DISCLAIMER: All canon characters and the Harry Potter-verse belongs to J K Rowling, and all "Malfoy Ambition" related things belong to Goddess Blue. Everything else belongs to me.
WARNINGS: Female Harry, Draco/Harry pairing, spoilers from possibly all the Harry Potter books, slight OOCness, cliches, and a bit of coarse language that will appear here and there.
A/N: YOU CAN SKIP THIS PART IF YOU WANT. But since I'm updating after almost a year, I feel like I owe you all an explanation. I know I said I'd stop updating to study for my A' levels. That was last June. Well, exams took a month, then I went on a 3 week vacation to Malaysia and then came down with the flu after I returned. Didn't write at all during that time. However, the real reason why it took me this long is that afterwards, I completely lost inspiration. The very thought of writing sickened me. I just did. not. want. to. write. My writing mojo and motivation began to return somewhere near the end Dec 2010 and I began to write bits and pieces again. However, the full inspiration returned only around the end of Jan 2011, but by then, I had started University and my lecturers are merciless with assignments and projects even in the first semester. So, when I had the time to write, I lost my motivation. When my motivation finally returned, I lost the time. Thus, the long hiatus. I have been apologising on my profile and on my Formspring continously, and I apologise yet again. And I hope that you guys understand and can forgive me.
DEDICATION: Firstly, for Acara Whitefox, who wrote the lovely piece "Unorthodox Matchmakers: Draco's Thoughts on Her" - a fic inspired by this story, which is an insight to how Draco discovered his feelings for Harry through the canon years. It's a short, beautiful and absolutely brilliant fic; thanks so much, Acara! Forget this chapter, go read that now! :D You can find a link to it at the bottom of my profile.
Secondly, for my mysterious Formspring Valentine, as a very belated Valentine's Day gift. I'm late, but ... oh well ... I love you xD :P
And last but not least, for all my wonderful readers that have been waiting for this since forever. I'm very thankful for all your support and encouragement. Every review, every concrit, every message telling me to get off my ass and update - I read and appreciate them all. Thank you so much. =)
CHAPTER TWENTY: CHAOS ENSUES
Once the shock wore off, Harry completely understood why Malfoy had done what he had, she really did. Waving the engagement ring on her finger under Lisa Turpin's nose was the ultimate way to rub in the fact that Malfoy was an unavailable man – or more accurately, that Turpin could never have him for herself. It was a malicious approach to curing the Ravenclaw of her obstinate delusion that Draco Malfoy was cheating on his "actual fiancée" with Hariah engagement-wrecker Potter. Moreover, Turpin's resulting humiliation was a (somewhat) fine revenge for what she had done.
So, really, Harry perfectly understood Malfoy's impulsive plan of action. She just could not figure out why he had to kiss her. Especially considering that Lisa Turpin had long since stormed away, howling.
It made even less sense why she was simply standing there, completely stupefied, giving him free reign.
Perhaps what made the least sense of all was that, when she felt a warm tongue languidly trace the length of her lower lip, she automatically parted her lips without thinking, thus allowing him to plunder her mouth. His tongue slid along hers in sensual swirls, coaxing her to respond to his touch.
Her heart immediately seemed to go out of control and she shivered. Suddenly jolted out of her stupor, Harry's numbed mind finally caught up with her situation. She tensed at once, turning stiff in his arms.
It took several moments for the Slytherin to sense that it was high time to back off. He broke away from her as abruptly as if he had been electrocuted.
An oppressive silence fell around them as Harry and Malfoy stared at each other, now standing some five feet apart in the empty Entrance Hall. Harry ignored the way her lips tingled as she tried to school her face to look blank and expressionless. Her heart was still hammering away in her chest and she had no idea how she was feeling, much less how she should react. The closest thing she could think of was the way she had felt the first time Malfoy had kissed her in front of the Quidditch changing rooms. Only, this time, it was a tad less shocking and a hundred times more awkward, considering where their tenuous relationship stood.
Malfoy, who was quite masterfully failing to mask his uncertainty, opened his mouth to speak, but three tongue-tied seconds later, he closed it again. Awkwardly, Harry cleared her throat.
'So ...' she muttered, glad that her voice was steady and emotionless. The words came to her out of nowhere: 'What was that again about "shouldn't kiss me out of the blue" you mentioned a little while ago?'
