DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Draco's Leader was inspired, in part, by the Bubble device in Lori's PoU universe and is used with permission.
Draco In Darkness
Chapter 3 - The Duel
But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance
"So, do you want to work on that Potions research today?" Harry asked as he arrived at the study room one Saturday afternoon. He and the Slytherin had quickly fallen into a routine, working together on specific days, and alone on their own individual subjects on others. It had been only a few weeks, but Harry already felt as if he was grasping some subjects more easily.
Draco was weaving his wand through his fingers; he turned his head as Harry stepped into the room. "No. I was thinking of a little DADA practice. All those hexes and counter-curses and other tactics we've been learning. You up for a duel?" A trace of the familiar smirk ghosted across his lips. "Purely friendly, of course. Just for practice."
"Here?" Harry looked around the room dubiously.
"No, you twit," Draco responded with some exasperation. "Do you want to incite the wrath of the Library Overlord? Rules may be made to be broken, but even I'm not that crazy."
"Madam Pince can't be an Overlord. She's female," Harry couldn't resist pointing out.
"Stop smirking. Yes you are, I can hear it. And you know what I meant. Now, are we practicing or not?"
"Where do you think? Outside."
"Malfoy-" Harry hesitated. "Won't it be kind of unfair? I mean, I can see you, but-"
"Potter, I'm blind, not useless. My other senses work just fine, I've learned the same curses as you - at least, I'm assuming I have, given that we don't share the class - and I can still point my wand at nearly anything I want to hit. Besides, now would be a good time to learn just how well I can defend myself, and not when some seven-foot purple minion of evil suddenly decides to threaten me, don't you think?"
Harry bit his lip. "I'm sorry. You're right." He still felt odd about this, but Draco had a point. Besides, he did want to practice his dueling skills. "Sure -- let's go."
"Great." Draco got to his feet. "Tendo - Entrance Hall."
Harry fell into step beside him as they walked down to the castle's main doors. Although he'd seen Draco come and go during their shared lessons, and watched him from a distance in the Great Hall, this was the first time he'd seen the Leader in action up close. He was impressed by how well it seemed to work, and stifled an urge to 'help'. Even during their lessons and study sessions he could tell how fiercely Draco stood on his own; it reminded Harry strangely of himself - he'd certainly faced enough challenges on his own as well.
But he also knew how lonely a place it was to be.
They reached the main doors, and paused. "Where do you want to practice?" Harry asked, scanning the grounds. "The Pitch would be good, but there's also the flat area down by the lake, and the clearing near the Forbidden Forest and Hagrid's cabin.
"The lake," Draco answered quickly. "I'm not in the mood to get anywhere near those Dugbogs again until I have to." Harry wholeheartedly agreed. Their study of Fwoopers over, Hagrid had introduced them to the marsh beast the other day; several students had only narrowly avoided being bitten.
As they walked out toward the lake, Harry couldn't resist turning to his companion and asking, "Seven-foot purple minions of evil?"
Draco chuckled. "Well - you never know. They could be out there. And then who will have the last laugh?"
"Oh, you will, clearly."
"Damn right, Potter. I always do."
"Clear," the Leader intoned just ahead of Draco's right ear. It had been 'uneven ground' earlier. Draco stopped focusing on picking up his feet so much.
"I think this looks like a good spot," he heard Harry say to his left.
"Yes. You can stay right where you are."
Draco stopped moving immediately; he was used to instantly obeying the Leader's directions to keep him from harm. "You haven't just put me two feet from the water's edge, just so you can watch me fall in and freeze to death, have you?"
"Would your guide-thing there let you get that close to such a hazard?"
"It's called a Leader," Draco corrected automatically. "And no, I suppose not." He wasn't used to a person giving him directions - he'd momentarily forgotten the device would have still spoken up, regardless of anything Harry said. "Just don't try anything tricky."
"It's a duel - I'm supposed to be tricky," Harry replied; his voice was getting farther away. "Can you hear me?" he called. Draco chewed on his lip, getting a handle on Harry's location. He tried to remember the proper dueling distance they'd learned - approximately twenty feet. Yes, that seemed about right.
"Yeah." He pulled out his wand and took the proper position. "Ready when you are, Potter."
Draco heard the slight whirr that rushing magic always made, coming just to his right. He sidestepped to the left easily. There was a *thunk* as the spell smashed into the grass.
"Too easy, Potter," he taunted. "Are we in seventh year or second year?" He hurled his own spell in the direction of Harry's voice. "Tarantallegra!"
He heard a similar *thunk* and a slight swish of grass as his opponent moved. "Look who's talking," said Harry, slightly to the right of his prior position. "You'll have to do better than that if you're going to take down that seven-foot purple minion," he laughed. ""Constringo!"
