Of Choices, and the Weather

Of Choices, and the Weather - Draco is going to get the Dark Mark, and Harry runs into him on the way. It snows, they talk, and an understanding is reached. (Added: 14-Oct-2004 Hits: 275)
As the first snowflakes of winter fell on Hogwarts, Harry Potter, bundled in a jumper beneath his invisibility cloak, decided it was a good time to head back inside. Evening had long since faded to night, leaving Harry alone in the darkness. Hours spent in thought had done nothing to ease his worry. Draco Malfoy's birthday was coming up, indeed, it may have already passed, Harry was not sure of the exact date, and he suspected Malfoy would follow in the footsteps of far too many fellow students.
Voldemort, in a bizarre combination of ritual magic and drama, was inducting his new generation of Death Eaters on their birthday. He called it their rebirth, but Harry could only think of it as an end. Several students had been caught by Dumbledore, McGonagall, and even Filch, but no one was foolish enough to think non had slipped through. As terrifying as the thought that any student would bear the Mark was, Harry was fixated on saving Malfoy.
Therefore, tonight, as with every night for the last two weeks, Harry was watching the castle door, alone and invisible.
As he made his way back to the school, the snow began falling in earnest, billowing about him in quickening eddies. Rounding a bend in the path, dark robes blocked his path. Wisps of familiar blond hair framed a pale face, and stormy grey eyes captured his.
Breath, Harry told himself as he wrapped his invisibility cloak tighter around his body, trusting that he had not been seen. Hoping the magical fabric would not rustle, Harry looked behind him to see, with relief, that his footprints were being quickly filled with fresh snow. As long as Malfoy did not walk into him, he should remain undetected. The other boy sensed something, though, as he had not moved from his spot and was staring into the darkness suspiciously. The soft white glow of the snow cast unusual shadows and dulled sound.
Harry glanced down as his watch. The students had all had porkeys set to activate at exactly midnight. The deadline was fast approaching. Finally, Draco was satisfied that he was alone and headed further away from the castle. Suddenly desperate to stop him, Harry did the first, and most foolish, thing that came to mind. As the boy passed, he dropped his cloak from his shoulders.
Draco was taken by surprise, but acted with impressive speed. Before the cloak hit the ground, Draco's wand was in his hand and pointed at Harry.
"Hello, Malfoy," Harry said quietly.
"What are you doing here, Potter? Where's your entourage? And Dumbledore? Surely you aren't out here alone where all the big bad Death Eaters can get to you."
Harry shrugged. "I have my invisibility cloak. I've been safe enough. I was out here waiting for you, actually. Well, that and watching the snow." Harry tried to sound as if he had known Malfoy would be out that night. He needed to stall him, to keep him from realizing how late it was.
"Oh, and what did you want with me?"
Harry ignored the question, instead gazing out at the empty landscape. "The snow's nice, isn't it? So beautiful and cold. And it hides so much. Rotting leaves, dead beetles, rocks. And all the seeds and plants that will come up again in spring. It's kind of amazing when you think about it. Everything that matters just disappears when it snows, then it melts and everything's back."
"You've lost your mind, Potter. I knew it was going to happen eventually. Now, what did you want with me? I'm busy."
"I wanted to make you an offer." Harry searched his mind frantically for something enticing enough to keep the other boy's interest. Draco's cool expression could not hide his curiosity, and Harry played on that. "You have five minutes to ask me whatever you want, and I'll tell the absolute truth. Then we'll pretend this never happened and go back to hating each other."
"Back to hating each other? Have we stopped? What makes you so sure I don't hate you right now?"
"Nothing, I guess. Wishful thinking, maybe."
Malfoy smirked. "Wishful thinking because my wand's pointed at your chest?"
"No. Not entirely, at least."
Harry's calm unbalanced Malfoy, who demanded, "Why did you stop me tonight? And don't tell me it was just to make me that offer."
"I thought you were going to take the Dark Mark. A lot of students have been doing that lately."
"What do you care what I do?"
"I don't want you to be Marked."
Draco laughed coldly. "You're afraid, aren't you, Potter."
"Afraid the Dark Lord will let me be the one who kills you? Afraid you'll have to face me in a real fight?"
"I knew it. Little Harry Potter is worried I'll kill him."
"No. You won't kill me." Harry's voice was still soft, but marked with a confidence that could not be missed.
"You just said you were afraid to fight me. No lying yet, Potter. It's only been three minutes."
"You won't kill me. You can't. I'm stronger than you are, Draco."
"Then why are you so scared of me?" Draco mocked.
"I'm not scared of you. I'm scared of having to fight you."
"That's the same thing."
"No it's not. I'm afraid we'll fight and I'll win. I don't want to have to kill you, Draco. And I don't want to send you to Azkaban."
"You didn't have any problem sending my father there," Draco hissed. His hand gripped his wand tighter.
Silence stretched between them. Harry's emerald eyes betrayed his inner struggle, then grew strangely calm as he replied, "I'm not in love with your father."
Malfoy's eyes grew wide for a moment, and a look of something Harry could not identify played across his face. The boy didn't move, and Harry calmly reached up and took Draco's wand from his unresisting fingers.
"It's past midnight, Draco. The portkey won't work. You missed your chance. Feel free to hate me again, but I'm keeping your wand until tomorrow. Just in case you decide not to wait for Voldemort's orders."
Draco did not seem to even register his missing wand. "So you go back to hating me now? Wasn't that the deal?"
