--Turn of Events--

A challenge fic

-by cappie

He had lied. Blatantly. Dumbledore knew, but hadn't stopped him. Perhaps he saw the reasons behind it all; perhaps he had figured Harry out. But whatever the reason, here he was, sitting in Diagon Alley and holding a frothy cup of butterbeer in his hands. His hands were perhaps the only things warm about him. Harry's toes were numb and his legs were slowly beginning to lack all feeling as well. His ears had turned rather red and itchy, but he had successfully ignored it for the past hour, and a few more minutes would not matter.

It was the winter holidays, Christmas Eve, to be precise. Although Harry, since discovering he was a wizard, had come to love the holiday, for some reason or another, this year it was strangely without meaning and...pointless. Like a merry-go-round, the world went in circles, sparkling, the light shifting...but never making any progress.

Bringing the glass to his lips, the fluid poured down his throat, warming his stomach merrily for a minute…and then it faded away.

Tapping his fingers against the table that sparkled red and green, he idly wondered what Hermione was doing. Her parents had been forced to travel to Japan during the holiday season so they could sign a contract with some Japanese company whose products they would be testing for a year. Hermione had explained to Harry that her parents had decided to "upgrade", and so such actions were required. The strange turn of events meant that Hermione would be in Japan for the entirety of the winter holidays. Harry had found the idea rather amusing as he had watch Hermione prepare for the trip, attempting to use paper scrolls that, in the event that a certain incantation was chanted incorrectly, would transfigure into ravens and wolves. Incidentally, Hermione's Japanese was rather terrible.

"Oh bother," she sighed, falling into the chair by the fireplace and crossing her arms with a look of disappointment.

"Perhaps eastern magic just isn't for you." Harry pointed out kindly as he looked over a book of potions.

"Nonsense!" she insisted, and threw a pillow at him..

Harry, bringing the half-full glass of butterbeer to his lips, downed another swallow. Even the butterbeer's affect on him was lessening…the world seemed suddenly very dark and cold, even though sparkling fairy lights surrounded him.

Perhaps if Ron had been there, Harry thought sadly, if Ron had decided to stay on at Hogwarts during the winter, then perhaps this Christmas might not have been so hard. He could have overlooked his fears and regrets while he played chess by the open hearth; forgotten his past as they had a snowball fight—he could have forgotten it all, as he had grown so accustomed to doing.

I'm used to forgetting the past…I want to forget it.

But Ron was not there, and that made all the difference. With Ron spending the holidays in Romania with his brother, Harry had found himself quite suddenly very alone. Without his best friends, the halls of Hogwarts seemed to creep up on him and turn sinister and foreboding. Without his friends, he remembered that he really did not have a family, he remembered that he had spent the first eleven years of his life with people who hated him—he remembered everything.

Of course, there was Sirius. Yet he was still on the run, sipping a Mai Tai in Jamaica for all Harry knew.

Consequently, Sirius was no help.

So, taking matters into his own hands, Harry had written a very short note, which was highly unbelievable and ludicrous on every degree, and presented it to Dumbledore. It explained that his 'relatives' wished him home for the holidays.

"Oh?" Dumbledore had questioned, their eyes meeting. Dumbledore knew it was a farce, a lie, yet Harry just replied quietly in a subdued, yet strong voice, "I was rather shocked myself."

"And," Dumbledore continued, toying with him, "Do you wish to go spend the holidays with them?"

"I..." Harry hesitated, his eyes falling to a teenage Fawkes, "It would be a change, I believe."

Dumbledore turned his back towards him and gazed out at the gray landscape of late December, just now being powdered in a light snow. It was still depressing nevertheless; the ground dark and brown, the sky a wash of gray, the trees stark against the skyline…

He's going to say no. He's going to make me stay…

"Very well, Harry," Dumbledore had replied quietly, bowing his head as he fumbled with a button that had come undone. Once the task was finished, he added, "If that is what you wish, of course."

