Title: Lessons in Living
Summary: While learning how to live, Harry inadvertently teaches Draco
Rating: PG 13
Warnings: Minor character death, slight angst
A/N: Written for the Feb '06 Hex Files Lurvefest. Gift fic for C Dumbledore.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoat Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
He slid his feet through the grass, loving the way the individual blades licked his toes, a thousand gentle caresses against the sensitive skin between them. A small smile played around his lips, and a soft breeze off the lake ruffled through the fine hairs on his arms. It was one of those days that was just… perfect.
As he basked in the sunshine, he failed to notice the grey gaze that turned on him, first in suspicion, then in bemusement. His watcher couldn’t comprehend what brought the look of profound peace to his face, but he needed to understand it. So he left the safety of the shadows and stepped into the sunlight, flinching slightly as the bright light hit his eyes.
“Potter,” he called, pitching his voice low and making sure to keep any antagonism from it. Potter didn’t respond verbally, just turned his body a fraction toward Draco, eyes still closed as he immersed himself in his surroundings.
“Mmmm?” The lazy sound made Draco’s lips twitch.
“What are you doing? You look…rather dishevelled right now.”
A soft, crooked smile tugged up the corner of Potter’s mouth, and he lazily lifted his eyelids, blinked twice, and focused haphazardly on Draco.
“I’m walking barefoot,” he said, as if it were one of the most logical things in the world to be doing. When Draco snorted at his answer, he cocked his head to the side, and asked, “Have you ever walked barefoot through the grass on a warm summer day?”
“Of course not.”
“Because it’s unseemly.”
Potter looked around, noting that they were the only ones in this slightly secluded spot on the edge of the lake, where the tree line of the Forbidden Forest blocked the view of the castle. “There’s no one here to see you. Walk barefoot with me?”
The last could have been an invitation or a dare; the words were light and intentionally bland. Draco narrowed his eyes and darted a glance around before succumbing to the inevitable and crouching to pull off his shoes and socks.
“Roll up your trouser legs, too,” Potter said from above him, causing him to look up, his face full of suspicion.
“And why would I want to do that?” he asked sharply. “Do you think I want to put wrinkles in my clothing? You might not care how you look, but I have an image to maintain.”
Potter just stood there and smiled that crooked smile at him, hands in the pockets of his—Draco glanced down—rolled up trousers. Draco rolled his eyes and said, “Well, fine. I’ll do it. I don’t know why I need to roll up my trousers to walk barefoot, but never let it be said that I backed down from a challenge.”
“Was it a challenge?” Potter asked, after Draco was once again standing straight, arms crossed over his chest in an impatient gesture. “I didn’t mean it to be.” Without saying another word, he turned and resumed his slow, sliding walk through the grass.
Draco followed him, mimicking his movements. “So, what is the point of all of this?”
Potter turned and looked at him, a sad light in his eyes. “The point is to live. To take each moment as it comes. How old are you, Draco?”
Draco started. It was the first time he could remember Potter calling him by his first name. “I’ll be eighteen next month,” he replied, still so flustered over the name thing, that he didn’t think to wonder why Potter had asked him his age.
“I’m seventeen. For almost three more months, I’m seventeen. And do you know what?”
Draco’s only answer was to shake his head as he stared at the other boy in confusion.
“I’ve never walked barefoot before. I’ve never played in the rain. I’ve never done half the things everyone else takes for granted. I want to do them. No,” he interrupted himself softly, “I have to do them. I owe it to…everyone who can’t do it themselves.”
Draco watched Potter warily. Since the end of the Great War, Potter had been different, closed off, subdued. Voldemort was dead, the Death Eaters no longer a threat, but many had died to see those things happen.
Potter barked out a short, slightly bitter laugh. “I’m not about to break down, Draco. Relax. I’ve simply spent quite a lot of time wondering what to do with myself now.”
“I thought you were studying to become an Auror?” Draco asked, voice betraying little of his true feelings about that.
