Part 15 - To Prepare a Face
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
It had been the longest of all days, Draco was sure of it. God, if God existed, seemed to have planted extra hours within the already agonizingly long one hundred and twenty minutes that made up advanced potions. Harry Potter had returned to class, and it seemed that no one could stop staring at him.
Granger and the weasel found a thousand reasons to touch his arm, his hand, wrap a kindly arm around his shoulders, as if they were testing to see if he was really there. The Slytherins stared at him more or less openly, some shooting him glances when they thought he wouldn't see, others, like Millicent, walking straight up in front of him and peering into his face. When he looked up at her, arched an eyebrow, she said, "No new scars?" After a sharp look from Granger, and a chuckle from Potter, Millicent huffed and turned on her heel. "I told you so," she said to her little girlfriends, dropping herself heavily on her stool at the table.
Snape seemed to speak more quietly, somehow, as if the tone of his voice would betray them, could turn Potter into dust. He lectured for a few minutes about the tincture of bilberry and its effects on night vision potions before leaving them to gather their ingredients from the table at the rear of the classroom. He didn't force pairings, didn't sneer at Potter, didn't even so much as flinch when Potter turned around too quickly and pushed a beaker of distilled whiskey off the table, which crashed and shattered against the smooth stone floor. Snape just looked at him blankly and waved his wand over the shards of glass, which quickly rose back up to the table and gathered together in their original shape. "Try to be more careful, Mr. Potter," he said, in a tone so moderate Draco almost didn't recognize him.
Even Pansy was staring at Potter. She watched him from near the back of the room, observing his back, his elbows moving slowly as he sliced, measured, stirred his cauldron, the edges of his robes shifting around his calves, his gray school trousers and scuffed black shoes half hidden in the shadow of the table, by the weasel's ungainly figure. Pansy let Blaise do the potions work for her, making fast notes in her pink notebook with a short quill. She didn't look at Draco, who tried to make his gaze as heavy as possible.
Potter pretended not to notice this strange tension, this delicate balance, and just went on with his regular routine, ignoring the hoards watching him slice his indigo seeds, frogs lungs, his strips of dried grindylowe, push his hair out of his eyes, scratch his cheek and press his glasses against the bridge of his nose with his ink-stained index finger. At one point, looking fatigued, he sat down and sighed heavily, causing an almost complete halt of all student activity. Snape looked up from his parchments and narrowed his eyes. Potter rubbed his temple and smiled, stood up again, stirred his cauldron.
At lunch Draco had gotten stuck between William Lestrange, a stocky fifth year boy, and his friend, Michael Fischer, a large, rather flabby redhead with scabbed-over knuckles and uneven teeth. Draco was immediately reminded of Crabbe and Goyle, though neither of them were as large or as menacing-looking at that age. Though, Draco mused, Crabbe and Goyle had never seemed menacing enough to him.
"Hey, Malfoy," Lestrange whispered, jabbing Draco's arm with a thick finger. "Look!" He leaned slightly away from the table and pulled up his sleeve. The mark on his arm was fresh and black, a little red along the edges. "Fischer got his too!" The red-haired boy nodded, grinning, his crooked teeth pushing into his lower lip, pulling his arm off the table and haphazardly tugging up his sleeve.
"Stop," Draco said, hovering a hand over Fischer's arm. "Now is not the time or the place." He dropped his hand and lowered his eyes, catching one strained glimpse of Potter, sitting at the Gryffindor table, looking exhausted, a glass of milk in his hand.
The boys grumbled a little, looking crestfallen. Draco realized that they looked up to him. He had been a kind of role model for most of the young Death Eaters, for reasons Draco attributed to sheer speculation and rumour. Draco didn't know they were allowing such young boys into the ranks of the Death Eaters these days. Well, they were at war, and war did tend to call for extreme measures. Only that morning Draco had read about the deaths of four mudblood families in the London area, one of whom, God forbid, had been in the habit of taking in muggle foster children.
