Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Spoilers: All four books
Summary: A Harry/Draco SLASH romance. Under the influence of a love potion, Draco learns that poison doesn't always bring death there are other ways to suffer and live. Chemical emotion runs feverish as Harry and Draco discover the intoxication of love. Written by a remorseless slash girl *g*, this story explores the intricate relationship between Harry and Draco.
Author's Note & Dedications:
Thanks to the wonderful folks who reviewed IP12 on the Schnoogle Review Board. Feedback does wonders. Also, a shout-out to everyone who voted for IP in the 2001 H/D Fanfiction Awards, and helped it win Best Drama, as well as the Grand Prize. Recognition is the best form of encouragement and I'm really grateful for your support. This chapter is dedicated to Minx, Heidi and Slightlights, my brilliant betas
And as always, thanks to Minx and Heidi, my beta-readers.
Chapter 13 - Chances
The magic of love is the ignorance that it can ever end.
Harry sat on the floor of the Restricted Section for a long time, staring off at the darkened shelves with unseeing eyes, the book laid open next to him. His mind was reeling with an endless stream of thoughts, which were coherent one moment, and then fell apart the next. A tiny, furtive movement to his right caught his eye Harry finally stirred, then sat up straight.
He strained in the dimness, until he realised that it was only a small brown spider, scurrying along the edge of one of the lower shelves. He relaxed, and leaned back against the wall. A wave of sadness washed over him as he thought of Ron once again. Every time a spider showed up in their dormitory, Ron would protest loudly until Harry took it outside. Now Harry's eyes followed the unconcerned spider as it spun a fine thread, and lowered itself to the floor; he did not obstruct its path. The spider scuttled into a shadowy corner, and then out of sight.
Harry picked up the book with a sigh, and decided to make the best of his stolen visit. After bookmarking the page on Love Potions, he browsed through the rest of the book, lingering with interest on the Loss of Substance potion it was on the preceding page. Draco hadn't been lying, after all.
So was the distant iciness in Draco's voice not a lie, as well?
The next morning showed the true damage to the relationship between the two Gryffindor boys more starkly than ever. Harry discovered that the insidious tension was just as bad, if not worse, than Ron's fits of screaming rage the night before. That had been an explosion, which had to be faced and dealt with; but now, this cold hostility was like a thorn embedded deep, bringing an awful, nagging pain that would not go away.
Seamus, Dean and Neville sat up in their beds and watched in surprise as Ron strode out of the dormitory early that morning, slamming the door behind him. Shortly after, Harry got dressed and quietly slipped downstairs as well. As the door closed softly this time, the other three boys traded meaningful looks.
"Now, it seems that the Snog Appointment didn't go as well as planned," Seamus observed. "Ron looked as if he'd collided headfirst with a storm cloud."
"Agreed," said Dean, rolling his eyes. "If we ever need a volcano in the background for a school play, Ron would be the perfect human prop. Even got the flaming red on top of his head."
"What happened, d'you think?" Neville asked curiously.
"Well, judging from his hellish mood, Ron definitely didn't get much action," Dean answered.
"Maybe he got chanced upon and passionately mauled by Millicent Bulstrode?" Seamus suggested. "That'd really explain things. Though Harry's behaving rather suspiciously, so I reckon that he's got something to do with all of this. I wonder what..."
"Hermione was back in the common room rather late last night," Dean offered. "And Harry sneaked into the dorm even later."
"So who snogged whom, exactly?" Neville persisted.
"Aha," Seamus said, with a devious smile. "That, my friends, is for us to find out."
Once he left the boys' dormitory, Harry made his way down the stairs. At the back of his mind, he knew that Ron had gone out to the Quidditch field for some quiet time alone to himself. It was still far too early for breakfast, and no one else was up yet but as he had expected, he found Hermione waiting for him in the common room. Her eyes were bright, but filled with worry.
"I just saw Ron go out through the portrait hole by himself," she told Harry, with an unhappy sigh. "But he didn't see me I ducked behind an armchair when I heard him coming down the steps."
"Well, he refuses to even look at me, much less toss more than a grunt in my direction," Harry said. "I don't think there's anything I can do, Hermione. It seems like Ron isn't ever going to forgive me for what I did to him..." he trailed off, frowning slightly. "And I'm not sure I can easily forget how he tried to get Malfoy expelled by telling Dumbledore about the love potion. I mean, he went straight to the Headmaster and spilled everything I told him "
"You do realise that Ron did it because he cares about you," Hermione cut in quietly, looking directly at Harry. "He wasn't doing it to spite you, or only to get revenge on Malfoy. If that had been his intention, he'd have told Dumbledore about how he found both of you in the storage room you certainly weren't supposed to be there. But he never said a word about that."
Harry looked at Hermione, unable to find a reply; then something broke in his eyes, and his gaze dropped to the floor.
