That was the summer Harry started biting his nails.
Some things in his past stood out like beacons in a murky sea. The times in his childhood when he’d encountered wizards, without understanding who or what they were. The day he found out he was a wizard; the first time he visited Diagon Alley. The rush of eleven-year-old pride and certainty that he’d felt on mounting a broom in a windy courtyard.
It turned out that the June he started biting his nails was to be a prosaic addition to the illustrious list. It was something he could instantly recall, while memories of classes and contrary teachers and firelight on a bushy brown head and a bright red one faded with alacrity, until he could barely place them in the chronological line-up of his life.
Neville -- Neville with whom Harry had so much in common, Neville who, but for the grace of Harry, would have gone on to be the Boy Who Lived, although possibly not the Boy Who Was Reckless and Rash and Made Bad Choices and Cultivated Powerful Enemies -- also bit his nails. Down to the quick; it made Harry’s stomach turn to look at them, the little white staples in short, chubby fingers. Therefore, he didn’t look if he could help it.
Neville had once told Harry that he could remember the exact time he’d started biting them. It had been after Neville's uncle had nearly drowned him off Brighton Pier. Thereafter, whenever Neville felt fear that someone wanted to hurt him -- which, considering the attitude of the entire House of Slytherin, up to and including its Head, towards him, was pretty much all the time -- he bit his nails. Harry had wondered what, if anything, would cause him to take up this queer form of cannibalism and self-mutilation.
That had been in January, fifth year. Six months later, he found out.
Harry bit his nails. He started it in the car home from Platform Nine and Three Quarters, flicking his right thumbnail under his left index finger until it split across the top. Uncle Vernon’s new Toyota sped down the motorway, the epitome of carbonated-fuel, greenhouse-gassing, ozone-destroying technology. Harry sat in the back, slowly baking to a crisp in the double-glazed-magnified heat. He lifted his hand -- palms sweaty -- to his mouth and, almost without thinking, bit off his nail.
That was the start of it, at least.
By the middle of June, Harry’s fingernails were ten ragged stumps. The sides of his nails were hard and sore and sported long, raw-red hangnails which he peeled, wincing and hating the pain but doing it anyway, because at least it was a pain with a source, one that could be altered to remove and end the pain if he so chose.
He didn’t choose.
Harry could safely say, without a shadow of a doubt, that those weeks after Sirius’ death -- those weeks in which he had hours and hours to ponder just how much he was to blame -- were the most hateful of his life. They beat hands down other strong contenders, such as when he’d been reviled as the so-called Heir of Slytherin, the time he’d believed Sirius had betrayed his parents, the Great Coldness between he and Ron in fourth year and even his Quidditch ban, which was presumably on going.
He had not expected any sympathy from his relations and was not surprised when he received none. One day in early June, Uncle Vernon came blundering into his room, bellowing something about, ‘Look here boy … lying about in this useless manner … earn your keep!’
Harry surmised that Vernon wanted him to do the housework, as usual. Listlessly, he got up and followed Vernon, and had the handle of the Hoover placed in his hand.
It was one of the greatest discoveries he’d ever made; the noise of the Hoover was so loud, amplified by the tiny halls and the clatter it made against the skirting board -- and Harry made sure it clattered -- that it drowned out his thoughts. Eight hours later, when Uncle Vernon returned from work, Aunt Petunia from a social call and Dudley from a mate’s house party, Harry was still vacuuming the same patch of carpet. Uncle Vernon’s enraged bellows failed to penetrate Harry’s soothed consciousness. It was only when he snatched the machine away from Harry that Harry even realised that he was no longer alone.
From then on, Harry took out the Hoover as soon as he rose from bed each morning. This was not the same time as when he awoke; it was often several hours later. Each day he tested himself, to see how long he could last before he needed the fix of the Hoover’s distracting sucking-ness. Like a metaphor for the vacuum it actually was, the Hoover’s noise engulfed and quietened his thoughts like a Class A drug; he became, in essence, a Hoover junkie.
He didn’t bother with nooks-and-crannies, under-the-beds or behind-the-couches, in the manner of the pedantic Petunia. Instead, with a reassuring sameness of pattern, he plugged the power cord into the wall and flicked the switch, kicked the power button on the machine with his toe and dragged it out to the fullest extent of the power cord. Then he started Hoovering. Over and over, in a space about a foot and a half square, eyes closed, making sure to bump each side of the skirting board at regular, two-second intervals.
Soon after this, he discovered a less original addiction -- nicotine. Dudley tended to spend very little time at home -- not that Harry could blame him for that. It meant that on one stifling afternoon, when even the physical exertion of vacuuming was too much, Dudley was not around to witness Harry casting about for another distraction. Nor was he present when, driven by desperation, Harry entered Dudley's room and saw the cigarettes on his dressing table.
Thereafter, when the heat of the day grew greatest, Harry unplugged the Hoover and chain-smoked instead, littering the floor of his bedroom with cigarette butts. He stubbed them out on his friends' letters, until they resembled nothing so much as ash held together by slivers of parchment.
Harry sent only the most cursory of replies to these missives; there was nothing he could possibly say to encompass how he felt, and how he felt took over the whole world.
Harry left Number Four, Privet Drive that September without any intention of ever returning. Until the Dursleys changed their hall carpet, however, there remained a bald patch. In its faded pinkness, it stood out like a beacon -- like an illustrious item in the roll call of life-changing events -- against the deep maroon of the rest of the fabric. If Harry had thought of it that way -- if it was not too painful to think of, and too incongruous a marking-place -- it could, perhaps, have been seen as Sirius’ grave, where for a time Harry paid obeisance.
Draco Malfoy was being pitied for the first time in his life.
Ever since the Prophet had run the Malfoys’ story in their ‘real-life wizarding families’ special, he’d been inundated with owls delivering trite messages of sympathy and offering comfort and advice for the future. Few of them were from Slytherin families: they seemed to be distancing themselves from wherever the press focused the most attention.
No, his most common new pen friends were old women such as Mrs Eileen Dodger from Somerset and Healer Frances Mary from Yorkshire. They all seemed to view him as the ‘innocent victim’ of the situation. Draco would have been only too willing to play along, but total strangers cooing over his blurry black-and-white photograph and penning him lengthy messages about how utterly wretched and alone he must feel just pissed him off. It made him feel like a charity case.
Under no circumstances whatsoever did any self-respecting Malfoy accept charity.
In the beginning, Draco had found it hard to believe that every single roll of parchment delivered to the manor contained words of empathy and good wishes from the wizarding community. As an increasingly large number of envelopes arrived on his dresser crumpled, with their wax seals smeared or broken, it became apparent that Nadsy -- the chief house-elf now that Dobby was gone -- was dutifully scanning the post and burning any correspondence he thought his masters might find unsatisfactory reading.
This subtle approach didn’t work quite so well for Howlers that arrived early in the morning, though. Before the parchment began to burn, a few harsh shrieks of 'FASCIST PUREBLOODS! YOU-KNOW-WHO WILL FAIL!' would ring out through the cavernous kitchen, accusations and insults bouncing off the walls. These yells would gradually subside as the paper smouldered into ash. Then, Nadsy, looking flustered and wearing a scorched apron, would scuttle upstairs to the dining hall to serve breakfast, the acceptable mail laid neatly on a silver tray.
Draco, the epitome of composure, would cut the crusts off his toast and pretend he hadn’t heard anything, whilst his mother, predictably, would excuse herself from the table and break into quiet sobs on her less-than-dignified exit. Draco was usually immensely relieved when this happened. He despised crying females and his mother was perpetually weeping these days, moping around the house, her pale hair floating out of its once-tight bun.
Narcissa had been described by the Prophet as an ‘egotistical, flighty housewife, who did little to nothing to sustain her family’. Privately, Draco thought it was probably the most accurate description of his mother anyone had dared to pen. Prior to the scandal, Narcissa had done nothing but spend his father’s money, host elegant dinner parties for her select circle of friends and attend benefits. Now that Lucius’ secret was out, invitations to fancy events had dried up and her equally self-absorbed female companions suddenly became very interested in ‘family’ affairs and wanted nothing to do with her.
The papers had absolved her of having any connection with Voldemort – Lucius was painted as the ‘troubled husband, keeping his affiliation with the Dark Side a secret from his wife and son’ – but Narcissa did not realise or appreciate that this was a blessing. She instead mourned the disgraced Malfoy name and the fact that Sylvia Parkinson, who was new money and of a questionable bloodline, was snubbing her and encouraging their entire clique to do the same.
Narcissa's grief was wholly centred on the fact that she had fallen from her high status in society, due to the inconvenient little matter of having a husband in Azkaban. Desperate to regain her reputation, she’d arranged a follow-up interview with the Prophet, in which she’d emphatically denounced Voldemort, the ‘inherent racism so many wizarding families feel towards those with ‘impure’ blood’ and, worst of all, his father. Such blatant betrayal enraged Draco beyond belief. He could hardly bear to sit in the same room with her, although she had taken to doting on him, calling him her ‘precious prince’ and frequently wailing that he was ‘all she had left’.
Draco did not receive any mail from his friends, however. He doubted either Crabbe or Goyle would be capable of writing a letter that was legible and devoid of grammar mistakes and in any case, both their fathers were also in Azkaban. He had not received even one letter from Pansy, despite her fervent promises in the Spring term that she would write to him every day of the summer, without fail. Draco forced himself not to care.
Draco spent most of the holidays trying very hard not to think about one person. He found that if he did, he tended either to crush whatever he was holding at the time or shatter it into tiny pieces. Nearly everything wrong with his life was bloody Potter’s fault. Potter had freed Dobby and now Nadsy -- who always burnt the toast on one side and spent a ludicrous amount of time dusting -- was in charge. Potter had beaten Draco at Quidditch and humiliated him, destroying his credibility with his team-mates. Potter had told everyone the truth about Draco's father and now he was a social leper, his only ally being a grizzled witch from Somerset with bug eyes and a wart on her forehead -- Eileen had enclosed a picture.
Yes, it was far better not to think about Potter, who was no doubt gloating with the Mudblood and the Weasel about how the Malfoy family had been ripped apart. Probably boasting that Voldemort would soon be defeated. Showing off his stupid scar, adjusting his ridiculous glasses, and laughing with his friends.
Laughter had not been a huge part of the Malfoy household. You showed amusement by a small smile, or a smirk, or a curt nod of the head. Draco could remember the last time his father had laughed. It had been in his third year. Draco had summoned up the courage to ask Lucius whether or not he’d been a Death Eater, or if he'd just been under the Imperius curse.
Lucius had bared his white teeth at Draco and laughed. It had been a horrible laugh, loud and mocking, and it had made Draco feel about ten centimetres tall. Eventually, Lucius had stopped laughing, and looked Draco straight in the eyes.
‘What do you think, boy?’
Draco respected his father. He trusted that whatever Lucius had done, he had done for the best and for the good of his family. For the good of the entire wizarding community. Who wanted Muggles and half-bloods swanning around the place as if they owned it, spreading diseases and polluting bloodlines? Thirty percent of children born into mixed-blood families ended up Squibs; nearly all of Lucius' books on genealogy confirmed this.
Even though the inmates of Azkaban weren’t allowed contact with the outside world, Draco wrote to his father religiously every day. He tried to pry up a floorboard to hide the unsent rolls of parchment under, but the manor floors were sturdy and none of the boards were loose. He contented himself with putting them in the empty metal chest beside his bed and placing nine different Protection charms and hexes on the lock. He also threatened Nadsy with a painful death involving disembowelment if he went anywhere near it. Nadsy henceforth gave the box a wide berth whenever cleaning his room.
Mother was crying again today because Mrs. Zabini still hasn’t returned her owl. It’s pathetic.
I hate this. When you get out, I know you'll make everything go back to normal.
The Dark Lord is gaining power, which means that you won’t have to stay in that hole for much longer.
I can’t wait until you get out. I have to go back to school soon, so I won’t be able to write, but I will be thinking of you.
Your son, Draco.
Draco reasoned that writing the letters wasn’t at all the same as having an imaginary friend, as his father actually existed. Imaginary friends were for losers like Longbottom, who actually didn’t have anyone to hang around with. Draco had plenty of friends. They just weren’t the sort to write letters.
Draco never sympathised with his father in his letters, or mentioned that he felt sorry for him, shut away in a cell like an animal. He never told Lucius he missed him. This was for two very good reasons. Number one, their father-son relationship wasn’t exactly one that let trivialities like emotions get in the way, and number two:
Malfoys didn’t like to be pitied.
The owl was sitting in the middle of the kitchen table, amid the ruins of breakfast. Either the owl had gone berserk, or Dudley had just left. Crusts of toast formed a sun-shaped nimbus around bowls of soggy cereal dregs, two empty Pop Tart boxes and enough crumbs to sustain a colony of ants for untold generations.
It was somewhat satisfying for Harry to think that Dudley was less housetrained than a common bird. Unfortunately, Harry was the one who had to clean up the mess. ‘Unpaid slave’ didn’t even begin to cover it; unpaid slaves would probably look down their noses at him and mutter something along the lines of ‘there but for the grace of trade unions go I’.
With an expression that was curiously akin to that of Aunt Petunia’s when she discovered unscheduled mould, the bird fluttered over to the countertop. It raised a leg at Harry, who untied a letter bearing the Hogwarts crest. His heart gave a dull thud when he realised that the letter contained his OWL results.
The owl clicked her beak, and Harry -- preoccupied with staring at the parchment -- gestured towards the table in a vague, fire-at-will gesture. With the zeal of a missionary encountering primitive natives of the Congo or deepest Slough, the owl set about demolishing the scraps in a sophistic, anally retentive spiral fashion.
Harry pushed himself up on to the counter, banging his grubby trainers against the pristine cupboard doors in passing. Although he was fairly certain that he had done neither spectacularly badly nor astoundingly well, he couldn’t help hoping, and fearing … Potions … Defence Against the Dark Arts … If he didn’t get those exams, his half-crystallized dreams of becoming an Auror would crumble like so much dry bread.
His hands trembling despite himself and the three hairs he’d discovered on his chest only the day before, Harry pulled at the seal. His eyes scanned the words without re-routing any messages to the swamp that was currently masquerading as his brain. Then they began to sink in.
Astronomy -- Poor.
Harry snorted. He couldn’t feel too grieved over that, although he would have thought, in the circumstances … but bureaucracy would not lean itself towards leniency in such matters. He wondered if Hermione had fared the same, and how much of a stink she would kick up over it.
Charms -- Exceeds Expectations.
Harry’s heart gave a little leap. Well, he’d been able to answer the all the questions and the practical had been a breeze … he remembered Malfoy’s face when he’d let his wineglass fall. That was a singularly pleasing memory.
Care of Magical Creatures -- Acceptable.
Not bad. Hagrid would be happy.
Herbology -- Acceptable.
Harry wondered if Neville had an Outstanding. He was the only one who seemed to have a genuine appreciation for sticking his hands in manure.
Defence Against the Dark Arts -- Outstanding.
At that, Harry could not help himself. He gave a whoop of delight, earning himself a stern look from the owl, who was now methodically investigating the contents of the Pop Tart boxes. Harry had never realised owls were so dextrous with their claws.
Divination -- Acceptable.
No thanks to Trelawney, that was for sure and certain.
History of Magic -- Poor.
Harry winced. Hermione’s copious notes, all wasted.
Potions -- Exceeds Expectations, Transfiguration -- Exceeds Expectations.
In spite of what had to be deemed excellent results -- results that, as per their name, exceeded his expectations -- Harry felt his stomach plummet.
After everything -- all the vanished potions, the blatant bullying, the favouritism, the torture that was Occlumency, the sheer, blinding, mutual hatred -- he had done very well. And it still wasn’t enough.
Professor McGonagall’s voice rang in his head: Professor Snape absolutely refuses to take students who get anything less than Outstanding in their OWLs …
From zero to raging in under five seconds; even for Harry, that was a record. He felt the parchment crumpling under his brutal fist and couldn’t bring himself to care. Hermione, who didn’t want to be an Auror, definitely had an Outstanding in Potions. Malfoy had one, most likely.
In a fit of temper, Harry threw his letter to the immaculate floor and jumped up and down on it. After a bit, he was quite satisfied with the defined trainer-sole prints all over the embossed parchment. He contemplated them with detached appreciation, until the owl, fed up with clicking to get his attention, flew over and landed plum on his head.
‘What are you doing?’ cried Harry, flailing. His quick two-step, performed to remove his sudden avine acquisition, skidded on the parchment, revealing two hitherto unnoticed sheets.
One seemed to be a standard issue letter, signed by Professor McGonagall, requesting that he fill out the form pertaining to his subject choices so that booklists could be forwarded as soon as possible. Harry flung it aside in favour of the other; he was in no humour to be choosing subjects that would be useless to him. He’d already failed, as far as he was concerned.
The second was far less formal in tone; more of a note, in fact. One that made Harry’s eyes widen and his breath catch.
‘… It has come to my attention, Harry, that you wish to study to become an Auror. In terms of what your future will inevitably hold, I believe that this is a wise and good choice. I have conducted extensive talks with Professor Snape and, after some reluctance on his part, he has agreed to take you on for NEWT level Potions -- a necessary subject -- despite the fact that you did not fulfil his usual Outstanding result requirements. I trust that you will see how much of a boon this is from him to you and I have no doubt in the world that you will make your best effort to repay our trust in you …’
It was signed A. Dumbledore.
D. Malfoy, Ordinary Wizarding Level Results
Astronomy – Exceeds Expectations
Charms – Acceptable
Care of Magical Creatures – Poor
Defence Against the Dark Arts – Acceptable
Herbology – Exceeds Expectations
Arithmancy – Exceeds Expectations
History of Magic - Acceptable
Potions – Outstanding
Transfiguration – Outstanding
'But these are extremely adequate results!' Narcissa smiled at Draco with pride. She looked down at the parchment again and frowned, brushing a wisp of blonde hair out of her eyes. 'Why that reporter had the nerve to imply that family issues were affecting your schoolwork, I don’t know.'
'I got an ‘Acceptable’ in Defence,' stated Draco.
He hadn’t wanted to share his marks with his anyone. Unfortunately, he’d been late to breakfast and Nadsy had mistakenly delivered the envelope to Narcissa, who had ripped it open and started reading the enclosed aloud, even though it was quite obviously addressed to Draco Malfoy. Draco glared at the elf, who offered him a croissant by way of apology.
'Master has done very well,' mumbled Nadsy, fiddling with his apron strings. 'Master must be a very clever wizard indeed.'
'Yes, who cares about silly old Defence?' trilled Narcissa, tossing the parchment to one side. The top hand corner landed in the butter dish and Nadsy winced. 'You only got a ‘Poor’ in the subject taught by that abomination with the hideous accent… and two ‘Outstanding’s!'
'Potter will have an ‘Outstanding’ in Defence,' Draco snarled. 'The Mudblood will have one. Even Weasley might have managed to wangle an ‘Exceeds Expectations’. And I’m just … acceptable.' His fists were clenching and unclenching underneath the dining table, as if he were using them to pump up the rage he felt ballooning inside of him.
Nadsy squeaked nervously. Narcissa simply tutted and sipped her tea with a maddeningly serene expression. 'Calm down, don’t be petulant. At least you can still take it this year.'
'There must be some mistake,' protested Draco. He half-believed it, too. Sure, he’d fumbled the counter-jinx and his theory on defensive spells was a little rusty, but an ‘Acceptable’ just wasn’t something a Malfoy would get. Lucius would have understood. His father would have been appalled. Draco resolved to omit any mention of his marks in his next letter to his father, then remembered that the letters would never be posted anyway.
'Honestly! I think you are blowing things wildly out of proportion,' scowled Narcissa, slamming a red-nailed hand down on to the table. The glasses rattled and apple juice slopped on to the table. Seeing Draco raise an eyebrow at her erratic behaviour, she softened. 'Why can’t my little prince just be happy? You’re sure to have done better than Vincent and Gregory.'
'That’s true, but hardly a compliment,' muttered Draco under his breath. He sighed and addressed his mother aloud. 'I’m going up to my room.' He rose to leave, accidentally on purpose treading on Nadsy’s toes. Instantly Narcissa’s pale eyes welled up with crocodile tears.
'But Draco … you can’t just get up and go …'
'Why not?' asked Draco, removing his letter from the partially melted butter and using his knife to scrape off the excess grease. Attached to the results slip was a letter from Professor Snape, urging him to make his subject choices as quickly as possible, so that he could receive his booklist. Narcissa was blubbering on in the background.
'We never eat … we never sit down together … as a family …'
Draco threw the knife down on to the table with a clatter.
Nadsy watched it skid across the polished mahogany, goggle-eyed. Narcissa paused mid-sentence, a single tear glistening on her cheek. They both stared at Draco.
'This,' hissed Draco, stuffing the oily letter into his pocket, 'is not a family.' He spun on his heel and stormed out of the room, banging the door behind him. He paused at the doorway to listen to their reaction. It had been one of his more impressive exits.
There was a stunned silence for a couple of seconds and then Draco heard an odd whimpering sound. It became gradually louder and more insistent, until suddenly there was a piercing wail, which echoed around the large room and through the keyhole.
'Nobody loves me!'
'Mistress Malfoy must not cry – Mistress Malfoy must be happy …'
'But everyone hates me.'
'Mistress must think happy thoughts, please! Nadsy will take care of Mistress Malfoy …'
Draco sighed loudly and started to make his sullen way up the staircase. He couldn’t wait until school began again. It was rather difficult being the only teenager within a three-mile radius – and it would probably get even more difficult when those infamous adolescent hormones kicked in – now that was something to look forward to.
And all the weeping and wailing was getting rather tiresome.
As Harry drifted around the mostly-empty house, dropping pages of The Daily Prophet -- which he was still getting delivered -- behind him like a deranged Hansel-wannabe, thoughts settled on his mind like a bad case of dandruff. After a quiet while, he decided that everyone associated with him was in imminent danger of destruction. It all came back to Voldemort, but the fact remained that if it wasn’t for Harry and his thrice-damned prophecy, his parents would never have died, Cedric would still be alive, and Sirius would not only be living still, but a free man.
Harry came to the conclusion, as he smoked and bit his nails and ignored, for the most part, the increasingly frenetic tones of the letters arriving weekly from Hermione, Ron and Lupin, that it would be better for these people if he distanced himself from them altogether. His heart contracted to the point of implosion at the thought of being the cause of the death of any of the Weasleys, or of Hermione, or of the last remaining true friend of his father's. He knew that they would have gone to Hell and back for him, which was precisely why he didn't want to send them there.
Not for a moment did he think that they would capitulate to this decision. He knew them too well and felt, without any doubt, that their loyalty and friendship were too strong to be so easily brushed aside. Instead, it would simply have to be vanquished, with as much dedication, thoroughness and indifference as he would one day try to remove Voldemort, or as Aunt Petunia would buff African mahogany.
So when the thirty-first of July rolled around and letters and parcels began trickling in, Harry hardened his heart and refused to let Hedwig even alight before sending her off again. Back to his friends, bearing his unopened cards and presents and messages of solidarity and love. Mustering up strength from some unknown source, he managed to pen a curt missive to Lupin, apprising him of the fact that he didn’t want any more letters, that he felt presents were inappropriate in the face of Sirius’ death, that he would be much obliged if Lupin would inform Ron and Hermione that he would see them on the Hogwarts Express and not before, and -- oh, yes --
-- that he was fine.
Draco arrived at King’s Cross a full hour before the train was due to arrive. His mother wasn’t there to accompany him; she had claimed she wasn’t feeling up to traipsing around London that day. To make up for the indignity of having to catch the train without someone to see him off, Nadsy had thoughtfully packed his master a supposedly nourishing lunch of corned beef sandwiches and orange juice. Draco had nearly died when he saw the plebeian fare he was supposed to ingest, but due to his lack of breakfast, he was soon resigned to eating the horrid things.
Sitting glumly on the platform’s only bench and tearing chunks of the soft white bread off the sandwich with his teeth, Draco looked around him for a distraction. The small platform was completely deserted so early in the morning -- you could practically see the tumbleweed blowing across it. Draco sighed to himself, then heard a soft pop coming from the wall he’d entered by. A scraggly, unfamiliar young boy -- first-year, by the looks of him -- was standing awestruck by the red bricks. He was clutching a large drawstring bag in his right hand and his trunk had a purple ribbon wrapped around its middle, presumably to make it look more conspicuous. Mainly, it just made it look stupid.
'Get away from there,' Draco called out tiredly, re-wrapping his half-eaten sandwich and stowing it in his pocket. 'Unless you want your mum to trample all over you when she comes through.'
'My mum’s not coming through,' the little boy answered, gazing at Draco with respect. 'She’s too busy too see me off ‘cause she’s going to Russia for work. She works at the Ministry.'
'Oh, really? Well, my father has connections at the Ministry too,' snapped Draco without thinking. The little boy’s eyes widened. He was obviously impressed. Draco winced, but he couldn’t very well backtrack and say; ‘Oh sorry, I forgot. He doesn’t, any more. He’s actually a convicted felon and in Azkaban at the mo’.
The little boy wheeled his trunk over to Draco and stuck a grubby hand underneath Draco’s nose. Draco stared at it in obvious confusion and, after realising that Draco clearly wasn’t the handshaking type, the little boy scratched his thigh with the outstretched hand and then sat down next to him on the narrow bench.
'Pleased to meet you. I’m Matthew.'
Draco looked down at the small boy on his left. Matthew was unusually short and skinny for his age, with cropped brown hair and strikingly pink cheeks. His feet barely touched the ground and he kept swinging his legs backwards and forwards, kicking his scuffed trainers against Draco’s trunk, unabashed.
'What the hell do you think you’re doing?' spluttered Draco, pulling his expensive case out of range of Matthew’s feet. Matthew shrugged.
'My mum said I was to find the first big student I saw and stick to him like glue until the train came.'
Draco resisted the urge to say something exceedingly immature, like, 'I'll stick you like glue' or 'I'm rubber and everything bounces off me, nyah nyah!'.
'I don’t care what your mum said,' retorted Draco.
'You would care if you met my mum. She’s awful scary when I don’t listen to her. But she’s nice and everything. She gave me Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans --' Matthew pulled a crinkly packet out of his drawstring bag and waved it under Draco’s nose '-- so we can share those later, if you want.'
Draco tried hard to keep his temper. He did not need this scrawny first-year aggravating him on the very first day back. He also did not need Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans, although his growling stomach was telling him otherwise.
'You know how you always listen to your mum?' Draco asked slowly and clearly, so as to get his point across. Matthew nodded.
'’Cept sometimes I don’t -- like when she tells me to clean my room I just shove everything under the --'
'Right, well, I always, always, always listen to my mum,' lied Draco, not caring about Matthew’s ethics. 'And she said that I should never speak to strangers. So you can’t sit with me. You have to go and wait for some other first-years … you can stay over there.' Draco pointed at a green dustbin several yards away. Matthew blinked.
'I’m not a stranger!'
'Yes, you are.' Draco sneered in a superior fashion. 'I only met you two minutes ago.'
'But I’ve introduced myself and everything! I’m Matthew and you’re Malfoy.'
'How on earth do you know my name?' asked Draco, astounded.
'It’s on your trunk.'
Draco looked down at his brown leather trunk and groaned audibly. Sure enough, there was a tag that read, in silver lettering, D. Malfoy. Nadsy must have added it. So thoughtful, that elf.
'So we’re not strangers after all,' announced Matthew, brightening. 'And if you tell me your first name, we’ll be friends.'
Draco glared at Matthew. He didn’t appear to notice.
'So, are you called … Daniel?' Matthew enquired, swinging his legs higher and higher. Draco stared purposefully into the distance, refusing to reply. Matthew carried on regardless. 'Are you … David? Are you Derrick? Are you Dickie? Are you Dippy? Are you Dopey? Are you … Diana?' Matthew descended in to helpless giggles, chuckling at his own joke. Draco watched him wryly, his mouth twitching despite himself.
'Make sure to tell the Sorting Hat not to put you in Slytherin,' warned Draco. Matthew stopped laughing and hiccupped.
'Why?' he asked seriously. He lowered his voice and adopted a confidential manner. 'Is it bad?'
'No, I’m just sure that if I had you in my House I’d end up strangling you before the end of the week.'
There was a soft pop from the red brick wall. Draco tried to turn his head to see who it was, but Matthew tugged at his collar insistently.
'I want to get into Ravenclaw, anyway, because I’m really smart. I can do spells already. Kind of. Mum showed me, she held my hand while I did it and we said the words together, but I did it really. So I’m going to Ravenclaw. But we can still be friends and it’ll be terrific because I’ll know how to do loads more spells and I’ll get even smarter.'
Draco nodded absently and turned to see the person that had just appeared through the wall.
It was a dark-haired boy, a couple of inches taller than Draco but pulling a trunk several sizes smaller than his. He was wearing cheap-looking Muggle clothes: a baseball cap, slightly baggy jeans, a dark green jumper and trainers that were in much the same condition as Matthew’s. His glasses were familiar, as was his horrifically untidy hair and the small pink scar on his forehead. Harry Potter looked Draco right in the eyes. Draco stared back in defiance.
Matthew squeaked, thrilled at the tension, and Potter’s gaze dropped to encompass the small boy sitting next to Draco on the bench. Potter smiled without mirth and shook his head in disbelief, then pivoted on his heel and disappeared through the barrier once more. Draco flushed with embarrassment and scowled, furious at himself. But he couldn’t very well start duelling with Potter on a train platform with Matthew watching, could he? And to trade insults would have been setting a bad example. Draco was a Prefect, after all.
'Nice to see you back again, Potter,' muttered Draco under his breath.
'Who’s that?' whispered Matthew in childish excitement. 'What’s his name?'
'That’s the famous Harry Potter,' Draco sneered. He stared at the wall Harry had disappeared through, hating him fervently. 'Git.'
'You know his first name?' questioned Matthew. 'Is he your friend?'
'No,' hissed Draco. 'Of course not! He’s a stupid, arrogant, attention-seeking … Look, Matthew, friendships don’t work on the basis of knowing someone’s first name.'
'Oh,' Matthew said quietly. 'Well … how do they work? Because I don’t know anyone yet, and there’s going to be hundreds of kids at Hogwarts, and …'
'You’ll manage,' Draco interrupted. Matthew fell silent.
There was a few minutes’ awkward silence, in which Matthew got out his Beans and began crunching them between his teeth. Just as he offered Draco some, there was a soft pop and two blonde third-years emerged out of the wall, chatting excitedly, their trunks banging against each other. A few seconds later, their mother burst through the bricks, her blue handbag swinging wildly. Matthew glanced over at the new arrivals, then tucked his legs underneath him. A faint rumbling noise could be heard coming from the tunnel – the Hogwarts Express was approaching.
'I’m glad I had you to wait with me for the train,' announced Matthew, his mouth full of potato starch. 'That Harry Potter, he doesn’t seem very nice. He’s not friendly at all.'
'I’m not friendly!' snapped Draco, indignant. 'As soon as the train gets here, you’re on your own. I’m bagging a compartment and leaving you behind. I quite frankly don’t care what you do after that.'
'Have to sit with this boy Harvey anyway, my mum knows his dad,' replied Matthew, spraying crumbs. 'I’m just sayin’,' he swallowed noisily, 'just saying that you’re probably a much nicer person than that Potter person. Just saying.'
'I wouldn’t bet on it,' snarled Draco, but Matthew wasn’t listening. The Hogwarts Express had just pulled in, in a haze of noise and heat and steam. Matthew jumped up and watched the scarlet beast pull in to the station, a huge wondering grin on his face.
'Come on, come on!' Matthew squealed in excitement. He picked up his trunk and looked at Draco with an expectant expression. 'What’re you waiting for? The train’s here!' He started to drag his trunk towards the train, stumbling in his eagerness.
Draco stood up stiffly. With studied nonchalance, he dusted himself off and propped up his large trunk with some difficulty. A crowd of fourth-years from Gryffindor all walked through the wall at almost the same time, shouting to each other and trying to shush their owls, which had started shrieking shrilly at the noise of the train. Matthew waved madly at him from a compartment window and Draco pretended not to notice.
'Here we go,' Draco sighed in resignation. He picked up his trunk and began to make his way into the Hogwarts Express.
Harry, from his vantage point behind a useful pillar, spotted Hermione and Ron bidding their parents goodbye and walking towards the barrier to Platform Nine and Three Quarters. They had their heads together and looked very chummy, if worried, occasionally drawing apart to pull up Ron’s bockety trolley. Ginny sauntered through a few minutes later.
Harry still didn’t move; he wasn’t going anywhere until he was certain that Lupin and Mrs Weasley had left the building. He could see them in his peripheral vision. It was obscured by his baseball cap, which was pulled down low over his eyes and scar, and by the hand that was holding a Marlboro up to his mouth.
Lupin had written once more after Harry's birthday, to express concern over how Harry was making his way to the Hogwarts Express, but Harry assured him in the briefest way possible that taking a taxi would do him just fine. After all, Harry was almost certain the Order had been watching Number Four, Privet Drive all summer and that someone with pink hair had trailed him to King's Cross in another taxi.
At long last, with two minutes to go before the barrier closed, Mrs Weasley and Lupin Disapparated. Harry was free to make a sprint for it, bolting through like a doped-up racehorse. He skidded to a halt at the nearest compartment door and heaved Hedwig’s cage through, followed by his trunk. He jumped over it and shoved it all the way in as the train began to move.
Depositing both cage and trunk on to a luggage rack, Harry wandered off up the aisle, pausing at a window to take a last drag out of his cigarette before pitching it out the window. He’d filched three of Dudley’s ten-packs before he left.
Harry supposed that his friends were in their Prefect’s carriage, which suited him. The less chance of them getting him on his own, the better. He would have to start implementing his plan of alienation straight away; there was no sense in letting them think things were as normal, only to have Harry turn on them further down the line. For their own safety, Harry needed to stay away from them.
It was too much to hope that there would be an empty carriage, not judging by the amount of squealing kids -- had he really been that small once? -- cluttering up the place, chasing each other around at about the level of Harry’s ankles. Despite a summer diet consisting only of coffee, Pop Tarts and the odd slice of toast, Harry had managed to have a growth spurt since he’d last been on the train. He kept braining himself on the door frames.
Harry took to peering into compartments, executing complicated manoeuvres with his head to keep the cap over his eyes and still, actually, see. For the most part, they were filled to capacity with people he didn’t know. A sense of unease began to grow in his stomach. Fair enough, his decision to distance himself from his mates was a wise one -- at least in his own opinion -- but it left him in something of a quandary. Where, exactly, did people with no friends sit? Was there a carriage somewhere designated for losers? If so, he couldn’t find it.
At the last carriage but one, Harry found Malfoy. He was struck by the about-turn in their worn-by-tradition roles. Usually, it was Malfoy and his bouncers who popped up by the carriage doors they were least wanted, not Harry on his lonesome.
In fact, Malfoy was also quite alone. He’d had no Slytherins with him on the platform either, when Harry had first arrived and Malfoy had precipitated Harry’s hiding out on the Muggle platform. Harry wondered what had happened to the kid. Malfoy had probably eaten him.
Harry didn’t open the door, or shout imprecations through it, or make faces up against the window. All of these were tempting, if exceedingly immature options, but they would have proved fruitless as an orange tree in Greenland, because Malfoy was fast asleep. Instead, Harry felt about in his jeans pocket for another cigarette -- a John Player this time. He had no idea on what grounds Dudley bought his cigarettes. Harry could only assume that Dudley was indulging in brand experimentation or was just blind.
Malfoy slept like someone had just delivered him a punch to the solar plexus. He was all curled in on himself, his chin wedged between his collarbones, his hair smudging itself over his forehead and the carriage window. Even his hands were in fists, held in his lap. Harry decided not to focus too much on Malfoy’s lap, though, for the sake of his own mental health.
A disapproving voice broke into his reveries, making him jump out of his skin and about five metres in the air.
‘Potter, you aren’t allowed to smoke in here.’
Harry whipped around, blurting the first thing that had come into his head. ‘How did you know it was me?’
‘No one else can skulk like you, Harry,’ Susan Bones informed him. ‘Not to mention you are still dressed in your elephantine Muggle clothes. Most people with Muggle heritage don’t shop in circus outfitters, you understand, no offence meant.’
‘Oh. Right.’ After a second’s thought, Harry added, with something less than cutting sarcasm, ‘None taken.’
‘Good,’ said Susan briskly. ‘Are you going to get into a compartment? I’m sure, you being Harry Potter, you could have a cancer stick out the window in one, but there are kids in these corridors.’
‘Tell me about it,’ groaned Harry.
She came to join him at the door. ‘Look, there’s a seat in there.’
‘With Malfoy?’ Harry’s voice came out in a sort of strangled squeak. He added, after a moment, ‘I’d rather be boiled alive in my own spit.’
‘You put across a decisive argument, there,’ said Susan. ‘Come on then, mate, you can share our compartment. Hermione and Ron won’t be along for a while, I imagine.’
Harry didn't think informing Susan of his ostracism plans would be the ideal way to implement them, so he said nothing.
Instead, he trotted after Susan, who was striding along like the Colossus on an Alpine hike. The girl had huge thighs. To use one of Uncle Vernon’s more-off-colour-than-was-his-general-wont phrases, they looked like those of a Polish miner’s daughter’s. Her arms were pretty much the same; she was basically a brick with a head. Harry thought, in approval, that she’d make a dashed good Beater.
The compartment she led him to contained Zacharias Smith, Justin Finch-Fletchley and, for some reason, Luna Lovegood. Luna appeared to be humming to herself and she was rocking back and forth slightly, but there was a space by the window next to her, which Harry took without further ado. He rummaged around in his pocket for his lighter -- which seemed to have moved around in his jeans to somewhere under his arse by Geller-ian means. Justin appeared to be pontificating, so Harry paused to listen.
‘You see, the reason this country is in such a shambles is that they started letting in, you know, commoners, to high-ranking schools, you know? They just aren’t the proper sort, you know. Living in a council house is, you know, a punishment for what you did in you last life, you know? All they care about is satellite dishes, you know.’
‘Shut up, Justin,’ said Susan. Undeterred, Justin continued to ramble on and on for five thousand hours, his monologue interspersed with questions from an irritated Smith, which Justin didn't answer.
Harry flicked at his lighter, but it refused to throw up a flame. He restrained himself from chucking it out the window only by realising that he had no idea how to localise a Fire Charm on to a fag-end. Luna gave a braying laugh and Harry stared at her.
‘What’s her problem?’ he asked Susan, who kept taking very deep breaths.
‘I just have to burst into laughter at the pure unadulterated joy of being alive,’ said Luna dreamily, and promptly fell asleep.
‘Arse,’ said Susan, ‘I don’t think I have any matches left. Hang it all, Potter, here.’ She leaned over, not taking any notice of Smith’s howls of, ‘That was my knee’ and lit Harry’s cigarette with a tap of her wand.
‘Thanks.’ Harry inhaled with relief and a lovely familiar raw burning sensation.
‘Are you going to smoke that in here?’ Smith demanded in querulous tones.
‘Naw, he's going to look at it,’ said Susan. ‘Obviously this is why so much time was spent on the design, because they aren’t meant to be used or anything.’
‘I don’t want to get passive smoke!’ complained Smith.
Harry just curled his lip at him and took a long drag, fixing his eyes on a spot right between Smith’s hairy brows. He had hair growing on his top lip, too, and creeping down his cheeks like blonde poison ivy. He was something quite like a blonde gorilla with a constipated expression.
Susan rolled her eyes. ‘Don’t suppose you’ve a spare one, Harry old chap? I’m hanging for a fag. I can pay you back once we get to school, I’ve a stash in my trunk.’
‘Sure.’ Harry extracted a crumpled blue packet from the seat of his trousers and passed her a slightly bent Player.
‘-- and since they’ve opened those, you know, label warehouses, you know, every skanger is wearing Ralph shirts, you know, so that they almost look like us --’
‘What is your problem?’ asked Harry, staring at Justin. To his credit, Justin didn’t flinch, although he stumbled through a over-quota number of ‘you knows’ before recovering his thread.
‘Justin's father is a Tory politician and Justin spent the summer being indoctrinated by him. Now Justin has a problem with class distinctions,’ sighed Susan, picking up Luna bodily and depositing her beside Smith so that she could sit beside Harry and smoke out the window.
‘What, he doesn’t think they should be done away with?’
‘To an extent,’ Susan hedged, scratching her blonde plait. ‘More the fact that he resents that they exist at all. He believes everyone lower than the aristocracy are aberrations on the face of mankind bred during, I think, the mating of the Beast and the Whore, and that the Domesday Book is a roll-call of the Redeemed.’
‘You’d want to watch him --’ Harry began, but Susan just smiled.
‘Don’t worry. I warned him that if he joined up with You-Know-Who I’d break his neck with my knees.’
‘I can believe it,’ said Harry. ‘Glad to see you’re doing your bit for the cause.’
‘Oh, I’m leaving!’ Smith stood up and stormed out. Two seconds later, the door crashed open again and he stuck his head in to add, ‘I hope you enjoy your lung cancer!’
‘Watch it, Smith, you’re wrecking your barnet,’ Harry warned him.
After a while, Luna -- still snoring faintly -- keeled over and ended up face down in Justin’s lap. He didn’t notice a thing, immersed in droning on about how, ‘The House of Commons is such a bunch of low-class yes-men, you know, I’m sure they’re all shagging Major, you know.’
Harry looked out of the window, at the landscape speeding past. He wondered when his life had become so complicated and unhappy. His mouth twisted into a wry smile as he realised that it had always been like that.
When his friends finally managed to catch up with them -- his avoidance techniques would not foil them forever -- Harry was going to succeed in making his life even worse.
Harry lingered behind Susan as she marshalled her posse out of the train and into the Thestral-drawn carriages. Justin was still talking. From what Harry was desperately trying not to listen to, as he slowly lost the will to live, it was something along the lines of ‘I don’t know what they have against, you know, SUVs, just because, you know, they’re driving Micras.’
‘Shut up, Justin,’ said Susan.