The plan, as Draco understood it, was to weed out the prominent mudbloods and muggle-lovers and frighten away the rest. In the middle ages, England had expelled the Jews; there had been a proclamation, and a mass exodus of undesirables. Sure, it did not seem fair, it did not seem even entirely prudent to rid yourselves of a class of people who did the sorts of things you wouldn't want to have to do yourself. But it was necessary, it was a kind of cleansing. It would force people to wake up and pay attention. It would force the wizarding world to acknowledge that there was no in between; there was wizard, and there was muggle, and if you couldn't tell which you were, you were some form of ghastly abomination. Now they would expel the mudbloods, shackle down the muggles until learned their place. Draco was unsure about what that place was, precisely, but he knew it would benefit the wizarding population, it would benefit their general standard of living. It would let them be free. The war was important, the guerilla tactics were making a point, and one whose meaning echoed through the wizarding world. We will not be silenced. These two boys, thick and thicker, would no doubt come in handy when it came time to squeeze people's throats shut.
"Who cares what they think?" Fischer whispered gruffly, waving a thick hand toward the Hufflepuffs, the Gryffindors, the other end of the Slytherin table. He narrowed his eyes a little as he turned his red face back toward Draco. "What will they do, tattle to Dumbledore? Lord Voldemort can take him down any time he wants."
Draco shook his head slowly and sighed, as though he were disciplining a child. He picked up his spoon and dipped it into his soup, and then raised an eyebrow at Fischer. "So. Tell me. What did your father say about that nice new mark of yours?"
The boy's face became even redder. The elder Michael Fischer was well-known for his counter-Death Eater work with the Ministry. Only that morning Draco had read an article in the Daily Prophet where Fischer's father was quoted as saying, "We will not allow them to do this. We will simply not allow it." The stern face in the photograph, much like Fischer's but older and smudged black and white in the newspaper, look serious and determined and completely unaware that his only son had decided to become a Death Eater.
Draco was glad they didn't ask him to show off his own mark, though he was prepared with a witty and cutting retort if they had. He knew it was widely believed that he had been inducted years ago, and in spite of the counter rumours otherwise, coming from more authoritative sources like Blaise Zabini who swore up and down, having seen Draco naked in the shower countless times, that he had no mark on him, the general Hogwarts population believed what they would. Particularly since Potter collapsed in potions, there was very little doubt left that Draco was a high-ranking agent for Voldemort, perhaps his father's right hand man, privy to the most secret and private of Death Eater affairs. His dogged followers, anxious to be of use, looked to Draco as a leader. There was a small group of sixth year Ravenclaws, and one sharp-eyed seventh year Hufflepuff, who glanced at Potter in the hallways and then grinned wickedly at Draco. He merely raised an eyebrow, looked bored, and assumed an air of gentile and sophisticated disdain.
Lestrange and Fischer pushed their sleeves back down sheepishly and looked over their shoulders to see if anyone had noticed. Draco merely stared into his soup and glanced again over to the Gryffindor table to watch Potter spread butter on a thick slice of bread. Noise in the Great Hall seemed muted, restrained, thoughtful, and somewhat sad. The reality of the war had finally struck home, here, of all places, students were collapsing, students were no longer safe. Security had been increased, no one other than students, faculty, and a few selected officials were allowed into Hogwarts anymore. There had been significantly more mail these days than was typical.
In the afternoon he found himself unable to concentrate in Arithmancy. He watched professor Vector pacing back and forth across the room, two wooden practice cubes hanging in mid-air while he prodded them with questions. "And to force them rectangles, you would good, good, Miss Granger," he said, nodding. "And triangles? Come on now. Anyone one? Mr. Malfoy? Ah yes. Good. That was an interesting use of that formula, Mr. Malfoy, certainly effective. But the standard answer is ? Yes. Correct. Well done." They held out their wands and stared down at their textbooks. Draco avoiding looking at Granger, and instead he doodled in his notebook and stared out the door into the hallway.
