Fencing Lessons

by Argenteus Draco

The stone halls of the castle were deathly silent as Harry walked cautiously down them. It wasn't that he was breaking the rules, per say; it was still only six-o-clock, but the January sky was already dark. It was a clear, calm, starry night, a night for thinking, and Harry just hadn't been able to sit in the noisy common room anymore. He'd considered going down to the Quidditch pitch, but it was a bleak idea without his broom, and the first gust of wind through an open window had reminded him it was very cold.

So he'd chosen the only other quiet place he knew in the school: the Room of Requirement. He was sure that even if he didn't need it for a D.A. meeting tonight, he could still make it appear as a place where he simply wouldn't be disturbed. But as he neared the corridor, already concentrating hard on what he needed, he was greeted with a strange sight.

The door was already there, slightly ajar. Inside, he could hear what sounded like clashing metal. He hoped whoever was in there was not Dumbledore looking for just the right chamber pot.

Curious, he pulled the door open enough to look into the room. There were two people – well, a ghost and a person – inside, moving back and forth down the length of the room, practicing fencing. Harry blinked, just to be sure he wasn't imagining things. But when he opened his eyes the final time, he still saw the same two figures. He squinted, trying to identify them. But the ghost had his back to Harry, and he could not name the student either, obscured as he was by the floating figure in front of him.

Then, all of a sudden, their eyes met, and the other boy was rewarded for his lapse in focus by a sharp poke in the ribs. Draco winced quietly, shook his head, and then looked at Harry again.

"If you're going to stand there," he said, "you could at least close the door."

Harry did so, without really thinking about being locked in an unknown room with Draco Malfoy. In fact, he was still trying to wrap his brain around the idea of this proud pureblood practicing a muggle sport.

The ghost lifted his mask and saluted, apparently signaling that Draco was allowed to leave the strip. Both put their blades away in silence while Harry watched. Finally, just as the situation was beginning to become awkward: "Potter, you won't tell anyone I'm up here, will you?"

Harry shook his head. "Provided, of course, you don't tell anyone about me."

To his surprise, Draco actually laughed. "What, and have people thinking we were on friendly terms? It would ruin my reputation." He grabbed a water bottle, and inclined his head in the ghost's direction while he unscrewed the top. "This is Master Andrzej, by the way." The ghost offered his ungloved hand to Harry, who hesitated a moment before offering his left as well.

"Ha ha, he learns quick, this one," he said, a slight Polish accent somewhat obscuring his words. Then, as he realized he had grabbed right through Harry's hand in an attempt to shake it, added: "Sorry, I forget," and he regarded his semi-transparent hand, apparently deep in thought.

"Forgive me," Harry started, "but if you can't hold my hand, how can you hold the… erm…"

"The Epee?" the ghost indicated the blade sitting against the wall. "It was my life, fencing, so I am able to retain it now. And it is necessary, if I am to finish my teaching." He cast a look at Draco, who had settled on the floor and begun to stretch out the muscles that were just starting to ache. He looked up: proud grey eyes met sorrowful blue, met thoughtful green, and then returned to the floor in front of him.

"Perhaps," Andrzej addressed Harry again, "you would like to learn as well?"

Harry didn't know how to respond. He watched in silence as Andrzej walked with slow, even steps to the far wall, and returned with a glove, blade, and mask for him. He glanced quickly at Draco, who looked up again when he felt the other boy's gaze, to confirm which hand the glove went on. Then, while Andrzej went to retrieve his own equipment, picked up the weapon; it was heavier than it looked, but well balanced.

"Hang on a second, Potter, you're holding it wrong." Draco lifted his own blade, and showed Harry how to wrap his fingers around the grip. "You have to hold it like you would a bird: just tight enough so it doesn't fly away."

The other two smiled: Harry, because he was imagining Draco being gentle enough to hold a bird; Andrzej, because Draco was repeating his own first lessons. He took an extra moment to put on his jacket – not that it mattered anymore, it was just force of habit – and listened while Draco showed Harry the en garde stance. He wouldn't have believed it five years ago, when this boy's father had first approached him about lessons, but there was indeed something inherently magical about this sport. It left a tingling in the fingers, it was exhilarating beyond anything he had ever known, and it brought even the fiercest competitors together.

