Author's Notes: Ha ha ... posting at the same time as DV 12. I must be nuts. But I promised a reliable schedule, and I'm sticking to it. Incidentally, there is only one more chapter of Darkness after this.
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 In Darkness
Chapter 7 - De Nile
But love is blind, and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit.
-- Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice)
Harry watched as Draco worked to transfigure the sock into a fork. They were practising their "unrelated transfigurations" - changing an item into something completely different in shape and purpose.
"Hmmm," Draco muttered, feeling over the resultant object with his fingers. "It seems okay. Definitely metal this time, with sharp prongs. What am I missing?" The Slytherin always insisted on determining for himself if the transfiguration had been complete, but acknowledged a working pair of eyes covered all the bases.
"Well, it's not a knit fork, like the previous one was. But it's still argyle print," Harry grinned.
"Damn." Draco reversed the spell with a wave of his wand, and prepared to try again.
Harry leaned back in his chair as the other boy practised his task. It had been a good study session so far. He was glad to get back to his routine with Draco, after being separated. Strange how it had become more normal to study with the Slytherin than with his own housemates.
His eyes drifted to Draco's face; the eyes were relatively neutral, as usual, but his mouth was screwed up in concentration. Harry remembered the previous night, when he had seen a smile on that face instead. He'd been in the middle of explaining to a very confused Neville just how television worked, laughing over how his mistaken notions had come from a Muggle children's book, when, in one of his routine glances up at the Slytherin table, he'd noticed the smile. Draco didn't smile often - or at least, not in a relaxed, genuine fashion like that. He would often tease Harry with smirks, and there was occasional laughter, but any ordinary smiles often carried a hint of bitterness behind them. This was a completely relaxed smile, and it had warmed Harry right across the Great Hall.
It had also unsettled him again. He wasn't emotionally wound on Sunday the way he had been on Saturday, but that smile had affected him just the same. Maybe it was just the rarity of seeing such a thing? He was certainly glad Draco was feeling better, and that he had something to smile about, whatever it was.
"There." Draco's voice broke into his reverie. "This feels a bit weightier somehow. Does that mean the colour is correct, too?"
Harry leaned in and took the fork from Draco's slim fingers. "Yes, completely metal," he said, turning it over in his hands. "Not a trace of argyle, tweed, or anything of the sort."
"Finally!" Draco groaned. "Damn, this subject got so much harder after the accident. I was about to resign myself to eating with patterned forks, and somehow convincing McGonagall that I knew it was like that, and that I wanted it that way."
Harry laughed as he turned to look at the other boy. And then paused. After cursing and struggling with this task, the self-satisfied achievement on the Slytherin's face was a bright contrast. Instead of a scowl, his lips curled into a light smile, with a touch of smirk for his joke.
Leaning so close to Draco, Harry had a suddenly overwhelming urge to reach out and touch him again, congratulate him on his accomplishment, and hot on the heels of that thought came the desire to kiss him as well. He sat back abruptly, the chair skidding a few inches across the stone. Okayyy.... He wasn't sure what was going on, but distance suddenly seemed like a good idea.
Draco's head turned at the noise. "You going somewhere?"
"What? No, I just ... er ... lost my balance for a minute," Harry answered, still flustered. "So ... um ... what shall we work on next?"
"I thought we could work on memorising the ingredients and instructions for the list of potions Professor Snape gave us." Increasingly, the students were required to work from memory; Draco had been teaching Harry some of the mnemonic skills he'd been using, which the Slytherin had used to limit the number of times something had to be read to him.
They began to discuss the various potions on the list, taking turns going back and forth with what they could recall. But Harry was only half paying attention. As Draco talked, Harry found his eyes were drawn back to the other boy's mouth, no matter how he tried to curtail it. He was suddenly glad Draco couldn't see him staring.
