Part 18 - Achilles
Now I see your face before me; I would launch a thousand ships
to bring your heart back to my island as the sand beneath me slips.
I burn up in your presence, and I know now how it feels
to be weakened like Achilles with you always at my heels.
Indigo Girls, Ghost
Draco collapsed against a couch in the southwest common room, his ankle fiery with pain, his ribs aching, the echo of Potter's fingers against his forearm still fresh and resonating through him, Potter's fingers trailing over his ribs, touching his knees, caressing his face, reaching down to his ankles. He leaned back and closed his eyes, relinquishing himself to this careful stroking, considering his hopelessness, his utter lack of power, his profound failure to maintain the upper hand with the stupidest of Death Eater children, and now thoroughly shaken by his unexpected rescue, by the gentleness of these fingers, wet with his own tears, hovering over his skin, touching him sweetly where he hurt. As though they were both underwater, their bodies seemed to slow to a leisurely pace, each touch, breath, accompanied by a chorus of echoes rippling over them. Harry touched his calf and Draco felt the reverberation of those fingertips undulate languidly over his chest, his jaw, ruffle softly through his hair.
Harry Potter, appearing out of thin air. The smell of his skin was still strong in Draco's nose. Pain, and pleasure. This gentle petting, erotic and innocent. It was all too confusing, there was too much going on at once. His father, hiring boys to beat him to a thin pulp; Filch, a Death Eater sympathizer; Dumbledore not only aware of Draco's struggles but bending to help him escape the inevitable punishment; his secrets revealed in (almost) all quarters; the sudden appearance of Harry Potter, with an invisibility cloak, offering sanctuary; fingers, Harry's fingers, against him. Unexpected, impossible bliss. It was all like a fantasy, a dream, wonderful and horrible.
"Come here," Potter had whispered, glancing over at the door slammed shut and locked from the outside moments before, the sound of fast footfalls still loud against the cold stone floor outside. "Quickly." He raised an invisible arm, only his hand, palm open, visible, an invitation, and Draco saw the cloak Harry was wearing from the inside. It looked burnished, like dusty gold or tarnished brass. It reminded him of Gryffindor, of tassels hanging from red and yellow banners in the Great Hall, of the gold leaf edging around the portrait that guarded the Gryffindor common room. It had a faint pattern, vines and leaves, fruit.
Draco had seen an invisibility cloak before, once, long ago. His great uncle had one, and kept it in a locked box at the foot of his bed. But one night when his uncle was very drunk and very bored he pulled out a half-broken, rusted key and unlocked it.
"Look here, little man," he said to Draco. "Look!" He unfolded the cloak, all silver gray and shimmering, holding it up so that Draco could see the candlelight through it. Rather than burnished, it looked cold and gray like stormy afternoon, with silvery threads woven through it. He pulled Draco's arm a little too roughly toward him and Draco squeaked, his toes ramming against the rusted edge of the box.
"It's pretty, is it?" His uncle said, his whiskey-rank breath making Draco wrinkle his nose. He didn't care what his uncle had, or how pretty it was, he wanted to go back into the sitting room with his mother, he wanted to play with his toy broom, once broken and now fixed by his father, but his arm was gripped between his uncle's thumb and forefinger.
"Now watch this," his uncle said, draping the silvery cloak over Draco's wrist. Draco watched his hand disappear. His forearm suddenly ended with a sharp edge, a stump. Draco laughed nervously and moved his fingers to test that they were still there; he was unimpressed and already bored with this game. This was the same uncle who claimed to steal his nose, who pretended he could snip off the tip of his thumb and hold it in his fingers. All sleight-of-hand, attempts to frighten Draco. He would not be frightened.
And so Potter had saved him, when there was no other means of escape. After some terrified and pointless banter, he had accepted the invitation of this invisible embrace, he had walked into those open arms, felt Potter's elbows on his shoulders, Potter's breath on his face. For a moment there was nothing, as if, hidden inside an invisibility cloak, he could see nothing, he was nothing, he ceased to exist at all, like a flame snuffed out. But when the door banged open and two sets of heavy feet tromped into the tiny room, his senses returned; the taste of blood in his mouth, the pounding pain in his ankle, the angry tears dripping from his swollen eye, the smell of Harry, of soap, wool, cantaloupe, strawberries, the sweet undertone of cream and the sweet-saltiness of sweat. He breathed in and smelled his rainy, rich smell, like chocolate and pussy willows, spring fog. He closed his eyes.
