Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, much to my annoyance. JKR does. I own nothing but the writing.
Warning: This is M/M SLASH so if you have objections to that, don't read this.
Author's Note: THANK YOU wonderful people who reviewed my first attempt at fanfic, Winter Morning Elegy. I love you! Hope you'll enjoy this.
"The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven"
John Milton, "Paradise Lost"
CHAPTER 1 – Roses and Ivy
It's a perfectly ordinary evening after a perfectly ordinary day. I sit in the Gryffindor common room next to Hermione, pretending (even to myself) to read. She is calm and collected as she usually is these days, no longer the over-energetic little girl who gets on everyone's nerves. She turns pages, takes notes, looks up at me once in a while and smiles in a way I can only describe as reassuring. I don't know why she thinks I need to be reassured. But maybe I exude indecision or uncertainty or anxiety. Maybe she just feels it before I do. Because suddenly my skin crawls and I feel as if I'm going to pass out. The room is too stuffy, too hot, too noisy, too full of people. I can't breathe, it's like the time I rescued Ron from the lake and the effect of the gillyweed wore off before I had reached the surface. I'm afraid I'm going to be sick. I'm afraid I'm going to cry. I stand up and my chair clatters to the floor behind me. I brush aside Hermione's alarmed exclamations, run out of the room and down the stairs. Hermione means well, she always does, and I feel my conscience sting me, but tonight I just can't take her anxious questions on how I feel. The truth is I don't know how I feel. But she won't take "strange" for an answer.
As seventh year students we're allowed to use the gardens in the evenings, as long as we're back in our dorms by eleven. The gardens spread out wedge-shaped from the school to the lake, with terraces marching down the slope. They are criss-crossed with high, clipped hedges and dotted with old, tangled thickets of roses and patches of fragrant herbs. There is even a small walled-in orchard with apple trees, and peach and apricot trees trained against the brick walls, competing with ivy for space. There are plenty of places you can go for privacy. It always surprises me that so few students make use of it, even on a beautiful night like this.
I stand on the lawn for a while, taking great gulps of the clear night air. It's an unusually warm night for the season and some late roses still open their pale, scented semi-spheres. The sky is an enormous dark blue vault pinpricked with stars, and the almost full moon bathes everything in a chalky blue light. I walk slowly across the grass, knowing where I'm heading but in no hurry to get there. At the bottom of the garden there is a secluded part of the terrace with a stone balustrade running along the edge, overlooking the lake. It's a spot where you can go to be alone, to clear your head and think. Feeling lonely in the crowded common room pushes me to the edge of breakdown. Being alone is soothing. It takes the loneliness away.
But tonight I have company in my private spot. Someone is sitting on the balustrade at the edge of the terrace. I stop cautiously in the deep shadow of a big cedar tree, not sure why I stop, but I can sense that whoever is sitting there doesn't want to be disturbed. And I don't really want to be seen, either. I don't want to talk. Talking would shatter this fragile evening like glass. It's a night for held breaths.
The boy on the stone balustrade is Draco Malfoy, the very reason why I had to run outside and gulp night air. He sits with his back against a stone pillar which is covered with ivy and the rampant climbing roses. Near his head some of the white flowers glow faintly in the strange light, shimmering and floating. The moonlight glitters on the lake behind him, but he doesn't look at either the lake or the roses. He sits half turned towards the gardens, and the rippling light on the water behind him obscures his face. He has taken off his robes and his shirt. They hang neatly folded over the balustrade beside him and he is naked to the waist; the smooth planes and curves and hollows of his upper body sculpted with moonlight and shadow. As he leans his head back against the stone pillar to look up at the starry sky, the cold light catches his sharp face, and his strange, grey eyes hold nothing of their usual arrogance. They look dreamy and slightly puzzled, as if he is thinking about something that gives him pleasure but which he does not quite comprehend.
I stand frozen in the deep shadow under the big cedar tree. If I had wanted to keep up our antagonistic relationship I would be in the perfect position to humiliate him – after all, he sits there half-naked under an arch of roses like a slightly indecent fairytale prince. I could just saunter up to him and start our conversation with "Moonbathing, Malfoy? No wonder you never get a tan," but the temptation isn't there. Instead I have trouble breathing again, and I know that if I go up to him now, the temptation will be a very different one. A night for held breaths. Only Malfoy can arrange himself in a tableau like this and manage not to look ridiculous in the least, just completely natural, graceful and poised. He has a cat-like instinct for decorativeness, placing himself where he is shown to his best advantage and making it all look very casual. I literally hold my breath. I don't want to break the moment. I just want to stay in the shadow and hold this perfect picture. Dark foliage, glittering water, the dreaming boy with the light playing over his pale face and silvery hair. My fingers twitch. I want to trace them over that white, perfect skin. Is he hot or cold to the touch?
There was a time when the only physical contact with Malfoy I desired was letting my fist connect with his jaw. I would have loved to see that haughty smirk break up in confusion and pain. Now there is no trace of a smirk on his face, and I can't help myself. I give in. I eat him with my eyes; I let them slide from his lips down the delicate neckline; I rest them on the soft shadows above his collar-bones, on the almost unnoticeable rising and falling of his chest, wondering what it would be like to feel his pulse beat against the tip of my tongue as I touch it to the hollow at the base of his throat.
My red alert system is screaming and flashing inside me but I just stand there helplessly. There is nothing even remotely attractive about him! this wild little voice inside me shouts. That beauty is nothing but surface! Scratch it and you will find darkness and ruin. He is dangerous. Anyone who takes pleasure in other people's pain is dangerous. You had more sense when you were eleven years old and turned down his dubious offer of friendship.
