Author's Notes: Written for the Armchair Christmas Challenge 2003. A gift for Catia and is based on her gorgeous artwork, Rain. Thanks to Zed Adams for letting me pull you from your corporate responsibilities for an impromptu beta-reading session.
The Color of Water
Draco couldn’t remember everything that led to this moment. In fact, if someone asked him what he was doing right now, he wouldn’t be able to give a straight answer.
All he knew was that it was late, a blizzard was starting, and he was running—chasing after someone he could no longer see.
But he could tell exactly when it began.
[Two months ago]
Blaise Zabini downed his glass of vodka (smuggled of course), savoring the taste of the burning liquid down his throat. He looked up from the glass, revealing a pair of devious, deep blue eyes that were currently directed at his best friend, Draco Malfoy. As usual, Draco was engaged in his favorite common room monologue: How to make Harry Potter’s life miserable. Blaise sighed. Really, most of the time, Draco was fun to be with but when he was in this mood… Hah! Forget it.
As a Slytherin, Blaise couldn’t understand why Draco let the Gryffindor hero get so much under his skin. Generally, Draco was the coolest person he knew — he didn’t give a shit about anyone’s business or care what anyone thought of him. Except when it came to Harry Potter. The mere mention of The Boy Who Lived would be enough to make Draco’s blood boil.
Such hate. Sometimes, Blaise wondered if it were normal.
In his opinion, all Gryffindors were basically irritating goody-goodies and it would have been rare for a Slytherin to like one. But Draco hardly ever thought about the other Gryffindors. Just Potter.
“Drac…” He butted into the other boy’s graphic rendition of Harry Potter’s future death by impalement. “I have a proposition.”
Draco’s ears perked up. This sounded interesting. Blaise never suggested anything bad. Ever. He motioned for him to go on.
“What sort? Does it involve money?”
“You’ve been going on and on about making Potter’s life a living hell. Well, you can do it easily enough, I think.”
“How?” Draco asked cautiously. If it necessitated anything painful he would have to consider it very carefully.
Blaise flicked a lock of dark, chestnut hair off his forehead. “It’s staring at you in the face. I can’t believe you never thought of it before.”
Draco just stared at him, mystified.
“Who is the one person that means a lot to Potter and, at the same time, is on speaking terms with you?”
Grey eyes cleared in understanding. In a few seconds, the Slytherin common room was filled with peals of laughter as two sixth-year boys began to plot and scheme with relish.
“Harry?” Cho Chang called from outside the door. “I’m ready.”
Harry leapt from his seat and hurried out of his room, smiling at her as he closed the door. He was eager to start their weekly Quidditch practice since that was about the only time he could spend with Cho now that their schoolwork had become heavier. “Good evening. You look wonderful.” He bent and gave her a quick kiss on her cheek. “Where’s your broom?”
She blushed prettily, returning his smile. “It’s in the lockers. Hermione was nice enough to let me enter your dorm. I’m sorry I kept you waiting. I guess I was too engrossed with outlining the plans for this year’s Yule Ball that I completely lost track of time.”
“That’s all right. I didn’t really wait long. Professor Sprout must be happy that you volunteered to help her lead this year’s organizing team. Who else is helping out?”
“Well, it’s just me and Draco for now.”
“You and WHO?” Harry stopped in his tracks, thinking he heard wrong.
“Draco Malfoy,” Cho repeated happily. “He approached me about it just today and we had a ball listing down all the things we have to get just for the décor. That boy sure knows a lot about preparing for big events.”
“He must be used to it after all the useless expensive galas they keep on holding at their swanky place,” Harry muttered, wrinkling his nose.
“You’re jealous!” Cho laughed, poking him lightly. “Don’t worry, he isn’t taking your place as my favorite Quidditch sparring partner.”
Harry grinned smugly. “He doesn’t hold a candle to us.”
“I’m just stating the truth!”
“Draco isn’t a bad player. I think he has a lot of talent. He just needs to let go of his tension.”
“Hah!” Harry tossed Cho her broom as he took it from the broom shed near the pitch. “He paid his way into the team. Remember our second year?”