He blinked, looking a little taken aback. 'I – I was just making a point to Turpin!' he said rather defiantly.
'Who? Oh, you mean the girl that already left this place, what, ten minutes ago?'
Harry was rather surprised at the words that were coming out of her mouth. She was having a hard time trying to make head or tail of what she was feeling with regards to Malfoy's unexpected kiss, yet here she was, pretending to be utterly calm about it and sarcastic to boot.
Malfoy, meanwhile, was gaping at her, mouth open somewhat. Clearly he had not been expecting such a reaction from her.
'Exaggerate much, Potter?' he said at length. Then, probably in retaliation for her sarcasm, he coolly added with a raised eyebrow, 'Though, to be fair, I did it with your consent.'
That completely threw her.
'What consent?' Harry demanded hotly.
'You allowed me to kiss you for ten minutes,' he drawled. A smirk that was all too familiar quirked his lips as he looked at her, grey eyes dancing with sudden amusement. 'If a girl shows no resistance to being kissed within the first ten seconds, then it can be perceived as consent, wouldn't you agree?'
Harry was torn in two. On one hand, her temper was flaring; an old reflex to his irritating remarks and that bloody overdone smirk. But on the other hand, she was also rather fixated on his abrupt change of attitude. She paused, reflecting on all her interactions with Draco Malfoy for the past several weeks. He had been an aloof ice cube most of the time, especially before he had discovered her to be his fiancée. However, there were a handful of occasions when he had easily reverted back to his old personality, most notably that time he had "harassed" her outside the Headmistress' office.
There seemed to be two Draco Malfoys. One that was the withdrawn, aloof aristocrat, and the other that was the sneering, aggravating Slytherin. Which one of them was real? Or was it possibly just one person who simply showed different sides of himself to her?
Draco Malfoy, Harry mused, really was a confusing enigma. She vaguely wondered which side of him she preferred. His indifferent nature seemed appealing as it did not send her blood pressure skyrocketing every time, but then again, his mocking, infuriating side certainly did add a bit more colour to his persona.
'Cat got your tongue, Potter?' Malfoy asked lightly when she did not respond, jerking her back to the present. 'Or rather, you agree with what I said, don't you?'
'No, I don't,' Harry said at once, folding her arms across her chest.
'Really, so stubborn. Is it a Lion trait?' Malfoy looked at her with an infuriating leer as he lazily leaned again the newel post of the marble staircase
She scowled crossly at him. 'You just caught me off guard, is all. I would've never consented for you to – to ... um, do that.'
Her stammer only served to broaden his grin. Harry got the feeling that he was enjoying their exchange.
'You were caught off guard for ten minutes? Really, now.'
'Fine, I get it; I exaggerated about the ten minutes! But I did not consent.' Harry had to fight not to lose control as her exasperation rose to new heights. How was it that he could get a rise out of her so easily?
Malfoy's eyebrow had disappeared beneath his fringe. 'No? Then why did you kiss me back?'
Her jaw nearly hit the ground and her arms fell loosely to her sides. 'What? What ... no, I –!'
'You were enjoying it. I could feel you.' His enjoyment was evident in his tone.
Harry's hands had balled into fists. She looked at him with narrowed eyes. 'Keep that up, Malfoy, and I just might punch you into the next century,' she warned him in a growl.
At her words, his lips turned down slightly. Tilting his head to the side, he gave her a rather thoughtful look. 'Now that's more like how I thought you would react.'
Harry blinked, nonplussed. 'What?'
'I was expecting you to hit me earlier,' he explained. Then his face broke into an amused grin. 'But instead you started the whole "ten minutes" nonsense.'
The Gryffindor could feel her face colouring. 'I – well, I still haven't ruled out hitting you,' she told him firmly, trying to sound dignified. Another thought popped into her head and she added haughtily, 'Though I certainly have ruled out apologising.'
That, if nothing else, completely snagged his attention. 'What do you mean?' he asked, straightening.
Now it was Harry's turn to do the drawling. 'Well, earlier tonight while you were belting out all those endless apologies, I figured that I should do my part and apologise for my mistakes as well. But I've changed my mind.'
Malfoy took no notice of her latter words. 'What were you going to apologise for?' he asked seriously.
