|Mere Detestable Curiosity
Author: Lomonaaeren PM
HPDM slash, oneshot. Harry has enough to study with preparing for his NEWTS. He shouldn't waste time indulging his curiosity in trying to decipher Malfoy, his mysterious letters, and his equally mysterious jewelry.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Angst - Draco M. & Harry P. - Chapters: 2 - Words: 16,984 - Reviews: 85 - Favs: 233 - Follows: 26 - Published: 06-17-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4330801
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Harry had spent most of the Christmas holidays, when he was almost the only student in the castle, casting small charms on the doors and windows that would let him know when Malfoy returned to the school, and if he went certain specific places. For most of January, Malfoy hadn't left Hogwarts, and Harry had disabled the charms that told him when Malfoy was entering a classroom; they simply rang too frequently. But now one of them had awakened him in the middle of the night, long after curfew. Harry sat up and took a moment of stupid blinking to recognize the buzz in his ears and realize what charm it was.
Malfoy had left the Slytherin common room.
His heartbeat and his breath both quick with excitement, Harry slipped on boots and then slung the Invisibility Cloak over him again. He could almost hear Hermione's voice scolding him for doing so; she didn't think it right to treat one of the Deathly Hallows as if it were only a toy to help Harry sneak around. But it wasn't as though Harry had a better use for it right now.
He sneaked rapidly down the stairs from Gryffindor Tower, all the time listening for the buzz that would tell him Malfoy had crossed out of the school. It didn't come. Malfoy might be pacing the dungeons, or climbing to meet Harry.
Harry tapped his wand against his wrist to recast some of the charms that would let him know if Malfoy entered the classrooms. That would at least cut down on the number of places Harry needed to search for him.
Then he paused and shut his eyes. He would have hit his forehead with his wand, but he was afraid of the sound it would make.
The charms are useful for telling me when he's sneaking out at night, but once I know that, I don't have to rely on them alone.
"Point Me," Harry whispered, and his wand spun around and then pointed straight down the corridor. Malfoy wasn't above him, at least. Harry hurried towards the edge of the staircase and started to take the first step, reminding himself that the third stair down was a trick one that would suddenly grow slippery beneath any unwary foot.
And then he saw a flash of pale hair in front of him, and barely pulled back against the wall in time. Malfoy strode past him, his lips set in a thin line, never looking to left or right. If he had, Harry had to concede, he might have seen Harry's trainer poking out from under the Cloak again. Not even one of the Deathly Hallows could do anything about the inconvenient growth spurt that had come over him lately.
Harry waited until Malfoy was most of the corridor ahead before he followed him. The last thing he wanted now was to give himself away with a clumsy scuffle or too-loud gasping.
Malfoy still didn't look around as he walked, though, and his jaw was set so sternly that Harry decided he must be lost in his own thoughts. He continued making his way up, up, and up, and Harry wondered if he was going to Gryffindor Tower to plant some prank. That would at least be more normal behavior than what Harry had seen from him so far.
He'd tried, but he couldn't forget the look on Malfoy's face the day he'd received, and shattered, the mirror. It was burned into his memory, so strongly that he couldn't even resent Malfoy costing him the money Harry had paid for the gift. No one reacted like that to a present unless something was seriously wrong.
What could it be, though? Harry was beginning to think he'd never satisfy his curiosity about what Draco Malfoy was doing this year, short of another confrontation on top of a tower whilst Malfoy tried to assassinate a professor.
Malfoy at last slipped into the Owlery. Harry waited before he went through after him, both because he needed to catch his breath and because he was dealing with the disappointment settling in his chest like a lead weight.
He's posting letters to his girlfriend? I got out of bed and went up and down half the stairs in the castle for that?
When Harry looked into the room, however, it was to see Malfoy sitting on the floor, utterly unmindful of the owl shit, pellets, feathers, and dust he was sitting in. He had a book braced across his knees, and on the book was a sheet of parchment, on which he wrote furiously, wildly. His eyes were wide, his tongue sticking out from between his teeth.
Harry blinked and leaned against the wall. Well, maybe he's breaking up with her because he hated the mirror so much. No one ever said the answers to the mystery are always profound.
Malfoy finished the letter and leaned his head back on the stone for a moment. His eyes were squinted, and he breathed as if he were on the edge of sobbing. Then he shook his head in fierce determination, folded the letter, put it into an envelope—
And began to write a second one.
Harry watched in silent bewilderment as Malfoy wrote four letters and then called over four school owls, who he fed treats and stroked for long moments before giving them the letters with soft instructions. Harry strained his ears, and could only make out the words, "And deliver these to the Slytherin table tomorrow."
Maybe he's dating four people at once, Harry thought; his own conspiracy theories were beginning to dizzy him. Or he pretended to break up with two girls and then wrote letters to tell them they're forgiven and can get back together with him.
Harry shifted his shoulders. He would feel even more disappointed if that was the truth and Malfoy could somehow manage to keep two girls orbiting him, though he didn't know why.
