Title: The Webs
By cappie/bakayaro 
bakayaro@kuririnmail.com       
Rating: pg13
Pairing harry/draco
Summary:  After a long absence Harry unexpectedly returns to Hogwarts on Halloween night, Draco is surprised at how interested he is in his rival's whereabouts.  When chance favors the brave, the two realize that something more lurks in the shadows than first believed.
Category drama/suspense/romance
Disclaimer: Harry, Draco, the world that they reside is not mine, nor do I claim to have any part in their creation.

The Webs

By cappie

*

There were three favorite days when it came to the students at Hogwarts.  The first day was, of course, Christmas day (although some students did not spend it at the school), then there was the last day of finals and Halloween.

As usual, the great hall was alight with swarms of pumpkins bobbing about over the student's heads like lanterns in the breeze, their great gaping mouths and squinting eyes peering down merrily at the students.  Dark shifty shapes of bats hung about the rafters, searching out the darkness of the dusty beams.  The silver crescent moon hung like an ornament against the ceiling, the moon washed clouds sailing by on a strong, if not imaginary, breeze.  Banners of bright orange, gold and black swam lazily above student's heads and every now and then randomly burping out Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bots and other sweets from Honey Dukes.

The staff themselves looked the same, a few of them dressed for the special occasion, but none more so than Dumbledore, who's costume  looked like a sorcerer from a more seedy part of London. He insisted that the costume was an heirloom, but nobody believe him.  Black lace spurned out of his garishly orange cloak that every now and again changed from orange to red to yellow and then back to orange.   His hat, more crooked than ever, had a large chunk missing as though someone had taken a bite out of its' brim.  He looked merry, or at least as merry as could be expected, what with You-Know-Who perpetually about.  His attacks always on the whisper of dawn, always on the cry of dusk—You-Know-Who seemed everywhere and nowhere at once. 

It was notable, the deep circles under Dumbledore's eyes, cleverly concealed with a bit of Madame Pompfrey's rectifying lotion.  But there was more of a droop to his beard, and not as much of a glimmer in his eyes.  Perhaps they had at last been extinguished.  Most attributed Dumbledore's taciturn and melancholy nature to the fact that a very important person had not come back to school this year.

Yes, on September first, Mr. Harry Potter had been strangely absent from Platform 9 and ¾'s, despite letters he had sent to Hermione and Ron insisting he was "well" and "very busy" and "would bring them back gifts."  The letters had immediately been tested by Dumbledore when the two returned to the school and were found to be in Harry's own hand and not a forgery.

But Dumbledore knew where Harry was, as did all the teachers.  Yet despite having the comfort of knowing he was safe, most of the staff and student body seemed more ill at ease.  Of course, the Slytherins had immediately caught on and took every opportunity to get all wise cracks in before the now 18 year old boy returned to the campus.

The only problem was that it was the end of October and people were beginning to speculate if he would ever return.  Some assumed he had run away—which to most of the student body, considering the extra security nowadays, did not seem so terrible.  Yes, without Harry there, it was as though a cold breeze had formed in the hearts of many.

Though no one would admit it.

Dumbledore's eyes strayed as he watched a gold banner belch butterscotch candies atop the Gryffindor table.  He smiled slightly and watched as Ron Weasely and Hermione Granger helped to pick up a few and place them in the center of the table next to the pot pie.

Hermione turned to Ron and smiled softly, "Too bad he is not here…"

Ron nodded.  So, they had been thinking the same thing after all.  This seemed to happen a lot nowadays, or maybe it was the fact that both missed Harry terribly.  They had not seen him since last summer, which now seemed decades ago.  Although Harry had been his now normal moody self, bitter and angry, the two had not thought that he would have done anything foolish.  They had not thought that Harry would have tried to risk killing You-Know-Who alone.  No, Harry was angry and mad; but not stupid.

So then, what had happened?!  Where was he?  Ron and Hermione knew that the staff knew Harry's whereabouts.  They knew that was the topic the teachers talked about in passing.  They all knew, and why wouldn't anyone tell them?!  They were his best friends, after all.  Didn't that mean anything?

Obviously not.

Ron watched Hermione moodily as she helped herself to a piece of pumpkin pie and added a bit of whipped cream.  Even though she was his girlfriend now, he was still preoccupied by the fact that Harry wasn't around.  He felt guilty and angry at himself.  He felt sorry for Hermione, although the same thing was happening to her.  Both were overlooking each other for him.

"Come on, Ron," Hermione tried, nudging his shoulder gently, "It's Halloween! We can't let it just go to waste…"

Perhaps she was right.

Begrudgingly he watched as Seamus Finnegan tried to perform some spell on his piece of pie that would automatically cut it into bite size pieces.  Instead it flattened itself against the plate as though it had been stepped on by an elephant.  A moment later, Hermione and Ron were laughing.

*

Hardly anyone noticed as Filch walked into the great hall through the side entrance and made his way in a lumbering sort of fashion towards Dumbledore.  His breath was deep and heavy and beads of perspiration were beginning to form on his wrinkled brow. 

Collapsing to his knees and grasping the great chiseled chair for support, he looked up at Dumbledore and whispered, "He's back."

Dumbledore looked down at him, for a moment an expression of utter befuddlement resting in his aged features.  He exchanged looks with McGonagall who was also looking at Filch in wonderment and trepidation.

"Do you mean…H-Mr. Potter?"  Dumbledore questioned hoarsely, licking his lips.

"No other, sir, he is making his way across the lake at this moment," Filch answered in an annoyed like fashion, as though it angered him to find his work was being appreciated.

"The lake?" McGonagall asked, rather taken aback.  She looked up at Dumbledore and insisted, "But why would he take the lake?  It is only for first years."

"Perhaps," Dumbledore began, pausing for a moment, his eyes unfocussed, "Lupin thought it safer…Voldemort would have expected him to take the carriages…"

"B-But I hardly think the lake is safer!"  McGonagall argued, still shivering from the mention of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Dumbledore sighed and dismissed Filch as he stalked off, grumbling something about the lake, stupid boy, and werewolf.

"It is too late," Dumbledore replied, a smile hinting his lips, his cheeks somewhat flushed with excitement, "The boy is already on the crossing and we can only await his return."

McGonagall sighed and turned to inform Snape, who was at her left.  Casting a side-long glance at Dumbledore she was somewhat surprised to find him whistling "My Grandfather's Cauldron" (a typical Halloween song) and sipping his wine quite merrily.  She smiled softly and thought it was touching how dearly the headmaster cared for the boy.  But then again, they all did…

*

"Are you alright Harry?"  The hushed voice of Lupin asked as they silently docked the boat and made their ascent towards the castle.

Harry, guiding his bags in front of him with his wand, did not answer for a moment.  Only the sound of the footsteps could be heard in the darkness of the night of the dead.

"Do you…," Harry paused as he received his first fine view of Hogwarts alit with bright flames.  It seemed a very foreign yet personal sight to him.  Yes, he had not seen it in many months, and somehow, it seemed altered.  Perhaps the stones, or the lighting, but something…

"Yes?"  Lupin questioned, not impatiently, but urgently. 

"Do you think I look different?" Harry broached, somewhat embarrassed by the subject of matter.  He continued on, giving a hurried justification, "I mean, I have been practicing magic all summer and autumn all over the world and…"

Lupin laughed, a low and steady chuckle, "Yes, you do look different Harry.  Before you looked like a boy, but now you look like a man.  But that isn't so terrible, is it?"

Harry flushed, and said nothing as he continued to walk again towards the school alight with the hopes and dreams of his past, soon to be rekindled with reality.