Harry almost told him – about the time she had punched him and all the unfair accusations she had made – but stopped at the last moment. 'No longer matters now, does it? In my opinion, the way you "proved your point" tonight fairly cancels out what I was going to apologise for.'
The Slytherin looked at her intensely for a few seconds as if waiting for her to continue, but when she remained silent, he said, 'So you won't tell me ... But we are even, then?'
Harry paused, taken aback at his response. 'I ... suppose so.'
'And you still intend to work on this engagement with me?'
Harry was a little startled. In the blink of an eye, the Slytherin had suddenly gone back to being the other Draco Malfoy, the withdrawn sombre one who had apologised and discussed their situation with her in the DA chamber. How had that happened?
Harry swallowed uncertainly. 'Er ... Yes, I did say so tonight, didn't I?'
Malfoy looked pleased and not arrogantly so. It was very different from his trademark smirk, rather like the way he had smiled at her the night he had overheard her talking to the Grey Lady. Harry could not help thinking that his true smile, though slight, should appear on his face more frequently. It made him look more human and, quite honestly, it was rather nice to look at...
She blinked, realising that she was staring at the curve of his lips. And speaking of which...
'Eh, Malfoy, about figuring out this engagement ...' She squirmed uncomfortably. 'If you want this to work, then ... what you did tonight ... um ...' Her voice trailed off.
Malfoy realised what she was trying to say. Slipping his hands into his pockets, he said amusedly, 'Don't worry, Potter. The next time I kiss you, I'll be sure to warn you beforehand.'
The thought of a "next time" sent the blood rushing to her face and Harry scowled. 'Actually, I was going to suggest that you just don't do it at all,' she told him irately.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow, smirking. 'What, can't a man kiss the woman he intends to marry?'
And the old cocksure Draco Malfoy was back, complete with a newfound alacrity to express romantic feelings for her with no hesitation whatsoever. Harry almost groaned, half-embarrassed at how straightforwardly he had spoken and half-exasperated at his change of attitude yet again.
'You're acting very different from earlier tonight,' she told him sourly, trying to ignore the blush that had flooded her cheeks. 'Can't you just settle on one personality?' The last part was spoken under her breath, but Malfoy heard her anyway.
He gazed steadily at her with inscrutable eyes, now expressionless once more. After a few seconds, 'You're the one who does that to me,' he muttered, almost to himself.
'Eh?' Harry said intelligently, but Malfoy waved her monosyllabic question away.
'We should get back to our common rooms; it's already curfew,' he said, glancing at his wristwatch. 'I'm glad we got to sort out some things.'
'I suppose ...' she said slowly, still eyeing him with curiosity.
'And by this time tomorrow, Turpin would have told everyone about us, so brace yourself.'
Malfoy looked gravely at her before letting his gaze drop to linger on her lips. His grey eyes glinted.
'Potter ...' He leaned forward deliberately, looking deadly serious '... may I kiss you goodnight?'
'What?' Harry leapt back automatically, eyes widening.
The blond straightened with a low snicker. 'You have always been so absurdly easy to tease,' he smirked and turned to head towards the dungeons.
Harry watched him go, becoming annoyed again. "Absurdly easy to tease"? What was he, referring to all the times he had mocked and insulted her in the past?
'Malfoy ...' she growled, glaring at his blond head.
He paused by the dungeon entrance to glance at her. 'Malfoy? How about you start calling me Draco ... Harry?'
And then he was gone, the darkness swallowing him whole and all that floated back was the disembodied sound of his fading footsteps.
When Draco entered the Slytherin common room that night, Blaise took one look at the contented expression on his face and returned to his homework, openly smirking. Draco noticed, but could not bring himself to care. Still reeling from the evening's events, he slowly made his way to the seventh year dormitory, unable to shake the goofy smile off his face.
He had accomplished what he had set out to do. He had apologised to his fiancée and been forgiven. Or at least, he thought he was. If Potter was on civil speaking terms with him again and was still in agreement with their engagement, then surely that meant she had let him off, right?
Without bothering to light the candelabras, Draco closed his eyes as he lay back on his bed and folded his arms under his head. He was pleased that they had managed to talk – genuinely talk – about their situation; and it had, unbelievably, gone extremely well. There had been no angry words exchanged (with a negligible few), no accusations and no painful punches thrown. Such an incredible occurrence surely ranked amongst miracles.
