15 March 2008 @ 12:11 am
Alchemy in Quarter Time  
Title: Alchemy in Quarter Time
Author: Lilith ([info]lilithilien)
Fandom: Harry Potter
Summary: Four decisive moments in the life of Draco Malfoy.
Rated: PG, maybe soft R
Length: 8500 words
Disclaimer: All rights to these characters belong to J.K. Rowling and her publishers and agents. I make no claim to ownership and expect no monetary gain, and I'm writing this story purely for enjoyment.
Note: Written for the [info]ides_of_march Fandom Frenzy using the prompt 001. The Elements. As always thanks to [info]sarcastic_jo, without whom this story would never have been finished, and not be half as good.

Alchemy in Quarter Time

Their first kiss is like fire.

At least that's how Draco remembers it. But of course, everything surrounding Harry Potter seems volatile. In his presence the very air crackles with electricity.

It begins, as do so many things, with Draco disparaging Harry's parentage. It isn't that Draco thinks being an orphan is funny -- in truth, it's the nightmare haunting his waking days -- but it's always been the surest way to get a rise out of Harry. One insolent slight against Lily Potter and Harry charges, cheeks beet red and fists clenched but empty, clearly having forgotten that a wizard can fight more effectively with a wand. But that's Potter, through and through. Emotion always makes him forgetful.

"Tonight, Potter." Draco's dare is gift-wrapped in an invitation. "Midnight in the boiler room. Alone."

"Fine," spits Harry, static sharpening the crisp air. "Don't bring your goons either."


As if he would. Draco hardly needs Vince and Greg to back him up against a half-blood who'd never even heard of a Wizard's Duel before coming to Hogwarts.

Harry tiptoes carefully away, not daring to turn his back until he reaches his ubiquitous sidekicks. They cluster around, his pack of Gryffindors with their unkempt manes and dishevelled robes, as if through untidiness alone they could vanquish any foe. It's distracting enough to almost work.

"You can't go alone," the girl grangers as they rush Potter out the door. "Malfoy could really hurt you."

Draco smiles. The Mudblood's words have just sealed his fate. Potter will be there, and he will be alone.

Draco arrives early, of course. To mark out his paces. To hear the roar of the furnace grow familiar and silent. To trail oft-repeated words through his memory: "Vigilance and surprise, son, the secrets to winning any duel. Don't rush in headfirst like a wilful Gryffindor. Let your opponent act. First hexes are predictable, more often than not."

Let your opponent act. Easy enough where Potter's concerned. Like dry kindling he's primed to burst into flames with the faintest spark.

But as for surprise, Potter gains the upper hand by suddenly materialising beside the furnace. "H- how did you get here?" Draco would never admit to stuttering, but he will to shock. Even Lucius can't break through the school's anti-Apparition wards.


That smirk tempts Draco to forget his father's advice and hex the boy first just on principle. Rules never apply when it comes to Harry Potter anyway. Like now, standing there in his oversized Muggle clothes, flaunting the fact that he doesn't know the first thing about proper duelling etiquette. His t-shirt even has a ripped collar. He's an utter mess!

And unbothered by it, of course. He steps opposite Draco -- the two have repeated this dance so often that they assume their places naturally -- and draws his wand.

"So your babysitters let you out after all? Were they not afraid their hero might be hurt?" So easy, so banal, yet still it inflames. Draco deflects the rushed Jelly-Legs Jinx easily. "Original as ever, Potter."

His Leg-Locker reply catches Harry in one knee, the silent Sticking Charm he'd added pinning Potter's discount trainer to the floor. As the Gryffindor lurches like a broken bird Draco steps closer, rounding on his crippled opponent just like his father had taught him. "Follow like smoke flowing backwards into a pipe, spiralling to its source..."

Harry, working to release himself, barely gives Draco a second glance. "Shut up, Malfoy." Now free, he moves to counter, his steps clumsy but more alert than expected.

"Oh, well put, Potter. No wonder you're the darling of the press."

He ducks, but not before Potter's Stinging Hex grazes the side of his head. Sharp jabs from hundreds of unseen needles prickle across half his face. Incensed, Draco fires the next curse before bothering to ease his pain.

"Lingua Incendio!"

That results in a very satisfying yelp. Potter takes his sweet time casting his release ... or maybe his tongue is burned too badly to muster the words. The odour of singed flesh makes Draco wince from four feet away.

"No Dark magic, Malfoy." His growl sounded excruciating, like his seared tongue objected to speaking the words of the healing charm.

"Tsk, tsk, Potter, I needn't call on the Dark to beat you." An artless smile, the very picture of innocence. "You might want to ask Dumbles to teach you a few real spells. And while you're at it, you might ask him about your mother and the Dark Lord."

There it was, that inevitable heat rising from the mere mention of Potter's sainted mother, setting him off enough that his Blasting Curse misses by a mile. Well, by inches, at least. Enough that a quick dive saves Draco, even if he lands with a closer view of Potter's ratty trainers than he'd ever hoped to see.

"You leave my mother out of this."

Draco dismisses the snarl as he straightens his robes. "Fine, fine. I just thought it was peculiar, how obsessed the Dark Lord was with her. One might almost think they'd been lovers..."

