Part 9 - Untouchable
I recognize the way you make me feel
It's hard to think that you might not be real
I sense it now, the water's getting deep
I try to wash the pain away from me
'Cause you're everywhere to me
And when I catch my breath it's you I breathe
You're everything I know that makes me believe
Michelle Branch, Everywhere
Draco stared down at the long, slim box on the desk in front of him. It had arrived rather later than he expected, a whole week later, in fact. It had cost him nearly all of his holiday pocket money, which was no small sum. Every Christmas, when he arrived home, his father would slip a wad of cash into his jacket pocket, his 'play money', so that he could have a good time around town while he was home. Draco, however, still thought it rather quaint to show up at outrageously expensive locations without a drop of cash. Carrying money struck him as so pedestrian, so common. And there was always someone there to take care of a bill or two for him when he looked disdainfully at people asking him for payment. The older he got, the more he noted that people jumping to cover his bills for him; at the same time, his allowance from his father increased steadily, and his yearly Christmas bonus was an almost shockingly high figure. So his store of cash would sit on his dresser, or in his coat, or jammed finally into a thick stone jar on his desk which had once carried the white-hot coals that housed his pet salamander, and was now slowly filling to the brim with coins.
Draco rarely spent money these days. His mother was careful and watchful of him and knew what he enjoyed and what he needed; she kept him well-dressed and well-tended. She had noted his love of books early on and bought him consecutively larger and more impressive collections; the already vaulted ceiling of his library got progressively higher and higher. She had equipped him with a vast array of musical selections when he had shown an appreciation for music at an early age. As a testament to his motivation, the cello she had bought him for his twelfth birthday, on which he could play a grand total of three tunes, sat in one corner collecting dust and house elf dandruff. His skills in potions had been rewarded with a private potions laboratory, which mostly just reminded him of school, drudgery, nick wounds from slicing bergamot too close to the nub, and Harry Potter. Draco noted that while his dignified interests were catered to boundlessly by his parents, his clear preference for alcoholic beverages and extremely loud pop music, as well as his rapt fascination with muggle situation comedy, and, on occasion, muggle literature, were not.
When he was younger he spent his allowance frivolously on elegant, outrageous, impressive, ludicrous or merely expensive trinkets. He would buy on a whim, or he would be driven by an obsession, a hobby, a desire for a hobby, or merely to punish his parents, his friends, or himself. He bought strange and often bizarre things: sound recordings with titles like Women with Steak Knives, which he would then play at full volume and rattle the crystal from three floors away for weeks on end; muggle technology, such as televisions, HAM radios, computers, and the complete Monty Python's Flying Circus on DVD; portraits of infamous wizards who had eaten their own hands or boiled babies or fallen in love with too many women, too many men; vials of sand from the sites of massacres, blackened with blood; a collection of objects whose express purpose was purely sexual (everything from common plastic devices to the most extreme sadomasochistic equipment, including nipple-clamps, a branding iron, and, oddly, a self-circumcision kit), which Draco displayed in a 600 year old china cabinet next to another collection of weapons, from Asian sabers and African knives to finely-crafted American handguns and one carefully contained dose of anthrax.("Sex and death," he had said. "What more is there?") Over the years he had also purchased the occasional rare, exotic and befuddled-looking animal, bird, or reptile, which inevitably ended up in the hands of house elves designated as his personal zoo keepers. But recently the thrill of buying things had waned. He had hidden most of these things away.
This time he had bought something as a gift, and a secret gift at that. He had spent his first days home leafing through catalogues, and had finally found the ideal model. Slim, silver, simple and elegant, sharp and beautiful. This foil had the same charms on it that his own did; a small amount of pressure and it would slip right through a body, a wall, an armoured chest or a beating heart. He smiled at the thought, and rubbed at the now faded mark just above his left nipple. He had hoped to have the foil arrive at Hogwarts as a Christmas gift, but Christmas day had come and gone. Now he was preparing to send it with just two days to go before he returned to school himself. Had the gift been for anyone else, he would have just brought it with him given it in person. "Yes," he would have said, "it's late. I ordered in plenty of time, but they shipped it just the other day. It's fabulously expensive. Open it." But not this one. He could hardly waltz up to Harry Potter and present him with a gift. That would simply not do.
