Disclaimer: Not mine, except maybe the idea.
Author's note: Not intended to be slashy at all, but for all you HP/DM shippers out there who love your subtext, subtext ahoy. And, oh my god, Finally a story of mine where Harry is actually relatively normal. Quick. Somebody look outside and check for signs of Ragnarok.
The Stars of Track and Field
"It's a great comfort to me knowing that there are people out there who, despite what they're told, do not regard the downtrodden as malignant, but instead look at them as potential. Heaven help me, the downtrodden are the potential; the downtrodden possess a hunger and desperation that God himself couldn't manufacture, and that, pal, is what stardust is made of." --M. Dylan Raskin, FOUND magazine
"The stars of track and field are beautiful people." --Belle & Sebastian
In the Beginning
Harry Potter was good at a lot of things.
He could cook and he could clean: supper was always on the table at six-o'clock sharp, and every inch of the house was kept spotless -- even Dudley's room, which was somehow a disaster again within thirty seconds of the boy's return home.
And it wasn't just cooking and cleaning that Harry was good at. Harry could garden like a real professional. The seeds for new flowers were evenly spaced, existing blooms were perfectly watered, and he made sure to only get the unwanted plants when doing the weeding instead of accidentally pulling a precious sapling. He was very good at staying out in the hot sun for many hours at a time, without food or water, and without complaint.
He was good at that in general -- not complaining. He didn't complain when they knocked him around, or sent him to his cupboard without supper, even though he'd done nothing wrong. Oh, it wasn't because he thought he was bad or deserving or such cruel punishment; he knew the Dursleys were to blame, not Harry. It was just that Harry also knew nothing he said would make them let him out sooner, so he kept his mouth shut like a good little boy and eventually they opened the door again. Sometimes he made up stories in his head to pass the time -- wild adventures about magic and witches and long-limbed butterflies with razor-sharp teeth. Flying motorcycles. An evil villain with a high-pitched laugh, exploding the room in acid green light. Sometimes Harry was the protagonist of these stories, and sometimes he wasn't. Sometimes he prevailed, and sometimes he didn't. Harry Potter was very good at pretending both fantastically and realistically.
And another thing Harry was good at? Keeping secrets. Some of them were funny secrets (like how Mrs Henderson in Number 2 secretly wore a toupee, but no one knew about it), and some of them were not so funny (like how an old man Harry never spoke to used to sleep under the slide in the neighbourhood playground every night, but one day he never came back and Harry didn't know why).
Some of the secrets he kept pertained to himself: he never told a single soul about the "freaky" things he could do. And he never told anyone what went on at Number Four Privet Drive, even though there were some nights he cried himself to sleep and thought it would be so much easier if someone knew, if someone were there to help him. He just waited it out and hoped it would stop hurting. And it eventually did.
Harry was good at waiting and hoping.
But if you asked Harry what he was best at -- the very best, of all these things -- he would tell you he was the best at running. Running to things, running from things, running just to run. Harry was suited for it. It wasn't a particularly dignified or refined skill; he was only seven, after all, and seven meant knobby knees and sharp angles made all the sharper from too many nights spent in the cupboard without food. He flailed about when he ran; his movements were uncontrolled, jerky. He ran like he was desperate to escape something -- something even he couldn't put a name to.
And yet, there was still something graceful about how Harry ran. Whether Harry was running from his uncle or Dudley's gang, or running home from primary (or down the playground, or through the woods that ran parallel to their picture-perfect neighbourhood), Harry looked right doing it. His arms went haywire and his legs wouldn't keep him to a straight line, but Harry still looked like running came as naturally to him as breathing.
Harry Potter was the very best at running. His body ached and his lungs stung and his feet throbbed and sometimes even bled, but he kept going until he couldn't feel them anymore. He always kept going. He kept going until all the bad thoughts and feelings went away, and he felt okay again.
"Someday, I'll go," Harry told himself seriously. It became his mantra. "I'll save up everything I have and run away. Just start running, and never ever ever stop."
Draco wasn't sure, exactly, when he started doing it, but he certainly remembered the day he got caught.
The air was hot and dense, and his pale skin glowed in the quickly approaching dusk. In a pair of old dragon hide boots and some work robes cut short, fraying unevenly at the edges, Draco ran and ran until his waifish body couldn't take it anymore and he collapsed in the lavish gardens of the Wiltshire manor. The peacocks peered curiously down at him.