Faster than lightning Harry has Draco pinned, the cold stone on his back the only thing saving the Slytherin from being incinerated by fury. This close Draco can see it blaze, so bright that even Potter's horrible spectacles can't damper it. "Those pumpkin-sized frames really are a travesty," he thinks, not for the first time. That's the thing about Potter. He tries so hard to make himself look like a tramp, what with those trousers he trips over and his horrendous holey shirts, but even in this preposterous costume there's no denying he is fit. Those eyes are the icing on the cake. Deep as the depths the merpeople inhabit and the same colour as a Quidditch pitch groomed for a match. His enemy the man might be, but Merlin knows that doesn't mean Draco is blind.

But Draco is helpless, he realises belatedly. His wand had fallen unnoticed to the ground during Potter's graceless manhandling. Calling for its return would reveal a vulnerability better kept hidden. Fists are an option, but Potter's weight has the advantage, not to mention that his body is braced, pinning Draco in place. His options are few.

So Draco kisses him.

It's hardly fair to call it a kiss at this point. The instant Draco's lips press against his, Potter turns to stone. He might as well be snogging David's marble chops for all the response he gets. Draco swallows down his disappointment -- nothing else to swallow, after all -- and turns to tactical matters. His wand, first and foremost. And the sure-fire way he's just discovered for the Dark Lord to defeat the Boy Hero. One quick peck and Potter will be paralysed. Of course, Draco knows he'll have to be careful about revealing how he's come upon this knowledge. Some, namely Blaise, might try to turn this to their benefit.

That indurate lump that Potter's become stands unmoving when, after just a second, Draco pulls away. About to call for his wand, Draco makes the mistake of glancing at the other boy first. Potter's mouth hanging ajar should inspire another hex, not this conflagration in his chest, every bit as hungry as the furnace roaring from across the room. The urge to curse Harry has never been stronger, with the Darkest magic imaginable, whatever it takes to quell his mortification.

Let your opponent act.

Draco forces himself to wait, to watch. It's then he notices Potter's tongue, just the pointed pink tip, dragging its way over the skin that his lips had touched, softly, softly. The boy stares, watching Harry's bottom lip grow glistening from the slow snail's crawl of his tongue. Draco's thumb aches to smear it across his chin, rough enough to turn this torture on its head. If this is meant to take him down then he'll go down fighting.

And then Potter -- utterly predictable Potter, who each morning eats his porridge without fail, who concocts the most hackneyed divinations for Madam Trelawney, who can be counted on to botch his potions assignment and attract Snape's ire -- does something Draco could never have imagined.

"Sod it," he mutters, whipping his glasses off and reaching out with both hands for Draco. Long fingers work their way into his white hair, gripping his skull, pulling his face forward. Potter's mouth covers his, not marble now, but the warmest, softest flesh, moving and so terribly alive. And that tongue, that delicious pink tongue, explores his enemy with little licks and long caresses. And Draco … sweet Merlin, Draco goes from calculating his chances of victory to devouring Harry Potter like he's starving for him. Maybe he is. All he hates about Potter suddenly seems bearable. More than bearable, those emerald eyes that rush wide-eyed into trouble are unblinking as they kiss and that annoying tongue finally works powerful magic. And with characteristic naivety the prat's left his wand in his pocket where Draco can easily take it; the tip digs into his arm as he pulls Potter closer. He should take it, but he doesn't. In mere seconds his carefully constructed shields have been incinerated, grey ash where once rose his defences. Draco knows that if this continues, he'll end up every bit as dishevelled as Potter. He clings to the wiry muscles hidden under that ratty t-shirt, knowing that when he lets go he will have to face that.

Potter's the one who ends it, much as it seemed to pain him. He keeps his grip on Draco's shoulders, though, while his penetrating eyes dissect the pale face.

"What was that about, Malfoy?"

It figures that Potter would choose this moment to talk instead of indulging in the excruciating brilliance of how their erections are perfectly aligned.

"That?" Draco hides his uncomfortable grimace beneath an oily grin. "Oh, that was just a ploy to distract you."

"It worked."

He stares with those eyes that are too bare, naked and sincere, looking every bit like they would after a thorough shag. Draco curses his imagination for that tempting image. That way lies danger, a treacherous path paved with those rosebud cheeks and kiss-bruised mouth that taunt him with what he couldn't have. His voice cruel, he rebukes himself as much as Potter.

"You don't think this changes anything, do you?"

Harry turns away, face hidden, though Draco notes that embarrassment burns his throat crimson. Draco feels chilled without that fiery body against his, as if he'd just dunked his head in the icy pool after a sauna. Shaking out his rumpled robes disguises his shiver.

Potter returns, stepping too close, his hand held open as if approaching a Palmist. Nestled between his Head Line and Heart Line lies Draco's hawthorn wand. His expression even behind his newly donned spectacles is strangely bright.

"It could."

Speechless, Draco snatches the wand, averting his gaze from those vivid eyes. Such unfathomable trust. It should be reviled, this sign of weakness. It shouldn't stoke the coals smouldering in his belly. He wonders idly how one can regret losing what they've never had a chance to want.

Derailing this line of thought, Draco throws his head back, banging it hard against the stone, a cold eye fixed on his tempter. This, whatever 'this' is, is too great a risk. Even this tiny taste has shown him how hot his enemy burns. Touching that passion, even for an instant, is too reckless. Reminding himself that to embrace it means failure, ruin, death, his voice is severe.

"It won't."

Potter should have stormed out at that, throwing one of those wilful tantrums he's famous for when he doesn't get his way. But inexplicably, the boy doesn't budge. He simply stands there, worrying the collar of his t-shirt, his fingernail picking at the worn stitching as he studies Draco.