Their steps were neither hurried nor urgent, but instead steady and filled with intent.  The summer of hiking around the mountains of Durmstrang had caused any baby fat Harry once held to disappear and be formed into muscle.  The hours of grueling lessons in dueling and learning new spells had given him a stone patience Harry hadn't even imagined he possessed.  He was embarrassed to think of himself before the summer—the angry, demanding boy who jumped to conclusions and who hurt everyone, even his friends. 

He hoped that the letters he had sent Ron and Hermione continuously had somewhat lessened their anger at him for not enclosing his location.  But then again, he had been to so many places over the summer; so many wizarding schools located all over the world.  There had been Beaubaxton and Durmstrang of course, but he had never expected to travel to Japan or China or even Mexico.  He hoped the souvenirs would help somewhat…although he had an inkling that Ron would be somewhat jealous.  Perhaps, he thought idly as he began up a flight of steps that lead to the Gryffindor common room, he should give them each a present every month…

"Kappilariah," Lupin murmured smoothly as they reached the fat lady in the pink dress.  Dumbledore had thoughtfully sent Harry the password in his last letter, to be changed the day he would arrive incase the information fell into the wrong hands in its crossing.

As Harry sailed by the fat lady, he heard her give a startled cry, "Is that you, Harry Potter?"

Poking his head out he smiled and waved casually at her, "It is.  And, I'm back, at least, as far as I know…"

The fat lady smiled, and replied, "You have been missed indeed."

Harry was glad it was dim so that she could not see the blush on his cheeks. "Goodnight then."

Lupin was waiting on the stairs and gave him a cheeky grin, "Getting 'welcome backs' already then, eh?"

Harry just grinned as he made his way up the stairs.  Hopefully his bed had not been taken away…But it was there in a heap of dust, and Lupin, murmuring a spell under his breath made the room sparkle even in the dead of night.

Harry placed his bags on his bed and looked anxiously at his wrist watch, "Do you suppose I have time to go down to the feast?"

"Well, Dumbledore is expecting you," Lupin pointed out, and then mumbling, "Though I wonder if it would be correct for me to go down with you and give my regards."

Harry smirked and insisted, "Of course it is.  Whose hands have I been in all summer?  Who brought be back here alive?"

Harry sighed and began to undo his clothes, his intention to change into his Hogwarts attire.

Lupin, watching him, suggested, "There is hardly any time.  Just go in what you are wearing."

Harry blinked and flushed, "In Muggle clothes, let alone these Muggle clothes?"

Over the summer Harry had gotten into wearing black and due to his growing two inches as well as broadening out in the shoulders and actually developing muscles, he had been forced to buy an entire new wardrobe.  That day had certainly been interesting.  Not only had Lupin forced him to buy Muggle clothing, but he had forced him to buy Muggle designer clothing!  In Paris, nonetheless! (This had been on their way to Durmstrang from Beauxbaton's)

Lupin's motto had been, "If your parents left you a fortune, do not disgrace them with your sorry excuse for clothes."

He liked his new clothes to be sure, and thought they were very flattering on him—but the combination of his altered physical appearance, a pierced ear (a gift from Lupin on his 18th birthday) and somewhat longer hair (that was actually styled now, or somewhat styled), well, he did not know if his friends, let alone the staff, could handle it.

"Will you just hurry up and go?"  Lupin sighed, pushing him towards the common room and out into the passageway, "We haven't eaten since this morning and some of us do like to eat, you know."

Really, they knew each other too well.

"I like to eat just fine,"  Harry snarled back, his mind still unsure if his black knit turtleneck, black fitted pants and leather boots would be a bit…overkill…?

As they walked down the hall, random pictures greeting them, Lupin advised in a more serious tone, "Just because we are back in school now, Harry, it does not mean everything you learned this summer gets forgotten.  For one thing, I don't want to hear about you and that Malfoy boy getting into any more duels.  You are just as powerful, if even more so, than him—and you know as well as I do that your spells can easily kill."

Harry had not thought of that.  It was true; he was perhaps ten times more powerful than he had been a year before—hardly as powerful as Voldemort, but closer.  If he could not control his temper this year, unlike his sixth year at Hogwarts, then he had an inkling that things could get seriously out of control.

He had never liked Malfoy to begin with, but there was an underlying respect between them, even if it was never spoken of.  They were rivals, yes, but it was not an unequal rivalry…

'I'll try," Harry conceded, fingering a pendant he had purchased at a shrine in Japan, "But I don't know if it will be easy.  Once Malfoy hears that I am back he will come after me, ready for a duel that I promised him last year."

Perhaps Malfoy had grown stronger…perhaps, if he was going to join the Death Eaters, he had been practicing and learning and consuming knowledge in the same way that Harry had.  Perhaps his father had warned him of the same thing.

Draco, do not kill Harry until it is time.  Dumbledore suspects already…

Harry shivered.  Death was everywhere he looked, even in his reflection.  Death had somehow been woven like a thread into his life, and there was no getting it out unless you destroyed everything.  Why and how had this come to be?  Why was death as inescapable as Malfoy?

Their steps echoed in the still night against the breathing of the pictures.

But why was it that he longed for this chase, this rivalry?  What did he wish to find, to catch, to grab hold of?  Was there something?  Was it all just an illusion?  Why had he spent night thinking about those duels with Malfoy instead of the cold emotionless eyes of Voldemort?  Why was it Malfoy's face that troubled him more than the face of that ruthless murder, Voldemort?

"I am not saying don't defend yourself, and don't become a coward because you are afraid your magic will hurt something or someone.  But at the same time, know your limitations.  Know that you do have very powerful magic, remember my dislocated shoulder if you don't remember."

Harry winced as he recalled that day of disarming spells in the courtyard at Chiyama School of Witchcraft and Wizardry…

They had now reached the doors that led into the great hall.  Yet such a route would have been too flashy, decided Harry.  Walking in through such great doors by himself—he might have enjoyed the attention years ago, but all he wished for now was food and talking to Ron and Hermione.  But no, he knew that he would spend the whole night telling everyone about what happened and not getting to sleep until the early hours.  Someone would crack out the butter beer, and as usual there would be a party…perhaps the summer had made him anti-social.  Or perhaps he was just different.  

And so, taking a side door they entered into the room alight with pumpkins, into a room filled with a piece of treasure, still invisible amongst the bodies.

*

Lupin left Harry's side and quietly made his way towards the table where the teachers and head master sat.  No one had noticed the entrance of two bodies into the great hall, no one except Draco Malfoy.

He had been bored, as usual.  Somehow this year had started off utterly terrible.  He had such great expectations for it too…but somehow, the combination of foreordained wizarding tests, homework, heightened security and no Harry Potter to annoy had made it all frightfully dull.  Even making fun of the boy had become somewhat of a bore—for what was the point if he was not even there?

Heaving a sigh, he reached for a bottle of Mulberry Cider and poured his golden goblet full.  Bringing it to his lips, he scanned the room.  Dumbledore seemed suddenly cheerful, although for most of the evening the man had looked his age—old and lethargic.  If he heard the tune right, the man was whistling "My Grandfather's Cauldron".  He detested that song.  But it was of no matter.

McGonagall was talking to Snape about something or other, and his expression was very hard to read.  A mixture of relief and annoyance…

Something was happening, Draco realized, and he decided to keep an eye on the table for the duration for the evening.

Crabbe had just reached out to tear off the leg from the turkey when it magically disappeared and was replaced with the dessert.  Where the turkey had once been was a large jiggling bowl of green Jell-o with candy-fish swimming around its insides.

"That looks appetizing," he sighed, casting Crabbe a disgusted look as his fellow Slytherin grabbed the top of the mold and plunked it down on his plate.

Deciding not to say anything, Draco discretely helped himself to a piece of apple pie and added a bit of whipped cream on top.  His silver eyes moved to the staff table again, unconnectedly and quickly, and found whatever the commotion had been was now settling down.  How disappointing.

