Disclaimer: The delightful world of Harry Potter and its characters are not mine, and will never be mine (sigh).
L'amour, Toujours L'amour
It was a grey morning; snow was falling like ashes. It was a scenery of peace and tranquillity, but all would be shattered when the first drop of blood spills on to the lily white earth -- the final battle was about to begin.
In one of the many rooms in number twelve, Grimmauld Place, Harry Potter was performing his final check. His wand was in working condition, and the pocket knife he always carried with him was stowed away safely in his pocket. There was just one more thing left to do.
Cloudy green eyes gazed intently at a plain wooden box laid open on the scarred cherry wood desk. Inside the box were a stack of fading parchments bound by a scarlet-and-gold tie, a bouquet of withered white gardenia, and a smaller black box that could fit neatly in Harry's palm.
With hard eyes he stared at the small box for what seemed like an eternity, before he picked it up with shaky fingers. After so many years, his heartbeats still raced every time he took it out, as though it was the first time he ever laid eyes on the box, not knowing what was hidden within. The lid of the box came off easily enough, and nestled atop the crimson cushioning was a silver pocket watch attached to a long silver chain.
In the golden Grand Hall, Harry was secretly stealing glances at Draco Malfoy. It was foolish of him, his reason told him. But no matter how many times he diverted his gaze away from the boy seating two tables away from him, his eyes would always stray back to where they started.
Silvery blond and lily white, enveloped in silky black; Harry always thought the black school uniform unnecessarily accented Draco's paleness, making him look like a ghost: frail and transparent. But Draco was hardly vulnerable; on the contrary, Draco was one of the most vicious characters Harry had ever met. His words were as razor-sharp as his piercing eyes and angular features. Draco was like ice -- he burned with freezing coldness.
At the moment, Draco was talking to his fellow classmates with a small smirk upon his face -- not a smile, never a smile. Like a carbon copy of his esteemed father, Draco seemed incapable of expressing heartfelt joy; even his best effort was marred by a hint of arrogance and mockery. Yet Harry would not want Draco to change a thing, for this is how Draco Malfoy should be, and this is the Draco Malfoy that intrigued Harry so.
With great effort, Harry tore his gaze away from Draco, not knowing Draco was looking at him the same instant he turned his gaze elsewhere.
Somewhere far away from where Harry dwelt, Draco Malfoy was casually leaning against the window-sill, dispassionately observing the bustle of his fellow Death Eaters in the poorly lit hall. They were making final preparation for the final battle -- possibly the bloodiest battle to be recorded in the history of the Second War.
And Draco would meet Harry Potter on the battlefield once more, for the very last time. A reunion beneath the ashen grey sky, amidst a flurry of pure white snow -- it sounded oddly romantic.
Draco resisted the urge to finger the ring hidden beneath his black robe. He had kept the ring on a chain around his neck for years, and he had gotten so used to its weight that he hardly noticed it anymore. Yet right now, right this moment, when everything seemed so clear and his path laid bare before him, the weight of the ring was dragging down his neck, reflecting the heaviness in his heart.
Insults rolled out of Draco's tongue as readily as reciting incantation of dark curses. And Harry returned the favour in defiance, his youthful face blazing in barely concealed anger, his eyes burning with unquenchable green flame. It was the expression Harry reserved specifically for Draco. If looks could kill, Draco would be dead several times over by now.
It was like a predetermined role that had been inevitably thrust upon Draco the moment he stepped foot on Hogwarts. He would taunt Harry, and Harry would either ignore him or retaliate if Draco hit a sore spot. Throw in a few hexes and curses, and one would have a very good idea of how things stand between them. Their act was so predictable, like a play that had been performed one too many times to a jaded audience.
How very wrong each and every one of them were.
Draco walked over to Harry and roughly shoved his shoulder against Harry as he passed by. It took every ounce of Draco's discipline to keep himself from brushing his fingers against the back of Harry's hand.
Like a moth he was always fatally attracted to fire, even though it burns his hand every time he gets too close; and like a moth he was slowly drawn into the cool fire called Harry Potter.
With extreme care, Harry took out the watch from its protective casing. When he flipped open the lid, the watch began to wind its simple musical box tune. It was a tune he had learnt well long ago; for how many sleepless nights had he laid restlessly on his bed, staring at the bleak ceiling, listening to this wistful melody?