He pulled the elegant foil out of the box and gripped it tightly in his right hand. Swinging in one full turn and hearing it sing, he held open his left hand drove it through.
Draco had tried to push thoughts of Harry out of his mind over dinner, concentrating on smiling and trying to be as charming as possible. As usual, the dinner table was not populated only by his father and mother, but also by their assorted guests. On that particular night, these included three Death Eaters and their wives, four children under the age of ten, and two winsome girls who were roughly his age, visiting from some Scandinavian country (Sweden? Norway? He couldn't remember) with their even more winsome older brother. Finding himself locked into an intense game of seductive motions and glances, a pair of deep blue eyes across the table looking into his face and then trailing slowly down, an eyebrow cocked and a half-smile growing lopsidedly across that clear, Scandinavian face, Draco wondered whether he simply attracted more men than women, or if he honestly preferred men to women. He couldn't be sure. The lopsided grin reminded him of Harry. He smiled back.
His mother had come into his bedroom that night, while he lay sprawled out on his back in flannel pants and an old T-shirt still leafing through fencing catalogues. Already he had narrowed down his desired options to six foils, but remained undecided. He flipped idly through the glossy pages, playing with the elastic waistband on his pants. He found himself picturing Harry, ridiculously half-naked with that old belt hauling up his pants, that look on his face, that half-grin, that determination. He remembered the feeling of Harry's arm around his waist, fingers against his chest, those lips, that tongue against his own. He dropped the catalogue when his mother entered, flipping it face downwards, feeling guilty before remembering that, as yet, he had done nothing worth hiding.
"Oh, Draco! It's so good to see your room occupied again, I can't tell you." She smiled and wandered towards him, running her fingers along his dresser, bare feet sinking into the carpet. She released the tight bun that held up her long, still dazzlingly blonde hair, and sat on his bed, looking down at him. She gave him a small, vaguely sad smile, and stroked his hair.
"My beautiful boy," she said. "What's become of you! All grown up so fast, hidden away at that dusty school where I haven't been able to see you." He chuckled, and then smiled at her. His real crime was not in a catalogue, but was in his head, both more and less easy to hide. He left his waistband alone and draped his hand across his stomach.
"I missed you too, mum," he said, smiling at her. There was a part of him that was happy. Strangely, frighteningly happy. He smiled a little broader, he felt lighter. He had nearly outdone himself, he thought. He had bagged difficult prey before, of course; it had only been a year or so before that he had been obsessed with finding his way into that little Ravenclaw's bed; she had been resistant. His reputation was double-edged, after all. He was charming, wealthy, amusing and elegant, but also ruthless, sometimes cruel, and often insensitive. But he had found his way between her thighs eventually. It was then that he realized that conquest did not make him happy. It made him feel vaguely satisfied, momentarily. It made him feel powerful, persuasive, and attractive. He imagined that he was happy, he tried bragging and showing the little tart off. It didn't help. After a couple of days, he grew angry with his own reaction. Why was he not happy? He had a bright, beautiful girl on his arm who would do anything for him, someone his mother would approve of. Her parents were Death Eaters, she was subtle but politically interested. Pansy merely cocked an eyebrow at him and went on with her reading. His interest in the little Ravenclaw skirt waned and then disappeared altogether within two and a half weeks, and the last time he had looked into her eyes he had seen tears and felt nothing but a general sense of boredom and discomfort. The concept of love had not troubled him before. But now.
Did he love Harry? How would he know if he did?
Harry had stepped away from him, blood on his hand, shaking, staring at his chest, looking frightened, apologetic, concerned, and something else. Draco wasn't certain he didn't imagine it, but he thought he saw something else there, something that had kept that bloodied hand against his chest after he knew Draco wouldn't collapse or bleed to death. Draco wasn't so sure Harry recognized it himself. There was no question that, as a rule, Harry did not swing with blokes like Draco, in more ways than one. Draco sometimes wondered what went on between Harry and Ron, but realized, after fits of jealous rage poured into abuse laid against a few first years turning up in the wrong place at the wrong time, that they were both too innocent for the scenarios in his mind.