“But I did lose to him a few times even when I played my best,” Cho reminded him as she released the snitch from its case. “It’s just you he has to beat.” They both watched the tiny winged ball hover in the air for a moment before zooming off in the darkness.
“Enough about Malfoy,” Harry said, mounting his broom. “Let’s catch the snitch.”
Cho wasn’t his girlfriend. No, she was far from that. After the fiasco during Harry’s fifth year, they both reached an unspoken mutual agreement to remain as friends thereafter.
Even that was unexpected. Harry didn’t think she’d still speak to him again after they had both bungled their attempt to start a relationship. But Cho proved to be a better person than he had assumed. She had approached him at the start of Harry’s sixth year, her seventh, and apologized about giving him such a hard time the past months. She had admitted that it was her fault—it had been difficult for her to get over Cedric—and she was more than sorry for dragging him along her messy emotional state. She was all right now, but would stay away from boyfriends for a while.
Somehow, they had found that they worked quite well as friends. And after Hermione and Ron, Harry thought Cho was the easiest person to talk to and, as an added bonus, he gained a Seeker to practice with during Friday nights.
He had fielded Ron’s questions and the other boys’ teases about the two of them, saying that they were nothing but friends. And they stayed true to their word: Harry never once asked Cho out again and neither did Cho show any interest in going out with Harry or any other boy for that matter in spite of various invitations from smitten students.
But learning about Draco Malfoy bothered him.
He knew the Slytherin. They had been watching their backs in constant suspicion of the other’s sneaky actions during the past six years of their stay in Hogwarts. Not once in those years did Draco ever volunteer for something that involved more work for zero academic credit. Except now. Harry couldn’t think of any reason why he would possibly want to help out with the Yule Ball, except for one: Draco Malfoy was interested in Cho.
He had been standing there near the painting of the banshee beside the Slytherin dorm’s door for nearly an hour. A number of younger Slytherins had passed by him since he arrived but even they didn’t dare antagonize Harry Potter. Only Draco was brave enough for that. For the most part, he just received bewildered looks and weird glances from the students. The painted banshee herself was watching him cautiously from the corner of her eye. She sensed that he was waiting for somebody but she kept her eyes peeled just in case he might try to sneak in.
Despite the attention he was getting, Harry stuck to his place and waited patiently for Draco. He knew the Slytherin would have to come out sooner or later if he was inside.
After another twenty minutes, the unmistakably blond head of Draco Malfoy poked out from behind the doorway. He looked at Harry and stepped just in front of the Gryffindor. He raised his left brow sardonically.
“I heard you’ve been waiting for me, Potter. Come to ask for any favors?”
Harry’s eyes glinted in annoyance but he kept his temper in check. “Not a chance, Malfoy.”
“Then what are you here for?” Draco drew deeply from the Bertie Bott’s Healthy Rainbow Cigar™ he held in one hand and blew a red smoke ring right in Harry’s face.
The Gryffindor coughed slightly, shooting an evil look at the smirking Draco, before he continued, “I’m here to ask you something.”
“Okay, shoot.” Draco smiled easily, folding his arms over his chest.
“What are your intentions on Cho?”
“What?” Draco wheezed. He laughed heartily, clutching his stomach. “You came all the way here and waited for hours just to ask me that. How noble of you, Potter.”
“I’m serious, Malfoy.” Harry kept his ground. “I want to know if you intend to treat her seriously.”
“Why? Afraid I might steal your little crush?”
Harry just stared stonily.
Draco sighed. “Fine, Potter. Yes, I do intend to date her. Why not? She’s pretty, rich, and a Pureblood. She may not be as classy as my usual dame but she fits the bill just fine.”
“She’s a lot classier than your usual girl,” Harry growled under his breath. He knew Draco’s style, and he had more than one girl crying after he got tired of dating them. He faced Draco and said firmly, “If I hear one word about you bothering Cho in other matters apart from school work, I’ll personally see to it that you’ll be too sick to lay your ass on your broom for the next match.”