Harry spotted Hermione and Ron directing first-years hither and yon and wished them the joy of it. The little boy with cheeks like apples, who had been pallying up to Malfoy earlier, was at the tail end of the group, looking as scared, lost, and bulled-up with bravado as the rest of them.
In the carriage, Harry lit up again, offering another to Susan. He wondered if he was becoming an addict. From all accounts, though, he wasn’t going to survive long enough to see the ill effects of it. He blew the smoke out the window, watching for people he knew. Hermione and Ron, looking worried, eventually climbed into a carriage.
The Entrance Hall was packed with people, who were all screaming welcomes at each other. Harry pushed through them, wondering why exactly it was necessary that people had to tell the news and give the weather at the same time. He could have taken a shower in the spit that was flying in the few metres between the main door and the door to the Great Hall.
People were flocking in, taking seats. Harry tucked his half-smoked fag behind his ear and huddled down in a seat. He watched Seamus and Dean passing him by, not recognising him, chatting loudly about Quidditch and Seamus’ chances of making the team this year. The Gryffindor team was completely decimated now. Harry had a permanent ban, of course, and even if it were rescinded, they were down a Chaser. As it stood, the Gryffindor team consisted of Ron, Ginny and the two wimpy replacement Beaters. Ron’s final performance last year notwithstanding, that was not a cheerful prospect.
Harry heaved a great sigh and decided that it was not his problem. He didn’t even have his broom; the last he’d heard of it, it was still locked in Umbridge’s office.
His brooding was interrupted when the dreaded confrontation with Hermione and Ron finally occurred. His slouch and cap might have fooled his dorm-mates, but the eagle-eyed Hermione made her way over to him like a bat out of hell, her robes flapping, looking crossed between furious and anxious. Ron trailed her, running one hand nervously through his hair.
‘Harry!’ Hermione exclaimed, just to ensure that some native tribes in the Amazon who might not have known his name now did and then some. She plonked herself down beside him, while Ron waved away random third-years to take a seat for himself on the other side of the table.
‘Where on earth have you been?’ she demanded, Ron nodding along but as yet not graduating to full speech.
'At the Dursleys,' mumbled Harry.
'We were so worried, mate,' said Ron. 'You hardly ever answered our letters --'
'-- sent back our presents,' chimed in Hermione.
'And it was a really cool Cannons poster, too,' added Ron, but Hermione glared at him.
Harry smiled half-heartedly. 'Thanks, but -- I'm sorry. I -- I can't really talk right now.'
'Don't be silly,' said Hermione in a no-nonsense tone. 'We looked all over for you on the train and on the platform -- you have to talk to us, Harry. We're your friends.'
'Yeah,' said Harry, standing up. 'You are. You are my friends.' He looked at them earnestly, his gaze switching from Hermione's determined expression to Ron's puzzled one and back again.
He willed them to understand. Telling them that they were in danger because of him was no use; they'd known that from the start. Harry would have to make them desert him of their own accord, but he could think of no better way of doing it than by walking away. Every time they approached.
'That's why I can't,' he finished. He knew it wasn't spectacularly coherent, as explanations went, but when it came to gut-feelings definitions were rendered obsolete. 'I'm sorry,' he said again, and almost ran to the far end of the table.
Hermione stood up to follow him, but Harry saw Ron place a quelling hand on her arm. Even from several feet away, Harry could see that his friend's face was troubled, but Harry didn't think he was fooling himself in seeing a glimmer of understanding there.
Harry stared down at his meagre helping of roast beef, not feeling in the least hungry. He had ignored most of the lavish meal, as well as the third-years who were sitting beside him. For once, his fame worked in his favour; the younger students were too star-struck to talk to him, much less demand reasons for his presence in their midst. For the sake of increased anonymity, however, he'd replaced his baseball cap.
McGonagall left her seat at the teacher’s table, followed by Snape, looking as stony-faced and pale as the White Cliffs of Dover. Professors Flitwick and Sprout walked together away from the Head Table; Harry assumed that they were going to reconnoitre with their Prefects, as were McGonagall and Snape. He'd seen them do this at the end of every Welcoming Feast, although he hadn't paid the ritual much attention.
McGonagall headed off down to the Gryffindor table. After poking his head into what had once been Malfoy’s gang, Snape headed on to the end of the table -- where Malfoy was sitting, alone -- with a bemused expression. Harry craned his neck to follow his movement; Snape had his hand on Malfoy’s shoulder and Malfoy was gazing up at him apprehensively, a forkful of cauliflower cheese halfway to his mouth. Harry thought it was so, so appropriate that Malfoy ate that; it tasted like processed turds and fitted his persona exactly.
This far away Harry hadn’t a clue what was going on, but he followed the exchange avidly. He almost lost his mind when someone tapped him, quite forcefully, on his own shoulder. Harry looked around to find McGonagall staring down at him.
In between surprised coughs, Harry managed, ‘Professor?’
‘With me, Potter,’ she said, as ever curt as a chainsaw to the neck.
Pausing only to wipe at his streaming eyes, Harry followed her out into the Entrance Hall. Snape and Malfoy were already standing there, ensconced in cosy conversation. They both shot Harry filthy looks when he walked though the door, almost stumbling on the hem of his robes. Near the stairs, Professor Flitwick and Cho Chang were conversing in low voices and Professor Sprout was clapping Zacharias Smith on the shoulder. Harry squinted at them, feeling a flash of precognition.
McGonagall pursed her lips. ‘Mr Potter, I called you out here to discuss the matter of the Gryffindor Quidditch captaincy.’
She paused, while Harry felt his heart soar and then plummet as brute reality came thumping back in concrete overshoes. ‘I have a lifelong Quidditch ban,’ he reminded her glumly.
‘Yes, Professor, he does,’ Malfoy jumped in, ‘for assault and gross misconduct on the pitch.’
‘That wasn’t assault, that was justice,’ snarled Harry. Malfoy tossed his head.
‘An unprovoked attack is not justice,’ he pointed out.
‘Unprovoked?’ Harry’s voice squeaked in outrage. ‘You little wanker, I’ll show you unprovoked --’
‘Mr Potter!’ interrupted McGonagall. ‘If you could return your attention to the matter at hand, I would be ever so grateful. All of Professor Umbridge’s professional and educational edicts have been annulled, as of her resignation from the post of Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher -- including your ban.’
‘Really?’ Harry’s face lit up. ‘So I can play again? And -- and my Firebolt? I’ll be able to fly my Firebolt?’
‘Yes, to all of the above,’ said McGonagall, her lips twitching at his obvious delight. Malfoy was curling his mouth in disgust. ‘And not only that, you will be flying as captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team.’
‘I -- what? Captain?’ Harry gulped. ‘Thank you, Professor!’ He grabbed her hand and pumping it.
‘Now, I hope you live up to this honour,’ McGonagall said, eyeing him over the top of her bifocals. ‘Most pertinently, in your relations with other captains.’
Harry got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach at her words. He turned, groaning, but Malfoy saved him the trouble by stepping in front of him with a grin splitting his face.
He poked Harry in the chest.
‘We’ll play nice, won’t we, Potter?’ he sneered.
Draco sauntered back over to the Slytherin table, feeling immensely pleased about what had just happened.
'Hey, losers!' Draco called out cheerfully. His former friends glanced upwards at the salutation, but once they saw who it was, they turned their attention back on to more interesting things, like napkins and cutlery. Ah, so that was their game. They were blanking him.
'As I was saying,' continued Pansy, glaring over her shoulder at Draco, 'the reason I didn’t buy the pearl necklace was --'
Draco slid into the bench space between Pansy and Heinrich Moon, casually draping an arm around each of their backs. Heinrich recoiled instantly, muttering something that sounded like ‘Mad poofter’. Blaise Zabini giggled shrilly from the opposite side of the table and there was a dull thwack as Pansy’s leather-booted toe connected with his kneecap. Blaise's eyes widened and he choked out a mouthful of desiccated sprout and saliva. The chewed green bundle flew through the air and landed in Goyle’s plate. Goyle was too busy staring goggle-eyed at Draco’s audacious behaviour to notice. No one bothered to tell him about it, either.
'Guess who’s just been made captain of the Slytherin team?' Draco whispered malevolently.
The entire table went unnaturally quiet. Everyone was straining to hear what was going on; even the excitable first-years were eavesdropping as hard as their tiny ears would allow. Pansy extricated herself from Draco’s grasp and turned to gawp at him, her considerable mouth hanging wide open. It made her look decidedly less attractive, Draco noticed.
Blaise scowled as the news sunk in and viciously jabbed the prongs of his fork into a cherry tomato, making the juice spurt all over the table. A great deal of it landed on Theodore Nott’s face, but he simply licked it off and continued to stare at Draco. Crabbe was making the best of the situation by taking the opportunity to snatch handfuls of food from Goyle’s plate. He scooped up some sprout-and-potato mush and stuffed it in his already-bulging cheeks, then tried to chew the huge mouthful as surreptitiously as possible.
'So,' said Pansy at last, 'Prefect and Quidditch captain, eh?'
'You’d better believe it,' replied Draco, cuffing Pansy on the cheek and surveying the horrified faces of the sixth-years with amusement. Crabbe made a noise like a wounded hippo as the stolen food squeezed its way down his oesophagus. 'Of course, I won’t be abusing the privilege. At all.'
There was a stunned silence. Nott went pale. Blaise cleared his throat awkwardly. Then Draco started to laugh, baring his teeth at the table and, to his utmost relief, everyone else joined in, albeit a trifle nervously. Goyle was wearing the stony expression of someone who had just wet himself in terror, but was trying hard to hide it.
'Who are the other captains, then?' asked Millicent in her throaty voice. Draco started in shock. Millicent rarely spoke, but it was always disturbing to hear her deep man’s tenor husking out of a teenage girl’s body.
'Fucked if I know who the captain for Ravenclaw is,' Draco answered carelessly, glancing over at the other three tables.
A few feet away, Cho Chang was whispering excitedly to her best friend Marietta, tossing her shoulder-length black hair. Marietta was making a huge production of gasping at every alternate sentence and was fanning herself with her fingers, a habit it seemed she'd picked up during the holidays. Her spots had cleared up quite well, although if you looked closely her skin bore a faint purplish tinge. Not that Draco intended to do anything of the sort.
Draco turned back to the table, grimacing. 'I have a horrible feeling that Chang girl made it, though.'
'What about Hufflepuff?' asked Pansy, in a voice so dripping with sugar it was surprising that her teeth hadn’t rotted out of her head. Draco was not at all alarmed by Pansy’s sudden switch from snarky to saccharine: he had spent long enough in her company to know exactly how her mind operated. Draco turned to glance at the Hufflepuff table. They all looked as mind-numbingly boring and lifeless as usual. Draco's eyes were drawn behind them, to one taller boy sitting at the end of the bench on the next table, carving shapes in to the table with a bread knife.
'Potter,' growled Draco. Everyone turned to look, with a huge clattering of plates and rustling of robes. It was hideously unsubtle.
'Potter can’t be the Hufflepuff captain, he’s a Gryffindor,' objected Crabbe, after a few seconds’ consideration. Pansy rolled her dark eyes.
'Thank you for that, Vincent.' She placed a sympathetic hand on Draco’s arm. 'So. Potty’s been made the Gryffindor captain. Big surprise there, eh?'
'He’s such a fathead,' commented Heinrich sourly, beady eyes darting towards Draco to see if he was gaining his approval. 'I’m surprised he can still fit that Muggle hat on over his ridiculous hair.'
'I rather think it’s intended to hide the disfigurement on the forehead.' A fifth-year called Vanessa Stonebridge nodded, sneering.
'Arse,' rumbled Millicent, startling them all. The entire sixth-year division of the Slytherin table was staring at Potter now, identical malicious expressions gracing each of their faces. Pansy snorted.
'What the hell do you think he’s doing with the little kids, anyway? Why isn’t he hanging around with his own gang?'
'I think he’s spreading more lies about us,' announced Draco, trying to create a sense of solidarity between them -- no mean feat, when the people in question were Slytherins. 'All of us,' he elaborated. 'He’s such a twat.'
'We should do something about him,' declared Goyle, cracking his knuckles. Draco felt a thrill of delight course through his veins, as it always did when anyone suggested bodily harm towards Potter. But realistically, there were teachers, ghosts and first-years everywhere. It would’ve been practically impossible to break as many of Potter’s bones as Draco would have liked without being caught.
'Like what?' asked Draco, sniffing. 'Dumbledore would have us all in detention before you could say The Git Who Lived. No-one hurts Potty on his watch.'
'Throw a sprout at him,' suggested Pansy.
Draco stared at her. Pansy was certainly intelligent enough to be the ringleader of her little clique and she didn’t do too badly in tests, but her idea of ‘revenge’ and his take on the concept clearly differed greatly. Then she added, a sly smirk on her face, 'Unless you’re chicken.'
Not bothering to answer this insinuation, Draco pulled his wand out of his robes and levitated a sprout twelve centimetres into the air. Pansy smiled like a snake. Draco hurriedly muttered the Banishing Charm under his breath and the uneven green sphere zoomed purposefully towards Potter, hitting him smack on the side of the head. Pansy chortled in delight and Potter looked up, green eyes blazing. Draco pretended to be staring at the ceiling, which was cloudy and dark. It looked like rain, he observed, avoiding making eye contact with anyone.
'Quick, do another one! He’s looking away!' hissed Pansy, clapping her hands together in sadistic excitement. Potter, demonstrating the self-restraint of a nomadic monk, was ignoring them. Draco picked up a slightly bigger sprout and aimed it at his glasses. This one missed its target, but even better, hit Potter squarely on the nose. There was a guffaw of laughter from the Slytherin boys, but Potter still did not react. A few of the people in his vicinity were looking around for the source of the faint 'whizzing' noises, but Draco didn't give a fig about them. Potter was the sole target for antagonism.
'Bloody git – what the hell does he think he’s doing, ignoring us?' scowled Blaise. Draco felt a tiny surge of triumph inside him at the ‘us’. 'I’m having a go – hand me a sprout, Draco.'
'Yeah, give me one too,' Heinrich joined in, glaring at Potter’s impassive face. 'He thinks he’s so much better than us … let’s see how superior he feels with a sprout jammed up his left nostril.'
Several rounds of sprouts were fired at Harry from the Slytherin table. Some hit people in the tables in between. They looked around in puzzled irritation, but as yet the projectiles were too small for anyone to realise what they were or calculate where they were coming from. One person who was stalwart in displaying no reaction was Potter.
'This is so dull. He’s never going to do anything,' whined Pansy, turning around again. Several of the other Slytherins followed suit, including Draco, who sighed in disappointment. 'Stupid, pigheaded wanker, he’s never going to do anythi – DRACO!'
A thick wodge of extra-rare steak had just slammed into the side of Draco’s head. Large dribbles of brown gravy oozed from it, the gloopy yellow fat sliding off Draco’s cheek. It left a slug-trail of glistening slime on his fair skin before plopping on to the floor, where it lay quivering like a traumatised jellyfish. Draco swivelled around slowly, brown muck already congealing in his white-blond hair, and saw Potter grinning broadly. Almost everyone in the other three houses had paused eating to gawk. The teachers were just beginning to notice something was amiss, and Professor Flitwick was on the verge of clearing his throat, when …
Not bothering to use magic, Draco grabbed a bowl of trifle that had materialised a few seconds earlier on the Slytherin table and hurled it at Potter, wishing him extreme pain. Potter leaped out of the way just in time, unfortunately, but the lumpy cream, jelly, and strawberries all ended up on the head of the girl next to him. She was perfectly motionless for a full five seconds, sitting quite calmly in a puddle of pinkish goo and looking down at the chilled fruit in her lap. The entire Hall held its breath.
A tureen full of ice-cold pea soup was emptied over the Slytherin girls, who all began wailing in fury.
Pansy Parkinson, though dripping with green slime and soaked through to her underwear, was a force to be reckoned with. Draco had never seen a more vicious use of custard in all his life.
Scraps of food began flying everywhere. Zacharias Smith leapt on to the table and started flinging chocolate pudding in all directions like a crazed war general. Ernie Macmillan grabbed some half-eaten drumsticks and tossed them at Crabbe’s massive bulk, screaming expletives. Millicent emptied a tankard of pumpkin juice down Marietta Edgecombe’s front and received a slap in the face; Millicent punched Marietta in the jaw and sent her flying. Blaise, in a fit of madness, chucked a salad bowl at the Gryffindor table. In response to this assault on their sanctuary, Ginny Weasley let out an inhuman bellow and hurled balled-up mashed potatoes into the melee.
The first-years went wild. Just having been initiated into the school and having endured the nerve-wracking torture of the Sorting, they had a ludicrous amount of pent-up tension still inside them, just yearning to be set free. This energy would usually have been spent on a whole night of incessant chattering and swapping of stories, but Draco had triggered them off early. The results were disastrous.
They howled like monkeys. They dug their hands into the cheesecake and lobbed it at the teachers. They bit members of rival houses on any part of the skin that was still exposed, leaving their victims food-stained and bruised. They painted their faces with gravy. They crawled on the floor, spitting grapes at those who had had the decency to seek refuge under the tables. Draco tried to see Potter in the midst of the custard-flying, gravy-splattering Armageddon, but the shrieks and screams of the students were disorientating in the extreme, and the unbelievable mess flying through the air kept obscuring his vision. Eventually Draco spotted him, trying to drag an over-excited -- wielding fish fingers and with unusually large pupils -- Matthew off the back of the fat Hufflepuff girl. Matthew's face was streaked with war paint, or mint sauce, and he looked as if he were having the time of his life. Draco wished him well.
Draco picked up a ladle of stew, intending to heave it at Potter while he was still occupied with extracting Matthew’s teeth from his forearm, when a strong hand caught his wrist and forced it to his side.
'That,' Dumbledore said in a quiet voice, his blue eyes hard and cold, 'will be quite enough, Mr. Malfoy.'
Just then, a teaspoon hit a first-year called Clodagh in the face. She burst into anguished sobs, silencing everyone in the Hall. Growing shy from the unwanted attention, she threw the bread roll she was holding into the air. It executed a perfect forward somersault and then landed in McGonagall’s teacup, spraying the lukewarm liquid all over the teacher's robes. Clodagh gasped, horror-struck.
'Yes,' Dumbledore said, loud enough for everyone to hear him. 'That will be enough.'
It was too much to hope that no one would receive a detention.
Harry rose before his dorm-mates, despite not having been able to sleep for hours. He put it down to excess adrenaline, or the fact that his hair had been wet. He couldn’t sleep properly when his hair was wet, it was an enormous distraction. Being horizontal and wide-awake also had a domino effect on the more southerly parts of his anatomy and doing that with Malfoy at the back of his mind had been one of the more horrific experiences of Harry’s life, even those featuring the embodiment of evil wizardry and death and things.
Now his hair was even worse than usual because he looked like he’d been quite recently electrocuted. It was not exactly a look doing the rounds on the catwalk. Harry tamped it down with water, but this only gave him a sort of corn-circle effect, with a flattened crown surrounded by spikes of hair sticking out at right angles to his head. Harry admitted defeat.
Susan was sitting at the Hufflepuff table, eating raw eggs with a distracted air and thumbing through the newspaper. Harry, after a cursory inspection on entering, found the Gryffindor table entirely deserted. Harry breathed a sigh of relief and made his way over, certain that he'd be able to finish his breakfast before his -- old -- friends came in. Before he reached the table, however, Susan hailed him.
‘Morning, old chap,’ she said, dribbling a bit of yolk.
Harry winced and managed a positive-sounding grunt. ‘'Lo,' he said. 'Any sign of the new timetables?’
‘I should imagine yours is on your table, Potter,’ said Susan, grinning at him with yellow teeth. Harry felt relief at the excuse to get away from her, at least until she had wrapped up her repast -- and raw eggs! She was going to be a formidable Beater! There was a pile of sixth-year timetables waiting to be distributed on the Gryffindor table. Harry took one and checked it. Defence Against the Dark Arts, he was happy to see, was his first lesson.
‘Hey, Bones,’ he said, ‘who’s the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher? Don’t tell me they’ve given it to Snape at last.’
‘Not a pip of it,’ Susan assured him. ‘Dumbledore said she wouldn’t be arriving until today, delayed or some such. Only fear that Snape will fill in for her if she is late.’
‘Perish the thought.’ Harry shuddered.
‘With you on that one, my son,’ said Susan, downing a jugful of milk.
Harry successfully evaded his ‘old’ friends by careful skulking in the Defence Against the Dark Arts corridor. He hared down the back of the classroom when he arrived and flung his legs across the second chair under the desk, as if daring anyone to sit there. In fact, he dared no one, because the look on his face alone would have stopped traffic at twenty yards.
Ron and Hermione, followed by a gaggle of Gryffindors, trooped in, looking excited. Ron held the door open for Hermione as they came in and something in Harry’s stomach twisted. He looked away and slumped down in his seat; they took their customary seats at the front, whispering together. Hermione looked around for Harry, but Harry refused to catch her eye, looking straight out of the window instead. He was aware that Seamus and Dean were also sending him odd looks, and he pretended he didn't notice.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ron talking in a low earnest tone. Hermione's head was inclined towards him, her expression set. It brought to mind the last time he'd seen them before the summer, after waving him off -- they had started talking together then, both wearing worried expressions. At the time, Harry had felt nothing but deep gratitude at having such friends. That had not changed, but Harry knew that he couldn't possibly risk putting them in danger ever again.
It’s for the best, Harry chanted in his mind. For the best. This way, they won’t get hurt because of me. For the best.
Harry wondered when he was going to stop feeling so bad about this.
Five minutes passed, and then ten. The time for class to begin came and went, only interrupted by the arrival of Malfoy, with a small posse and a calculating expression. At half-past nine, the class was settled and quiet, aside from the low hum of confused, whispered conversation. Harry heard Malfoy’s snickering laugh, looked up, and caught his eye. Malfoy ran his finger across his throat and mouthed, ‘You’re dead, Potter.’ It was something like a traditional morning greeting, for him.
All at once, a high-pitched voice that screamed ‘PINK!’ emanated from the corridor.
‘… because OH MY GOD, there was such a queue in the Floo Network to Hogsmeade, which is when I, like, owled Alby. Then my broomstick's Cushioning Charm deflated, so I was there ‘OH MY GOD, I’m going to be so, so late’ but then my cousin -- Mike works at the Ministry -- well, he offered to make a Portkey for me, but he forgot the charm and had to go home to look it up, and OH MY GOD, it was such a disaster.’
The speaker came through the door of the classroom, still talking nine to the dozen, accompanied by McGonagall.
‘So, eventually, I just decided to go back to the Floo Network and OH MY GOD, it doesn’t open until eight, so I had to, like wait for ten years -- but here I am, at long last!’
‘Quite,’ McGonagall said dryly, and Harry knew she was one spark short of exploding. He was the only one who noticed, though, because the class’ attention was diverted to the person who could only -- despite all visual evidence to the contrary -- be their Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. She was wearing bright pink robes with frilly things going on along the hems, sequinned flip-flops and more copper bangles than Shiva.
‘OH MY GOD, is this my class?’ The teacher looked around at them as if they were under glass, or more likely, items on a ten-Sickle sale rack. ‘OH MY GOD, they are so young!’
‘This is because they are sixteen,’ McGonagall pointed out. Her gaze raked over Harry and dragged across to Malfoy. ‘Although sometimes you seem to be dealing with cantankerous six-year-olds. Mind you do not take away their dummies too soon, Professor Lovebright.’
‘Thank you, Minnie!’ chirped Lovebright. Harry had to bite down on his lip at the look on McGonagall’s face. She swept out without another word, slamming the door behind her and sending another waft of air up Lovebright’s rather short robes. Harry could see Malfoy craning his head to try and see up it, the perv.
Lovebright perched on the desk and started swinging her legs. ‘So, students. OH MY GOD, this is so funny! Me, a teacher!’ She went off in a gale of silent giggles, legs going like pistons. Harry was not the only one eyeing the exit.
‘So, like, you guys have to call me Belinda,’ she said, hopping off the desk and wandering over to the blackboard. ‘OH MY GOD! Chalk! …Being called Professor Lovebright makes me feel ten thousand years old.’
‘How old are you then, Belinda?’ Malfoy schmoozed, and Harry wanted to strangle him. Malfoy simultaneously chatted up the teacher and high-fived Moon under the table.
Call-me-Belinda, to her credit, wasn’t falling for Malfoy’s lines. Despite her dozy manner, within five minutes they all had copies out and were taking notes on Time-Loop Curses, although Harry later found that fifty percent of them consisted of the words ‘Oh’, ‘my’, ‘god’ and ‘like’.
On their way out, he heard Hermione whisper something to Ron, who sniggered. He wondered what Hermione thought of Call-Me-Belinda; would she hate her ditziness or commend what abilities she had?
‘No,’ Harry said, out loud and angrily, scaring away a group of first-years who were gawping at his scar -- and a few older-years who were laughing at his hair.
He would just have to steel himself to not knowing these kinds of things. It was the only way.
'Hey, um Draco, right?' asked Belinda, peering at the class register in confusion. Draco looked up from his notes, smiling winningly.
'Yes, Belinda?' he purred, not bothering to drag his eyes up any higher than chest level.
'I was wondering if you would, like, see me after class? There’s just a little something that we need to discuss.'
Draco frowned slightly. He could hear muttered whispers from the rest of the class: they were all obviously trying to fathom what new trouble he’d gotten himself into. Draco glanced behind him at Potter, who was beaming hugely, almost as if Christmas had come early or he’d been offered extensive plastic surgery to remove the scar on his forehead.
'Oh no, it’s nothing like that,' said Belinda, shaking her head for emphasis. Potter groaned loudly from the back of the room. 'You’re not in trouble, Draco. But can you imagine – me – being, like, a DISCIPLINARIAN? Oh my God… I can punish you and stuff. My old teacher used to spank me …' Every male in the room, Draco included, hurriedly readjusted themselves, '… with a ruler. That’s illegal now, and it didn’t hurt anyway, but I can give you detentions!'
'We don’t really mind things being illegal,' Heinrich Moon choked out, his face purpling. 'We learnt the Unforgivable Curses in fourth year – not how to do them, of course – but it was still really … educational.'
'Oh, trust me.' Belinda smiled at Heinrich from her perch on the desk. Heinrich gulped. 'We won’t have to, like break the law to have fun. I’ve got some really great stuff lined up this term. It’s going to be, like, so cool.'
Draco smirked at his classmates and settled down obediently to finish taking notes on the Time-Loop Curses. Belinda wanted to see him after class and he wasn’t in trouble. There was only one other plausible possibility, when you took into consideration the over-familiar attitude. Belinda was going to try and seduce him.
The last few minutes of the lesson flew by. Draco didn’t pay much attention to what was going on; his mind was full of delicious fantasies involving Belinda and rulers and highly illegal activities. Everyone filed out of the room, chatting and laughing. Draco watched them and practised looking smug. Potter sloped by last of all, but Draco couldn’t muster up enough hatred to do anything than stick his tongue out at him. Belinda seemed to have become extremely hyper from the success of her first lesson and waved everyone off personally, gold bangles jangling madly on her wrist. ‘OH MY GOD, I’m not, like, giving you any homework, but I so expect you to read up on the curses for next lesson’s practical, okay?’
When everyone had left, Belinda opened the door and peered around it, checking for eavesdroppers. How sweet. Draco liked it better that way anyway, he wasn't much of an exhibitionist.
'I’m just checking that no-one’s listening,' she murmured. 'I feel everyone’s much more comfortable that way, don’t you?'
'Oh, absolutely.' Draco nodded in agreement, grinning from ear to ear. He wondered briefly which persona to take on: submissive schoolboy or reckless teenage rebel. It was up to Belinda to make the first move, he didn’t want to seem desperate or anything. She was, after all, a teacher and therefore old. Not old old, by any means, but still. Old.
'How’d the class go for you today?' asked Belinda. Draco blinked. Surely this was not how illicit teacher-student affairs were sparked off. Then again, maybe she was working her way up to the indecent proposal. Maybe it was her first time with a younger boy – er -- man. Maybe she was nervous.
'Fine,' replied Draco, biting his lip. He looked at her frilly pink robes, imagined what wonders lay beneath them and swallowed hard. 'I -- er -- like your top.'
'Because I know you’re not as strong in this subject as some of your classmates,' Belinda continued matter-of-factly, completely ignoring the compliment, 'and I’d like you to all be on the same level.'
'The same level?' squeaked Draco in shock. He stopped imagining what colour underwear Belinda had on and looked up at her face, alarmed.
'Yeah – don’t worry, I could have you tutored by one of the students that got high marks in their OWL,' Belinda reassured him, flipping through the register. 'How about you and … erm … H. Potter … is that the Hermione girl? No, sex male. OH MY GOD! I’m so stupid -- Harry Potter, of course! I could set up study sessions to cover the areas in which you seem to be deficient – assuming Harry’s not busy, he doesn’t seem to have any commitments other than Quidditch …'
'No, not him - I don’t need a bloody tutor!' Draco exclaimed in indignation. There was an awkward pause. 'I was just feeling a bit off on the exam day, that’s all,' he explained.
'A bit off?' repeated Belinda, her eyes wide. 'Draco, you can’t feel a bit off when the Dark forces are closing in, you’ve got to remain alert!'
'I know,' Draco answered, standing up to leave. 'It was just … some family trouble. Did my head in a bit.'
'Say no more,' nodded Belinda. 'Family can always drag you down a bit … look, if you need a bit of help, I’m always here and I can ask Harry if he’d like to --'
'No, it’s fine. Really.'
Draco left the classroom feeling deflated in every sense of the word. Belinda hadn’t wanted to seduce him. She hadn’t wanted to play kinky dominatrix games on the desks -- Draco had privately decided that he was a bit of a masochist. She hadn’t even wanted to indulge in witty banter and flirtatious conversation, though exactly how flirty anyone’s conversation could be when peppered with excessive use of the word ‘like’, Draco didn’t know.
No, all Belinda had wanted to do was insult Draco's intelligence by suggesting that he needed to be tutored by that specky wanker. If Draco ever needed any confirmation that the git had scored an Outstanding in his OWL, there it was. Draco looked around hopefully to see if Potter was anywhere in the vicinity, so Draco could throw his satchel at the back of Potter's stupid head. However, there was no one around except Heinrich Moon, who’d obviously been waiting for him in the corridor.
'Game,' grunted Heinrich, backing him up against a wall and pressing something into his palm. Draco recoiled, suspect of any game that burly, broad-shouldered, six-foot Heinrich might want to play.
'Card game,' elaborated Heinrich. 'High stakes, invitation only, just the right sort of crowd, y’know? Says it all on the parchment.'
Draco glanced down at the crumpled piece of paper in his fist and grinned. Wizarding poker was his strong point. He might be able to win a little more respect in the clique if he played his cards right.
'Other houses not invited, then?'
'Trying to keep it mostly Slytherins,' replied Heinrich, scratching his scalp distractedly through his straw-coloured hair. 'Some of the Claws have pretty strong stuff, though. One of their fifth-years is definitely on something, she’s always out of it. I invited a couple of them. None of the Puffs are going to be there – I don’t care if they’re stoned up to the bloody eyeballs, they’re positively moronic. When I asked around our common room, seems everyone conveniently forgot to bring some of their stash to share. We need to win something to tide us over until the next Hogsmeade weekend.'
Draco couldn’t think of a way to subtly find out if any Gryffindors were going to be at the game, so he contented himself with smirking and nodding. Heinrich turned to go, but Draco tugged at his sleeve, realising something. Heinrich looked down at Draco, one eyebrow raised in irritation. Draco noticed that Heinrich was looking a long way down and decided to turn on the old Malfoy charm.
'I don’t have any stuff on me to bet with, that okay?' Draco didn’t want his admission to the game to be withdrawn if he wasn’t able to deliver the goods. That would be mortifying -- turning up with the posse and being rejected at the door.
'Neither do I, mate.' Heinrich grinned conspiratorially. 'Just a few bags of sugar I pinched from the kitchens an’ some random herbs from the Potions cupboard. Lifelike as anything.'
'Heinrich – I’m not giving the Ravenclaws sugar to snort and weeds of questionable origin,' Draco snapped in impatience. 'They might … die or something. Or start drooling like Goyle did when he put hellebore into his joint last term. Christ, couldn’t you think of something a little less idiotic?'
Heinrich’s expression turned sour and he stalked away again in barely veiled disgust, muttering under his breath.
'Shouldn’t be too hard for you to get in, Malfoy -- just show them all your gold and you’ll have VIP entry, for Merlin’s sake. If you’re too much of a pussy to bring something, just do what you always do. Pay your way in.'
What’s that supposed to mean? Draco thought angrily. He wanted to shout after Heinrich’s retreating back and demand that the boy explain himself, but thought better of it. Draco wasn’t in the mood for a pummelling and black eyes were more of a hindrance than a help, especially when one was trying to regain one’s status in a clique. Draco let it go, but mentally scribbled Heinrich's name on the blacklist of people he was going to get at the next available opportunity. Potter’s name was at the top of the list, obviously, written in bold capitals and underlined twice.
Potter was always the first priority.
Descending into the frigid dampness of the Potions dungeon after a lazy lunch hour spent basking in the warmth of the castle grounds was a real shock to the system. In fact, it couldn’t have been more of a shock to the system if they’d come straight in from the scorching September sun and dived stark naked into a glass tank filled with ice-cubes, extremely aggravated electric eels and appliances with a lot of frayed wiring.
The only real difference was that the eels waiting for the sixth years’ inspection had obviously stopped wriggling a long time ago – they were dried and arranged neatly at the side of each desk with the other, equally nasty-looking ingredients. Instead of malfunctioning toasters shocking them into submission, there came a jolt of uneasy surprise when Snape did nothing more menacing than to instruct them to ‘Please sit down’. Everyone shuffled awkwardly towards a stool and Draco slid on to a seat near the front of the class. Blaise Zabini loyally sat on his right, still mindful of his place on the Quidditch team, but no one else wanted closer proximity to the teacher than was absolutely necessary.
'I do hope,' sneered Snape, looking around at his small group of students, most of whom were shivering uncontrollably and blowing steam on their hands to keep them warm, 'that you all had pleasant holidays.'
Draco glanced over his shoulder at his classmates. None of them were nodding or regaling the Professor with tales of their beach vacations in Majorca; they merely sat there, stunned. It seemed there were only nine pupils in the class, including him. Five other Slytherins and two wide-eyed Ravenclaws, who were already eyeing the door nervously and wishing that they’d applied for Care of Magical Creatures instead. No Hufflepuffs and only one Gryffindor -- Granger. Draco grinned automatically, but couldn’t help feeling that the class was going to prove a trifle dull if he didn’t have anyone to make fun of. Perhaps one of the Claws might knock something over in their mammoth effort not to make eye contact with any of the other students, but considering that they’d both received ‘Outstanding’s in their OWL, it was unlikely that they’d do anything too embarrassing.
'Are you cold, Mr Zabini?' Snape turned on Blaise, a sympathetic expression on his face. Blaise's teeth were chattering noisily and the sound echoed loudly in the stone room. It sounded as if three rats were tap-dancing in hobnailed boots on Blaise's desk.
'A b-bit chilly.' Blaise nodded vigorously. Draco raised an eyebrow at him. His lips were turning blue.
'Would you like me to do something about it?' inquired Snape. He peered closely at Blaise and his lank hair flopped on to his shoulders. Blaise's eyes widened in surprise and even Draco was taken aback. Snape wasn’t considerate. The Snape Draco knew wouldn’t have cared if the entire class were dying of hypothermia, as long as their potion was the correct shade of scarlet.
'Nuh-uh … I’m fine,' Blaise choked out. Snape’s eyes glinted dangerously.
'You wouldn’t like me to do something about it?'
'No, Professor – I mean yes – if it’s not too much trouble --'
'Well, then. Could you tell me exactly what ingredients a Conflagration Draught would comprise of?'
'A Conflagration Draught. It’s the brew described in the very first textbook,' snapped Snape, his eyes blazing in fury. 'It has restorative properties and is used in severely cold climates to make – but I expect you’ve been far too busy to glance at your schoolwork during the break.'
Blaise blinked in confusion, but the professor had already swept over to the Ravenclaws, who cowered at the sight of this enraged, greasy-haired man who had a nose much larger than was strictly necessary. 'MacDougal! How long would one need to distil a Simulacra Potion? Thought not. And you, Boot, when simmering water-based potions, do we add ferns before or after mosses? Didn’t read that part in the textbook my foot … you learnt that in fourth year. Moon, what elementary brew would enable a witch or wizard to easily mould a metal like iron? Forgotten, have we? Oh dear. Why are you, the best potion-makers in your year, so utterly incompetent?'
Snape picked up an inkwell and hurled it at the heavy wooden door. Draco watched it shatter numbly, black streaks trickling down the wall to form a gloopy puddle on the floor. No one dared breathe, for fear it would aggravate Snape further.
'Almost none of your marks would have been deemed good enough to merit NEWT-level study had you tried any other year. The OWL scores were exceptionally poor this time around and you dimwits were marked up as a result. If I am to teach you --' Snape inhaled deeply through his curved nostrils '-- then I had better see a significant increase in your apparent intelligence during these first few weeks. I am not at all averse to cutting students out of the class if they are not pulling their weight. Produce a single potion that I do not consider up to my high standards and you shall leave this class, never to return. Do you understand?'
The door to the dungeon opened a crack and a mop of messy black hair poked its way through. Potter glared at the small company, nodded sullenly at Snape, and then sloped towards the only available desk. Eight pairs of eyes stared at Potter as he slumped into his chair and kicked his satchel underneath the table carelessly.
'Potter,' hissed Snape, from behind gritted teeth. 'You are late.'
Potter checked his left wrist and stared at the watch for a couple of seconds before grinning amiably in agreement.
'Yeah, I am.' He whistled softly, thrusting his hand back into his robes.
Snape’s eyes narrowed and he advanced on Potter. The rest of the class sat there, terrified, whilst Draco watched with barely repressed glee.
'You have left disgusting black footprints on the floor of my dungeon,' Snape whispered, his face centimetres from Potter’s. Draco glanced at the floor. The git had stepped in the puddle of ink from the bottle Snape had thrown at the door and a trail of sticky mauve splodges led from the desk to the exit. Snape straightened up, visibly trying to control himself. 'I would like you to take that rag,' he motioned towards a slime-covered cloth that looked as if it had been drenched in mucus, lying in the corner of the room, 'and wipe them away.'
'No way,' Potter stated. 'That’s Filch’s job. I’m not doing it.'
'Potter, you will clean the floor and you will clean it at once.'
'Look, I won’t.'
'You will, or I will tell everyone exactly how you came to be in this class,' said Snape, a look of triumph in his eyes. Potter snorted rudely and folded his arms across his chest.
'Er, let me think – I came in from the grounds, and then I went over to the main staircase, and then I climbed down staircases for about three miles – this dungheap’s practically in the bowels of the earth -- and then I went down the corridor --'
'No! No Potter, I will tell them exactly why it is that you are even permitted to take this subject.' Snape smiled as Potter visibly paled.
Draco’s forehead creased with confusion. Was Snape actually blackmailing Potter? Did someone else know something juicy about the git that had passed over his head? Impossible, surely. Still, Potter was standing up, picking the greasy cloth up between his forefinger and thumb and returning to his spot. He cast a resentful look at Snape, threw the cloth to the floor with loathing and proceeded to grind the grease into the floor with his toe.
'What?' Potter looked at Snape, his eyes blazing.
'Use your hands, please.' Potter looked from the slimy rag to Snape’s face, then back again, as if he couldn’t decide which sight he found more revolting. Snape smirked.
'You must be bloody joking.'
'Not at all, Potter. On your knees, if you please.'
Looking murderous and muttering curses under his breath, Potter squatted on the floor, trying not to mess up his robes. He began to methodically scrub at the ink stains with the rag, which stubbornly refused to fade. They smudged instead, leaving a dark smear on the floor.
'The rest of you open your textbooks to page twelve,' ordered Snape, surveying Harry’s back with distaste. 'You will take notes until I tell you to stop. I hardly think you can be trusted with a practical your first lesson back.'
The class obediently opened their heavy textbooks to page twelve and began scribbling notes on to parchment. Draco paused after writing the title, his quill quivering in his right hand. Potter was scrubbing rhythmically next to his desk. Draco kicked at Potter’s stomach and the dark-haired boy looked up, scowling. He rolled his eyes when he saw Draco.
'Sod off, Malfoy,' snarled Potter, continuing to scrape at the ground with the rag, albeit a little more enthusiastically than usual.
'I only wanted to tell you that you missed a spot,' Draco whispered, nudging his inkwell so that the black liquid slopped over the side and splashed on the floor. Potter watched the stain darken and spread in silent fury, then shook his head and began to clean with increased vigour.
' And I told you to sod off, Malfoy, before I do something I’ll regret …'
'Like what?' Draco sneered, glancing upwards at Snape, who was apparently absorbed in some paperwork.
'Like having to touch you. Like having to repeatedly pound my fists into your ugly mug until your nose swells even bigger than Snape's.' Having successfully managed to eradicate one ink splodge, Potter moved on to the next of his footprints, which, unfortunately for him, was even closer to Draco than the other one. Potter gritted his teeth and knelt down by Draco’s lap.
'Merlin, I can smell you from here,' Draco breathed, his grey eyes on the textbook, but his parchment as blank as Harry’s expression. 'Didn’t manage to take a shower before class, did we? What did Snape mean when he said he’d tell us exactly how you came to be here?'
'No idea,' muttered Potter, scraping at the floor. 'You a closet philosopher, then? How did any of us ‘come to be here’?'
'Well, if you want the bloody birds and the bees,' hissed Draco, abandoning his quill, 'your stupid father knocked up some Muggle slut and nine months later, you happened.'
Potter stopped scrubbing abruptly.
'What about that thing your parents did, Malfoy?' Potter asked. 'Quite a novel way of keeping money in the family – only shagging your relatives. I suppose you can blame all your deficiencies on the in-breeding.'
'My parents aren’t related, you idiot,' Draco snapped. It was even the truth. They weren’t. Not closely, anyway. You’d have a job proving it.
