you know how hard it is for me
to shake the disease
that takes hold of my tongue in situations like these...
It shouldn’t have been difficult. It really shouldn’t.
All he had to do was walk up and say it, in the most authoritative, confident tone he could muster. He could do it without thinking. Tracey would be behind him anyway, ready to step in should anything go wrong. He even had a prompt, a conversation starter; a pile of notes that had been ‘forgotten’ in Potions. All he had to do was march up, hand him the notes and then say it. No preamble would be necessary, no introduction, nothing extra.
It would be best to just come clean.
To just say
He practised it when he was alone, letting the words roll off his tongue like anchors, lead weights. Practising pronunciation, emphasis, crafting elaborate sentences, exquisite prose, and then discarding them, shedding adjectives and adverbs until all he had were two pronouns, a verb, and a name.
He could say it. It would be so easy.
I love you, Draco.
He could see it all. The walk there, the fuse as, when he passed him the notes, their hands met, and then their eyes would meet too – there would be a spark, a lightning-strike, and then he would say it. And Draco would understand, hopefully – everything would be conveyed in that spark, and it would dim and flicker to a smouldering glow, and he’d understand everything. The eyes were, supposedly, the windows of the soul. So much would happen in that first glance, that first look. First love.
Beyond the march, the notes, and the look – that was unpredictable. It was a possibility. The future was a blank, empty zero.
Tracey urged him on.
“Tomorrow, tomorrow,” he’d tell her. “I’ll say it tomorrow.”
“Come on, just tell him. You never know what might happen.”
“Tomorrow, Tracey. Tomorrow.”
He always refused. The excuses varied; there were bad weather patterns, omens, minor accidents, diversions. He was a master of them all. Tracey would nudge him toward Draco and then he’d see it was raining and take that as a sign. A discouragement. He was not a superstitious person, but he saw signs everywhere. Tracey would tut and roll her eyes.
She just didn’t understand how afraid he was.
He was afraid of what would happen, afraid of what people would say, afraid of himself. He was afraid of falling from grace, or falling apart, an outcast. Tracey would stick with him, but what would the others say? He was the son of one of the most distinguished and oldest Death Eaters, for Merlin’s sake, and Draco was too. It was controversial enough to have feelings like this anyway. It was even more controversial to have them for someone like Draco, someone who held such power – someone who talked of murder and domination as if they were everyday things. No, Draco would be the one to wear a crown one day. He couldn’t say it. He just couldn’t.
He dreamed of it all too. The power, the glory. It was like immortality; the Malfoy name had the Midas touch. And of course, when the Dark Lord won – as he would, as it was hoped – they would be champions, kings. He dreamed of money and power and dark, dark lives. He dreamed of Draco...
...It could never happen. There was the…thing that happened at the Ministry. He was forbidden to talk of it, but he wished he could every time he saw Draco – that marble skin had taken on a grey tinge of late, those steel eyes were shadowed, dark hollows, like thumbprints in his pale face. He saw himself in the mirror in the same way, for his father had been taken to Azkaban too (who would care for him now? His mother had been dead for ten years. The house would be empty but for dust.)
How easy would it be to say? It wasn’t the words but the meaning that complicated it. It was whether he could say it with confidence, or whether his voice would break and crack and run away from him. Whether he’d shake or keep his dignity intact.
Whether he’d fall from grace or fly.
There was no time left for thought. He held the notes in his hand, already coated with a thin film of sweat. He was scared, oh so scared, but Tracey was there, a delicate curved smile on her lips.
“You’ll be fine,” she said. “Just tell him.”
And in no time at all it was happening. His legs carried him across the entrance hall, to where Draco was standing (he looked so ill, so pale) with his henchmen.
He rehearsed it in his head. Said it over and over again, like a mantra, but the words bled into one another and stopped making sense. IloveyouDracoIloveyouDracoIloveyouDraco
He would be ruined by the end of the day, he was sure of it. He cleared his throat.
“Draco?” he said.
“Yes? What is it, Nott?” Draco snapped.
“You left these notes in Potions.”
There was no spark. No meeting of the eyes. Draco snatched the parchment away.
He turned back to Crabbe and Goyle.
Theodore walked back to Tracey. Nothing else was said.
Midday, and the summer sun had hidden far behind the clouds. Theodore brushed a hand across his face to sweep his hair out of his eyes, breathless already. He took a deep breath but the air was sharp, infused with the smell of some distant chain-smoker, and it caught in his lungs. He coughed, bitterly, causing a middle-aged woman in front of him to jump. It was unseasonably cold on London Bridge. A chill wind swept past him, carrying empty plastic bags and litter in a spiralling dance. It was June, and he was between jobs, twenty-one, the only blemish on his CV being a minor Azkaban spell, a small conviction for a single curse fired in the Battle of Hogwarts. It was nothing compared to the others, but it was a tiny factor that made him unemployable but for the most trivial of jobs.
Crossing the bridge exposed him entirely to the wind; he quickened his pace. He was headed for the ministry, although he wasn’t quite sure what he would do there – go down on both knees in the atrium and beg for employment? He’d been there, done that. It was humiliating enough to have to beg for jobs in dusty Knockturn Alley shops, the Ministry was another thing.
