"What happened last night? With Dana?" Ron asked, shoveling a forkful of omelet into his mouth.
The Gryffindor table was bustling with the usual early morning chatter. The Great Hall droned with the seven-thirty buzz of ravenous students getting ready for another school day. Chairs would screech against the stone floor now and again as students noisily settled in their places at the table, greeting friends and joking about. Huge bay windows ushered in bright fingers of light through the glass and helped in casting shadows on the long house tables of the Hall. The enchanted ceiling revealed a clear robin's egg blue sky, tinged with cirrus clouds and the occasional soaring birds.
"Do you guys really want to know?" Harry drizzled some honey over his pancakes, forked a hefty slice and distractedly stuffed it into his mouth. "I'd much rather have it forgotten, to be honest," Harry replied.
"That bad, huh?" Hermione unsnapped her book bag to check on the contents inside with a snicker.
"It's not too bad really, but I don't know; I was just expecting something more, I guess. She was OK, and she was sweet, too—sweeter than the other girls I've dated, at least," half-groaned Harry.
"You know what's wrong, mate?" Ron pawed the basket of bagels an arm away to get some more food. Hermione even propped her elbows on the table to hear exactly what Ron was about to say. Harry could almost feel the negativity because for sure, Ron wouldn't have anything good to say. "You look for magic in your relationships, and when you don't find any, you become horribly disillusioned," continued the redhead Gryffindor.
"There's nothing wrong with wanting some magic," Harry defended, fingering his cutlery wistfully.
If Harry had only bothered to look around, he would have seen a very quiet Draco Malfoy at the adjacent Slytherin table, trying to listen in with a cross between a slight sneer and a rare smile hanging from his lips.
The second day of the school week arrived too soon for Harry's tastes as he entered the Great Hall again for breakfast. He could still remember the conversation he had with his two best friends yesterday morning about the Dana event and every other similar event that he never bothered disclosing. As what was usual, the Great Hall was bursting with raucous teenagers that Tuesday morning, prattling among themselves about homework, last night's festivities and other more mundane topics. And the Gryffindors were the noisiest of the lot.
"Morning," Ron greeted, a little less perkily. Harry, for a fact, knew that his friend was finishing up on a long overdue Charms homework last night. Ron probably never got any sleep at all.
"Yeah, finished with Charms?"
"Don't say bad words. Ask not and I won't bring up how you lost Gryffindor points yet again with your very recent altercation with Snape," Ron replied, growing sulkier by the second.
"What? You lost house points again, Harry?" Hermione plopped down on her usual chair with narrowed eyes at what she had just caught Ron saying.
"Gee, thanks a lot, Ron," the black-haired Gryffindor inwardly groaned and shook his wrist to have Sirius's bracelet around his wrist slide more safely on his forearm. The silver face of the band caught in the bright morning sun spilling through the windows, casting a metallic glow on the newcomer's cheek. Breakfast was starting to become a personal battleground everyday.
"When did this happen anyway?"
"Hermione, it was just a misunderstanding. And well—you know how Snape is. He'd take points from Gryffindor for a mere sneeze especially if I were the one to do it. He was just particularly vindictive last night. Ron and I were hanging out by the entrance to the dungeons and he just docked points from Gryffindor for absolutely nothing. He'd dock points from Gryffindor for my mere existence, so it didn't come as a surprise," Harry practically spat out.
"Ron—is this true?" Hermione turned her attention to a fidgety Ron who was trying to stuff as much food in his mouth to excuse himself from answering the inquiry.
"Well—he—he… Harry was right. It was totally unfair. We weren't even deliberately talking about Malfoy and he just snapped at us," Ron said a little too defensively.
"Malfoy? Malfoy again? You always fall for that trap and every time you do, you lose house points that I exerted so much effort to collect! You could just— "
But Hermione was cut off by the swoosh of the incoming mail. Soon enough, a horde of owls of different colors and kinds swooped in from the ceiling of the Great Hall for the morning mail. But what Harry thought was a normal owl delivery didn't turn out as he had initially expected as the owls started coming in torrents and dropping long stemmed roses on his head and around him on the Gryffindor table, almost covering him in green stalks and white and red petals. His newly filled bowl of cereal now displayed bits of roses that rained down from the owls instead of cereal flakes. Every eye turned to the Gryffindor table as the unusual owl delivery commenced leaving Harry flushed and embarrassed by the amount of flowers pouring from the swooping owls.
Ron's mouth just dropped open and Hermione momentarily forgot to continue her lecture. There were a hundred owls in all carrying long stemmed red and white roses and dropping them on Harry's head and then leaving as quickly as they had come. The very last owl, a huge and dignified looking eagle owl, even perched beside Harry's ruined bowl of cereal and with its beak, delivered the last piece of rose to its recipient. It was a long stemmed blood red rose that was still glittering with dew.
The owl held up its leg to reveal a small scroll of parchment tied with a deep green ribbon. Harry untied the scroll from the owl's foot and hastily opened the note:
I am tied to very thee
By every thought I have;
Thy face I only care to see,
Thy heart I only crave…
-Sir Charles Sedley
It is magic every time I see you, every time I feel your eyes on me…
I hope you like the roses. But I have to say; all their beauty is still nothing compared to yours.
-Love from your secret admirer
"Whoa," Ron mouthed, spitting out bits of cereal on the table. Hermione's eyes were narrowed quite suspiciously while eyeing the scroll of parchment and the neat writing on its face. Only an ignoramus would miss the message on the scroll. "Secret admirer, huh?" said Ron, inching closer to Harry and looking over the latter's shoulder to appreciate the note better.
Harry was at a loss for words. He couldn't believe the message splayed on the piece of parchment he was holding. It was nothing short of surreal.
"Mr. Potter, what are these?" Professor McGonagall's commanding figure appeared out of nowhere and imposingly stood in front of them, gesticulating towards the hundreds of roses scattered around Harry.
"Professor! I don't know who they were from. I didn't mean to have such a display during breakfast. Really, I am sorry for all of this." Harry abruptly stood up, scattering the rose petals that had gotten caught in the folds of his school robes, and offered the mysterious note to Professor McGonagall for her perusal.
The professor's eyes narrowed, reading the arcane note but after a while a rare smile pushed the corners of her lips. She returned the note to Harry. "A secret admirer. Judging from all of these blossoms—a hopeless romantic. Well—what are you waiting for, Mr. Potter? Gather up all of these and put them in a vase full of water so they won't wilt, the beautiful things," Professor McGonagall suggested before leaving the three to their devices, ogling after her as if she had grown antlers.
"She doesn't seem to be bothered by this," Hermione exclaimed as she started to gather the flowers that were near.
Ron looked up at her from underneath the table where yet more roses could be found, eyed her with curiosity and slammed the bunch of blossoms on the table where Harry, who was still in deep shock, was starting to gather even more roses. "Why should she be? Unless you count the wild passionate sex that would probably transpire after all this whole sordid secret admirer thing passes, there's nothing wrong with getting a hundred roses during breakfast," Ron interjected.
"But don't you think the timing is peculiar?" Ron had to roll his eyes in dismay at what Hermione was probably trying to insinuate.
"Hermione, you are always suspicious about everything. This is not the work of Death Eaters. I don't think it's part of The Death Eaters Manual to start wooing Harry Potter with roses now. They would much rather disembowel Harry than send him anything that is remotely friendly or admiring." Harry was still quietly gathering the roses, getting more and more flushed by the second as people catcalled and teased him for the very public declaration of admiration for him.
"Well, this could very well be a trap to get Harry to trust them and then later on lure him to an ambush. We don't know the kind of twisted thoughts swimming in these deranged homicidal freaks' heads. And it's really curious that McGonagall didn't seem to find anything wrong with it. It's very easy to get a hundred owls to deliver the roses along with a sappy note, perk Harry's interest and prep him for an attack when he least expects it," Hermione continued to reason.
"Oh for Merlin's sake, we aren't in that suspicious mode again. You're just trying to rationalize it the way you do because you're jealous. You're green with envy that Harry receives a hundred roses with a sticky sweet love note and you never do. You-Know-Who is in hiding, scared like hell to come out of wherever shithole he has buried himself in. The Death Eaters are as good as eunuchs without the big dog—they wouldn't even have half their wits among all of them to think of a plan like what you've cleverly conjured up. Without You-Know-Who, they're paralyzed," Ron answered back, his voice rising above the din of the departing students.
"What do you think, Harry?" Hermione had the gall to ask. Mounds of roses were in front of him and there were still more at his feet.
"I really don't know. But we can't always live in dark suspicion," Harry quietly intoned, picking up the blood red rose that came with the scroll and fingering the soft silken feel of the petals against his skin. Deep within him, a flutter of hope started to gnaw. He fervently wished that the letter was real.
When seventh year started, Harry was advised by Dumbledore to learn Advanced Potions from Snape, a class that offered even more than the NEWT level Potions class he had been taking since sixth year. Aside from learning advanced Alchemy and Muggle Chemistry, Snape taught Harry some occasional Dark potions and spells that he knew would be highly valuable should he face off with Voldemort again. Voldemort had gone into hiding and the war that erupted in the middle of sixth year broke into a tense hiatus, both parties waiting for each other to strike and to wake up renewed war vigor. Dumbledore never stopped with his efforts to send envoys to various magical communities to strengthen the alliance against the Dark Forces. And for his part, Harry decided that it really wouldn't hurt to learn what the old man suggested. The Death Eaters, on the other hand, just like what Ron said during breakfast that morning, had also slipped into temporary obsolescence while waiting for their leader's emergence.
