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.
Chapter 11 - Crash and Burn
Something the heart must have to cherish,
Must love and joy and sorrow learn;
Something with passion clasp, or perish
And in itself to ashes burn.
"Enervate." A pause, then impatiently, "Come on, Harry! You couldn't have had more than three bottles, how drunk are you?"
Patterns of light and darkness danced in dizzying circles behind his closed lids; Harry refused to open his eyes, and he didn't like the voice that was persistently shouting in his ear it disturbed the dense, churning peacefulness. He tried to mumble Go away, but all that emerged was an unintelligible grunt.
There was some shuffling of feet beside him which then seemed to grow distant, and the voice was quiet for a while; Harry was relieved, and he tried to immerse himself back into the realm where feeling and thought lay fallen on the ground like dried autumn leaves, where everything was calm in nothingness.
Then suddenly, without warning, a torrent of cold water splashed over his face, bringing harsh, glaring reality back to life in a liquid hiss, sparking a sharp pain that speared like a javelin through his temples.
"Baaaaaaaaaargh!" Harry spluttered, his eyes flashing open; his vision was momentarily dark with excessive bright. Patches of dark grey and white silver shifted in alternating grids before his eyes; he closed them again and groaned, rolling over to one side and clutching his head, trying to crawl away from the cold wetness that had already drenched him. "Arrrrrrrgh..."
Draco set down the half-empty bottle of water, his eyebrows quirking in mild surprise. "Hey, I never knew this actually worked so well. Always read about the Muggles doing it, but I figured, why bother with water when there are spells to do the job?" He shifted closer to Harry, who was curling away from him, and shook him lightly. "Harry, wake up. Open your eyes."
"What...?" Harry slurred, barely opening his eyelids. "WhWhere am I?"
"Only hell," Draco deadpanned. "But you're in luck, they've turned on the Cooling Charms."
"Eurgh. Malfoy. It's you." The drunken haze abated slightly, permitting a trickle of coherent thought to pass through; Harry opened his left eye a crack. "Figures that I'd meet you in hell, anyway."
Draco dragged Harry into a half-sitting position Harry tried to move his limbs, but they were recalcitrant; he finally gave up and let Draco do all the work. After struggling for a while and swearing under his breath, Draco managed to get him propped up against the wall.
"Ow," Harry moaned. "My head hurts."
"Yes, that would be the merciful part of a hangover," Draco remarked dryly, handing Harry a dry towel to wipe his face with. The front of Harry's robes was already soaked with the water that ran down his face and chin, although Harry didn't seem to notice. "The brutal part is the guilt and horror and regret, of course."
"Where am I?" Harry managed thickly; Draco's words came through sounding garbled. "What am I doing here? What happened?"
"You downed almost three whole bottles of Butterbeer's new Butterbooze, got dead drunk and promptly passed out." Draco held the half-empty bottle of water to Harry's dry lips, the other half of which he had used to revive him. "Or you got sat on by an overweight mountain troll. Either event would've had the same effect."
Harry drank thirstily, and the cool water sliding down his throat made him feel slightly better, at least quelling the tentative nausea that was kicking in. His head still hurt, but the grogginess eased and he was gradually able to open his eyes and blink normally without wincing from the glare of light.
He squinted over at Draco, instinctive wariness setting in. "And what have you been doing here all this while?"
Draco rolled his eyes. "Oh, I just poached a couple of your internal organs for sale while you were sleeping. Only a kidney or two, hope you don't mind."
"What've you been doing here?" Harry repeated. Distrust shimmered and deepened in his eyes, and he wished that Draco would stop being ridiculous and just tell him what had happened since he'd passed out. "Have you been sitting here watching me sleep all this time?"
"I told you, I was busy nicking a few of your body parts. Makes for good contraband on the black market, they'll fetch a pretty good price..." A mischievous grin spread over Draco's face, and he added suggestively, "But of course, besides stealing some organs I also put certain others to better use."
Harry's jaw dropped and he stared at Draco, aghast. "What?"
Draco's smirk broadened, and he slid closer to Harry, still smiling deviously. "Don't worry," he purred seductively, "It was wonderful for me. Was it good for you?"
"Oh my god." Harry jerked his arm out of Draco's grasp, and his face was frozen with shock and disbelief "Don't tell me... no. We we didn't."
Draco's smile vanished, and he dropped his saccharine tone of voice. "Of course we didn't, you idiot. Don't be stupid." He glared at Harry. "Did you really think I'd take advantage of you while you were unconscious?"
"Yes." Harry replied promptly. He groaned, and rubbed his temples ruefully. "Oh blast, this is a disaster... what have I done?"
"Nothing, except for passing out stone dead on the floor about four hours ago." Draco glowered at Harry. "I was just joking, for crying out loud and not like anything could've happened, anyway, since you weren't quite fully functional, if you know what I mean."
"Shut up, Malfoy." Harry still looked highly sceptical. "So then, why aren't you drunk as well, if this wasn't just an elaborate plot to get me smashed and defenceless?"
"Because I only had one bottle to drink, and that was it." Draco nodded curtly at the empty Butterbooze bottles, which were all strewn on Harry's side of the floor. "I figured that with love potions and booze in the picture, at least one of us should stay sober."
Harry slapped his forehead. "I almost forgot. The damn love potion. Argh."
Subdued bitterness serrated the edges of Draco's voice. "Yeah well, it's rather harder for me to forget."
Harry's expression softened. "I didn't mean it that way." He sighed, and sat back against the wall, trying to ignore the buzzing in his head, like a dozen Bludgers chasing a single golden Snitch. "I wish this was just a dream, and we could both wake up and say, 'oh what an awful nightmare.'"
"What if it was?" Draco said solemnly, although the sides of his mouth twitched imperceptibly. "All right, Harry, here's the thing; the truth is that you're not really awake you're still passed out from drinking yourself silly last night, and we're both trapped in an alternate universe, and the only way we can get back to the real world is if we had hot, gratuitous sex right here and now."
