"Thank goodness Malfoy's gone," said Hermione, thumping a pile of text books down on Harry's bed. Harry jumped he'd been lying there with his eyes closed, musing over a particulary pleasant Draco-fantasy, before she'd rudely interupted his train of thought. With the delectable image of the naked Malfoy heir begging with choir-boy eyes to play with a certain-someone's wand burning a hole in Harry's already fleeting attention span, Harry stared crossly up at his friend.
"What do you mean, thank goodness Draco's gone? Last time I checked, you were full of pity for that 'poor, maladjusted rich boy'."
Hermione snorted. "I said that? I must have been out of my mind. He's gotten what he deserves, in my opinion. Expulsion is too good for him. People like Malfoy ought never to set foot in an esteemed establishment like Hogwarts. They're a blemish on our respectable profile as a quality school for wizards and witches in fact, I don't think people like Malfoy should even be classed as wizards. They should all go back to where they came from, as far as I'm concerned."
"Go back to where they came from?" Harry asked. "You mean, back to being the esteemed son of a relatively respectable high profile wizard?"
"You know what I mean," said Hermione, rolling her eyes.
"No," said Harry, sharply. "No, I don't." He glanced across at Ron, who was flipping through a comic on his own bed. "What do you think, Ron? About Draco, I mean."
Ron shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I hate him but only because he scares me a little. Deep down I feel threatened by his family, and their power. After all, you know what happened to you-know-who. He became terribly powerful, and was overthrown by an underdog, no offence to you Harry. I feel the same way about Draco except that I'm you-know-who, and he's the underdog. If that makes any sense."
Harry and Hermione stared at him.
"Ron..?" Hermione began, but Harry cut her off. "Right," he said, sitting up abruptly. "That's it. I'm not sure exactly what's going on here, but I do have the beginnings of an idea, and I'm damned if I won't do something about it."
"What do you mean, what's going on?" Hermione asked, absently pushing her brown curls from her face. For someone who could be so clever when it came to memorising and learning new spells, Harry thought crossly, it was amazing how clueless she was when it came to recognising that something strange was up in the world beyond her text books.
"Did that sound like Ron speaking to you?" he asked her.
"Well.. no," Hermione admitted.
Ron blinked up from his comic, confused. "Of course it was me speaking," he said, scratching his head. "Who else would it be?"
"Ron," said Harry, rising grandly from the bed, ignoring the small groan Hermione let out as her carefully structured pile collapsed. "Before the Quidditch match you thought that Malfoy was the most pompous idiot in the school, and you'd have been very pleased to see him kicked out of Hogwards. And I admit it, you'd have had good reason for it. After all, he's insulted your family, he's insulted your friends, and he's insulted you. Now you're saying you're afraid of him? What happened between now and then?"
Ron scratched his head again, his freckles prominent on his fair skin. He seemed to be attempting to formulate a logical reply, but the right words escaped him. "I don't know," he confessed, finally. "I guess I just changed my mind all of a sudden I can do that, right?" he appealed to Hermione.
"Of course you can," said Hermione, in a no-nonsense tone a tone which had begun to remind Harry of Professor McGonagall. "It was the Quidditch match, that's all. We all know he cheated, but even Dumbledore couldn't find out how he did it. The whole affair reeks of the Dark Arts it's only natural you'd be afraid of him."
"No! No! I lost- that match." Harry turned, green eyes narrowed. He was aware he was yelling, but couldn't help himself his friends were being so incredibly dimwitted. "Why can't you understand that? The Boy Who Lived is not infalliable! He can screw up just like everyone else! I mistook something for the ball, and flew towards it leaving Draco to pick up the snitch. It was a perfectly human mistake!"
Hermione and Ron had shrunk away involuntarily when Harry began his rant Hermione's back was pressed now against the head of Ron's bed, whilst Ron held one of his blankets up protectively to his chin. Their expressions were doubles of each other a mixture of disbelief and concern.
"You're my friends," said Harry, relenting. "You have to believe me about this one thing. I made a mistake and Draco won. And then something happened, out there on the pitch, and everyone's been different since. You know what Dumbledore said when he expelled Malfoy? He called Malfoy a repulsive creature. Dumbledore would never say anything like that about his pupils, no matter who they were."
