Warning! This story does contain slash. If you are unaware of what slash is or if it's just not something you have a care for, you probably clicked on the wrong link. Sorry. Life sucks, get a helmet. Anyway! Feedback and reviews are always appreciated and flames are mocked and the source of my endless amusement. All standard disclaimers apply. (What's mine is mine and what isn't, well, isn't.) This story contains spoilers for all four books. You have been warned.
Quick Note Regarding Formatting: There are many POV switches in this chapter so three stars (***) marks the beginning of a new character's perspective within a scene, otherwise, it's a new scene.
The Losing Side
A Harry Potter Fan Fiction
Chapter 11 - Things Best Kept Secret
Part I: Rules and Corridors
"You've picked the losing side, Potter! I warned you! I told you you ought to choose your company more carefully, remember? When we met on the train, first day of Hogwarts? I told you not to hang around with riffraff like this." He jerked his head at Ron and Hermione. "Too late now, Potter! They'll be the first to go, now the Dark Lord's back! Mudbloods and Muggle-lovers first! Well- second- Diggory was the f--" Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Ron had come to a very important decision in the last few minutes and that was that he did not like this. That he did not like this even one little bit. And the fact that he didn't have the foggiest idea what the hell was going on certainly didn't make him like it any better. He'd been shocked when he'd emerged from the Prefects' Lounge to sight of Harry and (horror, horror) Malfoy kissing at the top of the stairway, but he'd managed to muddle through with a few well-placed jibes and a laugh. Well, truthfully, seeing them jump apart like that had been pretty damn funny.
Still, it was just plain disturbing to walk in on your best mate snogging the most annoying git on the planet. As far as he was concerned there was something really, really wrong in a world where the boy who lived was snogging the boy who worshipped the Dark Lord.
And then Malfoy acting almost decent all the way through the meeting and even agreeing not to call him Weasel anymore. What had that been about? Ron had actually found himself wondering if this boy in front of him wasn't Malfoy at all but rather some slightly less evil body snatcher impersonating him. He'd heard all about body snatchers from Seamus and Dean last year. Nasty little buggers. They could look just like the person they were imitating. And just when he'd been almost liking the idea of a slightly-less-evil Draco Malfoy, the right bastard had opened his gob and blasted the whole slightly-less-evil idea to bits.
Don't make the mistake of thinking of me as a friend, Granger. I am no friend of yours.
Ron glanced up at Hermione as the dark-haired girl stood up from behind the desk, "I think we should leave in pairs. It will look less conspicuous that way if someone should see us emerging into the hall. Harry, you and Malfoy should go first, and Ron and I will follow in a bit."
Ron wrinkled his nose, opening his mouth to comment that it wouldn't really look any less conspicuous for Harry and Malfoy to be seen together, when a quick glance from Hermione had him snapping his mouth closed again. Harry also seemed rather doubtful about her explanation, but he seemed to have the good sense not to say anything without getting nailed by the glance-of-death. Unfortunately, Malfoy seemed to have no problem sharing his opinion. Which was both creepy and really annoying.
"And it looks so much less conspicuous if Harry and I walk out together? Don't be ridiculous, Granger. What's going on?" Malfoy grumbled, glaring suspiciously at the dark-haired girl.
"Nothing is going on, Malfoy." Hermione replied easily, ushering the two boys towards the entrance wall. "We still have a bit of tidying up to do before we can leave, and since we're prefects we can excuse ourselves for being late. Do you really want me to excuse you for being late in front of all your housemates?"
Malfoy looked horrified at the thought. "No! Fine, Granger. Have it your way. Let's go, Potter."
Harry sighed and shook his head as Malfoy grabbed his hand and practically yanked him back into the dark corridor. The wall slid back into place at the same moment that Malfoy yelped in pain, "Damn blasted castle! That stone wasn't there before!"
Ron grinned as the wall slid shut with a quiet thud. It always did his heart good to hear Malfoy in pain. Annoying bastard. It really was beyond him why he had to pretend to be okay with Harry and Malfoy's... ugh... relationship. But Hermione had told him that it was absolutely vital that they not alienate Harry in any way. She seemed to think that fighting with Malfoy in front of him would just push Harry towards the Slytherin rather than showing him what a right bastard Malfoy really was. Ron didn't agree with that. He rather thought that Harry needed a bit of reminding just now. After all, he was letting himself be kissed by the same mouth that had spent the past five years causing him nothing but trouble and pain.
"Ron? You're thinking too hard again. I can practically smell the smoke."
"What?" Ron responded, turning round to face Hermione, who was now seated behind her desk once more, tidying up.
"What are you thinking about?" Hermione inquired, raising her gaze from the large pile of books and parchment.
"I just... I don't see why I have to try and be nice to Malfoy. It's not like Harry won't figure out what we're doing. He's not stupid, you know."
"I am perfectly aware of that, Ron. However, you shouldn't discount Harry's ability to believe what he wants to believe. It's human nature. As long as we're subtle, he won't notice a thing. He knows we're not completely okay with it, but as long as Malfoy is behaving himself then we should as well."
"Behaving himself? Was he behaving himself when he was saying all that about not being your friend?"
"No, he was being honest. Which I find terribly bizarre coming from Malfoy, but there is a first time for everything, I suppose. Though... did it seem to you like he was trying to warn me... warn us?"
"Warn us? About what? All he was doing was saying that he wasn't your friend and he didn't like you and all that other rubbish that we've known since forever. I think he was just screwing with you. He's a jerk."
"Well, yes, he is that. But what if he wasn't just, as you so eloquently put it, 'screwing with me'? What if he was telling the truth about everything else as well? What if he really is planning to betray Harry?"
"Didn't I just spend half the night telling you just that? I tell you and you shrug it off, Malfoy tells you and you believe it. What's wrong with this picture?"
"Oh, quit it. I believed you, I just didn't want to say anything until I was sure, otherwise you never would have agreed to go along with my plan. Besides, that wasn't really the thing I found most interesting about Malfoy's little speech. The thing I found most interesting was that I think he really was trying to warn us."
"Don't you think 'taunting' would be a better word for it? What's he playing at?"
"I wish I knew. Though I'm beginning to think that he may not be half as evil as he pretends to be. I just... I just don't think he's that far gone, as of yet. This may just be another part of the game to him or it may be his way of screaming for help. Telling us that he's going to betray Harry so that we can stop him. Either way, I have a feeling Malfoy is going to cause us no end of trouble. Not that he hasn't always caused us trouble, nasty little cheerleader of darkness that he is."
"Cheerleader of darkness? Like the Veelas were cheerleaders? Short skirts and all that?" Ron commented, wrinkling his nose at the image those words brought to mind. Malfoy dressed in a green and red cheerleader's uniform with a dark mark emblazoned in silver across the front, waving green and silver pompoms about. A shiver of revulsion crept up his spine and he shook the image away. "Ugh. Yuck. Thanks so much, Hermione. I feel dirty."
A smile tugged its way across Hermione's lips and Ron could feel himself grinning in reply. "I wasn't speaking literally, Ron. Though, when you put it that way, that is a rather... um... disturbing picture. I was merely trying to say that I've always rather regarded Malfoy as a secondary evil. Not a true threat, merely an annoyance that could be dealt with easily and put off. However, now..." Hermione's gaze narrowed and her smile vanished as if it had never been there at all. "I think he's finally managed to graduate to a true threat. Harry cares for him, that much is perfectly obvious now, and Malfoy is right in saying that it makes Harry vulnerable, because it does. Even if Malfoy wasn't trying to hurt him, he is still the son of a man who is not only a known Deatheater, but also a complete bastard. I have a feeling that, if things continue the way they're going, Malfoy may well become both Harry's Achilles' heel and Paris' arrow."
"All right, I caught the Achilles' heel reference, but Paris' arrow?"
"Paris was the prince who took Helen as his prize and brought about the fall of Troy. It was his arrow which pierced Achilles' heel and struck him down." Hermione replied evenly, her expression softening once more. "Honestly, Ron, it wouldn't hurt you to pick up a book now and again. You might learn something."
"I know plenty enough without reading my life away, thank you very much." Ron grinned, folding his arms behind his head and leaning back in his chair. "Speaking of which, why didn't you tell them about the other stuff in that book?"
"What other stuff?"
"You know, the stuff about Malfoy's mum and dad," Ron's grin widened as he remembered the passage. "'I remember seeing it when I was looking through the back of that book. 'October 13th. Lucius Malfoy, seventh year Slytherin, and Narcissa Parkinson, sixth year Slytherin, were caught fighting in the halls between classes once again. This is hardly an unusual occurrence in and of itself, as the two have been at each others' throats since late last year. However, I do find it terribly interesting that fights between these two children have resulted in no peculiar incidents when I take into consideration the strange events of last year. I begin to wonder if the reaction may be triggered by something other then anger or hatred as I had originally supposed.'"
"You can remember that entire passage word for word? I'm impressed. So why didn't you say something about it while they were in here?"
"I'll take that as a compliment. I figured you probably had some reason for not mentioning it. Besides, I can always use it later, can't I? So, why didn't you tell them about it?"
Hermione sighed, shoving the last pile of papers into her desk and hiding the large book they had 'borrowed' from the Restricted Section in a password-locked compartment within the desk. "Morganne," she murmured to the drawer to lock it tight before standing and gathering her books. "I didn't tell them, because I don't know if it's really important yet. There's no sense in telling Malfoy that his parents hated each other unless it's really useful."
"Maybe not, but the expression on his face would be priceless." Ron grinned as he pushed himself out of his chair and trailing after her as she crossed the room.
"Be that as it may, I don't want to say anything about it until I've spoken to Professor Dumbledore. No sense in upsetting Malfoy and risking him turning on us any sooner then he is already going to. We need him to figure out that nasty spell that was cast on him and Harry during the Quidditch game. Professor Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey both think that it was some sort of forbidden spell, but neither has any clue what it is except that it looks a bit like a protection spell because of the marks it left behind. Neither you nor I nor Harry know much of anything about the Dark Arts at all except what we've learned in DADA. In fact, I can't think of a single person whom we know besides Malfoy who... oh my..." Hermione stopped, nearly dropping her books and causing Ron to smack straight into her back.
"How could I have been so stupid? I just got a letter from him last week and I didn't even..." She whirled about, smiling up at Ron with the brightest smile he'd seen on her face in weeks. "We have to make a stop at the Owlery!"
"Um... okay. Why?"
"Viktor! Viktor is in London on vacation. He was talking about coming by to visit. I'll just tell him that now would be an excellent time."
"Herm, far be it for me to interfere in your virtually nonexistent love life, but haven't we got more important things to worry about just now?" Ron grumbled, feeling the old bitterness rising up. It wasn't that he was jealous, exactly. After all, he and Hermione had already given dating a shot last year and it hadn't really worked out all that great. Still...
Hermione rolled her eyes, "I'm not trying to make a date, Ron. Think about it for a moment. Viktor went to Durmstrang. He has to know quite a bit about the Dark Arts, now doesn't he?"
"Oh. Right. I knew that," Ron replied, clearing his throat and rubbing at the back of his head nervously. Well, maybe he hadn't thought of it right away, but he knew that Durmstrang was notorious for being the only school to teach Dark Arts to their students.
"Really, Ron. As if I'd really be thinking of getting a date while Harry's in danger. Come on then, we'd better get going before Harry begins to get suspicious or Malfoy gets even more suspicious then he already is."
"Hermione, do you think... do you think Harry likes this game he's been playing with Malfoy?"
"Who knows? I think sometimes that Harry is too good for his own good. He's trying to save Malfoy like he couldn't Cedric. Never mind that Malfoy and Cedric are completely different people in completely different situations. Never mind that Harry is also more personally invested in Malfoy and thus blind to the fact that the person he's really trying to save Malfoy from is Malfoy himself. Still, I don't think he can help but follow Malfoy's lead. I mean, if you want to get technical, he's been playing Malfoy's game for years. We all have. Instead of considering what's happened between them in the last few days a separate game, consider it a sort of final round. Harry's last chance to keep Malfoy from becoming a Deatheater, from becoming the most deadly of enemies. Only problem is, I have a feeling that Harry's playing it all wrong and he's going to lose. I only hope that when he does it won't cost him his life."
"You don't really think Malfoy will kill him, do you?"
"Not intentionally, Ron, but there's more going on here then just Malfoy's games. I think perhaps that's what we need to focus on just now, since I don't think we can do a thing about Malfoy just yet except perhaps make the situation worse. Now let's see... there are the attacks on Harry, the strange warning letters, those bizarre memory rewriting incidents and all the rest to consider. We don't even have the first idea about any of it really. The book was hardly any help except to identify who the other people were that were involved in incidents similar to Harry's. Viktor should be able to lend a hand with the spells, but I doubt he'll be of any help with the letters or the memory rewriting. For once, I don't think Professor Dumbledore knows any more than we do about what's going on, but..."
"Maybe we should contact Sirius or Remus? They could probably tell us more about what happened than that silly old book."
Hermione blinked, momentarily stunned, "Ron... you're a genius!" She leaned forward and pressed a quick kiss against his lips, grinning widely. "I never even thought of that! You're brilliant!" The wall slid open, and Ron found himself pulled into the darkness of the narrow passage before he even had a chance to think of a response.
He wouldn't laugh.
He really wouldn't laugh.
But it was kind of funny.
Harry slanted a glance at the Slytherin limping along beside him who was currently mumbling something about deconstruction spells and ridiculous castles. Yep, there was just something classically amusing about Draco Malfoy in pain.
"I mean really," Draco continued, glaring down at the stairs as if he didn't even realize that Harry was still beside him as they trooped downstairs. "Why must everything in our world have a mind of its own? What idiot decided it was a lovely idea to enchant a bloody castle, I wonder? Not to say it wouldn't be useful to have a place which could simply defend itself against the onslaught of enemies. Still, why give it a sense of humor as well? Can't tell me that that stupid thing wasn't snickering when it tripped me in there. I mean, I know that stone wasn't there when we went through that passage the first time. Bloody thing just appeared out of nowhere. Castle probably thought it was a bloody riot seeing me bruise my shin. Stupid castle. Everything in this place is absolutely crackers. The paintings, the furniture, the castle itself. Bloody ridiculous if you ask me. Just because it's a school for witchcraft and wizardry doesn't mean that everything inside has to be enchanted in some way or other. Probably that old--"
Draco was cut off abruptly as the staircase beneath their feet began to tremble, and both he and Harry clung to the railings as the stairs began a slow rotation. They turned almost one hundred and eighty degrees before finally stopping and settling into place in front of a platform, which held only one door. "Oh, that's just lovely. That's just what I was talking about, Potter. Rotten sense of humor, this castle. Well, fine. Might as well see where the door goes since this stupid thing probably won't get to moving again until we do."