"See, when you say such things, it makes it hard to believe you didn't do anything to me while I was unconscious." Harry shot Draco a severe look. "You didn't really, right?"
Draco ignored him. "It'd actually be a good thing, don't you think? Then we could both go back to being the way we were, and you can tell the tales of my extreme sexual prowess like some hero who went to the edge and back 'he emerged with his pride intact, though not his virginity.'"
Harry raised his eyes to the ceiling. "You know, I take it back you are totally drunk."
Draco gave Harry a lingering look, almost one of sadness. "Well, things are an awful lot simpler when you're too drunk to think about anything at all." He got to his feet, coming closer to Harry then dropping to his knees next to him. "Does your head hurt very badly? Do you want a Painkilling Charm?"
Harry started to shake his head, then winced. "Ouch." He held his head to steady the pain, and then raised his eyes wearily to Draco's. "All right. If you know of any."
Draco nodded, and drew out his wand. "I came across a few while reading up. There's this Hangover-B-Gone Spell too, but it sounds rather dodgy and seems like something a drunkard herbologist came up with. Do you want that one too?"
Harry smiled tiredly. "No, I think I'll pass on that. I've enough pain inside my head, I can do without having bean sprouts grow out of my ears or something like that."
Draco tilted Harry's chin up with his left hand, and held the tip of his wand to Harry's temple with the other. Draco's wand pressed into Harry's temple with measured pressure, at a point merely inches away from the lightning bolt scar on his forehead; suddenly Harry was struck with how very vulnerable he was at this very moment, that he had completely submitted himself to be at Draco's mercy all it took was for Draco to utter the Killing Curse, and magical history books would have to be updated to fill in the latter date of Harry James Potter, 1980 ?.
"Dolorem adime," Draco said softly.
Harry closed his eyes as he felt a cool sensation rush into his head, like a steady stream of ice, obliterating the ache that throbbed from the base of his skull until it was no more, until all he could feel was the warm touch of Draco's palm against his chin.
When he opened his eyes again, Draco was watching him, a rare look of worry on his face.
"Harry?" he said, taking his wand away. "Did it work?" He paused, and gave a wry smile. "My turn to ask you that."
"Yes," Harry said, truthfully; he allowed himself a small smile back. "It worked, my head feels less like it's been jammed with exploding Filibuster Firecrackers. Thanks."
Draco didn't answer; he simply got to his feet, and offered Harry his hand. Harry was suddenly struck with an overwhelming sense of dιjΰ vu it felt just like the moment only hours ago, when Draco had asked him to dance, and they did. The drunken haze inside his mind had dissipated, but the Painkilling Charm did nothing to blur the vivid memory of the midnight they'd shared; everything came filtering back, clear as crystal. The Anti-toxin potion. The dance. The kiss.
"You all right?" Draco asked again, jolting him out of his reverie. His grey eyes were lit with concern as he looked down at Harry. "I didn't do it wrongly, now did I?"
"I'm fine," Harry said, giving his head a little shake to bring reality back to the fore; he reached up, took Draco's hand and allowed Draco to pull him to his feet. "You didn't do it wrong at all."
"Good." Draco looked relieved; and even though Harry was already standing up, he didn't release Harry's hand. "Because if I screwed this spell up as well, on top of the whole love potion mess, then I was thinking of quitting Hogwarts to major in Being Jinxed."
Harry laughed, in spite of himself; he felt slightly awkward with Draco still holding his hand, and he wondered if he should shake it off but he couldn't bring himself to. But Draco noticed the apprehension in his abrupt stiffness, and let go of his hand.
"We should go," Draco said, and the imperceptible hurt in his eyes dissolved like smoke from a dying flame. "It's going on 5 a.m., anyway."
"It's almost dawn?" Harry was surprised. He could barely believe the whole night had just raced by like that but then again, time never seemed proportionate when he was with Draco. It was even harder to believe that his bond with Draco under the potion had only been for about two weeks. Hours were reduced to moments; days felt like weeks on end.
"Yes, it's almost dawn." The edges of Draco's mouth quirked slightly. "Why, do you want to watch the sunrise?"
Harry gave him a tired smile. "Isn't that awfully clichιd, given the situation?"
"No," Draco responded. "Sunsets, now those are dreadfully overrated romantic devices." He even managed to look disdainful. "I mean, honestly riding into them, watching them... a million times over... does it get any more passι?"
"Right," Harry said, stifling a grin. "I gather you don't like sunsets, or romance, or both."
"It's not that," Draco shook his head. "Only because sunsets are awfully sad. They're beautiful, but so transient, and in a blaze of glory they're gone, and it's dark everywhere." He paused. "Whereas sunrises are lovely too maybe not as dramatic and fiery, but then things only keep getting brighter, and... well, it's a nice feeling." He cut a glance at Harry. "Don't you think so?"
Harry was listening to Draco, silently impressed he had never imagined that Draco would ever say, or feel, such depth of emotion and sentimentality, or optimism. But then again, he'd never really known Draco, before he'd never quite given himself the chance to.
"No," Harry finally answered, and saw Draco raise his eyebrow in surprise. "I like sunsets better."
"Why?" Draco tilted his head slightly, looking curious, and, Harry found himself thinking, very fetching. Draco's blond hair was lit with streaks of rich silver by the magical flames burning at the corner of the room, and it cast light shadows on one side of his face; he looked sultry, and no less than beautiful.
Harry could feel the intensity between them mounting again, and it suddenly scared him for a reason that he couldn't quite grasp; he remembered the Anti-toxin, and how it was supposed to be taking effect, and how he and Draco really shouldn't be getting into moments such as these which, frankly, worked contrary to the Anti-toxin's purposes.
"I just do," Harry said; he gave a small shrug as he took a step back, putting a respectable distance between him and Draco. "I guess we're different, that way."
