Part 4 - One of Us Falls
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
That I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me,
and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
They had learned to just accept that he was in a foul mood. Draco flew back and forth across the pitch, calling out the occasional not particularly helpful bit of advice to the chasers below him ("Hey! What are you playing, exploding snap, or Quidditch? Pay attention!" "God, is that best you can do? I could beat that with an elastic band and a toothpick!"), half-heartedly looking for the snitch, but mostly just being morose. He had been thinking altogether too much in the last few days. He felt collapsed upon himself; three walls still standing, and nothing but rubble inside. This is all Potter's fault.
It had hit him in potions, and had just not stopped hitting him. He had stared at that parchment, sitting in his chair by the fire, until even Pansy had given up on trying to distract him and gone up to bed. 'Kiss.' It wasn't that he was angry, that he was upset that Potter had beat him to finishing the riddles. It wasn't a contest, after all, and Draco wasn't interested in the silly thing because he wanted to be the only one to get them right. (One of us falls but never breaks. The other breaks but never falls. What are we?) He had done it because he had enjoyed it. And enjoying it had underscored for him, yet again, how very different he was from his Slytherin compatriots, how very unique he was among his peers; it had reminded him why he was lonely, why he always felt so broken.
There was a part of him the others could not reach, and would never reach. Not only because he was smarter than them, though he was certain that he was, but because there were things about him that would simply not interest them. For instance: Draco had already read this year's history textbook from cover to cover, and could discuss in some detail the period from the Black Death to the Salem witch trials. Over the summer he had found other, better books on the subject, some of them even written by muggles. He had, in fact, already done serious work on his final paper (about the very thin line between being accused of being a witch and being heralded a saint in the 1600s), which was not due for another eight months. While they all ritually complained about Arithmancy, he quite enjoyed it. He loved to knit numbers together and see how they could change the course of completely ordinary spells. In the last few years, he had been learning French, because when he was abroad one summer with his father, he had been ashamed to only speak one language. He had genuinely enjoyed the riddles; he loved the metaphors, he loved the inevitability of them. There was no contest. But why, of all people, did Potter have to be equally interested?
They call me a man, but I'll never have a wife. I was given a body, but not given life. They made me a mouth, but didn't give me breath. Water gives me life and sun brings me death. What am I? Potter had done the same thing; they had lingered over these same riddles, working them out, flipping them upside down and backwards, ignored their friends to concentrate on it. Draco could not help but wonder. What would it have been like, had Potter been a Slytherin, if they could have sit in front of the fire together, their feet sharing an ottoman, reading these riddles aloud, debating them, free-associating, scratching down answers, claiming victories where there were none. He would watch Potter shove his glasses up the bridge of his nose, and trace a long, slim finger along the page, reading aloud, "A wee wee man in a red coat. Staff in my hand, stone in my throat. What am I? Other than your uncle Brutus, of course." And Draco would laugh, kick his leg lightly, throw him a vicious smile and say, "I worked that one out while you were struggling with the last one." And Potter would roll his eyes, throw a cushion, threaten to fight him for it, if he wasn't prepared to be cooperative. And then Draco's mind drifted a little, and they were no longer in the Slytherin common room, but they were up in the seventh year dorm, curtains drawn, parchments discarded at the foot of Draco's bed, his tongue in Potter's mouth and his fingers dancing on the back of Potter's tanned thigh. Oh, this was where things got complicated. What force and strength cannot get through, I with a gentle touch can do. And many in the street would stand, were I not a friend at hand. What am I?
And so he had sat after hours, the fire burning lower, staring at the parchment and not seeing it, but seeing through it to what could have been, his eyes drooping shut with desire as he thought about where his roving hands would travel next along that hidden skin, and what it would sound like to hear Potter speak to him with that gruff voice that comes form being touched in all the right places, with the right hands, how he could play that body like an instrument and hear it sing to him. You can see me. You can feel me. If you touch me, you will die. What am I? He didn't finish it, he didn't hear the pops and bangs and see the sparkling bright colours dance around his head. He did not write that one last word on it, 'kiss'. He couldn't, not now. He threw the parchment in the fire and watched it burn green. It was profoundly unfair, he thought, and, all at once profoundly right, to discover that you are not only evenly matched with your archenemy, but that he might be the only one who can challenge you the way you want, no, the way you need to be challenged. That he is the only one you're not certain you can break. How can I not have seen this before? And what am I supposed to do, now that I have seen it?