"Maybe. But can I still see you?"

For the love of Merlin Ambrosius! Only Potter would want to continue this, tempting their fates and futures by making what happened real. It wasn't, Draco knew that. The energy that crackles between them, undeniably powerful, is merely loathing, not any grotesque mimicry of love. Making things normal again should be easy enough. He has only to remind Potter of their rivalry, fuel his hard feelings with a careless slur. At the very least he can tell him that he is hated.

"You see me every day in class," he says instead.

"That wasn't what I meant."

So this is how Potter will triumph. Children's jinxes and old-fashioned doggedness, wearing the Dark Lord down with irrepressible optimism and shabby clothes and that eternal flame that refuses to burn out. Facing him now, Draco is forced to admit it's an imposing combination. "Circle like smoke back to its source," his father had said, but doesn't that bring them to where they now stand, close enough to see the fevered pulse in Potter's throat, to breathe in the air warm from his lungs? Could this be where their steps have always meant to lead?

It's madness, pure madness, what Draco is contemplating, insanity on a scale that would have impressed Aunt Bella. But that's the thing about Potter. He glows incandescent, and standing flushed in his radiance Draco can almost bring himself to imagine the imaginable.

Nothing that he'd ever let on, though.

"I expect another duel will be required," he drawls, the lazy vowels covering the quiver in his throat, "if you persist in being your usual irritating self."

A puff of hot air, the beginning of a chuckle, buffets Draco's face, too quiet to overcome the furnace's roar but undeniably there. This newly bold Potter, bottle-green eyes gleaming with amused satisfaction, is proving every bit as aggravating as the old irascible one. Only two seconds have passed and Draco's less-than-hateful feelings are already becoming a distant memory.

Before they can disappear forever, those smirking lips press to Draco's. Chastely closed this time, they still manage to simmer with promise. Let your opponent act, and Potter had certainly done that. Refusing to let himself boil over this time, Draco jerks away first.

"Get out before I decide a Scorched Skull hex would make the perfect alibi."

His voice is dangerously hoarse, but his enemy seems not to notice. Obviously not bothered by the threat that had only half been in jest, Potter grins and hurries to the door. A quick lookout for Filch, and then a furtive glance back, just for an instant.

"Night, Malfoy."

He's gone before he can hear Draco not answer, already scurrying down the cold stone hallway. Squeaking those awful trainers with every step no doubt, summoning Mrs Norris as surely as if the pockets of those baggy trousers were filled with catnip. Draco spares a smile at the thought of Potter's detention, then frowns. If he were to be ratted out then a Scorched Skull will be the least of the Boy Hero's worries.

The thought of vengeance for this future offence soothes Draco's frayed nerves somewhat, the careful balance of the universe slowly swinging back into its place. Everything has changed, and yet nothing has. Potter is still a hopeless mess, an intolerable prat, a smug bastard who always gets his way.

And it's simply Draco's imagination that the boiler room feels chilly after he leaves.

* * * * *

"Watch it, Potter! You're getting dirt in my hair!"

Draco shoves the wiry body off, though with less force than his words would suggest. It's cold, after all, and he's found that a half-undressed, heat-producing Gryffindor is a much-needed accessory while out on the cliffs in March.

"Stay on my cloak then."

"I can't very well see your bloody cloak, now, can I?"

Draco picks a dried leaf from his hair, crushes it, and deposits the crumbs in the other boy's wild mane. It hangs there like beige confetti from the most sedate New Year's party ever, and Potter's flailing does nothing to dispel it.

"That's kind of the point of an invisibility cloak, isn't it?"

Draco sighs dreamily. "I wish I could get one of these. You really should give it to me, Potter. I could do incredible things."

"Like what?" An arm drapes over his bare chest, a tousled leaf-covered head finds a comfortable crook in his shoulder. Draco settles into the cushion of their blankets, fingers idly exploring the bend of Harry's elbow, as his imagination roams.

"A shopping trip at Hogsmeade, for starters. All the Bloodsicles I could carry from Honeydukes … and Chocolate Frogs for you, of course."

"What would be the point of that? You could buy all the Bloodsicles you want now."

"Ill-gotten sweets always taste nicer, Potter, don't you know that? I'd go to Zonko's, too …" He pinches Harry's arm to quell the protests he senses rising. "I'd pay, don't worry, but I'd need your cloak so I could sneak into your house and fill McLaggen's trunk with Dungbombs."

Harry sniggers. "You and Ron should team up. He's been wanting to hex him, too."

"At last, the Weasel proves himself useful." More bitter than they should have been, Draco's words betray his promise not to disparage Harry's friends, at least when they're alone. Of course some semblance of normalcy must be maintained, and when they were in public their insults fly faster than ever. Alone, however, their animosity has proven too difficult to maintain. At least until Harry was in the hospital, surrounded by those same friends, and Draco was shut out without a word.

Harry's grown skilled at ignoring Draco's japes, though. Smoothly he changes the subject. "Ron's noticed something. He asked where I was before the match and I told him I saw you following a couple of girls. Now he thinks I'm obsessed with you."

Draco remembers that day. Only a few stolen moments before the match, a broom closet smelling of newly cut twigs, Harry's blood pumping furiously. His pulse thumped a feral beat, solid as the ages, a rhythm Draco matched as he breached his lover's body with deep, determined thrusts.

"Too bloody right you are."