Draco wondered how Vector could stand to praise Granger without letting on. Oh, he was a Death Eater all right, no question there. A smart one, if not an elegant one. He was a scholar, a purist, he wore rough wool and tweed under his faculty robes, he had ancient silver reading glasses draped over his bulbous nose. When he was at Hogwarts as a student he had been in Ravenclaw, he had studied the history, the ethics, he understood what was at stake. Draco had first met him when he was nine years old and watching the bulky Death Eaters playing rugby behind Malfoy manor. They were watching from a bit of a distance, with Draco's mother and father, some talkative teenagers and a group of blushing girls. It was summertime and everyone wore white, pastels, cotton dresses pressed against legs in the breeze, khaki pants, loose shirts. Except for Vector, who wore nothing but brown. Brown corduroys, a brown vest, a beige shirt, sleeves rolled up.
Draco was lying on his back in the grass, looking up at the sky, at the crowd shading their eyes and watching the large men play. He squeezed his eyes almost shut, turning the pastel people blurry and impressionistic.
"What do you see there, little man?" Vector had asked him, crouching down, one hand on the grass, lowering himself down next to Draco.
Draco open his eyes and looked at him curiously, sun-drowsy and feeling beautifully lazy. "Colours," he said, as if it were obvious.
He knew how Vector felt about mudbloods. And yet he also knew that Vector was a fair man, fair to a fault, and the Granger's successes in this class were honest and unmediated by Vector's political leanings. Draco had fought tooth and nail over the years to keep in the top three of this class, and Granger had often bested him, much to his frustration. He wasn't sure who both frustrated and impressed him more; Vector for being just enough to grant grades like that to a mudblood without managing to favour the Death Eater children, or Granger, for being able to challenge him in the first place. Draco often wondered how Vector felt, a Death Eater with staunch beliefs about the divisions of society, having to contend with such a mudblood prodigy in his class. Did it make him question himself? Did he ever want to protect her, to hide her from Voldemort of train her to best him? Did he ever want to kill her? He gave no indication that he felt anything inappropriate, nothing the headmaster could fault him for, nothing a Hufflepuff or Gryffindor parent could possibly complain about. With his ratty brown sweaters, his ink-stained handlebar moustache, is unmistakably correct grading, Vector could never be accused, would never be suspected. Ravenclaws made such perfect spies.
Vector was leaning against the window sill, nodding at a group of students who were experimenting with imaginary numbers and compound matrixes. Even without Potter in the room, Draco could still feel him. When he shut his eyes he could feel wet skin, Potter's breath ragged and hungry against his face, cold fingers pressed against his chest. When he stared into his hands he imagined he could see the outline of him, a crease born from the impression of that shivering body held there. Professor Vector altered the trajectory of the cubes, now octagons, hovering above their heads, and Draco could still feel the weight of Potter's presence in the quietness of the students, the slump of their shoulders in their desks, the bored seriousness of their answers. Was it in them, were they feeling the unbearable curiosity, the same unswerving desire to watch Potter, to touch him, to see that he was alright, or was it only Draco, reading Potter in everything, in everyone? He dug his wand into the palm of his hand and bit his lip.
Between Arithmancy and charms, Draco happened on a little gathering of possibly lovesick, definitely gossip-crazed girls. Three of the Hufflepuffs and a few more Ravenclaws stood in a loose circle at the foot of the stairwell leading up to Draco's charms class, discussing (what else?) Harry Potter.
"He looks so pale!"
"He's so brave!"
"Looks to me like he's exhausted. I hear he's up all night with Dumbledore trying to work out how it happened."
"Wasn't it voodoo?"
"Something like that, I'm sure."
"Hermione has been in the library every night for two weeks!"
"She's looking a bit peaked herself, isn't she. Poor Harry, though. I hope it doesnt, you know come back."
"Well, it came out of nowhere, who knows what will happen next."
"He looks awfully weak."
"he lost all his colour."
"The poor thing."
"I wonder if he'll still want to be Seeker."
"I wonder who did it."
Silence. It must have been just then that someone noticed Draco's presence behind them and the conversation stopped. They moved away from the stairs in silence and he smirked at them, and then hopped the stairs two at a time, saying nothing. No one had any doubts about who suspect number one was. Not those silly girls, not Dumbledore, and certainly not Harry Potter himself.