So did Lucius Malfoy.
Draco's father wasn't the abusive type. He didn't hold with such brutish behaviours. He reprimanded, certainly, but he loved his son enough not to strike the boy. Of course, however much he loved Draco, Lucius still loved purity more. He wouldn't punish Draco for his "foray into plebeian Muggle pastimes," but he would help Draco to remember, with a stern look and a tap of his silver-tipped cane, what the eldest living Malfoy was capable of, and what awaited Draco if he didn't leave off with this foolishness at once. Certain things weren't becoming of a Malfoy: tearing through the grass like the Devil himself was in hot pursuit just happened to be one of them.
After that day, Draco only ran in secret, at times when his father was away on business and his mother was visiting with associates. Draco ran at night, when he could cloak himself in shadows and keep to the darkest corners of the grounds and pretend, just for an hour, that he was smoke and mirrors...mere illusion...nothing but the evening made mortal.
A year went by with Draco still harbouring this secret self. Then another year passed, and then another. After a while, Draco felt like his smoke-and-mirrors side was taking over, swallowing the rest of him. The Other Draco was slipping away into nothingness, performing the grandest disappearing act since the Great Houdini himself, and he could do nothing to conjure him back up again.
And still, Draco kept running.
He swathed himself in shadows -- like a blanket, or Narcissa's never-present arms.
Draco protected his Shadow Self as one might a child, and eventually, through endless weaving nights of sweat-blurred vision and calloused feet -- of new grass and decaying flowers -- Draco and his Shadow Self melded into one inseparable being.
He called this being Malfoy.
By the time Harry was nearly eleven, he'd gone from the awkward boy escaping his uncle to a bona fide potential junior track star. He ran every day -- sometimes twice, when things with Vernon or Dudley become particularly strained -- and just kept repeating his mantra. Sometimes he saw Stonewall as his way out...but, every once in a blue moon, the odd terrible night, nursing a bloody nose or black eye he hadn't quite been quick enough to avoid, Harry knew he had to run farther than a neighbourhood secondary if he ever wanted to get gone.
But those nights were few and far between, now. Harry was much faster than Vernon and Dudley, and not only was he almost always able to avoid them as a rule, he now felt confident enough to ask for things he knew could very well get him smacked if he didn't play his cards right. When he played his cards right, he of course got what he wanted; when he didn't, he had to run like hell to avoid being punished for any perceived insolence.
One day, as he finished up preparing the Dursleys' breakfast, Harry decided to broach the subject of Dudley's second bedroom.
"Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia," he said, wearing a non-confrontational smile and keeping his voice as calm as possible. "Please don't think I'm not grateful. It's been a wonderful eleven years, really, I've never known anyone with a lovelier...broom cupboard... It's just that, well, I was much younger when you decided that was the place for me, and I'm much older now..."
Vernon growled, a low and guttural sound, and Harry knew he was on thin ice.
"I just don't fit in there anymore," he rushed to say. "I'm getting too tall."
Vernon laughed derisively. "You? Too tall? Boy, the day you're too tall for anything is the day I play for Manchester United."
Harry held back a very insulting retort and kept his face fixed in that smile. "That aside," he persevered, "I think it would be best if maybe we found me somewhere else to sleep?"
Vernon leapt to his feet, and although Petunia put a steadying hand on Vernon's arm to keep him from immediately rushing forward, Harry still took an involuntary step back. Years of conditioning, he supposed.
"Oh, Vernon, let's just hear the boy out," Petunia said in a voice heavy with disgust. "Everything that comes out of his mouth is a bunch of hot air anyway; if nothing else, there's entertainment value."
Vernon seemed to consider that before waving a beefy hand to motion Harry onward. Although Harry's expression did not change, he was internally jumping for joy. Showtime, he thought.
"Right," he said briskly. "So, I was thinking we could put me in Dudley's second bedroom."
Harry had never been much for subtlety. The straightforward approach always worked the best, with the Dursleys. And that way was more fun, really, because then when Vernon and Petunia realised they were being manipulated but still couldn't do anything about it, the looks on their faces were priceless.
Of course, right now, the looks on their faces were ones of apoplectic rage. Vernon took another step forward, but this time, fortified by his purpose, Harry stood his ground.