Potter shook his head and turned his feet toward the lake, still doing that slow walk. “I’ve had enough of that to last me three lifetimes, thanks. No, I think I’d rather live quietly somewhere. Become an herbologist, perhaps. Neville would have liked that.” An uncomfortable silence descended between them then. Neville Longbottom had not survived the Great War. Too many hadn’t.
“Is that why you’re suddenly interested in becoming one with nature?” Draco asked, his natural tendency toward sarcasm tripping lightly off his tongue. Potter seemed not to mind, and that strange half smile was back.
“No, the reason I’m out here today is because of a conversation I had once with Hermione. She wasn’t just the brightest witch of her age, she was a wise friend, too.” Potter stopped speaking then, turning away from Draco, head falling backward. With an abrupt shout, he pulled his hands from his pockets and flung them out to his sides, opening them wide, as if he were trying to embrace the sky.
Draco wondered if the mention of his deceased friend had sent Potter into some sort of manic state, his worry increasing when Potter shouted, “I heard you, Hermione! I did! Do you see?”
Draco didn’t know what to do then. Should he walk away quietly, or should he remain with Potter to ensure that the clearly distraught boy didn’t hurt himself? As he vacillated, Potter turned to him, a sad smile curving his lips. “Did you ever think that we would be here, Draco?” he asked.
Draco looked around him before turning back to Potter, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s a part of the school grounds; I’ve been here before.”
Potter chuckled and punched him lightly in the arm, acting as if he’d made a great joke. “No, you git! Merlin, nothing truly changes you, does it? I’m glad. It’s nice to have a constant in my life. Thanks.”
Draco nodded his head, but his thoughts were chaotic. Potter was making very little sense to him; he wondered if perhaps the boy had suffered a psychotic break. It was actually something they’d all been watching Potter for, ever since he’d lost so many friends in the Great War.
The pain that accompanied the boy his every waking minute was visible in the way his once straight posture was bowed just the slightest, in the way he seemed to never look directly at a person anymore. His old reckless spirit had been replaced by reflection and introspection. It was…worrisome.
“No,” Potter continued. “Did you think we would survive? I didn’t.”
“You thought you were going to die?!” Draco asked, astounded. “Then why did you fight at all?”
“I expected to die. You know the prophecy. Everyone’s heard it a thousand times by now. It sure sounded to me like we would end up killing each other, Voldemort and I. I first heard the prophecy at the end of fifth year…by that day at Killiecrankie, I was convinced that I would end up giving my life for the cause. I was prepared for that. Who did I have to live for?” he asked fatalistically, shrugging his shoulders.
“So you went there that day, expecting to die?” Draco asked, shaking his head at such a display of idiocy.
Potter turned and speared him with a direct, open, honest look. “Yes.”
“Merlin, Potter, I always knew you were a fool, I just never knew how much of one.”
“Why a fool? It had to be done, and I was the only one who could do it.”
“Trelawny made that prophecy, Potter. I would have taken it with a grain of salt,” Draco responded dryly.
“It’s not the only one she’s made that’s been accurate,” Potter said with a shrug. “Anyway, what’s done is done, and now it’s time for me to take some excellent advice and start living.”
“Start living? What have you been doing all this time, eh?” Draco asked, smirking.
Potter cocked his head to the side, and smiled softly. “Up ‘til now, I’ve just been existing. Making it from one day to the next. Now, I’m going to take the gift given me and really live. My parents, Hermione, Neville, Sirius, Dean, Dumbledore, McGonagall…they can’t do it, but I can make sure that their sacrifices weren’t in vain. I’m going to live.”
Draco shrugged his shoulders, thrusting his own hands into his pockets. “Whatever, Potter. So, what exactly is the point of this exercise?”
Potter smiled at him and said, “Close your eyes.”
Draco just shot him an ‘I don’t think so’ look. Potter rolled his eyes and came up behind him, ignoring the way his body stiffened. “Relax, Draco, I’m not going to attack you,” he whispered into Draco’s ear, sending a shiver down his spine. “Close your eyes and concentrate on the way the earth feels beneath your feet. Do you feel how the ground is slightly uneven? How the grass tickles between your toes and licks along your ankles? Now, walk.” Draco hesitated, realising at some point that he had done as Potter asked and closed his eyes. He wasn’t comfortable walking with his eyes closed, and said as much to Potter.
