Disclaimer: I own nothing. I'm not making any money from this. I just like putting Harry and Draco through hell for the fun of it.
Authors Notes: When this story was originally written, the "journal dialogue" was coded in colour; red ink for Harry's writing, green ink for Draco's. This website doesn't allow colours, so instead, I had to use brackets to denote who's writing each line. The bracket code is this:
If you wish to see this in colour, in the original coding, visit my LiveJournal for a direct link to the fic on FictionAlley. User name "mijan" on LJ.
And now, enjoy the story!
This upcoming weekend has been announced as a Hogsmeade weekend. I know that he will be at the Three Broomsticks sometime around early-afternoon tomorrow. I overheard him talking about it with the Mudblood and Weasley. I will stay away from the area, as I promised.
Only Your Shadow
On Saturday morning, Draco was awake before dawn. He'd barely slept that night, tossing and turning in anticipation. All Hogsmeade weekends had been cancelled so far that year, due to the threat of Voldemort hanging over everyone's heads. But there had been no attacks, no violence, no disappearances since the previous spring when Voldemort's return was recognized, and Dumbledore had reluctantly agreed to allow students to visit Hogsmeade on this, the weekend before Halloween.
But the outing itself wasn't the cause of Draco's excitement. The rest of the students were awaiting a carefree day of Honeydukes' chocolate, Zonko's trinkets, and pints of foamy Butterbeer. Draco had more important things on his mind. He knew what was really going to happen that day.
Draco could feel his heart beating a bit harder and faster than usual as he rummaged through his wardrobe in the semi-darkness and dressed quickly. Today, he had more important things to worry about than clothes. He was on a mission.
With the Dementors absent from Azkaban, Lucius had easily escaped less than a month after his imprisonment. It was Lucius who had then suggested to Voldemort that Draco was ready to act as a spy, and since then, Draco had been more than happy to stalk Potter. His mission was to provide one simple piece of information; he was to tell his father of the first occasion that Potter would be away from the school.
As usual, his father wouldn't give him any official word about the Dark Lord's plans, but it was painfully obvious that there would be some sort of attack. If Draco had learned anything about the Dark Lord's methods by listening to his father, it was that Voldemort himself would not come to Hogsmeade. He'd send someone to capture Harry for him. It would probably be a subtle attack. There would be a diversion, then one, maybe two Death Eaters would strike, and Harry Potter, the saviour of the wizarding world, would disappear right from under Dumbledore's nose.
He should have felt nothing but delight about Potter's impending downfall, but Draco couldn't suppress a degree of irritation at the arrangement. Potter was his, nobody else's. He wanted to exact his own revenge, and the knowledge that he'd never have a final jab at Potter was maddening. Potter was not merely the Boy Who Lived, not just Voldemort's target, but Draco's own personal rival: the flesh and blood, pain-in-the-arse Gryffindor who sat two benches over in Potions class, with his mocking glares, that infamous scar, and those god-awful glasses.
Draco knew all about Potter. If he'd spent half as much time practising Quidditch as he had dwelling on Scarhead, he would have beaten the prat long ago. It was a grand hobby, studying Harry Potter. Draco knew exactly where Potter and the Weasel would wait for their Mudblood friend in the corridor after Arithmancy, which Draco took with Granger. He knew that Potter had a peculiar aversion to shrivelfigs, a dark green quill he favoured, and a nervous habit of chewing the corner of his left thumb during classes when bored. Draco was even aware that whenever Harry was confused, he would tilt his head to the right and look up to the left. It was a wonder that Potter didn't have a permanent kink in his neck.
Draco had also noted, with no small amount of amusement, that Potter had been growing increasingly edgy since the start of the term. Not merely edgy, but also agitated, irritable, distant, and moody. Draco didn't even need to pester the boy directly; it was obvious that Potter was doing a fine job of that himself.
In class, the boy would sit ramrod-straight in his chair, as if ready to leap out of it at any moment. Then, as though unable to pay attention to reality any longer, he would look away from his work to stare into space, or gaze out of windows. Not that Potter hadn't gazed off into space before, but in the past, Draco had thought him the perfect image of a blank-minded Gryffindor, unfocused eyes glazed over as the world passed him by. Now it was different. Lately, he seemed to be staring at something, eyes focused on some unseen point.
The only class in which this never happened was Potions, where Potter had begun working with feverish intensity. Granger had gushed over Harry's new-found work ethic, and his performance had even persuaded Snape to stop harassing the boy, but Draco knew something else was brewing. Harry wasn't merely focusing for the sake of his marks. He was trying to distract himself, to escape something.
It was very strange, to be sure, and Draco needed to know why.
He was far more curious about this than he should have been. Although he constantly reassured himself that we was merely fulfilling his duties as a spy to the best of his ability, his careful cataloguing of everything-Harry-Potter had gone far beyond simple spying. Draco was in over his head, and underneath his denial, he knew it. Since the start of his father's imprisonment, his old fixation on Potter had developed into something far more severe. The ongoing rivalry, the malicious glares, the blatant competitiveness of the past: that had been intense, but now the stakes were higher. He was thoroughly obsessed.
But relief was in sight. He would finally be rid of the root of his obsession. The defeat of Harry Potter: just what Draco had been waiting to see for years.
And if he couldn't do the deed himself, he was absolutely determined to witness it firsthand.
There was no way in hell Draco was going to miss this. Not even a raging Hippogriff could keep him away, much less his father's warning. He'd been trailing Potter incessantly since the first of September, and Draco not only felt it his duty and a moral imperative to see this mission through to the end, he was truly looking forward to it.
Harry Potter would fall by the end of the day, and when he did, Draco would be sure to somehow let Potter know who had put him there. He, Draco Malfoy, had finally beaten Harry Potter. And Potter would know, damn it. He would realize he should never have snubbed a Malfoy; he should never have ignored Draco, written him off. He'd realize his mistake, but it would be too late for him.
And Draco would be there to see it, regardless of his father's instructions. Dangerous? Only to Potter. Draco Malfoy could take care of himself.
Draco took a quick glance in the mirror to make sure he hadn't put his robes on backwards. They were adequate. No time to fuss today.
He stepped into the boys' bathroom, shut the door behind himself, and began his usual morning routine, hoping the familiar repetitive motions would calm him, but he couldn't calm his nerves. He forced himself to breathe slowly, even as he hurriedly rinsed his face, scrubbed, and rinsed again, scowling about the fact that he still had no excuse to shave.
The only part of his routine he refused to rush was his hair. He toyed with his best charmed comb until he was satisfied. He liked perfection; it was the one thing he had over Potter, if only in matters of his hair.
Too bad it was never enough.
Life had been grand when everyone thought Potter was psychotic. Look! The Boy Who Lived has gone loony! Thinks that You-Know-Who is back! He killed Cedric!But now, everyone liked Potter again. And then, just last week, Draco had overheard some Hufflepuff third-years giggling over his "adorable" hair.
Adorable! Potter's scruffy mop! Not likely! But as much as he loathed to admit it, Draco could see why Potter appealed to some less intelligent students – which only made Draco more furious with him.
Quickly brushing aside any further thoughts of Potter's merits, Draco tried to placate himself with the reminder that Potter would be gone soon. It would have been better if the bastard had never been around in the first place. Then Draco would never have met him. Would never have been antagonized by Potter's mere presence. Would never have spent sleepless nights contemplating how incredibly irritating and infuriating the boy was.
Would never have become this obsessed with the stupid prat.
He was doing it again. Growling, he hurled the comb at the washbasin. The comb bounced off the ceramic and ricocheted into a corner. Draco started to reach for it, then decided that it was beneath his dignity to bother picking it up. A house-elf would do that later.
He left the bathroom, tiptoed noiselessly through the dormitory, and snuck off for an early breakfast on his own. It wouldn't do to bring Vince and Greg with him today. He wanted to be silent, unseen, stealthy. He wanted to relish his view of Potter's impending humiliation in blissful solitude; just himself, and one oblivious Harry Potter.
So he'd told his friends that he would be sneaking away to shag a bloke he'd had his eye on lately, a fifth-year Ravenclaw who had some seductively Slytherin traits, and the goons had bought the story. But no other girl or boy at Hogwarts occupied nearly as much of Draco's thoughts as Potter did.
The corridors were silent as Draco made his way to the Great Hall. Everything was shadowed in the dull grey tones of early morning and suffused with a slight chill of autumn. The sound of his footsteps echoing in the corridor was peaceful, and for a brief moment, Draco's excitement over the impending violence of the day was almost forgotten.
Forgotten, that was, until he crashed headlong into Harry in front of the doors to the Great Hall.
"Watch where you're going, Malfoy!" Potter snapped at him.
Harry's scruffy appearance was a stark contrast to Draco's slick hair and expensive robes. Clad in a worn red jumper and a faded pair of denim trousers, he looked like a Muggle pauper. Draco blamed that on the Weasley influence. It was only then that he registered the fact that the Mudblood and the Weasel were nowhere to be seen.
His mouth drew into a sly smirk, and he leaned an inch towards Harry. "Oh, I'll be watching, Potter."
Harry's head tilted to the right in confusion for an instant before he scowled irritably. "Get out of my way."
Not likely, Draco thought to himself. With one smooth step, he centred himself in the doorway to the Great Hall and folded his arms across his chest, blocking Harry's path.
"And where are the Weasel and the Mudblood this morning, Potter?" He carefully injected a tone of mock-pity into his words. "Don't tell me that even your most loyal fans are sick of you?"
Harry didn't miss a beat. "I got hungry early and decided to let them sleep." He took a measured step towards Draco. "And where are the brainless trolls you call friends, Malfoy? Ha. It's no wonder you crashed into me. Without one fat training wheel on each side, you can't even walk straight."
Training wheel Draco couldn't hide his bewilderment, and in that momentary lapse, Potter pushed past him, bumping hard into his left shoulder.
Draco spun around to glare at the back of Potter's head, his mouth hanging open as he searched for a good insult to hurl, but Harry didn't so much as spare a backwards glance as he took a seat at the empty Gryffindor table. Draco fumed silently himself.
You prat! Turn around so I can scowl at you properly!
Harry had already poured himself a cup of pumpkin juice and was reaching for the toast without showing any signs of looking back when Draco finally gave in, placating himself with the reminder of what the rest of the day would hold. He'd have the last laugh. But still, Draco hardly noticed what he was eating as he continued to stare intently at the back of Harry's head. When other students began to trickle into the Great Hall, Harry made a hasty exit, and Draco immediately abandoned his breakfast (which he'd barely touched) to follow at a careful distance.
Draco watched as Harry slipped out the main entrance and shut the door behind him. Swallowing, Draco crossed the foyer and nudged the door open. Outside, the sky was slate grey with a threat of rain, and a sharp breeze rippled the grass. Harry wrapped his arms around himself as he made his way across the grounds towards Hogsmeade. The wind cut through the doorway, and Draco shivered.
Miserable day, thought Draco sullenly as he pulled his cloak tighter around himself.But it's just as miserable for Potter, and it will only get worse for him.
As Draco watched Harry, he found himself curious about why he would be leaving so early for Hogsmeade, particularly without his ever-present sidekicks. Very unusual. Harry was never seen without his Gryffindor entourage. But then, Potter had been acting strangely lately, even for him. Considering his recent behaviour, Draco could almost believe that Harry wanted to escape from them.
Draco waited until Harry had almost reached the edge of the grounds before slipping out the door himself. Checking repeatedly over his shoulder, he hurried across the grass, then traced the perimeter of the Dark Forest, using the shadows of the woods for cover until he reached the path to Hogsmeade. On the path, not terribly far ahead of him, was Harry. The boy was walking slowly, as though lost in thought, and certainly not paying the least attention to his surroundings.
Too easy, Draco smirked to himself as he descended the path towards the village.
Hogsmeade was just starting to come awake as Draco passed the first small shops. He paused randomly to browse in shop windows, doing his best to look casual, waiting to see which shop Harry would enter.