So, all was well in the Land of Oz. At least for the time being.
But as Harry listened to Snape blabber on during double Potions class, seated between Ron and Neville Longbottom, he started to think, not about the bubbling war but about the mysterious scroll that came with the hundred roses. Of course, Hermione could be right. But it didn't make any sense to Harry. Trying to feed Harry's ego by concocting the secret admirer garb was just not one of the Death Eaters' ploys because it was too lame even for them. It was just downright funny that a whole gang of Dark Wizards would resort to sending him roses instead of kidnapping everyone and their cousin, appealing to Harry's noble, heroic stand and luring him into a trap. So Harry just dismissed the idea that the secret admirer letter was merely a Death Eater ruse.
Aside from this, Harry just had the strongest gut feeling that the letter was real. As in from someone who really liked him, who would go to such great lengths like sending him mounds upon mounds of roses during breakfast. And he was just not inclined to ignore gut feeling.
He would like to believe that the letter was genuine. And so with that established, there was only one question left: who was it that sent him the letter?
Since that morning, he'd been wracking his brains for anything that might tell of the identity of the love note writer. But there was none. He had started to think of every one of the women he had ever dated and rounding them up as the usual suspects. But he came up empty-handed. There had never been anything like this before. He had never been presented with this kind of situation in his life. No one had ever told him those words so neatly written on the face of the parchment like a prayer, like a heart's deepest wish.
It's funny that just yesterday I was wishing for magic in my relationships and now something of the sort is happening before my eyes. Careful what you wish for, Potter… He never even wished for this much magic and mystery like what had happened during breakfast but then again, maybe he just never imagined someone would actually be romantic enough to do something like that.
He snapped out of his reverie and turned his attention to Snape. He couldn't afford another altercation especially since they would be having another one of Harry's Advanced Potions class later that night. It wouldn't do him any good to warm Snape up for some all-night ass chewing and cuss-fest. It took him a mere five minutes of pure unadulterated attention, before his mind strayed to the secret admirer thing again. Shit. Who could it be? And he remembered Professor McGonagall saying something about a hopeless romantic. His admirer was a sucker for romance, and he just couldn't think of anyone who was so romantic as to send their loved one a hundred roses, delivered by a hundred owls along with a romantic verse. He started unconsciously playing with Sirius's bracelet wrapped around his wrist, the only memento of his late godfather that the latter bequeathed to him among other things, to tame his attention.
Harry snapped out of it again as he heard Snape speaking. "Class is dismissed. I expect your partial reports by tomorrow. Anyone who fails to submit will find themselves at the very raw end of my patience. That is all." The class stood up and started gathering their things. Harry stood up as well, still in a puddle of mystery and confusion.
The black-haired Gryffindor was about to walk out of the classroom, flanked by his two best friends when Snape called out to him for a word. "You guys go on ahead. It's probably another litany. I'll catch you up, OK?" Ron and Hermione nodded and left.
Harry turned around and made a beeline for Snape. "Show up early tonight, Potter. Headmaster Dumbledore will be attending the first hour of our class to see your progress, if there is any at all," Snape spat, his last six words in dripping mockery.
"Yes, sir. Should I bring anything?" Like chicken shit for you, perhaps?
"No—just come on time, and try to review what we've covered so far. You may go."
Once in the hall and away from Snape's mocking and oily black stare, Harry started to think about his secret admirer for the nth time since Potions class started. Something about the whole set-up just compelled him to believe the authenticity of the message of the letter and the hundred roses. Something about the raw emotions mirrored in the words on parchment convinced him that the person was being truthful.
The afternoon sun hung low in the horizon as Harry made his way through the labyrinthine halls of the castle, swimming in his thoughts of Voldemort, the Death Eaters, his secret admirer and all his other relationships that had sent him down the pathway to disillusionment again and again. There is nothing wrong with wanting some magic, some fireworks…
Something murmured around him and he stopped dead in his tracks. The hallway was filled with dancing light from countless fireflies that had flown into the castle through the tall windows lining the hallway. Distant and soothing singing joined the sounds of his ragged breathing as the lights continued to dance around him, covering him in small, rainbow colored orbs of light. The disembodied voices were calling his name. Only when a small orb of green light came dangerously close to him did he realize that the dancing lights weren't fireflies at all. They were very minute and winged women with glowing bodies dressed in various flower petals.
"Harry… Harry… Someone sends you the softest of songs and the brightest of lights. Someone wants to kiss Harry Potter. Harry… Harry…" The call was hypnotic. Harry looked up and saw a whole group of fairies swarming a small scroll, descending, and descending until it was in his hands. He tore the ribbon protecting the scroll and read:
Like my little surprise? I hope Snape hasn't completely ruined your day. Smile. For it looks good on you, my Gryffindor Prince. Think of me as I think of you, constantly. The fairy song was for your ears and yours alone…
Harry grinned broadly. It was a surprise. The most beautiful surprise he has ever had. Fairy song—no one has ever given him anything more beautiful in its simplicity. I am thinking of you too… Harry admitted to himself as he pocketed the new scroll to join the first one, a smile languidly hanging from his lips.
He never saw Draco Malfoy slip out of a crevasse in the wall with a knowing grin.
The library was still but at the hour of ten o'clock, it was a house of subliminal noise and gossip as students flocked to it for their morning break, to meet with friends or to hide out while they cut class. Madam Pince virtually left them to their devices as long as they didn't speak too loudly, mutilate books or eat on the tables or between the stacks. The usual bystanders of the library came from Binns's class, hoping to get out of the ghost teacher's drone even just for a day. A lot of Hogwarts students were convinced that too much exposure to Binns's dead drawl was a detriment to a person's mental health.
Today, Harry wasn't one of the truants wanting to escape History of Magic although he had done his fair share of cutting that particular class. Today, he was in the library to spend the rare occasion that Professor McGonagall had given them time off for research. And Harry was being diligent for a change. It was the only way he could shirk his two friends' endless interrogation and brainstorming about the secret admirer thing and the way they always ended up fighting about it. Ron was all for the authenticity of the letter, and once or twice calling Harry a lucky bastard for having someone smitten with him, to such an extent, while Hermione was all for deep, dark suspicion, to which Harry would brand as too negligible faith in people. Harry never told them about the fairy song after Potions class yesterday. He even decided that morning after the now-familiar-and-common breakfast row that it would be best if he never told them anything about the secret admirer thing should it persist.
Turning the pages, he started murmuring to himself and copying down the important information from the book to a spare bit of parchment. He might as well do what he came here for. A scuffle sounded from behind him and he looked up, expecting to see Ron or Hermione lurking about waiting to ambush him. But there was no one in the stacks. Aside from him, only the buzzing group of Hufflepuffs was seated some five tables away from him. The rest of the truants were most likely trying to lose themselves in the deepest part of the stacks to avoid anyone who would tell them off.
Something else caught his attention, however. A scent. Cologne, a unique kind of cologne probably, since Harry couldn't remember smelling something like it before. It was all over him now, the smell of roses, very slight lavender and melted chocolate. A little masculine, though. So he raised his head and started to look around. The stacks appeared to be empty but he noticed there were areas bathed in shadow that he couldn't see. Harry closed the book and lifted it from the table to be returned. He was done with it anyway, and at least with it, he would have an excuse to prowl the shelves and look for the mysterious scent.
But after checking out the shelves, finally returning the book and finding nothing, he just started back for his table where all his stuff was. He was shocked to see a velvet bag tied with a deep green ribbon, bulky with its contents and resting beside a neatly rolled scroll upon sitting down. The items were placed right on top of his parchment as if they had always been there, untouched and waiting for him. He quickly untied the ribbon and dug inside. Chocolates, lots of it, the size of marbles, were in the bag. Stealing a glance around, wondering if anyone looked as if they were just returning to their chair or if anyone was looking, Harry popped a chocolate into his mouth and relished the flavor erupting in his taste buds. Milk chocolate—his favorite.
He unfurled the scroll and it read:
This is for your sweet tooth. Indulge. I've been thinking of you. Always take care, my lion.
The message was simple, platonic even. But nonetheless, it brought a smile to his lips. His secret admirer had never actually said anything in the wave of I Love You but the thought was there. Harry thought that it was unfair that he couldn't even thank his secret admirer for sending him stuff and never failing to make him smile. A flutter of gratitude rose up inside him. He pulled a piece of blank parchment from his bag and began to write:
It's unfair that I can't even thank you in person because I don't know you. I don't even know how this letter would reach you. But thanks for the chocolates. Thanks for making me smile even when you don't have to. Take care of yourself, too.
He fondly rolled the parchment and tied the dark green ribbon around it. With a thankful smile, Harry placed it in the middle of his table, gathered his stuff and left the library, hoping that somehow the letter would reach his secret benefactor. The taste of the milk chocolate was still filling his mouth like fireworks exploding in the sky.