Harry sighed, but followed Draco as the blond boy stomped down the last few steps and onto the platform, yanking the door open with a single hard jerk. "Oh, look: A dark, forbidding hallway. Color me surprised," the Slytherin grumbled before tromping off into the darkness.
"Malfoy... I don't think we shoul..." Harry began, following Draco through the doorway. As soon as he had passed through the portal, he heard it swing shut behind him, the thud of its closure echoing in the vast, complete darkness which now surrounded him. "Fuck!"
"Relax, Potter. A little darkness never hurt anyone," Draco replied from somewhere nearby, his voice echoing as ominously as the door's slam had.
"How's that shin, Malfoy?"
"Oh, shut up. Lumos." The light of Draco's wand seemed too bright as it sprang to life a few feet from where Harry stood. Draco's features snapped into sharp relief, pale against the darkness. His scar stood out brilliantly against his cheek, shimmering in the glare of the wand's light.
"What is this place?" Draco murmured, summoning Harry from his observations into reality once more.
Harry glanced around the corridor in which they stood, recognizing it almost instantly. "This is the third floor corridor," he answered softly, taking a step closer to Draco.
"Third floor corridor? I thought it was sealed off after that whole Philosopher's Stone debacle."
"Apparently not," Harry replied, taking a few steps further down the corridor until a torch flared to life. He turned back to find Draco staring at him, and shrugged his shoulders. "I think the torches are motion-sensitive. They light up as you pass them."
"We have torches like that lining our drive. Though ours are enchanted to light gold or silver if someone of Malfoy blood is passing by and green for anyone else. They're much more efficient. Besides, why even bother keeping motion-sensitive torches in a hallway which has been closed off? Waste of good magic, that. At my house, nothing is wasted. That's why we're rich, Potter. We use our talents and our money wisely."
"Right. So, out of curiosity, is there anything at your house that isn't enchanted, Malfoy?"
"Rarely," Draco responded as he crossed the hall to stand beside Harry. "Want to give me the tour, Potter?"
"The tour, Potter. This is, after all, where you first earned your stripes, isn't it? Defeating the Dark Lord for the second time and all that. Come on then, give me the tour. This is the corridor which leads to the room in which stood Hagrid's nasty, drooling, three-headed dog, isn't it? You don't suppose it's still there, do you?"
"I know it's not. Hagrid keeps it downstairs now. I think he's planning on using Fluffy for his next Care of Magical Creatures class after he gets back."
"Fluffy? It's a great, drooling, three-headed monster and he calls it 'Fluffy'?"
"I'm afraid so."
"I really don't know what you see in that great oaf, Potter. He's practically certifiable."
"And you're so very different?"
"No, I suppose not. But then, I don't see what it is that you see in me either, Potter."
"You're mad. I'm mad. We're all mad here, Malfoy."
Draco smirked, "Cute, Potter. Very cute."
"I just live to amuse you, Malfoy. Now come on, we should get out of here."
"What's your hurry? I've never been here before. I want to poke around a bit."
"Poke around a bit? Oh, that's brilliant, Malfoy."
"You don't have to come along if you don't want to, Potter. I'm sure this place just brings back all sorts of horrid, disturbing memories for you. So, feel free to go if you're scared. As for me, I'm just going to have a bit of a look before I go to class."
"This is so stupid. You don't know what's in here. I don't even know what's in here anymore."
"That's the whole reason I want to have a look, Potter. What's the fun of exploring if you know all the dangers?" Draco replied, striding off down the hall with the torches flaring to light his way.
Harry sighed irritably, glaring at the Slytherin's back. "Come on, Malfoy. This isn't funny."
"It's not supposed to be funny. So which door was it, Potter?" Draco called, turning around to walk backwards down the hall so he could watch Harry while he moved. "I can just start guessing if you don't tell me."
"Idiot," Harry grumbled, setting his books down and following Draco down the hall. "It was the third one."
"Third one, eh? All right then, here we are. Door's locked. Interesting. I wonder what kind of gruesome creature they've got hiding in there now. It had better be something interesting. Alohomora!" The door clicked and Draco's smile widened as he tugged it open, "Ah, lovely. Hurry up, Potter. Lumos," Draco commented before thrusting his wand into the room, obviously trying to make out its contents. "Keys? Flying keys? Well, that's interesting. Hurry up, Potter!"
"I've seen them before, Malfoy. It's not like they're anything new and exciting to me," Harry grumbled, crossing the last few steps to stand in the doorway beside Draco. "Yes, floating keys. Spectacular. Can we go now?"
"Not yet, I want to see..." Draco chose that moment to step forward into the room and discover that a few changes had been made to the room since the last time Harry had seen it. The most obvious of which was the fact that the floor had been completely taken out. For one terrible moment, Draco teetered on the edge of the abyss. As he began to fall, Harry grabbed hold of his arm, throwing all his weight backwards at the same moment. There was no time to brace himself as they sprawled back against the floor of the corridor and Harry's head contacted the stone hard and his vision went black.
Harry winced, waking up in stages as the pain in his head grew stronger and Draco's voice grew progressively louder and more panicked. He opened his eyes and winced as pain shot through them, "Oh. That hurts. Draco...?"
"Bloody stupid git, you're lucky you have such a thick skull, and don't call me Draco," Draco growled, glaring down at Harry from inches away. He looked... almost frightened, Harry observed, staring up at the blond in shock. Draco Malfoy was scared for him. This day just couldn't possibly get any stranger. Of course, every time he thought that, it always did seem to get stranger somehow. Harry lifted his head just enough to see that Draco was on his hands and knees above him, but that was all he had time to notice before the pain in his head decided to make itself known once more.
"Damn. Ouch. Remind me to never save you again," Harry grumbled, laying his head back against the floor and staring up into Draco's face. "You okay?"
"Am I okay? Of course I'm okay, Potter. What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't, obviously. I didn't have time to think, I just reacted. Guess we're about even now, huh?"
A reluctant smile tugged at Draco's lips, "I guess so. Do you think you can stand up?"
"Well, you'd have to get off me first and I'm not exactly sure I want you to do that," Harry replied, lifting a hand to brush Draco's hair back behind his ear. He felt Draco tremble and smiled, "Think anyone would miss us if we stayed here a bit longer? I think I need to rest up a bit."
"Your friends are going to think I've killed you."
"No, they'll think I've killed you and I'm sure they'll be readying the victory party by the time we get to class. Besides, I'm injured, I shouldn't be moved just yet."
"Then maybe..." Draco began, leaning forward, his lips already tantalizingly close. "Maybe we shouldn't move you just yet."
Harry opened his mouth to reply but at that same moment, they both heard the grating sound of old wood against stone. "Oh fuck," Harry cursed, turning his head towards the door they'd used to enter the corridor. It seemed to open under its own power, light flooding into the corridor in its wake. Draco rolled off Harry and into a crouched position, looking as if he might bolt at any moment.
"So dark. Whatever hides in this darkness?" A voice called, echoing in through the hall. It wasn't a voice that Harry recognized, but it was definitely young and male. Definitely a student.
"Fuck, fuck," Draco murmured, his gaze panicked as Harry's turned to meet it. "Get up, Potter. We can't be seen like this."
"Like what, Malfoy? I've got a knot on my head and you're just hovering about looking like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. We look like we've been in a lovely brawl. Not exactly unusual for us."
"Stay if you like then," Draco replied, but he made no move to leave Harry's side as they both heard the boy at the door take a tentative step into the hall.
"You know who that is, Malfoy?"
"I'm sure I can't read his nametag from here, Potter," Draco hissed. Harry could almost feel Draco's panic singeing the air like lightning; the only problem was, he couldn't quite figure out why the unknown boy at the door was causing it. Draco was many things: cold, calculating, occasionally cruel; but he'd never thought of Draco as being high-strung. Yet here he was, ready to bolt over some boy peering into a dark hall. His voice fit, his body language fit, but there was something... his eyes. There was something dangerous and feral lurking beneath those gray depths, like something dark and half-seen through a veil of heavy fog. Something not quite human.
"Sounds a bit young, doesn't he? Maybe a first or second year?" Harry murmured, having to work to keep his voice casual. It didn't sound like a first or second year, of course, not really. First or second year students just didn't have that strange creeping quality to their voices. That unique blend that spoke of secret knowledge and hidden cruelty. Not to mention the fact that most first and second year students still retained an innocent child's first fear of nursery boggles; they didn't yet know or understand true fear. They'd never seen anything worse in their lives then a few household accidents. The boy standing hidden behind that door was young, but his voice told the story of the things he'd seen and experienced. That was a voice that knew there were worse things in the dark then children could ever imagine. Tom Riddle had had a voice like that. Filled with forbidden knowledge and dark secrets. Draco had a voice like that. Harry himself had a voice like that.
"So? First and second years are just as capable of starting rumors as their seniors. What are you getting at?" Draco's tone held a note of suspicion.
Rumors... that might explain it. He knew how much damage a rumor could do, even when it was a lie. As long as it had the taste of truth, there would always be voices to whisper and ears to hear. Yet, something about that excuse felt wrong.
One problem at a time. First he had to get rid of the intruder.
"I'll tell you in a moment," Harry replied, forcing himself into a sitting position despite the screaming pain in his head. "Boy!" he called, purposely pitching his voice low for added effect.
He could practically hear the boy's heart jump into his throat as the echo carried down the length of the corridor. "Who's there?" The boy answered, his voice trembling just a little, but the fact that there was fear in it was a definite plus. It made his voice seem younger somehow, less jaded.
"I am the Bloody Baron! Do you not know that these halls are forbidden?!"
Draco stifled what sounded suspiciously like a laugh against his sleeve, burying his face against his knees as the boy responded. His mood had sure had changed in one hell of a hurry.
"I don't believe you! Who's really there?"
The boy was trying to be brave. Under ordinary circumstances, Harry might have found that almost endearing. Now he just found it damn annoying and rather inconvenient. Harry pulled his wand from his robes before continuing, "You question the honor of the Bloody Baron, child?! Perhaps I shall teach you a proper lesson about entering the forbidden!" He took a deep breath, and whispered the words beneath his breath. Wind stirred his hair, cold enough to make him shiver as it rushed around and past him down the corridor towards the boy. The boy let out a shriek as the cold touched him and his bravery fled, followed shortly thereafter by the boy himself as the door slammed shut behind him.
Once he was gone, Draco brought his head out of his lap, making no more attempts to stifle his laughter. It rang through the hall like a funeral dirge, both dark and joyous at once. It was disturbing and nothing at all like the surprised laughter of the previous night. This laugh sent chills crawling like snakes across Harry's spine and he stiffened, turning slowly to face the blond. "What's so funny?"
Draco didn't stop laughing, if anything, he actually laughed harder, falling back against the stones to stare up at the ceiling.
"Would you tell me the joke already, Malfoy?"
Draco sobered instantly, his laughter dying as if someone had flicked a switch inside him and he propped himself onto his elbows. For a long moment, he merely glared at Harry through the darkness and the deafening silence. There was something strange in his eyes; it reminded Harry vaguely of second year when he'd accidentally ended up in Knockturn Alley and seen Draco browsing through cursed artifacts in that dark shop. His eyes had had the same soft glow to them, the glow of excitement and curiosity and... what? Draco was regarding him with that same look, as if he were something to be bought and stored away to be used on rare occasions and often admired. It was beyond disturbing and racing quickly towards horrific when Draco blinked and his expression become more normal, relaxed once more. He was just Draco once more. Still disturbing, but not truly dangerous and never deadly.
"Malfoy?" Harry questioned cautiously.
"Potter?" Draco returned, cocking his head to the side, his features conveying only confusion.
"You all right?"
"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?"
A lot of reasons came to mind, but none Harry really cared to vocalize. It was strange, but looking at Draco's face now, his fears of a moment ago seemed ridiculous. "I don't know," Harry replied finally, shrugging his shoulders and looking away.
"You're a poor liar, Potter."
"Leave it, Malfoy. Just leave it, okay? What was so funny?"
"Funny? Oh, that. The Baron doesn't sound anything like that."
"Well, I've never heard him speak, have I? What does he sound like?"
"I'll have to introduce you to him someday. He'd probably like to meet you. He finds your skills rather impressive, though I doubt he would have appreciated the scare you put on Zabini."
"The boy in the doorway, Potter."
"I thought you said you didn't know who it was."
"I lied. I do that, Potter. You'd do well to remember that not every word that slips past my lips is the gospel truth."
"Right. That wasn't the same Zabini who plays Keeper for your team, was it?" Harry remembered Zabini well enough, though he'd never spoken to the dark-haired boy directly. Blaise Zabini had always been part of what Harry considered the slightly less evil half of Slytherin house. He'd been a quiet sort, always kept more to himself then any of the others. Getting paired with Blaise during Potions had actually been a blessing for any Gryffindor fortunate enough to get the honor. Harry, being one of Snape's least favorite students, had never been that lucky. Seamus, however, had been paired with Blaise more than once and had always come out of class grinning from ear to ear. He'd said that for a Slytherin, Zabini wasn't a bad sort.
That had all changed fifth year. He had come back from summer break almost unrecognizable. His usually immaculate black hair looked as if it had been cut with hedge clippers and hung in jagged tangles around his pale face, and his dark eyes had seemed almost mad. At least Harry had thought so. When he'd mentioned it to Hermione, she hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary about him. But, of course, it wasn't his looks that were the biggest change, though they were the most obvious. He'd also become loud, opinionated, and downright vicious. He'd been the loudest voice during fifth year whenever the rumors about Cedric's death began to fly. It wasn't long before many of the Slytherins began looking to Blaise for approval as they had once looked to Draco. At the time, Harry hadn't cared much about anything that concerned Slytherin house, but he had noticed the subtle changes. He had also noticed that Blaise, who had never been anywhere near the Quidditch pitch, somehow managed to beat two more experienced keepers out of the running during tryouts for the house team. Not to say that Blaise wasn't a damn fine keeper, because he was, but there were rumors that he'd threatened and bullied his opposition out of the game. There were also rumors that Zabini had had a hand in Draco's fall from his broomstick fifth year. From what he'd seen of Zabini, Harry had a feeling all the rumors were probably true.
"Oh yes, Potter, the very same. I assure you that that was definitely Blaise Zabini. You actually picked the perfect ruse to get rid of him. He's terrified of the Baron. Always has been, from what I've heard."
