This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This little ficlet was written years ago, and it's dedicated to everyone at the Armchair, especially Aja and Plumeria (thank you both for betaing!). Also to Aidan Lynch, who sneezes as much as Draco does when the lawn has been mown.
This was something not many people knew about Draco Malfoy: He climbed trees.
It was not a pastime he chose to tell anyone about, or let anyone see. But whenever he had the chance, whenever he could get away from company, he climbed trees.
He had done it for as long as he could remember. In every place where he had stayed for longer than a few days, he had found a favourite spot with a favourite tree to climb. There were two basic requirements: The tree had to offer a challenge. And it had to allow him to watch without being seen.
The watching without being seen had gradually become the main point of the tree climbing. In the beginning, the important thing had been the climbing itself: finding the right branches to step on, having your fingers find the right grip. The challenge of climbing different types of trees. And the tiredness of hands and arms and thighs, the itchy stickiness of fragrant resin on your fingers, the scratches and cuts and grazes on exposed skin when you miscalculated, lost your footing and fell down through the branches - all this made up an essential part of Draco's childhood. Some of his memories were inextricably bound up with the fragrance of bark and resin or crushed leaves, or the salty iron taste of a bitten tongue, or the hot tingle of cuts being healed with a spell.
At Hogwarts, he had climbed different trees on the grounds - chestnut trees and elms and maples - and he had had a series of favourite spots over the years. The latest one had lasted for two years - a clump of trees near the lake, its shade falling over soft, mossy turf, its branches offering the perfect outlook. You could see most of the grounds from there.
He had watched a succession of little dramas being enacted below. He had seen Parvati Patil be kissed by a tall, good-looking and rather arrogant Ravenclaw boy. He had seen Hermione Granger come running blindly from the castle and slump down at the foot of the very tree where he sat, crying uncontrollably for what seemed like aeons of time, sobbing and sniffling, wiping her face and nose with her hands and her hands in the grass since she had no handkerchief, sloppy, unaesthetically-minded Mudblood that she was. He had seen a unicorn foal emerge hesitantly from the Forest, shimmering gold through the dusk, slowly lifting its shining hooves high as if there had been snow on the ground and it didn't like the cold. It had turned abruptly and disappeared into the Forest as the shrill voices of some third-year girls had cut through the still evening. He had seen Potter and the Weasel walk along the lake, talking gravely and then suddenly bursting into laughter that rang among the trees, rippling the stillness. He had sat there late one night by the end of the summer term last year, bored by the various illicit parties going on in the Common Rooms, and seen a couple of very drunk Hufflepuff boys come down from the castle, staggering and stumbling in the general direction of the greenhouses to be sick in the high grass.
He had also seen Potter walk aimlessly through the grounds on his own, going randomly this way and that like a dog following irresistible scents, frowning at some unknown problem, stopping by the lake to throw rocks, trying to make them skip.
Draco had watched. He had watched the rocks hit the water. He had watched Potter lower his hand and stand immobile by the shoreline, following the endless dance of the waves with his eyes, listening to the clatter of stones being stirred by the water.
The clump of trees was a good place to watch things from, and it was a good place to think. Especially when it came to things he wanted to think about in peace, without having to worry about his thoughts or reactions being reflected in his face. Draco thought about Potter a great deal, and it was surely a very bad sign that he found everything to do with Potter so unsettling.
This was also a good place to come if you needed to cry. Draco hardly ever cried, but it had happened a few times lately, and that was unsettling, too. As was the fact that he had begun to bite his nails. It was something he had never done before, but now he did it without knowing, and when he looked down on his long, slender hands and saw his nails chewed down into the flesh, he winced. He hated it like he hated any kind of imperfection.
And deep down he knew that both these things were connected with Potter, too.