The childlike music brought back memories of what had been and imaginings of what could have been and much, much more. Abruptly, he snapped the lid shut with a click, unable to listen to it anymore, for there were too many emotions interwoven into its melancholic melody. Letting out a soft sigh, Harry clasped the chain around his neck, letting the weight of the watch settled comfortingly on his chest. Clutching the watch tightly in his hand as though it was his only lifeline in the turbulent sea, he stared blankly at the delicate engravings on the lid for a long time.
At first, when Harry received a package from an anonymous sender out of the blue, he thought someone was playing a joke on him. In the end, curiosity won out. With some trepidation he opened the package, but what he found inside was not what he had expected.
It was a pocket watch made of silver: a tree was etched on the shiny lid, and flowery reeds adorned the side.
Hesitantly he flipped open the lid, and to his surprise, a series of musical notes floated out of the watch, forming lines of melody Harry had not heard of before. The melody was oddly enchanting, with a tinkling of simplicity that conveyed a certain aura of childlike innocence. Other than that, the watch looked ordinary enough, with roman numerals bordering the edges, and two hands strolling leisurely around the clockpiece in never-ending circles.
No notes were attached to the package, no indication of who the sender was. To be safe, Harry checked the watch minutely for dark curses. He even asked one of the professors to examine it carefully just in case. Nothing suspicious could be detected, but there was a disquieting feeling at the back of his mind refusing to go away.
Harry did not feel inclined to carry the watch with him, but he found himself taking it out once in a while to look at it, trying in vain to discover its secret. And along the way, the little musical tune stuck in his head, and he found himself humming it often. It was not until he noticed the strange glint in Draco's eyes as Harry hummed the song to himself, that Harry finally realised who the anonymous sender was.
Draco stalked out of the room in great strides, ignoring everyone else as always. No one dared ask him where he was going; they knew better than to question one of their Lord's most trusted lieutenants.
When he locked himself inside one of the many empty rooms in the mansion, Draco irritatedly tore off his white mask. Wearing the mask always made him feel suffocated. The frustration and negative emotions he felt while being confined by the mask reflected horribly in his actions during the Death Eaters raids; sometimes Draco scared even himself with the brutality he was capable of when he hid himself behind the emotionless mask.
Reaching into his collar, he pulled out the silver chain around his neck. Dangling from the thin chain was a gleaming ring. The band was of polished silver, and on it was mounted seven gemstones that formed a rainbow of colours. The ring was a token of the possibilites that could never come to fruition. The cynic in Draco blamed the world and his father for sealing his fate right from the start, but the realist in him knew that even if he were to turn back time, he would not change a thing.
To say Draco was surprised when an owl brought him a small package that bore the famous coat of arms of an ancient and distinguished jeweller on its cover was an understatement. But what fascinated Draco even more was the content of the package.
Inside the package was an unadorned black velvet box, and seated neatly inside the velvet cushion of the said box was a silver band adorned with seven gemstones. Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby, Diamond, Sapphire. Combining the first letters of each gem spelled out a word: regards. It was one of those famous Victorian era contraptions, a piece of jewellery defined more readily by its sentimental value than by its currency value; the implicit meaning of the ring itself was not lost on Draco.
There was a little card attached to the package, saying, "And my regards to you too."
He knew it was him.
After what seemed like a lifetime, Harry shook himself out of his reverie, and then loosened his hold on the watch, letting it bounce harmlessly against his chest. As he looked pensively at the rest of the content in the wooden box, a dull ache crept into his heart, causing his usually brilliant green eyes to lose their lustre.
He reached out to pick up the stack of letters, but as always, he paused in wistful contemplation before he actually took it out of the wooden box. Many of the letters were as short as a note scribbled hastily on the back of some discarded school notes, which were filled with words written in an archaic, cursive hand that Harry was painfully familiar with. He had not reread these letters in years, but he knew by heart what was written on these yellowing pages.
Had he expected things to turn out differently? No, he had not, but he had wished it could turn out otherwise. If he were to choose differently, would things have changed then? He did not know, and he probably would never be given the chance to find out. All he knew was that regret was eating at him every time he opened the wooden box that contained his innermost secret, which not even his two best friends had a glimpse of.