An agreeable kiss follows, still sated from earlier, just enough to forge that reassuring connection that grounds Draco. He's come to depend on it, the one stable thing amidst the chaos that has become his life, and wouldn't you know it'd have to be Potter? He's long recovered from the irony of that, although he knows no one else would. Present company excluded, of course.

Harry's hand drifts lower, practiced fingers inching inside loose trousers, skilfully finding the grooves on the edge of Draco's hipbone. A touch more intimate than sex, this comfortable familiarity the result of hours devoted to explorations, unearthing every secret of the other, their ticklish spots, the places that make them tremble, the nicks and scrapes on one's ruddy skin, the unblemished translucence of the other. Lightness and dark, the balance they sought somehow found in the other.

"I hate lying to him, you know. I've always told him pretty much everything."

Draco listens in silence, not knowing what to say. Deceiving the Gryffindors comes second nature to him; that Harry's now joined in is an unexpected bonus of their trysts.

"He thinks I've still got it bad for Ginny."

Manicured fingers stroke the dark hair, part it in unruly sections, feel for the fault line where bludger met skull, the seismic shaking of Draco's world even now making his hand quake. His tongue is much steadier, and sounds not nearly as bitter as it tastes.

"That convincing, are you?"

Wide eyes, verdant and lush, rise to his. So painfully candid, these windows into a soul so unsuited for mendacity. Such a liability, Draco would have thought, an Achilles heel that once he would have exploited. Now, discovering its true qualities, it's become his weakness and his strength. Solid as the boulder that blocks them from sight, unshakeable as the ground on which they lay. How could his friends look into these eyes every day and still be deceived? Did they never lose themselves in their comforting depths?

"You know it's only for show, right, Draco?"

The sound of his given name, hardly ever used, is the welcome reassurance Draco insists he doesn't need. He savours the feel of rich, warm consonants and long, round vowels for just a second before his brass returns.

"Naturally. You know I'm fully behind anything you need to do to illude your friends."

Potter sits up, arms looped around his knees. His bare back curves like a bow, chiselled vertebrate a bas relief of the craggy Cairngorms in flesh, bone, and blood. Into his skin are pressed the imprints of stones too sharp for their blankets to contain. The bite-like craters make Draco feel at once protective and possessive, jealous of the marks he dare not leave on the skin he's come to see as his own.

"What do you tell them?" asks Harry as Draco's thumb maps each peak of his spine. "Your friends, where do you tell them you are when you're with me?"

Draco pauses, debating the wisdom of the truth. These matters should be avoided at all costs, this Forbidden Forest of conversation. A convenient lie is already galloping to his tongue when the memory of Potter's veracious gaze reins it in. "That I'm on a secret assignment for Him," he admits.

"And they believe you?" comes the quiet follow-up.

"Of course. They're sure I'll be invited take his Mark this summer."

His arm, unmarred and white as chalk, rests on his stomach. Potter reaches for it, turns it over, exposes the blue veins of Draco's wrist to the sun. A bitten fingernail scratches a ghostly figure eight there, infinity belied in evanescing white.

"Will you?"

Two words, terribly simple, yet they push Draco dangerously close to the precipice. He feels the ground beneath him start to shake and he freezes, not daring to move, not daring to answer, knowing danger lies in every direction. A hand still grips his wrist holding fast, as if Potter is still determined to save him, as if there is still a chance of saving him once he answers the question. Staring at Potter's profile, instead his silver eyes wonder at the sheer distance he could fall.

"Do you really want to know?"

"Yes." Potter releases his wrist, shaking his head vigorously as if trying to dislodge his desire. "No." Frustrated with his indecision, he bullies a tuft of new grass growing beside his cloak. The tender leaves come up easily, their colourless roots perfectly clean, too young to cling to the soil. "I don't know."

Harry sighs, tossing the young shoots over his trainers. Draco marvels at the adaptability of the shallow roots, knowing they will take hold wherever they fell. Once he had been that resilient, indeed had prided himself on it. He wonders if he is still. This whatever-it-is with Potter certainly requires an open mind; after all, for some months he's endured talk of Gryffindor House and now even finds Harry's unfortunate Chudley Cannons fetish endearing.

But it's hard to feel pliant when Potter is awaiting an answer Draco can't give. He is ready to take the Dark Mark, had desired it since that day, long ago, when his tiny fingers had traced the faded pattern on his father's wrist. "A promise," Lucius explained when he'd asked what it was. To this day, Draco remembers the pride in his father's voice, and the pride that he himself had felt when he figured out that the promise went both ways. On this compact was staked the fortune of the Malfoys, one that he will honour and wear with pride.

At least until the first time that Harry Potter glowers at it with disgust.

They sit in silence, more newly sprouted grass falling victim to impatient fingers. Draco can wait, even if it means Potter deforests the entire school. He would hate to see the Quidditch pitch go, it's such a dazzling green from the air, but Harry's eyes are the same colour and losing them -- as he surely will with his answer -- would be worse.

It's Potter who breaks the silence, as Draco knew he would.

"It's just that I … sometimes I forget we're on opposite sides."

The invisible folds of the cloak shift under him as Harry lays down on his side, with those bedazzling eyes fixed on who Draco almost wishes he could be. Fingers with dirt-rimmed nails stroke windblown strands of hair off Draco's forehead; they smell loamy and green.

"I won't fight you, Draco. Whatever happens, I won't fight you."