Glancing about him, he was amused and disgusted to find Hermione Granger touching that weasel's shoulder.  No doubt they were talking about their beloved Golden Boy.  Yes, he could see the pricks of the tears in Hermione's eye and he half expected Ron to sweep her up in a hug.  Thankfully, he did not, and instead the two turned to watch Seamus Finnegan do his wonders with a piece of pumpkin pie.

Lord, this whole occasion was dull.  At least in class he could use his wand to explode things, or levitate things, or at least disarm them.  In class he could learn something, or at least pretend he was learning.  It was true he already knew most of the material they taught here—after all, what else was there to do during summer vacation when his father was away on business and his mother too ill to see to him?

But school seemed so taxing this year, despite 'supposed learning' and being around his 'fellow peers'.  Truth be told, he just wanted to get out.  Get away from the Jello-eating-wonder and the disgusting lovebirds…

"Are you alright, Draco?"

Yes, pretend like you care Pansy.  Why not?

"Fine," he snarled bitterly, casting an angry glance.

He felt no regret when he saw the sickened look in her face and the flush to her cheek.  On the contrary it only served to amuse him.  He was so desperately bored…

Perhaps one of the things that never became tiresome was tormenting Potter.  Draco enjoyed it when he said something particularly insulting towards the Golden Boy and his cheeks turned pink.  It was enjoyable watching that boy be slashed down by him—in reality if the boy could not stand up to him then there was nobody to which he could face.  Yes, before Potter tried to kill Voldemort the boy would actually have to face him…and how unlikely was that…?

There was only Quidditich to which they were true rivals on, never witty repartee, never duels (although they had not been allowed many, unfortunately) — Quidditch was the only thing that Potter truly had the upper hand on and even that was subjective.  If the boy did not come back within a week then it was highly likely that the first game between Gryffindor and Slytherin would be a victory in his favor.  There was no replacement for Harry Potter, and could it really be expected that he would catch the snitch sometime during the match if he was not there?  Draco thought not.

Was he the only one who felt the draft?  Had someone left the side door open?  Turning around he saw that it was slowly opening.  Draco watched as the beginning of a shoulder was revealed dressed in a murky thick cloak that fell to the floor, dark luxurious hair followed next, and then…

It was Harry Potter.

Draco sat there, his eyes wide, his thoughts racing—what the hell happened to him?  Where has he been?  Why does he look so different?  He has new glasses…Are those Muggle clothes he is wearing? …is his…ear pierced!?

He could say nothing to the boy, perhaps for the first time in his life.  It was as though some one had hit him over the head with a blunt object.  Only his silver eyes now flecked with deep gray, moved as he followed him across the room, as Potter made his way automatically through the labyrinth of people and over to his usual seat at the Gryffindor table.  No one knew it was him yet, no one had noticed—it was only he who knew who it was behind those no-longer circular, but sleek and stylish glasses. 

His chest felt tight, and looking down at his hands, he saw that they were shaking.

"So…," he whispered to himself, "Potter has returned…"

Moments later gasps of astonishment and surprise filled the room.

*

When Harry had sat down beside Hermione, it had taken perhaps thirty seconds for everyone to realize it was him.    At first, everyone had presumed it was just a student from a visiting house come to say hello.  But when he did not speak and instead helped himself to food and placed it on a plate that had magically appeared before him, people began to cast him side long glances.

Harry smiled softly to himself, as he ravenously helped himself to some pudding and rhubarb pie, and figured that his appearance must have altered indeed since the end of last year.  He still had a bit of his tan, so perhaps that was what it was accounting for.  Nobody expected a tan Harry Potter with an earring, messy (yet purposefully so) hair that was down to the base of his neck, and wearing Muggle clothes underneath his cape no less. 

Hermione was the first to notice, of course, and she gazed at Harry for a long moment, her eyes uncertain.

He turned to her and could not resist.  Smiling, he greeted, "Hello, Hermione."

He had not expected her to get teary eyed and this rather upset him—had he been so missed? 

Guilt flooded within him as Hermione whispered, "H-Harry?"

He grinned again, this time his teeth showing, and he questioned innocently, "Yes?"  Ah, it was too enjoyable.

She was on him in a moment, hugging him with a strength he didn't know she possessed.  Laughing he chuckled, "It's nice to see you too, Hermione!"

Ron then turned and recognition flashed in his eyes.  He was speechless, and Harry trying to wave at Ron (though somewhat impaired due to Hermione's hugging) greeted, "Hey Ron!"

"H-Harry?!"

And then came the flood…

Ron grabbed to hug him in a minute, and then, everyone (not including Gryffindor) realized that it was true; Harry Potter had come back to Hogwarts.

"What? Is Harry here?"

"Harry is back!"

"Welcome back Harry!"

"How have you been?"

"Where were you?"

"Hermione let some others get a turn!"

"It's so good to have you here again!"

"We were getting so worried!"

"What happened to you?"

"Are those new glasses?"

"Is that Ralph Lauren?"

"Have you been keeping up with your studies?"

"…Is your ear pierced?"

A moment later a crowd had formed and Harry's cheeks became somewhat sore from smiling so much.  He greeted people he knew, and first years he didn't.  He hugged countless people and felt very cheerful and promised that only Gryffindor would get the scoop from where he had been and what he had been up to.  The others would just have to wait for explanations by word of mouth. 

After a good ten minutes, Harry had finally dispersed of some of the crowd and had just settled back in the bench to eat the desserts which had disappeared as did the plates and the tables were as clean as when they had begun.

Groaning to himself, he sighed deeply.  Somehow, he had figured that would happen.  No matter, he would just go down to the kitchen before curfew and sneak some food out of Dobby.  He was sure there would be leftovers, there always were.

A moment later he was pushed out of the great hall and out down into the corridor in a crowd of people, with Ron and Hermione leading the way.  Looking over his shoulder, trying to catch Dumbledore's eye, he was rather surprised as he saw Draco Malfoy standing in the center isle, looking after him.  There was something different about this look.  Their eyes met, but a moment later he was pushed to the right towards the stairs.

Why is he…?

Had he had time to think about it, Harry would have found the turn of events odd…but nevertheless, his mind was preoccupied with other questions he wished to ask.  For the past four months, despite being in the wizarding world, he had in fact, heard no new news of Voldemort or the Death Eaters whatsoever.  He needed to talk to Hermione and Ron in private, though he had a feeling that it would not be until late at night in the privacy of the abandoned common room.

They arrived at the common room and quieting everyone down as best he could, Ron announced, "I received a note from Dumbledore that it is time for a new change of password.  The new password is 'Palmtree Figious, and won't be changed until further notice."

The red-haired boy turned towards the picture of the fat lady, and she blinked at them, cocking her head slightly, "Password?"

"Palmtree Figious," Ron replied, and the door swung open.

The swarm fell in through the hole and up the steps and into the common room.  A moment later, with the predicted butter beer in hand, Harry settled down and began the arduous task of answering the inquiries—or at least, as many as he was allowed to. 

It did not take Harry long to feel at home as he once did, amongst the crimson and the gold.  It did not take long for Harry to relish his comfortable bed, sitting in class, freely flying on his Firebolt and sending letters with Hedwig.  It was not long until Harry felt completely at home once again, despite the tempting call of the breeze outside the window pane.

*

It had been foolish of him not to eat a lot during dinner; he realized that now, however late.  Walking down the halls after hours was something Draco had grown fairly used to.  As long as you knew the nightly routes of Filch and Mrs. Norris, there was nothing to fear, despite the increased security.

As a young child, he would have been at his house celebrating a Halloween party with his father and mother and their friends and of course, their sons and daughters.  Now, the idea of throwing such a party seemed ludicrous, if not more entertaining than the perpetual eating that went on at this place.  But eating was something that he had not done and as it was he was suffering for it now.