'What, isn’t Daddy part of the family anymore?' Potter asked innocently. His voice grew louder. 'Not now he’s in Azkaban? Oh, I wonder what that must feel like, your family utterly rejecting you, being locked up against your will … must really suck, right, Malfoy? That must really suck.'
'If you’re whining about Dog-boy,' Draco retorted hotly, 'then I really don’t see what I had to do with that, but --'
'Don’t you go and visit DADDY on Sundays?' Potter almost shouted. 'How does he like slumming it with the rest of the Death Eater scum?'
'Potter, what exactly do you think you are doing?' Snape demanded from the front of the classroom.
Draco stood up, fists clenched. How dare that four-eyed retard insult his family like that?
'Draco, sit down,' Snape instructed, rising from his chair. 'Potter, come here right this instant. Draco, sit.'
'Don’t you talk shit about my father,' Draco warned, his voice trembling. He towered above Potter, who stood up to match his height, smiling nastily. More than match it. He was about two inches taller than Draco and he made this fact painfully clear.
'Keep your fat mouth shut then, shortarse,' Potter grinned, wiping his wet hands on the front of Draco’s robes.
Draco punched Potter in the face. To his surprise, Potter didn't duck out of the way, or catch his fist in his hand and pummel Draco in the stomach by way of retaliation. Potter merely stood there, eyes wide, as Draco’s knuckles slammed into his face with a satisfying squish.
His hand didn’t even hurt after he’d done it. Much. Except for the index finger, which was throbbing a bit.
And a crunch would’ve been nice. The sound of cartilage snapping. At such close range, he should’ve been able to give the bastard a broken nose.
In the days that followed the punching incident, his fellow Slytherins began to treat Draco with something almost bordering on respect. Somehow -- he didn’t know how, but somehow -- everyone seemed to have gotten the idea that he was a snivelling, whiny mummy’s boy who lacked the balls to do anything of any real merit. It was unbelievable, Draco reflected later, how easily vicious, untrue and hurtful rumours spread. At least he'd proved them wrong by showing that he was willing to get his hands dirty if the need arose.
'Never would’ve expected it of you,' Daphne Greengrass had commented, when she came up to congratulate him after class. That seemed to sum up the general feeling; however, this time, there was no doubt that Draco had done all the things he was being credited for. There’d been eyewitnesses this time, people to testify that the bruising was indeed caused by Draco’s fist connecting with Potter's face.
Creevey, the budding photographer in third year, had secretly taken a shot of what he termed the ‘battle wounds’ minutes after Snape had banished Harry to the hospital wing. Draco had cornered Creevey in the hallways as soon as he’d heard about it and, using both Crabbe and Goyle’s persuasive skills, he’d managed to make the boy hand over the negatives. Draco planned to develop the picture and tack it up over his bed. To use for blackmail later on. Or something.
Draco also met Matthew again, in a rather startling and unexpected fashion. Draco had been walking down the corridor, minding his own business, when a miniature whirlwind had hurtled around the corner and slammed directly into his abdomen. Draco had been quite literally floored by this unforeseen attack to his ribs and Matthew had to help hoist him up, blinking furiously in his excitement. Whether the school had done anything for Matthew’s apparent good health was debatable – he still looked like an advert for blusher, with rosy cheeks any little girl’s doll would have coveted.
'Draco!' The tiny boy squealed loudly, once Draco was no longer horizontal. 'Guess what?'
'Matthew, I’d really rather not,' Draco scowled, looking at the spiky brown head beneath him. 'What are you doing, you little twit, running around like that?'
'Running away from Peeves,' Matthew said matter-of-factly. 'But listen, I wanted to tell you – I’ve only been here a few days and I’ve already got --' he counted carefully on his fingers '-- five best friends!'
'Yay,' Draco muttered without enthusiasm, rubbing his knee.
'Harvey is my best best friend,' Matthew elaborated, 'and then Danny and Olivier are joint second – only you mustn’t tell anyone but I like Olivier a bit more because he gave me his Mad Muggle comic – and Edwin’s my fourth, but that’s only fair ‘cause he’s in Hufflepuff so I only see him in Potions and Magical Creatures and stuff.'
'You forgot the fifth best friend,' Draco pointed out, lamenting the youth of today’s woeful numerical skills. Matthew rolled his eyes, as if Draco were trying to be funny.
'That’s you, silly,' he said dismissively, while Draco sternly told himself not to be flattered just because an eleven year-old boy considered him a mate. 'Anyway, I heard you beat up Harry Potter in Potions. Gave him a shiner and everything.'
'Er, yeah I did,' Draco replied, not wanting to negatively influence his new best friend in any way. Advocating violence wasn’t very Prefect-y and since Matthew clearly considered him a role model, he didn’t want to lead him down the wrong path.
Despite Draco’s lacklustre reply, Matthew’s mouth dropped open so far that his chin practically brushed his chest. 'That’s so COOL.'
'Well, yeah. Not really. Yeah. He deserved it.'
'I had a fight in Potions with Eddie. I just poked him, though, ‘cause I like him really. Professor Snape gave us extra homework because of it.'
'Homework?' Draco repeated, wistfully remembering the meagre amount that first-years were required to do.
'On Conflagration Draughts. It was easy peasy. I’ll show you.' Matthew rifled in his bag and pulled out a slightly crumpled sheet of yellow parchment. Draco scanned it, quickly noting that it was much, much, much more detailed than the essay he’d been writing on the same topic. Considering his mother’s Ministryjob, it was unlikely that Matthew was related to Granger in any way, but it was still unbelievable. Little swot.
'You know, I could go over that for you,' Draco offered casually. 'If you give it to me, I could – er -- show you any adjustments or corrections you need to make and give it back to you by Monday.'
Matthew was fawningly grateful. 'You would do that for me?'
'Sure, why not?' Draco replied, trying to sound off-hand, as if he were the kind of lame hero who did good, selfless deeds on a daily basis. 'It’s no problem.' Draco reflected that he could get all his homework done much more efficiently if the teachers set all the firsties the same assignments.
'You know, Harvey and Danny and I got drunk the other night.' Matthew volunteered. Draco raised a disapproving eyebrow at this surprisingly daredevil behaviour.
'Bad for you,' he warned, knowing he sounded like every other sanctimonious 'grown-up' he’d ever encountered. But, in his defence, Matthew wasn’t a rotten apple -- judging from his cheeks alone -- and was obviously a good kid. Draco didn’t want him turning into one of those hardcore, smarter-than-thou, dealer Ravenclaws you saw strutting around the castle.
'Not properly,' Matthew giggled shrilly and Draco winced, praying that Matthew’s voice would break early, for his sake. 'One of the older girls had a can of beer in the common room and she only drank half of it and then when she wasn’t looking Danny stole it because she’s mean and she called us ‘snot-nosed little brats’ when we were just having fun quietly. We hate her. And then we had to get rid of the evidence so we shared it, ‘cept it tasted horrible so we added sugar and water from the tap. And then we were drunk,and it was funny.'
'Where’d you get sugar from?' Draco asked suspiciously.
Matthew shrugged his round shoulders in bewilderment. 'Just had sugar. With me.'
Draco, about to protest, suddenly recalled the days when, at any time, in one’s pockets one could find all manner of condiments, string and grey fluff. Draco didn’t like nostalgia. Also, it was highly unlikely that a Ravenclaw would be stupid enough to chug half a beer and leave the can lying around in full view of everyone. It had probably been a fizzy drink gone flat, or something. Still, he wasn’t going to rain on Matthew’s alcoholism parade, as the first-year was so obviously proud of himself. Draco stood awkwardly in the corridor, trying to think of something else to say, when a familiar phantom floated round the corner, looking for mischief.
'Why, it’s Cheeky Matthew!' Peeves exclaimed in delight, swooshing closer. 'Bless his cotton socks, he’s all embarrassed – blushing! Cheeky little Matthew, ring-a-ring-a-roses!'
'Do you have any particular purpose here?' Draco asked imperiously, while Matthew cowered behind his back. Peeves saluted him, then somersaulted and blew a raspberry.
'Perfect Prefect Malfoy, I presume? Oh, you’ve been naughty too – brawling with wee Potty, aye? Don’t worry, You-Know-Who’ll finish the job soon enough!'
'Shut up, you stupid poltergeist,' Draco snapped, edgy.
Peeves' round, transparent face turned ugly. 'You’ve all forgotten, you lot. Not that you knew in the first place. But you can’t pretend it’s hunky and dory, can’t stick your hands over your ears and say it’s not happening, because –whoops! – you’ll make a mistake, and – whoops!' Peeves con torted his features and made a grotesque face, his tongue slobbering over his chin and his round eyes rolled back into his head. Then he spun around furiously and vanished through a wall.
'He’s cracked,' Matthew announced tremulously. 'I don’t like it when people talk about stuff like that. What's his problem?'
'Go to class, Matthew,' Draco answered and with that he stomped off in the direction of the Slytherin quarters, even though he had a Study session scheduled next. Taunting Potter could wait. There was more important stuff to do.
I know it's been a while since I last wrote. I'm sorry about that. I wanted to tell you that I'
Draco sat cross-legged on a jade-green cushion and tried to compose another letter to his father. But it was pointless. He didn’t want to keep his dad posted on his mundane day-to-day activities. 'I have a new best friend, Matthew. He’s not even turned twelve yet and he’s more of an intellectual equal than Crabbe or Goyle'. Or, even worse, 'I punched Harry Potter in the face on Monday. How’re the plans to kill him going?'
What Draco wanted was answers to his questions. For example, what the bloody hell was going on? Did the Death Eaters in Azkaban discuss over biscuits and weak tea what their next move was going to be? Were they starving to death – he wouldn’t put it past Fudge, although the imbecile was being voted out of office – and unable to communicate? Did they talk to the Dark Lord? Just how strong was the Dark Lord? And what should Draco call the Dark Lord, anyway? Was he about to be recruited, was he suddenly going to be snatched away by Portkey and made to pledge allegiance to the dark side?
No-one mentioned the growing -- or was it growing? -- threat outside the school, nobody discussed death or war. Those with named Death Eater parents and no Quidditch Captaincy or connections were studiously ignored, shunned and forced to band together. It was so easy to sink into the comfortable trap of normality, to deny that anything was going on. But if they did, like Peeves said, something would happen –whoops!- and they’d all be goners.
Draco abandoned the parchment and considered starting on some homework, but thought better of it. If he was about to become a Death Eater, what help would a Conflagration Draught be, exactly? Surely the most important thing was to work on his poker game. He put down his quill and pulled open his chest-of-drawers to search for his novelty Wicked Wizards card pack. If the war to end all wars was just around the corner, Draco planned to be stoned and rich for as much of it as possible.
Harry stood underneath the faucet, scalding water stinging his body and covering him in red blotches. It made him look like he'd been mauled by a lovesick Hippogriff.
He’d been in the shower for at least half an hour. Malfoy’s comment had got to him -- not the one about his mother, although Malfoy was going to pay, and pay big, for that -- but the one about showering. Harry would be damned if he gave that git any further excuse to taunt him.
He sluiced his wet hair back from his face; little dribbles of water ran down the back of his neck, making him shiver. If he could be bothered, he’d look up a localised Drying Charm so that he’d never have to suffer wet hair again. However, trying to Desertify his hair could suck all the water out of his brain and that wasn’t something he was exactly panting to experience.
Harry looked down at the towel he’d tied, sarong-style, around his waist and sighed. He had an erection, again. It was getting to the level of ridiculousness now.
The stupidest things could trigger it off, too. Grass. A passage about tigers in his Potions textbook. Call-Me-Belinda’s low-cut top, although that wasn’t exactly stupid so much as unbearably clichéd. People’s shoes, that was another one, which was starting to worry Harry rather. Perhaps it was the Victorian in him rising to the surface -- along with other things -- but catching glimpses of ankles underneath robes had made his breath catch more times than he cared to count since he’d returned to school.
The worst thing was, boys’ ankles were as interesting to it as girls’. Likewise, it was no use telling it that someone like Heinrich Moon not fanciable, that he was, in fact, the scariest son of primates to ever crack his knuckles all the way down the corridors of Hogwarts. Logic just didn’t seem to come into it. Such as in Potions, when Harry had been treated to a ringside view of dozens of feet.
Harry’s hands curled into fists as he thought about Potions. Bloody Malfoy --
‘Oh, no you don’t,’ exclaimed Harry, only thankful that he was, as yet, alone in the dormitory. ‘I didn’t mean it like that -!’
But it was too late. Hurriedly, Harry scrambled on to his bed and pulled the curtains closed. Since third year, it had been an unwritten rule among his classmates that the showers were not to be used for any other purposes than self-cleansing, because of the yuck-factor of having to wash where someone had lately pulled themselves off -- not to mention that it negated rather the hygiene factor inherent in bathing. The other reason, that they never, ever mentioned, was the possibility of needing to wank because of having had a shower with other boys. Communal showers could be the pits, although they did provide for good fun at times, such as when they played the Soap Quidditch leagues.
However, beds were private domains and drawn curtains were as good as a Do Not Disturb sign. Although it had taken Neville a few months -- after he’d discovered he had a penis, somewhere at the end of fifth year -- to learn to bite his lip, on the whole it was a set-up that worked well.
Harry snatched his glasses off his flushed face. At least some of that could be blamed on his boiling-hot shower; so he chose to believe. He hissed out through his teeth, casting his mind about wildly for a better subject matter than that of Malfoy’s face as he stared down Belinda’s top. Seamus’ stash of Muggle porn was somewhere in the room, but Harry was too close and it would take too long, and it was either Belinda or Malfoy, Malfoy or Belinda, Malfoy Belinda Malfoy Belinda Malfoy --
‘Oh no,’ Harry gasped, collapsing forward on to the very bed he’d been trying to bury himself into seconds earlier. ‘No, no, no.’ He lay motionless for a few moments, as the true horror of his situation hit him.
‘I just wanked off to Malfoy,’ he told himself. ‘I nearly said his name when --’
It was probably the one thing you could unjustly accuse Malfoy of doing, considering his Anyone But Potter preferences. Harry’s were rather more complicated, consisting as they did of Anyone But Malfoy, Ron, Justin Finch-Fletchley and Hermione -- and that was just the short-list.
‘Again,’ he remembered, and groaned weakly.
Harry looked up from where he was seated, slumped over a desk in the Great Hall. To accommodate all the students in a detention setting -- punishment for the food-fight debacle -- Dumbledore had Transfigured the house tables into desks. Purple ones. With gilt edgings, and claw feet, and matching, purple-silk-upholstered, balloon-backed chairs. Harry didn’t think Dumbledore quite got the meaning of detention. He had even offered to send round trays of cocoa and marshmallows. His ‘I was only joking, dear students’ had also rang rather hollow and Harry had seen McGonagall’s elbow hovering near Dumbledore’s back as he said it.
Susan, two desks down and one row across from him, had twisted around in her seat and was hailing him. Harry raised his eyebrows at her.
‘Think quick!’ she whispered and tossed something at him. With a natural fear for his life from a missile of Susan’s -- who had the arm muscles of an Olympic weightlifter -- Harry reached up his hands and caught it between them.
Susan grinned at him and turned back to whatever it was she was doing. With momentary interest, Harry leaned forward and squinted at her parchment. It looked like a list. He caught the words ‘I must not kill Justin’ before she settled back into her seat and obscured it with her considerable bulk.
The thing she’d thrown him turned out to be a piece of parchment wrapped around a small, plastic-covered bundle. Harry tore off the parchment and glanced at it. It was a missive from Dumbledore -- why and how Susan had come to have it, Harry couldn’t begin to fathom -- informing him that his Firebolt had been returned to his dormitory.
For the first time all day, Harry smiled properly. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on his beloved broom once more. For a few moments, he sunk into a pleasant and for once un-sexual fantasy, about flying with the wind in his hair, one hand outstretched for the Snitch.
After an interval of grinning soppily with his eyes closed, Harry felt moved to investigate the package. His eyes widened as he realised what it was. Why on earth was Susan giving him her stash, though? He glanced back at her, and found her looking at him expectantly.
‘After,’ she mouthed, and turned back to her scribbling.
Harry noticed Snape coming up the row and shoved the little packet in his pocket. Harry had nothing else with him, not even a quill. Most of the other Gryffindors had books; nearly all the Ravenclaws had three books apiece. The Hufflepuffs were writing each other notes; Harry had had to pass several back and forth, which, if he’d had anything better to do, would have annoyed him to Malfoy-esque proportions. Snape had set all the Slytherins lines to do, or something like that; the only one near to Harry was Heinrich and he was rolling the parchment into balls and eating it.
‘Potter,’ Snape acknowledged him.
‘Professor,’ Harry returned, rolling his eyes.
‘What are you doing, Potter?’ Snape’s eyes glinted in the candlelight.
‘Nothing, Professor,’ said Harry, unable to stop his lip curling.
‘Mind you keep it that way, then, Potter,’ Snape ordered him.
‘Will do, Professor,’ Harry promised, fluttering his eyelashes. This seemed to highly disconcert Snape and he strode on his way without another word.
The hour dragged interminably. Things only started to liven up when Malfoy had the bright idea of making a peashooter out of a Transfigured piece of parchment. His aim was far from spectacular, as a lot of people around Harry came under fire also, but enough spit-wet balls slid down the inside of Harry’s t-shirt to make him fume his way through the detention.
When Dumbledore finally called for bedtime, Harry shook himself off and strode over to where Malfoy was lounging in his chair, grinning like a cat who’d just taken out extensive shares in a lucrative cream company that was on the up and up.
Harry didn’t bother to say anything. Actions spoke louder than words, after all. As Malfoy watched in terrified consternation, Harry reached out with his fist full of collected spit balls, and rubbed the wet parchment into Malfoy’s hair. Evidently too stunned to react or prevent him, Malfoy sat still as stone as Harry stood back to admire his handiwork and flicked a few strands of Malfoy’s hair so that they stood up in an even crazier manner.
‘What’s the story?’ Harry demanded, once he caught up with Susan.
‘You’ll see now,’ Susan said. ‘What ho, Kevin!’
‘Wotcher, Bones,’ said Kevin Entwhistle, and this close Harry could see that his eyes were rimmed with red and as watery-looking as a rabbit’s with myxamytosis.. He didn’t look like his hair had been washed this side of Harry’s birthday; either that, or he’d been getting hair-care tips from Snape.
‘I inspected the merchandise,’ Susan announced. ‘It’s passable, but I’ll need double that by next week. So, any news of when you’ll be getting more, Kev?’
Kevin tapped the side of his nose with a nicotine-stained finger. ‘I heard tell from a little bird that the Slytherins are having one of their get-togethers at the weekend. I have more of that on me, but I’ll need it to bet with if you want more. Otherwise, that’ll be it until the first Hogsmeade weekend.’
‘Fine,’ said Susan, handing him a couple of Galleons. ‘Let me know, okay?’
‘You could always try gate-crashing,’ suggested Kevin, throwing Harry a speculative glance. ‘With him with you, they’d probably wouldn’t stop you.’
‘No, you’re right. They’d just kill us outright.’
‘What are you talking about?’ asked Harry.
‘The Slytherin's wizarding poker ring,’ said Kevin, as if it were obvious, which it wasn’t, or common knowledge, which it most certainly was not. ‘Very exclusive, invitation-only.’
‘Is Malfoy going to be there?’ Harry wondered.
‘Is Snape a git?’ said Kevin, and guffawed loudly at his own quip. Harry just stared at him, and he coughed and added, ‘Of course. Most of the betting money comes from the gold he lays down to get in.’
‘Ah. Typical. I take it Gryffindors are barred?’
‘Yeah, but like I say, after what you did to Malfoy the end of last term, you’d get in easy. Trust me.’ Kevin scratched the back of his head, dislodging a shower of white flakes. Harry felt less inclined to trust Kevin than he would a menopausal basilisk, but at the same time, he looked like he knew what he was talking about.
‘Any of your people going?’ Harry turned to Susan.
‘Doubt it,’ she replied. ‘There’s a reason we got into Hufflepuff. And the Slytherins hate us even more than they do Gryffindors.’
‘Good.’ Harry smiled. ‘We’ll both see you there, Entwhistle. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to see a trunk about a broom.’
Stuffing a piece of toast wholesale into his mouth, Harry hitched his Firebolt tighter under his armpit and sprinted for the Quidditch pitch. He had half-an-hour before class began, but his books were all still in the dormitory and he had yet to change out of Dudley’s cast-offs into his robes.
Pausing at the entrance to the pitch to swallow and breathe, Harry hooked a leg over his broom and let his hands rest lightly on the handle. A thrill went through him as he fixed his grip and nosed the broom upwards, kicking off with his foot and immediately catching an air vent that sent him shooting twenty feet in the air. He let out a whoop of pure delight.
Of course, he was late to his first class.
There was no time to brush his hair, or shower, or sort out his books, which left him carrying enough textbooks for five classes. He suspected his robes were done up incorrectly. No time to even check what class he had. Working on a vague memory of reading the listed classroom, Harry opened the door to NEWT-level History of Magic and immediately shut it again.
Feverishly, he yanked his timetable out of his bag and scanned it. He was sure he had never signed up for History of Magic. He ran his finger down the columns. There it was. History of Magic/study period. Well, that had to be him, he supposed.
Harry tried the door once more, got his head through and saw Malfoy. He had to retreat again after that traumatic sight.
He took a deep breath and flattened his hair. His hand came away slightly sticky, which wasn’t surprising, considering the high-altitude wind in which it had been buffeted. Opening the door again to a sea of faces that looked pathetically grateful at the third interruption, he slipped inside, wondering where he was supposed to sit.
‘Ah, Mr Parker,’ intoned Binns. ‘History of Magic or study class?’
‘Oh, study class, of course,’ Harry said, before realising his eager tone could be construed as offensive to, for example, someone teaching History of Magic.
‘Very well. As you and Mr Murphy are the only students studying, you can sit together,’ Binns instructed, and Harry bobbed his head like a pigeon, wondering who the hell Mr Murphy was. ‘Well? Get on with you, boy! I have a class to bore.’
Harry gaped at him, wondering if he’d heard correctly, but Binns had turned back to the blackboard. It was covered in extensive notes executed in a miniscule, cramped hand. The class sighed collectively.
It was quite a large class, too, Harry discovered. He supposed it was easy -- no practicals or anything -- if amazingly stultifying. He glanced around, trying to spot someone with, for example, a Transfiguration textbook instead of a History one, and who could conceivably be called Murphy.
However, as he made his way to the back of the classroom, no one fit the criteria. Harry, with a sinking feeling, spotted Malfoy, sitting alone and with a Defence textbook open in front of him.
‘Oh, you have got to be kidding me,’ he groaned.
‘Please take your seat, Mr Parker, and cease disturbing my class!’ Binns chirped from the front of the room.
‘Oh, fuck no,’ Malfoy breathed, eyeing Harry with equal horror. Seeing no alternative, Harry slammed his bag on to the desk beside Malfoy and threw himself into the chair next to Malfoy’s.
‘Ew, Potter, get your elbow out of my space,’ Malfoy sniffed.
‘Shut your gob, or I’ll put more than my elbow into your space,’ Harry warned him.
‘Oh, yeah? I’d like to see you try.’ Malfoy smirked. ‘After all, you’re the one around here who had his eye blacked.’
‘You think I couldn’t have stopped you if I wanted to?’
‘Come off it, Potter. You so did not just let me hit you.’
‘Oh, really? Maybe I get off on pain. Now shut up, Malfoy, your voice makes me want to vomit.’
‘Fuck you.’ Malfoy’s eyes were blazing with suppressed rage.
‘Don't even offer,’ snapped Harry.
‘I wouldn’t touch you if you were the last person on earth,’ Malfoy snarled.
‘Makes you wonder why you punched me, then,’ said Harry. He raked his fingers through his hair and glanced in Malfoy’s direction. Two spots of brilliant colour glowed in the centre of his cheeks, like an old woman’s rouge. It made quite a startling contrast to the anaemic paleness of the rest of his complexion.
‘By the way,’ Harry added, ‘for the record, what you said about my mother -- watch your stupid skinny back, because I’m going to get you for it.’
‘Ooh, I’m scared,’ Malfoy snapped.
‘Good,’ said Harry. ‘It’s something wimps are.’
‘I’m not a wimp!’ retorted Malfoy.
‘Tell that to someone who cares.’ Harry yawned. ‘Actually, I might not kill you, just wipe your arse on the Quidditch pitch.’
‘You wish, Potter.’
‘Ever heard that history repeats itself? Pretty true, I reckon, in that you keep losing to me. Long may it continue.’
‘I hate you,’ Malfoy hissed.
‘Wow, I’d never have guessed,’ said Harry, pretending to look hurt.
Malfoy turned back to his book, feigning deafness, but Harry heard him whisper, ‘Wanker.’
‘That’s true,’ Harry agreed. Telling the truth was enormous fun -- at least when it was too shocking to be believed. ‘Do you want to know what I think about, Malfoy?’ He tilted his chair closer to Malfoy’s, so that their shoulders were touching and Harry’s hand was clenching on top of Malfoy’s spare quill. Malfoy shuddered away. ‘Do you?'
‘Fuck off, Potter!’ Malfoy said, again, his voice sounding distinctly shrill. He looked like he was about to have an aneurysm.
Leaving his desk-mate shivering in anger and disgust, Harry turned his attention to his homework. Snape had set them a long essay on Conflagration Draughts, which, if he was lucky and wasn’t distracted by, say, killing Malfoy, Harry should be able to get a good start on.
Once shocked into silence, Malfoy was tolerable to sit beside. His breathing made Harry want to kick him in the throat, but it was nothing Harry couldn’t handle. Once Malfoy had got his second wind, now, that would undoubtedly be nasty.
Binns’ droning voice hurt Harry’s head after a while and, once he had five inches written, he took a break. Malfoy was staring at his Defence book, looking confused. A tiny crease had appeared between his eyebrows and he was twirling his quill in his long, skinny fingers.
Great. Harry groaned mentally. Quills were now added to the list of inexplicable things that gave Harry an erection.
To distract himself, Harry glanced at Malfoy’s parchment. He raised his eyebrows.
‘You’ve got that wrong,’ he said. ‘Time-Loop charms are classified as debilitating, not life-threatening and you need to be three feet away, not two, for that question.’
‘Did I ask you?’ Malfoy demanded.
‘Why are you even in that class?’ said Harry, feeling himself begin to sneer. ‘The whole point of it is defending yourself against the Dark Arts -- and dark wizards. I would have thought that you’d be on the offensive, not the defensive.’
‘Harry Potter, thinking? How singularly extraordinary,’ retorted Malfoy. ‘I don’t need your help, thank you not at all.’
‘Why, what is it that you do need -- aside from a good thrashing?’ Harry asked. He let his lips curl in a shark-like grin.
‘Potter, lay off or I’ll --’
‘What? Set your minions on me? As you so aptly put it, ‘ooh, I’m scared’.’ Harry tilted back his chair and stared out the window at the slate-grey sky, on which large storm clouds were gathering. They looked like Malfoy’s eyes.
Harry winced. He seriously could not believe he was now getting turned on by clouds. Pretty soon, he was going to have to go to the bathroom and deal with certain situations that were liable to arise.
He managed to last until the end of class, though. As he stuffed his numerous books and ten inches of Potions essay into his bag, he noticed that Malfoy’s parchment had two crossed-out, corrected answers.
Harry rolled his eyes.
Something was digging into Harry's side. He shifted in his chair by the common room fire, feeling annoyed. All the effort of sneaking down after hours to finish his homework, so as to avoid those he was trying to protect, was rendered useless if he was going to be so distracted. Harry fished down the side of the chair and withdrew a thin black tube. Curiously, he uncapped it, and snorted. It was a pencil that someone had abandoned. An odd pencil, too, with crumbly lead -- and since when did pencils come with lids?
He rotated the tube in his fingers and discovered the answer to the mystery in the gold gilt lettering along the side. It read Mrs Skower’s Best of Black Waterproof Eyeliner. Harry knew what eyeliner was; he’d often heard Hermione denigrate the amount Parvati Patil and Pansy Parkinson wore. Or perhaps that was the other thing -- mascara? Harry poked himself by accident and gained a black line on his hand for his troubles.
An idea grew in his mind as he looked at the dark streak. He slipped in to the deserted bathroom and took off his glasses. He laid them on the sink and leaned closer to the mirror to find his reflection again. Almost without thinking about it, he pulled down the eyelid of his eye and ran the pencil over it. It went on smoothly, which Harry hadn’t expected. As he came to the corner of his eye, his hand slipped and the tip of the pencil went into his eyeball. Harry promptly dropped it and managed not to yowl in pain.
When his eye stopped watering, he returned to his reflection. He now had one normal eye and one red-veined one. He put his glasses back on, and studied the effect more closely.
For some reason, his left eye looked … bigger. The uneven black line along the bottom of it seemed to give greater separation between his eye and his eyelashes, and his eyes looked very green as a result.
Harry decided he rather liked it.
Pansy grinned, a cigarette lolling out of her open mouth. She bent down low over Draco’s chair so her cleavage brushed his back, and wrapped her pale arms around his neck possessively. They looked like the pale, quivering tendrils of a jellyfish, Draco reflected. One he didn't fancy getting stung by.
'I want to be on Draco’s team.'
Heinrich grunted in barely concealed irritation, nursing his pint. Draco disentangled himself from Pansy with reluctance. All the Slytherin girls were watching them from the sofa in the corner of the old basement room, nudging each other and whispering in hushed voices. They looked as if they might be discussing baby names or something equally disturbing. Draco looked hopefully at the only female not discussing his and Pansy’s relationship. Millicent stared back with a face as set as concrete.
'Poker isn’t a team game, Pansy.'
'I know that.' Pansy pouted, brushing her long hair behind her ears and draping her arms around Draco again. It was like trying to grapple with an extremely persistent octopus. 'I just meant we’ll share whatever you win. We will, won’t we?'
'I might not win anything,' Draco murmured. Pansy laughed and blinked her stubby eyelashes at him in what she clearly hoped was an alluring manner. Draco resisted the urge to ask her if she had cataracts.
'Of course you will, silly,' Pansy purred.
Either Crabbe or Goyle opened the door again and it swung open, the doorknob hitting the stone wall with a clang. There was the ominous sound of hob-nailed boots marching briskly down the stairs and then Mark Smythe and Bernard Something-or-other appeared; two seventh-year Ravenclaws wearing matching ankle-length dragon-hide coats and smug expressions.
'Ugh,' one of them said loudly, surveying the surroundings with distaste. It was Smythe. He looked hard at everyone in the room who looked as if they possessed an ounce of testosterone and therefore might be a potential threat. Some of the more surly Slytherin boys tried to outstare him, but failed. Millicent, however, returned his gaze unblinkingly with a stony stare of her own.
With the quiet arrogance of someone who clearly considered himself better than everyone in the room, Smythe motioned to Blaise to get him a chair. Blaise, to Draco’s astonishment, sullenly stood up and proffered his stool to Smythe. Smythe hesitated for a second, then, in a manner that suggested he was doing everyone present a huge favour, took the stool and sat down on it. Something-or-other pulled a large package out of his coat pocket and gave it to Heinrich to add to the pot.
'Hey, gorgeous,' Smythe leered, staring at Draco. Draco felt something contract in the pit of his stomach. Smythe was good-looking in a dangerous sort of way; he had a shadow of rough stubble all over his jaw and his eyes glinted evilly. Draco hadn’t thought Smythe was the type to be a poofter, but he’d just called Draco gorgeous in front of all these people. Draco licked his lips nervously, unsure of how to react.
'Hey yourself,' Pansy replied coyly, her chin still resting on Draco’s shoulder. Draco felt his skin flush scarlet. He told himself he ought to be relieved, but he just felt embarrassed and highly idiotic.
'Your boyfriend drag you down here for the game, did he?' Smythe asked. 'Hey – why’s he gone all red?'
'We’re not boyfriend and girlfriend,' Pansy answered, standing up and preening. Draco turned his head to look at her in astonishment. 'Well, we’re not!' Pansy hissed self-consciously. A titter went up from where the gaggle of girls were sitting cross-legged on the couch.
'Are we ever going to start?' Draco snarled at Heinrich. Smythe glanced at the door, distracted.
'Yeah, Heinrich old boy, as attractive as the company is …' He looked pointedly at Pansy, who let out a high-pitched giggle. ‘My associate and I can’t tarry forever.'
'We need at least five,' Heinrich answered Draco, gripping his tankard. 'Jenkins isn’t playing, he’s just here with Smythe. Entwhistle from our year said he might turn up for a bit.'
'I’m not waiting here for little kids who might or might not turn up,' Smythe announced. 'Look now, it’s you,' he indicated Blaise with a gruff nod of the head, 'yes, you there and Malfoy, Heinrich and me … can either of the two outside play poker?' Smythe asked, referring to Crabbe and Goyle stationed at the door.
'They can barely read, let alone play cards,' Draco snapped. He was beginning to get a headache from the incessant talk going on behind him.
'Figures,' Smythe huffed. 'None of you lot have got a single spark of intelligence, otherwise you’d have sorted this out properly … bloody sixth-years …'
'I’ll play!' Pansy trilled eagerly, desperate for any attention. Smythe glared at her, running a hand through his dark brown curls.
'You -- have you ever played poker before?'
'No, but I’m sure I’ll pick it up as I go along --'
'Shut the fuck up,' Smythe interrupted, shaking his head emphatically. Pansy looked scandalised. 'Sit down before you hurt yourself. And please don’t go anywhere remotely near the cards.'
Pansy slunk into a corner with two of the most loyal members of her clique, looking daggers at Smythe and whispering furiously. If he noticed the sudden animosity, he didn’t seem to care. Everyone fell quiet for a while, during which Pansy made hurt noises and Smythe glared at Heinrich, Blaise and Draco as if it was their fault that Entwhistle hadn’t turned up yet. Bernard shuffled over to the table to pour himself a drink.
Suddenly there was the muffled noise of an angry conversation going on outside the door. It sounded like someone was trying to get in, but Crabbe and Goyle were having none of it. They’d been inordinately excited about having the power to turn people away, but so far, everyone who’d wanted to get in had been given instant permission.
'Come on boys, I’m sure there’s better things you could be doing with your time,' a soothing female voice crooned.
'No other houses allowed,' Crabbe boomed. 'That’s the rule.'
'Well, there should be a rule against having a mug as ugly as yours, but you don’t see me enforcing it, do you?' This voice was male and cocky, nothing like Entwhistle’s whiny drawl.
There was a pause, and then the company heard Crabbe speak again, sounding more than a little bemused.
'No Gryffs or Puffs, they said. It’s against the rules.'
'We’ve got stuff for the pot, would you just --'
'No Gryffs or Puffs. Against the rules.'
'Fucking Merlin,' Smythe muttered resentfully. 'If he’s got shit to put in the pot …'
'Just let him in,' Draco ordered Heinrich imperiously. 'Entwhistle’s late. Just let whoever it is in.'
Heinrich scowled, but quickly drained the last of his Firewhisky and yelled up the stairs.
'Oi! Vincent! Let them in!' There was a pause, and a muttered conversation could be heard from above them. Eventually, Goyle shouted something back down.
'Are you sure?'
Heinrich rolled his eyes and the rest of the Slytherins snickered.
'Yes, I’m sure! Let him and the girl in, all right!'
'But he’s --'
'I don’t care if he’s the fucking Minister for Magic!' Heinrich bellowed, standing up. The chattering students quieted, impressed. 'Just let him the fuck in and then lock the door, so we can FUCKING START!'
There was the sound of the door being unlocked and then the footsteps of two people coming down the stairs slowly, trying to see their way in the dim light. Smythe gave Draco a wolfish grin.
'What’ve you got for us?' Smythe called up to the newcomers.
'Some pot,' someone shouted back down. The loud sound echoed off the walls of the basement, distorting the voice. Draco thought it sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place it. Smythe grinned.
'Some pot for the pot,' he muttered. 'Anything else?'
'Just a pocketful of gold,' the new boy said, ducking to avoid the overhang in the low ceiling. He grinned at them all, a paper bag clutched in one hand, his wand in the other. His eyes were ringed with black and his dark hair was as crazy as ever, making him look like a wide-eyed sprite in dusty robes. The chubby girl from Hufflepuff stood behind him like a watchful bodyguard, arms crossed over her mammoth chest. She glared defensively at Heinrich, who cringed. The room was deathly silent. You could have heard a pin drop. You could have heard several pins drop.
'Come on guys,' said Potter. 'Let’s play.'
Harry surveyed his surroundings with undisguised interest, running his tongue along his lower lip. Entwhistle had been happy enough to give directions to the secret den, one that Harry recognised from the Marauder’s Map as being a disused laundry room. The walls were still lined with long, deep shelves, but instead of towels they housed flickering oil lamps and several items of negligible legality; for instance, at least three of the objects were hookahs, and well-used ones at that.
The room’s occupants were all staring at him and he could tell that Susan, for all her placid confidence in her bull-like stature, was nervous of intruding on the snake’s territory.
He broke the silence. ‘Come on, guys. Let’s play.’ He let a suitable interval pass, and added archly, ‘Or are you afraid?’
‘Why on earth would we be afraid of you?’ one of the boys at the table demanded. Harry didn’t recognise him; he was wearing a long coat instead of robes and three weeks’ worth of stubble.
‘I’d ask Malfoy that,’ said Harry, dropping on to a stool and throwing a glance to his arch-nemesis, who was looking red in the face. Harry stared at him, thinking that, with his pale face and flushed cheeks, he resembled nothing so much as a constipated china doll. Harry wondered if he’d get a chance to slip in that particular analogy at some point in the game. ‘He’s the best qualified, after all.’
‘Potter,’ Malfoy ground out at last. ‘What in seven hells are you doing here?’
Harry ignored him, speaking instead to the coated boy. 'Hey, what’s your name?’
‘Smythe,’ the gorgeous one said, sounding affronted.
‘Oh.’ Harry pondered this, waving Susan to a seat beside him, next to Heinrich. ‘Anything to Zacharias?’
‘In Hufflepuff? I should bloody well think not,’ Smythe retorted, his be-ringed hands clenching into fists. ‘I spell mine with a y. And an e.’
Harry rolled his eyes, opened the bag and withdrew Entwhistle's package, which he tossed into an ornate silver bowl -- inscribed with snakes and rude Latin passages -- sitting in the centre of the table. A couple of packets of cigarettes -- Marlboros -- were laying about and Harry drew out one and lit it with Dudley’s lighter. Smythe was gaping at him.
‘They’re mine!’ he managed.
‘Fine,’ Harry said, in a bored tone. He flipped the boy a Galleon, which he caught instantly. Harry pursed his lips in approval. Quick reflexes, that one had. ‘Is a hundred okay for starters? I don’t have any more on me.’
‘A hundred what?’ Zabini wanted to know.
‘Galleons,’ said Harry impatiently. ‘For the betting. Entwhistle said you use gold, yes?’
‘Yes,’ said Zabini, his eyes shifting between Harry and Malfoy. Harry followed his gaze; Malfoy was looking utterly murderous, but as that was, for him, a common expression in Harry’s presence, Harry couldn’t see that it was anything unusual.
‘How much’d you bring?’ Heinrich asked Malfoy, sounding amused.
‘Fifty,’ muttered Malfoy. 'I -- fifty.' He stared at Harry in pure loathing. It made Harry feel alive.
'I’ll deal,' Heinrich growled. He picked up the cards, cut them, and then went into a whole elaborate routine of spinning and flicking and tossing the cards up into the air. Draco stared at Heinrich's blurring fingers in amazement. Even though he’d been playing poker since he was a first-year, he still only knew one way to shuffle a pack: pick up a thick wodge of cards. Shove it between another wodge of cards, so that the cards in the first wodge are evenly dispersed. Repeat.
'You’re doing that wrong,' the Hufflepuff girl told Heinrich suddenly, pointing. Heinrich ignored her and continued to twist his wrist in a jerky fashion, so that the cards from one of two piles jumped over on to the other stack, executing the kind of back flips a gold-medallist gymnast would have been envious of. Suddenly, a card whizzed vertically in the air and then flopped unimpressively into Draco’s drained glass. The edges curled and turned brown in the damp puddle of Firewhisky and the Hufflepuff girl grinned with satisfaction. 'Told you so.'
'Look, what the hell do you know about cards?' queried Heinrich, stung. He glanced at Blaise, who was trying to fish the soggy card out of the cracked glass with his still-lit cigarette. The alcohol in the glass ignited and an orange flame shot between his knuckles. Blaise squealed and threw the smouldering card on to the wooden table, nursing his scalded fingers. The girl picked it up gingerly between her forefinger and thumb and examined it.
'I know enough not to shuffle the Inventory card along with the rest of the pack,' she announced primly, displaying the sooty rectangle to the rest of the company. Draco craned his neck to take a look at it. Sure enough, it read: Serpentine Playing Cards®. This limited-edition pack contains...
'For fuck’s sake,' Smythe complained, glancing meaningfully at Bernard, who was still standing silently in the corner. 'Don’t tell me you haven’t even taken out the Jokers. This is ridiculous.'
'Of course I took out the bloody Jokers!' Heinrich hissed, turning pink. He glared out at them all from behind his straw-coloured fringe, but avoided making eye contact with the Puff, who was looking decidedly smug.
'Either way, I think you’ve done enough shuffling,' the girl said, masterfully taking the cards from Heinrich and palming them. Heinrich’s blush rapidly darkened from Humiliation-Pink to Indignity-Violet and the Slytherin girls tittered meanly. Draco glanced at the girls and saw Pansy fuming because another female had taken centre stage.
'Maybe Susan should deal,' suggested Potter, looking Draco straight in the eyes. Draco made a hideous face and scowled.
'Maybe you should shut your mouth, Potty.' He glanced at ‘Susan’, who was watching him placidly with soft, cowlike eyes. 'Who said the Puff was playing, anyway?'
'Course she’s playing,' Harry said sharply, sitting up straighter. 'She’s sitting at the table, isn’t she?'
'Yeah, she’s sitting at the table, all right,' sneered Draco. 'She’s so big, she could almost be the table.'
Pansy let out a hooting, derisive laugh and Harry’s face went hard.
