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You Paint in Colours That Don’t Exist

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The world was monochrome.

For Draco Malfoy the world was all hues of grey. It was okay, he thought—there was a certain art in the shading. The way the canvas darkened near the corners, the grainy texture of silk, the stark contrast between the swan and the water, how the peacocks roaming the grounds of his home (however tacky Draco found them) were painted spectacularly in the subtle shades between black and white. There was a certain elegance in a world built around colour shifting to accommodate Draco in its dullness. Draco didn’t mind, truly. What was there to complain about? There was never any colour for Draco to miss in the first place.

Colour was nothing but a concept. There were always people who would try to explain to him, how the darker shadows could be navy or red or purple, the lighter yellow or baby blue or pale pink. There were always people who thought they could explain in words the world that they took for granted, and never any that would listen to him.

The world was painted in greys. To Draco, it was enough.

Not many people knew. His parents and his childhood tutor, who found out very young that he  couldn’t discern a red pixie from a blue pixie in his books, or put together a puzzle without distinct lines. “Colour blind” they called him, but Draco wasn’t blind. He saw the world just fine.

Others found out only when it was inevitable. Pansy during second year: Draco, would you hand me the red ink, please? Blaise in third: Blasted Hufflepuffs. We should charm all of their robes the most sickening shade of yellow. Handing Draco a cloth napkin from the Slytherin table. Here, test it out. Crabbe and Goyle had never figured it out, Draco supposed because they could hardly point out the colours themselves.

Pansy had said, Draco, you can’t see colour? Isn’t it all so… dull? It’s fine, Draco had responded, only the slightest bit irritated. What about paintings? Sunsets? You can’t see any of it? I can see it just fine, thank you. Yes, but not really, right? I’m not blind, Pansy. Don’t be ridiculous.

Draco Malfoy wasn’t blind.

(And he didn’t want to know what Madam Pomfrey saw when Crabbe was hit with the slug-vomiting charm and she said Why Vincent, you’ve gone positively green. Or what the house colours looked like—scarlet and gold blue and bronze green and silver yellow and black— or what the second-year girls meant when they whispered giddy in the hallway, Harry Potter, have you seen his eyes? They’re green as the forest. Dreamy, aren’t they?)

(He especially didn’t care about the colour of Potter’s eyes.)

Draco wasn’t blind. His eyes were not defective. 

His eyes. He knew the colour of them, at least. Grey, his mother said. Two or three shades up from white, I’d say.

Two or three shades up from white. A violet just budding; the gravel they walked to Magical Creatures at Hagrid’s;  the sky on a day with light clouds (not the sky when it rained, especially not the sky when it was storming, until a bolt of lightning cracked and lit the entire sky for just a moment); the buttons on his winter cloak; his mother’s wedding ring.

Draco wasn’t blind, and he wasn’t angry, and he never wanted to tear his eyes out of his head just for the nerve of them. He didn’t resent whatever god pieced him together and he didn’t miss colour—he wasn’t foolish. He had never even known it. How can one miss what they’ve never held? 

(Sometimes he’d watch Potter lean toward Weasley in Potions class and snark something in his ear, watch his lips tilt up in something resembling a smirk, butt Weasley’s shoulder with his own, and Draco thought he knew the answer.) (Not that he would ever admit it. Not that he dared to.) (Not even to himself.)

Draco lived. He never got sick of monochrome. He never ached to know what the sky looked like. Children tugging at their parents’ sleeves. Why is the sky blue? Draco watching. Watching. Why is it always grey?

In December of Draco’s fourth year at Hogwarts everyone knew. If Draco ever caught hold of the git who found out and let it loose he’d hex them into next year. He’d turn them black and blue, however that looked, whatever shades of grey they’d be painted in.

Colour blind? Really? What’s that like? (Grey. It’s grey.) How can you tell what colour ink you’re using? (I buy one colour, you thick-skulled gits.) You mean you can’t tell what colour my eyes are? (No, but it’ll be perfectly clear when I turn them black.) It was like the lot of them had never heard the term before. It wasn’t hard to grasp for anyone slightly competent, but apparently every student at Hogwarts had dropped fifty IQ points overnight.

Draco was prepared to hex Potter the moment he sat beside him in the library. One comment—a single one—and the Golden Boy wouldn’t be able to show his face for a week. Draco would make sure of it.

But Potter didn’t ask what the world was like in shades of grey. (Lifeless. Tired. Heavy and so sad.) He didn’t ask what a sunset looked like to Draco. (Grey and grey and more grey. Gradient shades of black. Something that should glow but never does, something that he’s missing, a beauty that he’ll never be allowed to taste.) He didn’t ask if it made him sad. (How do I miss colour if I’ve never seen it? How do I miss happiness if I’ve never felt it?)