This one came faster. Draco jumped to the side as the spell hit the ground. Almost immediately, he felt the grass reach up to bind his ankles. Hastily, he cast a Disentanglement Charm so he could break free, then whipped his wand in the direction of Harry's sniggers. "Turbos!"
Faster and faster the curses and hexes flew, getting harder each time, as each boy tried to remember the nastiest ones they could. Harry got Draco with one designed to make him stand on his head, but he ended the spell quickly and, to his satisfaction, hit Harry two rounds later and made him a midget.
"You'll pay for that, Malfoy," Harry yelled. He sounded remarkably like squeaky Flitwick, and about as tall. Draco bit his lip to keep from laughing as he heard the other boy squeak out a Restoring Charm. It was immediately followed by "Tremoro!" -- Harry's voice was back to normal.
Distracted, Draco tried to dodge the incoming spell, but didn't quite get far enough to the left. There was an ominous *crunch*, quite unlike the ground-impact noise.
"Oh, shit!" Harry swore, before he could stop himself. "I think I just broke your Leader."
Draco froze on the spot. "Is it - is it destroyed?" he gulped, afraid of what he might learn. For the first time since he'd first arrived home from the hospital, he was out of familiar territory -- without anything to guide him or warn him. He felt lost, disoriented, and it made him realise how close he was to being helpless, how just a few crucial charms and devices kept him going. Without them....
He heard Harry's running footsteps pounding up toward him, and felt a small sense of relief; at least he had something on which to orient himself. The Gryffindor must have knelt down, because when he next spoke, it was in the vicinity of Draco's shins. "No, I don't think so," he said slowly. "Just cracked. These things don't like violent tremors, apparently. I'm really, really, really sorry about this. Can someone fix it?"
"Professor Flitwick can, I think." Draco's relief was enormous. The tiny wizard had assured Draco at the beginning of the term that he was capable of any advanced charms the device might need for upkeep or repair. He held out his hand. "Let me see."
He felt the round weight fill his palm as Harry placed it there. "Be careful - some of the edges are sharp."
Draco nodded, lightly running one hand over the orb, feeling the places it had cracked. Definitely broken, but it seemed as though it could be mended. He smiled ruefully. "I should put a ward on this. Permanently. I can't believe I didn't think of it sooner. My father would have... I should have known better."
"I wouldn't have thought of it either," Harry said after a slight pause. "But I really wasn't trying to aim for your thing -- your Leader. I can't believe I broke it!" He sighed. "I'm really sorry, Malfoy."
"Yes, you said that already. Are you expecting me to hex you again, as punishment?"
"Well...." Draco could hear the uncertainty in Harry's voice; he almost smiled as he imagined the other boy standing there, shifting uneasily from foot to foot, his face a picture of befuddlement. "If this had happened last year, I would probably already be under the Body-binding Charm or something."
Draco chuckled humourlessly as he slipped the broken Leader into one of his robe's pockets. "Last year, I didn't need the damn thing. I'm already pissed off at myself for not warding this properly, but to petrificus myself would be pretty senseless, and there's no point in putting the Body-binding Charm on you because you're going to have to get me back to my common room. Without twisting my ankle in any holes or walking me into walls. Think you can manage that?"
"Er... I guess so. I don't really have a choice, do I?"
"No, you don't. Consider it your punishment. And mine, too." A fitting consequence for his lapse in foresight: forced dependence. "I'll tell you right now that I hate relying on people for this - it's why I got the Leader in the first place. So - do try to keep me from breaking my neck between here and the Slytherin common room, and I'll consider refraining from turning you into a squashed toadstool once we get there."
"You certainly know how to motivate a body, don't you?" Harry snorted. "Okay, fine - what do I do?"
"Stand here." Draco pointed by his right side. He felt Harry's robes brush against him as the other boy moved into position. "Let me take your arm - and no wisecracks about walking me down the aisle or I'll reconsider that toadstool hex after all."
"Right then. Not a word."
Draco curled his right hand into the crook of Harry's left elbow. "Ok, well, now we walk. You tell me if there are any hazards on the ground or overhead - like tree branches or anything. If there are stairs, tell me how many and if they go up or down. If we have to move left or right or if we have to stop, I'm relying on your movements to tell me what to do. You move one way, I follow half a second later. So keep that in mind. And don't screw up."
He heard Harry mutter, "So, no pressure then?" as they started to move, but he ignored it. After months of the freedom of the Leader, Draco was suddenly aware of how dependent he was on this boy to get him back to safe territory in one piece. It had taken a little while to adjust to walking around on his own, and to remember he was just as safe - safer, probably - with the device than with a fallible human; now he felt unnerved to be holding on to Harry, to trust another person with his life like this, rather than the always-reliable Leader.