He considered performing a memory charm on himself. Wasn't he better off not knowing this? Not knowing, with that sick kind of finality, that the person best suited for him was someone he hated, someone who hated him in return? How he would have to grovel and beg, how he would have to curl himself under, tame himself, cut back his talons and swallow his pride in order to press even one fingertip against that famous skin? Would he be forgiven? Did he want to be forgiven?
He shot haphazardly across the pitch, taking a leisurely turn around the goal post and zipping back, hovering high above the other players, almost out of earshot. Doubtless they were relieved by this; his remarks bit meaner and meaner until he was fairly certain he saw a threatening look from Goyle, his fist gripped tightly on his bat. He wondered for a moment if Goyle would be even slightly sympathetic to his plight. "Greg, I think I may be falling for the wrong person." "So stop falling." No, this wasn't something he could discuss. The mere weight of its truth, its inevitability, pressed his lips shut. It made him angry, so angry he thought he would burst. Do Gooder, muggle lover, son of a mudblood, enemy of lord Voldemort, my father hates him. I hate him. He slammed his fist into his broom, dipping himself forward a little, and then righting himself.
Maybe it was just a phase, maybe it was just something to keep him entertained in his last year. There was always something appealing about the unattainable. Harry Potter was a challenge, a trinket, a possible notch on his bedpost, a foreign land on the horizon, ripe for conquest. And while Draco never, ever bragged about his conquests, this one would indeed make an impressive one. "Why yes, I did fuck The Boy Who Lived. It was surprisingly disappointing, really. You'd expect something special, wouldn't you; perhaps a bit of a death curse tingle to him. But no. He's just flesh and blood, just like every one else. What? No, no, I don't miss him. I certainly didn't love him. I almost regret it, really, it was so silly, so awkward." He sighed. If only this were so easy, if only he were so nonchalant.
He had received an owl from his father that morning. Along with the customary greetings, questions, and complaints from his mother, he had inserted a rather curious line: "Keep alert, be ready. I expect to collect you in a couple of weeks. It is time." Draco knew very well what this meant, and had been expecting something like it for some time. It's time for politics, time to make statements and be claimed. Time to make a decision about his future, a decision that really took no deciding at all.
It was really all worked out somewhere else, which Draco resented. Didn't they want people who came to them of their own will? Perhaps his assent was just assumed. Even though his loyalty was fairly secure, it riled him that no one had really bothered to give him the opportunity to voice it on his own. Why didn't they want to woo him, come to him in secret, try to convince him to join them? Tell him how much his brains would be valued, commend him for his clear superiority over his enemies and his friends. Look how the others bowed and scraped at the wave of his hand, look how his control over them was complete. His facial expressions alone conveyed his desires to his compatriots, and they always complied. Did he not deserve better than a curt summons from his father?
Crabbe and Goyle were vicious players, simply vicious. They were busy batting bludgers with mad abandon while the chasers, including the entire second string team, were fighting each other for goals. The snitch, of course, was no where in sight. Draco had not actually released it. He didnt feel like playing today, he felt like shouting and whining and complaining loudly. He zipped lazily around the field, and then started taking quick spins around the towers, practicing sharp corners, diving down, curling around the tips of pointed cupolas and breezing along gargoyle noses. It was on one of these passes that he caught sight of something through a window. It was a tassel, a red tassel, dangling from a four poster bed, upon which was well, something else. Draco spun upside down, retracing his flight, landing square opposite the window, stopping almost dead in the air. He peered.
It wasn't really that dramatic, what he saw. It was a dorm room, clearly. From the colours, Draco could tell that it was a Gryffindor dorm room, at that. Beds, all made, trunks along the foot of each, covered with various bits of clothing, scraps of paper and books. The bed directly in his line of sight was rumpled, as though someone had not only sat on it, but had twisted and jumped on it as well. The trunk before it had a pile of books on one side of it rather than on top, topped with a dumpy pair of socks. On the nightstand, Draco saw a rough-looking wooden instrument, possibly a flute of some variety; a photo album getting worn around the edges; a broomstick servicing kit; a small Quidditch figurine; a half-empty box of Bertie Botts beans; an old pair of glasses. But what had caught his eye was a jumper tossed haphazardly on the mussed-up bed. It was red, with a single letter on the front: H.