At dinner, he found himself next to Crabbe and Goyle again, which was an immense relief. Having known each other so long, they knew enough not to disturb each other, nor did they feel the need to entertain each other. From his spot at the table, he had a nearly direct view of Potter, sitting flanked by Granger and the weasel. They were talking earnestly.
Crabbe reached for a roll, Goyle's knife screeched against his plate as he sliced into his lasagna, and Draco watched Anna Phoenix amble over to Potter from the Ravenclaw table and wrap her arms around him. Potter smiled, dropped his fork, and hugged her back.
Draco felt something squirm in his stomach, something nasty and evil and slimy, something with claws and teeth that grew larger with every motion Potter made, every slow movement of Phoenix's hair sliding across her shoulder and pooling against Potter's chest, every second that passed with those arms wrapped around that body, that familiar body, that body which smelled like grass, like vanilla, like soap. It threatened to overcome Draco when he watched Potter turn in his seat and kiss Anna Phoenix. If not on her lips, pretty damn close to it. The thing in his stomach oozed acid, it clawed his horned tentacles up into his lungs, swelling into his throat until he felt certain the next breath would be the last. He touched his hand to his stomach to contain it, to calm it, but it reached its teeth into his brain and latched on tight.
Finally, what seemed like ages, Goyle put down his knife and speared his lasagna with his fork balled into his fist, his elbow resting on the table. Across the room, the Ravenclaw girl let Potter go. She played with his hair for a moment while Potter said something which must have been amusing, because everyone around him laughed. He patted Phoenix's hand, smiled a worn and tired smile, and she went away, back to her seat.
It was true, Potter did look pale. And exhausted. He sighed heavily and leaned back in his seat, eyes shut. Seamus Finnigan whispered something to the weasel, who touched Potter's arm. When his eyes opened again, Draco was torn between feeling glad to see him awake and moving, and convinced that his Gryffindor friends simply couldn't bear to let him rest. If it were up to Draco, Potter would still be in his bed. Or, rather, in Draco's bed, draped naked on top on him, so that Draco could feel his heart beating alive and whole against his skin, so that he could lay wake and count each breath.
At the end of the day, exhausted from spending hours on the edge of his seat, waiting for the inevitable confrontation, Draco dropped his books on his bed and pulled off his robes. He opened the door to his wardrobe, letting its heavy door hide him from the rest of the room, which stood empty. He sat down, wrapped his arms around his legs and pushed his chin into his knees. He sat and looked at himself.
His hair was a mess. Bits of it were sticking straight up, probably from the way his hands had been worrying through it. It needed a cut, and more bits of it hung almost in front of his eyes, hiding his immaculate, light brown eyebrows.
He used to look at himself a great deal. When he was younger he had worried that he would never grow up. Crabbe and Goyle had hit puberty before they had even arrived at Hogwarts; at age twelve Draco had watched Goyle drag a silver razor across his face each morning and had noted, at age thirteen, that Crabbe developed a shadow across his cheeks late in the afternoons, some time between the end of charms class and right before dinner. He had sat in this same spot then, hidden between the wall and the mirrored wardrobe door, a tiny, small-boned speck of a boy with a clear, high voice and the smoothest cheeks in his dorm. He would look at himself and will his bones to grow, will his shoulders to broaden, will his voice to break and deepen. He appreciated that Crabbe and Goyle would rough people up for him, that they would drag his heavy trunk across the floor for him, that they would reach up, perched on a rickety old chair, to undo the trap doors above his bed when he was too warm, tug the thick extra blankets down from the top shelf against the wall when the draughts became too cold. But he did wish that he didn't look like such a little boy, that he didn't look as though he needed all that protection, all this masculine, grown-up kind of help. At night he prayed for height, strength, whiskers.
When it had hit him (finally!) his progress into manhood was rapid but not particularly satisfactory. He stared into the mirror, evaluating himself, moving his head a little to get more of the dim light on his face. He had a light fuzz on his jaw which barely required a razor at all, and only the tiniest bit of stubble on his chin. His father said that beards were barbaric, and Draco realized that regular shaving would probably only result in red, irritated skin, a chafed and sore neck, nasty red bumps, and occasional cuts from half-conscious drags of a razor across his face, his neck, under his nose. But still. Not a particularly masculine face, in that regard. No sexy stubble, no relaxed, casual I-didn't-feel-like-shaving look for him. No. He had a smooth face like a girl, a perpetually childish look. He looked even younger when he smiled.