He carefully marked the owls Malfoy had chosen: a barn owl, a tawny, and two tiny screech owls who hopped enthusiastically on their perches. He would watch tomorrow and be sure of which Slytherin girls the owls went to.
He did have to feel a moment's grudging admiration for Malfoy, who had managed to keep multiple girlfriends in his own House whom Harry hadn't discovered, for all his constant watching.
Before he went back to his common room, Malfoy stood for some time petting one of the owls, a friendly old female barn owl Harry himself had indulged on one more than one occasion since Hedwig died. His face was pale, and sad, and exhausted, and Harry had to choke down some more unwanted empathy.
Why should I care if he finds his situation with his girlfriends uncomfortable? He's the one who set it up in the first place.
Harry had a terrible time making Hermione think he was paying attention to her advice on studying for the NEWTS and not Malfoy the next morning. At last, though, he managed to ask her a question about which NEWT-level potions she thought would be on the Potions practical, and finding the answer required her to dig through books and notes, whilst Ron whinged on the other side of her about how his girlfriend chose to pay more attention to her revising than to him.
Let's see what Malfoy's girlfriends are paying attention to, Harry thought, leaning forwards as he watched the cluster of owls swoop through the windows. Among them were all four of the owls Malfoy had entrusted with his letters. Malfoy was sitting back in his chair, and though he appeared languidly disdainful of breakfast, Harry knew him well enough by now to realize he was also intently tracking the owls with his eyes.
Which made it all the stranger when all four owls swooped down in front of him and offered their letters. Malfoy's Housemates complained loudly about the disruption of their goblets by talons and tails and madly flapping wings. Malfoy ignored them loftily, and took the letters from the owls, opening the first and reading it with a faint smile, as if he didn't already know exactly what it said.
Harry gaped at him until Hermione finished telling Ron off and he had to pay attention to her again, but even then, every thought that ran through his head was Malfoy-related.
Either he's walking in his sleep and he doesn't even remember going to the Owlery and writing those letters—
But no, I think he'd at least recognize his own handwriting, and I never heard that sleepwalking caused you to have a different kind of writing.
Or he's been sending himself letters all along, and maybe even the gifts. And that explains why he couldn't help himself when the mirror showed up. He thought someone was in on his little secret, and he took the gift as mockery—or at least he didn't know who might have sent it, and thought it was better to break it before he could become too fond of it.
Harry blinked and looked over at the Slytherin table again. Zabini had leaned in over Malfoy's shoulder and was subtly trying to take the letter from him with a rather desperate expression on his face. Malfoy sniffed at him and shielded the parchment with one hand. When Harry squinted, he could make out a faint shimmer of magic around the edges of it; he wouldn't be surprised if Malfoy was using a spell to disguise the exact shape of the letters. That would prevent awkward moments around people who had reason to know what his writing looked like.
But what's the point of writing to himself? Why would he want to do that? What's the point of taking pleasure in gifts he purchased? Harry knew he never felt half so satisfied with the things he bought, except maybe sweets, as he did with the presents his friends gave him, because he didn't know what they were. And, of course, it was still just a little shocking to him that people would want to give him presents at all, after so many years at the Dursleys'.
But Malfoy had grown up with parents who loved him—Harry was sure they did, after what he'd seen of both Lucius and Narcissa during the Battle of Hogwarts—and he still had friends in Slytherin, some of whom it seemed he'd known all their lives. He shouldn't need his own gifts and letters to feel valued and special.
Shaking his head, Harry turned to cope with his own flood of post. He still received marriage offers, of varying degrees of seriousness, and requests for interviews, and offers of teaching positions or the like, in which people begged the "Chosen One" to visit them and teach them all he knew about Defense or dueling. Harry had to spend at least a few minutes most mornings sorting the letters into three piles: things he actually wanted to read, things that he could discard safely, and those which required a polite reply.
He glanced back once at Malfoy, because he couldn't help himself, and surprised him staring at Harry's post with narrowed and almost vicious eyes. Malfoy turned away at once with a toss of his head and a sneer that would have done Snape credit, but Harry was sure he had seen jealousy in his face.
He wouldn't be jealous if he knew what half this rubbish was, Harry thought, and incinerated a photo that fell out of an envelope. The photos were most often half-naked and never good news.
Harry had a new mystery to figure out now, but he didn't think he really needed to follow Malfoy around under the Invisibility Cloak this time. He just needed to watch, to observe, to try and see what was really there on Malfoy's face and in his actions and not what he wanted or expected to be there.
And so he became certain that the enchantments that made the braided silver circlet and the emerald ring flash were of Malfoy's own making. He had a habit of toying with the jewelry whenever the conversation turned away from him. Of course he would at once earn some envious and admiring attention, and when Harry did his best to listen in unobtrusively as he passed the Slytherins in the corridors, he learned that a large part of the others' fascination came from Malfoy's fierce silence on the subject of their origin. The more Parkinson guessed the names of unmarried pure-blood witches, the higher Malfoy's nose pushed in the air, and the haughtier his manner seemed.