The scents of morning in Hogsmeade were beginning to waft through the air. Fresh baked breads and cakes from Terrence Truffle's Pastry Shoppe, coffee brewing at the Three Broomsticks, melted chocolate from Honeydukes, all interspersed with the tangy overtone of smoke rising from chimneys. Draco's stomach growled, a harsh reminder that he had barely touched his breakfast. He shot an irritated glance at Harry's steadily retreating back.
Would he just stop already? As soon as he stops into a store, I can backtrack to the bakery for a scone and then catch up with him easily.
Draco shivered as the wind bit through his cloak again, and added a cup of coffee to his mental order. He kept casting longing glances back over his shoulder at the Pastry Shoppe, mentally demanding that Harry reach his destination quickly, but no such luck.
Harry bypassed Zonko's Joke Shop and ignored The Golden Snitch Quidditch Supply and Broomstick Repair. He didn't even turn his head at the sound of glass shattering inside the Apothecary, or the muffled explosion, flash of orange light, and loud cursing that followed.
Draco eyed the settling smoke in the doorway of the Apothecary warily, then put it out of his mind as Harry continued to walk steadily away. The wind gusted again, bringing another shiver with a burst of coffee aroma, and Draco whimpered to himself, sniffing the air wistfully.
Coffee. Forget the scone. Just give me a cup of coffee! Bugger, Potter! STOP!
But Harry didn't stop. He didn't even spare a sideways look as he walked solemnly past the Stone Troll Tavern and Inn, the very last building on the main street of Hogsmeade.
Now, not only was Draco hungry, but he was also quite confused. The only thing beyond the edge of the village was the Shrieking Shack.
He can't possible be going there? Can he?
Draco ducked behind a shrubbery at the corner of the Tavern and watched in horror as Harry made a beeline for the Shrieking Shack.
He's not… he can't be… he's stark-raving mad… loony, that one…Bloody Merlin's beard, he's really going to do it…
Harry didn't slow until he was standing at the front door of the rickety little house. With a flick and swish of his wand, the door swung open, and Harry disappeared. The door swung almost shut, then wavered on its hinges and opened just a crack, taunting Draco with its frightening invitation.
Like all other children, Draco had grown up hearing stories of young witches and wizards who dared to enter the Shack. They would be trapped in the darkness and tormented by mad ghosts, strung up by their toenails by murderous ghouls, surrounded by Boggarts, and finally eaten alive by things too hideous to consider. Once, after seven-year-old Draco had thrown a tantrum in public, Lucius had told him that if he ever embarrassed the family name like that again, he would find himself locked in the Shack for a week. That was the last time Draco ever threw a tantrum.
And there was Harry Potter, strolling in like it was merely the Hogwarts broom shed. That was just too much. Draco balled his fists and screwed up his face.
If Potter can do it, so can I.
Swallowing against the growing uneasiness in his stomach, Draco marched stoically down the path. The Shack loomed forebodingly over him, silhouetted against the miserable grey sky, as though even the weather was trying to help the Shack intimidate him. He wouldn't let it. He had to go in. He had planned to follow Potter all day, and may he be damned if anything was going to stop him. That, plus he was dying to know why in the name of hell Potter had entered the Shrieking Shack in the first place.
With a deep breath and a wish that he wouldn't die, Draco slowly pushed the door open and entered the most violently haunted building in Britain.
Inside, every shelf and surface was covered in a thick layer of dust. Motes swirled lazily in the air, looking dull and foggy in the dim light that leaked through the cracked windows. The sitting room to the right had two chairs and a small couch with ripped and torn bupholstery, and a half-burned log still sat in the fireplace. To the left was a dining room with a table in disrepair surrounded by mismatched chairs, one of which was overturned, while another was missing two legs. In fact, the legs appeared to have been chewed off.
Shuddering, Draco focused straight ahead on a set of stairs of questionable safety. The only thing that gave Draco any reassurance that the steps wouldn't collapse under his weight was the trail of fresh footsteps in the dust; Potter had already gone upstairs.
Every nerve Draco possessed was wired alert, and every shred of common sense he'd once thought he had was telling him to turn around and run. It was somewhat crazy to be following Potter all day in the first place, but to follow him into the Shrieking Shack – upstairs – was sheer madness.
So perhaps I'm mad.
As he set his right foot on the first stair, however, the wood creaked loudly. Draco's heart caught in his chest, and he stared up at the top of the staircase, too startled to move, expecting Potter to come running down the stairs screaming at him at any moment. But several seconds passed with no sign of Harry. Then a few more. When it became obvious that nobody was coming, Draco managed to pull his heart from his throat and breathe again.
Silently cursing himself for his stupidity, he grabbed his wand, pointed it at his shoes, and whispered, "Silencio!"
Before he could argue with himself again, he bolted up the stairs.
Harry's tracks led down a short hallway to a door on the right. Hardly daring to breathe, Draco tiptoed to the edge of the doorjamb. Harry had left the door ajar, and slowly, cautiously, not knowing what to expect, Draco peeked in.
Harry was lying face-down on the bed, his head buried in his arms. Dust swirled thickly in the air, and Harry's clothes had light smears of dust all over, causing Draco to wrinkle his nose in disgust. Positively filthy.
The dust was quickly forgotten, however, when Draco heard a small whimper. He blinked once to be sure his eyes weren't fooling him. Harry's shoulders were shaking.
Draco's mouth fell open – whether in amusement, shock, or amazement, he didn't know – and he stared, captivated, as the shaking steadily grew worse. The bed frame creaked, and occasionally a muffled sob escaped Harry's shivering form.
What the hell is going on? Draco puzzled to himself, authentically confused. Don't tell me that Potter – the famous Harry Potter – doesn't have everything he could possibly want? Boo-hoo! Crying scared of Voldemort, I'd wager. That would serve him...
No… it would be fitting, but that doesn't seem right. Perhaps… maybe it IS because he's alone today! HA! I was right! The Weasel and Mudblood DID desert him!
Draco's face fell into a frown.
No, that's not it, he reasoned. Not at all. He wanted to get away. He's been wanting to escape for days. Weeks, even. I should have realized… but why? What's he crying about?
A strange sensation gripped Draco. Something like curiosity, but not exactly that. He wanted – no, he needed – to know. It was personal, more so than any previous tugging of his obsession with Potter. It scared him.
On the bed, Harry moved. Draco tensed, making ready to retreat from the door, but Harry didn't look at him. Instead, Harry's feet pulled up, tucking his knees towards his stomach, and his arms drew in, clenching tight across his chest. He shifted halfway onto his side, giving Draco a partial view of his face, and Draco felt his chest constrict.
Harry's glasses were gone (Draco only then noticed that they were folded on the bedside table) and his eyes were hidden under puffy eyelids. His cheeks were blotchy and red, shining with moisture. More tears slowly dripped down his face as his shoulders continued to shake. Every few seconds, his breath would catch, followed by a choked sob, then a cough and a sniffle.
Here, alone, where nobody was supposed to see him, where nobody expected a hero, Harry Potter was crying.
Draco watched in scant amazement. Two conflicting thoughts simultaneously flashed through his mind. I have NEVER had a better opportunity in my life to embarrass Harry Potter, and, I can't blow my cover yet.
He was deliberating over those thoughts when a third invaded his brain. He's really… really hurting. He looks so small… The unwelcome thought was accompanied by an unfamiliar sensation: anguish. It took Draco a split second to realize what he was thinking, and he was immediately shocked and appalled by his mind's betrayal. He clamped his teeth onto his lower lip, trying to block out this unfortunate side effect of his obsession.
This wasn't Harry Potter. At least, it wasn't the Harry that Draco had been studying, stalking for months now. This was a person that Draco didn't know, had never met, and found distinctly unnerving. Not the hero, not the bastard in Potions. This was a real person, real tears, and Draco didn't know what to think of him.
Draco's eyes were fixed on Harry's face. Unwilling or unable to move, he finally knew for certain that he'd got himself in too deep.
Know thine enemy… what's the other half of that? Draco mused pitifully.
Harry suddenly moved again. Draco was at once fully alert, ready to run lest he be caught, but this time, Harry rolled away from Draco. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and sat, hunched over, with his hands in his lap. Draco craned his neck, but could only just make out a quarter-profile view of Harry's face. As he watched, Harry reached into a pocket and pulled out a small flat object and held it up in front of his face. It was a small mirror, square and plain, which fit neatly in the palm of Harry's hand. Draco narrowed his eyes, trying to see it better. It looked as though it had been shattered once before and then inexpertly mended, with a few spidery cracks running through it, and an uneven surface.
What's this? Is he checking to see if he smeared his mascara? Draco attempted to override his confusion by mentally insulting Harry, but he realized it wasn't working when his burning lungs told him that he was forgetting to breathe.
Harry had been staring into the mirror for at least a minute, maybe two, when he finally sighed deeply and whispered, "I guess you're really gone."
Who the hell is he talking about? Draco felt his eyebrows furrow together only a split second before a sharp snap sounded through the still room.
Draco's eyes widened in shock. In one hand, Harry had squeezed the mirror from the sides until it cracked, and the largest fragment sliced deeply into his palm. The pieces of the mirror fell to the floor as blood welled up in his hand, dripping steadily onto the shards below.
Draco felt himself pale – he hated the sight of blood – but Harry didn't even seem to notice that he had just severely injured himself. He sat there, staring at his hand as though he could see right through it. The blood trickled down his wrist and began to stain the edge of his jumper from faded red to dark maroon. Harry's shoulders were shaking again, but Draco knew it wasn't from the injury.
Draco swallowed against the nausea churning in his stomach as he felt himself being pulled in two directions. He wanted to stay and continue to stare, completely fixated on the grotesque scene in front of him. But he needed to run, to get away from it all for the exact same reason. The blood dripping to the floor, the boy sitting there, bleeding, seemingly unaware of the world around him… it was all so terribly wrong, and Draco felt a sudden urge to step into the room and fix it. To clean the blood, to ask Potter what the hell was going on, and to… to…
Draco wrenched his eyes from the scene, turned, and fled down the hall. Thankfully, the silencing charm on his shoes had not worn off, and he could only hope that his ragged breathing and pounding heartbeat weren't too loud. He half-ran, half-fell down the stairs in his haste, and burst out the door.
The cold bite of the wind on his face felt good, like a slap, bringing him out of his near-hysteria. He stumbled around to the side of the building and slammed his back against the wall for support, not quite trusting his legs to hold him. For a few moments, he sucked in great gulps of air, trying to make sense of what he'd just seen, or more importantly, what he'd just felt. He closed his eyes, trying to shut out the images, but they only appeared more vivid behind his closed eyelids. He wrapped his arms around himself, not because of the cold, but to stop himself from shaking. His cheeks felt hot against the biting wind, and with a flush of embarrassment, Draco realized he'd been crying, too.
I shouldn't have seen that. Nobody should have seen that.
Draco opened his eyes again, staring out across the field that surrounded the shack; at the Dark Forest in the distance, the slate grey clouds beyond that. He felt strangely detached from it all, separated by an impenetrable fog that was surrounding him, seeping into his chest. Draco had never before spared an ounce of consideration for anyone's privacy, but now he was cursing himself for having spied on Potter. Not for Harry's sake; no, for his own sanity, he never should have seen that.
Potter was supposed to be little more than a chess piece in this great feud between Dark and Light, albeit a particularly valuable one, a figurehead since the age of one. He'd been objectified, discussed, and plotted over. He was supposed to suffer and bleed at Voldemort's hand; to cry for mercy before the Dark Lord snuffed the life out of him. He wasn't supposed to inflict the damage himself.
To the wizarding world, Harry Potter was practically immortal. Even Draco found it difficult to look beyond that image. A legend, on a par with Merlin himself. But legends didn't cry, and immortals didn't bleed like that. They weren't painfully human, small and vulnerable. They weren't boys, bleeding and crying, alone in an old shack.