"I'll tell you about it someday, Potter. It's actually a funny sort of story. Now, however, I would suggest that we leave before anyone else stumbles in on us."
"Yeah, I don't think I could pull that off a second time."
"What was that wind anyway? I've never heard of a spell that conjures a chill breeze. Rather creepy, that. Where'd you learn it?"
"I didn't. I was just trying a repulsion charm, to make him leave."
"And the wind?"
"I don't know."
"Lovely. Just lovely, Potter. Things are never dull when I'm around you."
"I could say the same about you, Malfoy. My head is still killing me," Harry replied, pushing himself slowly to his feet. He managed standing easily enough, and the room only wavered ever so slightly as he crossed the corridor and closed the still-open door. He stared at the closed door for a long moment, noticing for the first time that there were marks carved into it. Dark against the lighter wood, as if they'd been burned in or stained somehow. "Lumos," he whispered, raising his wand to examine the marks more closely. "Malfoy?"
"Do you know what these markings are?"
"They look like runes," Draco frowned at the door, studying it closely for a long moment before turning away.
"Do you know what they mean?"
"Why would I know what they mean, Potter? I'm taking Arithmancy, not Ancient Runes, and those are definitely runes. Not really my area." Draco replied, shrugging as he turned away.
"You take Arithmancy?"
"Nothing. Just not what I expected."
"Well, you take Care of Magical Creatures for one. I figured you would be taking Divination or something like that."
"Hmph. I'd rather drown myself in the lake then take a class with that crackpot."
"Don't like Trelawney?"
"No, Potter. I don't like her. I don't think much of divination either, if you must know."
"Divination isn't something to be meddled with, Potter. If you have the gift for prophecy, you don't need a fake like Trelawney carrying on predicting deaths and whatsuch while you've got images of it flashing about in your head. And if you don't have the bloody gift then it's not much use to you then either." There was something in the way he said it, some old bitterness.
"You sound like you know something about it, Malfoy."
"You could say that, Potter."
"Want to tell me about it?"
"Now why would I want to do something like that, Potter? You're my enemy, not my therapist."
"Do wizards even have therapists, Malfoy?"
"Of course, Potter. Don't be daft. Who do you think runs St. Mungo's? A flock of seagulls?"
"I never thought about it."
"No, I don't suppose you would, Potter. You haven't got any relatives there, now have you?"
"Relatives are all either muggles or dead, which really means pretty much the same thing, doesn't it? The Dark Lord will see to that."
"I won't let that happen, Malfoy."
"So brave. You're an idiot, Harry Potter. You can't save the entire world. You can't even save yourself."
That laugh again, and Draco was too close once more. Too close for comfort, close enough to set his nerves on edge. His laughter was menacing as it swept across Harry's skin, followed moments later by the feel of Draco's hands slipping past his robes. Fingers trailed across his shirt before sliding beneath the hem to trail short, neatly clipped nails over his bare skin. "You're a fool, Potter. How do you plan to kill something that you can't even understand?"
"Do you understand ogres, Malfoy? Or dragons? It doesn't matter if you understand the monster, Malfoy. Stick a sword in its heart and it's still just as dead."
"Is that what you plan to do, Potter? Stick a sword through Voldemort's heart?"
"I'll take his death any way I can get it."
"I've never heard you say it before, Potter."
"Say what, Malfoy?"
"That you truly wanted him dead. That you were planning to kill him."
"What did you think I was planning to do, Malfoy? Offer to buy him a butterbeer? Or perhaps we could just settle our differences over tea and biscuits? He wants me dead, Malfoy. What made you think that I wanted him anything else?"
"Aren't you the good guy, Potter? The hero? Aren't heroes supposed to want to see justice served and all that nonsense?"
"I'm not interested in justice, Malfoy. He's shown me that there is no such thing as justice. If there was justice, then the good guys would always win and Cedric Diggory would still be alive today. The world isn't fair, Malfoy. Voldemort isn't fair. Why should I be?"
"Then what is it that makes you so different from him, Potter?"
"Nothing. Is that what you wanted to hear, Malfoy? Well, there you are, then. There's no difference at all. I'm no hero, Malfoy. Tom Riddle and I are just flip sides of the same coin. We share the same powers, the same thirst for vengeance. Our methods and our motivations may be different, but that's about it. I'm petty and I'm stupid and I'm human. I want revenge and I want to keep him from hurting anyone else. I don't really care how it gets done, so long as it gets done."
Draco's smile seemed to light the darkness with its radiance. "There may just be hope for you yet, Potter."
Harry smiled back, but dimly, "The real question is, will I be able to kill him without becoming him?"
"That's a very good question, Potter. I rather hope you live to see the answer."
"You still think he's going to win, don't you?"
"Of course. He's a powerful wizard and he's utterly ruthless. He will do whatever is necessary to achieve his goals. I don't think you or any of yours can say the same, Potter."
"Well, I suppose we'll never know until it comes right down to it, will we?"
"I suppose so, but I won't be caught on the losing side of this battle, Potter. You never know, I just may be the death of you yet."
"Do you really think you could kill me if it came right down to it, Malfoy?"
Draco's laughter filled the hall once more, and for the first time in his life, Harry was almost afraid of Draco Malfoy. Afraid of what he was, and even more of what he would become. "You ask me questions, Potter, but I don't think you really want to hear the answers."
"Yet you've still got your hands up my shirt."
"I never said I was consistent," Draco replied, closing the last distance between them and sealing Harry's lips with a kiss.
For a moment Harry stayed still, enjoying the press of Draco's body and then he was drawing back, taking an unsteady step away from the blond. Much to his surprise, Draco let him go with no real protest.
They simply stared at each other for a long moment in the dim light, both feeling the subtle beginnings of the chasm between them splitting open once more. Harry could almost feel the fight brewing in the air like an oncoming storm, the energy raising the hairs on his neck. He cleared his throat uncomfortably before speaking. "I thought you said we needed to get out of here. Why the change of heart?"
"I can't kiss you once we walk out that door, Potter."
"Well, of course not. Can't exactly be seen snogging in the halls, now can we? At least we won't have to fight anymore," Harry replied, straightening his robes with a few quick yanks before bending and gathering his books. When he stood he found Draco looking at him as if he'd grown a second head. "What?" he inquired, frowning.
"Potter," Draco began, his voice slow and strangely cautious. "Look, I want to make sure we're clear on something. I know what Dumbledore said, but I can't all of a sudden stop fighting with you. You understand that, don't you? We're still enemies, right?"
"Are you asking me?" Harry inquired, shifting his grip on his books so they rested against his hip. Draco seemed puzzled for a moment before giving a quick nod, and Harry shrugged, "I don't know what we are, Malfoy, but I know we can't fight like we usually do. Professor Dumbledore..."
"I know all that, but I can't just stop altogether. It'll look suspicious."
"Oh for the love of... Malfoy, I don't care about your reputation. We ignored each other for a month, and that didn't seem to bother your fucking reputation."
"The hell it didn't. I ignored you and they started passing about rumors that I was afraid of you. I can't afford for that to happen again."
"None of your business, Potter. It's a Slytherin affair."
"I don't know why I even bothered asking. Fine. Slytherin affair. Lovely. So what do you propose then, Malfoy? We can't go on like we have been. I don't even want to go on like we have been. We've been doing this for over five fucking years now, I'm tired of it. Aren't you?"
Draco's gaze narrowed. "Put the books back down, Potter."
"Why?" Harry asked, suspicion a heavy weight in his voice.
"Just do it," Draco replied, and he withdrew a step to lean against the wall at his back.
"Fine, whatever you want, Malfoy. I live to please," Harry grumbled, bending at the waist to place his books on the floor at his feet. He kept his distrustful gaze locked on the other boy as he did so, half-expecting the contrary blond to try and curse him or some other such nonsense. He managed to set the books on the floor and straighten before Draco stepped forward and grabbed him roughly by the front of his robes, yanking him about and slamming him against the wall in one fluid motion. The Slytherin's lips quivered with sudden fury, his fists tightening convulsively in the folds of Harry's robes. Harry could feel his own anger rising to meet Draco's, swirling dark just below the turbulent surface of all the things he felt for him. It was always there, always ready, so quick to surface from the depths when Draco began acting like, well, Draco. "What do you think you're doing, Malfoy?"
"Just making a point, Potter. An important point that I don't think you quite grasp," Draco murmured, burying his face against Harry's shoulder as he stepped closer. His breath came fast, almost panicked as Harry's hands smoothed up his spine. "This game has rules, Potter. If you don't play by the rules, you don't get to play at all."
"Tell me the rules then, Malfoy," Harry replied, his voice heavy not with anger, but with exhaustion.
"You don't have to play if you don't want to, Potter. I won't force you."
"Listen, Malfoy. I've come this far, I'll finish this."
Draco snorted, pressing his lips in a quick kiss against Harry's neck, "Let it never be said that you're a quitter."
"Cute. We're already over a half-hour late for class. Best tell me the rules so we can get going."
"Since when do you care about being late to class?"
"Since Fleur swore she'd start taking points away from our houses if we didn't take Care of Magical Creatures more seriously."
"She was serious about that?"
"Do you want to find out the hard way?"
"No, I suppose not. All right then. We'll make this quick. No trying to make me look bad in front of the Slytherins. That's an automatic loss. I can't afford to look weak in front of them any more then I already have." Draco replied, all business once more as he released the Gryffindor and took a step back so he could look Harry in the eyes. Still close, Harry noticed, but not too close.
"What do you mean?"
"Don't try and be nice to me in front of them. You are not my friend, Potter, so don't try and act as if you care about me. Especially in front of them." Draco replied, folding his arms across his slim chest.
"Why do you keep saying that?"
"That I don't care about you."
"Because it's true."
"Don't pretend to know how I feel, Malfoy," Harry responded fiercely. "You don't know a damn thing about me."
Draco laughed softly; it was a bitter sound. "Are you saying you care for me, Potter? I would have thought you had more sense then that."
"If I didn't care, Malfoy, I wouldn't bother."
"Of course you would. You're too good for your own good, Potter. Your conscience wouldn't allow you to turn away from a chance to save someone from themselves, even if it is me," Draco grumbled, obviously annoyed.
"Fuck you, Malfoy," Harry spat, refusing to admit aloud that Draco was probably right. Even though those weren't his reasons for deciding to play along with Draco's little game, they could have been... if he'd been the person he had been once upon a time. However, he wasn't that person anymore. Not really. He was something darker then he had been, a person who thrilled at Draco Malfoy's touch. A person who secretly enjoyed the games they played even when they hurt like hell, which was almost always. "What else?"
"Whatever do you mean?"
"Rules, Malfoy. I know there are more. You are still you, after all. If I'm going to walk into the bloody minefield, I'd like to at least have a vague idea where you've buried the mines."
"Bombs, Malfoy, traps. Just tell me what else I have to worry about."
"Ah, another muggle reference. I'm getting a bit tired of that."
"Then why don't you try learning a bit about the culture you're so quick to condemn? You might find a few things that you actually like."
"I very much doubt that."
"Well, you'll never know till you actually try, now will you?"
"Shut up, Potter. I don't want to know anything about them."
"If I didn't know better, Malfoy, I'd say you were scared."
"I'm not scared, Potter. I just don't care to learn a bunch of useless information about a dying breed."
"They'll outlast you, Malfoy."
"Somehow I very much doubt that. The Dark Lord will wipe them out soon enough, dirty mongrels that they are."
"You are such a bastard," Harry growled, closing his eyes as the beginnings of a nasty headache began creeping round his brain, adding to the pain that was already throbbing at the back of his skull. Dealing with Draco always seemed to end with one of them having a terrible headache. Maybe that was a sign. "Why the hell do I like you?"
"Good question, Potter. Why do you?"
"Maybe it's because when you're not being a complete and utter bastard, you're... well... rather funny."
"Funny? You like me because I'm... funny? Well, that's one I haven't heard before."
"People tell you they like you often, Malfoy?"
"Well, yes, actually, but it's usually because they're sucking up to me. Because they want something from me. What do you want from me, Potter?"
Harry opened his eyes and gave Draco a half-hearted smile, "I don't know."
"Come now, Potter. You can't possibly want me for my stunning personality. We spend most of our time wishing each other to the bottom of the sea."
"I want to see what's underneath all that hate, I guess."
"Good answer. All right, we have to stop this now, we're going to start bonding again, and if that happens I think I'm going to be sick," Draco replied, his usual smirk firmly back in place.
"Well, we wouldn't want that. Kissing me, no problem. Putting your hands up my shirt, no problem. But... bonding? Anything but that." Harry rubbed at his temples. The pain was actually getting to the point where he was pretty sure he'd end up having to drop by the hospital wing before going to class. But before he could do anything, he really needed to finish this discussion. "So what are the rest of the rules?"
"Like a bloody dog with a bone, Potter. All right, here goes: You've already figured out the question rule. If I answer one of your questions then you have to answer one of mine. I won't talk about my family, so don't even ask, and..."
"Hold on a minute. What do you mean you're not going to talk about your family? That's a big bloody topic you're just marking out there."
"All right, how about this: You ask about my family, then I get to ask about what the screams of the dying sound like."
"I really hate you sometimes."
"Do we have a deal? It's that or not at all."
"Just so you know, Malfoy, the dying don't always scream."
"Then I can't wait to hear all about it."
"Why? Why would you even care about something like that?"
"Because it'll hurt you like hell to tell me about it."
"God, I don't believe you," Harry laughed, and it was a sound as sharp and painful as broken glass. "Fine, but I hope you realize I'm going to ask you all about how it feels when your father hits you."
Draco smiled, and it was a smile as bitter as Harry's laugh. "I can't wait."
"I'll bet. How was your detention last night, by the way?"
"Oh, just lovely. Moody turned me over to Filch and he made me scrub that wretched Moaning Myrtle's bathroom."
"Sad. I was hoping it was something really nasty."
"With a toothbrush, Potter. He made me get down on my hands and knees and scrub the entire bloody thing with a fucking toothbrush. Did I still smell like cleaning products when I came to your room?"
"I can't say I noticed. You came right to my room after you finished polishing the toilets? I'm honored."
"Don't be daft. I went to the Prefects' washroom and got tidied up first. I have a feeling that wretched girl was spying on me the whole time. Seems to be quite taken with me."
"Can't imagine why."
"Since you seem to like me well enough despite my best efforts, you're hardly one to talk, Potter. Now don't interrupt me when I speaking. It's rude."
