"You've been so quiet today. What are you thinking of?"
Harry said nothing. He couldn't tell Hermione. He couldn't tell Ron, and even if one of them had sense enough to guess it without his saying anything, he wasn't sure, even then, that he'd be able to express it out loud--to admit, to the world, and to himself, that what lay on his heart was not a what, but a who...
He turned away from Hermione, letting the bitterly cold February wind sting his cheek as it whipped around the corner of the building. He didn't want to talk. He wanted to be quiet and dwell on, or maybe relish, the feeling that smoldered deep within him, so much a part of him now he hardly knew where it had come from or how long it had been there. Perhaps since always. Wouldn't the keeper of his thoughts laugh at that: to think that from the moment Harry had refused to give him his hand in friendship, he had given him instead his heart, embedded in something that made friendship seem child's play.
He couldn't help but wonder; he couldn't help but notice the eyes returning his gaze these days, couldn't help understanding that they contained more than hostility. They had both grown up; their tension had lost its earlier vocal edge; now it was subtler, rife with undertones. There was a mystery in those haunted eyes of late as they looked back into his own; they echoed a puzzle, a conundrum neither of them knew the answer to. Harry wasn't even sure they knew the question.
Harry was on the verge of leaving altogether--it was far too cold outside, and he had a restless urge to be anywhere but where he was at any given moment--when across the courtyard, on the far side of the western corridor, one simple flash of silver in the daylight arrested him.
He was undone before recognition hit: he felt his breath leave him even before he had consciously registered who the tall, slim, straight figure belonged to; and an instant later he was helplessly asking himself when he had learned to pick out that lithe, elegant body across a yard full of so many other bodies.
Harry knew his eyes were glued to the other as he gracefully descended the steps to the courtyard. Even from that distance there was something so perfect, so unattainable, about him: in the confidence of his walk--as though there were no space of ground on earth too good for him to tread upon; in the careless toss of his head, that sent strands of platinum hair dancing in the morning sun like refracted crystal; in the way his neck arched when he laughed, making him, for an instant, just that much taller, that much higher, that much more refined and alluring and—and above everything and everyone around him.
He was, Harry knew, as he soaked up the slim hips, the delicate fingers, the tailored robes, as though they were something he could etch into his memory and possess—he was everything Harry feared, everything he feared becoming—and, somehow, everything he wanted.
The same instant Harry felt a knot in his throat he heard Hermione remark calmly, "You're staring at someone. Who is it?"
Harry, forcing the lump back down to his stomach with a wince, answered truthfully.
Hermione echoed him in astonishment. He nodded. "Why?" she asked blankly.
"I'm in love with him."
There was a moment of stunned silence, and then he felt, rather than saw—because he had yet to remove his eyes from that too-impeccable figure—Hermione jump to her feet and grab her books indignantly. "Fine, Harry, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but there's no need to be such a git about it. In love? With him?” She scoffed. “Honestly."
Harry simply slumped a little, rested his face in his hands, and did not watch her go. ~~~~
The note zipped over his shoulder, perfectly aimed to fall between his knees. He looked behind him but saw only the row of Slytherins who were practicing their sifting charms. It was folded into a perfect square of parchment, and he suddenly felt his knees give out as he recognized the dainty, even scrawl of the handwriting. Feeling the color rising steadily in his cheeks and praying with all his might that somehow the sender could not see the affect the simple little parchment was having on him, Harry sank a little lower in his chair and slowly allowed his eyes to focus on the words in front of him.
I felt your eyes on me today. All the way across the bloody courtyard.
What is it that you want, Potter?
It was unsigned, which made it all the more appropriate, somehow. This was the first note of any kind he had ever received from the other boy, but they were somehow already beyond signatures. It fit. He fought the urge to glance over his shoulder, where he knew the Slytherin was decidedly not watching him, and instead thought about how he might answer.
What did he want?
He thought about replying, “Nothing.”
He thought about replying, “Everything.”
He thought about replying, “None of your sodding business.”
Finally, he placed his pen to the paper and felt himself carving the word even before he himself knew what it would turn out to be.
I just want peace.
He charmed the note to return to its sender and waited.
Five minutes passed. Then ten. He desperately wanted to turn around. To search out that cool, unflinching gaze, to show him with his eyes, not what he wanted, but what he needed.
But he stayed still, and just a few interminable moments later he was rewarded with the soft thunk of a response.
Of course, that’s not something I can give you. And then, something Harry knew had been an afterthought—but I understand.
He wasn’t even thinking now. What he wrote chilled his blood even as he moved the pen across the paper. One word. Just one.
He suppressed a shudder at what he was doing, at how cold it made him feel inside and out. And yet, in his very center, he was on fire.
This time the answer was almost immediate. Two minutes, maybe three, had passed before the note fell in his lap, and Harry’s fingers shook as he noted how hastily, how shakily the script had been jotted down.
He almost got no further. His eyes stayed trained on the word, on that one word, feeling it paralyze and move him all at once. It was a lifetime before he could move on to the rest of the letter.
You don’t know what’s good for you. You’ll regret it before the sun rises.
11:30. I’ll be waiting for you, right here.
…and then, at the very bottom, so faintly, thinly penned it felt like reading a whisper:
And I was watching you first.