Part 8 - Mano e Mano
She watched from the sidelines, for the most part. Rolanda Hooch was keeping an eye on the combatants, and Minerva McGonagall was able to watch the proceedings relatively undisturbed from her inelegant perch on the bench seats along the wall of the boys gymnasium. It was an old and rarely-used space, with oiled, knotted ropes hanging from the ceiling against the wall, a dank-smelling leather pommel horse and a springboard in one cobwebby corner, a series of ancient mats (now khaki coloured, but God knows what colour they started out) piled up sideways against the wall behind her.
There had been a time when too much air was thought to be a bad thing. Quidditch had not been quite a poplar as it now was, and the Hogwarts students found themselves thrice weekly in this godforsaken hole in the wall to stretch and bounce and climb. It was conveniently placed directly opposite the Hogwarts damp and rather moldy-smelling dungeons, far from that inappropriate fresh air. High up on the walls the windows were open, and the night air danced hesitatingly across the ceiling, rarely travelling down to meet her sweating palms.
Ever since the Tri-Wizard tournament had begun a couple of years before, they had been holding small, informal fencing matches for groups of interested students at intervals during the year down here in the old gymnasium. The chose the boys gym because it was larger; it was also the one that had windows, which at least gave Minerva the respite of looking up, so that she didn't feel as though the dungeons were about to swallow her. She was not a fan of the dungeons, but it was too cold and too dark to hold these tournaments outside at this time of year, and the Great Hall was already spoken for. The current series of matches had generated quite a following, however, and she was far from the only observer. They had a healthy number of combatants from each house, and a rough set of heats had been sketched out. Rolanda Hooch had a wonderful mind for scores and tallies and heats and determining who played who played who. The list was posted against the far wall, just over a large Victorian scale, in bright red ink, and results were added in blue as soon as each match ended.
The competition this time around had been surprisingly fierce; the Hufflepuffs and beaten the Ravenclaws already, but had met their match with the Slytherins. She glanced at her watch. By nine-thirty the Hufflepuff contenders were settling in to watch the last of the battles, and the a group of Ravenclaws had pulled down some of the mats and were curling up on the them, gossiping, giggling, pointing, placing bets. This would be a late night. Fortunately the following day was Saturday, and they had already ordered a prolonged and informal breakfast in anticipation. She suspected it would be close to eleven before all the equipment was returned and eldest students were trotting off to bed.
What was nice about fencing, Minerva noted, as that it was almost impossible to cheat. The foils, sharp as they were, were not able to cause actual damage; even if a student attempted to ram one through the chest of another, the spells on them would simply shorten the blade on impact. Of course, that trick was wildly popular, and she had given more than a few stern looks to students happily stabbing each other silly instead of fencing. Those younger students had already been trundled off to bed.
Holding intramural fencing matches had been her suggestion this time around, in fact. When the Hogwarts champion turned out to be the unlikely team of a Gryffindor and a Hufflepuff a couple of years ago at the Tri-Wizard tournament, the Slytherins in particular had rapidly lost interest. Most of them weren't particularly enthusiastic about routing for either of the foreigners, nor for Harry or Cedric (that poor, poor dear, rest his soul), and when a couple of sixth years were caught trying to dig up the Whomping Willow (apparently planning to replant it in the middle of the herbology garden, or in the courtyard, or, God forbid, in the Gryffindor common room), she knew something had to be done to keep them occupied. It was then that she remembered the old fencing equipment.
Fencing went in and out of style at Hogwarts over the years. In her own fourth year, Minerva remembered it being wildly popular; not quite as popular as Quidditch, of course, but at the time there was a host of madly competitive fifth years who had used fencing as the grounds for their personal grudge match. Ravenclaw vs. Gryffindor, from her fourth to her sixth year, was where the non-Quidditch action was. She remembered William Hathaway and Avery Peterson clashing foils madly in the last battle in her sixth year, scores equal, blue sparks indicating hits, while the students, sitting in newly-conjured stands in the boys' gymnasium, held their breaths. The two boys had just turned eighteen, within a week of each other. They battled for the top grades in all of their classes, and were always within a point or two of each other. She remembered the look of fierce determination on Avery's freckled face as William bit his lips and narrowed his eyes, foil at the ready. Avery had won. Back in the Gryffindor common room, it had felt as though they had won the House Cup.
She was a more Quidditch player, really; the only girl on the Gryffindor team. It was unusual at the time for a girl to be selected first string. There were still no women at all on the professional teams, and many parents frowned on girls flying around like that, fast, competitively, at all hours of the day or night. There was an old witches' tale that too much fast flying stretched out the womb and made women give birth to deformed babies.
Her own grandmother had turned white when she learned that Minerva had been chosen for the Gryffindor team. Her mother had been proud, though, taking her to the shops, thoroughly appalled when they discovered that they carried no Quidditch clothes for girls.
"Well then." Her mother had announced haughtily. "Show me what you have for the boys." Her mother had stared pointedly at the salesgirl, whose mouth was hanging open. She repeated herself, loudly.
