You: I thought I knew you.
You: I cannot judge.
You: I thought you knew me
This one laughing quietly
Underneath my breath…
It started as a rumour on the Hogwarts Express. Billy Huggins, a sixth year Ravenclaw, had been visiting with his great-uncle Benny, one of the most renowned pranksters in Ravenclaw history (and, incidentally, the only wizard to date to swim across the English Channel), and over the summer he had learned one of the legendary and wholly illegal Hogwarts' student capers; Balineum Abnocto, popularly known as the Swimming Hole spell. The lake that the first years ritually traveled across by boat every year was not the most inviting place to swim at the best of times; it was filled with all kinds of nasties with tentacles, poisoned spines, exploding glands, spiked tongues, iron fangs, and other, darker things that upper years whispered into the ears of new students on the train. "Don't fall in!" They snickered. It was generally agreed that there were fish in that lake that could saw your legs off with a single glance, and if you stayed in the water for any length of time, you would sprout gills and have to serve the mer-king who reigned in its depths. It was not prized as a place for a quick dip. However, the infamous Balineum Abnocto was believed to create a safe, quiet bubble around a portion of it, keeping aquatic life at bay and muffling all sound within its radius. So rumour had it that that Billy Huggins intended cast the spell on the lake by the docks that night after dark, allowing a few lucky students the chance to enjoy a couple of hours of fun in the otherwise inaccessible water.
Under normal conditions this would only be moderately appealing, and it was mostly the lake's forbiddenness that made the prank interesting at all. Most evenings at Hogwarts were tinged with cold, from September right through June, with long months in the middle filled with snow, draughts, and cold feet. But that summer had been a scorcher, and everyone on the train to Hogwarts spent the afternoon wiping beads of sweat off their foreheads and dreading the moment when they had to don their shirts and ties and their (God forbid!) black school robes and make the sweaty, stuffy, dusty trip from Hogsmede. The upper years found themselves silently envying the newcomers; they, at least, would take the cooler route by boat.
It started as a rumour, and Draco Malfoy never actually got close enough to its source to confirm it. He was intrigued. He loathed being so uncomfortably hot, and he was already shifting stickily in his seat, damning his poor judgment in choosing a compartment on the west side of the train. Pansy was positively drooping in the seat next to him. She was too warm to even say much; she was half-heartedly reading Witches Weekly, leaving wet marks on the cover from the sweat of her palms. Goyle sat across from him, staring rather blankly at a space above Draco's head. His hands were on his knees, palms up. Crabbe had half-curled onto a duffle bag in the seat next to him, and was snoring wetly. Draco kicked his foot at intervals, just for the entertainment value of watching him half-wake, drool, cough, wince at the heat and curl up again. Draco was hot and bored.
Finally, he rose, rousing Pansy from her absent reading and Goyle from his vacant staring. "I'm going to walk about a bit. I can't take this heat anymore." Pansy nodded lazily, but didn't move.
"Let us know if you find somewhere cooler. I expect you won't, though." She moved into Draco's seat, which was out of the direct spears of light that were poking through the shade against the window. "Ugh," she said, sinking into the seat. "Prewarmed." Draco smirked and opened the door.
Pansy was right. It was no cooler in the small hallway, but walking through it made him feel as if there was a breeze. He pushed damp hair off his forehead and fanned the newer air against his stomach with his shirt.
He occupied himself with a running internal commentary about the returning students he saw from compartment to compartment. Oh look. Little Sissy McKracken has sprouted breasts over the summer. Goody for her. Colin Creevey looks to have found himself a girlfriend…yuck, why do they want to do that in this heat? Libby Green looks as cross as ever, pompous thing. I hope she's gotten over me by now. I couldn't bear another minute of her moaning and sighing. Oh, Patty Prentice. Still a beanpole. She could pass through a harp and not make a sound. And, of course, Harry Potter with his little friends. How very nice. He peered into the compartment, seeing Ron, Harry, Hermione, and Neville chatting amiably and sharing a package of Icy Delights™ candies. He watched as Harry smiled broadly across the compartment at Hermione, and brushed his own sweat-damp hair off his forehead, revealing, again, that famous scar. Draco growled a little. Smarmy bastard. He pushed the door open.
"Enjoying the heat, little ones?" He said. He watched their happy faces turn sour.
"What do you want, Malfoy?" Hermione spat out.
