Chapter Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Summary: Wherein Theodore asks all the wrong questions (but gets all the right answers), Blaise is amused, a ghost demonstrates unexpected talents, Draco does damage control, and Harry has an understandable misunderstanding.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 25 - A Little Perspective
Potter had told him about the Eyelets, but Draco had no idea what was going on with those. In fact, he had forgotten all about them, considering that he was no longer engaging in the previous term's eyebrow-raising activities, to use a mild expression. He sat down on his bed, feeling suddenly heavier. Everyone around him was doing something besides studying; even Potter had found a new pet cause to occupy his time. Millicent was right; all Draco did lately was mope about, trying to make himself not think of Potter whilst doing nothing but. It was absurd.
"How do I change it, though?" he asked his reflection, distorted in the dormitory window.
The reflection made no reply, but the wall clock chimed softly, announcing suppertime's approach. Draco got to his feet and walked back to the common room, where people were already jostling to get through the portrait hole. He joined Zabini and Nott, who stood off to the side with nearly identical grimaces of contempt. Once the crowd receded, the three of them were able to get through with civility.
"So, Malfoy, what exactly do they teach you in those Auror training classes?" asked Nott as they crossed a corridor to get to the next staircase.
"This and that," said Draco. "Evangelism, mostly. Dark magic is dangerous, Mudbloods are wonderful, the Minister can do no wrong, the Force is the last bastion of all that's good in the world."
"In other words, the opposite of what you've been taught for the rest of your life," said Nott, staring straight ahead.
Draco could not quite decipher his expression. "Basically, yeah."
"You don't actually believe any of it, do you?" asked Zabini. His voice was soft, insinuating.
Draco swivelled his head to peer at him. "Who wants to know?"
"We do," said Nott. "We want to know where you stand."
Draco managed a laugh. "You ask me this now? I thought you had your mind made up about where I stand. Back in September, in fact."
"In September, I didn't know that the Dark Lord was a half-blood," said Nott, and wrinkled his nose. "Finding that out put things in perspective."
"Did it, now." Draco walked down the steps just ahead of the other two. Of course. He'd been so preoccupied with his Potter-related hysteria since the year had begun that he'd very nearly forgotten that his Slytherin classmates -- other than Millicent -- existed. "How did you find out, anyway?"
"The Weasley girl."
"Ah," said Draco, sidestepping a suspicious-looking dark stain. "I take it you had a disagreement with our fiery-haired heroine, who flung that fascinating bit of information in your face and stalked off like an angry cat."
"Actually, Nott did the stalking off," said Zabini. "Only he looked more like an angry Chihuahua."
"Shut up," said Nott, colouring. "Anyway, that's not the point."
"I know what the point is," said Draco, adding practised weariness to his intonation. "Don't worry, I haven't become Harry Potter the Second, and I'm not planning to."
"Then why did you agree to do the lessons?" asked Zabini. "You know what they do--"
"I'm perfectly familiar with what the Aurors do, Zabini; that Weasley character has been through our cellars, too, and I know as well as you do that his piss-ant little Department doesn't have enough clout to order searches. I know whose dirty work he was doing back then."
"The Aurors'," Nott put in, sneering at Draco. His family had lost a priceless heirloom in those raids, an ebony carving with some very interesting magical properties... But this was not the time for his mind to wander.
"Yes, thank you for that clarification," said Draco with a smirk. "As for my reasons for doing the lessons, they are no one's concern but mine."
"It's just that you know quite a bit, Malfoy," said Nott, still sneering. "Certain things that were divulged when some of us thought you were a Slytherin."
"Oh, in that case, the Sorting Hat has nothing to worry about. If it's shared any secrets with me, I appear to have forgotten all about them," said Draco. He was beginning to grow irritated.
"I'm not talking about the fucking Hat and you know it," spat Nott. "You--"
"Then spare me your juvenile threats and unimaginative insults," said Draco, rounding on him. "If I wanted to talk about things I know, I would have done it by now."
"That's what bothers me," said Nott. "I wonder what's keeping you."
Draco leaned very close to him and, in a stage whisper, said, "Knowing that I have you by the short and curlies, of course."
Zabini made a choking sound, and Draco remembered that he knew. He turned to face Zabini. "You know that you've got nothing to worry about, right?"
"It's the price I pay for being in the wrong place at the right time," said Zabini with a smirk. Draco raised his eyebrows quickly, saw him nod, and immediately relaxed. He turned back to Nott, who was glowering at both of them now, clearly unhappy at their knowing something he didn't.
"And if you still have such a hard-on for Slytherin traditions, Nott, you'd do well to remember that the only thing spoken truly in confidence is a thing spoken to yourself alone. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to piss."
