Author's Notes: The title is courtesy of a poem by W. H. Auden; the quote is from Robert Frost.
This chapter is dedicated to everyone who has ever reviewed IP. Your words of praise and encouragement have motivated me to continue (and now, finish) this story, even during times when inspiration ran low. Thank you for loving this story, and letting me know that.
Chapter 15 - The Truth About Love
The sky was gold, and the hoops of the Quidditch goal posts stood out against the brilliant sunset, their silver rims kindled to fire. The breeze was strong and cool, although not chillingly so; Harry pulled his robes tighter around him as he sat alone in the empty stands. He remembered threatening to handcuff someone to the goal posts once. Harryís mouth curled at the wistful memory. Once.
There were also other things, which heíd felt once before: intimate moments, fleeting touches, defensive anger that rose to mask something else. And then there was guilt, and regret, and the bittersweet traces of lingering hope.
But they were no more.
"Things look different from the ground, donít they."
Jolted from his reverie, Harry turned in the direction of the familiar voice ó to find Ron standing at the end of the bench, watching him with a strange quirk on his lips. For once, there was no sullen rage simmering on Ronís freckled face. The wind caught his tousled red hair, ruffling it.
Harry smiled, and stretched his legs a little as Ron came to sit down next to him. They sat in silence for a while; but it was a comfortable silence, not questioning, not demanding any answers.
Finally, Harry answered simply. "Yes, it does look different."
"Weíre different, Harry." Ronís voice was steady, and bore a certain calm quality that surprised Harry as much as his forthrightness. Before Harry had the chance to protest, Ron continued, "The skies are... well, your home. I donít think you even know how many rows of benches each stand holds. But I do." He paused. "I spend a lot of time where youíre sitting now." Ronís voice faltered ever so slightly as he added, "See things from my point of view, Harry."
Harry swallowed hard, and for a moment, he had to look away.
"I know, Ron," he managed thickly, and he wished things had turned out differently, without having incurred so much grief and anger to achieve nothing but more pain. "Iím sorry."
"You really care about him?" Ron sounded as if it took a great effort just to force the words past his lips.
Harry stole a sidelong glance at his friend, and saw that the red-haired boy was determinedly avoiding eye contact. Harry couldnít suppress a smile, though it was not one of happiness but rather, the remembrance of loss. They both stared at the vast sky for several moments before Harry finally answered.
Harry heard Ron exhale sharply, although he kept his composure remarkably well. But Ron couldnít keep the grimace out of his voice as he dully repeated, "Malfoy."
Harry grinned, this time with mild amusement. "Yes."
"Iím sure youíll understand I find this very hard to believe," Ron said, but without any malice or hatred. For all the countless times he had replayed the possible scenarios of his eventual confrontation with Ron over the matter of Draco Malfoy and his own feelings for said Slytherin, this was more than Harry could have ever hoped for.
"No, of course I donít expect you to understand or accept this whole thing with Malfoy." Harry gave a self-deprecating laugh. "Iím not quite sure I do, myself."
"Then why?" Ron asked steadily. "What makes you so sure heís worth everything youíve risked for him?"
"Nothing," Harry said softly; his voice quivered, and he knew it wasnít just because his breath was caught by the wind. "Nothing I can describe. But I do know that Iíve never felt this way in my entire life ó and that should count for something. Even though nothing else came out of this."
Ron sounded surprised. "What do you mean? You and Malfoy are ó"
"Were." Harry corrected, and sighed heavily. "Itís over."
The finality of Harryís words hung in the air between them.
"It didnít seem that way in Lupinís class," Ron remarked quietly.
"Was it really that obvious?" Harry asked wryly.
"Harry, you declared in front of everyone how much your first duel with Malfoy meant to you," Ron said, rolling his eyes. "And Malfoy walked away from the duel without even casting a single spell ó and believe me, thatís definitely a first."
Harry thought back on the duel in Lupinís class that never was ó how standing across from Draco and then watching him walk away had been one of the most exhilarating and devastating moments he had ever experienced. Draco certainly gave new meaning to the concept of wordless intensity.
"I know you donít like him, Ron," Harry started haltingly; he groped around for the right words to express what he really wanted to say. "And I donít blame you, because heís given you no reason to do that." His voice misted over slightly. "I used to see him the way you do now. But things changed. I saw a completely different side of him. And I realised that heís cruel because heís afraid of being vulnerable."
"That sure is a nice way to excuse someone for being a pompous, mean prat all the time," Ron remarked dryly.