Draco couldn't reconcile what he'd just seen with the image he'd always had of Potter. It didn't fit, it made no sense whatsoever. The whole thing was twisting his mind painfully, and he needed to vent all these inexplicable aches he was feeling, caught in his chest, making him choke. He needed to march back up those stairs, into that bedroom, and demand that Potter explain what the hell had just happened. He needed to get away just as much, to run back to the Slytherin dungeons and hide in his bed under his self-warming quilt. But his legs wouldn't obey him. So he sat there, letting the frigid wind seep through his cloak, hoping that if he stayed there long enough, he would simply go numb.
He'd lost track of time when the creak of hinges and the heavy bang of a door pulled him to his senses. He almost jumped to his feet, but quickly got himself back under control. Keeping his head low, Draco crept slowly to the corner of the building and peered through the branches of a small, scraggly bush.
He needn't have bothered to hide after all, though. Potter was walking steadily away from him, his face downcast, and his arms swinging limp at his sides. He looked broken somehow, but at the same time, the nervousness that had clung to him for weeks seemed to have drained away. Squinting, Draco could just see enough to tell that Potter's hand was no longer bleeding. He must have used a healing charm, but the image of the flowing blood was still quite fresh in Draco's mind. He shuddered as he continued to stare at Potter, who was already almost halfway to the village.
The village… back to the village… I was going to follow him today, Draco thought vaguely. Sometime today… yes, the attack. I have to follow him.
Draco's thoughts were muddled as he picked his way back towards Hogsmeade. He was completely in the open; if Potter turned around, he would have nowhere to hide, but somehow he knew that Potter would not be looking back again.
As he passed the Stone Troll Tavern, Draco caught the aroma of coffee and fresh baking. Farther down the street, a few Hufflepuffs were browsing Zonko's window. Two Ravenclaws were entering the bakery. Herman Honeyduke was placing a sign in front of his shop advertising a sale on Cockroach Clusters and Toothflossing Stringmints. Draco felt some sense of normality return with the familiar sights and smells, as though everything that had transpired beyond the edge of the village had been an illusion.
Draco ducked into the doorway of the Three Broomsticks, leaned against the wall, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He knew perfectly well how real it had been, and though he hated to admit it, it had scared him. He forced a slow breath, then turned his attention back to Potter, who seemed to be deliberating in front of the Apothecary.
Harry looked over his shoulder twice, as though to be certain he wasn't being watched.
Does he suspect? No, impossible.
Nobody but Draco was paying the slightest attention to Potter as he crossed to the next building over, and, with one last glance to be sure he wasn't being watched, let himself into The Broken Quill, the local bookshop. The door swung back into place behind him with a muffled thud, leaving Draco alone with his thoughts and the scent of coffee wafting past his nose. He was quite sure Potter would be in there at least long enough for him to get a coffee, and now he definitely needed the drink. Although he almost wanted something stronger than coffee. With a sigh, he pushed his way into the Three Broomsticks.
The pub was empty and quiet, with the exception of a few clinking dishes from the kitchen. Draco shuffled to the counter and leaned heavily on it, letting the warmth of the indoors seep through his robes.
"My dear, you look pale as a ghost! Tell me, child, are you ill?" Rosmerta, always motherly, bustled over from the kitchen, wiping out the inside of a glass with a cloth.
Draco wanted dearly to snarl at her; he did not need a doting parental figure right then, but any argument would just prolong the encounter, and he needed some coffee. Plus, she was his second cousin, once removed. No need to risk this getting back to his own mother.
"Fine, ma'am," Draco lied. "A bit under the weather. Stomach. That's all. I'll just have a coffee, please."
Rosmerta set the glass on a shelf and tucked the cloth into her apron. "Ah, there seems to be a stomach ailment making the rounds in the village. You won't be wanting coffee with that, dear."
Yes, I do! "Yes, I do."
"No, no, child. I won't be hearing of any such thing. Dear Miss Ferrous over at the Apothecary concocted a tasty little brew just the other day for this exact ailment." She bustled over to a large urn that was spouting steam on the back counter. "Trust me, you'll like it, and you'll be feeling right as rain in no time."
Draco gritted his teeth and barely managed to stop himself from stomping his foot. This is NOT my day.
The door to the Three Broomsticks opened, letting in a gust of cold air, and Draco growled in irritation at both the intrusion on his quiet space and the goose bumps that raised along his legs and arms. He straightened and turned to glare at the intruder, only to see that the day had become even worse.
"Well, if it isn't the Mudblood and the Weasel," Draco drawled, assuming his favourite expression of contempt.
"Young man!" snapped Rosmerta from behind the counter. "We'll have none of that in here!"
"Well, you could just kick him out on his scrawny little arse and solve the problem," Weasley said as he folded his arms across his chest.
"Boys-" Rosmerta started, but Granger cut her off.
"Come on, Ron. That one," she spat towards Draco, "isn't worth the effort. Let's get a table."
Draco knew he should bite his tongue, but he couldn't let it go. "And where's your third wheel today,Granger? The Boy Wonder himself?" As if I didn't already know.
Granger whirled around, planting her hands firmly on her hips. "That's none of your business, Malfoy."
Draco sneered contemptuously. "Lost him already, have you? Careful, Granger. If you don't keep a close eye on him, he might disappear." Draco dropped his voice to a whisper. "The world is a dangerous place these days."
Weasley took a sudden step between Draco and Granger. "Is that a threat, Malfoy?"
Draco narrowed his eyes at him, even though Weasley was nearly a head taller than him. "Of course not,Weasley. Just an observation. I wouldn't want to see the saviour of the wizarding world get hurt."
Even as he was saying it, Draco couldn't understand why he would give them even a hint of a warning. It wasn't the first time, either, and on each occasion he'd wondered exactly why he'd done it in the first place; to what extent it was a sarcastic attempt to demonstrate superiority, and to what extent a genuine warning.
He glanced from Weasley to Granger, and tried to reassume his best look of disdain. But this time, he felt his scowl falter.
For a split second, Granger's face lost some of its malice, as though she had realized that something was amiss in Draco's usual threats.
She opened her mouth to say something, but Rosmerta cut the conversation short. "Here's your tea, young man. You can take the cup. Now, run along."
Draco quickly paid her, took the tea, and exited the restaurant with the requisite scowl back over his shoulder at the two Gryffindors. He sipped the herbal brew Madam Rosmerta had given him; she had been right, it was quite tasty, like mint with a hint of liquorice, but he still wanted his coffee. The street was now beginning to look alive with students, mostly at the end where Zonko's and Honeydukes were situated, and Draco had no desire to be caught up in that. He crossed the street quickly, making sure he was unobserved, and opened the door to The Broken Quill.
A string of chimes on the door jingled lightly as Draco entered, but the sound was quickly swallowed by the almost unnatural stillness that seemed to pervade every bookshop he'd ever entered. He automatically sniffed at the dry scent of old parchment and leather bindings as he looked around. Basil Plume, the shop owner, nodded at him from behind the counter before sticking his nose back into the book he was reading. Otherwise, the shop appeared deserted.
Draco walked silently between shelves, peeking carefully around corners and looking through gaps between books. Finally, as he peered around the last bookcase, there, in the back corner of the shop, sat Harry Potter.
Harry was slouched in an old armchair with his back towards Draco, his legs hooked over the arm of the chair. Draco ducked back behind the bookcase, sidestepped several feet, put his tea on the shelf, and slowly pushed two books apart for a better look. From there, Draco could see the profile of Harry's face. He was chewing absently on the end of his quill, staring at a small book which was lying open on his lap at a blank page.
Draco couldn't stop the grin spreading across his face.
Potter went and got himself a diary! I have to see this!
While Harry began to scratch a few words with his quill, Draco fumbled through his robes for his wand, then realized he had no parchment. Trying not to curse out loud, he scanned the shelves desperately until he found a stack of journals with a sale sign.
20 Percent off journals and diaries.
Each journal equipped with all standard and customizable charms.
In small print below that was written, "Clerk will activate charms upon request."
Perfect. Draco picked one up and was about to open it when the sale sign abruptly changed.
"Shoplifters will turn blue."
So much for the full discount.
Grumbling, Draco tucked the book under his arm and hurried to the front of the shop to pay. Mr. Plume rung up the purchase, muttering to himself about his excellent sale idea, then went back to his reading.
By the time Draco made it to the back of the shop, Harry had filled half a page with deep burgundy ink. Draco opened his journal and balanced it against the crook of his left arm. He took out his wand again, and aimed it carefully through the gap in the books, directly at Harry's journal.
This was one of his favourite charms. He'd used it to do everything from passing notes in class to peeking at Granger's homework and exams. This was much better.
He whispered the charm under his breath, waited for a count of three, then tapped the open page of his own book. Immediately, ink blossomed across the parchment, forming letters and scratches that resembled red squished bugs.
Draco clenched his teeth together to contain his excitement as he closed the book, picked up his tea, and hurried to the other back corner of the shop. An armchair with a sagging seat cushion was pushed against the wall, next to a small table covered with random books. Draco scowled at the condition of the furniture, but it would have to do. One candle was hovering a foot above the table, not nearly enough light to pierce the gloom of the morning. A quick Summoning Charm fetched an extra candle that had been hovering above a nearby bookshelf, which brightened the corner to a comfortable glow. Finally, Draco set his tea on the table, hauled the chair around to hide his face from any casual shoppers, and settled himself with the journal open in his lap.
In his rush, Draco hadn't paused to consider what he might find in Harry's diary. It was enough that he'd hit the jackpot: access to Harry Potter's journal, his most private thoughts. But even if Draco had stopped to think about it, he couldn't have been prepared for the words appearing on the page.
::It didn't hurt. I'd expected it to hurt, but it didn't. I guess I wanted it to. Like some sort of punishment for everything I've messed up.
Messed up. Heh. I am. I just stared at it, dripping like that. It didn't even seem like my hand. I've seen plenty of my own blood, but that was different.
It was an excuse, and I know it. I figured, if it happened that way, then it wouldn't be the same as if I ::
And there, the text cut off. Draco stared at the fresh ink on the page as, slowly, the line of text completed itself.
::had intended to hurt myself. Because I'm not supposed to think like that. It doesn't matter who I lose, or what happens to me, I'm supposed to keep being hopeful because every bloody idiot is looking to ME. As though I have the answers. As if I AM the answer.::
Harry Potter's spidery script glistened like fresh blood on the parchment, nebulous thoughts interspersed with scratches, blotches, and crossed-out words. Draco could almost feel the bleakness spilling from Harry's quill through to the book in his lap, one word at a time. Yet at the same time, he didn't really understand any of it. Potter was obviously talking about the events which had just taken place in the Shack, but it didn'texplain anything. If anything, it only made Draco more confused. None of it fit in with everything he'd always thought he knew about Potter.
Where was the overconfident, spoilt Gryffindor bastard? Where was the obnoxious rival Draco had tormented in Potions class, duelled in front of the school, and struggled against on the Quidditch pitch? Where was Potter?
Draco waited for more words to form, but nothing came. He started to panic. Details! Where are the details! Potter is supposed to spill his thoughts to his journal. That's the POINT of a damn journal! And then the journal should –
A splotch of water suddenly appeared on the parchment, soaking through from underneath, and then another a few inches away.
The journal is supposed to write back to him! Sympathize with him, get him to share his thoughts, dig for details! That's the way journals work!
Then it hit him. Harry hadn't asked the clerk to activate the charms. It wasn't as though the clerk was paying all that much attention to anything other than his book. Perhaps Potter had never bought a journal for himself before, and had assumed that the charms were already activated. He was probably just waiting for the journal to write back now.
Which gave Draco a most unexpected opportunity.
He reached into his cloak and withdrew his wand. He hated using a wand for something so menial, but he didn't have a quill available, and he wasn't about to waste time hunting for one.
"Scripto!" he whispered. He tapped the tip of the wand against his finger, and was rewarded with a tiny dot of green ink. If nothing else, wand-writing always produced smooth, excellent script with no drips or splotches. It was probably better in this case than a quill.
Draco tapped the handle of his wand against his chin thoughtfully. If sympathy would convince Potter to spill the beans, then Draco would fake it, even though the mere thought of sympathizing with Potter turned his stomach. Finally, he hunched over and put his wand to the parchment.