Pausing in the weak moonlight, he heard the gentle pads of Mrs. Norris against the cool stone floor, and sneaking in behind a particularly dusty coat of armor, he stopped and waited.  His breathing became barely audible and his form as motionless as the piece of armor he now stood behind.  Eventually, she moved past in her wispy like state and five minutes later Draco deemed it safe enough to continue on his way.

Dusting off his cloak he coughed slightly and hurried off to find the kitchen.  The house elves were probably still up and about making the next day's supper. 

As he searched in vain for a room which whereabouts were vaguely known to him, his thoughts were continuously falling back to the event that had taken place earlier in the evening.  Harry Potter had returned at last, so it had seemed.  He knew not whether to be pleased or angered.  Whatever he had expected to feel, he certainly was not experiencing. For one thing, he felt very nervous and jumpy, as demonstrated to Goyle when the oaf tripped over his book bag and he spent five minutes yelling at him before deciding to go do homework in the bedroom.

As he left, he heard Pansy whisper to someone, "He is just nervous because Harry is back…"

He wanted to hit her for being right.  But what was the point?  He would get over it eventually, would he not?  It was just Potter, his rival and enemy since day one.

Technically, it was not day one, considering they had met that first time at Diagon Alley…

How different, Draco had often thought, their relationship would have been had they become friends that first day.  Perhaps he would be helping Harry with Potions and the two of them would be partners in Care of Magical Creatures.

But what was the point of thinking that?  It was Potter, wasn't it?  His family's sworn enemy?  No, he had no regrets for his youth, nor was he intending on having any.

Heaving an irritated sigh for the thoughts had made him annoyed; he forced Potter out of his head and concentrated on finding the kitchen.

It took him ten minutes to find the blasted entrance.  In his fifth and sixth year Crabbe and Goyle had often ventured down this way to sneak chicken pot pies and treacle tarts back up into the common room.  Of course, half the time the two dolts forgot they had even taken the food and a few weeks later it would be found underneath their beds, half infested with rats or ants or even both.  It was at times like these that he was glad he had the most isolated bed in the entire room, far enough from those two so that none of their 'wonderful' habits would leek over to his bed.  A few times out of sheer boredom he had accompanied the two to the kitchen and been simply fascinated to tears about the history of the house elf, as described to him by Sobbie, a new recruit from Devonshire.

Now, it seemed, he ought to have paid better attention to Crabbe and Goyle's route instead of wandering the halls all bloody evening. 

It was a stroke of luck that he ran into a house elf who had just been returning from the grounds where he had pulled up a few leeks for tomorrow's onion soup.  He liked onion soup and he would have to make sure that he remembered the 'freia breath' spell come tomorrow after dinner.

Using his charm and a few leering threats he had found himself comfortably seated on a low lying cushion as he chewed quite contentedly on an untouched Shepard's pie.  After that was finished he took a flask of pumpkin juice and wrapped up a slice of pie where he tucked it discreetly away within the folds of his night cloak.  Not wishing to stay, he barked out an excuse for leaving (for really, if you were not harsh with the blasted creatures they tried to force mountain loads of food on you), and promptly left their small, if humble domain.  After all, he had to hurry back to the common room and finish his 24 inch paper for Snape on, "The Serious Side Affects of the Fignom Plant".

Feeling severely better, yet knowing that tomorrow he would have to run a few extra miles to burn off the added fat, he made his way out into the cool, dark and mysterious night of Halloween.  His eyes remained unclouded with preconceptions and a cold wind from an open window ruffled his hair, now unrestrained and relaxed in the darkness of night.

A few seconds later, he paused and called out into the darkness, "Who's there?" for something lurked in the shadows, something not yet definable, but real, none the less.

*

It was only now, despite his complaints throughout the summer and autumn that Harry was glad he had been forced to keep up his studies outside of school.  With the assignments flown in by different owls on a weekly basis Harry was able to read the directed chapters, practice the spells (after getting a special license) and make the potions at the magical schools he had been staying. Without the continuous homework that was sent to Harry during the summer, he had no doubt that he probably would not have passed any of his classes for the first semester.  Snape, knowing him, would probably not have accepted any late work as it was, so having his assignments and potions shipped out to all his teachers, despite the cumbersome quality of mailing it, had in the end proved to be reasonable.

No doubt come tomorrow morning in potions, Snape would walk up to his desk and say, "So, Mr. Potter, do you have your 24 inch paper on 'The Serious Side Affects of the Fignom Plant'?" And thankfully he would be able to pull it out of his folder and present it to him and not have to suffer the, "No late work is accepted, you realize this, don't you, Mr. Potter?"

Probably tonight was the only 'free' night he would have in a long while.  After at least an hour and a half of answering questions, he had managed to use the excuse that he was tired after his long journey, which realistically he was.  But, his hunger outweighed his exhaustion by far.  Slipping out of the room by digging out the perpetually handy invisibility cloak, he vanished out into the dark of the halls that somehow called out to him.  It was as though something lay in the halls, waiting for him…  As he left the portrait hole the fat lady called after him, "Not even your first night and you are at it again Mr. Potter?"

Choosing not to reply, Harry crept down the stairs as fast and as quietly as he could manage.  Tomorrow he would run off these night calories, but as it was, he just needed food.  He needed to be alone, to digest food and information, and to become familiar to this school once again.  Although he loved Hogwarts, it was true that his months away had taught him a lesson he had needed to learn for a long while: there was more to magic than just Hogwarts and London.  Of course, Harry had known there were magical communities all over the world—but it had not actually 'clicked' until he had been shipped out to these schools to be taught by some of the best professors around.  In Japan at Chiyama there had been 'Ito-sensei and Kyou-sensei', in Durmstrang there had been 'Professor Svetlana and Professor Kalanch' and at Beauxbatons there had been 'Professor Charbaneu', 'Professor Lefloure' and 'Professor Malanuit'.  He had worked with them all, studied under their hands and grown and improved to a level he had not deemed possible.  By now he had mastered all elementary and intermediate spells as well as most of the advanced.  He had finally learned some handy spells that he would be able to use outside of school, but not only that—somehow he had managed to become what he had always wished and wanted to become.  He no longer felt like the new-comer to the magical community, he felt as though somehow he had a place in this world, he felt educated and not the innocent boy he had been those few months ago.  To put it succinctly, he had grown up.

Slowing his pace somewhat, Harry looked idly out at the night sky.  It felt so different being back here, back at Hogwarts.  So much had changed, and yet so much had stayed the same.  Everyone seemed so much older and more mature—as though everyone was finally realizing what he had known since his first year: that the world was a scary place.  Finally, said Ron and Hermione, the wizarding world had accepted that Voldemort had returned and was indeed just as powerful as he had been originally.

But not only had that changed.  For one thing, Ron had finally taken the initiative with Hermione and asked her out—but then of course, that had happened last spring.  Yet last spring they were still in the 'figuring one another' out phase, while now, it seemed they were in the 'comfortable to be around each other' bit.  They were an item now, and their relationship seemed more calm and comfortable, no longer ridden with screaming matches and tears and angry words.  The two, some how, where slowly making the other one change.  For one thing, Hermione, although still studious, had learned how to 'live more for the moment', or at least as much as she could.  Ron on the other hand, we finally realizing that taking notes in class really did help when it came to homework…

It seemed the only other thing that had really changed was Malfoy…but then of course, that could have been an illusion on his part.  But it did seem strange that Malfoy should actually try to talk to him, especially surrounded by all the people who hated him.  Somehow, although Harry could not explain it, the boy seemed more…fragile than he had been in the past.  Was this because of Voldemort's return, Malfoy's family, or just his growing and maturing over the summer?

Harry was not sure.

