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31 May 2008 @ 10:08 pm
HP fic: Quantum Leap (4/6)  


part iii

Harry stared down at a page in The Collected Poems of Louis MacNiece. From the outside he looked terribly studious, but this was a false image adopted by most students in Miss Thompson’s class. Except they weren’t students, they were ‘colleagues’. And instead of being taught, they ‘discussed.’

Every person in the class had a different volume of poetry before them – they looked exactly like what they were, a job lot from a jumble sale. Beside Harry, Cherub was changing all the ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s in his Penguin book of Elizabethan poetry to ‘u’s.

At the front of the room, Miss Thompson – perched on a desk in a way that showed how rarely she shaved her legs – was extorting a bullock-necked boy to have an opinion on e.e. cummings.

The boy looked hunted. Like many ‘difficult’ students, he was used to thwarting rules and discipline. But in a place where rules were anathema, and discipline rejected in favour of participation, there was nowhere for him to hide.

Harry knew the boy was called Rocky by his peers and minions, but Miss Thompson, using ninja-like teacher skills, had discovered his real name to be Barry. And she wasn’t about to let him forget it.

“Barry, what do you think? You must think something. I am sure you are thinking something. What did you think when you read the poem?”

Barry had already tried out all permutations of the answers, from ‘nothin’’ to ‘the footie last night.’ Now he tried to take a different tack. “Fought it were stupid,” he said.

“You –” To her credit, Miss Thompson only took half a minute to translate this. “You thought it was stupid. What did you think was stupid about it? Something must have made you think it was stupid. You must tell me what made you think it was stupid.”

In clear desperation, Barry said, “He don’t use no capital letters. I was always told I were fick for not usin’ capital letters. So this guy’s fick too, and his poems are well stupid.”

It was the longest speech anyone had ever heard him make. Harry even looked up from his book – where his gaze was constantly trained lest he make eye contact with Miss Thompson and bring on a ‘discussion’ – to observe this unique event.

“I see, you are caught, yes you are caught, by cumming’s avant-garde disregard for the rules of grammar. You are quite shocked by this, Barry. You are shocked by the lack of traditional forms. You are a traditionalist. You are a conservative traditionalist. You demand stanzas and rhyming couplets and the creativity that can be invoked by adhering strictly to form. I think you are a traditionalist, Barry.”

“Yes miss,” said Barry.

“Mm, perhaps you would do better with someone less modern,” said Miss Thompson. “I say modern although of course, in these post-modern times, e.e. cummings is old hat. But the shock value never grows old. Shock value can never be under-rated. Who would like to swap with Barry?”

Thirty pairs of eyes became riveted to their poetry books in apparent dedication. Miss Thompson was blithely undaunted by the lack of response.

“Who has the Elizabethan poetry?” she asked. She turned to Barry and said confidingly, as if the topic had never been brought up before, “I think you will get on with the traditional poetry, Barry. I think you will like the Elizabethans.”

“I have it,” said Cherub.

“Would you mind swapping with Barry?” said Miss Thompson. “It is only for one class. You can swap back tomorrow. If you do not like e.e. cummings either, you can change tomorrow.”

“Don’t care,” said Cherub. “Poetry’s bloody crap anyway.”

Harry was taken aback by his vehemence. Cherub wasn’t a great talker: he said as much as he needed to fulfil the obligations of daily intercourse and no more. Even that was spoken in a sleepy tone, as if he’d much rather not be bothered.

“Why do you say that?” Miss Thompson advanced down the room, a half-smile on her lips. “I do not need to repeat my admonition to Barry, I hope. Reasons, one always needs reasons, for such decidedly negative opinions.”

In response, Cherub turned over a page, liberally littered with ‘u’s, and began to read.

“Sorrow rip up all thy senses,
Nearest unto horror’s nature;
Taste of all thy quintessences
That may kill a wretched creature.

Then, behold my woeful spirit,
All in passions overthrown,
And, full closely like a ferret,
Seize upon it for thine own.

For thy sighs, thy sobs and tears,
But thy common badges been,
While the pain the spirit bears
Eats away the heart unseen.”

Harry had never heard poetry spoken well before, so he was in no position to judge the quality of Cherub’s reading. All he knew was that there was something in Cherub’s silky-smooth voice that made him want to keep listening – that made him believe there was a great and painful meaning to the words he was saying beyond all that Harry could understand.

A hush fell over the classroom, broken only by the dying song of gnats in the dry grass.

“Couldn’t he just have bloody said ‘I’m miserable, and it sucks’?” said Cherub.

Miss Thompson carefully took the book and folded the cover closed. “No.”

“Why not?” The poem had clearly awakened something in Cherub: he looked like he wanted to hit things, or fly.

“You know why not.” Miss Thompson laid the volume of e.e. cumming’s Selected Poems on Cherub’s desk and went to winkle out her next victim.

“Are you all right?” asked Harry. Cherub was shaking.

“‘Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss,’” said Cherub, which Harry took for a yes.

Draco leaned over from the desk he shared with Tilda. “I didn’t think much of that poem. I don’t know how anyone could call themselves a poet who writes about ferrets.”

“What have you got against ferrets?” Tilda wanted to know. Harry smiled, both at Tilda’s question and the outrage on Draco’s face. “I think they’ve got lovely faces.”

“Yeah, very pointy,” Harry couldn’t help adding, which made Draco go pink with helpless rage.

“You read really well,” Tilda told Cherub. “It made me go all shivery inside.”