“Threatening me, Potter?” Draco challenged him fearlessly.
“Cho doesn’t want you.”
“Why don’t we just let her decide for herself?”
“Fine.” Harry turned his back and walked two steps away before stopping again. “I’ve got my eye on you.”
“I’m counting on it.”
Harry left from the silent corridor, his footsteps echoing through the hall.
“Why do you practice with him? Aren’t you afraid that you’ll spill your secret techniques?”
“Draco, we practice at night. It’s the best time, really: too dark to see each other clearly from across the field, yet there’s enough moonlight to find the snitch. We just challenge ourselves to catch it first before the other does,” Cho replied, putting another pack of Expandable Giant Wreaths (just add water!)™ in the basket Draco was holding.
“But do you actually notice anything in his usual style?”
Cho rolled her eyes. Boys. “Don’t ask me any more Quidditch questions about Harry or I’ll let you do all the props shopping today.” She hid a grin, trying to sound stern.
“I’ll stop if you say that you’ll come with me to the Slytherin’s annual bonfire,” Draco responded smoothly. He smiled while she turned, looking at him in surprise.
“You’re inviting me to your exclusive party?” Draco nodded, amused with her open-mouthed expression. “But I thought it’s strictly Slytherin House”
“It is. Until now. So, will you go?”
“Well…” Cho looked down. Draco swallowed nervously. She had to agree. She looked up. “All right. I have to admit that I’m curious about this secret affair of yours. I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to finally see it myself.”
He breathed an inward sigh of relief. “That’s great! I’ll pick you up Friday night?”
“Sure. Are you sure it’s all right for me to be there?”
“Of course.” Draco waved a hand, dismissing any other questions of possible disagreements from the absent Slytherins. “They’d be glad to see you there.”
He tried to remain objective and unbiased whenever she fawned over Draco Malfoy’s alleged good points or when the conversation happened to steer his way. He didn’t give a peep when she repeatedly told him how much cuter Draco was up close. He tried to ignore the fact that her opinion of the notorious Slytherin had risen a few notches since the start of the month. That was her opinion and even friends had their differences. Even when he heard that they started studying together during weekends, Harry chose not to meddle. He had his own friends to spend the weekends with.
He didn’t even say anything when she cancelled last night’s Quidditch practice. That was okay—he used the time to catch up with the boys, losing spectacularly to Ron on another attempt at Wizard Chess. But hearing about the wild time she supposedly had with Draco Malfoy (!) during a supposed Slytherin-only party was too much for Harry to bear.
There was only one way to help Cho see the folly of her actions: he had to help her see the fact that Draco Malfoy was nothing but a jerk looking for a good time.
“Why is he with us?” Draco asked crossly, eyeing Harry with resentment as he showed up to meet with Cho.
“He joined our organizing team,” she answered simply.
“Isn’t it a little late for others to join? The Yule Ball is just a little more than a month away and we’ve already done a lot without extra help.”
“We need all the help we can get to make sure everything goes smoothly,” Cho replied, not noticing the triumphant look Harry gave Draco, or the sour look the Slytherin gave in response. She chattered on as they neared Hogsmeade’s Everything You Need Under a Galleon™ shop, “We’ll just need to pick up the programs that Hermione arranged with the printers later after we buy the extra Christmas tree ribbons we weren’t able to get last week. I should think the decorating of the Great Hall…”
“What are you trying to do?” Draco whispered fiercely as he fell back behind Cho, who was still talking animatedly, and walked alongside Harry.
“I should ask you that question,” Harry whispered back. “What exactly are you trying to do?”
“What the hell do you mean, Potter? I’m just trying to spend some time with a girl I like.”
“Don’t give me that shit, Malfoy. I know you have something up your sleeve. And you’re trying to use her to get back,” Harry glared at him as they stopped outside the shop’s door.
“Get back at you?” Draco chuckled. “Don’t be so pompous, Potter. You’re not that important on my list.”
“Draco, Harry, get in!” Cho peeked out of the door, reached out and took Draco’s hand, pulling him along with her inside.
