By the time they’re paired together, no one is surprised.
Near the beginning of the second summer, they graduate the first stage of auror training in a buzz of spells and technique, their partner assignments winging through their mail slots after a long week of waiting. Standing in the cramped hallway of number 12 Grimmauld Place, Harry reads Draco’s name on the ministry issue parchment. It reads like any other name and Harry only registers a feeling like finding his feet back on solid ground.
“Hope Jenson,” Ron announces beside him, making a dramatic show of relief. “And you got Malfoy, right?”
Harry nods, staring at the nondescript lettering like he’s waiting for it to change or at least mean something different to him. They make it look so natural, is all anyone can say after they’ve seen them fight. It’s like... it’s like magic. That’s a muggle expression, but it really is, you know?
“That’s awesome,” Harry says when he finds his voice, folding his letter back up and setting it on the ramshackle letter holder, a useful relic from their Great Grimmauld Place Attic Clean. “You guys are great, she’s fantastic at defensive spells.”
“Bang up team,” Ron agrees, clipping his letter next to a postcard Teddy and Andromeda had sent them from the Balkans and giving Harry’s letter a meaningful look. “And how are you feeling?”
Harry shrugs, unsure what emotion he’s feeling, much less the one he’s trying to fake. “It wasn’t a surprise.”
“No, not really,” Ron says, bringing the messy stack of unread mail into the kitchen and glancing behind him like he’s making sure Harry is still following. “But how are you feeling?”
Harry fusses with the cuffs of his hoodie, sitting on one of the rickety stools and squinting at the light falling in through the window. The left cuff is starting to fray and Hermione has started to bug him about buying a new one, but they both know he’s going to hold out until he loses it or it falls apart completely. He worries at the thread, tries to put names to the emotions. “Nervous.”
“Oh?” Ron prompts, pulling the beginnings of breakfast down from the cabinet. Cereal for Luna, upstairs in the attic. Strawberries, toast and sunny side up eggs for Harry, in Sirius’ old room. Scrambled eggs and toast for Hermione in Regulus’ old room.
What they learned in basic training buzzes in the back of Harry’s brain like a florescent cue card: you will know your partner better than you know yourself. “Would you want to get that close to Malfoy?”
“He’s not my partner,” Ron says, flicking on the burner and clattering the pan down on the stovetop, before hovering a cutting board and a pile of strawberries in front of Harry. “Cut those, would you?”
The knife is floating over to him when Hermione clears her throat from the doorway, still in her pajamas. “No knives in the air, please.”
“Sorry.” Ron grins as the knife deposits itself neatly next to the cutting board. Harry tucks his bare feet on the first rung of the stool and starts chopping up the strawberries, sneaking one into his mouth when Ron turns back to the eggs.
“I got Hope, Harry got Malfoy,” Ron says as Hermione shakes coffee grounds into the filter.
“That’s lovely, you two,” Hermione says, punctuating it with a yawn. She flicks on the kettle and leans heavily against Ron’s shoulder, holding her kitschy ‘Pan and Proud’ mug against her chest.
Harry cuts carefully through strawberries and thinks of Malfoy’s face swimming before him in training: stern and cold and, ever so occasionally, savage.
The first time they dueled it was messy and beautiful.
Over the course of an hour, the other trainees ended their own matches in disarmings, hexes, and the occasional well placed stunning spell, but Harry and Draco continued even after the high ceilinged training room grew quiet. They fought until the only sound was their heavy breathing, the movement of their bodies, and the fizz crack of magic. Around them, wands lowered and brows furrowed.
Afterwards, Ron had teased that they were only so good because it wasn’t really their first time fighting, that they were both dirty cheats. The comment didn’t temper the way that the energy of the room had changed as they stalked around each other, how they slid into their places at opposite poles like re-locating bones.
Harry had felt something creep in as the room grew quiet and he threw spell after spell as Draco deflected and dove and flickered away from him. Draco fought with finesse. He fought with the perfect form they all strove for and he knew spells that Harry had barely glanced at. He always had his nose tucked into the Ministry issue spellbooks, learning, absorbing.
Underneath that careful composure, Draco fought with a kind of animalistic vengeance, maybe desperation.
Harry’s form was often sloppy and in the black heat of a fight he had trouble remembering all the new spells he should, but his magic made his body thrum with a brutal strength and he didn’t often lose. Magic was the only thing that always felt right on him, even if it didn’t always feel safe.
That first day, they fought for hours. In Harry’s mind, it’s a sludgy, sharp memory of casting and deflecting and forgetting to even think, of giving over to something raw and horrible that he didn’t know he could reach. He remembers hurting, his entire body seizing, sweat that stuck his shirt to his back and soaked his hair, the crackle of nearly missed spells and the eye-watering cramp in his wrist.
They circled each other like cats or water around a drain until finally, finally, Harry opened his parched mouth and yelled truce. He waited until Draco’s head dipped in a feverish nod before Harry allowed himself to collapse, his knees hitting the mat with an uneven thud.
Harry waited for Draco to fall too, gasping for breath and propping himself up with an arm. A smile tugged at Draco’s pale lips, and for a moment Harry was sure that Draco would never fall, that he’d been bluffing the whole time and would stun him, would win.
Draco didn’t stun him. He held himself taunt for a moment, still caught in perfect form, and then took two stumbling steps forward and crumpled to the mat.
Deliriously, Harry was aware of friends bringing him water and people fussing over Draco, who was coming in and out of consciousness, and the only thing he could think - faintly, as if it was both a truth and a great fear - were the words ‘evenly matched.’
The first six months of Auror training and the subsequent exams are group-focused. They’re reminded time after time that being an Auror is about people, about sharing information, and working as a team. When Harry arrives at Auror headquarters for the second session, he is given an envelope and is pointed by the receptionist towards a small room in an empty, well lit hallway.
The instructions inside the envelope are deceptively simple, a paraphrase of the booklet they’d been told to study before arriving: read your partner’s mind and try to keep your partner out. You will succeed when you can press against all their most delicate thoughts and when you can keep them from ever entering your head.
The way it reads like poetry is distinctly unsettling. He’s reminded of Snape and wonders if all Legilimens are so fond of tangling words. He thinks wryly that if he can get the hang of it he’ll automatically be poncy and articulate too.
When Harry pushes open the door, Draco is already seated in the armchair on the left, arranging his robes and looking uncomfortable. He hasn’t seen him in person since they became partners and yet nothing is different.
“Hi,” Harry says, sitting heavily in the chair across from him. The room walks the line between comfortable and industrial, the armchairs snug and dull gray and resting on an oddly patterned navy rug. There are a number of candles and no windows and Harry can already feel the way the room eludes time. He fixes his eyes on the clock above the door, reading 9:12 with mounting panic.
“Hello,” Draco says, after a pause that’s had time to sit and fester. He seems inconceivably distant and Harry doesn’t want him crawling around in his mind, doesn’t want to crawl around in his. From here, it seems impossible that he could ever look into Draco’s memories and see anything other than the tight set of his lips and his white knuckles.
Harry already knows he’s bad at this. He knows that if Draco tried he could open him up like overripe cantaloupe, that he could see everything. It’s such an overwhelming thought that it only manifests in a low hum of terror and doesn’t break through his composure.
“Should we start?” Harry asks, leaning his elbows on his knees and watching Draco’s eyes flicker over everything in the room but Harry.
“You or me?” Draco says, his voice drawn back in his throat.
For all his fear, Harry can’t imagine which would be worse. “I guess you can do me first.”
Draco looks - for barely a moment - surprised, then raises his wand. He doesn’t cast, he just meets Harry’s eyes, his hands shaking. Harry can see his preparation in his shoulders, his form and the shape of the spell already on his lips. Harry nods imperceptibly, because he trusts him, he has to trust him.
“Legilimens,” Draco whispers, and at first Harry doesn’t feel it and then he does, the smallest tug of something else, the whisper of memories falling over his thoughts.
He follows Draco down, follows him through the twisting pool of his remembrances, of dinners with friends, of cleaning the attic, of that first summer, a sharp scream in a smoky room, and then suddenly deeper and faster into memories whose shapes are diluted and dark.