"Now, Harry," he said, "there are three basic footwork steps: advance," he demonstrated, taking a step forward, "retreat," a measured step back to exactly where he'd been, "and lunge." He all but threw himself forward onto his front foot, extending his weapon arm and striking Draco squarely in the chest. "You should wear your jacket," he added, by way of apology and instruction.

Both boys returned to the side to dress, Harry a half step behind Draco, watching the order everything went on in. When they were both safely covered by their whites and had returned to the center, Andrzej caught Draco's eye and signaled him to put his mask back on. They saluted each other, and lowered their blades into the fencing position. "Now you must keep distance," he said, and advanced toward Draco, who reacted in turn with a retreat. "You watch your opponents chest, and your point should never leave the target area," he tapped Draco's blade to emphasize his statement, and the blond adjusted his position. They moved back and forth like this until Andrzej lowered his weapon to his right side, and Draco lunged at the open target. Harry was impressed; if he could stretch that far, why couldn't he reach the snitch when they flew neck and neck?

He didn't have time to dwell on his thoughts, because Andrzej was suddenly stepping from his place and asking Harry to take it. He faced Draco, and they began the same dance of forward back, forward back; sometimes Harry forgot he was leading, and there was a pause in the flow of action; when Draco gave him a target, he overextended his lunge, and had to throw his hands out in front to catch himself, dropping the weapon with a resounding clang. He shook his head and took a couple deep breaths, and suddenly became aware of a hand offering him help up.

"I've done that a few times myself," Draco said. "Not recently, of course, but when I was starting…"

Andrzej laughed. He remembered all too well the awkward stick of a boy that had been brought to him for training. Draco had been barely ten years old, shy, and with a mop of silver blond hair that fell into eyes the color of steel. He'd thought instantly that he would dislike this boy, whose father watched his every move and was stern if he did not win. But he had heart, this little one, he wanted to be good. And now, every lesson he'd learned was apparent.

"Harry," Andrzej said quietly, "You're late."

Harry stared at his shoes as he shut the door behind him. This wasn't the first time he had been late for the fencing – not that they had arranged a time, he just came back every Monday evening at 6:30, and Draco didn't object – and he was always sure that Andrzej was disappointed in him. When he looked up, however, he found that the fencing master had simply returned his attention to the lesson he was giving. Harry watched them as he went through the stretching exercises Andrzej had taught him. He spent a lot of time watching Draco, lately. During practice, he was trying to learn from the other boy's movements. During classes…

Actually, Harry wasn't really sure why he watched Draco during classes. Part of his mind told him he was looking for signs of the boy he'd come to know from fencing lessons. But another part of him was doubtful. This was the part of his mind that told him Draco was graceful, lithe, and handsome; the part that recognized a rare smile and made him smile back.

Ron and Hermione had noticed too. That was the reason he'd been late for lessons; they'd confronted him as he'd been leaving the common room. It hadn't been a pleasant conversation.

"Where are you going?" Hermione had asked.

"Oh, just… for a walk," Harry replied, somewhat lamely.

"Do you want some company?"

"No, I'll be alright."

"Going to meet someone, then?" It was clear from his tone that Ron thought he was going off to snog someone.

Harry turned around, and tried to pretend he didn't know what his friend was talking about. "Seriously, who would I be going to meet?"

"Oh, I don't know. Cho, Padma…" he paused a moment. "Malfoy."

Someone behind him sniggered, and Harry turned bright red. "Excuse me?"

Ron was now grinning in an infuriating manner, and Hermione tried to step in. "Oh, Harry, don't take it that way. I mean, it's okay if you're--"

"But I'm not!" There was more scattered laughter. He couldn't believe they were having this conversation in the middle of the common room.

"Of course. It's just, you've been acting very strange the last few weeks, Harry--"

"Harry!"

He looked up, immediately captivated by Draco's use of his first name. Yet another sign that their relationship had changed, at least in the confines of the room. Draco gave Harry a strange look, and then said simply, "It's your turn."

Harry sighed and stood up. Much as he had come to look forward to Monday evenings as an escape, tonight he wished that nothing had changed. He practiced intensely for about ten minutes, imaging it was Ron he was practically stabbing, on occasion stealing a glance at Draco. Once, he was shocked to find the other boy staring back, and completely forgot what he was supposed to be doing mid-way through his action. He stopped and looked apologetically up at his instructor.