A sudden yell from the other corner of the shop startled Draco only an instant before he heard the sound of a book slamming into a wall, then falling to the floor. Draco quickly laid his journal aside and peeked around the edge of the nearest bookshelf. He could just barely see Harry using his chair like a shield, semi-crouched, with a look of utter alarm plastered across his face.
What the hell is wrong with that boy?! Hasn't he ever used a wizard's journal?
"All right back there?" Basil Plume's rusty voice called from the front of the store.
Harry nodded stupidly for a moment, then replied weakly, "Er, yes sir. Just… a spider startled me, that's all."
Apparently not, Draco mused.
The owner grunted a reply.
Slowly, Harry stepped around his chair and bent down for his book. Draco took this as his cue to return to his own seat. He placed the book back in his lap, and waited. He certainly hadn't anticipated a reaction like that, but then, he hadn't anticipated anything correctly so far that day; why should that change now?
Of course, that left him with one problem. If a charmed diary didn't sit well with Potter, how the hell would he get the boy to talk?
Draco's wand was poised over the parchment, searching for words, when Harry's scratchy writing began to scrawl across the surface again.
::Who are you?::
Draco's eyebrows knitted together in confusion. Who!? What the… Potter thinks there's a real person writing this? Okay, so in this case he's right… but really, has he never encountered a charmed journal? Is he really that stupid?
Draco rolled his eyes.
[I'm your journal. You did write in me, did you not?
There was another long pause, but at least this time there was no yelling from across the shop. Finally:
::Diaries don't write back.::
Yes, he really is that stupid. Draco chewed furiously on his lower lip, racking his brain for something a journal might say to that.
[I was charmed to sympathize with my owner; to listen to his or her problems, and to offer support.
He tried not to gag as he wrote it, but still, it was the only way to get the boy to talk.
::I don't trust books that write back.::
Draco considered this, and decided to take a bit of a risk.
[Then I will not write back.
The response was immediate, in heavy-handed, rushed lines.
Draco felt his mouth pull itself into a smirk. [Yes?
Slower this time, Harry wrote, ::I want to talk to someone, but I can't talk to anyone.::
Draco tried not to choke laughing. Bloody Gryffindor logic.
[Well, I'm not a "someone," merely a "something." My job is to listen to things you'd rather nobody knew.
::You make it sound so clinical.::
[I can be more personable if you wish. I'm your journal.
::No, I think clinical feels safer.::
Safer? What, was Potter once attacked by a talking diary? What a laugh. Draco could see the headlines already: "Boy Who Lived Scared to Death by Talking Diary. Bookshop Owner Refuses to Comment."
He merely wrote[As you wish.
Draco waited several moments for Harry to begin spilling his life story, but nothing came. Impatience began to mount, and finally he wrote for himself[So, what's wrong?
It was still some time before any sort of reply came.
::It's not easy to explain.::
It was all Draco could do not to close the journal and slam it into his forehead. Repeatedly.
[Start at the beginning, perhaps?
Draco folded his legs underneath him and readjusted the book, settling in for what promised to be some interesting reading. He reached over to the table and took a sip of his tea while he waited for Harry to divulge his innermost secrets.
::I hate my life.::
Draco nearly choked on his tea. He sat bolt upright in his chair, sputtering, all thoughts of comfort forgotten. He wasn't sure why he was so taken aback by that revelation, after everything he'd seen that morning, but there it was, in glistening red ink.
Words began scrawling across the page, faster and messier now.
::I thought my childhood was bad enough, but then I knew, at least, that when I reached adulthood I would be able to move out, get away. But no. I had to get "saved" from my miserable aunt, uncle, and cupboard, and brought to this wonderful world of magic, only to almost get myself killed at least once a year! And then, as if that wasn't bad enough, I have no personal life, people keep dying all around me, and the whole fucking world expects me to save them.
I think that just about covers it.
Oh yeah, and I hate my hair.::
By the time Harry's script reached the bottom of the page, it was almost illegible, but Draco couldn't look away. He wanted to sneer, gloat with satisfaction at finally seeing proof that Scarhead was miserable, but he couldn't. He'd always figured that Potter had everything he wanted; fame, friends, and a winning Quidditch record. It was easy to hate Potter when it seemed he had everything. The discovery that he did not felt... odd.
He held his wand over the parchment, and before he'd realized he'd written it, a word appeared.
Shit, fuck and shit again! "Cupboard?" What kind of stupid question is that?
Apparently, it was the type of question that Harry was more than willing to answer.
::Oh yes, that. It was my bedroom for more than a decade. Lovely accommodations. They actually installed a light bulb when I was eight years old, but it burnt out when I was nine and a half, and they never replaced it.::
You are so fucking eloquent, Draco Malfoy.
::The cupboard under the stairs. It was the best place for my aunt and uncle to keep me out of the way, so they didn't have to see me. They're Muggles, and to say they aren't fond of magic is a disgusting understatement. Therefore, I'm a despicable creature that must be caged in a small, dark place. It wasn't too bad, really. The spiders were never a problem, but I didn't deal well with the ant infestation we had in 1989. I hate ants.::
[They kept you in a cupboard? Draco briefly considered putting the book down and beating his head against a wall until his brain started working again. Or until he knocked himself out.
::Only at night. Or when I was in trouble. Which happened a lot, actually. It's funny, the whole world thinks I'm some spoilt sort of hero. Irony is a lovely thing.::
[Why would they think that?
::I could say it's because of people like Rita Skeeter. I could say it's because people like gossip and scandal. But honestly, I don't know.::
[Well, if you're the subject of gossip, is it possible that perhaps you did something to deserve it?
A moment passed, then another. It wasn't until nearly a minute went by without a response that Draco realized he might have said something stupid. He chewed on his lower lip for a moment, thinking quickly, and added,
[Or perhaps people simply perceive that you did something to deserve it?
Another long moment passed, and Draco was acutely aware of the thudding of his heart, his own breath in his chest, and the elaborate string of silent curses he was mentally throwing at himself.
::Sure. Yeah. My fault. There would have been one very easy way for me to avoid all this trouble in the first place, had I known at the time.::
::I could have died the first time.::
Although Draco knew exactly what Harry was talking about – like everyone else, he'd grown up hearing the story – it was different to read it like this, written in such a crude manner from the source. He also couldn't let slip that he really did know.
[What "first time?"
::Oh yes, that's right. You wouldn't know. That's a relief, somehow. It's nice to be able to talk to someone who doesn't think he already knows everything about me.::
Draco bit his tongue. Hard.
::Someone tried to kill me when I was a baby. A Dark wizard. My parents died, I lived. The wizard who tried to kill me ended up as the victim of his own curse, and even though I don't remember a bit of it, people decided that I was a hero. I was still wearing nappies, and they wanted a hero. Things would have been easier if I had died. And now, the wizard who wanted to kill me is back to finish the job, if he can. But he hasn't managed it yet. Instead, he's murdering everyone else in his attempt to get to me. I keep living, and everyone around me keeps dying. I don't want to see anyone else die. And now, I'm just waiting for my turn. I don't want to keep living if this is all I have to live for. Why can't they just come for me, and leave everyone else alone, if they want me so badly? I'm tired of fighting.::
Draco had thought it would be fun and easy, listening to Harry Potter pour out his thoughts onto paper for easy reading, but the actual experience was not what he had expected. It was almost as though he could hear Harry's voice bleeding through the paper with the ink, talking in his ear, invading his personal space, just as surely as he was invading Harry's privacy. Harry's tone was cold and bitter, his words harsh and sarcastic. Although Draco knew Harry, or felt he did, it was sobering to realize that after only a few minutes of direct access to Harry's personal thoughts, he had uncovered a whole new layer to Harry that he'd never noticed before. Even more sobering was his suspicion that Harry was still hiding several layers, masked beneath his bitterness.
[What happened to make you give up like that?
::I don't think I'm ready to talk about that just yet. Not completely. But I lost something very important to me, and I've never felt so alone. I feel like I don't have anyone who really cares for me, for who I really am, nobody I can lean on, nobody I can trust. I just can't take it anymore.::
[Alone? What about your aunt and uncle? You said you lived with them?
::My aunt and uncle don't exactly count as family. The way they treat me, I'm sure they'd be happy if I died. When I go to their house for the summer, I sometimes think I'd rather face Voldemort again.::
Draco quickly averted his eyes from the name on the page. Nobody even dared to speak the Dark Lord's name, let alone write it… Potter had some level of audacity, or stupidity. Words were magic; written words were power. His father had always told him that. Always be careful what you write on paper, because you never know what effect it might have.
Suddenly, Draco's mouth went bone dry. He tried to lick his lips, but his tongue felt like lead. With a shaking hand, he reached for his tea and took a small sip, but found it difficult to swallow.
Words were power, and here he was, staring at the text that was a window into Harry Potter's soul. This wasn't the Harry Potter he thought he knew. This Harry was small and vulnerable, cold and bitter, hurt and angry. Apparently, this was the real Harry, the one that nobody saw. Draco could feel his stomach working itself into a knot, and he started to wonder with some trepidation how much he really didn't know about Harry Potter.
[What about your friends? Surely you have friends who are like family?
::Oh yes, I do. And they're the most important thing in the world to me. Which is why I'm sure that they'll be the next to die, if things keep on like this. I'm almost afraid to be close to them anymore. Everything important to me is taken away. Everyone I care about dies.::
[Surely you don't think that's true.
::How can I not?::
[Have you talked to your friends about this?
::I can't. They've been through so much because of me. They could have died last spring because of me. And it wasn't the first time. They're in danger because they're my friends. Maybe, if I keep them just far enough away, I can protect them. But I don't want them to know this. I won't force them to carry this burden too. Everyone has a burden to bear, I've learned. This one is mine.::
[Then who will you talk to?
::I guess I'll talk to you.::
Something caught in Draco's chest. Harry Potter was opening up to him. Not to the Weasel, or the Mudblood, but to… to the damn journal. Not to him. To an impersonal, mindless journal. For some reason, that thought left him feeling a bit hollow.
[I'm just a book.
::That's alright. For now, you're the best thing I've got. That's why I bought a journal in the first place, because I didn't want to unload this on my friends. I know you're only a book, but for now, I'll just pretend.::
There was a long pause. Draco was itching for something to write, but he couldn't think of how to react to that. What was he supposed to say? Harry seemed to believe that the journal was nothing but a simple wizard's journal, but he wanted a person to talk to.
::I think…:: The red text came slowly and deliberately. ::You said you could be more personable. Can you do that? I think I'm ready for that now.::
Draco took a deep breath, trying to think back to when he had designed the personality for his first journal.
[What sort of personality do you wish me to have?
::I can ask for a specific sort of personality?::
::That's strange. I don't know what to ask for. Just a teenage boy like me, I guess. Someone who I can relate to. I don't want sympathy, though. At least, don't be falsely kind to me. I don't think I could handle doting.::
::Be sarcastic, if you can. Willing to banter with me. Something to take my mind off of everything. Everyone tells me things they think will protect me, things they think I want to hear. I don't want that anymore. When people try to handle me with kid gloves, that's what seems to almost get me killed. So… be brutal, be honest. Give me hell if you want to. Fuck, just act like someone who doesn't want to treat me any differently than anyone else.::
Draco's throat was choking up, but he couldn't understand why. He swallowed past it and forced a smile to himself.
[You're a picky little shit, aren't you?
::Ha. That's perfect.:: Two dots and a curved line were drawn next to the words – a poorly sketched smiley face.
Draco stared at the response, torn between disbelief at Potter's reaction, and amusement. Carefully, he drew a face to match Harry's sketch, and then added a tongue.
Harry added a red nose.
Draco added green hair.
Draco found himself stifling a chuckle, and through the quiet of the bookshop, he could hear Harry laughing softly. He couldn't help but smile at the thought. It took him a moment to notice that words were scrawling beneath the mismatched face.
::Can you play games?::
[Sure, I guess. What kinds of games? For the moment, Draco's mission was completely forgotten.
::Have you ever played hangman?::
[What the hell is hangman?
There was another short laugh from the other side of the shop, and in hastily scrawled red ink, Harry proceeded to explain the rules of hangman.