Minerva tried on sixteen sets of Quidditch robes before her mother found one she approved of, and even then she complained about the frankly appalling "sexist decision not to stock Quidditch-wear for women. What century do you think this is? Goodness gracious." She remembered that it was sixteen sets of robes she tried on because she had turned sixteen two weeks before. The symmetry of the numbers had seemed profound at the time, fateful and promising. She stood in front of the mirror in the shop, the salesgirl bustling about trying not to stare, the outfit, too long in the arms and low at the hip, making her look boyish and childish at the same time. She looked into the mirror and saw a Quidditch player. She was thrilled. Her mother paid for the robes brusquely and then took her home, where she altered the robes to fit Minerva's small frame. In the pictures she looks like a poster girl; there's an aura of newness around her always, even in the team pictures, her robes splattered with mud and her hair disheveled. She, like her robes, was altered, somehow.
Minerva hadn't really understood the appeal of fencing until Avery explained it to her. "I don't like to fly," he said. He ran is fingers through his hair. "Not even on areoplanes. Do you know about areoplanes?" Avery was muggle-born. He was the only person Minerva knew who came from a strictly muggle family, and she was frankly fascinated by it. Not that Avery needed to be muggle-born to be fascinating; the freckles on his cheeks, his large, strong hands, the curve of his shoulder, everything about him was fascinating to Minerva. He skipped stones across the lake while she watched, and she couldn't believe he did it without any magic at all. He said that being with her was electric; she liked that word. Electric.
He told her about the precision; the way the weight of the foil vanished when you held it just right. Like chess, but faster and without the pieces; looking into your opponent's eyes and seeing yourself. Pretending not to be only you for a moment, but him as well. Your body tensed like the strings of a violin; the sweet music of foil against foil. The utter lack of magic. It was this that confused Minerva, and appealed to Avery.
"It's like well. Magic is wonderful and all that, but this is just your body, Min. Do you know what I mean? Just your body, against another, no magic, just thought, and skill, and strength, and the will to win. Anticipating. It's mind and body, no magic, no tricks. No glamour. And I get to keep my feet on the floor." How she adored him.
That fall, with the Tri-Wizard Tournament in full swing, she couldn't even remember where they kept the fencing equipment anymore. She looked at the glum Slytherins and the bored Ravenclaws, and even at the restless Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors, and decided that a little fencing might be just what was needed here. Side competition, something to distract the others. Maybe, if they were lucky, they might get another house rivalry started, to keep the troublemakers from causing trouble in unexpected directions. She had approached Rolanda on the green as the first years filed into the broomshed, returning equipment with shaky hands after a lesson.
"Oh, Minerva. What a great idea!" She had said, yellow eyes widening. "I used to fence a bit in my school days." She modeled a fencing stance, hand on her hip, a long, stray twig from a boom in her hand.
For about two weeks prior to the current competition, they had run instructional sessions for all interested students, handing out rather the battered-looking foils while Minerva helped some of the younger and smaller students transfigure their old sweaters into proper fencing jackets, wool hats into masks. This year there had been considerable interest, and Minerva found herself reminiscing. She watched as Harry battled Terry Boot in a fierce but decidedly good-natured fashion, the two of them avoiding final blows that would end their face-off too quickly. They shouted encouragement at each other through their masks. But the real drama seemed to be brewing across the room, where Draco Malfoy stood with his mask under one arm, a piece of parchment in his hand, and his eyes firmly trained on Harry.
She had seen the Malfoy owl careen into the gym, drop the letter in front of Draco and perch fitfully on a rail beside him Draco had just finished neatly and quickly defeating his Hufflepuff challenger (she had not known that Malfoys were fencers, but Draco had come equipped with his own foil and even a proper pair of fencing trainers) and he bit his lip as he read the parchment. Lucius Malfoy appeared to have words for his boy, and clearly they were no simple parental encouragements. She shook her head. He looked over at Harry, who was clumsily fending off an attack, and looked back at the parchment. He sighed. Taking a quill from the bench beside Rolanda, Draco scrawled something quickly on the back on the parchment, folded it, and tied it to the owl's leg. While the last Ravenclaw-Slytherin match ended in a burst of cheers from the Slytherin side, Minerva watched the Malfoy owl rise in lazy circles through the gymnasium up to the windows, and disappear into the darkness.
Harry had finished his match victorious, and was pulling off his mask, unzipping his jacket, fanning his face with his gloves. Draco raised his foil from across the room and pointed at Harry. "Mano e mano, Potty, " he shouted. The Slytherins laughed. Harry rolled his eyes.
Those two were nothing but trouble, it was true. From the night six years ago when she had found Draco out of bed, whining and complaining about Harry and Ron out after curfew to yesterday at their Care of Magical Creatures class, when she had watched from her window as Draco pointed at Ron Weasley, laughing, clearly making some kind of derogatory comment, and seeing Harry's explosion of righteous indignation, it had been clear that these two boys did nothing if not cause stir one another into a fury. She was fairly certain that they were honestly out to destroy the other, and wondered how close they could come to it, once they left this place. It as good versus evil, the decent, upright hero versus the villain, the unicorn versus the ogre. They fought like wet cats in a barrel, is what it came down to.
