A/N: This very short vignette was written from an illustration I did for fanfiction author, Frances Potter, for her 50th birthday in July 2006. The illustration's background is made from three of Fran's beautiful photos of azaleas in bloom, a small waterfall and a park bench where she said she could imagine Harry and Draco sitting. I drew them there in her photo and then wrote this short fic to go with the picture. The illustration can be seen on my livejournal, dated July 22, 2006.
THE PARK BENCH
Harry smiled. Every year when they met here, it was always the same greeting, the same as the first time, though the tone of the voices had altered much over time. They'd both changed so much, yet the tradition of this meeting and those first words remained the same each year, holding reminders for both of them of where they'd been and who they had become.
"How long has it been, now?" asked Harry, settling himself on the bench next to Draco, thinking back to the first time they'd met here.
The owl had said only, "I've escaped. Please meet me tomorrow. I don't know who else to go to," and had very startlingly been signed, "Draco Malfoy." On the back was drawn a simple map to a bench tucked away in a remote corner of a public garden outside London. And Harry had gone. Not alone – in case of a trap, undercover Aurors stood behind almost every tree – but it had been Harry alone who'd come forward and approached the lone figure on the bench. He remembered vividly, even now, how he'd found a dirty, scarred and starving eighteen-year-old Malfoy huddled there on that cool, drizzly May afternoon, wearing baggy, threadbare Muggle clothing stolen from someone's rubbish bin. It had reminded Harry painfully of himself as a child.
All the angry words Harry had planned to say, the blame and accusations, evaporated like mist in the heat of shame Harry saw in those haunted gray eyes, forgotten at the sight of the trembling pale slender hand that surrendered Draco's wand. The words would return to be spoken soon afterwards, but softened, tempered by this memory. And a year later, in this same spot, words, very much softer still, had been said after Draco had earned his freedom and Harry's trust with information that lead directly to Voldemort's defeat.
"Six years," replied Draco evenly, though he gave Harry a sideways look that implied Harry knew very well how long it had been.
Harry nodded, acknowledging the look with an amused grin. Six years. It seemed like forever ago, and yet like only yesterday. But today was nothing like that day six years ago. Today the sky was bright and cloudless, the sun brilliantly warm on Harry's back. The azaleas were in full bloom, filling the spaces around them with a riot of red and yellow that made Harry think of the Gryffindor flags that had decorated the Quidditch pitch when he'd played at Hogwarts. In the companionable silence that settled between them, Harry could hear the tranquil sound of the waterfall splashing into the small pond nearby.
"You still shacked up with that useless fellow with the nasty scar on his face?" asked Harry, breaking gently into that silence. His voice was carefully casual, lightly teasing, though his heart was already beating fast in half-fearful expectation of the next question he would ask.
"Still," affirmed Draco. He shrugged slightly. "The disfigurement is unfortunate, but he's not so bad, really," he added with a small, amused smile of his own. "When you get to know him."
Draco turned then and met Harry's eyes steadily, knowing the real question to come, the question they met here each year to ask in this place of established neutrality. There was only one rule between them here: strict, unwavering honesty.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Harry held Draco's gaze, lost for a long moment as the world faded away and became encompassed entirely in the depths of those pale gray eyes. "So," he asked finally, his voice a hushed echo of the anticipation running between them now, "still no regrets?"
"Only now and then . . ." answered Draco quietly.
For a moment, Harry forgot to breathe.
". . . when he leaves his clothes on the bathroom floor . . . or takes forever to fix his bloody hair . . ." finished Draco, the laughing warmth kindling now in his eyes telling Harry just how much he really minded these things.
With a wide, unreserved smile, Harry let out the breath he'd been unconsciously holding. "Must be dreadfully tiresome," he said, reassured again in his teasing. "How do you cope?"
"I manage," said Draco, his air of mock martyrdom giving way after a second to an answering smile. He leaned in close, his eyes and voice going soft, stirring, intimate. "He makes up for it . . . in other ways."
Harry felt his face go warm to the tips of his ears. "Oh, I see." His hand found Draco's and held on tightly.
Draco lifted his free hand to lightly cradle Harry's chin. "Have you any regrets, Harry?" he asked softly, all teasing abandoned for this moment in the seriousness of the question. Even now, as always, there was a trace of insecurity lying small and hidden and vulnerable beneath the words.
And as Harry leaned in to kiss his lover, he whispered the same answer he'd always given, because it was simply the truth. "Never."