He supposed he might slip in and watch some of the trials that were still ongoing. Three years’ bitter battle had done nothing to solve the guilt of the seemingly endless masses associated with the Dark Lord. Theodore had been fast-tracked, a special case, a clear conviction – he had been rounded up on the night of the battle itself, questioned, charged, sentenced and then dispatched to Azkaban the next day to serve his punishment. His father had been taken a week or so later, but as more and more were brought to account, the Ministry began to falter and fail, and there were those who were not simply Dark or Light but shades of grey. Evidence had to be gathered, enquiries launched, witnesses found, and all the while, the world tried to heal. It was a difficult business. Talking about the war was still taboo amongst the newspapers, for while the physical damage was repaired and restored within weeks, the emotional damage was ongoing. Ceaseless. Theodore tried to avoid Diagon Alley for the hundreds of crumpled posters tacked to every shop front. Help the Victims of the Second War. Nameless muggle-borns murdered by the Dark Lord stared down at him from the windows. Haunted him. In his dreams, those he had seen fall in the last Battle came back.
He walked fast and was at the ministry in a mere twenty minutes. Inside, the Atrium was fairly quiet – a large notice board near the front desk proclaimed that today’s trial would take place in Courtroom Ten, and that representatives of the media were supposed to collect their badges from the front desk. Theodore just made it into a lift along with several harassed-looking ministry officials and stood in silence as it clanked down and down.
The corridor outside Courtroom Ten was deserted. Theodore walked slowly, his footsteps echoing through the silence. He wondered, vaguely, if he’d got the wrong day, but then the courtroom doors were thrown open – the slam as they shut sounded louder than a bomb-blast – and a figure emerged, striding purposefully along the corridor. Theodore looked up, and caught sight of the figure’s face just as he looked up too and their eyes met; memory exploded in his mind and his breath caught in his throat.
Draco stopped walking.
“Nott?” he said, curiously. “Why are you here?”
Theodore found himself lost for words. It was even worse than fifth year, or sixth, or even seventh – Draco seemed to have lost control, or lost a part of himself. Physically, he was whole, complete, but there was something in his vacant stare, the way his eyes had slipped past Theodore and onto the corridor – something that suggested that all was not well. It was a message echoed in the thumbprint hollows of his eyes, the shabby, threadbare clothes that hung off him as if he was built of wire.
Theodore shrugged. “I don’t know. Who’s on trial today?”
Draco looked away, back towards the door. He was frowning.
“Who’s up next?”
This time, Draco fixed him with a scowl.
“Me.” he said, simply.
And it was all explained. They stood there, in silence, Theodore shifting uncomfortably. Draco looked mutinous.
“I’m sorry.” he said, finally.
“How long were you in Azkaban for?” Draco asked, abruptly. Theodore counted in his mind.
“Two months?” Draco’s voice was bitter, hollow. “If they get me I’ll be in for five years.”
He’d said it quickly, and Theodore caught the flash of fear across his pale, gaunt face.
“They might not send you,” he said. “You might get lucky-”
“Lucky?” Draco said, indignantly. “Nott, luck doesn’t even come into this.”
“You never know what might happen.”
“Yeah, but I’ve got a pretty good guess. They’d have me dead if they could get away with it. Probably will end up dead,” he added, sounding resentful, even scared. “Merlin knows what could happen in five years.”
The reality of it hit Theodore. In fifth year, he’d had dreams, dreams of immortality and wearing crowns, of power and of money, because then he was sure everything would go right and the Dark Lord would succeed…and now, he was stood side-by-side in an empty corridor with his old dream, one that, if not dying, was already dead.
“Draco,” he said, quickly. The words were surfacing again, budding from that day over six years ago where he’d crossed the hall with those notes in his hand. Draco was facing him, confused. There had been no spark then, and there was none now, no notes to act as a prop, but Theodore was thinking fast. What if he was dead in five years and he’d never known?
It was now or never.
“What?” Draco said.
“I’m really sorry.” Theodore said, believing himself for a second.
It shouldn’t be difficult to say. It would be so easy. Two pronouns. A verb. A name.
The words hung heavy on his tongue. Anchors, again. Waiting to sink him. His heart skipped, fluttered, beat like a frenzied moth against his skin.
“Draco,” he said, finally. Six years of rehearsal for this, and his voice still broke and split, raw. “I-“
There was nothing for it. Theodore moved in – his hands had started to shake slightly, he couldn’t help it, they always shook when he was nervous – thinking of fifth year, and how they’d got closer in those few weeks, just a little bit, simply for the fact that their fathers were in prison together, and it was that that connected them, that was their common factor.
His kiss was like cold water. It seemed to last for seconds – or was it hours? He forgot for a moment. Then it was over, and Draco had jumped away, the fear back in his face.
Yes, the dream was definitely dead.
“Nott,” Draco said, in a voice so small it was barely audible. He was backing away, walking off down the corridor, away from the courtroom. Theodore stepped forward, but Draco threw up a hand.
“Don’t follow me,” he said, voice shaking. “Don’t.”
Theodore turned, resting his head on the smooth, tiled wall. Six years of waiting for a kiss like ice that lasted a second. He thought, for definite, that this was the fall.
: A meandering, short little thing I wrote in the holidays, expanded for this challenge because I have a bit of a thing for Theodore/Draco slash.
Quote at the beginning is from the song 'Shake the Disease' by Depeche Mode. I do recommend you listen.