"Oh, well, in that case..."
"Shut up. Now, let's see... ah, yes. I was in the bath being spied on by a fifty-year dead girl and I decided that it would cheer me up immensely to kill the whole lot of you, and so finished getting tidied up before using the password you so stupidly gave me to sneak into your dorm."
"Right. Only you would get tidied up before prancing off to maim random Gryffindors."
"I do not prance, Potter."
"Right, of course not. You slink, you slither, you hardly prance."
"Cute. All right, this is just getting silly. I think we're about done here, so you might as well trot off to class. You go ahead and go down first, I'll be along in a bit."
"Can't even be seen walking with me?"
"No, Potter, I can't even be seen walking with you."
Harry heaved a sigh, but turned to exit the hallway. However, when he reached the door he found himself hesitating. "Malfoy?"
"Don't you ever get tired of it?"
"Tired of what, Potter?"
"Pretending. Don't you ever get tired of it?"
"It doesn't matter if I get tired of it, Potter. If you stood in a pit of cobras and you got tired of beating them off, would you simply stay still and let them eat you alive?"
"No, Malfoy. I'd get out of the damn pit," Harry replied, yanking open the door and disappearing through it.
"I wish I could, Potter. Sometimes I really wish I could," Draco murmured as the door slammed shut and darkness slipped around him once more.
By the time Draco arrived at Hagrid's hut, he was already a good forty-five minutes late for class. He noticed vaguely that though Weasel and Granger had already made it down to class, Harry was nowhere in sight.
Crabbe and Goyle glanced up at his approach, almost as if they sensed him coming. Strange, that. They always seemed to know where he was before they ever saw him. He'd gotten so used to it over the years that he hardly seemed to even noticed it anymore. Yet, now that he thought about it, it was almost unnerving. And he was obviously getting paranoid, Draco decided, shrugging his suspicions off as an after effect of his last conversation with Potter. The damn fool always seemed to have a way of setting his nerves on end. Pansy glanced up as well, her penetrating gaze meeting his almost insistently as he approached them. As if she was trying to tell him something without words.
A moment later her message became apparent, as Blaise stepped into view. Draco wanted to scream or at least hit something really hard. He just was not in the mood to deal with this right now, but then that was probably why Blaise had chosen this exact moment to confront him. Smug bastard did always love his bloody job.
"Have a nice night, Draco?" Blaise inquired, grinning widely as Draco reached the group.
"Well, seeing as how I didn't spend it in your company, I'd say so." Draco replied coldly, schooling his features into a picture of cool disdain. "Have I missed anything important?" he inquired, turning deliberately away from Blaise and raising an eyebrow at Pansy.
"Mostly just review over what we covered in the last class. We're still working with centaurs."
"Didn't your father teach you that it's rude to turn away when someone is talking to you, Malfoy?"
"My father taught me many things, Zabini. None of which had to do with a low-born Pureblood like you being worth my time."
"Really? Did he teach you that it is probably not the wisest course of action to be warming the bed of the Dark Lord's greatest enemy..."
Draco's face betrayed nothing, as he turned slowly to face Zabini was more, "No, but he did teach me that it was foolish to speak of that which I do not understand. Besides, I had detention last night, not that it's any of your business. I spent all night spit-shining trophies. By the way, I noticed that your family name didn't appear on any of them. Your family has been going to Hogwarts for generations, haven't they? All that time and not a single remarkable child in the bunch. How... extraordinary."
"There is a first time for everything, Malfoy. After all, your family was rather extraordinary, wasn't it? Is your father disappointed that you have yet to live up to the family standards?"
"My father is always proud of all I do, Zabini."
"How about your mother, Malfoy? I'll bet she cries herself to sleep at night to have her only child be such a disappointment."
"Zabini," Draco murmured, his voice deadly low. "Do not speak of my mother."
"Why? What will you do about it, Malfoy? We both know that you're shite at charms. Not much you can do that won't get you kicked out of school, is there?"
"I wouldn't recommend drinking anything for the next few days, Zabini. No telling what those house-elves are mixing the drinks from these days."
"You wouldn't dare."
"You're starting to bore me, Zabini. If you don't have anything interesting to say..." Draco turned away, and Crabbe and Goyle parted enough to allow him to pass. He was standing just between the two large boys when Zabini's voice hissed low against his ear.
"Did you enjoy being punished by the Dark Lord the last time, Draco? If you don't watch it, you might be getting another round sooner then you think."
Draco felt a tremor of pure fury course down his spine as he slowly turned to face Blaise once more. He met those dark eyes with his own and remembered that the last time he'd seen these lazy eyes so intense and focused had been during that same disastrous summer. Of course, that was a secret neither of them could afford to let loose. It was also part of the reason for this particular game: to hide the things they couldn't afford to have seen, and to see the things they couldn't afford to miss. Yet, sometimes, Blaise did tend to take things a step too far. "Think you're smart do you, Zabini? Why don't you ask your father what happens to those who set themselves against the Malfoys? Oh, wait. I don't suppose your father does much talking now that he's dead, does he?"
"You should be careful. Wouldn't want you to have another accident like last year. Broomsticks can be so... pesky."
"And we wouldn't want you to join your father any sooner then strictly necessary, would we?"
"Idle threat, Malfoy."
"Oh, look. Here comes the object of your obsession now. Looks like he's had a rough night." Zabini nodded towards the lawn, where Harry was slowly making his way slowly towards the gathered students.
"You shouldn't risk interfering with the Dark Lord's plans, Zabini. He does not look kindly on those who cause him difficulties."
"Come come, Malfoy. I would have thought you'd come up with a better lie than that. What could the Dark Lord possibly have to gain from you shagging the boy who lived?"
"I'm hardly shagging him, and the Dark Lord does not answer to you, Zabini."
"You're just trying to save your arse, Malfoy. The Dark Lord wouldn't have..."
"Don't believe me? Then by all means, take your chances, Zabini. Fuck with me and just see what happens."
"I'm all about taking risks, Malfoy," Zabini grinned, and the insanity which made Draco both trust and distrust him flitted through his eyes just beneath the calm surface. "I do so love a challenge."
"I look forward to it, Zabini."
"As do I, Malfoy, as do I."
"Good morning, Harry. Nice of you to join us." Fleur Delacour called, smiling at Harry's approach and her hand resting on the flank of the centaur at her side. Fleur, who had taken over a teaching position at Hogwarts at the beginning of this year, had also taken over teaching the Care of Magical Creatures course while Hagrid was away. Most people thought that Hagrid had taken sick; but Harry, Hermione, Ron, and a few select others knew that Hagrid had been sent to carry an update of the current situation to the giants. Hagrid had become the official Hogwarts ambassador to the giants ever since it was discovered that his mother was indeed the current leader of the clan.
"Good morning, Fleur. Sorry I'm late," Harry replied finally, returning Fleur's smile and trying not to wince as his aching head protested even that small movement. He was the only student she allowed to call her by her first name. When he'd asked her why, she'd said it was simply too strange to have someone whom she considered a dear friend calling her Professor Delacour. Plus, she thought the looks the other students gave them were very funny. They'd both heard the rumors flying about that they were engaged in an illicit affair, and as Fleur was perfectly aware of Harry's taste in partners, she didn't seem to mind them one bit. It wasn't exactly professional, to say the least, but it was... Fleur.
"It is all right. Ve shall continue. As I was saying, centaurs rarely feel the need to involve themselves in the affairs of men..." Harry grinned a bit at how Fleur commanded the rapt attention of every student in the class as she continued her lecture on the nature of centaurs. He was rather curious how she'd managed to convince Firenze to come out of the forest at all. He made a mental note to ask one of them about it later.
The lecture continued, but Harry didn't really hear anything Fleur was saying as he scanned the crowd of students for Ron and Hermione. He found them, standing near the back of the crowd and off to one side, but not before he noticed Draco standing with the Slytherins on the opposite side. Given a choice, he might have gone towards Draco's group, if only to find out why Draco was glaring at Blaise Zabini like he'd like nothing better then to curse the boy into oblivion. But, since he didn't really have that option, Harry crossed the lawn to stand beside his friends.
Hermione raised her dark gaze to him as he approached, "You're late."
"We got a bit lost."
"We got a bit lost, but he still managed to get here before you. That's amazing. Why are you holding your head? Did he hurt you?"
"Not really. It's kind of a long story," Harry grumbled, pressing tentative fingers against the slowly decreasing bump on the back of his head. His headache was finally starting to fade, though he had a feeling that the spell both he and Madam Pomfrey had used to try and cure it was either a dud or this headache was just too powerful to be stopped by some measly little charm.
"Then tell us later. We've got some news to tell you as well. I think I've finally found someone who can help us figure a few things out. I sent him an owl already. I hope that's okay."
"Hermione, if it might help us figure out even one of the bizarre things that have been happening recently, I'd let you sell my soul in Knockturn Alley."
"Cute, very cute."
"I try. Ron, why are you being so quiet all of a sudden?"
"Hm? What?" Ron asked, turning to face Harry. "Hey, when'd you get here?"
"About five minutes ago, where have you been?"
Ron's cheeks reddened and he dropped his gaze, "Ah, well. The lecture is very interesting."
Hermione rolled her eyes, "I'll bet it is. Perhaps when Hagrid gets back you can simply transfer into Ancient Runes. I'm sure Professor Delacour gives fascinating lectures in there as well."
Ron was inventing new shades of red to turn as Harry moved his attention to the dark-haired girl once more. "That reminds me..." Harry began, only to be cut off by an incredulous glance from Hermione.
"I know you can't possibly have a crush on her too, Harry."
Harry smiled. "She's not quite my type, but Fleur really is a good person. Still, that wasn't..."
Hermione snorted, glancing towards Fleur and then back to a red-faced Ron, "Somehow I don't think it was the goodness of her person that he was noticing, Harry."
"I'm just interested in centaurs, that's all," Ron grumbled, turning back to the lecture and studiously ignoring Hermione's glaring presence at his back.
"Of course you were."
"Not that centaurs and Fleur aren't both interesting topics, but I want to ask you about Ancient Runes."
"What about them?"
"Do you remember the third floor corridor?"
"Of course, but what does that have to do..."
"That's where I was earlier."
"But you can't have been in there, Harry. Dumbledore told us that it was sealed off."
"I know what Dumbledore said, but that's where I was."
"The third floor corridor? How'd you end up in there? Wait, don't tell me, I know Malfoy had something to do with it." Ron shook his head irritably as he turned back to face his two friends.
Harry smiled weakly. "He's a bastard, I know, but we can talk about that later. When I was in there..."
"Sod off, Zabini!"
Draco's shouted words startled Harry from his thoughts and his gaze was instantly drawn to the unmistakable blond who was still standing between Crabbe and Goyle. He couldn't see Draco's expression anymore, but he could make out Zabini's easily enough. The boy was smiling. Actually, perhaps smiling wasn't the best word for the self-satisfied, ear-splitting grin on Blaise Zabini's face. Harry had been staring at that grin for just the barest of moments when Goyle reached forward lightning-quick and knocked that grin right off Zabini's face...
Or at least that was what should have happened when Goyle's fist swung out, but Zabini was somehow faster. He ducked beneath Goyle's swinging arm and drew his wand in one fluid motion. Crabbe pushed Draco none too gently behind him as Zabini's wand appeared in his hand. "Accio Malfoy!"
To Harry's shock, Draco was dragged from behind Crabbe and he saw the triumphant smirk which twisted Zabini's features as he raised his wand and pointed it towards Draco. "Reducto."
It was a charm to blast solid objects out of the way, and apparently a Malfoy counted as a solid object, for he was flung backwards, tumbling head over feet to land several meters away.
Harry paled and was about to step towards the injured Slytherin, who had landed near him, when Draco sat up shot him a quick glance that stopped him in his tracks. The Slytherin's gaze was unfocused, but there was something about his expression that revealed that there was more going on here than Harry was aware of. Which wasn't really all that surprising when Draco was concerned.
Fleur's voice cut through the tense moment and Harry turned to see Zabini holding his now-empty hand cradled against his chest as Fleur strode through the crowd of students, her beautiful features twisted in fury. She looked like some vengeful Nordic goddess, and Harry couldn't help but smile a bit at the thought of Fleur smiting Zabini off the face of the planet. He barely knew the guy, but he was already starting to stir up a serious dislike for him. "Zabini! Goyle! Detention for you both! Harry, if you would, please escort Malfoy to ze hospital wing."
"But..." Harry began, panic surfacing and dying a quick death at the expression on Fleur's face.
"I know you do not like him, but I hardly trust these two not to have another fight while I am gone. So you vill please take him. Thank you very much."
"Fine," Harry muttered distractedly, casting a glare towards the crumpled boy before taking the few steps that separated them and glaring down at him. He didn't have to fake the anger, though he doubted more than two people on this field would have any clue that it was directed more towards Zabini then towards Fleur or Draco. "Are you all right?" he murmured finally, keeping his arms firmly at his sides to keep from offering to help Draco up. He was sure that helping Draco up would cause far more problems then it would solve.
"I'm just bloody fabulous, Potter." Draco grumbled, forcing himself to stand on unsteady legs.
Harry stared at him for a long moment and then nodded, more to himself then Draco. "Right then. Let's get going."
"Right then," Draco replied softly, holding himself upright through pure strength of will as the pair crossed the lawn to the castle. His steps were deliberate, as if he put a lot of thought into each step he took. Harry watched him out of the corner of his eye, smiling at the look of intense of concentration. The way Draco worried his bottom lip with his teeth, holding himself ramrod straight, so obviously in pain, but refusing to ask for help. That was probably one of the things he'd never noticed about Draco until recently, when it came right down to it Draco was nearly as tough as he was stubborn.
They were out of sight of Hagrid's cabin and nearly to the castle's entrance when Harry finally asked the question he knew Draco was expecting him to ask. "All right, what was that about?"
"None of your business," Draco answered immediately, his gaze focused straight ahead.
"Of course not. Maybe I should just ask Zabini. I'm sure he'd be more then happy to tell me."
Draco snatched hold of Harry's arm, whirling the dark-haired boy around to face him, "Stay away from him, Potter. He's danger... oh... should not have moved that fast..." The Slytherin slumped gracefully to the ground in front of Harry, his legs folding weakly beneath him. His hold on Harry's arm failed and both his hands went to his chest. "Should not have moved that fast. Oh... I'm going to have to remember that spell... good spell... hurts like hell..."
Harry chuckled softly, shaking his head at the boy kneeling before him. "Only you, Malfoy, only you."
"Only me what?"