Draco and Harry snorted at the same moment. Cherub didn’t notice. He seemed to take note of Tilda for the first time – which, given that Tilda had what Draco called ‘the most amazing breasts’ (and to her face, too), always shown to their full advantage – was no mean feat of abstraction.

“Thanks,” was all Cherub said, before he began defacing his new book by capitalising all the sentences.

“You have a thing for him!” Harry heard Draco accusing Tilda. “Don’t deny it, I can sense these things.”

“So what if I do? I’m not the only one with a –”

At this point Draco clapped a hand over Tilda’s mouth, bringing them to the attention of Miss Thompson. Draco had to spend the next five minutes explaining, in detail, why Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese was ‘trashy, sentimental nonsense.’

Harry was soon lost to the particulars of that argument, which he was sure Draco would lose. He flipped through his own book, tempted for the first time to actually read a poem from it. The book fell open at Aubade.

Having bitten on life like a sharp apple
Or, playing it like a fish, been happy,

Having felt with fingers that the sky is blue,
What have we after that to look forward to?

Not the twilight of the gods but a precise dawn
Of sallow and grey bricks, and newsboys crying war.


Now what the hell did that mean, Harry wondered.

+++

“I’m tired,” groaned Harry as Draco all but threw him down the basement stairs. “I can’t believe you volunteered us to clean up the chem lab. No, that’s wrong – I can’t believe you volunteered me to clean up the chem lab. Next time you can wallow alone in your insanity, okay?”

“You don’t half whine,” said Draco. “I needed to ... appropriate some of the needful.” He swung a flask in front of Harry’s eyes: Harry read ‘C2H5OH’ on the label.

“And you needed me, what, as lookout?” asked Harry. “You should have warned me first.”

“No, you half-monkey, half-human,” said Draco. “I wanted someone to blame if we were caught. Kreacher!”

There was a pop and some obsequious reference to Draco’s hair shining like a star. Harry did his best to tune out before he got sick.

Harry watched as Kreacher lugged what looked like a toy distillery from behind Snape’s bed. Draco handed his elf the ethanol and watched, replete with satisfaction, as Kreacher poured it into a funnel and added it to the gelatinous mess.

“This is what you’ve been stalling about for two weeks?” said Harry. “You needed to make moonshine?”

“I’m not letting you have any, if that’s what you’re thinking,” said Draco. “It’s for Slughorn.” He tapped his wand against the stolen flask and said, “Operer bon chic bon genre!”

The bottle lengthened and gained a greenish hue, while a label appeared from the ether and wrapped itself neatly around the body. Slowly the slight shimmer in the air faded. Draco was very good at quiet, subtle magic, Harry had to admit. Harry preferred loud noises and colour, as had been obvious from the very first touch of his wand. Draco would probably have something very cutting to say about that.

“Chateau Maison 1894,” read Harry. “But it’s really, what? Rocket fuel? Cunning.”

Slytherin,” said Draco. “Here, I have your outfit ready.” He held up a hand before Harry had even parted his lips. “No, you can’t go as you are. Slughorn is going to be far more open if we come bearing gifts and looking pretty.”

“What do you mean by that?” Harry’s voice was dark with suspicion. “How do you know him so well, anyway?”

“My father was rich, pureblood and, er, handsome.” Draco looked rather sickened at speaking like that of his father. “If not terribly clever. So he was in the Slughorn club. So was your mother, I think, if that’s who Father meant when he talked about ‘the carroty chit who married Potter.’”

“My mother was –” Harry bit his lips. It was a tragedy to think that even Lucius Malfoy had memories of his mother, when Harry had none.

“A clever Mudblood, yes,” said Draco.

Only one thing stopped Harry from hitting Draco at that moment, and it was that Slughorn probably wouldn’t be thrilled if Draco showed up with a black eye and a few less teeth. Harry needed to succeed at this, to prove his worth to Dumbledore after the shambles in the Department of Mysteries.

“You can say this for Slughorn, which is why Dumbledore likes him: he’s all about equal opportunities. As long as you were good-looking, clever, funny, or all three, he welcomed you with open arms. Being pureblood helped, of course, but only if you had something else going for you as well.”

“He sounds like a swell guy,” said Harry.

“The sincerity is just dripping off your voice,” said Draco. He threw a silky bundle in Harry’s direction. Although Harry made a good catch, the slippery fabric almost eluded him.

“What is this? It feels like ladies’ underwear.”

“Because you’d know so much about that.” Draco smirked. “Hide your light under a bushel, Casanova. There’s a screen over there. I suggest you use it.”

“Why –” said Harry. Draco pointed his wand to his own chest: the laces of his vest untied and the fabric fell away, revealing far more Malfoy skin than Harry had ever cared to see. “Oh, right.”

Draco just shook his head and continued undressing. Harry ducked behind a screen obviously set up to preserve Draco’s modesty when Snape was in situ. Harry was blushing hotly, for some reason, but his hands were freezing. He held them to his cheeks to cool them before scrambling out of his own clothes.

Just how Harry got into the things Draco had given him, he was never quite sure. The black leather breeches were like iron manacles around his thighs. The lacings of the shirt – ten times fancier than the ones Draco usually sported – were beyond him, so Harry left them untied. He was horribly conscious of the fact that this failure left his chest practically bare. He shuffled out barefoot, clutching the edges of the shirt in a vain attempt to keep them closed.

“There are shoes on the bed.” Draco was flicking bits of a handkerchief around his neck and so didn’t notice Harry’s dilemma for a few seconds. “You can – oh, Christ. I suppose you can’t tie shoelaces either.”

