Draco felt empty and as cold as the heavily ornate stone walls of the dungeon that surrounded him. He shivered, pressing a fringed couch pillow to his chest, its cool satin leeching the warm blood directly upon entering his arteries. Cold. To a semi-objective observer in the room the bluish shadows the cold painted on his lips and temples would have seemed aesthetic, giving his face a bit of desperately needed color. But he was alone, and to Draco the cold seemed feverish, cold concealing heat, the ultimate treachery

It wasn't how Draco had expected sex to be. Then again, he hadn't really been sure what to expect; his father's advice had been limited to the price of a polyjuice prostitute. And his mother, well, Draco was the only evidence that she knew that sex existed.

Most people were home for the holidays, and for the few students rattling around the castle like marbles in Bedlam, the past ten minutes had been nothing more than a snatch of holiday flavored with peppermint and dirty socks, at worst a tinge of stomach-ache. For Draco, it had been a turning point.

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For someone else in the castle it had been, if not a turning point, a tiny melodious click of a key. It left him feeling slightly bruised and selfish. Unthinkingly, Harry made his way out, the red and yellow of the Griffindor common room seemed too brightly oppressive for the tiny epiphany aching somewhere below his left lung. Just as the portrait hole clicked shut behind him--this click not evocative but instead reproachful--Harry reached out reflexively to grasp the already shut door. The blank canvas looked back at him mockingly. Rumors were flying, especially among the portraits; most of the students were too incredulous or too tired of secrets to lend an ear or to do much more than massage an aching stomach to make room for another chocolate frog. The almost nonexistent trickle of students in and out of the common rooms, the only places magic consistently worked now at Hogwarts, aside from a few odd classroom, and the portraits' predilection for gossip, led to the guardian portraits being absent more often than not.

It had been a time of epiphanies, Harry thought, shivering as he expelled his last lungful of warm common room air for the frigid air of the magicless castle. Voldemort had had one that many would have said was long due; Dumbledore was his superior in ability, if not in lack of scruple, and had promptly set out to destroy aspects of magic. Fire and heat had been the first to flicker, but surprisingly had not yet failed, perhaps due to the promethean innateness of the magic. In the common room, Harry, just like everyone else, tried to forget; but unlike everyone else, failed. He did not fail, however, to forget his cloak every time he ventured into the icy main portion of the castle.

Coming sharply around a corner Harry came upon Hermione; a warm cloak responsibly wrapped around her thin shoulders, but dazedly oblivious to its being wide open; Goosebumps lining her pale arms, tiny hairs at attention. No doubt she was worried about Ron; they had started dating only 3 weeks before the start of the holidays, her thin pale hand awkwardly finding his large freckled one in the halls. And, Harry could only imagine, their lips doing the same when they were alone, noses softly bumping. Harry tried to feel some sort of worry for Ron, incommunicado for over a week, but failed. The epiphany left room for thought but not for feeling. Harry and Hermione maintained that Errol had probably died enroute, but the joke died in their mouths; and here Hermione was, sitting as slumped as the failed humor on a cold stone bench, her eyes dreamy but her mouth set in thin line.

Sitting down beside her, his knee calculatedly bumping hers mercifully breaks her reverie. No doubt, in her minds eye black haired vampires bore down on Ron's freckled neck, or worse. "Harry," she breaths, the word making a nebulous cloud around her lips. With nothing to say, Harry leans forward and kisses her.

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With a grunt of annoyance he pushed the door closed behind him and locked it The lock on this door, he thought, made a particularly satisfying click. Later he would wonder why the door on a hotel closet locked from the inside, but then Ron Weasley was primarily concerned with wedging himself as comfortably as possible into the cramped space. Brushing his slightly too-long hair back from his temples he smoothed a crumpled parchment across his knees and in his barely legible scrawl began his letter, "Dear Hermione." It was then, with the quill smearing ink on his lip, as if he were trying to literally send her a kiss, that he heard the first scream.

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His lips pressed hers for what seemed forever before her body interpreted what was happening as a kiss. She opened her eyes and stared into his green eyes, equally wide in shock, as if the kiss had been the result of some strange instinct or reflex, and not of any actual action on either part. When his tongue parted her lips, coaxing them out of their tiny line, he proves a much better kisser than Ron, more careful and experienced; but there is a strange taste to his mouth, slightly sour. His lips are looser than she would have expected from the brief duration of the kiss, in fact, his body language seems more suited to a good-bye kiss than an initiation.

She leans into the kiss anyway. The shock of it feels good, and his hands have come up to her shoulders, holding her ambiguously--not pulling her close, but not pushing her away either. He mumbles something into her mouth that doesn't quite sound like her name and she pulls away to allow him to speak, finding her cheeks wet with tears.

"As I was saying," Harry says, "Professor Snape." Harry nods in the direction of the statue behind her, and Hermione turns to see a head of greasy hair and a disapproving mouth. And, a hint of amusement?

"Interesting effect you have on women, Potter," Snape sneers, still with the suspicious turn to the corner of his mouth suggestive of mirth.

"Just keeping warm, professor," Harry replies; his words cheeky, but his voice a mixture of huskiness from the kiss and a strange professional briskness.

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The scream was terrible; high pitched and filled with more agony than he thought possible to convey with a human voice, much less experience. Ron paused, inky lips slightly open, trying to make sense of the pain in the scream. The next few moments will be indelibly etched on Ron's consciousness. Standing in the tiny closet, quill and parchment tumbling to the floor. The irregular stain on the back of the closet door. The click of the door as he flings it open, faint and not at all satisfying. The darkened bedroom is identical to when he had taken refuge in the closet, but the passing vibrations have given a sinister cast to his mother's nightgown and the half empty glass of water on the bedstead. The door to the next room wavers, something nightmarish in its shade of green. He opens the door. The next room in complete disarray, the newspaper drawn and quartered, feathers strewn. And then he sees, he sees but he wants to close his eyes; but even the tiny muscles in his eyelids are frozen and he can't escape the site of his father's body, the chest ripped open, a gaping cavity.

Later Ron will be told that the spell used on his father has the nasty side effect of ripping out the heart along with the soul. But then, Ron is frantically multitasking; trying to close his eyes; trying to look away from the bloody hole where, before he turned 12 and grew taller than his father, he used to rest his head; trying not to scream or vomit; trying to think, where are his mother, his sister, his brothers; where should he go? And then, mechanically, his muscles come back to life and, the tears frozen in his eyes, Ron picks up the newspapers and uncovers a feebly gasping Errol sans feathers. Stacking the newspapers neatly on a chair, Ron reaches for the cup his father had probably dropped while being murdered. Murdered. Feeling suddenly rushes back into him, a cold wave of panic. The cup falls from his hands and lets out a disgruntled shriek upon hitting the floor.

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