"You -- " Vernon could hardly speak for anger. "You dare to suggest -- "
"I know, I know," Harry said apologetically. "It's dead ungrateful of me. But the thing is, there's a lot in it for you, as well."
"Oh? What could possibly -- "
"Well, first off," Harry replied, voice matter-of-fact, "that room is getting awfully cluttered. Broken toys? Old clothing? Things nobody's even using anymore. I clear up in there all the time but I'm not allowed to touch any of the stuff, so the room just gets more and more cluttered despite my best efforts. And we all know how much Aunt Petunia hates mess. If you allowed me to keep it as my room, I'd sort out all the clutter, decide what to keep and what should go to consignment, and the place would never be cluttered again."
He looked at his aunt and uncle, and when they didn't seem immediately ready to leap down his throat with the obvious objection that he should just clear up the room anyway without living in it (luck must have been on his side today, Harry thought), he continued.
"And then there's the matter of furniture," Harry went on. "You know I don't need much. Everything could be second-hand. We could get it for cheap. You wouldn't have to spend a penny more on me than is absolutely necessary. I hear desks are going for 10 pounds down at the consignment. They have mattresses just as cheap. And you know, if I have a bed and dresser and desk of my own, you wouldn't have to see me at all. I could go straight up to my room after finishing my chores, instead of doing my coursework out in the living room where you have to see my face all the time."
Vernon and Petunia seemed to (reluctantly) be coming over to Harry's line of thinking.
"And what's more..." Harry knew this was it. The clincher. The parting shot. He knew if this didn't work, nothing would. "If you let me have the room, I'll get a haircut."
If there was anything the Dursleys hated more than Harry's freakishness and ungrateful attitude, it was the fact that his hair now reached an inch below his ears and officially made him look like "a great nancy boy pansy," and it "just wasn't right." Harry actually thought his hair look a little better longer, because then it tended to be less of a rats' nest that way; one would assume Aunt Petunia might go in for his neater (if longer) hair. But alas, that alleged "pansy" factor greatly outweighed the new-found neatness factor -- even to someone as anal-retentive as Petunia.
And besides, Harry had been thinking maybe he should get a trim anyway; his fringe always got a bit tangled and obstructed his vision when it was this long. But Vernon and Petunia didn't need to know that. As far as they knew, this haircut was a concession and a sacrifice -- a necessary due to pay in return for the great favour the Dursleys were granting him out of the goodness of their hearts.
"So," Harry said finally, trying not to look too eager. "What do you say?"
Vernon and Petunia looked at each other. Petunia daintily cleared her throat. "We shall take it under advisement," she said disdainfully. "Now get back to work!"
"Yes, Aunt Petunia," Harry said dutifully, and turned around before either of them could see his grin. He knew he'd have that bedroom before the weekend.
By the time Draco was eleven, he was harsh, sneering, and cold. He did not play well with others. Words like mudblood featured regularly in his vocabulary; he saw emotions and desires as weaknesses and took his father's word as Law.
He was more Malfoy than Draco, and didn't know (or care) where one side ended and the other began.
"You rearranged my trinkets again, Dobby?" he demanded fiercely. "How many times do I have to tell you not to touch my things? These are rare antiques -- passed down along the Malfoy line for generations! If you had broken even a single one I would have mounted your head above the hearth and found another, more faithful Elf who didn't constantly bugger everything up as utterly as you do."
"Dobby is sorry, Master Draco!" Dobby wailed, wringing his ears in despair. "Dobby was having to move them to clean, Master Draco, sir! He was being very very careful not to hurt Master Draco's things in any way, but he is seeing now how wrong he was -- "
"Go stick your head in the oven, Dobby," Draco said with a cruel indifference, which was somehow far more disturbing than the anger from a second ago. "I can't stand the sight of your disgusting face a second longer."
"Of course, Master Draco!" Drobby gasped. "Dobby is loving to! Dobby is grateful to! Dobby has never known such pleasure as to punish himself for Master Draco -- "
Draco examined his trinkets carefully, and upon seeing none of them damaged in any discernable way, he replaced them in the heavily warded box and hid it in his armoire. Then he turned away and collapsed on his four-poster. Dobby must have changed the sheets today -- Draco could tell because they smelt of lavender instead of smoke; curling tendrils always escaped the lit hearth and wafted in through the crack in Draco's bedroom door, coating everything with the slightest scent of winter nights, despite the fact that winter was over and the weather had been mild since April.