::So, will you come up with the first word?::
[No problem. I'll have you hanging from the gallows in short order.
::We'll see about that.::
On the next page, Draco set up the playing area.
Draco drew in the first part of the gallows.
About five minutes later, Harry had gone through the letters R, S, A, E, P, D, I, N, C, M, N, G, and O, and Draco had determined that the boy had the analytical skills of a first-year Hufflepuff.
[S R I E I G
::NEVER! Let's see... K?::
[Ha! You're pathetic. Draco neatly drew in the last leg on the stick figure.
::Well if you're so damned clever, what's the answer?::
Using his best script, Draco slowly filled in the letters.
::I hate shrivelfigs.::
It took all Draco's self-restraint not to write,I know. Instead, he quickly added some finishing touches to his hanged man: X's for eyes, and a tongue hanging out of a squiggly mouth for good measure.
Not to be outdone, Harry had to have his say. In glistening red ink, the name "Draco Malfoy" appeared next to the stick figure, and just to be sure there was no doubt about the reference, Harry drew an arrow from the name to the sketch.
A rush of emotions hit Draco. He felt a momentary flash of panic that Harry knew who was writing back through the journal, but common sense quickly told Draco that if Harry knew, he would have stopped writing. Next came the shock of seeing his name written there, out of nowhere. Finally, he noticed the heat that was seeping into his cheeks, and realized with a start that he actually felt hurt.
He'd hurled insults at Potter plenty of times, and likewise, Potter had usually met him verbally blow for blow. But those were public spitting matches, swathed in house colours and done, Draco had assumed, as much as a social display as for the actual value of the insult. The constant banter, each trying to go one-up on the other – it was just how things were.
But this was a whole new forum. Here, Draco had essentially forgotten to whom he'd really been writing. Here, the exchange had been personal and almost intimate. Draco might have thought that only Harry was dropping his shields, but somewhere along the way, his own barricades had fallen without him noticing.
And it hurt.
Draco blinked, and discovered that he'd been staring off into space long enough for Harry to write again.
::So, can we play another round?::
[Who's Draco Malfoy?
If Draco had thought about it, he never would have broached the topic, but logic had been thrown out the widow.
::Just a spoilt, rotten, arrogant, greedy, brown-nosing, arse-kissing, pale, pointy-faced, pure-blooded bastard.::
At least he got the pure-blooded part, Draco thought numbly, although he was sure Harry hadn't meant it as a compliment.
::Although, to his credit, he makes a decent ferret.::
[How about that game now?
::Sure, I suppose. Want to set up another word?::
Draco half-heartedly set up another game board, this time using "Norwegian Ridgeback" for the puzzle word.
He wanted to bite back, but he couldn't. A journal would agree with the owner's opinions. He wanted to retreat and simply stop conversing, but he couldn't do that either. With a flash of dismay, he realized that by writing to Harry in the first place, he'd practically committed himself to continuing to write back.
The dismay turned hollow when he remembered that after today, Potter wouldn't be doing much more writing anyway.
When Harry solved the puzzle with three letters to spare, Draco made his best attempt to sound happy for Harry, in the sarcastic manner that had been requested of him.
[You couldn't figure out "shrivelfig," but you got "Norwegian Ridgeback?" Maybe you're not so dim-witted after all. Nice job, genius.
::Heh, my best friend's brother works with dragons. They're better than shrivelfigs.::
[Sure. Excuses will get you nowhere.
::Actually, speaking of going places, I have to go.::
Maybe Harry was ready to leave, but Draco wasn't ready for him to go. He still didn't know what the hell had happened earlier, in the Shrieking Shack. There were lingering questions about Harry himself, things that Draco had never even wondered about before now. And mostly, Draco just didn't want to stop talking. Even though the conversation wasn't easy, and even though it was Potter, in some strange, masochistic way, Draco was enjoying this. Too much.
[Where are you going?
::To do some errands, and then to meet with my friends later. I can't abandon them all day.::
[Are you going to tell them what had you so upset today?
::No, I'm not going to tell them. That's why I've been away from them this morning. I really don't want them to know. And I don't think I'm quite ready to meet up with them yet, actually, so I'll probably do some other stuff first. It's nice having some quiet, personal time for a change.::
[You still haven't explained what you were talking about when you first started writing.
::I'll explain later then. I'm enjoying this, actually. It's a relief to get some of this out. Thanks.::
[Anytime Draco wrote numbly.
No more red script appeared on the page. Draco leaned back in his chair and listened. There were still no other customers in the bookshop, it seemed. From the far corner came some muffled sounds, and the top of Harry's head appeared above one of the bookcases, moving steadily towards the door. A moment later, the door chimes jingled.
With a deep sigh, Draco stopped the ink-flow from his wand and slid it into his pocket. He closed the journal and tucked it under his arm. When he stood, his legs and back protested the movement, and he wondered just how long he'd been sitting there. A small sip of his ice-cold tea confirmed it had been quite a while. He left the almost-full cup on the table and followed after Harry.
Outdoors, the day had improved just slightly. Instead of cold, windy, and dark grey, it was now cold, windy. and bright grey. Along the street, there were more students than before, but still far fewer than usual for the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year.
Draco looked quickly and caught a glimpse of Harry slipping into the Honeydukes. Draco might have imagined the whiff of chocolate, but it was enough to set his stomach growling, and he quickly decided that Harry's sense of timing for sweets was excellent. A moment later, he was pushing past two Hufflepuffs into the shop.
An empty stomach is the quickest way to make a teenage boy forget about anything else, and Draco made a beeline for the stack of plain chocolate bars on the nearest shelf. As he reached for the top bar, his hand collided with someone else's. He turned towards the owner of the offending hand to tell him off, but the comment died on his tongue as he stared into a pair of unnaturally green eyes framed by the most hideous glasses. Those eyes immediately narrowed.
"That's twice this morning! Still missing your training wheels, Malfoy?"
Draco tried to respond, he really did, but the combination of Harry's eyes drilling directly into his own and the events of the morning – events that Harry had no idea Draco had seen – had caused Draco's voice to lock in his throat. Only a short while ago, he'd been sharing a surprisingly personal moment with Harry, and now he couldn't separate the Harry in the journal from Potter glaring back at him with that very journal tucked under his arm. The retort Draco had started to snarl a moment before finally came out as a strangled squeak.
Harry's eyebrows furrowed deeply. "What the hell is the matter with you?"
Draco could feel his cheeks burning furiously. He might have come out on the losing side of an argument before, butnever in his life had he lost the ability to start one. Harry's eyes were boring holes into him, and he couldn't think. There was a subtle shift, and Harry's face lost its angry edge.
"Malfoy, what –"
Draco never found out what Harry was going to say. Chocolate forgotten, Draco turned on his heel and dashed outside, nearly trampling a couple of Gryffindor third years in the doorway. Out on the street, he forced himself to slow to a brisk walk to avoid the stares of other students, numbly moving away from the main crowd, towards the edge of town. Just before the Stone Troll Tavern, he ducked into a small alley between the buildings and collapsed to the ground.
This was all getting to be far too much to take, Draco thought vaguely.
He pulled the journal out from under his arm, realizing from the slight ache how tightly it had been clenched between his elbow and his ribs. Clinging to it. Like a lifeline. It had been a childish mistake to follow Potter all day in the first place, letting his obsession override his judgment, but like all mistakes, this one had certainly escalated. He should have listened to his father, but instead he was crouched in an alleyway, like a commoner, clutching the book that was his unlikely tie to Harry Potter.
If he had any sense, he'd throw the book into the dustbin behind the tavern and be done with it. He'd incinerate it with a quick spell, and let Harry wonder why the hell his journal had deserted him, too. But then Draco would never know what on earth had happened that morning in the Shrieking Shack.
He opened the book.
For several long minutes, he stared at the pages, willing new lines of red ink to appear, but nothing came.
Of course nothing would come. For that to happen, Harry would have to write, but he was back in Honeydukes, stuffing his pockets with Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott's beans. While Draco was sitting in a cold, windy alley, shivering, waiting for any sign of Harry's terrible handwriting.
He wanted to smack himself. He briefly considered ironing his hands, house-elf style, as a suitable punishment for his sheer stupidity. For what specific act of stupidity, he wasn't exactly sure, but for him to feel so idiotic, he must have done something wrong. But even so, he knew he couldn't quit now.
Draco closed the book, carefully crept to the front corner of the tavern, and tucked himself behind a couple of barrels. From there, he could see the front door of Honeydukes up the street.
After a few minutes, Harry emerged. Draco felt a quick thrill, hoping that he'd go back into the bookshop to continue writing, but there was no such luck. His next stop was the Apothecary, although Merlin only knew what he was doing in there. Until this year, Harry had been positively miserable at Potions; it was a minor miracle that he'd even been permitted into the sixth-year class. How he had managed to pass the OWL was anyone's guess, but he seemed to be determined to make something come of it.
Harry came out of the Apothecary and immediately ducked into the Broken Quill again. Draco opened the journal on his lap, certain that Harry was going to resume writing, but he reappeared not long after, this time carrying both the journal and a much larger book under his arm.
Next, Harry made his way to the Golden Snitch Quidditch Shop, where he stayed for nearly half an hour while Draco maintained his vigilant watch. From there, it was a brief stop into the Flying Fur pet shop, from which Harry emerged carrying a small cage.
Draco was absently trying to guess what kind of animal was in the cage when he realized Harry was walking directly towards him. His heart and his breath caught, and he ducked tightly against the wall of the tavern, praying that the barrel would hide him well enough, if he hadn't already been seen.
He peered through the narrow space between the barrel and the wall, not daring to breathe. Harry finally passed by, looking straight ahead, towards the open fields beyond town.
He's not going back to the damn Shack, is he?
Draco stood slowly and peeked around the edge of the building. Harry wasn't walking toward the Shrieking Shack, but instead towards the field to the west of it.
That's a small relief, Draco though with a sigh.
To avoid being seen, he slipped around the back of the tavern, checking carefully around corners, watching to make sure Harry wasn't looking back at him. He wasn't.
That boy really needs to learn to watch his back. He's not exactly the most inconspicuous person in the world.
Still, it served Draco's purpose. He finally crept up to the shrub behind which he'd hidden earlier that morning, where he could stay concealed in the shadows while still observing Harry at his leisure.
Harry walked straight to the middle of the field, stooped down, and placed his books on the ground next to him. Then, he opened the small cage, reached in, and took out something pure white. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, holding the animal cupped in his hands, then with a sudden sweeping motion, he threw the creature into the air. The bird immediately soared off, quickly becoming lost against the bright greyness of the sky.
Releasing a dove. It was an old wizarding tradition, a simple mourning ritual. It symbolized the release of a witch's or wizard's soul from his body at death, traditionally done to ensure a peaceful passing of the spirit to the next world. It wasn't any sort of functional magic, but it was still a common enough practice.
Even though he hadn't directly thought of it, the explanation for everything was obvious: the events of that morning, Harry's behaviour in school, his desire to be alone. He was in mourning for someone.
Now, the question was "who?"
Harry stood watching the sky where the dove had flown for several minutes before he scooped up his books and turned around in place. He moved to a tree at the edge of the field, and settled himself against the base of the trunk, facing towards the town, towards Draco. Finally, he set the larger book aside, and to Draco's delight, spread the journal open across his lap. Draco quickly mimicked the motion, pulled out his wand, and set himself up to write. He didn't have long to wait.
::Are you there?::
[Yes. Back so soon?
::I guess I still needed to talk.::
[Are you feeling a bit better than you did earlier?
[Are you ready to tell me about what made you so upset this morning?
There was a significant pause.
Draco released a slow, hissing breath through his teeth. Fine, be that way. If Harry wanted to play like this, Draco could play along. He just needed to get the boy talking. Any random topic would do. He did want to know what the book that Harry had bought from the Apothecary was. So, if he could just steer the conversation...
[That's all right. Whenever you're ready. So, you said you were a teenage boy. Are you in school?
Great, he's frozen up again. Draco pressed on.
[What classes do you take? Talk, damn you!