A soft chuckle. “Don’t worry, I’ll be here. I won’t let you fall.” Draco was startled to realise that he trusted Potter. Without further thought, he started walking forward, unconsciously sliding his feet through the grass in an imitation of what he’d seen Potter doing earlier. A small sound of wonder escaped him, and he felt his face relaxing into a small smile.
“This is…strange,” he said, voice hushed.
“Yeah, it is, at first,” Potter agreed, voice still murmuring in Draco’s ear. “After a while, you sort of get used to it, but it’s still amazing. With your eyes closed, you have no choice but to feel everything. You should roll up your sleeves, too. The breeze feels nice on my arms.”
“Why not just take off your shirt then?” Draco suggested, tone sensible. “You’ll be able to feel the breeze without wrinkling your shirt.”
Potter chuckled. “I swear, Draco, the way you worry over your clothes…”
Draco opened his eyes and turned to face Potter, a scowl on his face. He was startled to see how close they were; from this distance, Potter’s wide eyes seemed fathomless, their irises swirling with colour. Draco caught his breath and took a step back, covering his retreat with a sneer. “My garments are made of the finest materials, Potter. You don’t treat quality clothing in a shabby manner.”
Potter rolled his eyes. “Okay, Draco, whatever you say. Take off your shirt, then.”
Draco crossed his arms and looked at Potter, his gaze challenging.
“And I’ll take off mine. Should I promise to go right back to the Castle when we’re done and have the house-elves iron my clothing?”
Draco shrugged, in the process of unbuttoning his shirt. “It’s probably too late, now.”
Potter chuckled, fingers working on his own buttons. As he shrugged out of his shirt, Draco looked up, eyes flicking curiously over Potter’s broad chest. A gasp escaped him as he saw the variety of scars criss-crossing the taut flesh. “What happened?!”
Potter's head jerked up, and a darkness swept across his features before he shrugged and said, “War happened.” His face clearing after a moment, he grinned crookedly and asked, “You didn’t think I was in the hospital wing for a hangnail, did you?”
Hearing the undercurrent in Potter’s voice, Draco allowed the topic to turn light. “Considering the fact that you’ve probably never had a manicure in your life, that was a definite possibility.” He smiled slightly when Potter’s deep chuckles reached him. Folding his shirt carefully, he set it to the side and turned back to Potter, brows raised expectantly. He was unprepared for the look of horror on Potter’s face.
“Merlin,” Potter said shakily. “I’m sorry, Draco. I don’t know if I ever said that to you, but I certainly thought it.”
Draco frowned and looked away. That day in the loo seemed like a lifetime ago. He often forgot about the scar that bisected his chest, considering it was generally covered until he went to bed at night. “Whatever, Potter. Let’s just get this over with.”
Potter put a hand on his arm and kept it there until Draco huffed in irritation and turned back to face him, posture rigid. “I know it doesn’t mean much, Draco, but I had no idea what that spell would do. I really am sorry. I would never have done that if I had known…”
“Yeah, well, it was a long time ago, and you’ve done enough to make up for it, so don’t mention it.”
“Draco,” Potter started, voice filled with contrition.
“Seriously, Potter, drop it.”
Potter sighed. “Fine. Let’s just walk, then.”
They fell into an uneasy silence, feet swishing through the summer grass.
The rain fell lightly, striking his skin in a hundred places at once. He tipped his head back, arms thrown wide in perfect abandon, as he twirled to the beat of the rain. He could feel the water sliding down his skin, coalescing in the natural valleys of his body before overflowing and continuing on its downward path to the thirsty ground.
“More living, Potter?” The honeyed drawl reached his ears and he smiled.
Turning to confront the intruder, he grinned widely and said, “Come out from under there. This is fantastic!”