A very sad look came across Dumbledore's face, causing him to look rather old and haggard. The thick and heavy lines seemed to be accentuated in the dreary light of the day. Perhaps, thought Harry darkly, Dumbledore knew what he was going through. Perhaps he understood his solitude…

"Of course," Harry had replied seriously, his eyes meeting Dumbledore's, resolute in their expression.

And so, here sat the famous Harry Potter, alone on a bench, a butterbeer (getting rapidly cold by the chilled air) grasped in his hands. The fairy lights highlighted his features, and the moisture from the gentle snowfall glistened and shone, causing the winter scene to come alive. He was the very picture of sorrow and loneliness. Diagon Alley was now deserted, except for a few scattered people here and there. Yet few noticed the young boy sitting on the bench, few glanced in his directions, few felt pity.

It was ten thirty-seven on Christmas Eve.

*

It was like this every year, Draco thought as he opened the door and stepped out on the fresh and crunchy snow. Every year, it was always the same. Every Christmas it was the unchanged ritual; the same smiles, the same outfits, the same ornaments. Some would have called it tradition, and although Draco respected tradition, Christmas at the Malfoy house was not one he looked forward to.

Ever since his childhood, Christmas consisted of three acts. The first was an elaborate dinner party. Guests and dignitaries were invited, most of them Death Eaters, to dine at the prestigious Malfoy Manor. There would be an array of lovely food, of course; roast goose, Yorkshire pudding, Shepherd's pie, treacle tarts…everything that was expected. The glasses were never allowed to go empty and were filled to the brim with the best and most expensive mulled wine, cider, and brandy. There were jovial conversations, quiet and hushed exchanges, and rampant like the plague in the Middle Ages: flirting.

This continued for most of the night, it seemed, and then at eleven o'clock the house would suddenly fall silent as the guests left one after one, following the procession like mindless ants. The second act of the play was what his father referred to as 'the best part of the evening'. That was a lie, and Draco knew it. He saw the hunger in his father's silvery eyes as he gazed across the room at his elegant mother; it was not Act Two that was his father's favorite; to him, Act Three that was most enjoyable event of the evening.

Yet, Act Two was tradition, and whether or not Draco liked tradition, it was something that had to be done. It was something all had to suffer through and pretend they enjoyed. For was this not the way life worked? A façade to the world hid your true feelings, and if the mask was kicked away then all would crumble. His father, mother, and himself settled by the tree, appropriate and ordinary in its brilliance, and exchanged brightly wrapped presents full of trivialities as the sound of the house elves taking away the plates echoed throughout the quiet manor. There would be tears and exclamations of happiness and restrained looks of false enjoyment; but none of them wished themselves there, none truly had the appetite for such a false way of living; yet all three were guilty of masks, masks that they continually wore.

"It's beautiful, Lucius!" his mother had cried happily, artificial tears of happiness brimming in her eyes as she embraced her husband.

"I'm glad," his father would reply, smiling a smooth and debonair smirk. Yet, his father was a liar. You could tell by his eyes, the way he sighed when he thought no one was listening, the way his eyes would wander about the room in a bored fashion; he wanted Draco away; far away, so Act Three could begin. Draco was no longer wanted, his role now turned minor in the production.

At midnight, Act Two promptly ended, and the three of them would leave for their chambers, all pretending to go to sleep. They would wish goodnight to one another and hope for a deep night's sleep and wash their faces and brush their teeth; but deeper things stirred and rose in the darkness than just the heaving of their chests.

For some years now, Draco had become in the habit of traveling by Floo powder and reserving a room at the Leaky Cauldron, just so that he could feign innocence the next morning and actually appear as though he had slept well, instead of listening to his mother's wailing and his father's grunts. Tonight, however, for some reason, he could not fall asleep, nor even seem to become relaxed. There was no one he knew in the vicinity, no reason for him to put on airs; there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that should have bothered him. Ordinarily, he would have been in his quiet room, sitting in a large overstuffed chair, and sipping cider while getting ahead on the nest semester's reading. But this year, even the books seemed dull and repetitive; they did not call out to him the way they used to.