"It isnít an excuse for the way he treats you or your family," Harry said firmly. "But itís everything Draco has been taught to believe in. And that made me... understand him, like Iíve never given myself a chance to before." He halted. "Itís like you said ó sometimes things look a lot different, depending on where you choose to stand."
"I canít believe youíre quoting my own words back at me in defence of Malfoy," Ron said flatly; but Harry saw a lack of seriousness in his eyes.
"Sorry." Harry smiled sheepishly back at Ron. "What Iím trying to say is that ó weíve all stood on the ground, watching Malfoy from a distance and never really wanting to get any closer. But what happened between us made me see him for who he really was. Like how everything feels so different from the sky, when youíre flying on a broomstick."
Ron slanted him a look. "Malfoyís broomstick?"
Harry blinked, and then burst out laughing. Ron just grinned, shaking his head. And everything seemed to melt back into place, the warmth and candor and humor that came so naturally to them. Harry felt a huge weight lift off his chest, and it was as if he could smile again that much more easily.
"Please, spare me the details," Ron groaned, waving his hand dismissively; then he sobered. "So what are you going to do now?"
"I donít know," Harry answered truthfully. Then, on an impulse, he asked, "What do you think, Ron?"
A surprised silence greeted his question. Ron glanced at him quizzically for a moment, although when the red-haired boy ascertained that Harry was indeed serious about asking his opinion, his expression changed to one of pensiveness.
"I spend a lot of time here," Ron finally said, once again; this time, a small curl lifted the sides of his mouth. "Watching the team practice, mapping out strategies and defences. Watching you fly during our Quidditch games, and sometimes wondering why you chose not to maneuver to the left, or right, whichever seemed the most obvious path to take." Ron paused, and took a deep breath; he looked directly at Harry. "But I never doubted that you knew what you were doing, Harry. Not once."
Harry felt his throat constrict with a rush of emotion; he could barely believe Ron had said what he did. Suddenly it seemed that things didnít seem so hopeless and bleak, that the swiftly fading light in the sky seemed to waver briefly and grow brighter; and for those transient moments the ache that gnawed deep inside him felt somewhat more bearable.
"Thank you," Harry said in a tight whisper.
Ron nodded, and said nothing; he didnít need to. He got to his feet, and beckoned to Harry, who stretched his legs and stood. As Harry got up, he lightly dusted off his lap, and with a final glance across the darkening field, turned and followed Ron.
Black petals fluttered to the ground in his wake, where they lay beneath the fall of dusk.
Hermioneís brow was furrowed with annoyance as she made her way down the winding stairs that brought her down to the dungeons. She had sent an owl earlier that day to set up this meeting. A scroll was clasped in her hand, and she headed straight for one of the empty classrooms on the corridor leading to the Slytherin common room.
Draco, of course, was already there. The boy was nothing if not punctual, Hermione thought to herself as she cut Draco a pointed look, then closed the door behind them. And of course, utterly annoying.
"What is it this time, Granger?" Draco stood leaning against one of the desks, his posture at once relaxed and poised.
Hermione held up the scroll. "Your Imperius essay."
"And you couldnít possibly have had it owled over instead?" Draco gave her a sharp, searching look, as he reached over to take the scroll from her hand. "Courtesies aside, something tells me the reason you came all the way down here isnít just to ensure the safe return of my essay."
"You know, Malfoy," Hermione answered without missing a beat. "Itís quite ironic how youíre always so quick to notice things when it comes to other people. Pity you donít try as hard for yourself." She paused. "Or Harry."
She didnít miss the brief flash in Dracoís eyes, before his expression quickly smoothed into one of indifference.
"This has nothing to do with Harry," Draco replied coolly. "Are we done?"
"No, we arenít." Hermione glared at him. "We are not done, Malfoy, because you do not just snatch Harry away from a life heís been so comfortable with, confuse him, then let him go as if nothing ever happened."
"Nothing ever did happen." Dracoís tone was flat. "It might be helpful if you remembered that it was all the love potion."
"It might be helpful if you stopped lying to yourself." Hermione shot back, exasperated. "Malfoy, everyone saw the way you two behaved around each other in Lupinís class. And it was painfully obvious that neither you nor Harry are over this. Pretending nothing ever existed isnít going to make either of you any happier."
"Since when did you care for my state of happiness?" Draco challenged scornfully. "And do you think Harry was really ever happy to begin with? Yes, he has everything he could ever ask for. There was a time I did, too." His voice wavered slightly. "Or so I thought."