"Ron doesn't hate you, Harry," Hermione continued, with sympathy in her voice. "He probably hates Malfoy more than he hates spiders, yes but you should know that what he did last night wasn't to get you into trouble. Even though it was a terrible move, which had potentially disastrous consequences for you and Malfoy but I think Ron truly believed that Malfoy had you under some sort of spell, and he couldn't just stand by and do nothing about it."
"Draco could have been expelled because of that," Harry said intensely, raising his eyes once again; they were filled with confusion and turmoil. "As it is now, I trust that Dumbledore and Snape have the common sense to keep this whole matter under wraps. But if it had been proven true, they wouldn't have been able to hush it up and Draco's father would have gotten wind of it!"
"But it wasn't proven true," Hermione answered, holding Harry's gaze steadily. "And I think you found out the reason why that happened." She paused, and then asked, "Care to share with me what you read in the Restriction Section last night?"
Harry closed his eyes, his shoulders sagging at the mention of the book and its contents the poem echoed in his mind, each word blazing with terrible truth, bleeding into his consciousness. With a quivering voice, he repeated the poem: as if he were speaking from a delirious dream, each syllable painfully dredged up from the very depths of his soul.
Hermione looked at Harry in stunned silence after he finished reciting the poem in its entirety. Several moments passed before she finally spoke; her voice was low, full of amazement and wonder.
"It all makes such perfect sense now!" She shook her head self-deprecatingly. "I need to check up on a couple of things first but I cannot believe I never thought of this before. How simply ingenious."
Harry looked at her, bewildered. If there was one thing this love poem was, it certainly wasn't 'perfect sense.' In fact, it was the most imperfect potion he had ever come across, beginning with the very premise of its mistaken concoction. As for any semblance of sense, Harry could not remember a time in his life where he had wandered about, so utterly confused and at a total loss as to what to do.
"Sorry," Harry finally said, "but did you say 'perfect sense' and 'simply ingenious'? Because I just need that little confirmation that I've completely lost my mind."
Hermione gave him a wry smile. "All right, why don't you tell me what you understand this poem to mean? It's pretty important how this poem is interpreted, given that it explains how the potion actually works."
"Well..." Harry thought for a moment; a twisting ache churned in his stomach as his mind turned to the potion, and Draco. It hurt even to think, much less put his sentiments into words. He tried to sound nonchalant, "I just reckoned it meant that the effect of the potion goes away by itself after it has successfully managed to scramble people's emotions beyond recognition."
Hermione cracked an amused grin. "Well, that's one way of putting it."
"Is it?" Harry gave a short, humourless laugh. "Well, as if Ron giving me the cold shoulder weren't enough, Draco's not speaking to me, either. Before Snape came back with the results, I told Draco that the Anti-toxin potion we made didn't work and he just froze up, and told me that sorry wasn't good enough."
"You apologised?" Hermione said incredulously. "You have nothing to apologise for!"
Harry was quiet for a while. "Actually, I do," he finally answered in a soft voice. "He trusted me; and when I told him that the Anti-toxin potion was our best bet, he believed me."
"And you didn't let him down," Hermione said staunchly. "The bottom line is: he's no longer under the spell of the love potion. Snape's test proved that beyond the shadow of a doubt." She paused, and lowered her voice. "Now, the question that remains is, exactly how you cured him of it."
Harry closed his eyes, still clinging to the last vestiges of denial; it was too hard to admit it, not even to Hermione. "Maybe there was actually some effectiveness in the Anti-toxin..."
"Are you in love with him, Harry?" Hermione asked unexpectedly.
"What!" Harry's eyes flashed open and he stared at her, caught completely off-guard. "What do you mean...?"
"You know what I mean," Hermione answered deliberately. "And only you can answer this, Harry do you really care about Draco, enough to break the power of the love potion over him?"
There was a brief, expectant silence. A flurry of anguished emotions flitted across Harry's face, as he was caught in a great internal struggle between what he wanted to believe as truth, what he wanted to make into reality... and, what he simply just wanted.
"I don't know," he whispered desolately.
"Whatever you do, Harry, don't look for Malfoy," was Hermione's last admonition as they parted ways. She was off to her Advanced Transfiguration class, and Harry was off to spend some dismal time alone with his muddled thoughts. What a welcome prospect, Harry thought darkly as he rounded a bend... and walked straight into Draco.
Harry stopped in his tracks. So much for Hermione's warning. It seemed trouble constantly followed him under the guise of Draco Malfoy. He stared at Draco for a long moment, trying to figure out what was different about the blond boy. His mind registered a blank, although his instincts sensed otherwise.
"You're not doing a very good job at avoiding me," Draco remarked, surveying Harry with a critical eye that betrayed nothing.Harry found hi
mself sorely lacking an answer. Draco's last words to him the night before echoed in his mind: Sorry isn't good enough, Potter.