Harry paused for breath. "I think someone's playing a game on all of us. And I think" he looked each of his friends in the eye, in turn, "-the snitch has something to do with it. Draco has been carrying that thing around with him as if its a treasure, and ever since then people have been treating him in the way.."
He stopped short. The others waited, expectantly.
"In the way he feels about them," Harry finished, lamely. "Listen, I know it's far fetched, but you didn't see Crabbe and Goyle in the Slytherin room, and you didn't see the look in Dumbledore's eye when he told Draco to get out."
There was silence.
"I did see Hagrid set those pigs on Draco," said Ron, after a full minute had elapsed, and he couldn't bear it any longer. "He didn't really seem himself. He told Draco that he was a no-good, brainless sod who'd never amount to anything, and that he smelt funny to boot."
"Do you see what I mean!" said Harry, ardently. "Does that sound like Hagrid to you?"
"Oh, poppycock," Hermione erupted. "Draco's only getting his just deserts. Everyone simply realised what an impossible git he was and decided to get rid of him once and for all."
"Even Crabbe and Goyle?" Harry challenged. "Those two haven't more than a solitary brain cell between them, but they actually tried to order Draco about. Draco's practically their master, you know they'd wear collars to prove it if he asked them to."
"I'd imagine Crabbe and Goyle would be the first to snap," Hermione retorted. "Five years of simpering after Malfoy would turn anyone insane."
"Dumbledore? Hagrid? Snape? Even Trelawney hit him," Harry shot back. "You can't tell me that one little Quidditch match turned them into the Draco hate-squad."
"You forget that Dumbledore checked the snitch for magical interference," said Hermione.
"For magical interference something which would have affected the outcome of the game. But the snitch wasn't enchanted to influence the game: it was made to affect the aftermath."
Hermione squeezed her fingers to the bridge of her nose. Considering her sufficiently convinced for the moment, Harry turned to look at Ron. His red-haired friend appeared deep in thought, his index finger caught between his teeth. He withdrew it swiftly, noticing Harry's stare.
"Wait. You're saying Draco is scared of me?"
"Yes he's scared that you and your family might just kick him off his high class podium one day. And Draco hates all Muggle-born wizards, which is why Hermione is so pleased he's gone."
Hermione was still struggling to come to terms with the concept. "What about you, Harry?" she asked. "You should be feeling horribly jealous of Draco."
"I was, at first," Harry said. "But then I realised that I wasn't jealous of him I mean, I am but there's more to it than that. It goes deeper, right to his innermost feelings, the ones he won't tell anyone else"
He trailed off, flustered, and looked away. He honestly hadn't considered the implications of his own behaviour until Hermione had mentioned it he'd felt he was the only rational minded one amongst them all, somehow protected from the harm the cursed snitch could cause, just as he'd been protected from Voldemort's wrath. And yet only a half hour after Draco claimed the snitch he'd actually swallowed his pride and kissed Draco on the lips, no less. And the lust he'd known before was nothing in comparison to the desire he felt now.
What does that mean, Harry? he asked himself. When Draco sleeps, is he dreaming of you too?
"You're blushing, Harry," Ron accused.
"Um," said Harry.
"Out with it, Harry," snapped Hermione. "If you want us to help in whatever ridiculous scheme you're concocting, we'd like to know exactly what your motivation is."
Harry chewed his lower lip. She was right infuriatingly and horribly right they were his best friends; they had a right to know. He just wished that he didn't have to tell them so soon. He wasn't sure about it, anyway not the way he'd wanted to be. It was just a crazy teenage crush, really, when he thought back on it, nothing special he'd spent an equal amount of nights fantasing about Cho Chang the year before. And Draco had always been so temptingly effeminate to begin with and in Harry's opinion the rest of the Hogwarts girls were nothing much to look at..
It was perfectly understandable from his point of view, and would be completely incomprehensible to anyone else.
Harry swallowed thickly. Best to get it off his chest now than have to suffer any later consequences.
"Er. You might want to sit down, Hermione," he said. "This may take a while."
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