"What changed?" Hermione asked.
The sides of Dracoís mouth curled upwards in a self-deprecating smile. "Harry."
"Then why are you walking away from him?" Hermione said quietly.
The silence echoed with an answer too painful to be spoken.
"Because everyone wakes up from a dream at some point in time." There was an underlying strain in Dracoís voice that he could not hide. He looked at Hermione for a moment longer, before he gracefully pushed himself away from the desk. "Thanks for the scroll."
Draco neatly sidestepped Hermione, and headed towards the door. Hermione turned to watch him go; only when Draco was two steps away from the door did she speak up.
"One more thing," she said, her voice clear and calm. "Why did you concede?"
"Itís none of your business, Granger," Draco barely turned, tossing the words over his shoulder.
"In most cases in wizarding history, a student conceded in a duel because he had to face his mentor," Hermione remarked. Draco ignored her, and reached out to open the door, just as Hermione added, "But not every time."
Hermione saw Dracoís hand halt on the doorknob, and his knuckles were white with tension. She smiled grimly, and surged on.
"I thought that was rather interesting." Hermione crossed her arms and walked towards Draco, who was standing perfectly still, his entire posture strung like a bowstring drawn taut. "So I went to the library, did some research. And found some interesting information."
"Just let it go, Granger." Dracoís voice was hoarse, sliced with thinly controlled emotion.
"Turns out," Hermione continued, unfazed. "There was a wizardís duel that ended when one conceded to the other..." She paused for effect, watching Dracoís response closely. "Because they were lovers."
Even Draco, with his seemingly infinite ability to check his emotions and hide his feelings, could not suppress his reaction this time. He spun around, his eyes blazing as they met Hermioneís; his mouth was pressed into a thin line, and he seemed torn between anguish and anger, the contrasting emotions so alike as they chased across his face like shadows.
Hermione was surprised at the raw turmoil she saw in Dracoís eyes; she drew a deep breath, and finally ventured a question that reverberated to the corners of the empty classroom: "So, were they lovers?"
"Of course they were," Draco snapped, glaring at her. "You already did your research, why the hell are you asking me?"
"I never did any research," Hermione replied evenly, holding Dracoís gaze. "It was just a hunch."
The silence that followed was like a rush of wind through an expanse of nothingness, hissing like a flame smothered by black waters. Dracoís eyes darkened to the colour of ash.
"I donít know what you think youíre doing, Granger." Dracoís voice was low and intense, and he looked more angry than Hermione had ever seen him before. "Checking up on what I do, trying to guess what Iím thinking, or feeling ó" Draco broke off, and his eyes glowed like coals scorched by a silver flame. "But whatever it is, you have no right to set Harry up for something he never asked for."
"Neither do you." Hermioneís eyes sparked as she looked straight at Draco. "But that didnít stop you, did it?"
"You have no right," Draco repeated fiercely; but there was a fissure in his composure, a crack of weakness in his voice. "You donít understand."
"Maybe I donít," Hermione agreed. "I have no idea what kind of game youíre playing. But I do know that history has a habit of repeating itself, especially for people who lack the originality to come up with something different."
Hermione noted the stunned expression on Dracoís face; it was one of the very rare occasions that Draco Malfoy was found without a sharp retort. She reached past him to open the door.
"Just think about it, Malfoy," Hermione said as she deftly shouldered past Draco, and headed out of the door. "Neither of them won. Both lost."
"So, Harry, about Malfoy!" Seamus never seemed capable of keeping still; he bounced a few more times before flopping down on the sofa next to Harry. "When are you going to tell us exactly whatís going on?"
The Gryffindor common room was warmly lit, and the fire blazed merrily in the hearth. Harry, however, found Seamus far too close for comfort; he half-heartedly swatted the Irish boy away, pleading the excuse of a tremendous backlog of readings to complete ó but Seamus would not take anything less than the whole story for an answer; preferably embellished with as many sordid details as possible.
Finally, Harry sighed and set down his book. He looked wearily at Seamus. "All right, Iíll tell you."
Hermione glanced up from her place at a nearby table, an eyebrow raised; Ron, sitting across from her, turned to look at Harry incredulously. Seamus cheered; Dean and Neville seemed to Apparate from the other end of the common room to settle at Harryís feet, gazing at him expectantly.
Harry stared at them, and shook his head in disbelief. "What is this, story time?"
"No." Seamus offered him an evil grin. "Kiss and tell!"