It had taken Harry six long months to learn, but he wasn’t about to tell Draco that.

“Hang on,” sighed Draco. He pressed down the edge of the handkerchief with his thumb, took a last long look at it in the mirror, and pushed Harry on to the bed.

Harry noticed that Draco’s hair was smoothed down and tucked behind his ears, and that it smelled of flowers in a way that was very girly and also sort of nice.

He decided not to tell Draco that, either.

Draco pointed his wand at Harry’s shirt, and Harry managed not to flinch. He was almost sure that Draco wouldn’t gut him like a fish, but not entirely.

As it happened, Draco spent a good five minutes incanting, “Agrafe! ... no. Desserrer! Hmm. Agrafe!” He varied the level and pitch of his voice, so that the laces fastened faster or slower, tighter or looser, as Draco seemed to command. Again, this was a nuance of magic unknown to Harry, and one that left him slightly impressed. He made a mental note to tell Hermione about it in his next letter.

Draco made a voiceless growl of frustration and tossed his wand aside. He yanked Harry’s head back by the hair and started pulling at the laces with his hands.

“It never looks quite right unless you do it yourself,” he muttered.

Harry was speechless. Draco’s fingers were brutal and efficient, and Harry didn’t understand why the hard brushes against his neck felt so ... so ... nice.

Draco was satisfied at last, but far from finished. “Don’t move!” he commanded, although Harry was meek as a lamb after his ministrations. “I have to do something with that –” it looked as if it pained him to say the next word “– hair.”

“What’s wrong with my hair?”

“‘Everything’ about covers it,” said Draco.

He rubbed his fingers together and they came away smelling flowery, the same as his hair. Harry tried to look upwards while staying perfectly still, and earned himself an eyestrain for his trouble. Draco was gentler as he dragged his fingers through Harry’s hair, saying “Soft” in a tone of surprise. He curled his hands into Harry’s head, tickling his scalp. Harry shivered.

“Stop twitching,” complained Draco. “Honestly, you’d think this was medieval water torture.”

Harry was going to say something: a great retort. He really was. But then Draco’s fingertips stroked the sensitive skin behind his ears, and it was all he could do not to sigh in pleasure.

“There,” said Draco, at last, too soon. He curled Harry’s forelock one last time and stood back, hands on hips. “That’s the best I can do. Ideally I’d need tongs and for you to have brushed your hair sometime in the last five years, but I could only work with what I had.”

“I’m sure it’s fine.” Harry glanced in the mirror. “Hey, this is – this isn’t bad.”

“Gee, thanks,” said Draco.

“I mean it.” Harry raised a hand to touch the rakish curls, which fell gleaming over his forehead. Draco slapped his hand away.

“No touching!” he said.

“Fine. Are we done?” asked Harry.

“Certainly,” said Draco. “Unless you’d like to put some shoes on. I don’t know; I find they complete any outfit, but I bow before your superior fashion sense.”

“What are these things, anyway?” Harry stared at the shoes and socks on the bed, trying to convince himself they weren’t stockings and pumps with buckles. “Who dresses like this?”

“Every pureblood family does,” said Draco. “Robes are all very well for uniforms and poor people, but they’re ... dull. Wizards like to show off, and that’s a little hard to do with the stylistic equivalent of a sack.” He watched Harry gingerly slip his feet into the shoes. “And if you think these are bad, you should see what girls have to wear.”

“It can’t be worse than this.” Harry wrinkled his nose.

“I have just one word for you, Potter: corsets.”

“Are we ready now?” Harry stood up, wriggling his toes in the stiff shoes.

Draco favoured Harry with a long stare, starting at his silver-buckled toes and travelling slowly upwards. By the end of it Harry felt like he’d gone skinny-dipping in the Atlantic, but Draco just gave a small nod and said, “You’ll do.”

It was only as Harry followed Draco through the L-space portal – wondering if Draco’s cream breeches were even tighter than Harry’s, or if it was just his imagination – that he realised Draco was wearing boots.

+++

Harry wished he’d thought to bring snacks. They’d been walking up and down Hogwarts’ library for over an hour, waiting for Slughorn’s portal to appear.

They were alone. Dumbledore had explained that every portal opened to a different dimension: all stacked as close together as a packet of wafers, but different nonetheless. Harry hadn’t quite understood the concept, except for the bit about never seeing anyone else there.

The clothes Harry was wearing didn’t exactly repel the cold, either. After months of living in sweltering heat, he was ill-adapted to spend a long time in a subterranean cavern. At least, that was what it felt like. The thin silk moulded to his body like a second skin, whereas Harry would have preferred a woolly pelt.

Draco stopped pacing to snap at Harry, “Straighten up! You look like a dunce with your shoulders all hunched like that.”

“I’m cold,” said Harry.

In reply, Draco shoved at Harry’s shoulders till he straightened them just to stop Draco touching him. Draco returned to pacing, hands behind his back like a cross general. The cold was no kinder to him than to Harry. Draco’s teeth were chattering, and two tiny bumps stood out from his shirt. Harry was wondering what strange kind of necklace Draco was wearing when he realised he was staring at Draco’s nipples.

Harry, aghast, switched his gaze to the floor. In passing he realised his own nipples were hard and cold, straining against the tight silk. Swallowing rapidly, Harry crossed his arms over them.

He found his gaze straying back to Draco’s chest. If he looked carefully, Harry could see not just nipples, but the contours of Draco’s stomach. It was slender, tapering into narrow hips cinched by his breeches. Harry felt guilty for staring, but the guilt only heightened the thrill of the staring. It was definitely weird to be thinking so much about Draco’s nipples, comparing them to the time he’d seen Ginny’s through her dress, and thinking that Draco’s seemed larger and flatter...

