Warning: Implied slash, if you don't like men doing men, stop reading this right now.
Beta: No beta
Author's Notes: circe, you are wicked and evil and I lurve you.
"Hogwarts Students," Dumbledore began in his usual authoritative rasp, "the 54th Annual Spelling Bee will be held in two weeks. The entire school is expected to participate. You will be partnered up with a member of another house of your year in one more futile attempt by me to promote inter-house cooperation. I suspect that it will be no more successful than any of my previous attempts, but alas, one mustn't give up hope." Dumbledore raised his hands to the ceiling. Professors McGonnagal and Snape rolled their eyes in identical disdain. "The Sorting Hat has been filled with the names of my favorite candies. Find your match. That person will be your partner. The only hint you will have for which words will be included in the spelling bee is thus: esteem and respect."
"Why bother even trying?" Ron whispered into Harry's ear. "Whoever's paired with Hermione is going to win. Typical Dumbledore. Making everyone participate so that those of us who can't spell..."
"Oi, that's me..."
"Will have yet another chance to be humiliated in front of all four houses. Bet Malfoy is jotting down scads of scathing insults, even as we speak. 'Oh, Weasley, who knew that poverty went hand-in-hand with stupidity.' "
"Or how about, 'Color me amazed, Potter. You can't see AND you can't spell.' It will be a fucking riot. Fun will be had by all."
"Why don't we flub the first word we get and then sneak out early? With my luck I'll be paired with Crabbe. Doubt he can spell his own last name. Probably has it written on the inside of his wrist so he won't forget the 'e'. Anyway, Hermione will be there until the bitter end, so she can't nag us about doing homework while she proves to everyone yet again how bloody brilliant she is. We skive off early and catch some time on our brooms. We'll have the pitch all to ourselves."
"Sometimes you're bloody brilliant, Ron."
Two hands smacked in the air in a "hi five."
"Sssh!" Hermione elbowed Ron in the ribs and glared at him when he grunted. Hermione had exceptionally sharp elbows.
"Now I realize that many of you are thinking, 'What an absolute nutter, another one of his crazy schemes. Why doesn't the Ministry replace him?' " Dumbledore paused for a moment to let the Slytherins have their chuckle at his expense. "However, I have done this job for a very long time, and I am rather good at it. For those of you who have determined that it would be much easier to let the hard-working Ravenclaws and the odd Gryffindor do all the work..."
At this, he smiled directly at Hermione, who beamed back at him. Ron muttered in her ear, "Ask him to bend over just a little more, Hermione, so that you can kiss his other cheek," which earned him a second elbow to the ribs.
"...I will make the win all the sweeter. The pair that wins the Spelling Bee will have an extra NEWT scored onto their total. This will bring those of you whose grades in certain classes aren't up to snuff, say, in Potions, an opportunity to gain some points." This sentence was accompanied by a kindly look first in Harry's and then in Neville's direction. "And winning may also appeal to those of you who otherwise wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of unseating Miss Granger's current stranglehold on top marks for the year." This was said with a pointed look in Draco's direction, whereby all the sniggering and guffawing from the Slytherin table that had been accompanying Dumbledore's entire speech was brought to a halt by a rather agitated Draco Malfoy hissing, "Shut up, you gits."
"Thank you, Mr. Malfoy. Now, Professor McGonnagal, the Sorting Hat, if you please."
With a sour expression on her face that screamed, "Dumbledore, this has to be your most idiotic idea to date," she held out the Sorting Hat, and one by one the students came up and picked out slips of paper.
Harry read his. Great. Snot-flavored jelly. The man actually liked these? Harry canvassed every single Hufflepuff. No match. Every Ravenclaw. No match. By then Harry knew who his partner was. The one person whom Harry would never esteem and never respect. He sat down on the floor, against the wall, underneath the red and gold Gryffindor banner and waited. He had to admit he was having a little moment of pleasure realizing that his partner was, by this time, panicking and sweating not just a little as the students began pairing off one by one and he still hadn't found his match.