He can sense as Draco gets his bearings, as he slows down and wallows. Harry watches, feels himself sneak out of the cabinet under the stairs. The rest is far from complete. Its a floor cold on his bare feet. It is the familiar ghost of hunger. It’s the reach for shrinking that never goes away. It’s the itch of old clothes. He wonders if Draco knows that sensation, and notices a small curl of confusion.
It’s a whisper of fear and barely being able to reach the top cabinet. It’s a deep crushing sadness. He had forgotten it. He had forgotten the sadness. He wants to leave. He wants to leave. He wants to leave and he is so sorry, someone is so sorry, and he’s pushing and they’re spiraling up again, out of memories until he’s sitting in a chair across from Draco feeling absurdly torn apart.
Draco looks torn apart too, like he’s stumbled across a minefield, like he’d pick up all the pieces if he only knew what he’d broken.
“You were supposed to try and stop me,” Draco says, finally, and his voice doesn’t waver.
“You forgot,” Draco prompts, and he’s starting to look almost angry. “You just let me. You let me. I thought Severus had taught you, I thought you knew what to do.”
“I was bad at it,” Harry says, the sadness still swimming on the surface. “Do you know how to do it?”
“I know how it’s supposed to work,” Draco says, his hands looking for a place to be still. His next words come out harsh. “I thought you were going to stop me. I didn’t want to see.”
“Neither did I,” Harry says, and he’s coming back to himself but there’s a reason he doesn’t think about that, a reason he can’t truly remember most of his childhood. He wonders for the first time if that’s okay.
Neither of them speak and Harry becomes painfully aware that they’re going to have to keep going until they can navigate each other’s minds and until Harry is strong enough to keep him out, something he’s never been able to manage before.
“We have to try again,” Harry says, and even getting the words out is a chore. He’d walked in with vague apprehension and now he feels like he might disintegrate, but it’s not like he has a choice.
Draco looks wary, but Harry can’t quite read why. “I know.”
“So?” Harry asks. “Go again.”
“Are you even going to try and fight me off?” Draco asks, his voice low. His twitchiness hasn’t left and Harry can’t begin to figure him out at all.
“Of course,” Harry says. “Do it.”
Draco nods, taking a deep breath and sitting up straighter, aiming his wand and casting again, his voice just as sure as before.
Harry feels it the second time, hones in on it, feels Draco prod into his memories. Harry tries to find that shoving sensation back, tries to squeeze him out of his brain just like he always failed to do in his Occlumency lessons.
Draco pushes back, slowly, like he’s easing Harry in, like he doesn’t want to take everything, like he’s terrified. Harry registers that it’s gentle, that Draco is trying desperately not to hurt him for some reason Harry can’t parse.
Harry pushes until the sifting strangeness is at the very edge of his consciousness, and then he feels Draco pull at all the threads of his thoughts, thumbing through Harry getting ready for training, Harry going for a walk the day before, Harry deep in a magazine. They both feel when it breaks, when Harry forgets to push back for a moment and they’re spiraling again, deep down into the pit of memories he has no desire to enter.
The moment they finally fall upon manifests as a tight ache in his chest that it soon becomes clear is breathlessness. Next is the ache in his legs and the thump of his feet against dry grass and he realizes he’s running. This could be any time, it happened so often it first blurred and then became nonsensical.
When he was young, Dudley and his friends would chase him around and try to kill him. Maybe they wouldn’t have killed him, but he thought then that they would have, if they could’ve gotten away with it. It hasn’t felt this real in years. He hadn’t remembered that he used to feel afraid. He used to feel so afraid. He feels so afraid. He doesn’t know how to leave, and with a panicked kind of heave everything shifts sideways and it’s his birthday. He knows this with a sickening certainty, and he’s laying on his side listening to the Dursleys make breakfast. He knows that they won’t say anything and something like a knife dives deep into his ribcage, because he knows that other children get parties and presents for their birthdays. He’s not like other children, he’s dark and strange and he doesn’t look like them with their neat hair and pink skin. The knife expands. The knife contracts. The knife expands.
He feels Draco in his brain but he’s forgotten which way to push and they slump into another memory, into the back garden and the warm kiss of the afternoon summer sun. He’s alone and he waits for the shock of emotion but only feels the heat of the day and sweat underneath his frayed collar. He’s small and pushing roll up bugs across the back patio with his fingers and smiling down at them.
He can feel the pulse of magic behind his eyes and realizes that he’d been convincing them into little rows, into roll up bug circles at his feet. He wants to stay here in the warmth and watch them, to keep his younger self company in the sunlight and charm little hats onto the bugs and brush his unruly hair out of his eyes.
He can feel Draco pressed up against the memory and they hold there, even after it drifts back into Harry’s consciousness that he should be pushing him out and keeping him from seeing. Neither one of them tries to go anywhere else, no territory gained or conceded as Harry prods the bugs around and names them and tells them that he wants to be friends.
They remain in that quiet bubble of summertime until Harry hears the roll of the Dursley’s tires and all of the warmth begins to seep out of him with a fearful kind of dread. It’s not a beautiful memory anymore and Harry feels himself being tugged out. He’s dragged up from the depths, back to the surface where he hasn’t stepped foot in that yard in years, where he doesn’t feel so desperately lonely.
The worst part about all of this is that when they resurface, he returns to Draco’s eyes staring into his.
“You don’t even try to clear your mind,” Draco says, breaking eye contact and leaning back in the chair. He looks exhausted, the tremor in his hands visible in the low light. “You don’t even try.”
“I’m trying,” Harry says, dropping his head and staring at the pattern on the rug. “I haven’t seen those memories in years.”
“Then stop me,” Draco says, aggressive in the small space. “I don’t want to see that.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry says. He hasn’t felt this small in years. He can feel the slide of the knife, expanding against all of his organs. He is nothing again, he is Harry Potter, he is nothing again. He was okay this morning, this morning Draco hadn’t set foot into his brain and he hadn’t remembered. It hits like a freight train, like the snap of a rubber band. “I’m sorry it’s not fun for you, like your fucking childhood. I’m sorry it’s ugly and that you have to deal with it like I had to deal with it for eleven years.”
Harry can hear Draco give a jagged inhale around gritted teeth and Harry doesn’t move and he doesn’t apologize again.
“It hurts,” Draco says after a while, in that same emotionless voice. “Seeing your memories hurts. I feel everything you feel. I didn’t know, I didn’t want to know.”
“You didn’t want to know?” Harry asks coldly, almost disbelieving.
“No, I didn’t!” Draco says, not giving it enough energy to make it an outburst, only a frustrated exhale. “I didn’t want to know you were abused, no.”
Harry almost smiles vindictively, almost lashes out, is almost crazy. Why would he want to know? Why would anyone? “You will know your partner better than you know yourself.”
Draco’s breathing picks up, becomes slightly panicked. Harry can hear him shift in his chair. “Stop.”
“Are you afraid to know me?” Harry asks, and it could be a tease but he’s careful not to smile. He looks up and finds Draco’s eyes and challenges him the only way he knows how. “Is it so awful? Knowing everything I do? Everything I feel?”
Draco looks like he’s debating something, like he’s waiting to say what he’s wanted to say the whole time. “I would rather die than let you see the inside of my head.”
“But you’re here.”
They don’t move, held again in stalemate, until Harry looks up at the clock and realizes with a start that four hours have passed since they began. It might be lunch time but Harry can’t imagine eating, can barely connect to anything outside of this room and these failures and the hard set of Draco’s mouth.
“What are you afraid of?” Harry asks, sitting back in the chair and pulling a leg up to rest his chin on it. He knows they should keep practicing but he feels like everything has been wrung out of him, that if he goes back in he’ll die in there, watching roll up bugs and feeling the knife move.
“It’s not your business,” Draco says insolently, picking at the fabric of the chair. “I wish you never had to know.”
“Is it about me?” Harry asks, not truly malicious but brushing against it.