"Oh, nothing you can give me, mudblood. I take it we all had a wonderful summer with our muggle friends and family?" Draco felt cooler already. There was something infinitely comforting about making these little jabs. He smiled thinly, watching Ron's face turn red and his lips curling.
"Ron, it's not worth it." Hermione noted easily. "It's best to just ignore the words of the ignorant." She pushed her hair behind her shoulder and sat up jauntily. "I read an interesting book about bloodlines this summer, Malfoy. Perhaps you might be interested to learn about some of the rather colourful squib Malfoys in the nineteenth century, who–"
"Nice try, Granger. No relation." He flashed her a wicked smirk.
"I'm sure." She said coldly. Point to Granger, Malfoy thought. Not half bad, either. Best work on better mudblood insults if she's going to go researching for comebacks.
"Malfoy." Until this point, Potter had been keeping well away from this exchange. He had sat with his head pressed against the window, watching, looking unimpressed. Seeing Ron's face getting increasingly red, Harry rose from his seat. "What are you doing in here?" Draco noted appraisingly that Harry seemed to have had a good summer; he was taller, thicker around the chest, and nut-brown from the sun, freckles dotting his cheeks and nose under his glasses. For a moment he considered, seeing Harry's sweat-damp bare arms draped casually across his chest, whether he would be bested by Harry in a fight, if taken by surprise. The nasty look Potter shot him was familiar and almost welcome, in a strange kind of way. Ah, another wonderful year at Hogwarts.
"Oh, just looking for some entertainment, Potter. That's what you celebrities are for." He looked over at Longbottom, who was looking nervously at his fingernails his toes pointing slightly inward. "Ready to fail potions again this year, chubby?" He snickered, watched Longbottom blush crimson. Draco pulled on his shirt and fanned at his stomach. "Weasel, are you dragon-spawn? I swear the colour of your hair makes it hotter in your compartment."
"Easily fixed." Harry took three long strides, brushed past him and pressing his hand against the open door, turning to look him straight in the face again. "How about you go find your fun elsewhere."
Draco hmmphed. "Well, then. Perhaps we'll continue this little conversation this evening at lakeside. I do hope you can swim, Potty." He stepped out of the compartment, it's door slamming shut behind him.
"Did he say swim?" He heard Ron say.
Inside Hogwarts wasn't much better. Even Professor McGonagall was drooping at the sorting ceremony. Though the feast afterwards was as glorious as it always was, few of the students had much of an appetite. There was something about the close, tight heat that made even Dumbledore push back his plate before he had finished.
Sitting on the edge of his bed, Draco pulled off his socks and slipped his bare feet into an old pair of tennis shoes. He had a towel draped over one shoulder
"Are you really going to go?" Goyle asked him, looking vaguely nervous and entirely stunned.
"What does it look like? Of course I am." Goyle, Draco knew, was terrified of water. He might have been teased and shamed into going down to the lake if Crabbe had been coming as well, but as it was, with the other seventh years taking cold showers and opening up the latches along the ceiling to release the draught, Draco realized he had little chance of getting any company. There was, admittedly, a fairly constant stream of cool air drifting down from the now breathing and pockmarked ceiling; the polished wooden trap doors left strange shadows on the floor, their heavy golden hinges glinting in the candlelight. Being in the depths of Hogwarts, alongside miles of long stone passages, hidden doors, secret rooms filled with strange, indescribable objects that told the future, the past, read your mind, ate your tears, soothed a headache, granted you extra limbs, and so forth, where, it was rumoured, that strange creatures tread through the halls, swishing their forked/feathered/multicoloured tails and breathing fire, ice, or both, Draco didn't question the fact that cool air that radiated down from the ceiling, didn't wonder where it came from. Though mildly pleasant, it just highlighted the heat Draco felt hovering around his body, the lingering sweat that would not ever quite leave the back of his neck. Crabbe, sitting on the edge of his bed sorting through his trunk, was sweating like a cold bottle of butterbeer, but Draco knew enough not to try to bully him into going to the lake. No one at Hogwarts had swim trunks, and, with an undescended testicle and a six year history of being relentlessly teased, Crabbe was horrified enough at the concept of shared bathrooms let alone skinny dipping. Draco had heard the rumour of a few hours of cool bliss in the lake, and now, having seen a couple of Ravenclaws sneaking down the steps, he was determined to take advantage of it. He opened the door into the hall, turned back, and said, with a sarcastic smirk, "Sleep well." Crabbe grunted; Goyle looked slightly jealous.