Harry shot him a withering look. "Very funny, Finnigan." Ron rolled his eyes, and Hermione smiled, unable to hide her amusement.
"Enough dancing around the bush, Harry," Dean prodded impatiently. "Come on, you can tell us whatís going on."
"Details," Seamus chimed in again. "We want details."
"What do you all want to know?" Harry tilted his head, and a faint smile lifted his lips. "Whatís up with me and Malfoy, díyou mean?"
"No, Harry, we want to know all about how you got that wicked, sexy scar on your forehead, because itís not like weíve read all about it in every wizarding textbook about a thousand times before," Seamus declared theatrically; he shot Harry a long-suffering look. "Of course we want to know about you and Malfoy, you dense old twat."
"Go on, Seamus," Dean glowered at the Irish boy. "Insult him some more, thatíll put him in the mood for talking."
Harry chuckled in spite of himself. "Why the sudden interest in the details of my life, I wonder?"
"Oh, Harry!" Seamus feigned hurt. "Weíre always riveted by every smallest detail in your glamorous life. So would you please just tell us whatís really going on between you and Malfoy?"
"Right." Harry took a deep breath, and sighed. He didnít even know where to begin. "You want the truth?"
Vigorous nods all around. Ron turned around in his chair to listen, and even Hermione set down her quill. Harry regarded the lot of them amusedly, and vaguely wondered what Draco would say if he knew that the Gryffindors wanted details of what had transpired between the two of them; or how his friends would react if he told them how exquisite Dracoís mouth had tasted when they kissed.
"All right then," Harry began. "It all started when Malfoy came to me alone one evening, with a rather... unusual request. After listening to what he had to say, I was surprised, to say the least ó but in the end, I agreed to help."
Seamus leaned forward eagerly; Dean and Neville exchanged wide-eyed glances, and hung on to Harryís every word. Ron looked dubious, as if he wasnít sure he wanted the sordid details as much as Seamus did; Hermione bit her lip and seemed to be trying not to laugh.
"You see," Harry continued, "Malfoy wants to continue his education post-Hogwarts, and for that he needs to achieve a certain number of extra credit points by doing additional assignments for each subject. For his Defence Against the Dark Arts extra credit project, Professor Lupin told Malfoy to prepare an in-class demonstration of an advanced duelling technique. To make it more realistic, Malfoy decided to ask a Gryffindor to take part in the duel."
"And why would you want to help him get extra credit?" Neville blurted out, looking chagrined.
"I didnít want to, at first," Harry admitted; in this lay a grain of truth. "But Iíve always been interested in wizardís duels, and this assignment would give me the chance to do more research and get credit for it, too. Malfoy also said that the extra credit points would be shared equally between us, and I wonít rule out the chance that I might want to further my studies in the future."
"Or you could always sell the points to Hermione," Ron chipped in; at the point, Harry knew his friend had cottoned on. He grinned at Ron.
"Iím perfectly able to get enough points on my own," Hermione said archly. "If youíre nice to me, Ron, I might just help you get a set, too."
"So you and Malfoy planned the entire duelling scene beforehand?" Neville asked.
"Thatís right," Harry answered. "We had to rehearse everything a lot, which is why I had to rush off on my own several times in the past few weeks."
"But," Dean frowned, "if it were part of a Dark Arts assignment, then why did Lupin look so surprised when Malfoy did that thing with putting his wand down in front of you? What was that called again?"
"Conceding," Harry replied; he thought quickly. "Lupin was surprised because he had no idea what kind of demonstration Malfoy was going to put up. Points were given based on originality, creativity and style of the duel ó so Malfoy wasnít required to submit an outline of his project beforehand." He shrugged nonchalantly. "So thatís the big secret."
"Thatís it?" Seamus cried, looking every bit like a child who had opened a box of chocolates to find they were all actually broccoli-flavoured. "And here I was thinking there was actually some decent scandal at the root of it all!"
"Well, sorry to disappoint you." Harry got to his feet, and gave them an enigmatic smile, eliciting another frustrated wail from Seamus. "Iíve a long day tomorrow, and thereís Quidditch practice in the evening too. Bedtime storyís over. Good night, kids."
Leaving the sound of Seamusís protests and Deanís guffaws behind him, Harry made his way up the staircase leading to the boysí dormitory. Deep down inside, he wondered why it was so much easier to spin a web of lies than to face the bitter truth.
Downstairs, Seamus crossed his arms and scowled. "You know, that didnít make very much sense at all."
Hermione smiled pensively. "Life rarely does."