"Oh, fucking hell. Don't tell me. In that grubby paw of yours is a slip reading 'snot-flavored jelly'. Christ, my chances of winning this contest are resting on the shoulders of someone whose current claim to fame is that he hasn't been in the hospital wing for over a week."
Harry looked up and smiled. "Bingo."
"Bingo? Bingo? What in the fuck are you talking about, Potter?"
Harry peeled himself away from the wall and stood up. "Muggle game, Malfoy. And I suggest that we..."
Draco looked around and saw that all the teachers had left the room. He grabbed Harry by the front of his robes and smashed him against the wall.
"I need to win that contest, Potter. I don't care what it takes. We are meeting every day for two hours until that fucking bee. Just the sight of you gives me the dry heaves, but I'll do anything to win. We will meet." He slammed Harry against the wall for emphasis. "We will drill." Slammed him again. "And we will win." He slammed Harry against the wall for the third time and then let go of his robe. "Or I will kill you with my bare hands."
Draco Malfoy browbeat Snape into lending him a musty old potions classroom every night for the two weeks prior to the bee so that he and Harry could study in private. There was one slight problem. They couldn't agree on what to study.
Harry knew they were in trouble when Draco met him at the door of the room levitating a ten-inch thick dictionary.
"That's not what Dumbledore had in mind," Harry protested.
"Shut-up, Potter," Draco snapped and whispered a spell that opened the door. The book went in before him and slammed down on a table. A cloud of dust obscured the book for a few seconds.
"Shit, Malfoy. When was the last time this room was used? The eighteenth century?" Harry coughed and waved the dust out of his face.
"Seventeenth, I think," Malfoy replied absentmindedly. "Tonight, we'll start with 'A' and maybe get halfway through 'B'..."
"Forget it, Malfoy. This is not what Dumbledore wants. It has nothing to do with words..."
"It's a fucking spelling bee, isn't it? I checked with Granger. This is exactly what she is doing. I was right behind her in line in the library. What else are we supposed to do but study words? Knit socks for the house elves?" Malfoy sneered.
"I think it's more complicated than that..."
It went on like this for three nights. Hour after hour. On the fourth night, Harry threw up his hands. "I'm telling you, I know Professor Dumbledore, and this isn't what he had in mind. Hermione is going to fail. Trust me."
They were seated at the table, the dictionary between them.
Malfoy's lip curled. "Demented. Spell 'demented.' Trust you, Potter. Why should I trust you?"
God, he was such a git. "I'm not spelling demented, I'm looking at the living embodiment of demented. You need to trust me because I want to win this just as badly as you do. You know that Snape hates me. Even if he didn't, it will be a bloody miracle if I get a NEWT in potions. So, I want this as much as you do. Maybe more."
"I doubt that," Malfoy mumbled. "Okay," Malfoy rubbed his temples as if his head ached. "I bow to your superior knowledge regarding that senile, pathetic excuse for a headmaster. Now what do you think he means?"
Harry had been giving this a lot of thought. He thought about the power of words, of how he and Malfoy had been dueling with insults and putdowns for the last seven years. And that perhaps it had nothing to do with how the words were spelled but what they meant.
"Have you ever done a spelling bee, Malfoy?" Harry asked.
"Of course, you git. Every child does a spelling bee. Even in wizard primary. I always won. Naturally." Malfoy smirked.
It was all Harry could do not to punch him.
"Naturally," Harry snorted. "How could I believe otherwise? But when the teacher asked you how to spell the word there was always a definition read out, right?"
"Yeah," Malfoy conceded. "What's your point, Potter?"
Harry sucked in a breath and was grateful that the one rule that both of them had agreed on was that their wands were parked on the other side of the room so there weren't any accidental or un-accidental hexes being leveled at each other.
"I think he wants us to respect and esteem each other. Become the definition of the word."
The near-perpetual smirk on Malfoy's face morphed into a grimace of pure horror. Then he rallied and rolled his eyes in that patented expression of supreme irritation that Harry had had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of for every day of the school year for nearly seven years. "You are so fucking off base. As usual, Potter. No wonder you're failing potions. I'm not listening to this utter bullshit any longer. 'Dementia'."