From the stacks that were pushed close against the wall emerged Draco Malfoy, carrying three volumes close to his chest and his bag half-slipping on his shoulder. He squeezed himself through two tables on the way to the check-out counter and noticed the parchment tied with the deep green ribbon in the middle of one of them. The ribbon looked familiar. It couldn't be… He reached out and picked the item up from its resting place, untied the ribbon, unfurled the parchment and read the words scribbled on its surface.
With clammy hands, he dropped the three books resting within his arms. Loud thuds filled the library and turned heads from the Hufflepuff table not far away. Draco couldn't suppress chuckles as he picked his books up from the floor and went to the check-out counter again, a great deal happier than when he had come in.
Harry was determined to get to the bottom of the bag of chocolates without having to share. The bag of chocolates was his, and he was having too much fun smacking his lips together and appreciating every chocolate out of the bag. He was probably going to get sick tomorrow with too much chocolate but he didn't care. The entire bag was his. And since Ron knew nothing of the latest developments, he absolutely didn't have anyone to share the bag with.
With his back pressed against the side of the window, his legs folded in front of him and his window opened wide to the beautiful spring night beside him, Harry popped chocolate after chocolate into his mouth. A healthy breeze blew over the castle grounds and the overlooking lake, disturbed by slight waves on the radiant gray surface that was the exact replica of the skies above. He was wide-awake because of sugar overload and the tumultuous thoughts in his mind about his secret admirer. Had it only been two days since he read the first letter that was sent to him by his secret admirer? A smile shone on his lips again. He'd been smiling a little too often lately.
With active legs and a buzzing mind, Harry stood up from the ledge and walked to his bed to get the Marauder's Map from his bedside, but a soft plop on the window ledge stole his attention. He turned his head to gaze at the open window and found himself looking at the huge eagle owl that gave him the very first letter from his secret admirer. "Hey," Harry mouthed in welcome. The owl's response was a soft hoot. The Gryffindor could see that another scroll was neatly tied to its leg. "Is that—"
Harry sat back down beside the owl and untied the scroll as quickly as he could. The owl was poised to fly out the window again when Harry stopped it. "Can I send a reply back? I promise I'll be quick," pleaded Harry. The owl nipped Harry's finger affectionately and settled on the ledge as Harry proceeded to read the latest letter. It said:
I got your letter. I was actually shocked to get it. But it made me happy to know that I make you smile. Easy on the chocolates, OK? I don't want you to get sick. Sleep well tonight, my favorite Seeker. I wish the stars would look after you. I'll see you tomorrow and rest assured that I'll be dreaming of you tonight.
I trust your friends doubt my method of hiding myself from you like what I'm doing. Don't worry, I'm not a Death Eater, and I don't want to kill you although there are other things I wouldn't mind doing to you. At this Harry smiled, and he could feel his cheeks beginning to grow warm. I'm doing this because I think both of us aren't ready to meet each other. I know this feels weird and all, but even though I cannot be there in person for you to count on, I'm always with you in spirit. I'm always around to protect you, Harry. And watch over you…
Good night, my Gryffindor prince. I hope the wind carries my kiss to you…
Harry's hand clutching the letter dropped to his lap. He momentarily forgot the disorientation in his mind, pulled some parchment from his study table nearby and drafted a reply:
I'm actually a chocolate addict so you need not worry about my getting sick. My friends did suspect the peculiarity of your messages, that's why I've stopped telling them about your other letters aside from the very first one. They always end up fighting about whether you are real or not. I understand the secrecy. Thank you for the thought. Thank you for letting me know that I am not alone, and will never be.
I knew you were real. I'm glad that now I get to talk to you, to thank you. If you're not ready to tell me who you are, can you at least tell me what house you're in?
If you don't want to, I'd understand. Thanks for the chocolates again. Take care always.
After the owl had gone to deliver his letter, Harry cradled the latest scroll far more protectively than what was normal. When the owl returned for his secret admirer's reply, the unfamiliar but neat scrawl read:
I can't. But I'm just nearby. I'm closer to you than you think. It's just that you don't see me like I want you to.
Harry was depressed. Actually depressed was an understatement. He was presently wallowing in a deep pit of misery. He had lost Sirius's bracelet during Care of Magical Creatures when he chased after their rampaging specimen for the day into the forest. When he returned to Hagrid's hut for the end of the lesson, he noticed that he had lost the silver bracelet. He just felt so stupid afterwards, and he felt it was his fault and carelessness that the bracelet was misplaced. Harry just erupted in a fit of self-blame during class that he had to be pacified by Ron and Hermione. They even tried going back to the outskirts of the forest and retracing his steps to try to search for the lost bracelet, but they found nothing. His depression even rubbed off on Hermione and Ron because his two best friends knew how important that bracelet was for Harry.
They had to return to the castle, though they found nothing, to attend Snape's class. And of course, Potions was probably the last thing in his list of WHAT WOULD MAKE HARRY POTTER HAPPY. His mood sunk even deeper while he listened to Snape drone on and on about icky potions with nothing else but his lost bracelet in mind.
Harry waited for Snape to order them to break into partners to practice the potion they just discussed but it didn't come. Looking around, he noticed that their number was insufficient to break into partners because Malfoy was nowhere to be found. It was a little weird not to find Malfoy in the class because Harry knew for a fact that Malfoy showed up in the previous one they had which was Care of Magical Creatures and was even close enough to witness his fit of self-blame. He would've thought Malfoy left Hagrid's hut before they did so as not to be late for Potions, but apparently he decided to skip Snape's class.
Harry propped his elbow on the edge of the table and then placed his chin distractedly on his palm. Nothing could be done now. He just internally fought with himself to haul his attention to focus on Snape instead of what he had lost.
"It wasn't your fault, Harry. You should stop blaming yourself because we all know you didn't mean to lose Sirius's bracelet," Hermione pacified Harry again.
Classes were finally over for the day, but not without incident with Snape because of Harry's inattentiveness. The Gryffindor common room was bustling with energy and various activities. Some were busy with homework but a lot more were busy with lackadaisical lounging about and talking with their fellows. "I know it's not, but that bracelet is irreplaceable," Harry groaned. Somehow Hermione's words to try to assure him weren't doing what they set out to do.
"Right now, setting out to find that bracelet is dangerous. That's the Forbidden Forest we're talking of turning inside out to find the bracelet. You think Sirius is going to congratulate you if you undertake the feat?" Ron patted Harry's shoulder lightly. "You don't need the bracelet to keep Sirius's memory with you, you know," Ron continued.
But even when he was already alone in the dormitory after everyone had fallen asleep, he still couldn't get the absence of the cold reassurance of the bracelet from his mind. Although his two best friends had a point, what they were asking from him wasn't easy. He was just not ready to let go of the past. He had scores to settle, people to kill and revenge to undertake. The bracelet stood for all of that along with the pain of losing family over and over again, along with bitterness, remorse, hate for himself that he was who he was. He needed the bracelet back for all it embodied.
Although he knew that they already did everything they could to find it, somehow he felt that he hadn't exerted enough effort to get it back.
He wanted to talk to someone who would just listen, someone who would just let him pour his depression out without trying to stop him before all the floodgates burst open.
The curtains were swiped aside from his window but he was yet to throw the window open to feel the night winds. Darkness cradled him in his perch on the bed, unmindful of the sleeping figures around him. His bed was unmade but he couldn't lie down on it without sitting up again after five minutes of inactivity.
Sleep was far from his mind.
A distant tap jolted Harry out of his thoughts. The huge eagle owl was hovering outside the window like a ghost, flapping its powerful wings to stay airborne. To Harry, the owl looked like a bird of salvation. Rising quickly from the edge of the bed, Harry threw the window open to accept the owl into the dim room. "Hello," Harry greeted the now familiar night visitor. "What do you have for me today?"
The owl offered its leg where a scroll was tied with a deep green lace. Harry finally smiled slightly, his first smile since the loss of the bracelet earlier that day. The bird soared out of the open window before Harry could stop it. But he decided to focus on the scroll he had in his hands. The letter read:
I'm really sorry about the loss of your bracelet. I heard about it from someone. Don't worry—everything will be all right in the end, I can promise you that. In the meantime, I may have just the thing to make you smile for now, at least until everything falls back to its right place. Look out your window around eleven o'clock tonight and you'll see what I mean.
I'm not going to tell you to stop blaming yourself. I have a pretty good idea how important that bracelet is for you, and I know that trying to pacify you is not going to help any.
Just look up at eleven o'clock and let the light shine in your eyes.
Harry stole a quick glance at his watch and saw that it was ten-thirty in the evening. Excitement started to creep into his system as the minutes ticked past. Finding a comfortable position on the windowsill, Harry looked up expectantly at the azure blue sky and at the few twinkling stars in the firmament while he held the scroll tightly in his fingertips. Before he could get bored with waiting however, the most beautiful vision exploded in the sky.
Greens and blues and reds streaked though the dark blue night sky in fiery lines, tracing the face of the heavens. Flying rainbow colored streaks whizzed through the expanse of the night and Harry's open window caught the show in all its glory like a panoramic painting frame. Harry was frozen, mesmerized in the fantastic show unfolding before his eyes. A huge smile escaped from his lips and before he knew it, tears started to blur the streaks of radiance flashing before him. There were no conversations; there was only the silent show and the very few words on the parchment in his hands, and yet he could feel that he had found something just as beautiful in the scrolls as there was so much beauty that his secret admirer shared with him in the skies. His depression finally took its toll.