"What happened, Draco?" Harry finally asked quietly. Pretences were useless now. "Tell me the truth."
Something flitted across Draco's expression like a ripple across still waters, or the shadow of a passing cloud. Then it was gone, and Draco's voice was cold as the depths of a winter lake. "It doesn't matter anymore, Potter."
"Yes it does," Harry said fiercely, stepping forward. "You can't just pretend the last two weeks never happened."
"Why not?" Draco met Harry's eyes evenly. "It's a perfectly good explanation for something that should never even have happened in the first place."
Harry could not stop himself from blurting, "Was that all it was to you?"
"It was never meant to happen, Harry." Draco's voice held steady.
"But it did."
"Yes." Draco's eyes flickered away for the briefest of moments. "There was nothing we could've done about that. But now we both got what we wanted. It's over with. So let it go."
Draco made to leave, but Harry caught him by the arm. The physical contact, even though insulated by Draco's sleeve, was electric. Draco's eyes snapped up to Harry, and the sharpness in them melted for but a moment before freezing over again.
"You know what, Draco?" The intensity in Harry's voice startled them both. "This isn't a dream that you can just push to the back of your mind and forget about. Something happened to make that potion go away, something" Harry broke off, and drew a deep breath. "Something between us. Don't you want to find out what it is?"
Draco looked at Harry for a long moment and Harry felt himself being drawn into those eyes of pale grey, which flickered like a silver flame kindled from stone. Finally, Draco spoke.
"You know what, Potter?" The flame in his eyes spilled an undercurrent of feeling beneath words otherwise so cold that they chilled Harry's heart. "I really don't care."
Something in Harry's stunned look must have made Draco's expression soften ever so slightly.
"Look," Draco said, running his hand through his light fringe and pushing it out of his eyes with a careless sweep. "I know Granger probably told you to stay away from me. Let me help you out with that."
Draco gracefully sidestepped Harry, and strode down the corridor without a backward glance. And as Draco walked away, Harry finally realised what had changed.
Draco was himself again.
"We have got to find out what's going on with them," Seamus whispered, as they watched Ron walk into the common room and disappear straight up the stairs to the dormitory, without even the merest glance at Harry, who was sitting just a few tables away. Seamus gave an exaggerated sigh. "All this sneaking around is driving me absolutely crazy!"
"Seems to bug you a great deal, Seamus, considering it's none of your business in the first place," Dean tried to be fair, although his own curiosity was gradually getting the better of him, too.
Seamus gave him a long-suffering look. "Inquiring minds need to know."
"All right, if it's really holding a fire under your arse, then go play sleuth," Dean suggested. "Just be discreet."
"Right," Seamus said, satisfied, and got to his feet. He sauntered casually over to where Harry was sitting, staring at an open Potions book in front of him and generally appearing to be tuned out to the rest of the world.
"Hey, Harry," Seamus greeted. "I was just sitting over there, and I couldn't help but notice you haven't turned the page for about half an hour. Snape favour you with an exam tip that you could share?"
Harry distractedly glanced up from his book. "Uh, no, Seamus I was just thinking about something else."
"Knut for your thoughts?" Seamus said brightly. "I'll give a Sickle for additional sordid details, and Galleon if it's got anything to do with you, McGonagall and a bath tub, at the same place and time."
Harry cracked a tired smile. "No, I don't really want to talk about it. You can save your money."
"So what's up with you and Ron, hmm?" Seamus asked.
"Seamus," Dean groaned, coming over. He glanced apologetically at Harry, and then eyed the Irish boy severely. "If this is your idea of being subtle..."
"But seriously, Harry!" Seamus persisted, ignoring Dean. "You and Ron have been acting strangely for the entire day, and we as your concerned roommates would like to know if a state of war has been declared in our dormitory. Are you two fighting over Hermione or something?"
"I thought we ruled out that possibility!" Dean hissed under his breath. "You're wasting valuable questioning time!"
"No, Hermione has nothing to do with this," Harry said firmly, and got to his feet. "Look I'm sorry that I can't tell you more, but it's really for the best not to get other people involved. Don't worry, things will be fine."
Harry headed toward the portrait hole, and disappeared through it. Seamus watched Harry flee with a gleaming eye. Dean watched the portrait door swing shut, and then turned to his sandy-haired friend with a sigh. "Brilliant job, Sherlock."
"I know, I thought I was pretty good myself," Seamus answered. "Quick, and straight to the point."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Sarcasm, just like subtlety, is always lost on you."
"Naw, Harry let slip a couple of things without even knowing it," Seamus said triumphantly. "And luckily, my sheer brilliance ensured that these clues did not pass by unnoticed. There's obviously someone else involved, and it's not Hermione. I don't think it's even anyone from Gryffindor it's clear that the only person he's avoiding in here is Ron, and Harry is taking an awful lot of quiet walks off by himself."