Damn Granger for her sneaky plan to make him confess how he felt, Draco fumed. He stalked across the Slytherin common room straight into his dormitory, ignoring the puzzled stares he drew from the other Slytherins, and slammed the door behind him.
Damn Weasley for barging into storage rooms without knocking, and almost causing him the greatest embarrassment of his life by spilling the entire story about him and Harry in Dumbledoreís office. Draco flung his scroll onto his bedside table, and threw himself onto the bed, glaring at the empty dormitory for being so cold and lonely.
And damn Harry for making him feel this way.
Draco reached under his bed, and pulled out the silvery, shimmering fabric of Harryís Invisibility Cloak. He turned it over in his hands, admiring the silky, almost liquid feel of the Cloak ó it was one of the rare possessions that even he did not own. Draco had heard that it had belonged to Harryís father, James; probably Potter senior, even in his wildest imagination, would not have thought his precious Cloak would one day find itself in the hands of a Malfoy.
It wasnít that Draco didnít enjoy the power of invisibility. It had been exhilarating at first, a childhood dream fulfilled, and he had embraced it almost desperately: to be one with the darkness, to watch the world go by without being noticed.
But then, he had begun to feel that he was losing himself in the darkness, that it crept past the fringes of the Cloak and threatened to engulf him. This wasnít who he was ó someone who spent nights lying flat on his back on the Quidditch field, gazing up at the black velvet sky and wondering why beautiful things could only be looked at from afar.
Think, donít feel. The first lesson in being a true Malfoy. His father had made it easy for him to learn that; Dracoís mouth curled humourlessly when he thought of how incensed his father would be to know that all his conscientious teaching had vanished the moment Harry Potter walked into Dracoís life. Draco knew it wasnít just that night in the Forbidden Forest. It had started long before that.
It seemed like the Invisibility Cloak wasnít the only legacy that had run astray.
But Draco knew the Cloak didnít belong here, and it was as the constant chill of the Slytherin dungeon had already taken away some of the moonlit lustre of the glimmering fabric. Harry had given this to him, together with an ability to feel, and now Draco knew that he had to give it back.
He got to his feet wearily, slung the Cloak across his shoulders, and vanished. He slipped out of the dormitory and stealthily made his way out of the dungeon. It was less than an hour to bedtime, and the hallways were swiftly emptying of students as they scurried back to their own dormitories.
Draco started down the corridors, when suddenly he remembered there was somewhere else he had always wanted to visit on his own ó the Restricted Section.
The library was closed, of course, but the doors, even those of the Restricted Section, had not yet been locked. Draco carefully let himself in, cursing Filch for not oiling the hinges, which creaked loudly to announce his intrusion. He waited and listened for a moment, but all else remained silent.
Heíd only been in the Restricted Section twice before, when heíd received a legitimate note for a specific book shelved there, but never an open note. Both times, Madam Pince had lingered nearby, and under her watchful eye Draco hadnít any choice but to select the book he had permission to borrow and reluctantly leave.
Draco ran a finger idly across the neatly stacked books; the glass-paned windows overhead let in sparse slivers of moonlight, not enough to illuminate the finely stencilled titles on the booksí spines, but enough to make a certain book with a blank spine stand out. Dracoís heart skipped a beat, and his hand quivered as he reached out to take it.
The cover was blank as well, pure black, reflecting darkness. This copy was in a lot better shape than his own ó at least the bindings were intact, Draco mused sardonically. And the pages were whole, which would have been convenient.
As he opened the book, a piece of paper slipped out, and fluttered to the floor. Dropping the Cloak, Draco bent to pick it up; then he blinked, and stared at it for a long time.
It was the note he had scribbled, asking Harry to meet him in the storage room in the Astronomy Tower right after Quidditch practice. Dracoís fingers tightened on the scrap of parchment; it felt strange to find a piece of paper with his own handwriting on it, especially in a place he wasnít even supposed to be.
Still pondering, Draco slipped the note into his pocket ó anything in his handwriting found in the Restricted Section was incriminating enough. He turned his attention back to the book, and flipped it open. His fingers automatically leafed to the middle of the book, looking for the page on Love Potions.
And when he found the page, he stared at it for even longer.
"Just so you know, Iím very disappointed in you, Harry," Seamus said mutinously, as the Gryffindor boys climbed into their beds. "I had such high expectations of some scandal."
"Seamus! Stop teasing poor Harry." Dean laughed as he extinguished the candles, filling the dormitory with darkness save the slant of moonlight through the window. "I told you from the start there was nothing going on. But did you believe me? No."