By the time he arrived at the docks, the Ravenclaws were already in the water, splashing each other, hooting like barn owls, slapping their stomachs against the surface of the water as they dove under. Someone had brought a red beach ball, which Terry Boot and Kevin Entwhistle were batting back and forth with wet hands, skidding it across the surface of the water. It chose its own direction midway between Boot and Entwhistle, picking up speed and sliding headlong into Stephen Cornfoot's lower back with a slap. Cornfoot, thinking it had come from Huggins, prompted attacked, and Huggins reemerged from the water moments later, spluttering, "You oaf! What was that for?" There were three lanterns sitting on the dock, illuminating a pale circle of water. No one noted his approach, which Draco appreciated. There was a vaguely pinkish glowing line in a half moon in the water around the docks, a boundary line that glowed brighter as the boys swam closer to it. It marked off a good one hundred feet from end to end at the very least, Draco estimated. More than enough room. He pressed one heel into the side of his foot and pulled off a tennis shoe has he heard whispers approaching. Justin Finch-Fletchley and his buddies were giggling madly, towels wrapped around their heads like idiots. Draco dragged his shirt off and dropped his pants, balling them up loosely beside his shoes, and walked leisurely into the water alongside the dock on the opposite side, away from the noisy Ravenclaws and the approaching Hufflepuffs.
The water felt like heaven against his skin. He felt his eyelids drooping from the pleasure of it. It lapped coolly at him as he moved deeper into the water, his bare feet sinking into sand, pebbles getting trapped between his toes, knocked lose by water, more sand, motion. But the time the water reached his chest he had begun to float rather than walk, with only a stray kick of his feet and the motion of his arms keeping him pressing forward in to a dark patch of water. The Hufflepuffs had brought lanterns as well, and now the edge of the docks were bright, glowing softly over the water, illuminating pale faces and dripping arms. Draco took a deep breath and dove under the water, feeling the cool fingers of water caress is hot scalp, pulling his hair off his face, teasing the back of his neck. He felt it pressing against his eyelids, sinking into his ears, cooling him from the inside out. He swam a distance underwater until he sensed that he would be out of the greenish halo of light. Breaking the surface, he treaded water in the dark, stretching his legs. With his arms moving back and forth under the surface, he made no sound at all.
Draco turned back toward the light and saw that the Gryffindors had arrived, Potter first, followed by Weasley, Finnigan, Thomas, and Longbottom, who was wheezing loudly. They ran down the short hill and halted at the shore, pulling their clothes off as fast as they could and laughing madly, shoving and elbowing each other, leaving an mess of discarded clothing on the sand. Howling like a pack of rabid dogs, they made a mad, naked dash down the dock and leapt off the edge, clutching their knees to their chests in mid-air, and landing in the water with a crash, splashing the others and causing a great ruckus of cheering and shouts of, "Potter won!" "Good on you, lad!" Longbottom, who had been too bashful to remove his underpants, still stood on the edge of the dock, afraid at the last moment, his toes gripping the wet wood, thoroughly soaked. "Come on in, Nev!" Potter shouted. Draco laughed quietly to himself, watching Longbottom walk self-consciously off the dock, hopping off at the shore, and walking into the water slowly, his hands clutched in front of his wet underpants the entire time.
The Gryffindors had brought lanterns with them as well, and there was by this time a rather large collection of them sitting on the edge of the dock. Draco swam further away from the crowd back towards the light, floating on his own, somersaulting under the water, pressing his hands against the sand, feeling the cool water sliding against his skin. He watched the others goofing around, laughing, jumping up and down, playing games. Some of them were moving steadily closer to him, a group kicking their legs against the surface and plowing through the water, running through other games, into each other, jumping up and dunking each other's heads under, laughing. Eyes open even underwater he could see them roughhousing, their legs moving in slow motion, breaking the surface in an explosion of bubbles and white rushing water, ripples undulating until they disappeared into darkness.
