black box bleak
Hogwarts was not designed for the faint-hearted. A thousand some-odd years ago, the founding four turned a functioning fortress into a school. A thousand some-odd years ago, education was the top priority and, with little funds and even less experience, comfort was not considered into the equation.
Oh, Dumbledore did his best in his years as headmaster but Draco never forgot that first and foremost, Hogwarts was built for battle. No matter how many cheery landscapes covered the walls, no matter how bright the candles in the main hall.
Hogwarts gave him the creeps.
Which didn't preclude his sneaking into the kitchens to find something to eat. Bloody annoying that. It was a sad state indeed when even house elves weren't available. Pomfrey muttered something about foot soldiers when he first came but Draco hadn't believed her. Only when he sat in the hall, waiting to be served and Pomfrey gave him an admonishing look did he realise that he was supposed to help serve the students.
That was a shocker.
Carrying trays for those snickering, snot-nosed brats was too much. Draco offered to clean up in the kitchens instead. At least no one could see him lowered to drudgery. Furthermore, he now knew how to make a mean club sarny, no corners cut.
Memories of past Hogwarts feasts danced before Draco's eyes. He could almost smell the thick, salty gravy as it was spooned over a roast so juicy it bled, with a side of carrots and parsnips liberally sautéed in spices all to be downed with rich red Cabernet Sauvignon. His mouth watered only to meet with reality. Sure the bread was warmed but it was a day old and the boiled ham within was sliced so thin, he could see clearly through them.
Maybe it wasn't such a mean club sarny. It wasn't even mildly unpleasant. At best, the sandwich would be best described as persnickity. If he were back with Voldemort, he'd be up to his neck in roast.
An image coalesced in Draco's mind, of flames and flesh. His stomach roiled, now anything but hungry. The memory made him contemplate vegetarianism briefly. Very briefly. At least the ham cut in this manner only had the briefest of acquaintances with flesh. And it was better than broth, baguettes, and beans that had been Hogwart's dinner rations five hours ago.
Draco bit into his sarny with viciously determined relish.
The kitchen was pitch-black except for a large branch of candles that had floated behind him as he prepared the sarny. Carelessly, he dropped both plate and candelabra on the scarred wooden table normally used for food preparation. Relative peace and quiet; the sounds of warfare were never far off but at least the walls muffled them.
Of course, the Fates being who they were, who should stroll in a few minutes later but Harry Potter himself? The other man froze momentarily when he saw Draco sitting at the worn table, his robe sleeves folded neatly to the elbow. Draco's signature smirk settled on his lips. Did Potter expect him to leave?
Draco took a large bite out of his impromptu meal, washing it down with
wine. The bottle could have used another few weeks in the cellar but he
acted as if it came straight from Chateau Beauvin-Les Nuages,
Sighing irritably, Potter stomped into the pantry. By the way he was banging things about in there, it was obvious that he was not very happy with his dining companion. Draco swallowed, pleased; the world always seemed brighter with a pissed-off Potter.
All too soon, Harry came stomping back out with a round of bread in one hand and a tin of condensed milk in the other.
"You took the last bottle of wine," he accused. When he narrowed his eyes like that, he looked younger than ever.
Nonchalantly, Draco turned the bottle over in his hand. He inspected the label with painful thoroughness. "So I have," he said. "It's awful. You ought to be glad I saved you the trouble."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Tell me, Malfoy, does it require a lot of brain cells to be as disagreeable as you are? Because I certainly don't see any signs of mental activity elsewhere."
"I heard the same about you in the sack, Potter."
Harry clapped sardonically, the movement awkward with food in his arms, but effective nevertheless. "That was real grown-up."
Draco flipped him the bird.
"Oh, yeah. That was definitely in the twelve-year-old division as far as insults go."
With a long-suffering sigh, Draco turned his back. Harry snorted and leaned against the cupboards. Both had their wands close. They huddled at opposite corners of the room. Draco was reminded of a Muggle sport called boxing where the point was, apparently, for the two players to beat each other physically into unconsciousness. Before each fight, the players would sit in corners and glare at each other.
He was not going to be the one who fell. Harry didn't intend to either.
Something happened to him since they last met. Granted, it had been ages since they met face to face but Draco didn't remember Potter looking so grey.
Draco traced the pattern of the wood grain with the tip of his wand. He knew Harry was on the edge already. "So, shagged any groupies lately?"
