Part 2 - Cave Dwellers
And even though the moment passed me by
I still can't turn away
Goo Goo Dolls, Name
The Gryffindors and the Hufflepuffs were in the herbology garden, which Draco could see quite clearly outside the window of the history classroom. The lot of them were down on their knees with their hands in the dirt. How poetic. Draco ran the soft edge of his quill against his bottom lip, looking outside, tuning out the droning professor Binns. Longbottom, Potter, weasel, Granger, Finnigan, all in a tidy little row, their robes discarded for the moment in a pile on a bench. Potter and weasel were nattering to each other, laughing. They wore no gloves, just pressed their bare hands into the tilled earth, piles of new plants of all varieties scattered around them. The mudblood was shooting them disapproving looks. Weasel leaned toward Potter and whispered something into his ear; Potter crouched still for a moment, listening, and then pushed Weasel's shoulder, and laughed loudly, the echo of it audible in the history classroom.
Draco suddenly felt the tip of a wand pressed against the back of his neck, drawn up to under his clipped hair, then felt it scrape down to the edge of his robe on the smooth of his back. It began to trail back up his neck again when he reached around and grabbed it without turning, finding no real resistance.
He whispered, "Can I help you, Parkinson?"
"Pay attention, Draco darling. Neither of us are taking notes." She hissed.
"I don't care."
He held Pansy's wand in front of him, balanced between his index fingers, tip to handle. Her wand was surprisingly delicate for someone so indelicate, small and light for someone with such heavy hands. It was nearly white, her wand, such a pale wood. His own wand was so dark it was very nearly black, with a slight wave to it, thicker and heavier than Pansy's. He felt as through he could so easily snap it in two. He held it in his palms, handle and tip, and put a small amount of pressure on either side. It bent slightly. Draco cocked an eyebrow. Light, but stronger than you'd think. He wondered idly what was inside it as he dropped it on the window ledge beside him and leaned back, looking back out the open window again.
The Gryffindors had hardly moved. Draco watched as Potter lifted his dirty hand to his face and shove his glasses up his nose, leaving a brown smudge on his cheek. He was smiling, still talking to the others, making the mudblood laugh. He shaded his eyes with his hand and looked behind him at the others, planting just as he was, elbow deep in earth. He looked as though he might be speaking to someone just behind him. Draco watched as weasel dropped his trowel and stared at the ground, eyes so wide that even at this distance Draco thought he could see the whites of them. He grabbed Potter's arm, pointing at the ground, his mouth gaping open.
It was just then that Longbottom started to scream. The sound of it echoed through the courtyard and up into the classroom. It made the Slytherins and Ravenclaws turn and look out the windows, though Professor Binns didn't seem to notice. Draco learned closer to the window. Neville, white and frozen in place, was pointing into the dirt, still on his knees. Professor Sprout had turned from the furthest row away, getting to her feet to bolt toward the raving crybaby.
Potter (always the hero) was suddenly standing, pulling Longbottom to his feet and shielding him with his own body from whatever was frightening him, pressing him back. Draco could see Longbottom's terrified fingers clutched around Potter's right bicep, his forehead pressed against Potter's dirt-smudged shoulder. Though the herbology garden wasn't far, Draco couldn't hear very much, but he could see that Potter shouted something, the palm of his hand open and facing the ground. Just then a monstrously large snake, all reds and blacks, slithered off and disappeared toward the forest, waving the tip of its bright red tail angrily as it went. Potter exhaled, stuck out his tongue in an expression of relief, surprise, and outright silliness, and turned, his back toward Draco now. He stood there a moment, and Draco stared at the white T-shirt that clung to his back, his tan forearms, his dark, messy hair cut short and revealing his sun-browned neck. He leaned forward then, reaching out, and Draco saw Neville's fat little arms wrap around Potter's back. Isn't that touching. Draco thought, smirking. He realized, without being prepared to think about it, that he felt jealous. He noted it and decided to think more about it later.
Parvati Patil slumped in her chair. Double potions was always such a chore. To be stuck down here in the dungeons when was such a nice day outside, she felt it was almost sacrilege. How the Slytherins managed to live down here was beyond her. She had no friends who were Slytherins, and had never seen the Slytherin dorms. But she imagined that their common room was filled to stalactites reaching down from a dark and cobwebbed ceiling coated with mineral deposits, where the floor eased into the walls slowly, no warm wood or soft rugs. If they had furniture, it would be hard and straight-backed, medieval and ornate, the complete antithesis of comfortable. There would be no cushions, no blankets or tapestries. They would sit, looking lazy as their posture was uncompromised in these harsh perches, arms hanging askew off the thin, bare armrests. She always pictured caves when she was down in the depths of Hogwarts; caves and the dripping sounds that accompanied them, strange and inhuman scratching and echoes. When she pictured the Slytherin common room, she imagined that the students had to bring lanterns in with them, with hard hats recommended.