Draco stood by the dock, water just covering his navel at this depth, weeds caressing his calves. The moon was high in the sky now, large and bright and full. It made the wet skin of the boys glow silver, water sparkling as it dripped off their bodies. Weasley was tossing the ball to Terry Boot, who was promptly tackled in a great splash of tangled bodies. Potter was leaning back into the water, half-submerged, tracing lazy patterns just under the water, which rode up and down his chest rhythmically as he turned in slow circles, watching the ball pass from boy to boy. Draco saw the stark tan lines on Potter's arms, cutting sharply to a lighter tan on his upper arms and shoulders, a half moon of brown on the back of his neck. With his hair wet and plastered against his forehead, Draco couldn't see the scar anymore. Somehow he looked different this way.
Draco dunked his head and rose from the water again, pressing his hair back off his face, getting one last cool touch of the lake against his head when he saw Potter looking at him. They studied each other for a moment, all silver and shadow black, glistening wetly in the light, barely recognizable. The beach ball, heading for Thomas but finding a distracted target more interesting, hit Harry in the face with a wet slap, and he turned, spluttered, and pounced on Neville, who had thrown it. Draco laughed under his breath and walked slowly to shore, dragging his feet against the pull of the water. The sand stuck to his feet, but he didn't care. His skin felt cold in the night air and he relished it. He grabbed his towel and dried himself off. His tennis shoes felt uncomfortably dry against his feet, the sand grinding against his damp skin. The pink boundary was still firmly in place around their pocket of water, and the other boys weren't close to leaving. He caught sight of two dancing feet in the air, cut off at the knees by black water, steady momentarily and then tipping sideways, replaced by splash and a white torso and a head shaking drops like a dog coming in from the rain. He laughed. Potter.
Draco gathered his things, towel wrapped across his hips, and headed back to the school.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
—T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
That night Draco dreamed. Doubtless he usually dreamed, but because he so rarely remembered dreams, he imagined that he didn't. But that night he dreamed of water, a tangle of bodies, light streaming down through the depths, clear to the bottom. He dreamed of sand, of his own arms, veined by strange shadows, light and dark with the motion above him. In the dream he lay on the bottom of the lake. He did not need to breathe. He could feel sun-warm sand beneath his back as if he were laying on the beach, as if at the bottom of the lake there were no water at all. Above him the boys swam unaware, a subtle dance along the surface, legs moving slowly, shouts indiscernible, echoing wetly down. The boys wove around each other, through each other. Their feet kicked down and Draco felt that if he could move, he could almost reach out and touch them, cradle their heels in the palm of his hand. He couldn't move, and he knew this without trying. It did not frighten him.
In the dream he watched the boys collapsing into water, a white rush plunging down with them, droplets hitting the surface and rippling outwards in a wavering pattern, but no one touched him, back pressed against the sand, looking up. He could feel the water against his skin, the warm progress of it from his knees, up across his thighs, dissipating into nothing as it brushed across his abdomen, whispered delicately against his face. He shifted slightly like a plant in the depths, undulating softly with their motion, the ripples of water caressing him as if it were their hands. With each flip, each kick, he felt the water move across him, shifting him back and then forward, back, and then forward in the water. He could smell them on the deep underwater waves they pressed toward him as it smoothed across his body like the warmth of the sun. He watched their faces as they somersaulted, eyes squeezed shut, smiling, bubbles streaming from their noses.
One of the boys dove down, pushing the water behind him with open hands with each stroke, pulling himself downward. He kicked and pushed his body toward the sand, reaching the bottom and grabbing handfuls of bluish-green plants. In his hands, the plants were flowers, white petals breaking off and floating away. He pressed his hands into the sand on either side of Draco's head and looked down at him, his feet up in the air, barely visible. He swayed from side to side, his body reflecting the ripples on the surface, his body reflecting the motion of his own feet. He looked at Draco, seeing him and not seeing him. The boy smiled, and Draco knew who he was, for an instant, at then didn't know again. An instant of familiarity that made him feel terrified, and then disappeared.
When the boy turned his head, and then removed his hands, Draco could smell him in the water, could taste him, could feel that undulating wave from his retreating shoulder against his lips as though it were sun-warm skin. The boy turned and rose up through the water, his eyes blinking, sending more ripples of water down to Draco, to touch him, fingers of water dragging slowly over him. He broke the surface and disappeared. At that same moment, Draco realized that he was under water, and that couldn't breathe. He gasped, and woke.
It was raining that morning. Draco could hear the water sluicing down the stone walls outside the window. The gray light was inching its way into their dorm, the heat wave broken. Draco remembered suddenly that he had left his shirt by the lake.