To put it simply, he was bored.

After aimlessly pacing his room for a seemingly an endless hour and a half, he had quietly descended the stairs down to the pub and made his way through the maze of trashcans to Diagon Alley.

It was the first time he had ever been there when there was no one out, and it was deadly quiet in the darkness of the night. Fairy lights darted smoothly about overhead, highlighting the snowflakes that fell noiselessly from the shadowy sky. Taking a few paces, he relished the sound of his shoes breaking the small layer of ice that had formed on top of the snow. It was relaxing, this quiet and hazy world of what was usually such a bustling and lively place. It was as though he was the only one in the world who existed; he was alone and thankful for it. Draco often grew tired of being surrounded by things, by people. It was only very rarely, on a night such as this, that he found a contented state of being were everything around him (including himself) was tranquil.

Wrapping his heavy cloak over his shoulders and tucking his scarf under the cloak, he stuffed his hands in his pockets and set out to explore the wonders of the icily cold night.

His silver eyes strayed to the clock on Gringotts right awning.

It was twelve thirty-seven.

*

It was rather amazing, Draco thought as he made his way back to the Leaky Cauldron. In all of his years of traveling to Diagon Alley--and even Knockturn Alley--he had never known that the small little neighborhood extended so far. Most of the time, he had never really traveled very far past Gringotts, assuming for one reason or another that there was not much down there to see.

Draco would admit that he had been wrong in his assumption. So much more lay past that great building that he found himself rather flabbergasted by the whole event. Suddenly he wished very much that the shops would be open tomorrow so he could walk down the small street and actually go inside their dusty and intriguing depths. As he walked down the vacant lane, he saw for the first time objects that he had not thought available in England. It was not as though they were particularly dark or dangerous; they just were very rare and hard to get a hold of in this corner of the earth. For example, he had found in the window of one particularly old shop, a branch of a cheery tree that burst into bloom every hour. This delicacy was from Japan, where the point of the object was to reverse the magical spell so that the blossoms would wither and die before the branch could once again burst into bloom. It had been labeled, "chi no hana", and Draco had a sudden itching to find a Japanese dictionary.

Yet as he glanced down at his pocket-watch, already an hour had passed, and it was high time he return to the pub and warm up. Already his body had cooled and his ears were beginning to go rather numb. The snowfall had also increased, and the wind kept kicking up small flurries that danced down the street. As he passed a collection of tables set out for people to relax on, he blinked and paused in his tracks.

Was someone over there? Stepping closer, he found that a figure had collapsed on the bench, holding in his ungloved hands a glass quarter-full with butterbeer. Had the person been there an hour before? He couldn't remember…

Walking over to where the person lay, he tapped them with his wand and questioned, "You know that you're going to freeze to death, don't you?"

The figure stirred slightly. It seemed as though he (Draco had determined their gender as male, judging by the shoulder length) had fallen asleep, or passed out for some strange reason. The man stirred and groaned again and slowly lifted his head and rested it heavily onto his palm.

Heaving a sigh, Draco sat down opposite the intoxicated figure and tried to discern if it was some student that he knew. The cloak gave away that the boy was from Hogwarts, and as such was no street vagrant. A slight bit of concern fled through his heart as he wondered for a second if the family knew that their son was out on such a night. The figure's red and gold scarf glinted in the fairy lights. All such emotion quickly parted as he saw that this was no ordinary Hogwarts student, but his dreaded rival.

"Malfoy…" the figure managed to whisper bitterly, recognition flashing in his hazy green eyes.

"Potter." Draco found himself replying curtly, suddenly straightening his posture and sneering ever so slightly.

"Fuck off." Harry spat as he lowered his head and cradled it in his arms.

Blinking back in surprise and fury, Draco was rather stunned that Potter had managed to actually swear. This was the first time that he had ever heard Potter really use foul language. It was rather amusing…

Standing up suddenly, causing the chair he had seated himself on to topple over, he strode across the table and angrily grabbed Potter around the collar and pulled him off his ass. Draco's eyes glowed in anger and amusement, "What did you say?"