Though Draco never admitted it to anyone -- perhaps not even to himself -- he loved that smell, because it reminded him of Father. Father never let him get close, not really, anyway, but Draco always felt he kept a bit of Lucius near as long as he had the smoke.
Smoke and mirrors. Father was full of them.
So was Malfoy. Maybe that was why Draco retreated into him.
Father would be home tomorrow, Draco thought happily. Father would be home and the three of them -- Father, Mother, and Draco -- would all go to Diagon Alley to get his school supplies for Hogwarts. Draco hoped he could persuade Father into buying a racing broom; if he wasn't allowed to run, at least he might fly. Though Draco hadn't run in years, he still remembered the sensation. The simultaneous pain and weightlessness. The belief that he could do anything. The feeling that he was still part human (because he could sweat and breath and cry and gasp), instead of just Shadows.
Draco glanced out his bedroom window at the gathering dark. The weather was perfect. Perfect temperature...perfect degree of dusk. It would feel so good, Draco thought. But Malfoy quickly took over, forced Draco to be reasonable, roll over on his stomach, and look away.
"No more forays into plebeian Muggle pastimes," he reminded himself harshly, and turned his attention instead to what he would buy tomorrow.
"Hogwarts, dear?" Madam Malkin asked, bustling Harry towards the back of the shop. "Another young man being fitted up just now, as it happens."
The boy was blond and somewhat taller than Harry (not that that was hard), with a pale pointed face drawn back in a look of faint boredom and distaste. Though Harry was reminded almost immediately of Dudley, he decided to wait before passing such a revolting judgment as that.
"Hello," the pale boy said. "First year?"
"Yes," Harry said, stepping carefully up onto the stool. Madam Malkin slipped a robe over his head and immediately went to work on him.
"Mine, as well," the boy replied. "Father is off buying my books and Mother is looking at wands. Of course, I'll have to try the wand myself before I buy it, but it's always good to scope out all available prospects, wouldn't you agree? Make sure I don't end up with an inferior product?"
"I suppose," Harry said politely, because he had no idea.
"After that," the boy went on, as if Harry hadn't spoken, "I'll drag them off to look at racing brooms. The new Nimbus 2000's just come out -- maybe I can bully Father into buying it for me and sneak it into school undetected. Such a pity First Years aren't allowed brooms, don't you think?"
Harry shrugged slightly; he didn't know anything about it. "I suppose," he said again.
"Do you have your own broom?" the boy tried.
"No," Harry said. "I don't."
"Not much for Quidditch, then?"
Harry frowned. He honestly had no idea what Quidditch was, let alone whether he was for it. "It's all right," he said reasonably. "I've never given it much thought, really."
The boy spun around, nearly hitting the woman hemming his robes in the face. "You've never thought about it? How could you never have thought about it? It's Quidditch!"
He looked a bit rabid, so Harry decided he had to do damage control. "Look, Quidditch is great," he lied convincingly, smiling. "I just reckon I've always had other things on my mind. Other interests, I guess." Like practically living as a Muggle, Harry thought.
"Well," the boy said, apparently mollified by the fact that Harry hadn't been living under a rock all his life, he was just not into sports, "Father says if I'm not picked for the House team, it'll be a disgrace. Speaking of, any idea what House you'll be in?"
"None at all," Harry replied, giving up all pretence of knowing what the hell was going on.
"That's okay," the boy answered. "No one really knows until they get there, but I'll bet you anything I'm a Slytherin. Our whole family have been in Slytherin, and you know what they say about families and Houses... I suppose Ravenclaw would be all right, really, but..." A strange shadow passed over the boy's face; it was gone within a second, but Harry knew he'd seen it, and it was enough to keep him intrigued, regardless of how irritating the ferret-faced git was. "Gryffindor or Hufflepuff? I'd just leave, wouldn't you?"
"Dunno," Harry replied honestly. "I think I'll be okay no matter where I go."
The boy was giving him a very peculiar look, now. "Right," he said.
Just then, Hagrid tapped on the glass, holding two large ice creams and grinning from ear to ear. Harry grinned back.