Come tomorrow though, Harry would see whether or not Malfoy had changed indeed.  He would see if he had just been fooling himself into hoping that the two of them could make amends, or whether there was any hope in actuality.  Harry felt as though hating people was something he should avoid at all costs.  He had too many people to hate as it was—too many people related to Voldemort, too many Death Eaters: and until Draco Malfoy was proved to be a Death Eater than Harry would just presume that he was not.  Somewhere along the way, Harry had grown tired of fighting for things that were not worth it—winning an argument against Malfoy no longer made the list.

Turning the corner, lost in his thoughts though cast in darkness, he stopped suddenly as did the figure opposite him.  He was no longer alone, if he had ever been. For a minute he presumed it was the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher because for a moment the person which stood before him looked very different indeed.  But as it turned out, quite ironically, it was Draco Malfoy, basked in the moonlight, peering into the shadows but finding nothing there.

"Who's there?"  Malfoy questioned in his usual cool manner, although Harry thought he could detect a hint of worry and fear towards the end.

As he stood there, debating whether or not he should actually reveal himself, he took the opportunity to study his rival.  This was probably the first time he had seen him without his hair in a slicked back sort of manner.  He looked kinder and softer this way, although still fearless and arrogant.  Yet there was something about the way his hair fell about his face now that made a gentler side appear in him, almost feminine.

Harry noticed now that although he had grown a few inches over the summer, it seemed Malfoy had as well.  Malfoy too, had been subjected to puberty and had grown and filled out in similar ways that he had.  He looked more like a man now, and not like the gawky 17 year old boys which the two of them had been before.  His voice had also changed, it was deeper and lower and more soothing, unlike than his bratty childlike voice which always sneered at him from banisters and during Quidditch practices.

Finding that he didn't care one way or another, whether Malfoy knew it was he walking around the halls at night or not (for indeed, Malfoy was doing the exact same), he slowly withdrew the hood and then unbuttoned the collar of the cloak and tossed the whole ensemble over his shoulder and stared him down in an amused fashion.  Still covered in shadows however, he could tell that Malfoy could hardly see anything.

Shall I be the illuminated one?  Harry wondered idly.

Slowly he walked out into the moonlight, the beams jumping up his skin, revealing first his legs, his chest, and finally his face where his eyes gleamed like jewels, intrigue caught in the reflection.

Draco's shock was evident, despite his best abilities to alter it into indignation.  His eyes were wide and his mouth had opened partly—but quickly he snapped it shut and replaced the startled look with an annoyed scowl, his eyes no longer wide but narrow and taxing.

"Oh.  It is just you."

Harry decided not to say anything, but instead just grinned slightly.  There was nothing to say.  It was he, after all.  The battle of insults had yet to begin.

"Couldn't make it out in the real world so you had to come crawling back here?  How pitiful, Potter."

Harry chuckled.  It was a miraculous feeling…the fact that whatever Malfoy said didn't seem to bother him anymore.  It was as though he had finally figured out the reason behind it all; Malfoy just wanted attention (but then of course, everyone did) and for him, being mean was the way to get it.  Perhaps, that was why Harry always enjoyed playing the 'hero'—he enjoyed actually succeeding, but one of these days, he knew he wouldn't.  Instead of being the hero who saved them, he would be foolish boy who died.  One day, Malfoy's words would come back to haunt him, Harry was sure—but as it was, both of them were on equal playing fields.  Malfoy was not ready to rid himself of his language, and Harry was not ready to give up his heroic attitude.

Choosing his reply carefully, but hardly cautiously, Harry questioned, "Is that so, Malfoy?"

"What the fuck do you mean, 'is that so'?  Are you so pitiful that you have forgotten how to speak as well?"  Malfoy seemed a little ill at ease, but then again, he was not used to his uncaring manner.  Harry was not used to such an emotion either.  Malfoy was not used to Harry ignoring everything he said—not even ignoring, but just truly not caring.

"No, I know how to speak, thank you," Harry replied, his emerald eyes dancing in the moonlight.  He was beginning to enjoy this game of cat and mouse.  Who was the cat?  Who was the mouse?

"Where the hell were you?  And why did you have to come back?  Without you this school had fifty percent of its problem gone, if only they would have kicked out Dumbledore as well."  Malfoy was getting desperate, Harry could tell.  Had it been the Harry from last year, he more than likely would have socked him right now—more than likely missing.  He then would have reached for his wand and fired some random spell at him, missing and alerting Mrs. Norris.  The interlude would then have ended with him running back to up to his bedroom, hungry and angry and bitter.  The two would have glared at each other in the halls, neither claiming defeat. 

But now…

Harry coughed and leaned forward so that he was but not a foot away from Malfoy's face. He noticed dimly that Mafloy's cheeks had turned pink and his breathing was somewhat heavy.  Harry smirked slightly, and noticed, to his amazement, how light were the color of Malfoy's eyes—like the color of a stormy day.

"You know Malfoy,"  Harry began, still leaning closer, although something was beginning to bother him, something he could not place his finger on, something that lurked in the shadows, that pulsated, but was not made known, "I believe it is going to be…" he paused, he was beginning to loose his strength, he needed to go soon.  For some odd reason, looking into Draco's eyes, such as he was doing now, seemed to suck away all strength, all resistance—those eyes absorbed everything he had been taught during the following the months, the patience, the skills, the words; all of them seemed to have been stolen and lost and floating adrift in those gray eyes.  This was the first time he had ever been so close to Draco, and perhaps the first time he had noticed the intensity of those charcoal gray eyes, the concentration that their depths required.  Harry gulped and tried to calm his nerves; he could not give up now, not now…

Finishing his sentence, he continued, "…a very interesting year…"

He pulled away, not fast, as though he was repulsed by being so close; yet slowly so as to confirm that he was still in control of the conversation.  Harry knew that the only way in which he was ever going to win against Draco was if he always remained in control.

Stepping back, he somehow managed to smirk and walk quietly off in the direction of the kitchen.  He knew that Draco's eyes were following his retreating figure, he knew that even after he turned the corner they would still be there, watching him.  Yet hadn't they always been there watching him, and hadn't he just taken it for granted?  Yes, he supposed it was so.

Harry reached the entrance to the kitchen, and touching the cold stone walls, he placed his heated forehead against the stone.  It was only then, only in that lonely hall, his head against the cool rationality of reality that he realized he had just referred to Malfoy as Draco.  Never had he done that before.  It had always been Malfoy, never Draco.  Was this something else that was going to change?  Was Malfoy going to be thought of as Draco but spoken and referred to as Malfoy?

 

"Shit…," Harry cursed silently to himself, knowing that he was flushing again.

Making his way into the kitchen, a house elf asked him gently, offering him a cup of pumpkin juice, "Is Mr. Harry Potter not well?  He looks very flushed!"

Perhaps he wasn't well…perhaps he wasn't…

*

What was…that?

Was that Harry Potter?

Somehow, somewhere—something had gone wrong.  What had happened?  Was Harry actually…keeping an even temper, for once?  What had happened over summer that it had altered his personality so?  It seemed incompressible that Harry could have matured that much.  Not only a few months before had the idiotic boy challenged him some random midnight duel—and now, here he was, completely ignoring any insults and actually managing to say something worthwhile in a conversation.

Taking the flask of cold pumpkin juice, Draco took a long swig.  It didn't calm his nerves as much as he had hoped.

Draco knew he was the type of person not to get easily excited by minor trivialities unless under extremely stressful situations.  Yet Harry's return hardly classified as 'stressful'—so why was it that he was so nervous and jumpy?  Why was it that the fact that Harry's blatant refusal to get angry bothered him so much?  Did Harry play a bigger impact on his life than he had first believed?  No, that couldn't be it.  That boy was just an annoying mudblood Golden Boy who was some sort of 'savior' to everyone for reasons he could not understand.

More so than that—why was he referring to him as Harry now?  It was Potter, damn it.