“No thanks. Walking barefoot through the grass was one thing. Getting uncomfortably wet in my nice clean clothes is quite another, thank you very much.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing. It’s absolutely wonderful,” Harry called out, luxuriating in the bliss of the rain cleansing his soul.
“Why don’t you just tell me? I’m sure your description will be adequate.”
Harry smiled and shook his head. “I’ll try, but really, this is something no one else can feel for you. You really have to feel it for yourself to understand.”
As he let the water wash over him, he started speaking, letting his thoughts come out of him in no particular order, just saying whatever moved him. “You can feel them all at once, landing lightly on your skin, or the cool brush of your shirt as the material thins out as it becomes wet. It’s almost a caress then, under your clothes. You’re getting wet, but there’s still a barrier, something protecting your skin, so it feels different on your chest than it does on your face and hands. And it slides down your skin, like someone tickling their fingers over you. Sometimes you want to laugh, because it tickles, but sometimes it just feels strange, you know?
“And your hair! You wouldn’t believe how different it is to have your hair slowly become saturated. It’s so unlike taking a shower that there’s no comparison. At first, you just feel your hair moving, like someone showered you with confetti. But then, the water starts to slide down the strands, and it drips onto your scalp, or the nape of your neck, and it feels…weird. I don’t know how to describe it.
“Eventually, though, your hair is wet through, and there’s no pause between the rain hitting and the water falling, but that’s a totally different experience, because now you know that you’ve let it happen, that you’re not running away from it, but embracing the feelings. I can’t imagine running to escape the rain ever again. I think my body would mourn the loss.”
“Gods, Potter, I didn’t know you were such a hedonist.” Draco’s voice sounded shaky, and Harry spun to him, opening his eyes to see what was the matter. As he stood silently, brow furrowed in an unvoiced question, Draco once again started removing his shirt and shoes.
“Why are you taking off your shirt?” Harry asked, wishing he’d thought to remove his shoes earlier. With a careless shrug, he moved closer to the building and leaned against the wall to take them off, his socks leaving his feet with a wet, licking feeling.
“Silk,” Draco answered, then rolled his eyes as Harry continued to look confused. “Water ruins silk, Potter. Merlin, have you been living in a cave your whole life?”
Harry laughed abruptly, before replying, “Nope. A cupboard and a castle, but not a cave.” He just shook his head at Draco’s questioning glance. “Never mind. Are you ready?”
Draco rolled his shoulders and eyed the way the water dripped from Harry, before huffing slightly and saying, “Sure.”
Harry grinned and stepped back, away from the building, into the full force of the rain. The sensations were almost new again, as if his skin had forgotten the way the water had baptised it so recently.
“Why are you really doing this, Potter? What did Granger say to you that affected you so much?”
Harry licked at a rush of water as it flowed down his face, deciding whether to share this memory or not. His voice, when it came, was pitched low, but he was certain Draco could hear him.
“We were sitting in the Common Room one day, studying. Hermione seemed to always have us studying. This time, it was for Potions and I…well, it was shortly after the tower, and Dumbledore, and…” Harry swallowed roughly. He knew the rain would mask his tears, but he held them in for himself as much as anyone else. His grief was his own. “Anyway, I’ve never truly liked Potions, and it always reminds me of Snape,” Draco flinched at that, “so, bad memories all around. So, that day I decided I was done with studying. I told Hermione that it didn’t make a difference if I studied anyway, since I wasn’t going to survive my next encounter with Voldemort.”
“You told Granger that studying didn’t make a difference? I’m surprised I didn’t hear the shrieks down in the dungeons!”
Harry smiled, grateful that Draco had lightened the mood. “Well, actually she didn’t yell at me. She asked me why I did anything anymore, since I was so convinced that I was going to die. She asked why I got out of bed in the morning, why I brushed my teeth, why I spoke with her and Ron. I didn’t know what to say. So, I said the first thing that came to my mind. I told her I still had to live my life between now and then. And she said that I wasn’t. That I wasn’t living, I was merely existing. That if I was living, I’d pick up the books and learn something worthwhile, that I’d realise that my life itself is a book worth studying, but that I’d only written the first chapter. She told me one chapter books are boring, and that I should take time out to do things that would make my book interesting and beautiful.”