"Who is that?" the boy said with extreme distaste. "He looks positively savage!"
Harry felt a rush of annoyance, but he swallowed it down enough to reply, calmly, "That's Hagrid. He's the gamekeeper at Hogwarts. And he's not savage, he's brilliant."
"Oh?" the boy sneered. "What's he doing with you? Where are your parents?"
"Pushing daisies," Harry replied, before he could stop himself.
"Oh. Sorry," the boy muttered. He didn't sound very sorry, but Harry wasn't bothered. This boy wasn't worth it. "But they were our sort, weren't they?" the boy went on. "Because I don't think they should let the other sort in. I think we really ought to keep it to old Wizarding families, don't you? Those who have been there from the beginning. Those who know the traditions, the culture, the customs. Those with pure blood. That's what I think."
"Yeah?" Harry said mildly.
"That's you done, dear," said Madam Malkin, and Harry hopped off the stool.
"Wait," the boy said, sounding very annoyed. "What's your name?"
Harry didn't reply.
In the Middle
Draco couldn't say for certain when he realised Potter wouldn't rise to the bait -- that Potter would always be the type of person to shrug off Snape's harsh insults and unwarranted point deductions, to hold the back of Weasley's jumper and keep the ginger brute from rending Draco limb from limb -- no matter how much the blond prodded and provoked.
After a while, Draco stopped trying.
It might have been after Potter rescued Longbottom's Remembrall but didn't get upset at Draco as he said in that calm, reasonable tone, "Come on, Draco, just give it back. What's Neville ever done to you?" It didn't even come off as self-righteous or hypocritical, either, because somehow Potter was genuine, more genuine than anyone Draco had ever met in his entire life, and that was such a rare quality it shook Draco to his very core. All he could think to do was glare malevolently -- hatefully -- and throw that stupid red marble off into the distance...thus securing Potter's role as Youngest Seeker in a Century.
Or maybe Draco stopped trying after Snape refereed that Quidditch match, called every play heinously unfairly, and belittled Potter on the pitch in front of everyone, but still Potter just gritted his teeth and tuned it out. Draco wondered how Potter managed, and was suddenly overcome with a rush of admiration and jealousy he could not explain.
Potter had the ability to shrug things off and move on to the next big problem. His most heroic acts were carried out quietly, and with dignity and grace. He was a thinker and a problem-solver; even when he rushed headlong into danger, he always had a safety net, a fallback, a foolproof plan.
Except last year, of course. The Triwizard Tournament. Diggory died -- lamentable, certainly, but completely unforeseeable. When people died in the Tournament, it was usually that they perished heroically in some terrifying task; they didn't often get murdered in cold blood by the Dark Lord's followers, like Dumbledore said and Father implied. Potter truly could not have anticipated that one... He shouldn't have blamed himself. And yet, he did. Despite the same easy smiles and rational, patient tone, Draco could see it. Draco could see Potter grow quiet and hard, after that. Sharper. Tauter. Like a live wire. As if something fierce lurked beneath his surface -- something he dared not give voice to.
Was Draco the only one who saw it, he wondered? Was Draco the only one who saw Potter's Shadow Self? Potter's fierce and fragile sides? How easy it would be to snap him into tiny twig-like pieces, but how much and how viciously Potter would fight back if anyone tried?
Harry was running again. He knew if Umbridge, Snape, or Filch caught him, he'd be in an incredible amount of trouble. But he couldn't take it anymore. He was having...dreams. Violent, horrible dreams in which he was Voldemort. And the only way he could detach was to run as fast and as hard as he could -- cast Featherweight Charms on his trainers, Fastening Charms on his Invisibility Cloak, and Silencing Spells on his entire body, hoping and praying that he didn't get caught before curfew lifted.
On nights when he ran, he didn't dream. He wasn't sure why, but it kept him calm (or exhausted) enough not to. He didn't rise to the bait when Snape jeered at him in class the next day, or when Umbridge pulled her never-ending Ministry-fuelled bollocks; he didn't fall apart, even as everything else did.
He felt normal.
But he also felt stifled, like he couldn't be anyone but the calm collected hero they expected him to be -- always in control, always ready to handle a dangerous situation. It was exhausting, because sometimes...
Sometimes he was terrified; he was desperate. And sometimes he was confused, and sometimes he was so fucking angry -- but he couldn't let on.