"A promise," and who can say that this one is any less powerful? Blaise once told him that through the sheer force of the earth slamming together the mountains around Hogwarts were formed. Draco had imagined a mighty battle between two stone sorcerers until Blaise revealed that this slow folding and sinking and rising had taken thousands of years. Ceaseless pressure, constant change, the sharp rocks stabbing their backs coming from leagues under the ground, centuries before. This is the resilience that Potter possesses. He is the true Slytherin, the one who can adapt and absorb and offer the possibility of hope to himself and his enemy. Not Draco, who wants to make the same promise but can't. Not with so much at stake, not with the expectations of his father, not with a family name old as the stones, not with his future unchangeable and unforgiving.

"You'll do what you have to do, Potter. Just like I will."

If Harry is disappointed with that answer, he doesn't show it. His warm hand slides under Draco's neck, snakes under his shoulder, drags him closer. Their bodies collide like those massive plates, sixteen-year-old bodies less patient than the stones of the ages but none less thorough. Sheer force replaced by sheer need, their mouths press hard and open, anxious tongues that fail at talking expertly explore the chink. Valleys are formed and destroyed as their bodies demand contact, muscles ripple like plains of grain, a collarbone sharp as a dolmen digs into Draco's cheek. He catalogues it all, knowing himself a voyager in this world, one who does not belong and cannot remain, but who will hold forever the knowledge of every contour.

"Can't we just stay here forever?"

Apparently Potter can read his mind. That fact doesn't bother Draco too much. His secrets don't seem to matter now, not while he lays boneless against the curve of a willing body, almost purring as a rough hand gently strokes his back. Which is the truth and which is the lie anyway? Are they enemies fucking furtively behind their friends' backs or lovers stealing time and tempting fate? If the very ground beneath them is shifting, then how can anything be absolute, even in the depths of Potter's eyes? Maybe sometimes it's lies that are far closer to the truth.

"We can, Harry. Of course we can."

* * * * *

Draco floats.

There should be pain. The human body, even a wizard's body, isn't supposed to open like that. This covering of skin, so thin and -- now Draco knows -- so fragile, has to remain closed. Split open, there's nothing to keep all that blood inside where it belongs.

Awareness rises above the blood, above the terrible screams, above the frantic figures. It's quiet up here, wherever here is. Not knowing doesn't bother him much. He imagines himself as a silver balloon, the colour of the sky at dusk, drifting for what must be days, that cursed husk abandoned as currents lift his untethered soul.

Occasionally sounds puncture consciousness. His mother's worried voice, Snape's cold one trying awkwardly to reassure her. Words that should make sense but don't. "…lost too much blood…" "…detention too good for him..." "…danger at Hogwarts..." "…his mission to complete…" Other voices, another woman -- Madam Pomfrey it must be -- chattering as if awaiting a response, Dumbledore's low grumble more dire than he's ever heard it. Draco worries about the balloon, fears that their words might deflate it, but the voices waft past and vanish, leaving his head only with images of light and contentment such as he's never known. For the first time obligations don't burden him, his feet aren't hobbled by being the scion of Malfoy. For the first time he simply glides unfettered, his body swathed in the downy white sheets of the hospital wing while his thoughts float free. In this timeless space there's no war, no enemies, no pain, just this buoyant peaceful sensation inviting him to float forever.

Inevitably, though, the balloon loses altitude. Slowly, of course, its descent buffeted by streams of air, but it can't escape gravity's relentless tug. Nearing the heavy earth Draco is hurt to realise that the peace he's felt was a deceit. Fruitless as he knows it is, he's tempted to snatch this feeling of serenity, to stash it in the Malfoy vault where so many other supposedly unattainable treasures have been stored through the ages. His fingers grasp at the elusive feelings that vanish like tendrils of smoke, leaving his fist left clutching nothing but empty air.

"Look! He's waking up. Oh, Draco, please wake up."

Slowly blinking at the muted brightness of this other world, Draco notices how heavy it all seems. Solid faces gaze down on him, a dense tear runs down his mother's cheek, even the air on his serrated chest feels weighty, almost painful.

"Mother?" he gasps.

"Draco, we've been so worried ..."

"There, Narcissa, give the boy room to breathe."

Snape sounds less standoffish than usual, and Draco is grateful for his words. The room is stifling. The same air that he flew above is now crushing him, threatening to suffocate him. He pants, willing his lungs to fill, but his chest does ache so.

"He's absolutely right. I'd like you all to stand aside while I examine my patient."

Madam Pomfrey's clipped order brooks no protest; the forms crowding around shift and disappear from view. A white-bonneted head bobs into his vision, a puff of white cloud who waves a wand over him, making his tight lungs swell.

"There, that's better," the cumulus declares as she helps him sit up. "How do you feel now, Mr. Malfoy?"

Sore. Confused. Like a deflated balloon. Unfocused eyes survey the room, landing on familiar faces. Shimmers of colour blur their features, glimmering shadows that Trelawny would probably call auras though Draco has always been sceptical of that sort of thing. And in the corner, a glimmer that isn't quite shadow, just fractured air that doesn't seem to fit quite right. It's all angles and surfaces where light seems to pause before dissipating. Draco shakes his head and looks back at the nurse.

"My head feels awfully funny."

"That would be the Draught of Living Death, dear. It enhances the Blood-Replenishing Potion, but it makes you quite woozy." A wand brushes his chest through his bedclothes, her touch so delicate, but still he flinches. "Still sensitive, I see. I'm sorry, but I have to examine you."