As a teacher she was horrified by their behaviour. She knew where it led, she knew what kind of injury and destruction the unfettered rage (righteous or otherwise) of teenaged boys could lead to. As a witch with a sense of humour, however, she was madly amused by them. She was entirely certain that their strange and extremely intense rivalry had actually been rather good for the other students over the last six years; like the Ravenclaw/Gryffindor rivalry that grew up around Avery and William when she was a student, Harry and Draco's odd little drama distracted the students (and very often the staff as well) from the dark tidings that wafted in from the world at large. The story of Draco turning into a ferret still got a chuckle in the staff lounge from everyone but Severus, who instead raised a rather dour eyebrow.
She kept an eye on Draco, wondering if his current plan would land him a detention or not, and how severe the punishment would have to be. These things did take some forethought, after all. She could already tell from the hoots and hollers from the adjacent boys locker room that there would be a right mess in there. Perhaps if the infraction were not too severe, she could have them tidy up in there without magic or, there was always waxing the floor on the fifth floor ballroom if it was much worse. From the buzz in the room, she guessed that the cards of fate had planned just what everyone was secretly hoping to see; a Harry/Draco match in the face of a Gryffindor/Slytherin tie. Mano e mano indeed.
Please meet me by the lake at 11:30pm tonight. I have had an urgent summons from Lord V. and your presence would be prudent. Be punctual.
Im afraid I've been given a detention tonight. I beat Potter in a fencing match, and McGonagall decided to punish me for it. I will try my hardest to meet you, but if I'm not there in time, I have not evaded capture.
They stood facing each other on the mat while Madam Hooch attempted to convince some of the younger and grumpily-tired Gryffindors to head off to bed, as it was nearly eleven and the match had not yet even begun. Draco was holding his own foil, not one of the grubby school ones, its tip pressed into the suede of his shoe, stifling a yawn. His foil was silver, inlaid with gold, and had been a Christmas gift. It came in a long, thin, cedar box lined with velvet, and was brighter, shinier, and more comfortable to hold than those dreadful standard issue two-hundred year old pieces of vaguely rusted metal Potter seemed more than happy to use. It had his name engraved along the side of the hilt, as if anyone could possibly mistake it for anyone else's. He pressed down on the foil, its grip still warm in his hand from his last victory, feeling the pressure of the tip against his toes, feeling it bend against his weight.
He had taken an interest in fencing a couple of years before, but since there had never been more than a handful of students at Hogwarts prepared to take it seriously after that first year, he hadn't had too much real practice. Last Christmas, rather than hang around at his parents' deadly dull parties being eyed by husky-looking Death Eaters, he would often go down in to the sub basements of Malfoy Manor looking for the ghost of his great-great-great uncle Luis, who enjoyed a decent round or two. The only drawback was that Draco had to imagine the feeling of foil hitting foil, the pressure of an opponent's will against his own, the sound it made. His father had hired him a fencing instructor for a few months while he was home that summer, which had been great fun. There was something appealing to him about this game; highly structured and elegant, yet brutal, physical, and calculating. He slept better after a fierce series of rounds, as if the motions of fighting and fighting back sated his inner demons for a while.
Now the certainty of that solid grip in his hand fought something both more and less demonic inside him.
"Care to make this interesting, Potter?" He still held his mask under one arm, watching Harry awkwardly attempt to zip up his jacket.
"Interesting? I'm sure beating you will be interesting enough for my taste, Malfoy." So cocky. So confident. Had he not been watching? Draco was disappointed. Was he not nervous about meeting him like this, finally? Had he not seen his effortless parries and feints? How there had not been one of these little duels that had even been a remote challenge to him? His lips twitched. Ah, it was all a show with Potter. The game of confidence. He could play that game too.
"Let me see " He narrowed his eyes. "If you win Ah yes. I know." He took two rapid steps forward, grabbed his mask and foil in one hand, reached up and grabbing Harry behind the neck and hauling him closer. Potter struggled for a moment, suddenly off-balance, about to pull away, to drop his equipment and get a stranglehold on him until Draco leaned forward, his lips barely an inch from Potter's ear and whispered, "if you win, I won't tell McGonagall about the mudblood stealing books out of the restricted section." Potter stopped struggling, his eyes going wider for a moment. He was clutching at his foil in one hand, mask in the other, his jacket still half unzipped in the back and hanging loosely off his shoulder. Draco reminded himself not to move his fingers along that overwarm neck, that this was a motion of violence and domination, not desire. Not desire.
"Oh yes," he said. "I know about that. I also know that you've been trying to become an animagus without permission, isn't that right?" Whatever Potter was about to say froze on his half-parted lips.
Draco was so close he could feel Harry's breath quicken against his cheek. For a moment he forgot where he was, he forgot that Madam Hooch was turning around, having shooed some students to bed, and would be coming over to him in a matter of moments to prepare for their duel.
He forgot that Professor McGonagall was sitting at the benches across the room, no doubt watching him. He even forgot about the response he had just sent to his father, and the consternation it would no doubt cause. He forgot how conflicted he was about lying to his father about this; why was he here? Why was he doing this? Why didn't he just beat Potter and move on?
