Harry. "You weren't off doing 'other stuff' too, were you? Don't forget we have that test for Professor Binns coming up in just a few days."
Harry rolled his eyes. "You know I'm not interested in anyone right now. And, as a matter of fact, I was studying."
Hermione blinked, obviously not expecting this reply. Normally she had to fight the two boys tooth and nail to start studying as early as she claimed was necessary. "You were? Where were you?"
"In the library."
"Really? You normally hate it there."
"Well..." Harry hesitated, then decided to just tell the truth. It wasn't really a big deal, after all. "I went there to get more books for my Herbology research, and ended up studying with Malfoy."
"Malfoy?" Ron demanded, wrinkling his nose. Hermione just stood there, mouth agape.
"It wasn't a big deal," Harry defended.
"Well, it certainly isn't normal," Hermione retorted, having found her voice again. "What on earth possessed you to do that?"
Harry explained how Draco studied now, and how he'd felt compelled to combine his own studies with making life a little easier on the blind Slytherin. "You were both busy, I had to study the same material he did - why not?"
"Why not...." Ron snorted in disbelief. "I could give you quite a few reasons why not.... Don't you remember who this is, Harry?"
"Well, he was tolerable enough last night. I'm standing here unbruised, aren't I?"
"Probably only because he couldn't see where to hit you," Ron muttered under his breath. Hermione just shook her head.
"Well, no harm done. We can work together tonight - I've got all my notes arranged and-"
"Actually," Harry interrupted, "I ... uh ... I said I'd go back to the library tonight so we could finish revising the chapters together."
"Are you kidding me?" Ron's voice shot up along with his eyebrows. "You're voluntarily going back? To him? Why?"
"Because I said I would," Harry said, stubbornly. "Look, you're making this a much bigger thing than it really is. It's-"
"Oh, forget Malfoy," Hermione broke in, rolling her eyes. "Let's go get some breakfast -- I'm starving and I want to get to Potions early. You know how long it takes to chop bat spleens exactly right."
"Ugh, how can you even mention bat spleens and breakfast in the same sentence?" Ron moaned, as he pushed open the portrait. Harry, glad for the change in topic, grinned at him in sympathy as he slipped past, and the three of them went down to breakfast.
While Harry ate his toast, he found himself looking across the Great Hall toward the Slytherin table. This in itself wasn't so unusual - he and Draco had exchanged plenty of menacing glares over the years. But Draco had been absent from school for the last six weeks of the previous term, and there had been no-one to look at. Then, when he'd come back, he'd kept almost entirely to himself and didn't seem inclined to provoke anyone the way he used to, nor could he have looked back at Harry anyway. And so Harry had largely fallen out of the habit of really looking for Draco, except to more subliminally note his presence in the classroom, just another student.
However, after having studied with the Slytherin the previous night, and having had more civil contact with him than ... possibly their entire school careers combined, Harry found himself watching the blond more closely again, suddenly curious to see what other tactics Draco used to compensate for his loss. He seemed to get through breakfast well enough, using a slice of toast to push his eggs onto his fork. But even amidst his chattering classmates, he sat as if he was alone: he did not speak to anyone -- not even to Blaise Zabini, who sat right next to him. Harry had already observed that Draco seemed to keep largely to himself in their few shared lessons, but was mildly surprised to see it extend to social situations as well. It seemed the Slytherin no longer initiated any interaction with either friend or foe.
The Potions lesson that morning only confirmed Harry's suspicions. While the rest of the students spoke in hushed murmurs with their tablemates about the day's concoction, Harry watched Draco work in silence, chopping his bat spleen with a surprising degree of efficiency; his fingers were curled over the organ to prevent being cut and he was almost as fast as Hermione. What looked like a Quick-Quotes Quill took notes for him while Professor Snape lectured during the simmering process; Harry only hoped it was doing a more accurate job than Rita Skeeter's had.
It was the only lesson they shared with the Slytherins that day. During lunch, Harry was too busy laughing uproariously over a story Seamus and Dean were telling to pay much attention to anything else, but, by dinner, with everyone gearing up for the night's homework, he remembered his own plans; once more he found himself gazing surreptitiously across the Hall at his study partner. The other boy sat again at the end of his table, silent and separated from the rest of his House.
When he saw Draco get up and trail his little glowing orb out the main doors, Harry excused himself to go get his books from the Gryffindor Tower, then headed down towards the library. By the time he arrived, the other boy was seated in the little side room, the candles were lit, and he was already studying. A piece of note-covered parchment was blandly reciting the day's lecture; it sounded like Arithmancy.
Harry hesitated on the threshold and cleared his throat. "Um... it's me again. Harry."
Draco terminated the reading spell on his notes. "Potter. Back again, then?"
"I said I would be, didn't I?"
"Yes, but that doesn't usually mean anything to most people. You still determined to wear yourself hoarse on all that scintillating history?"