It was the letters, by contrast, that won Zabini's attention. He tried Summoning them from Malfoy's unwary grasp, sliding them under his plate, filching them from Malfoy's satchel, and enlisting Goyle to talk to Malfoy whilst he leaned forwards to read them. Malfoy was wise to every one of his tricks, and laughed at them. Harry thought he was the only one who knew some of the high color in those pale cheeks came from gratitude. Zabini was, at least, not ignoring Malfoy entirely.
But other people did.
Again, it was not something Harry would have seen unless he spent some time observing. Malfoy had always had people trailing behind him, though Goyle by himself made a less impressive entourage than Crabbe and Goyle had. He had always known how to get attention; a flick of his head or raising his voice could do it. And now he used those tools so skillfully Harry wasn't surprised no one else had noticed how the rest of the world had moved on and left Malfoy behind.
It had, though. Most of the other Slytherins outside Malfoy's immediate circle didn't look to him before they said something controversial or congregated in a huddle in the middle of the corridor to plan something. Parkinson and Zabini spent as much time looking away as they did gazing at him, especially when neither the jewelry nor the letters could hold them. Goyle left Malfoy alone more and more; Harry thought he had a girlfriend from another House, probably a Ravenclaw. And of course Snape was no longer around to spoil and cosset Malfoy as he had been, and the Slytherin Quidditch team had closed ranks and driven him off it, so the school's breathless attention wasn't fixed on him during the matches, either.
Harry watched one Slytherin practice, well-hidden by both his Cloak and an enchantment that kept more than a casual glance from straying towards the bushes at the edge of the pitch. Malfoy stood in the shadow of the stands, ducking and flinching whenever a passing broom might have revealed him, but not Disillusioned. Harry didn't think his pride could stand such a thing when it wasn't absolutely necessary to shield him from the scrutiny of the teachers. He lifted his head and locked his eyes on the Seeker most of the time, and Harry could read the bitterness and the longing on his face very easily; it was the same bitterness and longing he knew had been there on his own when he watched Dudley get dozens of birthday gifts and the excited praises of his parents for inferior marks.
He didn't particularly like all the resemblances that were springing up between him and Malfoy. But he had no choice. His own curiosity had led him into this, and it seemed Harry couldn't back out until that curiosity was fully satisfied.
Careful, patient study let Harry figure out the wards that did exist on the Slytherin common room—not as powerful as some he had taught Dumbledore's Army in their fifth year—and get past them. So he was there the evening that Malfoy tried to reestablish the dominance over his friends that he'd exercised so casually in the compartment on the train when Harry watched him in sixth year.
Parkinson was stretched out on her stomach in front of the fireplace, examining a book and cursing softly as she read. Millicent Bulstrode wasn't far from her, practicing a charm that made a pet rat grow a pair of delicate blue wings. Zabini and Nott were playing a chess game that seemed to consist primarily of long arguments. Daphne Greengrass curled in the chair above Pansy, gazing dreamily into the fire. Goyles sucked on a quill and frowned at the parchment he held, which Harry suspected was an Arithmancy essay. Harry had been stunned when he found out Goyle was in the Arithmancy class, but, well, he couldn't say that he'd ever observed him very closely either, and it was possible he'd grown somewhat smarter in the past few years.
Malfoy had taken a chair a good distance away from his friends, but one that allowed him to survey them all. He cleared his throat. Harry knew the signal was meant to make them leap to their feet and stare at him like dogs when their master moved.
But other than Goyle glancing briefly towards Malfoy, everyone went on exactly as they'd been doing before. Harry saw Malfoy stare at the floor, and a look of such intense humiliation creased his cheeks and the corners of his eyes Harry was surprised he would have risked showing it to his friends.
On the other hand, I suppose it's less risky now that he knows they won't look.
Malfoy cleared his throat loudly this time. Zabini, putting out his hand to touch a chess-piece, suddenly shook his head and retracted the hand. Nott sighed. "You should get that cough looked at, Malfoy," he said. "Move, Blaise, or I'll have to think you've been taking advice from Hufflepuffs on how to play."
"I was thinking," Malfoy said.
"Yes, you often are," said Daphne Greengrass. She was braiding her hair, with movements so hard that Harry winced to watch her. On the other hand, her hair was so thick she might not feel it much. "And yet so little ever comes of it. Maybe you should stop."
Harry choked. Yes, that was something he would have said to Malfoy without pausing for breath—well, he might have said something like that a few months ago, at any rate—but it seemed unduly harsh in such an intimate environment.
Malfoy stiffened his jaw in the way Harry knew meant he was grinding his teeth. "I've been thinking that the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts will be coming up soon," he said. "And it's incumbent on Slytherin House to make a brave show of it."
That won him their attention, at least, but Harry thought it might not have been the kind he wanted. Pansy lifted her head and gave Malfoy a distinctly unfriendly look. Bulstrode stared at him as if he'd gone mad, only moments before Zabini and Nott did the same thing. Greengrass wore a faint, pitying smile. Only Goyle said, "But why? Most of us didn't fight in that battle, and they know it."
"But we have to show that we're still proud, and still part of the school," Draco said insistently. He was rapping one closed fist against his thigh. "Otherwise, they'll just think of us as cowards again."