In the time it took to shut his eyes and then open them again, to shift his finger against the rough mesh of his mask, he relived the sensation of these lips against his neck, the surprised and unselfconscious and desperate groan that escaped from between them, those stray arms on his shoulders. In the flash of a memory he smelled cool November air, damp skin, wet grass and wool and a sweet smell, like cantaloupe and strawberries and cream, like marzipan and cotton balls, fresh sheets, industrial soap, and something else, something richer, like chocolate and rain and pussy willows. When he opened his eyes again he was relieved to find that he had not moved, he had not betrayed himself. Potter was nearly shaking with anger and confusion. His lips were slightly chapped.
"Well," he whispered, gripping Potter by the neck a little tighter. "Don't act so surprised. So. If you win, I'll keep your little secrets. For the moment." Draco released him and stepped back, seeing madam Hooch raising her eyebrow and looking impatiently at them.
"Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Potter, are we ready? It's awfully late, and you should really be in bed," she noted primly. Potter's little friends were drooping against each other on the benches, though the mudblood's eyes were pinned firmly on Draco. She must have seen his little exchange with Potter, and seemed suspicious. Perfect.
Madam Hooch tut-tutted at Potter. "Your jacket's undone, Harry, turn around and let me" There was a giant bang,, and a muffled groan, followed by a scream from one of the remaining fifth year Hufflepuff girls. One of the younger boys had shoved his friend off the fourth level of a riser, and he was now lying on his face on the stone floor. "Oh dear." Madam Hooch sighed, pushing her hair off her face and watching Professor McGonagall, who was standing over the fallen boy within an instant.
"I'll help Potter with his jacket, Madam Hooch," he said smoothly. Potter glared, biting his lip, still looking a little thrown, but turned his back to Draco, exposing the mess of zips and ties on the ancient jacket that he had pulled undone after his victory over Terry Boot.
"Oh dear," Madam Hooch sighed. She was not keen on activities that went this late into the night, and the tone of her voice was proof enough. "Yes, do, Mr. Malfoy. We need to get this over with. I must send the fifth years off, I'll be right back. Quickly now!" She stormed over to the risers, shouting, "Now then, fifth years, off you get. That's quite enough injury for one night," to a chorus of "awww," and "but that's not our fault!"
Potter ran his fingers over his neck, as if he could feel Draco's eyes on his skin. He had, Draco considered, aesthetically perfect hands. Even, smooth, with slim knuckles, rounded fingernails. Aristocratic hands, he would have said, hands that should move gracefully and not do any dirty work, hands that should be all softness and skill, without grime or stains. He watched Potter press his fingers into his neck, and rub his muscles hard, and observed. Aristocratic hands should not, he considered, have hangnails, papercuts, calluses, or cracked cuticles. Potter would have aristocratic hands in spite of all this if he could simply refrain from chewing his fingernails. His nails were bitten nearly to the quick and uneven, with cool white crescents on a deep purple that faded to pink, flecked with white. His fingernails were even slightly dirty. Draco shook his head.
"And if you win?" Harry whispered over his shoulder and Draco tucked his foil under his arm and his mask between his knees. He zipped up Potter's jacket slowly, tied two soft leather thongs together at the waist and one across his shoulder blades, and smoothed out the thick canvas with the palm of his hand.
"If you win? Oh, Potter, you're so hopeful. I'll ask something simple." He sniggered. "If I win, we will have a rematch."
"Yes. Rematch at my discretion. I decide when and where."
"What's the catch?" Potter sounded relieved, but cautious. Draco wondered what he was expecting to hear, Give me your firstborn, lop off a leg, kiss me? He rolled his eyes at himself. Maybe I can amend that.
"No catches. Rematch, that's all." He pulled on a vertical zip that trailed from Potter's hip to his armpit, holding down on the canvas at his waist as he did so. He felt the T-shirt underneath against his fingers; it was slightly damp from sweat and warm, and he imagined that he could feel the skin behind it. He blinked.
"You'll tell if I lose?" Potter stretched out his arms to make sure he still had a full range of motion. Draco moved his hands to the base of Potter's neck and neatly tied the last of the stiff leather thongs together. The jacket smelled musty and old, like attics or cellars or like the restricted section, and his fingers felt slightly dusty from the leather.
"I might. I might not. I'll tell if you don't agree to a rematch."
"So then. Deal? We have stakes."
"Fine." Harry turned and eyed him as he walked over to his mark and lifted his foil, shaking it and causing the hilt to snap out of place. It was, admittedly, a terrible tool. On the basis of that alone Draco knew he was assured victory. Madam Hooch swept in rubbing at her eyes. Pockets of students were gathering to watch this last match; they had been here most of the evening and even the seventh years were yawning. Draco saw Anna Phoenix wave to Potter, give him the thumbs up, and grin. He smiled back, winked at the Mudblood, and then pulled his mask over his face.