Harry shook his head and yelled, "Just sod off, Malfoy. You're wasting our time. May I point out to you that I've been mildly successful in whatever past contests I've participated in, and the one thing I can tell you about wizarding contests is that they are not what they seem. We need to learn how to respect and esteem each other, and by my reckoning we only have ten days left. Now if you want to win that contest you'll listen to me. This is a wizard spelling bee. Ten days, Malfoy. That's it. Ten days." By the end of that speech, Harry was exhausted. He put his head down in his arms. Dementia. How apt. "D. e. m. e. n. t. i. a.," Harry mumbled out of the side of his mouth. "What I am in the throes of right now."
When Draco didn't respond, Harry looked up. "Did I spell it right?"
"My first name is Draco. May I call you Harry?"
This was accompanied by Draco holding out his hand. Harry had refused his hand once before when they were just boys. It had been an impulse to snub him. An impulse that he had never regretted over the years. Indeed, he'd prided himself on being able to spot right from the get go that Malfoy was the perfect bastard. He looked down at the elegant fingers once again outstretched in friendship, and then looked up into Malfoy's gray eyes, wary but devoid of their usual contempt for him. Harry grasped his hand. "Yes, you may."
The problem was as follows: how do you go about respecting a person you despise?
"This is going to take more than just first name crap, Potter."
They were back in the old potions classroom. There were only nine days left.
"Yeah, I know," Harry groaned. It was one thing to understand what Dumbledore had in mind, quite another to execute it. "What about if we tell the other person what we admire in them. You know, give each other a compliment."
"Oh, please, Potter. You might as well ask Hagrid to put on toe shoes and dance Swan Lake."
"Draco, you're not helping," Harry snapped at him. "And my first name is Harry, you wanker. How many times do I have to remind you? Surely there is something that you don't find completely repulsive about me. One fucking thing. That's all I'm asking for." He grabbed the bottle of firewhiskey, took a mouthful, and placed it back on the table between their respective ankles.
They had charmed the straight-backed chairs into a squishy, comfortable couch that they could sink into; Harry lounged in one corner of the sofa, Draco in the other. The table had been charmed into a coffee table, and both of them promptly put their feet up on it, the bottle of firewhiskey between them. Draco had confessed to smuggling in several bottles earlier in the day. At Harry's look of surprise, he grimaced, "If I have to be civil to you, Pot...Harry, I'm going to have to get hammered to do it."
Harry opened one eye to see if Draco had any intention of responding. He really was a wanker. Draco's eyes were closed, his lips just closing over the mouth of the bottle of the firewhiskey. He took a swig; Harry watched the ripples of his throat as he swallowed. God, Draco's got an awfully long neck. Then, without opening his eyes, Draco placed the bottle back to rest on the table, remained mute, and didn't even look in Harry's direction.
"Okay, I'll start since you're being an utter arse about this. I think you're brilliant at potions. Really top notch. If you weren't going to follow in your slimy father's footsteps and become a Death Eater scumbag, I'd suggest that you get a job teaching potions somewhere because you truly are gifted. I hate being partnered with you in potions because you're such a twit, but I also like it because I get much better grades when I am." Harry paused. "Even better than when I'm paired with Hermione."
Harry heaved a sigh. Okay, that wasn't so bad, and it was true. Harry opened his eyes. Draco was sitting straight up.
"Of course, I'm gifted in potions. Only an idiot wouldn't know that," Draco huffed. "Tell me something else."
"Sorry," Harry smirked. God, that felt good. Maybe there was something to this smirking business. "Already did my compliment. Your turn."
Harry studied Draco. Several seconds went by. Draco said nothing. Harry started to get impatient and then angry.
"You are such an arsebite, Malfoy. You can't...." Harry began to shout.
"Shut-up," Draco screamed back. "I'll say something. Shut your eyes. I had mine shut. Now shut yours."