For Gryffindors, lust was all about love, devotion, admiration, and making babies. It didn't take much to imagine the masturbatory fantasies of Harry Potter; missionary position, a pretty girl, a sweet smile, lots of 'I love yous', roses on the bedside table, a quilt-covered bed, a sunset and Pachabel's Canon playing in the background. Lust for him would be all about soft touches, closed eyes, angelic moans and coming in unison. He would be gentle, his hair curling down into his eyes, lips slightly parted, teeth tucked away and never making an appearance. There would be no marks of this lust on the body of his lover, no bruising, no bite marks, no tearing. This would be love-making, not sweaty, sticky sex. Draco was prepared for this. He was prepared and willing to engage in all of it, if Harry could conceive of replacing 'girl' with 'boy'. And for an moment or two in the boy's locker room, Draco saw that maybe Harry could. And this made Draco very, very happy.
His mother looked at him, lying on his back with a catalogue face down at his hip, running her fingers running through his hair, looking as if she wasn't quite sure she recognized him, or something in him. This made Draco nervous. He sometimes wondered if his mother had a bit of telepath in her, or at least empath. She could often tell how he felt as easily as touching his wrist and feeling his pulse. There was a small part of him that wanted to tell her, wanted advice, wanted her to wrap her arms around him the way she always had and tell her that it was okay, that she would fix everything.
"Mother," he would say. "I think something's happened. I think I've fallen in love. Or I've come as close as I'll ever get. Does it happen that fast? Can you honestly be in love with someone who hates you? What do I do? Shall I kill him, or drag him home and lock him up in my closet so I can ravish him whenever I want to? What do I do if I can't let him go?" But he said nothing.
She had never expressed any opinions at all about his sexual liaisons, and he was uncertain whether or not she knew about them. There were times when he felt sure that she did, and imagined that she would tolerate his fetish for boys as long as he married an appropriate girl. This, he thought, was a fair trade. And then there were other times, like these, when he wondered if she would be ashamed by his dalliances. If she would be horrified that he felt his heart being taken over by someone his father hated so much, by someone so revered by the reigning idiots in power, the one had once who destroyed the Dark Lord. Someone who would never be a Death Eater, who would never stop fighting against him.
His mother was not interested in politics. She was not a Death Eater, but merely entertained them in her home. She organized the parties, the dinners; she spoke to the wives of the powerful and arranged apprenticeships and jobs for their children by proxy. She spoke to Lord Voldemort himself the way she spoke to Bill Parkinson or Rufus Goyle. Draco could not remember her ever having uttered the words 'Harry Potter' at all let alone with scorn. Perhaps she would like him. Perhaps she would take him under her wing, be a mother figure to him. Perhaps he would love her, let her help him. She would take him into her elegant bathroom and trim his hair they way she had so often trimmed Draco's. She would make him beautiful, dress him in comfortable and well-fitting clothes, indulge him. She would rub his back and kiss his cheek and tell him to go to Draco, to go have a good time.
"Mother," Draco would say, finally, after she had discovered a second son in Harry, "Mother, I think I'm in love with him. What should I do?"
He imagined that she would answer, "Oh, Draco! That's wonderful, love is a tremendous thing. He is a sweet, sweet boy and I'm certain he loves you too. He will stay here, with you, no matter what your father says. I want you to have everything you need, my dearest." It was a wonderful fantasy.
But he did not ask, and she did not answer. She ran her fingers through his hair and looked at him. "Something's changed, hasn't it," she said instead. "What's gone on at school, Draco darling?"
He closed his eyes. "Gone on? Hmmm. Well, I won a fencing tournament last week. I'm at the top of my class in Arithmancy, and my potions grade is still good." She stroked his cheek gently, then resting the palm of her hand against his chest.
"Hmmm," she said. "There's something you're not telling me. Is it a girl? Have you fallen of that silly Pansy creature finally? Goodness, she was mooning over you so desperately when she was here last."