He'd politely excused himself from Dumbledore's office after telling the teachers about the snake dream...or vision...or whatever it was; Dumbledore gave him a look like he wanted Harry to stay but the man didn't stop him leaving, for which Harry was grateful. Harry knew that if he could just get in a solid 10k tonight, he might actually get some sleep and he wouldn't have any more dangerous dreams or visions.
Even though night had long since fallen and the air was heavy and so cold Harry could see his breath, he kept running. He kept running because he didn't know what he would do if he had to go back to the castle. His mouth was still sharp with the familiar tang of blood -- maybe from biting his lip all through the meeting, but maybe from attacking Mr Weasley's neck when he was the snake in that dream. Harry didn't know -- couldn't know -- which it was. Sweat trickled down into his eyes; he angrily raked a fist across his forehead.
He felt like crying. He hadn't cried in years. To keep from giving into the urge he put on a fresh burst of speed, pouring every confused, angry, and terrified feeling into the pounding of his feet. Maybe he could sweat it all out, like a fever.
When Harry made it to the edge of the Forest, he slowed to a halt. The world always looked so different at night: trees seemed to breathe and shudder, and the windmill by Hagrid's hut creaked and twirled with an eerie, haunted grace. Harry kicked off his trainers and socks and dug his feet into the earth, still wet from the rain only hours before. He enjoyed the feel of mud between his toes...the cold night breeze drying the sweat on his skin...the way his head and heart throbbed in perfect synchronisation.
The fear and rage were leaving him, now, and in their wake only a bone-deep exhaustion remained. He reached up and touched his lightning-bolt shaped scar. Of course the scar would be the cause of all this. After all, hadn't the scar always been the cause of every complicated thing in his life? The cupboard under the stairs, the Dursleys' torment, his childhood accidental magic and his overactive imagination? Why not the recurring dreams of Voldemort, as well?
"What should I do?" he murmured, not caring, anymore, about getting caught. "What should I do here?"
There came no answer -- nothing but the rustling of trees and the soft creaking of the old windmill twenty paces away. With a sigh, Harry eased himself into a standing position, wiped his feet, put his socks and trainers back on, and headed back.
Draco wasn't sure was prompted him to do it -- why, after years of denying himself, of yielding to Malfoy, he chose tonight to run.
It didn't go as well as planned.
He was in shape from Quidditch, certainly, but it took different muscles to fly than it did to run...he lacked the endurance and speed he'd had as a child, and without them, he lost that coveted weightlessness and exhilaration he'd so come to expect from running. He stopped after only twenty minutes, depressed, and collapsed on the Quidditch pitch.
That's when he heard a familiar voice from not ten feet away.
"Perfect night, isn't it? For running?"
Potter's dulcet tones cut through the crisp night air like a knife, and Draco sat up so suddenly he almost snapped his neck.
"Well, don't give yourself whiplash on my account," Potter's disembodied voice continued, at once wry and reasonable.
Draco ignored the fact that he didn't know what whiplash was. Most likely something filthy, and Muggle. Not worth his time. "I could report you, you know," he replied with a sneer. "I'm part of the Interrogation Squad. Professor Umbridge would be very curious to know just what you're doing out on the pitch, in the middle of the night, and invisible, no less. Anyone could deduce that you're up to no good."
Potter snickered and suddenly became visible; he did it so quickly, however, that Draco missed it. Draco didn't think Potter could have been under a Disillusionment charm, then; in fact, he was almost certain of it. Disillusionment charms tended to flicker slightly as they were cancelled, with a fraction of a second's delay before they dropped completely. Potter, conversely, became visible in one fell swoop and without interruption to the air around him. What did that, Draco wondered? An Invisibility Cloak, perhaps? But those were incredibly rare, and unless it had been passed down through the Potter line, this messy-haired, bespectacled prat couldn't have got his hands on one.
"Right," Potter said. "Then you'd have to explain what you were doing out on the pitch at half-midnight in such a position as to catch me in my current status of invisible-and-up-to-no-good, wouldn't you?"
Draco shook his head, annoyed. "Yes, but Umbridge likes me, whereas I have it on good authority she's got it in for you. I'll get off with a clean record; you'll get detention until you're thirty."