It has been a long time since he cried. It has been a long time since he has done anything: laugh, cry, feel and live. Sirius's death, the outbreak of the war, the flight of Voldemort, the threat of having to face war again and taste death, the relationships that never lasted long, that never showed him fireworks he had always imagined in his dreams. It has been a long time, and a lot of things had happened to change him into what he has turned into. And now…
Harry didn't notice that the huge bird had returned until it nipped him affectionately in the wrist. Another letter was tied to its leg, which read:
I hope you liked it. I heard from the wizards' wireless that shooting stars would streak through the skies tonight. Let the stars speak to you and listen for your godfather's voice in the heavens.
For the meantime, sleep well and I wish you pleasant dreams, my green-eyed lion.
Harry was at a loss. There was so much this nameless and faceless stranger has done that no words could start to describe. On a reply he sent with the huge owl, only two simple words that spoke volumes were written, carrying all the laughter, the tears and the conversations that have passed him by, that this nameless phantom had given back to him:
On his plate the next morning, nestled between another scroll and his morning croissant was Sirius's bracelet, gleaming in the morning sun, holding on its surface the promise that everything was going to be all right.
And everything did turn out all right. Harry wished then that he could see the special person, who showed him the treasure of the skies the night before and whispered promises not with a tangible voice but with unspoken love that every one of the falling stars sent his way, if only to give a warm embrace.
Smile, for whatever it is that you've lost is now returned to you. With love and kisses.
No one forecasted rain on that day. The clouds just rolled in around five in the afternoon like a fast spreading disease and suddenly it was raining. Lightning smudged the cloudy visage of the horizon, rumbling curses in its wake. Droplets of water returned to the earth and to the lake where they had been taken by the past days' fierce heat. The Forbidden Forest in the distance looked even more menacing in the cradle of darkness. There were no slivers of fugitive light from the clouded heavens to reflect the glistening walls of the castle, bathing in the rain. The grass underneath Harry's back was wet and prickly but he could barely notice as he lay there by the banks of the lake, his arms perpendicular with his body, soaking wet with tears from the sky.
The weather matched his mood to perfection. Only the scary scythe-toting assassins, lurking for the kill, seemed to be missing in the almost perfect picture of gloom, doom and death that the day was.
It was Sirius's birthday. But he wasn't there to celebrate it. Only Harry was there, along with the whispering shadows, to celebrate the day that Sirius would have turned a year older, a year wiser. He was alone with the plaguing memories, slowly killing him from the inside. He was drowning in the rain, letting the drops soak him to the bone until he couldn't feel anything any longer. Harry missed his godfather; he missed the times they would never share, laughter they would never have together. But on top of it all, Harry missed the chance for family. The fates continued to shit on him.
Rain prickled his face, his closed eyes, his wide-open arms. He was shivering but he didn't want to go anywhere. Sirius's bracelet was cold against his wrist, making him aware of his shed and unshed tears, spoken and unspoken pain. It felt like manacles against his skin, but it was comfort. It was the comfort of a prisoner who had spent too much time in prison, suffering alone, and who didn't know anymore how to live in the sunlight.
If he couldn't cry, he'd at least stay here and let the heavens cry for him.
The beautiful stone gazebo rose like a mammoth from the deep to his right, its black stone unfeeling, unseeing the pain that it was overlooking from the black-haired boy near its feet. He had told no one where he was going when he left the crackling hearth of the Gryffindor common room early that afternoon when the first rumbles of thunder manifested themselves. He was alone like he wanted to be, like he always would be. With nothing but the lighting above him to mirror the lack of life in his existence. Yes, there is a stark difference between existing and living. And he was just existing. He had ceased to live a long time ago. When the fireworks ran out on him. Today, lightning was his fireworks display.
Faint footsteps sounded from the gazebo, rising above the din of the falling rain. And Harry sat up, his hair dripping water on his eyes, stinging his ability to see. The back of his head started to grow warm. Someone was watching him. He grabbed his eyeglasses from its resting place, folded on his neckline and slapped them on his face. It was still dark; nothing had changed. The darkness only became more pronounced when he could see clearly. He thought he saw shadows moving stealthily in the gazebo, and he stood up to make sure he was alone, as he had wanted to be.
There was no one in the gazebo. Its crawling vines on wet black stone concealed no one. The tall pillars, vaulted ceiling, moss covered ledges and uneven stone floor held nothing in their silence. He was about to return to his bed of prickly grass and cold rain when he noticed a mug of steaming something on top of a fluffy towel resting in the darker area of the gazebo. Beside them was a scroll, latent on the wet stone as if it were trying to be invisible. Harry walked to the ledge where the items were placed, boosted himself up to sit, grabbed the scroll and opened it:
"The rain falls regardless if you have a coat or none but one thing always holds true, somewhere…someone is willing to get soaked with you…"
Don't feel like you're out in the rain all by yourself because no one suffers alone, Harry. The cold doesn't get warmer by marriage to more and deeper cold. I may not be there to embrace you and offer you what little warmth I have but good memories always do the trick.
I know you miss him but the heavens can't cry for you because the heavens can never truly and fully understand. Crying is not an act of cowardice. I know that for a fact.
Wrap the towel around you as I send you my warm embrace with it.
Harry carefully replaced the unfurled scroll, slid himself to face the tumultuous lake and clasped his hands together, feeling for the first time the burden of having to suffer alone. His unknown friend was right; he didn't have to suffer alone. He didn't have to fear crying. He didn't have to think that lightning was his only form of fireworks. He was being offered one, by the phantom who was willing to share his pain in silence and anonymity—fireworks that went off in color with every rumble, with every explosion, with every word on paper and every silent company.
Wrapping the towel around his shoulders and nursing the steaming mug of hot chocolate, as he discovered after a small sip, he faced the rain in the comfort of the black stone gazebo. Smelling hints of roses, lavender and chocolate in the calm of his shelter, he closed his eyes to taste the droplets of water on his face. He didn't have to soak in the rain anymore.
Gryffindor Quidditch team practice was over for the day. Their chances of winning against Ravenclaw and later on bagging the Quidditch Cup for a second time since Harry was named captain never looked better. So with high spirits, a twinkle in his eyes that had always been there since the appearance of his alleged secret admirer and a slight smile full of recollection about the most recent letters he had shared with the unnamed and unknown phantom, he made his way through the lawns of Hogwarts and through the stone steps leading to the entrance hall.
His teammates left him directly after practice to get some studying done. Their NEWTs were fast approaching and he didn't want to be held responsible if the seventh years in his team flunked the tests.
Pushing the heavy wooden doors into the entrance hall open, Harry stepped into the warm, well-lighted and high-ceilinged chamber of the castle. The doors of the Great Hall to his right remained closed because dinner wasn't for another hour at least. The door to his left leading to the Armor Room, the Gallery and the Ravenclaw dormitories was ajar. The entrance to the dungeons was lying menacingly shut beside it. The Grand Staircase looked inviting as Harry started to anticipate the warmth waiting for him in the Gryffindor common room.
The Gryffindor was much too preoccupied and hasty in his step that he collided with a very solid body on the Staircase. It wasn't a hard collision, but it jolted Harry to attention nonetheless. Draco Malfoy was inscrutably staring back at him; a hint of shock was visible in those stormy gray eyes.
"I'm sorry," Harry mouthed, bracing himself for a sure row with his rival Seeker. But Malfoy just grunted without so much as a word or a flying insult thrown and left, leaving Harry nothing short of shell-shocked at Malfoy's indifference. He had almost forgotten, for a while there, that Malfoy was still around. They'd never gone this long without a row, a detention here and there for curses thrown at each other's backs, but as Harry made his way through the staircase and the bustling corridors of the higher floors, he realized that it had been a long time since they had fought or even regarded each other as alive and existing. Malfoy was careful to avoid Harry's attention since the initial war broke out the previous year.
Harry, for his part, never bothered with Malfoy since the latter was careful to avoid him and his friends. Even after the news of Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy going underground to hide until Voldemort resurfaced broke out, Draco would still go out of his way to avoid even the smallest arguments with him even though Harry had then started openly wondering and interrogating Malfoy why he was still in the school.
So why is he still here? And what's with the attitude?
Not that Harry missed detention and altercations with Malfoy. It was just weird that all of a sudden something he had always believed to be a permanent Hogwarts feature stopped without so much as a breath of warning.
Harry shook his head and continued walking, this time, careful not to run into people. He was already in front of the Fat Lady's portrait when he realized that Draco, who brushed against him in the Grand Staircase and then wordlessly left, smelled faintly of lavender, chocolates and roses.
"Floo Powder." Harry muttered the password, feeling vaguely disoriented. He narrowed his eyes, and dismissed that he was just probably imagining things. Malfoy had completely flown out of his mind by the time he reached his dormitory. A huge bird was just soaring out his open window when he entered the empty room. All the beds were still in order, in their identical sheets of off white covered with a deep red down comforter with lace borders of gold and pillowcases to match. It was obvious that the bed with the orange Chudley Cannons bolster belonged to Ron; the one with the Herbology study aids belonged to Neville; the bed with the handmade Irish quilt was Seamus's; the one that displayed art materials was Dean's and the one that cradled a scroll with a deep green ribbon was Harry's. The letter had just been delivered.