With those decidedly un-Slytherin parting words, Draco took a left by the staircase and headed towards the bathrooms. As he did his business there, he could not stop seething. The nerve of Theodore bloody Nott, to even think that Draco would become a rat just because he joined the Aurors!
"Insolent wanker," muttered Draco as he washed his hands. He looked about for a towel to dry them, and very nearly died of fright when he saw Moaning Myrtle suspended in the air behind him, her expression even more mournful than usual.
"You forgot all about me," said Myrtle with a pout. "I thought we were friends."
Friends. She had barged in on him, again and again, seeing him at his weakest, until Draco, furious but helpless to do anything -- how does one hurt a ghost? -- accepted whatever comfort she had been willing to offer. Curiously enough, in retrospect it seemed that without Myrtle, he would have gone stone cold crazy. Draco was useless at handling his emotions -- he was much better at hiding them -- and it had helped, having had someone who listened.
Which was why he felt a mild stab of guilt, now. "I've been busy," he said, quite truthfully. "I'm supposed to sit my NEWTs this year, you know."
Myrtle sniffed. "I'll never sit my NEWTs."
"Lucky you," said Draco. He was suddenly seized by an urge to leave. Being here with Myrtle brought back too many memories, and he thought he could taste bile in the back of his throat again, bile and bitter tears.
"I am not lucky," said Myrtle. "I thought we were friends, and you haven't even been back since Harry Potter tried to kill you."
Draco couldn't see Potter, or the waterlogged floor, or Myrtle's wispy shape. He saw something black gush from his chest, and where had that fine scarlet mesh over his eyes come from? His knees gave out and he collapsed, lifting his hands to his chest, deliriously thinking that he might stem the flow of blood if he could just press down hard enough, clamp down on the pain...
Someone was screaming -- Potter? Myrtle? -- and then a soft song floated across the haze in Draco's mind. He was dying, he realised. Dying. Something coarse and rough and dark slid across his face and suddenly Draco could breathe. The pressure in his chest eased and he opened his eyes -- Potter, eyes wide and horrified, face pale beneath the streaks of Draco's blood.
Myrtle broke into his thoughts. "There were times when I almost hoped he killed you, that you would come back as a ghost, but I'm glad you haven't. You are just like all the other boys, after all." She sighed, and floated closer to the wall.
Draco blinked at his reflection in the grimy mirror. His exchange with Nott and Zabini had distracted him, put him back in his element, but it seemed that he could not take two steps without being reminded of Potter in some fashion. And now he remembered the intense hatred he had once felt towards Potter, how he'd wanted to hurt him that day, in this very bathroom. Hating Potter had been easier than wanting him.
I can't believe you let him live after he spilled your blood, his father's voice whispered somewhere deep.
I'm not a murderer, Draco argued.
"Of course you aren't," said Myrtle, peering at him curiously. "I never said you were. Harry Potter, though, now he tried to kill you. I saw him! I used to think he was my friend, too, but he never visits me, either."
"What did Potter ever have to cry about?" asked Draco without thinking.
Myrtle didn't seem to have heard him. "He's too busy being a... a... fairy. I overheard some girls talking in one of the bathrooms, you know. I wouldn't have even listened, but they said your name, and--"
"What?" asked Draco. "They said my name? What did they say? Who were they?" Ice spread through his chest. Had he been wrong to trust Millicent?
"Oh, I don't pay attention to the girls; they all look the same to me. But I think one of them was called Daffodil, and the other was called Pansy. Anyway, why should I tell you anything? You're only going to leave and never visit again."
"I'll try my best to visit you," said Draco impatiently. "What did they say?"
Myrtle altered her pitch and spoke, her tone alarmingly similar to Pansy's usual slow drawl. "Can you imagine the shame for his mother? No, what am I saying? It's not true. You're wrong."
Myrtle changed her voice again, and it was a passable imitation of Daphne's quick, flowing speech with its over-pronounced word endings. "I hope I'm wrong, too, but you should have seen that look. I thought Potter was going to throw his book out the window and have his way with Draco right there."
"Yes, but Potter's a poof. Of course he'd look at Draco like that. Draco didn't reciprocate, did he?"
"Not that I could tell. But Draco's acting around Potter exactly the same way he acted around me, back when we had a row."
"If you ask me, you're just bitter you couldn't keep him." Pansy's voice ended abruptly, and Myrtle continued in her usual, nasal tone, "After that, they started to argue, and I hid in the pipes until they left."
Draco exhaled slowly. He'd been careless. He'd forgotten about Pansy's designs, about his brief relationship with Daphne. He'd forgotten about a lot of things in his single-minded quest to keep the Potter thing a secret, and if Daphne and Pansy were allowing themselves to even speculate on the possibility that Draco was...