"Alight!" Madam Hooch sighed, keeping an eye on the two boys glaring at each other on the benches, and gave Harry and Draco a stern look. "Let's play clean now, salute!" Draco pulled his foil up, his gloved fist pressed into his mask at the chin, watching Harry, bundled in white canvas and almost looking like a stranger with his face hidden in black mesh, do the same. They pressed their hands into their hips and assumed a ready pose. "Fight!"
Potter struck first with a direct blow, leaping forward and lunging. Draco parried easily, adding a rapid assault that got him points. He heard the scoreboard tally it up, and reminded himself to pace this match better. It did need to last at least until eleven-fifteen, to be certain that he would miss his appointment. He wished, as he lunged, watching Potter parry and catch his foil in a quick bind, that he could see his opponent's face. Pressed foil to foil, he could feel the old metal of Potter's foil creak against his new one, he could even feel the hilt of Potter's rattle a little as he pressed down. That wasn't helping him any; it was uneven and the weight probably unbalanced. He threw off Harry's attack and landed a swift cut that sang through the air and landed against Potter's unsteady foil. He isn't bad, Draco thought. Yes, he could be made interesting. He could become challenging. He could beat me, if he knew what I know. He caught Potter's blade coming in at him in another direct attack, feinted, and scored a deceptive hit, earning another point.
There was something about Potter's stance that appealed to Draco. He found himself fixating on Harry's calves poking out under a light pair of cotton slacks, rolled half-way to the knee. He looks like a clam digger, he thought, but realized that he couldn't stop watching the muscles working back and forth under that fine sheen of hair. It was true that it was terribly hot in the gymnasium. Potter wore a thin pair of gray socks that coagulated in a messy heap at his ankles, dripping over his ancient-looking trainers with broken laces. For the first time, Draco wondered if Potter's muggle family took decent care of him. Animals, he thought. He probably eats from a trough when he's with them. Having gotten used to Potter's rather direct approach in their match, he was startled when he lunged to counter him and found that he had feinted, and had scored a touch against his left arm. Draco smiled to himself.
He was close to winning, before long. Potter was starting to strike more and more accurately, with more subtlety and caution, but also, somehow, more desperately. For a moment or two Draco thought about and the number of times that the person in his place, the opponent to the bundled and sweating Harry Potter, was Lord Voldemort. Was that part of the attraction? Was it the power that Potter exuded? He was lucky, he had fate on his side, he was brave and stupid enough to take chances the rest of them knew better than to take. He was strong, in his way, and he didn't back down. He had faced off with Voldemort and won, but only barely. He was bound to die at Voldemort's hands one day, it was inevitable. He could dodge that blast of superior power only so many times before it bashed him up against the wall and nibbled on his neck. Draco knew this to be true. Was that what it was? The ephemeral nature of him? He was like a leaf in the wind, pinned against a window for a brief moment. Like a proverbial butterfly, released from a cocoon for a short time until the rain falls and its powdery wings are drenched and beaten into the ground. There was something beautiful about things that die so fast.
Draco watched him clutching at his hip, his hand slipping off onto his thigh and back up again. Potter might beat Lord Voldemort, but he would not beat him. Not today, at least. Draco parried again, their foils making a crashing sound that caused some applause from the Gryffindors. Draco tuned the crowd out, though he could half-hear Crabbe's thick voice hooting, and Goyle laughing. They had known about his interest in fencing for some time now, and had made him their de facto fencing champion from the start. He knew that Blaise had a bet running on this particular encounter, double or nothing odds on Draco, and Thomas and Finnigan had been fool enough to pool their meagre allowances in support of Potter. Draco was set to get cut in on the profits. But the thrill of that moment to come faded now as he stared at Potter's wrists, his damp skin peeking out from between his gloves and his jacket, twisting with his foil, and heard the clang of metal against metal again. Draco felt stifled, claustrophobic, and altogether too warm.
He could hear Potter breathing rather heavily through his mask as the intensity of their hits increased. He must have known by then that he was about to lose. Draco thought about Voldemort again, staring Potter down as he would the final time, and how a cornered animal reacts. Potter lunged hard, a powerful thrust that left Draco slightly off balance to parry, and one last touch that glanced off Potter's shoulder finished it. Madam Hooch shouted, "Slytherin wins!" A great whoop went up from the Slytherins; most of the Gryffindors applauded politely, but sour-looking group growled, digging into their pockets.
"Well done, Harry!" Professor McGonagall glided toward the mat, smiling at Madam Hooch, and patted Potter on the shoulder. "You've got a real talent for fencing. It's too bad our foils are so old. Perhaps we can look into getting some new ones after the break." She smiled tenderly, and then looked over at Draco. "Congratulations on your win, Mr. Malfoy." He bowed his head and gave her a half-smile.
Weasel and the mudblood were grinning sleepily at Potter and ambled up toward the mat, the mudblood giving Potter a quick hug, as Weasley noted, "If you'd had a better foil, you'd have won, I expect."
Potter sighed and rattled the hilt around with his hand. "It probably didn't help." He looked defeated, tired, and slightly annoyed, but smiled at his friends.