"Really?" Dean sounded reluctantly impressed. "So who is it?"
"I haven't got that far yet," Seamus said; his expression grew enigmatic. "But I'm thinking that maybe Harry and Malfoy are having a clandestine affair, and Ron found out which explains his huffy mood because it's not fair that his best friend and his worst enemy are both getting some action, not to mention with each other."
Dean's eyeballs bulged out of their sockets. "Seriously!" he sputtered, staring at Seamus in utter amazement. "You really think so?"
Seamus dropped his mysterious voice, and broke into a broad grin.
"Of course not, you silly cow! You won't even be able to pull that off on April Fool's," he said, and crowed with laughter. "Harry and Malfoy, honestly! No one's ever going to fall for that." He paused. "Although they'd make quite a cute couple, come to think of it."
"Cute?" Dean snorted. "Bunny-rabbit type of cute, or 'oh look! we can see the pretty stars through the large hole blown through our ceiling!' type of cute?"
Seamus tilted his head, and thought for a moment. "Impossibly cute."
Harry was glad that, in a topsy-turvy world where change was the only constant, there were still a few things that could be counted on one of them was that the far corner of the library rated as one of the most likely places to find a certain Hermione Granger.
"This place is impossible," Harry grumbled, as he flung himself on the chair opposite Hermione, who barely looked up from the parchment she was scribbling on. "Seamus clearly has nothing better to do than notice Ron's and my every move." It took a moment for Harry to notice what was odd there were no books spread across the entire span of the table. "What are you doing?"
"Figuring out the love potion with a method we should have used right from the start," Hermione replied, finally glancing up at him. "Common sense."
"Right," Harry said dully. "Does that come bottled? Because I think I threw that out the window the night I hung around with Draco Malfoy on the edge of the Forbidden Forest."
"You know," Hermione went on, "all this time we've been so caught up with the technical aspects of the composition of the love potion and what sort of toxin it might be, that we totally forgot to think about how the love potion was meant to work in the first place. What it was intended to do." She shook her head in frustration. "We spent our time hacking away at the branches of the poisoned tree, but never thought to go straight for its roots."
"So what have you got there?" Harry asked, nodding wearily at Hermione's notes.
Frankly, he wasn't so sure that he actually wanted to know. He didn't need to know any more about the wretched love potion. He didn't care about how it was supposed to work, what it was meant to do... the one thing he did care about, was why he was hurting so much because Draco just wanted to move on with life. Wasn't that what he had wanted, too?
"Okay," Hermione said, setting her notes down on the table and tackling the issue the way she always addressed things perfectly logically. "First, consider the purpose of a love potion. Why would a person give someone else a love potion to drink, under normal circumstances?"
"To fall in love with that someone else," Harry responded. Even as he spoke, his own words struck a pang through his heart. The irony stung like acid on a fresh wound.
"That's right," Hermione nodded. "But your situation was clearly different. Draco's consumption of the love potion was an accident. He never meant to concoct that, and your presence was equally coincidental. So what would the altered course of events likely lead to? How does this change the way the love potion affects both of you?"
"Hermione," Harry groaned, clutching his head. "You have got to stop answering me by asking more questions. You must understand that my brain is fragmented enough as it is."
"All right, all right," Hermione said impatiently. "Let's not try to make you think for yourself, then."
"Yeah," Harry said softly, almost to himself, "that's something I stopped doing a long time ago."
Hermione eyed him with a mix of sympathy and worry, and then continued. "Okay, this is how I see it. The purpose of a love potion is to make someone else the unfortunate victim fall in love with the one who made the potion. The victim drinks the love potion, and the first person he sees would be the one who made the potion."
"And he would fall in love with him," Harry added.
"Yes. The victim would think that he's in love with this person." Hermione paused. "If the victim is clever and strong-willed enough, he would know he is under a love potion spell like Draco did. The rational part of his mind would know that the romantic attraction isn't real, although he can't help it at all. Follow me so far?"
"I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop," Harry said.
"You won't have to wait long. Like every story, the tale of a love potion has a devious twist to it." Hermione's expression grew sober and grave. "Love potions are an advanced form of Dark Magic. Even though they claim to serve the ends of evil ones, power often comes at a price often a clever little double-cross that backfires on the one who casts the spell. Many Dark wizards and witches have fallen prey to their own devices, and perished of their making. The love potion is not meant to be a no-strings-attached ticket to conquering, by devious coercion, the love of one's life."
"What's the catch, then?" Harry asked. "It seems pretty foolproof to me. And I might add that it sounds awfully creepy, the way you describe the love potion it seems to have a mind of it's own. It's freaky."