It was Harry who first began their correspondence. There were questions he wanted to ask, yet he was almost afraid of finding out the answers. In the end though, he wrote a note to Draco that contained only one word, "Why?"
Draco's reply came swiftly enough, and it was relatively short. "Why not? -- Why did you give me the ring?"
Harry was not impressed with Draco's cryptic answer, and cheekily he threw back Draco's words at him, "Why not?"
"Touche," was Draco's response. "But you do realise you are not that subtle in the matter of choosing a gift?"
A flush came over Harry as he read Draco's note; he chose the ring as a retaliation against Draco. It seemed like a good idea at the time, though sometimes Harry could not help but wonder if some part of him had not meant for it to be more than just a cruel joke.
He really ought to stop this whole charade right there and then, but Harry was never one to back down from a challenge. And so it marked the beginning of their bantering in ink that went back and forth like a tennis match. They still displayed general dislike towards each other in public as was necessary, but unbeknownst to everyone else, the essence of their established relationship had changed.
Harry was pleasantly surprised to find that the Draco who wrote those notes was quite different from the Draco Malfoy he thought he had known all these years. Oh, his mocking streak was still present on paper, but he was also a bad teaser with a rather warped sense of humour. Sometimes, it made Harry wonder if the author of these notes was who Draco really was beneath all the contempt and haughtiness.
As spring drifted off lazily and summer crept into the picture, Harry found himself increasingly looking forward to Draco's correspondence. It was unnerving to say the least, but it would taste a lie to say that he did not enjoy his renewed acquaintance with Draco Malfoy.
The whole idea was silly actually, since they never talked about anything important. They only talked about insignificant things like the lessons and their classmates and quidditch and mere petty bickering; they touched on every topic under the sun, except their allegiance. The war was a topic they avoided like plague, but Harry knew this topic would inevitably come up at some point.
And it did.
Reaching behind him, Draco undid the clasp of his necklace, and the ring slid effortlessly off the chain and into his outstretched hand. The ring looked as new as he had first received it, no tarnish, no scar. Quite unlike himself, he mused bitterly.
Deliberately Draco slipped the ring onto the ringfinger of his left hand. It fit perfectly, though Draco was not deluded to think that Harry knew the size of his ringfinger -- there was probably a self-fitting charm cast on the ring.
The only other time he ever put on the ring was when he first received this gift, but he quickly took it off afterwards, not daring to announce to the world that he had somehow received a Regards ring, and from Harry Potter no less. But today was different. Today would mark the end of their story; it merely seemed fitting to wear the ring once more. As an afterthought, he put the empty chain around his neck. Without the ring, the chain felt uncomfortably light.
Absentmindedly he stared at his hands: the bejewelled ring on his left hand contrasted greatly with the stark signet ring on his right. And yet, how ironic it was that the two persons who gave him the two rings respectively were the only persons in this world whom Draco could never escape from. The rings were bindings, irrevocably ensnaring him to them until he was strangled by their silky chains.
But Lucius Malfoy was dead. And Harry Potter was never his to keep, nor he to Harry. In the end, no one gets what they want.
Summer holiday was here, but it did not stop Harry or Draco from writing to each other. As always, they did not mention specifics about what they were doing during the summer. The more rational part of Draco's mind was warning him that he had fallen too deeply into this little make-believe, but the more impulsive side of him was not too mindful of it. After all, the nearly non-existent relationship between him and Harry was detached for the most part, and secretly, Draco was glad of the distance. Reading and writing silly notes to each other was certainly less involving than conversing face to face.
Within the dark recess of his mind, however, there existed a yearning -- a desire -- to get closer to Harry, so close that air no longer exists between them. It was an aching longing Draco would never dare fulfil. Between his father and Harry, Draco could only choose one.
Then, one abnormally hot summer day, Draco got a note from Harry. "Wish you are here," wrote Harry in that somewhat untidy scrawl of his.
"I can't say the same to you," Draco wrote back. It might sound more rude than needed be, but considering the Malfoy family's affiliation with the Dark Lord, he thought the remark was justified.
Thankfully, Harry was not as dense as he sometimes seemed to be. "I understand. How bad is it over there?"