Harry debated whether just to get up and walk out. Fuck the contest. This was crazy. Harry leaned forward to get up when he heard the faintest possible "please." A please said so softly that it wasn't even a word so much a breath. He leaned back into his corner of the couch and shut his eyes.
"You're beautiful on your broom. When you fly."
And even Harry knew how much it cost Draco to say that. So he didn't open his eyes, he didn't smirk or sneer or make a comment on how Draco would be in a position to know since he was always behind him when Harry was catching the snitch that Draco wanted so badly.
He did say, "Thank you, Draco."
On the eighth day during potions, Draco informed Harry that they needed extra time together, and that Harry was to meet him in the old potions classroom at dinnertime.
"Fuck off, Malfoy," growled Harry and continued cutting up mandrake roots.
"What's your problem, Potter?" Draco snarled back in an undertone.
"People who respect and esteem each other don't issue commands."
Draco blushed, blinked, blinked again, and swallowed.
"Would you like to have dinner with me in the old potions classroom? We could work on the spelling bee. The house-elves have agreed to send us up our dinner."
Harry smiled. "I'd be happy to, Draco. Meet you there at 6:00 pm."
"So another compliment, Harry?" Draco wheedled.
They'd polished off their dinners, accompanied by a nice Bordeaux Draco had his owl bring from Malfoy Manor. They were working on bottle number two, sprawled out in their usual corners on the sofa.
"Nag. This is lovely," Harry motioned with his wine glass.
"Since the extent of your expertise is that you can discern red from white, forgive me if I don't immediately go into paroxysms of joy."
"Chop, chop. Compliment, please."
"Don't feel like complimenting tonight. How about confessions. We confess something?"
Harry looked up and saw the corners of Draco's lips turn up in a smile that could only be termed as evil and up to no good.
"Draco, nothing that is said in this room leaves this room, or I will be forced to spread far and wide that you think I am an absolute god on a broom."
"I did not, did not say that," Draco complained. "All I said was that you could fly."
Harry leaned back and closed his eyes. He could quite get used to drinking wine.
"Did not, you conceited git."
"Did too." Harry yawned. "Shit, I'm knackered. Nox," Harry murmured and the room went dark.
"Don't fall asleep, yet, Harry. I want my compliment," Draco pouted.
"God, you're impossible. Okay, you have very nice hair. Even if sometimes it annoys the shit out of me. Now let me nap for a couple of hours."
"If you throw this up in my face I will absolutely deny it, wild thestrals couldn't pull it out of me, but you have nice hair, too. In a completely unkempt, wild-ish, slobs are us sort of way. I have nothing nice to say about that scar. It's irritating twenty-four seven and fucking ugly on top of it."
Pansy Parkinson was overheard to say that it would be worth a life sentence in Azkaban when she murdered Hermione Granger with an Unforgivable curse.
Ron Weasley was overheard to say that Goyle was so stupid that he had little arrows on the toe end of his shoes so that he knew which way to walk.
Blaise Zambini wasn't overheard saying anything. He was too busy fucking Lavender Brown in Astronomy Tower.
Nobody overheard Draco Malfoy saying to Harry Potter, "Harry, would you please hand me that ladle?"
Nor did anyone hear Harry Potter saying to Draco Malfoy, "Draco, you want to go for a ride on our brooms?"
"Why do you want to win this so much, Draco?"
It was day seven. More wine had been drunk, a nice white burgundy this time. The room was dark. Draco had magicked the glasses so that they filled automatically.
"Draco? You awake?"
"So what's so important about winning this? You've got top marks. And to be honest, Hermione is just plain strange. That intelligence. I don't know how any rational person could expect to compete against her."
"Are you saying that (a) I'm not intelligent, and (b) I am irrational, Potter?"
"Stop it," Harry admonished, and aimed a smack in the general direction of Draco's arm.
"Ow, that was my head, you tosser."
"Sorry," Harry apologized. "On second thought, I take that back. You called me Potter again. So why do you want to win so badly?"