And then the kiss ... It had been impulsive and reckless. He had never planned it. The only thought that had fuelled him was to humiliate that presumptuous, nosy Ravenclaw; no consideration had been given to the consequences of his actions. Without thinking, purely on a whim, he had just grabbed Potter and...
Draco grinned into the darkness. Before this night, he had not even allowed himself to hope that he would be allowed to kiss Hariah Potter again so soon after their first one (well, technically second, if you counted the incident in the library). Even the odds of being able to hold her had seemed less than zero. However, the evening had proved them all otherwise. Draco chuckled softly. He just might thank Lisa Turpin one day.
His thoughts ran over the aftermath of the kiss. Potter had been shaken and embarrassed, of that there was no doubt; yet, she had shown remarkable self-control – until he had provoked her with his comments, of course. Another smile curled his lips. He loved it that he could make her fire up like that with such passion. Draco had never seen Potter respond to any other person the way she did to him. It was a connection they had only with each other; an unacknowledged bond that they, as hot-headed arch-enemies, had begun to share since long ago, without ever having realised it. And it still was going strong; he could still make Potter react to him like no one else could.
Come to think of it, the same principle applied to him as well. Draco recalled what Potter had said earlier: Can't you just settle on one personality? Her words had been confusing before he had comprehended what she meant. It had come as a mild shock to realise that he did act differently around Hariah Potter.
After the War and the prison trials, he had always been so careful to maintain an emotionless mask in company, determined not to get too close to anyone; to guard himself from the world around him. And yet, during many of his encounters with his fiancée after returning to Hogwarts, he had unwittingly settled back into his old personality without effort. The same thing had happened earlier that night. It felt just so easy, so natural to tease and provoke her. His intuitive desire to make her react to him, to get any reaction at all, was so deeply-rooted that he never noticed when and how his old demeanour took over.
He had meant it when he told her that she was the only one who had such an effect on him. Not even Blaise, who was a closer and more intelligent friend than Crabbe and Goyle had been, could affect him like that.
The goofy grin was back on his face. With a contented sigh, Draco stretched out luxuriously on his bed. Nothing, not even the thought of Lisa Turpin spreading the "official announcement" around the school tomorrow, could distract him from his current bliss.
Tap tap tap.
But a knock on his door might.
Fighting off a scowl, Draco pulled himself up into a sitting position. 'What?' He growled at the doorway.
A familiar figure stood silhouetted against the dim light that shone beyond the dormitory door. Millicent Bulstrode took another step into the darkened room, peering at his indistinct profile.
'What's this daunting atmosphere, Malfoy?' Her sardonic voice came floating through the darkness. 'All the candles took flight while you were out? Or has the art of using a wand escaped you?'
She breathed a quiet incantation and the candelabras flared up instantaneously, painting the stone walls of the dormitory gold. Draco blinked rapidly, his eyes paining in the sudden light.
'What do you want, Millicent?' He grunted, dragging a hand over his eyes. 'I really have no wish for your sarcasm, hallowed though it certainly is, if that's why you're here –'
'Hark who's talking,' she retorted with a roll of her eyes. Moving to take a seat on Blaise' empty bed, she continued drily, 'Obviously, I have better things to do than intrude upon your lair of darkness and grace you with my superior sarcasm, but I want a word with you. Blaise mentioned you were here alone.'
Draco was a little surprised. He had known Millicent all seven years at Hogwarts, but they had never been close associates. Certainly not close enough to want a private word with each other, when there were plenty of other good friends around, such as Daphne Greengrass and Tracy Davis for Millicent.
Alive with curiosity, Draco swung his legs off the bed so that he was facing her directly. 'Fine, then. Go ahead.'
For the first time since entering the room, the aloof expression faded from Millicent's face. She dropped her eyes to somewhere around his shins, avoiding his avid gaze. Draco's interest immediately skyrocketed, until he noticed her wringing her hands and the distinct redness around her ears and cheeks. Seeing that almost made the blond do a volte face. Obviously, it was a serious matter for Millicent, but if it was something that made her act like that, then he was not sure he wanted to be enlightened.