Andrzej, who had an unsettling ability to read all of the boys' emotions, regarded Harry with a knowing gaze. "You are troubled. What is wrong?"

"I…" Harry searched for a way to side step his problem. "I had words with my friends before I came here."

"What did the Weasel say to you this time?" Draco asked, suddenly back to his usual drawl.

"Don't call him that," Harry muttered half-heartedly.

"You do know what he says about you behind your back, right?"

Harry turned away. If Draco knew, then he could expect all of Slytherin to hound him with it tomorrow.

If Draco noticed how embarrassed Harry was, he didn't say anything further. "Come on," he picked up his practice gear and started to put on his whites. "You need an actual bout. It's a good way to release a lot of energy." Harry looked at Andrzej, who nodded his approval, before going to get dressed himself. In the five weeks they'd been sharing practice sessions, Harry had yet to actually fence against Draco. His attitude changed immediately. Here was a chance to prove he wasn't wasting his time. And a chance to convince the rebellious part of his mind that he really was coming here to learn fencing, and not just to see Draco.

They took their places at the en garde lines, and Harry was reminded of the dueling club from second year. But there was no large crowd to watch him here, only a patient, knowing coach, and Harry breathed deeply, glad that for once he didn't feel like there were butterflies in his stomach. Or, at least, he didn't have them from nerves.

Harry had barely had time to push those thoughts to the back of his mind when Andrzej gave the command to salute. The blades came straight up in mirror images of each other, and Harry realized with a start that Draco was left-handed. How had he missed that in five years of knowing him?

"Fencers ready?"

"Yes, sir," Draco responded, and Harry nodded silently.

"Fence."

Draco moved forward with small, light steps, and Harry found himself wishing that he could move as elegantly as the blond did. There was no wasted motion, no step uncalculated, and Harry found himself struggling to react in time.

"Ow!" The tip of Draco's epee caught Harry squarely in his elbow. Andrzej chuckled softly.

"Come on, Potter, I've seen you take bludgers to the head and you never complained then," Draco responded as he walked back to his en garde line. "Although I suppose your skull is a little thick."

Harry didn't say anything as he contemplated their sudden return to insulting each other. He only half-heard the "Ready? Fence!" as something else occurred to him.

"I've never been hit in the head during a game. You were spying on our practice."

Draco smirked behind his mask as he attempted to catch Harry's blade in a bind. "Well, I thought it was only fair, seeing as you were staring at me all though Potions."

Harry disengaged and made a feint attack to Draco's wrist – damn! so close – and retreated. "Well, it's not as though it was an interesting lesson."

To his surprise, Draco laughed. "True. Even I can only listen to Snape lecture for so long. But I try not to let myself get too distracted." He punctuated this point with an attack in the direction of Harry's foot, but hit the floor instead, and Harry was able to score a touch to Draco's shoulder.

They continued in this manner for close to twenty minutes, no longer keeping score or time as they traded points and sarcastic remarks. Andrzej watched them with a bemused expression, occasionally making a note to himself to correct Harry's footwork, or practice point control with Draco. But, overall, he thought the lessons were going spectacularly.

The next morning dawned bright and warm, and Harry found himself rolling up his sleeves as he, Hermione and Ron crossed the grounds for Care of Magical Creatures. A group of Slytherins was already lounging by the fence, and there were scattered snickers as usual when the Gryffindors approached. "Nice bruises, Potter," a familiar drawling voice commented.

Harry looked down at his arm, and was slightly surprised to find that it was indeed dotted with purple marks. Hermione gave a little gasp and Ron raised his eyebrows, but Harry shrugged it off, sure that it was from nothing more harmful than his bout with Draco the night before.

"Harry, what happened?" Hermione asked. "Why didn't you say anything?"

Harry shrugged again. "Guess I didn't realize I'd gotten them."

"Looks like Potter likes it rough." More scattered laughter, and the Gryffindors instantly tensed, ready to defend their leader.

"Who'd have thought the Golden Boy would play for that team?"

"That's just rumor," Hermione replied, stepping forward to stand next to Harry. "Honestly, do you believe everything you hear?"

"What do you think, Draco?" Instantly, all eyes were on the Slytherin leader.

"Well," he began, finally looking up at Harry. "I suppose he might know how to… handle a sword."

Harry met his gaze, stare for stare, green eyes boring into grey. "I did learn from the best."

Draco quirked an eyebrow. "Touché, Potter."