He laughed. "Oh mum! She's not silly. Pansy is a great friend. But she is a friend. Do you want me to fall for her?"
"I just want you to be careful. Oh, her mother owled last week, she wondered if they could visit with us boxing day. I'm sure you'll enjoy that." He smiled and shook his head, as she sighed dramatically and curled up next to him, laying her head against his chest. "I guess you can't be my little boy forever, can you."
"I can't?" He deadpanned mock anxiety as he wrapped his arms around her thin shoulders. "I didn't read that anywhere." She raised her head and looked up at him, smiling, and then kissed his forehead. "So who are these Scandinavians?" He asked.
"Oh, Jan and his sisters? They're they children of one of your father's friends. They're from Norway. Your father has developed a lot of friendships with Norwegians lately, seems they have some political connections here, I don't know. They'll stay with us through Christmas. You like them? They're quite charming."
"Yes, very charming. I'm sure they'll be most entertaining." She looked at him seriously again, tracing one finger along his jaw. He felt as if she were boring into his soul with her eyes. She smiled at him again, sadly, as if seeing him as almost an adult were breaking her heart just a little bit.
From the time he was small she had never wanted to be without him. She took him with her everywhere from the time he could toddle along behind her; tea parties and soirées filled with idle chit-chat, long walks along the Thames, the Seine, in the gardens of beaurocrats and the petty bourgeois. He had tagged along with her on her long afternoons with the wives of politicians and minor, half-forgotten royalty from distant countries with strange names, while touring historical sites, at house elf auctions, charity events, and leisurely shopping trips to the elegant cobblestone streets that housed the best fabrics, bone china, potions, scrolls, and fine magical items. Draco adored his mother, and she fawned over him and petted him, dressed him up in pretty things and stroked the palms of his hands when he was supposed to be sitting still. She cradled him when he felt sleepy and sang him little songs. When she had to leave him, she never returned to him without presents, as if he needed to be appeased. His father watched this with a distracted eye.
Draco had been known to throw tantrums, terrible, terrible tantrums. His father had once been forced to leave an important meeting in his office to tend to his screaming first born, who had been so distraught at being left alone in his nursery that he had forced his shoes to spontaneously combust. He had nearly throttled a house elf when it told him that his mother had other business when he had run out of finger paint; he had thrown a calico kitten off the second floor balcony when his father had insisted that he go to bed instead of standing in the garden with his mother catching fireflies. His father had not allowed him to attend a party for teenagers when he was twelve; Draco had stayed home and peeled the wallpaper off all the walls in the spare bedrooms on the third floor. When his mother had been too busy to escort him the train after Christmas break in his second year, he had climbed to the top of the highest, straightest stairwell at Hogwarts with his prized collection of antique glass snow-globes. He then proceeded to drop them one by one between the gap in the railing, hearing them burst and shatter against the stone steps, bouncing off the shifting arches, with each its own unique harmonic, and then crashing wetly below. He bristled; he growled; he cried. He was spoiled, and he missed his mother.
She looked into his eyes as if she missed that angry and difficult little boy, one who needed her attention like oxygen, whose face lit up when she walked into a room. His lip was no longer sticking out in a childish pout; he ached, but it was no longer for her. Looking at her, Draco knew that she sensed this. He felt mildly guilty, his hand still straying to the glossy catalogue against his hip. "I miss you, you know, when you're gone," she said, playfully mussing his hair.
"I miss you too, mum."
When he slept, he dreamed of silence that swallowed him; he dreamed of towers and cold wind; raping and being raped, thick hands covered by aristocratic ones; the smell of the old oak desks in Professor Binns' classroom; the feeling of his own blood hot against his skin. He woke once, noted that his cheeks were wet, and drifted off again into dreams filled with dust.
"Great brutes, aren't they." The voice was Jan's, and was soft, very posh, vaguely foreign but clear and unencumbered. He whispered this with a vicious edge that made Draco smile as he started at hearing someone speak so near his ear yet out of his range of vision.