Harry, smiled a lopsided grin, and whispered, "You heard me. Fuck off, Malfoy."

Draco's hand had touched Harry's chilled neck for a moment, and for the first time he noticed the blue tinge to his usually fair skin tone.

The next moment, Harry landed face first on the hard cobblestones covered in snow grasping his face where Draco had swung him a particularly painful punch. Draco stood above Harry, waiting...

Yet nothing came.

Was that it? Draco wondered darkly. Was that fucking it?

Harry did not move, and Draco frowned slightly before walking back to the Leaky Cauldron. As he walked calmly and coolly across the glistening cobblestones, he thought wordlessly to himself,

What is Harry Potter doing here?

*

He returned fifteen minutes later against his will, carrying a cup of steaming tea in his hand. It was a good thing that the streets were deserted, for if anyone he knew saw him…if anyone knew that he had helped Potter…

While the tea had brewed for those ten minutes, Draco had silently battled with himself. As much as he disliked Potter, obviously something was seriously wrong with the boy tonight. He had never seen Potter so…emotionless and listless…perhaps he had drunk too much butterbeer, but was that even possible? Could someone get drunk off butterbeer? It seemed highly unlikely.

From what he knew and had observed of Potter, Draco knew that Potter had restraint. Potter knew when to stop (to some degree) and when to practice self-control. Unlike other people, he was humble and had not let this stardom get to his head, although Draco always liked to say otherwise.

So why was it that Potter was here, in Diagon Alley, intoxicated…or…incoherent for some other reason? It didn't make any sense. Then again, many things this night didn't seem to make sense. The fact that he couldn't sleep, the fact that he was deciding to help Potter…what else would this evening bring about?

Flicking his wand and mumbling, "Mobilicorpus" under his breath, he quietly walked back to the Leaky Cauldron, leading the unconscious and half-frozen Harry Potter back to his room.

"I'm going to regret this…," Draco whispered, closing his eyes.

*

By the time he had returned to his room, the fire had died down, and truthfully Draco did not find that surprising. He had been gone for nearly an hour and a half, and magical fires would only last so long if you weren't in the room.

Pointing Harry so that he would land gently on Draco's still untouched bed, he then turned to the open hearth and waved his handsome wand, murmuring, "Incendio". A hot and cheerful blaze burst forward, giving both light and warmth to the chilled room. Slowly he turned back to the motionless figure on his bed and heaved a slight sigh. This was not going to be fun, he could tell.

Biting back a grumble, he pointed to the pitcher of water on the side table and summoned it to him as he slid the blankets over Harry's shivering body.

"Well," he murmured calmly, "at least you are alive. Though I am sure many others would have been quite relieved to hear otherwise."

Potter did not move, but, Draco noticed, his breathing had stabilized. His chest steadily heaved up and down, although his breathing was rather shallow.

Lighting a few candles about the room, Draco slipped out of the partially opened door and walked down the stairs to the kitchen. The steps groaned underneath his weight in the stillness of the night. Surely no one would mind if he helped himself to a bit of food…

Rummaging about the pantry, he found some soup, which he heated up as he brewed another pot of tea. While he waited for both to warm, Draco leaned against the wall, a great smirk plastered against his handsome features.

If only my father could see me now. My, my, that would indeed be interesting…

*

Opening his eyes slowly, Harry stared blankly about the bedroom. For a moment, he thought he was in his own room. However, the picture above the hearth was different, as well as the linens and curtains. His room had a large picture of girl sitting in bed reading a book, and was decorated in shades of green and gold. This room, on the other hand, had a picture of a mother and daughter running and playing in a large poppy field. The linens and curtains consisted of a patchwork of red and silver fabric. He had to say that he liked this quite a bit more…red was so much more uplifting than green, especially during winter.