'I’d be a bit more careful about criticising other people’s physical characteristics if I were you, Malfoy,' he murmured dangerously. 'Especially when you’re so lacking in certain areas.' He stared pointedly through the table at Draco’s crotch.
'Lacking my arse,' Draco exploded, rising from his seat. 'I bet you’ve never even seen one as --'
'Small? Green? Deformed?' Potter offered helpfully, standing up as well. 'I’m sure I have, I watch the Discovery Channel, you see. It’s where I learnt about in-breeding. Mammals which breed your way often have bad temperaments, are pathetically weak and have absolutely tiny --’
'Look, boys,' announced Smythe, placing a warm hand on each of their forearms, 'I’m sure they’re both huge. Enormous, even. You’re walking tripods, both of you. But Susan’s just dealt, and I’d really appreciate it if you … yes, that’s it. Sit down. Good. Good boy.'
He ruffled Potter’s mop of black hair affectionately and made as if to pat Draco on the shoulder, but thought better of it.
'I’m going to win, Potter.' Draco gritted out, not knowing what a ‘Discovery Channel’ was and not really caring. At that moment he wanted nothing more than to reach out across the table and strangle Potter to death while at the same time kicking him systematically in the groin. 'I’m going to make you and your stupid Puff girlfriend sorry you ever tried messing with us.'
The Slytherins muttered their approval. Potter gazed apprehensively at the sea of unfriendly faces surrounding him and Draco grinned. Potter was just beginning to realise how utterly unwelcome he was. A Slytherin carrying a quill was more likely to want to stab him to death with it than ask for an autograph.
Smythe rolled his eyes, grabbed the overly shuffled pack of cards and began to deal. Nobody ventured to gainsay his right to. As he did so, he demanded, ‘So who’s the banker in this poxy game?’
‘I am,’ said Draco immediately. There was no point in giving someone else the chance to usurp his clique by showing even a second’s uncertainty.
‘Well, you planning to get out the chips at all tonight?’ Smythe finished dealing. Blaise ended up with the jack, and inexpertly began to shuffle and deal a card to each player.
Draco scowled and fished in his pocket, retrieving the velvet bag of magical chips. He poured them into the pot, and after an interval of clattering, they flew out to each player. Draco was mightily annoyed to see that Potter had the most blue chips of anyone, followed by Susan. They must have some good quality stuff in there.
‘Pansy,’ ordered Draco, ‘come over here and mind the stuff.’
‘Okay, darling.’ Pansy simpered at him and shot daggers at Smythe. It was obvious that she was punishing Smythe for his impudence. Draco found himself wearied by her games.
‘What are the limits?’ Potter asked, his kohled eyes narrowed to slits. Draco shifted uncomfortably under his smouldering gaze.
‘Answer him, Heinrich,’ Draco instructed, curling his lip at Potter. What was with his eyes, anyway?
‘Minimum bet, ten whites, maximum bet …’ Heinrich paused, shooting the Puff a challenging look. ‘Whatever you dare.’
‘We playing tigers and dogs?’ Smythe drawled, blowing his cigarette smoke in Draco’s face. Draco was hard pressed not to wince.
‘Why not?’ Draco agreed. ‘Unless our … visitors … can’t handle it.’
Potter was still staring at him, Draco realised, as he turned back to him to smile spitefully. Potter just laughed, which Draco took for a denial of his claim.
'Opening with a twenty red bet,' Heinrich grunted, eyeing his hand. He nudged Susan in the ribs and she started in shock. Draco was surprised she could feel the poke through the blubber. 'Your turn now.'
'Harry is not,' Susan retorted, placing her cards face down on the table. 'My boyfriend,' she clarified, looking at Heinrich’s confused expression.
Draco’s heart gave an inexplicable leap of triumph and he quickly assumed an expression of extreme nonchalance. Couldn’t care less, he sing-songed silently. Susan narrowed her big brown eyes at him. 'I call the bet. Twenty reds.'
'Thirty reds,' Potter stated. His gaze hadn’t moved from Draco’s face.
'Thirty,' Blaise mumbled, looking miserable. Smythe glanced at Bernard, who gave a slight nod of his head.
'Thirty,' Draco managed numbly, after checking his hand.
'Thirty,' Blaise mumbled, looking miserable. Smythe glanced imperceptibly at Bernard, who gave a slight nod of his head.
Draco tried to stay cool and relaxed, tried not to tense any of his muscles, tried not to jump up and down and grind the cards into Potter’s ugly mug. It took a mammoth effort.
It’s hard not to crack a smile when you know you must’ve won.
‘One pair,’ Blaise mumbled. He looked thoroughly miserable. Draco rolled his grey eyes in exasperation. It wasn’t as if Zabini was remotely bloody likely to win anyway, he was simply there to make up the numbers. Despite the irresistible urge to really give Blaise something to sulk about, Draco didn’t voice this opinion out loud. Better not to make a scene.
'One pair,' said Draco with a sigh, avoiding Potter's mocking gaze.
Smythe put his cards down too, an equally sour expression on his face, which was otherwise half shrouded in darkness.
‘Three of a kind,’ he stated icily.
Heinrich snorted loudly and unnecessarily and threw his cards on to the table. Another three of a kind. Draco felt an uneasy twinge in the pit of his stomach. Potter was grinning lopsidedly, in a way that suggested he’d been spending the last couple of minutes maintaining a carefully neutral expression. This wasn’t what Draco had hoped for, when it had become apparent that Potter and the Puff weren’t leaving any time soon. He’d hoped that Potter would lose round after round after round, preferably to him, so he could smirk and deliver a few scathing put-downs and then at the end of the night they’d slink back to their common rooms, tails between their legs.
‘Well, gentlemen,’ Potter drawled, emphasising the first syllable of the word as if it were some kind of hilarious pun, ‘it appears I have a Full House. That beats what Malfoy had, which was – let’s see now – nothing, it beats a pair – come on, don’t look so glum, there’s always Exploding Snap – and it definitely beats a Three of a Kind, so …’
‘Four,’ the Susan girl interrupted. Potter paused and shot her a look. ‘Four,’ she said again, placing her cards down on the table calmly. Four nines and the six of spades. ‘Of a kind, you dolts. So I win, yes?’
The chips lying in the centre of the table levitated and flew straight into her outstretched arms. Smythe looked faintly impressed, Blaise furrowed his brows until he was more wrinkle than boy and Heinrich gaped in unflattering shock. Potter swallowed hard, having been dealt a blow by the loss of his prize.
‘Right, anyway, well done,’ he sighed magnanimously. ‘You can sell that and buy yourself something pretty from Madam Malkins.’ Draco blanched - he didn’t find he thought of seeing those thighs squeezed into pink frilly dress robes a particularly attractive prospect. Judging from the Susan girl’s expression, she didn’t either. ‘Or you could always, you know, get high,’ Potter finished lamely.
‘Betting interval?’ Smythe grunted. ‘I’m not taking anything off, little girl, as much as you may want me to. It’s fucking freezing.’
‘Fine then, underwear,’ the Susan girl replied briskly. She looked at Heinrich coldly. ‘What are you wearing?’
‘What? You can’t --’
‘Oh come on, this isn’t even hard,’ the Susan girl tutted. Heinrich turned purple, and made a face that suggested he was sucking on an unripe lemon.
‘Boxers,’ he managed eventually.
‘I don’t know!’
Susan gave a long-suffering sigh. ‘Check, then!’
‘Green, ones from Gladrags,’ he growled, once he was composed enough to talk.
‘Not that hard, really, is it?’ The Hufflepuff turned her steely gaze on Draco. ‘And you?’
‘Boxers.’ When she didn’t reply, Draco elaborated. ‘Silk ones. Look, I’m not going to provide you with more fodder for your twisted fantasies, you sick pervert.’
Potter bristled at this, but the Puff merely shrugged and turned to Smythe, who smiled coldly at her.
‘They’re … black.’ Half the room -- including Pansy, although she tried to pretend she wasn’t listening -- leaned forwards, waiting in anticipation for him to expand on this. But before he had a chance, Blaise interrupted with his own banal revelation.
‘Mine are boxers too.’
‘Lilac ones, with his name embroidered on the back!’ A mean voice called out from the crowd. Millicent wolf-whistled. Everyone sniggered cruelly and Blaise turned first green and then scarlet, muttering foul curses that would probably have injured a lot of people had a wand been in his hand.
‘Harry?’ the Susan girl asked loudly, above the jeers and catcalls. The room fell silent instantly. Potter grinned, revelling in the attention from his audience.
‘Not wearing any.’
‘Fuck off,’ Draco retorted in disbelief. Potter’s black-rimmed eyes widened considerably.
‘Would you like me to prove it, Malfoy?
‘Yeah, right -- no,’ Draco sneered, unable to think of a suitably cutting comeback.
The girl called Susan shook her head in a tired manner and began to deal the cards again, leaning low over the table to pick them all up. ‘Harry, we all believe you, now get your hands away from your buttons.’
Potter complied, raising his eyebrows challengingly at Draco, who made a disgusted face. Smythe looked ever so slightly put out.
‘What about you, then?’ Pansy screeched in a scandalised tone, exhibiting all the natural decorum of a warthog. ‘You can’t leave yourself out! What the hell are you wearing under that circus tent?’
Pansy’s posse stared at Susan maliciously. The boys at the table looked at her. Even Jenkins, immobile in the corner, turned his head ever so slightly to peek. Draco looked out of curiosity, though he doubted Pansy’s sudden interest in the girl’s underwear had anything to do with fairness of game rules or equality of the sexes.
‘Not that it’s any of your business, but red flowery lace,’ Susan answered. ‘Can we get on? Thirty blues, I think.’
‘Thirty,’ said Heinrich, after a beat. His face was a uniform pink.
Pansy was looking more like a pug than ever. One that was in dire need of a muzzle.
‘Thirty,' said Smythe.
Blaise muttered angrily, ‘I fold.’
‘You haven’t got enough chips, you mean,’ Smythe corrected him, fingering Blaise’s meagre heap of red and blue discs with distaste. ‘What the hell d’you think you’re doing here when you didn’t even bring --’
‘Thirty,’ Potter said, looking as if he wanted to bet his entire pile. Draco glared at him.
‘Oi, Malfoy. Wake up,’ Smythe said rudely, startling Draco out of his reverie.
‘Thirty blues,’ he blurted out, without even looking at his cards. Cursing inwardly, he picked them up and checked them. He surveyed the table, trying to look normal, or even vaguely upset. The fat Hufflepuff girl sighed deeply as she laid out her cards.
‘One pair,’ she exhaled.
‘Nothing,’ Heinrich admitted grudgingly. He crooked his finger on the inside rim of his left ear and flicked out a piece of wax. Smythe looked suitably revolted before talking.
Potter laughed out loud, for some mysterious reason, and looked directly at Draco, placing his hand on the table. ‘Say hello to a straight flush.’
‘Hello,’ Draco replied coolly, not dropping his gaze. ‘Now, you say hi to my straight flush. King, Queen, Jack, Ten of Hearts, Nine of Hearts.’
‘No way,’ objected Potter. He threw a creased card in Draco’s face. It bounced off his nose. ‘That’s the Nine of Hearts. My flush: Nine of Hearts, Eight of Hearts, seven, six, five.’
Draco looked down at the cards in front of him. There were, indeed, two identical Nine of Hearts. He turned them over. Both had the pack’s green serpentine design printed on the back. He looked at Potter, who was seething with fury, again and shrugged.
‘So? My flush beats yours anyway, Potty.’
‘What the fuck?’ Smythe shouted very loudly. ‘If there are duplicate cards, then someone’s been fucking cheating. And if someone’s fucking cheating, I want my fucking chips back right now.’
‘Look, mate --’ Heinrich began, in a reasonable voice.
‘Right fucking now,’ repeated Smythe. There was an ominous popping noise from the shadows in the corner. Draco was slightly disturbed, until he realised that it was the other Ravenclaw, Jenkins, cracking his knuckles. By the time the full implications of this had registered, he was significantly more disturbed.
‘Malfoy’s been cheating, the slimy git,’ Potter accused him, standing up. Smythe stood up too, knocking a shot glass on to the floor. Clear liquid pooled around the base of the chair.
‘Bugger off, Potter,’ retorted Draco, rising. Pansy broke through her group of friends and stood behind him supportively, holding a stubby cigarette and stroking his head with her free hand. Draco appreciated the sentiment, he really did, but he didn’t fancy being fondled like a newborn hamster. Shaking himself free, he glared at Potter. ‘If anyone’s cheating, it’s you and your stupid fat girlfriend.’
‘I want my fucking chips back,’ Smythe growled, addressing Draco directly.
Heinrich, who had been busy observing the fascinating things that were going on in his lap, tried again. ‘Look, mate --’
‘Heinrich, I’m not your fucking mate.’
‘You slimy cheater,’ Potter hissed, his fists clenching.
Draco’s pale cheeks burned. He was gaining a particular sensitivity towards the word ‘slimy’.
‘You’re just a poor loser,’ he sneered. ‘There aren’t any brooms in poker; you can’t win all the time.’
‘At least I don’t buy myself into every game,’ Potter spat, his eyes blazing with green fire. ‘Spending all of darling Daddy’s money – Voldemort give him a good salary, does he?’
There was a sharp intake from breath from the crowd at the mention of the name. Draco almost felt the cool air whooshing past, being sucked in by numerous pairs of lungs. Tracey Davis swooned dramatically and fainted into Blaise's arms. Draco shook in anger.
‘Your fucking mother,’ he said slowly and deliberately, ‘sucks cock in hell.’
Oddly enough, Potter didn’t jump on him immediately. He stood perfectly still for a few seconds, whilst the whole room watched in terrified anticipation. Jenkins started backing towards the wall and making emphatic gestures to Smythe behind his back. The Hufflepuff girl clutched at her robes. Potter’s eyes bored into Draco’s skull; Draco stared back in defiance, matching the chilly stare with one of his own. It only lasted about three seconds, but it seemed to take an eternity.
Potter let out an inhuman roar, overturned the table -- scattering cards, chips, drinks and an extremely heavy metal ashtray in all directions -- and leapt on Draco, knocking him to the floor.
It was a whirlwind mesh of noise and heat and fists. Pansy, who had fled to the safety of the stairwell, was currently screaming blue murder, as were the rest of the Slytherin girls -- those who weren’t in floods of tears or unconscious. Blaise throwing alcohol on them in a futile attempt to get them to break apart, Heinrich was yelling ‘Calm down’ in an increasingly desperate voice as the other boys placed bets on who was most likely to win, and someone -- Smythe, surprisingly -- was having an exceedingly hard time trying to prise Potter off him. Draco wasn’t so much fighting with Potter as grappling with about twenty-six flailing limbs all at once and trying to minimise the amount of grievous bodily harm the boy was obviously intent on causing him.
Potter was staring wildly into his face, his eyeliner smudged slightly because of the tankard of Firewhisky Blaise had chucked on them. This made his eyes look even more terrifyingly intense and slightly insane. Potter was spouting innumerable incoherencies through gritted teeth, none of which Draco could understand – if he didn’t know any better, he’d have thought he was slagging him off in Parseltongue.
‘Calm down,’ Draco said helplessly, echoing Heinrich. This was Potter angrier than he’d ever seen him. ‘For Christ's sake, calm down.’
‘Let go of me!’ Harry shouted at whoever was trying to hold him back.
Whoever it was refused to listen and Harry was twisting out of their grip at the same time as his flailing fists screwed themselves into Malfoy’s hair to repeatedly wallop his head against the floor. Harry's knee jerked up between Malfoy’s legs right into his crown jewels. On the other, sane-by-comparison side of the red-hot haze of rage, Harry noted in satisfaction the anguished wince on Malfoy’s face as that particular hit registered.
Malfoy’s hands were scratching his face but he didn’t seem to be trying to actually fight Harry so much as get away from him. The person behind Harry had a strong hold on his upper arms, so they were getting dragged along as Harry pounded Malfoy’s head into the floor. Harry wasn’t stupid enough to try and punch Malfoy’s face; he’d probably break his own hand and his only objective was to cause Malfoy much excruciating pain, not himself.
Malfoy was mouthing something; Harry, thinking it was more slander against his mother, evaded the grip on his arms to throw himself flat on top of Malfoy, his knee slamming painfully against the floor but succeeding in scoring another strike against Malfoy’s weakest area.
Harry’s hands were still tangled in Malfoy’s hair; he gave them a vindictive tug as he leaned in to whisper, ‘What did you say, you bastard?’
Malfoy didn’t even seem to be hearing him. This close -- with Harry’s own mouth practically squashed against Malfoy’s ear -- Harry perceived that he was whimpering, ‘Calm down, calm down, calm down.’
Harry made a face and pounded Malfoy’s head against the flagstones again. Malfoy'd started this -- he’d started it long, long ago -- what call did he have to be begging quarter now?
Stopping to think was his undoing. Someone -- the same or a different person who’d had a grip on Harry before, Harry was in no position to judge -- wrenched his arms behind his back. Taken unawares, Harry left it too late to resist; instead he let loose a howl of pain. The person yanked him to his feet, still holding his arms in a death-lock behind him, so that his back was arched almost to right angles. He kicked out at Malfoy, huddled in a moaning ball on the floor, as he was dragged away.
‘Potter, what the fuck?’ a low, smoky voice, incandescent with anger, hissed in his ear. Trembling with rage and adrenaline rush, Harry nonetheless felt a new shiver begin, this one deeper and starting from the pit of his spine.
Harry became absolutely still and turned his head to take in the person who’d intervened. It was none other than Smythe, who was holding Harry’s hands against his own stomach in one hand and had his other arm crossed tightly against Harry’s body. Harry could feel Smythe’s stubble rasp against his cheek as he fought to catch his breath.
‘I said, what the hell did you think you were playing at?’ said Smythe. Harry shrugged.
‘He insulted my mother,’ Harry pointed out.
‘And we’re on his turf! We’re surrounded by Slytherins!’ Smythe shook his head. ‘Fucking Gryffindors. Not a teaspoon of logic between them. If I let you go, will you promise to let Malfoy be?’
‘I will -- for now,’ Harry said grudgingly.
‘Good,’ said Smythe, and dropped his hands. Harry felt suddenly cold and he rubbed at the goose pimples that had sprung up along his arms. Smythe regarded him from under his eyebrows.
‘I’d go now,’ he added, ‘before the snakes realise what exactly you’ve done and gang up on you.’
‘Where’s Susan?’ Harry asked, turning his gaze back on Malfoy. Pansy had descended upon him, squawking, as soon as Harry had been pulled away, but Malfoy had pushed her to the side. He was now on his hands and knees, coughing up blood.
‘Just go!’ Smythe instructed. ‘I’ll cover you.’
Harry made a confused face at him. He didn’t know why Smythe was moved all of a sudden to watch Harry’s back; he couldn’t say with certainty that he’d even seen the boy before in his life.
Something sparked in the depths of Smythe’s eyes and Harry felt his stomach drop away. Smythe raised a hand and ruffled Harry’s hair again, and smiled when Harry jerked back from him.
Susan was waiting behind a statue in the corridor; she grabbed his hand and pulled him all the way to an empty classroom at a sprint. Harry, who’d been freezing and was now puffed, sank on to a chair and massaged a stitch in his side. He raised his eyebrows at Susan, who was looking uncommonly pink.
‘Sorry, Harry,’ she said, her eyes sparkling, ‘you provided the best distraction ever, but they were bound to notice as soon as you stopped grappling with Malfoy.’
Harry meant to say, ‘Notice what?’, but somewhere on the route to his mouth the words got changed to, ‘What do you mean, grappling? I was fighting him!’
Susan made a face at him. ‘He wasn’t exactly rolling with the punches, was he? At one stage you looked like you were going to kiss him.’
‘Kiss him?’ Harry jumped to his feet, a dramatic move somewhat marred by the fact that his sore knee gave way and turned it into a sad little lurch. ‘I wasn’t kissing him! Are you insane?’
‘I don’t know. You tell me,’ Susan said, holding up a packet of something suspiciously familiar and waving it in Harry’s face. In his utter shock, Harry forgot all her earlier, completely incorrect assertions.
‘You stole the pot?’ he gasped.
‘You better believe it,’ said Susan, looking smug. ‘And --’ she delved into her pockets and dropped a handful of gold on to Harry’s lap ‘-- I don’t know how much that is, but it’s all I could grab. I would’ve got more, but Heinrich was watching.’
‘Is he the one who threw a drink at me?’ asked Harry.
‘No, I think that was Zabini,’ said Susan.
‘Oh,’ said Harry, sinking back against the chair. ‘Are all poker games this eventful?’ he added as an afterthought.
‘No,’ said Susan. ‘Usually when someone cheats they just get kicked out of the game, and have to put their knickers on their head or something. But you and Malfoy together confound expectation.’
‘That wasn’t a compliment, was it?’
‘Merely an observation,’ Susan said. She bit her lip. ‘And Smythe?’
Harry’s body gave an involuntary, pleasant shudder at the name. He closed his eyes, trying to recall the feel of his body against Harry’s.
‘What about him?’ he remembered to ask, at length.
‘Oh, nothing,’ Susan said, hiding a smile. ‘Nothing at all.’
Harry checked his watch. Five-thirty-three. No one in Gryffindor should be up at this unholy hour.
He slipped into the bathroom and closed the door firmly behind him before stripping off his robes, which were stained with dirt, Firewhiskey and something that could have been blood. In which case it was Malfoy’s blood and thus the robes were forever contaminated and would require defumigation, if not exorcism, before they could be worn again.
It was the most amazing feeling of relief to finally shower. The little hot darts relaxed muscles that Harry had never realised he was tensing. Inspecting his battle wounds, he discovered that had bruises on his arms from Smythe’s hands and grazes all over his neck from Malfoy’s nails. Some of them were quite deep and stung when the water hit them.
As he massaged shampoo into his hair, which had almost solidified, Harry wondered what Smythe's motivations had been in breaking up the fight. These thoughts so distracted him that a soapy stream of water got into his eye without his noticing.
Harry rubbed the shampoo out of his eye and his hand came away black. He scowled at it. This makeup thing was a lot more effort than the air headedness of its principal female devotees would suggest.
With a sigh, Harry went to fetch a towel and his glasses before he broke the cardinal rule of the boys’ dorms and just made it to his bed.
It was too stupid that shampoo had to be added to the list.
‘Harry! Harry, you awake?’
‘Mmhp,’ replied Harry, opening his sleepy eyes into a faceful of coconut-smelling hair.
The curtains were wrenched open, flooding his vision with bright light. He moaned.
‘Harry,’ Ron said, then his eyes widened. ‘Harry, what did you do to yourself?’
‘What?’ Harry said, putting a hand to his face. However, Ron’s gaze was directed downwards.
‘Did you get into some kind of a brawl -- with a cat?’ Ron wanted to know.
‘Er, not as such,’ said Harry. It was too early and he was too tired and mentally weak to come up with something suitably cutting to drive Ron away. He pushed past him and pulled a jumper and socks out of his trunk.
‘You didn’t forget, did you?’ Ron asked.
‘Forget what?’ said Harry, through the jumper, which he was preoccupied with pulling over his head.
‘Quidditch tryouts!’ Ron said. ‘The notice was posted last week. Seamus is going for Beater …’
His voice trailed off. Harry pulled the jumper down, leaving his hair haloed with static. ‘That’s good,’ he said. ‘Ginny going for Chaser?’
Ron nodded. ‘So - I’ll see you on the pitch?’
‘Of course,’ said Harry. Feeling this was far too friendly for his plans, he ignored Ron’s tentative smile. Ron made a vague gesture, before nodding and heading down the stairs.
Harry waited a suitable interval before taking the stairs down two at a time, bounding across the common room and scanning the notice board. It said ‘Quidditch tryouts: 12 midday’. Harry breathed a sigh of relief.
Then he glanced at his watch and bit back a scream. ‘Damn!’ he whispered.
It read 11:45.
There was no time for Quidditch robes, no time for forward planning, no time for breakfast. Harry tore down to the pitch, almost tripping over his jeans three times, and made it to the broom sheds just as the team was gathering.
‘He’ll be here any minute,’ Ron was promising. ‘He was just going over some strategies in the dorms.’
Harry’s heart swelled with some inexplicable feeling that made him feel achy and full. Choosing not to analyse it, he yanked his hair somewhat flat and pulled up his jeans.
‘And -- there he is,’ Ron said, his face lighting up with relief.
‘Right,’ said Harry, pretending a brisk efficiency he was far from feeling. ‘So we’re trying out for a two new Chasers and some reserves, right?’
‘And a Beater,’ said Ron in an undertone. ‘Jack Sloper quit.’
‘What a shame,’ said Harry, not quite softly enough. The other Beater shot him a nasty look.
‘Why aren’t you in robes?’ Ginny inquired. She looked very businesslike, with her hair pulled back tightly and her broom held on its end.
‘I’m not going to be flying,’ improvised Harry. ‘I -- er -- want you to split into two teams and play each other. I’ll be analysing you from the stands.’
‘How will we hear you?’ Andrew Kirke asked, sounding sceptical.
‘With the Sonorus Charm, of course,’ Ron said impatiently, as if it were obvious. Harry avoided meeting Ron’s eye, finding he needed to swallow several times to get rid of something sticking in his throat.
Harry had a feeling that it was his conscience.
‘Right,’ Harry said, looking around. ‘You, Ginny, Kirke, you, Seamus and you; and you, you, you, Ron and Katie, make two teams. Ron and Katie, sort out those going for Chaser and those for Beater. I’ll be up there. Okay?’
‘Got it, Harry,’ Katie said, smiling rather too knowingly at his rumpled appearance. Harry blushed; she probably thought -- it was better, he decided not to speculate what she thought.
‘Hang on a sec, Katie,’ said Harry, remembering a long-ago first Quidditch game and a roaring lion. ‘Could you Charm some sparkling numbers on to their backs so I can tell them apart?’
‘Sure,’ Katie said, drawing her wand out of the inside of her robes.
‘Cheers,’ said Harry, before loping up the stands to the highest seat.
While those on the pitch were sorting out their teams, Harry, struck by inspiration, used a Summoning Charm to fetch his Omnioculars from the dorms. They nearly brained him when they arrived, soaring through the air at a rate of knots; Harry grabbed them before they made impact.
‘Sonorus,’ he said, pointing his wand at his throat and jamming the Omnioculars against his glasses.
The two teams rose into the air, the numbers flashing and sparkling in the cold winter sun. Harry soon lived to regret venturing outside in nothing but jeans, a too-small jumper and trainers, but he had no time to dwell on his impending frostbite. He was on his feet within minutes, yelling at random people much as he remembered Wood and Angelina doing; even though it was a trial the flyers were playing as hard as if they were in a match.
‘No, number four!’ Harry hollered. ‘Defend, defend! Just because you’re not a Keeper doesn’t mean you can let the Quaffle past you while you sit back and watch! Defend!’
‘Pushing them a bit hard, aren’t you, Potter?’ an amused voice observed. Harry started in shock and dropped his Omnioculars. When he leaned down to pick them up and press his throbbing foot, his jumper slipped off his shoulder, blasting his chest with frigid air.
It was Smythe, leaning against the backboard with an insouciant expression and his arms folded. A half-smile was playing about his mouth.
‘W-- what do you mean?’ Harry asked, still half-distracted by pain. He lowered his voice carefully so as not to deafen Smythe.
‘Only that I’ve been watching for over an hour and you were already started when I arrived. You don’t think it’s time to give them a break, perhaps?’
Harry, flustered, checked his watch and realised he’d never noticed the time passing. Clearing his throat, he yelled, ‘Okay, that’s enough! Back to the pitch, I’ll meet you there!’
Now that he inspected faces and not form, Harry could see that they did in fact seem a small bit tired; even the team members looked like they’d been put through the wringer. Harry felt a little guilty, but at least he was sure of their abilities and nearly certain of who had made the cut.
‘Quietus,’ said Harry, poking himself in the throat with his wand. He turned clumsily to face Smythe again and nearly tripped over the bench.
‘You came to watch?’ he asked.
‘Me and the rest of the world,’ Smythe said, pointing. Harry glanced around the stands; at the bottom of the one he was in, Susan sat with a couple of other Hufflepuffs. Zacharias had a notebook into which he was scribbling, the plume of his quill wobbling like mad. Harry could see Justin’s mouth moving and fancied he could almost make out the shapes of the words ‘you know.’
Susan grinned at him and waved before running her finger across her throat and pretending to die. Harry raised his arm to her, stifling a snigger.
‘Malfoy’s not here, is he?’ Harry asked Smythe anxiously. He didn’t think he could bear it if Malfoy was going to come swaggering up to him critiquing his prowess as captain, or worse, if he came to steal his techniques like Smith.
‘No; none of the Slytherins turned up -- except for him,’ said Smythe, waving his hand at a lone figure in the stands opposite. Harry squinted through his Omnioculars; it turned out to be Heinrich, who was watching the proceedings with a thoughtful scowl.
‘Are you on the Ravenclaw team?’ Harry asked, thinking he’d finally divined the reason for Smythe’s presence -- that he was there to scope out the opposition.
‘Sport? Moi? Je ne pense pas, mon petit mignon,’ Smythe said, his mouth widening into an almost impertinently sensuous smile.
‘So you don’t, then?’ Harry attempted to clarify.
‘No, Potter, I don’t,’ Smythe said, stepping away from him in a whirl of robes. ‘And I rather think your team is waiting for you.’
‘Oh, yeah,’ Harry said, feeling absurdly disappointed. He watched Smythe take the spectator’s route out of the stands until he was out of sight before heading down to the pitch.
Ron caught Harry in the Great Hall, where he was tucking into a belated breakfast of shepherd’s pie. Trapped betwixt a mouthful of pumpkin juice and a fork piled with mashed potato, Harry had no choice but to wait and masticate as Ron slid into the seat opposite him.
Ron began without preamble. ‘If you’re avoiding us because you’re gay, you don’t have to.’
Harry choked for a good five minutes. When he recovered enough to speak, it was with streaming eyes and an uncomfortably flushed face. ‘What gave you that bloody idea?’
Ron shrugged, his ears slowly turning red. ‘Always suspected,’ he mumbled. ‘And Hermione said …’
‘Ron, I’m the only one of the two of us to have had a girlfriend and you’re accusing me of being gay?’ Harry abandoned his fork; his appetite had gone the same way as the dinosaurs.
Ron made a face. ‘So you aren’t, then?’
‘Um,’ Harry said. ‘Um?’ There didn't seem to be room in his brain for an emphatic denial, he found. Or for any surprise at that fact.
Ron’s face cleared. ‘You don’t need to avoid us because of that!’
‘I’m not avoiding you because of my preferences -- which are my own business, anyway,’ said Harry, with what he thought was laudable patience. ‘I have other reasons.’
‘And they are?’ Ron demanded.
‘I can’t tell you!’
‘Oh, jeez,’ Ron groaned, covering his face with his hand. ‘This is the snake thing all over again, isn’t it?’
Harry started, thinking for a moment he was talking about Malfoy and the other Slytherins, before recalling Nagini. A cold wave of sweat broke over his skin at that and he rubbed his arms through his jumper.
‘Sort of,’ he said, reluctant to encourage Ron in his new acuity.
‘Harry,’ Ron said, sounding pained, ‘after all this time, and everything we’ve been through, you still can’t trust us?’
‘I do trust you!’ Harry cried. ‘It’s exactly because of that that I have to --’ He stopped speaking, fearing to give away too much.
Ron eyed him, wearing a speculative expression. ‘Are you angry with us?’
Harry shook his head mutely, wrapping his arms around his body.
‘Do you not want to be friends with us anymore?’
‘Why, Harry? Did we do something?’
Harry shook his head.
Ron sat back with a heavy sigh. ‘So you’re not worried that we’ll hate you because you like boys, you’re not angry with us and we didn’t do anything to upset you -- so you don’t want to be friends why, precisely?’
‘Trust me -- if there was any other way, I’d take it.’ Harry’s voice shook with sincerity. Ron peered into his face.
‘I believe you,’ Ron said. ‘Hermione’s all for tying you up and forcing you to tell us, like last time, but seeing as she thinks it’s -- ehm -- sexual --’ his face went an interesting shade of puce ‘-- she doesn’t want to push too soon either. Is it going to take long, this thing you’re working through?’
Harry thought about how soon Voldemort was likely to make his next move. It wasn’t likely to be a protracted plan. ‘No,’ he replied in a tone that he valiantly attempted to prevent from sounding ghastly.
‘And you’ll come back when you’re done, won’t you?’ Ron asked. ‘Because we miss you.’
‘I would like nothing better,’ Harry said, with absolute honesty. ‘But until then --’
‘-- you want to back off.’ Ron clucked his tongue. ‘I can’t even begin to understand, Harry mate, but if that’s what you want …’ He hesitated, before reaching over and quickly patting Harry’s hand. ‘I’ll do it.’
‘Ron,’ Harry said, but he couldn’t get past that word. He was terrified that his eyes were getting wet.
‘Yeah, well,’ Ron said, attempting a grin. ‘You’re a huge prat, but we like you anyway.’ He paused. ‘Before I go -- the rumours about Susan --?’
‘Not true!’ Harry exclaimed. ‘She’s a --’ dealer ‘-- someone I know, that’s all.’
‘Well, I didn’t really think so,’ Ron said. ‘After all, don’t you like black hair on gi-- bo-- people?’
‘Blondes,’ Harry said without thinking. Ron frowned.
‘Well -- whatever. At least I know now, for all the people who keep asking me.’
‘Before you go -- you and Hermione?’ Harry asked swiftly.
Ron blushed. ‘Er. No. No, not -- yet.’
Harry smiled. For a moment it felt like everything was back to normal -- but Harry knew that normal was only a byword for putting Ron and everyone else in danger, so he let it fade back into a scowl. Ron pressed his lips together, but he no longer looked so confused or angry.
‘Good luck,’ he said softly, walking away.
Harry set down his quill with a sigh and just prevented himself from rubbing his scratchy eyes. It took too long to get the eyeliner straight to think of carelessly rubbing it off just because it felt like microscopic hedgehogs were holding a disco on his eyeballs. He decided that if he did any more studying for the Defence test his brain would explode with sheer overloading. At this stage, he felt if there was anything he didn’t know about Time-Loop and all other clock-related curses, then it wasn’t worth knowing -- or at least, it just wouldn’t fit into his brain.
It was half-past eight and he supposed he should leave the library before he got caught for breaking curfew. He would have come back with his Invisibility Cloak were it not for the fact that the words on the page were starting to dance tangos in front of his eyes and he really didn’t think he should be encouraging them in that sort of deviant behaviour.
Gathering up the books he’d taken from the shelves and stuffing them into his bag, Harry yawned and stood up to leave. He was half-way to the door when he realised he’s left his quill sitting on the desk he’d been using. With a groan, he turned to retrieve it.
And walked straight into something warm and tall that smelled unfairly good.
Harry stumbled backwards, catching his hip on a shelf and looked up into Smythe’s face, on which raised eyebrows featured predominately.
‘I never realised you were so clumsy, Potter,’ said Smythe. ‘You don’t demonstrate this level of unco-ordination in the air.’
‘Huh -- what?’ said Harry, his brain feeling fuzzy and slightly behind current events. Smythe narrowed his eyes.
‘Have you been indulging in some of the Puffs’ stock?’ he asked. ‘Not a good idea during the week, I find.’
‘What? No, I was studying.’ Harry swung his bag upwards, narrowly avoiding whacking Smythe in the groin with it. ‘Studying,’ Harry repeated, feeling a need to justify his castrating dance.
‘I believe you,’ Smythe assured him. ‘What for?’
‘Defence Against the Dark Arts. Test. We have a test. Tomorrow.’ Harry, looking up into Smythe’s eyes -- which were blue but slightly bloodshot -- found he couldn’t articulate sentences longer than four words. No wonder Smythe had thought he was high. Now all Harry needed to do was figure out why he was acting like this -- he was tired, but not that bloody tired.
‘You got an Outstanding in your OWL.’ It wasn’t a question; Smythe spoke in the tones of one who knew.
‘Yeah. I did. How’d you know?’ Harry cleared his throat, wondering if that would help with the verbal constipation. It didn’t, but he sounded like an old man with bronchitis, which was of course the exact image Harry hoped to present to cool, attractive seventh-years.
Smythe shrugged, managing to look enigmatic with no apparent effort. ‘Well done,’ he said. ‘Outstandings are rare, even for Ravenclaws.’
‘Did you get one?’ asked Harry, wondering if the conversation had any point at all, other than to make Harry sound like an idiot.
‘Yes,’ Smythe said. ‘I’m not taking it for NEWTs, though.’ His cool blue gaze raked over Harry, slowly and with excruciating indolence. Harry felt himself growing hot underneath Smythe’s speculative expression and felt an immense urge to wriggle. Away, preferably.
‘You aren’t?’ Harry remembered to say, ten years later. ‘I -- you never came to -- no.’ He stopped, aware that the DA had been a secret organisation and Smythe, never having been there, would not know about it.
‘Your little vigilante group?’ Smythe sounded amused. ‘No, open rebellion is not my style.’
‘How did you know about the DA?’
‘Malfoy, of course,’ Smythe said, inspecting his nails. ‘He boasted about having sprung you -- and the rest of the outlaws, although I doubt they were of much interest to him -- at the next poker game.’
Harry remembered how Malfoy had tripped him up that day, and the light of manic revenge in his eyes. ‘I’m not surprised,’ he said bitterly.
Smythe raised his eyebrows. ‘You shouldn’t be. No one else there was.’
Harry frowned. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Only what it means,’ Smythe said. ‘Are you going back to Gryffindor Tower? I’ll walk with you.’
‘Oh -- okay,’ Harry said, hugging his bag of books to himself. Smythe’s eyes were like lasers, dispassionately stripping away everything in their path. He made Harry feel naked. It wasn’t that Harry didn’t like it, although he probably shouldn’t, it was just that he’d never felt more at a loss of how to react, even when faced with a ten-foot long snake or the Dark Lord. Or Cho.
Smythe walked a little ahead of Harry, his robes billowing about him in a manner not unlike Snape’s, although Smythe was taller than Snape, his shoulders were broader and his ankles were absolutely amazing. All details Harry noticed in the name of comparison, of course.
‘Do you find Malfoy attractive?’ asked Smythe. Harry felt like he had three feet all of a sudden and almost tripped.
‘What?’ he spluttered. ‘Are we talking about the same Malfoy here? He’s a raging git! I hate him!’
Smythe stopped so abruptly that Harry walked into his back. He was getting far too acquainted with being squashed up against this boy.
‘You didn’t answer the question,’ Smythe said, turning so that Harry was effectively pinioned between him and the wall, his bag the only barrier between them. Smythe’s face was so close to Harry’s he would only have to turn his head up to meet his mouth, and Harry did not just think that --
‘What was the question again?’ Harry said, swallowing.
Smythe didn’t answer. His hand crept up between them to push Harry’s bag away. His face was really very close; Harry could feel his skin tightening as Smythe’s warm breath touched it. He seemed to have a crazy effect on Harry’s lungs as well, because they had suddenly become so small that Harry could only breathe in short pants.
‘You shouldn’t get mixed up with that kid,’ whispered Smythe. His hand had advanced as far as Harry’s chest now and was creeping inexorably downwards, where other things were reaching up towards it. ‘He’s crazy.’
‘I know,’ said Harry, ‘he's always been crazy.’ He followed Smythe’s hand with his eyes, wishing his breath wasn’t coming quite so fast. He thought he might pass out. Of all things, hyperventilation was not the sort of reaction he hoped for when he was -- what? Being seduced? Groped? Smythe’s face was so close now Harry had to half-close his eyes so they wouldn’t cross in the effort of focusing.
‘But then again,’ Smythe said, his lips forming the words directly in front of Harry’s mouth, so that his mouth just grazed Harry’s as he spoke them, ‘so are you.’
At that point, Harry handed over control of his body to his back brain. Making a terrible sort of desperate sound in the back of his throat, he arched his neck, so that Smythe’s mouth and his came into sudden and total conjunction.
And Smythe was still talking, his mouth retreating the merest of distances to press the words on to Harry’s lips. Harry thought he might be saying, ‘Fucking crazy,’ but it was hard to tell, especially when Smythe’s tongue joined in the conversation, swiping across Harry’s lower lip at the exact moment his thigh slid between Harry’s legs. Harry’s hips jerked into Smythe’s at the contact and, to his shame, he whimpered.
Smythe broke away and Harry let his head fall against the cool stone wall, wincing.
‘As an experiment, that worked quite well,’ Smythe remarked. Harry noted that Smythe's leg was still between his, and that Smythe's body was pressed close to Harry’s, and that Harry was not the only one who had --
‘Experiment?’ Harry said sharply, as the words registered.
‘Yeah,’ said Smythe, swooping in suddenly to kiss a place just where Harry’s jaw met his ear. It made him gasp in surprise, at the roughness of Smythe's stubble and the softness of his lips on a part of Harry that he’d hitherto considered unkissable. Smythe spoke against his neck; he seemed quite fond of holding conversations with parts of Harry’s face. ‘You’re just a pretty little boy-kisser, aren’t you, Potter?’
‘Uhn,’ was all Harry felt capable of producing. This was fair, in his opinion, considering Smythe’s teeth were scraping slowly over his skin, followed by his tongue.
‘Good to know,’ Smythe continued, removing his mouth from Harry’s neck. Harry shivered as cold air moved against the damp patches on his neck. ‘Well, this is me.’
‘What?’ said Harry, his mouth dropping open as Smythe withdrew and brushed off his robes with an air of decided concentration.
‘The statue,’ said Smythe, indicating a graceful likeness of Rowena Ravenclaw in a rather racy toga with his thumb. ‘Ravenclaw Tower.’
‘You’re going?’ said Harry, and cursed himself three ways from Tuesday for being such a needy loser.
‘See you around, Potter,’ said Smythe. He was definitely smirking. The dusky light and Harry’s fog of arousal weren’t quite enough to camouflage that dirty little fact.
At that moment Pansy Parkinson appeared around the corner, fingering her Prefect badge and generally looking like she deserved a baton and an SS patch. Smythe took one look at her and disappeared behind the statue; craning his neck, Harry saw an opening appear before him. He silently bid farewell to Smythe's ankles.