Draco was standing in the door jam of the spacious sitting room where his mother entertained, the nail of his index finger pressed against his teeth. There were nearly fifty guests tonight, many of whom Draco knew and hated. A few of them were startlingly attractive; thick gray hair, long, slim legs, dressed in elegant suits and looking idly bored. These were the men who could wheedle and flatter; they tickled the back of his neck with their lips, they licked his knee and told him he was beautiful. These were the ones he had sought out; the ones whose guest beds he had slipped into. There had been a time when he was hungry for what they could give him, trades that he was willing to make, but he had hated himself for it afterwards. They eyed him suggestively now, one arm wrapped around their chubby wives and a cocktail dangling from the other hand. He glared, then looked away.
It was the largest and the stupidest of them who had mauled him as a child; Draco watched their thick red hands clutch at their plates, bits of smoked salmon in their mustaches, laughing over-loudly. They were indeed brutes, all strength and lust, bullies and hitmen and the ones who will take the fall in the end, if a fall is required. It was these men the ministry tended to catch fingering their Dark Marks while sitting in muggle playgrounds, getting drunk in the streets, threatening mudbloods and throwing bricks through windows. They were indelicate, pointlessly mean, and stout followers of more intelligent men. Draco felt that there was poetic justice in the fact that it was these men who held such ultimate power over him in their adulthood who were exactly the sort of people Draco managed to dominate at school. They did not look over at him; he saw them eyeing the two boys giggling over their pumpkin juice in the corner and felt sick.
"Yes," he said, turning to face Jan, leaning back against the door jam, "they are."
"You English seem to revel in your bullies. It is so inelegant." Jan had stepped slightly closer, his hands linked behind his back. "You hide your real talents. You know," Draco could feel his breath against his cheek. "In Norge your people are known for your strange magics, your wand tricks. Some very, very powerful hexes and curses, you know."
Draco stuck out his chin a little, running his tongue lightly along the inside of his lower lip. "Is that so."
"Indeed," Jan said, his eyes straying to the open button at Draco's throat, which was casually exposing his collarbone.
They walked through the manor slowly, the backs of their hands brushing once in a while, their voices echoing down deep stone stairwells, alerting serious-looking portraits of Malfoys from ages past. Jan spends the evening making Draco laugh, and then managing to touch him while he does; he would stroke Draco's wrist, his shoulder, drags his index finger along his thigh to his knee. Draco found himself wondering, with a curious detachment, what it was that he represented to Jan, what a successful conquest would mean for him. One does not go to such lengths merely for sexual gratification, he considered; there had been so many opportunities to press him against a wall, slide his fingers into Draco's trousers, latch on to the pale skin of his neck and suck, leave a mark. Jan did not do these things. He waited, he danced circles around seduction, he stroked it and retreated, stroked it again, paused.
Draco knew this negotiation well, from both sides. He fell into it with a kind of comfortable familiarity, feeling powerful, desirable. But at the same time
he felt oddly distracted, oddly disinterested.
Jan was lovely, funny, exotic in a familiar kind of way, articulate, and knowledgeable, but Draco wondered now what Harry would think of him. He compared the span of Jan's shoulders to Harry's; he wondered if Jan could fence. He wondered what it would take to anger him, to raise his righteous ire.Jan, it seemed, did not have righteous ire. He spoke about strange magic, lies that turn into injuries, binding spells, forms of torture; it was all interesting, but cold, ambitious, underhanded, sly. He understood it very well, perhaps too well. It was not even slightly mysterious, it was nothing that impressed him. Jan reminded Draco of himself. He never thought of himself as monogamous, he never thought of himself as loyal, faithful, devoted, trustworthy. And yet, as he felt a cool palm brush against the back of his neck, he knew with an almost sick kind of certainty that he would not invite this boy into his bed, that he did not want to, that he would not rest, he could not properly enjoy those hands on his body, those hands that reminded him of Harry's hands but were unavoidably not.
He felt oddly detached. He had tasted an ultimate challenge and could not turn away now. Why could he not simply fuck this boy, enjoy that Scandinavian skin and fall asleep, thinking about a scar, the smell of wet cotton and blood, tentative lips, a purity and gentleness that awaited him and that he did not even begin to understand? No. It wouldn't work that way. Draco had given something over. He felt troubled.