As Harry lay in the large bed, not moving, a shiver began to run up and down his spine. If he was not in his own room, then whose room could he be in? For that matter, why was he here? What had happened? Had he taken a bad fall, or been banged in the head by a sign…or…

Suddenly, things began to become clear, and urgency and fear gripped at his throat. Harry remembered drinking butterbeer and being very depressed and then he must have fallen asleep. Dimly, he remembered waking up, and thinking he saw the face of Draco Malfoy. But, Harry reassured himself, it certainly could not have been Draco Malfoy at all…for why would he be in Diagon Alley on Christmas Eve at strange hours of the night? No, that wouldn't make any sense at all.

Blinking and peering towards the door as the sound of footsteps grew near, he leaned his head forward to discover who his savior was.

The entry opened, and choking back a gasp, Harry closed his eyes and told himself that he was imagining things. Too much butterbeer. Yes, that was it. Upon opening them, he found that reality and irony had slapped him in the face. Hard. Biting back another gasp of incredulity, his eyes met Draco's small slits of golden moonlight that had flickered to his form for the briefest of seconds.

Draco Malfoy, his hair casually surrounding his features, his body cloaked in a large grey cloak, levitated a tray of soup and tea and looked down at Harry from his vantage point high above him. A small smile crept along his lips, slowly inching its way across his face until the enjoyment reached his eyes.

Harry, licking his dry lips, questioned, rather uncertainly, "Why am I here?"

Draco, curt and to the point, explained, "I found you. Unconscious."

Nodding, as though it made sense, "Then why are you here?"

Draco, bringing his hand under his chin, curled his lips in a sly grin. "I grow tired of my mother's high pitched screams and my father's grunts. Doesn't exactly give me visions of sugar plums or anything."

Flinching and making a rather disgusted face, Harry continued with his interrogation, growing either more comfortable, or adjusted, "And you brought me here because...?"

Draco, guiding the levitating tray so that it hovered right above Harry's lap, bit back a sigh and spat, "Would you rather me left you out on the street to be discovered two days later, dead? I would have expected more from you, Potter."

"I…uh…" Harry fumbled terribly, glancing down at the warm soup and tea, a sudden blush sprouting on his cheeks.

Feeling slightly abashed, he watched as Draco swiftly moved to his overstuffed chair near the fire and leafed through what appeared to be a dictionary.

As he lay in his bed, reality, like tea, began to seep and ferment, and he began to finally become aware of things. He was becoming increasingly worried due to the fact that he could not feel his feet. He couldn't feel many parts of his body, actually… Harry edged across the bed, feeling his way tentatively, in hopes that he would be able to go to his own room and curl out in front of the fire and de-thaw. It sounded sufficiently better than sleeping in Draco's bed…and eating food that potentially might have been poisoned. But he still felt very weak, and wasn't particularly sure if he could get there on his own. Asking Draco didn't seem very appealing, so Harry determined that he would just have to get there on his own. Too bad he had left his broomstick at Hogwarts, he could have flown back to his room.

Okay, Harry, lack of your senses is giving you crazy ideas…

Moving closer to the edge of the bed, Harry tossed his legs over the side, discovering that his shoes had been taken off. "Where are my shoes?" he asked, hoping that Draco had not decided to toss them in the trash bin.

"Don't even think about it," Draco snapped, not looking at Harry, "You're frostbitten. Moving around isn't the best of ideas, unless you want a toe to snap off."

Harry scowled. "Yeah, sure, Malfoy."

Draco, slapping his book shut, cast a dangerous glance in Harry's direction and whispered, "Oh? You want to see for yourself? Well then, go right ahead. It would be quite amusing."

Exhaling a large sigh between his teeth, Harry spat bitterly, "Well then, what am I supposed to do then, eh, Malfoy?"

The figure in the large and overstuffed chair stood up quite suddenly, his large and heavy cape rustling in the movement, "What you're going to do, Potter, is lay down and shut up." Draco's eyes had now narrowed into thin and dangerous slits of impatience and insensitivity. "Do you think you can handle that?"