They stood there, in the shadow of the door flung open, while Fischer and Lestrange pounded their thick feet against the floor and moaned about having lost him again.
"A rat," Fischer said. "I bet he found one." Leaping through walls, they must have imagined. Party tricks that come in handy, the wizard that could not be contained.
"He can't have gotten far," Lestrange grunted. When they left the door was ajar and creaking in the draught.
But this series of events had become secondary in Draco's mind, the pantomime that went on in the background. Elbows on his shoulders, the smell of cream and cantaloupe and pussy willows, breath on his face; Draco had one hand pressed against his chest, his elbow nudged against Harry's stomach, his other hand touching the wall through the cloak just against Harry's hip. They were both trying to still their breathing, make themselves as silent, quiet as thin air, and each breath, in a syncopated rhythm, drew their bodies temporarily closer, and then farther apart. Draco could feel Harry's breath rather than hear it; it was hot against his cheek, trembling in Harry's stomach against his elbow.
There was a point when Lestrange was so close he almost touched Draco's back; he leaned over to throw the armchair to the floor in frustration and Draco pressed himself closer to Harry, his head curling under, his lips grazing Harry's shoulder. He felt the elbows resting on his shoulders shift, the cloak tighter around them both, Draco felt Harry take a deep breath and hold it in his lungs as Lestrange's body passed in front of them, and then moved farther away to the right. Draco was aware of this, aware of his danger, but was less afraid, somehow. He felt that he was safe, that he could hide here, in this body, against this skin, in the smell of strawberries and rain. In Draco's mind it wasn't the cloak at all that conferred this immunity; it was Harry Potter, the weight of his arms on Draco's shoulders, his seam of his jeans rubbing against the inside of Draco's wrist. Harry exhaled slowly and quietly into Draco's neck.
When Lestrange and Fischer had left again, stomping like wild elephants down the corridor, swearing and huffing, Potter let him go, arms dropped to his sides, the cloak hiding him again partially, and Draco stepped back. He felt cold and shivered a little, looked down at his ankle, squeezed his hands into fists. Potter chewed his lip for a moment, and glanced around the room.
"We need to get out of here. It's not safe."
Draco nodded, unwilling to argue. Potter looked at his face, and then his eyes trailed down his body. "You don't look too well." Draco blushed and twisted his lips. "Do you think you can walk?"
Draco huffed. "I expect so," he said coldly. He was uncomfortable, his face red and hot, and still in a great deal of pain. He took one careful step toward the door and winced.
Before long, and without really knowing how, Draco found himself under the invisibility cloak again, his arms wrapped around Harry's shoulders for support, hobbling down the hallway. It was a familiar body now, familiar in forbidden ways, in memories open only in those half-conscious moments between sleep and waking, in weak moments under the shower, or while flying, between formulas in Arithmancy, while trudging alone down the stairs toward the Slytherin dorm. His thumb stroked Harry's collarbone, his lips brushed across the back of Harry's neck.
He was mesmerized. Potter. Rescuing him. Potter, letting him touch. His ribs were stoking him with red pain, his ankle was pounding and sending jolts of agony through him with each motion, every step, but he grasped at Harry like a lover, and somehow this made it worth all the suffering. He embraced Harry as though it were okay, as though it were the most normal thing in the world for him to do. And Harry did not object. When they stopped at a corner with two sets of stairs before them (one angling up and to the right, the other curling down into the belly of dungeons), Harry reached up an absent hand and stroked Draco's forearm, grasped his wrist comfortingly and squeezed.
"Left or right here?" he whispered. Draco had suggested an abandoned common room close by. At some point the Slytherin dorms had not been in the dungeons; they had been two floors up and in a sunny, western wing of Hogwarts. The low-lying rooms, curled around a bushy courtyard with an elaborate fountain in the middle, had been deemed to open and too accessible when the Chamber of Secrets opened and all hell broke loose, and the dorms had been moved further down into the recesses of Hogwarts. Draco knew this because professor Vector had told him the story, one day long ago, when he was homesick.