It felt like he had arisen from a long, catatonic dream, with his first thought upon waking being "damage control".
He was almost late, he saw; the Great Hall was full, though there was no food on the tables yet. Draco walked over to the seventh-years' table, where Potter was sitting with to Longbottom, deep in conversation. Millicent sat on the other side of Potter, looking bored.
"Budge over," Draco told her, and eased himself onto the bench next to Potter, who didn't even glance at him.
"Where were you?" asked Pansy, across from him. "I thought you'd left with Blaise and Theodore."
"I did," said Draco. "But if you must know, I had to use the little boys' room."
"Bon appétit," said Millicent under her breath. Draco elbowed her in the ribs.
He heard Potter and Longbottom's conversation stop rather abruptly, and chanced a look to his right, at Potter. "Solved the mystery yet?" he asked in an amiable tone.
Potter frowned. "What mystery?"
"I don't know," said Draco mildly. "You and Longbottom were being awfully mysterious in the dormitory, that's all." He kept his gaze level, his voice even.
Potter mumbled something indistinct and turned back to Longbottom. Draco looked at Pansy and rolled his eyes. "Gryffindors," he said. "I was only making conversation." Pansy said nothing, but her eyes darted to Daphne, who surveyed the scene with barely masked suspicion. Draco had just broken Number Six of Draco Malfoy's Rules for Dealings with Significant Others: when at odds, do not initiate conversation of any sort unless and until the other person does -- and if they do, be cold and, if possible, insulting.
He was midway through supper when he felt Potter shift closer. "What are you doing?" whispered Potter, pretending to reach for the bread basket.
"Eating," muttered Draco. He raised his voice and added, "It's not the best steak I've ever had, but if I kept my usual standards at school, I'd have died of malnourishment in fourth year."
"Hear, hear," said Pansy and Nott, together.
Potter abandoned the pretence with the bread basket and picked up his fork. A loud burst of laughter from the sixth-years' table nearly drowned out his voice. "I mean, what are you doing here?"
"I thought this was the only place they served supper in this wretched castle," replied Draco. "Though," he added loudly, "it would be nice if they brought the food up to our common rooms."
The look of alarm on Potter's face grew positively comical, and Draco grinned. "Come now, Potter," he murmured into a hastily lifted napkin. "If you continue acting so put off by my presence, people might start to wonder what we're fighting over this time."
Potter bent forward and stabbed a potato. "Is that what this is about? You're worried about what people are saying?"
"I'm not worried in the slightest," said Draco. "The Falcons are the superior team, and you will see that when they wipe the pitch with the Magpies." He saw Pansy looking at them, winked, and leaned close to Potter, whose jaw went visibly stiff as Draco whispered, "I don't want to fight."
Potter swallowed, and stabbed his potato again, but with a little less force. "It's the Chudley Cannons I support, not the Montrose Magpies."
"You're joking," said Draco incredulously. "But the Cannons--"
"Haven't had a chance in decades, yeah, I know. Ron liked them, though."
"Did you hear that?" Draco asked, turning to Millicent. "He supports the Chudley Cannons."
Millicent chortled. "Even our team's better, and we're still short a Chaser."
On her left, Finnigan sidled closer. "When are you going to hold tryouts?"
"Why would we have more tryouts?" asked Daphne. "Just pick someone who tried out in autumn but didn't quite make it."
"That's an idea," agreed Millicent. "Hey, Finch-Fletchley!"
"He'll get over it," said Draco after Finnigan went upstairs after several unsuccessful attempts to sway Millicent into holding tryouts once again.
"I dunno," said Potter. "Justin is the better flier, but Seamus loves the game."
"Millicent's interested in winning, not in granting childhood wishes," Draco pointed out. Millicent, who was crouched low over two feet of parchment, made a noise of approval.
"Slytherins!" remarked Ginny from the floor, where she was playing with Lolita. The once tiny kitten had grown quite a bit since September, and she seemed to have trouble deciding if she was still a kitten or an adult cat. She would snatch at the string Ginny dangled and then look around with something like alarm, as though to make sure that none of the other cats could catch her at such undignified pursuits.
"On that cheerful note," said Draco, rising, "My head feels like it's going to explode from those Charms books I read today. I need rest."
Draco dreamt of a vast, white chamber that resembled the Great Hall, bathed in light like a pale winter sunrise. He was alone, but there was a sense of... something beyond the walls, something sentient but non-living, an army of ghosts guarding the walls, wanting to keep him in. There was a throne at the far end of the chamber, and Draco walked towards it, his footsteps echoing all around him, building to a furious crescendo.