Draco smiled; but it was a subdued smile, lined on the edges with a certain melancholy.
"Yes, we are," he said, and looked directly into Harry's eyes, although Harry couldn't quite discern the emotion held within their clear silver depths.
They gathered up their things: clearing all the empty potion and Butterbooze bottles, picking up their robes that had been spread over the floor. The storage room was soon restored to its original state, more or less Draco put out the magical fires that he'd conjured at the start, and the room grew suddenly dim, only suffused with feeble streams of the waking dawn, filtering in from outside.
Draco turned to Harry, but didn't make any move toward the door; instead he took a single, deliberate step forward, bringing them very close together once again. Harry waited, holding his breath, wondering if Draco was going to kiss him again
"You dance well, you know." Draco said, looking into Harry's eyes. In the half-light, Draco's eyes radiated their own glow, their own intense feeling.
"Thanks," Harry found the presence of mind to say, still wondering why Draco was standing so close to him, feeling inexplicably hot and bothered by it, though not in an unpleasant way; it felt intoxicating, and Harry figured that the Painkilling Charm Draco gave him was wearing off, and he was starting to feel tipsy again.
"Whoever you take to the Leaving Ball is lucky," Draco continued, his tone of voice inscrutable; and with that he stepped away.
Harry blinked, and once again found himself at a loss for a response. He was increasingly feeling as if his usual verbal reflex capabilities were severely impaired, and he had to blame it in on the inebriation.
"Come on." Draco took him lightly by the wrist, and pulled him toward the door. "Let's go."
Saturday morning was blooming across the wintry blue sky, and it was chilly, almost bitterly so. Harry wrapped his arms around himself and shivered; at least the robes provided a measure of warmth. He wondered how he never noticed the cold until now; he didn't even want to imagine how frosty the Slytherin dungeons must be at the time of year. He glanced at Draco, who seemed indifferent to the weather; perhaps he was used to it or, used to not showing how he really felt.
"I'll walk you back to your dorm," Draco said, without turning to look at Harry.
"No," Harry responded automatically. "Really, I'm fine."
Just at that moment his foot caught a cleft between the stone steps, and he almost fell forward; Draco grabbed hold of his arm with lightning-fast reflexes, and steadied him.
"Sure," Draco said, with a wry quirk of his eyebrows. "You're fine, Harry, I can totally see that."
"Shut up," Harry muttered, feeling embarrassed. "I just missed a step, that's all."
"Right. Miss a few more, and the next thing I'll hear tomorrow morning is that you're unconscious in the hospital wing." Draco shook his head firmly. "I'm walking you to Gryffindor Tower, and if you insist on being a stubborn git, then I'll put the Mobilicorpus Charm on you and puppet you all the way back."
"All right, all right," Harry conceded. "You're sounding more and more like Madam Pomfrey, you know."
"No," Draco said, tilted his head slightly towards Harry; faint rays of amber dawn slanting in from an overhead window fell across Draco's face, colouring his cheeks pale primrose, lighting his eyes with warm grey. "I just don't want anything to happen to you, that's all."
"What could possibly happen to me?" Harry asked, with a wry smile. "Get mauled by Mrs Norris, the fearsome feline of Hogwarts?"
"No, actually, I was thinking more in the terms of tripping over thin air and falling on your nose in a very unflattering manner." Draco gave an innocent smile, in exchange for a withering look from Harry. They rounded a bend, and the entrance to Gryffindor Tower came into view; they drew to a halt, and peeked around the pillar.
"Is the fat woman in your portrait asleep?" Draco whispered, pointing at the Fat Lady, who was happily snoring, it still being too early for any of the other students to be out of bed.
"Yes," Harry whispered back. "She didn't see you. But you'd better go, in case anyone else comes by then you'd have some explaining to do."
Draco nodded wordlessly, and was about to turn to go when Harry called out to him again.
"Malfoy," Harry said, raising his voice slightly.
Draco immediately looked back at him, an obscure emotion flitting across his face, mildly questioning. Harry took a deep breath, and sighed.
"The Anti-toxin potion will work," he said finally, mustering as much confidence in his voice as he could, and he knew he was trying to convince himself as much as Draco. "Just give it time."
Draco took a step forward, and then stopped; the fiery silver in his eyes was tarnished with a certain sadness, although still backlit with hope, a hope that seemed to flare and fade at the same instant, each time he looked at Harry.
"Time is all I have," he said, his voice imperceptibly bitter. "And we've already come so far, anyway."
"How are you feeling, now?" Harry asked.
Draco thought for a moment, and then answered simply, "Light-headed."
"Oh." Harry pondered. "From what? Head rush?"
"Lack of sleep?"
"No," Draco shook his head. "You."
Then he leaned forward, and took Harry's face in his hands; the touch of Draco's hands felt electric against his cheeks, the intoxication of this intimacy was more than any form of alcohol could ever achieve. Harry thought that Draco was going to kiss him again, on his lips; he closed his eyes, and held his breath but then at the last moment, Draco gently tilted Harry's head slightly and kissed him on the cheek instead, the sheer restraint burning like a closed fire in Draco's fingertips, branding Harry's skin with its light, yearning touch.
Draco finally pulled away and let go of Harry, taking a step backwards; he lowered his eyes briefly, almost as if bashful, and then glanced up at Harry again.
"Thanks," he said, quietly.
Harry looked at him, surprised. "What for?"
"For trying." Draco's voice was low, perfectly even. "You didn't have to."
"I know," Harry said, still slightly breathless, and he added without thinking, "I wanted to."
He saw the astonishment dart across Draco's face, accompanied by something else, something far deeper and more complicated but before he could decipher what it was, Draco looked away; he abruptly turned, slithered off into the pale shadows, and was gone.