“Oh it’s all about you,” Draco says with a wave of his hand. He’s making fun of him but it doesn’t feel entirely like a joke. Draco sighs, deeply like it’s coming from the very center of his body. “We have to keep going, don’t we?”
“Yes,” Harry says and he thinks Draco understands just how much he wishes they didn’t. “I don’t want you in my head, it’s horrible, it’s embarrassing. I don’t want to see my childhood and I want you to see it even less.”
“You could practice the pushing me out part,” Draco says, looking sorry again. “I’ll cast and I’ll hold and you can push me out. I won’t try to push back again-” He hovers on the edge of that sentence. “I promise.”
Harry nods, sitting back up and waiting for Draco to cast. He does, more tentatively than before, and when Harry feels the first brush of presence in his head he tries to do what he’s supposed to. There’s no change, there’s still Draco in his mind and Draco in front of him and he can’t figure out how to press him out without the help of the sharp rush of panic.
“Focus,” Draco murmurs, almost encourages, and Harry tries, so hard he can feel sweat at the back of his neck. “Stop thinking about the sweat on your neck. Think about nothing, think about me leaving your head. You hate it, remember? You hate that I’m in your head.”
Harry almost laughs, and Draco scowls. “It’s not funny, push me out. What if I pushed now? Then you’d be upset and it wouldn’t be funny at all. Damnit, Harry.”
They both register the shock of his first name and one of them breaks the connection, Harry isn’t sure which, and they’re left sitting silently in the small flickering room.
“I got used to your mind,” Draco says, looking perplexed by the whole thing. “I didn’t mean to.”
Harry shakes his head, fusses with his hair. “It’s okay. Try again. I’ll get it. I know what I’m supposed to do.”
Draco nods, looking unsettled and unwound, but he casts again and hovers on the edge of Harry’s mind as Harry tries again to push him out.
It continues like that, with soft-cast spells and Draco snapping and Harry trying not to snap and a few near successes where Harry thinks he might have done it and Draco thinks he might have just let the spell drop.
They’re being too careful with each other, and though Harry thinks it enough times, Draco never comments on it, because then they might have to face the consequences. Harry still hasn’t asked Draco if he should take a turn casting and he almost doesn’t want to. He doesn’t know what he’ll do when he has to look Draco in the face and know all his secrets. He wants them, wants them desperately, but he doesn’t want the reality of them.
When Harry finally looks over to find the clock reading just past five, he’s struck by how much it feels as if they’ve been here forever, that this room and Draco are the only things there are. That’s probably part of the training, but it’s still unsettling.
“See you tomorrow,” Draco says dully before he steps into the Floo, and Harry cringes as he watches him depart. They can’t put any of it off forever and he knows that. He can’t quit because this is all he knows how to do. Draco won’t quit because he’s trying to prove himself to the world. Harry doesn’t need to read his mind to know that.
Harry steels himself against the jostle of the Floo Network, stumbling out into the living room and calling out a hello. There’s a brief clattering of pans and a “Hello Harry!” from the kitchen that’s most likely Luna.
“I’m canning,” she says as he enters the kitchen, and Harry belatedly registers the sweet smell of cooking strawberries.
“Smells great,” Harry says, dropping into a stool and pillowing his head in his arms. “Is there an open burner?”
Luna squints at the stove and re-arranges their pots. “Did you eat today?”
“Not exactly,” Harry says, staring longingly at the pots and pans cabinet.
“You look disheveled,” Luna says, following his line of sight and getting a pot out for him. “Spaghetti and meatballs?”
“Reading my mind?” Harry asks, quirking a tired grin.
“Don’t have to,” Luna says, casting an aguamenti and waiting for the pot to fill, watching their self stirring cauldrons with a stern eye. “You look like you’ve just experienced your first trunkle trampede.”
“That sounds right,” Harry says, and wonders belatedly if he’s going to be able to stay up late enough to actually eat any of the pasta. “I’m balls at Occlumency.”
“You aren’t balls at anything, Harry,” Luna says, seeming to pull from their well of patience as they come over to walk their fingers gently up his arm. Their hands are stained berry red and their hair is up in a wildly printed scarf and they’re ethereally comforting.
“Thanks Luna,” he mumbles. “I’m bad at it.”
“You need practice,” Luna counters. “It’s scary when people sift around in your head. You remember things you’ve forgotten. You remember things you don’t want to remember and then you have to live with the fact that someone else knows them too. It’s not easy, it’s really difficult both magically and emotionally.”
Harry nods the best he can without lifting his head. “I wish it wasn’t with Malfoy.”
“Do you really?” Luna asks, and Harry scowls, because anyone else would have just agreed.
“He told me he’d rather die than have me in his head,” Harry says.
“I don’t think you should be surprised that Draco has some things he would rather keep from you,” Luna says, leaning over to smell their pots. Harry worries for their tangle of necklaces, but he’s sure they’re capable of keeping their necklaces out of danger all by themself. “It should be interesting to find out what those things are.”
“I don’t want to know,” Harry says, and they both know he’s telling the truth and lying.
“I think that’s an interesting response,” Luna says. “It would be surprising, I think, to many people.”
“That I don’t want to know Malfoy’s deepest darkest secrets? How is that surprising?” Harry asks, then wishes he’d just agreed. He’s thankful no one else is home yet and waits quietly for Luna to read his soul out for him like a scroll.
“It seems to me that in the past that you wanted to know everything about Draco Malfoy,” Luna says, moving a dirty bowl into the sink. He knows, without a doubt, that whatever they say next is retribution for pretending he doesn’t care. “And so now, confronted by the reality of that possibility, you are afraid to know what you truly mean to him. You are equally terrified that he will know what he means to you, because both of these things are terribly important to you. You are afraid that after you’ve seen the inside of his head and he’s seen the inside of yours, you two will be inextricable in the way you are always trying to be to each other. Or even worse, that you won’t be.”
“Harry.” They summon the angel hair pasta down from the cabinet and retrieve the meatballs from the freezer with another flick of their wand.
“You’re worse than Hermione,” Harry says.
“You think so?” Luna asks, spooning a bit of the sugary jelly foam off the top of their jelly pot. They’re easily the scariest thing he’s ever seen in an apron, sans maybe Molly Weasley on a holiday.
“Thanks for making me pasta,” he says, instead of confirming what he’s sure Luna already knows.
“Of course,” they reply, dumping pasta into the pot and letting him lapse into exhausted silence.
Harry sleeps for close to ten hours and yet when he stumbles into the little ministry office next morning he still feels on the edge of grogginess. Draco, when he arrives in a neat set of gray robes, looks much the same. His hair is mussed up in the back and he’s holding a thermos far more protectively than is normal for the comfortably lucid.
“Tea?” Harry asks, gesturing at the cup when Draco sits down heavily in the utilitarian armchair.
Draco nods, taking a sip. He’s sitting very still but somehow he doesn’t look calm. Harry is reminded of animals playing dead or cats freezing before they strike, he’s not sure exactly which. “It was a three cup day, but I only had time for two at home.”
“I was so tired last night,” Harry volunteers, picking at the seam on the chair and avoiding looking at Draco. “Luna took pity on me and made me pasta and I was in bed by eight.”
“How is she?” Draco asks, sounding only vaguely interested. It’s both an odd question and an odd tone, but when Harry looks up to study his face all he sees is a peculiar blankness. He’s struck by how many ways he’s seen Draco’s fast twist, how expressive he is, how schooled he is now.
“Luna’s using they them now.” Harry searches for something to say, has no idea what Draco would even want to hear about them, the strange person who lives in his attic. “They were canning last night. Making jam. Strawberry, I think.”
“Isn’t it early for strawberries?” Draco asks, of all things.
“How should I know?” Harry says, feeling timelessness in the room again. He would almost think it was a charm except that he can’t sense the murmur of any enchantments.
“I thought it was common knowledge,” Draco says with a dismissive jump of his eyebrows. For a moment he looks slightly more human again.
“Well it can’t be that common,” Harry shoots back. “Maybe it is, I don’t know.”