Harry, suddenly wishing that he had not left his wand underneath his own bed, glared up testily at Draco. Suddenly blood was pounding through his ears, despite the fact that he was still shivering. It just wasn't fair. Why couldn't have someone else found him? Why did it have to be Draco, of all people? Even Pansy or Crabbe would have been an improvement—he would have even preferred Snape…

A minute or so perhaps ticked by, slowly, steadily, continually. But their gazes did not waver or grow weak. It continued until Harry averted his eyes and grumbled a soft swear. A satisfied expression surfaced on Draco's face, and picking up a willow-patterned teacup, he poured himself some of the hot tea. He tossed it down is throat rather quickly; he enjoyed the burning sensation that accompanied the drink as it traveled swiftly down his throat.

The fire crackled and burned merrily, and Harry watched suspiciously as Draco walked over towards the open hearth and grabbed the poker to adjust the logs. A few sparks flew through the air and the wood broke in two as the inside had grown too weak to support it.

Draco, turning back to study Harry, suddenly looked very weary and overwhelmed, as though a great burden had been placed onto his shoulders, and he sagged slightly underneath the weight.

"Move," he whispered quietly, rubbing his temples generously, making his way back over to the bed.

Taken extremely aback, Harry bristled visibly. "What!?"

Draco, unbuttoning his cloak, snapped, "There is no way in hell I am sleeping on the floor, Potter. Now move over."

Holding the blankets tightly about him, Harry nearly shouted, "If you're going to sleep then just levitate me back over to my room!"

Draco, tossing his cape against the back of chair, whispered, "You think I am going to enjoy sleeping in the same bed as you? I'm only doing this, Potter, so I won't have your death on my head while I'm at Hogwarts. Afterwards, that's another story—but don't you think the Ministry of Magic would find it awfully suspicious that you die or have some limbs break off and I just happen to staying in the same place?"

Harry glared up at him, a livid and resolute look etched on his features, "I'm surprised you just didn't let me die out in the street."

Draco, placing his hands on his waist, grumbled, "Believe me, Potter, that would have been my pleasure. However, even I have morals, despite what you and your Mudblood friends think. Now move."

Flashing a furious expression at Draco, Harry warned bitterly, "If you even so much as touch me, I'll punch your bloody lights out."

"Oh yes, Potter, really threatening." Draco chuckled as he slipped under the covers. "Maybe your arm would fall off…"

Harry turned his back towards Draco and curled up in a tight ball, so as to avoid as much contact with the other as possible. He was hoping that somehow he would manage to wake up during the night and slip back into his room, or at least after Draco had fallen asleep.

He listened as Draco murmured, "Nox" and the candles in the room were extinguished, and all that remained was the light and sound from the warm fire. This was extremely disturbing, the two thought as they listened to each other's breathing.

Well, this has certainly been an interesting Christmas, Draco considered amusedly as he studied the back of Harry's neck. Idly he noticed the line of Harry's spine as it curved gracefully down to form his strong and back and shoulders. Smiling ever so slightly, Draco found that suddenly he felt very content and very, very tired.

Shutting his eyes firmly, Harry pretended to sleep, yet, much to his anger and disappointment, sleep would not come. As he lay there in the dark, he listened intently to Draco's quiet and rhythmic breaths. The regularity of it was rather comfortable, and for a time he managed to forget that it was Draco Malfoy who was only two feet away; he imagined it was someone else, someone he knew and cared for very well. The thought did not prove too difficult to accomplish after all.

This is disgusting… were Harry's last thoughts before he drifted off into the dark abyss of slumber.

*

Harry Potter awoke at eleven thirty-seven the next morning, quietly clutching warm blankets about his frame. He had a distinct feeling that he had slept for quite a long period of time, although he wasn't sure how long. Blinking and sitting up, he gazed up at the picture above the hearth of the girl reading a book. The girl looked up and smiled and welcomed, "Good morning! You certainly had a busy night last night, hm? Oh! Merry Christmas!"