::Transfiguration, Herbology, History of Magic, Divination (Merlin only knows why I'm still taking that damned class), Advanced Defence Against the Dark Arts, and Potions. In fact, I've just bought myself an extra Potions text to try to improve my marks a bit.::
[Do you have trouble in Potions?
::I don't actually have trouble with the material. In fact, I got an "E" on my Potions OWL last year. Nearly got an "O", and the professor grudgingly allowed me into the class on the condition that my work significantly improved.::
Damn. Potter isn't stupid.
[Then if it's not the material, what's the problem?
::Well, two problems. First, the professor hates me. Sure, he let me in, but you should have seen his face when I walked into class that first day. I can't imagine the struggle he must have put up to keep me out. Second, Malfoy is in that class, and I can't get a moment's peace to do my work. Every day, there's some sort of problem, or at least, there used to be. I've been doing my best to ignore him, and it seems to be working. He hasn't really pestered me much this year, which is good. I have to do well in that class if I want to become an Auror.::
It was true, Harry had been completely ignoring Draco in Potions that year. It was almost creepy, compared to the easy reactions Draco had goaded from him in the past. And now Draco knew the reasons for Harry's behaviour. However, he couldn't drop the issue. Not yet, at any rate.
[Is this Draco Malfoy person really that much of a problem?
::You know what's really strange?::
::I've bumped into him twice today, literally. He's not with his usual goons; he's alone.::
Draco felt a surge of panic. Did Harry suspect something?
[Could be a coincidence.
::Well, it's not just that. He's acting funny. He made a comment to me this morning, the first time. Something about "he'd be watching." It was really odd. And then, the second time, it was as though the instant he noticed it was me, he freaked out. I wonder if he's following me.::
Shit, shit, fuck, and shit.
::You would be too, if someone was trying to kill you.::
Fuck, he's got a point.
[You don't think Draco is trying to kill you, do you? If he's in your classes, he's just another student, your own age.
::He's not "just another student." He's a Slytherin.::
Damn straight I am.
::He's the son of one of the people who wants me dead.::
True, I suppose.
::He sold out me and my friends to Umbridge.::
::He hates me and he wants to see me dead.::
::He's exactly the sort of cold-hearted, evil bastard I have to watch out for. I wouldn't be surprised if his father was using him to spy on me for Voldemort.::
[Have you ever tried to talk to him?
::And why the hell would I want to do that?::
Draco swallowed and closed his eyes for a brief moment. The words were already there, waiting to be written.
[Maybe some people are different when you talk to them, when you get to know them. It's easy to hate someone from a distance. When you talk to a person, up close, things can look very, very different.
He stared at the words on the page, in his own neat handwriting, and knew with painful clarity where the words had come from. He wondered how the hell he could dare to write something like that, regardless of whether or not he meant it. He didn't really want to talk to Potter, did he?
Isn't that what you're already doing, you stupid twit? he asked himself.
::That's an interesting thought, but the chance that I could ever talk to Draco Malfoy for more than a few seconds without an uncontrollable urge to beat him to a bloody pulp is highly unlikely.::
[Why is that? As if I couldn't guess.
::It's like he's taken this feud and made it into his own personal vendetta, like his entire life is wrapped around tormenting me.::
[Do you think there might be a reason for that? Why he seems to hate you so terribly?
::Oh sure, loads of reasons. It's so easy for us to fight. He's the obvious rival. It's almost like we've been custom-designed to hate each other, and there's something about it that won't let this be a passive hate, either. We're in rival houses, we compete at the same Quidditch position, and we're squarely on opposite sides of a war. And to top it all off, he blames me for his father's imprisonment.::
It was a question that had been plaguing Draco for months, and it seemed that this was the only chance he'd ever have to ask it.
[Did you put his father in jail?
::As thrilled as I'd be to take the credit, no. Not really. It's a long story, but basically, we were in the same place at the same unfortunate time, and he, amongst others, came out on the losing end. I hardly even noticed he was there.::
[How could you not notice?
There was a pause.
::Because there were far more important things happening that night.::
Draco could feel the shift in the words and he looked out across the field. Harry's head was tipped back against the tree, and his arms were lying limp at his sides. For several long moments, he stayed like that, perfectly still, staring up at the grey sky. Draco couldn't even begin to guess what was going through his head. Finally, he picked up his quill, dipped it in his ink bottle, and began writing again. Draco looked back down at the book in his lap.
::Merlin, this is stupid. I'm actually trying to analyze Malfoy. Why the hell am I wasting my time doing this?::
Draco felt himself choke up slightly.
[Maybe because there's something worth analyzing.
::How could there be? It's MALFOY.::
[Surely you don't really think people are that simple? Everyone has reasons and motives for the way they act. You don't really know a person until you talk to them personally.
::I'll admit, I'm curious to know what made him run off the way he did earlier. It was so strange.::
[Then perhaps you should ask him.
::I already told you! I'm not going to talk to him! Whose side are you on, anyway?::
[Yours, of course.
::Okay. Therefore, I'm NOT talking to Malfoy.::
Draco finally realized his teeth were clamped down on his lower lip so tightly he had almost bitten through the inside of it. He released it and touched it gingerly before responding.
[If that's what you feel is best.
There was another long silence, and Draco had no idea how to fill it. His mind was stuck in a numb sort of fog, trying to understand what the hell was prompting him to say the things he was saying, and why the hell he seemed to care.
::I think I'm ready to talk about what happened this morning.::
::This isn't easy to talk about.::
[Take your time.
Merlin's beard! Hurry up and tell me, already!
to get to the point, last spring, I went running to the Ministry of
Magic, convinced that my godfather was in danger. He wasn't. It
was a false image that Voldemort had planted in my head, as bait to
lure me into a trap. And I
fell for it.
::I ended up leading five of my friends into a fight that could have killed us all, and all for a man who wasn't in danger in the first place. If I had done any of a dozen things differently, I could have prevented the whole mess. And even worse, when he realized I was in danger, my godfather came anyway. The person I was trying to save, who hadn't been at risk in the first place, threw himself into the middle of it, all because of my stupidity.
::Oh Merlin, this isn't easy.::
[Go on. You'll feel better once you've said it.
::I know. You're right.
::My godfather got into a duel with one of Voldemort's closest followers. I watched the whole thing. I watched as he was killed. He was the last real family I had. He was supposed to be my legal guardian, and I was going to go live with him. But now he's dead. Today was the first day since he died that I've had time alone so I could remember him properly. I keep thinking that somehow, he's coming back. As a ghost, or as an apparition… just so I could talk to him one last time. But I missed my chance to talk to him. He's dead. And it was all my fault. Everything is always my fault.::
It felt as though a very heavy weight had settled itself on the back of Draco's neck, like a burden had just been passed to him, something he didn't know how to carry. Harry had just poured himself out through the book in front of him, and unwittingly or not, Draco had accepted his share of the burden. Draco forced his head up so he could look across at Harry.
Harry had leaned forward slightly, away from the tree trunk He was holding his hand – the one he'd cut on the mirror earlier – in front of his face, staring at it. For a long moment, he sat like that, perfectly still as the wind whipped his hair against his face and ruffled the pages of his journal. Suddenly, he buried his face in his hand, then ran his fingers roughly through his hair. He knotted his hand into a fist at the back of his head, gripping his hair roughly. Shoulders hunched over, he looked tired and tormented. Even at that distance, Draco could feel his exhaustion as if it were his own, and insanely, he wanted to help.
It was positively asinine. As recently as that morning, Draco would have relished the sight of Harry in such a miserable state. Ignorance would have been bliss, and he could have revelled in Harry's desolation at his leisure. But now he knew, damn it, he knew. And he couldn't ignore it. He'd never let himself become close to anyone. It opened the door to weaknesses like this. Here and now, the door was already open.
He watched and waited for several long minutes until Harry finally took his hand away from his head and looked back at the journal on his lap.
[It's not your fault.
It took a long time for Harry to respond.
::And just how the fuck do you come to that conclusion?::
Draco took a deep breath.
[Because of how guilty you feel. Because the whole time, you were still trying to do the right thing. And you said it yourself. You've just been thrown into this. At least, that's what it seems, from what you've said.
::I may have been thrown into this mess, but that doesn't mean I'm not the cause of it. You tell me... if you were the target of Dark wizards, and you knew your friends and family were constantly in danger because of that, wouldn't you feel a bit guilty? How the hell would you protect them? How the hell would you handle being surrounded by people who formed an opinion of you and judged you by a media-driven reputation, but didn't know a damn thing about YOU? And how the hell would you live up to the expectations of the entire fucking wizarding world when they expect you to save them all, and you're just a sixteen-year-old boy who wants to play Quidditch and pass his exams?::
[I don't know. I'm just a book, and not very knowledgeable about such things.
::I figured. Heh. Some help you are.::
[I wish I could do more. You have no idea how much I mean that, Harry.
::Maybe you can.::
Draco sat up a bit straighter, eyes widening, then narrowing suspiciously. He had a funny feeling that he knew what was coming next, and he suspected he wouldn't like it.
::Tell me, what's the easiest way out?::
[Out of what? He didn't want to hear the answer, but he had to ask.
::Everything. Out of this responsibility that I don't want. Out of putting my friends in danger. Out of a name that I don't want anymore. Everything.::
[You don't mean that.
::And how the hell would you know?::
[Because you care too much.
Please don't think like that, Potter. Please. I don't think I could take it.
::What if I don't care anymore?::
[You care about your friends, right? You care about Quidditch. And being an Auror. Hell, you even bought that Potions book today so that you could prove yourself in that class. You can't convince me that you don't care.
Draco swore he could hear the sound of a sigh through the low whistle of the wind.
::You're too smart for a bloody book, you know that?::
[I do my best.
::So then, what should I do next? Where do I go from here?::
[I think that's probably up to you. Do something different, perhaps. A change of pace. Something unexpected.
::Heh, sounds like a plan. I think I'll invite Draco Malfoy for afternoon tea.::
Draco felt a flash of disappointment, and immediately berated himself for such a ridiculous notion.
::But I think I am going to study this new Potions book for a little while. And you're right, I do care about it. And everything. That's probably my biggest problem. That I still give a shit about everything.::
[That's not such a terrible thing, you know.
[Listen, you said you didn't want sympathy, right?
[So, let me break it down for you. You're right, I don't know you. Or at least, I didn't when you started writing this morning. But I'd say by now, I think I have a pretty good idea of who you are. Like it or not, admit it or not, you're something special. You're probably also something special to your friends, and probably to people you don't even realize. And the fact that you still care, even after all the shit you just told me about, proves it. So, you're done mourning. Your godfather wouldn't want you to mope over him. He also wouldn't want to see you putting yourself down like this. You're too good for that.
And you have no idea just how good you are.
When Draco finished the paragraph, he collapsed back against the side of the building behind him, feeling slightly winded. He couldn't exactly believe that he'd managed to write something like that, to Potter of all people, but what he'd written made sense. And it didn't feel like a lie. In fact, somewhere down in the core of his gut, he knew just how much he meant it.
Harry had always been special. Sure, Draco didn't see Harry in quite the same light that most other wizards did. Everyone else worshipped the boy, but they didn't know him from the perspective Draco did. Now, that was even more true. Draco still regarded Harry differently than most other wizards might, though not in the same way he had before.
Harry was still something special.
Across the field, Harry was staring at the book in his lap, but his shoulders were no longer hunched dejectedly. Finally, he put his quill to the parchment.
::I have to go now.::
Draco looked back and forth between the book in his lap and Harry, who was staring out across the field to the forest. Without looking down, Harry slammed the journal closed, and Draco took that as his cue to move.
As Harry picked up his other book, Draco rushed around to the back of the Stone Troll Tavern, out of sight. His heart was pounding in his ears, and he couldn't quite take a full breath. He had said the wrong thing, he had ruined everything. What was Harry thinking? Where was he going?
What have I done?
Draco slunk around to the other side of the tavern and ducked behind the barrel again. After a few minutes, Harry walked by. He had a certain determination in his stride now, and he was no longer staring at the ground as he walked. Draco felt a sudden urge to run after him, to explain everything, but something held him frozen in place.