Draco looks insubordinate but doesn’t reply, taking another long sip of tea. Harry wishes he’d made coffee, or at least brought along something to do with his hands.
“Should we start then?” Harry asks after a silence that grates on his nerves.
“I suppose,” Draco says, slurping a little on his next sip in a way that Harry is sure is supposed to annoy him. Draco makes as if to raise his wand, but Harry shakes his head, feeling almost nervous.
“Can I go this time?” Harry asks, clutching his wand in his hand and waiting for Draco to say no.
Draco doesn’t move, just takes another slow sip of his tea. “I’m not responsible for what you see.”
“They’re your memories, if you aren’t responsible I’m not sure who is,” Harry says, growing tired of the way that Draco works so hard to hold himself at arm’s length. They’re partners, they can’t tip toe around each other forever.
“So you’re responsible for all the things that have happened to you?” Draco asks, a mean, nasal quality sneaking into his voice.
“No, but it’s not my fault I have to dig around in your head.”
“I didn’t say it was your fault, I just said I wasn’t responsible,” Draco says, unruffled and more nasal than before. Harry has the strong urge to mock him but shoves it down.
“Fine, whatever,” Harry says, raising his wand. He has a feeling that maybe he can do this, even though in his lessons with Snape he’d never been allowed to try.
Harry raises his wand, noticing the muscle that jumps in Draco’s jaw as he does. He meets his eyes carefully, feeling the familiar calm of preparing to cast a complicated spell. “Legilimens.”
He feels the tug of the spell, the curious twisting sensation of leaving his body and entering the slipstream of Draco’s thoughts. He registers the moment Draco’s barrier goes up, and he finds himself back in his own skin after barely a moment.
He sighs, pursing his lips and casting again. This time, he’s met not with resistance but with a quirk of surprise as Draco realizes he’s in his head again. Harry tries to take advantage of it, pushing forward into thick swirls of memories that don’t follow any order he’s used to. They’re connected, but it’s not quite a web and it’s strangely departed from the tunnel he felt in his own mind. They’re connected by criss crossing threads of recollection and it’s intensely disorienting. He’s nearly decided how to get anywhere when Draco shoves him out with a viciousness that surprises him.
Harry doesn’t wait this time, relying on surprise, casting again with a fierceness that seems to come from a body that isn’t his. He scrounges for some thread to follow, but is pushed out again, harder and more angrily than before. This repeats, the anger and the fierceness and the rhythmic circle of casting, almost finding a foothold, and being shoved away.
Harry isn’t sure how long it takes before he gives up, slumping back in his chair with a glare. His hand has started to cramp and he has the first ticklings of a blinding headache accompanied by a low murmur of nausea. “You’re supposed to let me read your mind.”
“You’re supposed to be good at it,” Draco says, breathing hard and looking on edge, his cheeks flushed and a line of sweat at his hairline.
“Not at first,” Harry says, fully aware that he’s being accusatory for no reason, mostly because he’s bitter that Draco’s been allowed to walk around in his memories and Harry can’t even get past the first whisper of Draco’s thoughts. “Where did you learn to do that?”
Draco smiles, all canines, and Harry wishes he hadn’t asked. “Aunt Bella.”
“I wouldn’t want her in my head,” Harry says. He doesn’t know what the right thing to say is, so he says whatever he thinks of first.
“I didn’t want her in mine either,” Draco says, recalcitrant. “It’s a good motivator isn’t it? Blind fear?”
“How do you do it?” Harry asks, because he wants that protection, he wants to be able to keep his mind to himself for once. Not even the threat of Voldemort in his head had been enough to make him good at it, and he’s terrified he’ll never be able to manage.
Draco takes another sip of tea, dabbing at his forehead with his sleeve. “You just can’t think anything except for ‘out.’ That has to be the only thing you feel. Your mind has to be empty.”
“I can’t just turn my emotions off,” Harry says, narrowing his eyes. The nausea has faded but he can still feel the headache and knows it’s only a matter of time before the whole thing bubbles over. “Some people would say that’s a good thing.”
“Feeling has never done me any favors,” Draco says. “Maybe you should try it.”
“I don’t want to be empty like you,” Harry spits back, looking at the places that Draco is shivering on the edge of falling apart, how his skin looks too thin and shows all his veins, how he’s always too still or blurring into motion. Harry keeps wanting to compare him to animals.
“Then we can spend the next two weeks spilling every secret you’ve ever kept,” Draco says, like its a truth.
“That’s not fair,” Harry says, already hearing Draco twist the words back to him mockingly.
Draco doesn’t have to, he just smirks and drinks from his cup and waits.
“So can I read your mind again?” Draco asks, tapping his wand against the side of the chair so it emits sparks. It makes him look dangerous, but Harry knows it’s calculated, that he would never be so careless as he appears. “Or are you going to spend a bit more time being upset at the injustices of the world?”
Harry wants to hurt him, wants to throw punches like they used to so at least they can be on even ground. “Fine.”
“Are you afraid of what I’ll find?” Draco asks, calm like they have all the time in the world.
“Yeah,” Harry, sitting up straight and gathering all of his courage together. “Aren’t you?”
“Why would I be afraid of what’s in your head?” Draco asks, looking just the smallest bit caught of guard.
“You tell me, it was just a guess,” Harry says, setting his wand in the chair next to him and waiting for Draco to cast.
Draco slips in on the edge of his brain, and before Harry can zero in and push him out, his memories shift and swirl like film reels. Harry can’t figure out how to latch onto Draco and block him out once he’s gone deeper. It’s definitely lack of skill but it might be curiosity, maybe masochism.
They’re skidding around the night before, on warm pasta sauce on the table cloth and Luna walking their fingers up his arm. They stay in the warm kitchen for longer than Harry expects, and he hears the echo of Luna’s voice as they say the words “you wanted to know everything about Draco” and “inextricable” and then they’re sliding again.
The next memory is a familiar one, comforting and jarring in that he can feel Draco watching from its edges. He’s sitting outside on the lawn and Ginny is picking the clover in the grass and stacking them in a pile between them. It’s blisteringly sunny, and Harry remembers feeling content even as trepidation refused to stop twisting in his stomach. He remembers hoping on that afternoon that they might actually work out, like he could love her or something like that.
He wonders if Draco can read his inner monologue and feels irritation spark deep in his chest, because that feeling isn’t for him. There are only so many happy things and Harry wants to hoard them close to his chest and keep them secret. He wonders if that’s where the anger starts, and tries to grab and push at it. They trip into another memory with the abruptness of a slide change and Harry thinks he might have gotten it.
The new frame reeks with the metallic wash of rage and Harry feels Ginny’s hand smack against his face before the room materializes. It’s after the war and they’re breaking up for real and for some reason he’s yelling at her for the fact that he can’t figure out how to be with her. It was confused then and it’s confused now. Looking at her angry, splotchy cheeks he feels miserable again.
He tries to harness it, tries desperately as she yells about how fucking unfair he’s been, how he doesn’t give a shit about her as a human being. He remembers that accusation the loudest. He wants to scream at her that he doesn’t feel like a human being either, he doesn’t even know what he needs, but instead he lies and and lies and tells her that she was never what he wanted anyway.
The next memory, when Harry finally manages to grab onto something other than the angry flash of her eyes, is their first kiss. Harry feels a stab of something unfamiliar that smacks of revulsion. He doesn’t think it belongs to him. Harry doesn’t try to reignite the snuffed out anger this time, just settles in the memory with a tired kind of helplessness.
Even after everything that’s happened, he still likes this one. It tastes like butterbeer and Ginny smells like fresh grass and victory and he’s so proud of everyone his chest is full with it. It feels like it’s supposed to: there’s him and the girl and all his classmates, and nothing has been ruined yet. It’s the sort of memory that will feel good forever, a patronus memory even, one that stays good even after everything around it ceases to exist, just because it existed.
When they finally leave it, the kiss and the party, it’s because Draco pulls back out of his head with the backward spiraling motion he’s becoming accustomed to. They surface, leaning back in their chairs like wilted flowers, eyes still locked.