‘Potter!’ barked Pansy. ‘What are you doing out? It’s almost nine o’clock.’
‘Um,’ Harry said, rather distracted by the events that were very nearly happening beneath his robes. ‘Co -- Going now.’
‘Was that Mark Smythe?’ she demanded. She looked rather put out, Harry noticed, although with his state of mind he was in no way to judge whether it was resentment or religious fervour he glimpsed on her face.
‘His name is Mark?’ Odd how it wasn’t at all important, when compared to how amazing his mouth had felt on Harry’s --
Harry realised he’s just kissed a boy.
A member of the male species.
‘What did I do?’ Harry half-screamed, stuffing his fist into his mouth.
‘I don’t know,’ said Pansy, ‘although I could venture several disgusting possibilities, but if you don’t get to your filthy little commoner’s dormitory in five seconds you will be doing detention tomorrow.’
Harry grabbed his books and ran.
Smythe wasn’t anywhere near blonde.
Draco was highly annoyed. He lay back on his bed, rubbing the new silk pyjama bottoms his mum had sent him through one of the family owls. They itched terribly. Draco glared angrily at the jade green hangings of his four-poster, rolled on to his bare stomach and tried to think. Right.
Potter had turned up at the poker game uninvited. Uninvited and wearing eyeliner, a small voice at the back of Draco’s head reminded him imperiously. Eyeliner.
If Draco was completely honest with himself, he’d half-hoped Potter would put in an appearance, to liven things up a bit. It wasn’t as if gatecrashing was totally out of the question in the first place – Potter clearly had this thing about open defiance and their paths had seemed to be running alongside each other of late. Draco wondered vaguely if this was because he was pursuing Potter, or vice-versa. Draco hoped it was vice-versa. Not because he wanted that idiot within ten feet of him, but because he didn’t want to be the one who was … oh, fuck.
Everyone was either dismissing the eyeliner as something to do with Potter’s hormones or embracing the fact that The Boy Who Lived managed to make every school year a national event, with or without any threats to his life. Potter had been making some new changes, that was for certain. Potter was rude and surly to teachers, he ignored his old mates, and he committed social suicide by hanging out with a Puff girl – although since he had few friends left to lose, this hardly mattered.
According to the many rumours floating around the school, You-Know-Who was controlling Potter through the Imperius Curse. Also, the reason the Mudblood and the Weasel weren’t speaking to him anymore was because of some dramatic unrequited love triangle between the three. Potter was a drug addict because he was trying to cope with the severe emotional stress he’d undergone in the past five years. Susan Bones was feeding Potter drugs in return for protection from You-Know-Who. Susan Bones was feeding Potter drugs in return for sexual favours. Potter was gay.
Draco was no stranger to the last rumour; he’d tried to spread it himself, in fourth year, but the timing had been wrong – everyone was talking about the damn Triwizard Tournament and the champions and the tasks. Draco personally couldn’t see why an oversize lizard that breathed fire was more attention-grabbing than someone’s alleged homosexuality, but that was Hogwarts for you: unpredictable. Around Christmas he’d tried to re-spread more malicious hearsay, mentioning his ‘suspicions’ to Pansy one night in the common room – without the ferocious female enthusiasm for gossip, all rumours are stillborn - but the only thing that Parkinson and her clique were interested in discussing was the theory that Granger had gone to the Yule Ball in a wig.
'Draco,' grunted Crabbe from the dormitory, outside the green veil. Draco scowled, and ground his head into his pillow in irritation.
There was a pause.
Draco couldn’t believe it. He scratched his itchy leg. 'How the buggering hell should I know?'
'You said you were going upstairs … you said. I thought he might’ve come with you.'
'I said I was going upstairs to take a shower,' Draco hissed, shaking his head in disbelief. Tiny droplets from his hair flew every which way, leaving damp spots on the duvet.
'I know. I still thought he might’ve come.'
'I haven’t seen him.'
'Oh.' There were no sounds of movement from behind the curtain. Draco sighed.
'You can leave now, Crabbe.'
Draco heard the shuffling of feet go past his bed, then the door slam. He sank down on to his pillows again, and thought about what Crabbe had just said. Surely he didn’t think …
Ew. No way. Especially not with Goyle. Not only would it be a bitterly cold day in hell when that happened, but pigs would have mastered aeroplane travel, and Hagrid would complete a sentence without dropping a single ‘h’.
Draco definitely wasn’t gay. He and Pansy had … they’d … they’d done some things and that proved without a shadow of a doubt that Draco wasn’t gay, because he’d liked it. Enjoyed it, even. He’d have enjoyed it a lot more if Pansy hadn’t kept stopping to preen and if she hadn’t reapplied her make-up immediately afterwards, but that couldn’t be helped. His relationship with Potter was purely … everything a relationship wasn’t. The only reason he got on Potter’s case was because he hated him. Malfoys manipulated people, that was what they did.
Except Draco thought that, maybe, manipulative people didn’t usually obsess over the people they tormented. The people he picked on were supposed to be inconsequential, not the main focus of his life. You might bully them because you were bored, but not because when you didn’t life seemed unbearably dull and pointless. Draco knew that manipulative people were supposed to always be in control. Being attacked in the middle of a poker game and having your head bashed against the floor by a raving lunatic did not really square with anyone’s definition of the words ‘in control’. And having thoughts about the aforementioned attacker certainly didn’t reflect ‘control’ in any sense. It bordered on the realm of lunacy, in fact.
Draco touched a purpling bruise on his shoulder gingerly. Ok, so Potter had been trying to cause him irreparable damage when he’d done that, but what Draco remembered was Potter’s hands on him, and his warm body over his, and the nervous thrill of excitement he got when he saw Harry's angry face just above his own ...
Draco shivered. If he was thinking things like this, then by all rights he should be locked up in a ward in St. Mungo’s. Maybe the Healers should feed the key to a Skrewt, just to be on the safe side.
The funny thing – no actually, it wasn’t funny, it was perverse - was that Draco still loathed Potter’s guts. Nothing was really any different, except for the fact that Draco had to shove his hands inside his robes and head along to the nearest toilet cubicle whenever he was forced to spend a prolonged amount of time in close proximity to Potter and that happened at least twice daily. Twenty-three times a week, but who was counting?
Draco wasn’t. It didn’t bear thinking about, let alone counting. Only, he did think about Potter. Incessantly.
Even though the lout had somehow managed to get him aroused, he never came thinking about Potter. He’d tried originally to make Potter turn him off instead of on, but that hadn’t worked. Draco had made himself remember all the extremely unattractive things about Potter: his hair, his hexes, how he beat Draco at everything, the way he threw around words like the Dark Lord's name and ‘Death Eater’ as if they didn’t mean anything … but it always came back to Potter’s face, the gaze that cut through you like a knife and made you feel utterly naked, even underneath heavy robes …
So Draco thought of Belinda instead. Belinda was soft and curvy and pretty. She wasn’t angular and lean like Potter and she didn’t have the beginnings of stubble on her cheeks. Belinda wore pastel frills and jewellery that clanged and clattered wherever she went. She didn’t skulk around and glare out at the world from behind messy black hair and she didn’t turn up standing too close behind him when he least expected it, her breath hot on his neck. Belinda smelt of perfume and aromatherapy oils, not stale cigarette smoke and musty robes. Also, Belinda was a girl, which was why she always won. Because Draco wasn’t gay, it was just a phase, an infatuation, something that he’d look back on and laugh -- or, alternatively, shudder -- at.
Draco pummelled a pillow, in the hopes that it’d make him feel better. It didn’t. He considered projecting Potter’s face on to it, but then he threw it through the curtain in exasperation. That would just be the same as imagining Potter in bed with him.
It was about then that he noticed that all the hangings in the room were the exact same shade of green as Potter’s irises. As was nearly every item of clothing he owned, because he was a Slytherin, and nothing if not patriotic.
Potter was fucking everywhere.
‘Right, so I can imagine you’re wondering why I asked you two to stay after class,’ Belinda began, scratching her bare arms absent-mindedly. Draco shrugged in response.
‘Are we in trouble for something?’ Potter asked, in a voice that managed to imply that if they were, it was certainly all Draco’s fault.
‘No, you’re not, Harry,’ Belinda reassured him. ‘It’s just … I’m, like, concerned. The thing is, Draco, you got full marks in the last homework assignment.’
Potter muttered just how unimpressed he was under his breath, perfectly audible from the distance of two seats in front, which was where Draco was sitting, but oddly enough inaudible from the desk three seats away, where Belinda was perched. Draco wished that he could turn around and jinx Potter. He would have, too, except Belinda was staring at him with the reproachful look one usually reserved for children who tied tin cans to puppies’ tails.
‘Why am I in trouble for getting full marks?’ Draco asked.
‘Do you remember what topic the essay was set on?’ Belinda enquired, with an ‘If-You-Confess-Now-I-Won’t-Feed-You-To-The-Skrewts’ expression on her face.
‘The jinxes that Dark Spirits and Creatures are impervious to,’ Draco answered, beginning to feel ill at ease. That essay had been courtesy of Matthew Bloomsbury, first-year, Ravenclaw House. Matthew had been set a concise essay on jinxes, to sum up the first-years’ rudimentary knowledge on the subject and the little swot had scribbled five paragraphs on an Advanced-Level topic. Draco had made Matthew cut it out of the final draft -- six rolls of parchment was quite enough -- but not before copying it down himself. Still, since Matthew hadn’t actually handed that section in, there was no way Belinda could’ve found duplicates of his homework, was there?
‘That topic also made up, like, a quarter of the mid-term test,’ Belinda informed Draco briskly, her eyes narrowed. ‘You failed that test, largely due to your complete ignorance of that particular topic.’ Belinda paused and licked her lips unhappily. ‘Can you explain this to me, Draco?’
‘I can explain,’ Harry interrupted from the back of the room, sounding immensely bored. ‘Malfoy’s a stupid git and he cheated on the test. What does any of this have to do with me?’
‘I’m coming to that bit,’ Belinda replied. She looked Draco in the eyes. ‘Draco, did you copy the work from in another student in the class?’
‘No,’ Draco replied, grateful to be able to tell the truth. Matthew wasn’t in the class, he wasn’t even in their general age group. Harry snorted in disbelief and Draco cringed inwardly.
‘I see,’ Belinda replied. The disappointment was written all over her face. She’d obviously wanted Draco to burst into tears and reveal the whole truth, so that she could pat him on the back, dry his tears, and lead him into the way of truth and light. Whilst Draco wasn’t averse to patting or petting, he didn’t fancy the idea of being made to understand the error of his ways and coming out the other side a ‘reformed character’. Malfoy Manor was the largest private estate for several counties. Whoever made up the expression ‘Cheaters never prosper’ was clearly talking out of their arse.
‘I see,’ Belinda repeated, meaning ‘I see that you’re not the boy I thought you were and therefore you will never make anything of yourself in this life or the next’. Draco wondered if Belinda believed in a ‘next’ life. Probably. It was practically a given, when you counted up the number of bangles she wore. ‘Nevertheless, your work is not as consistent as I would, like, hope for it to be, so I’m supplying you with a tutor to get it up to scratch. That’s why Harry’s here. He will --’
‘Professor,’ Harry interrupted, standing up noisily. ‘I don’t think that’s a very good idea.’ Belinda’s face hardened slightly, and she stopped smiling. Draco swivelled round in his seat to look at Potter, but he ignored him.
‘Why is that, Harry?’
‘Because.’ Potter gestured in Draco’s vague direction and made a disgusted face. ‘I hate him.’
‘I hate him too,’ Draco mumbled, flushing pink. Potter looked unperturbed; he merely tugged irritably at the collar of his robes and nodded at Belinda.
Belinda frowned. Her expression was more reminiscent of a disapproving McGonagall than the happy-go-lucky grin her class were accustomed to.
‘You are acting,’ she said slowly, ‘like petulant children. Harry, your dislike for Draco, however strong it may be, is of very little concern to me. What I am concerned about is that all my pupils have a thorough understanding of the subject. Harry, this is as much for your good as it is Draco’s. You’re seriously lacking in extra-curriculars, you’re not really giving anything back to the school community --’
‘I’m Quidditch Captain!’ Potter objected indignantly.
‘-- apart from Quidditch,’ Belinda finished. ‘Anyhow, I know all about your little brawl with Draco in Potions and I personally think that this will be good for both of you, emotionally, so that you can, like, mature. You need to learn that not every little spat is solved with one’s fists.’
‘Yeah, sometimes a quick hex to the back of the head can be helpful too,’ Draco muttered under his breath.
‘Shut your face, Malfoy,’ Potter scowled, shoving his books into his bag.
‘You two are really unbelievable,’ Belinda commented with wry amusement. ‘You’re worse than the girls in my third-year class.’
‘Yeah, well. So?’ Draco replied rudely, then wished he hadn’t, as it sounded too stupid for words. He caught sight of Potter standing directly behind him and jumped about a foot into the air, banging his knee painfully against the wood of the desk.
'You can have the tutoring sessions in your study period, which I believe you share,’ Belinda murmured, strolling over to the teacher’s desk and stuffing some crumpled sheets of paper into her brown satchel. It looked as if she had sewn it herself -- blindfolded. ‘Or you can like, have them at the end of the day, in the evenings, though that may interfere with your --’
‘Quidditch.’ Potter answered. His fists were clenched, and Draco moved sideways slightly. Surely Potter wouldn’t punch him, not here, right in front of Belinda.
‘There’s always weekends,’ Belinda said breezily, her hand on the doorknob. ‘By next lesson, I want you to have decided on the sessions and scheduled them into your timetables. Ideally there should be about two hours a week, but if you’re too busy --’
‘Which I will be,’ Potter scowled.
‘-- then occasionally one hour per week will have to suffice. Draco, I expect you to show significant improvement and Harry, I expect you to help him to the best of your ability. All right, boys?’
Belinda waltzed out of the room, leaving behind a musky scent of aromatherapy oils. Potter glared at Draco, who looked at his feet in consternation. There was a tense silence for a few seconds.
‘Study sessions, then?’ Draco asked coolly. Potter ran his fingers through his tangled hair in frustrated annoyance.
‘No can do, you tosser. I need them to do Potions in.’ He made an impatient noise deep in his throat and stared at the wall. ‘It’s not as if I want to spend more time with you than I absolutely have to, but Snape always gives us so much bloody homework -- greasy git --'
The door burst open suddenly. It was Smythe, the one who had pulled Potter off Draco at the poker game. It didn’t look as if he’d shaved since that night, but even the coarse brown stubble didn’t make him look wholly undesirable. Unattractive. Something.
‘Potter, what the fuck?’ Smythe complained. ‘I’ve been waiting …’ His eyes drifted over to Draco, and his eyebrows shot up in recognition. ‘Christ. You’re not going to jump on him again, are you?’
‘Not this time.’ Potter grinned, his eyes lighting up at Smythe’s sudden appearance. Draco glanced at both of them curiously. What the hell was going on? ‘Look, give us a minute,’ Potter continued, scratching the back of his neck with his dirty, bitten fingernails. ‘I’ll be out in just a sec.’
Smythe grinned amiably at Draco, who felt a cold shiver run down his spine. His lips tensed in response.
‘Sure thing, I’ll leave you two alone.’ The door banged shut again. Draco looked at Potter suspiciously, who had a small half-smile playing about his mouth.
‘So … are you and Smythe mates now, or what?’ Draco asked.
Potter paused, and dragged his teeth across his upper lip. ‘In -- in a manner of speaking. Yeah.’
‘Oh,’ Draco managed, through gritted teeth. He was starting to get quite hot underneath all his robes. ‘Anyway …’
‘I’m sorry, am I making you uncomfortable?’ Potter asked innocently. Draco stared at him. Potter looked back, his face blank. Shit, it really was hot in that classroom.
‘No – bloody hell – it’s just --' Draco either needed to get to the privacy and blessed quiet of a toilet cubicle, fast, or sit down so that Potter wouldn’t see --
‘Because I really shouldn’t make you uncomfortable,’ Potter continued relentlessly, his eyes boring into Draco’s head. ‘I mean, the thought of him and me as -- mates -- shouldn’t bother you at all, Malfoy.’
Draco looked at the door in desperation, and then remembered that Smythe was on the other side – that wasn’t an extremely profitable escape route. He shot a brief look at the treacherous bit of his anatomy and, to his horror, Potter did too. His eyes widened until they didn’t so much resemble saucers as honking great dinner plates.
Potter’s eyes travelled up and down Draco’s body, stopping at his face. He gave Draco a Look, a Look Draco knew only too well because it was one he gave people regularly. It was the barely-restrained glee of someone who has just found out something that will work very well towards their advantage and plans to exploit the information as soon as humanly possible. Draco sank down into a chair, ignoring the ache between his legs. Potter sneered.
‘Fine, then,’ he said. ‘I think we should continue are discussion at a time that’s more convenient for you, Malfoy. You’ve clearly got things to attend to, so I won’t take up more of your time than I already have.’ Potter walked out of the room, smirking. Before the door swung shut, Draco heard a snippet of Smythe and Potter’s conversation.
‘Took your bloody time,’ Smythe said hoarsely. ‘What were you talking to Malfoy about, anyway?’
‘What do you think we were talking about?’
‘Sex,’ Smythe replied briskly. ‘Have you had anything to eat yet?’
The door closed. Draco sank down into his empty chair and gazed around the empty classroom. It didn’t really matter whether they’d been talking about sex or not. Whichever way you looked at it, he was well and truly screwed.
Kissing Smythe, Harry reflected, was a bit like shoving your lips against a ticking hand grenade. There was just no telling when he would go off.
Harry enjoyed it, almost too much. There was just something not quite right about all of it. He didn’t even consider wanting to be courted, but at the same time he occasionally thought that Smythe and he should, he didn’t know, talk or something. Or at least, talk about something that wasn’t one-sided, half-garbled articulations of desire, as Smythe’s hands struck Harry quite dumb.
Smythe was a very tactile person. Of course, kisses were pretty tactile things, but with Cho, it had just been mouth on mouth action. Not that Harry hadn’t enjoyed that, although the novelty factor had naturally played a starring role in the proceedings. But Smythe, now, he was a different country. Cho had been Scotland, basically being pretty sodden; or Ireland, at that. Smythe was more like America -- he got Harry in the right position and threw everything he had at him.
After class that Tuesday, for example. Harry had, as usual, waited for everyone else to leave the classroom before making his own way out, so as to avoid bumping into people and having to make conversation. Preoccupied with shoving his quills into his bag, he didn’t register Smythe’s presence until his fingers slid around Harry’s wrist and shoved him around.
Harry got as far as the ‘Wh’ in ‘What the hell?’ before Smythe’s mouth shamelessly stole the rest of the sentence, not to mention any lingering shards of sense in Harry's head.
It was quite a lingering kiss. That is, when it ended Harry discovered it had engaged the best part of an hour. Harry’s bag had been abandoned early on and he could feel quills and book-edges crumpling under his feet as Smythe’s moans thrummed in Harry’s mouth and Smythe’s hips canted his own into the wall. Smythe's hands -- his hands were everywhere, gripping Harry’s jaw as his tongue mercilessly ransacked Harry’s mouth, sliding down the ultra-sensitive skin of his neck into the hollow of his throat, mapping the length of Harry’s torso, tangling in his hair. His legs curled around Harry’s, so that Harry would almost certainly have tripped if he had tried to push Smythe away.
The only place his hands didn’t venture was where their bodies pressed together most urgently. Harry presumed that this was because the movement of his hips was doing the job of increasing the heat there to scalding point quite efficiently.
Just when Harry kept having to break away to gasp, breathing Smythe’s air having become too laborious, Smythe stepped away from him. Harry’s jelly-legs wobbled and he sank against the wall for support.
‘Nice one,’ Smythe said, in a tone of approval, and walked off.
Harry stared after him, his lip curling incredulously. He’d -- and he was -- and Harry was, god damn it! And Smythe had just left!
It seemed to be a pattern. Which would have been fine by Harry, even if he was harbouring practically permanent bruises on his collarbones and he got stubble rash something awful and he was wanking so hard every night and at choice times during the day too that it was starting to hurt. Only, every time, Smythe upped the ante.
Every time he pulled Harry into a broom cupboard to snog in a darkness punctuated only by breathless moans, he would push him on to boxes, buckets and once what felt like a stack of cauldrons. Harry would be thrust betwixt the wall and said seating fixture, Smythe using his full weight to keep Harry where he wanted him and Smythe’s hands, when not teasing the rest of Harry’s anatomy, would slide under the collar of his robes and down to his nipples.
At first it was just the most fleeting of caresses before his hands returned to holding Harry’s jerking hips in position. Then it was a touch, twist and pinch. Pretty soon Harry found his robes unceremoniously parting company with his shoulders as soon as Smythe kicked the door closed. Smythe liked to kiss Harry’s nipples nearly as much as he liked kissing Harry’s neck and even as much as his mouth. Harry's nipples were permanently swollen nowadays.
Every time Smythe shoved Harry up against a handy wall, door, alcove or pillar, his hands would head south. Initially they lingered around his waist as Harry arched his neck up and kissed and was kissed until his jaw ached and almost locked. Then it was his hips. Then it was his arse. And there they stayed … caressing. It was the only word for it.
At first Harry had squirmed away and Smythe let him. However, as soon as he settled, his hands would sneak back. Seeing as the sensations engendered were pleasurable, Harry let him. He still felt uncomfortable, though. Not to mention that every, single, bloody time, Smythe left him hanging, literally. Mostly, it was all Harry could do to make it to a nearby toilet, and sometimes not even that.
Out of the blue, Smythe asked him, ‘Want to come to this place I know?’
Harry, who thought the question had been supposed to stop about four words earlier, choked, which Smythe seemed to take as acquiescence. He smoothly did up Harry’s robes again -- it was a broom cupboard afternoon -- and tugged him upright.
‘But I --’ Harry gestured helplessly downwards. Even in the gloom, he could see the gleam of Smythe’s teeth as he grinned. He slithered his arm around Harry’s waist, pulling him close.
‘Yeah, I know,’ he said into Harry’s ear, lips kissing the vowels into his skin. ‘It’s hot.’
Harry would have to agree there, but it didn’t absolve the fact that it was also bloody frustrating, too. His mind distracted with what was going on under his robes, he let Smythe lead him down corridors and up a spiral stairs to a large statue. Smythe opened the door beside it, revealing a tiny room with a dusty sofa sitting beneath a gummed-up window.
‘Sit down,’ Smythe tossed carelessly over his shoulder. With extreme care, keeping his legs tightly pressed together, Harry gingerly seated himself.
Smythe sat down beside Harry. Well, it was almost on Harry, but Harry wasn’t a Ravenclaw, to quibble over the terminology. Smythe's lips started investigating the very interesting patch of skin under Harry’s earlobe, while his hand wove around Harry’s, stroking the skin of his palms.
‘Um,’ Harry said, feeling his brain turn to mush as Smythe pressed his long, lean body up against Harry’s side.
‘Are you hard, Harry?’ Smythe’s voice was almost mocking, but his knee was now wedged under one of Harry’s own and it was severely impeding the operation of Harry’s rational brain. Always assuming he had one.
‘Yeah,’ moaned Harry, wanting to add something like: ‘Isn’t it bloody obvious?’, but not caring to stop Smythe dragging his teeth just under his jaw line.
‘Do you want me to touch you, Harry?’
Smythe’s flat hand was delineating circles on Harry’s arched belly and his mouth had descended to Harry’s collarbones -- boy, but was he obsessed with those. Any minute, his teeth were going to force his robes open. Harry had no doubt that this would be the case. He’d done it before.
‘Harry …’ The word was drawled. All contact was suddenly removed, except for one of Smythe’s hands, which had insinuated itself between his legs. Harry jerked upwards, almost biting clean through his lower lip.
‘Think about Malfoy.’
Harry screamed and came.
He wanted to demand what the hell that had been in aid of. He wanted to shake Smythe and yell that he’d had quite enough of coming to Malfoy’s name, thank you very much.
He wanted to know how he knew.
Smythe was rubbing himself against Harry now, purring in the back of his throat and forcing Harry’s hand down between Harry’s hip and Smythe’s. Almost unwillingly, Harry let him. It was worth it, perhaps, as Smythe sighed, his lips wet and parted as the heat spread under Harry’s hand. It just didn’t feel right.
Smythe was a prick-teaser, Harry decided angrily, as his hand strayed under the table again and stroked Harry’s inner thigh, just below the rapidly-becoming-more-pointed crucial point. All the while affecting utter disregard of Harry’s flushed cheeks and sudden loss of appetite.
The Ravenclaws hadn’t paid much attention to the new addition to their table. Harry could barely follow their conversations. The number of syllables they used in single words would have done him for two or three sentences. He was exceedingly bored and he had an erection, which was not a good combination.
He glanced around him, feeling tired. A glimpse of bangles at the Head Table sent an unpleasant jolt through his stomach. Malfoy. Tutoring. Huge big pain in the arse, and still not organised.
‘Gotta go,’ muttered Harry in Smythe’s general direction. Smythe was engaged in a heated debate on chaos theory with the boy Harry recognised from the poker night and didn’t acknowledge Harry's departure. At least, not verbally. Harry made sure to detach Smythe's hand before he stood up.
Harry yawned, rubbing his mouth on his hand as he wandered over to the Slytherin table. He was vaguely aware of their hostile glares, but he had more pressing matters on his mind, and one of them was actually Malfoy.
‘Oi, you,’ Harry said, poking him in the back. After extricating himself from his bread-and-butter pudding, into which he’d very nearly fallen headfirst, Malfoy glared up at Harry, nostrils flaring.
‘What the hell do you want?’ he demanded, and Harry must have been really tired, because looking at the spot on Malfoy’s cheek -- almost dead centre in the pulsing red blush of anger -- was far more interesting than coming up with a nasty reply.
‘Tutoring,’ he said wearily. ‘We have to organise times and stuff. When’s your stupid Quidditch practice?’
‘Tuesdays and Thursdays,’ said Malfoy, after a pause in which he seemed to be waiting for Harry to add something more.
‘Well, mine are Mondays and Fridays,’ said Harry, ‘which leaves Wednesday. Or the weekend. And I’m so not --’
‘Wasting my weekend with you,’ Malfoy sneered, at almost the exact same time as Harry. They stared at each other in mutual consternation for a moment.
‘Wednesdays it is,’ said Harry, shrugging. ‘Six o’clock? In the Defence classroom?’
‘Are we allowed in there?’ asked Malfoy. His tone could almost have been mistaken for cordial had it not been for the sadistic manner in which he was gripping his spoon.
‘Oh, I forgot, you pretend to follow rules,’ said Harry, rolling his eyes. ‘I’m sure Lovebright will allow us. And if not, we can refuse to do it. Now, isn’t that a happy thought?’
‘No,’ said Malfoy, pondering. ‘That would be the memory of your funeral.’
Harry grit his teeth and leaned in closer. There was just something about Malfoy that sent him over the edge. Where angels dared not tread and all that. Smythe didn’t. Quite obviously. Because he didn’t hate Smythe’s guts and didn’t want to beat him three ways from next Tuesday to shut him up once and for all, did he?
‘Really?’ he hissed. ‘You think I’ll let you live after me?’
‘I think --’
But Harry didn’t wait for him to finish. ‘Six o’clock!’ he sang, without looking back.
‘You’re fucking hot when you’re angry,’ Smythe’s voice breathed as his hand brushed against Harry’s lower back. Harry just didn’t feel like kissing now. He wanted to hit something and get rid of this ridiculous hard-on, which had only got worse during his conversation with Malfoy but had nothing, nothing at all, to do with Malfoy himself.
‘Leave me alone,’ he muttered, hunching his shoulders, and strode away.
He’d abandoned his friends. His boyfriend, or whatever Smythe was, never addressed two words to him that didn’t have anything to do with sex. It was horrible to think that his only real conversational exchange of late had been with a boy he despised.
Harry didn’t expect Malfoy to be on time. He was the sort who liked making an entrance, first of all, and second of all he’d do anything to piss Harry off, because that was the status quo, wasn’t it?
So Harry was quite surprised when, only a few minutes after he’d sat down at his usual desk and got his books out, the door opened again to admit one Draco Malfoy.
For a second there was a tense silence. Harry’s gaze locked into Malfoy’s.
Malfoy was nervous.
Funny thing being, Harry was too. The closest he could remember was the feeling he’d had when he was in fifth year on seeing Cho -- and kissing her, too-- which was odd, because really, the emotion was nothing like it. Harry hated Malfoy, after all.
Harry cleared his throat. ‘Sit down, then,’ he said, and blushed when he remembered Smythe saying the same thing to him. It was a massively bad thought to have at that particular point in time.
Malfoy tossed his hair back and strolled to the desk beside Harry, slamming his books down. ‘I just want to say,’ he announced, ‘that I could think of at least ten things I’d rather do with my time right now, and at least one involves electric eels.’
Despite himself, Harry snorted.
Malfoy stared at him for a moment, his face utterly blank, before it fell into a scowl. Harry reflected that Malfoy always did that. His reactions were always a split-second too late, as if he had to take time out to judge the situation before deciding on which response he’d take to it. It was odd, mainly because his responses were generally those calculated to cause the most insult, aggravation or blanket annoyance on the other person’s part. However, it seemed as if such behaviour did not come naturally to him -- that it was, in fact, all an act.
‘Well?’ Malfoy asked rudely. ‘Are you going to stop staring and start teaching some time this decade?’ He sat down beside Harry, heaving a lugubrious sigh and starting to flip his books open.
‘We have to draw up a timetable first,’ Harry pointed out, retrieving a stray scrap of parchment as it flew past his nose. ‘So I need to know what I’ll be tutoring you in.’
‘Defence, nimrod,’ Malfoy said, gesturing extravagantly at the cover of his textbook.
Gnawing at the inside of his cheek, Harry managed not to bludgeon Malfoy to death with a blunt instrument and counted it a notable success. Instead, he opened the book to the chapter page, sticking his finger at the titles as if they were Malfoy’s eyes. ‘Jinxes. Counter Jinxes. Curses. Practical Defence. Dark Creatures. Defensive Theory. Offensive versus Defensive --’
‘All right, all right,’ Malfoy interrupted. He stared at the page, a crease appearing between his brows. ‘I remember doing dark creatures with the werewolf -- haha, irony --’
‘His name is Professor Lupin,’ Harry said through gritted teeth.
‘-- and theory with Umbridge,’ Malfoy continued blithely.
Harry waited a few minutes. ‘Is that all?’ he asked, when Malfoy remained certifiably silent.
‘Well, I probably remember some of the jinxes. And curses, of course,’ Malfoy offered.
Harry stared at him incredulously. ‘You mean you need to be tutored in practically the whole course?’
‘Does this present a problem to you, Potty?’ Malfoy suggested, smirking. ‘Beyond your puny talents, is it?’ He sounded altogether too hopeful.
For once Harry let the insult slide in favour of looking through Malfoy’s notes, which sported expensive-looking silk covers. They were also extremely scanty. On looking closer, Harry found that quite a lot of them consisted of tabulated conversations between Malfoy and Crabbe, who was generally reputed to be somewhat more intelligent than Goyle, although the difference was as between amoebas and bacteria. Harry’s eyes widened. Slowly, he began to read one aloud.
Potter has such a fat head.
he not here
What’s that got to do with his head?
you cant see it
It’s called using your imagination, Goyle.
don’t have one
Don’t I know it.
Do I what?
Goyle, shut up.
i not talking !
Potter isn’t here. But he HAS a FAT HEAD.
no, is same size as you
SHUT UP, GOYLE!!!
Harry paused. ‘Ah. Things become clear.’ He pursed his lips. ‘I have to disagree with Goyle, though, I reckon your head’s a good five times as big as mine.’
‘I -- didn’t think you’d look through them.’
‘Why bring them, then?’
Malfoy shrugged. Harry blinked, because the way his robes moved over his shoulders just then had been --
‘They were in with my books.’
‘Right.’ Harry pulled at his lower lip with a hand. ‘This is a bit of a bind, isn’t it? You don’t seem to have paid attention in this class for oh, five years.’
Malfoy scowled. ‘It’s not like we had a high calibre of teaching staff. And now I have you, so they’ve officially reached rock bottom.’
Harry leaned forward. ‘You think I want to be here, do you?’ he asked conversationally, as Malfoy’s eyes crossed in an effort not to meet Harry’s, which were about an inch away. ‘You think I relish the thought of spending time with you?'
He leaned in even closer, so that Malfoy’s vision now incorporated Harry’s nose as well as his own. ‘Let me take this opportunity, then, to assure you that I do not. In case it escaped your notice, and I’ll assume it did because you’re basically a tit, this is all for your benefit. You seem pretty well on to failing this class and that would give me no end of pleasure. I am not going to go out of my way to help you, so you put in the spadework or I’ll be out of that door before you can say ‘Troll’.’
Harry paused. He could feel Malfoy’s angered rasps of breath striking his chin. Harry wished everything he’d said had been true and not subjugated to the overwhelming urge to punch Malfoy as hard as he could and kiss him senseless straight after.
‘Got it?’ added Harry.
‘Yeah,’ Malfoy said, shoving him away, and it occurred to Harry to wonder why he hadn’t done it before. ‘I got a faceful of your bad breath. Clean your teeth, you disgusting animal.’
‘I’m warning you --’ Harry began.
‘I know, I know,’ Malfoy said, rolling his eyes. ‘I’ll keep a civil mouth if you do, agreed? And everything said here is fodder for later mocking to scorn.’
‘Sounds like a plan to me,’ Harry said. He rubbed his neck. Malfoy followed the movement and made a disgusted face.
‘You have a love bite, Potter,’ he pronounced in the same tones as someone else would say, ‘You have a festering wound from a poisonous snake.’
‘Is that what it is?’ Harry said, rubbing his fingers over Smythe’s distinctive way of marking his territory. He added, almost to himself, ‘But he didn’t bite me.’
‘He?’ Malfoy repeated, his voice rather high.
Harry shot him a sharp look. He remembered Malfoy’s reaction to Smythe the day Belinda had kept them after class. Actually, he’d had a bloody hard time trying to forget it, as Malfoy’s erection kept popping up in his mind at the most inopportune moments. He’d had his suspicions that day, when it was enough to gloat that Malfoy was getting aroused at the thought of two boys copping off, but now he was certain.
Malfoy fancied Smythe.
Harry had to hide a smile. It was so ... something. He didn’t know what it was, really. It wasn’t a happy thought -- in fact it made Harry feel a bit sick, but that was to be expected, of course. It was his sort-of boyfriend Malfoy was lusting for, after all.
The sickness had to come from the fact that Smythe obviously fancied Malfoy too, if his constant references were anything to go by. That was just great.
‘What’s great?’ Malfoy asked suspiciously and Harry realised he must have said the last bit aloud. ‘Love bites? Oh, can we stop discussing this?’
‘You brought it up,’ Harry reminded him, but he was too preoccupied to put any force into his words. ‘So, Defence. How much do you know about --’ he cast his eye over the chapters ‘-- jinxes?’
‘How fast to run away from them?’
‘Stop being smart. Seriously, how many can you do?’
Malfoy waved an irritable hand. ‘A dozen or so. The ones on last year’s syllabus.’
‘There were fifty on the syllabus last year,’ Harry was moved to remark.
‘Only a dozen were tipped to come up in the exam.’
Harry tugged at his lip again. It was a far preferable alternative to looking at Malfoy, or thinking about how interesting he smelled or how his foot was right next to Harry’s. Far from calming, as mercy would suggest, the butterflies in his belly had now commenced an energetic ballet routine. Harry felt hot, but it was a different sort of heat than the one he got when he was around Smythe, or when he saw ankles, or when he woke up. It was a heat that gripped his lungs and made every breath an effort, almost as if he were winded, a heat that ringed his cheeks with warmth and colour. He was torn between wanting to leave and staying to enjoy it.
He shoved his chair back and strode over to one of the cupboards. Malfoy regarded him in consternation. What Harry was looking for was behind the very first door.
‘Pillows, Potter?’ Malfoy said, his eyebrows forming an ambition to become his hairline. ‘Is this going to be a class on defending yourself at a sleep-over?’
‘Shut up, Malfoy,’ Harry said tiredly. He dropped the pillows on the floor behind him. ‘Stun me.’
‘Cast a Stunning Jinx. On me.’
‘Uh …’ Malfoy drew his wand, but left it hanging by his side. ‘… the invocation …’ he mumbled. A tic went under his left eye.
A dozen -- a hundred -- things sprung to Harry’s mind as he realised Malfoy didn’t know it. He could cut Malfoy -- Malfoy with his good marks, his scholastic complacency - down to nothing. He could destroy him in the way that slighting his sexuality, personality or familial connections couldn’t. He could make him grovel. And he knew that Malfoy knew it too.
Which was why he couldn’t. That was the point, wasn’t it? -- when you knew what you could do to hurt someone else, you couldn’t do it and live. Something in you would have to die.
‘It’s "Stupefy",’ Harry said.
Malfoy’s face visored as he waited for Harry to say more. When he didn’t, Malfoy gulped -- Harry could see the muscles moving in Malfoy's neck and fervently wished he hadn’t.
‘How do you know I won’t --’
‘Just do it, for crying out loud,’ Harry said impatiently. ‘You know you’ll get caught if you do anything. It’s up to you to judge the risk.’
Malfoy frowned, and raised his wand.
Harry took an involuntary step backwards.
This time Harry fell to his knees. ‘Again!’ he yelled, getting to his feet. ‘This time like you mean it!’
Malfoy’s face hardened. ‘STUPEFY!’
The next thing Harry heard him say was, ‘Don’t you dare die, Potter. Don’t you dare or I’ll kill you, you bastard.’
His eyes closed, Harry internally smirked. He knew Malfoy wouldn’t have the guts to do anything. Malfoy had had a chance to kill or at least severely maim him, and he hadn’t.
It was a sort of good thought.
Suddenly Malfoy’s hands were slapping at his cheeks. ‘OW!’ Harry roared. He sat up, knocking Malfoy backwards. He shook his head to clear it. ‘Did your Stunner work, then?’
‘Um.’ Malfoy looked as if he desperately wanted to say yes. Harry wondered why there was a dilemma there. ‘I don’t think so. You tripped on a pillow and hit your head on the floor.’
‘Oh,’ Harry said, as his skull began to throb. ‘I was just about to congratulate you on reviving me.’
Harry rubbed the back of his head, eyeballing his rival. Malfoy’s face was devoid of sarcasm, although he appeared to be scowling. ‘You’re not kidding, are you?’
‘No, I made it all up just to get quality time with you,’ said Malfoy, rolling his eyes. ‘Death threats, insults, incredibly mediocre conversational skills, probably a bad kisser if people prefer snogging your neck … who wouldn’t want that?’
‘You, obviously,’ Harry said with a scowl. He knuckled his eyes. They came away black.
‘You appear to be haemorrhaging black blood,’ Malfoy remarked, in a tone of detached amusement.
‘No, just eyeliner,’ Harry yawned. ‘You know what it is.’
‘In-bred sleaze-ball,’ Harry countered.
‘At least I haven’t got dirty blood!’
‘Sterilized yours, have you, Malfoy? ‘Cause last I checked, yours is as bloody full of germs as mine.’
‘Oh yeah? You can’t prove that.’
‘Watch me!’ Fired up with righteous indignation, Harry shoved his hand into his pocket and came up trumps with Sirius’ repaired pocket knife. Biting his lip, Harry sliced open the pad of his thumb with the sharpest blade. ‘Hand!’ he barked at Malfoy. Mesmerised by the welling drops of red, Malfoy obeyed and shrieked when Harry sunk the knife into his skin. Harry grabbed his wrist with his other hand, feeling the pulse jump under the skin, and squashed his thumb against Malfoy’s for a few seconds.
Malfoy stared down at his bloody digit. Harry tucked the knife back into his robes still wet with Malfoy’s blood.
‘There,’ Harry said in triumph. ‘Can you tell mine from yours?’ He got to his feet. ‘Learn off the fifty jinxes for next week and you can try them out.’
‘On who?’ said Malfoy, glancing up. His eyes were still glazed.
‘Me, of course,’ said Harry.
Harry bit the end off his quill and resumed scribbling. Writing under bedclothes with only his wand for light was regrettably not something he was wholly unfamiliar with. This time it was a Potions essay due the next day. Snape was one of those delightful teachers who simply assumed that every student in his class took only one subject, and that it was Potions -- and then gave them more work than they could handle even if they were only doing Potions. Harry had discovered early on that Snape hated it more if you handed up nothing than if you handed up a poorly written essay -- not that Harry was ever going to get good marks out of the man. Even Malfoy seemed to be finding the going tough, although after two hours of throwing jinxes at Harry his Defence had improved. Harry still had some of the bruises.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when a voice just outside his curtains went ‘Psst!’. His first, terrified thought was that Smythe had somehow figured out the Gryffindor password and had come to ravish him in the night. This was put to the lie when the voice added, ‘Hey, Harry!’ in an unmistakeably Ronnish way.
Harry extricated himself from his blankets with difficulty and opened the curtains. ‘What?’
‘Can I come in?’
‘Okay…’ With reluctance, Harry sat back and allowed Ron to clamber on to the foot of the bed. ‘Oi, watch the ink bottle!’
‘This is what you do at night -- write essays?’ asked Ron, sounding amused.
‘Why, what do you do? Actually, don’t answer that.’ Harry coughed uncomfortably. He hadn’t talked to Ron in weeks and was more affected than he’d thought he would be to find that it was a difficult task. ‘What do you want?’
‘A chat,’ said Ron, crossing his legs.
‘Oh?’ said Harry, dropping his parchment and quill on the floor. ‘What about?’
‘A couple of things.’ Ron paused. ‘I wanted to commiserate you on having to tutor Malfoy, for one.’
‘Oh, that.’ Harry wrinkled his nose. ‘Well, he’s as poisonous as ever and really, really crap at Defence, but I haven’t killed him yet, have I?’
‘So Lovebright only picked you because you’re a good tutor?’ asked Ron.
‘Yeah,’ said Harry, surprised. ‘Why else would she?’
In the gloom he saw Ron shrug. ‘Why doesn’t she tutor him herself?’