"Only you would be cataloging away a spell for future use while in that much pain."
"Well, it was a good spell and it does hurt like hell. I think I'm going to be sick."
"You are not. Don't even try and play it up to me, prima donna. You wouldn't be sick in public any more then you'd be caught dead kissing a muggle. So, I don't want to hear it."
"And you say I'm a heartless bastard. Can't you see I'm in pain?"
"Pain or not, you're being overdramatic. Since we both know you're not nearly as hurt as you're acting, and since you're already on your knees..."
"If you say it I'll kill you." Draco stated simply, leaning his head against Harry's knees as he spoke, but there was an amusement in his voice that hadn't been there a moment ago. "I do really feel like a troll caught me in the stomach with his club, you know."
"Right. Can you stand?" Harry murmured, touching a hand against Draco's bowed head.
"No. Give me a moment."
Harry frowned, shifting his hand to hold Draco's head while he dropped to his knees in front of the pale Slytherin. He removed the hand a moment later when it became obvious that Draco was steady enough to stay upright without his aid. "What did he say to you?"
"You don't give up, do you?" Draco grumbled bitterly, raising his angry gaze to meet Harry's. "Can't just let it go, can you? Think a snog and a cuddle gives you the right to know everything about me, I suppose."
"No, that's not what I think and you know it. Just... talk to me, Malfoy." Harry whispered, leaning forward to press his lips to Draco's forehead. "Please."
Draco gasped softly, but he didn't pull away from the soft press of Harry's lips. "Not here, Potter. Someone will see..."
"You're injured, I'll humor you," Harry replied, drawing back slowly and sitting back on his heels. "Now, talk to me or I'll do a hell of a lot more than kiss your forehead and I'll be sure to do it very much in public view."
A fine tremble shook Draco's slim body and he shook his head quickly. "You can be a right bastard when you want to be, Potter. Did you have me tell you all those rules just so you could threaten to break them whenever it suited your bloody fancy?"
"No, but if I've learned nothing else from the past two days, it's that I should never waste an advantage."
"It's not a threat, Potter, if you're not willing to follow through."
"You want to chance it, Malfoy? Half this school has been convinced I'm the Dark Lord in disguise for over a year; I'm not real concerned what they think of me."
"I've been a very bad influence on you, Potter."
"Or maybe you're finally discovering that I'm not exactly the Gryffindor Golden Boy you've always thought me to be."
"And maybe I'm the reigning Queen of Fantasyland. Try taking off the fucking halo before you try to convince me that you're capable of blackmail."
Harry smiled cheerfully, briefly wondering if he could get Malfoy up to the Astronomy Tower and fling him out a window before anyone stopped him. "Fuck you, Malfoy."
"There's the witty Gryffindor I've grown to know and loathe. Now, help me up and get me to Madam Pain, and then get your ass back to class before they send out a search party."
They walked the rest of the way to the hospital wing in silence. Well, Harry walked while Draco draped himself across Harry and concentrated on looking suitably pathetic and in the appropriate amount of pain. Harry was in the middle of a lovely fantasy where he had locked Draco in a room with Fluffy when they arrived in the hospital wing. They were greeted with a particularly nasty glare from Madam Pomfrey as they entered her office. "Why is it that you two seem to spend more time down here then you do in classes?"
"Just lucky I guess," Harry replied, easing Draco into a chair near the door. "He got hit by a Reducto spell."
"Reducto? Well, that's... different. Clever way to use the spell. I suppose this isn't your handiwork, since your instructor let you bring him up here."
"No. Blaise Zabini."
"Hm. All right, tell me where it hurts, boy."
"Everywhere," Draco answered sullenly, glaring up at Madam Pomfrey from where he was slumped in the chair. It would have been a lot more impressive, Harry reflected, if he hadn't been overdoing the wince to the point where he just looked like he was squinting. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes as Draco pressed a shaking hand to his chest and made a great show of curling in on himself. "Ow... it's my chest, mostly... ow...."
"You're probably going to have a nasty set of bruises, but you'll live."
"I'll be going back to class now," Harry announced, giving Madam Pomfrey an apologetic smile as he backed towards the door. If he didn't get out of here soon, he was going to be sick himself. He could only feel the headache beginning to return full-force once more.
"Oh no you don't, Harry Potter. You come right back here, help him up, and put him on one of the beds while I go and get some salve for those bruises." She was up and out of the room before Harry even had a chance to protest.
"What's the matter, Potter?" Draco sneered, turning awkwardly to face the Gryffindor. "Can't bear to touch me now? You weren't having a problem with it outside."
"Shut up, Malfoy."
"Why should I?"
Harry ignored Draco's taunts as he crossed the room and picked the boy up, hauling him towards the hospital beds. He managed to 'accidentally' run the Slytherin into the wall five times along the way and was grinning by the time he dumped the moaning boy into the nearest bed. "I fucking hate you, Potter," Draco groaned, pulling his knees up to his chest and finally wincing in genuine pain.
"Just wanted to make sure your little act looked convincing. Do you think you can find your way up to the third floor after dinner?"
"Maybe. Why?" Draco replied, his voice muffled by the arm that was half-hiding his face from Harry's view.
"I want to show Hermione those runes."
"You can do that all on your own."
Harry frowned. Draco was actually starting to look rather pitiful, all curled in on himself like that. It was also becoming more difficult to tell how much he was faking and how much of his pain was real. Annoying, but true, and now he was beginning to doubt whether or not he really should have smashed Draco against quite so many walls and that in and of itself was stupid because he'd really deserved it. "She also says she's come up with something new that might help us out."
"Something that merits my having another conversation with the Mudblood? Somehow I doubt it's that interesting," Draco sniffed, looking quite haughty as he drew himself up from his huddled position and propped himself up against the pillows. He shifted thoughtfully several times, obviously trying to find the most advantageous position from which to play 'poor injured Slytherin,' as if Harry weren't standing right there watching him.
It was amazing how quickly doubts and sympathy could fade in the face of pure unadulterated stupidity.
"Drop dead, Malfoy." Harry replied, giving Draco's bruised chest a sturdy swat that caused the Slytherin to howl in pain as he stormed from the room. Sure, it was a little childish, but it was a hell of a lot nicer then a lot of things he wanted to do to Draco at that moment.
As it turned out, Hermione and Ron both had a meeting with Professor Dumbledore during dinner, which left Harry to troop upstairs to the third floor alone. Hermione had tried to convince him to wait until they were done with their meeting so they could all walk up together, but Harry had argued that Draco might be meeting them up there and it would be a bad idea to leave the Slytherin waiting by himself. Hermione had reluctantly agreed, though she had made a point of saying that leaving Malfoy alone with him wasn't all that great an idea either. Still, in the end he'd won the argument and that was how Harry found himself propped against one torch-lit wall working on his latest Potions essay in the third floor corridor.
It was amazing how difficult it was to concentrate on Potions when he could still remember the feel of Draco's hands smoothing over his stomach. Of course, it didn't help matters that the silent corridor was giving him the creeps in a major way, and thinking about the feeling of Draco's hands kept him from remembering Professor Quirrell's melting skin much better than Potions homework ever could.
"This is stupid," Harry grumbled, hauling his Potions textbook across his lap and turning to a marked page. "I'm not scared of this bloody corridor. It was five years ago, damn it. Okay. Potions homework. Right. 'The Draught of the Living Death was first concocted by Philius Marksdown in the early eleven hundreds. It is also sometimes called the 'sleeping beauty' poison in that it leaves the victim untouched by age or disease in a deathlike state of sleep until such time as the antidote is administered. Philius' wife, Violet Marksdown, was inadvertently the first person to test the poison when she mistook it for a glass of ale. She fell into a deathlike slumber and when Philius discovered the antidote fifty years later, his wife had not aged a day, but he himself was a very old man. There are many uses for the poison and...'"
The door was nudged open, and Draco Malfoy's pale face peered around the large wooden door, his eyes searching the relative darkness. "Potter?"
"You came," Harry grumbled, snapping his book closed and setting it aside.
Draco nodded, stepping around the door and closing it after him. "I'd rather like to know what those runes are all about as well, Potter. If we've managed to get yourselves caught by yet another curse, I'd like to know what it is. Where's Granger at?"
"She and Ron had a meeting with Dumbledore. They should be up soon."
"Right," Draco replied, settling down next to Harry carefully, as if his muscles were still sore. "I owe you a beating, you know."
"Don't be cute, Potter."
Draco smiled reluctantly, "Don't make me laugh either."
"You're not laughing, Malfoy, and neither am I."
"I suppose not," Draco lifted a hand, brushing Harry's tangled hair back and tucking it behind his ear. It was a gentle gesture, almost sweet, and certainly more then Harry ever would have expected from Draco. It made things low in his body go tight in response and his breath catch in his throat.
He swallowed hard, staring into Draco's expressionless face and wondering, not for the first time, what was going on behind those stormy gray eyes. "How do you do that?"
"I was furious with you after that show you put on in the hospital wing. Why do you go to such lengths to piss me off and then turn around and do something that makes me want to kiss you anyway?"
Draco shrugged, dropping his hand back into his lap and turning his face away, "I don't know."
"All right, let's try an easier question. What did Zabini say to you this morning?"
"Had a feeling you were going to ask me that," Draco replied quietly. "Suppose I said it was a Slytherin affair, would that shut you up?"
"Well, in that case, he said something rather nasty about my mother."
"You really love her, don't you?"
"I suppose I do. She's as much a prisoner of my father's whims as I. We both hate him, I think."
"It wasn't always like that."
"What?" Draco replied, turning to meet Harry's gaze.
"It wasn't always that way, Malfoy. I still remember when every other sentence out of your mouth began with 'My Father...' and usually contained some vague nasty threat."
"That was before. Before... he..." Draco shook his head quickly, turning away from Harry's searching gaze. "Bloody hell, Potter, just leave off."
"Don't start. Maybe it was like that once. I respected my father, loved my father. He was the most important person in my life, and I adored him. He was everything I wanted to be. Strong, powerful, and the only time I really thought about going against him was with you. He hated you, but he also feared you, I think. Or at least feared the wizard you would become. I thought it would be great fun to be friends with the boy my father hated, because those who earn a Malfoy's hatred are usually the most worthy of opponents, those who deserve our utmost respect. It is an honor that most people would die for... and usually do. You're the only one I know of to earn the hatred of a Malfoy and live, but, of course, it doesn't have to be that way."
"What about your mother?" Harry asked, refusing to be baited.
"My mother... She was beautiful and fragile, and I adored her, but it was kind of adoration you have for a beautiful piece of porcelain. It's beautiful to look at and wonderful to own, but you can't take it from the self and crush it against your chest or play with it. All you can really do is admire it. She was precious to me and I to her. I didn't understand her at all. I didn't understand either of them. Sometimes I think I will never really understand them at all. I don't want to talk about my parents anymore, Potter."
"Okay. What do you want to talk about?"
"I want a play-by-play of what happened in the graveyard that night. How did you manage to face off with the Dark Lord and live?"
Harry sighed, he should have known Draco wasn't being so talkative just for the hell of it. "Would you believe me if I said I didn't really know?"
"Good, 'cause that's pretty much the truth of it. We dueled and our wands didn't seem to like having to come up against each other. I managed to force his wand to give up the spells it had cast in reverse order. The shades of those he'd killed most recently surrounded us and I can still hear the screams caused by all the times he'd cast the Cruciatus Curse in between. Cedric, my parents, others. My mother told me what to do and Cedric begged me to take his body back to his parents. So that's what I did. It was all I could do."
Draco's expression softened. "You said my father was there. Was that true?"
"Yeah. There were a lot of Deatheaters there."
"How can you kiss me knowing what my father is? What I will become?"
"You're not your father, Malfoy. I wouldn't touch your father with a ten-foot pole and a set of dragonhide gloves, but I love touching you. Somehow I can't see you kissing the hem of Voldemort's robes. You're stronger than that, Malfoy."
"If you're wrong about me, you may end up dying for it, Potter."
"I'll take my chances."
"All right, I've had about all I take of this heartfelt confession business, and your friends aren't here yet. What say you lie back on the floor so I can give you a good proper snogging before they show up?"
"Well, since you put it... what are... hmprh!" Harry managed as Draco took matters into his own hands, shoving him back against the stones and kissing him roughly. Harry reacted instinctively, parting his lips and linking his arms around Draco's neck. He felt Draco hesitate for the barest instant before taking advantage of the opening Harry had given him. Their tongues slid together on a moan and the battle began.
Time passed and Harry found that he could actually learn to quite like the stones that made up the floor of this corridor, though he'd like them better if he weren't the one lying on them.
That idea firmly in hand, Harry snatched great handfuls of Draco's robes and toppled him, rolling the struggling Slytherin beneath him, "Potter!" Draco managed, sounding only about half as outraged as he probably should have as Harry turned his attention to Draco's pale throat. "This was my idea and if you're not going to cooperate..."
"Shut up, Malfoy. My idea is better," Harry replied, sitting up enough to shove Draco's robes aside and pull his sweater up around his throat, revealing a tempting expanse of pale stomach and chest. He could see the muscles working beneath the skin, tightening as Draco gasped as Harry set his lips against one dark nipple, worrying it between his teeth. He felt Draco tense and tremble beneath him, fingers catching his hair to hold his head firmly in place.
"Fuck. You win, your idea is better." Draco gasped, using Harry's black locks as a handle to draw the Gryffindor's lips to his own once more. Teeth clicked and tongues tangled as they both warred for dominance in what, at least in Harry's opinion, was a far more constructive and enjoyable way than the regular, run-of-the-mill fights they'd been getting in for years. It really was a pity they hadn't thought of this earlier, but then before fifth year, Harry would never even considered a relationship with another boy, much less Draco Malfoy.
He'd fancied himself in love with Cho for the entirety of fourth year and they'd even dated a bit around November of fifth year, but it had been just too... weird. It wasn't until they'd been broken up for a month that Harry began to suspect there was something more than Cedric's ghost keeping them apart. He'd tried dating Lavender Brown and it took about three sloppy, uncomfortable kisses for Harry to figure out that he was really more interested in making out with the carpet then kissing Lavender.
He'd thought then that maybe she just wasn't a very good kisser and that was why he found the kisses to be rather, for lack of better description, gross. Lavender, however, had seemed perfectly happy with the kisses and the relationship in general. In retrospect, it wasn't really all that surprising that she hadn't really understood why Harry had broken up with her.