When it was time for breakfast, Harry dragged himself down the steps leading down from the boys' dormitory into the common room, less than three hours after he'd crawled up the stairs, having parted ways with Draco at the break of dawn. He felt exhausted and incoherent and grumpy; Ron and Seamus were with him, chattering on about Quidditch-practice-homework-Snape-detention-something, a train of conversation that Harry quickly lost, amidst his own troubled thoughts.
They climbed through the portrait hole, and were greeted by a loud crash of thunder and pouring rain, lashing against the closed windows. It was a rare morning storm, more unusual still because Harry remembered that when he and Draco had walked back to Gryffindor Tower together, the weather had been fairly clear, even though gnawingly cold, with not a dark cloud in sight.
How quickly things change.
Harry felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned; Hermione was standing next to him.
"What an awful morning, it looks as if it has been up all night," she commented, and then cut Harry a meaningful look. "Just like someone."
"It went fine last night, Hermione." Harry gave her a tired look. "We followed your instructions and made the potion, and Malfoy drank it."
"Really?" Hermione looked surprised, and then hopeful. "So Malfoy's all right, now?"
"Not just yet, but soon. Twenty-four hours, remember?"
Hermione groaned. "That does not constitute 'it went fine', Harry, unless you were referring to something else." She gave him a narrowed look. "Which brings me to the question, what exactly happened last night? May I remind you that you've already used up your excuse about being locked in the trunk."
"No, not that," Harry answered, dully. "I got drunk, though."
Hermione's eyes widened, and she clutched at Harry's arm with a suddenness that made Harry jump.
"You got drunk!" she hissed, incredulously. "While you were with Malfoy? What were you thinking, Harry! Did he do anything to you?"
"NO!" Harry said violently, glaring at Hermione. "Of course he didn't do anything to me, Herm!"
"Oh, really." Hermione looked highly sceptical, and crossed her arms. "And what makes you so sure of that, hmm? I'm sure you've heard of the phrase 'drunk and stupid' those two conditions often go together."
"Well," Harry said, rubbing his temples, "Draco said he didn't do anything."
Hermione looked thunderstruck. "So?" she demanded.
"So I believe him," Harry said plainly, and looked at her, puzzled. "What's the problem?"
Hermione appeared as if she was going to explode with a lengthy rant, but then at the last moment seemed to think better of it; she settled for giving Harry a long, cross look, and then spoke slowly, in a low, controlled tone.
"All right," she started; then, she was interrupted as Ron sauntered up to them, looking fresh and bright.
"What's up?" he asked curiously, when he saw Harry and Hermione standing aside, talking.
"Go away, Ron," Hermione said impatiently; there were details and answers to be grilled out of Harry, who was being reticent and hung-over at the moment. "We're planning your birthday surprise."
"My birthday surprise?" Ron looked pleased, but puzzled. "But my birthday's not till next March, Hermione."
"Oh, you know Hermione," Harry added blandly, before Hermione could answer. "She likes to have everything plotted out in advance. It's an idiosyncrasy that we love her for."
"All right, then," Ron grinned, and wandered off with the rest of the Gryffindors, who were heading off to the Great Hall for breakfast; but not before tossing over his shoulder, "Harry, you do know which page of the new Which Broomstick catalogue I've been spending the past few days staring at, now don't you..."
Actually, Harry didn't have the faintest clue which page Ron had been staring at, or that Ron had been going around with his nose in a Which Broomstick catalogue, or even that Which Broomstick had released its latest annual catalogue, either. He'd been... preoccupied.
"Sure," he called after Ron weakly, then turned back to Hermione. "Damn, have to check with Seamus if he's heard Ron raving about a broom lately."
Hermione eyed Harry, and then sighed.
"Just look at you," she said, shaking her head. "I really think you're getting yourself all spent on this Malfoy thing, way more than you should. I know you want to help him," she continued, as Harry was about to protest, "but not at your own expense. You haven't been yourself of late, Harry. You've been falling back on your homework, behaving lukewarmly about Quidditch, not sleeping enough at night, and now, worse still, getting drunk, all on Malfoy's account. It's not worth it, Harry."
The initial protests faltered on Harry's tongue, and he slumped back against the pillar; he stared out at the sheets of rain battering the windows, and felt utterly drained, and confused, and lost.
"I know," he finally said, slowly. "But he needs my help, Hermione."
"And you have helped him, Harry." Hermione's expression softened, although her face was still etched with frustration and anxiety. "You've done everything you can possibly do, and much, much more. Malfoy is lucky to have you. But there's still a limit to how much you can help him he just has to try and help himself, too."
"How?" Harry turned to Hermione, a light of hidden pain shining in his eyes. "How is he supposed to help himself when he's damn near losing hold of who he really is? When he doesn't know what to think, or feel, or how to cope with something he doesn't even fully understand?" He paused. "We can't expect a person under the Imperius Curse to behave the way he wants to just as we can't expect someone under a love potion to make his own decisions."
Hermione was silent for a moment; Harry sighed, and pushed himself away from the pillar, and they both started walking down the empty corridor toward the Great Hall together, where the rest of the students had already gone. Finally, Hermione spoke up.
"And do you think you're really helping him?" she asked, her voice quiet and introspective. "By going to see him every night. By spending time with him. Do you think it's actually easy for him, when he's all alone with you, especially with the love potion?"
"Not for much longer," Harry corrected her, "the Anti-toxin potion, remember?"
"That's beside the point, Harry," Hermione said, sounding frustrated. "The point is, you've spent all that time with him while he was still under the love potion spell, the Anti-toxin notwithstanding. And besides, you just said that it hasn't exactly taken effect, since it has up to a twenty-four hour time lag."
Harry gritted his teeth, and reminded himself how sharp and observant Hermione always was. And something else bothered him, something about what Hermione was saying it was an unpleasant perspective, to think that while he had been trying to help Draco, his very presence was already something that hurt Draco, immensely. Of course, at the back of his mind he knew the way that the love potion bound them, and how flashes of that chemically-induced yearning surfaced from time to time when Draco kissed him... but...