Millicent Bulstrode sat down heavily next to her, looking positively morose. Snape had paired them again specifically, which Parvati was certain he did just to see what kinds of tensions he could encourage. Parvati didn't care. Class was class, and she wasn't prepared to make a big deal out of it. Besides, it serves him right to have to deal with the results. After a moment, Millicent buried her head in her arms on the desk and shook.
Parvati blinked. Well. She shuffled her chair forward to put a hand on the girl's back.
"Millicent, are you okay? Is there is there anything I can do to help?" She whispered, noting Snape's narrowing eyes pointed in her direction. Millicent said nothing, but snuffled wetly and didn't move. Parvati reached into her pocket and pulled out a clean hanky, and pressed it into Millicent's hand. Snape was speaking, but she had tuned him out. Millicent's uneven breathing, and her pathetic pose, had completely disarmed and distracted her. Millicent was a proud girl, proud and haughty and rather vain; would would throw her down to this state? What could have undone her so completely? After a few moments Millicent shifted and pressed the hankerchief to her nose. She sighed brokenly. Suddenly chairs everywhere were shifting back from desks, and students were standing up and moving toward the back of the class.
Parvati sighed, patting Millicent's back. "I'll go get the ingredients, you just um, just stay here and relax." How very odd. Millicent was awfully dramatic at the best of times, but she really wasn't the type to lose it in class. Particularly not in Potions. Snape wasn't well known for his warmth, and he hadn't shown himself to be any more understanding with his own house, as far as she could tell.
She rose and walked over to the supplies cupboard. Hermione had been paired with Pansy, and the two were eyeing each other distrustfully. Neville, who still looked distinctly white from this morning's escapade with the snake, had been paired with Goyle, which, Parvati reasoned, could have been worse. Goyle was a bully, but on his own he was fairly harmless and mostly left well enough alone unless he was goaded by his friends. Today of all days Neville needed a break.
Parvati had been glad that it had been Neville had found the thing in his plot of earth and not her; she wasn't terribly keen on reptiles in general, and snakes in particular. Though, she reasoned, there was nothing wrong with being rescued by Harry. He was such a sweet boy, so honourable and kind and adorable in a rumpled and nonchalant kind of way, it was hard not think a little wistfully about screaming like a helpless maiden and having him swoop in and envelop her in his arms while banishing the beast. And the requisite 'oh thank you my hero' smooch. Mmmmm indeed. Now, Parvati was not officially one of the ranks of girls with crushes on the Boy Who Lived, but she wasn't opposed to the idea and finding herself in those well-tanned and Quidditch-muscular arms. In fact, she was hard pressed to think of any girl who would be opposed to the idea. She had even seen Hermione blush a little when Harry kissed her on the cheek after they won the house cup last year.
Harry, of course, had been paired with Malfoy for this little potions exercise. It was positively sick, really. Parvati was fairly certain that Snape only did Slytherin-Gryffindor pairings just to see how sparks would fly when he sat those two next to each other. And fly they did. Even now she could hear them arguing about which root to chose from the tray. She winced. It did not bode well.
Parvati picked up the various items she and Millicent would need according to the list on the blackboard, nodding sympathetically to her fellow Gryffindors. Hermione cornered her by the concentrates rack and grabbed her arm.
"What's up with Millicent?" She whispered. She looked over, seeing Millicent sitting up and wiping her face with the hankerchief.
"I have no idea." She answered, and sighed. "What potion are we making again? I wasn't paying attention."
"It's a lingua potion, lets you understand other languages." Hermione measured out a cream-coloured power into two jars, one for herself and one for Parvati. She felt a stab of fear.
"Do you think he's going to make me speak Hindi to test it?"
"Oh. Maybe, unless he gets us to read some Greek or something. It would be more interesting to hear you speak Hindi." Hermione pulled her hair back and knotted it hastily. "Just leave off the insults, in case Snape has tested the potion on himself before we started class."
Parvati giggled. "Right. Insults are about all I know, along with 'Mum, can I have a cookie.'" They laughed. "Good luck with Pansy." Hermione made a face, and they gathered their things and wandered back to their desks.
She returned to Millicent with her arms full of roots, bottles, herbs, and one greasy half of a giant slug. They avoided mentioning her tears and split up the slicing. The cauldron between them bubbled. By the time they had added the ingredients to the potion and were stirring it cautiously, she looked almost back to normal, except for being still a little puffy around the eyes.
"What does this potion do?" Millicent asked.
"It lets you understand other languages." Parvati was glad she had bothered to ask that question herself.
"Hmm. Well, that will be interesting. You speak Indian, don't you?"
Parvati rolled her eyes. "Hindi, yes. I do. A little."
"How long does it last?"
Parvati hmmed. "I'm not sure."
It was just then that the fight broke out a few tables over. Parvati did really need to look over to know who it was, but look over she did. Harry was flat on his back, Malfoy's robes at the shoulders balled in his fists, and Malfoy was crouched on top of him, two hands wrapped around his throat. Millicent whimpered.