"I think my dad has one from when he was in school, Harry." The mudblood was prattling on. "I'll ask him if I can borrow it, I think it's a nice one. Perhaps Sirius could find one "
Draco pulled off his mask and smirked, watching Blaise collecting profits by the risers. "Sure," he drawled toward the Gryffindors. "Blame the equipment." Crabbe and Goyle were clapping him on the back, hooting like fools.
The remaining students were enlisted to help put away equipment and tidy up the gymnasium as the last two duelers headed for the showers. The noise that had come from this large, tiled and bright room had been a warning; the Hufflepuff boys had left a dreadful mess. There were puddles of water everywhere, nearly half a foot deep in places, as the cool stone floor dipped in places. The drains were stopped with paper towel.
"Looks as if Terry Boot and his buddies were aiming to make a swimming pool of this place," Harry shook his head, and Draco smirked. They headed for benches opposite each other and Potter studiously ignore Draco, apparently trying to get out of there as quickly as possible. He pulled off his T-shirt and balled it up, shoving it into a rucksack beside him. He looked down at his feet. He had pulled off his trainers in the gymnasium, perhaps for the heat, and now his socks were sopping wet. He peeled them off, hopping on one foot to do so. Draco sat on the bench half-transfixed and half pretending not to be. Potter was so ungraceful, and so appealing at the same time. He was charmed, staring at the smooth slope of Potter's spine, curved to the right as he leaned over to yank on his dripping sock.
Draco pulled off his own shirt, which smelled rank. It had been a long series of matches, in spite of not being particularly challenging in terms of skill level, they had taken quite a bit out of him. Those thick canvas jackets had done a good job of sealing in his body heat and shirt was uncomfortably damp and embarrassingly stained. He could hear McGonagall thanking students outside already and sending them to bed. It was now or never. He wondered what was the worst thing he could say to Potter, but didn't have time to rank and evaluate each option.
"I'm sure Sirius Black will buy you a fancy new foil if you ask nicely, Potter. He does owe you that much, since you got him exonerated for killing all those mudbloods like he did." Draco folded his shirt and put it in his rucksack. "Some nice work, that."
Potter stopped and turned. "He didn't kill anyone, Malfoy," he said quietly.
"I'd be careful, if I were you," he continued, watching Harry's anger rising to a boil. "I know how fond you are of that mudblood friend of yours. I'm sure he's been eyeing her. I'm shocked she's not dead yet. Perhaps you've told him a few things she's good for."
Potter gaped. " come again?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I heard, Potter."
"Get stuffed, Malfoy." He pulled a clean towel from a shelf to his right.
"Stuffed? I hear that's what they did to your parents. They stuffed them and put them on display as a Death Eater tourist attraction. Come! See the dead parents of the Boy Who Lived! They cast spells on them to make them look like their still screaming, with their arms in front of their faces, and"
Potter dropped the towel and launched himself at Draco, throwing him into the lockers behind him with a loud bang and a crash, as his rapid motion upset a bench and sent it teetering onto its side.
By the time she found them, Harry was straddling Draco, attempting, it seemed, to pound head against the floor in the puddle of water the found themselves in, Draco hair dripping as he reached up to secure his stranglehold on Harry's neck. Given the state of the boys' locker room, she decided that cleaning that rat hole up without magic might just be punishment enough. She briefly considered shoving both of them under the showers and letting cold water douse those angry faces and clenched fists until the repented, but her professional side won over.
"I expect to that this place will be spotless before either of you go to bed," she said fiercely. She looked at the two of them for a moment, both of them red-faced and breathing hard, wet hair and dripping clothes, Harry barefoot, Draco with a bloody lip and a rip in the knee of his khakis. She shook her head. "I'm very disappointed. Ten points each from Slytherin and Gryffindor. As she walked back to the staff quarters, she laughed quietly to herself. At least Harry's got a good right hook, she thought.
Draco mopped up the floor in the showers, pushing the standing water toward the now unclogged drains, and watched Potter. He had rolled his pants up over his knees, the wet fabric clinging to his skin. They were large pants, too large for him by a long shot. He wondered why on earth so much of Potter's clothing was miles too large. He had heard a rumour somewhere about a cousin, a muggle, whose handmedowns Potter was forced to wear. Perhaps he was very large. Very large indeed, from the size of those pants, and they looked rather old and worn. Without his shirt or jacket to cover it, Draco could see that these pants had been taken in a fair amount, and even then Harry wore an old leather belt to hold them up. It was disgusting, really, the way muggles treat wizards. Like a lower form of life. Why didn't Harry see this? Why didn't he understand? Lord Voldemort understood it. Lord Voldemort would pay back even Potter's debts, if he let him. A few mumbled words and those muggles would be only a faint memory, a memory which could be easily disposed of. It's just a matter of time, Draco thought, watching Potter crouch over and pick up bits of soggy paper towel, just a matter of time before he realizes the truth. They didn't call them Death Eaters at first. They called them Liberators.
Potter turned off a faucet left running at the far end of the locker room, unplugged the drain and moved over to the boys toilets.
"Ugh," he said, his voice echoing off the tile. Draco didn't ask. He just moved toward another row of sinks, plugged up a drain with some paper towel, and turned on the water. He turned and went back to the showers as the water rose and spilled over the edge.