“Was it like you thought it would be?” Harry asks, trying to make his face as blank as Draco’s.
“I hadn’t thought about it,” Draco says, all dead eyes and mocking tone. “But yeah, Potter, it was super.”
“Glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Harry says, even though he can still feel the remnants of Draco’s revulsion and knows Draco is thinking of the same thing.
Draco sips at his tea and sits up straight. “Care to go again?”
“Excited to poke around in the ruins of all my other romantic relationships?” Harry snaps, almost willing to ask Draco if he can try Legilimency one more time. It would only give him a headache, but maybe it would make him feel less stupid.
“Maybe I will,” Draco says cooly, and Harry feels like he’s being punished for something, even though its not like he’s done anything but lose. He wonders if maybe this is the reprieve for the sharp sting of Draco’s repulsion, a comeuppance for lingering in the warmth of the kiss with Ginny.
His headache is growing to an irritating pitch and he doesn’t know how much longer he can fight at all, how much longer he can keep any of his mind to himself. When Draco casts, Harry shoves back with all the irritation in his body and still doesn’t get anywhere.
Before he can process his disappointment, he feels the cold press of Cho’s lips against his, their bodies so far away from each other, her mouth salty with tears. He feels how much he wanted her in a billowing incorporeal way and realizes again and again that he wanted the idea of loving her most of all. It’s a horrible thing to realize multiple times, and he shoves into Madame Puddifoot’s tea shop, the little paper hearts glimmering above their heads.
He’s getting better at moving but he still doesn’t know how to leave or how to run to safety. No matter what he does they’re still there, all of his memories swirling up to meet them. Cho is crying, she has her head cradled in her hands and her elbows propped on the shiny pink table cloth and the helplessness is a secondary emotion to the sucker punch of grief. Harry is bad at crying and he is bad at dealing with crying and he wants to apologize but he doesn’t know why.
Cedric hangs over them like the most macabre of small floating cupids and Harry wants to die, a feeling he’d never really forgotten but forgot the weight of. The memory turns over but he doesn’t think he’s pushed it there. He’s looking at Cedric in the dappled sunlight of an empty corridor. Cedric murmurs something to Harry who looks up at him and leans in to catch his words. The emotion is twisted, nerves and amusement at the way that Cedric peers down the hall like he’s afraid of being walked in on. Cedric smells clean and boyish and Harry can’t imagine why he remembers this, why some part of his brain thought that was important to file away.
They hover in the memory as they both laugh and Harry smiles and Cedric walks back down the hallway, his hair catching the light. The spiral out is almost painful and Harry finds himself resurfacing irritated.
“Was that really necessary? Ever heard of a nice, calm ascent?” Harry asks, leveling a glare at Draco, who is staring at him with wide eyes.
“You liked him,” he says, almost on a gasp, like he can’t breathe.
“Why is that surprising?” Harry asks. “I am capable of enjoying people’s company, just because I don’t-”
“No, you liked him,” Draco says, his voice dropping, one of his hands gripping his wand tight and the other clutching his tea.
Harry’s brow furrows as he parses Draco’s meaning. “No I didn’t.”
“I felt it, I felt that you liked him. That feeling, that’s-” he takes a deep breath that seems to catch on every one of his ribs. “That’s a crush, you idiot. You can’t lie to me, I saw.”
Harry opens his mouth to respond, feels a peculiar twirl of guilt in his stomach and furrows his brow. “I didn’t have a crush on him, it doesn’t matter.”
Draco looks like he’s dangerously close to pelting his cup of tea across the room. “It doesn’t matter? Of course it matters, you like him, you liked him!”
Harry shakes his head, slower and then faster as he starts to worry. Cedric is dead, he’s never liked a boy in his life. Cedric died, Cedric died in his arms. “No I didn’t, no it doesn’t.”
“Legilimens.” Draco casts before Harry can stop him and they’re flying through old memories, through Harry watching Cedric play Quidditch, yellow robes whipping out behind him, sun hot on the grass. The scene changes and it’s pouring, Harry’s hair slicked down around his ears, Cedric turning circles on the far edge of the pitch.
It flips and he’s watching Cedric across the dining hall with a languid kind of boredom. He’s just staring, watching him laugh and eat and mess with his hair. He doesn’t know why he thought to watch him like that, doesn’t know where the urge came from even though the memory drips with the echoes of it.
Then there’s Harry stealing up him with nerves so loud they nearly drown out everything else, telling him about the first task in a voice so low Cedric has to lean in close to hear it. It’s intimate, a secret, and finds himself grinning into Cedric’s face, feeling vile in retrospect. The Yule Ball swirls by, Harry watching Cho and Cedric twirl on the dance floor like old lovers with a searing jealousy that he can’t figure out the source of. At the time he hadn’t questioned it and he feels like burying himself under the floorboards, like pulling the whole year in a pensieve and never looking at it again.
The next memory, he’s holding Cedric’s body to his chest and he wasn’t ready, wasn’t ready to feel his body underneath him, cold and dead and indelible. Weren’t there memories before this? Wasn’t there more time when he wasn’t dead? Wasn’t Harry allowed to look at him? Just look at him for a little longer? Harry never wanted to touch him like this, curled around his body as Dumbledore tried to take him away, the fabric of Cedric’s robes too rough against his cheek. Draco wasn’t supposed to see that, no one was, in another world they both stumble out together clutching the cup in both hands, in this world Cedric hugs him and congratulates them, and in this world everyone cheers and its all okay, and in this world Cedric-
The memory stretches and folds and Draco is pulling them out and upwards, dragging him away from Cedric’s body, away from secrets that never had to be told.
“So, what,” Draco hisses, something wild in his eyes. “You had a crush on him so you tried to get with his girlfriend? So you could fuck her and feel close to him? That’s sick, that’s fucking sick, Potter.”
The feeling bubbling in Harry’s chest like old lava doesn’t have a name but it feels like bile in his throat and he wants to throttle Draco before he can say any more horrible words. He’s lying but he saw everything, knows everything, knows things Harry wanted to forget, and Harry knows nothing about him, is only guessing in the dark.
“So what does that make you,” Harry spits, like an animal in a trap. “Jealous of a dead boy?”
For a moment, Draco hums with incredulous energy, and then he’s lobbed the remains of his drink against the wall and slammed the door behind him, leaving Harry in a soupy gray silence.
Harry sits there, feeling as if he’d been recently dragged from the bottom of a especially discomforting lake. Finally, when he can think of nothing else to do, he gathers his things and Floos home, the workday barely half over.
When he falls out of the fireplace a few minutes later, he takes the slow steps up the stars to his room, pausing only when Luna’s voice comes floating down from the attic stairs.
“Who’s home early?”
“Me,” Harry replies, almost continuing to his bedroom to lay facedown on his duvet and never speak to anyone again, but instead turning and walking slowly up the stairs.
Luna is sitting in the middle of a pile of clippings, photographs, and large sheets of paper in their underwear and a particularly enormous sweater. He recognizes this as one of the later stages of the Quibbler’s development: all of the little pieces being placed on pages and resized and moved and resized again.
“You look even worse than yesterday,” they say plainly, hovering a photo from one piece of paper to another.
“Thanks,” he says, sitting down on their fuzzy duvet and curling up into fetal position, letting his shoes fall to the floor so he doesn’t get dirt on their bed.
“Would you like tea?” they ask, casting a spell on a kettle secreted away in the corner. “I think you need tea.”
“Had some interesting experiences with tea already this morning,” Harry replies, feeling especially morose. He’s forgotten how much he loves a good wallow, and thinks that’s probably not the best recollection to come upon.
“Oh?” Luna asks, fixing the mock ups with a critical eye before completely demolishing a page near their knee. “Full moon tonight has everyone’s energies all uneven.”
“Malfoy thought throwing his tea at the wall was the best way to handle the situation,” Harry says, remembering with an unpleasant twist of his stomach the words that had come out of his mouth beforehand. He doesn’t know why he said it, how in Merlin’s name anything like that had materialized in his brain and come jumping out his lips. Maybe he’d just meant that Draco had always wanted his friendship, maybe he hadn’t.