Harry stayed outside for a moment, his thoughts frozen on that moment. And he could only see their fingers, joined together, excluding him.
Perhaps this was a big mistake.
“You’re angry with yourself?” Ron echoed as he stared at Harry blankly. The dark-haired boy nodded, his arms crossed over his chest. “But why?” Ron asked, puzzled.
“Because I don’t understand why I’m so riled up!” He threw his hands in the air. “I care about Cho, but I also respect our boundaries. And as a friend, I really have no right to dictate who she goes around with.”
“But you yourself said that Draco has behaved decently around her.”
“Decent? He’s fawning over her. He’s so good to her it’s suspicious. I know that ferret, he never acted this way over anyone before. Try asking Lisa, or Hannah, or any of the other girls he used to date. He has always been a jerk!”
“But not lately,” Ron observed. “I haven’t heard a single snide remark from him ever since he started going out with Cho. I was a bit suspicious at first, thinking he and his goons may have something nastier in mind the way each class with the Slytherins seem to go on without a hitch. But it’s been two weeks and nothing’s happening.”
“Yes, I noticed that,” Harry said.
“He may be mellowing down. Maybe he’s really serious about her.”
“Maybe. But do I even have the right to be this annoyed?”
“Was that what we were talking about?”
Harry rested his head in his hands. “Never mind, Ron.”
Friday night. Harry stepped out into the hall, surprised to see Draco Malfoy waiting for him. “Where’s Cho?” he demanded.
“She’s studying. Big Potions exam tomorrow,” Draco answered with a poker face.
“But it’s Saturday tomorrow!”
“Well Professor Snape decided to hold the exam tomorrow, Potter.” Draco started walking, leaving Harry to catch up with him.
“What are you doing here then?” Harry asked a moment later, still too puzzled to be insulting.
“I’m taking her place tonight. She didn’t want you to miss practice.”
That was typical of Cho, she wouldn’t want Harry to miss the routine the second week in advance. But that thought left his mind as soon as he realized exactly what Draco had said. “You agreed to take her place?” He gaped at Draco.
Draco grit his teeth and faced Harry. “No, I volunteered. Satisfied?”
“But why?” He still didn’t get it. Was this really Draco Malfoy?
Draco snapped open the lock of the case where the Quidditch balls were kept. He released the quivering snitch into the air before answering Harry, “I would never miss an opportunity to see you fly.”
“Oh.” So that was it. Such a devious, brutally honest Slytherin. And for a moment there, Harry almost thought Draco had turned a new leaf. He should have known that was impossible. “You could have easily watched me in the mornings. We don’t ban people from the pitch during team practices.”
Draco laughed clearly, his voice traveling to Harry, who remained on the ground as the other boy lifted above on his broom. “But I get bored just watching.”
They flew that night. But Harry was no longer conscious of time. He was always aware, always hearing Draco flying not far from him. He imagined he could hear the swish of their brooms, the cold wind fighting against their robes. Their skin. He kept in mind the distance between them. And he was ever so careful not to come too near, at the same time searching the field for the golden glint hiding from them.
This was never the case with Cho.
Suddenly, Draco shouted something out to Harry, and the Gryffindor saw his figure fly down to the ground. Thinking that Draco had caught the snitch, Harry soon followed, dropping on the ground gracefully with his Firebolt in one hand. “Where is it?”
“That’s why I called you. I couldn’t find it,” Draco said. He had an odd look on his face as he checked his wrist. A circular face glowed white in the darkness before revealing black numbers that said the time. “We’ve been here for three hours.”
Three hours? The corners of Harry’s mouth tugged slightly when he heard it.
“What’s so funny?” Draco asked darkly.
“Nothing,” Harry shook his head, amused. “It’s just that we’ve been here for three hours, two Seekers with no other players or bludgers to bother us, and yet we weren’t able to find the snitch!”
“You were cramping my style.” Draco lifted the case. “I’ll look for it in the morning. I think it’s starting to rain. I can barely see you now, it’s too dark.”
Draco stopped. He was about to turn when Harry gripped his arm, stopping him. “Wha—”
“Shh…” Harry raised a hand, slowly at first, before snaking out, fast, towards Draco’s left ear.