Jan seemed to know this, to sense Draco's hesitation. In an effort to impress him, to get his attention, he told him about strange, brutal, beautiful, and amusing spells. He took Draco's wand and played with it, conjuring balls of light, sounds, making the floor rumble, and then said, "I will show you what you can do, without this." He told him how to whisper a single word make objects weightless, levitating above the polished wood floor; to make the walls drip with water, blood, or gin, and then return to normal; the word to break all the bones in a man's body; to cause pain, to drive men mad.
He whispered strange words that made his hands shrink, and then grow; made Draco speak in foreign languages that he could not understand; let him see, for a moment or two, through the clothing of some departing guests, which had them laughing loudly from the stairwell above.
They had wandered back into the now empty sitting room, watching the house elves gather up plates and clean up spills, making piles of crusts and crumbs on the table. Jan pulled an ornate silver knife off the wall, whispered over it, and made it hover over the head of an oblivious house elf. Its partner screamed, shattering a plate on the floor, and the knife darted rapidly toward its face, then flew back to its perch on the wall. Draco laughed, rubbed his neck. He watched Jan observe him, watched him making requests of him and waiting for assent, for desire, for a demonstration of need, and it occurred to Draco how powerful it was, being in love. It made him untouchable.
Boxing Day brunch, the Parkinsons sat at the Malfoy table and ate roast duck. Pansy was not particularly fond of duck. She had been considering the possibility of becoming a vegetarian just to avoid taking a mouthful of fowl and feeling the squish of cartilage between her teeth, the stubborn, chewy bits of fat and crunch of a tiny bones that she held on the tip of her tongue and carefully slipped into a napkin at the soonest appropriate moment. There was something safe about vegetables, cheese, bread. She liked vegetables, even Brussels sprouts and spinach. There were no surprises there, nothing unexpected with strange textures and bits that got stuck in her throat. She smiled sweetly and nodded toward Mrs. Malfoy, who was speaking with her mother, something about school, NEWTS, uniforms, graduation. Her mother touched her hair, holding up her ponytail, curling a bit of hair around her finger, and then dropping again against her back.
"If I'd had another," Mrs. Malfoy was saying, "Well, it would have been fun to play with a girl's hair. Draco always keeps his too short for all that!" She grinned, leaned over, and mussed her hand through his fine hair, pulling it out of his eyes. It stayed up for a moment in a severe uptwist, revealing his eyes, his broad forehead, elegant brows, one arched up and aimed at his mother. He shook his head and his hair fell back down against his forehead, and he smiled. He looked so happy, Pansy thought. Strangely, unsettlingly happy.
Draco rarely looked happy, even when he was pleased. Pansy was used to seeing him looking pleased, victorious, and even relieved. She had seen him telling jokes, making fun of the younger boys, getting good grades, winning arguments, even beating Potter at Quidditch. But looking at him as she was just then, she realized that this was the first time she had seen him look happy. She looked over at the Scandinavian girls and wondered. Is it one of them? She pouted a little into her plate. She felt a foot kick at her leg and looked up. Draco was smiling into his salad, spearing lettuce with his fork. He glanced up at her and winked.
Pansy was floored. Draco was practically giddy. She looked up at the girls again. They were chatting softly with each other in some other language. Then she looked over at the boy. Perhaps it's him. He was lovely, certainly. Deep blue eyes, open, clear face, white-blond hair. The look he shot Draco was clearly one of desire, of hunter stalking prey. Pansy had seen it a million times. But Draco was oblivious, or was choosing to ignore it. Pansy wondered what on earth was going on.
If it had been only this meal, only these looks, only this one smile, she would have chalked it up to him being home and relaxed, to the clear light pouring through the windows, to his mother's excellent mood and his father's pleasure at seeing him doing so well in school. But it was not just this. On the way home from school on the train, Pansy had watched this same expression on his face, curled up in the seat across from her, reading. It was a kind of wistful, hopeful, giddily pleased look, as if he had just been promised a new broom, as if they were poised to finally win the house cup. Even then she might have attributed it simply to the end of a difficult term, to the beginning of the hols. But even then was not the first time she had recognized this look on his face.