"I don't know, Malfoy, has your mother been around?"
Draco cocked one eyebrow up. "Who's the twelve year-old now?"
Harry sighed again, shaking his hair out of his eyes. Instead of looking at the annoying waste of oxygen that was Draco Malfoy, he concentrated on his dinner. The incongruousness of whole-wheat bread and thick condensed milk as dinner didn't phase him. He needed the energy. He wished there was some beer he could accio just to balance out all the flavours in his mouth.
"Harry Potter, the boy who lived," drawled Draco, unable to contain himself any longer. This was the first time in four years, seven months, and twenty days that he'd gotten this close.
Harry turned his head slowly in the direction of the speaker, his eyes narrowed.
"What's so special about you, Potter?" Draco looked him up and down, finding, as always, nothing of consequence. "What were you born with that you're so blessedly untouched by anything and everything that Voldemort's done?"
"Me, untouched?" Harry stiffened, his wand sparking energy. "Oh, yes, I'm so bloody lucky, Malfoy. I look the wrong way, and someone I love dies. My parents, my friend, my fucking wife."
"Same song, second verse, Potter." Draco sneered. "Don't you ever get tired of playing the tragic hero?"
"The tragic hero gets to die in the stories, Malfoy. I don't have that luxury." He snorted. "You know, for a supposedly powerful wizard, Voldemort has lousy aim. Sometimes, I just feel like painting a target in the middle of my forehead and yelling 'I'm here! SEE? Shoot here!'"
"Like you're the bloody vortex of all reality, Potter?" Draco shot back. "Like you're the only one to ever lose anything. Give me a fucking break!"
"Anything bad that's ever happened to you, you've reaped."
Draco lunged at Harry like a leopard pouncing. Instinct alone made Harry roll back with the attack.
Hand-fighting wasn't in Lucius Malfoy's list of proper education but Draco took it up merely for the satisfaction it gave him to sink his fist into someone's face. It was quite unlike magic in that. Harry learned fighting out of sheer desperation: against Dudley and against Muggle hitmen that Voldemort threw at him. Draco learned how to fight according to the rules; Harry's fighting technique had no rules. So even though Draco topped him by a good five inches and thirty pounds of muscle, Harry was able to pin him down on the floor in no time at all.
"Get off me, you ass." Draco tried to wriggle out of the hold with no success.
"I don't know, Malfoy." Harry smiled grimly. "I rather like seeing your nose ground into the rock. All of that emotion from a Death Eater. What happened to make come crawling back to Hogwarts?"
"Fuck off." He tried to kick back but Harry was too far out of reach.
"Did Voldie take your toys away for forgetting to feed his pet snakes?" the younger boy hissed, pulling on a hank of white-blonde, just barely able to keep himself from grinding Malfoy's face into the slate.
"Fuck. You!" This time, Draco channelled enough of his anger in one shove. He bucked Harry off, swinging one arm out to catch him on the stomach. Harry was winded but undeterred. His vision went scarlet as Draco's went cold. With an animalistic bellow, Harry pounced on the Death Eater, grabbing him about the legs.
They rolled around the floor, heedless of the furniture or the still-hot oven, heedless even of oncoming hits. The world telescoped into the sensation of knuckle against bone, of flesh smashing wetly against stone, of the bittersweet flavour of profanity upon the tongue.
"-an ass in school, you were an ass afterward and you're still a bloody ass-
"-- worthless, scum-sucking, idiotic, filthy piece of-"
"-should have fucking killed you when-"
"-manky son of a whore-"
"-hate you, you bastard-"
"-rip through your fucking innards you-"
"-kill you, kill you, kill you-"
"-hate you, you bastard-"
"-deserve every curse you-"
"Shut UP!" Draco roared. He tried to kick Harry's kneecap but missed. Still, it was satisfying to see the other man clutch his shin, backing away a few feet.
They crouched there, glaring at each other. Perhaps their gaze would be just as hurtful as their fists. Maybe more.
"Don't you fucking tell me Ladon deserved to die, you brainless--" He gasped for breath, his vision blurred by angry tears and the bruise that was soon going to swell his left eye shut. "He was... he was perfect! He was everything that was perfect and wonderful and bright... and..." Draco's breath caught. "And it was all because of you! Harry Bloody Potter who has more lives than an army of cats."
"Who's Ladon?" Harry demanded, thoroughly confused at this shift in subject and thoroughly angry at his confusion.