"But, but...!" Seamus spluttered indignantly. "Even you said that ó"
"That Iím sure there was a reasonable explanation for everything!" Dean hastily cut in. "Anyway, you were the one who brought up the Malfoy thing."
Harry, who had just pulled the covers over himself, stopped dead mid-movement.
"Wait a minute," he interrupted, hoping his voice sounded casual enough. "What Malfoy thing?"
"Oh, nothing!" Seamus and Dean said in unison. Harry saw the flash of Seamusís white teeth in the darkness. "Good night, Harry! Sweet dreams!"
Harry glared at them suspiciously; then he sighed, and gave up. There didnít seem much point in forcibly extracting the truth about the "Malfoy thing" from Seamus and Dean, for their sanity as well as his, since it probably hit closer to the truth than either of them would have ever imagined.
Harry lay down and settled on his right side, his favourite sleeping position. He closed his eyes, trying to fall asleep.
"Hello, Harry," came a soft voice at his ear.
Harryís eyes flashed open, and he froze.
"Not asleep yet, are you?" came the familiar voice again.
"What the..." Harry bolted upright, looking around wildly and feeling for his glasses. He couldnít see anything but shadows all around him. He stretched out his hand, and it came into contact with something warm, like human flesh. "Gargh!"
"Harry?" came Ronís sleepy voice from the next bed. "You okay?"
"Itís me, Harry, you idiot," came the disembodied voice, somewhere to his right. Harry frantically grabbed his glasses, put them on, and still saw nothing. He jumped as a hand laid itself firmly on his shoulder, and Dracoís unmistakable voice whispered, "No need to wake your entire dorm for a welcome party."
"Uh, yeah," Harry called back softly to Ron. "Just, um, fly buzzing at my ear." This elicited a muffled, outraged noise from Draco; Harry couldnít suppress a grin. "Itís okay ó go back to sleep, Ron."
Harry waited for a few moments, hoping that the other Gryffindors would quickly drift off to sleep. For his part, Draco remained quiet, sitting on the bed next to him, still hidden beneath the Invisibility Cloak. Harry could feel the warmth of Dracoís body next to his, and it felt like a happy memory had come alive once again.
Harry turned his head towards Draco. "What are you doing here?" he whispered.
"I wanted to return your Cloak." Dracoís voice was low and soft in his ear; Harry felt a shiver run through him as he realised how near Draco was to him.
"You couldnít have done that tomorrow instead?" Harry willed himself to remain detached, to show no emotion ó heíd tried so hard to forget Draco, and he wasnít going to let the fact that Draco had sneaked into his dormitory and was sitting on his bed distract him. No, not at all.
There was a long, thoughtful pause; then, still sitting very close to him, Draco asked quietly, "Do you want me to leave?"
Harry closed his eyes, and the word fell from his lips: "No."
And he knew that Draco understood perfectly. Draco said nothing, and they both waited, for what seemed like forever, the silence in the room displaced only by the rhythmic snores from the other boys. Draco did not touch him, and even though Harry was tempted to reach out to Draco, he restrained himself. He had no idea how much time had passed, and the minutes that slipped by were of no consequence except that Draco was sitting with him through them all.
Until finally, Draco gracefully got to his feet; then he took Harryís hand, and wordlessly pulled Harry towards him. Harry slid out of bed, and Draco draped the Invisibility Cloak around both of them; padding quietly across the room, they silently exited the dormitory.
The moment they were out in the stairwell, Harry turned to Draco. "What ó"
"I want to show you something." Dracoís eyes glittered in the darkness, shining with a rare light of earnestness.
Harry gazed at him, torn between knowing that he should not go and yet, so badly wanting to; he sighed heavily. "This is insane, Draco."
"I know." Dracoís quiet acknowledgement hung between them, filled with acceptance and anticipation.
Finally, Harry nodded once; and he could have sworn that he saw the edges of Dracoís mouth lift slightly. But it was just the glimmer of a smile, like lightning silhouetted behind dense clouds. Then the blond boy turned and started down the stairs, not looking back ó expecting, knowing that Harry would follow. And Harry did.
After they climbed through the portrait hole, Draco once again threw the Invisibility Cloak over them both. In silence they walked along the deserted corridors, until they left Gryffindor Tower and made their way into the open night, not stopping until they reached the edge of the Quidditch field.
The dark grass of the field sprawled in front of them. Draco let his hand slip from Harryís shoulder as he removed the Invisibility Cloak, and they leaned against the base of the Quidditch stands, next to each other.