"When Tom Riddle was a student here, Draco," he had said. "This was where the Slytherins would meet and talk. This is the best place to see a sunset in the entire school, but everyone has forgotten. Now sometimes they use the study spaces on the floor above, but they leave the common room alone. They don't like to remember, you know. That's the trouble. They don't want to remember." Draco would sit there alone sometimes, when he was sad or frustrated, and take a nap on one of the overstuffed couches, thinking of Tom Riddle, snakes, and gossip.
"Left," Draco said, cringing a little, looking at the stairs.
"It's okay," Harry said, his thumb sliding over Draco's wrist. "I'll help." And he did. He turned and gripped Draco around the waist, helping him shift his weight off of his broken ankle with each step. It seemed to take years. Hold Potter, shift weight, hop, wince, breathe. Hold Potter. "Almost there," Harry whispered, his lips so close to Draco's ear that he shivered.
Does he know? He must know. He must guess, now, of all moments, that it had been Draco who had kissed him last term, in the dark. That it had been Draco who had saved him in the hospital wing. He must remember the sleepy kisses they had shared, the way his eyes opened, then closed again. He must guess that Draco had purposely gotten them detentions together, that he had challenged him to a fencing rematch because he liked him, because he wanted to be close to him. He must remember that moment, when Draco had pulled the foil out of his chest, when he had steadied Draco, pressed his hand against his wound and looked at him with that deep concern, when they had looked at each other, shocked, startled, confused. He must remember it all. He must know. Potter had turned again, pulled Draco's arms over his shoulders, his hands rubbing back and forth across them.
"Left or right?"
"First door on the right," Draco whispered. He rested his forehead against the back of Potter's neck, and they trekked onward.
He had collapsed onto the nearest couch when they arrived, and Potter was all hands. It was as if their journey to this place, entwined as they were, bodies tangled against each other, hands on chests, arms, backs against stomachs, faces on necks, lips, skin on skin, was a barrier broken. Harry leaned over and touched Draco's cheek where Fischer had punched him; he brushed his hand against Draco's fingers pressed against his ribs. It was as though Potter touched him because it was not only required, but expected, because somehow violence witnessed, and unjust violence at that, made Draco's body open for inspection, made his wounds belong to someone other than only him, made him touchable.
Perhaps, Draco mused, Potter felt guilty in a way, for having witnessed it. Maybe he felt some part in those wounds, that swollen eye, his aching ribs, his purple ankle thickening in his shoe. Though, even when Potter had done the damage himself, he had never touched him, not like this. He had never shown such interest, such beautiful, rapt attention. Draco said nothing, but threw his head back against the couch and closed his eyes, half from pain and half from shock, pleasure, joy at the not-so-subtle erotic nature Harry's hands against him, Harry's hands on him. Being touched, inspected, being looked at. By Harry Potter.
Millicent, who was not very tactful at the best of times, had said it once out loud, in front of him. She had tried to pull something out of his hair, some dust or a bit of paper. He had caught her arm before she had so much as touched a hair on his head and twisted it away from him.
"Ouch!" she squeaked, and exclaimed, "Well, aren't we the untouchable one."
She was not normally particularly insightful, but in this she was right. Draco had spent a great deal of time and effort establishing this precise thing; an air of untouchability. Clearly he could be touched, but only at his behest, only when it was requested, demanded. No one touched Draco, no one dared. Except for Potter. Potter slugged him, pushed him, Potter had wrestled him to the ground on more than one occasion. It had frustrated Draco, at first, that Potter would not acknowledge his boundaries. You may touch me now, you may not. Harry touched everyone as he pleased, up to and including Draco.
Draco vacillated on any given day between believing that this quality in Potter was a profound obliviousness, or that it was a form of seizing power over others. For the moment, he didn't care what it was. Harry's hands. He was holding Draco's ankle, one hand on his calf, the other under his heel. Draco winced.
For the first time he remembered that he was still in grave danger, perhaps among the gravest of all. Regardless of Potter's rather elegant and timely rescue, the real danger remained and intensified; what if Potter asked him something Draco did not want to answer? The veritaserum was still running strong in his veins. He gave in to exhaustion and sat still, losing himself in the sensation of those hands a moment longer. They moved down his calf and onto his swollen ankle, and Draco yelped.