For some reason, Potter's right hand twitched by his side. It was the most reaction Draco had elicited from the Golden Boy in -- well, ever, really -- so he couldn't help smirking nastily and running with it.
"What's the matter, Potter?" Draco asked with a cruel smile. "Touched a nerve, have I?"
Whatever it was that set Potter off, however, was gone in a flash. "Oh, sod off, Malfoy," Potter said, but he said it almost affectionately -- which, of course, made Draco want to curse him within an inch of his life. But because Malfoys didn't give in to foolish whims, and because Malfoys were never to be outdone in a contest of self-control, Draco just made a noise of disgust and re-pocketed his wand.
"So...what are you doing out here, anyway?" Draco asked, if for no other reason than to make conversation.
"Do you really care?" Potter inquired.
"Not really," Draco said honestly.
Pottet's lips twitched in amusement. "Didn't think so," he replied.
Draco glanced over at the boy who was meant to be his sworn enemy -- meant to be Malfoy's sworn enemy -- and took a long look at the Saviour of the Wizarding World. Potter hadn't changed much in the five years Draco had known him: he was still all unruly hair and piercing green eyes and broken glasses and too-thin limbs. He had gained a bit of height and muscle, certainly, but he was short for his age...in those small Muggle cotton shorts, loose pull-over, and scuffed and muddy trainers, he looked far younger than his fifteen years. But those eyes --
Draco wrenched his gaze away. He swallowed.
"Do you run every night, then?" he snapped, though he wasn't sure why he even bothered. Maybe because Malfoy wanted information -- information to give to Umbridge and use against Potter in painful and entertaining ways. Or maybe it was because Draco was actually curious. Which was worse? Which was preferable?
"I used to," Potter replied wistfully. "Now I only do when the risks outweigh the benefits. I have to decide if my desire for a really good workout surpasses my fear of -- how'd you put it? Oh, yeah -- detention 'til I'm thirty." He paused. "What about you?"
Draco stared at the wet grass. Malfoy was screaming inside his head, saying horrible and vicious things in a voice that sounded suspiciously like Father's. "Same as you," he said, mostly to get Malfoy to shut up.
Potter looked at him, then. Really looked."Why'd you stop?" he asked. And he sounded as if --
He sounded as if he actually wanted to know.
Suddenly, Draco couldn't take it anymore. He leapt to his feet. "None of your business, alright? None of your bloody business. I'm not some -- some Sphinx riddle for you to figure out. I'm not going to sit here and let you pick my brain, subtly probing me for information that's in no fucking way yours to have!" He sneered. "Saintly, perfect Potter. So calm, so noble, so very brave. How long until people see the real you, eh? How long until that perfect exterior cracks and everyone cottons on to what I've known all along: you're just as bloody fucked up as the rest of us. You're no saviour, you're just a kid playing with grown-up toys. You're going to fail, Potter, you're going to snap one day, and when you do I'll be watching and applauding as you take out every stupid sod who had the misfortune to invest any ounce of effort into your miserable lie of an existence. Do us all a bloody favour and just feel what you're feeling for once in your fucking life, before you destroy yourself and everyone around you!"
A deafening silence fell.
Then all of a sudden, Potter was there, touching Draco's shoulder, his hand as light and delicate as a soap bubble. Draco could feel the heat emanating from Potter's body, so hot it scalded Draco's cold skin, and he knew then that Potter was real -- Potter wasn't just a Shadow Self, Potter was breath and bone and tears and sweat and heartbeats and rage and understanding and, Merlin forbid, love -- Potter was love -- and that's how he survived. Potter could despise Snape; Potter could despise Malfoy; Potter could despise Voldemort completely and utterly, with every fibre of his being, and still not actually hate any of them because Potter was too loving for that.
"God, Draco," Potter breathed, and Draco started slightly at the sound of his first name from those fever-hot lips. "Do you think I don't know all that? Do you think I believe I'm some sort of superhero? Because I don't. I know I'm angry and I know I'm just a kid. If I stopped for even a single second and thought about how impossible this situation is, I'd freak. So...I don't. I run, instead. I just run and run and run, and don't ever stop."
"What about when it's over?" Draco spat. It was easy to be hateful. Hateful was familiar. Hateful was safe. "You can't run forever, Potter. You have to face it sometime."