Draco yelped. But he wasn’t hurt. Harry’s fist barely grazed his skin.
“I win.” The dark-haired boy smiled softly, looking at Draco with the snitch balanced between two fingers, the golden wings now calm at its sides.
The heavens chose that moment to open. The rain poured, growing stronger with each passing second as the two boys stood facing each other in the middle of the Quidditch field. The water drenched them both as they stayed silent, staring at the other longer than was necessary.
“I think,” Harry started, “that this is the last rainfall of the season.” He released Draco’s arm and took his hand, pulling his fingers open and exposing the other’s palm to the rain. He lay the snitch on the wet hand before closing it, covering Draco’s fingers with his own. “Thank you for the game.”
Later, Draco thought he should have said something in reply. There was something about the silence that followed, as the two boys walked away from the field, that felt painfully incomplete. But it was too late now.
The next day, he didn’t mention anything about the incident to Cho. It never did rain, for the winter came quickly like an impatient traveler, and he never volunteered to practice with Harry again.
Cho Chang knew something was wrong.
She wasn’t stupid, even if her Mom did tell her that she spent more time with books than people sometimes. But studying was hard, and she had her responsibilities.
Harry was different. She had sensed it somehow. It wouldn’t have been noticeable to a less sensitive person, but she felt that she knew him too well. They still spoke like friends, still flew every week in spite of the snow. But there was something wrong, something forced in his smiles, something strange with the way he kept on looking down instead of facing her. And stranger was the fact that he no longer seemed to crave her company.
She was mature enough not to think that he liked her less, for Harry wasn’t that kind of person. But somehow, she sensed that her company was difficult, even painful, for him.
She had been spending more time with Draco. She genuinely liked him, and knew that there was a lot she had not known about the Slytherin before. And he really did seem to be honest about his pursuit, even if he was quieter these days while they were together.
Maybe those two were connected.
And she suspected for a moment, that perhaps, Harry still wanted her.
“The deal is off,” Draco said blankly, staring at the ceiling above the common room. It was empty this afternoon, except for him and Blaise.
“What deal?” Blue eyes looked at him in question.
“Ah. There was never a deal.” Blaise shrugged as he picked another magazine from the pile. “It was merely a suggestion.”
“She’s a good person.”
“Hm.” Draco wasn’t fooling him. “And Potter? What does Potter think?”
“I see. So perhaps this plan was flawed from the beginning.”
“Yes,” Draco sat up, meeting Blaise’s eye. “I’m still going with her to the ball.” There was a hint of accusation in his tone that someone else would have missed.
Blaise merely nodded, not knowing what to say. He felt it wasn’t directed at him anyway. Sometimes, Draco could be strange in his own way.
The Yule Ball was a success, if seen from the point of the many teachers and students of Hogwarts. They commended Cho, Draco, and the other organizers for managing to pull off such a beautiful, well-planned event in spite of the hectic weeks in school. The Great Hall was breathtaking, and the decorators pulled out all the stops to amaze everyone who entered the dance floor dressed in their finery.
But Harry thought it felt too happy. Too fake.
He downed another glass of iced pumpkin juice before adjusting the collar of his formal robes. It was tightly uncomfortable, in spite of his loosening it earlier while he dressed. He didn’t see the cheerful trees, ribbons, or the bright starry lights that adorned the cavernous ceiling of this romantic evening. He kept his eye trained on Cho, and the blond head of her partner.
They were dancing, slowly, twirling in time with the music that grated his ears. He imagined Draco was smiling, looking down on her as they swayed. He couldn’t be sure, for Draco had his back to him. Draco spun her one more time, and she laughed, her eyes happy—enjoying the moment that was given to her. That was before she looked up, and saw Harry.
And in that split second, she suddenly realized her mistake.
The wind blew in response, landing snowflakes on his exposed cheeks. Draco looked around frantically. Where could he have gone? He ran towards Hagrid’s hut, near the Forbidden Forest. The dwelling was dark and empty for everyone was in the castle rejoicing the season.