Looking at the window, Draco rested his head against the cool pain and tried to calm his nerves.  Something was not right.  Damn it, something was not right.  Who was that person who he had just spoken with?  Who was that calm person that should have been him?  He should be the calm and cool and collected one, not the irrational thinker and nervous and angry one.  It should have been he who found the whole conversation boring and utterly pointless.  It should have been he in designer clothes walking the hall ways at some god forsaken hour on Halloween.  It should have been he who grinned and smirked and gave witty repartees.  It should have been he.

And for the first time, probably ever, it wasn't.

Was this to say he had been satisfied with the 'old' Ha—Potter? Was this to say that he enjoyed the old, bumbling, geeky Potter better than this cool, somewhat suave and handsome version?

No, he was not handsome.  What was he thinking?  What had those damn sorry excuses for house elves served him?

Something was not right, and Draco was determined on finding out whatever was going on, whatever had happened, and whatever he could about Potter.  For the time being, Draco decided, trying to cool his nerves by pressing his forehead against the cool window pane, he would stay here and wait for Potter's return.  He would have a few words with that boy—make that façade crack.  Yes, by the end of the night, he would have Potter so blinded with rage that the two would draw wands and he would be the victor once again.  Like a fly in a spider's web, he would ensnare the poor boy.

*

Harry sat on a small low-lying cushion, his eyes unfocussed and unseeing as he looked into the leaping flames from the hearth.  The gold and blue flames called out to him; making him recall his past.  Making him remember that large golden goblet and how it felt underneath his fingers, how he had been transported away, how Cedric had died.  His dark green emerald eyes captured the glow of the coals, but only reflected its warmth.  He remained still and solitary, only rousing himself every once in a while to take a bite of pot pie.  Yet his thoughts were not focused on the past, they were not focused on things that could not be changed, things that were already written in stone.  What concerned him now was the future, and more so the present…

It was odd, this emotion he felt; one of anxiety and frustration.

It was true that he had never been able to stand up to Draco Malfoy—despite him always convincing himself that he had.  Whether it had been the time that Draco and his gang had dressed up like Dementors, or just those random scrimmages in the hall.  Somehow, Harry had always been the one affected; he had always been the one having to control his temper.

Now, although he had managed to overcome the words from Dra—Malfoy, it seemed as though another hurdle now stood in his way.

Harry wasn't even sure what that hurdle was; but somehow during the course of the summer, both of them had changed.  They were both redefined, or at least, that was his hypothesis.  Harry was no longer that dumb foolish kid who would have pounced on Malfoy and tried to hurt him—if, in the future, Harry was to loose his temper towards the Slytherin, he would find other, more devious ways to do so.

He had to remember what Lupin had told him, which was the truth, as far as he was concerned. 

His spells could kill, and he was physically stronger; yes, he could do serious damage…

A house elf named Ferny offered him some pumpkin juice, and taking it readily, Harry questioned, "Is Dobby not around?"

The other house elves, as usual, broke into a montage of whispers.  Looking about, Harry smiled slowly.  He often thought that perhaps it was wrong of him to give Dobby that crusty old sock—so far it seemed to bring him only hardships.  That scarf and all of Hermione's knitted configurations…

"Dobby is…," Ferny began nervously, "Dobby is…"

Gulping down the pumpkin juice, Harry added, "That's okay, just tell him I said hi.  I ought to be going though…"

Putting the plate in the sink full of bubbles where another house elf was merrily cleaning away, Harry wished them goodnight.  Making his way towards the door, he paused and looked over his shoulder.  A house elf lived such a simple life—was it wrong of him to wish for such a thing?

To him, his life was like web where he perpetually got caught.  A web; a web that always halted his every movement, his every action, his every desire.  Yet what were his desires in reality?  What did he desire besides the obvious?  What was it that his heart called out for in the blue light of dawn?  There was Voldemort, who eventually, he would have to face.  He wished the creature dead; of course…but after that…what was it that he really wanted?  What was it that would make him complete?  Certainly not more killing, no matter whom or what it was.  Harry did not know what he desired, subconsciously it was there, the whisper—but it had never been actually defined.  He would know when it would be presented, of course.  Or was that just an illusion on his part?  Would the thing he desire so much actually present itself and he would let it pass him by, unaware, and waiting?  Yes, he was not the spider in control, but the moth, just trying to live its life while avoiding the light…

Sighing, Harry made his way out into the cold halls of Hogwarts unaware of what he would find lurking and waiting in the shadows…

*

Harry, it seemed, was a fast eater.  Draco had only been waiting perhaps ten minutes.  But, on the other hand, it could have been that Harry could not take the company of those blasted house elves. 

They would make everyone want to eat fast just so they could escape.

Harry's footsteps were hardly slow and heavy, as though he had taken to much grog, but contrastingly they were light and casual, as though for some reason Ha—Potter wished to take his time walking down the cold and drafty halls.

His silhouette was outlined in the weak light from the crescent moon, and watching him approach the window to where he sat, Draco was somewhat amazed at how…built Potter had become.  It was not as though he looked abnormal in any way—but Draco had become so used to the small and gangly Potter who always, somehow, looked rather sickly and like a freshly born rabbit.

Getting up from his perch by the window, he called out into the darkness, "Is that you Potter?"

The footsteps stopped for a moment, as though debating whether or not to continuing in his direction.  It was true that Potter could slip down the side hall to his right, but that would have been ludicrous beyond belief.

Harry's steps continued now, and walking out into a patch of moonlight, he looked at Draco, smirking softly, his features highlighted by the gentle rays, "Who else would it be, wandering the halls in Muggle clothes?"

Draco grinned unconsciously, and making his way slightly forward, he crossed his arms and raised his eyebrows in amusement and indignation, "Designer Muggle clothes, no less."  He did have to admit, the boy cleaned up quite nicely.  It had only taken him seven years to do so…but quite nicely, none the less.

"Jealous?"  Harry questioned archly, his smirk deepening even more.

"Only a bit.  They would look better on me, is all."  Draco admitted, stepping forward so he could get better look at the black knit turtleneck with highlights of dark gray.  It appeared as though it was made out of angora…it gave Potter a softer look that balanced out with the modern style of his glasses perfectly. 

Stepping back, Draco found his eyes meeting with Potter's, and indecisive about whether or not to break the eye contact, he inquired seriously, "Where were you?"  Now, the heart of the matter, what had been dripping off his lips since the time he saw him enter the great hall, the question which had been on his mind all night, not giving him any peace whatsoever.  For some odd reason, he had to know…where the boy had gone to change him so radically.

"You mean over the summer?"  Harry asked, yawning slightly and walking towards the window to look at the frost touched grounds down below.  His lashes fell against his tanned skin.  Looking back at Draco, he grinned.  It irked Draco; Harry was being annoyingly innocent on purpose.

"What else do you think I am talking about?"  Draco grumbled irritably, leaning against the wall, but making sure that his eyes never left the Gryffindor's body.  Was he actually having an enjoyable time; talking with his rival in a cold hallway?

"Oh, well, I don't know."  Harry began, taking off his glasses and polishing them carefully.  As he did so, he continued astutely, "But to answer your question, I was away studying."  He looked up at Draco now, his eyes unclouded by the glass lens that only served as a barrier between him and the real world. 

"Studying?  That sounds very unlike you," was all Draco could manage to say, he was somewhat stunned at how different the boy looked without his glasses.  It was true, the designer frames were much better than those damn bottles—but still, despite the added fashion, they only served as a barrier in which Harry could protect himself from the real world.  Without his glasses he was uncovered and fragile.

"Well, I have changed."  Harry pointed out, placing his glasses back onto his face and morphing once again into the Potter that Draco knew.  It was a stunning transformation.

"Physically at least, mentally…well, we will see."  Now that the glasses were back on, Draco felt more in control of the conversation, or at least, he thought desperately, he could at least make somewhat better repartees.