(What colour are your eyes?)

Potter sat beside him at his table in the very back of the library, the only place no one else had managed to follow him, the only place Draco wasn’t followed by eyes in every shade of grey. Potter said, “Red looks how angry feels.”

Potter said: “When you wake up in the morning with your eyes still shut, but the blinds are opened enough for light to hit your face. That warmth, that sort of peace: gold.”

“Sitting in front of the fire in your common room with a blanket wrapped around your shoulders; the fuzzy feeling after a glass or two of firewhiskey; when your eyes feel heavy just before you fall asleep: bronze.”

“The feeling of silk; windchimes; songbirds in the morning; the smell of the far left greenhouse: lavender.”

Draco didn’t tell Potter to piss off. He didn’t say I don’t need your pity, because Potter knew how it felt to be pitied. He didn’t say You’re being ridiculous. You can’t describe a colour by pulling together a few fragments. He didn’t say You’re making a fool of yourself, bugger off.

Potter, for once in his miserable life, wasn’t acting incompetent. (He didn’t ask, How do you pick out what to wear in the mornings?) (Draco didn’t. His mother did. Can’t have a perfectly respectable pure-blood roaming about with a dark shirt and light slacks, after all. This shirt with these shoes, Draco, and never, under any circumstances, do you wear these slacks with that jumper. Do you need me to label them? Will you remember?)

Potter said, “I can tell you what your eyes look like.”

“I don’t need you to tell me what colour my eyes are; they’re two or three shades up from white.”

“No,” Potter said thoughtfully, studying them unapologetically, as if he wasn’t tearing the air right out of Draco’s lungs. “They’re more than that.”

Draco said: “I’ll be here tomorrow during our spare period.”

Potter said: “Try not to drag along your entourage, won’t you?”

Draco didn’t say, How do you miss something you never had? even though he wanted to.

By the end of third period the next day Draco was one conversation away from cursing himself to sleep just to be rid of them all. Surely Madam Pomfrey wouldn’t allow them in the Hospital Wing. Instead he took a right at the Charms classroom and took the staircase up a floor, wedged himself discreetly (and not at all pathetically) behind a suit of armour while he waited for the next staircase to line itself up, scaled it to the fifth floor, walked down the left corridor, slipped behind the trick curtain and took the hidden staircase back down to the third, rounding the corner and sneaking into the library, not at all making a fool of himself.

This is the level he had stooped to just to rid himself of the third-year girls trailing him between classes. (Well, and to see Potter, but that bit wasn’t relevant.)

Today he was going to ask Potter what colour the sound of leaves being rustled by wind is. (“Sepia, undoubtedly. Although that’s a more difficult one to place.”)

“People say ‘sky-blue’ like it’s its very own colour.”

“Well, it is.”

“How many blues are there?”

Potter is quiet for a moment, looking thoughtful. “How many shades of grey are there?”

“My entire world is grey, Potter,” Draco sniped. “If I could count the greys it would be even more dull than it is now.”

“Just like that,” Potter nodded. “If you tried to name every shade of blue you’d need a new language. It’s a gradient, pick one shade and it’ll go on and on and on.”

“So why sky-blue? Doesn’t it change?”

“No,” Potter said, “that’s why they make such a deal of it. Unless the sun is touching one of the skylines the colour doesn’t change. Sky-blue is constant.”

Draco was quiet for a moment. “Is the sunset as beautiful as everyone says it is?”

“Even more,” Potter said without hesitating. “It’s more beautiful than they say, because the only words they’ll stick to it are beautiful and breathtaking and gorgeous. Those say nothing—not if you don’t know what they mean.” 

(How do I miss something if I don’t know what it means?)

Draco didn’t tell Potter to piss off because Potter hadn’t lied to him yet. He didn’t try to shield Draco or soften the blows as they came. Maybe it was because Potter didn’t give a damn about Draco’s feelings. Maybe it was because he knew Draco well enough to understand that wasn’t what he wanted. 

He breathed out shakily. “Will you tell me what a sunset looks like?”

Potter just looked at him. Nodded. “Someday.”

As Christmas came and went and December turned into January, Hogwarts moved on from the topic of Draco’s sight. It wasn’t much to obsess over in the first place, Draco thought; it hadn’t faded out of relevance nearly quick enough. The students moved on, the topic was forgotten nearly entirely, and for all intents and purposes life for Draco returned to its default. (Grey. The default was grey. Grey like heavy and grey like bitter unhappiness.) (Grey like colourblind.)