Harry moved into the room and pulled out the remaining chair at the table. "Yes. Erm... as long as I'm not interrupting anything, that is."
"No - I was just going over some Arithmancy stuff, but I can do that later." He started to roll up the parchment, but Harry put out a hand to stop him.
"Hang on a sec." Harry craned his neck around. It didn't make any sense to him, but it also looked perfectly reasonable, not at all the imprecise notes Rita Skeeter's Quill had taken. "Was this done with a Quick-Quotes Quill?"
"Yes," Draco answered curtly, tugging the parchment away and rolling it up. "Although I don't recall this having anything to do with history." He bent down and tucked the notes into the satchel at his feet.
"Well excuse me for asking." Harry dug through his own bag in irritation. "It's just that my experience with the bloody things indicated they weren't terribly accurate, so I wondered how they could possibly be of any use for school notes or anything like that."
"Oh - they have different truth settings, didn't you know?" Draco answered, a tad more amiably. "If you don't need to be really precise, it goes faster on a lower setting. But you can set it to be quite meticulous."
"She would use the lower setting," Harry grumbled to himself. Then he looked around. "Er... can I ask one more question?"
"You just did."
Harry wished rolling his eyes had any impact on the other boy. "Why do you bother with the candles?" Out of habit, he gestured toward the tapers which lit the room.
"Can you read in the dark?"
"Well ... no. But they were lit the other day, when you were alone, too."
"You know, for someone who has loudly complained over the years about wanting to be normal, you can be a bit thick sometimes," Draco replied, scowling again. "It doesn't matter if I can't see - everything goes on as normal. And that includes the candles."
Harry had to admit, it made sense. "Um... thanks for the explanation," he murmured. A thousand other questions were suddenly coming to mind, but he knew not to push his luck. Instead, he pulled out his History book. "Shall we get started? I think we left off at the Pixie Plague of 1803."
With the candles flickering around them, they got to work.
Draco balanced the Fwooper on one arm, absent-mindedly stroking its breast feathers with his other hand while he listened to Pansy and Millicent exclaim over the apparently dazzling plumage. The Quill by his side made little scratching noises against the parchment as it recorded their conversation; presumably between Hagrid's bumbling instructions, the girls' chatter and his Monster Book of Monsters he'd be able to get a sensible idea over the bird's appearance, beyond what his own hands could tell him.
The bird was as silent as he was, thanks to the Silencing Charm cast on it - a requirement for anyone looking to avoid insanity from the bird's trilling. Draco was glad that this was one case where the noisemaker in question was made to be silent, rather than shrouding the ears of the potential listeners. They had been doing advanced repotting of some adolescent Mandrakes in Herbology last week, and he hated wearing the prescribed earmuffs; to work without either his sight or his hearing was miserably disorienting.
But there was nothing interfering with his hearing now; as the class drew to a close and he was preparing to head back to the castle, he heard - and felt -- footsteps approaching him.
"Malfoy? It's Harry." The familiar voice dropped down to Draco's level where he knelt, putting his gear methodically back into his bag.
"You know, you don't have to identify yourself every time, Potter. After all this time, I recognise your voice quite well."
"Oh. Er ... sorry. Anyway-" There was a slight pause. "I can't study with you tonight. Ron and I have a Divination project due soon, and I really should work with him on it."
Draco shrugged. "Since we took Binns' test this morning, I figured our little moment was over anyway. Do whatever you like, Potter; you don't need my permission."
"Umm, okay then. You'll be all right?"
"I assure you," Draco replied with a note of impatience, "that, boring or not, I can cope quite well with the normal reading charms. Go back to your Gryffindor friends. I'm fine."
"Oh. Of course." Harry seemed a bit taken aback. "Well... I guess I'll be seeing you." Draco heard a slight rustle as the other boy rose, and then his footsteps receded.
"Likewise," he muttered. "Or, in my case, not."
He felt a warm rush of air as the Slytherin common room opened to him and he stepped forward briskly, hiding his weariness. Ignoring the chatter of his housemates - many of whom already seemed to be back for the night -- he went straight to his room and closed the door. Only then did he allow himself to give in to his fatigue; he got ready for bed, deactivated the Leader and crawled under the covers. But he didn't sleep.
He was exhausted, yes, but his mind just wouldn't shut off. He replayed the day in his head: his morning routine, the History of Magic test, Transfiguration, lunch, Care of Magical Creatures, DADA, dinner, and studying. All in a normal day's work. Even the test hadn't been too bad - he and Harry had prepared pretty well, and it wasn't like it was a major exam or anything; just a revision of holiday work. But he was exhausted nevertheless. Everything was exhausting. Everything that he took for granted less than three months ago now took twice as much energy just to survive. Walking to lessons, eating his meals, studying. Even going to bed, for God's sake. No matter how tired he was each night, he always had to take the time to hang his clothes in their allotted location in his wardrobe if he wanted to have any hope of finding them again later. His wand had to go in the exact spot on his bedside table. Everything required the extra effort of order.