He stopped in front of the throne, and silence fell again. The throne flickered and winked out of existence, replaced by a three-legged stool. Dumbledore's ghost sat atop it, colourless and menacing. "Ask," it said.
"I don't know what to ask," said Draco. "Are you dead?"
Dumbledore's ghost threw back its head and laughed. The walls opened up and ghosts rushed in, hundreds of them, thousands. They all wore Moaning Myrtle's face. An icy wind filled the chamber, silent and deadly.
Draco's eyes flew open, and he realised that the hangings around his bed had been pulled open. Someone was standing over him, and for a moment, Draco was sure it was Dumbledore's ghost, brought to life by his dream. Then he saw a beam of moonlight across green eyes.
"What are you--?" he started to ask, sitting up, but Potter didn't give him a chance to finish. He climbed into Draco's bed and pulled the hangings shut again. Draco felt warm breath against his cheek, and shivered as Potter's hands slid underneath his pyjama top, cold fingertips shocking him completely out of his half-awake state. "What are you doing?" Draco asked.
"Do I really have to give you an explanatory account?" mumbled Potter. His lips brushed against Draco's cheek, his chin, his mouth. Heart pounding, Draco tried to listen to an interruption in their dormitory mates' regular breathing -- and, in Longbottom's case, snores -- but everything seemed quiet.
"Potter," gasped Draco. "Stop this, stop it, you're--"
"You said you didn't want to fight any more," said Potter to Draco's neck. His fingers clenched and unclenched against Draco's sides, uncertain, convulsive. "Neither do I."
Draco put a hand on Potter's chest, and almost lost his nerve as he felt a heartbeat beneath his palm. Almost. He pushed, and said, "I didn't mean this."
Potter went still against him, and Draco thought he heard a sigh of frustration, of utter exhaustion. He thought about going against his plan, about letting it happen just one more time, giving up and letting go, just for one night. He firmly shoved the thought away -- with difficulty, as it was in full agreement with his cock.
"I just thought," said Draco softly, almost hesitantly -- there was no real hesitation in him, but he had to make this sound right for Potter. "We. I mean, we talked about-- about this. You know what I'm going to do."
Slowly, Potter pulled away from him, lifted his hands away, moved them back as though he were releasing something infinitely fragile, fearing it would break at any moment, ready to catch it if it fell. As Potter moved well back, he seemed to take all warmth with him. When he spoke, his voice was ice. "So why did you start again? I thought-- I thought you changed your mind."
"I didn't start anything," protested Draco. "I sat next to you and engaged you in conversation."
The whites of Potter's eyes flashed briefly. "Why else would you do that if not for this?"
Draco felt a bitter smirk on his lips. "Oh, yes. Because I wouldn't possibly want to associate with you for any other reason."
"Of course you wouldn't-- what reason?"
"Look, Potter, we-- we were almost friends, once. Remember? During the war. Before the night-- before everything."
"I thought so once, but you disabused me of that notion. Remember?" Was it mockery in Potter's voice, or was Draco just severely paranoid?
"I disabused-- I told you we were never friends, Potter, which was true. Is true. But we were almost--"
There was a long silence. Neither of them moved.
Draco spoke first. "Look, this is stupid. I don't-- I don't want to be a... deviant. So I'm going to forget it, every night, every... occasion." He paused and took a long breath he didn't need, just to make it sound right. "But I don't want to forget you. So I thought we could. You know." He couldn't say it. He just couldn't. He didn't know why, but there was some deep, subconscious chasm that swallowed all his words, all his carefully rehearsed words.
Silence again. Finally, Potter spoke.
"You were being friendly with me at dinner because you want us to be friends."
Finally. Draco took advantage of the darkness to roll his eyes. "Yeah." That was exactly what he wanted. If he and Potter were friends, Daphne and Pansy -- and everyone else -- would have no reason for gossip. Besides, they were about to go into Auror training together. Besides, a friend like Potter could always be useful.
It would mean spending time with Potter, but that would only be torture until Draco forgot about the rest. Before he had spoken to Myrtle, before the exchange with Nott, Draco had been terrified of saying the wrong words, looking the wrong way, doing the wrong thing. He wasn't afraid any more. His shameful desire raged just as before, but he would no longer let it dictate what he did. He had a fully formed plan now, and it was going to work. Unless Potter refused.
Potter pulled the bed hangings open and got to his feet. A floorboard creaked beneath him, and Draco winced, but everyone else remained asleep.
"Friends it is, then," said Potter. The bed hangings were pulled shut again, and Draco was alone in the dark.
I fell behind in my posting schedule in the fall, and this chapter was originally supposed to post on April 1st with [the end] instead of [to be continued]. Just thought I'd let y'all know. Uhh... happy late April Fool's! XD :P