That breakup had actually ended up being a spectacle which was still spoken of in the Gryffindor Common Room when neither Lavender nor Harry were present, as Harry had discovered when he'd come through in his invisibility cloak one night. In fact, if what he'd overheard was correct, it had been one of Fred and George's favorite memories of Hogwarts. There was, apparently, nothing funnier then seeing Harry Potter, who had survived four attacks by the Dark Lord to date, brought low by an angry slip of a girl. In retrospect, Harry could admit that they were probably right. Though it certainly hadn't been funny at the time. At the time he'd been absolutely miserable, trying to explain his reasons without hurting her feelings and having no luck in getting her to understand.
There just was no polite way to say: 'Sorry, but kissing you kind of makes my skin crawl.'
It had taken him over a month's careful analysis and playback to figure out that it wasn't so much the clumsy, sloppy mating of tongues or the almost painful click of teeth that bothered him so much as the fact that they were attached to a girl. He wasn't sure exactly when he figured out that this meant he was probably gay, a concept that his upbringing with the Dursleys had certainly not prepared him for. In fact, seeing as how the Dursleys despised anything out of the ordinary, he rather doubted that his being both a wizard AND gay would do a thing to ingratiate himself with them. Then again, since they already pretty well hated him, it didn't much matter whether they had a new reason to hate him.
Of course, he hadn't been absolutely convinced that he was actually gay. All he really knew about being gay was that it meant he liked boys, and he was supposed to be rather fond of disco music and speak with a bizarre sort of accent. The problem was he still wasn't entirely sure whether he'd like kissing boys any more then he liked kissing girls and the only disco music he'd ever heard was by a trio of men with abnormally high-pitched voices and he hadn't really cared for it all that much. He also didn't speak with any sort of bizarre lisping accent. That was one maybe, one definite no, and one yes, so he was back to square one. It seemed that there was just no way of telling without getting a bit of practical experience.
Unfortunately, that was where he'd run into a bit of a problem.
There was just no easy way to ask any of his friends if they'd mind a quick snog so he could test the theory. He thought about asking Ron, but Ron was... well... Ron. Even if Harry discovered he liked boys, he had a feeling he'd never be able to like Ron. Ron was just, well, Ron. There was just no way short of death and dismemberment that he would ever lay lips on Ron in anything other then a brotherly fashion.
Hermione, of course, was out of the running for several reasons:
a.) She wasn't a boy.
b.) She was Hermione, which ranked her on a romantic scale somewhere beneath girls in general, Snape, Draco Malfoy, Tom Riddle, and just barely above Ron. (Though if Harry had known then what he knew now, he really wouldn't have ranked them in quite that fashion. However, he'd really hated Draco during fifth year and Snape had been just barely tolerable, which for Snape was rather exceptionally excellent, and so that was the order they'd gotten at the time.)
c.) She was completely sold on Ron. (Even though they'd broken up a few weeks before this particular debacle, it was perfectly obvious - at least to Harry and any other sensible person within a reasonable distance - that they were completely and totally gone on each other. Let them deny it all they like, but give it five years and they'd be married and happily proceeding about the business of producing a small army of super-intelligent red-haired imps to help them dominate the wizarding world - or at least enough for Ron to start his own Quidditch team.)
d.) She wasn't a boy.
That really didn't leave too many appealing options. There was Dean, who seemed fairly open to suggestions, but was probably more likely to take that particular suggestion from Seamus rather then Harry. Seamus himself, though obviously attractive and possessed of a rather sexy accent, was definitely a last resort due to the fact that he had difficulty keeping any secret for longer then it took him to hop atop the nearest table and shout it at the top of his lungs. There was Neville who was a definite no, just for being Neville.
After considering his closest friends, Harry had made a mental list of every male in the school who he had ever had even a passing acquaintance with and each had received a mental no of varying degrees of horror and dismay. He'd just about decided that it simply wasn't worth the effort and he'd just get along without dating for the remainder of his time at Hogwarts, when it had happened.
Ron and Hermione had been dating again (they'd actually been dating three separate times during their fifth year at Hogwarts, though neither would admit to having dated more then once), and so Harry had often been left to his own devices whenever they'd gone to Hogsmeade. It was during one of these trips, late in the year, that he'd met up with Fred and George in the tavern and they'd gotten to talking about Quidditch, the joke shop, and all sorts of cheerful casual things which old friends talk about. He'd never really spent much time alone talking to the twins, but he'd always liked them and they'd managed to take his mind off his problems for a little while. They'd been talking for about an hour when George had made a passing mention of Fred's last boyfriend. Fred had promptly poured the remains of his butterbeer over George's head.
While a laughing George went off to the restroom to get himself cleaned up, Fred had explained that he had been dating Oliver Wood for a few weeks during Oliver's seventh year. When Harry had told Fred about his own little problem, Fred had been more than willing to help. In fact, he'd leaned across the table, taken hold of Harry's chin, and kissed him quite thoroughly before Harry even had a chance to protest. When he'd pulled back, he'd been grinning widely and ruffling Harry's dark hair. "Have your answer then?"
"I really hope I find a boyfriend who kisses like that."
Fred had laughed, color rising in his cheeks which had little to do with the butterbeer he'd consumed. "Give it time, Harry. You'll find one who can kiss much better then I can."
He had been right, though Harry was pretty sure that Fred and George would have both raised three kinds of Hell if they'd known who it was he was now kissing.
Still, it would be worth it.
Draco kissed him like he was air and he wanted to breathe him in, and, as far as Harry was concerned, that was the best way to be kissed.
They had a lot of problems. Like whether or not Draco was going to betray him to the Dark Lord. Whether or not Draco was just using him. How the hell he was supposed to win a game he didn't entirely understand. How it was that he could spend well over ninety-nine percent of his time wanting to strangle the Slytherin, but still manage to forget all that when they were kissing like this...
Was it lust? Love? Hate? Anger? Any one of a thousand strange, confused emotions that seemed to flow through him whenever Draco was around? He didn't know, but he did know that he liked this. He liked being kissed by Draco, he liked running his tongue and teeth across Draco's bare skin, and he would definitely like to do a hell of a lot more with Draco, though he wasn't altogether sure what a hell of a lot more would consist of.
Maybe Draco knew...?
But, when he considered the fact that Draco had him pinned to the ground and was licking a path down the center of his chest, he decided that this probably wasn't the best time to ask.
Hermione shoved the door open enough to peer cautiously inside. She wasn't exactly sure whether or not Harry was still in here or not, since the meeting with Dumbledore had taken longer than expected. As she had suspected, Dumbledore hadn't been aware of the third floor corridor still being accessible, and had promised to do something about it as soon as possible. Now all that was left was to see what these runes were that Harry had been talking about, and find out exactly why it was that he'd even stayed here long enough to find them. She had a sneaking feeling that Malfoy had quite a bit to do with it, but Harry had been fairly close-lipped about the whole thing so far. All he'd really said was that he'd tell her all about it when they arrived.
Hermione's gaze widened at the echo of voices crawling up the corridor towards her.
Malfoy. She'd rather been hoping he wouldn't show up.
"Bloody... ow! That's my... ow! Son of a..."
Hermione's eyes widened at the sound of Harry's pain-filled voice. She was already shoving the door the rest of the way open when Malfoy's next comment froze her in her tracks.
"My necklace is stuck on your..."
"Well, you'd better bloody well get it unstuck."
The broken comments were probably more disturbing than they would be if she was able to see exactly what Harry and Malfoy were doing and what it was that Malfoy had gotten his necklace stuck on. However, Hermione had always been of the strict opinion when it came to Harry's sex life- which she was pretty sure hadn't existed before Malfoy, and with any luck was still in at least a mostly nonexistent stage even now- that it was definitely better to be safe than walk in on him while he was going at it.
She'd done a spot of research into alternative methods of sex which could be used by gay men, in the interests of being supportive and in no way because she'd wanted to know, and the idea of walking in to see Malfoy's legs wrapped about Harry's waist, or Harry's dark hair hovering like a shield over areas of Draco Malfoy that she'd rather not think of, was definitely not her idea of a good time. In fact, she had a feeling that if she, or Ron for that matter, happened to witness such an event, the images would haunt them to their graves.
So it was from this base of knowledge that Hermione came to the decision that there was no force on Earth capable of getting her through that door before they'd said it was safe to come in. Ron, of course, had other ideas.
"What's going on? Why aren't we going in? And why is your face the color of a ripe tomato?"
"Well, you see..."
"Potter, it's all tangled and I'm having a spot of trouble with it. Could you maybe help me out here?"
"I don't even know how you managed to get it tangled around there in the first place, much less how to get it off, so I don't know what you want me to do about it, Malfoy."
"Well, could have warned me that you had a piece of silver stuck in your..."
"I thought you might have noticed it since you were having such a lovely time pawing my... ow... chest this morning... ow!"
"If I'd noticed I might have taken the bloomin' thing off before I went about licking your tummy. If you're not going to help, you could at least hold still!"
"I can't help it! Your hair's too long and keeps tickling my stomach and you keep yanking on that ring and it hurts!"
"If you don't hold still, I'll yank the damn thing out and it'll hurt a hell of a lot more!"
Ron raised a vaguely horrified gaze to Hermione, his face nearly as red as Hermione's felt, "Did I just hear them right?"
"I'm afraid so. I think it's best if we just wait right here until they're finished."
"OW! Damn it, Malfoy!"
"Don't be such a baby, Potter. We're all free and clear now. No harm done. Just a little red is all."
"Easy for you to say."
"Want me to kiss it better?"
"Do I want you to... oh..."
Hermione rolled her eyes, "Harry! I have no intention of standing out here all night!"
"Hermione," Harry breathed, staring down his chest to where Draco's chin was resting on his stomach, just above his much-abused belly button ring. He made a mental note to remove the ring and let the hole heal up when he got back to his room.
He'd only even gotten the thing because Hermione had gone to get her ears pierced when they'd been in London getting their books and things and had wanted moral support. Since Ron had been horrified by the thought of having a muggle stick pins in him and Harry hadn't wanted any visible piercings, he'd chosen the belly ring. It had been a bad choice as things went. It was a bitch to take care of and was constantly snagging his shirts. Not to mention this little incident, which was just the icing on the proverbial cake. "I'm definitely taking that thing out this time."
"I don't know. I rather like it now that I'm not all tangled up in it." Draco murmured, pressing a last quick kiss to Harry's exposed stomach before pushing himself to his feet and turning his attention towards the brown-haired girl stepping tentatively into the corridor. "We're over here, Granger. Better hurry up, I think I've killed him."
"Don't be an arse, Malfoy." Harry grumbled in response, finding it difficult to summon the proper annoyance in the aftermath of all that kissing and licking. The biting had been rather nice too...
"You can't have killed him, you aren't good enough to kill Harry, Malfoy." Hermione answered, stomping down the corridor towards them with Ron close behind her. "Harry? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Harry muttered, reality finally making its return as he yanked his shirt down and pushed himself into a sitting position. From the look on Hermione's face, Harry gathered that he must look positively ravished. Not that he was the only one, of course: Draco's lips were swollen and his hair was hopelessly mussed and his robes were all tangled about. Draco gave him a funny half-smile and Harry set about straightening his clothes as he pushed himself unsteadily to his feet.
"Right then," Hermione replied, turning her scathing gaze in Draco's direction. "What happened? What did you do?"
"Me?! I didn't do a bloody thing. He..." Draco paused for a moment, "Well, actually we had a little bit of conversation which escalated into a bit of snogging and some rolling about on the floor and..."
"Enough, enough. No more! I give! I've seen you kiss, I don't need any more traumatic visuals to haunt me to my grave!" Ron shouted, covering his ears as Hermione rolled her eyes, a dark blush coloring her pale cheeks. "As if it wasn't bad enough just listening to all that tangled up nonsense. Ugh."
Draco smiled, "What you saw on the stairway wasn't a real kiss, Weasley. What we were doing before you got here, now that..."
"Yes, well," Hermione murmured, clearing her throat uncomfortably. "What I meant was that I want one of you to tell me what happened up here this morning. How'd you end up in this corridor?"
"The staircase moved," Harry mumbled, his cheeks still a dark red as he continued to pull and straighten his robes. He glanced at Draco for a moment, debating mentioning that it had been Draco who'd insisted on coming into the hall, but there really wasn't much point in placing blame. "There's only one door on the landing, so we came through it. I didn't realize where we were at first." Draco's gaze widened, but he said nothing to contradict Harry's assessment.
"Right, so when you realized where you were, why didn't you leave right away?"
"Well, um..." Harry began, not sure exactly how to put it gracefully without saying 'that stupid git insisted on exploring' or something of the like. Unfortunately, Draco saved him from holding the situation together by opening his mouth. Funny how many things were ruined by Draco Malfoy speaking.
"Oh, go ahead and tell her."
"Malfoy wanted to do a bit of exploring," Harry replied, rolling his eyes and slanting a glare at the blond.
"Exploring?" Hermione questioned, glancing back towards the Slytherin. "Didn't Harry tell you this place is dangerous? I asked Dumbledore about this place, and he said that the castle has its own ideas and motivations in everything, but this is ridiculous. You could have really been hurt. Did you find anything terribly interesting to make all this danger worth your trouble?"
"Well, I went looking at that door down there and, you see, there wasn't any floor and..." Draco looked positively green around the edges, and Harry had little doubt as to which part of the story the Slytherin didn't wish to talk about. Well, too bad, Harry decided; after all, Draco had been the one to start Hermione up, so he could be the one to tell her about it.
"Go ahead and say it Malfoy. If you say it really fast it probably won't hurt near as much," Harry muttered, rolling his eyes at the flustered blond.
"He saved my life, but that's hardly the point of the matter. What I mean to say is that I was perfectly fine on my own. You see, I have excellent balance and I'm quite sure I would have had no problem regaining that balance if he hadn't jumped in. Always has to be the hero, I suppose. Stupid Potter. Could have been killed, but does he even say anything about that? No! All he has to say is that he wasn't thinking. Wasn't thinking! Can you believe that? Harry Potter to the rescue. As if he's impervious to harm. Comes swooping in to save me and could have gotten himself hurt, all because he was thinking. That's the problem with you Gryffindors. You never think things through. All hopped up on your courageous high horse, and you never take a moment to consider the possible consequences of your heroic antics. Going to get the whole lot of you killed one of these days, I have no doubt."
"You're welcome," Harry commented sweetly.
"Fuck off," Draco spat, flicking imaginary bits of dust from his rumpled robes.