When Harry laughed after his last comment, Draco was somewhat taken off guard and uncomfortable.  He had never heard the boy laugh, let alone in his company.  All he was used to was glares.

"You find that funny, eh, Potter?"  Draco found himself questioning, against his will, a grin sprouting on his features despite every attempt to stop it.

"Only when you say it," Harry admitted, leaning against the wall and looking at Draco in an amused way.  Something in the boy's eyes caught him at that moment, a glimmer, a flash, a glance of something that he had never seen before.  An emotion he had never imagined he could detect in the vengeful Slytherin.

"Oh. I see."  Draco's voice was somewhat subdue, somewhat fragile, somewhat without emotion.

Who was this?  Harry thought hurriedly to himself.  Was this Draco Malfoy, his hated rival since that first instance that they had met on those cold stone steps that led to the great hall?  Was this the person whose hand he had refused?  He was unsure.


Perhaps his earlier assumptions had been correct; perhaps both of them had changed. 

Suddenly, Harry felt very curious, very daring, and very boyish all at once.  Once more he was the boy of his youth; once more he felt that fear and snooping nature overtake his soul.  He could not resist.  It tasted so good, every now and then.

"Why do you care anyways?" He found himself asking.  Why indeed?  Why did the slim, pale angular boy wish whether or not here was on campus or somewhere rotting off a tree?  What was he saying?  What was he thinking?  Of course Malfoy didn't care.  He was only deluding himself. That aspect of his personality had not changed; he always tried to find the best of people in everyone.  Yes, that was perhaps his greatest weakness.

"Who said I did?"  His voice had that hard cold quality again, but it was hardly convincing.  Harry knew that the Slytherin realized he had detected something altered in its tone.  Draco was trying to cover that emotion guiltily; he was trying to pretend that he was still that boy from a year ago.

Didn't he know?

"No one.  But why were you waiting for me?"  Yes.  Why indeed.  Neither had wished to encounter each other once again, this he was sure.  Yet there was Draco, basking in the moonlight, his inky eyes meeting him, and calling out his name.  There he had stood, waiting for him, waiting to answer his questions…

"I would hardly call what I did waiting."  It was true, Draco thought.  What he had done, sitting on the cold stone and looking out into the night was hardly anything abnormal.  If that was what 'waiting' was defined as, then he had been waiting his whole life.  He had waited his life away looking out into the night and all the mysteries that it held.  All the mysteries he wished to slowly unwrap like a precious treasure.  In the night he could find his solitude, in the night he could find his peace.  Even now, in this darkness, in this light—he was calm, content; even with Potter standing but a few feet away.

It disturbed him.

"Fine…," Harry sighed, brushing away his long fine bangs away from his forehead revealing the infamous cut, only a thin sliver of silver now.  His eyes had caught the moonlight again when he turned, and now they glowed as if they had captured its light. His lips moved and his words echoed throughout the hall drafty hall, "Why do you want to talk to me?"

Why indeed?  What had possessed him to do so?  Hell if he knew.  Ever since the end of last year, somehow, nothing had been the same.  But then again, what was normality?  It was just a word, an abstract concept.  But why had he stayed out here, in the cold, just waiting to speak to Potter of all people?  Why did he wish to know about where he had been, what he had been doing?  It was not like he cared.

"I just want to see if you really have changed.  Longer hair, a tan, new clothes and an earring are one thing…but actually having intelligent conversation is another."  Well, at least, Draco thought darkly, he could still function.  At least he could still poke fun at the Golden Boy as he once had.  Yet somehow, somehow it did not seem as flavorful, this emotion, this physical feeling—it was not as satisfying.  How disappointing that was.  He would have to move on and find other prey…yet Potter had always been his favorite delicacy…

"I got a tattoo as well…but, I can't show it to you."  Harry was laughing now, his white teeth glinting in amusement.  He would have never guessed that the boy got a tattoo.  For Potter that was practically unheard of.

I wonder where it is…and what it is of… Draco thought absently to himself, trying to think of many parts of Harry's body that did not often times see the light of day.  There were too many to count…and he did not want to think about Harry's bare body and a tattoo placed somewhere on his mounds of flesh.  He did not want to think about it…

Or so he thought.

"And do I pass your criteria?  That is, is my conversation relatively intelligible?"  The damn Gryffindor was grinning now.  Was he actually amusing to Potter?  Well, that was a first.  He had always assumed the boy found him just as annoying as he found the boy.

"Wouldn't you like to know?"  Draco grinned in return, his smile wavering somewhat when he actually realized for the second time that he was enjoying the conversation.  He would have to put a stop to this.  Draco's expression faded, although his throat grew very tight as he saw Potter take a step towards him, the perpetual grin still plastered against his face.  Didn't he know?  That moment was over.  It was gone.

"Actually, I would."  Potter stepped closer.  Draco was unsure whether or not to take a step back.  But to back down from Potter?  Unheard of.  No, he would stand his ground.  Somehow, he was beginning to have an inkling that it was he being caught in the web this evening…

"I cannot actually disclose this information to the likes of you, Potter."  Yes, he was getting caught damn it, in the quagmire of the boy's green eyes.

"Well, that is very typical of you."  Damn it.

"I know."

There were no other words he could say.  Draco felt himself loosing his momentum.  Like so many Quidditch games before him, the snitch was just out of his grasp.  Potter would get it as usual, and he would return to his bed and fall asleep cursing the boy's name. 

But wasn't this what he wanted?  To hate the boy was better than actually being able to tolerate him.  Once one learned to tolerate, it grew into friendship, something he head learned to avoid at all costs.  He wasn't Lucious Malfoy's son for nothing.

Each was waiting now, waiting for the other, waiting for the end, or the beginning of the conversation.  Waiting and holding their breath and wanting to look away but somehow unable to.  Perhaps both were the moths temporarily drawn to each other's ever appealing light.  Perhaps that was the way it was, at least for this night…this night of the dead, this night of Halloween.

"Have you played Gryfinndor yet?"

It had been a silly, outright stupid question.  Whatever had possessed him to say it, Harry was unsure.  For some reason though, he did not regret it.  It was over and done with, and now all that remained was the response.

"No.  That is next week.  You made it back conveniently in time for the game."  Draco had run his hand through his light silver hair, and Harry realized how soft it looked, especially now under this glass moon.

"That is a relief."  He could think of nothing to say.  Harry realized he was only stalling for something substantial in the conversation, yet at the moment he truly did not care.  Despite the fact that exhaustion was beginning to massage his body, he stifled his yawn and continued on a bit longer.  After all, how many opportunities such as this would he have? 

"Yes, considering you are the only decent player on the team."  Had it been any other time, any other place, Harry was positive that he would have lost his temper.  Who was Draco to talk of teams?  Yet perhaps now things would change for all times.  It was not as though what the Slytherin had said hurt him, because somehow his attacks seemed blunter now.  No longer did they leer at him threateningly, their sharpness glinting in the silver light.

"Well, there is Ron…"  It was true, there was Ron.  Yet Harry knew, just as he was sure this person standing across from him did, that although Ron played some excellent moves, he was hardly…

But he would not finish that thought.  Ron was his best friend, and as such, it required a blind loyalty that seemed to falter when he was around this pale boy.

"As I said, you are the only decent player on the team."  His words seemed somehow to wrap around Harry and he was oddly surprised and pleased at how receiving an outright compliment from his rival felt.  Yes, he had been told such things before by other people, but there was a respect between the two.  It was as though, for some time now, Harry had been subconsciously waiting for such words of praise from his rival.  He had been waiting, and now they came.

"Is that a compliment, Malfoy?"

"Hardly."  But he was smiling, or smirking perhaps in his case.  His words lacked the malicious intent and intonation.  And for some reason, Harry wished to smile as well, as though they were friends.