And yet, stranger still was that it had worked, that Malfoy had stormed out instead of laughing in his face. He wonders, with a sharp, sharp stab of panic, if it hadn’t just been the revulsion he’d picked up on, but jealousy too.
“At least he didn’t throw it at you,” Luna says.
“Great,” Harry says, closing his eyes and trying to think logically, and then stopping when the thread became too tangled. “Can I ask you something you can’t repeat to anyone, ever?”
Luna smiles. “If you’d like.”
“Do you think Malfoy is-” Harry does not want to say the next part and if it were anyone but Luna he would never get the next words out. Somehow, by closing his eyes and pretending he’s taking part in a wild farce, he chokes them out. “Attracted to me?”
Luna doesn’t seem overly surprised by this question, and this is simultaneously terrifying and slightly irritating.
“Is that not the most bonkers question I’ve ever asked you?” Harry asks. “You aren’t even freaked out at all? What would I have to ask you for you to look surprised?”
Luna smiles at him, their almond shaped eyes crinkling with amusement. “You’ll have to try a lot harder. Try asking Ron if you want someone’s eyes to bug out.” They reach into a bundle of photos and begin sorting through them, the flip of paper distinct in the quiet room. “I don’t know if he’d put it like that.”
Harry chokes a little on his own spit, but forces himself not to say any of the brash things that have come to mind.
“Can I ask what made you draw that conclusion?” they ask, calmly enough that Harry can almost convince himself it’s not any weirder than talking about the weather or their most recent Quibbler articles.
He tells them, stuttering on the truths and the most embarrassing parts, stalling on the spectacle of Draco pitching his cup at the wall and glossing over the part where Draco told him with a sour voice that he only liked Cho because he liked Cedric first.
“He just threw his cup?” they ask idly, and he appreciates that they don’t look at him like Hermione does, with searching eyes.
“Well I asked him-” He closes his eyes, he doesn’t know why this is so hard. “I asked him if he was jealous of a dead boy. I don’t even know why, I’ve never thought anything like that in my life and then it was coming out of my mouth.”
“He likes to think that he plays his cards very close to his chest,” Luna says. “But he’s transparent, like thin skin.”
“So he’s really jealous?” Harry presses. “I was right?”
Luna doesn’t answer right away, just shuffles their papers around and stands to go pour two cups of tea, one of which she places at Harry’s feet. The mug is bright yellow and says ‘Have A Magical Day’ over a cartoon of a bright pink puffskein. It feels vaguely mocking, and Harry glares at it. “It’s not my job to tell his secrets.”
“How do you even know his secrets?” Harry asks grumpily, because it’s not fair that Luna can read everyone like a book.
“I know a lot of things,” they say, their tone keeping all of their secrets.
“I’m just awful at reading people,” he says, unable to resist the urge to mope. He feels wretched, trapped, and stupid and he doesn’t want to go back to Auror training, doesn’t want to go anywhere that isn’t the yellow warmth of Grimmauld place. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this. It feels bloody awful. I feel like he’s trying to torture me. I’d call him a sadist but he doesn’t even seem to enjoy it.”
“Do you think its going to get easier or harder?” Luna asks, casting a few spells on the few completed spreads and hovering them to stick on the far well where the sunlight hits. “How does this look?”
Harry pears at them “Harder, probably. That looks nice, I think. It’s really blue.”
“I think so.”
They nod like they’re taking his opinion into careful consideration, though he’s sure they know far more about layout design that he could even conceive of. “It’s probably going to get harder until you know everything.”
“And then it’ll get easier?” Harry asks hopefully, the connotations behind everything pressing heavily against his chest.
“Probably not,” Luna says serenely, beginning to shuffle through another stack of photographs. “Neither of you ever make anything easy.”
“Thanks,” Harry says, slurping from the tea Luna has poured and then making a face, both because it tastes strange and because he’s burned the feeling out of his tongue. “What even is this?”
“Prickly pear,” Luna says. “Neville brought it back for me last time he went to the states for his Herbology conference.” They blow across the top of their own mug, and sip without any mishaps. “You can always quit, Harry. You don’t have to be an Auror. You can be whatever you want.”
“No I can’t,” Harry says. “And I like it. I like the training and stuff. I want to like, help people.” He knows he’s speaking in cliches and he hates doing this in front of Luna. It’s worse than with Hermione, because Hermione at least wants to believe him.
“I know,” Luna says. “I just wanted to tell you, in case no one had. You’ll be a great auror.”
Harry can’t find the words to respond so he doesn’t. He waits for his tea to cool and pretends he exists only in the dusty sunlight of their bedroom.
Draco is there when he arrives. Both the spilled tea and empty cup from yesterday have been removed from the room, though by Draco or some invisible cleaning staff, Harry has no idea.
Its devastating to know that it’s only the third day of this, devastating and exhausting. Harry sits down heavily in his chair in the timeless room and doesn’t even bother with a greeting. He feels almost rested, but he knows that the fatigue will rush back in as soon as he starts casting, that he’ll be back in the spiral of failure and old pain.
Draco looks awful, even in the low candlelight. He can’t have slept, and his eyes look pink rimmed and miserable, a purple cast in the hollows of his face. Luna’s observations turn over in his head, about Draco and his thin skin. I don’t think he’d put it like that, they say in his brain like a looping chant, and he feels disgusted and intrigued all at once.
“I’m not sure I can do this,” Harry blurts out.
Draco looks up slowly, like he’s coming up from a dream. “I haven’t slept all night.”
Harry had, all of his fatigue catching up to him in an exhaustion that knocked him out not long after dinner, but it doesn’t make him feel any better. He hates the boy in front of him. The man. The skeleton covered in skin with a mouth that says horrible things. He hates him, hates that they’re tethered, hates that they’ve always been. “Why is it always you and me?” he asks, and does not want an answer.
Draco blinks at him slowly. He’s all cool colors and nothing like warmth. Harry wonders if he’s always been like that, if that’s the only way he can be. “Poetic justice.”
“That’s not a real thing,” Harry says, thinking about that inevitability, how he knew that he would be partnered with Draco even before opening the letter. “It’s just because we fight well together.”
“Only because we both equally want to kill each other,” Draco gripes, shifting in his chair to rest his chin on his hand. It’s not the ramrod posture he usually slips into and its unsettling to see him so unhinged.
“Its not that I want to kill you,” Harry says, not bothering to clarify the ambiguity. He ruminates over his next words, unsure how to unspool them right. “We’re evenly matched.”
“That’s an absurd thing to say,” Draco says, lolling his head to the side. Harry doesn’t want to look at him. “I’m smarter than you and you’re more powerful than me. It’s not equal. It’ll never be equal.”
Harry stares at him, something almost amusing in the self-important way that he announced that he was smarter. He’s probably right, for all of Harry’s talents, he was always too otherwise occupied for book smarts to be on the table like they were for Hermione. “I didn’t say we were the same,” Harry says slowly, deeply unsettled by the depth of it all. “We’re equal, we’re complementary pieces.” He’s puzzling it out, that old familiar flare of interest and excitement striking in his chest like a match. “It’s like how Ron doesn’t think before he acts and Hope is really calculated, and how he’s always ready to attack and she’s strong on defense. They’re evenly matched too.”
“So you’re the Golden Boy who can do anything and I’m what, the bottom feeder you got partnered with? And together we make one full human being?” Draco asks scathingly.
“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” Harry sighs. He’s going to compliment Draco. He’s going to tell the truth and its going to be the nicest thing he’s ever said to him, but he doesn’t know any other way to do it. Not that Draco ever deserved kindness, but Harry’s not sure if there’s anyone who doesn’t deserve kindness. Sirius would probably tell him that plenty of people don’t, but he thinks that Remus would disagree. He doesn’t know which man is right. “You know your spells way better than I do and your form is perfect. It’s always perfect. Everything I do on instinct you do because you know exactly where every part of you needs to be. You pause and calculate and I rush in.”