"It doesn't have a life of its own," Hermione said earnestly. "But what it does do is try to control something that is a mind unto itself, that cannot be compelled to the will of anyone and that something is love." She took a deep breath. "For someone to cast a love potion on another person, he cannot possibly, truly, love the supposed object of his affections. It's more of a dark obsession, with the sole purpose of gaining something that should only be given, willingly a cruel, unscrupulous means to manipulate the heart of someone else, to induce a false love."
Realisation came like a draught of icy winter chill against Harry's face, stinging like needles of frost. "So I was in the role of the caster of the spell, and Draco was the victim," Harry said slowly, as the pieces slowly began to scatter into place.
Hermione nodded. "Exactly. 'The power to hurt, the power to heal.' He was in love with you, Harry, and you were able to control his emotions, even subconsciously that was how you upset his balance and caused him to fall during that Quidditch match, even though you didn't intend to."
"But why..." Harry felt his voice grow thick, "why did things change all of a sudden?"
"Because you changed," Hermione answered. "You actually fell in love with Draco and that's when the love potion's backstabbing mechanism stepped in. It will only function as long as there is no true emotion involved. But as soon as the 'induced love' of the victim 'is returned' by the caster of the spell, then only is 'the mockery of the potion spurned,' and it disappears entirely. The caster of the spell is left with true feelings of love, but the victim is no longer bound to him. A sort of warped justice, in the end." Hermione paused. "Or maybe it's just because love real love is something so pure and beautiful, that no Dark spell can ever lay claim on it. That's why the potion was rendered useless."
Harry sat silently, unable to think of anything to say in reply, not even knowing what he wanted to say. Thoughts gushed through his mind like waters rushing over the edge of a broken dam, and there was nothing he could do to stop it, or make sense of what he was thinking. The only thing he knew was that it was true beyond the shadow of a doubt: he loved Draco.
And now, he had lost him.
Noticing Harry's lack of response, Hermione resumed speaking. "Also, love potions are banned by the Ministry. Likely, they would have done extensive research before, to find a cure for it but love potions are known to be incurable, except by death. Even Malfoy admitted that early on, and given his likely ample knowledge of the Dark Arts from his father's library of Dark materials ""Draco's d
ifferent from his father." Harry blurted out, his voice quivering. "He's not fundamentally evil, and he doesn't use Dark spells to hurt anyone else." He paused, and then added softly, "Just himself."
"Not just himself," Hermione said firmly. "The point is, we already knew that love potions couldn't be cured by any magical means. I guess we just hoped against all hope that we could find a way around it. But in retrospect, a simple Anti-toxin potion wouldn't have been the solution, or someone before would have recognised it I mean, we're only still in school, we hardly know everything."Harry wanted to ad
d that if Hermione couldn't have done anything, no one else had a snowball's chance in hell of figuring it out; but he just settled for, "And you came up with all of that by yourself?"
"Of course." Hermione grinned. "I'm a girl."
Harry couldn't suppress a wry smile. Some humour served to make him feel slightly better. "That's becoming a handy excuse. 'Why can't you carry the buckets of water to Herbology class?' 'Because I'm a girl.' 'Why can't you open the bottle caps with your nails?' 'Because I'm a girl.' 'Why are you so damned smart?' 'Because I'm a girl.' "
"Oh, Harry," Hermione said, "you're smart too, and so special in other ways as well. Remember what I told you when we were going to rescue the Philosopher's Stone, back in the first year? Books! Cleverness! There are more important things in life." She smiled at him. "Do you still remember?"
Harry nodded wordlessly, feeling a lump the size of a Chocolate Frog form in his throat. Of course he remembered. And he couldn't help but remember Ron as well the way Ron sacrificed himself just so that Harry could pass through the giant chess set. It ached like a poisoned dart lodged deep within him, to think of how his friendship with Ron seemed to have been shattered beyond repair.
"So what am I supposed to do now?" He hated how much at a loss he was. It was terrifying not to know what to do, not to have complete control over how he felt; helpless to ignore what his heart told him when his mind screamed otherwise. Harry began to truly understand how much Draco must have suffered, trying to keep his emotions under wraps when they constantly threatened to spill over.
The only difference was, Draco had the excuse of a love potion. Harry didn't.
Hermione could see the turmoil that her friend was in. She reached out and touched Harry's shoulder lightly.
"There's nothing you can do now," she said gently. "You just have to let go. Get on with your life, Harry. Forget Malfoy."
But deep down inside, Harry knew that this was the one thing he could not do.
If talking to Draco had been hard, deliberating with himself was worse. Harry spent a sleepless night tossing and turning in bed, wondering if it was a good idea to approach Draco to talk things out and asking himself exactly what he expected from such a meeting. That, he couldn't even answer.
The next day, as he lounged in the common room accomplishing a grand total of nothing at all, Harry finally decided that not talking to Draco was giving him more mental anguish than any possible outcome of doing so. It was slowly driving him insane wondering what was going on in Draco's mind, hidden behind those calm eyes of storm-grey. And he decided that he would never be able to put the past behind him, not without first settling things with Draco once and for all.