‘I don’t know, Ron, I didn’t ask. Perhaps she doesn’t have time.’
‘Right, right.’ Ron nodded. ‘And -- that’s all you do, tutor him?’
‘No,’ said Harry, remembering some of the nastier jinxes he’d been on the receiving end of with a wince. ‘I let him try out the spells on me.’
‘You what?’ Ron exploded. ‘Are you completely gone in the head?’
‘Look, Ron, how else is he going to learn? Lovebright will only come down on us harder if I let him slack off. It’s going on my record too, so if he fails again I’ll get a bad mark against my name.’
‘It’s not that.’ Ron sounded disgusted. ‘How can you trust him? Don’t you remember all the times he’s ambushed you and tried to curse you until he turned blue? You don’t think he’ll try that again first chance he gets?’
‘Well, he’s had plenty of chances, but he hasn’t done anything yet,’ Harry pointed out. ‘I know he’s a noxious little bastard, Ron. I’ve told him so numerous times! But I don’t curse him either and God knows I have reason enough to. We have to not do that. There has to be some amnesty, otherwise what’s the point of anything?’
‘I’m not convinced,’ said Ron, ‘I still reckon he’s just biding his time.’
‘I know he is!’ Harry ran an impatient hand through his hair. ‘I’m sure any day soon he’ll just -- go for me. But it won’t be while I’m tutoring him. I know.’
‘Well, I hope you’re right, for your sake,’ said Ron. He paused. ‘Hermione sends her love.’
‘She knows about this?’
‘I said I was going to try and talk to you about this Malfoy thing.’ Ron hesitated. ‘And … also … about the Mark thing.’
‘Mark?’ repeated Harry, drawing a blank. ‘Oh, you mean Smythe!’ Ron sent him an odd look and Harry, flustered, felt himself begin to blush. ‘What about him?’
‘Are you and he -- you know,’ said Ron, waving his hands about and seeming to suggest that Harry and Smythe were participating in synchronised water aerobics.
‘Um,’ said Harry, licking his lips. ‘I guess. He’s never said. But we are --’ he rubbed his nose. ‘Messing about. Whatever.’
‘Ah,’ said Ron, sounding relieved but looking troubled. ‘But he’s got a reputation for doing drugs and stuff.’
Harry nodded. ‘So do a lot of people in this school. Don’t worry,’ he added. ‘I’ve only done it once or twice.’
Ron snorted nervously. ‘Over the summer, actually, the twins and I tried it out … I didn’t like it much.’
‘Nah,’ said Harry. ‘There’s better things to be doing.’
‘Like snogging?’ Ron suggested archly. Harry shoved him in the shoulder. ‘Go on,’ Ron said, sounding intrigued. ‘What’s it like with another boy?’
‘Pretty much the same,’ said Harry, twisting his mouth. ‘A bit rougher. And I get -- I mean, his stubble is a bit -- well, rough. But it’s good.’
‘That’s -- good,’ said Ron the glib. ‘I wouldn’t like to think he was forcing you or anything.’
Harry recalled Smythe’s wandering hands, his determined teasing, and his whispered promises of what he was going to do to Harry, in great detail, very soon. Harry shivered. ‘No, no,’ he said, reassuring Ron as much as himself. ‘It’s nothing like that.’
‘It’ll be fine,’ Katie encouraged Harry, patting him on the back. Harry looked up at her, whey-faced. ‘Those Puffs are going down, I promise.’
‘I -- I think I’m going to be sick,’ moaned Harry.
‘Buck up, mate,’ Ron, who was passing, said. ‘I’ve never known you to be this nervous before.’
‘I wasn’t captain before,’ Harry said, rubbing his head in anxiety.
All too soon, Madame Hooch called for them to come out on to the pitch. For a moment, as everyone looked at him, Harry vacillated. Then he recalled that he was supposed to lead the team on to the pitch. It was what the captain had to do.
This certainty calmed him and he strode out on to the bright, chilly sunlight. Behind him, the team fanned out in a V-shape.
The intensive, regular practices showed. His team moved like a well-oiled machine. Four goals were scored by Gryffindor in the first five minutes and before half-an-hour had gone by, Harry spotted the Snitch hovering over the opposite goalposts. He tore after it with blind determination; Cedric’s replacement didn’t stand a chance.
Then it was all over and Harry was sinking to the ground still holding the Snitch, in a huddle of cheering team-mates. The crowd, who had barely had time to settle, were streaming on to the pitch.
Just as Ron left off clapping him on the back in favour of receiving Hermione’s approval for his goal-keeping, Harry felt himself grasped firmly around the arm and spun around. He found himself looking straight into Smythe’s smouldering eyes.
‘Good flying, caro,’ Smythe said, an enigmatic smile playing about his lips.
‘Er.’ Harry’s mind raced. ‘Thanks.’ Smythe surely wasn’t going to do anything, was he? Not here. In front of all these people.
‘You have something …’ Smythe said, swiping his thumb against Harry’s cheek. ‘Your mascara ran.’
As Smythe strolled away without another word, as was his wont, Harry heard Malfoy's faintly nasal drawl through the crowds. It was a pretty distinctive voice, it had to be admitted, otherwise how would Harry have been able to pick it out?
‘… seen better flying from a drunken mayfly.’
‘What was that, Malfoy?’ said Harry, pushing his way past two or three people to where Malfoy was standing, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle.
Malfoy quirked his mouth. ‘Well, if it isn’t our resident fairy-boy,’ he remarked to the world in general. 'Always wondered why you were so good with broomsticks, Potter. Now I know.’
It was so utterly ridiculous that Harry had to laugh. It seemed to infuriate Malfoy, which was all to the good. ‘Perhaps you should try it,’ suggested Harry. ‘That way you could maybe, even, catch the Snitch.’
The crowd nearby, who’d been following the exchange with half an ear, submitted a few approving snickers for endorsement. Malfoy lit up with rage and Harry smiled.
‘You think you’re better at catching it?’ Malfoy spat.
‘Based on past evidence -- yeah,’ Harry said. ‘Why? Are you putting up a challenge?’
Malfoy regarded him speculatively. Harry tried his best not to be affected by it, but failed. Malfoy stepped closer to Harry, so that in the thrum of the chattering, yelling crowd, his words were hardly audible.
‘You up for it, then, Potty?’ he mouthed. ‘You, me, some Beaters to keep things interesting, midnight rules?’
Malfoy’s smile was slow and, when it came to its full extent, very wide. ‘In other words -- no rules at all. After all, you like to break them, right?’
‘And you like to cheat.’ Harry pulled at his lower lip. ‘You’re on.’
‘Harry?’ Susan’s worried voice came in his ear. He half turned towards her.
‘… if it wasn’t for, you know, the social welfare payments there would be less bloody, you know, crime among the working classes. Even though, you know, maybe it’s best to let them, you know, kill themselves off …’
‘I call Susan for Beater,’ Harry announced to Malfoy.
‘Out-of-house players?’ Malfoy objected, but Harry waved a mocking finger in front of his face.
‘Midnight rules, remember?’
‘Fine,’ Malfoy grated. He turned on his heel and stalked off.
‘What’s all this about?’ Susan whispered.
Harry turned shining eyes on her. ‘This is your chance to play Quidditch and win, Suze. You’re up for it, right?’
‘Put like that,’ said Susan, ‘how can I refuse?’
Harry grinned and clapped her on the back. It was like patting a brick.
‘Oh, and Harry?’ Susan added speculatively. Harry turned to her. ‘Call me Suze again and die. Understand?’
Harry ambled into Defence Against the Dark Arts a little early, having awoken at six from a nightmare that had left him sweating and unable to return to sleep. He could only recall fragments, but Smythe and red-hot pokers seemed to have featured highly, as well as the old reliable of the fanged boots.
‘OH MY GOD, Harry, hi!’ Belinda gushed. ‘You are totally early.’
‘I know,’ said Harry, pushing his glasses up his nose to cover his discomfiture. ‘Er.’
‘So I looked at your timetable,’ said Belinda, waving a parchment that Harry recognised as his own in front of his face. ‘I think you have totally got the right idea. I was, like, hoping you’d help Draco with his essays, too?’
‘Sure,’ said Harry, his heart sinking. He could just see himself having to write Malfoy’s essays for him, due to the fatal combination of Malfoy’s general Defence ignorance and his ‘I don’t give a crap’ attitude towards the subject. ‘Um. I was wondering. Why you didn’t ask Hermione to help him?’
‘That’s Hermione Granger, right?’ Belinda clasped her hands to her chest, setting her bangles a-jangling. ‘OH MY GOD, the girl is, like, a genius!’
‘Exactly,’ said Harry.
‘But she's perfect at everything,' said Belinda. 'Whereas you, Harry, are bad at things sometimes, so you could understand where people are coming from when they are bad at things.’ She beamed at him.
‘Oh.’ Harry digested this information. ‘But, also, I hate Malfoy. Utterly. And so does he. Hate me, I mean, not himself. So surely someone who didn’t hate him would be more suitable?’
‘I’m sure I have, like, been through this, Harry,’ Belinda said, starting to frown. ‘This hatred thing you have going is not good. It’s not good, Harry. OH MY GOD, do you realise the damage you’re doing to your karma with all this bad feeling?’
‘Uh, no,’ Harry said, and rushed on when he saw Belinda’s disapproving expression. ‘There’s a good reason for it. His father is a Death Eater and he’s a flaming g -- he’s been enemies with me and my friends since the first day of school.’
‘First of all, Draco is not a Death Eater,’ Belinda said. ‘Second of all, everyone’s either a wet hen or a nasty sodding bastard when they’re young. Give Draco some time to grow up and he may improve.’
Harry, rather flummoxed by her use of ‘bastard’ instead of ‘like’, merely nodded and refrained from mentioning that the only thing that would improve Malfoy was, possibly, a coffin, or failing that, a good kick up the arse. He wasn’t adverse to delivering the latter, but he also doubted that would be great for his karma. At least in Belinda’s opinion.
‘I was also, like, thinking about it,’ Belinda went on, ‘and you should sit together in this class. OH MY GOD, Draco does nothing but chatter with his friends. He has a very poor attention span when it comes to Defence, although Sev assures me that he has perfect focus in, like, Potions.’
‘Sev?’ Harry repeated weakly, wondering if he’d stepped into an alternate universe and not noticed.
‘Professor Snape, to you,’ said Belinda. ‘OH MY GOD, don’t you take Potions too? Sev was talking about you.’
‘No, I don’t think he’s particularly religious,’ Belinda reflected. ‘In fact I recall him saying once all religion is a prop for the weak and an excuse to wreak gratuitous violence on other humans for the strong, by which I take it he totally, like, has not discovered the Way of the Lotus. He said everyone in his Advanced Potion class was a bloody fool, I think.’
‘Even Malfoy?’ said Harry in surprise.
‘OH MY GOD, I am being totally unprofessional!’ cried Belinda, smacking herself on the forehead with her beringed hand. Harry stared at her. ‘Anyway, Harry, I’ll tell Malfoy to go sit beside you when he comes in, unless you want to sit up the front.’
‘Oh, no, the back is fine,’ Harry assured her.
‘Great! You two should get along comme une maison brûlant,’ said Belinda, sending him a bright smile.
'I really need to learn German,’ Harry muttered to himself as he sank into his chair and awaited Malfoy’s arrival.
He didn’t have long to stew. Within minutes the rest of the class began to trickle in. Belinda took Malfoy aside and Harry watched his face turn the shade of an indignant peony.
‘What did I do?’ Malfoy moaned as he sat down beside Harry. ‘Two classes beside Potter! What did I do in my past life to deserve it?’
Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Perhaps you were your grandfather and had your father who had you,’ he suggested facetiously. ‘That’s enough of a crime for anyone’s lifetime.’
Malfoy eyed him balefully. ‘My paternal grandfather died when I was six,’ he said.
‘So? Don’t let the bad logic put you off, Malfoy. It never did before.’
‘Of what are you talking, fool?’
‘Thinking you can beat me at Quidditch,’ Harry said. He gestured at Malfoy’s thumb, where the healed cut had left a hairline red stripe, much like Harry’s. ‘Your whole pureblood shit. If that’s not illogic I don’t know what is.’
‘Ah, shut up, you queer,’ Malfoy snapped. Harry felt a peculiar dart in his stomach at that, but he resolutely ignored it.
‘Do you speak German, Malfoy?’
‘God no. Terribly guttural language, that.’
‘Oh.’ Harry brooded for a moment. ‘Pity.’
‘You’re coming to Hogsmeade with me.’
Harry reflected that Smythe, in all the time Harry had known him, had never been able to phrase a question so it came out sounding like anything other than a statement of fact.
‘Sure, whatever,’ said Harry, trying to prevent a tidal wave of nerves from engulfing him at the prospect. Going to Hogsmeade with someone made you practically married.
The day in question, Harry woke in the middle of the night. Checking Uncle Vernon’s watch, he found that it was four am.
He had an inkling that he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep, so he swung his legs out into the nippy air and retrieved yet another Potions essay from under his bed. Typical of Snape to set them an essay on a Hogsmeade weekend. What had he said again?
‘I know some of you think Hogsmeade weekends are for gallivanting around, holding hands and being, in general, reprehensibly decadent --’ Harry, whose mind had summoned up the image of Smythe’s hands, had blushed and drawn Snape’s eagle eye down upon him '-- you can just forget that. Your NEWTs are only a year, nine months and twenty-five days away and you cannot afford to waste a second. Not a single second!’
Everyone, but everyone, had turned to smirk at Harry when Snape turned his back on them to retrieve marked essays -- even the Ravenclaws. Well, everyone except Malfoy, who’d stared at Snape’s back as if the Secret of Life had been dyed into his robes with hair-grease.
Still, Harry thought, with a sort of grim satisfaction, being awake at the crack of dawn did at least mean he’d make some headway on the bloody essay.
At about six he headed into the bathroom to try and do something with his hair. At seven he gave up in despair and opted instead for a ferocious sally with his eyeliner. He looked, as Malfoy had said, like his eyes were bleeding black gunk, but Harry thought if you couldn’t look well you may as well look atrocious. The logic was far from impeccable, but he was too nervous to care.
As eight, and then nine, rolled around, some of his dormmates entered the bathroom, stretching and yawning. When they saw Harry, as one, they all tried to curl in on themselves, as if The Big Gay was catching. It was only when Ron came in that some semblance of normality resumed.
‘Harry,’ he acknowledged him. Everyone relaxed slightly at Harry’s brief nod and the lack of any insatiable jumping of other boys, which, by accepting a date with Smythe, he clearly had plans to do.
‘So -- you and Smythe are tch-tch, eh?’ said Seamus, winking and making a horrendous sucking sound with his mouth.
‘Don’t be disgusting, Seamus,’ Dean said faintly, from behind a beard of shaving foam.
‘I think we should embrace alternative lifestyles,’ said Neville earnestly.
‘I need to piss,’ said Ron. ‘Excuse me.’
‘I think I’ll go now,’ said Harry, getting to his feet and smoothing down his robes.
‘Good luck, Harry,’ Seamus said, ‘you’ll need it.’
Harry thought he probably did, at that.
After half-an-hour of waiting, as everyone else tripped out past him, Harry thought it was only fair to assume he was being stood up. Oddly enough, he felt quite relieved. Whistling under his breath, he headed outside into the wintery sunshine, shoving his hands in his pockets to keep them warm.
‘Hobo chic, is it?’
Harry rolled his eyes. Without turning around, he said, ‘What was that, Malfoy?’
Malfoy brushed past him, knocking Harry’s shoulder with his own. The paleness of his face matched the sky exactly -- it was sure to snow soon -- and Harry noticed that it only made his eyes look bigger and more -- well, he’d nearly thought ‘stunning’, but ‘bigger’ was probably sufficient description on Harry’s part.
‘Where’s your boyfriend, fairy-boy?’ Malfoy taunted, walking backwards to keep Harry in view.
‘Right in that pothole behind you,’ said Harry, raising his eyebrows. Malfoy twisted his head around in panic and nearly tripped over his own feet, which Harry thought was a jolly good laugh. ‘Ha, made you look.’
‘Shut up, you bloody pillow-biter,’ Malfoy sneered, once he’d resettled his robes.
‘What was that?’ said a new voice. Both Harry and Malfoy jumped in shock and, at least on Harry’s part at least, mild apprehension.
‘Uh,’ replied Malfoy, his lips turning even paler. His eyes became slightly glazed-looking, and Harry felt that strange sick little jerk in the pit of his stomach again.
‘I looked for you in the Entrance Hall,’ Smythe accused Harry, who felt absurdly guilty. He shrugged, feeling unable to frame the words for an explanation. ‘Anyway, you’re here now, I guess.’
Smythe stepped closer to Harry, so that he was engulfed in Smythe’s spicy aftershave. His hand curled around one of Harry’s wrists and the other tilted his jaw up into a more convenient position. Harry, who was really only half-dreading one of Smythe’s breath-robbing kisses, realised Malfoy was still there when his voice cut across the frozen air.
‘Oh, get a room, you perverts.’
Harry felt himself abruptly dumped as Smythe turned his attention to Malfoy. Smythe's blue eyes glittered with malice, as well as something that was pretty close to what they showed when Harry was half-naked and whimpering beneath him.
‘Perverts, is it?’ he breathed, advancing on Malfoy. Either from a false sense of courage or from being rendered immobile in fear, Malfoy stood his ground. He didn’t speak, which seemed to add fuel to Smythe’s -- not quite anger, more -- baiting. ‘I asked you a question, pretty boy.’
Malfoy thrust his chin up in defiance. Harry, engrossed by the spectacle, stepped closer for a better view. ‘I am not a pretty boy,’ he spat. ‘And you should keep your disgusting antics behind closed doors.’
‘Oh, really?’ Smythe sounded amused. He stepped even closer, pushing up against Malfoy, who from pride or wounded dignity refused to move. He darted his head sideways and licked the column of Malfoy’s throat. Malfoy shuddered even as he exclaimed, ‘What the fuck d’you think you’re doing?’
‘Perverted things,’ said Smythe, running his hand across Malfoy’s chest. Malfoy seemed powerless to stop him. It would have occurred to Harry to be jealous if it weren’t for the fact that it was one of the hottest things he’d ever seen. ‘Because you like it, Malfoy. You want it. You just can’t admit it.’
‘… don’t want anything …’ Malfoy managed. Smythe’s hand darted between his legs and Malfoy let out a stifled moan.
‘Oh, I disagree,’ whispered Smythe, smirking. ‘Look at Harry, Malfoy.’
Swallowing rapidly, Malfoy turned his glassy, almost anguished eyes on Harry. Harry felt his chest inexplicably tighten. Smythe had started nuzzling Malfoy’s neck, dusting it with the light, dry, hopelessly arousing kisses that he usually inflicted on Harry just after he’d rubbed him off through his robes. Much like he was doing to Malfoy now.
‘Keep looking, Malfoy,’ Smythe murmured, his hand still busy. He moved his mouth to cover Malfoy’s, his other hand gripping him around his neck.
Despite the bitter cold of the day, Harry felt as if he were standing in front of a burning bonfire. The odd thing was, though, as Smythe’s eyes closed and he subjected Malfoy to the kiss Harry had privately dubbed the Jaw-Breaker, Malfoy kept his eyes on Harry. It meant the angle of the kiss was wrong and Harry could see both their tongues clearly. Harry’s fists clenched and Malfoy’s gaze moved lower, to Harry’s obvious erection.
Harry was pretty certain that if Malfoy had possession of his mouth, he’d be smirking.
Abruptly Smythe broke the kiss and wiped his mouth on his hand. ‘Not bad,’ he allowed. ‘Harry’s better, but that’s only to be expected.’ He turned a full-wattage smile on Malfoy, who looked as though he’d been smacked over the head with a mallet. His lips were wet. Harry couldn’t stop looking at them. ‘After all, he’s a pervert.’ Smythe yawned and wandered back over to Harry.
Harry wasn’t prepared to be swept into a kiss, but Smythe, who exuded the epitome of scrawny sexuality, was a lot stronger than he looked. Harry had to work his mouth pretty quickly to keep up, but just as they were getting into a tongue-meshing rhythm, Smythe pulled away to call, ‘Go away now, pretty boy.’
Harry wanted to watch Malfoy leave, to see his expression, to wonder if it was anything like his own had been on watching Malfoy being snogged to within an inch of his life by Harry’s boyfriend.
‘What was that all about?’ Harry pulled himself together enough to demand, after about five rather hot and breathless minutes.
‘What was what about?’ Smythe asked, smiling lushly.
‘Don’t give me that. You kissed Malfoy. In front of me!’ Harry dragged his hands through his haystack hair. ‘Why are you even here if it’s him you want to be with?’
Smythe sounded genuinely surprised. ‘I don’t want to be with him,’ he said, as if Harry were hard of intelligence. ‘He just needed to be taught a lesson, that’s all.’
‘Oh, really? A lesson? Right.’ Harry felt himself beginning to build up a head of steam. ‘Why you, though? Why him? It doesn’t -- Arg!’ He ground to a halt, because the next words in his head were: ‘It doesn’t look as if the two of you need me around’ and it sounded unspeakably wimpy, not to mention that Malfoy and Smythe were far better suited than Harry and Smythe.
Or Harry and Malfoy.
Not that that errant thought, wherever it hailed from, had any bearing on the proceedings at all.
‘Why, Harry, are you jealous?’
Harry stared at Smythe, anger and confusion warring over his features. Smythe clucked his tongue almost affectionately and pulled Harry to him, touching his lips to Harry’s hair. Harry, although still offended, allowed himself to be hugged. It didn’t happen often, even with Smythe.
‘You don’t need to worry,’ Smythe told his hair. ‘Malfoy’s all bone and no bite. Whereas you …’ his voice dropped seductively to match his hand, which had slipped just between the fastenings of Harry's robes.
‘Still going commando, eh?’ Smythe’s voice was definitely less smooth now. ‘God, you kill me, you know that?’
Harry groaned quietly as Smythe thrust his hips against Harry’s. This hug was turning into a lot more than a simple embrace. As usual.
‘Come on,’ whispered Smythe. ‘Let’s go downtown, baby.’
Draco stared furiously at his ruined leather-bound notebook. Cows weren’t good for much, apart from shoes and the occasional rib eye steak, but the pale suede notebook had been extremely expensive, a gift from his father. Draco had only gone and knocked a full inkwell over it with his elbow. A black splodge of ink pooled in the valley of the two pages, dripping wetly on to the cover. Draco mopped the mess up irritably with a roll of Crabbe’s unfinished Remedial Charms essay, not bothering to use his wand. Which reminded him. He had his own essays to be writing, one for Defence and yet another for Potions. Snape couldn’t bear the thought of letting his NEWT class slack off when another member of staff threatened to rival him in the giving-impossibly-hard-assignments stakes.
Blaise had blithely announced in a promising Potions lesson, during which no-one had melted anything they shouldn’t have, that he had been set two Arithmancy chapters, a Defence practice paper and a Transfiguration evaluation to complete during the weekend. Upon hearing this, Snape had promptly set them four rolls of parchment on the various uses of eye of newt, to hand in the following Monday. This was far more sadistic than necessary; they’d only covered newts’ eyes once in the syllabus, about three times in their entire school careers and two of those times the eyeballs had been used as a substitute for cuttlefish sperm, which was difficult for Hagrid to procure.
Despite the overwhelming workload, Draco was not scribbling down the formula for the new Potion they’d been making. It had been a brew that had a distinctly spicy and foreign aroma which seeped into whatever clothes he was wearing, his skin and his hair and which refused to leave until he’d scrubbed himself down in the shower and bunged the robes in the laundry basket so that the elves could deal with the stink. Draco was working on a Quidditch line-up.
He wasn’t planning for the ordinary house matches; he’d done that already, weeks in advance. Politeness and social etiquette – well, peer pressure – had dictated that he choose the Keeper, two of the Chasers, and one of the Beaters from his own year. He'd made Crabbe a Keeper, because he'd always wanted to be one. Besides, everyone else who'd tried out had been hopeless. A snotty fifth year called Alison Levitt was the third Chaser and the other Beater was a snarling, irritable third-year called Robert Cronin who had wild, staring eyes. Draco had picked him solely because he was still brandishing a heavy wooden club -- he’d brought his own -- when Draco had broken the news to the try-out hopefuls. It hadn’t necessarily been the wrong choice – Robert hit Bludgers with such intense ferocity that it took about ten seconds for them to, figuratively speaking, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, wave away the pink elephants and start zooming towards another player. Still, Robert had to work on his aim. A broken rib had been the result of their first practice as a team.
No, Draco was working on which two players would be representing his team in the midnight Quidditch match he’d challenged Potter to. He wasn’t sure exactly what misguided thoughts had compelled him to challenge the boy to a match, when Draco had lost to him every single time the two had competed. It wasn’t as if he would have six other people to blame if the inevitable happened and he lost – this was one-on-one. Well, three on three, technically, but it was obvious to anyone with half a teaspoonful of grey matter that it was solely Potter versus Draco. Only one of them could win and he had a hunch about which horse most of the spectators would be betting on.
It was true what Potter had said, Draco did like to cheat, but there wasn’t much one could feasibly do to stop Potter streaking ahead on his Firebolt and capturing the Snitch. Draco could always hex him, but a curse’s ability to hit its target when the target was moving at sixty kilometres per hour was dubious and Seeking required skill and concentration, pure and simple. Draco’s only way to ensure a victory was to use his cunning – according to the Sorting Hat he had some locked away somewhere – and underhand tactics to really give Potter a knock.
The way to get underneath Potter’s skin, Draco had learnt after six long years, was to always go for the emotional attack. Potter didn’t get out of control when Draco jabbed the back of his head repeatedly with a quill, but if you so much as mentioned his dead mum, then he turned into The Boy Who Was A Raving Lunatic. The last time Draco had quite literally played that card, it had been at the poker game, which had ended in one too many painful bruises and disappearing pot, which Heinrich was still furious about. It wasn’t wise or in particularly good taste to bring up deceased parents again, but for the game, Draco had to find someone who could not only fly tolerably well, but affect Potter when he had to play against them – affect Potter almost as much as Potter affected Draco.
Draco scowled at his stained notebook and Crabbe’s crumpled parchment. He could ask Ron to fly for him, except he didn’t fancy getting punched in the face. He could capture the Mudblood and tie her to one of the hoops as a hostage – midnight rules, remember? Draco snickered to himself, then banged his fist on the table in exasperation. Oh, it was hopeless. Potter, astonishingly, didn’t have anyone that would be remotely willing to challenge him. Even though he’d been acting like a complete arse for the past couple of months, he was still liked by all his old friends. Potter wouldn’t give a toss if anyone he hadn’t been close to turned up on Draco’s team. It was stupid. Potter must have some enemies … a friend he had stabbed in the back, someone he beat in a competition ... a spurned lover …
Draco skulked in the darkness of the shadows next to Rowena’s statue, shifting his weight from one foot to the other in nervousness. To get Chang to talk to him, he would have to be extremely persuasive. Without the aid of two primitive-looking henchmen, who were usually quite adequate at convincing people to do things they didn’t want to do, Draco was not at all sure the conversation would be a success. He might even have to act charming. Draco didn’t like to read as a child and consequently never saw the princes’ expressions on the covers of storybooks, but even he could have guessed that the heroes of the Brothers Grimm did not sneer.
The man in the Ravenclaw portrait, who had been amusing himself for the past ten minutes by doing thrilling things with his abacus, sighed heavily. He slid off the stool, at the same time swinging his portrait sideways. A first-year girl poked her head through the entrance warily, as if she thought someone might be lying in wait for her. She wrinkled her nose as if scenting the air and then waited for a few seconds. Evidently deciding it was safe, she was about to clamber through when Draco coughed quietly, under his breath. The first-year turned her wide and horrified eyes on him, shrieked like a cockatoo and disappeared.
Draco sighed. He supposed he did look slightly rapist-esque, lurking in the darkness, but he had a perfectly good reason – he didn’t want to be accosted by Smythe, who was exactly the type the first-year should give a wide berth if she wanted to avoid sexual deviants. Draco squirmed, thinking about his last encounter with Potter, who’d seemingly turned into a raving nancy. He hadn’t even seemed to mind having Draco as an audience when him and Smythe had been – well. Enjoying their nanciness together.
Draco had been scared shitless when Smythe had bent down and licked him – yes, licked him, like some sort of animal – but despite Draco's best efforts to regain control of his leg muscles so he could flee, the only thing that was activated was the thing that he most wanted to lie dormant. Even though the chilly wind had been dragging its icy fingers across the damp patches on his neck, Draco had been burning up. His face had been on fire – he touched his pale cheek unconsciously – and that was before Smythe had kissed him. Draco had tried to fight it, he’d told himself that he wasn’t turned on, although his body had been behaving as treacherously as the Slytherins were reputed to be. He'd been fighting a battle that wasn’t so much ‘losing’ as reminiscent of England’s performance at the last World Cup, especially when Smythe started doing increasingly perverted things with his fingers. Still, Draco had managed to retain some small shred of sanity. Until Smythe had rasped ‘Look at Harry’.
Suddenly it hadn’t been Smythe Draco was kissing, it was Potter. Potter, who was scum and a Gryffindor and male. Enormously. Draco had managed to drag his eyes down low enough to witness for himself just how male Potter was. To his great embarrassment, Draco hadn’t torn himself away and vomited at that point, he’d snogged Smythe back. Hard. Draco hadn’t been thinking about his earlier humiliation because it was Potter he was snogging. Although, not really. Well, as good as. He’d probably tasted Potter on Smythe’s lips …
Draco wiped his suddenly sweaty forehead with his sleeve and focused on the nice, soothing mental image of Hagrid in bondage gear. To his relief, the hot feeling and sudden tightness between his legs diminished. If he was spotted by Chang, or anyone else for that matter, hiding in the shadows with a hard-on, he’d be labelled a virtual sex offender and Smythe would need no further clarification that he was, in fact, a pervert like Potter.
The little girl poked her head out of the hole again, but this time it was soon accompanied by a familiar blushing-cheeked one. The girl pointed at Draco and Matthew grinned in recognition.
'That’s ‘im. Wun of the big ‘uns, and ‘e was ‘iding behind the statue…' She had a voice that was high-pitched and grating, and about as pleasing to the ear as the sound of rusty nails being painstakingly dragged across a blackboard.
'That’s Malfoy, Wendy. He’s friendly, not like the other big ones. He won’t hurt you or anything.'
'Huh,' Wendy huffed, and added, 'Huh.' She had poker-straight blonde hair tied in two severe bunches and freckles that were so dark it looked as if she’d been sprinkled generously with cocoa powder. Matthew inhaled gratefully, in the way that one does when one has noticed a way to end the lull in a conversation.
'What’s that making a dent in your robes?' Matthew asked, looking downwards. Wendy eyed the protrusion beadily, and Draco looked down at the tent by his crotch, aghast. So much for his ‘I will not negatively influence the children’ resolution. After a nanosecond’s horror, he remembered he wasn’t aroused in the slightest, not after being scrutinised by Ovaltine-Face Wendy. Also Draco was fairly sure that if he was, the bulge would be more central, and less in the vicinity of his right hip.
'Oh,' he answered, smiling at Wendy in the hope that she wouldn’t start speaking again. He pulled it out, where he’d tucked it into the waistband. 'It’s my wand.' Wendy tugged at Matthew’s ear viciously and began to whisper perfectly audible slights against Draco into it.
'Chang!' cried Draco, seeing sleek shoulder-length hair swish past him. She ignored this and Draco decided on a more familiar approach. After all, Prince Charmings were suitably courteous, but they didn’t bother with formalities like surnames.
'Cho,' he supplied feebly, sounding as if he were reading her name off a register. Cho spun around so fast, Draco wondered that she didn’t get whiplash. She was certainly holding her head at a funny angle. Draco realised just in time that she was waiting impatiently for him to speak.
'Please could I talk to you for a second?' Draco asked hopefully. ‘Please’ constituted being charming, didn’t it?
'Well, I won’t go out with you,' Cho replied, after an impressive millisecond’s hesitation. 'Not even to make Potter jealous.'
'Good,' Draco answered, bewildered. Why on earth would Cho think he wanted to make Potter jealous? The silence yawned emptily for a few awkward seconds, during which Cho began to preen. This unashamed narcissism reminded Draco that Cho was of course a girl, just like Pansy, and therefore she had only been doing what she spent the majority of her female time doing, which was talking about herself. 'I don’t mean that I want you to go out with me.'
'Good,' replied Cho. She tossed her head like a disgruntled pony. 'Bye then.' She began to flounce away, but Matthew, who had been watching the exchange avidly, grabbed Wendy’s palm and blocked the hole. 'Out of the way, squirt!' Cho flashed Matthew an annoyed look.
Wendy wrenched her hand free of Matthew’s and scuttled away out of sight, but Matthew stayed where he was, although his knees knocked together a little.
'Why wouldn’t you want to date Draco?' he asked. He looked as if he was blushing, but with him you could never be too sure. 'He’s really nice.'
Cho appeared to be as stunned by this statement as Draco was.
'Bloomsbury?' Cho asked helplessly. She looked Draco to Matthew in consternation. 'Did you bewitch the kid or what?'
'No,' Matthew answered. 'But we’re friends.' Draco buried his head in his hands.
'Please just go back to your common room, Matthew,' he gritted out through his teeth. 'Just go now, OK?'
‘I’m helping,’ Matthew mouthed over Cho’s shoulder.
'Don’t help me, Matthew,' Draco pleaded. 'Please. Don’t help me.'
Matthew looked Cho up and down appraisingly, as if assessing whether it was safe to leave Draco by himself with her, then, giving a half-hearted ‘You’re on your own, mate’ shrug, he climbed through the portrait hole, quickly followed by the portrait, which slammed over the entrance. Cho turned to face Draco, looking bemused.
'I’ve noticed that you’re a really good flier,' Draco began, inspired. Compliments always worked wonders with Pansy.
'Well. Yeah,' said Cho, looking pacified. 'It’s usually a basic requirement for the Quidditch Captain. I’m Captain, by the way.'
'Really? Well done,' Draco congratulated, even though he’d known about it ever since the feast on the first day. 'Well, there’s a kind of unauthorised evening match taking place and I wondered if you would like to play.'
Cho, who had been nodding absent-mindedly during his speech, started to shake her head vehemently. 'I’m sorry, Malfoy, but I don’t really have the time --'
'Just the one match,' said Draco, doing his best not to grovel. 'It’s sort of -- you know -- elite. It’s taking place late at night, the teachers don’t know --'
'Elite?' asked Cho, her eyes glinting. Draco nodded, encouraged.
'Yeah,' he drawled, trying to sound bored and superior, instead of merely desperate. 'It’s only the best players, very intense.'
'Well, I’ll think about it,' Cho said doubtfully, tossing her hair again. She certainly had an equine complex. Draco wished he had brought some sugar cubes to sway her. 'But I’m not sure --'
'Look,' said Draco, grasping at straws. 'It’s against Potter. How do you feel about Potter now? He thinks he’s going to win, like he does at everything else. Don’t you want to see him lose?'
It was like pressing a magic button.
'Harry!' Cho exclaimed, shading her eyes with her hand and fluttering her eyelashes dramatically. 'Don’t talk to me about that boy. He asked me to the Yule Ball, you know, then showed up with one of the twins, the Patils, not the Weasleys – I never could tell them apart. The Patils, not the Weasleys. Well, I never could tell them apart either. Then last year, he – Harry -- follows me around for a term, like some kind of stalker -- ask Marietta if you don’t believe me - and then takes advantage of me when I’m vulnerable and emotionally in a bad place and so I decide to use him as a shoulder to cry on, but he’s just not interested. I mean he’s just not interested. Then he decides he likes Granger better anyway, so he buggers off. And so I buggered off too, because I wasn’t going to let that frizzy bitch get the better of me.'
Draco stared. He wondered how to press the magic button to turn Cho off.
'And then he blanks me again, while he tries to get Granger to notice him, but of course she was working her magic on Weasley, so this year Harry comes back and ignores them both, just to spite me and he ignores me too, as if I don’t matter and I don’t count, and I’m holding the most infinitesimal bit of importance in his mind currently, and he’s clearly expecting me to talk to him first. As if! So when I don’t talk to him, he flips out and starts wearing make-up and hanging out with Mark, just because I used to like him in third year, but that’s water under the bridge, but Harry! Don’t talk to me about him.'
'You can get him back,' Draco inserted quickly, whilst Cho was drawing breath. 'Not like that, obviously, because you’re so much better off without him, but you can get revenge for the way he treated you.'
'He treated me abysmally,' wailed Cho. 'Abysmally.'
'So you’ll do it?'
'Oh, all right,' snapped Cho. She extended her hand in a businesslike manner. 'As long as you tell me when this thing is going to happen. You’re Seeking, I presume?'
'Oh? Yes, I am.' Draco nodded. He looked at her outstretched hand and wondered whether to clasp it or kiss it. He settled for shaking it and half-kneeling as he did so. 'Seeking. Thank you, Cho.'
Cho looked gratified.
'Oh, I’m not doing it for you,' she assured him, walking over to the portrait and reciting the quadratic formula. The portrait swung open, exposing the hole. 'I’m not doing it for Harry, either. I am Quidditch captain, after all. I’m going to analyse your flying styles and use the information against you in the upcoming matches.'
'Fair enough.' Draco shrugged as Cho disappeared from view. On the night he’d be trying so hard to catch the Snitch before Potter did that he doubted he’d give anything away about his flying style. Anything he’d miss having, that was. It was Potter who was always the professional when it came to Quidditch. Potter would always maintain the correct diving position, come hell or high water. Perhaps not hell, actually. Dementors weren’t exactly Potter’s thing.
Draco rubbed his hands together in glee. Now he had Cho Chang on his side. Cho Chang, an egotistical, self-obsessed seventh-year. Cho Chang, Harry Potter’s ex-girlfriend. Draco wondered if Smythe would be watching.
This match had the potential to be very interesting.
‘Beating!’ Cho echoed shrilly, as she shied away from the bat Draco was trying to force on her.
He’d thought Cho would be more amenable to the idea of playing the position if he dropped the bomb on her at the last minute. This, it turned out, had been a very bad idea. She had gone berserk.
‘No-one said anything about effing Beating!’
Draco winced at the noise and tried to shush her, looking apprehensively at the closed door. A girl’s screams could really carry in Hogwarts. Robert was sitting underneath the cloak pegs, cradling his club in his hands as if it was his firstborn child. Draco wouldn’t have been surprised if Robert had made it himself, with his bare hands, it was so knobbly and uneven. Even more so now, as metal spikes were protruding from it at odd intervals.
‘Robert!’ exclaimed Draco, incredulous. Robert shuffled about and grinned uneasily. He had been dressed in full Quidditch gear since break, despite Draco’s not-so-subtle hints about confidentiality. Robert tenderly traced a spike with his thumb.
‘Er,’ he asked hopefully. ‘Midnight rules?’
‘You expect me to wield an ugly wooden club whilst manoeuvring a broomstick, and then to take a swing at whatever might decide to hurl itself at your head, with little to no thought for my own safety?’
‘We-ell,’ Draco hedged. ‘That is kind of what Beating entails.’ He glanced edgily at Robert. ‘You don’t hit anyone, mind – just the balls. Right, Robert? You’re not going to whack anyone with the bat, are you?’
‘Oh, of course not,’ Robert replied innocently, with the same affected surprise crooks put on when they say, ‘No, of course not, officer, do you really think I’d try to bribe you?’ to the nice policeman.
‘You said that the match was elite,’ Cho groused. ‘And yet you want me to fly alongside the original Dennis the Menace --’
Cho shook her head impatiently. ‘Never mind,’ she snapped. ‘The point is, I can’t Beat. Not in this light, not when I’ve just done my nails … and I don’t know how. I’ve always Seeked or Chased.’
‘It’s really easy,’ interrupted Robert. He gripped his bat in a restrained excitement, his eyes wide and frenzied. ‘You – you don’t think you’ll have the strength, when you see it hurtling towards you, then suddenly, deep down, you tap into this wild anger, and everything gets faded out in this wash of red, and you just let it out in this fantastic burst and you feel the release as you swing and then you hear the crack!’ He performed the mime equivalent of brutally beheading someone. Cho stared and Robert wiped the foamy saliva from the sides of his mouth, beaming.
‘Lots of people use Beating as an outlet for their rage,’ Draco pointed out, after a silence. ‘You’re a Tornados supporter, right? Julian Valiant says that Beating’s way better than therapy. And cheaper.’
‘Are you suggesting I’m mental?’ Cho inquired. She jerked her shiny black head at Robert. ‘Like him?’
‘No, no!’ Draco amended, flustered. ‘I just meant, if you want to let out your rage towards Potter, here is a great, socially acceptable place to do it. Chang, you’re the best flier I’ve seen, honest. Anyway, you wanted to analyse Potter’s flying style for matches.’
‘I could do that from the stands,’ Cho objected, although she looked mollified by Draco’s compliment – well, lie. Cho could fly tolerably well, but her midair turns were all over the place. ‘There will be people in the stands, I take it?’
‘Probably.’ Draco shrugged, unconcerned. ‘It is meant to be a secret from the establishment, so don’t get your hopes up or anything.'
‘All right, if you shut up, I’ll do it,’ Cho conceded, kicking the wall of the changing room experimentally. ‘As long as you do me a favour.’
‘What?’ Draco smirked.
‘Break that little habit of losing you have once and for all,’ said Cho. ‘I know Harry’s got a Firebolt, but you --’
‘Oh no he hasn’t,’ Draco interrupted, trying to ignore the dig. He’d been looking forward to revealing this little stroke of genius. ‘Midnight rules, remember?’
‘You stole Harry’s broom? Wouldn’t he have noticed already?’
‘No,’ Draco answered, trying his utmost not to add ‘you tool’. ‘We worked out beforehand a set of guidelines – we each get to choose a deciding factor that will work to our advantage. Before we start, I’m going to tell him that the Seekers have to swap brooms. Easy.’
