Disclaimer: Regrettably, the world of Harry Potter and its characters are not mine.
A/N: This is a companion piece to Muses by the Gaslight, and this one takes place some time after Muses.
Lullaby in a Teacup
White powders fell from the light red sky, burying the city of London beneath layers of winter's offering. Like morning mist the falling snow obscured everything in its path, until all that could be seen was white confetti throwing itself eagerly about, as though in celebration of the winter season bestowed upon earth.
Rows after rows of window-sills were covered with snow, and snowflakes plastered themselves against the glass like naughty children peeping into other people's home. Many of the windows were dark, for it was late at night. Yet, from one of the windows on the third floor of a certain worn-out, three-storeyed building, slivers of dim light could still be seen peeking through the narrow cracks between the blind.
Beyond the canvas shade was a small, cosy flat with soothing ivory and pale yellow as its palette, accented with several splashes of refreshing green from small pot plants scattered throughout the flat. Its interior was intimate but not overly cluttered, conveying a sense of warmth that spoke volume of the effort its occupant had put into making this place feel like a home.
A small halogen lamp, placed on the breakfast counter that symbolically separated the kitchen from the sitting room, was emitting a soft glow like a beacon in the dark, and shining upon the pensive expression of a young man. The said young man was lounging leisurely on a beige armchair, with a glass of water in his hand. He had untameable black hair and boyish features; over his lean body was a navy blue sweatshirt and a pair of checkered pyjama pants. His face looked impossibly young, but those vibrant green eyes of his seemed old, as if they were laden with pain and sorrow. At the moment, his eyes were settled upon the figure lying on the sofa.
It was well past midnight, and Harry Potter was watching the sleeping form of Draco Malfoy in silence.
Draco had one arm thrown over his forehead, as if trying to shield his eyes from the gentle light. A long black coat enveloped his body like a shadow, while the collar of his off-white cashmere jumper peeked out from beneath. But even the off-white jumper could not match the paleness of Draco's skin; he looked like a spectre, especially under this dim lighting. Harry could not see his face, for Draco's arm was in the way; but in his mind Harry could conjure up the sharp, angular face that was burdened by weariness.
It was like a ritual dance of theirs. On some nights, Draco would appear before his front door without warning, and Harry would, without fail, let him in. Then either they bantered about pointless, mundane things over tea, or Draco would simply fall asleep on the sofa. Every time Harry saw him, the exhaustion in Draco seemed to grow a little more apparent. There was a certain desperation in Draco's jaded eyes that Harry could never ignore; and Harry could never bring himself to deny Draco entry into his home, his sanctuary.
Lying in sleep on the cotton-covered sofa, Draco had turned to his side, and the coat that was precariously draped over him fell to the floor with a soft rustle. His jumper had somehow ridden past his stomach, giving Harry a view of his bare abdomen above those dark pin-striped dress pants. Someone with such pale skin ought not to wear black, or white for that matter.
Shades of grey was what Harry had come to associate with Draco Malfoy ever since their uneasy reunion. Draco was hiding many things, that Harry had come to realise as he saw more and more of Draco. Needless to say, Harry had his own suspicion as to what Draco was really doing; certainly Draco was not just a paper-pusher in the Ministry, just as how Harry was not sitting in idleness while keeping out of sight from certain unsavoury individuals.
A promise was what he had made to his former mentor so many years ago, and he intended to honour it at all cost. He would not -- could not -- rest until he had accomplished his goal, until the legacy of his mentor had been fulfilled at long last.
As he reminisced about his former mentor, snapshots of his childhood and adolescence flashed across his mind, inevitably reminding him of those few months of confusion when Draco Malfoy turned the table on him. Even to this day, Harry was still trying to figure out the meaning behind it all. But the ever cryptic Draco was decidedly unhelpful; Harry suspected Draco found it amusing to see him stumbling about like a blind rat.
Letting out a frustrated groan, he quietly put down his glass and rose from his seat. Padding softly towards Draco, he made sure Draco had not woken up yet, before bending down to retrieve the coat and draping it over the sleeping figure as gently as he could. The ever paranoid young man did not even stir; he must be more tired than he claimed to be.
As Harry was about to return to his seat, a hand abruptly lashed out and grabbed his arm. Startled, Harry's body tensed in preparation for the fight-or-flight reaction. Searchingly he bowed his head and looked down, to find Draco staring up at him with unbelievably lucid eyes that spelled of alertness. Raising his eyebrows at Draco questioningly, Harry spoke in a neutral voice, "I thought you were asleep."
"I was," Draco replied evenly, but he did not yet let go of Harry. For someone who was renowned for his sharp tongue, Draco had an oddly mellow voice, one that Harry had noticed ever since adolescence, one that he seemed unable to stay away from -- not that Harry would ever admit it to anyone, least of all to Draco himself.
"Oh," Harry mumbled vaguely as he felt Draco's grip loosen. There was no need for an apology, not between the two of them, not after all this time. "You want some tea?" was the only thing Harry could come up with, a subtle request for Draco to release his hold.
"Sure," Draco responded quietly before finally letting go of Harry. For a fleeting second, the ring on his finger gleamed brightly as it caught the light. When Draco sat up from his makeshift bed, the coat fluttered onto his lap. There was a devious smirk on Draco's lips as he looked up at Harry again. "Never thought you are the mother-hen type."
A tinge of embarrassment welled up in Harry as he had been discovered. "That's because I'm not." And with that Harry stalked to the kitchen alcove in a futile attempt to conceal the faint blush on his cheeks, but he knew he did not entirely succeed.