"My son." The words drained the life out of Draco. He slumped on the floor, pressing his nose against the cold slate. "Ladon was my only child."
"I..." Harry gulped, anger and confusion both wilting. He hadn't thought of Malfoy breeding; hadn't wanted to actually. It made sense though; Voldemort would want his followers to have children, lots of children to fill his armies with more hate. "I'm sorry."
"Bullshit. You don't even know him." Draco chuckled. It was cold. "You're probably glad he's dead. One less lackey for Voldemort."
Harry considered lying. "The thought passed my mind."
"Ladon wouldn't have been his lackey," Draco hissed. "I was going to raise him free. Free of Voldemort and of Dumbledore. He was going to have a mind of his own, go to whichever school he wanted, study whatever subject he chose, marry someone of his own choosing. He was going to..." He swallowed. "He loved trains."
"The Hogwart's train?" Harry asked, puzzled. It was the only vehicle of its kind in the wizarding world.
"All trains," corrected Draco. "Hogwarts, the Tube, the Metro, those Muggle ones that work on magnets. He loved them all. He couldn't go to sleep if his toy trains weren't whirring around the room."
Harry didn't know when his body lost tension, only that he was now sitting on the floor, his arms only loosely lying on his outstretched legs. "So he wanted to be a conductor."
"Yes." Draco slipped his hands close to his face but didn't get up. "He wanted to drive trains all day long. Said it was more interesting that the things I did." He laughed again. The room grew colder.
"What what did he look like?" Harry brought up a memory of Draco at ten, unable to imagine him any younger.
"He had darker hair than mine; which is to say it actually had colour in it." His fingers twitched. He could almost feel the texture of the Ladon's hair. "But he was born bald as an egg. Everything about him was spherical. Round head, round fingers, round stomach. He weighed in at nine pounds."
His lips tugging up to a grin, Harry commented, "Sounds cute."
"Of course he was," Draco snapped. "He was curious, too, even before he could crawl." Draco flipped to his back but closed his eyes, folding his hands on his stomach. "I didn't know something so small could make such a mess."
"So I've heard."
Draco opened one eye. "No brats of your own, Potter?"
"Ginny and I talked about it," admitted Harry. "We wanted children but the timing was never right. Not while the war's still going on." He picked at his fingernail. "She talked about it that last month. She really wanted one and I promised her after winter she could stop taking anti-pregnancy potions in and we could try but Sheffield happened and--" He hunched his shoulders and tucked his chin down. He wasn't crying; he hiding the fact that he wasn't crying.
The room grew colder by the minutes.
"Sheffield." Draco breathed out the word. "Your wife died in Sheffield?"
"Fucking hell." He snorted. The snort became a giggle which grew to a chuckle and pretty soon, it was all he could do not to roll around the floor.
Harry glared. "What's so funny?"
"Sheffield," Draco gasped, curling into a ball of hysterical laughter.
"Only you would find a battle that killed thousands on either side and a few hundred civilians a barrel of laughs."
"Sheffield is a wart on this island," said Draco, recovering enough to breathe normally. "We couldn't have chosen a worst fight. Everything about the place was fucked up-- the timing, the location, the complete and utter lack of a control. No one could have won."
"So why are you laughing?" asked Harry suspiciously.
"I was laughing at the whim of the Fates, Potter.' Draco waved his hand magnanimously.
"You're cracked." Harry looked away.
Draco turned flipped to lie on his back. "We were so unprepared for Sheffield that the upper ranks shat their robes. All except my father, of course; he's such a mindless whore. And Voldemort. The nasty bugger always has a backup plan."
"The Death Ripple was a backup plan?" Harry exclaimed, his ire spiking higher than before. "What the hell was Plan A?"
"Plan A was killing you in your crib, Potter. This was Plan W. Maybe even Plan V. V for Voldemort, get it?" Draco started laughing again.
Harry knew he was going to hurt Malfoy some more if he didn't stop cackling.
"The Death Ripple. Sounds like an ice cream flavour." The former Death Eater howled at his own joke.
Harry contemplated ripping out his vocal cords. "You're getting on my nerves, Malfoy."
"Would you like one scoop or two? It's a bit high in cholesterol; that stuff will kill you, y'know."
"Malfoy, I'm warning you."