Draco nods, his eyes closed while she eases open his pyjamas, his head filled with too much fog to protest this indignity. The first blast of frigid air makes him suck in his breath, almost missing the others' gasps and his mother's quiet weeping. He doesn't dare look down at his torn chest.

"How bad is it?"

"Not as bad as I'd expected," is her cryptic reply.

"You see now that a few detentions are hardly severe."

"I did not oppose your punishment, Severus. I only want to hear Draco's side." The Headmaster appears above him, an enormous nimbostratus opposite the puffy cumulus that is Madam Pomfrey. "Draco, could you tell us what happened in the bathroom that night?"

That night. It seems a lifetime ago, before these fresh sheets and the pleasant chocolaty scent and that blissful floaty feeling, and it's several moments before Draco's mind dares return to chipped white tiles covered in a shocking amount of blood.

"I was talking to Moaning Myrtle."

His mother rushes to his side, fumbling for his hand. "Is that the ghost? Draco, what possessed you to speak with a ghost of all things?"

"Narcissa, please, let the boy finish. Draco, is there anything you are able to tell us about your conversation?"

Subtle as it is, Draco hears the warning in Snape's words. There is so much he isn't able to say, and with his head so foggy he needs this reminder to select his words carefully.

"Just about classes and whatnot. I like talking to her sometimes, she listens."

Narcissa sighs, her grip tightening.

"And then what happened?"

"Potter came in."

"You weren't expecting him?"

"Of course not." Tumbling Dumbledore's question over in his mind, searching its empty corners for hidden meanings, Draco hopes the Headmaster knows nothing of their secret meetings.

"What did you do then?"

"I hexed him."

Quietly, insistently, the Headmaster asks, "Did you cast an Unforgivable Curse, Draco?"

So this is what they want. Fucking Potter. It isn't enough that his spell ripped through Draco's flesh like it was fresh bread. Now the fucking Boy Hero will have him expelled from Hogwarts. Probably won't stop until he's joined his father in Azkaban. Draco's head spins wildly, his thoughts a squall picking up speed, fed by fury at Potter, at Snape and Dumbledore, at his secret mission, at the Dark Lord himself. But mostly at Potter. He's the one who left Draco cursed and bloodied, aching much deeper than from this wound alone.

"Potter said that, I suppose." The air shimmers again and he curses his aching head. Fucking Potter.

"Harry refuses to talk about what led to this altercation," Dumbledore replies after a long silence. "We had hoped you might enlighten us."

He hadn't talked. Fucking Potter hadn't talked. If he'd been standing, Draco is sure the news would have blown him over.

"I just hexed him, that's all. A Stinging Hex and … and a Blasting Curse. You may test my wand if you don't believe me."

To his ears the words sound airy, without substance. True, he hadn't finished the curse, but in that horrible moment, with his secret still echoing off the porcelain tiles, he had wanted to. Surely the others will see through his transparent words and know the truth. But surprisingly, Dumbledore just nods.

"We already have."

"Yes, and I intend to inform the Governing Board forthwith. My son may be a student, Professor Dumbledore, but to my knowledge he's not required to relinquish his right to privacy."

Eyes blazing defiantly, her tears now all but forgotten, Narcissa is once more the formidable lady of Malfoy Manor. Draco beams, gratefully squeezing her hand at Dumbledore's resigned look.

"You must do as you see fit, Madam Malfoy. As it seems there was no wrongdoing on Draco's part, I consider this matter closed."

"And if there are no more other urgent matters, my patient needs to rest."

The visitors are herded out the door; his mother huffs but even maternal instincts are no match for Madam Pomfrey. Welcome quiet descends on the room after Madam Pomfrey departs with a promise to return shortly with a sleeping draught.

Draco lies back on the pillow, eyelids half-closed, exhausted without doing anything. This body still doesn't feel like home anymore. Its too-slender neck can hardly support the weight of his head, and he can't even conceive how he could ever stand on two stick-legs. He longs to be weightless again, his soul afloat, not imprisoned in this dense mass of bone and flesh and corpulent replenished blood.

In his unfocused eyes the air shimmers as if it's taking a deep breath. Its lustre makes the empty space seem a living thing. Just a bit of visual residue from his euphoria, no doubt, and he would shake his head to clear it but for his reluctance to move. He can close his eyes, though, and he does.

When he opens them the shimmer is gone; in its place stands the all-too-solid Potter.

"You lied."

The predictable righteousness makes Draco's lip twitch. After all that had happened, of course this would be what Potter chooses to be offended by. "So did you."

Potter shakes his head, his hair sticking up in stranger configurations than usual after being stuffed under the invisibility cloak. "No, I left things out. That's different."

Gryffindors do love to rationalize, but Draco's got no patience for that right now. "Why are you here, Potter?"

"I had to see if you were all right."

Harry moves closer to the bed but stops short of touching distance. The empty space that hangs between them whispers to Draco, telling him everything he needs to know about where this conversation is headed.

"You heard Madam Pomfrey," he smiles airily like it doesn't matter. "Not as bad as she expected. Besides, you can't hog all the scars, it's not fair."

Harry looks pained, which pleases Draco immensely. He quite likes the idea of a little pain being shared around. Nimue knows he has enough to go around, starting with that rude awakening in this hard-edged world that's made him more than a little irritable. Making Potter wince without even having to lift a finger means his day might be looking up.