Nevertheless, Draco asked guardedly, 'What is it you want to talk about?'
Millicent scowled at his shin, but it appeared to be more out of embarrassment than annoyance.
'Millicent!' Draco prompted her sharply, now more on alert than ever.
Finally, the brunette deigned to answer. Raising her head, she muttered lowly, barely veiling her awkwardness, 'Seamus Finnegan.'
What with her jumbled thoughts being dominated by the "talk" she had had with Draco Malfoy in the DA chamber and his latest crime (read: kiss), Harry had trouble falling asleep that night, the repercussion of which was shooting out of bed next morning with only fifteen minutes to spare before lessons began. She zoomed around the dormitory in a frenzy, hunting for her clothes and books (which had, of course, "disappeared" as they tend to do when one is running late) while a disapproving Hermione stood with her arms folded, declaring it was not her fault that Harry had refused to awaken even after ten minutes of shouting in her ear.
'... and after the tenth slap and you still wouldn't wake, I thought it would be better to let you sleep in,' continued the bushy-haired girl, completely unfazed by the fact that her frantic friend was not sparing her a speck of attention. She rolled her eyes when Harry nearly dove under Lavender's four poster in search of her Potions textbook. 'Whatever you're looking for, Harry, you do realise that accio can save you a lot of time and trouble?'
The girl in question reappeared from under the bed, grinning sheepishly. 'Oh yeah, it completely escaped my mind.'
Hermione looked quizzically at Harry when she quickly Summoned her copy of Advanced Potions (which emerged somewhere from the very depths of her trunk). 'Why were you in such a hurry to find that?'
Harry, now in the process of digging out her robes, spared her a confused glance. 'Because Potions start in less than ten minutes and I still haven't had breakfast?'
'Harry ... it's Saturday.'
She froze, one hand still buried in her trunk. 'Saturday?'
A few seconds of silence passed and then Hermione began to laugh softly. 'Of course. Believe me, if it was a school day, I would've surely done a Parvati and drowned you in a bucket of water to get you up.'
Harry frowned a little at the unwelcome memory, but then brightened, glad it was the weekend. She really needed a break from school and the people (or maybe just one person) in it.
Hermione eyed the happy look on her face with twinkling eyes. Then, clearly suppressing a smile, asked lightly, 'So, what happened with Malfoy last night? You don't usually oversleep.'
Harry's lips turned down faster than a flash of lightening. She looked sharply at her best friend, uncomfortably aware of the heat flooding her face. Hermione raised her eyebrows in reply, looking so innocent that a toddler would have seen right through it.
'Nothing much,' Harry muttered, looking away. Despite things concerning Draco Malfoy appeared to be slowly falling into place, she still had no desire to discuss it with her friends. It was embarrassing, not to mention just plain bizarre. Harry was also aware that there was a part of her that still could not seem to accept what was happening between her and Malfoy. Sometimes, she got the feeling that that part did not really want to, either.
Her best friend looked more than a little disappointed at her unsatisfactory answer. Seeing her open her mouth to ask, Harry brusquely interrupted, 'Nothing happened, all right, Hermione? Just leave it.'
No more words were exchanged on the subject while Harry, upon remembering that she had Quidditch practice at eleven, quickly began to dress. She felt a little guilty upon seeing the poorly veiled hurt on Hermione's face, but decided not to say anything. Though she had not meant to sound so harsh, Harry did wish that her friend would not keep pressing the matter of Draco Malfoy so much. More often than not, she found it mortifying and, on occasion, it was just simply irritating.
They were quiet as they descended the staircase together to the common room where an impatient Ron was waiting for them.
'What took you so long?' He complained as a way of morning greeting. 'Breakfast started ages ago.'
'Sorry,' Harry muttered. 'I overslept and Hermione couldn't wake me up.' She glanced at the brunette who did not meet her eyes.
Ron immediately noticed the slight tension between them. His eyes darted rapidly from one to the other and he asked uncertainly, 'Did something happen?'
'Ooh, yes, Harry, do tell. Did something happen last night?'
All three of them started at the unexpected voice. They looked around at the portrait hole where Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown had clambered into the common room. Both of them were out of breath, as if they had come running, and were eyeing the Girl Who Lived with identical Cheshire cat grins.
Well, this obviously could not be good.