Harry, for the first time realizing that it was Christmas Day, smiled and replied, "Merry Christmas to you, too."

What is she talking about? A late night?

Picking up his glasses, which were resting on his bedside stand, he looked around the room and saw a small pile of gifts resting on the table. How do they always manage to find me? He thought to himself. Did anyone know he was here? The boxes shone and glittered in the hazy light of midday, as they were piled high against his side table. A grin spread across his features, and by the time he had opened the first gift from Hermione, the curious comment of the reading girl had been completely forgotten, only to be replaced by the enjoyment of Hermione's thoughtful (if not practical) gift of 2001 Marvelous Sushi Bachelor Recipes: Impress the girls with a flick of the wrist! (sugoii desu ne!)

*

"Merry Christmas, young master. How did you sleep last night?" Nitchy the house-elf questioned as she drew open the heavy velvet curtain that faced Draco's large bed.

From atop a ladder, a figure stirred, and put down a book that he had just taken off the top of his bookshelf. His hair, although not in his usual slicked back style, was brushed and washed and shimmered in the light of day, still wet from the bath he had taken earlier in the morning.

Draco, already immaculately dressed, gazed down and replied firmly, "Fine. Now leave me alone." Snapping the book shut in his hands, he replaced it back in its proper spot before descending the steps.

Abiding by his commands, Nitchy hobbled out of the chamber and quietly shut the door, unsure what was troubling her young master. As she did so, Draco's eyes fell to a woven piece of cloth peaking out from his bedcovers, hardly visible to the trained eye. It glinted gold and scarlet, the colors of his rival house, the color of his enemy. Picking it up and folding it neatly, he breathed in the scent that during the night he had grown accustomed to, even against his will. Harry Potter's scent was that of…incense and cinnamon, of wheat bread and cedar—it was unique in every respect. Breathing a sigh, he quickly shoved the cloth underneath the boards of his bed before carefully tucking his wand away into his cloak.

What would Potter have thought if Draco confided that they had shared a bed? Would he call Draco a liar? Yes, most likely. But then again, Draco had to make sure that Potter would not use this for blackmail later on. And, as such, certain actions had to be taken—and Potter had forgotten the night's preceding events. It was better that way, wasn't it?

It's too bad, Draco thought dryly as he exited his room, that Harry was so careless with his belongings…

*

It was a particularly cold and wintry day. Outside the snow fell heavily towards the ground, in the process blanketing the world in a layer of undisturbed innocence. Harry, glancing up from a large and worn book, checked the time and quickly slid the material he had been reading underneath his bed. It had taken quite a while for Harry to find the information he was searching for, and now that he had, he was even more baffled from when he began.

Cleaning his glasses as he left the common room, he waved to Neville, who had just managed to stumble through the entrance, heaving a great number of bags on the carpet.

"Hello Neville," Harry greeted, smiling amiably, "Have a good holiday?"

Neville, puffing with deep breaths, nodded and admitted, "Yes, it was quite nice, actually. Not too boring, at least I got my rough draft finished for Snape on Monday."

Harry nodded and admitted that he was nearly completed with the rough draft and planned to start his final in a day or two. Neville, picking up his luggage, excused himself saying that he had to go unpack before supper.

Before he left, Harry called after him, "Neville, have Ron or Hermione arrived?"

Neville thought for a moment, and then finally answered, "I saw Hermione, but I don't think Ron has Flooed himself back yet. Who would want to? Spending the holidays in Romania beats hanging out at Hogwarts for anything!"

Waving farewell, Harry slipped out of the common room and hurried down the staircases. There was something pressing urgently against his mind, a curious puzzle that he couldn't figure out—and he couldn't let it go. It tugged at him, just as getting the Firebolt from Sirius had caused him to puzzle over that particular issue...