He thought about how close they were here at the table, in this little side room where no one ever came. He thought of talking and studying and brushing the Slytherin's hand with his own. Of just reaching over, casually, and kissing Draco as he talked, seeing what those lips felt like on his own lips, instead of on his fingers. He imagined pulling the other boy close, running a hand through the silver-blond hair, or maybe over his skin.
The images in his mind became bolder, brighter, so real he found it hard to believe he wasn't actually leaning over to kiss Draco. And he was perilously close to doing just that. His inhibitions no longer seemed to be functioning, and he was having trouble remembering that the other boy would likely be shocked, disgusted, and God only knew what it would do to their friendship. Inhaling sharply, Harry dug his nails into his palms and closed his eyes, trying to get a grip on reality.
"Are you okay?"
Harry's eyes snapped open. Draco had turned toward him, and was frowning slightly.
"Yes, I-I'm fine. Why?" he swallowed, his eyes once again glued to the other boy's face. That mouth.
"You've been talking strangely for the past few minutes, and you didn't answer my last question at all."
He tried to clamp down on the confusing riot in his mind. "I'm sorry, what?"
"About the poison-detection potion - I couldn't remember if the marrantill was supposed to be added as an infusion or a decoction."
"Infusion," Harry choked out. He wasn't sure how much longer he'd be able to hold off before he did something of his own accord. What was wrong with him? He hadn't been interested in anyone all year. And definitely never in a boy, unless you counted the Ravenclaw Keeper, and that wasn't anything near as intense as this was. He'd been spending too much time with Draco. Yes, that must be it. Too much time - he'd become confused. He needed to get away, he thought frantically -- put some space between them until he could remember how to be close to someone without being inappropriately attracted to them.
"I'm sorry," he said abruptly, interrupting Draco's recitation of the potion's storage and use. He pushed back his chair, deliberately this time, and began blindly stuffing his belongings back in his bag. "I forgot ... I have to go."
"Now?" Draco asked, looking confused. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing ... I'm fine! I just ... it's ... I just have to go." Harry was nearly panicking by now. "I'll talk to you later, okay?" And with that, he grabbed his bag, and fled out the door.
He went straight to the sanctuary of the Gryffindor common room, where it appeared Hermione was drilling Ron in Herbology.
"Harry! What are you doing back so early?" she asked, looking up from her book as he stumbled through the portrait hole.
"I-" Harry suddenly found that no words were coming to mind. Not the truth, not excuses. It was as if his brain had stopped functioning altogether. "It's nothing," he managed, dropping into a nearby armchair and running a hand through his hair distractedly.
"It doesn't look like nothing," Hermione retorted. "Did something happen?"
Harry fought an urge to put his head in his hands. "I don't want to talk about it. I just ... I'm just going to be studying with you again for awhile, okay?"
He watched her bite her lip, hoping she wouldn't ask him to explain any further. "Sure, Harry," she finally replied. "We're glad to have you back. It'll be much nicer to study together again."
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but you were probably better off with Malfoy," Ron moaned, sadly eyeing his chessboard. "Hermione's been grilling me on pruning techniques for carnivorous plants for the past hour."
"Yes, well, you obviously needed it, didn't you?" She turned back to Harry who by now was rubbing his temples. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Well, he will be if you stop badgering him," Ron cut in. "Ask him about Herbology stuff if you're that eager to ask a million questions."
Harry shot Ron a grateful look. "Yeah, I'll be okay. I just want to spend more time with you two, that's all." Draco was still on his mind but, now that he had physically separated from him, Harry began to feel like he might be able to get his feelings under control again.
"All right," she answered, a tad doubtfully. "Well, like Ron said, we were revising for Herbology. You want me to test you, too?"
He wasn't at all sure how well he would be able to focus, but there was a chance studying would help distract him further. Digging gamely through his hastily packed bag, Harry pulled out his book and sighed, "Oh sure, why not?"