"Let's just say I would rather be anywhere but here."
"Maybe I can get you out?"
"Are you proposing to elope with me?"
It was obscenely easy for Draco to conjure up the image of Harry blushing furiously the moment he read Draco's reply. Then again, Harry had given him a Regards ring; perhaps Harry was more bold and daring than Draco gave him credit for.
And sure enough, Harry's next letter said, "If I say yes, would you accept?"
Draco was desperately tempted to say yes, but like a solid brick wall his reason got in the way of his emotion once more. Draco could not ignore that odd pang in his heart nor the knot in his stomach as he wrote his reply, "I can't, and neither can you."
"Yeah, I suppose you are right," was Harry's only reply, which to Draco sounded subdued, defeated even. After that, they spoke of it no more. Nevertheless, Draco soon found out how Harry really felt -- the watch he gave to Harry was more than just a watch that plays pretty music.
The stack of letters was ceremoniously dropped into the box. Harry heaved a heavy sigh; he felt very much reluctant to do this, but he knew he must, before his courage failed him. At last, he put forth his resolve and came to the bouquet of dried gardenia.
The flowers were originally white like the cold moon in a winter night, but it had withered into a decaying yellow. The sweetness which it once held was no longer there, nonetheless Harry could still recall that oddly enticing fragrance that lingered on long after life had departed from these blossoms. It was the sweetest thing he had ever smelled; and how well he remembered the bitterness that accompanied it. He had let the flowers wither then, unable to bear seeing them preserved as though freshly cut, while that something between him and Draco faded away like wisps of smoke.
Harry never believed in fate; he probably never would. But this something that existed between him and Draco felt oddly fatalistic. The problem was not that they were destined to stand on opposite sides or destined to be sworn enemies. They were each given a choice, and they chose the one they thought was for the best, the same paths they were about to tread even before this masquerade of hopeless illusion began. As it turned out in the end, they were not so different from each other after all.
One day, Draco simply wrote to Harry, saying, "I am marked."
Harry knew what that meant all too well, and it hit him like a punch to the stomach. Was he under the illusion that things might turn out differently? Yes, he was. And now the game of make-believe they were playing together can no longer go on. One can only pretend for so long, before everything falls apart and one plummets to solid earth.
"Why?" asked Harry.
"If I ask you to join me, would you have agreed?"
Harry knew the answer, even before the tip of his eagle-feather quill touched the blank parchment, staining it with words he could never -- would never -- take back. "No, I would not."
"And that's just the way it is. You have your loyalty, and I have mine."
Draco had always been so damnably sensible, thought Harry bitterly. Draco knew he would never forsake his friends or his beliefs, no matter what sort of feelings he might have held for Draco. And it was painfully obvious that Draco would never run away from his family or his duty. Harry had always known of course; Draco's letter merely confirmed what Harry had suspected all along.
It would have been so much easier to simply hate Draco for the path he had chosen, with no other feelings attached. And Harry did resent Draco for joining the Death Eaters, but his resentment was laced with some other feelings Harry did not dare dwell too deeply into, for fear of losing himself amidst the raging tempest in his heart.
That was the end then. Their paths had diverged. Harry could not go with Draco, and Draco could not stay. The only thing Harry could do was simply let him go. And he did.
Then several days later, he found a bouquet of white gardenia lying on his bed. When he set his gaze upon the sea of pure white, he immediately knew who sent it. It was as much a parting gift as a final confession.
Draco pulled out a silver pocket watch from his pocket; he gave its twin to Harry a long time ago. The pocket watch Draco held in his hand had the exact same intricate design engraved on the lid, but no music issued from the watch when Draco flipped the lid open. Unlike its twin, the watch Draco had was not meant to play music, but for something else -- for a far less innocent purpose.
This particular pair of watches were specifically designed for eavesdropping. As long as Draco keeps his watch open, everything that was said in its twin's presence would play out for Draco to listen to.
He remembered a time when Harry used to carry the watch with him wherever he went. Draco had overheard many of Harry's private conversations, even his musings to his owl. Draco knew enough about the Order that if he were to divulge everything he had overheard to the Dark Lord, he would surely be rewarded beyond his wildest dream.