But they were not friends, just acquaintances on stormy relations.

"Well then, hopefully I may live up to your standards." 

In reality Harry hoped that he could.  He hoped that his skills would make Draco Malfoy respect him, even begrudgingly so.  Yes, he had changed, for the better in his opinion, and now this transformation would demand the respect it seemed he felt he had lost somewhere along the way.  In those instances during past years it had only been his name that pulled him through the muck and grime he had chosen to walk through; it was not his own standards or chivalry or magic.  Now, though, the thought of demanding such honor seemed appealing and more so than that, attainable.

Looking across at the silver haired boy, Harry was still somewhat stunned that this conversation was taking place.   Yet besides what lay on the icy surface of their relationship, beneath these words and through their flickered eye contact—something else remained.  It was an emotion, a fleeting feeling of hope against all utter hope, against all reason and misunderstandings.

To put it succinctly, the past, their past, had been thrown off in one fell swoop.  If, in the future, should they want to return to this past, this lifestyle, that was their choice.  Yet for one evening, one evening alone, they had found each other amongst the rubble of their history and the hope of their future.

"I don't have standards when it comes to you."

Draco realized that saying such words left a bland taste in his mouth, turning it dry.  He wished not to say such things, but he loved playing his role…it was his part to play and no one else's.  Past or present be damned, their personal philosophies didn't matter at ounce.  In fact, nothing mattered. Their rivalry, their profound hatred for one another (which still existed) their place in the world—to him he did not care.

It seemed highly unlikely that Potter would go telling all his friends of the 'changed' Malfoy he had found in the hall during the late hours of the night.  Potter did not want his already fragile reputation to be smashed against the floors like a vile in Professor Snape's class.  The boy had standards, as did he.  Neither would go whispering of this evening.

And that, in itself excited him beyond all belief.  The fact that he truly could do anything in this one night, the fact that time had stopped for them, and any desires he had—they could be taken out on the Golden Boy.  Anything that had haunted him during the dark and lonely nights of these past years could finally be brought to the surface.

He could have his way if he so chose…

Hah, amusing to say the least.  How delicately amusing…

"Hmm, interesting," Potter's voice whispered in a hushed, if not intrigued fashion.  His eyes glinted once again, not yet knowing the hunger that lay within him even now.

Indeed it was interesting.  You do not know on what dangerous grounds you now tread.  You do not, in that pure and innocent mind of yours, have the capabilities to even surmise what I might be plotting.  You do not know that I could easily take advantage of this situation, could easily have you now if I wished.  I could taste you, and your insides.  I could feel you against my skin.  And when I was done, what would you say?  What could you say?  There was nothing, no way out.  I, as I have always been, will get control in some way or another.  In your subconscious is where I lie, though perhaps you are unaware.

You look at me now, behind those new designer glasses and in that flattering attire—you may think you have learned more and are a different person.  Perhaps you are.  But not so different that you would not be repulsed at my proposition.  Not so much that you would actually accept what I have to offer you.

"If you believe so."

If he believed so indeed.

"Well, I suppose I ought to be going."

Ah, perhaps Potter was figuring it out now.  Perhaps he saw the way he was slowly coming towards his figure.  Slowly slithering towards him, waiting to bind him in his coils.  Bondage indeed. Yes, Harry would see his intent and would flee into the refuge of his world of ideals, his ideals of morality and integrity.

"Yes, lucky you, you get to write a 24 inch paper for Snape."  No, he was loosing him now, this moment was slowly fading, Draco realized.  There was no point in continuing the effort, at least not tonight.  The two of them would find other nights, rousing from their beds with their insomnia perpetually following them behind the masks of dark dreams.  But, thought Draco, he liked the dark.  He liked finding things in the dark, things that could not be seen by the light of day.  They would find each other again, Draco was sure of it.  And perhaps during those nights, the same emotion would lie in Harry's eyes.  That same hunger, undaunted by the facts of what was good and what was moral and what was correct.  All that be damned.  What did it matter if he fantasized about the boy beneath him?  Most likely it was out of sheer boredom.  Yes, having thoughts of their bodies pressed together, greasy with sweat and liquid—that was much more pleasing than going over Herbology notes indeed.

"Oh, I have already done that.  Did you expect me not to have done any homework at all?"

Harry was laughing again now, a faint color coming to his cheeks, even apparent in the weak light.  It was a soft, genuine and ironic sort of laugh.  It was attractive.

"Well, truthfully, yes.  It is you, Potter."

Ah, here they were, they had transcended that physical want once again, overlooked what each of them desired—and now feigned ignorance and innocence, at least, as much as could be allowed.

"Hmm, well, perhaps I have changed after all."

Perhaps he had.  Harry was allowing himself to be caught willingly in his web, even though he had stopped his advance, though Draco's eyes still remained on the target.  They flicked over his body, from his eyes to his shoulders, and down and down and down.

"This is all very fascinating, Potter, but really--," He wanted to just get it over with.  Something. Anything.  Now.

"Well, g'night then,"  Harry replied, his voice deep and filled with his newfound maturity.  It was a sensual voice, full of meaning and thickness and leaving a sweet aftertaste in the air.  Idly Draco wondered if his voice sounded like that.  He had always figured himself attractive, and that included his voice, did it not?

But now, Harry was turning to make his way back to his bed, and Draco felt as though something remained unsaid and undone.  Yes, there was the obvious from his point of view—but this night nor its emotions could ever be regained.  After these final words it would disappear from time and space and memory; and only the two of them would know it had taken place.

Harry began to walk away.  Something was happening, to him and to Malfoy.  It had gone beyond that momentarily emotion of friendliness.  Somehow, in the course of the conversation there had been other things spoken in the shadows besides the words.  There had been other things hinted in his tone, in his expression in his mannerisms.  Yes, Harry had tried very hard to play the fool, and he thought idly, that somehow, somehow, he had managed to convince Malfoy that he was not aware of what had taken place.

Yes, he had felt that emotion as well…

"Wait."

Draco's voice was hard, in that cold calculating manner that Harry knew so well.  It calmed his nerves and overheated body almost instantly.  Yet, all those sticky smoldering emotions washed over him once again when he felt the warm wet breath of Draco Malfoy against his neck.  Harry could detect his scent, and he did not want to admit how good it smelled.  He did not want to admit what it did to him…

"What?" Harry knew he had to remain calm, quiet, collected; and above all things cold and resilient.  He had to play this mask of an unemotional being a bit longer. Just a bit…for if he played this part for too long, he realized he would crack under the pressure.  He would succumb.

"It wasn't the same without you here."

The words had come tumbling out and before the two realized it they were facing each other.  It had been as unexpected as a summer shower in the month of December.  Yet it remained, those words, still floating in the air—waiting to be acknowledged.

"You really must not be feeling well, Malfoy.  That was the second compliment you paid me tonight," Harry tried to brush it off, yet he knew that something had happened.  Something…

He did not want to think about what he felt—what he felt was wrong on all levels, on every level.  It was wrong and yet so right at the same time.  What he felt was one sided in every respect, Draco Malfoy was just toying with his precarious emotions, using him to his own twisted demands.  He would not submit so easily, he would not fall to the likes of those silver eyes…

Harry took a step back, and then another and then another.

It was over now.  Done.  Finished.  That, no, this was the end.

Draco blinked, his strange expression falling slowly off his features only to be replaced by the grim, and cold smirk.  An expression Harry felt he could handle better.  His thin pink lips moved and whispered the words in an icy voice, his breath floating in front of him.  It had grown that cold in this one instance. "A momentary setback is all.  Don't get used to them."

The halls were now empty, cold and bare.  There were no words, no whispers, and no desires hidden amongst the mortar.  There was only reality and its solid harshness. There was only the moonlight of the Halloween night, and the two flies caught in the spider's web…

*