"Does it really matter what they think of us?" Goyle asked.
"Of course it doesn't." Parkinson had risen to her hands and knees, and there was a hardness in her eyes that Harry had never seen when she cooed over Draco's jewelry at the Slytherin table. "And I've tried and tried to explain this to you, Draco, but you just won't listen. We still have our world, everything that's important. We can still find spouses and jobs and rear our children in our own traditions. In a few generations, this war will matter just as little as the war with Grindelwald matters now."
"We've lost prestige—" Draco began angrily.
Parkinson laughed at him, and despite her first words, Harry was sure it was suffering that made her spit the next ones. "We never really had it," she said. "It was your family's money and your father's political connections that made everyone obey you, Draco. There isn't a widespread respect for us in general society. Grindelwald's war smashed that, when so many of our grandparents stood with him. And then there was the Dark Lord, and the same thing happened." She shook her head. "If another war comes along in my lifetime, I won't be so stupid as to take the Dark wizard's side, and I hope my children won't be, either."
"You were the one who thought we should sacrifice Potter to the Dark Lord," Draco hissed at her.
"That was a stupid mistake, too," said Parkinson, easily enough. She had tensed, though, and Harry wondered if she would have drawn her wand and attacked Draco if they were alone. "I'm still paying for it; there are people who might have been useful contacts who won't trust me again because of it. But if I behave as though I've accepted my punishment and I'm sorry for what I said, then I can remain in the good graces of my peers. All they require is an outward show. And that show is the one you should worry about maintaining, Draco. I've heard certain…rumors. Black and Malfoy vaults not as big as they used to be."
Draco froze, and his fingers dug into the arms of the chair. He didn't look away from Parkinson, as if a staring contest could make her words less true.
"You want too much," said Nott. His voice was quiet and piercing. Harry tried to remember how many times he'd heard him speak, and didn't think it was more than a handful; he was one to nod in classes and accept the professors' notes or corrections instead of volunteering answers or objecting. "You always did. No one out there is going to respect us. They won't fear us, either, and that's to our advantage right now. We'll build our strength quietly and pass it on to our children, a good public reputation. They can be the ones to wield it to advantage. Or maybe even our grandchildren," he added, his eyes flickering across Draco, "in some cases."
"That's not good enough!" Draco snapped.
"You're acting like a child," Bulstrode said now. She had a truly nasty glare when she wanted to use it, Harry thought, impressed. "You always were too selfish, even for a Slytherin. It should matter that your children will have a chance, Draco, whatever the masses think of you. So what if no one is giving you the attention you think you deserve right now? There are more important things in this world than your ability to look down your nose at people." She turned back to the rat climbing her arm.
The others turned away and returned to their own amusements at the same moment, with a perfect coordination that made Harry certain they'd practiced it. Draco sat in his chair, staring at them, and then lowered his head and stared at his own bunched fists.
Harry leaned nearer, striving to catch a glimpse of his face, wondering absently when referring to Draco by his last name had become too distant and impersonal for him—
And the Cloak caught in the material at the back of the chair he'd been standing behind and almost pulled itself off over his head. Harry had to duck down quickly to recover it, and he knew he caused a sound that made some of the Slytherins stir.
"The wards are still on the door, right?" he heard Greengrass ask.
"I checked them myself," Zabini said. "And don't even protest, Nott. That is a legitimate move."
Harry waited, dizzy from the sudden rush of blood and fear, before he cautiously lifted his head once more. Book, fireplace, rat, chess game, essay—those things held the other Slytherins as they had before. The only change was Nott showing a trace of a frown for the first time as he scanned the arrangement of the pieces Zabini had maneuvered him into.
When he dared, Harry looked towards Malfoy.
And found his eyes fixed on the back of the chair, his face flushed and devastated.
Harry had no idea what Malfoy might have seen. He didn't think he really wanted to be sure. He did find himself lowering his head and creeping away, cautious and silent as a thief.
The feeling remained with him even after he was safely back in the Gryffindor common room and had removed the Cloak. He had stolen something. The guilt gnawed in the back of his head as he lay down and tried to revise for the Charms NEWT, which was the one Hermione had decided would be hardest this week.
He had stolen something, and if he only knew what it was or how to return it, he would go and put it back.
As March turned into April, Malfoy stopped receiving letters, other than a few thick ones on creamy parchment that Harry suspected had always been legitimate; they were probably from Narcissa. And Lucius, if they allowed men in Azkaban to write letters. Lucius had been deposited there at last, after what the newspapers called a trial that had lasted too long.
Like Sirius's trial? Harry thought, flipping through the book in front of him. He was in the library on a Saturday afternoon because of Hermione's stern injunction to study. And it was true that he probably could have used more practice for the theory portion of the Potions NEWT.
He just didn't feel much like studying. He hadn't realized that, when he began studying Malfoy, he would lose the ability to stop.
He still noticed the sharp little movements of fury and frustration Malfoy made when he thought no one was looking, how he spun his circlet though less notice was taken of it now, the way his eyes would narrow before he tried to broach some topic of conversation that would make him the center of it. Harry was present at least half the time when Malfoy sneaked out of the school to fly, and he had seen him leave a Quidditch game, walking slowly and heavily, as if the sight of Slytherin players in the air was simply too much for him.