“– gay,” said Draco. Harry started as he realised Draco was talking.

“I’m not,” he said automatically, dismissing the five minute nipple-staring incident to the back of his mind.

Draco scowled. “Calm down, Mr Homophobia 1996,” he said. “It isn’t catching.”

“It’s not?” Harry jostled for a meaning, however slight, to this conversation.

“Of course not!” snapped Draco. “Otherwise, you’d have caught it from Dumbledore years ago.”

“I’d have caught gay from Dumbledore?” Harry repeated aloud. Nope; it didn’t make any more sense that way.

“That’s my point,” said Draco. “You haven’t, but if it was you would, because Dumbledore’s as gay as a picnic. Anyway, as I was saying –”

“Dumbledore’s gay?”

“Did you turn into a parrot while I wasn’t looking?” Draco surveyed Harry with displeasure. “Let me tell you, the changeover makes you even more suicidally dense –”

“But you said ... Dumbledore...”

Draco stared, then laughed. “You – oh, you didn’t know!” he choked. “That’s classic, honestly. I think even the Weasel copped that after a year or two.” Draco clasped his hands under his chin and fluttered his eyelashes, doing a disturbingly realistic impression of Dame Edna Everage. “Dumbledore was deeply in love with his best friend, Gellert Grindelwald ... until tragically, Gellert turned to the dark side, and Dumbledore had to dump him.”

“You – you’re making this up!”

“I wish I was,” said Draco. “I mean, come on. Dumbledore – icon for gay little wizards everywhere? Please. Now, Slughorn isn’t gay, per se, in that he’s never come out. But he certainly likes pretty boys as much as pretty girls. I’ve done my best with you. If you stay out of the light you’ll probably pass for a pretty boy.” Draco’s voice changed timbre, becoming deeper and slightly hoarse, but Harry was too shell-shocked to notice. “All I’m saying is we should ham it up as much as possible. If he’s distracted by our act he might let more slip than he intended to – which was probably Dumbledore’s plan all along.”

“Yeah, sure.” Harry nodded along, then nearly jumped out of his skin when Draco ran a hand down his arm. Draco’s scowl immediately grounded him.

“See, you can’t do that – look like someone dropped a spider down your pants.”

“You want us to be all touchy-feely?” Harry clarified, disgusted. At least, the way his stomach dropped felt like disgust.

“I’m saying it would be a good idea,” said Draco. “For the greater good, of course. That’s if you can handle it.”

Harry pushed back his shoulders, missing the way Draco’s eyes flicked to his taut nipples. “Gryffindor,” he said.

At that precise moment, a portal opened up before them. The runes twisted until they read Slughorn’s Abode (please knock before you enter).

“Here goes nothing,” murmured Draco, and raised a fist.

+++

Harry sat bolt upright on a chintz sofa. Draco’s arm was draped over the back of said sofa; every time he moved Harry heard the rasp of silk on silk. He’d decided to sit as still as possible to prevent it happening, because he’d never felt so freaked out in his life.

Slughorn was all affability when he heard who they were. He invited them in for tea and began regaling them with tales of their respective parents. At any other time Harry would have hung on his words. But Draco’s leg nudged his every time Slughorn looked their way, their thighs were touching and, once, Draco had laughed and rested his head momentarily on Harry’s shoulder. Harry had inhaled the peculiar scent of Draco’s hair and hadn’t been able to breathe properly since. He was starting to think Draco’s pomade was poisoned.

Slughorn excused himself for a moment to fetch more biscuits. Draco immediately dropped his soft smile in favour of a glower and dug Harry in the ribs.

“Ow!” Harry massaged his side. Draco had hard fingers.

“What is with you?” demanded Draco. “I thought you agreed to play along! Instead you’re sitting there squirming like I’m trying to steal your virtue.” As he spoke, Draco was filling up their teacups and emptying Slughorn’s. He glugged a good three-quarters of his moonshine into the teapot and spelled the bottle to look full. Meanwhile, Harry did his best to catch his breath and find a plausible excuse.

“Whatever you do,” said Draco, “don’t drink too much tea.”

“Right,” said Harry, not hearing a word Draco said because Slughorn chose that moment to return and Draco put his hand on Harry’s knee.

Draco coaxed Slughorn into drinking three more cups of tea by flattering his chinaware, interior decorating and waistcoat. All the while, he found excuses to touch Harry, affectionately and as if by accident. His fingers grazed the back of Harry’s neck when Harry leaned forward for a biscuit. His ankle rubbed Harry’s while they admired Slughorn’s new teaspoons. His thumb stroked the back of Harry’s hand for a good minute while Slughorn drained his last cup of tea.

“Now, I hope you don’t mind, Professor,” said Draco, leaning forward with a coy smile that did strange things to Harry’s stomach, “but I took the liberty of bringing you a present.”

Slughorn clapped his plump hands together. “I do love presents! You are kind, Mr Malfoy.”

“Please, call me Draco.” Balancing himself with a hand on Harry’s thigh – a gesture Slughorn did not fail to notice – Draco reached down to his side, where he’d stowed the bottle of moonshine. “I hope you like this vintage.”

He held out the bottle. Slughorn’s eyes lit up. “It’s one of my absolute favourites! Draco, you clever, clever boy. I must try some right away. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a superior vine.”

“Please do,” urged Draco.