Earlier, he had been puzzled when Cho stopped dancing and merely stood in his arms as she gazed at something behind him.
“What is it?” he had asked.
“You aren’t happy.” It was a statement, not a question. He tried to smile, suddenly sorry that he had done something to upset her.
“I’m sorry. It’s not that. It was just a bad day.” He raised their arms, flashing her his trademark grin. “Why don’t we dance?”
“No.” She gently let him down, pushing him away slightly. Her dark eyes searched his face. “Draco, why did you ask me to come here?”
“Because I wanted to dance with you,” he answered, confused. Why was she asking him this?
She shook her head, not convinced. “Why did you ask me?” She repeated insistently. Then he knew that she wasn’t referring to the dance, or even the ball. She was asking him why he chased her, why he chose to seek for her company two months ago, and why he made her believe that he wanted her.
Because I thought he wanted you. “I… I don’t know,” he said slowly. He met her eyes, trying to make her understand. “But you see, I got to know you. And now I know that you’re this wonderful girl I like a lot—“”
“A girl you’d want to be your friend,” she interrupted him. She glanced behind Draco again. Harry was gone.
“Yes.” Draco didn’t deny it. He continued to pursue her, although he never tried that hard in the latter weeks. It was just too easy to not say anything to stop what he was doing. Besides, he had told himself, she was a nice girl. What was there to lose?
“You didn’t want me that way.” It was visibly painful for her to say it, and he instantly hated himself for causing her to feel that way. Days ago, even hours ago, he would have denied it, and appeased her by declaring how much he adored her. But something in the last few seconds had changed in him, and even he, could no longer lie to himself.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said softly.
“He left just minutes ago.” She stepped away from him, smiling, telling him silently that it was all right. “You should be able to catch him if you hurry.”
He didn’t linger to ask how she had guessed, or why she was trying to help him. A quick glance behind him confirmed her words, and Draco rushed to the door that led to the exit, thinking that perhaps, it wasn’t too late.
Cho Chang smiled through her tears as she watched him run. She was a smart girl, and she also cared. Cared enough to show the two very different boys she loved in very different ways what they had not seen for themselves. For when she looked at Harry, she saw exactly what he had been hiding—and he wasn’t looking at her.
Someday, maybe someone would look at her that way.
“Why are you here?” Harry revealed himself from behind the woodpile. He was surprised that anyone had followed him, even more so when he discovered it was Draco.
“Harry,” Draco repeated, relieved this time. “You’re here.”
Harry approached him, slightly bewildered. “Why did you follow me?”
“You’re asking me why I followed you?” Draco laughed suddenly. Ah! It felt good to release the tension he had been keeping to himself the past weeks… months… maybe even years. “Do you remember when we last talked?”
Harry nodded. How could he forget? That was the night he had realized what Draco meant to him, and why he found no peace—that fateful night he and Draco played their game, one on one.
Draco held his shoulders, but his grip wasn’t hard, merely firm. “When you thanked me for the game, what were you thinking?” He had to know. He needed to know.
It took Harry a while to answer, and he shut his eyes, remembering that night. “Your eyes were wide. I think you were a bit surprised. Then I thought about them, how grey they were, like the color of water when it rains.”
“Thank you,” Draco whispered. He took Harry’s hands, enclosing them in his own, bringing them closer to him. “Thank you.”
“It was just a game,” Harry echoed. But he was smiling.
“That night,” Draco started, his eyes brimming with happiness, “I came to see you fly.”
No words were necessary, for the kiss that followed said everything they had wanted to say but could not. And if someone asked Draco what he was doing at that moment, he would have answered it easily: he was staying where he belonged.
The Yule Ball was a success, yes. And even outside the castle, some of the music could be heard. For what else could explain the two faint figures, seen from a distance, that danced slowly in the snow in spite of the wind and cold?
Even from afar, one could sense their closeness in the way they moved, and sometimes kissed. Or maybe it was their hands. They didn’t dance with their hands on each other’s bodies. They were joined, warming each other, excluding the world.
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