I back away cautiously from under the tree. I feel vaguely ashamed, as if I have seen something I should not have seen. I'm sweating and shaken, hot and cold as if I have fever. I cross the lawn quietly and walk up through the dewy terraces back to the castle. The Fat Lady is dozing but she jerks awake to let me into the common room, gives me a motherly look and says sleepily: "You're all damp, dear; be careful you don't catch cold". I go up to the dorm and go to bed, but I can't sleep. I toss and turn behind the drawn curtains of my four-poster, thoughts whirling in my head. Just one thing stands out clearly: The picture of the half-naked boy in the garden, so beautiful he almost does not look human.
* * * * *
At breakfast I carefully place myself with my back to the Slytherin table. Most mornings I allow myself the pleasure of watching Malfoy's sleek, well-groomed head bend over the plates, but today I don't want to look at him. I usually try not to look at him too much, I don't want to be obvious, but I find it very hard to resist. And quite often, when I let my eyes wander over to the Slytherin table, I find his eyes already resting on me, or lifting to meet mine. Usually we both quickly look away, but sometimes one of us holds the other's gaze, almost like a challenge. The intoxicating mixture of pleasure, fear and desire that washes over me when we do is addictive, like a very potent drug. It's so strong I can't believe he doesn't feel it too. It lives in me like a tropical fever – dormant for long periods, but breaking out in sudden bouts that leave me confused, trembling, sweating. Today I don't want to risk it. I'm afraid my own eyes will betray me if they meet his; give away what I saw last night. I try to concentrate on my cereal and on Ron talking to me across the table about a letter from Bill that a distracted owl has just dropped into his plate of scrambled eggs.
It's simply impossible to concentrate. I feel Malfoy's presence like insects climbing up my back. When there are five hundred people in the room I see only him. He stands out as if someone has put a Luminous charm on him. It's as if the hall is all misty and blurred and he is the only clear figure in it. When I hear his voice I feel a shiver go down my spine. I recognize all these symptoms as ones of being in love. But I can't accept that. Physically attracted, yes. In love, no.
I catch Hermione watching me with this worried look she's reserved for me for weeks now. But she doesn't say anything, and neither do I. I don't know why I have developed such an obsession with Malfoy and it worries me, but it's nothing I want to discuss with either her or Ron. Well, my face is not exactly inscrutable. They both know me well and they're not stupid; of course they come to their own conclusions.
I go to Potions class with Ron and Hermione walking on either side of me like body guards. For some reason, Snape is in a very good mood this morning. He doesn't exactly smile but his lips curl in way that, with Snape, must be interpreted as mirth. He even makes a not-too-nasty joke about my failure to tame my unruly hair. I'm in the process of chopping up a bunch of thick dragonweed stalks, and my knife slips in surprise. A few drops of the blood-red sap splash up and hit my cheek, leaving a hot tingle on my skin. The sensation is not unpleasant. Snape, who never misses anything, says: "Well, Potter, go ahead and taste a few drops now you have the chance. Pure extract of dragonweed is a powerful pick-me-up. Could give you a better memory for your potions." He's almost cheerful. The inevitable snicker from the Slytherins moves like a wave through the dungeon and I hate myself for taking notice of it. I wipe the dragonweed sap off my cheek with a finger and lick it tentatively. It has a fruity, slightly spicy taste, and I remember Ron saying that wizard parents give their children dragonweed extract just like Muggle parents give their children extra vitamins.
I'm suddenly acutely aware of someone looking at me. I raise my eyes cautiously, thinking that Snape is still hovering over me like a malevolent bat, waiting for some curious reaction to the dragonweed. Instead I meet Draco Malfoy's strange, silvery eyes across the room and I almost jump. They're not dreamy like last night. There is a disturbed light in them; they are intense and very steady. He holds my gaze almost fiercely and I half expect a crackling ray of blue light to appear between us. He's telling me something, but I can't read it.
The next moment I realise that even if my mind can't read his message, there is no doubt that my body can. The heat of it hits the pit of my stomach and melts down to my crotch. Oh, no. Not now. I avert my eyes, desperate to break the connection.
I'm not sure when my obsession with Malfoy started, but I know I have spent an inordinate amount of time during the past six months or so thinking about him. Not always consciously or in any structured manner, but somehow the image of him is always there at the back of my mind, nagging and persistent like a song you have in your head when you wake up in the morning.
His general behaviour has changed very much over the last year. Not that there's anything strange about that, really. People mature. Hell, even Malfoy has to mature. He used to be obnoxious but he has never been loud. These days he is very withdrawn and quiet, but he looks as if he misses very little. He still has the same smooth, arrogant stride, but there is no more taunting. Come to think of it, I haven't heard him talk about Mudbloods for ages. He even leaves Hermione alone. He rather seems to avoid me, apart from the times when our eyes meet. If it hadn't been so unbelievable I would say that Malfoy at times, when he doesn't know he's being watched, looks troubled, vulnerable even. But why should I be so interested in what goes on in his mind?
Perhaps it's not that surprising. He has never allowed me to forget his existence since that first time we met, in Diagon Alley when we were just kids. I've always watched him closely, if only just to see where the next attack will come from. Malfoy always evokes strong feelings, not only in me. Perhaps the really strange thing is I haven't been intrigued by him before. Or noticed his looks. It's not just his character that has matured. His face is less pointed; it's a strong face with clean, sharp features and those strikingly beautiful eyes. His body has lost its boyishness. He is tall and lithe and athletic, well-muscled but not overly so. He has a runner's body. Or a flyer's.
Notthe right thing to think about right now.
I'm aware of Ron watching me intently with a strange expression on his face, and I gather myself together as best I can.
"You OK, Harry?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Why does everybody keep asking me that? I was just a bit distracted by this dragonweed thing. It doesn't taste bad, actually. Did you say it's like vitamins?"
* * * ~ * * *