"Right, Herm, I'm going for a walk," Harry said as casually as possible, heading towards the portrait hole.
Hermione looked up. "No, you're not. You're going to look for Malfoy, aren't you?"
The stricken expression on Harry's face was all the answer she needed. She made an irritated sound. "Harry, exactly what point do you see in clinging on to this whole thing? You're not making it any easier on yourself or Malfoy, for that matter."
"How did you know I was going to look for him?" Harry grumbled mutinously, wondering if Hermione's intelligence had ascended to a level that gave her the ability to read minds.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "No one paces back and forth for ten minutes deciding whether or not to go for a walk."
"Your uncanny perception is getting really annoying," Harry shot back in a half-serious tone.
Hermione looked smug, before she sobered. "I don't suppose anything I say is going to change your mind."
"No, not really," Harry admitted. "Look, I just need some... closure to this whole thing. I've got to talk to Malfoy one last time, and bury this whole episode once and for all. That's it."
Hermione knew better than to take his words at face value. "You know, Harry, the last time someone promised me this same thing, it was Malfoy and look what came out of that."
"Nothing's going to happen this time," Harry promised, recalling the way Draco had spoken to him the day before. "I'm pretty sure of that."
Hermione hardly looked convinced. "Well, if you say so. But for the record, I still think it's a bad idea. And what makes you think Malfoy wants to talk things over with you?"
"I'm not giving him a choice," Harry said determinedly. "He never gave me a choice about getting embroiled in the love potion with him at the start. So he sure as hell had better be there at the end of it. He owes me that much."
Hermione looked slightly surprised at the fervent tone of Harry's voice, and decided that it would be completely pointless even trying to reason him out of looking for Malfoy. Maybe it was better to just let him get it over with get the closure he needed so that the wound could heal, with only a scar as a distant reminder of pain and blood. Things would never be the same again, but... at least the two boys' paths wouldn't be so helplessly entangled any longer.
"Oh, just go and do what you have to do," Hermione said, with a sigh. "But promise me that you won't meet him in the storage room. I have a bad feeling about that trunk."
Harry decided to hang around outside the Slytherin dungeons to wait for Draco instead of approaching him after class. For one thing, the chances of a fellow Gryffindor chancing upon them would be highly unlikely; also, Draco couldn't avoid him if he stationed himself at the entrance to the dungeons.
But the first person he met was Millicent Bulstrode, who waddled past him with as much pomp as she could muster. Millicent clearly hadn't got over her love for Harry being rejected in no uncertain terms in their fifth year. "Too warm, perched up in your little tower, Potter?" she said coldly. "Coming all the way here to cool down a little?"
Before Harry could answer, a drawling voice spoke up first. "No, he's just decided to grace our dark little dungeon with his illuminating presence."
Harry turned to see Draco standing a little way behind Millicent which was probably the reason why Harry hadn't seen him coming in the first place. Stepping around Millicent's generous figure, Draco drew to a halt in front of Harry, and gave him an appraising once-over. Draco's gaze was calm and piercing, as if he were undressing Harry with his eyes. It made Harry feel exposed, and oddly titillated. A shiver ran up his spine.
"I need to have a word with you," Harry managed in a voice that quavered too much for his own liking.
Draco's eyes narrowed, although they did not look at all surprised. "What about?"
Harry gritted his teeth. Draco was being deliberately obtuse, and it didn't help that Millicent was watching their exchange with no small amount of curiosity. She was massive, but unfortunately not massively stupid it wouldn't take long for her to suspect that something out of the ordinary was afoot.
"I need to speak with you about the Potions project," Harry said meaningfully, staring at Draco. "In private."
Draco stood for a moment, before he silently acquiesced. Stepping aside, he nodded down the shadowed corridor. "Let's go this way." Relieved, Harry followed him into a nearby classroom, which was empty and dark.
Closing the door behind them, Draco turned to face Harry. His expression was inscrutable in the dimness, and Harry was struck with how seductive the atmosphere was silky shadows fell all around them, and a strangely warm air caressed the back of Harry's neck. Or maybe that was just him feeling flushed.
"Nice move, Potter," Draco said dryly. "Swooping down and snatching me right in front of my common room. You might have tried whacking me on the head with your big club and dragging me off, caveman style."
Harry sighed. "I just wanted to"
"Talk?" Draco finished for him. "Yes, I realised every time I look at you, you're always wearing this choked-up expression that says you're bursting to tell some news. But that's all right, I've got a couple of questions I wanted to ask you, too."
Harry looked surprised. "What?"
"Oh, I get to go first?" Draco gave him an infuriating smile. "I always knew you were a gentleman, Potter."