Good luck in your match against Ravenclaw tomorrow. I'll be cheering for you in the crowd. I know it will be a Gryffindor victory; after all, my favorite Seeker will be playing superbly, for sure. Try to maintain your limbs as they are, OK?
Harry grinned and pressed the latest note to his chest. This angel had never yet failed to touch his heart. They'd been corresponding for a couple of months now, through the eagle owl that participated in the very first letter. And with every note he would tuck in the recess of his trunk, Harry realized that he was becoming closer and closer to the soul of his secret admirer. So dangerously close that he felt he was falling, setting off the wick of the personal fireworks in his heart for a phantom he had never seen.
The match was relatively uneventful. Harry knew that only the complacency of sure-winners would think a match uneventful. But it really was. It started out as ordinary. The middle of it became ferocious, but in the end, it was a Gryffindor victory. It wasn't uneventful because they had won as what was expected. But it was uneventful because for once in his life, some other things were occupying his mind other than the sheer adrenaline of flying. The fluttering excitement in the pit of his stomach at the start of the match was not for the match; he was excited because somewhere out there, in the packed stands, his secret admirer was watching and rooting for him. That was how the match began.
Right in the middle of it, flying still took a backseat in his concentration. He found himself scanning the stands not for the Golden Snitch but for the soul he had been conversing with for some time now. But the many faces in the crowd showed him nothing but the anticipation of a good match, the excitement of some superb flying and death-defying stunts in the air—the kind of excitement he didn't share for a change.
But towards the end, when the score was 80 for Gryffindor and 20 for Ravenclaw, things started to get downright disturbing. And it wasn't even because of the flying. Flying was not in Harry's mind from start to finish. It was disturbing because somehow, his eyes always ended up scanning the same area, the area where Draco Malfoy was languidly seated, flanked by noisy students. He wasn't even seated along with the other Slytherins. No—he was there in the presence of the lesser mortals, the Hufflepuffs, and he looked like he was enjoying the match but at the same time, trying to pose a bored face so as not to give himself away.
Downright disturbing. Harry won the match for his team, but he never found the real source of his excitement in the stands. It wasn't as if his secret admirer would have a big neon sign for identity proclamation. And he found something more, something he started to wish he had never found at all: Draco Malfoy's gray eyes burying deep into his green ones just as his hand closed around the fluttering Snitch. Even from fifty feet in the air, he could see those gray eyes studying him and daring him not to look away.
The shower room was packed when he got there. But that wasn't the peculiar thing that greeted him upon his arrival. Ron looked at him for a fleeting moment and then looked away as if ashamed. Seamus, a team Chaser, eyed him mischievously. The rest of his teammates just looked at him with their mouth slightly slack and by the looks on their faces, hoping that he'd either grow horns or slip and fall flat on his face, whichever would happen first. And Harry finally placed it: it was the We-know-something-you-don't-know-and-when-you-find-out-what-would-you-most-probably-do-and-whatever-it-is-we-won't-miss-it-for-the-world look.
"OK, out with it," Harry said, jokingly. He turned to look at Seamus who was stealing a glance into Harry's locker as if the bogeyman was going to come out of it.
"Well—see Harry—there's something in your locker that we think is very important. We saved it, guarded it for you to personally do the honors of seeing what it's all about."
Harry saw a very conspicuous scroll tied with the deep green ribbon along with a small paper bag bearing a huge happy face. "You didn't open it to try to read the letter, did you, Seamus?"
"Hell, no! I wouldn't pry into your life like that. But we can't help but wonder what's inside and who it's from," the sandy-haired Irish boy chuckled, winking for effect. Ron was all ears and all eyes by that time, along with the entire male population of the Gryffindor team that cared to take a shower after the game. And Harry, still a little suspicious, opened the letter first amidst the hushed murmurs of his teammates.
Best game of the season, Harry! That was wicked! I loved the double somersault near the end…that spooked the Ravenclaw Seeker out, alright. What's his name again? Anyway, you know how really obsessed female fans give their favorite male players either a bra or panties after a victorious game? It's all over the World Cup, a rain of underwear, thongs and, hell, even nipple tapes! Hmm, when you won, I checked and I didn't seem to have a single bra or panties on me. So whatever it is in the bag would have to do. Harharhar!
Congratulations, my lion. You deserve the win!
Harry snorted and laughed a little too loudly that sent electric currents of suspense for the entire team, ogling their heads to see Harry open the package. Breaking the seal of the paper bag, Harry opened the package and shook out the article inside.
It was a pair of black silk boxers.
Seamus's mouth positively dropped open and even Ron whimpered in shock. But the rest of the team just hooted and catcalled. "Your secret admirer is a guy?!" Ron was about to give in to aneurysm, but Harry just tuned him out; a broad smile was on his lips. He didn't mind. He'd had a fair share of the ladies. And he didn't find in their company what he had always wanted. This sweet guy though seemed to exude truckloads of it.
He didn't mind.
He didn't mind at all.
He was so amused and quite flattered by the 'gift' that he was able to successfully tune out Ron's and Hermione's mixed reactions to a minimum while they walked back to the castle.
In the bushes, Draco was smiling, too. Everything was going according to plan.
Distant tolling of the clock tower filled the nearly empty Gryffindor common room. And Harry momentarily looked up from the book he was reviewing for the night to see the faces of the others in the room who were still devouring books by the volumes in preparation for the coming fifth years' OWLs and the seventh years' NEWTs. Harry knew he should be studying for the test but his mind liked to wander now and then to the still unknown identity of his admirer.
The hearth displayed a blazing fire, sending warmth to his skin, filling his ears with the silent roar of the tongues of flame. Closing his book with a slight sigh, Harry leaned his head on the headrest of the armchair he hogged for the night and shut his eyes. He couldn't stop thinking about the mysterious identity of the person who had never yet failed to make him smile. Even though there were so many things that seemed suspicious, many things that seemed out of place, even though there were so many things he was yet to know about the puzzling letter-writer, he couldn't help but feel light-headed just merely thinking about his nameless angel.
He folded his legs in front of him and hugged his knees close to his chest. It had all started like a candle in his soul. The words on parchment awoke in him a flickering fire he thought had died along with Sirius, along with the desertion of every person he dared to love and lose, along with the war that threatened him with death with every breath he took. But no, the wet wick of the candle ignited, grew and fed with every word they had ever shared on paper, with every conversation they ever had and never had in the past. Is it possible to fall in love with someone you've never met? Someone whose voice you've never heard? Harry hung his head backwards, the long locks of his black hair dangling off the back of the stuffed armchair. His secret admirer always avoided the issue of his identity, of anything that might give Harry a solid picture of what his angel was like. And Harry knew better than to broach the topic. Harry's secret admirer was also extra careful in treading waters and avoiding any tricks Harry could think of to know his identity. Whatever he knew of his secret admirer, though, no matter how meager, was enough to set fireworks in his heart, enough to bring back the person he used to be before life became too complicated.
I want to hear his voice. I want to hear what he sounds like…
Like lightning, Harry snapped back to attention, tore the blank end of the parchment that was nestled between the pages of the book he was meaning to review, dipped quill to ink and began to write before he lost his urge.
I want to hear your voice. I want to hear you laugh. I wish I could hear you utter a joke. I wish I could hear you call my name. I've never asked too much from you, have I? I've never pushed you to reveal yourself to me because you told me you still weren't ready. But please give me this. Please let me hear your voice. At least, give me something I can nurture in my dreams… when I dream of you…
Harry signed his initials and folded the parchment. It was now or never to have the chance to have something of the person who had brought him back so much. He kicked his legs from underneath him and stood up to go to the owlery to send the letter. He would study later when he had gotten this out of his system.
The owlery was dim save for a few fingers of moonlight streaming in though the small round windows high in the ceiling, bathing the owls of different colors and kinds in moonlight. Harry's footsteps were light against the floor, scattered with hay, decomposing leaves and rat bones. His glasses slipped a notch on his nose bridge, and he pushed them up hastily. Beads of sweat started to form on his forehead. Wiping them away, he looked up to the beams high in the ceiling where some of the birds were listlessly perched. Hoots, once in a while, intruded upon the silence of the high-ceilinged bird shelter.
The bird he was looking for was asleep in the third from the lowest beam, its feathers slightly ruffled and drab gray in the paleness of the moonlight. Retrieving a tall pole resting in the very corner of the room, Harry bit the parchment he was meaning to send between his lips. He knew it was ungodly to disturb the bird for a delivery but he knew that if he failed to send the letter tonight, he would never have the guts again to send it.
Carefully, he raised the pole to poke the bird from its perch. He pursed his lips in slight shame when the owl shrieked in irritation at having been roused. But the owl nonetheless soared through the air to clamber up a stone fixture that was level with Harry.
"I'm sorry for disturbing you. But I really need you to send this. Please make sure that the person who's been asking you to deliver the scrolls with the deep green ribbons gets this. You know where to find him, right?"
The owl hooted softly, ruffling its feathers to stick out the right way, raised his leg to have Harry secure the slip of parchment to its leg and with a departing hoot, left through the nearest circular window. With a deep breath, Harry closed his eyes to try to calm the furious beating of his heart. He wouldn't know if it was a mistake that he sent that letter probably until much later. What he knew though was the ecstatic feeling of having let his present obsession known.
Because he was obsessed. He was so obsessed with wanting to know more of the person who, for his part, seemed to know so much about Harry.