Harry noticed him as he would have liked someone to notice him on the margins of his own peers in his primary school, a lonely boy who would have given much for one friendly handshake or question about what he was doing.
He just wasn't sure what he should do about it.
Of course, he thought, as he thumped the book over and stared down at one of the pages near the end covered with slanted writing—someone had taken notes in a library book, presumably at a time when Madam Pince was looking elsewhere—he didn't really have to do anything. Malfoy wasn't a friend, or a Gryffindor, or part of Dumbledore's Army, or one of the people Harry had risked his life for directly in the war. He could go on suffering, and no one would blame Harry for not doing anything.
Except that not doing anything is wrong.
He flipped the book over again, and then cringed as Madam Pince glared at him. He would have to brood quietly. He wished Ron and Hermione were around and he could talk to them about this, but they were elsewhere, and he had a good idea about what they were doing, too. Besides, what was he going to say?
"Someone we've always hated has lost his social status," he muttered to the book. "But I think it goes deeper than that, and he's wounded in the soul, too. He reminds me of myself, for no good reason. So I want to help him, for no good reason. Care to join me, Ron?"
"Your analysis of the situation is lacking as always, Potter."
Harry whipped around, so suddenly that he banged his elbow on the back of the chair and drew another grimace from Madam Pince. Malfoy was standing behind him, idly rotating his arm so that the silver circlet orbited it, his eyes boring directly into Harry.
There was nothing to be done but to try and avoid letting Malfoy suspect anything. Harry cleared his throat. "Really? And you know so well what a friend in this situation would suffer?"
Malfoy moved a step closer. His face was thin, and pale, and so determined that Harry couldn't help but stare. If Malfoy had ever brought that much force and focus to any of the numerous ill-conceived plans he'd formed against Harry, he would have been a true enemy. "I know you're talking about me."
"Rubbish," Harry said automatically. "You haven't lost your social status, Malfoy. The others still hang on your every word."
Malfoy bared his teeth. Harry tensed and let his hand drop to his wand. The gesture reminded him of Fenrir Greyback's smile.
"I did hope," said Malfoy, "that you weren't so stupid as to pretend you didn't know what I was talking about. But you are. Pity." He paused, then shrugged once. "I would have told you what you've missed, and how I noticed your prying, and what you could do to help. But I suppose you don't need that, if you really know nothing." He turned around, as if he had every intention of walking back to the door of the library.
"Wait!" Harry blurted, and then hated himself when Malfoy turned around smirking. It had been a trick, of course. Harry gestured across the table, not trusting himself to speak for the moment, and Malfoy took the other chair.
Leaning forwards, he spoke quietly, intensely. Harry was just as glad; he couldn't have done anything but splutter in indignation at the moment.
"I knew you were spying on me the moment I caught that flash in the Slytherin common room. Who else owns an Invisibility Cloak? And who else has the expertise to disable the wards on our door so effectively? So I braced myself for the rumors, for the laughter you would stir up against me after having seen the way even my friends rejected me." Malfoy's cheeks flamed briefly with color. That vanished as he took a deep breath, but Harry had the impression it had been an effort to get rid of.
"Then I realized you hadn't told anyone about what you saw. And then I saw you watching me, and not telling anyone about that, either. You're not subtle, Potter, though I daresay your friends haven't noticed your gaping at me because they're even less so." Malfoy lifted his head and looked at Harry in a way that reminded him of one of Mrs. Figg's cats, a proud old tom who had refused to let anyone come near him when he had a broken leg; he had licked at the injury as if that alone would make it better. "I knew what you wanted at once, of course. You're the hero. You're the healer. You fix everything, don't you? And your muttering to yourself just confirmed it."
"Bastard," Harry said. He blinked when he found himself facing Malfoy's drawn wand.
"Insults to my parents aren't accepted at the moment," Malfoy said, and then put the wand away before Madam Pince could notice it and went on as if the insult hadn't happened. "The thing is? At the moment, I'm inclined to accept your help."
And he closed his eyes. With their closing, the final mask he'd had over his pain and exhaustion and weariness dropped. He looked like Neville had when they were scrambling away from the Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries: frightened, pushed beyond endurance, and somehow summoning the strength to continue on in spite of it all.
Harry scrutinized him carefully. Not a word about the letters or the jewelry—or the mirror. Harry wondered if those issues were simply too sensitive for Malfoy to speak about in any area where he might be overheard, or if he really didn't know that Harry had discovered that secret as well.
I have to think he doesn't know. He might never have dared approach me if he realized.
"All right," Harry said. "I'll help you. If I can figure out how."
Malfoy opened his eyes and stared at him. He opened his mouth, too, as if he would say something and then looked away. His voice was so flat and monotonous that Harry found he missed the passion of a few moments before. "Thank you. I'll ask you to owl me. It's not wise if we meet often—"
And Harry took a deep breath, and a risk. Leaning forwards across the table, he opened his hand and let it reach. Malfoy turned his head by degrees to look at it, as if it were an entirely foreign object.