"Harry," Hermione said loudly. "Are you listening to me?"
"Hmm?" Harry hurriedly extricated himself from his reverie. "Oh, sorry, what did you say?"
Hermione gave him a long-suffering look.
"I said," she repeated. "I think I should take over from you at this point I'll find Malfoy later to ask him if he's feeling the Anti-toxin potion taking effect, and then I'll tell you what he says. And since it's Saturday and there aren't any classes after breakfast, I want you to go back to the dorm afterwards and get some sleep before you're so exhausted that you fall off your broom during Quidditch practice this evening."
When Hermione spoke in this sort of authoritative voice, Harry knew that it would be no use trying to plead his case; he gave up, and nodded, albeit reluctantly. "Okay, whatever you say."
"Oh!" Hermione rolled her eyes, as they reached the Great Hall. "I knew Malfoy was trouble right from the start and he's successfully proven that point in every imaginable way."
Harry found himself glancing over to the Slytherin table as soon as he stepped into the Great Hall and his eyes immediately searched out Draco, who was sitting at his usual place, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle. Draco looked small and wan, and not just because of the two towering blocks on either side of him and only now did Harry realise that Draco probably hadn't gotten any sleep for the entire night.
Hermione quickly noticed Harry's attention straying over to the Slytherin table, to a certain blond-haired, grey-eyed Slytherin boy in particular; she seized his arm, and steered him over to the Gryffindor table.
Harry forced himself to look away from Draco, and allowed himself to be propelled over to his own seat but in his mind, and imprinted on the backs of his lids each time he closed them, still remained the image of clear, silver eyes, lit in the darkness by a fierce, hidden light radiating from within.
Later in the afternoon, Hermione searched Draco out, and finally found a moment alone with him as the blond boy was walking back to the Slytherin dungeons.
She tapped him sharply on the shoulder, and cleared her throat loudly. Draco turned, almost expectantly, although he looked disappointed when he saw her; it made Hermione wonder whom Draco had been expecting, or rather hoping for, and it didn't take a smart witch like her any time to figure that out.
"Hello, Granger," Draco said, with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Need a cough drop?"
"No, but I want to talk to you," she said significantly, "about Harry."
Something altered in Draco's closed expression, ever so slightly; but then he nodded, and without any arguments, followed Hermione as she led him into an empty classroom. They walked right past the narrow corridor, in the shadows of which he and Harry had once kissed; Draco slowed as he passed it, and then forced down the tender memories as he strode after Hermione again.
When they were both in the classroom, Hermione closed the door behind them, and then turned to Draco, who was looking at her suspiciously.
"Why didn't Harry come and look for me, himself?" he demanded, crossing his arms and looking distrustfully at Hermione. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," Hermione answered shortly. "And I told him not to come and look for you."
Draco's eyes narrowed.
"I always knew you were a killjoy, Granger," he said, mutinously.
"I am not a killjoy!" Hermione said hotly, glaring at Draco. "I'm only doing this for Harry's own good, and speaking of which, I don't appreciate your getting him drunk and defenceless as to any strange untoward things you have up your sleeve."
"Ha!" Draco made a scornful sound. "Oh please, Granger, I didn't do anything to Harry last night. He just got hooked on the taste of Butterbooze and downed three bottles at a go. I made sure that he didn't do anything self-mutilating that might scar him for the rest of his life."
"I'm more worried that you might've done something to scar him for the rest of his life," Hermione retorted, not one to mince her words. "And you shouldn't even have gotten him drunk in the first place!"
"Yes, yes," Draco said, in a bored tone. "Go on, I didn't get any sleep last night, so your morality lecture will be a good lullaby to knock me out right now."
"Oh!" Hermione placed her hands on her hips, getting very angry. "Draco Malfoy, you are a selfish, obnoxious, irritating, arrogant little twit!"
There was a pause.
"You forgot 'smug', 'handsome' and 'to die for'," Draco finally offered.
Hermione looked as if she was going to lose her temper, but seemed to be able to steel herself to keep her composure.
"All right, Malfoy," she said, her eyes flashing with annoyance. "I promised Harry that I'd come and ask how you're doing, so just tell me how you're feeling and get this over with."
"That'll teach you," Draco said, with a smirk. "I much prefer to talk to Harry personally, anyway."
"If you don't answer my question right now," Hermione said calmly, "I will transfigure you into a toad, and take you to Harry so that you can have a meaningful conversation with him, in which I'm very sure he isn't going to kiss you."
Draco looked torn between bursting out in laughter, and being alarmed that Hermione might really carry out her threat.
"Okay," he finally said. "I'm feeling the same as I have for the past couple of weeks. No change. So maybe the Anti-toxin potion of yours only works after twenty-four hours, like Harry said."
"Listen," Hermione said. "I never said that it would work for sure, all right? I said that it might be a way out of this, and it certainly was the best, if not only plan we had."
"Right," Draco said blandly, although there was an underlying sharpness in his voice. "Stick on the handy little disclaimers, now."
"You know, you're taking a whole for granted," Hermione flared up. "I've put in a lot of work doing research for you, and I don't you owe one single thing, Malfoy."
"Maybe you don't," Draco snapped back. "But Harry does."
There was a surprised pause.
"Harry?" Hermione sounded astounded. "He doesn't owe you anything either!"
"Yes he does," Draco said, his voice taut and twisted with anger, anger that he didn't even know he had buried within him until now. When Harry was with him, it was so easy to hide the pain and hurt beneath the blinding intoxication of having Harry by his side and when he looked into Harry's eyes every other emotion drained away like a swirl of disappearing mist, everything except the sharp pang of yearning for love, for him.
But now, the onslaught of frustration and helplessness brought with them a newfound rage, irrational and wild, which tore against the restraint that always came to Draco so naturally, which had been bred in him like a skin of honour to show no emotion, to uphold his pride and dignity. But since then, his control was something he had already surrendered.