He didn't know just how deep the gnawing in the pit of his stomach went. He didn't know just how much he had opened himself up to the beautiful person he didn't know. It was true that he had bitten off, and tried to swallow more than he could chew on the subject of love. He had loved so many people, so deeply, too, and each one always left him scarred. But this time around, there was this feeling of thoughtless surrender. He wanted fireworks; and the mysterious being had given it to him.
Am I falling in love with this secret admirer?
The moon cast shadows on the floor, on his red sweatshirt, soaking everything with ethereal light. Patches of light and darkness coexisted in the room, just as certainty and doubt mixed themselves into a troubling brew in Harry's mind. He was bathed in moonlight in one moment but enshrouded in darkness the next; patches, areas, fingers of both light and shadows danced in the room as dust swirled in the air around him, thick and tangible with the smell of life and death, from the cobwebs in the ceiling to the droppings on the floor. He wanted to stay for a few more minutes though he wasn't sure if a reply would come. It could come tomorrow, the day after that or probably never, but he wanted to wait in the room where the light and the shadows intertwine, where he could be doubtful and yet certain of what he was feeling.
A throat was cleared, and Harry looked up from his silent musings to find Draco Malfoy leaning casually by the trapdoor into the owlery. His blonde hair was hastily slicked back but there were blonde locks falling freely to curtain his eyes and kiss his eyelashes. Even in the dark, his stormy eyes were glowing and catching in pale moonlight to exude an air of mystery and quiet intensity. "Malfoy." Harry regarded the other boy without a nod, not even a slight jerk of the chin in Draco's direction.
"Potter," Draco muttered back, his voice deep and emotionless. With swift movement, Draco walked to where Harry was frozen in place. In his hands was a neatly folded piece of parchment sealed with dark green wax. The newcomer looked up, and issued two short but shrill whistles. A tawny owl with piercing red-orange eyes spread its wings from the highest beam and soared though the air, its powerful wings intruding into the fingers of light, covering them in partial shadow.
Harry was motionless as Draco held out the letter to the owl. The sleeves of his V-necked shirt tightened over Draco's biceps as he held out the letter, which the owl took with its beak. The owl didn't need instructions, for after it took the letter with its beak, it spread its wings again to soar out into the night. Harry averted his eyes away from his unexpected companion and bit his lower lip in tension. Although it was a welcome change on Harry's part that Draco just seemed to have forgotten to hate him and mock him over the past few months, it was debilitating to see that a deeper tension, far more uncomfortable, like indifferent silence had taken the place of overt hostility.
Draco just stayed for a couple more minutes, looking out into the night before picking up his feet and making his way back to the trapdoor. Harry was still stationary in the middle of the room, unsure of how to strike up even the most pretentious of chatter. "Why are you still here, Malfoy?" It was out before Harry could realize what he had just said.
And the blonde stopped in mid-stride. "I was just leaving," he snapped the reply.
"No, I meant why are you still here at Hogwarts? Your parents have gone into hiding. Most of the Slytherins have fled in fear of the looming war and the fact that Hogwarts would be the first to go once war broke out again. So why are you still here?"
"For the same reason that you're here, Potter."
"Is that so?"
"I am here because I want to be here. And I don't have anything to explain to you," Draco exclaimed again, killing the rising tension of a brewing squabble even before it could take hold.
Harry then remembered the day that Draco collided with him in the Grand Staircase. The latter smelled faintly of a scent Harry was sure he had smelled before. He just couldn't place where. And in the dimness of the owlery, in the tangible air reeking of cobwebs, bird entrails and rat remains, a new smell started to overpower him, fighting its way into his senses, overwhelming him momentarily.
Chocolates, lavender and roses.
"What cologne do you wear?" Seemed like it was a night of stupid and stupider questions. The next Harry would ask if Malfoy would care to say would be the brand of toothpaste the latter used.
Gryffindor intellect, Harry… Gryffindor tact and panache.
Draco's back was turned to Harry but he stopped in the middle of using muscle to lift up the trapdoor. Harry was still mentally kicking himself.
"Icy Inferno." And with that Malfoy slid down the trapdoor and was gone. The trapdoor precariously wobbled in its hinges for a moment before swinging shut with a loud, gut shaking thud that agitated all of the birds, disturbing the straight lines of light though the circular windows with eerie and screeching shadows.
Studying was the pits. Harry just couldn't muster up the focus and the drive to keep his mind to the topic at hand, and to keep it from straying to the topic of a certain nameless, faceless stranger whose boxers were resting in the recesses of Harry's trunk along with his countless scrolls filled with pieces of a deep soul. He shouldn't expect to pass the NEWTs if he couldn't keep his mind to studying and learning.
The fire in the hearth had long since died. But the glowing embers were still in the fireplace, crackling once in a while as a call for reawakening. He was alone in the common room, but still horribly unappreciative of the chance to get some studying done.
Somehow, he couldn't focus on charms and wand flicks, potions ingredients and properties, cross-species transformations and Mediterranean water plants. He was too fidgety to think about anything at all.
Tapping sounded not too far away and Harry jumped to his feet; a brilliant smile was already on his lips. The eagle owl was fighting to stay airborne outside the tall bay windows of the common room. He unclasped the latch and the bird quickly dropped a velvet box in his open palm before soaring out into the night again, probably to go to the owlery to rest again.
A jewelry box? It was of pure black velvet and smaller than the palm of Harry's hand. With gritted teeth, he flipped the cover open. A small bubble formed on its surface, bigger and bigger until it was the size of a golf ball and then it popped off the surface and floated up to the level of Harry's forehead. He should be scared that it could be a trap of some sort but he wasn't. The orb started to glow.
"Hi. This is really scary. But wish granted. I hope to Merlin that the charm wouldn't backfire, though. How have you been? Don't worry about me because I'm cool. Thanks for the letter, but I have to admit it took me a good ten minutes to snap out of the shock to do this. I bet you were betting I would send your letter back with a flat out 'No.' But here I am, Harry, talking to you and letting you hear my voice…"
And Harry laughed, like chimes beating against each other in the wind. His skin had started tingling because of joy. He finally had a voice. A very deep, mellifluous baritone with a very slight drawl, but a good natured tinkle, like a fork tapping against the finest crystal goblet. It was somewhat familiar like he had already heard it singing to him or telling him a joke once, in a time and place he couldn't name.
"… So what am I going to talk about? Hmm, how about if I play you some music? This is a recorder. I've been practicing on it, but I'm not yet an expert. Listen to this…"
A soft wind instrument started playing, filling the empty common room with notes and melodies, with musical breaths and his humming in time with the song being played out by his secret admirer. Slipping to a secret world, Harry closed his eyes and let himself be flown to great heights and brought to wonderful depths by the low and quite mournful hum of the recorder. He was falling. He was falling faster than he could stop himself.
"… Goodnight to you, my Gryffindor lion. I wish you pleasant dreams. Now you can dream of me, while I dream of you. Goodnight…"
"Harry?" The lighted orb sank to the velvet bed and like a normal bubble in the bath, popped, sending the room into darkness and silence again. Hermione was standing by the staircase to the dorms, looking at him quizzically. "What was that? I thought there was someone else here. Someone else was speaking and it didn't sound like you," Hermione said. She dropped the thick volumes in her arms on the table, messed up with Harry's stuff.
"That wasn't me. It was, umm, this charmed object and it—"
"Your secret admirer, right? You don't have to be secretive. I know I wasn't the eager beaver about this whole secret admirer thing in the beginning but hey—if you're happy and you don't think anything is amiss—who am I to ruin everything?"
Harry pocketed the velvet jewelry box with a sheepish look on his face. "It's all ass-crazy, Hermione. I'm fucked up. I'm deluded. I'm blinded by the radiance of the fireworks exploding in my sky. I don't know what's wrong with me. But every time he writes, every time he sends me something, I just feel so light inside. I just feel woozy like I've been drinking. And… and I just feel like I'm floating, and I'm falling and I'm happy. I'm happy that he's around. I'm scared. I'm dead scared," Harry babbled.
"You're falling in love with him, aren't you?"
Harry looked at him, horrified and yet obviously guilty of the crime. "I don't know," he replied. "Is that even possible? Is it possible to fall in love with someone I've never seen before, someone I've never met? Is it possible to fall for someone whose eyes I've never looked into, whose heartbeat I've never heard? I know that I'm happy whenever I see his words on paper, his thoughts and emotions written in ink. I feel like, with every letter, I fall dangerously close to giving my soul to have him whisper in my ear the words I've only read. Whenever I walk the halls, I always imagine he walked the same path just seconds before I did. I always imagine that the walls I let my fingers graze have known the feel of his fingers, and if only—through them—I can feel him, too. Sometimes I think he might not be real, that I just conjured him up because I miss the feeling of being able to feel. But whenever I look at the stars and the moon, I imagine him looking at the same stars, at the same moon, and I know he's real. Is it possible, Hermione, to fall for someone who has always been there but you've never really seen, the way he should be seen and appreciated and loved?"