“And did the lesson sink in?” Draco asked quietly, his hair sticking to his face, eyes blinking to keep the water out of them.
Harry laughed. “Of course not. Hermione was far smarter than I’ll ever be. But after that, she started showing me. She took us outside to study. It was the dead of winter, and cold, but something about that day will stay with me forever. I finally started to understand what she meant. It was like…like a dirt encrusted window in my mind had been flung open and the light from outside was truly starting to come through. She had that kind of effect on people. It’s a shame you didn’t get to know her better.”
Draco nodded. “There are a lot of regrets I have. I thought for the longest time that if I were the perfect son, the perfect Malfoy son, that my life would be…I don’t know. Easy, maybe. That everything would just be handed to me. I learned otherwise my first day here. I thought you would just fall down in worship that Draco Malfoy would want to be your friend. When you gave me that pond scum look of yours—“
Harry’s laugh interrupted him. “The what look of mine?!”
Draco smiled. “Pond scum. I think it was your special look for me. You always seemed to adopt it around me, anyway.”
“Well, at least you got something that nice. You always had this ‘I’m going to sick up’ look on your face whenever you came across us.”
“Hmm, well, that might have something to do with the atrocious colour of Weasley’s hair. I mean, it’s so…Gryffindor!”
Their laughter was tinged with the sadness of their lost youth.
“How is, err, Weasley these days?”
Harry looked down, scrunching his toes into the waterlogged earth. “He’s…broken. I don’t know if it was worse that George died or that Hermione did. He and Fred, they spend all their time together, trying to fill the void for each other. I just make things worse for him, remind him of her. I feel like I lost them both.” He shrugged and looked away. “I’m sure you understand that feeling.”
He saw Draco swipe his hands over his face out of the corner of his eye. When the other boy started speaking, his normally smooth voice was rough with emotion. “Let’s not talk about this now. I’m sorry I brought it up.”
Harry nodded and went back to analysing the way the water felt as it pounded down on him. It had lost its innocence now, though. The drops of water began to speak to him, not of the pleasure of a summer rain, but of the weight of guilt that would never leave his shoulders.
Feeling the once gentle drops turn into stinging lashes, he turned to Draco to suggest going back inside. The sight that met his eyes stopped him cold. Draco was…living. He was truly taking this experience to heart.
The soft smile on his face as he lifted it to the heavens, the way his hands were upturned to capture the droplets of water, the silvery tracks the rain made along his lean, pale chest. Harry had never been so aware of another person before in his life. He was a bit stunned, but he couldn’t stop looking.
And then Draco opened his eyes and looked directly at Harry. They stood that way for hours it seemed, just looking at one another, really noticing every fine detail about each other for the first time. They’d rarely had the opportunity to just look; they’d always been in motion, fighting, or moving, or simply doing, and now they were free of that, and could fill their senses with each other.
Draco was the first to break eye contact, his eyes dropping to take in the form in front of him, the way Harry’s clothing moulded to his frame, the transparency of his wet shirt showing every line of his chest, his trousers clinging to every ridge and hollow. Draco licked his lips and ran a hand through his hair, shoving it back off his face as he raised his eyes again to Harry’s.
Just then, the rain turned harder, a chill wind whipping up with it, as it began to pelt them, stinging against their skin. The moment was broken, and they both looked away, feeling flushed and confused, mumbling something about returning to the castle. When they spoke over each other, Harry laughed lightly and said, “Race you.”
Draco cocked a brow and measured the fifteen or so yards back to where the Castle’s shelter stood so inviting. With a tiny smirk, he broke into a dash, Harry’s startled cry behind him absorbed quickly by the pounding rain.
“So, Potter,” Draco asked, clutching his sides as he laughed at Harry’s disgruntled look. “What forfeit are you going to pay?” His lips were turning nearly blue with the chill in the air, and he shivered heavily, but the sparkle in his grey eyes showed just how much fun he’d had this evening, so Harry relented with a minor pout.