“So we’re incompatible,” Draco says sourly, shifting to the other side of the armchair.
“You’re not listening to me at all,” Harry says. He has a feeling that Draco should understand, but maybe he’s too warped at this point, maybe there isn’t anything left in his mind except for pages and pages of incantations and instructions. “Why do you think we’re paired together? Like, really?”
Draco worries his bottom lip with his teeth and then the side of the chair with his fingernails. “So you can keep an eye on me.”
Harry waits for more, realizes there is none. “That’s completely idiotic.”
“Is it?” Draco asks, tilting his head like a bird and waiting.
“Yes,” Harry says firmly, though he isn’t sure which one of them is being crazy. Maybe all of this stuff about being compatible is in his head, a way of making sense of the ways that Draco hurt him, the ways that he hurt Draco. Running into every sharp edge someone has doesn’t make you fated, doesn’t make you fit together.
“They don’t trust me,” Draco says, a little frantic, leaning forward so Harry can see the net of purple veins under his skin. “They only accepted me into this stupid program so they can breathe down my neck for the rest of my life. Or so they can publicly humiliate me and expel me when I slip up, a lesson to all bottom feeders everywhere. Or even better, so I can be second best to you for my entire life, so they can blame me for anything you do wrong. Or, better still, so I can die in the line of duty and they can write a mournful obituary about the tragically dead Malfoy heir so they never have to deal with me ever again.” He says it all like a series of facts, like he’s memorized this out of a textbook.
Harry wants to tell him that its absurd, but he doesn’t, because maybe he’s right. “Can’t you prove them wrong?” he asks, hopefully, like it’s their last lifeline.
Draco shakes his head longer than he should, but he still doesn’t leave. Harry is beginning to think the whole thing is that no matter what happens, neither of them are going to. “I can’t do this training. There are no books to tell me how to be okay with you knowing my secrets.”
Harry remembers the conversation from yesterday, the screaming and the taunts and is angry all over again. “But you’re just fine probing me for mine?”
“I don’t want your secrets either,” Draco says sharply. He was gentle that morning, gentle as he let Harry push him out like he was hoping that Harry would get the hang of it. “I don’t want them.”
“I have to be an auror,” Harry says, giving up on searching for eye contact and putting his face in his hands. There’s a silence in the room, one that swirls and spins like a candle gone out, and Harry can hear his breathing as loud as the blood pounding in his ears. “Please just take my memories, I don’t care.”
“It won’t change anything,” Draco says, sounding resigned. His voice has lost the aggressive tilt, going limp like wet laundry on a line. “That’s only one part of the riddle.”
“Well what am I supposed to do?” Harry asks, looking up to find Draco still curled at his odd angles, his lips pale and joints sharp. “How did Bellatrix teach you?”
“Crucio,” Draco says, a crease in his brow.
“Okay,” Harry says.
“Let’s do it.”
“No,” Draco says, looking scandalized. “No, Merlin, no.”
“Well it works doesn’t it? Negative enforcement, right?” Harry asks, shaking out his hair and leaning back in the unforgiving chair. “You crucio me every time I fail and then I don’t fail anymore?”
“Stop it,” Draco says, sharp again. “It’s not just like, a pain spell. Don’t you know? Have you ever had it-”
“Yes,” Harry said. “If it wasn’t awful it wouldn’t work.”
“I’m not casting the cruciatus curse on you,” Draco says, though Harry doesn’t think he sounds as firm about it as he could. “How do you think that would look? What if I went too far and you ended up crazy?”
“You won’t go too far,” Harry says. “No one will ever know.”
Draco looks on the verge of collapse again and Harry doesn’t know how to help either of them. He just stares, knows his eyes are going cold. He isn’t sure the last time he was this desperate and feels the muted horror of that helplessness.
“I don’t want to cast it.”
“Do you want to see my memories?” Harry asks.
“I don’t see any other choices.”
“Maybe if you weren’t so fucking useless at this,” Draco spits, sitting up. “I’m not going to cast the cruciatus curse on you, and fuck you for asking me to. Just because I was a Death Eater doesn’t mean I’m okay with throwing Unforgivables around like bludgers at a quidditch match. Is that all you think I am?”
“I don’t know a thing about you,” Harry says.
Draco stills, vibrating out of motion with a sneer on his pointed face. “Doesn’t stop you from acting like you do.”
Harry tries to remember why he thought they were compatible, why he thought they were going to work. He believed it, for a few moments, when he got that letter he thought there was hope for them but he’s still not sure why. It felt inevitable, it still might, he’s just lost the thread. “It’s not like you’re going to tell me anything about yourself. You’ve made that very clear. We’re supposed to be on the same team now and you’re still treating me like an enemy.”
“You haven’t exactly extended the hand of friendship,” Draco says. “You’re a hypocrite, Potter.” The sharp consonants of his surname reminds Harry too clearly of the moment of weakness when Draco had spoken his first name in soft exasperation. He wishes he didn’t remember, he doesn’t like how those thoughts connect.
“At least I’m trying,” Harry replies. “I didn’t throw my cup at the wall and storm out and I was trying to tell you I thought we could work together and you were making it all about how you’re a bad person. I think this would work a lot better if you spent less time fixated on how much of a shite human being you are and more time trying not to be one. Why are you even here?”
Draco flushes. Harry doesn’t know which part found its mark. “Hard hitting questions this morning.”
Draco raises his eyebrows, making an insolent face. “Feisty.”
“I’m not fucking around right now.”
“Clearly,” Draco snips.
“You owe me a secret.”
“I don’t owe you anything.”
Draco sighs, holding eye contact and looking uncomfortable. Harry sits and waits, feeling the weight in his chest and the tiredness creep in behind his eyelids. Knowing this is all training, that he could walk out at any moment, only makes the fact that he’s going to stay even worse.
“I want to play good guy,” Draco says snidely, and it’s so shrouded in sarcasm and contempt that it seems like more than just a throwaway comment.
“Then commit,” Harry says.
Draco scoffs. “You commit, Chosen One. You gave up, what, twenty minutes ago? Don’t pretend its my fault you can’t get your mind to cooperate. You’re lying to yourself ten ways from Friday.”
“It’s six ways from Sunday,” Harry says.
“What?” Draco snipped.
“I think the expression is six ways from Sunday.”
“Salazar, Potter, who cares,” Draco says. “We’re both disasters, we never should have been paired, and we’re both going to give up and then blame each other. We might as well walk out now.”
Harry looks over at the clock, then looks away when he sees how early it is. “I really don’t have any other choices.”
Draco looks like he doesn’t want to answer. Harry doesn’t say that if they were really going to give up, they would have by now. “Me neither.”
Harry nods. “I know.” He leans back, looks at the man before him, conjures up empathy, up kindness. It’s not Draco’s fault Harry’s memories are tangled like brambles. It’s not his fault they were both pawns. Maybe it’s his fault that he never questioned it, that he spit horrible words with a smile and held Unforgivables on the edge of his tongue. It’s his fault he’s here now, if that’s anything.
“I’m sorry,” Harry says. “I want to do this.”
Draco looks helplessly torn for a long moment. “So do I.” He breathes in and out like someone relearning how. “I’m here because I want people to think I’m good. I want to be good.”
“Okay,” Harry says. He knew this, but he can’t believe Draco would say it to him. “Okay, yeah.”
“Do you really think we’re complementary?” Draco asks, crossing his legs and refusing to make eye contact. “Or were you just saying that?”
“I don’t know,” Harry says, his arms too heavy, his head too loud. “We’re supposed to be.”
Draco nods, brushing his hair out of his eyes with a hand that, after everything, still shakes. “Let’s try again. Push me out. I mean it.”
Harry nods seriously, leaning forward and pushing back nausea. He hears on repeat, I want to be good, I want to be good, I want to be good, and each time he repeats it, it shifts further from Draco’s voice into his own. Harry hates the way the floor on his anger and fear always gives out and leaves nothing but exhaustion. He wonders what it would be like if something were easy.