Harry swallowed the dregs of his tea. Heedless to Draco’s warning, he’d drunk at least as much of it as Slughorn. But while Slughorn, whose girth and experience allowed him a better head for alcohol, was merely tipsy, Harry was sliding into the fuzzy warm arms of a drunken stupor.

From his current side of the alcohol divide, Harry was feeling much better about the whole situation. Kreacher had been right: Draco’s hair did glow a little. His voice, although it came from miles away, was very soothing. Harry didn’t understand what Draco was saying, but he heard the worry in his voice. He raised a hand to smooth away the frown line between Draco’s eyes.

“Oh dear God,” he thought he heard Draco whisper. “You stupid wanker, you drank the tea!”

+++

“Oh – I’m not interrupting anything?” Slughorn paused on the threshold of his sitting room after answering a call of nature. Draco caught hold of Harry’s wrist and forced it away from his face. With a false smile, Draco shook his head.

“Don’t be silly, Professor,” he said. “Harry –” he shot a narrow glare at Harry, who didn’t even notice his name on Draco’s lips “– gets rather giddy when we’re alone together, even for a few minutes.”

Harry slumped against him, his glazed eyes bright. “You’re pretty,” he told Draco, in a loud whisper.

“Ah, to be young and in love,” said Slughorn indulgently. “We should have a toast.” Draco watched eagerly as Slughorn poured himself a goodly amount of ‘wine,’ with two splashes into a tumbler for Harry and Draco.

“To youth!” said Slughorn, holding his glass aloft.

Draco wrapped Harry’s fingers around the tumbler and held them in place with his own. “To youth,” he agreed.

Draco forced Harry to drink; sadly, this did not take much urging. Harry swallowed thirstily and handed the tumbler to Draco with a sweet, trusting smile.

Harry’s lips were shiny when wet.

Draco didn’t know why he’d noticed that.

Slughorn liberally served himself another glass. The first had disappeared nearly as quickly as Harry’s. Draco nodded to himself. The enchantments Snape had helped him to design, and Kreacher to implement, were having the intended effect. When undiluted by theophylline, the moonshine became all that it could be: moreish and rapidly intoxicating.

“This is very good,” Slughorn told Draco, his voice slightly slurred. “Very, very good. Reminds me of the time your father –”

“I was meaning to ask you something about my father,” Draco interrupted smoothly. “The last time I saw him, he mentioned something odd ... a Horcrux. You don’t happen to know anything about those, do you?”

Slughorn’s pasty face went paler. “I don’t – that is, I have no idea –” he blustered.

Harry’s eyes fluttered at the noise – he’d been falling asleep. A drinker’s flush burned his cheeks. Draco had only time for one smug thought about Harry’s future career as an alcoholic before Harry’s knuckles swept down his cheek.

“Pretty,” he murmured again, as if it were the only word he knew. His damp lips touched Draco’s neck. Before Draco could stop him, or even think, Harry licked a warm stripe up to his ear, which he began to nibble. Draco felt his breath stutter. He grabbed Harry’s hand to – he hardly knew what; force him away, perhaps. Harry took this as permission to slide closer and wind his fingers through Draco’s.

“I’m so sorry,” gasped Draco, “I think the wine –”

Slughorn coughed. “Horcruxes,” he said rapidly. His eyes were fixed on the spot under Draco’s jaw, which Harry was stroking with his tongue. “I don’t like to speak of them – You-Know-Who asked me about them once. I’m afraid to say I told him all I knew, which wasn’t much. I’m no practitioner of the Dark Arts. Horcruxes split one’s soul through an act of murder: that is the extent of my knowledge. I’m not proud that he came to know of them through me, but he was a very charming young man ... very handsome ... once.”

“I’m sure.” Draco tried to smile reassuringly, but this was difficult as Harry had just decided to drift a warm hand across his stomach.

When Harry began laying close-mouthed kisses along his jawline, Draco decided enough was enough. He’d had sufficient contact with Harry to contract Gryffindorian rabies, and Slughorn had confirmed what everyone already suspected.

“I think I’d better get this boy home before he does something silly.” Draco attempted a smile, but it was as if his mouth wouldn’t work. It kept trying to sigh.

“It was a pleasure meeting you,” Slughorn tried to say. It came out more like ‘iwhasa plez meenu.’ Draco cut short the civilities and dragged Harry to the L-space portal. They’d been at Slughorn’s rooms at a Bath inn for several hours, as Draco could tell from the darkening windows.

The cold air of the library seemed to hit Harry like an anvil, for he crumpled up against Draco. Draco contemplated Levitating Harry back to the Dursley’s house – but Harry’s weight on his shoulder was warm – and Levitating Charms had never been his strong suit. Thus confused in mind, Draco wrapped his arm around Harry’s solid waist and pulled Harry’s hand around his own shoulders. They limped slowly towards the Dursley portal.

Draco felt sick to his stomach: a tight, roiling feeling that was only exacerbated every time he felt Harry’s breath on his cheek. Harry stunk of hops. It was revolting.

Harry chuckled. Draco had never heard him laugh like that before – a throaty sound that sent hot darts into the pit of Draco’s stomach. Harry’s tongue lapped his cheek - again! Did Potter think he was an over-sized ice-cream? Draco tried to jerk away, but it was hard when he had both arms around Harry to hold him upright.

“Pretty,” mumbled Harry, to the backdrop of Draco losing his mind.

+++

When Harry first woke up he thought he hadn’t, the blackness of his vision was so absolute. Then he realised he’d inadvertently squeezed his eyes shut against the pain in his head.