"What are you doing?"
Potter was on the floor, sitting on his heels, removing Draco's shoe. "Your ankle," he said simply. "You should elevate it. Move your legs up onto the couch. I need a better look, but it's too dark. Do you think it's broken?"
Draco blinked, sighed, and shifted his legs onto the couch. "Yes, I think it is." He watched Potter remove his shoe and his sock, and trace his fingers lightly over his ankle. Draco pulled out his wand, whispered lumos and shielded his eyes, holding the wand at his hip and giving Potter some the light of it. He swore as Potter's fingers touched his rapidly swelling ankle more firmly.
"Sorry about that. Let me see if I can fix this." He pulled out his wand and paused a moment, collecting himself. He was still sitting on his heels, his face looking pale and tired in the sharp white glow from Draco's wand. He whispered a healing spell, and Draco was suddenly grateful that the healing of bones was a required skill on their Christmas exams. He could feel the cool wave emanating from Potter's wand enveloping his ankle, feeling it snap back into place, and then travel up his body, readjusting his ribs. He trembled a little, and Potter rested the palm of his hand against his forearm. As the wave tipped over his face, he felt Potter rather thoughtfully attempting to use a complicated painkilling spell they had learned several weeks prior, which Draco appreciated; it was partially successful and he breathed a sigh of relief. "I presume it will be a bit tender. It still looks pretty ugly."
Draco hmmed, and stuffed some pillows behind his head. "Better than it was. Thank you."
Potter half-smiled and then nodded, and sat down on the couch, his back pressed against Draco's knee. "Do you think they've gone then? Will they keep looking for you, do you imagine?"
"Yes, I expect so. My father will be here shortly."
"Hmm." He rose and walked toward the door they had passed through, and looked out. Draco extinguished his wand and sighed. The moon was rising in the south windows in front of them. He closed the doors firmly and quietly, and walked back to the couch where Draco lay, arriving sooner than he expected and kicking the edge, swearing under his breath. Draco chuckled. He sat down carefully on the edge of the couch and picked up the invisibility cloak, weaving it between his fingers.
Potter, Draco realized, was a very visceral person; he relied on touching things, on thought with his fingers and examined textures as closely as other people looked at things. He imagined, if Potter were to chose his own clothing, he would chose it entirely with his hands instead of his eyes. Suddenly it occurred to Draco that Harry was not necessarily oblivious or attempting to control people by touching them; it was simply the way he communicated, the way he understood things. Also: Harry Potter was an obsessive fidgeter. As Draco watched him, he saw him play with the cloak, bounce his knee, and run his fingers through his fringe four times. How interesting, Draco thought. He could only see the barest outline of him, golden-silver cloak shimmering in his hands, the gentle thumpthump of his foot bouncing against the floor.
Potter hmmed again, and turned toward Draco. "Why is your father coming here?"
"He wants to talk to me about some things I told Dumbledore today."
"What did you tell Dumbledore?"
"Everything." They were silent. Potter's leg continued to bounce, vibrating through his body and into Draco, who's knee was still pressed against Potter's lower back.
Suddenly they heard footsteps against the stairs; hard shoes, thumping, whispered voices. Potter froze, and then whirled the cloak around him and dove on top of Draco.
Draco realized that he had probably intended to land beside him, but he managed to end up half on top of him, half wedged between him and the old cushions, his face buried in the pillow Draco had shoved over to prop up his head. He had managed to avoid Draco's sore ankle by landing one leg between Draco's knees, one hand flung out over his head to cover them with the cloak, the other against Draco's opposite shoulder. He had landed squarely on Draco's open palm, which was now resting on Harry's waist where his shirt had ridden up. He quickly arranged the cloak over them, and turned his head and took a breath.
Suddenly there Harry was, his lips just barely touching Draco's. Draco should not have been facing this way, with his father in the corridor, the cloak over them, Potter flinging himself under it. Potter trying to protect him. But ever since he had first appeared in front of him, Draco could not stop looking at him, could not turn away. Potter was like the sun, low and orange in the sky as it sets, the kind of sun that blinds you but with colour so rich and so lovely that you simply can not bring yourself to turn away.