Finally they had mopped up most of the water, the sinks were unstopped and empty, the garbage bin full of wet paper towel, ripped shirts and a stray pair of underpants. They hadn't spoken a word to each other until Draco said, "Time for that rematch, Potter."
"What?" Potter sounded annoyed, and tired.
"Rematch. We had a deal." Draco pulled his cedar box out from a locker and dropped it on the bench in front of him.
"It's nearly midnight."
"Deal is a deal, Potter. I said it would be at my discretion. My discretion says we duel now. Here." He pulled out his foil and swung it through the air, listening to it sing.
Potter sighed. He looked down at himself, wet and half-naked, his pants drooping onto his hips from the weight of the water he had been slogging through. He had a nasty bump on his head from where Draco had managed to slam him against the lockers, and he rubbed it, wincing. He was still angry, and Draco felt a vague pang of guilt over what he'd said.
Draco hmmed. "Here." He turned his grabbed his foil by the blade, carefully, and proffered the hilt to Potter. "You want to blame the foil? Use mine."
For a moment or two Draco wasn't certain Potter would take it. He stood there, his feet damp in his shoes, bare-chested with the wet edges of his pants tickling his calves as he moved, the foil bending down with the weight of the hilt and bobbing, its sharp tip scratching slowly against his forearm in a semi-circle. Potter was staring down at it, hands hanging at his sides. For a moment Draco remembered that this was how he looked, nearly a month ago now, when Draco had run from him in the night, lips still warm from his tongue. He hadn't gone far. Potter's poor eyesight was a blessing and a curse; there were parts of Draco that wished Potter had seen, seen everything. Draco's own vision was perfect. Better than perfect. It was dark, certainly, but he could see enough. He had been able to see him, a dark shape with the ghostly colours in the sky glinting off the lenses of his glasses, not more than fifteen feet away, standing still and mournful, looking down at his hands and then dropping them helplessly to his sides. He had wanted to gather him up then, wrap his arms around him slip his hands under that thick woolen cloak, scold him and apologize.
But if his hands had strayed any farther, if those fingers had run through his characteristic fine hair, if they had slipped across his chest and found the Slytherin crest, over his heart, he would remember. He would remember that he hated Draco, that he wasn't interested in boys, that this was his archenemy. He would wonder what the trick was. He would push him back in disgust, punch him in the face, kick him in the teeth. He would rain shame down on him as he lay in the mud of the herbology garden, wiping blood from his chin. And what would he have said? And so instead he watched, and read the loss written in that posture of Potter's, written in the hopeless drape of his arms, and mourned with him. Mourned while giddy with the rush of what he'd done.
Potter reached out and wrapped his aristocratic fingers around the hilt of the foil, and Draco released it. He swung it forward with a hiss, hilt at eye level.
"I'll go get another foil. Stay here," Draco said quickly, watching Harry shift his grip on the weapon and swing it back and forth slowly. His anger seemed to be dissipating.
"What about masks and jackets and gloves?"
"No masks, no jackets, no gloves," Draco shouted as he walked back into the gymnasium. It was dark now, and a cool breeze wafted down from the ceiling, brushing against his chest. He shivered and breathed it in deeply, feeling a sudden need for some outside calmness and peace. He reached into the box of foils and pulled on out, tested it quickly, and snorted in disgust.
When he returned to the locker room, Potter was still testing out Draco's foil. It was a beautiful thing, to be sure, and holding the school foil made Draco realize just what an advantage he had. Well, he thought. Fair enough that I should have a handicap. This should make things interesting. Potter tested a few mock attacks, and then looked up at him.
"Ready when you are." He had a mischievous look on his face that made Draco's insides melt and head toward his shoes. For an instant Draco felt unstoppably tempted to reach over and kiss him, hard, pressing him back against the wet tile wall and try to meld himself into him as many ways as humanly possible. He felt irresistibly tempted to run his hands over Harry's chest, across Harry's stomach, though his famous mop of hair. Looking at the expression on his face in that instant Draco could imagine that the feeling was returned in spades. But that look was a desire for victory, a look that bears a remarkable resemblance to lust. He shut his eyes and remembered who he was.
They went through the ritual of saluting, which looked almost comical in their wet pants, Potter's bare feet, and their semi-nakedness. When the first attack came Draco met it quickly, but felt the lack of his new weapon. It clanked loudly and rattled uncomfortably in his hand. Without a mask, Draco could watch the expression of Harry's face change with each move; he bit his lip as he feinted, parried, attacked, and the released it as he followed through. When he scored the first touch, against Draco's waist, just above his hip, he smiled widely. Draco reminded himself to pay attention to the game, and engaged a series of quick attacks and scored a touch against Harry's left shoulder.
Why had he done it? He parried smoothly and counter-attacked, caught in a quick bind of foils that ended in a feint by Potter and a near miss against his chest. Why had he pulled Harry aside then, and kissed him like that? What did he think he would gain from it?