"Draaaacooooo," Harry warned.
"When I don't win, he beats her up."
The warm glow from the wine vanished.
"My mother. He beats her up when I don't win. It doesn't matter what it is. Malfoys have to be first. Always."
Harry didn't know what to do. What to say.
"Yes, every time you catch the snitch, he beats the shit out of her."
Harry moved his arm along the couch to touch Draco's shoulder.
"We go out tomorrow. Train you on how to beat me. I can't....can't throw the game, Draco..."
"But I can at least give you a chance."
Draco leaned his cheek against Harry's hand.
"My aunt and uncle made me live in a closet and basically starved me."
Draco rubbed his cheek against Harry's knuckles.
"Bastards. Want me to kill them for you?"
On day six, Harry and Draco consumed way too much wine at dinner and fell asleep together on the couch. Draco wasn't sure, but at some point in the night he thought that Harry had kissed the top of his head. And at some point in the night, Harry thought that Draco had traced the outline of his scar with a damp finger, like he had kissed his finger and then touched Harry's forehead.
When Draco woke up in the morning, he found himself nestled in between Harry's legs, his head resting on Harry's chest, one hand curled around Harry's shoulder, the other wrapped around his waist. Harry had both arms wrapped around Draco's waist, his hands clasped together resting in the small of Draco's back. Untangling himself from Harry, he sat on the edge of the couch and woke Harry up with a quick stroke to his cheek. He then handed him his glasses. "Come on, you lazy git," he said. "We'll be late for breakfast."
Harry nodded and, with a blush, made his own quick, gentle swipe against Draco's cheek before putting on his glasses.
At breakfast, Hermione Granger and Pansy Parkinson were disqualified from the contest. Pansy, unable to restrain herself, hexed Hermione with a leg-locking curse, screaming at the top of her lungs, "That bitch should die."
Ron, realizing that perhaps Pansy wasn't as dense as he'd thought, hexed Goyle so that the two of them would be disqualified. He was speechless for hours after Goyle came up to him later in potions and thanked him.
Blaise and Lavender missed all their classes that day.
"Just don't feel like I have any choice."
"Oh, please. You have such a fucking hero complex. Even if it weren't for the prophecy you'd be out there stalking Voldemort."
"You know about the prophecy?"
"Of course, you idiot. Harry Potter farts and we all know about it. Besides, I think it's Neville.
Draco grazed his lips against Harry's.
"I want to believe it's Neville."
"I wish I had known my father."
"I wish I hadn't known mine."
"You think you don't have a choice but you do. All the weight of this history, all this family legacy, you don't have to, you know."
"Yeah, I do, Harry. I do."
"I caught the sniiiittcch, I caught the sniiiittcch."
"Shut-up, you wanker."
The day of the spelling bee had finally arrived.
Hermione was still walking a little oddly as a result of the leg-locking curse. Pansy was still completely unrepentant. Blaise and Lavender had finally appeared after being missing for two solid days. And there were rumors that Ron had been seen playing chess with Goyle in the Quidditch shed the previous day.
Dumbledore would bark out "esteem," and "respect" and wait for a response. People kept spelling the words out, placing the emphasis on each letter a little differently, trying to understand what Dumbledore was asking for. His face got longer and longer as the day progressed. Student after student failed. Finally, it was down to Harry and Draco.
"Are you going to disappoint me, too, boys?" He brought his half-moon spectacles down further on his nose.
"Esteem, Mr. Malfoy," his voice echoed through the hall.
"H.A.R.R.Y. P.O.T.T.E.R.," Draco Malfoy's answered back full voice.
Dumbledore's mouth twitched.
"Respect, Mr. Potter?"
"D.R.A.C.O. M.A.L.F.O.Y.," Harry answered back in an even louder voice than Draco's.
"We have two winners," Dumbledore shouted, and stardust and confetti began falling out of the sky-ceiling, covering both boys.
In the commotion it was lost on everyone else, but Dumbledore turned around and gave Professors Snape and McGonnagal a positively Slytherin-like smirk.