He'd just browbeaten Harry anonymously through the journal, and Harry was probably already feeling edgy and defensive as a result. Draco Malfoy would be the last person Harry would want to see just now. Regardless of Draco's motives, regardless of how things had changed, Harry didn't know what had really happened.
Draco leaned back against the wall and slid to the ground again. He watched Harry's retreating back for another moment before he let his journal fall open in his lap.
On the page in front of him was the game of hangman they'd played earlier. Complete with the stick figure hanging from the gallows, clearly labelled, "Draco Malfoy."
Something inside Draco felt utterly hollow, but he couldn't put his finger on it. So he sat there, unable to move, unable to think.
Uncontrolled thoughts swam through his numbed brain. It was his fault for writing in the journal in the first place. He couldn't have just done what he was told; he had to follow Potter. His obsession had trampled over his judgment, but it was too late now to undo what he'd done.
What had he actually done? Dropped his shields, that was what. Destroyed his deluded perception of Harry as the self-righteous, egotistical Gryffindor bastard. Tasted raw emotion, something he'd spent most of his life avoiding. All of that alone would have been bad enough, but the final straw had been his self-imposed role as Harry's confidant. Anonymous or not, it didn't matter. Somewhere along the way, the lines between Draco's own thoughts and his words as the journal had faded.
And Merlin be damned, he'd meant every word he'd written.
He needed to talk to Harry again. There was no alternative. Harry's presence in Draco's life as a rival had been addictive in its own way; every day posed a new challenge. This new openness was even more addictive. He couldn't just carry on as he had before, as if it had never happened.
But after today, Harry would be gone.
Unless Draco warned him.
He shouldn't. He couldn't. It was absolutely out of the question.
He had to warn Harry. He couldn't just stand by and watch Harry be taken away. Not now.
But he didn't know what to say, and he didn't know how to say it.
Yet if he said nothing, he would ultimately be responsible for Harry's death, and he knew it.
Everything had been so distant until today. Simple, anonymous. A face, a name, and a list of facts that Draco had believed composed everything there was to know about Harry Potter.
It was one thing to hand over a soulless rival. It was another thing altogether to know that a real person would die because of him. He couldn't handle that knowledge.
It was far too much for him to think about.
Draco didn't know how long he had been sitting there when his growling stomach pulled him back to reality. He didn't have a watch, and the overcast sky meant he couldn't tell time by the position of the sun, but the way his back ached as he pulled himself to his feet told him he'd been sitting there far too long. His shoulders still felt abnormally heavy, and his head hurt.
That's what you get for not eating, idiot.
He knew perfectly well that it wasn't the lack of food that had left him so tired. Still, he did need to eat something.
Draco hardly noticed the bustling activity around him as he picked his way through the middle of the village. He paid partial attention to the ground in front of him, just so he wouldn't trip, and left it up to other pedestrians not to crash into him. He didn't have the energy to spare to watch out for them as his mind raced in circles.
By chance or design, he finally found himself in front of the Three Broomsticks. Despite his reluctance to be stuck in the midst of the crowded inn, the rich aroma of Rosmerta's soup of the day was more than enough reason for him to deal with the crowd and the noise. Eyes still downcast, Draco pushed through the doorway...
And collided head-on with Harry Potter.
"Third time's the charm, is it, Malfoy?" Harry pushed back off him disdainfully. "What the hell is this? Are you following me or something?"
Draco's mouth hung open, but no sound came out. He hardly noticed Weasley and Granger standing behind Harry. Instead his eyes were locked with Harry's, and from close up, he could see all the things that he'd read about that day, lying just below the surface, where nobody would see them if they didn't already know what was there. The pain and isolation, buried beneath his obvious annoyance at Draco for colliding with him. Draco glanced down at Harry's hand, saw the journal clutched there, and became instantly aware of the matching book in his own hand.
With a slight sidestep, he moved to hide the book from Harry's line of sight, but when he looked back up, Harry was still glaring at him.
"Have you gone suddenly deaf and dumb, Malfoy?" Harry snapped at him. "I asked if you were following me. I mean, what the hell are you? My shadow?"
"Yeah," Draco croaked, not really thinking about what he was saying. Half of him was begging to get out of there, and the other half of him was demanding that he get Harry away from his friends and talk to him alone. No possible compromise. Just one or the other. "Right. Er..."
"Harry," Weasley cut in suddenly, "I think we have better things to do with our time than waste it listening to ferret-face trip over his own tongue."
The sound of Weasley's voice snapped Draco out of his daze. "Then why don't you go do those better things yourself, Weasel? If you've saved up enough Knuts this year, maybe you can buy your girlfriend there half a Butterbeer."
The veins on Weasley's neck stood out, and his eyes bulged as though he was being inflated from the inside. "You scrawny... pathetic... rat-faced..."
Draco saw freckled fists clenching, and he knew he had one split-second chance to sway the course of the conversation. He took a quick step towards Harry, and said in a confidential, desperate tone, "Potter, I need to talk to you."
Behind Harry, Weasley was beyond irate. "THE HELL YOU WILL! Harry, we don't need to listen to this shit. We should be leaving now; ferret-face might be contagious."
But Harry didn't even seem to notice his friend. His eyes widened slowly at Draco, only to narrow again suspiciously.
Out of the corner of his eye, Draco saw Harry's fingers shift their grip on the journal. Under his robe, Draco's fingers mirrored the motion, and he swallowed nervously.
"Listen, Potter, I know you have no reason in the world to listen to a damn thing I have to say, but for Merlin's sake, just this once will you listen to me? Please?"
Almost imperceptibly, Harry's eyes widened, and the suspicious scowl slackened. Not taking his eyes off Draco, he spoke to Weasley and Granger.
"You two go on ahead. I'll meet you outside."
"WHAT?!" Weasley roared.
"Harry, you can't be serious!" Granger exclaimed in disbelief. "This is Malfoy! He was acting oddly earlier...I don't trust him, Harry! Just... come on, let's go."
"No, you two go on," Harry said flatly, in a tone that left no room for argument. "I'll be fine."
For a moment, nobody moved. Then, slowly, Granger walked towards the door, shooting her coldest glare at Draco as she passed.
Weasley followed her, but he paused next to Draco long enough to issue the requisite threat. "If he comes out of here with one hair out of place, so help me Merlin, I'll rip you limb from limb and feed you to a Hippogriff."
Draco responded automatically, eyes still locked with Harry's. "Any attempt to mess up Potter's hair could only improve it, Weasel."
Weasley growled something unintelligible, and then he was gone.
Leaving Draco alone with Harry.
And he still didn't have a clue what to say to him.
Harry glanced at the door as it swung shut, then looked back at Draco with an unreadable expression on his face.
"This had better be good, Malfoy." He motioned with a tip of his head for them both to move out of the doorway.
Draco felt like the entire pub was staring at him as he and Harry claimed a spot by the front wall. He took a quick look around, but everyone was carrying on eating and talking as if nothing were happening.
"So," Harry spoke again, "talk. And make it quick. My friends are right; I have no real reason to listen to you, nor do I really want to."
"Then why did you agree to listen to me?" Draco asked tentatively.
Harry's mouth twisted into a frown. "It's been a strange enough day already. I figured a change of pace might be good. So, you've got one minute, Malfoy. Talk."
"Can we sit down?"
Draco tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry. His hands were shaking, palms sweaty, and he still didn't know what to say. At a loss for anything else to do, he closed his eyes and said the first thing that came to mind. It came out as a hoarse croak, barely audible.
"I'm sorry, Potter."
"What did you say?"
Draco opened one eye, then the other. Harry looked utterly confused and off-balance. If was Draco's only chance to explain everything.
"Listen, I know what happened today. The Shrieking Shack, the white dove, the journal."
Harry's face suddenly went pale. "No... oh no..."
"You're right, I've been shadowing you. Since you left the Great Hall this morning."
"What... you... no..." Harry shook his head slowly in disbelief.
"I know everything Potter. I saw it all. Everything you didn't want anyone to see. And no, I'm not going to tell them."
Harry's mouth barely moved as he whispered, "Why the hell did you do that?"
Draco gritted his teeth. This was hurting far more than he had thought it would. "I had to, Potter. It's my fault. I've wanted to see you go down for years, and I set you up. I wanted to see what would happen, so I followed you. I didn't understand... I didn't realize who you... what was really..."
His breath hitched, and he closed his eyes again. It was now or never.
"It's easy to hate someone from a distance. When you get to know someone up close, talk to him in person, things can look very, very different."
There was an odd, strangled whimper, and Draco opened his eyes to see Harry staring at him in utter shock. He was standing so still, he might have been Petrified.
"You... it was... you couldn't... no –"
"Listen, Potter, I'm sorry, but that's not the important thing right now! I have to tell you –"
Harry took a decisive step backwards. "No. No you don't. I think you've said enough, Malfoy."
Draco's face fell. "Potter, please, you don't understand! I –"
"You're right, I don't understand," Harry said coldly, but his eyes showed a storm of emotions swirling behind his steely voice. "And I'm going to need to go think about this. Maybe we'll talk later. I can't believe this... one day to myself, one bloody day, and you of all people..."
He started for the door, but Draco stepped in front of him. "You can't go out there!"
Harry reached out and put a hand firmly on Draco's shoulder. "I can, and I will. Now, get out of my way."
He gave Draco a light shove as he pushed his way out the door.
The gust of cold air from the street hit the back of Draco's neck, but it wasn't the wind that raised the goose bumps along Draco's arms and made his scalp prickle. Slowly, he raised his hand to his shoulder, where Harry's hand had been just seconds before. Harry, who had just been dealt one hell of a shock and was justifiably off-balance. Harry, who had just realized he'd revealed more of himself to his worst rival than he'd shown his best friends. Harry, who had just walked out the door, right into...
"Oh shit," Draco whispered to himself. He spun on his heel and burst out the door.
He skidded to a stop just two strides out of door and rapidly scanned the street. The weather was getting worse, with darkening clouds and a hint of impending rain. Students were walking here and there in pairs and groups, fewer than usual, with none of the loitering which was typical of Hogsmeade weekends. Just up the street, a witch seemed to be having a bit of a row with Terrence Truffle in front of the bakery. Directly across from the Three Broomsticks, Annette Baroque was picking up the display tables from beneath the overhang in front her antiques shop, anxiously eyeing the darkening sky. And just to the side of the antiques shop, Harry was catching up with Granger and Weasley.
Draco stood frozen in place, watching Harry as he spoke to his friends. His face was turned away from Draco, but his posture was stiff and uncomfortable, and he kept looking around nervously.
Regardless of whether or not Draco's revelation had upset Harry, this wasn't the time to fuss over niceties. There was a very real threat, and Draco had to get to Harry while there was still time to warn him.
A shriek from up the street drew everyone's attention. In front of the pastry shop, the woman who had been arguing with Mr. Truffle was now screaming at the top of her lungs. Herman Honeyduke had joined the argument, and the children nearby were all warily retreating from the epicentre of the quarrel. The witch swung her handbag at Mr. Truffle, still screeching at him, and Draco caught a glimpse of her face. She looked strangely familiar. Aristocratic features, dark hair...
It hit Draco at once. He didn't know who she was, but he knew where he'd seen her. At his father's dinner parties. She was a Death Eater.
Everyone on the street was watching the fight. This was no random quarrel; she was a diversion.
Which meant only one thing.
Draco spun around just in time to see two hooded figures emerge from the alley on the far side of the Apothecary. One of them raised a wand.
"HARRY! WATCH OUT!" The words were out of Draco's mouth before he'd realized he'd yelled.
Harry jumped in surprise, then ducked, and the curse that had been aimed at him flew over his shoulder and hit Ron Weasley in the neck. Weasley dropped like a rag doll.
Granger screamed, immediately pulled out her wand, and started firing off shielding spells.
Harry's eyes were wide with shock as he stared at Weasley's still form lying on the ground. He raised his head, and for a split second, his eyes met Draco's. Then, in one swift motion, he spun around with a howl of fury and sent his first curse sailing at the Death Eaters. The curse went wide, and a barrel exploded.