"It's Harry's fault," Draco continued fiercely, "because he makes me feel this way. Maybe he doesn't mean to, but he does all the same. And it hurts, and I can't show it, and I want to tell him but he won't understand." He broke off, realising that he was pouring out all he felt in front of Hermione, of all people; the emotion in his eyes shuttered up as he took a step back; he added bitterly, "And you thought Harry had it tough, didn't you?"
Hermione was staring at him with startled alarm; when she spoke, her voice was hard and determined.
"I do think Harry has it tough," she repeated firmly. "And what you're going through is still not Harry's fault, although I agree that it isn't a good idea for both of you to get together anymore. Which is exactly why I came to talk to you, instead of him."
"Don't tell Harry I what I said," Draco cut in, abruptly.
"Why not?" Hermione's eyes narrowed. "Afraid to let him know how you really feel? Because it'd kill you to be, for once in your life, truthful to someone who gives a damn about you?"
"No." Draco's voice was expressionless. "Because I want to tell him myself."
"No way." Hermione said immediately, shaking her head. "You aren't going to meet him anymore, Malfoy, and that's final."
"Just one more time," Draco said; his voice wasn't pleading, but sadly wistful.
"Shove off, Granger, I have a right to talk to him."
"Oh, is that so!" Hermione raised her voice, as she placed her hands on her hips. "And what makes you think that? Give me one good reason why."
"Because he owns a part of me that can't be replaced!" Draco shouted back. "Because I'll never be the same with him, or without him and because we're bound, he and I, by something that can't even be explained, much less understood." He paused, and took a deep breath. "There, you asked for a reason and I've given you three and I think you shouldn't start judging things you don't feel, Granger."
Hermione stood and looked at Draco, and for once an answer eluded her.
Draco gave her another searching look, before he said, "Harry has Quidditch practice this evening. Tell him to meet me after that."
"Malfoy..." Hermione started.
"I need to talk to him," Draco said, a mix of earnest and desperation in his voice. "For one last time."
Hermione was about to protest again, but something in Draco's eyes stopped her; she sighed, and finally nodded, albeit reluctantly. Her expression softened; she noticed something different about Draco: the way he talked, and the words he spoke, especially about Harry. There was pain, there was anguish.... as well as something else, burning like a hidden fire, intense and desolate.
"All right," she finally said, and there was sympathy and a certain understanding in her brown eyes as she looked at Draco. "Just this once more and not only for Harry's sake."
Ron trudged back to Gryffindor Tower after his detention, feeling exhausted. Snape had made him scrub all the gunk from the tables in the Potions classroom until they were sparkling clean on top and underneath; his arms now ached and his fingers felt raw. He grimaced as he flopped down on his own bed; there was no one else in the dormitory, since Harry had gone off for Quidditch practice and the other boys were downstairs in the common room. Hermione had been nowhere to be seen, all evening.
He checked the time; it was already past eight, which meant that Quidditch practice was probably over. Ron wished that he'd been there to watch he was anxious to see how the team was faring, especially with the upcoming games, and especially the re-match with Slytherin. He'd always wanted to be a part of the Gryffindor team, in some way or the other it was a duty as much as a desire, since his older brothers Charlie, Fred and George had all played for the house during their time at Hogwarts.
Feeling bored, he suddenly had an idea; he leaned over to his bedside table, and rummaged through the drawer for his Omnioculars. Taking it out, he spun the replay dial to rewind it; Omnioculars could hold footage of the most recent match they were used in.
He rewound the action until just minutes before Harry and Malfoy had collided, and let it play from that point onwards, watching the match unfold all over again in slow motion, particularly zooming in on Harry and Malfoy as they raced in random patterns across the sky.
He watched as Harry executed an original variation of the Wronski Feint in an effort to shake Malfoy off his tail and in pursuit of the Snitch. He watched as Malfoy seemed to anticipate Harry's move, and instead of being fooled, accurately shot in the direction that Harry was going to turn. Ron held his breath as he waited for them to collide, and he watched in fascination as, amazingly enough, Harry seemed to swerve impossibly fast at the last moment, almost quicker than normal reflexes could react the two Seekers avoided a head-on crash by the slenderest of margins, their robes barely grazing but then Malfoy abruptly fell off his broom, and plunged to the ground.
Ron couldn't believe his eyes; he rewound the Omnioculars, and replayed it once more, and then again. But one thing was for sure Harry and Malfoy hadn't collided.
Ron set the Omnioculars down, and frowned slightly. He hadn't thought of re-playing the game until now, since Harry had been so adamant that he and Malfoy had crashed; Ron had of course asserted that Malfoy had done it deliberately, but Harry had dismissed it as accidental, so Ron had taken Harry's word and hadn't pursued the matter any further. Until now...
If they hadn't collided, Ron wondered, baffled, why had Harry said so surely that they did?
Before he had time to ponder about it, there was a tapping on the window of their dormitory; outside hovered an owl, carrying a parcel. Ron padded over to let the owl in; with a soft flurry of wings the owl swooped gracefully into the dormitory, deposited the package it was carrying onto Harry's bed, before circling around the room and descending upon a sack of Owl Treats in Ron's open drawer, which he had bought for Pigwidgeon. The owl ripped open the sack and began devouring its contents greedily.
"Right," Ron said, eyeing it with mild alarm. "Er, why don't you just help yourself, then."
He went over to Harry's bed, and curiously inspected the package. It looked familiar, the shape and size of it and there was a note attached to it as well. Ron leaned over, and read:
Thanks for the Cloak. S.
"Aha," Ron said to himself, with a knowing grin. "Sirius has finally returned Harry's Invisibility Cloak! Thought we'd never get to sneak around Hogwarts in proper fashion again!"