“I shouldn’t have to pay a forfeit. You cheated!”
Draco’s chuckles slowed, but his smile was still firmly on his face as he said, “You didn’t outline any rules, Potter, therefore, I did not cheat. Maybe you’ll remember next time you decide to play against me that I’m a Slytherin. We take any and all advantages we can to win!”
Harry smiled and shook his head. “Fine. Tomorrow night, you can accompany me to watch the sunset. Well, if it isn’t raining still. If we don’t go tomorrow night, we’ll go whichever night is clear. Deal?”
Draco raised his eyebrows. “Why, Potter, that sounds like a perfectly romantic date! Of course I’ll accompany you!” He laughed lightly when Harry flushed red and looked away, obviously embarrassed. “Tomorrow, then,” he agreed, and stuck out his hand for Harry to shake.
Harry looked at it, a soft look of wonder lighting his eyes. He reached forward tentatively and took Draco’s cold hand in his own, their palms clammy from the rain, and shook it softly, chewing his lip as he glanced shyly through his lashes at Draco. With a smile he let go and backed away, walking toward his dorms.
Harry looked up from the Gryffindor house table, his quill poised over the journal he’d been writing in as he ate, to see Draco looking at him. He grinned, nodded, and looked back down, suddenly looking forward to the evening ahead with an anticipation he hadn’t felt toward anything in years. As he let the feeling wash over him, he went back to his writing.
Guess what? I’m going to go watch the sunset tonight. I know, I told you the other day I was going to do that, but…well, you’ll never guess, so I’ll just tell you. Draco Malfoy is coming with me. I know, I know, you’re shocked…
As he continued writing, a small smile took up permanent residence on his face, drawing relieved looks from staff and student alike. Something had brought Harry back to them. They might not know what it was, but they all gave thanks to see that crooked smile back where it belonged.
“Hello, Harry,” Draco said, stepping out of the shadows near the front entry to Hogwarts. “Right on time.”
“Oh, good, you got my note, then,” Harry said, rocking back on his heels as he took in Draco’s appearance. He shook his head as he noticed the perfectly pressed trousers and another of the silk shirts. “Haven’t you figured out that you shouldn’t wear such nice clothes around me?” he teased.
When Draco looked surprised and said, “But this is my oldest outfit!” Harry tossed back his head and laughed. At Draco’s perturbed, “What?” Harry just shook his head and waved his hand toward the front doors. Still frowning down at his outfit, Draco turned and walked outside.
It was dusk, the sun was low in the sky, crickets serenading the creatures of the night. Harry felt himself relaxing by slow degrees, the hum of life all around him soothing his soul. He looked over at Draco to see how he was faring, and smiled softly at the nervous glances he kept throwing at the Forbidden Forest.
“We’re not going there; it’s okay,” Harry assured him, grinning when Draco tossed his head and tried to act unconcerned. “Ahh, I think this is a good spot,” Harry said as they approached a slight rise, showing the setting sun to advantage over the lake.
The sky was turning red, streaks of purple and brightest pink trailing off, casting the few remaining clouds in the sky into sharp contrast. It really was beautiful. Harry sent a word of thanks winging off to wherever Hermione was now.
Harry pulled a small square of cloth from one pocket, enlargening it with his wand before spreading it over the ground. He automatically reached for Draco’s elbow to help him to the ground.
Draco stilled, in the act of sitting, when Harry touched him. When he realised what Harry was doing, he gave him a sardonic look, and said, “I believe I can make it all the way to the ground without assistance, Potter, but thanks.”
Harry blushed a bit, but grinned at himself, shaking his head. “Sorry, Draco. Seemed the thing to do.”
Draco waved off his apology, settling himself comfortably on the blanket and stretching out, resting on his elbows. Harry quickly dropped onto the blanket next to him, flopping down in a graceless heap, his movements a direct contrast to Draco’s elegant sprawl. Rolling to his side, he propped his head on his hand and studied Draco, enjoying the way the shifting colours in the sky highlighted his face.