Draco wasn’t blind. 

Except Potter would say that brown was like wool blankets against skin and the sound of butterbeer mugs hitting the wooden tables of the Hogs Head and the low E on a guitar, and Draco would think that maybe he was. Maybe he was blind.

Except when Potter smiled warmly at Draco for the first time in all the time they’d known each other, for the first time since he’d seen Potter being measured in Madam Malkin’s, for the first time since he’d held a hand out for Potter to shake in the entrance hall, Draco thought, How have I never seen that smile before? Except when Potter hummed under his breath and Draco asked What colour is that? just to make Potter make the sound again. Except when he met Draco’s hard eyes he’d feel himself melt. Except. Except. Except. (Except perhaps Draco had been blind all along.)

January passed. The world went on. Draco kept seeing Potter. Potter kept telling him what colour the rain is. Someday, Potter said. Someday he’d tell Draco what colour a sunset is. Draco would stay until he did.

They quit meeting in the library and started meeting by the Great Lake, or the courtyard facing the forest, or the far left greenhouse (lavender). They quit meeting where students would look upon them and ask too many questions, wonder what the Golden Boy was doing with the pure-blood, make it a conversation in the corridors. They quit meeting in the sight of anyone but the two of them, where the world could narrow down to just Draco and Potter and shades of grey, and colours, colours, Potter creating them with his words. No matter that to Draco they didn’t exist—Potter painted them into existence. Potter painted the things that Draco couldn’t see.

“Your voice is navy blue,” Potter said one day, plucking blades of grass and tying them in knots until they broke in half. Draco couldn’t stop watching Potter’s thick fingers, surprisingly nimble. “The sound of rain; the bell of the astronomy tower; how the word ‘gaze’ looks written in cursive on parchment—and don’t bother asking me to explain that one, because I haven’t the slightest idea.” (Draco didn’t need to ask. He knew. When Potter spoke in colours Draco always knew.) “Your voice. The cadence of it, I don’t know. Navy blue.” Then Potter looked at Draco—really looked at him—and he felt like he’d been cut open and put on display. When Potter looked he saw. He was the opposite of blind. “I think,” Potter said, then stopped. He looked down. Pulled another blade of grass. “I think a lot of you is navy blue.”

Draco thought he would respond, thought he would ask more, but instead he asked, “What colour is pumpkin juice?”

Potter laughed and Draco cracked down the middle. “Literally? Orange. Orange like the sound of a saxophone; the rumble under your feet when you stand too near a train as it goes by. Orange like the buzzing energy in Honeydukes during Hogsmeade trips.”

(Your voice is red, Draco wanted to say. Red like a roll of thunder and the smokey smell of an outdoor fire and how velvet feels.)

(I think a lot of you is red.)

“Tell me more about yellow.”

“Sunlight, but not the gold sunlight—not like now, when it’s already warm out and being under the sun feels different. Yellow is like sunlight in October, when the air bites and it’s miserable outside until you step into a patch of sunlight. The warmth of sunlight on chilled skin. That’s yellow.”

(What colour is the taste of your lips?)

(The pressure in my chest when I look at you, that feeling like warmth that aches, that feeling like Gods what I wouldn’t do to touch you right now, what I wouldn’t do to kiss your neck.)

(Your skin. The tender space behind your ear, between your fingers, your calloused knuckles. What colour is longing? What colour is regret? What colour is If only I had met you sooner, differently, if only you had taken my hand, if only you had seen me first.)

(What colour are your eyes?)

“What colour is sadness?” Draco asked instead. 

And Potter said, “Navy blue.”

In March it occurred to Draco that he was very much in love with Harry Potter. Along with the revelation came the knowledge that it was very much not reciprocated. Harry Potter didn’t love Draco because Draco wasn’t often granted miracles, but he kept telling Draco about the colour turquoise, and Draco didn’t know what colour a sunset was.

So he kept seeing him.

Every time was worse. When Draco began following Potter’s lips when he spoke, when he became hyper-aware of his fingers drumming the tabletop, when his eyes honed in on Cho Chang every time she would sidle up to the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall for no reason other than to place herself between Potter and Granger and strike up conversation. When Draco started thinking about Potter before he slept, in his sleep, when he woke up in the morning. When Draco would hear the shuffling of pages and think, That’s surely dark green. What would Potter say?

When Draco asked Potter questions but every one had to stumble past the others on his tongue. (What would your hair feel like between my fingers? and Love. What colour is love? and How do you miss something you never had?) (Why do I miss you? Why is there a space in my stomach carved to fit you that’s still empty? When did it get there?)