He'd prefer more wincing and less scrutiny through that awful pair of spectacles. "I know you're up to something, Malfoy. Whatever it is, you have to stop. I can help you, Dumbledore can-"

"If ever I need your help, and Merlin help me if I do, I'll be sure to ask for it. Until then, stay out of my business!"

The sheer effrontery, blustering in with that saviour of the world routine. Draco knew that he'd hear it one day, it was too much to ask that it hover between them forever unspoken, but today? Really, really not in the mood.

"It's my business, too. I have to kill Voldemort." Harry ignores Draco's scornful exhalation. "But I don't want to fight you."

"All evidence to the contrary."

"You were about to cruciate me!" Potter's fists clench, holding fast to the umbrage. "Would you really have done it?"

And here is the real reason for Potter's visit. Not to check on an injured classmate, that's just a smokescreen for his real purpose. He's here to soothe his irksome conscience, searching for a rationale that justifies using the Dark Magic he eschews. Anger surges through Draco, its heavy presence pinning his feet to the ground, banishing every memory of that pleasant haze where he had drifted. Roughly it deposits him back in that grim bathroom, with his wand drawn and two syllables of the curse already out of his mouth. Just one puff of air, one tiny aspiration to protect himself, his mission, his Lord. Why, then, had his breath frozen long enough for Potter to belt out that tongue-twister that shredded him like he was tissue paper? The truth fills Draco with cold terror such as he's never known, worse even than when he watched his father grovel before their serpentine master. He's been so careful to partition his feelings, but still they've managed to neuter him, rendering him less than useless in the upcoming war. He feeds this fear into his anger, the gravity of these emotions stilling his shudders enough for a suitably flippant reply.

"I tried, didn't I?"

"Fuck, Malfoy, why do you always have to be like this?" Harry rakes a defeated hand through his hair, swapping the trampled look for windblown hobo chic. Draco smothers his fingers' desire to smooth it into place. "I can't do this anymore."

Draco's not sure which voice he prefers, Harry's exacerbation or this one that sounds so weary. This one feels far more unsettling. He chances a quick concerned glance, one last indulgence of that sentiment he needs to excise, but Potter's features are as blank as those of the great sphinx, worn away by centuries of blowing sand. Draco wonders if this means they've reverted to how they used to be, their encounters nothing more than erosive, eternal grit. He shrugs, telling himself he doesn't care. He makes quite an accomplished irritant.

"I always said to do what you have to, Potter."

Harry's lips part as if to reply, but his words freeze at the sound of Madam Pomfrey's voice. The air ripples, light bouncing off planes and angles too fast for Draco's eyes to adjust, a fleeting kaleidoscope that swallows Potter just as the curtains sweep back.

"Here's your Sleeping Potion, it took longer to prepare than I expected, I'm afraid. It probably did you good being awake for a bit, though," says the nurse as she hands him a pewter goblet.

Draco dutifully swallows every drop of the syrupy sweetness that usually makes him wretch. It's a small price to pay for passage back to that buoyant world. Almost immediately his eyelids drift closed and a pale silver balloon fills his vision. His soul chases after it, shedding his unwieldy body and rising unfettered. He's within an arm's length of the clouds when he hears his name whispered into his ear.

"Harry," he answers the familiar voice drowsily, "is that you?"

Something so airy and light that he can't swear it's real brushes his cheek. A phantom kiss, an ethereal goodbye, and then his fingers touch the clouds.

* * * * *

Draco never imagined he would miss the Scottish rain.

On those mossy glens it falls so softly that it's like stepping into a cloud. It's a thick communal rain, raindrops coming down en masse. A blanket of deceptive damp that doesn't even feel wet, not until you notice that your collar's become a sponge.

He tries not to think of Scotland often, but days like this threaten to turn nostalgic over that misty damp that's nothing like the downpours in Spain.

It rains seldom here in Toledo, as the abrasive landscape attests. Thirsty scratches of trees eek out a meagre existence on this rocky outcrop, fighting for space with stone houses piling atop each other like mushrooms on a log. But when it does, as it does now, the heavens rend with apocalyptic vehemence. Amidst thunder cracks and spews of lightening, and the seemingly overwhelming deluge of water, he's surprised the whole city doesn't wash into the Tagus River.

Fighting the elements would be preposterous, decides Draco. Within an hour the sky will be blue again, the flood disappeared through cracked cobblestone paths. He can work late tonight, getting a jump on tomorrow's potions and maybe, just maybe, eluding the melancholia that threatens whenever the skies turn grey.

"Señor Draco, will you need me for anything else?"

The unexpected voice nearly makes him jump, absorbed as he was watching the torrent outside. "No, I'm fine," he says, returning to his workbench, forehead still cool from being pressed against the windowpane. "Good night, Almudena."

Draco smiles at the shop girl. A half-blood witch (a bruja, she corrects him often), her magical ancestors trace their lineage to the Mozarab days when Christians, Moors, Jews, and wizards coexisted peacefully in Toledo. Her stories about what happened afterwards make the war in Britain sound like a children's fun fair. She makes abysmal tea and barely passable coffee, but Don Quixano keeps her around because of her penchant for stripping flies of their wings. She saves him a few galleons each month in potions ingredients.

Don Quixano keeps Draco around because he picked up more than a little studying under Snape. And if he's helped Elixires Quixano establish a profitable owl-order business in the U.K., it's the least he can do for the potions master who took him on a decade ago without an O.W.L. to his name, when he couldn't mix even a simple Boorish Balm without thumbing through his Spanish-English dictionary.