"Is this all just a joke to you, now?" Harry's patience was wearing thin; and more than anything else, he hated Draco's flippant attitude. "Let me tell you this, Draco just because it's all fixed, doesn't mean there aren't any loose ends to tie up. And it doesn't mean that it can't all come apart again."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Draco snapped, the first ripple displacing his calm demeanour.
"I'm pretty sure you know what I want to talk to you about." Harry decided to take the direct approach. He was sick of going around in circles. "Don't you?"
Draco's eyes remained unreadable for a long, tense moment.
"Yes," Draco said finally; and as he spoke, he began to draw nearer. "Of course I know. Our minds and hearts have been so intimately connected over the past two weeks, Harry, that it isn't hard for me to know what you're thinking..." Draco moved even closer to Harry, "And what you really want." He boldly placed his right hand on Harry's chest.
Harry stared at Draco, shocked and riveted. He could feel the inexorable heat of Draco's body so near his, and Draco's palm was like a branding iron against his chest. He feared that he would get a heart attack and spoil this moment, which seemed too good to be true...
"You want to see what it's like between us now," Draco continued, his voice now a husky whisper. His left hand slid around Harry's neck, pulling them together. "You want to see if you can still make me melt in your arms... and how it feels when we're like this..." Draco leaned in to make his point absolutely clear, and Harry wondered if he would faint from the sheer intensity of the moment."Let me show yo
u what it's like again, Harry," Draco purred, his fingers running over Harry's bare neck, stroking away the tension with the lightest caress. "Let me show you how I feel about you now."
With that, Draco kissed Harry hard on the mouth, with such passion and insistence that Harry almost toppled backwards. Draco's tongue pried Harry's lips apart and delved inside, duelling fiercely with Harry's own tongue, almost choking him. Just as Harry was getting used to the bruising kiss, Draco suddenly tore his mouth away from Harry's, and then began kissing and biting a trail down the length of Harry's neck with renewed fervour. Harry closed his eyes, arching against Draco's touch he could do nothing but groan, relishing the painful yet exquisite touch of Draco's teeth against his skin, the wetness of Draco's tongue as it expertly licked its way up and down his neck.
"Draco..." Harry let the name slip from his lips on the wings of a breath and at that very moment, Draco broke away, taking three steps backwards and putting a respectable distance between him and Harry again.
Harry's eyes flashed open, disoriented for a moment, drunk on the sensation of Draco pressed up against him, kissing him but as he looked at Draco again, his blood ran cold. The expression on Draco's face was one of satisfied triumph, and a thin smile curled those lips still flushed from the heat of kissing.
"Nothing," Draco said, enunciating the word clearly, shattering every last illusion that the feverish kiss had conjured in Harry's mind. "I feel absolutely nothing. And that's all I have to say on this matter."
Harry could do nothing but stare at Draco, utterly shocked as the cruelty of Draco's reply slowly sank in. So that exhilarating moment they shared had been too good to be true, after all. He could not hide the disappointment and sadness from showing in his eyes, and Draco plainly saw it. The gloating smile on Draco's face faded slightly there was a flash of emotion like distant lightning, just as Draco turned away and started towards the door.
But halfway, he stopped, and looked back at Harry.
"It's my turn to ask you something. What were you about to say to me in the storage room, just before Weasley walked in on us? You started to say, 'I think...' " Draco trailed off questioningly.
Harry looked at Draco with a mixture of sadness and resigned defeat. "Before that, I said that a kiss was all I could give you, anymore. But after we kissed, that first time..."
"It wasn't the first time," Draco interrupted flatly.
"It was the first time I kissed you back."
"So what were you going to tell me?"
Harry looked directly at Draco, and said simply, "That I think there's something else I can give you, after all."
Draco's expression didn't alter. "How touching."
He turned to leave, but Harry's voice halted him.
"You said you had a couple of questions," Harry said quietly. "So what's the other one?"
"Oh yes thanks for reminding me." Draco turned around, and met Harry's eyes levelly. "There's just one more thing."
"Yes?" Harry held his breath, waiting.
"I want my mother's ring back."
Harry stared at Draco in disbelief for a long moment, before he glanced away, as if it hurt too much. His hands trembled slightly as they rose to unclasp the chain around his neck; drawing it free, Harry let the ring slide off the chain and into his palm. The jewels glinted like tarnished eyes, and the metal still felt warm from being suspended against his bare skin.
Harry held it out to Draco, who stepped forward and took it. Without another word or glance, Draco turned and walked out of the classroom, not even bothering to shut the door behind him.
For several moments, Harry could not move. His limbs felt stiff, as if the blood in his veins had frozen with pain and the cold, terrible truth; the ache in his chest was stifling, rendering him almost incapable of breathing properly. He slumped against the nearest wall, and let himself slide to the floor.
It was over.