Harry was immediately on her guard. 'What do you mean?' She need not have asked though. Recalling what had happened the previous night, she could guess exactly what the two girls were referring to.
'Oh, just a little rumour that's been flying around the castle during breakfast,' Parvati answered breezily, advancing on Harry with the predatory eyes of a gossip-lover who had just been fed a particularly juicy piece of gossip. Harry automatically took a step back.
'Rumour doesn't even cover it,' Lavender added. Leaning around her best friend, she flashed Harry a huge wink before looking at her gloved left hand very pointedly. 'So ... how's that injured hand of yours, Harry? Those darns cuts healed yet?'
Harry sighed inwardly. She had known this was coming. She had been mentally preparing for it from the moment she and Malfoy had agreed to go public (well, she had tried to. His actions last night might have distracted her a little, admittedly). But all the same, that preparation had not made her look forward to this confrontation and it most certainly did not make her like it. And to think that Parvati and Lavender were only just the pointy tip of the gossipers-iceberg. Before the day was over, the whole of Hogwarts would ambush her, demanding answers concerning her engagement to the Malfoy heir.
Harry looked wearily at her two dorm-mates. There was no need to reply. The "rumour" they had heard was the truth and they both knew it.
Ron and Hermione, meanwhile, were looking between the three of them with confusion mixed with dawning comprehension.
'What are you talking about?' demanded the red-head suspiciously, while Hermione said at the same time, 'What is this rumour you're talking about?'
None of them had the chance to answer for the portrait hole was suddenly almost blasted open ('What is with such violent behaviour?' shouted the Fat Lady indignantly. 'You do realise it's an offence to deface school property?') and Ginny Weasley came flying into the common room, bellowing at the top of her lungs,
'HARRY, HARRY, THEY KNOW ABOUT YOU AND MALFOY! THEY KNOW –!'
She stopped dead upon seeing the girl in question being confronted by Parvati and Lavender, and looked between them, breathing hard.
'Oh ... guess you already knew that, huh?' she mumbled, looking a little sheepish.
Parvati looked back triumphantly at Harry. 'So, it's true.'
'Never said it wasn't,' was the curt reply.
Ron finally lost patience. 'OK, will somebody please explain to me what the bloody hell is going on?' he exploded. 'What is this about a rumour and Harry injuring her hand and – and Malfoy, what –?'
'Don't you know?' Parvati raised her eyebrows. 'Draco Malfoy officially announced the identity of his fiancée last night. Isn't that right, Harry?'
'And apparently, they shared quite a snog,' added Lavender, beginning to giggle. 'Or so Lisa Turpin's been telling the whole school this morning.'
There was pin-drop silence in the few seconds it took for the news to sink in. Then, Ron and Hermione turned to Harry in unison. 'That true?' asked the former, his eyes wide with shock and disbelief.
Harry hesitated for a second, unwilling to confirm it. That part of her, the one that cringed away from the reality of her situation with her "fiancé", was nagging at her again. But she had made her decision the night before. There was no going back.
Looking Ron square in the eyes, she gave a short nod of acknowledgement.
'Bloody hell, you never mentioned that!' Ron gaped at her, eyes bulging.
Her other best friend, however, simply gave her a sad look. 'Harry ... you said nothing happened last night.' Her tone was low, yet the soft accusation was so heavy that even Parvati and Lavender, who were about to question Harry again, checked themselves.
Hermione's simple words sent Harry's mind reeling. She was rooted to the spot, suddenly torn with a guilty feeling she could in no way explain. She quickly turned to the brunette, but her friend had resolutely looked away from her.
'Hermione,' Harry began, not sure of what to say and even less sure of what exactly had just gone wrong. Something, she could not quite put her finger on it, but something had broken between them.
Her words were useless. Avoiding her eyes, Hermione grabbed Ron by the hand and pulled him with her towards the portrait hole.
'Wait,' Harry began, but Hermione had left the common room. Ron gave Harry one last look of confusion before he, too, disappeared.
No one moved for a full minute afterwards, all of them staring in the direction of the Fat Lady. Then Lavender looked round at the frozen Harry and said to Parvati, utterly puzzled, 'What just happened?'
The girl shrugged, looking just as perplexed. 'No clue.'
Their eyes turned to Harry, who, after a second of hesitation, hurried towards the portrait hole as well.