The next few days were excruciating for Harry. He avoided Draco in every class they shared, and spent every night in the Gryffindor common room, abruptly terminating his study sessions with Draco without so much as an explanation. But despite his efforts, his hoped-for plan to get Draco out of his mind by separating himself from the other boy was not a success. At mealtimes, his eyes were still drawn across the Great Hall, no matter how many times he tried to drag them back. And every night he settled down to his books with Ron and Hermione, he wondered what the Slytherin was doing. Far from distracting him, Hermione's Herbology questions had reminded him too much of the way he and Draco had worked together - he'd spent the whole time making mental comparisons of their revision styles, and missing Draco even more. So after that first night he had begged off and simply sat near them, book on his lap, while they worked without him. Half the time he didn't manage to study at all, instead staring into the fire for long hours, lost in thought. When Ron coaxed him into an occasional round of chess, the rooks often ended up stomping off the board, completely disgusted with Harry's inattention.
On the third day, Ron and Hermione dragged him off to the seventh-year boys' dormitory as soon as they had returned from dinner, and demanded to know what was going on.
"All right," Hermione said, crossing her arms, as Harry sat warily on the edge of the bed. "Something's wrong. What is it?"
"Nothing, I told you-"
Ron waved his hand impatiently. "Come off it, Harry! You've acted strangely ever since you came back to us, not at all like normal."
Harry glanced between the two of them. "Whatever happened to not wanting to let anyone badger me?" he asked Ron.
"Yes, well, it's a duty for blokes to stick up for each other, don't you know?" Ron ignored Hermione's raised eyebrow. "But that was before you stopped talking to anyone, got all mopey, forgot to eat half the time, and started staring across the Great Hall at Malfoy again. And you haven't played chess this badly since we were first-years."
"Harry," Hermione said more gently, coming to sit on the bed beside him. "We're just worried about you."
"Did he do something to you?" Ron interjected.
"Malfoy. Did he do something to you? Is that why you stopped studying with him? I knew that was a bad idea. And I don't care if he's blind or not. If he's hurt you, I'll-" Ron smacked one fist into his palm.
"Ron," Hermione warned. Then she turned back to Harry. "I know you said you didn't want to talk about it, but something is clearly wrong, and we want to help. It's what friends do, remember?"
Harry bit his lip. Friends. "Can I ask you something?" he asked, looking at both of them.
"Of course," Hermione answered.
"Okay, we're friends. Good friends. Right?" They nodded. "Have ... have either one of you ever thought about kissing one of us?"
Ron laughed. "I can honestly say that I have never wanted to kiss you, Harry. No offense."
Harry smiled. "None taken." He turned to Hermione. "What about you?"
She tugged on a lock of hair, which Harry recognised as a sign she was thinking. "I suppose the idea crossed my mind, back when we were younger," she answered slowly. "But I knew you and I would always be better as just friends. So ... no, not really." Then she frowned. "Harry, does this have to do with Malfoy?"
"Well..." Harry hesitated, glancing between his two friends. Then he drew a deep breath and dropped his eyes to the floor. There was no escaping now. "Yes," he whispered.
"You've kissed Malfoy?!" Ron shouted. "Ugh!"
"Ron, please!" Hermione interjected. Harry felt her hand on his chin, and he raised his head to look into her concerned eyes. "Harry?"
"No, no I haven't," he told them. Then he swallowed. "But I wanted to." He explained briefly what had happened the other night in the study room.
Ron frowned slightly. "Are you saying you're gay?"
"I don't know!" Confused, Harry jumped off the bed and started pacing the room, hands balled into fists. "I mean, I liked Cho. A lot. And there've been other girls too. But then there was Benjamin-"
"Benjamin?" Ron broke in again. "That Ravenclaw Keeper?"
Harry nodded miserably. "But I didn't think that was real - just ... I don't know. Admiration for the game he played or something. Only, with Malfoy, it's different. It's really bad - I don't know what's wrong with me. I think I was spending too much time with him or something - that's why I had to get away."
"There isn't necessarily anything 'wrong' with you," Hermione told him soothingly. "Some people are just like that - bisexual." She came and put a hand on his shoulder. "Now, let me ask you the question you asked us. Have you ever wanted to kiss one of us?"