"What," Harry asked, "do you want in the way of help?"
And Malfoy looked at him, looked at him, in a way that made Harry suddenly certain no one had asked Malfoy what he wanted and listened to his answer for years, and in a way that made his curiosity clamor to be fed like a second stomach.
We're different enough that there's much more to discover about him.
"I don't like it."
"But you do understand." Harry smiled as he shoved another spoonful of porridge into his mouth and then completed his signature with a flourish. The letter was to Kingsley, asking if he could look out for a Department in the Ministry that might accept Malfoy. Malfoy wanted to work in the Ministry for the political connections, though he had admitted bitterly he probably wouldn't be able to build on the ones which his father had made and which for so long he'd thought of as his natural birthright. His becoming an Auror would be ideal in one way, but on the other hand, most of his colleagues wouldn't trust him and Draco didn't favor exposing himself to danger.
"I suppose," Ron muttered. He'd taken an entire plate of bangers and was devouring them one by one, his face gloomy. "I just wish it wasn't sodding Malfoy. Some of the others I could see helping. Parkinson isn't that bad."
"And that would be why you spent five hours with her in the library the other day?" Hermione asked sweetly, without looking up from her book. It was probably Charms theory again, Harry thought. Hermione had remained concerned about that one exam for far longer than he had thought she would.
"I—Hermione, I can explain."
"Please do." Hermione looked up with the same kind of smile on her face that Harry had seen before she'd enchanted Ron's bed to fill with freezing cold water at night a few months ago. That had been after he openly drooled at Lavender Brown when a misfired charm made her robes go transparent. "You know how much I love explanations, particularly when they're coherent and make sense."
Harry hid a snicker and examined his letter to the Minister once again. Yes, the words were clear, though not on the vocabulary level Hermione would have used. That was all right, and in fact Harry had refused Hermione's help to write the letter; he wanted it to come just from him, and sound natural. Yes, the intent was stated openly so that it couldn't be misunderstood. Not that Harry thought Kingsley would go out of his way to misunderstand him the way Fudge would have, but he had looked grimly satisfied when Lucius Malfoy was dragged off to Azkaban, if the photos in the Prophet could be trusted. Harry didn't want to chance the prejudice against the father spilling onto the son.
There's already been far too much of that. Another way Draco and I are alike.
Harry looked up, meaning to catch Malfoy's eye and smile to let him know the letter was finished. He might even gesture to the Owlery, to indicate he'd post it as soon as he had a free period. But Malfoy wasn't in his usual place at the Slytherin table, and when Harry looked up and down the bench, he didn't see him, either.
What happened? Did he get sick?
Harry wished he had one of the Extendable Ears, but his collection of the twins' joke items, like the Marauders' Map, had been left behind in the Burrow when he and Ron packed for Hogwarts under Hermione's watchful supervision. (It was only because Ron had distracted her with a kiss that Harry had managed to sneak the Invisibility Cloak along). He'd be able to listen to the Slytherins' words then and tell for certain if anything was wrong. But he was reduced to watching faces, and no one at the table looked alarmed. Goyle, the one most likely to notice Malfoy's presence or absence, was dipping a piece of toast into a puddle of marmalade and watching in fascination as long strings of it collapsed to the plate. Harry rolled his eyes. And then there were times he thought he'd hallucinated Goyle taking Arithmancy and having a girlfriend in Ravenclaw.
"I wonder where Malfoy is," he muttered.
"Probably snogging his girlfriend," Hermione said, and smiled at Ron. "The way that you could be, if you tell me why you really wanted to stay in the library with Parkinson."
"He leaves the Great Hall every morning about this time," Ron said hastily, obviously wanting to deflect Hermione. "Has done for some months now, since he stopped getting those letters."
Harry blinked. "And I didn't notice?" He longed to hit his forehead as soon as he spoke the words; he hadn't wanted to alert Ron and Hermione to his little hobby of Malfoy-watching. But Ron seemed to take the question as literal.
"I noticed you always looked over at him for part of breakfast, but he's got used to slipping out when no one's watching," he said. "It was only pure luck that I spotted him going one morning. And after all, you have to eat sometime, Harry." He turned with some determination to his own porridge and beamed at Hermione, as if hoping she would agree with this. Though Ron hadn't grown much in the last few months, it wasn't from lack of food.
"Of course you do," said Hermione. "Tell me, slipping off quietly. Did you learn that from Malfoy?"
Harry left them bickering and made his way up the stairs to the Owlery. If he hurried, he would just have the time to make it up there and down again before Potions. His heart was pounding oddly and his breath coming short as he burst out through the doorway into the open space, startling several dozing birds, and looked wildly around. He didn't know what he'd been expecting—Draco hanging in one of the open windows, perhaps, a melancholy look on his face as he contemplated whether or not to jump.
Draco wasn't there.