It felt like someone was playing patty-cake against his temples and belly, only using flaming hot torches of pain. He couldn’t help groaning as he winched his eyes open, a sound that became only more intense as he took in the blare of illumination that confronted him.

The blurs of light and shade resolved into objects and people, albeit far more slowly than Harry was used to. He wondered how he’d come to be this sick. He couldn’t remember eating anything funny, and he was hardly about to catch a bad cold in this weather.

“Ow,” he whimpered, as one of the people moved and revealed the light source in its full strength.

“It speaks,” came Snape’s dry voice from above him. “On the table, Potter.”

“What?” Harry managed.

“On the table!” The words were saws across Harry’s brain. “Drink the potion, you silly sot.”

Harry twisted around, his hand flailing for the beaker that had been thoughtfully placed on a foldaway table beside his – cot? Harry didn’t have the willpower to decipher this, so he swilled down the bitter potion. It took him a good five minutes to drink it all. By the end, his vision was no longer burning at the edges and most of his headache had gone.

His stomach was another matter: the combination of the potion and whatever was wrong with him was not a happy one. Harry lay down flat, hoping to beat off the waves of nausea using gravity.

Snape didn’t exhort him to rise, so Harry took stock of his surroundings. He was in the Dursley’s basement. Snape was bent over a stone bowl, from which reflected blue light shone on his face. It made him look more consumptive than ever. It took Harry a few beats to recognise the Pensieve.

Draco’s cot was occupied, which meant that Harry had to be lying on Snape’s bed. Harry couldn’t summon the energy to be properly horrified. He noted that the pillows, instead of being greasy as expected, were in fact fluffy and smelt of Ariel.

Soft snores emanated from Draco’s bed. As Harry watched, one long, thin arm flopped out of the covers. It hung limply off the side of the bed. Draco’s movements had dislodged his pile of blankets and they slid down his shoulders – his bare shoulders – and why was Harry feeling this odd twist of guilt and something in his gut, rather than vague amusement that Draco apparently slept in the nude?

Snape’s voice cut across his bewildered thoughts. “Dumbledore leaves you his regards. Your fact-finding mission proved very fruitful, astonishing as it is to me. Dumbledore’s plans can now proceed apace.”

“What plans are those?” asked Harry.

“I’m not at liberty to say,” said Snape, “but I’m sure you can guess.” He slit a glare at Harry. “On second thoughts, you’re hungover, and your friend the walking encyclopaedia is not here to help you. He’s going to hunt Horcruxes.”

“Oh,” said Harry. “Wait – hungover?”

“Yes,” said Snape, drawing out the word for a long time, it felt to Harry. “Can you remember anything that happened yesterday?”

Harry frowned. “Yeah: I went to school, we did poetry and Malfoy blew things up in the lab again. Then we came home and got dressed up like ponces –” Harry looked down. His torso was still tightly swathed in turquoise silk; that, at least, hadn’t been a dream, although it was still a nightmare “– and went to Slughorn’s.”

“And what went on there?”

“We drank tea.” Harry’s frown deepened. “I – after that, I just remember fog. Maybe we went for a walk?”

“Where? In Yorkshire? No. You imbibed freely of Draco’s concoction, which seems to have wiped your memory. That’s all to the good. If you can’t remember, after the amount you drank, Slughorn certainly won’t. I don’t know the man if he didn’t finish off that bottle after you left.”

“How much did I drink?”

“Come and see for yourself.” Snape waved at the Pensieve and smiled – or bared his teeth; regardless, the expression was far from reassuring.

Harry heaved himself off the bed and staggered over to Snape, clutching his stomach. On top of the nausea, his legs felt like rubber foam.

“I wouldn’t suggest actually entering the memory,” said Snape. “It induces a measure of vertigo unnoticed in sober individuals, but which seriously potentiates the after-effects of alcohol.”

“Whose memory is it?” Harry braced his hands on the table. He smelled old sweat on himself and winced; bad, bad idea, to sleep in his clothes.

“Draco was so kind as to donate it,” said Snape. “I intend on returning it to him once he wakes.”

“Hungover too?” Harry smirked.

“Not in the least.” Snape’s voice was crisp. He didn’t elaborate on whether Draco had an excellent head for drink, or if he hadn’t drunk at all. Harry thought about asking, but his fuzzy brain suggested he cut out the middle man and look at Draco’s memory.

Harry fumbled with his wand for a few seconds. It was firmly wedged into his breeches and, in trying to retrieve it, Harry relearned how blindlingly tight they were. He must have been drunk to sleep still wearing them. Snape grew impatient and shoved his own wand into the Pensieve, sending out little ripples across the surface.

Harry leaned in and almost overbalanced, his head spinning. Snape grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and held him in place. At first this irritated Harry, but as he progressed further into the memory he had no room left for anything but hideous embarrassment.

It was uncomfortable, seeing Draco be so flirtatious with his past self. However, from this vantage point, Harry could see clearly how little Draco liked it, and how much Slughorn did. They certainly made a pair, he and Draco: one dark in turquoise, the other blonde in violet.

Harry could tell on his own face exactly when the moonshine took effect. He looked like he’d been sucker-punched. Slughorn’s transition was more gradual, for his bloated face was already red and damp.

And Harry had kissed Draco’s ear...

“Oh hell,” mumbled Harry, and was violently sick in a bucket.

“All done?” asked Snape. “I’d hate to waste two Vanishing spells.”

“I’m never drinking again,” swore Harry.