Draco was entranced by all of him; the gentle hands, the soft voice, his kind-hearted, single-minded heroism; the way he moved across the room, the slope of his shoulder, the soft heat of his breath, his fidgeting hands. Harry turned his head and brushed his lips against Draco's, and then stopped; lips against lips, mingled breath; darkness. Footsteps approaching. Harry didn't move. Draco felt like this was the most intimate and most erotic kiss of all time. So close, so restrained, so endlessly innocent. Still, he didn't move. Draco closed his eyes, thought about soft fingers against his calf, his ribs, his ankle, opened his mouth and pulled Harry's lower lip between his own, tracing a slow line across it with his tongue, and then let it go.
Draco had terrified himself. What am I doing? Was this the effect of the veritaserum? Doing what was truthful, what was real and burning and driving him mad? His heart beat double time, his fingers flexed involuntarily against Harry's waist. Please, please don't be angry. Draco didn't have the energy for this. He cursed himself and peered into the darkness, trying to see Harry's face. He could feel his breath, he still hadn't moved. Was this a good sign?
Outside he could hear his father's voice; he was scolding the boys for having lost Draco again, no doubt. He couldn't make out the words, but the tone was angry. Hard shoes slapped against the floor, and suddenly he saw light, he saw Harry's face, looking at him. He had bitten his lip forward, as if he were tasting it, as if he were tasting Draco. He felt a surge of pleasure, a surge of strange, strangled hope. Yes.
The door opened, and light filled the room. Draco cringed in the light, suddenly feeling terribly vulnerable. His father's presence was palpable, looking into the empty room and seeing nothing. Draco could feel the cool air from the hallway, could fell those steely eyes looking over the old common room, tallying the nothingness and processing it. His son, disappearing again when he was required. Such a disappointment. Draco cringed over this just as he registered the eyes, the face in front of him; Harry was looking at him. From the time Draco had first met Harry Potter, he had made no secrets about how he felt. Harry's face was very expressive; if he liked you, it showed; if he disliked you, or distrusted you, or was impressed with what you had said, or wanted to slug you hard, or was intrigued, it showed. The look on Harry's face now was shock, confusion, a question, and a tenderness that melted Draco's heart and sent fire into his groin.
The door shut, and left them in darkness again. There was a stillness, anticipation, between them for a few moments. Draco could feel Harry's heart beating just as fast as his own. He felt nervous, as if he had just walked into a thin tightrope and realized there was no net beneath him, no broom under his arm. What will you do, now that you know, Harry? What will you do?
Harry's hand shifted over from Draco's shoulder to his face, cupping his cheek, fingers stroking his jaw. He touched him the way he had touched him before; testing, comforting, finding injury and repairing it. What injury was this now, what repair did this hand offer? He turned his head and felt the heel of Harry's palm against his lips.
It's now or never, Draco thought, leaning forward, shifting his hand under the cloak and sliding his palm onto the back of Harry's neck at the same time as his lips pressed against Harry's.
He had kissed Harry unawares before; he had kissed Harry while he was unconscious and semi-conscious. Neither of these really compared to the strange tentativeness, the fire, the certainty and the confusion of kissing Harry when he was fully knowing, when he was apprised of all the details. There was no cloak of darkness hiding his identity, no sleepy dream-state; there could be no confusion in the very real pressure of Draco's mouth, his tongue sliding against Harry's half-parted lips. This was Draco Malfoy, the same Draco Malfoy whose fists had struck this face more times than he dared to count, the same Draco Malfoy who had teased, insulted, and threatened him over the years. This was Draco Malfoy, heir to Malfoy manor, son of Lucius Malfoy, Death Eater, soon to be servant of the Dark Lord, lying on his back, a sore ankle propped up on a cushion, his eye swollen shut, accidental tears running down his face, with his hand buried in Harry Potter's hair, with his mouth caressing Harry Potter's lips.
And nothing could stop him now, not this time. No politics, no intrusions, no sudden waking, because this was not a dream. No women with plans for revenge would spoil this, and neither would self-doubt, self-hatred, or confusion, because Harry Potter was kissing him back.
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