Draco climbed the big maple tree absent-mindedly, having climbed it far too many times for it to be any kind of challenge any more. It was a sign of the focus switch, from climbing to watching, that he had had the same favourite spot for two years. Earlier, he had changed locations frequently - when he had learned all the little tricks and twists and peculiarities of a particular tree, he went on to another. But this one he could have climbed in his sleep. You had to jump up, get a knee up on the thick lower branch and pull yourself up to standing, a foot on the next branch, shift your grip and catch the smaller one just above your head to steady you while your feet found that one and that one. Shift your grip again, turn, and then you were up on that particular, slightly bent branch where you could sit reasonably comfortably, well hidden but still with a good view, curtained by trembling leaves, light playing over your face, shadows soothing your eyes.
The lawns had been mown that day, and Draco inhaled the sweet smell deeply, although he knew it was going to make him sneeze. It did. He sneezed violently five, six, eight, twelve... sixteen times in a row, and nearly fell off the branch. He clung to twigs and branches like a monkey until the sneezing fit stopped. Exhausted, he leant back against the trunk, only to start as he glanced down and saw an upturned face.
"What are you doing up there, Malfoy? Playing hide-and-seek? Don't you think you're a bit… over age? And - not too clever of you try to hide outdoors if you have hay fever, is it?"
Draco swallowed surprise, embarrassment, and irritation, and glared down at Potter who looked annoyingly cheerful, grinning up through the branches.
"What are you doing, Potter, sneaking around under trees?"
"I'm not sneaking. You are."
Annoyingly cheerful. And... well, to be honest, annoyingly good looking, wind ruffling the black hair, eyes glittering, the broad grin contagious. Draco found himself reluctantly returning it.
"Are you coming down? Or shall I come up?"
"What makes you think I want us to do either?"
"I feel it in my bones."
While Draco's mouth fell open, at a loss for a reply to this inane comment, Potter began to climb up, agile and sure. A natural, Draco thought and closed his mouth. Of course he is. Climbing. Flying. Charming everyone to pieces. It all comes naturally to him.
"You're sitting on the only branch where it's possible to sit," Potter was informing him. "Move over."
Draco glared but moved, and Potter settled down very close to him, so close he could feel the smell of him, of clean cotton and sun-kissed skin and just a hint of sweat. The grin had gone with the effort of climbing, had given way to a concentrated scowl, but it was returning now. Oh, trust Potter to be annoying. Trust him to show up when you wanted him the least. Trust him to barge right in without welcome.
Potter had always chosen to confront things that puzzled him, bothered him, irked him, whereas Draco usually withdrew and watched until he had a plan or a solution worked out. Potter had taken him by surprise more than once by walking straight into restricted space, as he had now. Draco hated it. He truly did.
Feel it in your bones, Potter? I feel it in my... wand. He laughed and looked up to meet the other boy's eyes. Shadows and light were dancing over Potter's face, a similar dance of darkness and light in his eyes - was it only a reflection?
Draco caught his breath.
Potter was so close.
Draco was used to the proximity of bodies. In class. In the Hall. At Quidditch games, playing or watching. Even in the shower. But this closeness was different.
And he suddenly thought of the Weasel. The Weasel was this close to Potter every day. He looked at him like this every day. He probably knew every pore of his skin and every single hair of his irritatingly bushy eyebrows, having looked at this face in close-up every day since their first year. Weasley knew what Potter looked like in the morning, what his first movement was when he woke up, how his face relaxed into sleep at night. And what Draco felt at the thought of this could only be described as… well, he didn't want to describe it.
He looked down at his hands and winced at the sight of the bitten down nails. Fuck you, Harry, he thought, barely noticing the switch from last name to first. Oh, very articulate today, Draco. Very analytical. Brilliant assessment of the situation.
He looked up at Harry again, who had turned away from Draco, leaning forward slightly to look at something Draco couldn't see.