“I’m sure you will,” said Snape. “You only have the sense God gave a flea. Besides – with skills like yours, every gay club in the country will be crying out for your services.”

“I’m not gay,” said Harry. “That – act was all Draco’s idea. He said Slughorn would be more distracted if we were ... ‘touchy-feely.’”

“That’s not bad.” Snape cast an approving look on Draco, who was nuzzling his pillow. “I never thought he could read people that well. And Slughorn was so intent on not being aroused by your little display that he spilled everything he knew on Horcruxes. Yes, it’s quite clever.”

“Aroused? Oh my god.” Harry went cold and reached for the bucket.

“Get sick again and you’ll clean it yourself,” Snape informed him. “Don’t get into a tizzy. Slughorn is no paedophile. He just appreciates beauty, in all its ... forms.”

Harry leaned his forehead against the rim of the bucket, wishing he’d never looked in the Pensieve and seen that he’d had an erection for Draco Malfoy.

He could only hope Draco himself hadn’t, and wouldn’t, notice. It was too much to expect Snape not to have, but perhaps he wouldn’t say anything. The memories in Pensieves were magical; they showed more what the person who owned them saw. So if Draco hadn’t seen it – or felt it –

“Bloody hell,” said Harry. “Bloody fucking hell.”

“There is no need to take that tone,” said Snape sharply. “This is war, boy. You don’t think I, and Dumbledore, and your precious godfather, haven’t all done worse in the line of duty?”

Harry thought about it: Snape and his Dark Mark, his ostracism from society; Dumbledore and the impossible burdens he had to shoulder; Sirius, dead.

It all paled in comparison to having an erection for Draco Malfoy.

Who chose that moment to stir and slump into a semi-upright position, knuckling his eyes. His hair had become unruly overnight, while still retaining a slight burnish from the pomade. He looked about five years old.

“Morning, Professor,” he yawned. His eyes fell on Harry and he instantly became warily alert. Harry felt a blush start; an answering one stained Draco’s cheeks. His eyes darted away from Harry, and he quickly wrapped himself in a sheet.

“Good morning,” said Snape. “Dumbledore was very pleased with your work.”

Draco sent him a small smile. He padded over to the Pensieve.

“You’d better put this back, then, if you’ve finished with it,” he said to Snape. “We have school in an hour.”

School. Harry had forgotten about school.

He wondered if he could bring the bucket.

+++

Harry had hoped to keep his head down that day, avoiding both Draco and bright light, but fate didn’t smile on him. Their history teacher was having a sick day – one of many – and Miss Thompson had taken over the class for their period. Instead of being told to make posters of their favourite dictators or read whatever chapters they liked best from Roebucks’ The World of Ancient Times, they had to form a circle with their chairs for yet another ‘discussion.’

Harry sat as far away from Draco as possible, only to realise, to his chagrin, that the circle put them directly opposite each other. Beside Harry, Cherub was staring across the room slightly less blankly than usual. Tilda, while purporting to converse with Draco, kept tossing steaming looks Cherub’s way. Harry couldn’t fail to notice; nor, indeed, could the rest of the class, with the possible exception of Draco. Draco was staring at the linked fingers in his lap, giving one-syllable answers to Tilda’s frequent questions.

Miss Thompson collared Piers first, demanding to know his opinion on Hiroshima. First, however, she had to ascertain that he knew where Hiroshima was, what had happened there, and when. Piers kept trying to break into her monologue, without success: he probably could have told her who piloted the Enola Gay, its designer and interior layout, if she had but let him.

“– indeed, a great tragedy; but the nature of war is such, it is bleak and cruel, and in Hiroshima – Hiroshima being one of the islands that make up the nation of Japan – think of geishas and cherry blossoms – I am sure you’ve all heard of Japan, the country of Japan, with its famous geishas –”

Harry wasn’t entirely certain what geishas were, so he actually listened in, hoping she’d drop a hint.

Cherub nudged him in the shoulder and said – not loudly, but not in the whisper it deserved, either – “Have you ever had sex with a girl?”

Most of the class were now captivated by Miss Thompson’s attempts to explain prostitution without using the word prostitution. With relief, Harry tried to will down his blush. He almost succeeded, until he looked up and saw Draco watching them closely, as if he’d heard and was waiting for an answer.

“Er, no,” said Harry, trying not to move his lips. Could Draco lip read?

“Me neither.” Cherub looked speculatively at Tilda. She was weeping with mirth, her glorious breasts shuddering with the movement. “I think I’d like to, though. Stick it in someone instead of having it stuck into me.”

“Right,” gasped Harry. “Good, good plan.”

"It's not that it wasn't nice," said Cherub, "in a way." His lips curved up a little. Harry wondered if he even knew he was speaking aloud. "Joe used to sneak out of his dorm after lights-out. He'd slip into the bed behind me and stroke me for ages ... then he'd suck me off. I think he actually was gay. And Mr Fleming knew how to fuck, too. He just never knew when someone didn't want to."

Harry pressed a trembling hand to his throat, trying to push down the bile. He was stuck in some kind of gay nightmare. Maybe he’d wake up soon.

He needed to say something – to halt Cherub before he revealed too much to someone he barely knew, or the class stopped egging on Miss Thompson in time to hear him.

What he said was: “Did it hurt?”

“What?” Cherub drifted his eyes to Harry’s face. They were a deep, almost navy blue. “Oh, that. Yeah. I’m not saying he didn’t make it easier, but it hurt like fire. Until he was in, then it was okay. It hurt way more with the sixth form, though, because they just used spit.”