Harry frowned in bafflement, and walked over to one of the school owls anyway, fumbling for the odd parchment and quill Hermione had insisted he carry with him so that he would be ready for a sudden mock exam at any time. He really didn't have much choice. He would have to owl Mrs. Weasley and ask her tearfully for the Marauders' Map, as one of the few mementoes he had left of his parents.
And he'd send his letter to Kingsley whilst he was at it.
Harry had opened and closed his eyes several times. He'd rustled the map and pinched the edge of it and squinted at it, trying to decide whether the dot with the name Draco Malfoy next to it was really in the place he thought it was. He'd banished the map and then summoned it back again, to make sure that it wouldn't look different with a second glimpse. And after all that time, he had to admit Draco really was where Harry had thought he was.
On the seventh floor, not far from the Room of Requirement.
He was heading back towards the Slytherin common room now, but that was small comfort. He'd clearly been in the Room—or near it, at least—for some time. And now he was strolling back down towards the dungeons. What reason did he have to hurry? Harry had spent enough time with Draco over the last few weeks, as they talked about which Ministry position he stood a chance of attaining and holding, to know that he didn't have any classes immediately after breakfast on Tuesday mornings.
That's just where he goes on Tuesday mornings, Harry told himself savagely, and cleared his throat. "Mischief managed." The lines on the parchment flickered and vanished.
But he'd been sneaking out of the Great Hall early for months now, Ron said. And though Ron himself hadn't thought it important, Harry didn't really think he was mistaken. Draco had been going to the Room of Requirement for months on end.
Just as he had during sixth year.
Harry closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall of the dungeon corridor he'd chosen to hide in, arguing with himself. Did he really have any right to try and find out what Draco was doing? He'd started leaving breakfast early after he stopped receiving those letters, Ron said. Maybe this was just some new plan to make Draco feel validated. Maybe he was hoping someone would eventually notice he was leaving early and attempt to trail him, and he was giving himself a destination on the seventh floor in order to lead his pursuer as long a chase as possible.
But Harry remembered the strenuous effort Draco had made to find and keep attention with the jewelry and the letters. No one had followed him when he sneaked out in the mornings that Harry knew of, and Draco wouldn't continue a strategy that didn't work.
Maybe he just wants to be alone, the way he does when he goes to the Quidditch pitch at night.
But there were plenty of other places in the castle he could have found to be alone, even this early in the morning.
Harry opened his eyes grimly. It wasn't for curiosity's sake alone that he had to find out what Draco was doing in the Room of Requirement, but he wished it had been.
Malfoy paced up and down the corridor in the front of the Room of Requirement. Harry hovered nearby under the Invisibility Cloak. He wasn't near enough to hear the words Draco was whispering, but then again, quite a bit more depended on his going undiscovered for long enough to slip inside. He'd be able to tell the truth, or part of the truth, from the room Draco had summoned.
He had tried, and failed, to think of some innocent purpose Draco might have here. In fact, Harry was somewhat surprised he had dared to come near the Room of Requirement at all after their frantic flight away from it on the broom, through the Fiendfyre. What could be strong enough to drive him here through the memories of Crabbe's death?
Please don't let it be anything Dark, Harry thought, and the desperation in his own mind startled him.
But the door appeared just then—a gleaming, silver-plated door which Draco didn't have any hesitation in walking forwards and pulling open—and Harry had to time himself precisely so he could dash forwards and then slip through the door behind Draco, without touching him and without making enough noise to cause Draco to lash out.
Draco shut the door. Harry crouched behind him, not even trying to see the room they'd arrived in until Draco moved away from him. His breathing had become quicker. Harry, conscious at the moment only of a faint, steady light that shone from the ceiling, didn't know why that should be so.
If I've somehow stumbled on the place where he comes to wank…
And that idea wasn't even as disgusting as it should have been. Harry did have to put that one down to his curiosity about Malfoy. He lifted his head.
The floor of Draco's room was perfect, polished stone, a pale gray that reflected a blurred, wavering image of him. The ceiling was likewise, though a shade darker and without the joints between the stones the floor showed. The walls were an endless array of mirrors, a circle that reflected themselves.
And an infinity of Dracos.
Draco halted in front of the mirror directly across from the door and stared into it. Then he reached out a single hand and caressed the glass. When a smudge appeared, he drew his wand and cleaned it away with a muttered incantation. He stared into his own eyes.
"That's right," he murmured. The room was so silent Harry could hear him clearly. "There you are. Handsome enough, even if no one does look at you. You're still there. You still exist. Other people can see you."
He turned to the next mirror and gazed at himself, wistfully, desperately. Again his hand stroked the mirror, and he smiled, a little, at the sight of the reflected Draco reaching up to meet him.
Harry, stunned, shaken, reacted without thinking. He dropped his Cloak to the floor. At once, he appeared in the mirrors.
It took Draco a moment to notice him; he was gazing, enthralled, into his own eyes. Then he saw Harry and whirled around, putting his back to the mirrors at once, as if that would somehow cloud them or keep them from Harry's sight. He was shaking so hard his teeth were chattering.
"Draco," Harry whispered, taking a single step forwards.