But Draco never told another soul about the watches, nor what he had overheard. It was not for the purpose of spying on the opposing side that Draco gave the watch to Harry. His reason was far more personal and far more selfish.
A letter arrived directly to his dorm room one breezy autumn night. Messy scrawls in forest green ink, written on a piece of slightly wrinkled parchment -- Draco did not even have to open the letter to know where the letter came from. The content of the letter was relatively brief.
"I have known about the watch for some time now. I can think of two different reasons why you sent it to me. I want to believe my second guess is correct, and that it is not just my imagination alone."
Harry knew everything.
Yes, thought Draco wistfully as he threw the letter into the blazing fireplace and let it burn to ashes, I would like to believe it too.
And just like that, they passed each other by.
Harry could not say that he had lost something; Draco was never his to lose. He almost wished it could be the other way around, that he could actually lose Draco. It would hurt beyond reckoning, but at least the possibility would have been realized. And that Harry would actually stand a chance to--
But it did not matter anymore. The end was steadily approaching, and odd as it might sound, Harry looked forward to it, even if it was simply for the sake of looking upon Draco for the very last time. With one final parting look at the box that held his secret longing for so long, he hardened his resolve and brought his wand upon the box. The wooden box was instantly engulfed in flame, along with it the letters and the bouquet and all his secrets, until nothing was left but a pile of ashes. The final remnant of his secret will remain before his heart to the end.
Tearing his gaze away from the ashes, Harry tentatively held the watch and spoke to it, "Hey, it's me. I hope you are listening right now." Harry paused as he took a deep breath. "I really ought to hate you, but I don't think I ever could, or ever did." One final message to Draco Malfoy: rival, almost-friend, and something more. It was as close to a confession as Harry could ever bring himself to say.
He pressed his lips against cold silver, and smiled a rueful smile Draco would never see. "I'll be seeing you then, I suppose. And thanks for the watch, Draco."
And Draco had heard it all.
One winter afternoon, they ran into each other in the school corridor, but they said nothing to each other. Their respective friends and spectators were confused by the sudden change, and they looked from one face to the other; but Harry and Draco gave them no heed as they walked past each other.
That one fleeting moment when their bodies brushed against each other, Draco's hands held onto Harry's for a tantalising second, and Harry squeezed it once before letting go. It was the closest distance they had ever gotten, and the closest they could ever get.
The closer one gets, the harder it is to let go; Draco understood this philosophy well. But he had never expected that even at a supposedly safe distance, it could burn him so deeply, nor had he expected it would hurt so much, as though he was being branded with another mark in his flesh. While it was not painful to the extent that a little bit of himself had died along with the young bud of romance that had withered before its time, there existed an emptiness in his heart that could never be filled.
And here, now, wearing Harry's ring and hearing Harry's words, it had stirred his memories once more: their very first meeting at Madam Malkin's, their infamous rivalry that followed soon after, their many fights, the subtle change in his heart, the exchange of gifts, those few months of secret correspondence, their short-lived almost-romance, and then, the parting.
They had been fighting each other ever since they had met. They had fought for years at Hogwarts, they had fought even when they had reached a mutual understanding, albeit in a less vicious manner, and they had fought after they left their childhood behind and entered the real world. And now they would be fighting each other once more -- Draco would not have it end any other way.
"I did hate you once, but not for the reason you think," Draco said softly, his mind flying back to those bygone years when everything seemed so much simpler. "You always made me feel suffocated, and I hated you for that -- not that it really matters anymore, does it?" Harry would never hear these words, and Draco would rather it stayed that way; it would be easier for Harry to face him in the end, whatever end that may be.
After a brief pause, Draco lightly kissed the bejewelled ring, sealing his final vow, and whispered with a wry half-smile on his face, "And thanks for the ring, Harry."
It was time to go, and there was nothing left to say -- the rest belonged to another lifetime. And perhaps, in another lifetime, those snowy white gardenia would be able to blossom into something much more. Perhaps...
"Do you know what gardenia stands for?"
"Yes, I do."
A/N: I wanted to write a fic where they passed each other by in the end because of who they are, and hence this fic was born. The Regards ring is basically an engagement ring. Gardenia stands for "I love you in secret", among other things. I'll let you decide how it is going to end between them. So, tell me what you think, okay?