"Fight like my mum and dad, they do. It's really kind of scary," Ron muttered, careful to make certain his words were pitched low enough that only Hermione could hear him. Not that either Harry or Draco were really paying a bit of attention to either of them, but... there was no sense in taking a chance.
Hermione sighed, turning her attention from Draco to Harry once more. "All right, so we've established that Malfoy is a complete idiot and you're not much better. Though I would like to take a look at the room." She strode down the hall, torches lighting her way, before coming to a half in front of the third door. She grasped the handle and swung the door open quickly, peering into the darkness with her wand held high. "Lumos. Oh my..." Hermione murmured after a moment of stunned silence. "This is... I can't even see the bottom. You two could have been killed."
"We've already established that, Granger." Draco replied, his voice thick with annoyance. "Why don't you tell us something we don't know?"
Hermione whirled about and slammed the door hard, "More than happy to, Malfoy." She lifted her wand high before jabbing a finger against the runes which had been painstaking carved into the heavy door. The slashes which made up each rune seemed too dark against the oak door and Hermione knew that they'd been stained with blood. She also knew that the runes were harmless, the blood old, dried to the color of rusty iron and flaking off in bits. "Did you see these markings when you opened the door, Malfoy?"
"Maybe..." Draco replied warily.
"Do you know what they mean?"
"Why don't you just tell us already, Granger? We're all just dying to know."
"They're runes, Malfoy. Dagaz. Gebo. Raidho. Most commonly, Dagez is a catalyst, Gebo is the rune of sacrifice, death, and Raidho is the rune of traveling. Runes are most often used in divination these days, but they were once a powerful magical tool and are still occasionally used today. These runes aren't active. They were stained with blood which is the typical way of activating runes, but the blood is old and its power has been used up. You see, runes have to be renewed from time to time, otherwise their power fades. But, that's really not the important thing with these runes, I think. I think these runes were put here more as a warning then anything else. A reminder. You see, runes were also once used to communicate ideas, magical concepts, in a way that would keep them safe from muggles. It isn't until recently that muggles have begun to puzzle out their meanings, but they can never truly understand the magic behind them. Anyway, the point is that this particular combination of runes suggests that what lies behind this door is a pathway to death. How's that for telling you something you didn't know, Malfoy? You could have gotten yourself killed just by opening this door, but you didn't take the time to think about what these markings could mean."
"Maybe I was trying to lead Potter to his death, Granger."
"My foot, you were. You're the only one who almost died today, Malfoy. You're just lucky that Harry was here to pull your arse out of the fire."
"Hermione, that's enough," Harry murmured finally, pushing himself unsteadily to his feet. "We're both fine and..."
"No, it's not enough, Harry. It's not nearly enough. It was stupid, and you both could have been hurt or even killed. You probably even tried to warn him and he chose to ignore you, isn't that right, Malfoy?"
"Yes, Granger. That's exactly right. Potter told me this place was dangerous, and I didn't listen. Potter didn't want to be here, and so I wanted to force him to stay. It was obvious he didn't like this place because of what happened here. So there you are, Granger. Are you happy now? Now if you three don't mind, I've got better things to do with my day then muck about in the dark listening to some jumped-up Mudblood tell me what a bastard I am," Draco spat, turning on his heel and stomping down the length of the hall, finally disappearing through the open doorway.
Harry sighed, giving Hermione an apologetic glance, "I'm sorry, Hermione."
"Not your fault. He can't seem to help himself. After all, he is Malfoy."
"And that's why we hate him," Ron added, nodding his head decisively.
"Because he makes us feel guilty for being in the right?"
"Yep. Mind if I drown him in a puddle or something, Harry?"
"Surprisingly, yes. If anyone gets to drown him in anything, it should be me."
"Right. Let's get out of here."
"Aren't you going to go talk to him?" Hermione inquired softly, touching Harry's arm. He looked exhausted, but she had a feeling that that actually had very little do with lack of sleep.
"No. He's pissed off, and by the time I find him, I'll be pissed off and we'll just get into it again. I've already had two fights with him today, I'm not all that eager for the third."
"Well, if you're sure, then let's go up to my room and see if we can't sort through this mess."
Hermione had her own private room. Prefects all got the choice of having their own rooms or staying in the regular dorms. Ron had chosen the dorms, but since Hermione had no real affection for the girls that she roomed with, she'd leapt at the idea of having her own room. As such, it had become the best and most private place to discuss things they didn't want others knowing about.
"Okay, but let's go by the kitchens on the way up, I'm starving," Ron interjected, wrapping his arms around the shoulders of his shorter friends and steering them towards the exit.
They were all three tucked into Hermione's room after a successful visit to the kitchen, which had yielded the feast that sat before them. It was always nice to be in good with house elves when you spent over half your time missing meals for one reason or another. It had taken just long enough for Ron to get through his first helping of food before the questions had begun, and Harry really didn't like the line of questioning which had been chosen.
"So, what you're saying is that you fight, you snog, and just when you think everything is going well you end up starting the whole process all over again by getting in another fight? And you like this?" Ron asked, managing to look and sound incredulous even with a chicken leg firmly planted between his teeth.
Harry sighed. It was hard enough to justify his strange relationship with Draco to himself, much less to others. Especially when others consisted of the two people who hated Draco nearly as much as he did. "Well... no. I could do with a lot less fighting and a lot more snogging, personally. Unfortunately, things just seem to get out of hand whenever we're together. It's always been like that, it's just more complicated now."
"It's only complicated because you choose to make it complicated, Harry. You don't have to play his games, you know, you do still have a choice in the matter."
"That's what he keeps saying as well, but it's not true. I can't not play. It's like this: if I don't play his game, then he'll end up being a Deatheater and I'll end up coming up against him sooner or later and there's only one way that's going to end. I don't know when I started giving a damn what happens to him, but I do, and if I have to fight him, I don't think I'll be able to kill him. Which means I'll be dead, game over, because he'll have no such qualms about polishing me off."
"So what good is playing his games then?"
"If I play this game to the end and win, then he's agreed to tell me whatever I want to know. That means I'll know everything he knows and I think one of the things he knows is where Voldemort is hiding and what his plans are."
"Harry, you do realize that you could just use Veritaserum and achieve the exact same results."
"I know, but then he'll hate me and I'll be back to scenario one where he becomes a Deatheater and I die fighting him. But if he tells me all this of his own free will, it won't be because he's forced to do so and he won't hate me and..."
"We'll have a very powerful ally in a very strategic position," Hermione finished somberly.
"You're using him."
It was just a statement of fact with no accusation behind it, but Harry still found himself wincing. "Not any more then he's using me. Besides, I'm not just going along with this to find out what he knows or convince him that our side is the right side. I'm going along with this because I like him a little."
"You like him?! How can you possibly like him after everything he's done to you? To us?" Ron asked, throwing up his hands in frustration.
"Lots of reasons," Harry responded quietly, chasing his potatoes about the plate with his fork.
"Care to share one?"
"It's not all his fault. I've given just as good as I've gotten over the years, as have you and Hermione. For every awful thing he's done to us, we've paid him back in spades. Plus, he's not such an awful person once you manage to get past all that Pureblood holier-than-thou bullshit he's always spreading about."
"So you're really okay with this?"
"No, but I don't have any better ideas. Only problem is, I don't have the foggiest idea how I'm supposed to win. I thought at first that he wanted me to save him, but now I'm not sure. He fights me tooth and nail at every turn, saying thing and doing things purposely to try and piss me off to the point where I'll just end whatever it is that's going on between us. And even if, despite all that, he really did want me to save him, who am I supposed to save him from? Lucius? Voldemort? Himself? I just don't know," Harry dropped his face into his hands; his head was beginning to pound again.
"Well. Then we'd better get to work figuring out how to help you win Malfoy's game then, shouldn't we? That'll keep us occupied until we hear back from Viktor and Professor Lupin." Hermione stated, setting her plate aside.
Harry turned to Hermione, his headache easing as confusion bubbled to the surface. "Viktor and Professor Lupin?"
"Oh! I forgot to tell you! Sorry about that. I owled Viktor since he's in London right now and asked him if he could come by for a visit. He's got all that Dark Arts training and I was rather hoping he'd be able to figure out what that protection spell was all about."
"And Professor Lupin?"
"Well, that was Ron's idea, actually," Hermione replied, beaming as Ron flushed red to the roots of his hair. "Who better to find ask to find out about what happened at Hogwarts all those years ago then people who'd actually been there? Since it's always safest to get in touch with Professor Lupin, that's exactly what we're doing. I'm sure he'll be able to get in touch with Sirius for us as well, so we'll get to talk to the both of them eventually."
Harry smiled. "I never would have even thought of that on my own."
"You most certainly would have if you didn't have other things on your mind. Now, let's get to sorting out this Malfoy mess."
"You do know this means I'll probably have to tell you in detail about each and every meeting I've had with him."
"Harry, you only started playing this stupid game yesterday afternoon. How many times could you possibly have been alone with him since then?"
"Well, see that's not so..."
"If you don't count the fact that he spent the night," Harry winced, knowing the reaction he was going to get from that little tidbit.
Ron was never one to disappoint.
"WHAT?!" Ron exclaimed, dropping his plate, which Hermione caught with a speed that came from years of practice. "He did not!" Ron continued on, oblivious to the fact that he'd almost ended up with a lap full of potatoes and gravy.
"He came up to our room late last night and he stayed until after you lot were up and out of the room."
"Oh. My. God. I'm never sitting on your bed again."
"I don't know why you're taking this so badly, he's slept there before," Hermione pointed out helpfully.
"But that was before the snogfest began!" Ron moaned, shaking his head sorrowfully. "Please tell me there wasn't sex. Please, please, please tell me I wasn't sleeping three feet away from a place where Draco fucking Malfoy was having kinky sex with my best friend."
"There wasn't sex," Harry murmured obligingly.
"Good! Now, you and I are going to have to set down some rules if this sort of thing is going to go on. No Malfoy in your bedroom after 10pm. No Malfoy spending the night. Definitely no naked Malfoy in the room at any time."
"And no sex! Do you hear me, Harry Potter? No sex of any kind, under any circumstances!"
"If this is going to go on, he's going to have to treat you right proper, and that means that unless he's made some sort of lasting commitment there will be no sex! I won't have you crying to me all broken-hearted because you let him... um... well... you know! and then after he's gotten what he wants he's gone running off to the Dark Lord like a big sissy coward. So, no sex until we've got a definite 'no running off to the Dark Lord' commitment out of him! And even then I don't really like it, but I suppose it's all right, but just remember that there is to be no sex until you've got a firm commitment. And I mean like a ring-binding or something to make sure he can't just go back on his word later. So until then... no sex! Got it?"
"Um... okay," Harry murmured, too bewildered by Ron's speech to do much else besides agree. Not that it was really that big a deal anyway, since he wasn't altogether sure what boys did together that counted as sex.
"Good," Ron replied, smiling viciously. "And, by the way, when and if there ever is sex, I don't want to hear about it."
Hermione just shook her head and rolled her eyes. "And you call me scary."
She hadn't seen neither hide nor hair of him in two full days. Which, in and of itself, wasn't all that unusual, but she still found it rather disturbing.
Since there were more students at Hogwarts now then in any of their previous years, some students had been called on to teach one or two classes to help cover a bit of the slack. Draco was actually the only student-teacher who wasn't a prefect, but that had as much to do with the fact that all the prefects were shite at Potions as it did with the fact that Draco was Snape's favorite student. The teaching bit, which his father knew nothing about, had been going on since fifth year and took up enough of his time that he'd had to rearrange almost all his classes to be able to do it. As a result the only classes he shared with the other Slytherins were DADA and CoMC. He'd ended up taking Transfiguration with the Gryffindors, Charms and Arithmancy with the Ravenclaws, and Herbology with the Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors. Even so, he'd seemed to like it enough to make up for the sacrifice of no longer having many classes with his housemates.
Although, Pansy had a sneaking suspicion that Draco had found it a relief to be out from under the constant watchful eyes of the other Slytherins, especially during fifth year. That was the year during which Draco had really begun to prize his privacy and spend as much time as he dared alone. Pansy couldn't even count the number of times she'd climbed these stairs to retrieve Draco when he'd been gone too long. The Astronomy Tower was one of Draco's favorite hiding places, probably because it was just about as far as you could get from the dungeons without leaving the castle.
As expected she found him alone, staring out one of the slim windows. He had his back to her when she entered the room, and he didn't bother to move or acknowledge her as she walked towards him. She wondered vaguely if he hated her at moments like these. Moments when she forced him to return to the reality he seemed to both love and despise. "Draco?"
"Hm?" Draco glanced back over his shoulder, eyeing Pansy for a long moment before turning back to the window. "What is it?"
Pansy sighed, crossing the remaining distance between them and leaning against the wall on the opposite side of the window. They'd played this game too many times before. Everything was a game to a Slytherin. Everything that mattered, anyway. "You look awful."
"Oh, thank you. Did you really come all the way up here just to tell me that?"
"No, but it's true," Pansy replied, settling her arms over her sweater-clad chest as she spoke, breaking from the usual dialogue. "He's really getting to you, isn't he?"
The surprise showed in Draco's eyes for only a moment before vanishing, swallowed up by the cold emptiness of that dark gaze. "It's none of your concern, Pansy."
"Maybe not, but I... Damn it, Draco. You can't keep this up. You can't."
"I won't say it again, Pansy."
"Good, because you're going to listen to me whether you like it or not. Vince told me about your orders, and don't you dare get mad at him, he only told me because he's worried about you. We're all worried about you."
"I know," Draco whispered, closing his eyes and pressing his cheek against the cool stone of the wall. "You shouldn't worry about me. I can take care of myself, I always have. It's what I'm good at."
"I know, I just..." Pansy hesitated and sighed. She couldn't do this. She was too used to following Draco's lead to give him the severe tongue-lashing he so rightly deserved. Even though Vince was teaching her a thing or two about warmth and compassion, she still wasn't much use when it came to comforting people or any of that other rubbish. Shows of affection beyond a head pat or a handshake with anyone but Vince were just beyond her present capabilities. Maybe that would change in the future, but that certainly didn't help her at the moment. And, even if she were capable of such displays, she doubted Draco would really know how to deal with them.
Draco had been brought up in much the same manner she had, but his training had been far more intense. Being touched too often or too casually by the wrong person often elicited the sort of reaction that made everyone in Slytherin house just a little bit afraid of Draco. She could still remember the blank, emotionless regard on his face as he casually broke the hand of an older girl who'd been a bit too forward with her advances.
In the end, it was just easier to fall back to the old game. Easier for both of them.