Hermione set the book she was poised to read on the table and sighed. She looked at Harry with a sympathetic smile and not without worry in her eyes. "You are one of the most wonderful people I know. Both of us know you've dealt with, are dealing with and will be dealing with a lot in your life. Life is transitory and we won't be here for long especially with the brewing war. And because life is short, it shouldn't be wasted on trying to make sense of what is inherently nonsensical. Love is not always understood. I've come to learn that. I've concluded that love is not like one of McGonagall's research assignments that we can look up in the indices of books; love is not made sense of, thought about—it is felt. Don't think of love in terms of what is possible and what is not because love works in arcane ways, making the impossible possible, that's why it's not always understood.
"Someone can spend the better part of seven years with a best friend and realize only much later that she's in fact in love with this person and someone, who could very well have anyone he wanted, can find himself in love with someone he has never met, whose face he has never seen." With this Hermione blushed. "I know I was the suspicious mother hen when all of this blew open, but seeing you now—smiling and walking around with a telltale twinkle in your eye, I know that you're happy like you haven't been for a very long time. You deserve the fireworks, Harry. And there's nothing wrong with letting yourself fall. Fall if you must; fall if that is what feels natural; fall if that makes you happy."
"But I don't want to get hurt again, Hermione. What if he turns out to be a fluke? What if you were right after all? What if I realize that I don't really love him but I'm just infatuated with the fireworks that he makes me see? That would hurt so much," asked Harry. His eyes were glistening now; unshed fear and uncertainty flashed in his emerald eyes.
"Then just relish the transitory glimpse you had of eternity and bask in the joy that you had something so beautiful for a moment while some never even had the chance," Hermione advised. "Love is not without pain. But think: when your feelings suddenly make a complete turnaround on you, you're not the only one who's going to get hurt this time. You're going to hurt him, too. Now, can you handle that?"
NEWTs were finally over. And students started spilling out into the lawns faster than the lawns could prepare for their stampeding feet. Harry and his friends were among the first people to escape the castle to go to the Quidditch pitch to calm frazzled nerves, dried up brains and overworked spirits. Harry found the Quidditch pitch mercifully empty when he and his friends got there. They started a game of Quidditch: three-on-three until they were too tired to carry their asses to the stands. They watched the sun dip lower and lower in the horizon as they talked about the nasty tests they'd just had and the upcoming Graduation Ball for the seventh years on the night before the graduation ceremonies.
When Harry was asked whom he was going to take to the dance, Harry just snickered and replied that he hadn't really thought about it. After all, for him, it was sheer luck already that he lived long enough for the occasion. But while looking at the red-orange hues exploding in the horizon, he thought about his secret admirer again. He knew who it was he wanted to take, but he didn't want to pressure the latter to go to the dance with him if he wasn't ready yet to reveal his identity to Harry.
He remembered the night he confessed to Hermione that he was falling in love with his secret admirer. Harry was made to swear that Hermione would be the first to know should his secret admirer ask him out or something. And in turn, he made Hermione promise not to tell Ron yet because, for sure, the redhead Gryffindor would blow the roof.
The group waited until night had fallen. They spent the hours in waiting, singing and joking among themselves about hilarious NEWTs experiences. They laughed and talked until they could barely see the ends of their noses in oily darkness. But they were just rising to dust off their cast off uniforms when a loud explosion sounded from the other end of the pitch, and they froze, dreading that war had started again.
But no one dropped dead. A tiny flicker of light flew toward the heavens and later on exploded in sparkles, cascading like water from a fountain nozzle, blossoming as beautiful as roses from their buds. Another explosion rocked the pitch and soon after another explosion scattered color and glitter in the almost black sky. It was breathtaking.
There were blues, purples, dazzling whites and electric greens. One after the other, they exploded in various states of blossoming like flowers thrown to the carpet of stars and darkness. Some went off quickly, scattering light and streaks of blinding color and ending as quickly as they had begun. Some started like sparks and later on flung tongues of violent fire and light to far reaching areas of the night sky, seemingly never ending in their development, raining sparkles over the otherwise dark visage of heaven. Some others whizzed past, tracing outlines and patterns in the sky, dancing to the beat of the universe high above—twisting and intertwining and lasting just as long as the awestruck spectators kept their eyes to the show.
And then darkness; they thought it was over. Until another flickering light shot up to the sky and exploded into letters, burning letters—into words, scorching words embedding the night sky with a fervent request.
I LOVE YOU HARRY WILL YOU GO TO THE BALL WITH ME?
And he let himself fall. He plunged to the deepest recesses of his heart's desire. "Yes." He whispered to the night sky, burning with his name.
I will meet you in the lakeside gazebo at ten o'clock. I know that you know where it is. I will wait for you and pray that you will show up.
Of course I'll show up, silly. I have been waiting for you to ask me actually. How will I know it's you, then?
You will know, Harry. Because you know me. But the question is: Will you accept me? Would you be able to reconcile the me you thought you knew and the me I've reintroduced to you?
I will be there.
It took Harry and Hermione four hours, fifteen stores, countless outfits and incalculable nerve pops to find the perfect outfit for Harry for the Graduation Ball when he and his secret admirer would meet after some four months of correspondence. It was Hermione who chose the outfit for her friend: simple, understated but very, very sexy. After all, it was for The Ball of All Balls, The Ultimate Dance to lead all Dances ever attended by humankind. Dumbledore told them over breakfast two days before the dance with a mischievous glint in his blue eyes that there would be no holds barred for the Dance Event of the season. The students could wear anything they wanted to wear, take anyone they wanted, dance to any tune they preferred and party until dawn however they wanted. Excitedly, the students started planning every aspect of the dance: what they would wear, who they would be taking and other itsy-bitsy details. And Hermione then proposed the then brilliant idea to go raid the Hogsmeade shops for the ideal threads.
Hermione slammed the idea to wear dress robes. She said it just wouldn't feel right for the Social Event of the Season. And so Harry was forced by Hermione's unyielding persistence to wear Muggle clothes for the occasion.
"How do I look? I look like shit," Harry answered the question himself, self-consciously tugging at the hem of his top, and shifting uneasily on the balls of his feet. He looked at Hermione gauchely, feeling as if he were naked all of a sudden, uncertainty and shame partially clouding his green eyes.
"No, Harry, you look absolutely mouth-watering," Hermione assured him with a wink.
She guided him to do a 360-degree turn for her to get a good glimpse of every angle and positively clapped and shrieked in her own genius at having assembled the ravishing being before her. "Yup, you're gorgeous, Harry. He won't be able to keep his hands to himself for long."
The shirt felt like it was too short, revealing too much skin. The deep green, almost black, color of the polo shirt brought out the color of his eyes. It was in the kind of magical fabric that shimmered in the light, didn't crease, tightened in all the right places, but breathed like cotton. The hem merely brushed the very first hip point, barely meeting his pants that rode his hips lower than what was comfortable. The shirt was tight over his abdomen, hugging his lean and firmly muscled chest and four-pack. The neckline wasn't a source of comfort either with the first four buttons unclasped and showing his smooth and lightly tanned chest and neck. His forearms up to his elbows weren't spared either as the sleeves of his shirt were folded up to just above his elbows. Sirius's silver bracelet was clasped around his wrist—the only sign that he was still the old Harry in spite of the Ken-doll clothes straight out of some couture line sent from hell. The pants, if it was possible, were even more unbelievable than the horrifying shirt. They was riding so low on Harry's hip; he would swear it was concealing his knees but not his balls. Tight denim was cutting the circulation of blood to his lower appendages, revealing the firmness of his thighs, and it was riding up in the crotch a little bit, too. The shoes were the only consolation, black leather Togs with matching shoelaces.
The hair was also tamed, for a change. It was tousled, finger-raked and shimmering because of the potion that Hermione, herself, had concocted to tame Harry's bonnet. It spoke of being sexy, inviting and eager to have fingers comb through it. Even Harry's eyes were sparkling because of contacts, making his face more accessible to be ravaged. The already gorgeous features of Harry like his lips, his powerful chin and his smile became even more emphasized because of his earnestness, simplicity and cluelessness about exactly how gorgeous he was.
"I look really, really stupid, Hermione. Can't I just go back upstairs and change into something more comfortable?"
"Absolutely not! You look awesome. Your secret admirer should definitely see you like this," Hermione sternly commented.
And Harry was persuaded to finally go to the dance without altering his get-up after a lot of cajoling from Hermione.
The Great Hall was transformed when Harry and Hermione got there. Ron, who was Hermione's date for the night, was nowhere to be found for the time being. He could still be lounging about in the communal bathroom and joking around with the guys. Harry would have loved to stay, too, but Hermione just pulled him from the boys' dorms to help him prepare, aside from the fact that he was not much fun because of his frazzled nerves.
Only three more hours, and I'm finally going to see him! Harry could barely contain himself with excitement.
Every single seventh year student turned up for the Ball, and all were dressed to kill—some in conventional dress robes, some others in snappy Muggle outfits and few in wacky out-of-this-world clothes, and everyone of them looked just about ready to blow the house down and party until the break of dawn. No one seemed to be looking forward to the graduation ceremonies at sundown the next day; everything just seemed to begin and end with this night. The thick pillars of the Hall displayed roaring blue fires and twinkling orbs for ambience. The house tables were gone to be replaced by smaller round tables, scattered about that could seat twelve people. In the very heart of the Hall, stood a platform, blinking with changing lights. Loud music was playing and filling every conceivable nook and cranny, seemingly blaring from the very walls and floors of the place. The bewitched sky presented exploding fireworks now and then that sent the students in spasms of awe.