‘Bullshit,’ said Cho. ‘Potter will never let you so much as touch his precious Firebolt, let alone ride it. He’s such a pretentious little --’
Much as Draco appreciated chatting with someone who shared his vehement antagonism towards Potter, it was beginning to irritate him. Was Potter all she could think about?
‘If he doesn’t, he’ll forfeit the whole match.’ Draco grinned, baring his small, pointed teeth. He really was quite proud of himself for thinking of it. The Hat had been right, he did have cunning. Sly like a fox. ‘We decided on it all earlier. Quite civilly, too.’
‘You really are a little bastard,’ Cho said approvingly, lacing up her boots. ‘Don’t you think, though, that he’s blatantly going to think up a requirement for you that’s completely --’
Justin Finch-Fletchley stuck his head round the door and recited his message with all the enthusiasm of one who has been forced at wand point to perform an errand.
‘You have to, you know, come out now, the others are all waiting on the, you know, pitch,’ he mumbled resentfully, before disappearing. Robert charged outside after him in glee, waving his bat in the air.
‘I guess we’ll find out soon,’ Draco answered, his stomach churning in what it seemed was an effort to turn its salad-based contents into butter. It was a familiar sensation, the one he felt whenever playing against Potter, but it didn’t feel any the less disconcerting because of that. Cho stood up resolutely and put her hand on the doorknob. She was exactly Draco’s height. Odd. And Draco was noticing this why? He lurched towards the exit, wondering if Cho would go back on her decision to be Beater if he threw up in her hair.
Outside it was cold, much colder than it had been during the day, but Draco’s desire to be sick on Cho’s head did not diminish. Damp leaves squished beneath their feet and the icy mud sucked wetly at the soles of their boots. Justin Finch-Fletchley and Zacharias Smith walked a good twelve feet in front of Draco’s team, muttering angrily to each other.
‘Why’d you bring me here, you pillock, it’s not as if I don’t have anything better to do of a Friday night --’
‘You don’t! I tried to discourage Susan, because, see, the hoi polloi, you know, the masses, see the four Quidditch balls as, you know, phallic symbols --’
Draco couldn’t quite see the dynamics that made that friendship work, but he supposed that they were simply too complex for an outsider to understand their subtleties. It was hardly a long walk. The bickering duo turned abruptly and made their way up into one of the stands, leaving Draco, who was --hyperventilating-- breathing heavily, to lead his paltry team on to the pitch in silence.
The pitch had been illuminated by flaming torches that hung in the stands and were suspended in the air. Several of the spectators also bore Omniculars that had been enchanted to make beams of light shine from the lenses. They trained these spotlights on Draco, Cho and Robert as they walked on. Draco glared up at them, trying to see who was gathered. There were about thirty people, all scattered in the two ‘neutral’ Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw stands. Crabbe and Goyle were seated on the stairs, intent on causing the most inconvenience to everyone. Zacharias Smith seemed unwilling to squeeze past them. Weasley, Granger and three other Gryffindor boys were huddled warily in the back row. They had obviously turned up uninvited. Draco didn’t know if Potter’s former best mates were a couple yet, but the Mudblood was clearly too worried to be bothered with any amorous advances Weasley might make. She looked almost as terrified as Draco felt.
Marietta Edgecombe was there, giving the Gryffindor pack dirty looks. Robert seemed to have amassed about twelve of his equally philistine friends, who all roared wordlessly when he came into view. There were other small groups of students, huddled together for warmth, but the instantly recognisable Smythe was nowhere to be seen.
Standing in the centre of the pitch, ahead of Draco, Cho and Robert, were three dark silhouettes. The tallest, in the middle, was obviously Potter. Draco knew at once, from his stance, the way he held his broom … everything. There was a much larger silhouette to Potter’s right, which, upon closer scrutiny, proved to be the Susan girl. The huge Beater’s bat looked as weightless as a matchstick in her muscled arms. Both Robert and Cho cast her dismissive glances. The person standing on Potter’s left was cloaked in shadow.
Potter’s expression as Draco and his team-mates stalked up to him was unfathomable, but as they got closer it became apparent that he had gone above and beyond the call of duty with his awesome eye make-up. His irises were ringed with circles of smoky black eyeliner that completely covered his lids, making him look smouldering and dangerous. His skin was also a shade paler, but Draco didn’t dare to hope that it was due to nerves, the like of which he was currently experiencing.
‘You look like a racoon, fairy-boy,’ said Draco.
‘Call it war paint.’ Potter shrugged, his face gleaming in the torchlight. His gaze travelled far enough for his vision to encompass Draco’s team in its entirety. Then Potter did a double-take on the person on his right, astounding in itself because she wasn’t the one growling and snarling under her breath.
‘Cho?’ rasped Potter, his face twisted in confusion.
‘Harry,’ Cho acknowledged haughtily, gripping the handle of her Arrow in a regal manner.
‘I hate to break up this little reunion --’ Draco smirked, relieved that all was going more or less to plan ‘-- but I’ll be needing you to let go of that broom, Potter.’
Potter, who was staring at Cho in utter amazement, as if she were dressed in a long flowing gown and top hat instead of the slightly more conventional Quidditch robes, tore his eyes away with difficulty.
‘What are you talking about, Malfoy?’
Draco motioned towards the Firebolt. ‘Midnight rules.’
Potter laughed in a derisive manner. ‘That’s utter crap, Malfoy. It’s not even bloody Quidditch if one of the players doesn’t have a broom.’
‘Oh, I fully intend to give you a broom,’ Draco assured him, smiling. The crowd was silent, straining to hear. A few seemed to have trailed long, flesh-coloured things on to the pitch. ‘We swap.’
Potter’s face hardened. ‘No.’
‘Oh, come on.’ Draco grinned nastily. ‘It’s only a Nimbus, but I’m sure you can cope.’
‘You can’t have it,’ protested Potter. ‘It was given to me by --’ He stopped himself and inhaled deeply, not looking at Malfoy but at his boots in the muddy grass. ‘Sorry. No.’
‘Then you forfeit,’ said Draco in triumph. ‘That’s what we decided.’
Robert made an indignant noise like a whine in the back of his throat. Potter looked at his Firebolt, which he was now holding in a death grip. If it had been a rooster’s neck he was grasping, he would either have been arrested by the RSPCA or been awarded a prize for Most Efficient Farmboy. Potter swallowed several times. Then he took the broom in both hands and extended it to the Draco, who snatched it off him.
Draco turned the Firebolt over and over in his hands, enjoying the feel of the streamlined, aerodynamic wood. It had obviously been well looked after. It was clean and polished, in near mint condition – apart from the groove where Potter’s hands had grasped the stick tightly during all those years of practices, matches, flying. Draco fingered the curve of the dents.
‘If you get the smallest scratch,’ warned Potter, his voice wavering, ‘If you dare screw up, crash, and bang her up in any way – I’ll castrate you, I swear.'
'I’ll take good care of her, don’t worry,' promised Draco. He even meant it. Potter blinked, looking almost as bewildered as he had when he’d clocked Cho, then took Draco’s Nimbus from the blond boy’s clammy fingers.
‘Right,’ he said, dragging the back of his gloved hand across his eyes, so that the eyeliner smudged artistically across a cheekbone. ‘My turn.’
Harry’s stomach was churning as he held Malfoy’s Nimbus lightly between his fingers. There were a good few dents and scratches along the surface, which Harry surmised were the result of the temper tantrums Malfoy threw when he lost.
Still, it could have been worse. Harry had flown Nimbuses before and beat Malfoy on them.
Not when he’s flying a Firebolt, you haven’t, a nasty little voice at the back of his mind piped up. Harry banished it. There was no room to entertain the sort of doubt that came from the niggling suspicion that it had been dumb luck and a superior broom that had accounted for all his wins against the boy now standing opposite him, lavishing covetous smiles on the broom in his arms. Malfoy hadn’t been chosen as the youngest Seeker in a century; Harry had.
Just hold on to that thought.
‘Right,’ he said. ‘My turn.’ He scratched at an itch under his eye before turning to the last member of his team, who had been standing back in the shadows, holding the cage. ‘Smythe, you’re on.’
He thought he heard Malfoy gasp when Smythe came out into the Omniocular-sourced flashlights, but that was only to be expected given that Smythe had practically assaulted him the last time they had met. Harry still hadn’t quite forgiven Smythe for it and that was one of the main reasons he on the pitch with Harry right now, as aside from the basic rudiments of flight Smythe had very little knowledge of Quidditch. However, Harry was banking on his reflexes, deceiving strength and the psychological effect he’d have on Malfoy to back him up in the game.
‘What is that?’ Cho demanded, fear and disgust warring in her voice.
Harry, who had knelt down in the mud to unfasten the locks, looked up at his opponents and smiled widely. ‘Cats,’ he said.
‘You what?’ Malfoy said, sounding rather high-pitched.
‘Kitty-cats, felines --’ Harry paused for effect, shooting a look at Cho ‘-- pussies.’ To the accompaniment of indignant yowls, Harry reached inside the cage and withdrew a small grey cat. It turned insane yellow eyes on Harry and made a spirited attempt to claw all the skin off his hand. Wincing as little bubbles of blood oozed from the cuts, he stood up quickly and thrust the cat at the boy with the spikey bludgeon.
He indulged in a blank look for all of five seconds, after which interval the cat dug its claws into his arm and proceeded to hang upside down from it, spitting.
‘There had better be a very good reason for this, Potter.’ Malfoy’s voice was dangerous, but then so were the alley cats.
‘Oh, there is,’ said Harry, unable to suppress the pure glee in his voice. ‘Cats are traditionally the familiars of witches -- well, in Muggle literature, at least. They ride on the witches’ brooms --’
‘No!’ Malfoy howled, but it was too late. Harry had another cat -- a tortoiseshell tabby that sported long ragged fur, a squashed Persian face and molten insanity, dripping from every unsheathed claw -- by the scruff of its neck and was advancing on Cho.
‘Uh, I really don’t like animals --’ she began, apprehension leaking from her voice like a noxious gas.
‘I shouldn’t worry about that,’ said Harry comfortingly. ‘They don’t like humans.’ He pushed the cat at Cho’s chest. She didn’t raise her hands to pick it up, but it didn’t matter because the cat curled its paws into the front of her robes and hung on like Grim Death With PMS.
‘Now, Smythe here helped me with the spell,’ explained Harry. ‘They aren’t going to run away from you, which would be their natural instinct. However, they still may try to jump off your brooms or something. You forfeit the game if one of the cats hit the ground before you do, and you’re not allowed to kill them.’ He hadn’t intended to add the last disclaimer, but the other boy on Malfoy’s team had finally collared his cat and was sharing a mutually murderous stare with it.
‘Do I not get a cat?’ asked Malfoy, seeming as if he hoped that Harry had forgotten him. He also seemed torn between that happy thought and the far less happy one that Harry had something worse in store for him, in which case he’d certainly take the cat.
‘Oh, you do,’ Harry assured him. ‘We’ve got someone really special for you.’ He crouched down again and clicked his tongue. ‘Here, Crookshanks. Come to Harry.’
‘HARRY POTTER!’ a thunderous voice suddenly came from the stands. ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH MY PET?’
Harry stood up, Crookshanks cradled in his arms. He dithered for a moment, then cupped a hand around his mouth and called, ‘Don’t worry, Hermione, he’ll be fine.’
‘HE’D BETTER BE. MALFOY, YOU SCUM, HURT MY CAT AND DIE. SLOWLY. OVER SEVERAL DAYS.’
Harry turned an evil grin on Malfoy, running his fingers through the thick fur on Crookshanks’ head. Crookshanks turned a luminous, intelligent gaze on Malfoy, who gulped.
‘Do you catch that, Malfoy?’ he asked. ‘If you hurt her cat, Hermione will kill you. Slowly. Over several days. And don’t think she won’t, either. Gryffindors are quite protective of their familiars.’
‘I heard, Potter,’ snapped Malfoy, looking distinctly green. ‘Give me the goddamn thing.’
Harry stepped forward and held Crookshanks out for him to take. This cat demanded more care than the other two and not just because Harry had stolen him from his best friend for the night. Crookshanks started up a low, rumbling purr that Harry knew from experience could go on for hours with no respite. At night, before a roaring fire and half-asleep in a comfy armchair, that purr could be relaxing. On a dark pitch, with nerves twanging and flying against your greatest rival, Harry thought the noise would be akin to that of fingernails across a blackboard.
‘Good boy,’ he said under his breath. Malfoy, whose arms were momentarily tangled with Harry’s, looked up, startled.
‘What did you say?’ he spat.
‘I was talking to the cat,’ Harry said haughtily. He dropped his voice. ‘Part Kneazle, you know. They can spot untrustworthy people.’ He let that sink in before adding, ‘I’m not quite sure what they do to them when they find them, but I am very interested in finding out.’
‘Christ,’ groaned Malfoy. Harry beamed and withdrew. Not a flicker of his eyes showed that his heart had started to race at Malfoy’s proximity. Good thing Harry wouldn’t be that close to Malfoy again, it would have put him off his game.
Harry looked around. Susan was by his side, staid and chewing gum with loud smacking sounds. ‘All right?’ he said under his breath.
‘I don’t know,’ said Susan. A typical Susan answer. Harry smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.
‘Just don’t let the snakes put you off,’ he said, nodding towards the stands. He could spot some of Malfoy’s classmates; Zabini, with his arms crossed and a pout on his face, the goons and Heinrich, who was looking fixedly at the goalposts.
‘Oh dear,’ said Susan.
Justin took that moment to scream: ‘Be, you know, careful, my, you know, darling!’
‘Oh dear,’ Susan repeated, going scarlet. ‘I don’t know him.’
‘Know who?’ Harry grinned and twisted his head to Smythe.
Smythe quirked an eyebrow. Harry felt something plummet out of the bottom of his stomach. Come to think of it, that probably was his stomach.
‘If we win,’ breathed Smythe, ‘do I get a special reward for participating?’
‘Yeah,’ Harry said shortly. ‘My eternal gratitude.’ He turned to face his adversaries. Cho’s cat was sitting calmly on her head, while below it Cho was having hysterics by degrees. The other boy’s cat was swinging from the back of his robes while he vainly tried to clip it with his bat.
Crookshanks was curled around Malfoy’s neck. Harry raised his eyebrows and the cat fixed him with its steady stare. The fact that Malfoy looked terrified was little consolation; Harry had hoped Crookshanks would have gone into spitting mode, at least. Still, the fact that Malfoy’s Beaters were both incapacitated was a feather in Harry’s cap.
‘Where’s the game-starter?’ he asked. There was to be no referee; midnight rules, after all. Anything went.
‘I am here,’ Luna’s dreamy voice informed him. ‘Except that I may be a butterfly dreaming that I am a human and that I am here …’
‘Right, right,’ said Harry. He swung his leg over Malfoy’s broom. As one, everyone else on the pitch did the same. Luna was holding the box with the Snitch and the unchained Bludgers inside; an ominous rattling emanated from it.
‘Ready, steady,’ Luna said. The six players tensed for flight. ‘Hot cross buns, on your marks, teddy bears, oranges and lemons --’
‘What the hell?’ Malfoy complained.
‘GO!’ Luna screeched, opening the box with a brilliant smile.
Harry was already in the air as Malfoy scrambled to catch up, but he could see that would take very little. As soon as Malfoy took off, his silhouette blurred with speed. Harry could only watch in awe and slight nausea, wondering if that was how Harry looked all of the time -- sort of spread out against the air.
Around him, there was chaos. The Bludgers occupied the greatest amount of attention but the cats were coming in a close second. The boy spent half of his time trying to hit his own back and the other half whacking Bludgers so hard they dented and hung in the air for seconds at a time, stunned.
Cho was screaming her head off and waving her bat wildly; by complete chance, quite a few of her wild swings brought it into contact with a ball and no one was more surprised than she was when this happened. Susan was flying up and down the pitch, methodically hitting a Bludger and following it to hit it again.
Harry experimented with a few loop-the-loops and Wronski Feints during the first three-quarters of an hour; it was hard work. He had to urge the broom on, every muscle straining. He’d forgotten about having to do this. He’d become too used to a broom that responded to every whim before he’d even thought them.
Smythe didn’t appear to be doing anything except wincing and falling flat on his broom every time a ball came within spitting distance. However, as Harry watched and kept one eye peeled for the Snitch, he sat up and fixed his gaze on Malfoy.
‘Hey, Draco!’ he yelled. The blur hesitated for a second and Malfoy paused in the air, utter exhilaration painted across his features. Crookshanks was wrapped around the bristles of the broom, all his fur on end.
‘What?’ Malfoy said uncertainly and Harry applauded his choice of players. Even Cho wouldn’t have distracted Harry from his search to that extent. As he scanned the sky for the Snitch, he could almost hear Smythe smirking.
‘Nothing,’ sighed Smythe. Harry spared a glance for him and almost choked when he saw Smythe innocently sucking his little finger, his head tilted and his tongue clearly visible to everyone. Including Malfoy, who was looking severely unnerved.
Then Harry saw it. The Snitch, dazzling his eyes, tantalisingly within his grasp. Every neuron fired, sending electric sparks out through Harry’s hair, to the edges of his fingers. He kicked the broom forward, almost sliding backwards as his hands sought for a worn grip that wasn’t there -- Malfoy did, after all, still hold his broom incorrectly.
The word rebounded around the stadium but Harry paid it no attention. He was straining forward, hanging on to the broom with his knees and luck.
Then Malfoy was beside him, the ends of the Firebolt almost frazzling from the speed. His elbow jostled Harry’s. Harry shoved back, feeling the connection with flesh, which forced a soft ‘Oomph!’ from his foe.
Harry realised that Malfoy was close, very close indeed. They weren’t just flying neck and neck, they were flying knee and knee, side and side, arm and arm, almost -- too near for Harry’s thudding heart and his suddenly somersaulting stomach -- cheek and cheek.
‘Bugger,’ Malfoy said again, stretching his hand out. Harry could see it wavering in the air ahead, just the merest of measurements ahead of Harry’s own. The Snitch still dangled there insouciantly, for once not darting off at the approach of Seekers but instead taunting them.
Harry attempted to knock Malfoy’s hand out of the way, as he had done so many times before, but it didn’t work. There was too much power in the broom Malfoy was riding and not enough in his own, and he really wished he hadn’t thought the words ‘Malfoy’ and ‘riding’ in the same sentence --
In a last-ditch effort, ignoring the raucous screams all around him -- interspersed with the occasional feline shriek -- Harry pushed himself off his broom almost entirely and lunged, pinning one wing between his fingers, at the exact same moment as Malfoy’s fist curled around the tiny ball.
Then Harry was falling, dragged off his broom by the momentum of the dive and the only thing between him and oblivion was a tiny metal wing, fluttering madly and already starting to tear away --
Crookshanks bellowed. It wasn’t the sort of noise that should have come from anything smaller than an elephant. In the split second before he passed out, Harry saw the cat scrabbling up Malfoy’s neck, which with the rest of his torso was hanging down below the level of the broom due to Harry’s weight. Malfoy’s eyes widened even more as claws sunk into the skin of his neck. Everything went black.
Harry had always been crap at Divination. However, he was aware of a sudden and very pressing flash of prescience: if he opened his eyes right now, he was going to be in an immense amount of pain.
His eyelids fluttered on an instinctive impulse. They wanted to open when Harry was awake, which he was.
The pain settled on him like a warm blanket. Although to make the analogy more truthful, it settled on him like a blanket of nails.
Harry gurgled. He wanted to say something suitable for the occasion, like ‘I bequeath all my worldly goods to Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger’, but his vocal chords seemed to have gone on sudden and total strike.
He became aware that he seemed to be in a muddy depression and, also, that he was not alone. Harry weakly raised an arm to bat the cat away. ‘Geroff, Crookshanks,’ he groaned. At least, that’s what he meant to say -- it came out as ‘Goff, ookank.’
‘Ever articulate, I see,’ came the most unwelcome voice Harry could ever have heard.
‘Wha -- ‘foy?’
‘Yes. I think I’ve broken my leg. Cheers, Potter.’
Harry blinked rapidly, dislodging a beetle. ‘Wha'? Dead?’
‘No, I only wish I was.’
Harry spent several crowded minutes figuring out what exactly had happened. He had fallen, obviously. He didn’t think he was dead, unless he’d gone to some ring of Hell wherein the punishment meted out was of the muddy and crushing genre. Malfoy was there, under him to some extent, but his voice had come from the side. With an extreme effort, he turned his head, saw Malfoy’s face and screamed.
Malfoy’s mouth drooped even more. ‘Why, deafen as well as maim me, Potter. I’m sure I won’t need my eardrums in the intensive therapy I’ll need after being trapped under you.’
‘Yes, you fell on top of me.’
‘Oh God,’ Harry moaned. He went to bury his face in his arms, only to find that one of them was underneath Malfoy. In fact -- in other circumstances, their relative positions could be regarded as suggestive in the extreme.
‘Where is everyone?’
‘My team-mates are fighting cats,’ said Malfoy. He was breathing shallowly and Harry could tell it was an effort for him to talk. ‘The Puff went for help, for us, and made everyone else scatter. She said not to move us in case our spines were broken.’
Even through his pain, Malfoy blushed. ‘Not sure. I think he went with -- with the Puff.’ He clenched his teeth and blew out through his nostrils. ‘Could you not move your leg again?’
‘Because it is right on top of my broken one.’
‘Right.’ Harry said. He thought for a moment. ‘Sorry.’
Harry eyeballed Crookshanks, who was curled up between their bodies now and who had started to purr. He shoved his hand under the cat’s belly in an effort to push him off, but instead managed to tangle his fingers with Malfoy’s.
Malfoy grit his teeth. A second later, Harry felt pressure on the hand that was underneath his body. He realised it was still holding the Snitch’s wing. The fact that Malfoy had managed to move it too had to mean …
‘A draw?’ Harry breathed. ‘All this for a draw?’
‘I hate you so much, Potter,’ whimpered Malfoy.
‘Shut up,’ said Harry, closing his eyes and dragging his teeth over his lower lip in frustration.
‘Stop … doing that,’ Malfoy said. His voice sounded laboured. Harry’s eyes shot open.
‘With your bloody lip!’ Malfoy wailed. The fingers of the hand that were now effectively squashed under Crookshanks’ considerable bulk twitched against Harry’s. An imp of mischief came into Harry’s brain. He felt winded and severely bruised, but that was no deterrent to a chance to torment Malfoy. The fact that Malfoy was injured and unable to escape only made it the sweeter.
Harry refused to pause and consider why he enjoyed winding Malfoy up so. It was enough that it was fun.
‘What, this?’ he said, parting his lips slightly and running his tongue across them.
‘No, not that either!’ Malfoy sounded frantic now.
‘You seem a little -- uptight, Malfoy,’ said Harry, grinning. With his body meshed against Malfoy’s the way it was, Harry could feel exactly how uptight Malfoy was.
Malfoy squeezed his eyes shut and made an incoherent whining noise. ‘I saw you got a bit distracted by Smythe too,’ Harry continued inexorably. ‘You’re easily distracted, aren’t you, Malfoy? Odd how it’s always boys …’
Malfoy’s lips drew up over his teeth in a primeval snarl. ‘Fuck you,’ he spat.
'I'm taken,' said Harry.
‘By Smythe?’ Malfoy snorted.
‘No need,’ said Malfoy. Harry was surprised by how smug he sounded. ‘He’s anybody’s.’
‘What is that supposed to mean?’ demanded Harry, his fingernails scraping a warning across Malfoy’s knuckles.
Malfoy laughed. It was not an amused or pleasant sound. Harry felt a cold sweat appear on his forehead.
‘Surely you know he’s playing you? Oh, wait, I forget -- the Great Harry Potter is too fucking thick to see beyond the end of his nose.’
‘Explain yourself or you will find my wand shoved in a part of your anatomy that you will not find comfortable,’ warned Harry.
‘Huh, I’m sure you’ve experience in these matters,’ said Malfoy. His eyes were open again and glittering with malice. ‘But Smythe is a slut. He’d go for anyone he thought he’d a chance of shagging. Let me tell you, Pansy was quite upset when she found that out.’
Harry opened his mouth to retort, but too much of what Malfoy had said rang true for him to formulate a suitably cutting response.
‘You’ve been done,’ said Malfoy. The contentment in his voice was like sandpaper to a raw wound.
Harry, scowling, tensed his leg and Malfoy’s cackle turned into a gasp of pain.
‘I don’t know what you’re acting so high and mighty about,’ said Harry, ‘Smythe almost destroyed you the other day and you have a hard-on now.’
‘So do you.’
Harry realised it was true. ‘This is a disaster,’ he said dismally.
‘We really need to do something about that before people come to dig us out.’
‘What do you suggest?’ snapped Harry. ‘A little mutual wanking? You want me to give you a blow-job with the cat sitting on your head?’
‘Actually, Potter, I was thinking more along the lines of concentrating on cold baths, chocolate cake, that sort of thing,’ said Malfoy. His tone was almost prim.
‘Oh.’ Harry subsided and did as he was bid.
A few minutes of blessed silence later, Harry heard muted voices.
‘We’ve come to get you out of here.’
‘I think Malfoy’s broken his leg.’
‘I have,’ Malfoy’s indignant voice cut in.
‘It’s okay.’ Susan’s voice was hushed. ‘We’re going to get you inside and cleaned up, then Malfoy will fall down some stairs and we’ll bring him to the hospital wing.’
‘I’m going to be pushed down some stairs?’ Malfoy complained. ‘Haven’t I suffered enough?’
‘God, and you called me thick,’ said Harry. ‘That’s what they’ll tell Pomfrey, you pillock.’
Malfoy didn’t deign to reply, so Harry looked up to see who ‘we’ consisted of. There was Ron, looking concerned, with Heinrich. Heinrich was looking at Susan, whose hair had come loose and was spiking out over her shoulders, with a face like a stunned fish.
Harry leaned on Ron’s shoulder as Heinrich and Susan made an armchair for Malfoy. He sat into it with much griping and protests about catching something Hufflepuffian. He still had the Snitch, minus one wing, in his hand.
Harry wordlessly held up the other wing as they marched into the darkness. Ron shook his head.
‘Come on,’ he said, his voice brooking no arguments. ‘Hermione said she’d patch you up. And then,’ his voice became ominous, ‘we’re going to have a little talk.’
‘Hand,’ commanded Hermione. Harry held it out. Hermione ran the tip of her wand along the scratches, muttering something under her breath. The wand-tip glowed white and the cuts closed in on themselves.
‘Cheers,’ said Harry warily. To all intents and purposes, he was trapped on his bed, with Hermione cross-legged next to him, trussed up in a blue dressing gown and Ron leaning against one of the bedposts.
‘Now,’ began Ron, ‘I reckon this has gone on long enough.’
‘Look, I told you, there are reasons why I can’t hang around with you in public any more,’ Harry protested.
‘It’s not that,’ said Hermione. ‘Well, perhaps a little, but for now we’ll respect your decision.’ She shared a significant glance with Ron, who moved to sit beside her.
‘No, it’s about your -- relationship -- with Mark,’ said Ron. Harry reminded himself, again, that Mark was actually Smythe’s name. ‘We’re worried about you, mate.’
‘He slept with Lavender not two months ago,’ said Hermione bluntly. ‘She was devastated afterwards because he dumped her like that.’ She snapped her fingers to emphasise her point. ‘From what I gather, he does that a lot. Boys and girls, he doesn’t seem to mind.’
Ron opened his mouth to speak and perhaps offer even more evidence of Smythe’s dastardly ways, but Harry beat him to it. ‘I know,’ he said.
Ron’s mouth fell closed in surprise. Hermione frowned, looking exceedingly disapproving. ‘And yet you still go out with him, knowing that?’
‘No,’ Harry hastened to add. ‘I just found out recently. Tonight, in fact.’ He pursed his lips. ‘Malfoy took great pleasure in informing me of it.’
‘Malfoy?’ Ron’s eyes bugged. ‘He warned you off Smythe?’
‘Not so much warned as --’ Harry struggled to find the right words ‘-- gloated. He basically said Smythe was going to make a fool of me just like he has lots of other people. Like Pansy.’
‘Pansy? Isn’t she Malfoy’s girlfriend?’ Ron looked astonished.
‘Is she?’ Harry didn’t like the way his stomach clenched at Ron’s words. Perhaps he was getting indigestion or something.
Hermione’s eyes were brimming with concern. She leaned forward to capture Harry’s hand -- the hand that had so recently been trapped under Malfoy’s warm body -- in her own. ‘You are going to stop seeing him now, aren’t you?’
‘I don’t know,’ Harry said thoughtfully. Hermione’s face dropped. ‘Oh, I will stop going out with him. I just might -- get some revenge first, perhaps.’
‘Why? What did he do wrong?’ Ron was puce with embarrassment.
Harry flushed in his turn. ‘He did snog Malfoy in front of me.’
‘He did what?’ Ron exploded.
Harry nodded. ‘Oh, yeah. He’s always going on about Malfoy -- probably fancies him too. Trying to make me jealous, I think.’
Hermione and Ron exchanged another look. ‘That’s worrying,’ Hermione said quietly.
‘Why? You just said he’d go for anything that moves. Malfoy is no exception.’
‘No -- it’s just. Well.’ Harry had never heard Hermione so stuck for words before. He raised his eyebrows. ‘Look, Lavender said he used to do the same thing to her! Tease her about Seamus,’ she finished, sounding almost angry.
‘So he uses the same tactics on everyone. What’s the big deal?’
‘The big deal, Harry, is that everyone knows Lavender was sweet on Seamus for ages,’ said Ron. ‘Smythe sparks people off the people they -- fancy.’
‘Yes, but I don’t fancy Malfoy!’ spat Harry, while his stomach fizzled at the unnerving thought.
Ron and Hermione exchanged yet another look. Harry felt himself growing angry at this sudden closeness between the pair.
‘If you don’t,’ Hermione said carefully, her expression that of someone combing a field for landmines but with the terrible feeling one is just under their foot, ‘then why are you blushing?’
Draco lay despondently on the hard mattress of the hospital bed. He didn’t even have a bloody screen to seclude himself from the commoners. Not that there were any riffraff around at the moment, but when the screaming first-years made an appearance – and they always did -- he’d have to endure looking at them as well as seeing them, which could prove painful. Even though being a Prefect had its perks, as he was now an authority figure and to be feared, the children were emboldened when they were in large groups. Just last week, one of them had had the audacity to ask him what Prefects did really.
After being dropped off at the hospital wing by Bones and Heinrich, who mumbled something vague about a staircase changing at just the wrong time and then buggered off, Draco had been forced to drink a Dreamless Sleep potion and, unsurprisingly, fallen into almost immediate dreamless sleep. Now it was morning and his leg was itching like mad, but since Madame Pomfrey had trussed him up in what looked like highly sophisticated bondage gear, he couldn’t move without what felt like samurai daggers shooting up his leg from the knee. Some kind soul had thoughtfully placed his wand on a table not two metres away, but when he’d tried to grasp for it, he’d overbalanced and wrenched his leg out of position. It had been an immense effort not to black out from the pain.
'Just lie there,' Pomfrey ordered as she put him right, whilst fluffing his pillow in a maternal way. It felt a bit odd. 'If you don’t move an inch, then you’ll only have to spend two days in here, at the most. I want to make sure you don't have a concussion.'
'Two days?' Draco had squawked in indignation. 'When Potter had to re-grow his sodding bones, he was only here a night.'
'Harry Potter had to re-grow his bones?' Pomfrey asked quizzically, screwing up her lined face in an effort to remember.
'Yes,' Draco replied impatiently. 'Our second year, November, Slytherin versus Gryffindor match, a rogue Bludger broke his arm and Lockhart de-boned it.' Draco paused, licking his dry lips, and then added, 'Git', a little unsure as to whether he was referring to Potter or Lockhart.
'I’m not sure I remember,' Pomfrey had apologised, smiling blandly and patting Draco firmly on his -- broken! -- leg. 'But you see, Mr. Malfoy, that Potter boy has been to see me an awful lot.'
'Tell me about it,' Draco had ground out from between clenched teeth. Pomfrey smiled again, a little less politely, and then had bustled away on the pretence of going to check the bedpans in the next ward.
Draco didn’t like hospitals or any variations thereof. Despite his conventionally ‘sickly’ appearance, he rarely got ill. When, a few years back, Narcissa developed a liking for prescription medication and had needed to fabricate excuses to go to see a Healer, she complained that he stayed healthy out of pure spite, which was more or less true. In fact, his last visit to the school hospital wing had been in third year – Christ, that was ages ago – and he’d stayed for a grand total of fifteen minutes. It had actually taken less than five minutes to patch him up – the rest of the time was spent persuading Pomfrey to give him a sling as well. It hadn’t been showing off, exactly. He might’ve actually needed the sling, in case unforeseen after-effects began to take their toll on him.
Everything in the communal ward was polished and scrubbed to within an inch of its life. Draco wriggled uncomfortably as the harsh fibres of the bed scratched at his back. Clearly it didn’t matter how cheap Pomfrey was when buying supplies -- as long as the blanket was clean, it was good enough for invalids. It gave off a funny smell too, the faintly antiseptic aroma of the detergents and healing potions. Draco’s neck tingled ominously and he hoped that the bed wasn’t going to give him a rash. He had enough spots to deal with as it was, he didn’t need the back of his neck erupting in boils.
In an attempt to distract himself from his prickling neck and the dull throbs of his leg, Draco propped himself up on one wobbly elbow and gazed out the window, which was smeared with dust. They’d doused the entire room with enough soap to rinse the grease out of Snape’s hair completely, but they’d left the windows untouched. Typical. Draco wiped the glass away with one finger and resumed his staring session, until a couple of moving figures caught his eye.
Astonishingly, two students appeared to have decided to brave the bitter, sub-zero climate of the grounds, and were having, of all things, what looked like a picnic next to the lake. It seemed that they didn’t mind braving the frostbite and slow death through hypothermia that came with the territory. Draco peered closer at the couple, then choked on his spit. One of the would-be Artic explorers was Smythe. He was wearing a red and off yellow -- it was meant to pass for gold -- scarf, that he’d undoubtedly borrowed from Potter. Draco looked more closely at the second figure on the blanket. It couldn’t be Potter, not unless he was bunking; only seventh-years were allowed grounds privileges in the middle of the day.
Smythe was sitting underneath the cedar tree with a slightly chubby – and very pretty, in a milkmaid-y sort of way – girl, who had dark auburn hair that reached down to her considerable chest. Draco couldn’t for the life of him remember what house she was in, or what her name was. Perhaps she was that sort of girl; she was wearing a beige cardigan over her robes, after all. There was a substantial amount of books lying in the grass beside them, as well as a silver flask. Draco guessed that they were probably revising for NEWTs or simply reading. Ravenclaws tended to do that, read of their own volition. The girl with the auburn hair was talking animatedly and Smythe was shaking his head and smiling in that enigmatic way of his and the scene wouldn’t have looked incongruous at all if it weren’t for the fact that Smythe’s hand was up her robes.
Draco blinked. Closer inspection confirmed that he wasn’t just seeing things -- Smythe’s right hand was clasping a hardback copy of Transfiguration in Modern Society and his left was currently massaging the cardigan girl’s inner thigh. Cardigan Girl was doing a fantastic job of appearing unperturbed, but as Smythe’s persistent hand rose ever higher, her mouth opened and closed several times, like a goldfish. Draco watched in consternation, his panting breath fogging the windowpane. The girl waved one of the hands that wasn’t clutching the blanket in a death-grip towards the castle and said something, probably about unwanted spectators. Smythe grinned, leaned over to either whisper or put his tongue in her ear – and knowing Smythe, it was probably both – then withdrew his hand and started leafing through his book casually, as if nothing had happened. Red-cheeked, the girl did the same. Draco relaxed and sank back down on to his pillow. He wondered if Potter knew.
It was Potter’s own bloody fault, getting mixed up with a character like Smythe. Smythe was clearly trouble and as mad as a hatter. Even though Draco had some doubts about Potter’s sanity, especially recently, at least the boy didn’t turn up out of the blue and lick your fucking neck. Or snog you in the middle of the road, when you were minding your own business, not antagonising anybody … Draco shivered. At that moment, the door to the ward swung open, revealing someone he hadn’t thought about for a surprisingly long time.
'Draco!' Pansy simpered, rushing to his side. 'Are you feeling all right? Does it hurt terribly?' As she neared him, a noxious mix of chemicals wafted up Draco’s nostrils.
'What’s that smell?' he choked.
'My scent,' Pansy beamed down at him. Her dark bob bounced as she talked. 'It smells of bluebells, right?'
'Right,' Draco agreed, breathing through his mouth. He glanced at the large clock hanging on the stone wall. It was nearly ten o’clock. 'Hey, are you cutting class just to see me?' Draco's lungs and nasal passages were on fire due to Pansy’s new perfume, but he was touched nevertheless.
'Well, it was Charms.' Pansy made a disgusted face, and Draco recalled just how much Pansy detested Charms. Probably because she didn’t have any. 'Also, I haven’t had the chance to speak to you for positively ages, you’ve been so busy with Quidditch.'
'Mmm,' Draco said. Not only had he been busy with Quidditch, he’d been actively ignoring her for the past couple of weeks. Six years of their on-again, off-again, hey-I’m-not-doing-anything-at-the-moment-let’s-fool-around relationship was beginning to make him think that life was less stressful when he wasn’t playing suitor to Pansy’s Queen Bee. The silence dragged on for a few seconds and Pansy perched on the side of the bed. Draco stared at the ceiling and coughed.
'Would you like to hear about what Daphne told me yesterday?' Pansy blurted out suddenly. Draco smiled, grateful to have something to fill the silence.
Pansy beamed at him, relieved, and started to talk about how Daphne was a ‘cross-eyed slag’ and wasn’t it hilarious that she could never wear purple again? Draco had just settled comfortably into a nice, familiar rhythm of nodding and mumbling at regular intervals and Pansy’s voice was beginning to become a soothing hum in the background, when the door opened again.
'Er. Hi there,' Potter said to Pansy, who stopped mid-prattle and eyed him warily. Draco glanced upwards. Potter was still wearing the remnants of eye make-up from the Quidditch match and it didn’t look as if he had had a particularly restful night’s sleep. Or a shower. Pansy didn’t reply to the greeting and merely glared. Potter turned to Draco, who tried to look as dignified as possible, even though his leg sticking out was at a disturbingly large angle to his body.
'What are you doing here, Potter?' asked Draco, acid dripping from his voice.
'Don’t you have somewhere else to be?' Pansy cut in, placing a protective hand on Draco’s leg. Draco tried, unsuccessfully, not to wince. Potter looked quizzically at Pansy, who raised one of her over-plucked eyebrows in alarm.
'Parkinson, don’t your Charms set have a test right now? I heard Flitwick say it to Binns.'
'So don’t you need to be there?'
'I was just leaving, actually.' Pansy scowled, blushing in embarrassment.
She turned to plant a cool kiss on Draco’s forehead, then flounced out of the room imperiously, nose in the air. Since her head was tilted upwards, she banged her shin on a bedpost as she left, but she reached the door in one piece, limping, and banged it shut. All in all, it was a pretty impressive exit. Potter turned to Draco again in tired amusement, doing that thing with his lip again. Draco refrained from commenting.
'Look, Malfoy, I just wanted to see how you were. Since I’m partially responsible for the whole leg thing.'
'Well done for being so fucking noble,' Draco muttered. 'It was your fault entirely, you tosser. You fell on me -- and dragged me off my broom.'
'My broom,' corrected Potter.
'Whatever.' Draco scowled. 'Too bad it wasn’t a windy night; the Whomping Willow could have demolished it once I was done.'
'You snapped a couple of twigs, actually,' Potter pointed out, looking irritable. Then again, that was his usual expression, except for when he started dragging his teeth across his bottom lip … and he’d just started doing it again, right now …
'Screw you, I’m not paying to repair it.'
'I wouldn’t dream of asking,' retorted Potter. 'Wouldn’t want you to spend all of what’s left of Daddy’s money.'
'Make me,' Potter taunted. Draco laughed sourly and pointed at his bad leg in mock regret.
'Oh Potter, if only your minions knew that you bullied people who couldn’t fight back.'
'Minions?' Potter repeated slowly. 'I don’t have minions. I have friends, Malfoy. It’s an unusual concept for you to grasp, I know.'
'You have friends? You mean the Puff? Or Granger and Weasley?' Draco sneered. He glanced at the window behind him pointedly. Potter’s eyebrows furrowed, but he didn’t follow Draco’s gaze. 'And you have a boyfriend too, I suppose?'
'Look, I came to see how you were, and you’re clearly still a snivelling bastard, so everything must be peachy.' Potter scowled, turning to leave. He almost had his hand on the doorknob, before Draco called out to him.
'Did you miss me, Potter?'
'What?' Potter had whipped round, yanking his had away from the metal doorknob as if it had scalded him.
'You skipped a class to come and check up on me,' Draco pointed out.
'I skipped our study period,' spat Potter, advancing on the bed.
'You could’ve come at break,' replied Draco, raising his eyebrows smugly. 'Unless, of course, being a Gryffindor, you just felt you had to be the bigger person and come as soon as possible.'
'You know, you’re right.' Potter smiled nastily. 'I came here, just like Pansy, to fluff your pillow and kiss you better and hear you bitch on about how much your stupid leg hurts.' Potter strode over to the bed and punched the pillow beside Draco's head. Draco squirmed and tried to push Potter away without dislocating his kneecap. Potter still managed to yank Draco's head up by pulling his fringe, knock his chin against Draco's temple -- Draco thought Potter's lips might have brushed Draco's hair, but he couldn't be sure -- and retreat unscathed.
'You’re really sick,' Draco huffed. 'Fucking fairy-boy perverted freak.'
'I’ll take that as a compliment.' Potter grinned. 'How long are you going to be in here, anyway?'
'You care -- why?' asked Draco, rubbing at his damp forehead with the back of his hand.
'You have Defence tutoring, dickhead.'
'I’ll miss it, then,' Draco said distractedly, now wiping the back of his hand on the sheets. 'Sorry.'
'In case it escaped your notice, you are crap,' replied Potter, leaning against the adjacent wall. 'You can’t really afford to miss a class before the holidays.'