As Harry pretended to be busily preparing tea in the kitchen, he could not help noticing those watchful grey eyes that were observing his every move, nor the hint of a smile that was present on Draco's face. Others might find it disconcerting, yet Harry had come to find comfort in Draco's small gestures.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Draco stood up and walked into the kitchen, yet Harry heard no footsteps at all. When needed be, Draco could be silent as a ghost. "Need any help?" Draco offered. It was something the old Draco Malfoy would never do, but by now Harry was beyond surprised where the matter of the grown-up Draco Malfoy was concerned.
"No, it's fine," Harry replied, before finally turning around to regard Draco. His blond hair was slightly tousled from sleep, yet his face spoke of vigilance, as though he had not slept a wink in the first place. The loose cashmere jumper and those form-fitting trousers did little to hide his thin frame. Absentmindedly Harry thought Draco would catch a cold dressing like this on a night when the capricious Lady Winter unleashed her fury.
Harry had been under the impression that Draco was courting death; it was as though Draco could not bother to take good care of himself. This, among other little things Harry had noticed over the past few months, hinted at what had transpired in those years when Draco had supposedly disappeared from the face of the earth. Nonetheless, Harry would never ask him about it; something was simply better left unsaid.
A slightly bemused expression was on Draco's face, and belatedly Harry realised he had been staring at Draco without a word for quite some time. Feeling more awkward than ever, Harry was saved from Draco's silent inquiry when the tarnished kettle on the old stove whistled shrilly. Hastily Harry ran over to turn off the stove and lifted the kettle from the heating plate. As he poured boiling water into the two matching cups that contained a tea bag each, he asked as casually as he could manage, "No sugar, no cream?"
"Yeah," Draco answered, then accepted the cup that Harry offered to him. "Thanks."
"No problem," was all Harry said before he reached for the sugar bowl in the corner. Unlike Draco, Harry likes his tea with sugar and lots of cream.
Soon, with a cup of steaming tea cradled in hand, Harry and Draco stood facing each other in the small kitchen in companionable silence. The flat was quiet save for the faint ticking of the clock coming from the bedroom, but Harry did not find the silence alarming; he rather liked the peacefulness it brings.
Being around Draco calmed Harry's mind; when he was in Draco's presence, he did not feel the need to pretend that all was right with the world when it clearly was not. As strange as it might sound, Harry felt as though Draco truly understood what it was like to be haunted by invisible ghosts and painful history. If Harry dared to venture further, he could almost believe that he and Draco were kindred souls.
"I'll be going away for awhile." Draco's smooth baritone voice seeped through Harry's consciousness, distracting him from his musing.
Feeling a lurch in his stomach at Draco's words, Harry paused for several seconds, before raising the cup to his lips. Harry knew well what Draco's words meant; it was not the first time Draco had said these words to him. Every time it felt like a goodbye, and Harry supposed he was not too far off in his speculation. After all, it was hardly a coincidence that whenever Draco told him he would be away for awhile, several days later a member within the wizarding community suspected of cohorting with the opposing side would turn up dead. But Harry never asks, and Draco never tells; it was an unspoken rule between them.
"Oh, really?" Harry managed to pull up a smile, but it felt forced on his face. "Actually I'm thinking of going away for awhile myself. So I guess we won't be seeing each other any time soon?"
"I suppose," Draco replied noncommittally, before turning his gaze elsewhere, staring at something Harry could not see. "Try not to get yourself kill."
It was moment like this when Harry was certain Draco had some inkling as to what he had been doing all these years, but Draco never proclaimed openly to him. Heaving a sigh, Harry said, "Yeah, the same goes for you too."
Harry thought he heard a chuckle coming out of Draco's mouth. "I will," Draco merely stated and regarded Harry intently, his keen eyes softened with some emotion Harry could not tell what of. Even though Draco had said what Harry had expected him to say, Harry knew Draco had prepared for the worst, just as how he had always been every time he came to say his farewell.
Resigned to accept a promise Draco was obviously not going to keep, Harry let a wry half-smile crept onto his own lips in response. Between wanting to believe and yet unable to believe, Harry could only reply, "I know."
As if sensing Harry's unspoken words, Draco narrowed the distance between them, and lightly pressed his forehead against Harry's, startling Harry out of his melancholy. Draco's forehead was cold, but Harry felt strangely warm. A faint whiff of cedar intermingled with musk floated into Harry's nostrils as he felt Draco's warm breath teasing his face. "Hey, trust me a little, okay?"
Willing himself to relax against Draco, Harry let out a sigh and answered, "I wish I could." The tips of their noses brushed against each other lightly as they breathed in each other's air. Awkwardly Harry clutched at Draco's arm, almost afraid of letting go. Yet the fabric of the cashmere jumper felt oddly slippery in his hand, reminding him so much of the man who was wearing it. "I really wish I could." To that Draco spoke no words, except to put an arm around Harry in a solacing embrace.
The bells from a nearby church tolled thrice in a distance, signalling the nearing of dawn. And when daybreak approaches, Harry would yet again watch Draco go away to his impending doom. But for now, he would allow himself this little indulgence, a fleeting moment to be stored away in his mind, until the next time came when Draco would appear before his doorstep unannounced, smiling that cynical smile of his once more.
A/N: Any thoughts? This one still leaves some questions unanswered. I'm contemplating about writing a multi-chaptered story for this little series of mine. But seeing as I already have two other long fics I'm contending with right now, it's hard to say. Oh, and thank you for everyone who read my fics, and further thanks to those who have posted their reviews. You have my gratitude!