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A Cherry When It's Blooming

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Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough

Draco thought the assignment was probably pointless, but it was pleasant to be outside on the lakeshore on a mild, moonlit early evening in spring. At least, it might have been pleasant if he hadn’t been forced to partner with Harry Potter, now sitting on a rock nearby, his bored look belied only by his clenched fists. Draco ignored him.

“As preparation for your O.W.L.s, assess the magical properties of one of the ‘ordinary’ trees on the grounds,” they’d been told. Potter couldn’t be bothered to make any suggestions, so Draco had been able to make his own choice.

Weasley, predictably, had scoffed. “Cherry tree, Malfoy? Figures you’d pick something frou-frou like that.” But Draco had his reasons.

Ollivander’s notes on wands had recently been published. The commentary on Draco’s own wand wood had stung: “The hawthorn wand seems most at home with a conflicted nature.”

Draco was not conflicted. He wasn’t. He would have a chance to prove himself soon, now that the Dark Lord was back. And maybe another, stronger wand would choose him. “Rare… strange power… prestige...” the notes said; “Cherry wood often makes a wand that possesses truly lethal power.”

Of course, the students hadn’t been given any directions on how to assess the magical properties of a tree.

The cherry tree was in bloom, and the petals were luminous in the twilight, glowing in the light of the moon. The lake water lapped softly at the shore. A breath of breeze carried a faint sweet fragrance.

Draco felt himself drawn toward the tree, and instead of using his wand, he stretched out his bare hand. When he touched a slim branch, a little flare of pink light leapt to his fingertip. The flowers trembled and he stilled, made aware of how fragile this blossom-world was.

A scattering of pale pink petals blew down from above and caught in the dark mess of Potter’s hair.

Under the cherry blossoms,
None are
Utter strangers

Potter looked up into the branches, startled into a smile, and when he glanced over at Draco he was still smiling – a light, open look that had never come Draco’s way before. It surprised a smile out of Draco in return. He felt queerly unbalanced in the cherry-glow as a bird poured out a stream of melody.

What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms

Could it – could that be a nightingale? In Scotland? He caught his breath, and Potter’s eyes widened. Draco hadn’t heard a nightingale since he was a child in Wiltshire – they were rare now even in the south, and unheard of in the Scottish highlands.

A drift of petals fell around Draco and he shook them out of his hair.

The song ceased. Potter must have remembered who they were - his face was shuttered again. Draco pulled his hand back from the stupid tree. No power there.

Potter stood. “Have you finished stroking the wood, Malfoy? It’s late.”

“What, scared Potter? With all this bright moonlight?”

“It’s a full moon, Malfoy. You can go for a stroll in the Forbidden Forest, I remember how much you enjoy that. I’m going back to the castle.”

Damn werewolves.

“Oh, and Malfoy? You know who had one of those scary cherry-wood wands? Gilderoy Lockhart,” Potter scoffed. “Really impressive.”

Damn Potter.

Of course it wasn’t a nightingale.

Draco strode back to the castle.

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In this world
we walk on the roof of hell
gazing at flowers

Less than a month later Draco’s world had fallen in. His father – his father, who should have been the Dark Lord’s right hand man, the power behind the throne – was imprisoned in Azkaban. And it was all Potter’s fault.

Potter managed to hide behind the protection of his professors and his “Army” until school was over, but Draco would have the summer to plot vengeance. At least, he’d thought he would – but it turned out that he was to be given a greater task.

Incredibly, the Dark Lord blamed Draco’s father for the loss of some stupid prophecy about stupid Potter during the battle at the Ministry. And when the Dark Lord was angry, everyone felt his wrath. It would be up to Draco to restore his family to the Dark Lord’s favour. He would find a way. He had to.

It was a miserable summer. The Dementors that had left Azkaban swirled through the skies of Britain, bringing chill, drizzle and despondency. Draco fought not to let despair sap his spirit. He watched his mother, her grim, quiet determination. He dreamt of doing bold and clever deeds, making his father proud, keeping his mother safe, impressing the Dark Lord, wiping the sneer from Potter’s face forever.

At least, those were his waking dreams.

Asleep, he escaped into a summer a world away. In those dreams, Draco lies in a fragrant meadow, warm and languid, listening to the humming of bees and the songs of birds. His eyes are closed. Someone lounges beside him. Feeding him cherries.

Cherry-ripe, ripe, ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones; come and buy

The juice is sweet-tart in his mouth. He squints up at a pair of twin cherries dangling near his mouth. Red fruit and green leaves. Above that, a laughing face. Red lips and green eyes. Draco shuts his eyes against sunlight and knowledge, and opens his mouth for the fruit.

In the cherry pluckt at night
With the dew of summer swelling
There’s a juice of pure delight,
Cool, dark, sweet, divinely smelling.
Merry, merry,
Take a cherry;
Mine are sounder,
Mine are rounder,
Mine are sweeter
For the eater

Dream-cherries, dark and luscious, without stones, feeding a hunger he never realized before. A dazzle of sun as he reaches his unmarked arms to draw his dream-companion down to him. Next to his ear, a low laugh that turns to a gasp of pleasure. A thin, hard, warm, eager body, moving against his own.