Putting the wrapped Cloak back down onto Harry's bed, Ron glanced over at the owl, which had succeeded in ripping the sack to shreds and had spilt all the remaining Owl Treats inside his drawer. He groaned, and was about to go over to chase the owl off when he suddenly noticed something on Harry's bedside table.
It was a thick book, not like any of the ones they needed for lessons; on closer inspection, Ron saw that it bore the title Medical Magic on its cover. He was surprised to see such a book on Harry's table it seemed more like something Hermione would have for 'light bedtime reading' and as far as he knew, Harry had never professed an ambition to become a mediwizard.
Ron lifted the book it was heavy and as he flipped through it out of curiosity, a piece of paper fluttered from between the pages, and fell to the floor.
Harry took a quick shower in the changing room after Quidditch practice, and then slinked off under the cover of darkness toward the Astronomy Tower instead of back to his dormitory. He walked quickly, anxiety weighted in each of his silent footsteps; he was feeling very worried, and not without reason.
Hermione had relayed the message from Draco, asking to meet him after his Quidditch practice that night. He had been surprised that Hermione had even consented to another such meeting, much less delivered the message; Hermione had also seemed troubled, when they talked later on.
"He really wants to see you, Harry," Hermione had said, in a subdued voice. "He said this will be the very last time, and that he wants to tell you something."
"What does he want to tell me?" Harry had asked, but Hermione had only shaken her head and shrugged.
"Just be careful," was all she had warned. "And control what you do or say, because it probably affects him more than you imagine."
To hear such words from Hermione was especially disturbing even though she'd related everything she and Draco had talked about, ad verbatim, Harry couldn't help wondering if there was something else she had seen in Draco, which hadn't been expressed in words.
He reached the storage room, and as usual, Draco was there, waiting. The moment he saw Draco, cloaked in the candle-lit darkness, Harry couldn't help noticing how vulnerable he looked, his features outlined in forlorn shadows, a reflection of the night that hung around them in all its bleak glory.
"Malfoy." The distantness of using Draco's last name was incongruous to the depth of feeling evident in Harry's voice. "How are you?"
"All right," was Draco's short reply, as Harry closed the door and walked towards him.
"Hermione told me that you didn't feel... any different, than before." There was a hopeful tone in Harry's words. "It's been almost twenty-four hours now "
"And nothing." Draco cut in; his voice was frayed with helplessness and pain, and his eyes flashed with a caged emotion. "I feel exactly the same, and nothing has fucking changed at all."
Harry was taken aback by Draco's sharp, raw words surprise quickly changed to annoyance as his own frustration boiled to the surface, and the only logical person he could vent it on was Draco.
"You know something? Hermione is right about you." Harry said, glaring at Draco. "You're just a selfish, ungrateful git who only cares about himself."
"Oh, so she said that about me?" Draco's voice was cutting, without any humour.
"No," Harry answered flatly. "I did."
Draco looked startled; a frank emotion ghosted across his face, something that cracked the veneer of cold sharpness and laid bare the truth, which stabbed Harry far deeper than he ever imagined.
"You're just like the rest of them," Draco finally said softly, his voice slicing through the tension between them.
"Am I?" Harry challenged, folding his arms across his chest. "Well, maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see 'the rest of them' falling over themselves, risking their necks while trying to help you. I don't see a single other person who's crazy enough to stand by you through this whole stupid mess, except me and Hermione... and I'm starting to think that's exactly what it is a stupid thing to do."
"Harry..." Draco began.
"Do you even realise that these past couple of weeks haven't exactly been a picnic for me, either? I haven't been able to sleep properly because I'm either reading thick dusty books that Hermione excavated from the library, or sneaking around Hogwarts to meet you, or just staying awake trying to think about what the hell to do next, if nothing else works."
"Will you just"
"I've been falling back on my life because of you, Draco. I have tons and tons of incomplete readings and undone homework. I can't play Quidditch properly, I can't concentrate during classes because you're always staring at me, and... and Ron. I'm lying to him, going behind his back just to see you. I've neglected him a lot recently, simply because I can't handle so many things at the same time. And I feel guilty, all right? Guilty because he's been there for me when "
" let me kiss you?"
Harry stopped short in mid-rant. "What? What did you just say?"
"You heard me."
"Right. I did." Harry glared, and folded his arms. "And where the hell did that come from? I'm trying to talk sensibly with you here, Malfoy, are you even listening to me? Or is that all you can think about?"
"Yes." Draco's voice was suddenly heartrendingly quiet. "That is all I can think about. You don't understand how I feel, Harry, and I don't blame you for that, because there's no way you possibly can although yelling at me until you turn blue in the face really isn't helping either of us."
Harry felt some of his anger evaporate; he took a small step back, feeling extremely tired tired of arguing, tired of sneaking around, tired of seeing Draco hurt so badly yet try to hide it.
"Why are you even asking me?" he finally said wearily, with a small shrug. "Even if I said no, you'd probably go ahead and do it anyway."
Wry bitterness twitched on the edges of Draco's mouth. "You make it sound almost non-consensual."
"Well, let's just say you always seem to skip the part where I see it coming," Harry replied. "So the issue of my choice never had much of a chance to come up, in the first place."
"Once more." Draco said, his voice quivering with emotion. "That's all."
Harry tilted his head slightly, looking at Draco. "And how does this help things?"
"It doesn't." Draco's eyes were dark and bright at the same time. "But I don't know what else to do."
"No, Draco." Harry shook his head, remembering what Hermione had cautioned him. "It's not a good idea, and it isn't going to make you feel any better."
"Do you want to know what'll make me feel better, Harry?" Draco asked plainly; he allowed a significant pause, before adding quietly, "I thought you'd have known by now."
"But the Anti-toxin potion..."
"Isn't working," Draco interrupted. "I'm still "
"Don't say it," Harry whispered.
"Still hopelessly drawn to you." Draco finished, and looked straight at Harry; something in his eyes softened. "I know you're just trying to help, Harry but after midnight, when the Anti-toxin potion has had twenty-four hours to work, you'll see that there's nothing else left that you can do."