He felt stretched to the limits all the time, just trying to function. He was determined to make it on his own, and he would. His fists clenched. He would. But he was so bloody tired. Tired of everything being just that little bit harder, when others could walk around without thinking, saving their energy for the real tasks.
Even studying wore him out tonight; despite his irritating curiosity, Potter had made studying that little bit easier. He was neither cosseting nor condescending, and now he was gone. Done with his little feel-good duty, and getting on with his own life. Meanwhile Draco was back alone in that little room, listening to his books, trying to keep himself motivated when all he wanted to do at the end of the day was just scream in frustration at the unfairness of it all.
He felt the prick of tears at the corner of his useless eyes, felt a knot building painfully in his throat. But he blinked and took a deep breath and willed it away. There was no point in crying. It would not solve anything. It would not give him his eyesight back, or help him succeed. He had to be strong.
Draco curled onto his side and forced himself to clear his mind of all thoughts but one.
He would succeed on his own.
Two days later, as he was struggling with a particularly nasty Transfiguration assignment, he heard the sound of footsteps approaching his little study room. He felt unaccountably hopeful, and then cursed himself for even thinking such a thing. Harry was done with him and that was that. And, he reminded himself, he didn't need anyone, didn't want anyone. People weren't reliable. Spells were. As the footsteps bypassed his room, he realised they were too light for Harry anyway. Either a girl, or a younger student doing some arcane research in the back shelves, then.
He bit his lip and tried to focus again on the task in front of him. Transfiguration had never been his best subject, but it was even harder now because he had to rely on his other senses to tell him how well he'd managed the job. And not everything liked being handled after he'd transfigured them. Today, for instance, they had transfigured a flower into a butterfly, a rather delicate procedure requiring their advanced fine-tuning skills, and had been no easy task to make sure it had turned out all right without letting it loose or accidentally injuring it. And he still couldn't tell if he had the prescribed spot pattern right. Fortunately, Professor McGonagall had been making the rounds around the room commenting on everyone's work, and he'd been able to get an outside eye to tell him his results without feeling like he'd been singled out.
So, now he sat, listening as his notes reminded him of the various important syllables and intonations which made up the complicated spell, and trying to forget the sound of the misleading footsteps still echoing in the back of his mind. In fact, he succeeded so well, it came as a complete surprise when he heard the voice. It wasn't often he failed to notice someone's approach.
Draco jerked out of his concentration. "Uh?"
"It's - well, you know, it's me. Could I - Could I come study with you again?"
Draco was suspicious. "Why? Didn't get in enough good deeds for the week?"
"No! It's - actually, it's for me." He heard Harry step into the room and pull out a chair. "You know how we got our test results back today?"
"Yeah...." The two boys didn't share the class, but their respective lessons were both on the same mornings.
"Well, that was the best I'd done for Binns in seven years. Seriously. Even Hermione couldn't believe it. So - I was wondering if... if we could keep studying together? I'll still need to work with Ron on Divination and a couple of other things a few days a week, but for the other stuff... well...."
"You want me to help you study?"
"Sort of. I meant - just the way we studied together, with my reading aloud and the way you notice stuff I miss.... I don't know - I just seemed to learn better." He laughed. "Too bad I didn't discover this seven years ago. Could have done a lot better for myself, especially in O.W.L.s."
"I don't recall your doing too badly," Draco hedged. "Haven't you done well enough so far by sharing a brain with Granger and Weasley?"
"Yeah, I've been okay. But N.E.W.Ts are coming up, and you know how important they are. Besides, the courses are a lot harder this year - I don't even want to think about what McGonagall is going to make us do tomorrow-"
"No, you don't," Draco snorted, remembering the butterfly.
"-and since I seem to do much better this way, well, I was just thinking, if it's okay with you, maybe we could keep working together? At least some of the time?" There was another light laugh. "It's not like I can read aloud in my common room without disturbing people either, you know."
Draco thought it over. He felt somewhat lightened by the thought of working with Harry again, but also appalled that he was letting someone assist him on a regular basis. Still, it wasn't exactly one-sided....
"All right," he finally told the Gryffindor. "You can come here to study. But I don't really need the help -- understood?" Then a sly grin spread across his face. "On the other hand, I'm looking forward to hearing you try to pronounce some of those plant names from Herbology." Now that the Mandrakes had been repotted, they had moved on to a batch of rare Hungarian ferns with particularly tongue-tying names.
Harry groaned. "You're just agreeing to this so you can laugh at me, aren't you?" Then his tone got more serious. "But thanks. I appreciate it."
Draco shrugged dismissively, pushing his Transfiguration notes in Harry's direction. "Since you're so eager to study together, how about we start with this? You can impress McGonagall tomorrow with how much you know already."
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