Potter's bed, Potter's things. Draco marveled a little at the simplicity of it, his ease at finding this perch, the serendipitous placement of Harry's bed, angled so perfectly for the hungry eyes of a hovering visitor. If Harry were there now, asleep, Draco would be able to watch his chest rise and fall, he would be able to note whether he slept on his stomach, his back, or his side; whether he opened his mouth a little, had dreams or nightmares, snored, or tossed around; he would know what he wore to bed, and whether or not he talked in his sleep, and if he did, he would be able to hear what he said, all with a completely unobstructed view. So here they were, way up here in the sky. Nice view, probably draughty as hell in the winter. Good light, though. East-facing. So. Potter wakes up every morning with the sun in his eyes. I wonder if he likes that.
Draco realized he had probably hovered too long, looking like a peeping tom, and swooped down, somersaulted, sailed back up again, checking to see if he could find the window again. Yes, right beside the grinning gargoyle with the big ears. He wasn't prepared to leave, but realized, looking over at the pitch and seeing Madam Hooch scanning the sky, that he didn't have much choice. He glanced over at the dorm room again, a piece of stillness and silence while the wind was rushing in his ears.
"Accio glasses!" He said firmly, and felt the cool, smooth lenses against his palm, the arms, curled and tooth-marked on the ends, tucked behind his fingertips. One hand on his broom, the other clutching his treasure against his hip, he shot up into the air, circled twice around herbology garden, and zipped back to the game.
He saw Madam Hooch in the growing darkness standing on the pitch, her robes swirling around her in the wind, holding Pritchard back with one hand and hollering at Crabbe. Draco didn't really wonder what had happened, but was glad for the distraction. He slipped the glasses into his pocket, feeling one of the lenses slip back and forth, a little wobbly in its frame. One of the arms was hanging slightly lower than the other, digging lightly into his thigh; a broken spring made it bounce back and forth as he moved. By the time he was within earshot, Madam Hooch was ordering them all down.
"That's it." She spat. "I think your practice has gone on quite long enough. Mr. Goyle, please escort Mr. Pritchard to the hospital wing, and Mr. Crabbe." She snarled. Draco was always oddly impressed with Madam Hooch. She could snarl like no woman he'd ever seen. She was glaring meaningfully Crabbe, who was twisting his lips and cracking his knuckles. "You will come with me. I believe we need to have a discussion about what kinds of behaviour are appropriate on the Quidditch pitch. If you want to behave like a first year, you shall be treated like one."
She turned to walk off the pitch, and the rest of the team hurriedly collected their equipment and headed for the locker room has he touched down, smoothing back his hair, looking bored. It was getting dark anyway. "Mr. Malfoy." She said, over her shoulder. "Since you're less than interested in Quidditch today, I would like you to go find Ms. Weasley. She's walking out past the pasturage, please tell her it's past time to come in."
" You want me to"
"You heard me, Mr. Malfoy. Unless," she said, her robes billowing around her as she turned sharply, "you'd like to join your friend Mr. Crabbe." She raised an eyebrow.
"Weasley. In the pasturage. I've got it." He said smoothly. He rolled his eyes and hopped back on his broom, leaving the rest to lug this equipment back inside.
He didn't go straight to the pasturage, but slipped back up, high in the growing blackness, gliding along the edge of the forest with one hand in his pocket. He didn't dare pull the glasses out (what if he dropped them?) but just ran his hand over them, sliding his index finger between the lenses, feeling the warming metal under his skin, stroking one thin arm with a searching fingertip, feeling it spring back and forth against him.
Why had he done it? It was profoundly stupid, really, stealing a pair of glasses. Well, Potter didn't need them, did he. He had had new ones for some time, a better pair. Draco hadn't known that these broken, but it didn't matter. It made it that much less likely that Potter would miss them. He didn't know what he was going to do with them, but for the moment they felt so good in his hand, cool, smooth, flawed and solid, brushing against his leg through the thin material of his robe as he shifted on his broom. He wondered how easy it would be snap them in half. Pressing the thin metal between the lenses against his knuckle, the part that would have sat on the bridge of Harry's nose, he decided not to find out. He would keep them intact. He thumbed one of the ear pieces, rife with Harry's teethmarks, until the skin started to numb.