"So..." Harry paused, staring at Draco. "What exactly do you mean? And what did you tell Hermione you wanted to say to me?"
"That it's over," Draco said, taking a step closer to Harry, who looked startled but rooted to the spot. "That there isn't a way out of this. There simply isn't. And I can't go on this way any longer, seeing you like this it only makes it worse." He paused, and took a deep breath. "So this is the last time, Harry and I have just this one last thing to ask of you."
There was a long pause, filled with quiet anticipation.
"All right." Harry sighed, and gave up trying to rationalise. "Given the alternative is probably being slammed up against the wall in a very rough fashion, anyway."
"That can be arranged." Draco said, a hint of a smile playing on his lips.
"Nice try, Malfoy." Harry narrowed his eyes. "And if your hands try to get under my shirt, you're out of here, you understand?"
"Oh, stuff ground rules."
"I mean it, Malfoy."
Draco didn't move closer; instead he simply asked, "Why?"
"Why are you doing this?" he met Harry's gaze levelly. "You've never voluntarily let me kiss you before, and when I do you always flinch away. Why are you agreeing now?"
Harry thought about it for a moment.
"I don't know," he finally answered, truthfully. "It's the only thing I can give you right now." He paused, and his voice coloured with a certain sadness; he forced himself to add, "And it's all I can give you, any more."
Draco came closer to him, drawing to a halt just inches away. The shadows fell lightly around them; Harry felt Draco's hand lightly brush his shoulder, and he tensed; Draco must have sensed it as well, because he quickly let his hand drop.
"Close your eyes," Draco said softly; they were standing face to face, not touching, their lips a mere kiss away.
Harry's eyes automatically flew open.
"Why?" he asked suspiciously.
"So I can take all your clothes off while you're not looking." Draco raised his eyes in exasperation. "Fine, keep your eyes open if you want to."
And then Draco leaned in and kissed Harry, tenderly; his hands remained clenched by his sides, and only their lips touched. Harry forced himself to relax as he felt Draco's mouth brush against his, and he let his eyes fall closed; somehow, this kiss felt different, like an altogether new sensation Draco had kissed him before, but not... like this. This wasn't just kissing, it was loving, an act of romance that far surpassed anything he had ever experienced before. And it was... it was...
Draco pulled back, and his eyes were misted over, glowing pearly silver in the half-darkness. Harry opened his eyes, feeling breathless; it felt like being jolted awake just as he had been starting to dream. He blinked twice as the memory of the kiss flooded back and he couldn't explain why, but it was profound, as if Draco had poured every part of himself into that single moment: his anguish, his confusion, his yearning, his hopelessness, his love and it ignited something deep within Harry, something which suddenly became so clear.
"It's sad, isn't it?" Draco said softly, although he didn't move away.
"What's sad?" Harry managed, the word escaping on an exhaled breath.
"I don't know," Draco gave a little shrug. "This. You and me. It just feels so..."
"Painful?" Harry asked, feeling the very shape of the word within him.
"Yes but also..."
"In a way and so very..."
"Perfect?" Harry whispered; the next thing he knew, he had closed the short distance that lay between them, and he was kissing Draco, and it was perfection.
Harry's hands moved up to hold Draco's shoulders; he turned the other boy and nudged him up against the wall, firmly but not forcefully and he held Draco as he kissed him hard, almost desperately. Draco didn't move for a few moments, clearly too startled to react; then Draco's lips parted, deepening the kiss, and Harry felt the velvet heat of Draco's tongue flickering out against his own.
He had never kissed Draco before it had always been Draco kissing him and this was a completely new sensation, like a moment woven beyond his imagination. Draco's lips were soft, his tongue wet and hot as Harry savoured the taste of desire, kept too long yet perfected by the drawn-out wait, sweet like fine wine and Draco was kissing him back, returning the passion and eagerness locked between them.
Harry's arms slid down to encircle Draco's waist; he could feel Draco's hands slide up his chest, moving to link around his neck, his trembling fingers tangling in Harry's tousled hair. Draco let out a sound like a muffled sob and gasp against Harry's mouth; Harry pressed himself against Draco's body, trapping him against the wall, his embrace fiercely comforting and fervently possessive and there was nothing left between them except the rapid beating of their hearts, and the feverish kiss they shared as if it was their last, or first...
When they finally pulled apart, both of them breathless and panting, their eyes filled with mutual disbelief and realisation Draco let his hands fall from where they had been caressing Harry's hair, and his wrists now rested on Harry's shoulder; Harry loosened his hold around Draco's waist, allowing him some breathing space from being pinned up against the wall.
Harry looked at Draco the other boy seemed shaken, out of breath as if winded. Draco removed one hand away from Harry's shoulder and placed it against his own chest, trying to still the quick short stabs of his breathing; Harry wondered if he had accidentally broken a few of Draco's ribs when he had slammed him against the wall.
"Are you all right?" Harry asked anxiously, reluctantly to draw back; the warmth of Draco's body against his own felt comfortable, like coming home to a special place that he had known all along, only never discovered before.
Draco nodded shortly, twice. "I just feel a bit dizzy, that's all. And short of breath."
Harry hesitated, then said in a rush, "Draco, I think I "
But before he could finish, the doorknob creaked and the door swung open; the sudden jarring sound made Harry and Draco spring apart, and their heads snapped in the direction of the noise but there was no one there.
"What was..." Draco began, his eyes darting back and forth; Harry glanced around apprehensively as well, suddenly aware of the shifting shadows filling the darkened corners of the room.
Then there was a soft rustle, like leaves bristling in the stiff wind and suddenly Ron appeared in the doorway, looking bewildered and horrified, the Invisibility Cloak clutched in his hand.
"Harry?" Ron said incredulously, staring at them both with eyes wide as saucers. "Malfoy?"
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