The first time she noticed it was in potions, a couple of weeks before the end of class. He was gazing almost soulfully across the room, paying no attention whatsoever to Snape and not even bothering to hide it. He had had a very late detention the night before, and Pansy had found him up early and staring into the fire that morning, that look of look of what? Clarity? Happiness? Relaxation? Peace? Yes. It was like peace. She had found him that morning with a look of peace on his face that she almost mistook for sleepiness at the time. Later, in the common room, some first years jostled his seat and he didn't even light into them properly. He merely glanced up at them, grunted, "Hey, watch yourselves, there!" and then went back to his homework. It was simply unheard of. Pansy had kept on eye on all of it.
After brunch, Draco, Pansy, and the Scandinavians went into the garden. The girls pulled out notebooks and laughed with the boy, who beckoned Draco over. "Look at this one," he said. "I told you about this one last night, you remember? Now, the girls are going to practice on that Gnome." He pointed into the barren-looking shrub against a thick stone wall.
One of the girls rose, notebook in one hand. She pursed her lips and said a single word, so softly that if she hadn't been paying attention she would have mistook it for the wind, for a dropped branch in the distance. The word burned through her brain and made the hair on the back of her neck rise. Her finger was pointed toward the unknowing Gnome, who screamed and collapsed. The girl laughed.
"Well, there!" She said. Pansy was surprised at how clear and clean her English was, having heard her only speak some other language up until now. "That was easy. Would you like to try it?" She was smiling toward Pansy.
"What is it you did? And where is your wand?"
The girl laughed. "You English and your wands. Wands are powerful, yes, but they are not the only way. This is a very powerful spell, very secret, nearly forgotten. We have been taking some lessons from an ancient wizard in Stavanger, he specializes in the spells people have forgotten. Look!" She held out the notebook, and Pansy took it. In crisp, clear script, Pansy read the word, and understood what she it was she had heard. She pressed against it with the tip of her finger, moved her lips. It was an evil-sounding word, like death, like pain, like something inhuman. And yet when she heard it, it almost sounded beautiful. It sounded like a word before there were words, the language of wind and trees. She mouthed it again.
"It is useful, this one, but quite terrible," the girl was saying. Draco and the boy had become distracted, and were having a tête-a-tête near a patch of cedars, the boy's hand nearly but not entirely touching Draco's back. Draco looked amused, and waggled his eyebrows at Pansy. She smiled. "What it actually does it quite simple. It merely breaks the major bones in the body. Depending on the person casting the spell, of course, it can break all of them, or only, say, those in the legs and arms, or legs, arms, and ribs, or merely the bones in the spine, ankles, wrists. It is variable."
Pansy considered this. "And why do you do this? It seems very well, muggle. Not very magical, really. What's the point?"
"Well, to stop an enemy, to keep them from hurting you first. It can keep a person away for the rest of their lives."
Pansy shook her head. "No no. The person will heal, even if they're alone they can cast a quick spell on themselves. The spell to repair broken bones is easy, I read about it for mid-terms. I even remember how to do it, I think."
The girl looked amused. "Oh yes," she said. "Yes, it is not a difficult spell, not with your wands. You try!" She motioned toward the Gnome. "You fix him!"
Pansy looked defiant. She walked over to the shrub and pulled the groaning Gnome away from the wall and out into the open. He was panting and drooling helplessly. Pansy thought for a moment, pulled out her wand, and cast the spell. As she watched, the Gnome's legs realigned, his arms regained a firm, normal look. She was pleased that she had not fumbled in front for these girls, in front of Draco and the boy. But still the Gnome did not stand, did not run away. It groaned, drooled, and did not move at all.
"You see?" The girl was laughing. "It is more complicated than that. Even though the injury is fixed, the body still believes itself to be wounded. The pain in unchanged. Eventually, it would drive him mad." The girl moved next to it nonchalantly and pressed the heel of her boot against the Gnome's skull. It cracked with a wet sound and the Gnome stopped moving altogether. "No point in being cruel," she said, smiling.