He spotted Weasley, but just barely. She was nearly to the edge of the pasturage now. He dipped down and landed just a few yards from her. She seemed to decide to return on her own, and turned. She nearly jumped when she saw him, and then her expression soured.
"I was sent to fetch you," he said curtly, hauling his broom over his shoulder. This was so tiresome. Weasley was looking very strange lately. She had dyed her hair some random colour which looked like a murky green. She had packed on some kind of fleshy coloured cream on her face, which was now streaked with black mascara rivulets that streamed down her face and under her chin. She barely looked like a Weasley at all anymore, without the red hair. She looked like a right mess. "Hooch thought you might be lost. Or something." He noted. "Not that I want to get in the way of another daring, brave Gryffindor adventure, but it was this or detention."
Weasley sighed. "Well. I was just heading back anyway." She looked heartbroken. Again. In fact, this Weasley always looked heartbroken. He knew what it was about this time, and it annoyed him to no end to know that he had suffered right along with her.
At dinner, Potter had carried on a very irresistibly public and painful conversation that batted back and forth across the room, all with his hands, mouthed words, smiles, and flirty facial expressions, with Anna Phoenix at the Ravenclaw table. She tittered with her friends, pointing at his antics, whispering into ear others ears. Anna turned red and hid her face. Potter waggled his eyebrows, and tossed a dinner roll in the air, catching it behind his back. Anna's friends hooted loudly. Some kind of inside joke, no doubt. Draco had scowled and narrowed his eyes, watching Potter smile more and more widely, as the weasel, hanging on his shoulder, whispered something. Potter nodded to him, looked back over to Anna, stuck out his tongue and winked at her. Draco pulled his eyes away and stared into his potatoes. This was simply unbearable, unbearable because he couldn't not watch. In that moment, he was aware of two things: how much he hated Potter, and how much he wanted Potter to smile like that in his direction.
When he looked up again, the first thing he saw was the younger Weasley, her oddly coloured hair hanging loosely around her shoulders. She was looking into her potatoes as well, her lip curled under her teeth, apparently on the brink of tears. She sat farther down the table, the girls around her chatting amiably, not paying any attention to the giggling girls at the Ravenclaw table, to Potter's antics, or to the profoundly morose Weasley. Granted, she always looked morose, so there wasn't much difference there. She looked up then, flashing her black fingernails as she rubbed her temple. She said something to the girl next to her, who nodded, smiled, and patted her arm, and then she stood. She paused a moment, and Draco knew what she was thinking. Will he notice me leaving? Will he come after me, wonder what's wrong? Will he gather me up in his arms and comfort me over this unknown upset? The overlong moment passed without even a glance from Potter. She sighed and walked stiffly out of the Great Hall. Potter really has no idea what an asshole he is. No idea at all.
Draco understood why she was crying, and why she was wandering around in the dark with her fists clenched, not even noticing that night had fallen it she was out after hours. He hated to admit just how well he understood it, and refused to.
"Hes hardly worth all those tears, Weasley." He said easily, even a little scornfully. He was fingering a lens in his pocket as he said it. The irony of this was not lost on him. He felt something growing in the pit of his stomach, something that was not anger, but was a profound sadness. Looking at her, mascara streaming down her face, her eyes puffy, her odd-coloured hair, he realized that it wasn't that pretty little Anna Phoenix who was going to get that beautiful, lopsided Potter grin in the end. No, it was far, far more likely to be this one, his best friend's sister, the sad, loyal, giving soul who Potter had never even noticed at school. It would be a storybook wedding, with the biggest cake, the most guests, the best weather. The sun would hover a moment before setting that day, there would be nothing ordinary about it from start to finish. Potter would pay for everything, of course. Potter was a hero, he would rescue poor little Ginny Weasley from her poverty, he would pay back the Weasley clan for their kindnesses to him over the years, for those funny sweaters he got for Christmas every year, for those big hugs they gave him every year at the train station. He would sweep that once redheaded girl off her feet and her brother would be his best man. Draco wouldn't even be invited to the wedding, and for that he would actually be glad. He could never watch Potter vow himself to this girl. He would be sick in the punch bowl. She looked at him angrily, and rolled her eyes.