“Problem, Potter?” Draco asked, not taking his gaze off the sky.
“No, why do you ask?”
“Well, I thought the point of this exercise was to watch the sunset. If you’ve got something on your mind, spit it out so we can do what we came to do.” Draco finally wrenched his eyes off the masterpiece that was the early evening sky, and looked at Harry, arching one brow in query.
Harry looked down, fingers plucking at the blanket as he tried to organise his thoughts. “Why did you come with me tonight?” he finally asked.
“Because, unexpected as it is, I’ve enjoyed myself on our little ‘experiences in living.’”
“What do you mean?” Draco asked, frowning.
“Well, you’ve been following me all year. I just wondered what made you suddenly decide to approach me?”
Draco thought for a moment, trying to decide how much to tell Potter, how much would even make sense. He shrugged to himself and decided he had nothing to lose. “When I ran from here last year, you followed me…us. Snape was protecting me, you know. That’s why he killed Dumbledore. He took an Oath, with my mum…” He swallowed hard, thinking about his mother and how she’d sacrificed herself for her son. Another thing he and Harry had in common. Strange, that. “Anyway, I know you hate him, but… well, he did it for me.” He looked at Harry, waiting for his reaction.
Harry was lying there, pensive. “He didn’t just do it for you. He did it for Dumbledore, too.”
Draco looked at him, shocked. “What do you mean?”
Harry rolled his shoulder and neck muscles to loosen the tension that always knotted them when he thought about this subject. “Dumbledore was dying. He… well, he’d made Snape promise him that, if it came down to it, he’d cast the killing curse. He knew about your task, Dumbledore, I mean, and he didn’t want you to have to do that. He told Snape, made him promise, that if he had the option, to kill him in your place. He was dying, anyway.” Harry shrugged, eyes bright with emotion. “They didn’t tell anyone else, because they knew Snape would have to leave, and they didn’t want anything to jeopardise his standing with Voldemort. It would have meant certain death for Snape, and he was too important to the Order, or his information was, anyway.”
“How do you know all this?” Draco asked, astounded.
“I received an owl on my seventeenth birthday. It carried a package that had a Pensieve and a memory. It was Dumbledore’s memory. He made it just for me, so that I would know what had happened, so that I would trust Snape.”
“But you didn’t. You never trusted Snape.” Draco’s tone was flat, not accusing, but not far from it, either.
“No. I never trusted him and he never trusted me. Our relationship was, at best, bitter. And I can’t help but think that Dumbledore didn’t have to die, that they could have come up with a different plan, something to make it look like Dumbledore was dead, but not actually kill him. Snape was the finest Potions master in Britain. He should have…”
“Should have what?”
“I don’t know!” Harry burst out. His lips rolled inward as his gaze darted about, anger bringing a flush to his cheeks. “Done something else! Saved Dumbledore.”
“But you said, yourself, that Dumbledore was dying. That Dumbledore had made Snape promise to kill him. So, what would you have rather he done?”
Harry shook his head, defeated. “I can’t forgive him, Draco. I just can’t. I wanted to hate you, too, but when you came back…”
Draco stiffened. “I don’t need your pity, Potter.”
“It’s not pity. It’s…I don’t know. Understanding? You were trying to save your mother. It was the first time I think I ever saw you do something for someone else. I’d been watching you all year, you know? And you were driven, but not by what I expected. You were just trying to save her.” Harry looked up at Draco, who had closed his eyes tightly at the mention of his mother. “I think it’s the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Draco laughed bitterly. “You’re wasting your admiration on me, Potter. Compared with what you’ve done, my actions were cowardly and devious.”
“Well, there’s a shocker,” Draco muttered dryly. “You disagreeing with me about something. And that’s another thing. I thought you would hex me when I came back, but you didn’t. You protected me from everyone, even your friends, and made the staff take me back. Why would you do that, Potter?”
“Because everyone deserves a second chance, Draco. I’ve had more second chances than anyone else. You know how many people died because of a stupid mistake I made? Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore… But everyone forgave me, over and over again. I could do no less for you.”