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In the sun-lit summer of his dreams, sometimes Draco is swimming in a lake. It’s the Great Lake at Hogwarts, and the cool water is soft and delicious against his skin. Someone is with him as he comes splashing in to shore. Another school tie hangs companionably with his, tied to a branch of the cherry tree under which he left his robes. Gryffindor red and gold dangles next to Slytherin silver and green.

He couldn’t be held responsible for what he dreamt while asleep, Draco thought. Though he’d never be able to argue that – or anything else - with the Dark Lord, should the Dark Lord come to know. The only cause Draco would ever have to thank his mad and terrifying aunt is the skill in Occlumency he learned from her.

Awake, he hated Potter more than ever. Potter was safe to hate.

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not waving but drowning

All sixth year, Potter dogged Draco’s footsteps. Most of the time, that was little more than an annoyance. Other dreads tailed Draco: the Dark Lord’s threats against his parents’ lives and his own; the task he must carry out to save them. Murder, he found, is easier planned than done.

At night, the lake reappears in his nightmares. He is trapped underwater, numb with cold, lungs bursting, suffocating, snared. The evil eyes of Grindylows glint in the murk; they swim towards him through the weeds with hungry grins. But they won’t matter if he drowns first. Panicking, he almost gives in and opens to the water. Then someone tugs his hand and his bonds loosen, he is being drawn up, up to the light, to the piercing sweetness of air.

At the surface he gasps and gasps, swallows water and coughs, is pulled to shore. He stumbles out of the lake, pushes his streaming hair out of his eyes, and looks at his saviour, who collapses dripping under the cherry tree. Because it’s Potter – cherry Potter, dream Potter, of course.

In the waking world, Draco was sure, Potter would never save him - their distrust of each other cut sharp as a knife. Sharp as the Sectumsempra curse that left Draco spilling his life-blood into a pool of water on the floor of a Hogwarts loo.

With vicious focus Draco wrestled with the magic of the broken Vanishing Cabinet until he had a breakthrough, and then the other pieces of his plan fell inexorably into place. And one night in spring he held an oddly exhausted, oddly calm and understanding Dumbledore at wand-point, where Draco could kill him at will.

Only to find he didn’t have that will, and no Accio could summon it.

Yet he had already summoned the Death Eaters, and that maelstrom was out of his control.

Draco ended up fleeing his school like a criminal, with Dumbledore dead, the other Death Eaters jeering, and Snape and Potter cursing each other in rage.

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This world, I see, is but a chery fayre,
All thyngis passith and so moste I algate.
This day I satt full royally in a chayre
Tyll sotyll deth knokkid at my gate

That summer the Dark Lord held court at Malfoy Manor, and sent the murdered body of a Hogwarts professor, Charity Burbage, crashing onto the dinner table in front of Draco’s face. When Draco fell out of his chair with shock, it was more ammunition for the others to mock his weakness.

He thought it would be a relief to return to school, until he saw the ghastly skeletal horses that drew the coaches.

Hogwarts seemed a grotesque and dangerous parody of a school that autumn. Draco escaped the castle when he could. By the lake, the cherry leaves burned orange on the Harry tree. He wondered where Potter was – on the run, somewhere, with Weasley and Granger. Draco shivered. It was already getting cold.

The dream of drowning in the lake, and being saved by Potter, returned. Waking afterwards, Draco remembered the Triwizard tournament. The second task, of rescuing a hostage from the lake. Draco’s badges: “Potter Stinks. Support Cedric Diggory, the Real Hogwarts Champion.” The third task, Potter arriving with Diggory’s body, “the spare” killed by the Dark Lord. Draco’s father thrumming with nervous excitement afterwards and impatient with Draco’s hesitant question. If he were honest with himself, Draco should have known back then. The Dark Lord did not lend his power to amplify the Malfoys’ own; he had his own ends, for which boys could be killed like flies.

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I'm ceded--I've stopped being Theirs…
Baptized, before, without the choice…
But this time--Adequate--Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject

Draco’s dream of drowning began to alternate with another. In that dream, Draco is swimming. Potter is the one bound beneath the water, trapped. His eyes are panicked in a bloated face. Once Draco would have delighted to see Potter so helpless, but he has lost his appetite for terror. He yanks at Potter’s bonds and they rise toward the surface together.

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Snow hung on the cherry branches like frozen blossom when Draco went to take a last look before returning to Malfoy Manor for the Christmas holiday.

He wondered where Potter was, when they would meet again. He wondered how to slip out from under the Dark Lord’s yoke, without getting himself and his parents killed. Maybe there would be something he could do, some stealthy sabotage.

He took off his school tie and looped it over a branch of the tree. Let it be a sign – for dream Harry, for Draco himself, for the cherry tree.

I was here. I have put away childish things. I don’t see my path, but I may yet find a way.

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