"Dont call me that. My name is Ginny. Ginny, got it?" She was yelling, her fists flailing in the air. Draco was hardly surprised by her anger. He was angry himself. Somehow, watching her lose her temper calmed him. Yes, this was a recognizable emotion. For a moment, as long as she threw her arms around and yelled at him, he didn't feel a need to do so anymore. He felt in control, and decided to keep controlling. He wanted to shove himself into that fantasy world she would one day inhabit. A self-insert that would matter to no one but him. She tried to get past him, but he kept dodging left, right, not letting her go, watching her anger mount, smirking. She growled, stopped dead in front of him, and wrapped her arms across her chest.
"What the hell do you want, Malfoy? Got tired of harassing the wonder boy and my brother? Feeling some sadistic need to taunt defenseless girls?"
He chuckled. "Everyone needs a hobby. And I never get tired of harassing the wonder boy and his pet weasel. Theyre just not here at the moment. You are." He looked at her calmly, planning his next move. Women were profoundly easy for Draco to understand. They liked attention more than anything. Undivided attention, quiet scrutiny, as if they are all that exists in the world, as if they are fascinating. This was the easiest thing in the world to do. You needed to simply wait, and watch. The engaged in some random banter, which Draco used to get himself closer. The future Mrs. Potter would always have this on her conscience, he considered. To her dying day, it would be him that she had kissed first. Perhaps her husband would hate her for it. Perhaps it would be the secret she would take her to her grave.
When she leaned in and kissed him, finally, he nearly laughed. Oh, yes. This was indeed the future Mrs. Potter. All innocence and inexperience. He let her presume control for a moment or two, letting her try to entice him. Would this work on Potter? This limp, powerless, uncertain and sloppy performance? Would the bareness of it, the presumed honesty of it, make Potter tremble with pleasure? He sensed embarrassment wash over her at his non-reaction, and with a split-second decision, he showed her what a kiss should be. Both soft and powerful, speaking without words, he poured out a series of statements: you are very, very lucky to get Potter, and you should be thankful every single day you wake up with him beside you. Because inevitably you will, and inevitably you will never really understand what kind of a gift you've been given. And when you want to show him how you feel, you do it like this. And you should know, above all, that this is what he could have had. This is what he gave up in order to pay back your parents for their trifling kindnesses, kindnesses I should have been wise enough to offer him. And now that you've tasted it, at least this much will go into that world with you. He pulled back, having said his piece, and saw the dreamy look on her face.
"Youre wearing too much make up." He noted. "You look like a whore." He didn't wait for a reaction. He turned and walked away, and within a few moments hopped back on his broom and shot back up into the night sky.
More than anything, he was conscious of the object in his pocket, which he pulled out now, convinced by his inability to see the forest below that he would not drop anything into it, and pressed the warm glass against his lips. He thought about those brown arms emerging from the water, ending in almost comically white shoulders; his lopsided grin; his voice speaking in hisses (could he be prompted to say dirty things parseltongue?); that determined look, when they sized each other up in duels, in class, in the hallway, across the Great Hall, on the Quidditch pitch, the way he never, never backed down. The thought of it made his blood burn. He had a flash of memory of seeing Harry on his knees, his hands caressing loose earth in the herbology garden. But as the thought hit him now, Draco saw him not to smoothing away weeds and making way for a new nightshade bulb, but stroking him, not kneeling in the dirt with his friends but straddling him in the garden, alone, the dirty crescents of his fingernails leaving smudges on his desperate, naked skin, his hands leaving long trails of damp earth across him. And when the snake slithered past, it wrapped itself around Draco's neck and strangled him.
"I hate you, Potter," he whispered, slipping lower in the sky. He circled the tower twice, peering at the gargoyles, but most of them seemed to have overly large ears, and all of them were grinning.
One of us falls but never breaks.
The other breaks but never falls.
What are we? Night and day!
They call me a man, but I'll never have a wife.
I was given a body, but not given life.
They made me a mouth, but didn't give me breath.
Water gives me life and sun brings me death.
What am I? A snowman!
A wee wee man in a red coat.
Staff in my hand, stone in my throat.
What am I? A cherry!
What force and strength cannot get through,
I with a gentle touch can do.
And many in the street would stand,
were I not a friend at hand.
What am I? A key!
You can see me. You can feel me.
If you touch me, you will die.
What am I? The sun!
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