Harry's mood was no less doleful as he trudged back to Gryffindor Tower, his footsteps leaden and heavy. He crawled through the portrait hole into the common room, and was listlessly walking towards the stairs when a delighted howl stopped him dead in his tracks. He looked around, bewildered, and soon discovered that the howl had originated from none other than Seamus Finnigan, who was bounding toward him at that very moment.
"Harry! Oh my gawd, Harry, just look at you!" Seamus's eyes were wide with amazement; he turned around and hollered, "Dean! Come over here! This is looking snogged! Get your arse over here, Dean! Neville! Anyone else interested! Here is a living specimen of looking thoroughly snogged!"
Unfortunately for Seamus and thankfully for Harry, there was only a handful of other students in the common room, who looked up at the commotion with curiosity. Hermione was one of them; she quickly set down her Transfiguration text, and hurried over, joined closely by Dean and Neville.
"What's going on?" Hermione demanded. But then she took one look at Harry, and exclaimed "Oh my god!"
She promptly took Harry by the arm and, in an unprecedented move, steered him up the stairs and into the girl's dormitory, which was thankfully empty. She closed the door and spun around to face Harry.
Harry blinked at her, nonplussed. "What?"
"Your neck, Harry," Hermione stated simply. "Take a look at your neck."
Harry darted towards the mirror, and what he saw made him jump back. "What the..."
"Harry," Hermione sounded despairing, "Not again! I thought you were going to settle things with Malfoy and put an end to all this!"
"I was! I did!" Harry rushed to justify himself. "I told him that he couldn't ignore me forever, and we got to talking..."
"A rather enthusiastic conversation, I see." Hermione observed, giving Harry a severe look. "Seems to me like Malfoy had rather a lot to say to your neck."
"It's it's not how it looks," Harry said hastily, looking flustered. "Draco was being unreasonable and antagonistic, and""I'm sure he was really antagonistic," Hermione said dryly. "I suppose he tried to take your head off with his tongue?"
Harry blushed crimson. "Look, Hermione, listen to me for a moment."
"Ron's going to kill you, you know," Hermione informed him.
"What a surprise." Harry sat down on the nearest bed. "He's going to kill me either way."
"And you thought that having it on with Malfoy, and getting a neckful of hickeys as a souvenir, is making the best of the situation?"
"Oh come on, Hermione, it's not as if I had a choice!" Harry protested, still looking distinctly ruffled.
"Somehow I find that hard to believe." Hermione remarked. "You hardly look coerced."
"See, you're not a very objective judge," Harry tried to justify.
"Shall we go ask Seamus's opinion, then?" Hermione countered. "I think he'll have quite a lot to say whether you ask him or not, actually. You'll be teased about this until you turn twenty."
"It doesn't really matter anymore." Harry flopped back on the bed, suddenly feeling utterly exhausted. "It's over with, anyway. There's nothing left to hide, so Seamus and the others can go on thinking whatever they want to."
Hermione's expression softened. "I'm sorry it didn't go well with Malfoy. But I mean... I'm sure you expected it, right? He hasn't got the love potion to distract him any longer, so he's gone back to his full-time job of being an insufferable git."
"Too bad I can't go back to my full-time job of not caring," Harry said softly.
Hermione looked at Harry with a mixture of bafflement and admiration. "He really does mean a lot to you now, doesn't he?""What I think isn't really important," Harry said tiredly. "The point is, Draco wants to pretend that none of this ever happened. So be it, then. I think he deserves that much, for the hell he's been through this past couple of weeks."
"And what about you?" Hermione pointed out. "You haven't exactly had a honeymoon either."
"I'll manage." Harry shrugged, and then quietly added, "At least now, one of us is happy. And even if I had a choice, I'd rather that one be Draco."
Hermione gave Harry a long, thoughtful look, and finally shook her head. "I thought Draco was pretty sharp, but it seems the love potion has driven out whatever common sense he ever had."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked.
"He's making a big mistake." Hermione paused. "And when he realises how stupid he's been, it'll be too late. He's throwing away something that comes once in a lifetime."
"And what's that?"
"Everything he could ever ask for," Hermione answered. "To have someone like you."
Two nights later, Draco walked into his dormitory to find a wrapped package sitting on his bed. It wasn't a parcel from home, since all outgoing packages from the Malfoy household always had the family crest emblazoned on them. Curious, Draco sat down and unwrapped it and to his amazement, a silky fabric flowed out upon his lap, like silver water woven into thread.
It was an Invisibility Cloak. Draco stared at it for a few moments, and then began hunting for an accompanying note he finally found it, tucked neatly inside the inner folds of the cloak. In Harry's handwriting, these words were penned: On loan. Use discreetly, and take good care of it.
He turned the parchment over, and saw that one more line was written; and he stared at it for a very long time, battling with the onslaught of emotions evoked by the simple, final words that Harry had added:
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