"Don't." The words were broken, jagged like the shards of glass that had scattered across the floor of the Great Hall when Draco slapped Harry's Christmas gift away. And now, Harry thought he could understand why Draco had refused it so violently. He had thought someone understood his secret and was mocking him.
Mocking him was the last thing on Harry's mind.
"Listen," he said. "I understand. The letters—I know about them. The circlet. The ring. I understand about all of them."
Draco closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around his belly as if he'd sustained a gut wound. Harry couldn't hear him breathing at all anymore.
"You needed attention of some kind," Harry said. Another step forwards. Draco didn't seem interested in retreating, but then, he'd hunched into himself. "You needed something to make you feel loved, and you needed a touch of mystery to make other people intrigued and jealous. So you wrote the letters to yourself, for the satisfaction of opening pleasant words in the morning—"
But Harry had to ignore him now, because he understood, he understood so many things, seeing himself reflected in the mirrors with seeing eyes and Draco reflected there pathetic and broken, and seeing how much dislike the sight of Draco pathetic and broken brought him.
"And you're using the mirrors to convince yourself you exist." Harry took a deep breath. He didn't think he was as risking as much with these next words as he was asking Draco to risk. "To know that someone sees you. But, Draco—I see you."
Draco sprang at him with a wounded scream. Harry accepted the rush of it, but still found himself dashed to the ground, with Draco on top of him, lashing out with his fists and hitting the polished stone floor as often as Harry's chest and face. Harry reached up and firmly grasped his wrists, holding them imprisoned next to Draco's face.
Draco was crying without tears, his eyes shut and his voice so wild and windy it took long moments for Harry to make sense of the words. "Go on, then—tell them—I'll leave—I can do it—I'll hide myself with the mirrors forever—I'll—"
Harry said, "I see the way you still do well in Potions even though Slughorn will never pick you for the Slug Club. I see the way you keep looking for a place in the world that the other Slytherins have abandoned, without support. I see the way you bore up when your father was being tried and convicted; you still came to all the meals and attended all your classes and read the Daily Prophet. I see that you're impatient and foolhardy and stubborn and proud at times when it's silly to be proud and you don't want anyone to see you broken down." He paused. Draco's eyes had opened, but Harry wasn't entirely sure he was seeing anything, himself.
"You're a lot like me," he said.
And he put a hand behind Draco's head and pulled him down into a kiss, because this was, maybe, the final curiosity that could be shared between two men.
Draco simply went limp for long moments, letting Harry manipulate his head and mouth as he liked; he was probably too surprised to resist. Then he pointlessly struggled, of course, because that was his nature. Harry had thought the struggle foolish at one time, because Draco wouldn't gain anything by it. Now he saw the determination behind it that drove Draco to keep getting back to his feet. He would never give up.
Harry admired that.
And then finally Draco kissed him as if he were trying to remember how it felt to be with someone who could acknowledge his existence, his hands running awkwardly through Harry's hair, fisting in and bunching the material of his robes, yanking at the sides of Harry's face as if he thought they came off. When he pulled back, his eyes were wary, but they weren't broken, and Harry didn't know words for how happy he was to see that.
He sat up with Draco in his arms, and whispered into his ear, "I've known about the letters since January, since the night when I saw you write four at once, and I haven't told anyone else. I won't. I know why you did it. And I probably would have done the same thing, except I was lucky enough to find friends who saw me. I'd—I'd like to be that for you."
"Just a friend?" Draco turned around to stare at him. "Then what was the kissing for? Mere curiosity?" He was snarling now, his head uplifted like some wild creature's who didn't have the sense to fear the hunter. "I know—I know you were just watching me most of the year because you wanted to figure me out. And I don't want that. I won't be the object of anyone's pity. I won't have you because you're sorry for me."
"Not that," Harry said, smiling at him. "You make it bloody hard to feel sorry for you, really."
Draco looked as if he didn't know whether to be happy or not.
"I wanted to understand you," Harry admitted. "It was curiosity at first, but I kept going long past the point when I got my answer about who was sending the letters to you, which was my original question." He paused and swallowed. "I reckon—I reckon I should ask you whether you only kissed me back because you wanted someone to see you, and you didn't care who it was."
"If that was all I wanted," Draco said calmly and precisely, "I would have been content with the mirrors. I've wanted you to look at me—really look at me—since I was eleven years old." He snagged his hand in Harry's robe, but didn't pull him forwards yet, instead running the cloth between his fingers as if he'd never felt anything like it before. "There'll be a great deal of trouble over this, you know."
"And articles in the Daily Prophet and Weasley staring in horror and Granger examining me as if I were a flawed bezoar, to discover how I managed to capture you." Draco's voice was rapidly gaining speed and strength, and his eyes shone brilliantly. "I can take that. I want all that. But what about you? I thought you hated people staring at you."
Harry smiled. He didn't think Draco knew everything that lay behind that smile, just as he probably didn't recognize he was being unselfish for once in his life.
"It rather depends," Harry said, "on who's looking."
And he pulled Draco back into another kiss, and this time Draco responded willingly, immediately, even impatiently, and all around them the image was reflected to infinity and back again, in an infinity of watching eyes.