Harry looked to be considering the option, then replied, "Nah, that's too much work. I can't remember how to hate you any more. I forgot how to do that a long time ago, actually. I'll wait for you outside the Great Hall tomorrow morning. I'm sure you won't want everyone seeing me return your wand."
Malfoy said nothing as Harry bent down and picked up his cloak. Shaking the snow from its silvery folds, he pocketed the other boy's wand and walked casually back to the castle.
"'Night, Draco. Enjoy the snow for a little bit if you can."
Harry held back as his friends entered the Great Hall for breakfast. "You guys start without me," he called to them. "I just realized I forgot something. I shouldn't be long."
Most of the school was already in the Hall when Draco finally came around the corner. The group that usually surrounded him, the boys and girls Harry had taken to calling Malfoy's cronies, were not with him. Harry had watched them head to breakfast minutes earlier. When he was satisfied Draco had spotted him, Harry turned and disappeared behind a staircase. Draco followed shortly and snatched his wand from Harry's hand without a word.
As Draco spun on his heel and stalked away, Harry called out, "I'd like to say I'm sorry about last night, Draco, but I'm not."
Draco stopped and turned to look at him. "What part about last night aren't you sorry about?"
"All of it. What I said, and what I did. I'm mostly not sorry about what I did, though. I don't expect that what I told you will matter much. Not to you at least. But as far as I'm concerned, I saved your life last night. Or at least extended it for a little bit."
"You don't really think I missed my chance because of you, do you? It doesn't have to happen on my birthday, you know. It can be tonight, or any other night."
"I know. I guess I'll have to keep an eye out for you tonight, though. Have you looked outside this morning? I don't know if you have any windows in the dungeon, but the snow's already melted. And everything's back, just like I said it would be."
Draco ignored Harry's odd change of subject. "You didn't save my life, you idiot. You just made it worthless." Draco's voice was cold, but Harry could hear the tremor in it.
"What are you talking about, Draco? I have news for you. I've seen how Voldemort works. Everyone's life is worthless to him, even his Death Eaters's."
"That's not true. If you're useful, you're worth something. But when he finds out you. . . you said what you did, he'll send me after you. And like you said, you'll kill me. Then he'll send someone else to kill you while you're upset. You turned me into bait, Potter. He'll use me and your feelings for me to get to you."
Harry took a step back in shock at the force of the boy's words, but quickly regrouped. "And now I'll be expecting it, and so will Dumbledore, so it's not worth the trouble. If you take the Mark, I won't want anything to do with you, no matter how I feel about you. Just tell Voldemort that."
Draco slid down onto a nearby bench. "It's not that simple. How could you do this to me? If my father finds out, it won't matter if I've taken the Mark or not."
Harry sat down next to the other boy. He had woken up expecting to face anger, sarcasm, threats and possibly even an attack, but not this.
"Draco, what aren't you saying? This doesn't make sense."
"You took away my choice, you son of a bitch. I was going to follow him, and it was going to be my choice. You've seen him. You know what it's like when he looks at you. Like he's reading your mind, going through everything you've ever felt. And I was choosing him, so he was pleased, and he didn't look any further."
"I still don't understand."
Draco's voice rose in anger. "He can see things about you that even you don't know if he looks hard enough. He can see fears and dreams you never knew you had. Why do you think everyone's so afraid of him? He knows someone's going to betray them before they do. But he always saw that I was choosing him over anything else, so he was satisfied. I chose him over Dumbledore. I chose him over you." Draco turned his eyes toward Harry, and the anguish in them broke his heart. They sat there in silence for ages. Harry searched for words, but none came. He still did not understand. "You can't hide what you know. It always comes right to the top. But if you don't know something's inside you, he needs to search for it. It's there, and not even hidden, because even you don't know it's there. When he saw me, he never cared what was underneath because I always chose him. And I could live with everything he wanted from me because I knew I had chosen it."
"I'm sorry, Draco. I really don't-" Harry's died on his lips when he felt Draco's hand take his. The blond rested his head on his shoulder, still facing the floor as his fingers caressed the top of Harry's hand. Only his voice betrayed his tears.
"I can't choose him now, and I can't hide that. I always had a choice, and that made it tolerable."
"You can still choose him if that's what you want."
"And you'd never have anything to do with me again. I can't make that choice any more."
"You're still choosing, Draco. You're just choosing with your heart instead of your mind this time. But it's still a choice." A part of Harry was terrified of the conversation he was having. Was he really telling Draco he could choose Voldemort instead of him? Was Draco even saying what Harry thought he was? Was this some kind of horrible game of Voldemort's? Draco reached up and clutched Harry's robe as if he might fall off the bench.
"No. There's no choice. There's just you, Harry." Harry's doubts were pushed aside and he wrapped his arms around the blond boy. Draco's muffled voice pushed through Harry's robes. "I'm not a nice person, Harry. How can you say you love me? Sometimes I'm so nasty I scare myself. Sometimes I say things that are horrible. I've said them to you and your friends, and half the time I don't even know why."
"You should really take a look outside, Draco. The sun's out, and everything's almost dry already. The grass is green, and there are still some birds out there looking for a few seeds before winter really sets in. You don't want to miss it. It's going to snow again tomorrow, and that beautiful coldness will fall and hide everything again."
"You make it sound so depressing."
"Depressing? I don't mean to. It's not depressing at all." Harry placed a chaste kiss on Draco's temple. "The snow always melts, and everything it was hiding is still there even if we couldn't see it for a little bit."

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