It was then that Parvati understood it. It was Malfoy. Now that she thought of it, she had seen Millicent shooting little looks at him, giggling like a twelve-year-old, gossiping happily with her friends. She had been positively bouncy a few days ago, nearly dancing around behind him. He, however, looked cool and collected, as ever. Now, seeing Malfoy rolling around on the floor with Harry, shouting incoherently, knocking cauldrons over and causing Snape to turn positively pink with anger as he shouted at them and tried to haul them apart, which, of course, had been easier when they were eleven then it was now, it all fell into place. Harry had pulled away Malfoy's robes just enough that Parvati caught sight of a string of bruises along his collarbone. No question. Those were hickeys. Parvati glanced over at Millicent again.
Had she had a fling with Malfoy? Well, it was hardly unheard of. She just wouldn't have paired him with her of all people. So. Millicent managed to get a sniff of Malfoy after hours and thought maybe there might be more, thought she might get to don the Malfoy cloak in the evenings, and has just been informed that she was sadly mistaken? Parvati sighed. Stupid as that idea was on Millicent's part, she had a hard time not feeling sympathetic. It hadn't been that long ago since Michael Corner had bashfully broken it off with her, after a whole summer of owling back and forth. Little Hufflepuff worm. So she was, if anything, sympathetic. There's no rhyme or reason in love, is there.
"What idiots," she noted to Millicent. "Don't mind them. Let's finish the potion, shall we?"
Millicent nodded, wiping her eyes. Her hands trembled a little on the ladle as she stirred.
"Boys. Can't live with them, can't kill them." She ticked off the ingredients in her notebook and checked the colour of the potion.
Millicent snorted. "Speak for yourself. I have no problem with justifiable homicide." Parvati laughed, and, after a moment, so did Millicent.
Harry felt very, very stupid. He shouldn't have attacked Malfoy in potions. Not that Malfoy didn't deserve it, of course. He had deserved it. He had deserved a hell of a lot worse, as far as Harry was concerned. That crack about his mother had been one thing; he was so used to Malfoy's insults that that one in particular just made him grunt. But the ensuing commentary about Neville's parents had sent him over the edge. In retrospect Harry knew that Malfoy had been aiming for a fight, and wanted Harry to land the first punch. Perhaps he understood that at the time, too. Malfoy seemed to know exactly what would get a rise out of him, and it was profoundly annoying.
So he did realize that he shouldn't have done it. But he certainly didn't deserve this, as far as he was concerned. The trophy room. No one had touched it in months, maybe even years, and everything, every little dent, every curl and decorative little flower in those Quidditch trophies and Best Student award and History Student of the Year, Highest Arithmancy mark, the Divination award, Student Most Likely to Become an Auror plaques and so forth all needed dusting and polishing. So he sat there, polish under his fingernails, a cloth shoved into his palm, scrubbing. And Malfoy wasn't much help. He just sat on a desk on the other side of the room, glaring, a trophy between his legs. He scowled.
"This is your fault, you know."
"You started it. You could have just insulted me back. You didn't have to attack me."
"You're so easy to goad, you know that? You really need to learn some self-control."
"Less talk. More polishing."
Malfoy grunted. They polished in silence. After about forty-five minutes, Malfoy looked up again.
Harry sighed. "Don't start."
"No, your father, he won this. The" He held the plaque in the light and read, "Transfiguration award, 1978." Harry dropped the Most Improved Student of the Year trophy and walked across the room perched himself on the desk next to Malfoy. He followed Malfoy's polish-stained finger to the inscription: "James Potter, 1978." Malfoy had tilted it into the light. Harry stared at it. He wasn't sure why these things hit him the way they did; it was only an inscription, it was only a piece of metal shoved onto a piece of wood. It wasn't as though his father were sitting there, smiling at him, a seventeen year old like himself, certain about his future, happy, maybe even in love. He wanted to just reach over and touch him, shake him, scream, "Don't go" until he understood. The plaque was still sitting on Malfoy's thigh, he had turned it in his hands so that it faced both of them. Harry leaned in a little closer to get a better look, reached out and ran the tips of his fingers over his father's name. He sighed. It wasn't, after all, his father. But something that his father had touched, something that he would have been proud of. Harry felt a tug on his heart. His hand dropped to the edge of the plaque as he thought of it. James Potter, hero, betrayed to his death, had been good at transfiguration. He must have gotten the highest grade in his year. Why did no one tell him these things? Did they not think he would want to know? Had they forgotten? He sighed and slipped off the table. He stood for a moment, still looking at the plaque.
"Hmmm." He grunted. "Yeah. Thanks." Malfoy nodded, and put the plaque back in its case.
As Harry fell asleep that night, he was thinking about his mother, sitting in the great hall, applauding for James Potter, Quidditch star, with the best grade in Transfiguration. As Draco fell asleep, he thought about Harry's breath on his neck, those fingers accidentally brushing against his thigh, and the smell of polish.
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