Draco wasn't entirely sure. At the time he had not even had the temptation dangling in front of him that he did now; the current object of his insatiable lust half-naked before him, so pure and innocent that he didn't have thoughts like these, caught after midnight with his pants barely managing to hang on to his thin hips by the weight of their wet hems, biting his lip and concentrating entirely on Draco, observing his every move with the relish of a lover. He was half-shocked he hadn't given in to temptation yet. Why had he kissed him? Because he could, and because he wanted to.
He had spent that evening roaming around the dungeons, moping. It was his birthday, he had just turned eighteen. His birthday always made him inexplicably sad, and this one most of all. Never had he felt so confused. He was pining so achingly for something he simply could not have and it annoyed him. So when he saw Potter in the crowd, only distinguishable by the faint glint of light reflecting off those glasses, a matching pair still hidden in the pocket of his robes, warm between his fingers and his thumb, he realized that this might be his only chance. One kiss, even stolen, sloppy, fast, and confused, would be enough to quell this horror rising inside of him. Perhaps it would even kill it.
He dodged Potter's attack and scored a sharp hit against his right shoulder, feeling the tip of his foil press into his flesh and retract. Draco felt his eyes shutting from the sheer pleasure of the sound Potter emitted; a low growl, a sharp breath, followed by a rapid counter-attack the clanged in his ear and returned him to the present. Draco ran him down, nearly pressing his back against the wall, and scored the final touch softly against his stomach, scraping the foil gently up to his chest.
"Beat you again." He smiled, feeling warmth spreading out through his body from his lower stomach. He felt himself flush.
Potter growled again, and twisted his lips in frustration. He doesn't like to loose, no more than I do. But he does it so much less. Not that practice helps. He lifted the foil from Potter's chest pretended not to watch the muscles under his skin tense and relax and he swung the foil.
"One more go," he said. Draco laughed.
"But I'm tired now, Potter," he teased, shaking the foil in his hand testily. "What do I get if I go another round?"
Potter grunted. "Another chance to beat me."
"You drive a hard bargain." Draco grinned, and so did Potter. The lifted their foils and began again.
After Draco scored the first touch, Potter got creative. He dodged and dove, driving Draco back until they were almost again the opposite wall. Now, Draco thought. Here is a real challenger. For a moment they got confused with the timing and the order of action; perhaps it was the late hour, or perhaps Draco was too fixated on the slope of Harry's abdomen, the sheer sight of his navel, and got confused. As Draco moved forward, Potter aimed a violent thrust of his foil into what he thought would be the general direction of Draco's predictable counter-attack, but landed the tip of the blade right into Draco's chest. In one rapid motion, the foil made contact , slipped beneath the skin, and kept sliding effortlessly into Draco's chest until the point protruded sickeningly from his back. Draco yelped, and a thin trail of blood dripped from the wound, a hole an inch across and filled with the blade nearly a foot from the hilt. Potter screamed.
He released the foil but it remained there, lodged in Draco's chest, still moving slightly from the violence of the strike. Potter went white, began jittering like mad, and immediately wrapped an arm around Draco's waist to support him, pressed his hand across the small dribble of blood that trickled past his left nipple.
"Oh my God, oh my God, Draco, I'm so sorry, it's okay, I won't let you die, I'll take you to the hospital wing, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to " he babbled at high speed, his eyes growing damp. "Are you okay? Can you speak? I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry..."
Draco smiled, overwhelmed by the closeness of Harry's body, feeling the vibration of the foil through this body. For a moment he considered that he had been blessed; not only to get the forbidden kiss, but now even a forbidden embrace, the feeling of hot, damp skin against his own. He knees grew a little weak, and he leaned a little into Potter, his arm draping casually against Harry's back. He looked up into Harry's face, seeing such horror, such regret written there, such fear. They looked at each other for a moment, both unsure of what to do next. After a moment or two, Draco chuckled.
"Harry," he said softly. He reached up to the blade at his chest and slowly pulled.
"Draco, don't, don't do that, it makes it worse!" Harry's hand moved against Draco's chest and he felt the nipple growing hard with the friction. The bleeding had stopped, and the blood that had emerged was now sticky on Harry's hand. The arm around his waist tightened as if Harry was afraid Draco might collapse at any minute. Harry mumbled anxiously, his breath rapid against Draco's face. "Please, stop, don't hurt yourself anymore "
Draco pulled the foil out of his chest slowly, in several motions, grabbed it by the grip and swung the blade in a quick half circle.
"Harry," he said, still softly, but with a touch of humour in his voice. "This is a very expensive foil. The school foils use a cheap retracting spell. This one," he swung the blade around again for emphasis, and it sang sharply in the air. "This one is designed to be much more dramatic. It goes through things after a certain amount of pressure." Harry was blinking at him. "Really, Harry. I'm fine. This is just a scratch. Really. Look." He pointed to his chest where, as he said, there was just a slight puncture wound. "I'm okay."
Harry stood a moment longer, looking at the wound, a hand still against Draco's chest, an arm still wrapped around his waist, looking at him. It was just then that Draco noticed that they were both trembling a little. They were breathing hard, adrenaline coursing through their veins. After a few moments, Harry dropped his arms and stepped back, turning bright red.
After a short and uncomfortable silence, he said, "I think I won, finally."
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