"Seemed like we used to spend the most time together here," Draco remarked, gazing out across the field. "I used to hate Quidditch games for that reason."
"Because you couldnít stand the sight of me?" Harry asked; his tone was wry, but without rancour.
"That was what I tried to make myself believe, yes," Draco answered. "But it didnít explain why I couldnít stop looking."
Harry stole a furtive glance at Draco; the other boy seemed to be intently studying the landscape before them.
"You know, they say that colours are uniquely powerful symbols," Draco continued, still not looking at Harry. "Green represents success and prosperity. Red means strength and courage." He paused. "Black, discord and confusion."
"So is that why you gave me a black rose?" Harry asked, bitterness creeping into his voice.
"Canít you see?" Draco finally turned, and looked directly at him. "Sometimes I think youíre just being deliberately obtuse, Harry."
"Well then," Harry said softly. "Why donít you tell me?"
A heartbeat of silence echoed in his ears; and for a moment, Harry wondered if Draco would answer him at all.
"The black rose," Draco finally said, meaningfully, "was what I thought I was looking for when I went into the Forbidden Forest that night. But what I found was you." He paused, and Harry forgot to breathe. "And I wanted to give you a black rose, because it helped me find what I was really looking for."
And the next thing Harry knew, Dracoís hands were on his shoulders, pulling him closer; then Dracoís lips closed over his. For a moment, Harry was too stunned to react; then everything flooded into place and he did the most natural thing in the world. He kissed Draco back.
The pounding of his heart roared in his ears; Harry forgot how to think, and only let himself feel, as he lost all sense of everything except the warmth of Dracoís mouth on his, the way Dracoís fingers tilted his face slightly to deepen their kiss. And it was feverish, and desperate, and everything that Harry wanted to remember how to feel all over again.
When they broke apart, they were both breathing harshly; Harry felt heat burning on his cheeks as he raised his eyes to meet Dracoís. What he saw surprised him immensely ó Dracoís eyes shone like dark crystals in the moonlight, and they were filled with almost palpable anguish.
"What?" Harry whispered; he couldnít bring himself to ask Whatís wrong?, because deep down inside he knew that everything was, his being alone here with Draco in the middle of the night, kissing him; it was never meant to turn out this way, it should never feel this wonderful. But it did, and it was.
So he settled for, "What is it?"
"Nothing," Draco said breathlessly; for some reason, Harry didnít feel entirely too comforted. "Itís just that I usually need a bit of time to come to terms with getting things wrong."
Harryís heart sank, but he pulled himself together to ask, "What are you talking about?"
"I never stopped being attracted to you, Harry," Draco said softly. "But when the love potion disappeared, I found that I could control the way I felt. So I thought I could make it go away by just pretending nothing ever happened between us." He drew a deep breath. "But I was wrong."
"After all this time?" Harry shook his head slightly. "Is that why you came to me tonight, out of the blue?"
"You saw the book too," Draco said, his voice low and intense. "In the Restricted Section. I was there tonight, and I know youíd been there before as well. You saw the entire verse on Love Potions." He paused, and looked straight at Harry. "You know why the spell of the love potion was broken."
Only when induced love is returned ó
Harry bit on his lower lip; his fists clenched reflexively. So now Draco knew the truth.
ó Is the mockery of the potion spurned.
Harryís voice quavered slightly as he spoke. "Is that why you brought me out here?"
"I needed to prove to myself," Draco said, his voice low and frayed, "that this is real."
"And is it?" The question spilled from Harryís lips, needing to be answered, once and for all.
Draco looked at him for a long moment, the moonlight turning the tips of his lashes to silver. He took a step closer to Harry again, and a devious smile curled his lips. "Why donít you show me again?"
There was no hesitation this time.
In a single movement Harry brought his lips to Dracoís once more. Dracoís mouth tasted like a familiar memory, like a special place he would always remember for the rest of his life. His arms went around Draco, holding him close against him as they kissed deeply, as he let go of everything that kept them apart and brought them together, until it was just the two of them, sharing this intimate moment only because they both wanted to.
Harry was vaguely aware of Draco urging him backwards, until his back came up against the pole that upheld one of the goal hoops above. It was hardly comfortable, but Harry didnít care about comfort right now. He slid to the ground, pulling Draco down with him, not breaking their kiss.