Draco just looked at him and decided to alter the subject slightly. “You asked me why I approached you. Well, when you were walking the other day…barefoot?” At Harry’s nod, he continued, “You looked happy. Really happy and at peace for the first time in…gods, years. I couldn’t understand why you were so happy. I mean, you’ve lost so much, more than most everyone else, I expect.” Draco bit his lip and looked down, his brow furrowing in thought. “I just had to know.”
Harry smiled at him and reached out a hand, smoothing his thumb between Draco’s eyes to remove the creases there. “And now you know.”
“And now I know,” he said with a smile, skin tingling where Harry had touched him. He shrugged his shoulders restlessly as Harry continued to stare at him. “I thought we were supposed to be watching the sunset.”
“I am,” Harry said softly.
Draco snorted and rolled his eyes. “You’re watching me Potter, not the sunset.”
A small smile graced Harry’s lips then, and he said, “But I can see it in your face. You should see what I see, Draco. Your eyes reflect everything. It’s really quite beautiful.”
Draco looked down at his lap, nibbling on his lower lip as he tried to decide whether or not to ask the question he most wanted the answer to. Throwing caution to the winds, he decided to make a grasp at this ‘living’ thing, and asked, “What do you see when you look at me… Harry?”
“Watch the sunset,” Harry commanded gently. When Draco was once more staring blindly at the sky, seeing nothing but Harry’s eyes on him, softly whispered words flowed over him, heightening his senses.
“I can see the whole sky reflected in your eyes. The way the red and purple shoot out, with the grey of your eyes underneath, makes it something totally different than just a regular sunset. I suppose it’s because your eyes are wet that I can see all this, but I think the shine of them makes it all just a touch more majestic. Like the way magic adds to life here, your eyes add a certain something to the sunset.
“And it’s not just your eyes. I can see the pink tones captured in your skin. I’ve never seen anyone with skin as pale as yours, before. Did you know that? But just here,” Harry raised his hand and stroked a gentle finger across the ridge of Draco’s cheekbone, stealing his breath and making his heart race. Draco shuddered and closed his eyes, concentrating on the feeling of that slightly rough finger tracing over his skin.
“Your skin is so soft,” Harry whispered, amazed. So involved was he in the moment, that he didn’t stop to think whether he should be touching Draco like this. He turned his hand over and cupped his palm against Draco’s cheek, a tiny sound of pleasure escaping him at the contrast of the smooth skin and the faint rasp of facial hair. He lightly ran his thumb over Draco’s jawline, not noticing when Draco turned to face him, eyes blind with passion.
Draco was stunned by the feelings roiling inside him. When he turned to Harry and saw the wonder on his face, he couldn’t stop himself from closing the distance between them and pressing his lips to Harry’s.
Harry moaned quietly, overwhelmed at the touch of the soft lips on his own, the sweet taste of Draco when their tongues met. His senses were rioting, he could hear and feel everything. As they kissed, the crickets sang and the wind whispered through the trees. Draco’s lips moved sensuously against his own, tickling along his mouth. His long lashes brushed Harry’s cheek as his eyelids trembled, and Harry could feel it all.
After several long, drugging kisses, they finally pulled slowly apart, neither feeling any awkwardness because the moment had simply called for their passion. Harry looked at Draco in awe, seeing fairy lights reflected in his eyes.
“We missed the sun setting, Harry,” Draco murmured. “You still owe me a forfeit.”
Harry swallowed and nodded, prepared to pay any forfeit to spend more time with Draco. “’S okay. We can watch the fairy lights now. They’re out.”
Draco looked up in surprise. Sure enough, fairy lights twinkled all around the school grounds. “How did you know?”
“I saw it in your eyes,” Harry replied simply.
Draco blinked at him and smiled. “How many more chapters in that book of yours, Harry?”
Harry shrugged, a small grin tugging at his lips. “No idea. What chapter do you suppose this is?” he asked, capturing Draco’s hand with his own.
Draco looked at him, eyes shining. “Didn’t Granger tell you?”
“Love. That’s the best chapter of all.”