I want to touch him so badly. I could do it right now... I could just casually put my hand on his shoulder and... Draco lifted his hand, watched it hover just an inch above Harry's shoulder, so close he could feel the warmth. He sensed that Harry was going to turn around, and withdrew his hand just in time. Can't do it. Can't. A look of surprise leapt across Harry's face when he saw Draco looking at him intently, his face so close. They stared into each other's eyes for a second, and it seemed they had both momentarily stopped breathing. Draco's heart was pounding loud enough to deafen him, and a flower of heat uncurled scarlet petals in his stomach. I want to kiss him. He swallowed and saw Harry's gaze slide down to his mouth. Thrilled and thoroughly frightened, he let the tip of his tongue flick out quickly over his lower lip. A bolt of triumph shot through him as he saw something flit across Harry's face, a quick wave of apprehension and... desire? Dear god. Does he really...? Can it be that... right this second, he's wondering what it would feel like to kiss me? Draco had to reach out a hand and steady himself against the branch. Their eyes met again, still wide. Draco knew that Harry could see the exhilarated desire shining from his eyes, and he thought he saw a corresponding flicker in Harry's... Or was the play of light and shadow deceiving him?
The clear voice cut through the stillness around them, the stillness of wind through leaves, of waves against the shore, of their own heartbeat. It shook them awake from the strange dream they had just begun to dream.
"Harry, where are you?"
Harry tore his eyes away from Draco's and scrambled down from the branch, letting himself drop from a height to land with a thud, brushing dry moss and bits of bark from his clothes.
He ducked out from the shade under the trees, stepping out into the clear sunshine that didn't allow for dreams.
Draco moved back to his usual spot on the branch, leant his head against the tree trunk, closed his eyes and listened to their voices moving in the direction of the castle and fading out. This had been a good spot for watching without being seen, but he would have to find a new one now. This one had been discovered and he himself found out. Another restricted area had been violated.
No, "violated" wasn't right. Draco opened his eyes and looked up at the sky that was visible in blue glimpses through the trembling leaves. Why was it that he didn't really mind Harry knowing? And why did he have a distinct feeling Harry wouldn't tell anyone? Gryffindor honour? Or just Potter personality?
Draco cast a quick look around the grounds and climbed down.
He came back rather late in the evening, driven there by a desperate need to be alone with his thoughts. Dusk was thickening into darkness but he didn't need light to climb this tree. And when he settled on his usual branch he saw a little point of light on the tree trunk, glowing bright green, level with his face. It was moving upwards, in slow, incremental movements. A glow-worm.
He followed it with his eyes, absurdly pleased at sharing his space with this little creature. It crawled up, up, up, stopping at a point above Draco's head, where it was suddenly joined by a number of other glow-worms, their pinpoints of light scattered over the tree trunk like a shower of sparks.
It made him curious, and he cautiously eased himself up to a standing position. The glow-worms were now forming a crescent-shaped pattern outlining one side of a small hole in the trunk, almost invisible in the dusk. Draco decided to overcome the natural reluctance to stick your hand into an unknown, dark place, not knowing what will meet your hand; something cold and slithering or a set of sharp teeth. It was neither. Instead his fingers met a roll of something dry and smooth. He pulled it out of the hole and sat down on the branch again. When he glanced up, the glow-worms were gone.
He loosened the string and unrolled the piece of parchment. It was almost too dark to read now, but within seconds the letters began to glow with the same bright green light as the worms.
"Midnight. Hope you'll be here. And for Merlin's sake try not to sneeze. H"
Draco snorted, folded the parchment and slipped it into his pocket. Midnight rendezvous with Harry Potter; it was just too ridiculous. But also very appealing.
He sat on, watching darkness fall, listening to the small sounds you only hear at night, when the rushing river of daytime sounds slows down to a trickle. Rustlings in the grass, the wet plop of a fish flicking its tail above the surface, a blackbird's achingly clear notes weaving silver threads through the dark. Further off, he suddenly heard the peculiarly strong, metallic music of a nightingale. The air was sweet and fragrant with apple-blossom, pine, lilacs, grass.
Draco leant his head against the tree trunk, inhaled deeply, and did not sneeze.