Every nerve in his body screamed under pressure. The Straining Spell — simple, yet immensely effective — coursed through him, stretching his tendons to the point of snapping. Harry clenched his jaw and hit the mat hard, pushing the pain back as he reached for his fallen wand. Focus, he coached himself firmly.
Pain, he could handle. But if he lost to him , he would never hear the end of it.
Visions of laughing grey eyes swim and taunting smirks swam before his eyes. He snarled in frustration, managing to roll on his side with one last burst of strength. His fingers brushed the hilt of his wand.
Oh, thank Godric .
There’s a roar of approval from the assembled crowd as he lifts the Spell and springs to his feet. Harry grinned, even as his opponent cursed in annoyance.
“Really, Malfoy?” he panted, giddy from the sudden rush of recovery. “Strainers? Didn’t we cover those all the way back in Elementary Defence?”
A cheer goes up again, mingled with some good-natured jeering. Harry revelled in the rush of it, the energy and excitement of a hundred or so Auror hopefuls. Training Centre 39 is one of the bigger gyms on campus — and the choice venue for a spot of ‘casual sparring’ — but today, it’s packed to the rafters. More than half the class is here, jostling for room and craning for a better look.
His bouts with Malfoy tend to draw a crowd.
“And yet, here you are,” Malfoy returned, circling the ring like a prowling feline. He’s on high alert despite his lazy, borderline insulting demeanor. Harry could tell by the way those gray eyes followed him, tracking his every move. “The great Harry Potter, flat on his back, outdone by a spell so simple it barely made it into Tactical Basics 101. ”
There’s a resounding ooh of anticipation from the crowd. Harry’s lips twitched. There was a long-standing rivalry between The Augusta Proudfoot Defence Academy’s Combat Specialists and Tactical Defence Squad, and it made the whole Gryffindor-Slytherin thing look like a tea-party at Madam Puddifoot’s.
Perhaps that was why he and Malfoy had ended up like this all over again. Despite their history and all the lessons from the war, despite the determination to remake their lives in the Auror Programme, despite every sound reason and logical course of action that dictated they should spend the next three years on campus resolutely avoiding each other ...here they were. Squaring off like nothing had changed.
Just the hint of another long-standing rivalry was all it took. Like a spark taking to kindling.
Some people, Harry reflected absently, were just born enemies.
“Might I suggest a Protego , Potter?” Malfoy drawled, much to the delight of his Tactical Defence cronies. A few whoops and cheers went up again and Malfoy smirked, twirling his wand in long, capable fingers — a move Harry remembered all too well from Hogwarts and their frequent duels in whatever corridor they happened to find themselves in. Malfoy’s eyes sparked with challenge and oh, he remembered that too. “We covered that all the way back in Third Year.”
“Come on, lad!” someone yelled from the crowd. “Are you going to let him talk to you like that?!”
Not then, not now, not ever.
Harry grinned and fired off his own barrage of spells, relishing in Malfoy’s quick leap out of harm’s way. He always moved like a cat, that one. All grace and agility. Harry would die before he admitted it but it was one of the things he enjoyed most about these duels. Watching Malfoy move like this.
Well, that and trouncing him something proper.
A spell came flying at him and Harry did in fact, end up casting a hasty Protego . Malfoy’s answering chuckle spurred him into action. Harry advanced, casting four Stunners in quick succession. It was a gamble but if he knew Malfoy at all…
It worked. Malfoy took a firm stance, preparing to repel the spells as they came right for him. He was distracted, if only for a moment, too preoccupied with the onslaught of magic to consider Harry’s next move. And Harry took due advantage. He charged forward, ramming his shoulder in Malfoy’s midsection with all the force he could muster. They went down — Malfoy with an oof of surprise, Harry with a gleeful laugh — and by the time the dust settled, it was done. The crowd roared and Harry grinned down at Malfoy’s baffled, borderline murderous expression, straddling him. His hands firmly clasped around slim wrists. Malfoy’s wand lay useless, a few feet away.
“Surprise, surprise,” he drawled in what he thought was frankly, an excellent imitation of Malfoy at his smarmiest. “Combat takes the win. Again.”
Malfoy’s glare gave way to an annoyed arch of the brow. “You cheated,” he pointed out dryly.
“He cheated!” someone in the crowd echoed the sentiment.
Scattered arguments broke out in the ranks, as defenders on both sides rushed to either justify or castigate the use of Muggle tactics in a duel between wizards. A Senior from the Combat ranks argued that Muggle Defence was a part of the damn curriculum and could make all the difference in a life or death situation. A Fresher from Tactical told him to shut his gob. The squabbling grew louder and chants for a rematch rose against shouts of fair and square .
The duelists were forgotten in the melee.
Harry quirked a brow at Malfoy — who was still regarding him with something between annoyance and amusement. And yet, he was the only one not protesting Harry’s liberal interpretation of the rules. In fact, a smile was playing on his lips. Harry’s eyes flicked to those lips, the way they lifted ever so slightly with the hint of laughter. His grip on Malfoy’s wrists tightened instinctively.
“I’ll settle for a draw,” Malfoy said, low and quiet just for him. Of course. Godric forbid anyone else should hear him calling a match.
A rush of fondness swept through Harry despite himself. He leaned in, his lips brushing the shell of Malfoy’s ear. “If it helps you sleep at night,” he murmured.
“Among other things.”
Malfoy’s hair was tousled, his cheeks were flush with colour and his toned body shifted under Harry in the most…intriguing way. Harry swallowed around a lump in his throat. Malfoy’s eyes burned bright with mischief; they tracked a lazy path from his lips to his throat. Harry stared back, caught off guard for once. It’s...odd. He’s not sure of much in this new and uncertain life, but he’d always known exactly what to do with Malfoy. Now, though…he’s not sure what they’re doing anymore.
Malfoy struck without warning. This time, it’s Harry who’s too distracted to see what’s coming.
A hard, pointy knee rammed into his torso and Harry yelped in pain and surprise. He almost missed Malfoy’s gleeful snicker as he rolled on his side. Harry groaned and clutched his ribs, even as a grudging half chuckle escaped him.
Tricky bastard. Can’t take your eye off him for a second.
Malfoy leaned over him, that damned half smirk playing on his lips again. There’s something else there now. Malfoy’s eyes glint with something that looks a lot like anticipation. Harry knew that look too. It’s how Malfoy looked back at Hogwarts, every time the Snitch was in his line of sight. His throat ran dry. His pulse raced. And when Malfoy leaned in to whisper in his ear, he had to bite back on a gasp of surprise.
“See you in the showers, Potter. I’m not done sparring just yet.”
He exited the ring in a smooth cat-like pounce and then, with one last grin for Harry, he was gone, disappearing into the still squabbling crowd and leaving them all none the wiser.
Did he just…?
Harry blinked at the ceiling, flat on his back for the second time that day. Surely he didn’t...did he? His head is reeling and his tongue feels fuzzy. He’d always known exactly what to do with Malfoy. Fight him. Taunt him. Challenge him.
But this is...different. He’s not sure what to do with this. He’s not even sure what this is.
Only one way to find out.
The voice in his head sounds much too eager for an impartial vote on the matter.
Excitement pools in his belly but he hesitates, still. He closes his eyes and tries to get his hitched breathing under control. All he sees in the dark are grey eyes, full of mischief and promise. A slow, taunting smirk, pushing him to lose control. And somewhere, in the back of his mind, a voice whispering a familiar challenge.
Harry grinned and leapt to his feet. And then, without giving himself a moment to reconsider, he shouldered through the crowd and followed Malfoy’s trail to the showers.