He feels Draco in his head but there’s no tunnel, only molasses, soupy and thick thoughts for a moment before the surprise registers and Draco shears through his mind again, latching onto a memory of them at school, Harry copying Hermione’s answers by the fire of the Gryffindor common room.
They lurch back into the real world before Harry can figure out how he’d leave.
“I can’t believe she let you all copy, you dirty cheats,” Draco says, scowling at him. Then, “that felt different, didn’t it. What did you do?”
“I’m not sure,” Harry leans over, curling so he can rest his forearms on his thighs and twiddle his thumbs. “I’m just exhausted.”
Draco nods. “You made your mind go blank, there weren’t any threads to take. When you concentrate too hard on not thinking of anything you do the opposite. When you shut down, it works.”
Harry thinks, ‘cruciatus,’ and shivers. “I don’t know how to decide to do it.”
Draco nods, the purple under his eyes the crumpled color of Aunt Petunia’s summer pansies. “I practiced a long time before I got the hang of it. You just have to uncleave. I know you’re capable of it.”
It’s the barest bones of a compliment, but its more than Snape ever said. “I’d hope so.”
Draco pauses, then seems at once almost quietly delighted. “I have a theory.”
“Spit it out.”
“When you fight, what do you think about?”
Understanding dawns on him. “Oh.”
Draco, for the first time, smiles. “Me too.”
“Should we do it now?” He’s not sure either of them are up for a fight, but maybe that’s the point. Draco looks almost excited, despite how exhausted he’d looked earlier.
“Did you have other plans?”
Harry makes a face but concedes to the ribbing as Draco gathers his robes and they traipse up to the locker room back to the gym they’d only recently left.
It’s quiet when they enter, Draco clipping in and nearly letting the door smack Harry in the face behind him. Sunlight filters in through the long wall of windows, illuminating dust motes hovering above the burgundy training mats.
“Thank Merlin no one’s here,” Draco says curtly, unbuttoning the complicated clasp on the front of his robes and walking it over to the row of cubbies, hanging it over a hook. “We should duel, and then once we’re in a flow, I’ll yell stop and cast the spell. Does that sound good to you?”
Harry finds himself stifling a laugh at the juvenile looking row of cubbies holding Draco’s expensive looking cloak.
Draco scowls. “Are you listening to me?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.” Harry hangs up his heavily worn school bag on the hook. Harry looks down at his ratty t-shirt and baggy soft jeans, and figures he’ll be much better off than Draco, who is wearing the crispest collar Harry’s ever seen.
Draco unbuttons his shirt to reveal a medically clean undershirt, and meticulously folds his discarded button-down to place on one of the shelves. Harry, watching Draco unlace his loafers, kicks his own tennis shoes off. Harry feels with deep certainty that they both know how ridiculous they look.
“This wouldn’t just be a plot to mess up my chiseled good looks with some well placed hexes, would it?” Harry asks, trying to temper the awkwardness. He wants to kick himself when he remembers his conversation with Luna and the episode with the tea. He almost follows it with a desperate ‘no homo’ for all the good it would do him.
Draco walks over in his black tailored pants and bare feet to stand near Harry on the mat, his pale eyebrows disappearing into his hair. “Are you done?”
“Yes,” Harry says, feeling more cowed than if Draco had returned with some kind of snide comment.
Draco nods, starting at the middle line and walking back the seven regulation dueling paces, waiting until Harry does the same. The gym is still, their steps squeaking on the mat, and Harry is incredibly thankful to be out of that terrible timeless room. He stretches his arms high above his head, smiling as he thinks about doing anything but try to pick his brain.
He lets his arms fall back to his sides, and can’t decide if he’s imagined how quickly Draco casts his eyes to the ground.
“Ready?” Harry asks, moving fluidly into dueling stance, so much less awkward than he thought it was at eleven.
Draco nods, sliding into a sharp and clean form. Harry corrects his elbow so he mirrors him perfectly, and thinks he sees the side of Draco’s mouth twitch like Harry’s done something charming. He’s ruminating on it, trying to decide what it means that Draco’s amused by him instead of infuriated, when Draco casts a swift hex that Harry would have missed if for anything but his well trained reflexes.
Harry throws back the first curse he can think of, then three more in quick succession, trying to catch Draco off guard. He’s still thinking through it, each move following another with quick logic, and he wants the best part to come faster, the part where he only feels the burn of magic behind his eyes.
They both pause, Draco sending a curse back his way, then a hex, then a quick volley of jinxes, which Harry blocks, sending back as good as he gets. He doesn’t get to do this often enough, fight with someone who fights so clean, so crisp, whose spells almost never miss and who lashes back with as much strength as Harry gives.
It fades into a slipstream of spells, of parries and blows, and Draco’s hair falling over his forehead. Harry feels sweat drip down his back, his face grow flushed, his body like a fuzzy afterthought to the rhythm of the fight.
Harry drops his wand, bracing for the spell as it flies towards him. It feels different this time, his mind jumbling back into place like an upended box. He feels Draco as he shoots through his grab bag of memories, back at the warm corridors of Hogwarts, back in his spiderwebbed cupboard, back in the freezing forest their 7th year, the forbidden forest together their first year, the graves of his parents, a flash of green light, a flash of red hair, a slice of brutal pain, a serrated laugh that seems to go on forever.
The connection ends with a snap, and they lock eyes again in the sunlit gym. Draco’s face is as white as his shirt, his mouth vaguely slack. Harry feels bile rising, rising in his throat and he swallows and swallows until he doesn’t think he’ll be sick on the mat.
“I apologize,” Draco says, almost too softly to be heard. “That was?” He stops. “Yes, I suppose it was that.”
Harry nods, feeling the urge to sit down and following it until he’s slouched onto the floor. He wants to be held and he knows Draco wouldn’t hold him and doesn’t want to ask him to.
“We can stop,” Draco says, and Harry nods. They only have a few weeks to make this work, but today isn’t going to be the day it happens. Draco’s voice works its way to an anxious clip, Harry watches him take a few cautious steps forward, rocking on his heels. “I think that was different though, did you feel that it was different? I think we’re on to something here. We’re figuring it out, don’t you think?”
Harry nods, and lets Draco talk through it, focusing on the cadences of his voice as he tries to shake the deep wrongness of the memory.
“We’re getting closer, its just a problem of bad memories that’s making it so hard, you know it’s not really fair, us paired together, so many bad things,” he’s buttoning his shirt up, and Harry realizes before he does that he’s buttoned it one button off, and has to undo the whole thing and start over again. “Are you um, alright then?”
“He was horrible, wasn’t he?”
Draco stills, his shirt half buttoned, his hair mussed. “Pardon?”
“Voldemort,” Harry says. Draco starts. “He was so horrible. Like, himself. Not a lot of people know that. Being in a room with him was like getting punched in the gut.”
“Did it ever get easier for you?” Draco asks, deliberately detached. He wonders vaguely if Draco becomes calmer the more afraid he is, and what had to happen to make him like that. It makes him want to shiver in the sun warm room.
Draco nods. “It seemed to get harder for me, as if every time I saw him he’d gotten worse, more horrible. He reminded me of the dementors, sometimes I couldn’t completely tell the difference.”
Harry realizes that he’s being given a confession. He realizes that its making him feel better, barely, that someone else knows. Ron knew, but only a little, Hermione maybe less. Ginny knew, but he’d never known how to ask her.
“I don’t think it got harder for me,” Harry says. No one’s ever made him talk about it. He has a thing with Ron, where they don’t talk, they just sit in silence and know. Hermione cares so much, but always asks the wrong questions.“I didn’t think we would win, I didn’t feel like I was stronger than him. He fucking- he ruined my life.” Harry drops his head, the weight of it falling on him, finally. “He ruined my entire life.”
“I know,” Draco says, his voice still flat. “And you want the way it was back so bad and you can’t get it back.”
“I have to go,” Harry says, standing up on unsteady legs. He thinks Draco wants to be held too, but they aren’t the sort of friends who hold each other. They aren’t even friends. “I have to go now, goodnight, have a good night.”
It’s not until after he’s fled the gym barefoot that he realizes its barely afternoon.