Harry made a gurgling noise. He shifted restlessly, unable to keep still.

He felt awful for Cherub, he truly did. Getting a blowjob from someone you didn't want to get a blowjob from, no matter how good the blowjob, was tantamount to taking unfair advantage. What Mr Fleming had done was a hundred million times worse.
But Mr Fleming's face wasn't the one in Harry's head, and neither was Cherub's. Harry kept thinking the word 'blowjob.' It scratched across his brain, sending warm sparks down his spine, as he imagined Draco's mouth –
Wait, Ginny's mouth –

“Do you want my book?” asked Cherub, holding out a copy of Roebucks.

“What for?”

“To cover your boner,” said Cherub. He sounded unconcerned, tilting his head to see up Tilda’s skirt.

Harry took the book.

Miss Thompson had at last wrenched the topic away from geisha girls and on to Hiroshima. Piers was practically jumping up and down in his enthusiasm to give an opinion. For a tiny second Harry was reminded of Hermione, and the strain against Roebucks decreased.

Harry thought maybe he should be worried about that.

“I think dropping the bomb was an essential move to end the war.” Piers shot out his words like a machine gun, in case Miss Thompson started declaiming again. “Otherwise it might have dragged on for years, crippling the European economy even further and perhaps allowing Hitler to recoup some of his losses in the east.”

Obviously a little startled to hear such a cogent reply, Miss Thompson said, “From a purely practical perspective, you may be right. Indeed there is a correctness, a truth in what you say. But think – just for a moment think of all the lives lost that day, in such a terrible fashion. Skin stripped from the bones of the victims and melted. That is not a kind way to die, it is not pleasant. The people of Hiroshima had done nothing wrong.”

“There’s no such thing as a kind or pleasant way to die,” Harry heard a voice say. With a shock, he realised it was his own. “If one huge act, even a brutal one, could end a war for good, then it should be taken.”

“But the loss, the great and terrible loss of life –”

“If the war –” and Harry wondered which war it even was “- dragged on the way Piers said, hundreds or thousands more people would have died anyway.”

“So what you’re saying is: people die, and it doesn’t matter how.” Draco’s voice was hard; he was leaning forward with eyes like flecks of granite. “If they died with honour, in a way they chose, or with their backs to the wall frying to death like ants under a magnifying glass, it’s all the same?”

“Dead is dead.” Harry spat out the words like a bitter pill. “It’s harder to find a way to keep living, to keep fighting, than it is to die.”

“Life is harder than death,” said Draco. “How pithy. That’s what my mother said, only better. It would have been easy for her to die; to let me die; but we chose to live. And here I am, in this grotty little hole with you.”

“So why don’t you just leave?” said Harry.

“Because, gnat-brain,” said Draco, “I chose the hard path. I chose to avoid taking the one brutal act that would end a war for good, because it was wrong. Murder is wrong. It doesn’t matter who is murdered or why, there can be no justification, and no,” his voice dropped, “forgiveness.”

“This is an interesting discussion,” called Miss Thompson. “It is quite intriguing, but if we could keep to the subject of atomic bombs, that would be excellent. Yes, it would be best.”

“What’s an atomic bomb?” asked Draco.

+++

Draco seemed very taken with nuclear warfare. At least, he asked Mr Blake if he could build a bomb, and seemed quite put out when Mr Blake said no.

“Well, can you build a bomb?” he asked.

“I could, given the right materials and conditions,” said Mr Blake. “But whether I would or not, hmm, that’s a different matter. Bombs are evil things.”

“Bombs aren’t evil,” argued Draco, who interpreted the ethics of modern warfare his own sweet way. “It’s what people do with them that’s evil.”

“What else is to be done with them, hmm?” asked Mr Blake. “Would you use them to wash the dishes?”

Draco alternately begged and pleaded all the way through the class, while Tilda and Cherub looked at each other constantly, and Harry tried his level best not to look at Draco at all. Especially his ears, which were small and slightly sunburnt and Harry was not thinking about them.

Draco pulled his trump card. “Miss Thompson said she liked your shirt,” he said, referring to a mustard-yellow atrocity with a black felt collar.

At last Mr Blake relented a little. “You have a textbook,” he said. “There’s a library in the school somewhere. I have it, hmm, on reliable information. You read up on the theory of bomb-making, get it correct, and we can design a, hmm, theoretical model.”

“Thanks!” Draco sounded ecstatic. Harry looked away. Cherub was fiddling with his shirt sleeves, which covered his knuckles.

“Aren’t you warm?” Harry asked, letting solicitude overpower delicacy. “No one’ll notice if you take off a few layers.”

“I suppose,” said Cherub. He hesitated a moment longer, then pushed up his sleeves. Harry swallowed an exclamation. It looked like Cherub’s arms had been raked by rabid cats. Healing weals criss-crossed the skin of his inner forearms up as far as his elbows.

“They look sore,” said Harry, inanely.

“Yeah,” said Cherub.

“You know, my ... tutor is great at ... old-fashioned herbal remedies,” said Harry. “I could get you some ... salves.”

Cherub glanced behind him, to where Tilda was leaning forward with wide eyes. He cleared his throat. “That’d be good. Thanks.”

“No problem,” said Harry. Cherub folded his arms. “Hey,” added Harry, “do you want to come over to my house after school? You could pick up the stuff yourself.”

“I’d like that,” said Cherub. And he smiled with such blinding intensity that it was five minutes before Harry stopped wishing fervently for a copy of Roebuck.

part v
 
 
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