Harry strode hurriedly down the great Hogwarts corridors in anticipation to welcome Hermione and Ron back to school, a slight grin plastered on his face. His pace quickened as he approached the dining hall, where those who had left for the holiday had planned to meet and 'check in' before returning to their houses. As he approached the crowd of figures lugging baggage up the many flights of stairs, he waved and hollered to Hermione and gallantly helped her with her cases. The two hugged and inquired politely on one another's winter holidays. Hermione obviously had much more to say than Harry did, and so he let her chatter away for a bit. Her trip, from the sound of it, certainly had been interesting. She had decided to check out a few books from the library about Asiatic magic as well. While the two of them climbed up the stairs, a lull in the conversation ensued, so quickly taking the opportunity, Harry inquired as casually as he could manage, "Hermione, did you send me two gifts, by the way?"

Hermione, blinking, shook her head and laughed, "I don't get that much pocket money you know!"

Harry, nodding slowly, looked confused and troubled as he murmured, "Odd…"

Leaning towards him, Hermione questioned in her usual interested way, "What is, Harry?"

The two continued to walk up a few more flights of stairs before Harry stopped and gazed at Hermione directly in the face. Repeating his question, his expression grave, he urged, "Are you sure, Hermione? This isn't a joke?"

She stared at him and nodded seriously, "Really Harry, I only got you the Japanese cook book...why do you ask, Harry? Did you get something else?"

A few meters away, a figure neared them, his silver eyes glancing over the top of Harry's head. Casually leaning himself against the marble banister, and crossing his arms in a lackadaisical way, he intently listened to Harry's conversation with the Mudblood.

"Well, I thought it might have been from you. It was Japanese, I believe, so I figured you got it for me while in Japan…"

Hermione, suddenly interested, questioned, "Oh? What was it?"

Harry, leaning closer, whispered, "This flowering branch. I read up on it, and supposedly, they're pretty rare and rather delicate."

Hermione's eyes alit with interest and a great smile spread across her face, "I wonder who sent it to you, Harry? A secret admirer perhaps?"

Snorting in dismay and incredulity, Harry grinned, "Yes, that's it exactly, Hermione."

"I bet--," Hermione began, clasping her hands together in glee, yet she was cut off by a taunting voice coming from above their heads.

"What's this I hear? Your Mudblood girlfriend bought you some flowers? How very cheap of her. Can't she afford anything else?"

The voice grew closer as Draco Malfoy effortlessly walked down the stone steps, chuckling slightly to himself as he smirked at Hermione in a condescending way. Draco, his form pausing when he reached a step level to Harry's eye level, whispered sinisterly as their eyes met, "Potter, why do you even bother to hang out with these paupers and Mudbloods?"

Harry bristled conspicuously as he watched Draco peruse his frame momentarily before slipping his hands into his pockets and continuing down the flight of stairs. Harry's eyes burned with a smoldering fire; yet he restrained himself…very nearly letting all hell break loose. He knew Malfoy was just asking for a fight. That bastard was incapable of helping anyone or treating them with respect. He was better than Draco Malfoy. On every level.

Casting one last disgusted glare at Hermione who had not turned to face him, Draco winked casually towards Potter as he descended the stairs and struck up a conversation with Crabbe who had just arrived back from Scotland. "God, he certainly gets tiresome quickly." Hermione sighed, rubbing her temples. Harry did not respond, instead his eyes followed the elegant figure as he descending the staircase heading for the Slytherin house. Harry suddenly felt quite confused and rather unsteady as he watched the rift grow between him and the receding figure.

Draco, casting one glance over his shoulder, smiled up at Harry. It was a kind smile; yet a smile full of mystery and hidden knowledge. The memory spell had not been too powerful, and pondering idly to himself, he thought, I wonder if he will ever remember…

Probably not. But it was better this way.

This left them exactly where they'd started

*

Notes: Chi no Hana can have two different meaning, depending on the kanji (Chinese characters) it can either mean a.) Flower of blood or b.) Flower of energy/power/strength. I intended it to mean the latter, by the way. No, it is not like the pet shop of horrors.