"No," he replied immediately.
Hermione chuckled, rolling her eyes. "Glad to know you gave it some thought, then." Then she sobered. "But see? The three of us have spent way more time together - six and a half years, and part of several summers - and nothing has ever happened, right?"
"Apart from all the near-death experiences, she means," Ron said.
Harry grinned, in spite of himself. "Apart from them, no."
"So ... then I'm guessing what you're feeling about Malfoy has nothing to do with the amount of time you're spending with him."
"Oh." He dropped back on the bed, defeated.
"Harry, are you serious?" Ron asked, sounding incredulous. "You really ... like ... Malfoy?"
He looked up into his friend's expressive face. "Would you hate me if I said yes?"
Ron sighed. "Well, I don't hate you for being ... for apparently liking both boys and girls. But I have to admit I bloody well don't get it, either. Mum and Dad have a couple of gay friends ... I guess it's not that big a deal, even though it still seems a bit strange." He paced around the room a few steps, his expression darkening somewhat. "It's just ... Malfoy? Does it have to be Malfoy? I can't believe you've fallen for that git!"
"It's not like I planned it," Harry answered, defensively. "And anyway, he's different now. He's not at all the nasty person he used to be. After the accident, he just ... started leaving people alone, and he's told me his father-" Harry hesitated, wanting to protect Draco's privacy. "Well, he's not going off to Voldemort or anything," he finished.
"Well, I'm certainly glad to hear that," Hermione answered. "And I'll grant you that he hasn't said two words to me, either good or bad, since his return. But I still don't know how you can just forget six years of abuse, Harry. He did some pretty awful things to you over the years."
"And to you two, as well." Harry gave voice to what Hermione had left unspoken; he knew they were all thinking it anyway. "I know, I know," he sighed. "But - it's like he's a different person now, and the little bastard was someone else entirely. We're friends now."
"All right," Hermione sighed, after a moment's pause. "Well, we'll have to take your word for it." Then she looked at him more sternly. "But you have to talk to him."
"What?" Harry flinched back at the thought. "No. No, I can't."
"Harry, you have to. If you're really friends, like you say you are, then you can't just cut it off over something like this. I'm betting you didn't even tell him why you ran off, did you?"
"What am I supposed to say? 'Sorry, can't study with you because I want to snog you'?"
"Too much information," Ron muttered.
"Well, you have to say something," she insisted.
Harry just shook his head. "I can't."
Draco Malfoy was furious.
First, he had been confused. Then hurt. Now he had moved on to full-blown anger.
Harry's behaviour at the start of the week had been strange. Although he'd seemed fairly normal after Saturday's events, and their interaction in Care of Magical Creatures on Monday had been too brief to judge, by that evening he'd become progressively more stilted. Then he'd abruptly disappeared in a flurry of words which hadn't made any sense and certainly didn't pass for an explanation.
At first he'd been worried. Was Harry sick? Had something happened? Nightmares? Was he in trouble? Draco had finished his evening's work alone, one corner of his mind constantly replaying what had happened in the study room that night, wondering what was wrong. He'd been enjoying the other boy's company; true to his word, Harry had not brought up Draco's emotional collapse on Saturday, and Draco found that, instead of making things awkward, the event somehow served to make him feel closer to Harry. Like a shared secret between them. And to have him nearby again ... it made Draco feel good. But then Harry had suddenly stammered out some empty excuse and had fled, his footsteps rapidly dissipating, leaving behind a stunned silence.
In Potions there was rarely the opportunity to talk, as Professor Snape generally kept them hard at work; also, Harry sat with his friends at the table behind Draco, affording little chance for direct interaction. But during class the next day, he realised Harry was directly ahead of him in line to get ingredients from Snape when he heard the Gryffindor answer a question from the professor. Seizing the chance, he reached out grabbed the first thing he could find, which happened to be Harry's arm.