Pansy looked at the word again, and then up at the girls, who were looking smug. She smiled at them.
Harry sat on his bed with the box opened. It smelled of cedar, and the red velvet inside felt luxurious against his fingertips. He was still in shock. The rest of the school would be returning to school tomorrow, and in his one calm day before the storm, this late present had arrived. He had taken it from the utterly exhausted owl, who seemed to have gone altogether too far with a hopelessly heavy gift. Owls were more used to delivering letters, books, packages of parchment and quills, not large, heavy boxes with fencing foils in them. Harry had given it a large chunk of sausage, for which it seemed mildly grateful, and sent it off. "I'll send a reply later, you go rest," he had told it. It raised a tired eyebrow, winked sleepily, and beat a slow retreat to the Owlry below.
It was a lovely thing. At first he didn't wonder who it was from; Harry often received anonymous gifts. They usually ended up being from Sirius, or one of the Weasleys (Fred and George in particular had become quite keen on sending him the oddest and most frightening of gifts to show their appreciation for the prize money he had given them after his fifth year), Dumbledore, professor McGonagall, and even, on one occasion, from professor Snape, though Harry had swore he would never publicly acknowledge this. At first all he did was stare at it. It was absolutely beautiful. The hilt was well shaped, with a flared, blunt end; it was entirely made of a silver metal, and trimmed with an even shinier silver. When he touched it, Harry was certain that it hummed. It felt comfortable in his hand, beautifully weighted, it reminded him of Draco's foil.
Harry felt a twinge of something in his stomach and stared at the foil again. He had been thinking about what happened in the boy's locker room throughout the hols, and didn't know what to make of it. He had not spoken about it, not even to Ron or Hermione.
He thought that he had stabbed Malfoy; the saw the point of the blade emerge from his shoulder blade. He saw the blood drip from the wound, the look of shock on Malfoy's face. And he had been so horrified, he had felt so terrible. Why?
What good was he going to be, Harry wondered, what good could he be in a war if he couldn't handle killing an enemy? Surely he would be required to do far worse things in the future. It wasn't simply that he was afraid of being expelled; he knew that the thought didn't occur to him at the time. It wasn't that, it was something else, something more sinister. He had not wanted Draco dead, he had not wanted to be the one who killed him. He had felt
No, He wasn't certain.
Malfoy had never been an innocent. He had wished Hermione dead more times than Harry could think of. He had said and done horrible things to Harry, Ron, Hagrid, almost everyone Harry cared about. He was surely a Death Eater by now, possibly working as a spy now in Hogwarts. Though, Harry reasoned, he had seen Draco without his shirt, and had seen no marks on his arms. But all the same. Harry knew that Lucius Malfoy was a Death Eater, and he knew how his son wanted to emulate him. He knew that Malfoy would just as soon throw him in Azkaban, and it disturbed him to no end that he was so concerned, so positively maternal, over an accident.
He rationalized it to himself that Malfoy was not an innocent, but he had been an innocent then. Yes, had the circumstances been different, had Malfoy been holding a knife under Hermione's throat, had he been about to cast a host of death curses against his friends, his teachers, the ministry, Harry would have sliced him through with that foil and never have thought twice about it. He would be the hero, and he would have no doubts.
But is war that simple? Is it that clean cut? Will he have to kill and live with the consequences? Was he strong enough for this fight?
He wondered then who sent this gift. While he knew that Ron had told Sirius about the fencing tournament, and he saw how disappointed McGonagall was, knowing that the school equipment was faulty, somehow he knew that it was likely not from any of them. This gift bore the weight of luxury, elegance, wealth, and challenge, and that had Malfoy stamped all over it. I dare you, it said. I dare you to meet me on my own terms. I dare you to be chivalrous and fight me for your own honour. I dare you to enter into this form of friendship with me, even though you don't trust me, even though you hate me, even though we have no topics on which we are likely to agree. I dare you to challenge me. I dare you to win.
Harry was intrigued.
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