Harry couldn't remember how they were seated, how the Headmaster welcomed all of them, how and what they all ate, who he danced with and to what tune. Everything was just automated. He had to be in the Ball for show. He wanted to let the people think he was having fun, and maybe he would have fun if he weren't thinking about someone who was going to be waiting for him in the lakeside gazebo at ten o'clock. He didn't wear a watch but he set his wand in the back pocket of his pants to start vibrating at nine-thirty so he could blow the joint and go to where he was really wanted.
He remembered talking to Susan Bones, Gladys Bridges of Slytherin whom he dated for a short time a while back, Frances Morrison of Ravenclaw, Cheska Staunton also from Ravenclaw, fellow Gryffindor Cecille Travers, Joy Cristal of Slytherin and even Tristan Fielding, the Ravenclaw Seeker. He also remembered seeing Pansy Parkinson, though without Vincent Crabbe who was her date in the Yule Ball of last year, Lavender Brown, Padma Patil and Hannah Abbott.
He didn't remember seeing Draco Malfoy in the festivities though. But of course, it wasn't as if that bothered him.
It was close to ten o'clock and Harry was motionlessly waiting for his secret admirer in the gazebo. The lake in front of him was calm; the mountains in the distance were clearly outlined against the deep blue sky, glowing in parts kissed by the full moon's light. It was a night unlike that one of many months ago when he had found a mug of steaming chocolate and a fluffy towel in this very same place. He wasn't mourning, for one thing.
Bright green moss peeked at him from the crevasses of the gazebo's stone ledge, reflected starkly by the flickering light from the glowing orbs overhead, dancing so much like the fairies that swirled about him that beautiful afternoon after Potions. Rose petals were scattered on the floor again, reminding him of the very first time he was introduced to the stranger he was about to meet. And the air was thick with the smell of lavender, chocolates and roses. All in all, a seeming re-creation of everything that made Harry gradually fall in love. All was going to culminate in one night. This fateful night.
His wand softly buzzed in the back pocket of his trousers. Ten o'clock, the hour had come. Harry was still facing the lake, afraid of what he might find should he dare turn his head for a glimpse of his secret admirer. With a thundering heart, he placed his hands firmly on the ledge to steady himself while he waited for the other boy's arrival. After a while, his back started to grow warm. He knew then that someone was watching him, but he didn't want to turn—too afraid to see for himself.
But he had to know. He slowly turned around, with his eyes closed, to have his first glance of the person whose soul he had come to love. Slowly, he opened his eyes to have a first sight and his breath furiously caught in his throat as if he'd been punched.
In front of him stood Draco Malfoy.
"You." It wasn't a question. It was more like a dare, a challenge. I'm dreaming. I'm dreaming—I'm having a nightmare and I'm going to wake up soon…
"Me," Draco murmured back, in a voice so soft—in a voice that didn't sound like the Draco that Harry used to know at all.
"You're my secret admirer?" And Draco looked away, cheeks slightly flaming.
"This is a joke, right?"
It was unbelievable. Harry could feel his breaths coming in short ragged gasps. Something had begun to sting at the back of his eyeballs. Draco cast his eyes to his shoes, looking humiliated at Harry's reaction.
"I wish it was. But it's not," Draco answered. It was the same voice that spoke to him through the bubble in the jewelry box. And yet it was a different voice. It was the voice of someone whose speech he had heard before but never really felt.
"You… You lied to me," was what slipped from Harry's mouth. He couldn't believe the feeling of betrayal in his bones. It was asphyxiating him from the inside. "Whose bright idea was this? Your father's or Voldemort's? God, I can't believe I was thick enough to fall for this!" There was boiling anger now, anger for himself for being weak enough to fall for the hoax.
But he was rooted to the spot. He couldn't leave. His legs had turned to lead, feeling the weight of his pain that the angel he had fallen for was all a lie. Draco took another step closer to him. "So where's the Portkey? Is this entire gazebo some sort of vehicle to transport me to the lair of your master?"
If only Draco would talk back: spew sarcasm, laugh mockingly, try to defend himself… anything. But there was silence. Only his gray eyes betrayed the pain inside. Slowly, he pulled the sleeves of his turtleneck up to his elbows and showed Harry the crook between his upper and lower arms, behind the elbow. They were bare. There was no Mark. "There's no Portkey. This isn't a trap. I'm not a Death Eater. But you're right in one thing: this is a mistake. I never should have… but it's just that…"
The shock was too much that even Harry had lost the voice to accuse. "Is your father—" Harry began, wanting to ask if Draco was being used as some kind of Imperiused pawn.
But Draco cut him off, his voice rising above the din of the deafening silence, "I am not my father, Harry. I'm nothing like him. I did this not because anyone else compelled me to. I did this because I wanted to. But clearly, it was a mistake. I guess I just hoped too much. I hoped too much that you would be able to change your perspective of me overnight, with a snap of a finger. I hoped too much that you would be able to see me in a new light, with a new face, in a way you'd never taken the time to see me before. But I'm wrong, aren't I? To you, this is nothing more than a ploy, a sick game. No matter what I do, I'm never going to be somebody else to you other than what I've always been."
This was the person who showed him the shooting stars during the time he was so down. This was the person who offered him a towel in the rain. This was the person who gave him a shower of roses during the time of threatening death. This was the person who showed him fireworks. Gave him magic. Brought back himself that was once lost. And yet this was also Draco Malfoy. How big a chasm was it exactly between Draco Malfoy and the angel in the scrolls?
"Why did you stay?" Harry quietly asked again. Draco looked up and through his curtain of blonde hair, he buried his gray eyes into Harry's green ones.
"I stayed because I wanted to. And I wanted to because of you."
"Why should I believe you?"
"Because I'm simply here in front of you, free of all pretenses, free of all the masks I've always worn in your presence. I'm simply here. I've always been here. But you've never seen me. I'm always the one standing in the shadows. I'm always the one beside you in the rain while you walk through it with your eyes closed. I'm always going to be the person who would light the fireworks towards the sky, where they would never illuminate me. I'm always going to be the spectator cheering too softy in the roaring crowd, too small to be seen from the air," the Slytherin whispered. Harry turned around to face the lake again, waiting for more from Draco.
"I didn't lie to you, Harry. I just thought you wouldn't believe my sincerity if you knew who I was. And see… I was right."
"How did you find Sirius's bracelet?" Harry hastily wiped tear tracks from his cheeks. He didn't want Draco to see him crying.
"I searched. I skipped Potions. I prowled around the forest, swallowed my fear just so I could find it. I knew it was important for you. I stayed in the forest until about past dinner. There were instances I just wanted to give up the search and run with my tail between my legs, but I couldn't. And I finally found it. And I returned it to you."
Harry was softly sobbing now.
"I know you have misgivings over this. And you're only staying around because—well, because you're the type to always do the right thing. But you don't have to. I've had my fair share of rejection and adequate practice at being rejected by Harry Potter that I'm quite used to it by now. You don't have to stay. You don't have to feel bad about how everything turned to shit so quickly," said Draco. He fought the breaking of his voice.
"I don't want to go. Now that I'm finally with the person I've always dreamed I'd find, I'm not going anywhere," Harry replied. "He's here, the person who'd shown me magic, and I'm unwrapping the package to find the soul inside. But of course, if you want me to go—" The Gryffindor left the sentence unfinished, wishing he didn't insult Draco too much that the latter would want him to leave.
"No… I don't." Draco walked to stand beside Harry, his hands resting on the ledge beside Harry's
They stayed there, silent and unspeaking with the heavens, the water and the earth in their view. Tomorrow, they would have to formally say goodbye to all of these. How long they stayed like that, no one could possibly tell, not even both of them. But they stood there, side by side, quietly relishing the conversation they weren't having.
"You know," Harry spoke first. "It's only now that I realize that maybe I've always known that it was you. I smelled your cologne that day in the library and here, during the rain… Maybe I've always known…"
"Hmm, And here I thought you've been smelling my boxers," Draco joked, a wry smile on his lips. Harry grinned too, in spite of himself.
"And your voice. It's only now that I realize I've always known your voice. But I've never really heard you speaking."
Suddenly, fireworks erupted in the heavens, bathing the lake in color and brightness. The Ball must be over by now. The original plan to return to the dance as a pair didn't materialize. Harry and Draco just stared at the heavenly apparition, eyes bright and communicating more than their words or their voices ever had. Greens and blues reflected on Draco's hair as Harry stared at him. Inferno blossomed in the sky while they watched side by side, illuminated by the radiance of the celebratory fireworks. "How does it feel to be watching the fireworks instead of setting them off?" Harry asked.
"Feels good. How does it feel to be setting off the fireworks and not merely watching them?"
Harry looked at him quizzically and then at the sky. "I didn't tell you to look there," Draco whispered. His eyes were glowing in a way that Harry had never remembered—had never imagined—it could.
Carefully, Harry unclasped the bracelet wrapped around his wrist and pooled it in the middle of his palm. While the fireworks commenced overhead, Harry took Draco's hand and gently poured the band from his palm onto the other boy's. Draco quizzically stared at the Gryffindor.
"I want you to keep it. I don't need it anymore."
The fireworks blazed, whistling and popping in the silence of the night while the two kept watch, gripping each other's hand like a buoy.