His father was the same way, blond and light-skinned, his face harder than Draco's but no gruffer. A different kind of masculinity, he reasoned. An elite, more refined sort of manhood, not the lumbering heft of bullying weight and thick legs, large feet. His shoulders had broadened, and continued to do so, giving him an elegant frame, strong but still slight. When he was fourteen he lost the last of that infantile fat in his cheeks, letting him feel, at last, that he was no longer a child. His face might be hairless, but at least it didn't round out like a girl's anymore. His profile was, Draco admitted, definitely masculine.
But if anything defined his face, it was his eyes. Much had been made about Draco's eyes in the past. He remembered one Death Eater slapping him repeatedly across the face when he was small, laughing, telling him how pretty his eyes got when he was angry, when he cried. "So dark, they turn almost black," he said, as he pulled at Draco's trousers. Draco had shut his eyes then, less to reclaim them than to pretend he was somewhere else. But Pansy, Millicent, his pale and weak friends at home could all be stopped dead in their tracks by just the right kind of glare. Crabbe and Goyle knew Draco's moods by looking into his face, Potter, even, knew what to expect when he looked up, if he looked up, and locked his wide, constantly innocent and constantly surprised green eyes with Draco's darkening ones.
His father told him once, when they were walking along the edge of a lake far from the city, far from anyone else's ears, that when the lake turns black you know you're in for a storm. Draco had thought it magical at first; lakes, in tune to the harmonies of the sky, would pull up the murky water from below, the water filled with moss and sand and dirt and the smoke of decomposed fish and rotting plants to protect it's blue green clarity, it's hapless inhabitants, from the onslaught. Later he realized the truth; the lake didn't have that kind of power. The water merely reflected the darkness of the sky.
Draco looked at his eyes. Tonight, in the library, his eyes had been this misty, silvery-gray. He looked at himself, his cheekbones, his slightly stubbled chin, his messy hair, his silvery eyes slightly bloodshot, and imagined looking at himself, as Potter had done.
He came across Potter just before the library shut. He was sitting on a thick, cushioned window ledge, both feet up, facing the wall. He was alone, with a pile of books teetering next to him. His robes were discarded on a chair next to him, his arms were draped over his knees, forehead pressed against them, his face hidden. His breath was slow and regular. It was quiet at this end of the library, a small corner facing west, with branches scratching at the plate-glass window. For a moment, Draco thought Potter had fallen asleep there.
Draco had been avoiding direct contact all day. He imagined, for a moment, saying what he really wanted to say, doing what he wanted to do. He could glide over, sit across from him on the wide cushion on the window ledge, touch his leg. "Harry," he would say. "How are you feeling? I've been thinking about nothing but you." He had come to find a book on the Knights Templar, and realized that the best thing he could do would be to find the book and get out of there. The idea of this confrontation terrified him. It could go one of two ways; Potter could accuse him, and they might fight, which could be a kind of relief; Potter could accuse him, and Draco might break down. He was terrified of what he would say, if he just broke. He knew there was a strong likelihood that Potter would hate him again, would narrow his eyes and spit at him. He imagined that, given the chance, Potter would claw his way through Draco's chest and leave him to bleed. Draco doubted that he would stop him, if he tried. He paused for a moment, watching Potter, his hair a tousled mess, his hand draped over his elbow, limp, motionless. When Draco turned, his rubber sole squeaked against the floor.
Potter's head shot up, eyes blinking rapidly. Draco watched a look of fear cross his face and then harden into a kind of suspicion, ending finally in an exasperated kind of confusion.
"Malfoy," he said. His voice was rough, and he coughed. Draco felt a twinge. He should never have climbed into his hospital bed that night. It seemed harmless at the time, but he hadn't counted on the pull he would feel, how he would long to curl up against Potter again afterward, how he would want to pull that defenceless body into him stroke his hair. How he would watch those lips move in conversation and see nothing but the imprint of his own lips against them. He swallowed.