Draco stopped caring about colour. Draco admitted he was blind. All he wanted was to see Potter. (What colour are your eyes?)

He never asked what colour Potter’s eyes were. They were lethal enough as is.

Instead, one day in late March, Draco asked, “Will you tell me about my eyes?”

Potter smiled wryly back at him. “Grown tired of two or three shades up from white, have you?”

“Grown tired of grey,” Draco said.

Potter nodded, tilted his head back and up, toward sky-blue. Potter had always insisted that sky-blue is the only constant colour, the only colour that wouldn’t change when different light hit it or fade over time. “The sky is unfailing.”  

Potter was red, all red, but the way Draco felt for him was sky-blue: constant and unfailing and eternal, spread out in all directions, blanketing everything that Draco knew and impossible not to see. There was no wishing the sky out of existence; there was only so much staring at the ground you could do before running head-first into something solid.

“Your eyes,” Potter said softly, thoughtfully. “Your eyes are no shade of grey; grey is flat and depthless and easy to name. Your eyes are… something like silver. Something like a grey that glows, or sparks, or sets itself alight. Your eyes are the opposite of sky-blue—every time I put a name to them they shift. They’re footprints in fresh snow then they’re ice-cold water then they’re a gust of wind when it carries a bite. Your eyes are as hard to latch onto as you are.”

Draco was having a hard time breathing. It wasn’t anything Potter had said, really—just the idea that Potter knew what his eyes looked like, that he spent time trying to translate their colour into something Draco could understand, that he would bother at all. It was the fact that Potter looked at him when Draco could hardly stand to look at himself. 

“I’m not too hard to latch onto,” Draco murmured. (Not for you.) (Say it. Say it. Say the word and I’m yours.)

Potter laughed, a dark thing somewhere in the back of his throat. “Malfoy, if you had any idea.”

Draco didn’t know what that meant. He didn’t know what any of this meant. He only knew that Potter had such a firm hold on him that Draco couldn’t have pulled away if he tried. To think, really, that Potter thought he couldn’t get a hold on Draco. Silly boy, Draco thought. Your grip is giving me bruises. (What colours are black and blue? Tell me in your voice.) (Your voice is the thing that bruises me.) (Your entire presence is a bruise.)

“What colour are my eyes?” Draco asked again.

“Everything,” Potter breathed, seemingly before he could think better of it. He only froze a second before relaxing, letting all of his air out in one exhale. “Your eyes are everything. I’ve been trying to name them for four years and haven’t succeeded yet.”

“You mean four months,” Draco corrected.

“No,” Potter murmured, shaking his head. “I meant four years.”

Draco lived in a monochrome world. Harry Potter was bursting with colour, whatever it was, whatever it could be called (and Draco had never known, not truly, but Draco didn’t need to know what colour was to know it was all that made Potter up. Blinding, bruising, wild colour.) 

(How do I miss something without knowing what it means? How do I ache for something without ever having known it? How do I touch you, Harry Potter, you blinding thing. You splattered canvas.) For Draco Malfoy the world was all hues of grey. Harry Potter painted him.

“What does that mean?”

“It means that the way you ache to see colours is the way I have always ached to see you.”

What colour are your eyes?

Your lips. Your lips. Your lips.

“I can’t understand what you’re trying to say.”

Potter laughed sharply. “Makes two of us.”

“What does a sunset look like?”

Potter looked at him once. Looked away. Sighed. “I’ll tell you when I name your eyes.”

March turned to April and Draco never asked Potter about eyes—his or Potter’s or anyone else’s—again.

Draco Malfoy didn’t know the colour of a sunset and Harry Potter didn’t know the colour of Draco’s eyes, so they kept seeing each other. Nearly every day they would find each other during spare period or after quidditch practice or before curfew, they would talk about colours (they’d moved to odder ones now: cyan and magenta and teal and eggshell.) Draco wasn’t learning to see, not really, but he was learning what it would be like if he could, and he was seeing the world through the eyes of Harry Potter, who wasn’t blind. Harry Potter saw colours and Draco and knew that the echo of footsteps down an empty corridor are the deepest purple. Draco lived in a grey world for all but Potter. Love. What colour is love? 

By the end of April Potter was telling him what colour the budding flowers were and Draco was beginning to truly loathe himself. He loathed himself for falling in love with the Golden Boy. He loathed himself for not being able to see. He loathed himself for the very agony of it.

On the last day of April, sitting on the grass and leaning against the tree by the edge of the Great Lake, Potter kissed him. What colour is the taste of your lips? (The sound of a violin. Red wine. The smoking room set aside at Malfoy Manor for parties.) Your hair between my fingers, what colour is that? (How butterflies feel when they land on your skin. Water lapping at your toes. Snow.) You, Harry Potter, what colour are you? (Red. Red. Red.)