The grass was cool beneath them; Harryís fingers curled in the soft blades. He felt Dracoís hands on his face, holding him in the kiss, not that he wanted to turn away. Ever. Harry closed his eyes, losing himself in the moment, not wanting to feel anything else but how perfect it was to have Draco so close to him, kissing him like there was no tomorrow...
...and he didnít even notice when Dracoís hand slid from his cheek, not until Draco finally pulled away from him. Harry opened his eyes, dazed, as Draco extricated himself from their tangle of limbs; and then he saw that Draco had his wand in hand.
But before Harry could manage anything coherent, Draco pointed the wand at him and announced, "Manicas inice."
A flash of dark silver, like a trick of moonlight, followed by a sharp tug on his right wrist. Harry blinked, unable to believe his eyes.
"Draco, what the ó" Harry broke off; he stared incredulously at the handcuff that chained him to the Quidditch goal post, then back at Draco again.
"Famous Harry Potter." Draco surveyed his handiwork proudly. "Property of Draco Malfoy."
"You canít be serious!" Harry reached out to touch the handcuff with his other hand. As he ran his fingers over the cool metal Harry could see Dracoís name glinting in the moonlight.
"Nifty spell, isnít it, Harry?" Draco sounded smug. "I always learn from the best."
"Draco!" Harry was mildly alarmed. "You arenít going to leave me like this!"
"No," Draco answered, moving swiftly to lean over Harry; their noses touched, and Dracoís lips brushed lightly against Harryís. "Iím going to stay right here with you."
And as Dracoís mouth descended upon his once more, Harry forgot that heíd sworn this was a mistake that should never happen again. He forgot that walking away was probably the best thing he could ever do ó if only he could, and not just literally. He gradually forgot that he was handcuffed to a goal post, and didnít even quite remember the rushed, whispered spell that later caused the chain of the handcuff to snap in half, one cuff still looped around his wrist.
He didnít really remember much except Draco.
Time passed, and neither of them noticed. The night grew deeper, and the moon hid behind a wisp of cloud, letting the stars shine more brightly against the velvet black sky.
When they finally lay next to each other on the grass, the hungry heat of kissing had given way to the simple warmth of companionship. Harryís hand crept along the grass to take hold of Dracoís. It remained still under his for a moment, before curling to intertwine their fingers.
"So this is what you wanted to show me." Harry spoke quietly, gazing up at the vast night sky.
"Yeah," Draco turned his head slightly to look at Harry; his eyes shone in the darkness with a silver light. "What do you think?"
Harry turned to Draco, and smiled. "I like it."
He and Draco parted ways on the Quidditch field just as the first rays of dawn began to gleam on the edge of the horizon. There were no lingering embraces, no goodbyes.
Harry returned to Gryffindor Tower, and managed to sneak back into his dormitory before the other boys awoke. Probably no one would be able to tell that he hadnít slept a wink all night; he felt more refreshed than he remembered having been for a long time.
As usual, he went down for breakfast in the Great Hall with Ron and Hermione. He settled in his seat, and immediately his eyes searched the Slytherin table; his heart leapt when he saw Draco there. Draco glanced briefly in his direction; their gazes held, and even though Draco didnít acknowledge him in any way, in his eyes Harry knew that everything he remembered from last night was true.
Midway through breakfast the owl post arrived; a falcon owl swooped low overhead, and dropped a rolled-up piece of parchment in front of him.
Harry picked it up; and his breath caught in his throat when he saw what kept it curled into a small scroll. A ring, studded with amethyst and emerald.
Harry glanced up, straight across the room at Draco. The Slytherin was watching him evenly, his silver eyes intent on Harryís every movement.
Harry slid the ring onto his fourth finger, remembering the way Draco had done it, all those many nights ago. Then he looked down and unfurled the roll of parchment. He was greeted with a familiar sight ó it was the exact same note that Draco had given him before.
Meet me in the disused storage room on the fifth floor of the Astronomy Tower, after your Quidditch practice tonight.
And as Harry read the note once more, he thought of all that they had been through ó how they had met in the darkness, and strayed onto the unlikely path that had finally brought them together. Harry wasn't sure he understood; but it didn't matter. Maybe some things in life weren't meant to be. They just were.
Harry slipped the note into his pocket. Then he looked up at Draco, and nodded once; in response, a small smile curved the sides of Dracoís mouth. Harry smiled back. He had plans tonight.
He wondered if he looked strange, sitting there with a broad grin on his face when everyone else was either munching on breakfast or reading their owl post. But he didnít care. Harry grinned cheerfully. Why shouldnít he smile?
After all, he had every reason to.
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