Then the entire village of Hogsmeade erupted in pandemonium.
The few students who were on the street scrambled frantically for the nearest doorways. Up the street, the witch who had caused the fight took out Herman Honeyduke before Terrence Truffle was able to Stun her. But Draco hardly noticed any of it. He stood in the doorway of the Three Broomsticks, his eyes glued to Harry.
Curses were flying back and forth at a feverish pitch. Harry fought shoulder to shoulder with Granger, both of them jumping, dodging, shielding, and throwing curses at a pace to match those coming at them. The intensity of the magic crackled, hummed and sputtered loudly, filling the scene with a tangible web of energy.
Draco saw a shadow moving in the alley behind Harry; it was the Death Eater who had been positioned to grab Potter once he'd been Stunned, had the abduction gone as planned. Now, he was going to strike from the side, and neither Harry nor Granger had seen him.
Without missing a beat, Granger set another shield, and in perfect coordination, Harry sent a curse flying into the alley, striking the Death Eater solidly in the chest. It occurred to Draco that they must have trained together, and he felt a wave of jealousy, but it was soon forgotten in the chaos of the scene.
Harry was yelling something, but Draco couldn't make out the words. Granger yelled back. She made a sudden lunge for the relative safety of the porch of the antique shop, but she stumbled, and a Stunner hit her squarely in the side.
"HERMIONE, NO! YOU BASTARDS!" Harry screamed.
His wand whipped through the air and released a curse that went clear through the shield of the Death Eater who had Stunned Granger. The Death Eater went sailing backwards from the force of the curse and crashed through a shop window behind him.
By then, the street was deserted with the sole exceptions of Harry, the remaining Death Eater, the unconscious bodies of his friends, and Draco, who was frozen to the spot, watching in terror.
Draco had never seen a duel like this before. He had never seen anyone duel with the ferocity and skill with which Harry fought. Harry stood his ground, throwing curse for curse at a Death Eater who had to be more than twice his age. He was as nimble on the ground as on a broomstick, and for the first time, Draco really understood that Harry's reputation as a formidable wizard was well deserved.
And for the first time, Draco felt the grip of real fear as he realized he was actually seeing a person fight for his life.
Misplaced and deflected spells slammed into the sides of buildings, shattering windows and kicking up dust from the street. One curse bounced off the Death Eater's shield and ricocheted into the Owl Post building, sending a huge mismatched flock of owls out of the broken window, filling the air with feathers and panicked avian screeches. Another curse set fire to the roof of the bakery, and a group of students and a highly distraught Terrence Truffle poured out the front door, yelling and screaming, only to duck immediately into the All Soles Shoe Shop.
And Harry fought on, seemingly oblivious to the screaming people, the burning building, or the retreating owls.
There was only Harry and the Death Eater.
Draco felt strangely detached from the scene, oblivious to the fact that he could be hit by a stray curse at any moment. It didn't matter; he couldn't move, and he couldn't stop watching.
Harry had made his way to the roof overhang in front of the antiques shop, trying to use the support post for some cover. Behind him, Mrs. Baroque's remaining display tables were overturned, sending crystal vases, ornaments, and other useless valuables crashing to the ground.
The wind continued to strengthen with the approaching storm, whipping Harry's hair straight back from his face. Draco could see the focus, the determination, the glint of raw fury in his eyes. He wanted to help, but he was afraid to interrupt the duel, knowing that anything he did might break Harry's concentration. One split-second lapse would be disastrous. There was nothing he could do but watch, helpless.
Harry ducked almost completely to the ground as a yellow ball of light went whizzing over his head, then rolled to the left as a bright red curse slammed into the ground where he'd been only an instant before. Then he was on his feet again. Draco could feel the pulse of magic building around Harry as he raised his wand.
It sounded like a clap of thunder as the curse was released. The Death Eater sent off one final curse an instant before Harry's sliced through his shield and found its mark. It hit like an explosion, sending the Death Eater flying into the side of the Apothecary, where he hit the wall with an audible thud and fell to the ground in a heap.
Draco felt a flash of elation before he realized the Death Eater's curse was still rushing towards Harry.
Harry threw up his arms to cover his face, but the curse didn't hit him. It slammed into the support post of the overhang. With a sickening crack, the post gave way.
Draco caught Harry's look of utter shock an instant before the roof came crashing down on top of him.
A deadly silence settled over the street.
In the background, the flames rising from the roof of the bakery crackled eerily, casting ripples of orange light along the street. The unconscious forms of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger were still sprawled on the dirt of the road, but the curses that had hit them wouldn't have been fatal; Voldemort had wanted Harry alive. Draco knew they'd be fine with a simple Enervate,but lying under the broken remains of the antiques shop's porch roof, Draco could only guess what condition Harry was in.
Draco was in a complete daze, hardly breathing, as the ground finally released his feet. He began walking slowly, nervously, across the deserted street. The cloud of dust from the collapsed roof was blown away by another gust of wind. It was all so quiet, so still. The silence belied the turmoil that had been raging in that very spot the moment before. To Draco, it felt as though time had been frozen, or as though none of it was real.
Then the pile of rubble suddenly creaked and collapsed further, stirring up another puff of dust.
That was enough to snap Draco out of his trance. With a yell, he sprinted to the rubble and started pulling away shingles and shifting pieces of wood.
"POTTER! Come on, say something under there! Where are you?! Please, Potter!"
Draco was too panicked to even think of yelling for help. Harry was trapped, and Draco had put him there. The guilt made his panic even worse. Along the street, people were poking their heads out of doorways with trepidation, but Draco didn't notice. His entire awareness was centred on the pile of wood, somewhere under which was Harry Potter.
A beam, another shingle, and a plank, and Draco found a scratched and bloodied hand.
He pulled aside a section of shingles to reveal an arm covered in a filthy, faded red jumper.
"SAY SOMETHING, DAMN YOU!"
With a burst of fear and adrenaline, Draco grabbed a large beam and pulled it up, shifting an entire piece of the roof, and there was Harry.
He was lying on his back, one arm across his chest, the other flung out to the side. His glasses were gone, eyes closed. His left eye seemed to be rapidly swelling, turning a deep purple. There was a hideous gash across his left cheek, slowly oozing blood, shallow scrapes on his cheeks and forehead, and a trickle of blood running out of his nose.
He wasn't moving.
Draco fell to his knees beside Harry. He hesitated for an instant, unsure what to do, then grasped Harry's shoulders and shook him.
"Harry... can you hear me?" The words came out as a strained whisper.
Harry's head rolled to the side, limp and unresponsive.
Draco held his ear over Harry's mouth; he was breathing, but just barely.
"No, don't do this to me, Potter. Not now! Damn you, Potter! Snap out of it..."
Draco shook him again, but Harry lay there, completely unaware and unresponsive. Like death. Harry had been a constant presence in Draco's life for more than five years. He thought about Harry more than he thought about his own friends. He'd never considered it, but Harry was part of his life, and now that Draco finally knew the boy he'd rivalled, fought, and obsessed over constantly in those five years, now that he'd seen what he'd been missing, Harry seemed to be slipping away in front of him.
And it was Draco's fault.
"Listen to me, Potter! I did this to you! Did you hear me? It's my fault! Wake up so you can curse me for this! You're supposed to tell me off for being the evil, rotten, pointy-faced, brown-nosing ferret who got you into this mess! Potter! Please!"
Guilt and panic overwhelmed Draco. He leaned over and put his ear against Harry's chest, hearing the faint heartbeat and the weak rush of air in the lungs. A quick glance around confirmed that nobody had ventured out to help yet, the cowardly bastards.
Where are they? I don't know what to do! He looked back down at Harry. On impulse, he grasped Harry's hand in his and squeezed, hoping for a response, anything.
"You stupid, self-sacrificing Gryffindor! You people don't give up, right? And I know you care too much to give up now! There's a fucking reason you're the damn hero around here, and you're not going to let something as stupid as a misplaced curse be the end of it! Not now!"
Draco's own breathing had turned ragged as the cold air burned in his throat, but it didn't sting as much as the remorse. This shouldn't hurt. Why do I give a fuck about Potter? I don't even know him. Until today I… today. I put him here. I wanted this. I wanted him to know I put him here. And I told him I set him up. If he wakes up… when he wakes up, he'll know it was me. Oh Merlin, what have I done?
On impulse, Draco reached an arm under Harry's shoulders and pulled the unresponsive form onto his lap, trying to position Harry so he could breathe more easily, not caring what it looked like, or who saw him. Harry's weight against his legs, Harry's face far too close to his own; this was some grotesque perversion of a sight Draco had imagined many times. Harry, broken and bloodied, just as Draco had always wanted. Until now. Now that Harry's blood was dripping onto his own shirt.
Harry's body felt so small and frail against him, and Draco felt a flash of amazement that he had been so strong only moments ago. Invincible. But not now. This Harry was just a boy, like Draco, vulnerable and mortal. Draco squeezed his eyes shut; he couldn't bear to look at Harry any longer. He hunched over Harry, and began rocking nervously, more to calm himself than for Harry's benefit, muttering whatever came to mind, desperate for Harry to wake up.
"You should have seen yourself, Harry. That was fucking incredible. I couldn't do that. I'm jealous. Listen to me, Potter! I'm admitting that I'm jealous of you! The wizarding world thinks you're a damned hero, and you know something? They're right. By Merlin, you are. So start acting like it!
"Come on, Harry... please…? Damn it, Potter, you have to listen to me! Stupid! Why didn't you listen to me before? People need you, Harry!"
The wind gusted again, and Draco felt the first cold raindrops on the back of his neck. He didn't care.
Draco kept rocking, trying to stop his chest from heaving. Everything had changed so fast, and he was caught in the eye of his own personal storm. He'd never felt guilty for anything, but there was a person dying in his arms, and he was responsible. Guilt was bad enough, but there was something else gnawing at him. Somehow he knew that if he lost Harry now, he'd be losing something irreplaceable, something strange and valuable. He wouldn't let that happen. He couldn't.
"Wake up, please... I'm so sorry…"
Then he heard a faint whimper.
He sat back and looked down at Harry, and his heart stuck in his throat.
Harry's non-swollen eye was open, just a crack, and his mouth was opening and closing, as though he was trying to speak. A few raindrops splashed on his face and neck, glinting with the orange reflection of the flames from the burning bakery. There was another puff of wind, and it rustled his hair, exposing his forehead. The familiar scar was surrounded by blood and scrapes and bruises, like the rest of his face. He looked so helpless, so terribly broken.
Harry spoke, and the words were almost inaudible. Draco leaned over to hear them.
"What... what happened?"
It was all Draco could do to reply.
"You won, Harry," he whispered. "You won. Everything is okay now."
Harry shook his head weakly. "No... Ron, Hermione. Are they... please...?"
Draco put two fingers softly against Harry's lips to quiet him. "They're fine. They're absolutely fine."
Harry's eye closed, and he relaxed against Draco's legs. For a terrifying moment, Draco feared he'd lost consciousness again.
His eye opened again and he tipped his head towards Draco. For a moment, Draco thought Harry was looking right at him, but his eye was unfocused, gazing blearily somewhere over Draco's shoulder.
"Can't… see. Glasses…?"
Draco scanned the rubble, but Harry's glasses were nowhere to be seen, and judging by the state of Harry's left eye, they were probably smashed beyond recognition. But it was okay. Glasses could be replaced. Harry was alive, everything would be fine.
Draco found himself absently stroking Harry's hair. "Don't worry about that now. Just relax, and hold on." He glanced back over his shoulder, and saw several adults running towards them. He looked back down at Harry's abused face. "Help is coming. It's okay. I've got you."
Harry opened his eye a bit wider, then squinted, trying to focus on Draco's face. "Who... who are you?"
A hot sensation began in Draco's chest and rapidly worked its way to his eyes. Gently, he pulled Harry a bit closer to him, partly to hold him and partly to shelter him from the rain that was beginning to pour down, and he whispered softly.
"Only your shadow."