"Potter," he replied. He nodded slightly as he said it, and noted that his attempt at a casual, conversational tone had degenerated into a uneven whisper.
Potter was watching him. Draco could feel it, he could feel Potter's eyes on him, considering. "It wasn't you, was it?" Draco merely raised an eyebrow. It was half a question, half a statement. How did he guess? Why did he sound so certain? Granger? Was Granger vouching for him? Dumbledore? The strangest people were advocating his innocence these days. Whoever it was had been more successful that Draco had bargained for. "You didn't try to kill me, did you?" Draco watched in a daze as Potter tugged on his shoelace, dropped it, and then pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
"No." Draco didn't know what else to say. He knew 'It was Pansy,' would not take him very far. He knew that he had no proof, really, other than whatever Potter already knew. But Potter's eyes were not asking for an explanation. He looked relieved, tired. Draco was starting to prepare a statement, something, anything, he was considering what to say next, when Potter leaned his head back against the wall behind him, his throat exposed, eyes shut.
Draco wondered if he could really do this. He had no idea it would be this difficult. His body remembered too well what it felt like to be close to him, to touch him. That exposed neck was such a terrible temptation and Draco found he needed to steady himself. He leaned back against the stacks as casually as he could, folded his arms across his chest, and watched. His brain felt swelled with the pleasure of it, that slim neck, so innocent and vulnerable in the face of possible danger. Potter opened his eyes again, set his chin on his arm, still folded over his knees.
"Go on," he said. Draco gave him a quizzical look. "Go on, tease me. Tell me what an idiot I am. Tell me that you wish I were dead. Tell me that my mother was a mudblood whore and my father was a muggle-lover."
Draco exhaled. "Potter, I"
"No. Look. I believe you. I don't think you did this. I've talked to Hermione. I've talked to Dumbledore. I don't know who did it, or how, but I know someone wants me to believe it's you. I don't. But I can't live like this. Everyone, pussy-footing around me. Snape being nice. It's so strange. So don't you go giving me any of that. Just." He closed his eyes and sighed. "Just pretend it didn't happen. Okay? Just be yourself." He chuckled quietly. It was indeed an ironic request.
"Well." Draco was flummoxed. He pressed his fingers against his forehead, and then looked up, arching an eyebrow. "You know it couldn't have been me, Potter. I wouldn't have failed so miserably."
Potter smiled. "Ah. When you try to kill me, there won't be any of this lingering, is that it?"
"Yes. Precisely." Draco paused, took a few of steps closer and picked up the top book from Potter's over-stacked pile. "It was probably that mangy godfather of yours." He flipped open the book, hoping his shaky hands wouldn't be too obvious. Potter laughed, a genuine, relaxed laugh. Draco felt a slow warmth, tasting like Potter and slipping in through his ears, drifting over his body and humming with pleasure.
Draco looked at himself now in the mirror, with his chin on his knees, and wondered what this meant. For years, he had teased Potter. He had been relentless. He had forced Potter to punch him, he had made a mockery of his friends, his parents, of him. He had tried to make him cry, make him fall off his broom, make him fail tests and assignments. He had tried to make sure Potter got more detentions than anyone else. He turned his entire house against Potter and his friends, not that that took a lot of effort. At some point, Potter had realized that it was a game. A dance, and it had never been clear who was leading. Step left, right, dip, spin. There was a routine to it, it followed a pattern. Draco didn't realize that Harry Potter was perceptive enough to recognize it, to recognize that their fighting was ritualistic. It hadn't occurred to him that Harry Potter might find him comforting in any way.
So this was how he looked. Silvery-gray eyes, slightly bloodshot. Fingernails neatly trimmed, hair askew and drooping into his eyes. The top three buttons of his shirt undone, tie hanging across his shoulders. The smallest bit of stubble on his chin. His lips were slightly chapped and redder than usual. His skin was clear. He wondered what his expression had looked like, flummoxed, shaky. Eyebrow arched, half-smirk. He sat in front of the mirror and wondered how much of how he felt he accidentally gave away.
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