Like ice water on a candle flame, Draco's humour went out. "Do you know what happens in a Death Ripple, Potter? Analytically, I mean. I think it starts burning you from the inside out, turning your organs into paste but intensifying your nerves sensitivity so that every second becomes more and more--"
"I know what the fuck it does, okay?" Harry shouted, getting to his feet. "I watched it! I watch Ginny die screaming for me to help her but I couldn't. Is that what you wanted to drag from me?"
"Do you know what it's made of?"
"I'm going to kill you."
"DO. You?" Without waiting for an answer, Draco continued. "It requires the blood sacrifice of thirteen children under the age of seven, before they lose their first baby tooth."
Bile burnt a track up Harry's oesophagus. He knew what Draco was going to say. Knew it, didn't want to hear it, wasn't able to stop him.
"I took Ladon with me everywhere," Draco said softly. "I didn't trust Pansy or a nanny to his upbringing so he only stayed with them when it was completely impossible for me to take him. Like during the Dark Lord's meetings. Battles were all right.
"I hid him in my tent before I went to the war council at Sheffield. He showed me his loose tooth, you see, and he was a bit scared but trying hard not to be."
Harry sank back down to his knees. "I get the idea, Malfoy."
But the dratted rat kept on talking. "I've never begged for anything in my life. I never had to. Bet you wished you could have heard me then." Draco clenched his fist. "I didn't beg at first, of course. I fought back. I hit that bastard with every curse and hex and backalley jinx I knew before I grovelled. He just laughed while I crawled on my hands and knees like a common house elf, offering him everything I had, everything I could think of, even my life and he still--"
"Stop it!" Harry lunged for Draco's neck. He wanted to shut him up by covering his mouth or snapping his neck or using a spell. But before he could do any of the above, Draco swatted Harry's wand away. He brought his own wand up and, for a moment, Harry thought that Draco was going to cast an Unforgivable then and there. Either that or kill him with a glare; his eyes were that vicious.
"You parents saved you from Voldemort with their love," Draco hissed. "And I loved him so much. Why did he die and not you? Why wasn't my love good enough to protect him?"
"I don't know," Harry confessed. Something in his chest was cracking, the pieces boiling with pain. "I don't know why I keep stumbling out of these damned fights alive when people who deserve life more like your Ladon get killed."
"My love probably wasn't pure enough," Draco's voice was viciously cold. "It wasn't sunlight pure Potter-love so it wasn't good enough. If he'd been your son, he'd probably be alive."
"Maybe, maybe not. I loved Ginny more than anything. Ron was like my brother and Sirius, the father I never had. I think." He paused and sucked on his upper lip. "I think sometimes, it's just a big cosmic joke, y'know. One day, when no one else is left to die, Voldemort and I are going to face each other in this barren wasteland, take a look around, and die of exhaustion."
"Or surprise." Draco added.
"Or that. No more targets." Slowly, he made a show of dusting his hands off of his pants. "I'm going to fetch my wand. Do you mind not looming over me?"
To his surprise, Draco made way. He looked odd sitting on his rump in the middle of the kitchen floor, his typically immaculate hair in sweaty clumps sticking to his neck and forehead, his robes in a wrinkled mound covering his body. Harry walked to the corner that he'd seen his wand fly off to. Every muscle twinged. A few even hurt. He glanced back at Draco as soon as the wand was in his hand. The Death Eater - former Death Eater?-still watched him, his face now back behind a mask of ice.
"Do you know what I think sometimes?" Harry said as he walked back.
"I'm just gagging to find out," replied Draco.
Harry eased into a cross-legged position a foot away from him. "I think one day I shouldn't fight so hard to live. One of these days, I'm going to charge right up to Voldemort, slam him with an Unforgivable, and then point one at myself. What do you think?"
Draco cocked one eyebrow disbelievingly. "I think you're off your rocker. If anyone's going to kill Voldemort, it's me. But, tell you what, because I'm still feeling the afterglow if this male-bonding moment, when the time comes I'll go ahead and kill you too."
Harry laughed. He didn't just snigger or chuckle; he let out hysterical howls, rolling on the floor and clutching his stomach. He laughed until tears squeezed out of his eyes and his diaphragm cramped. And as he laughed, Draco watched, forcing his lips to maintain a straight, unfeeling line.
When he finally recovered, still panting, Harry accepted Draco's offer with a nod. "I should thank you then, eh, Malfoy?"
"Don't push it, Potter."
And they made their way back to the upper floors, the darkness of the kitchen trailing behind them.