'I can afford to do whatever I fucking want,' Draco snarled. A little too loudly; Pomfrey hurried in through a side-door, looking harassed. Her eyebrows fused to her hairline once she saw Potter.
'Oh! Mr Potter, you shouldn’t be in here,' she scolded, wiping her hands on the front of her robes. 'We were just talking about you,' she added, motioning towards Draco.
'Really?' Potter asked intrigued. He looked at Draco. 'About what in particular?'
'Your stupid boyfriend,' Draco muttered under his breath. 'He’s outside trying to score with some girl.'
Potter looked disbelieving and unconcerned for a whole two seconds, then strolled with calculated slowness over to the window. Draco looked at his toes primly, and waggled them to see if it would hurt much.
'Well?' he asked, after a moment’s breathless anticipation.
'They’re reading, you tit,' Potter said in disgust, turning away. 'And Smythe -- MARK’S not exactly the type to recite sonnets.'
'More the type to shove his dirty mitts up her skirt,' muttered Draco. 'Too bad – he’s moved on to greener pastures after turning you into a flaming poof. Whatever will you do?'
'What did you just say?' Potter hissed.
Just then, the screaming first-years made an entrance. First was a squat girl with pigtails, yelling fit to bust, followed two others, who were clinging to each other and wailing. They also had pigtails, but rather than wearing them on their heads, as was customary, they seemed to have stuffed them into their pockets. What little hair was left on their heads was falling out and on to their shoulders at an alarming rate. Their school robes looked as if they’d been trimmed with the fur of some exotic and endangered animal, which, Draco conceded, with his hands over his ears, was not a bad look. The first girl was still bellowing as loud as she could. Ernie Macmillan stood in the doorframe, a crazed look of helplessness in his eyes.
'My dear Madame Pomfrey,' he shouted, above the girl’s yells. 'Could you please – assist –'
One of the balding girls let go of her equally moulted friend, and punched the foghorn-voiced girl in the mouth. This quelled the yells, but the other girl, whose hairline had done eighty years’ worth of receding, curled up into the foetal position and commenced shrieking.
'Mr Potter!' Pomfrey trilled pleasantly, making her way to the trio with the air of one who had handled much worse situations and not resorted to violence or suffered a nervous breakdown. 'Shoo now, Mr Malfoy needs his rest!' Potter looked unwilling to leave, despite the banshee-like wails of the first-year. He looked rather more willing to punch Draco’s lights out.
'My dear – Pomfrey –' Ernie managed, panting. He had given up trying to shush the girls, and was now attempting to muffle the noise with a pillow. It wasn’t working particularly well.
'Mr Macmillan, she’ll suffocate!' Pomfrey admonished sharply, forcing the squirming girls on to separate beds. 'Mr Potter, kindly leave. Now.'
Draco placed his palms face-down on the duvet and pushed himself up into a sitting position, very carefully. With painstaking slowness, Draco shifted his bad leg sideways until it was sticking out over the side of the bed at a right angle to his body. That being successfully accomplished, he swung his other leg round to meet it. He bent his knees with the caution usually reserved for the use of those who smell distinctly of roast beef and still decide to pursue a career in magizoology and then placed his bare feet on the cold tile of the floor. The sensation of having red-hot skewers stuck into his leg below the knee was pleasantly absent. Either Madame Pomfrey had spooned liberal amounts of Novocain in the pumpkin juice she’d handed him earlier that evening, or his broken bone was fixed.
Easing himself off the side of the bed, Draco began to toddle awkwardly around the dark room. The days were getting shorter and the few lanterns on the walls did little to improve the general gloom, but he could at least see where he was putting his feet. His joints still felt a bit stiff and reluctant to move, as if they needed oiling, but the injury was definitely healed. Draco padded to the opposite wall and back, grinning to himself.
The sound of approaching footsteps just outside, however, sent him hobbling hurriedly back to his bed. When Pomfrey had removed his leg bindings, she’d promised to slip something much stronger than Novocain into his pumpkin juice if he attempted to exercise his bones before morning. Draco scrambled underneath the covers just as Potter poked his head around the door.
'Oh,' Draco panted, breathing heavily. 'It’s you.'
Potter entered the room, clad in his school robes with his battered brown satchel slung over his back. He removed some familiar looking textbooks from his satchel and a crumpled piece of parchment with instructions scrawled on it in ink. He then dropped them unceremoniously at the foot of the bed. 'Here you go. Homework.'
'Goody, Potions!' exclaimed Draco in an excited voice. 'I’m touched, Potter. You shouldn’t have.'
'I wanted to,' Potter began, and coughed unexpectedly. 'I wanted to make sure you didn’t think you could copy off me when you came back to lessons. Somehow, I don’t expect you to try and cheat off Parkinson, seeing as she cheats herself. But you love her anyway, don’t you? Makes it easier, I’d imagine, dating your intellectual equal.'
'Pansy’s a nightmare,' retorted Draco. 'She came and read to me earlier.' Potter looked as if he were about to comment on how uncharacteristically selfless this was. 'From her diary.'
'You’re not tied up anymore,' Potter remarked, hiding something that might have been a smile. 'Can you walk around yet?'
In occasions when Draco wasn’t concentrating fully, when he was, for example, staring at someone’s mouth and the way their lips curved slightly upward when they were amused, his own mouth sometimes moved faster than his brain, with no real time for communication between the two.
'No,' it replied, startling his brain into a numbed silence. 'Still hurts like hell.'
Rather than countering this statement with a derisive comment, Potter bit his bottom lip, which became flushed with colour. Draco wondered briefly at the squeamishness of someone who himself was incredibly accident-prone, but soon realised what was going on. It was the infamous Gryffindor Guilt affecting Potter, so textbook that it deserved its own chapter in Hogwarts: a History. The idiot clearly still felt responsible -- which he was -- for breaking Draco’s leg and was even now stressing over it. That was why he’d come to visit him twice in one day and why he’d brought him his homework, although that was a hidden apology Draco could have done without.
'You’re just milking it for attention,' Potter ventured, sounding uncertain.
'Attention?' Draco sneered. 'I haven’t received any grapes or bouquets yet, for your information. Pansy’s the only one who came to see me – although I have been getting a lot of unwanted attention from you.'
'You’re trying to tell me that after spending the whole day with Pomfrey, you’re still in too much pain to lift your lazy arse out of bed?'
'Yeah,' Draco agreed, intent on guilt-tripping Potter for all he was worth. 'I can’t move at all. It’s probably more serious than she thought. I may have to be transferred to a real hospital.'
Potter did not seem to hear this. He was strolling closer to Draco, looking suspiciously pleased about something. He dipped a hand into the dark folds of his robes and withdrew it a few seconds later, bearing his wand.
'I guess that puts you at my mercy, then.' Potter grinned, baring his teeth.
'What’re you doing?' Draco demanded, trying not to let the nervousness show in his voice. Potter loomed over him, his eyes shining brightly in the reflected torchlight.
'Nothing,' he replied innocently, then waved his wand. 'Petrificus Armus!'
Draco felt the muscles in his arms tense and snap to his sides rigidly. He tried to move them in terrified frustration, but couldn’t. They were frozen in position. Potter hadn’t bothered binding his legs, though, seeing as he was rendered immobile by his fictitious pain. If he wanted to, he could stretch his foot out and give Potter a good kick in the …
'I’m just going to ask you a few questions.' Potter smiled, plonking himself down on the dresser. Draco knew that smile; he’d used it himself. It could mean any number of things, but ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything bad to you’ definitely wasn’t one of them.
'Won’t answer any stupid questions,' said Draco, with all the eloquence of a pouting five year-old. Potter raised his eyebrows. 'And if you dare touch me I’ll scream for Pomfrey.'
'Question One, Malfoy. Why are you so full of crap?'
'Fuck off,' Draco snarled in response.
'Make me,' Potter taunted. Draco said nothing, but the tendons in his neck tightened. 'I thought so,' Potter said, his voice soft, and then resumed a businesslike demeanour. 'Question Two, what spell would you use to slow down an assailant?'
Draco, who had been expecting something more along the lines of ‘You have a fat head, don’t you?’, spluttered. 'I’m sorry?'
'It’s called deceleration. Retardation. Slowing down a potential attacker,' Potter informed him. 'We practised this jinx not a bloody week ago.'
'It’s the Intra … Impa … look, I don’t care.'
'You will care when you fail your NEWT,' said Potter through gritted teeth. 'And I’ll care next term when Belinda gets on my case about why you’re still crap at Defence, so I’m going to make you care. It's the Impediment Jinx.'
'Good luck with making me care,' Draco huffed. 'All I care about is …'
'Is getting you and your disgusting stink as far away from me as possible!'
'Question Three,' Potter interrupted, ignoring the insult. He paused and some indecipherable flicker of emotion passed over his face. 'You liked it when Smythe kissed you, didn’t you.' It came out as a statement, not a question. Draco found it hard to believe that it was ever intended as such. There was a pause.
'You liked it even more,' Draco countered, feeling a cold thrill of satisfaction as he saw the dark blush creeping up Potter’s cheeks. He licked his lips, which tasted as dry as two rustling sheets of parchment. 'You’re sick, you know that?'
'I’m sick, am I?' Potter asked, lowering his head so that he was staring Draco in the eyes. Draco gazed back at him.
'If you got turned on by your boyfriend practically raping me in the middle of the road, then yeah, you pretty much are.'
'What about you?' Potter hissed. His face was about two centimetres away from Draco’s own. Draco assumed this was some kind of Gryffindor intimidation technique, which, much as he hated to admit it, was working perfectly. Although this might be largely due to the fact that his arms were currently pinioned to his sides. 'You have a girlfriend and yet boys turn you on.'
'No, they don’t,' whispered Draco, but he doubted that Potter actually heard or even registered the fact that he’d said something, because all of a sudden Potter had closed the two centimetre gap that lay between them.
The first thing Draco noticed about the change in position was Potter's hand. It was a little sweat-dampened. The reason Draco knew this was because Potter had dug his fingers into the crook of Draco's jaw, pressing on the bone almost to the point of pain. However, before Draco could fully register this and protest accordingly, Potter's mouth was tickling his, his lips barely touching Draco's but leaving fiery trails in their wake all the same.
Draco wished more than ever that he had the ability to move his arms, so that he could take hold of Potter’s hands, or shove him away, or pull his hair, or something. Draco's heart was thudding violently, so fast that he was sure his whole chest was vibrating with the ferocity of it.
Draco had been halfway through his ‘don’t’ when Potter moved, so his mouth was still hanging half open. Potter discovered this early on in the proceedings and used it to his advantage, flicking his tongue across Draco's exposed lower lip. Draco tensed, with the definite intention of jerking his head away from Potter's teasing mouth. However, somewhere along the neural pathways the message got re-routed and Draco found that, far from turning away, he was arching up towards Potter, opening his mouth more and even tilting his head, which helped when Potter slid his tongue past Draco's lips to meet his tongue --
The best thing to have done would be to pull his head away so he could do something less horrifying, like vomiting into Potter’s lap. But Draco's mouth was doing that thing again, where it ran ahead without beforehand discussing the sanity of its decisions with his brain. Draco was kissing Potter back.
Draco couldn’t move his shoulders to lean into the kiss and there was a dull ache at the back of his neck. Potter’s glasses were digging uncomfortably into the bridge of his nose, but for some reason Draco was kissing Harry Potter back. Hard.
Potter withdrew, and stared at Draco for a few seconds, wearing a dazed expression. Then he wiped his mouth on his sleeve, rubbing his tongue against the fabric.
'Eugh,' Draco mumbled. He could taste Potter’s saliva in his mouth. He tried to orchestrate a sentence that consisted of more than one syllable and failing miserably. He tried again. 'Absolutely disgusting.' Potter laughed weakly and picked up a box of tissues from where they had fallen to the floor.
'Think you might need these for later on?'
'Absolutely disgusting,' Draco repeated, spitting out the words. 'Get the hell away from me, would you?'
'I thought you’d never ask,' said Potter, standing up and re-adjusting his satchel. He turned and was halfway to the door before Draco remembered something.
'Wait!' called Draco, making Potter spin on his heel. 'Could you possibly lift the jinx, now that you’re done molesting me?'
'Right, you’ll need your hands free,' Potter smirked, waving his wand and releasing Draco’s arms. They relaxed and hung limply at his sides. 'Sleep tight.' He was gone before Draco could return the obligatory ‘Fuck you’.
Draco sat in bed, staring at the ceiling. His arms weren’t frozen to his sides, but he still felt numb. If he thought for a second about what Potter had just done, about what he had just done, he might start screaming.
Draco lifted his hand and rubbed his mouth clean with the back of his hand. He pulled one of the tissues out of its box and scraped at his mouth with it. Then he picked up the tissue box and hurled it across the room.
It didn’t help.
Christmas. It was almost Christmas.
Harry realised this with a queasy jolt, when he woke up one morning to find the windowpanes frosted with icicles in the shape of humorous vegetables.
Harry hadn’t given much thought to how he would spend his first Christmas without Sirius. Even though he’d only known of Sirius for three years, it seemed much longer. It looked to be an impossible task to surmount the twisting in his gut when he divined just how alone he would be during this festive season.
His best friends, true to their promise, did not try to force contact on him. Every so often Ron would send him a nod down the Gryffindor table, or Hermione would pause by his desk and smile before hurrying to join Ron. However, he hadn’t talked to them or had a proper conversation since their revelations regarding Smythe had come out two months before. Most people thought they had fallen out; Harry devoutly hoped that this news had filtered back to Voldemort.
Susan seemed to be conducting some kind of illicit affair with Heinrich Moon. That was, if discovering the two of them snogging in a broom cupboard comprised an affair. Harry would like to have called it a momentary aberration of sense, but then again Susan’s last boyfriend had been Justin Finch-Fletchley. She was now Beater for the Hufflepuffs.
As for Smythe, it had been a toss-up between Harry retaining his dignity and walking away from Smythe without a fight, or confronting him in the most humiliating way possible. As the latter option bore the risk of mortification for Harry as well, he’d gone for the former. It might even have been the more courageous one; it was certainly the nobler. Harry didn’t really care. His method had been to blank Smythe; to walk away when he approached.
It was clear that Hermione’s, Ron’s and even -- loath as Harry was to admit it -- Malfoy’s estimations of Smythe's character had been correct. For about a week Harry was the recipient of numerous wounded looks and elegantly-worded notes protesting Smythe’s innocence. He had ceased pursuing Harry after ten days and last Harry heard, he had shacked up with at least three other people in the meantime. With people who didn’t make a fuss about infidelity and were prepared to do the dirty with him, Harry imagined.
Harry still intended to wreck his revenge on Smythe somehow, but as time went on it seemed ever more petty and childish to do so. His scar had started hurting again and every time it did, there was a report in the Prophet concerning another disappearance or unexplained attack on Muggles.
Harry paused at the door to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. Inside, he knew, was festooned with fairies -- Belinda had a considerable personal collection -- and mistletoe. Belinda seemed to think it was amusing when people bumped into each other underneath it and either fumbled their lips against each other’s cheeks or dashed away squawking. Harry couldn’t quell the thought that she was perhaps an indoctrinate of pop sociology or, failing that, a very cruel person.
There was only a few days to go before they broke up for Christmas; the register of students staying at Hogwarts for the holidays had been passed around the day before. It seemed evenly split; some people yearned for the safety of their family homes, others preferred the certainty of Dumbledore’s protection.
The register had gone to Hermione and Ron before Harry. There had been a G.P. marked beside their names. Harry had put down Hogwarts. He didn’t think he could face returning to Grimmauld Place; not ever, maybe, but certainly not with the memory of Sirius tunelessly singing carols permeating every brick of the building.
Malfoy was standing in the centre of the room, flicking his wand at the bouquets of mistletoe that drooped from every conceivable crevice. As Harry watched, one of them burst into flame. A second later Malfoy let out a hiss of irritation as flakes of ash settled on his hair and shoulders.
‘And people say I don’t think things through,’ remarked Harry, striding over to the nearest bunch of threatening white-berried stalks and pointing his wand at it. He thought for a moment and then muttered one of the more basic Transfiguration spells. For some reason he ended up with a conch shell, but at least it was better than mistletoe.
‘Because shells are so much more efficient than burning things, of course,' said Malfoy.
‘At least you’ve mastered the Incendus.’ Harry dropped his books on to a nearby desk and looked about for somewhere convenient to dispose of the shell.
‘Give me that.’ Malfoy snatched it out of his hand and held it to his ear. ‘I can’t hear the sea!’
‘Why would you?’ Harry was impatient. ‘It used to be a shrub, for crying out loud!’
‘I don’t think mistletoe grows --’ Malfoy began, but Harry cut him off before Harry's large ignorance of the complexities of Herbology could be revealed.
‘Anyway.’ Harry glared at Malfoy for good measure. ‘I think we should practice some more jinxes tonight, but when you go home you need to find someone to practise on, your wristwork is abysmal --’
Malfoy had started smirking. ‘I’m sure there’s a reason why your wristwork is so impeccable, eh, Potter? You missing Smythe terribly?’
At the start, Harry had exploded when Malfoy taunted him about his failed relationship. Of course it had only encouraged Malfoy to continue in the same vein -- and a very long vein it was too -- and by the time Harry became conscious that he never should have supplied Malfoy with such a fruitful opening, the damage was done.
‘Yeah,' sighed Harry. There was nothing to be gained in teasing Malfoy these days; that botched kiss had made things incredibly awkward between them. Not only did they harbour mutual loathing for one another, but also Harry had liked kissing him far more than he cared to admit. He presumed Malfoy had merely thought it was vile -- but it was a kiss. The most intimate thing people could do, even more so than sex because that was only a need; a bodily function. However, no one had to kiss.
Coming to terms with fancying Malfoy -- a little bit, only, mind -- made things distressing and boring and nerve-wracking, most of all because Harry knew there wasn’t going to be a repeat performance of that interlude in the hospital wing -- and a good thing too.
Malfoy seemed to hesitate even longer before shooting out retorts, but maybe that was just Harry’s imagination.
‘Your Body Bind leaves a lot to be desired,' said Harry, 'and you need to aim when you cast a Stunner, I keep telling you, it’s no use hitting walls and grass ninety percent of the time --’
‘I’m not going home for Christmas,’ said Malfoy unexpectedly. ‘So I expect I’ll have to keep practising on you.’ His eyes shone with what Harry took to be undisguised malice.
‘Oh, is that so? How d’you know I’m not going home for Christmas?’ Harry snapped.
Malfoy shrugged. ‘I checked the register.’
‘Oh.’ Harry gave this due consideration. ‘Why aren’t you going home?’
‘None of your business.’
Harry rolled his eyes and pushed his sleeves up. He shot Malfoy a suspicious look, but Malfoy was concentrating on incinerating another bunch of mistletoe, a small frown line between his brows.
‘I told my mother that I need to study,' added Malfoy.
Harry yawned. ‘That’ll be almost true, anyway. If you count giving me bruises in more places that I can find as ‘study’.’
‘Now that’s what I call kinky.’
A voice detached itself from the shadows as Harry and Malfoy whirled around in shock. Smythe approached them. For some reason, he was chewing on his bottom lip.
‘Harry?’ His voice was uncertain. ‘May I talk to you?’
‘You already are,’ Harry pointed out. Malfoy sniggered and Smythe turned narrowed, bloodshot eyes on him.
‘Well, if it isn’t the pretty boy. Moved in on my turf yet, have you?’
Malfoy looked revolted. Harry’s heart flip-flopped. ‘I am not your turf, Smythe. I am not your anything. What do you want to talk about?’
Smythe’s gaze slid from Harry to Malfoy and back again. Half his mouth quirked upwards, although his long hair obfuscated the expression in his eyes.
‘I just wanted to give you a Christmas present,’ he said, pulling a slim white box out of his pocket. ‘It was meant to be for sharing, but --’
There was a question in his voice.
‘Perhaps you should give it to someone you can share with,’ suggested Harry, his voice steely.
‘Right.’ There was a sigh in Smythe’s voice. ‘I thought you were worth one last try.’
‘I am?’ Harry was surprised, too surprised to even notice Malfoy spluttering in the background.
‘Of course.’ Smythe stepped forward and touched his thumb to the corner of Harry’s mouth.
Harry thought, through the muzzy fog that was masquerading as his brain, that Malfoy might be having an asthma attack.
‘Cheers,’ managed Harry. Before he could do anything to prevent it, Smythe’s mouth had captured his own and he was kissing Harry with fevered urgency.
‘Smythe --’ he began, when Smythe at last broke away. Smythe, panting lightly, pointed upwards. Harry looked and saw a large glistening bunch of mistletoe right above his head.
Harry was pretty sure it hadn’t been there before.
Smythe placed the box on the desk beside Harry’s books. ‘Remember, to deactivate it you just have to want to,’ he said and slipped out of the door.
‘Are you going to open that?’ Malfoy’s voice carried heavy overtones of accusation, but Harry wasn’t quite sure why.
‘Of course,’ he said. ‘Otherwise what is the term ‘recklessly foolhardy’ for?’
He shuffled the lid off and looked inside. What looked like a greeting-card-factory’s-worth of glitter was nestling on an oyster-silk lining.
‘Do you know what this is?’ he asked, holding it out so that there was a desk between Malfoy and him.
‘Nope.’ Malfoy peered closer, inhaled some and promptly sneezed.
They were engulfed in all-embracing darkness.
‘Okay, Malfoy, stop messing about now.’
‘Me? You’re the idiotic Gryffindor in this equation, remember?’
‘Okay, let’s be sensible about this. Do you have your wand?’
‘Me too. So let’s cast a light spell and see where we are.’
‘I am not doing anything you tell me to do.’
Harry felt the short fraying tether on his patience slipping from his sweaty grasp. ‘Fine. I’ll do a light spell and you can do whatever you like and it may or may not include a light spell, all right? You git.’
He hadn’t said the last part quietly enough because Malfoy informed him, ‘If it weren’t so dark I’d punch you.’
Harry ignored him. ‘Lumos!’ Nothing happened; his wand remained cold in his palm. He shook it and tried again. ‘Lumos!’ A blaze of light failed to materialise.
‘Great. We’re having some kind of magical power failure,' groaned Harry. 'Can wands suddenly stop working?’
‘Of course. When the wizard is dead.’
‘Do you think we’re dead?’
‘God, I hope not. Stuck with you for all eternity? Hell would have nothing on it.’
Harry sighed gustily and became aware that they weren’t in total darkness, after all. A few points of light shimmered near the ceiling. It had to be a ceiling, because Harry could feel floorboards under his palms and they weren’t a popular feature in the great outdoors.
‘What did Smythe say? To stop this we just have to want to? Come on, then.’
‘You think I haven’t wanted to leave since we got here, Potter, you great fool?’
Harry looked down at his wand. It wouldn’t take much of an effort to stab Malfoy to death with it and of course, there was the added benefit of not having to develop enough darkness in his soul to cast a Killing Curse.
‘Not if I get you first,’ said Malfoy. Harry looked up in surprise.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Stabbing me to death with your wand. Not if I get you first.’
‘I wasn’t -- how did you know?’
‘Call it intuition.’ There was a rustle of robes as Malfoy got to his feet. Harry shivered, deciding that a few of Malfoy’s burning mistletoe bunches wouldn’t go astray right about now.
‘We’re still in Hogwarts.’
‘How do you know?’ Harry got up and felt his way across the walls to where Malfoy appeared to be craning his neck upwards.
‘I can see a little bit of the sky and the constellations are the same.’
‘Well, that’s a relief. I suppose we should try looking for a door.’
‘If we had a broomstick we could just fly up to the window,’ mused Malfoy.
‘Yeah -- but we don’t.’
Harry could feel Malfoy’s withering glare burning through him, even in the tiny illumination that the dots of light far above provided. ‘Why did you kiss me? In the hospital?’
Harry was stunned by the question. ‘I suppose -- I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time.’
‘I recall I haven’t got you back for that,’ said Malfoy. He was closer now; Harry could feel his breath against his neck. His hand reached up and grabbed Harry’s collar, pulling his face down. The action made his robes slide down his left arm, but Harry didn’t have time to notice the loss because Malfoy’s fingers replaced it, playing a concerto against Harry’s exposed collarbone. Harry was about to protest that Malfoy would break Harry’s neck with all this yanking when his mouth brushed inexpertly against Harry’s own and Harry forgot about everything else entirely.
Malfoy kissed as if it was revenge -- which for him, it probably was. His teeth dragged at Harry’s lower lip and his hands were almost pinching the skin of Harry’s neck, digging into the hollows as if he were trying to get a hold of Harry’s very bones. Harry wasn’t about to stand for that; he shoved with all his strength and Malfoy overbalanced. They went down in a tangle of limbs and a sequence of affronted ‘Ow!’s.
‘What’d you go and do that for?’ complained Malfoy. His hands pulled at the cloth that had somehow become intimately acquainted with his face. Harry couldn’t tell where his legs began and Malfoy's ended, but he did know that his legs liked this state of affairs very much indeed.
‘Shut up,’ Harry said, clambering over Malfoy’s body and grabbing the hand that was still brushing the hair out his eyes. Malfoy's pulse jumped under his fingers and his skin was roasting hot. Harry liked it and he wanted to taste it, so he did, tracing patterns on Malfoy’s skinny wrist with his tongue.
‘Right, so, you’ve proved Smythe correct but would you care to employ your talents elsewhere?’ Malfoy’s voice was petulant, but he hadn’t attempted to shift Harry’s weight off his chest and his other hand was convulsing on Harry’s knee. ‘My mouth would be favourite.’
Harry abandoned Malfoy’s wrist, giving it one last lick that made Malfoy bite down on a sigh. Harry wriggled so that they were laying chest to chest, ignoring the jolts of sensation that this induced, and laid his cheek against Malfoy’s.
‘You’re heavy,’ complained Malfoy. Harry pressed down harder and Malfoy shut up, lifting his damp wrist to his mouth to bite down on it.
‘Are we quits yet?’ asked Harry, propping himself up on his elbows and lifting his face a few inches from Malfoy’s.
Malfoy’s lips were wet and he kept licking them; at last, Harry could see why that habit could be so disconcerting. Not waiting for Malfoy to reply, he dragged his mouth along Malfoy’s cheekbone, licking the folded skin just beside his eye.
‘This is us, Potter.’ Malfoy’s whisper was malevolent. ‘We’ll never be quits. Never.’
'Good.' The word ended in a moan, which Harry realised had come from him. He rubbed his cheek against Malfoy's, indulging himself in the feeling of skin on skin. That was, until Malfoy grabbed the front of his robes and pulled him down into a savage kiss, jabbing the same cheek that had been caressing his own with his pointed nose. When he pushed open Harry's lips with his tongue, Harry was so surprised he let Malfoy roll on top of him.
Malfoy was clumsy and had no technique to speak of and Harry didn't ever want him to stop.
After a while, they both forgot where they were. For a few precious seconds, they forgot who they were, too.
Draco leaned against the desk, holding the rustling pages of the Prophet tightly before him. The huge jet-black letters swam before his eyes, performed the backstroke, then assembled back into perfect formation and glared out at him with all the heartlessness of bold type. They even seemed to be quivering in malevolence; it was only when Draco concentrated on this troubling fact that he realized it was due to his hands. They were shaking like mad. He folded the paper in two neatly, then four. He slid it precisely into his leather bag and sat down on his hands to stop them trembling. Draco gripped the worn, stable wood of the desk tightly. Splinters dug into the soft skin beneath his nails.
That Hufflepuff boy he’d just walked past on his way to the Defence classroom had given him a funny look, he was sure of it. It had been in the second corridor, where Peeves, perverse botanist that he was, had somehow managed to fashion all the holly and ivy into obscene shapes. The boy had rounded a corner, stopped in his tracks, and looked at Draco in a funny way before continuing, a little more briskly. Draco wondered what would have happened if that boy had been Matthew. What would his face have looked like -- shocked, disbelieving, horrified -- hate-filled?
The headline echoed hollowly through Draco’s mind. ‘The universe is having me on,’ Draco thought. ‘This is an extremely misguided joke, this is a prank of marvellous proportions … Somebody, somewhere, is taking the mickey out of me.’
Draco licked his lips in agitation. It was slightly more comforting to think this was all at his expense. Though he didn’t particularly appreciate the brand of humour, Draco smiled to himself. Then he tried laughing. The laugh sounded so alien and strange, as if it belonged to some psychologically defunct, non-human creature, that he soon stopped. His smile probably looked off as well. It felt like a superhuman effort to tug at the muscles in his cheeks and hold them in place to help it maintain its shape.
Potter pushed open the door, exactly two minutes late. He hadn’t bothered to brush his dark hair. He yawned amiably and nodded at Draco when he saw him sitting on the desk. He clearly didn’t know. Yet. Draco wondered if Potter would even have turned up if he’d known about it.
'Wands out,' Potter announced, in the middle of his second extravagant yawn. Draco drew his wand dumbly, as Potter kicked the door shut and turned to face him. 'Christ, I love saying that – makes me almost sound like an authority figure.'
Draco didn’t say anything. He merely smiled. It was all rather funny, really. Potter was such a distraction, with his stupid jokes and his messy hair and his perpetually annoying presence. He might even have been able to distract Draco from urgent thoughts of the Prophet article, but unfortunately, the news in the Prophet was to do with him. Everything in Draco’s life had to do with Harry Potter. It was rather funny, really. Ironic.
'Why are you smiling in that weird way?' Potter asked, frowning slightly, as he strode over to the store cupboard to find some pillows. Draco would usually have delivered some cutting remark about basic hygiene or the importance of hairbrushes by this time, but he was uncharacteristically silent. 'And why aren’t you talking? Not that I’m complaining, you understand.'
'I don’t know,' Draco replied, grinning lopsidedly. He was suddenly struck by an inexorable thought. In one quick movement, he raised his wand and pointed it at Potter, who was carrying a large pile of blue and yellow cushions. 'Stupefy!'
Potter’s mouth opened slightly, he swayed, letting the garish pillows fall unceremoniously and then keeled over, cracking his head sickeningly on the stone floor. He lay there in a crumpled heap, not moving. Draco’s fixed smile twitched out of place. He realised that he was still sitting on his left hand, to stop it trembling. Draco slid off the desk went to stand over Potter. His hands hung limply at his sides. It would be so easy just to…
Draco’s mouth twitched again; he crouched and lowered his wand over Potter’s spectacles. 'Ennervate.'
Potter gasped instantly, making Draco jump backwards in undignified alarm, then choked on his air and rolled over, groaning curses loudly, on to one of the pillows which had not impeded his fall in any way whatsoever. Draco waited patiently as Potter used his elbows to lever himself up to a sitting position and then stared at him incredulously.
'I mastered the art of Stunning,' Draco said. Potter snorted from his seat on the floor.
'Gee,' he said irritably, using a word Draco had never heard anyone speak aloud before– and with good reason, he now decided, as it made you sound like a twat – 'why the hell didn’t you just tell me that, instead of showing me?'
'I don’t know,' Draco answered. He shook his head, realising something was obscuring his vision. It turned out to be a lock of his own white-blond hair. He was due for another haircut soon. Draco grinned to himself, although this arbitrary fact was hardly amusing.
'You don’t know,' Potter muttered, standing up, and feeling the back of his head gingerly. “I’m glad you’re in a good mood, at least.” He pressed a sore spot at the back of his head, wincing, and withdrew his fingers.
'So. What are we doing today?' Draco asked after a pause, tucking stray hair behind his ear. He didn’t think he could handle this, having Potter instruct him on jinxes and hexes and proper wand work and how to defend himself against the forces of evil. Potter glanced at the back of his hand, which had a smudged note written over the knuckles.
'I think Belinda said we were to move slightly ahead of the syllabus,' Potter replied. 'So now we should focus mainly on -'
'I don’t want to do the syllabus,' Draco interrupted, stepping closer to Potter, invading his personal space, but not touching him, never quite touching him. Potter exhaled heavily, sighing.
'Malfoy, piss off. You’re supposed to use this time to be learning.'
'So teach me,' Draco suggested innocently, sliding his hands around Potter’s waist and pressing his mouth awkwardly to Potter's, desperate for some sort of release. It was fine for the first couple of seconds; Draco did manage to lose himself briefly. Potter was making half-hearted attempts to extricate Draco’s hands from his sides, even though he was kissing Draco back furiously.
However, the headline was projected on the back of Draco's eyelids, lasering out into the soothing blackness, and he couldn’t bloody ignore it. He couldn't concentrate on the sensation of Potter’s warm hands clasping his narrow wrists, not quite shoving them away, or that of Potter’s chapped lips bruising his own. Draco opened his eyes involuntarily, saw the awkward up-closeness of it all, and wrenched his mouth free, panting.
'Leave me alone,' Draco muttered, pulling away. The room spun. 'What the hell am I doing here?'
'Supposedly having a lesson,' Potter retorted. 'And what do you mean, I should leave you alone?'
'Fucking crazy,' Draco murmured, at a loss as to whom he was referring. He grabbed his bag from the desk where he’d left it. 'I need to leave. I have a thing.'
'You have a D in Defence, that’s what you have.' Potter scowled, put out. 'Can we resume the lesson as normal now? First you try to attack me, then you try and shag me --'
'No,' Draco said. 'Look –'
The door opened again.
Harry turned in annoyance. It was far from unusual to have Malfoy in a strop and acting with about as much mystery as one generally got from a moody git, but all the same, a distraction was the last thing Harry needed. Malfoy would use the opportunity to slip away before things could be resolved and that would mean other, more pleasant occupations would have to be postponed.
Professor McGonagall was standing in the doorway, looking as angry as Harry had ever seen her. However, her glare was directed towards Malfoy, who -- Harry noted in amazement -- looked pale and apprehensive.
McGonagall was holding a crumpled page of newsprint in her hand.
‘Harry,’ she said, her voice sounding constricted, ‘come with me. The headmaster sent me to find you.’
‘What do you mean?’ said Harry. ‘We only just got here! We haven’t even started on any -- lessons.’
McGonagall's eyes widened. ‘You are still tutoring Mr Malfoy, after what has happened?’
Harry blushed. What had happened was quite the incentive to keep ‘tutoring’ Malfoy, but Harry didn’t care to share that fact with McGonagall, of all people. ‘Well, yes,' he muttered, 'I am.'
‘Potter, you should go,’ said Malfoy. His voice sounded strained and as if it were coming from a great distance away. When Harry jerked his head around to Malfoy, his eyes face a distant look.
‘NO!’ Harry burst out, stumbling across to Malfoy. He reached out, but Malfoy stepped back, shoving something into Harry’s chest as he did so.
It was another newspaper.
Harry stared at Malfoy in complete incomprehension, but Malfoy ignored him. Grabbing up his books, he darted for the door. Harry made to follow him, but found his way blocked by McGonagall.
When she spoke, her voice was kind. ‘I think you should read that, Harry.’
Harry scrabbled to unfold the paper. He blinked once or twice at the huge headline, some part of his brain refusing to take it in.
‘DEATH EATERS ATTACK MUGGLE TOWN OF LITTLE WHINGING: ENTIRE AREA DESTROYED’
Harry raced through the rest of the article, his heart jumping so feverishly he wondered if there was a skipping rope inside his chest. Random phrases popped out of the text and lodged in his brain, burrowing into the darkest corners.
… escaped convicts …
… many thousands of Muggles dead …
… victims subjected to Cruciatus …
… Potter’s relations, the Dursley family, decapitated …
… Lucius Malfoy …
‘I’m going to be sick,’ said Harry. He proceeded to do so, all over McGonagall's shoes. Her face was not exactly delighted as she Vanished the vomit, but her hands were gentle as they helped Harry into a chair and gripped his shoulder for support.
‘I’m very sorry, Harry,’ said McGonagall.
‘So am I,’ said Harry, and he did mean it, in more ways than he could ever have imagined.
Voldemort was ruthless, but Harry would never have guessed that he would target people whom Harry despised. No one was safe, Harry realised; neither his greatest friends nor his greatest enemies.
Not even his lovers.
Harry, at the beginning of the year, hadn’t factored the last group into his equations, simply because he never visualised having any. Despite Smythe’s philandering ways, he hadn’t deserved to be put in the danger he was now in.
As for Malfoy, Harry couldn’t even begin to express his feelings in that particular case.
McGonagall walked Harry back to Gryffindor Tower without speaking. Harry was grateful for that; there was nothing she could have said that would make Harry feel better and much that would have made Harry feel indescribably worse.
He’d hated the Dursleys and now they were dead. The fact that he wasn’t glad; that he was, in fact, horrified and sick and on the verge of tears; that confused him. The guilt was over-whelming, a physical presence that was almost tangible.
‘I will check on you tomorrow,’ said McGonagall, at last, when they were standing outside the Fat Lady’s portrait. 'I believe Professor Dumbledore wishes to speak with you now.'
‘Okay,’ said Harry. He rubbed his hands on his arms, trying not to think about the horrible hollow feeling in his stomach, and most of all not about Malfoy.
Harry said, 'Fitzweezer,' and climbed through the portrait hole. He was startled to hear his name being called when he got into the common room, because everyone in his year had gone home for Christmas, and that voice sounded remarkably like --
‘Oh, Harry,’ said Hermione, running over to him and engulfing in him in a mammoth hug. Harry spat out a mouthful of her hair and looked over her shoulder. Ron was just behind her, looking uncomfortable. Seamus, Dean and Neville were rising from their seats on the sofa and Lavender and Parvati were in the process of dismantling a subdued game of cards.
‘What -- what are all of you doing here?’ Harry was bewildered.
Hermione didn’t elucidate, only buried her face in Harry’s neck. Ron stared at his feet and the others looked everywhere but at Harry.
‘I owled your friends to return once the news came to my attention, shortly after dawn this morning,’ said Dumbledore, emerging from the shadows under one of the staircases. ‘I felt, in the light of this recent tragedy, that you would need their help and support.’
He advanced on Harry; Hermione seemed to take her cue from that, for she retreated to the shelter of Ron’s arm around her shoulders. By the time Dumbledore came to stand before Harry, both Hermione and Ron were perched on the arm of the sofa.
‘I am sure that you are both shocked and conflicted by these atrocities,’ said Dumbledore. Harry nodded in mute acquiescence. ‘It is natural to feel like this on hearing of the death of someone you disliked acutely. Such was the case for Professor Snape, on learning of the murder of your parents.’
Harry started; he had not considered it like that. He wished he hadn’t now; he had no desire to have anything more in common with Snape than he already had.
‘This is why I believed it desirable to recall your classmates from their celebrations,’ continued Dumbledore. Something steely crept into his expression. ‘I am well aware that these past few months have been … troubled ones for you. However, when it comes down to it, you need people around you whom you can trust; those whose, shall we say, associations, have never been in doubt?’
Harry stared at Dumbledore, whose voice dropped even lower.
‘I think, Harry, that Mr Malfoy has had sufficient tutelage in Defence Against the Dark Arts. Do you not agree?’
Harry felt something inside of him twist and break, a little. He swallowed and looked up into Dumbledore’s hooded, inscrutable eyes.
‘Yes, sir,’ agreed Harry.
‘It is nice to have you back, Harry,’ sighed Hermione. It was the third or fourth time she’d said it since the night of the Dursleys’ murders. Harry was grateful that his friends still liked him after the ostracism and general bad behaviour he’d subjected them to, but the repetition was starting to grate on his nerves.
‘It’s nice to be back,’ said Harry, but without much real conviction. Ron sent him a sharp look, but Harry feigned a deep interest in the buckle of his satchel, which had worked loose.
It was the second Defence Against the Dark Arts class of the new term. Hermione was all in a tizzy as Belinda was returning the results of an exam she had set on the first class back. It had been a test of everything they’d learned since September. Hermione had had colour-coded notes, as usual, which put Harry off. He preferred studying by the avoidance method -- avoiding it until it was impossible to continue doing so. All the same, he thought he’d done all right -- but if he didn’t it wasn’t going to be a massive calamity, as it would be for Hermione.
Harry was still sitting next to Malfoy in this class; there was no way of escaping it. Belinda was one of those teachers who expected students to keep to the same seating plan. As she had a high tolerance for chatting in class, it was going to be doubly difficult to sit beside Malfoy and not talk to him …
Not remember the way his mouth felt.
Not think about the sound he made when Harry pressed him up against a desk to kiss him breathless.
Not consider that his father had murdered the last family Harry had left; a murder so brutal, the details had gained a Ministry seal of secrecy for fifty years, as they were considered too disturbing to be released to the general public.
Not want him anyway.
Not live with the knowledge of what that made Harry and how it could never be, anyway … and how that hurt. A senseless, useless grief that had nothing to do with death.
‘Well done, Harry,’ chirped Belinda, placing Harry’s marked paper on his desk. It was adorned with a large, circular O inscribed in sparkly pink ink. Harry summoned up a smile for her. It proved an amazingly difficult task, equivalent to climbing Mount Everest nude and using a chocolate pickaxe.
Belinda's bright voice saying, ‘You too, Draco,’ caught Harry’s attention and, before he could stop himself, his eyes had flickered over to Malfoy’s paper. For a second, Malfoy made as if to cover it with a hand, but slowly -- trembling slightly -- he drew it back, very obviously so that Harry could see it.
Overall Mark: O.
Duke and Betty (aka cynicalpirate and scoradh)
Harry/Draco, Harry/OMRC, Ron/Hermione implied, a smidgen of Draco/Pansy -- or is it a tad?
As this is optional, we took the option of taking the primrose path of cliché. Every one in the little black book -- we wanted a red one, but there were none in stock. As for the great t00by sex: mention is made of a) assisted masturbation and b) onanism.
Author's notes:.......... Actually, we don't think we got all the clichés in the book. Dammit. Blame the spoons. Alternatively, blame Jaxmarie, to whom we are indebted for her stalwart beta'ing in the face of such odds. :) Much love.
SummaryA spectre is haunting Harry -- the responsibility of his destiny. It looms over his future and, more importantly, over the future of his friends. Harry is determined to exorcise this spectre for the greater good, but on the way, he enters into a few unholy alliances...
Fic Links♥ Comment
» Printable Version
+ Beyond Wild Moor and Fen
+ Hall of Mirrors
+ Queen of Hearts
+ Wheel of Fortune
¤ Art Index