"Are you okay?" he whispered as the other boy turned to leave. "Where did you go?"
But Harry had pulled out of his grasp and disappeared out of range without a word, making Draco initially doubt his identification. He was almost positive he'd had the right person; even through his robes, the radiant warmth of his skin was apparent, that distinctive feel which marked him. And the voice he'd heard previously had definitely been Harry's.
Still ... there was always the slim possibility another student had been next to Harry, and perhaps he had grabbed the wrong person. There wasn't any other opportunity for Draco to single the other boy out for the rest of the class, but when Harry failed to show up for his usual study time that night, it became blatantly obvious that the Gryffindor was avoiding him. Why?
He wondered if it was because of Saturday after all. Harry had seemed to take it all in stride, but perhaps Draco had said too much, had been too weak. Harry was a Gryffindor, after all, brave and strong and whatever other traits the Sorting Hat claimed. There was no room for weakness. He'd already criticised Draco's self-pitying once, long before Draco himself had been willing to own up to it. Was that it? Had he abandoned Draco over this, become sick of dealing with him and his disability?
But what about the face touching? That incredible moment between them - or at least, that's how it had seemed to him. He did not think he could have misinterpreted Harry's feelings then - there was no lying with touch. Harry had never been very good at keeping emotions off of his face, so presumably even then, if he'd felt something negative, Draco should have been able to pick up on it with his hands.
Then again, that moment had been immediately after all the other events. The Gryffindor had just played a full game of Quidditch, then had taken Draco flying, witnessed his outburst, and had gone right on to touching him. Perhaps it had been only later, in the intervening day and a half, that he'd reconsidered his position.
This was when hurt had set in. Draco had told himself all along not to depend on anyone, not to show weakness, not to open himself up. And he had done it anyway. He had let Harry help him, even though it couldn't have possibly equaled the help the other boy claimed to receive in return. He had told Harry things he had never told anyone. He had touched him, flown as one with him, felt his heartbeat under his fingers ... and now he was gone.
Draco's reaction, once realisation set in, was to re-isolate himself. The first forays he'd made with his Slytherin housemates were withdrawn, and he once again went through his entire day speaking to no one unless absolutely necessary. Having tasted even that small bit of companionship with his housemates, and after all the time spent with the Gryffindor, the sudden solitude was agonising. But he was determined. No one would reject him again. He re-committed himself to his determination to make it on his own, without anyone. No one. Not even Harry. Especially not Harry.
But he couldn't stop thinking about Harry. The more he thought, in all those hours when he sat alone, the angrier he became. Harry was always telling Draco he should talk more. Talk to people instead of isolating himself, talk about his troubles, talk, talk, talk. Yet Harry had pulled away without one fucking word to him in explanation. Draco had laid himself bare by admitting everything that was going on inside of him - the least Harry could do would be explain himself. He'd forced Draco to face some of his demons - like flying - yet had now run away from whatever the fuck his current problem was.
Well, fine. Draco didn't need him. He'd never needed him. And just to prove to himself that he was bigger than Harry, by the end of the week he decided to re-enter the Slytherin social sphere after all. He wouldn't open up to them like he had to the Gryffindor, but he decided there was little harm in joining them for some house-bashing now and then. He wondered if Harry still sat facing the Slytherins; he hoped he did. Let him see Draco talk with Blaise and laugh at Malcolm's stupid jokes and get along just fine without him.
But late at night, in the sheltered world behind his bedcurtains, the laughter often turned to tears. Tears of anger at himself and at Harry. And tears of loss, for something nameless which had crept up and made his life better, which had given him a few bright glimpses in his dark universe. His hands would trace over his own features, over his damp lashes and solemn mouth, trying to remember the moment Harry's gentle fingers had touched not just his face, but his entire being. All that was left now was a hollow emptiness, echoing with an unnamed emotion.
But such feelings had long been removed from his vocabulary, and he would not allow himself to recognise what it was he wanted.
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