"Oh, I will. When it comes, I'll be ready," Harry Potter said with fierce determination. "I'll meet it head on, and push right the fuck on through. Whatever happens, I'll know I went out fighting -- lungs burning, heart pounding, and sweat stinging my eyes."
In the End
If asked to explain, Harry would likely have said there were a lot of things about the war that didn't quite go according to plan. Dumbledore dying at the hands of Snape, Hogwarts being taken over by Death Eaters...then Snape turning out to be good, only to ultimately die by the jaws of a giant, poisonous Horcrux-snake -- all those came to mind. Then, of course, the needless deaths of Tonks and Lupin...Sirius...Fred...half the Order...
In the end, it was for the best that no one asked Harry to give an official statement. What could he have said, really?
He married Ginny and they settled down in Godric's. He made Head Auror; she played professional Quidditch. Every night they fell into bed together, touching and kissing each mole and every freckle on each other's body -- sometimes kisses led to more intimate acts, and other times they remained merely simple expressions of a deep unspoken, unspeakable love. Harry loved every inch of her. She was fiery and snarky and down-to-earth. She was well-adjusted and practical. When they fought, it was over silly things, and they were always resolved quickly and without fuss. His life was picture-perfect and oh so normal, and everything he'd ever dreamed of.
So why did he feel so stifled?
He donned his trainers once again and took to the cold, clear night. His fringe obscured his vision slightly; he would have to cut it soon. That was always a point of contention between himself and Ginny -- she preferred his hair long, whereas he'd grown to appreciate a closer trim.
"How long until people see the real you, eh?" Draco had said.
Harry still thought about that night. He thought about that night and wondered what had become of the haunted, ferret-faced, smoke-and-mirrors boy, who evolved into that desperate Shadowed teenager. He'd eventually married Daphne's little sister and set right in to playing the part of a true Malfoy, Harry supposed. He'd become what both Harry and Draco always knew he would be.
We're none of us free, Harry thought, but some of us don't mind. I guess that's what makes it good enough.
The air was crisp and felt heavenly against his hot skin. He thought about his beautiful perfect wife, safely slumbering away in bed.
He smiled, and took the long way home.
If asked to explain, Draco would like have said there were a lot of things about the war that didn't quite go according to plan. Not being able to kill Dumbledore was one of them, certainly. His family's defection from Voldemort's ranks...his own ambivalence about becoming a Death Eater...Snape turning out to be on the side of the Light... All those details amounted to something one would not quite call a success story, really.
In the end, it was easiest to slip away with Astoria, begin a quiet life, and distance himself from everything -- if only for a little while.
He grew his hair out to the length his father kept it; as head of a Pureblood household, it was expected of him. It was also expected of him to produce an heir of his own and raise him (or her) right, upholding the traditions, customs, and culture befitting a Pureblood son or daughter. In those moments, Malfoy took over -- when Scorpius was born, old prejudices and beliefs long-forgotten bubbled to the surface of his memory, and he taught Scorpius as Lucius had taught him. He kept things as Mother and Father had. The rooms smelt of lavender and smoke: winter year-round.
But late at night, when all was quiet, he pulled on a pair of lightweight duelling trousers -- cut to the knee and custom-tailored -- and a pair of supportive exercise shoes. Of course, they weren't as good as shorts and a t-shirt, but one could only fall so far from the tree.
When he stopped running his skin felt hot and flushed, his heart and head pounded, his lungs burned, and blood rushed like liquid fire through his veins. It was at once excruciating and exhilarating, and for those moments -- however agonisingly brief -- he felt so human he almost couldn't stand it. For those moments, he wasn't shadows and he wasn't illusion. He was utterly and completely real.
He raked a hand across his sweaty forehead and breathed a sigh of relief.
Each man wondered, periodically, what the other was doing now. How he was getting by...if it was all worth it...and if he was happy, or at least content.
And, secretly, very ever so secretly, each man wondered if the other had overcome his Shadow Self yet. It was a question fuelled by hunger and remembering, the smell of new grass and perfectly planted flowers, suppressed rage and swallowed fear, sun-baked earth and countless determined smiles.
They both rinsed the grit and the grime off their respective Stardust Selves, and hoped, without a glimmer of hesitation, that the answer was yes.
A/N: Corrected the Scorpio-Scorpius spellcheck mistake! Sorry about that. And...please review?