Over the years he's learned, though, both the language of potions as well as that of his adopted land. 'Crisálidas de la mariposa' sounds so much more poetic than 'butterfly pupa'; the words drip from his tongue as he saturates the crisp membrane with a few drops of Albariño. The mixture turns dark and mulchy under Draco's pestle, the consistency of marmalade with extra-thick cuts of orange rind. The kind his mother despised but that they always served at school.

And just like that, the gentle melancholic tug pulls him under.

It rained like this once, he remembers, during his time at Hogwarts. Near the end of sixth year, the last Hogsmeade weekend in May. Draco had joined the other Slytherins in filling his pockets at Honeydukes, but returned to the school when they headed to the Three Broomsticks. He'd only made it back when the skies opened up, just like they were now. The force of the downpour shook the very foundations of the castle, and instead of retreating to the dungeons he'd instinctively sought higher ground.

He'd climbed to the first floor, where in a small alcove overlooking the Forbidden Forest he'd immediately turned out his pockets. Draco remembers to this day how inviting all those sweets looked on the wide stone windowsill. Fudge Flies, Sugar Quills, Bloodsicles, lemon Turkish delights, Jelly Slugs … everything but Chocolate Frogs. While debating which to unwrap first, a sight outside staunched his appetite. It was Potter, caught halfway between Hagrid's hut and the castle. Through hastily transfigured Omnioculars, Draco watched him slush through the field, a wretched wet puppy. Normally bushy hair lay plastered down like a skullcap, dark against sallow cheeks. He clutched a Muggle water repellent, shaped like a hill and nearly as big, but it was no match for the wind; its broken metal ribs protruded from the canvas, a crone's gnarled fingers pointing ineffectually at the sky. Bitter still, the scar on his chest still raw, Draco had despised the pathetic creature who couldn't even ward off the rain.

Draco's not a betting man, but if he was he'd stake a Gringotts vault that even now, even after being proclaimed Britain's greatest living wizard, Potter still forgets to cast repelling charms. Emotions always did make him forgetful.

That had been his last glimpse of Potter for nearly a year. The storm presaged far greater upheavals, and just a few days later Draco had fled to Spinner's End, where he could hardly spare a thought for the Boy Who Lived. And then came that final, terrible year of war …

Thunder claps interrupt his thoughts with the suddenness of a Killing Curse, almost making him drop his pestle. He notes the fluttering in his hand as he sets the fermenting mixture aside. That's what he gets for indulging in long-dead memories, he reminds himself, nothing but unstrung nerves and careless potions. That's the life he's left behind.

One last indulgence, though, he can allow himself, since he already feels himself drowning. From a groaning drawer in an oak cabinet he pulls a yellowed envelope, so old that the Never-ending Sticking Charm on its seal has faded. His eager fingers long to dart inside like silvery fish hungry for the frayed parchment, but Draco forces them to quieten, to play their part in this ritual. Moving with fluid grace that he's surprised he still has, he settles himself at his desk and slides on his reading glasses before smoothing the page flat. Only then does he begin to read.

Dear Mr Quixano,

This might seem an odd enquiry, but I am searching for a former classmate who disappeared after the war in Britain. His name is Draco Malfoy …

Draco's eyes caress each of these words he knows by heart. It's not a long letter, and it's obviously hastily written, for Harry explains that he's contacting every potions house in search of his target, but the handwriting is still achingly familiar. The wavering dropped lines and hurried loops remind him of the rivulets of rain snaking their way down the glass. He reads to the end and then starts again, lingering on his favourite part.

I will spare the details of why I need to find Mr Malfoy, but I assure you there's been no impropriety on his part. On mine, there are bridges I feel compelled to mend. If you have any advice concerning his whereabouts, I would be

Eternally grateful,
Harry J. Potter

By the time Draco finishes reading for the second time, his heart is keeping time with the rain pounding at the window. He's glad that after so many years unused it can still be stirred. The parchment catches as he slides it back inside the envelope, reluctant to be sheathed, but that's all part of the ritual.

He thinks of the very last time he saw Harry. It was in Hogwarts' Great Hall just after the battle, and Potter … well, if anyone could look both exhausted and exuberant, he managed to pull it off. The effect was magnetic. His fans rallied around their hero, a stream of joyous victors circling endlessly. At one point Draco found himself caught up in the flow, debating what he would do when he swirled to the centre of the eddy. Apologies, thanks, and congratulations would have been appropriate, but visions of fiery tongues, airy kisses, and firm, grounding touches threatened to derail him. Uncertain what to say, it was only at the last moment, when he was dangerously close, that he ripped himself from the edge.

He still doesn't know what to say. That's why he's never answered this letter.

But maybe someday he will. A decade amidst this timeless magic has changed him far more than the simple passage of time. Here in this ancient city no one cares whether his blood is pure or mongrel so long as he responds to the magic of the place. Here raindrops spill on Mudéjar domes and church spires alike. Down its twisted cobblestone paths, water rushes past Caliphal mosques and Visigoth churches, floods the narrow alleys of the Juderia and fills the wide plazas like great grey lakes. The currents of history wash endlessly down these calles, sweeping away a single man's mistakes, leaving him pure and polished as river stones. Someday he hopes they'll help him face his regrets.

Maybe the next time it rains.

The End