One day, some years after the war, Harry Potter runs into Draco Malfoy in an elevator.
It had been a completely ordinary day for both of them. Harry had, in what was, tragically, becoming a recurring feature of his days, spent the morning in a frantic and completely futile attempt to catch and subdue his paperwork. Draco, too, had meandered his way through a perfectly ordinary day, doing whatever it was that Malfoys do in a world where the war and their part in it was still not quite forgotten. There was word, in the circles that spoke of these things, that he had something to do with the international regulation of potions ingredients. Whether this was a euphemism for some other international activity was also a frequent topic for discussion among those who cared.
Harry had listened to the talk, unable to stop himself following the threads of Draco's life, such as they were, even now. It was, he supposed, a mix of both professional and private curiosity, keeping quiet tabs on an ex-follower, however half-hearted, of Voldemort who also happened to be his old school nemesis.
On the other hand, Draco would have found it difficult to ignore the gradual progression of Harry's life. Ever the wizarding world's golden boy, even now, the life and times of Harry Potter was still fuel for the collective imaginations of the staff of more than one wizarding publication. Draco would never admit to it, but he too followed these often exaggerated snippets of his old adversary's life with something more than ordinary public interest.
Even here and now, in a nondescript elevator in a random and unimportant ministry building, there is a tension in the air, an awkwardness that won't pass and hangs self-consciously in the almost-claustrophobic rectangle of space as Harry gathers his spilled papers and Draco holds himself stiffly in the corner.
They mutter greetings at each other, short and brief and carrying hints of surprise and discomfort and a sudden wish for this to be the shortest elevator ride in history.
It is incredible, in a way, that times and events from long ago that these two men have tried so hard to forget are so easily recalled in the presence of the other.
It is impossible, when Harry sees Draco, to completely quell the memory of those bloody moments in Myrtle's bathroom, those utterly terrifying seconds that still haunt his dreams, guilt and shame and panic all wrapped up in the image of Draco Malfoy's life bleeding out at his feet. He cannot forget the desperation and vulnerability in Malfoy's eyes no matter how much he tries, instead, to recall the arrogance and the too proud, too privileged visage of so many other encounters. It makes him uncomfortable, almost nauseous, to remember Draco Malfoy like this because Harry does not want to see his school yard enemy as a victim. Not like that, in pain and in fear and by his hand. It is too personal and too private and too unnerving and it underscores every Malfoy related incident his mind calls forth now, in the stifling air of the elevator, from that first meeting on the train to the chaos that was the final battle.
Harry would much rather forget.
In the presence of Harry Potter, the emotions and images that Draco Malfoy normally manages to push to the edges of his memory come forth with vivid vengeance. He sees Dumbledore's face on the tower, smells burning flesh and the distinctive tang of fiendfyre, hears the torture of Hermione Granger and the terrified whimpers of the countless victims of Voldemort. The sibilant voice of his one-time master sounds in his ears and he remembers the cocktail of horror and fear and adrenalin that characterised his every moment in Dark Lord's presence until he saw more and more and it became all horror and fear and desperation spiralling out of his control as he understood, suddenly and irrevocably, the hopelessness of Voldemort's reality.
He remembers too, the expression on the face of Voldemort just before he died for the final time, killed in the glory of the setting sun by his own hand: that split second of realisation and disbelief and fear and the utter insignificance of his broken body in on the hall floor.
The terrible power of the Dark Lord, broken by Harry Potter.
There are many things that Draco wishes he could forget, but foremost among them is the fact that Harry Potter saved them all.
They stand in unnatural stillness as the elevator moves and they can neither of them remember whether they're going up or down.
Harry eyes Draco surreptitiously, cataloguing the changes evident in a visage that is both exactly as he remembers it and the face of a total stranger. Draco does the same, seeing the same odd veneer of adulthood in Harry's face that he supposes is visible on his own, a counterpoint of unfamiliarity to counter the bindings of the past.
They are neither of them what they were, and yet, that is exactly what they are.
The light and the dark, the urchin and the aristocrat, the Gryffindor and the Slytherin, the hero and the villain.
The outcast, the scapegoat, the child forced to bear burdens far beyond his years.
They are both the protagonist, the nexus of their own individual worlds, the central thread of two different stories.
One has had a happy ending, of sorts.
One has not so much an ending as a cessation of relevance, of immediacy. The story continues, but nobody's listening.
Harry raises his eyes to the ceiling as he leans against the wall and thinks that an elevator ride has never seemed so long. Draco stares at his feet, shrouding his face in the shadow of his hair and it is only his hands, clenching and unclenching at his side, which betray his discomfort. There is more to it than the mere revival of memories best left alone. Or rather, something specific is preying on his nerves this time, something long overdue which is also long avoided.
Eventually, as the rumbling of the elevator begins, almost imperceptibly, to slow its rhythm, Draco takes hold of his warring emotions and lifts his head and acknowledges a debt.
"I never said thank you," he says. He looks at Harry and then glances away, preferring to stare at the patterned woodwork of the elevator wall. "For..."
His voice trails off and he swallows visibly, before he continues in a tone that is rushed and uncomfortable but also, suddenly, sure and steady. "For everything. For Voldemort and my life, twice over. I...just...thank you, Potter."
Harry, whose gaze has shifted to stare incredulously at the blond wizard, simply gapes for a moment, unable to think of the words to respond to an expression of gratitude from Draco Malfoy, of all people.
"You're welcome," he replies faintly and inadequately. "I..." He takes a breath then and looks Malfoy in the eyes and nods firmly in his direction. "You're welcome," he repeats and there is no insincerity in his voice.
Draco stares back at him and, for an instant, the barest trace of a smile crosses his face as he nods back, in relief and a strange sense of liberation. The thick cloud of memory recedes slightly and the walls of the elevator somehow seem less restricting.
It is, however, no less awkward.
The ding of the elevator rings abruptly in the silence and, without warning, the whatever it is that lies between them is broken as the sounds of business and bustle carry through the opening doors.
"Potter." Draco leaves without looking at Harry, simply strides out into the busy foyer as if the last however many minutes never happened.
"Malfoy." Harry watches him go, staring almost unseeing at his retreating figure in bemusement and not a little amazement at the ability of Draco Malfoy to somehow, always, get under his skin. He smiles then, almost ruefully, shaking his head to clear the clinging web of memories, as the elevator doors close and he carries on, up or down, he still can't remember.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
And yet, he thinks, that's not it at all.
A/N: I'm sure it's been done, but it popped into my head and so here it is.
Reviews are always welcome.