When Draco’s eyes slid shut the world was grey and Harry Potter tasted like strawberry chapstick, his lips moved like a ballad, his breath felt like a dance. Draco Malfoy closed his eyes to a monochrome world and fell into Potter. When he opened his eyes he leaned his forehead against the boy’s beside him. Moments later thick eyelashes fluttered. Potter’s eyes opened. Draco looked at him. 

What colour are your eyes?

Then Draco was throwing himself backward, scrambling as far as he could without leaving the ground, unable to catch his breath. Then Draco was suffocating. Then Draco’s world was caving inward. 

Potter looked panicked. “I’m sorry,” he said frantically, “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have- I won’t- I won’t do it ever again. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

What colour are your eyes?

“Just- don’t leave me. Don’t leave. I’m sorry.”

What colour, Harry Potter? Tell me what colour your eyes are. Tell what all of these love struck girls whisper about.

“Please- come back,” and Potter looked like he was breaking apart.

“Green,” Draco breathed.

“What?”

“Your eyes are green.”

Potter shook his head in bemusement. “I know,” he said. “I know what colour my eyes are.”

“Hold still,” Draco said, and crawled back over to him. “Still.”

“Okay,” Potter breathed, shaken. Confused. “I’m holding still.”

When Draco came close enough to touch Potter his breath quickened. When he framed his face with two hands of long, knobbly fingers Potter stopped breathing altogether. “Hold still,” Draco whispered. Potter did. 

Draco swiveled his head to look at the dark forest just behind his head, only for a moment, then back at Potter, searching. “They’re liars,” he whispered. “Not forest green.”

“What?” Potter repeated, but this time something was sitting on the edge of his words. 

“Green like… green like the smell of mint. Green like ice cubes melting on your skin. Green like… green like sharp bolts of happy. Green like the slope of your nose; the turn of your jawline; the knuckles on your fingers.”

“Malfoy… what are you going on about?”

“I can see,” he whispered. “I can see your eyes.”

“Colour?” Potter breathed in disbelief. 

“Colour.”

“Just my eyes?”

“No,” Draco murmured, “but it might as well be.”

(All Draco ever wanted to see was Potter’s eyes.)

“Your eyes,” Potter said, his voice mounting. “Your eyes right now. Silver like the zing of pain up the back of your ankle when you land too hard. Silver like when you wake up to fog low on the ground. Silver like what the grounds looks like on November mornings when all of the grass is tipped with frost.”

“Green like the sensation of waking up when you feel like you’ve only just closed your eyes.”

“Silver like adrenaline.”

“Green like love,” Draco whispered. 

“Like love,” Potter agreed softly. 

What colour is love?

(You. The colour is you.)

Draco spent the rest of Saturday afternoon looking at everything. Potter showed him the wild lavender plants, said: “This is what lavender looks like.” (“Silk and wind chimes and songbirds in the morning.”) (“Yes, just like that.”)

Potter kept kissing Draco. (“You taste like a song on violin and red wine and the smoking room at my Manor.”) (“You taste like the sun.”) Harry Potter painted Draco’s world, as he always had.

Later, much later, he and Potter still hadn’t separated. “Come on,” Potter said like a prayer, “come on,” and took Draco’s hand. “Stay,” Potter said, “just for a second,” and Draco stayed. “Come on, come on,” Potter chanted, as if Draco wouldn’t follow him anywhere.

The astronomy tower, wrapped in blankets (two blankets layered over each other, their shoulders pressed together against the cold.) Mugs of hot chocolate Potter nicked from the kitchens. His legs tangled in Draco’s. (Warm pink, rose, golden.)

The sun was sinking and Draco might have been dying. (“Don’t be scared.”) (“I’m not scared. Shut it.”) Potter grabbing his hand. (“Okay, but if you are.”)

The sun touched the horizon and Potter put his mouth against Draco’s ear, as if speaking too loudly would blow them all away. “Lowest to the bottom, that’s a shade of red. Somewhere between red and orange, really, but dark. Further up it fades into pink. Soft pink. Gentle. Toddlers’ hands. Fond smiles. Long eyelashes.”

“Further up than that? What’s that blue?”

Potter hummed. “Where the sky is going darkest—navy blue.”

“Liar,” Draco choked, and he wasn’t crying. He wasn’t. “You told me it was sad.”

“Not anymore,” he said, and leaned over to press his lips against Draco’s shoulder.

(“Will you tell me what a sunset looks like?”)

(“Someday.”)

(You. A sunset looks like you.)