"People are starting to remark on your absence. I would suggest coming down to dinner tonight."
"I think it would be best if we started dating again. People are beginning to talk a bit too much and too loudly about us both."
"I think that's probably a good idea. Are you sure you're all right with it?"
"No snogging," Draco warned, his mask firmly in place once more.
"As if you're so irresistible. Come on, love. The sooner we go, the sooner we can leave."
He was not jealous. He was not jealous. It would be ridiculous to be jealous.
But he was, just the same.
"Don't like it when people touch you, my arse," Harry grumbled, glaring across the room at where Pansy and Draco were making a big show of hanging all over each other. He wasn't exactly sure what it was about it that pissed him off most; after all, there were so many things to choose from. It might be the fact that Draco had been both ignoring him and avoiding him for three days...
Or the fact that Draco had lied to him about hating to be touched.
Or maybe it was just the fact that Pansy was practically sitting in his fucking lap and he had the nerve to look like he was enjoying it.
"Harry! You're cutting off my circulation!" Hermione growled, giving Harry's wrist a few good smacks until he finally realized that he was holding her hand so tightly that her fingers were turning a dull purplish color. He grimaced as he released his hold on her.
"Sorry. I'm really sorry," he murmured, turning his gaze to his plate and studying his dinner intensely. He really shouldn't be this angry. There was no reason to be angry. He knew that Draco was a liar, that was no big shock, and the fact that he'd broken the rules of his own game by lying shouldn't be all that big a surprise either. Sure, this had all sorts of serious ramifications, but he couldn't sit here and hash them out at the dinner table while trying to pretend as if nothing was wrong. He needed to think about something that wasn't Draco.
Peas were okay.
Peas didn't make him the least bit angry. After all, they weren't arrogant, nasty, traitorous, lying bastards. Nope, there wasn't a single deceitful thing about peas.
Harry gave his peas a final nod and raised his gaze to the dark-haired girl beside him. "Hermione?"
"Beat the shit out of him."
Hermione cocked an eyebrow at him. "You really want me to defend your honor in front of everyone in school?"
"I'd do it," Ron grinned, cracking his knuckles. "Why didn't you ask me, Harry?"
"Hermione hits harder."
"True enough," Ron conceded easily.
"Do you really want me to walk over there and just punch him?" Hermione inquired calmly.
"No," Harry replied after a moment's consideration.
"Good. I was rather hoping..."
"Fine. I'll do it myself," Harry replied, halfway out of his seat before Hermione grabbed him and yanked him back down.
"That's quite enough. I don't know what about that little spectacle is making you so angry. Well, perhaps I do know, but still, I would suggest you put a lid on it until we have a spot of privacy and you've had a chance to calm down."
"I am calm."
"You don't look calm," Ron muttered nervously, glancing between a furious Harry and a thoroughly annoyed Hermione. He'd never seen Harry quite this angry before, but now that he had, he was having a hard time deciding which of the two was scarier.
"I'm fine," Harry murmured, and the anger seemed to drain away from him like so much water. He settled back onto his bench looking tired, but calm. "I'm just... we've spent two days trying to figure out how I'm supposed to help him, and he's snuggled up with Pansy Parkinson. It's a little annoying."
"I'm sorry, Harry. I..." Hermione trailed off as two owls swooped into the hall. Owls never came in and interrupted dinner, but apparently no one had told these owls that. One of them, a barn owl, landed right in front of Harry, giving him a wary glance. Harry smiled weakly and fed the owl a bit of bread before taking the note from its leg.
"What is it, Harry?" Ron inquired, leaning across the table to try and get a look at the note as Harry opened it.
"A summons from Professor Dumbledore," Harry murmured, studying the note once more before tucking it away. "The three of us are to be up in the office for a meeting at 2 o'clock tomorrow afternoon."
"Come in, Mister Malfoy, come in," Dumbledore called, beckoning the Slytherin into a room already crowded with prefects, teachers, and Harry Potter. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine," Draco murmured, his gaze darting about the room and finally settling on Professor Snape, seated in a chair near Dumbledore's desk. He pushed past a few prefects and came to stand at his head of house's side. "Sir? What's this about?" Draco whispered, his voice pitched low enough that his questions reached Snape's ears alone.
"Quidditch," Snape answered shortly, folding his pale hands in his lap and casting a glance towards where Harry was lingering near the doorway with Weasel and Granger. "I've been hearing disturbing rumors, Malfoy. It would appear that Zabini has been getting rather ambitious while you've been busy playing footsie with Mister Potter."
"I can handle Zabini, Professor. And I'm not playing footsie with Potter."
"Perhaps. He is dangerously unstable these days. I do hope you can control him. And, if not footsie, what would you call it, Mister Malfoy?"
"I have the Zabini situation under control. And, for your information, Potter and I have come to an agreement because of that bloody protection spell, that's all. Know anything about that, by the way?"
"Hardly. I agree with Professor Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey in that it is a kind of dark magic, but I have never seen such a spell in my studies."
"Hm. Don't suppose you'd like to give me a note to go into the restricted section and see what I can dig up there?"
"Now, Mister Malfoy, you know I don't encourage that sort of ingenuity in my students." Snape murmured, a grim smile curling his lips as he drew a note from his pocket and handed it over. "You're terribly predictable these days. Well, except perhaps in your dealings with Mister Potter. Whatever are you playing at, Draco?"
"Can't get anything past you anymore, can I?"
"Not hardly. I taught you your best tricks. Did you save him just so you could be the one to hurt him?"
"Would I do something like that?"
"Must I really answer that?"
"He's mine to do with as I like, Professor."
"That doesn't quite answer my question, but there will always be time to ask such questions again later."
"I know," Draco replied, taking a step back as Dumbledore called the meeting to order.
"I've called you all here today to discuss whether or not Quidditch should continue as planned for the year. The other Professors and I have spent the last week strengthening wards around the Hogwarts grounds in order to prevent another incident like the one that occurred last Saturday. I wish to keep things as normal as possible here at Hogwarts, since we shall all have precious little normalcy in our lives during the years to come. However, in order to continue the Quidditch season we must first continue the game that was interrupted. Unless, of course, one of you would like to admit defeat?" Dumbledore raised an eyebrow at the two boys before him, and chuckled at the identical looks of horror on their faces. "Well, then. Are you both in good enough shape to continue the match?"
"Yes," Harry replied quietly.
"Of course." Draco confirmed his words with a nod and a smirk aimed in Harry's direction.
"Very well then. The match will occur this evening."
"But, sir! That doesn't give us any time to..."
Dumbledore silenced Draco's protests with a wave and a smile, "I know it puts you both at a disadvantage, but it is a little against the rules that we allowed the game to be delayed this long as it is. We could simply decide with a coin toss, but I doubt that anything less then a chance to complete the game would satisfy either of you. Am I right?"
"Yes," Harry answered, glaring at Draco.
"Well then! It's all settled. You will continue the match this evening. You are both excused from the remainder of your classes to prepare for this evening. Your teammates have already received similar excuses and announcements will be made to inform the rest of the students."
Draco watched as the Weasel and Granger exchanged a look and couldn't help but wonder what it meant. Seemed neither was too pleased with this newest wrinkle. Funny thing was that Potter wasn't involved in their silent communication. In fact, he seemed to have decided that his shoes were absolutely fascinating all of a sudden. A night match... Draco turned towards Professor Snape, about to ask if he knew anything about this, when Dumbledore's voice cut through his thoughts.
"Draco, Harry. You are both dismissed. Be sure to have your teams assembled at the Quidditch Pitch no later than seven o'clock. As for the rest of you, I would like you to stay for a bit to discuss dinner arrangements for this evening. I was thinking..."
"A night match," Draco murmured, falling into step beside Harry as they trooped down the stairs from Dumbledore's office.
"I've never played a game at night. I didn't think it was done."
"It usually isn't. I don't think Dumbledore's telling us the whole truth of why he's letting us continue the Quidditch season."
"Why would he lie?"
"Why would he let you face off against the Dark Lord twice on your own?"
"What are you babbling about?"
"The good guys use people too, Harry. They just have different motives."
"Professor Dumbledore wouldn't..."
"Set you up to face the Dark Lord when he was weak in order to help prepare you to fight him when you are older? If you really think he wouldn't, Potter, you're more foolish then I thought."
"Does being a liar make everyone a liar, Malfoy?" Harry hissed bitterly as they stepped out into the corridor.
"Everyone lies, Potter," Draco replied, his voice almost gentle.
"Not everyone, Malfoy, just you," Harry grumbled, wrapping his arms around his chest and stomping quickly away down the corridor.
The letter was waiting for him when he reemerged from the shower that afternoon. His room was strangely silent without the presence of his roommates, who were all still in classes or down at dinner. Though he hadn't been expecting it, Harry wasn't quite surprised to find the red-marked parchment lying on his bed when he came into the room, a towel still flung across his bare shoulders. His damp hair dripped water across his blanket and the stiff parchment as he stared down at it, taking in the message silently.
Have a care in forbidden places.
The last time he'd gotten a note like this had been on the morning of the last Quidditch match and it had been just as easy to interpret, but much easier to ignore. He'd received four notes to date and they always seemed to directly proceed some of the worst moments he'd had this year.
The first had come over the summer: Do not return to Hogwarts. Only death awaits you there. Its message had been the most straightforward of the bunch, even though he had yet to end up dead - though it had been a close call during his last ride on the Hogwarts Express.
The second had come the morning after his disastrous duel with Malfoy: This changes nothing. That note might be the biggest clue as to who was sending the notes. It had come directly after what he had thought would be an experience that would change his relationship with Draco. Something that might lead them to find some measure of peace. Of course, he didn't know for sure that that was what the note had been referring to, but if it was, then how had the person sending the notes known?
The third had come the morning of the last Quidditch match: Beware of Broomsticks. The second of the really straightforward warnings. It had been an obvious reference to danger striking during the Quidditch match, but he'd ignored it and that had been that.
Now it was: Have a care in forbidden places. Okay, probably a reference to the Forbidden Forest or the third-floor corridor, but since he didn't have any plans to go near either of them ever again, it seemed a stupid sort of warning. Then again, he'd thought the other warnings were stupid too and that had been a big mistake. Might as well at least take the note to Hermione and see what she could make of it. Or maybe Draco...
Without warning the note ignited and he watched fire lick its surface for the briefest of moments before the note was reduced to so much ash, leaving a scorch mark behind on Harry's rumpled blankets.
"Shite," Harry grumbled, glaring down at the stain.
Well, here we are again. This is Part I of Chapter 11. Part II should be up within the next couple of weeks. If you should wish to find out the status of this fic at anytime, feel free to drop by my lj, which is the best way to find out what is going on and how everything is progressing. Let's see... Huge Thanks go out to my lovely betas slightlights & vanityfair, as always because sometimes I think they work harder on these chapters then I do. Love them. Love them, I do. ^_^
Body Snatchers- A reference to 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', a classic b-movie from the 1970s. Right up there with the original 'Night of the Living Dead' in my book. :)
Cheerleader of Darkness- That particular bit of dialogue emerged from a bizarre little sketch I did of Draco Malfoy in a cheerleader uniform. Don't ask me, I have no idea what it was I was thinking when I drew that picture. -_-
Achilles Heel- A reference to Greek mythology, for the unaware. Most specifically to Homer's 'Iliad' which tells the tale of the great war between Greece and Troy, during which Achilles' heel, the only part of his body which was not immortal, was pierced by the arrow of Paris and thus he died shortly thereafter. (Paris being the prince of Troy who judged the beauty contest between Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera. He chose Aphrodite as the winner and thus received Helen, the most beautiful woman on Earth, as his prize. Helen was, as all beautiful women are, married and her husband did not take kindly to the Trojan prince taking his wife and the war began.)
"I never said I was consistent."- A line so often used by one my favorite literary characters: Anita Blake. (Love those books. Love them, love them I do.)
"You're mad, I'm mad, we're all mad here."- Cheshire Cat (Alice in Wonderland)
Questions & Answers:
(Not so Much a Direct Question, but something I think needs to be tackled)
So quite possibly not only James and Lucius were having it off, but so were Lily and Narcissa?
(Submitted inadvertently by Sharon)
Gads! No! No, no, no, no, no! Will be clearing this up and pounding this question out of existence in Chapter 12. I'm not against Lucius/James, not even close, but I'm afraid that it will not be making an appearance in this story. -_-
What's the connection? What happened with Lucius, James, and Sirius? And Narcissa and Lily?
(Submitted by Mizzy)
Unfortunately, those answers will have to wait until Chapter 12 in which many, many questions will be answered. :)
Will what the clock said resurface as being important?
(Submitted by Plumeria)
There is precious little in the story does not lend itself to some larger plot point. So, yes, what the clock said will resurface as being important later on. :)
There will be a lemon, right? At least at the end?
(Submitted by Nezumi Tenshi)
*evil grin* You're just going to have to wait and see. >:)
The wounds on Harry's and Draco's backs being healed; that will be addressed and explained sometime, won't it?
(Submitted by Didodiva)
You bet it will. In fact, you'll see a bit more about them in Part II and they will be touched on in even further detail in Chapter 12. ^_^
Have you ever thought Blaise might be a girl? Does J.K ever say whether he/she is a girl or a guy?
(Submitted by Jessica)
Firstly, Blaise's sex is never mentioned in canon and is a popular source of fanon speculation. Have I ever thought Blaise might be a girl? Frankly, no. I've always been of the opinion that Blaise is male and will stand by said opinion until the day I am proven conclusively wrong. ^_^
Special Thanks to Demeter: One of the reasons I've gone to such lengths to give the minor characters personality and history is that they (especially Pansy) are so often used as casual plot devices and that annoys me to no end and I'm always happy to meet a fellow lover of Slytherins. *g* I am on a constant mission to spread the Slytherin love around here. Snape will have quite a large part in this story starting in Chapter 12, because I love him too. :) He's a damn lot of fun to write. ^_-
Special Thanks to Molly Diane: For what was, quite simply, the most wonderful review I have every received. Thank you so very, very much.
Typical Policies: (It just blows my mind on a daily basis that I even have a policies section. -_-)
Archive Policy- If you want to archive this fic somewhere please e-mail me first. I have yet to turn anyone down, but I do like to know where my stories are. :)
Update Notification- If you wish to be notified when I update this or any of my other stories, drop me a line either by e-mail or by leaving a note in the review section with your e-mail address and what stories you would like to be notified about. Thanks!
Status Inquiries- Check out my lj (Link is on my Author's page) for the latest news.
Return to Archive | next | previous