But Harry seemed to take the task very seriously, far more so than either his assistant or his mother back at the Mansion. "There's a few loose pebbles here, so don't trip on them," he said as they made their way back to the castle. Draco felt them veer slightly to the left. "Mud puddle," the other boy explained.
Draco stifled an urge to tell Harry he didn't need to be that meticulous; the Gryffindor was doing what he'd asked after all, wasn't he?
"We're almost at the castle steps. There's ... um...."
"Eighteen up. Yes, I remember," Draco cut in, somehow wanting to show Harry that he wasn't completely lost. He hadn't ventured outside much since the accident, but there were still Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures classes to attend, all of which necessitated navigating these stairs on a regular basis. He felt Harry slow the pace slightly until they touched the first step, then they climbed up together until his guide announced the last stair.
They were halfway to the Slytherin dungeon when it suddenly occurred to Draco to ask, "How do you know where we're going?"
"The Slytherin rooms. You're not supposed to know where they are."
"Oh! Er... um... Crabbe and Goyle told us in second year."
"Me. They told me. There's a staircase down now, starting - move your foot. Right, it starts there. Looks like about ten steps down."
"Eleven. Apparently Crabbe and Goyle didn't mention that when they spilled all our secrets to you," he deadpanned.
"Oh shut up," Harry responded, laughing a little. "Forget about that."
Draco felt Harry's elbow suddenly jab him in the ribs, and he grabbed at the other boy's arm as the unseen poke knocked him slightly off balance. "Hey, what are you trying to do? Knock me downstairs?" Like lightning, he felt Harry reach out for his other arm, Seeker's grasp strong and sure, and pull him back to a balanced position.
"Er-sorry about that," came the Gryffindor's voice, all seriousness again. "I was only joking. I didn't think about.... I mean, I didn't intend to poke so hard." Harry was still holding him by the arms, even though Draco had quickly regained his balance.
He was suddenly too tired to get very angry at Harry's unthinking action. He knew he was standing right on the threshold of the last flight of stairs, and all he wanted was to just get there, back to his dormitory where he could move around on his own, send an owl to Flitwick, and pretend this whole moment of dependence had never happened.
"Forget it, Potter," he murmured, as Harry released his other arm. "Just - let's get this last bit over with, okay?"
They started down, and in minutes were at the stone wall where the Slytherin entrance was located.
"Put your hand out. That's the entrance," Harry directed him. Then, half lightly, half nervously, "I suppose it's too late to hope you've forgotten about hexing me?"
Draco pretended to consider. "Well, you nearly succeeded in breaking my neck just now, and you did break my Leader, but - you did all right," he conceded. "Better than anyone else so far, at least." His right hand brushed along Harry's sleeve as he pulled it away, resting his other palm against the cool stone to keep him oriented. "I think I'll forget the hex. This time, anyway," he added.
"In other words, don't let my guard down?" the other boy laughed.
"No, never let your guard down."
Harry wondered at the sudden seriousness of Draco's tone. He studied the face in front of him carefully; the dim dungeon torchlight made it less obvious that Draco's eyes 'looked' unseeingly somewhere in the vicinity of Harry's right ear instead of at his face, or that there was nothing but emptiness in the grey sea.
He would sometimes forget Draco's disability, as they sat in the library discussing advanced grafting techniques for Herbology, or arguing over powdered versus grated holly root for Potions. But then Draco would turn his face full on Harry in a particularly heated moment, and he would find himself suddenly losing the argument, unnerved by the blank greyness, the passivity where there should have been a pointed stare. Even his facial expressions had changed slightly - smiles or scowls never fully reached his eyes anymore, as if he was slowly forgetting that half of his face existed.
"Uh? What?" Harry blinked. Contrary to his previous thoughts about expression, one eyebrow was cocked in his direction, the pale gold line catching the torchlight in the otherwise dim space.
"You can go now." Draco's voice indicated he was amused that Harry was still standing there.
"Oh. Okay. You don't need me to get you to your room or anything?"
"Is this just an excuse to see the famous Slytherin common room?" the other boy teased. "No, I'll be all right, Potter. But I'm also not going to say the password until you're no longer within earshot. It's bad enough you know where we are."
Harry pouted. "I am trustworthy, you know."
"Would you give me your password?"
"Well ... not readily, no."
"So, I'm not trustworthy?"
"No! It's not that - well, you weren't, but now -- it's just...." Harry sighed in resignation. "Fine, I'll go. Thanks for the dueling practice, and I'm sorry again for breaking your Leader. See you in the library on Monday, as usual?"
Draco shrugged. "Up to you. I'll be studying there, anyway; Flitwick should have it fixed by then."
"I'll be there."
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