'Wait, Harry, before you go,' Parvati said quickly, some of the previous eagerness returning to her voice, 'd'you think you could maybe ... show us your ring?'
The last thing Harry heard before the Fat Lady closed behind her was Ginny bellowing, 'You tactless dolts! Let's see how you like Bat Bogies up your nose!'
'No! Don't – AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRGH!'
Harry had forgotten.
In her haste to find her two friends, she had forgotten what it had been like the last time Hogwarts had received a spicy slice of news concerning her and Draco Malfoy. The horde of students that had crowded her, the pack of eager questions that had been thrown in her face, the imaginative presumptions they had come up with – all of it escaped her mind. She hurried along corridors, ran down stairs, searched floor after floor, but it was in vain. Ron and Hermione had completely vanished and she had no idea where they had disappeared to.
Harry was lucky in her pursuit, though, for most of the upper floors were deserted, since it was breakfast time. She did not run into anyone until she reached the first floor, where she dashed past three Hufflepuffs, who eagerly called out after her, but she ignored them. Thinking that perhaps she would find her friends in the Great Hall, she was about to make for the marble staircase when someone grabbed her by the elbow and yanked her sideways.
'Wha –?' Harry caught a glimpse of familiar dark eyes before she was unceremoniously pushed behind the nearest suit of armour. Her unexpected assaulter squeezed in beside her, shielding them from the corridor; and with good reason too, for in less than five seconds, Harry heard the sound of running feet and voices exclaiming,
'Which way did she go? Did you see –?'
'I think down here!'
'Damn, Potter's a fast one.'
Harry glimpsed the Hufflepuffs she had seen earlier run past her hiding place. It took a moment for comprehension to kick in: of course, they wanted to ask about her and Malfoy! With an inward groan, she cursed her stupidity. How could she have so easily forgotten the chaos that would follow her today? Without thinking, she had almost dived headlong into it. Thank Merlin she had been stopped before she reached the Great Hall.
They stood in silence for several seconds. Finally, when there was no sound of anyone else coming, the other person removed the hand Harry had not realised he had put over her mouth.
'That was a close call, wouldn't you agree?' Blaise said with a self-satisfied grin.
'Yeah,' Harry said with a breathless chuckle. 'Thanks. I'd forgotten how people here are so – so ...'
'Persistent is the word I was going for, but that works, too, yeah.'
Blaise chuckled. His breath was warm on her face and Harry abruptly realised they were both still squished in behind the suit of armour in not exactly the most innocent of positions. She hastily gave his shoulders a push.
'D'you mind? This is a little ... awkward.'
'Oh, my apologies. Was that a little too intimate for you?' Blaise asked in a mock-suggestive voice, but his eyes were dancing with mischief as he stepped away from her.
His teasing was not serious, but Harry blushed all the same. He had reminded her a little too much of the cocky, straightforward Draco Malfoy from the previous night and she had enough on her mind already without having to deal with that again so soon.
'Don't,' Harry muttered as she clambered out from behind the armour.
Blaise blinked in surprise, but then grinned. 'Oh, right. I should just leave that sort of behaviour to Draco.'
Harry glared at him and he laughed.
'What're you doing here anyway?' she asked, changing the subject.
'Waiting for you, actually,' Blaise replied, turning serious. 'This morning, Draco told me about last night's Lisa-Turpin-incident and what an uproar she would cause with her "news".'
Harry snorted. Considering her past experiences with Hogwarts' students, she doubted that "uproar" would quite cover it.
Ignoring her interruption, he continued matter-of-factly, 'We were talking about how we should handle it and Draco figured it would be best if he dealt with the mess before the students got to you.'
The Gryffindor was surprised. 'What? What'd you mean?'
The brunet shot her a wry smile. 'I mean that Draco waited until he was sure Turpin had blurted everything in the Great Hall and then marched in to deal with the pandemonium. He's in there right now, trying to make things clear to everyone. He reckoned that that way, the excitement would die down a little and people wouldn't literally run you over or something when you come up against them.'
To say that Harry was dumbstruck would be quite an understatement. Malfoy was dealing with the Hogwarts horde right now, to make things easier for her sake? Wait, what? That was – that was...
'Yes, he can be sweetly thoughtful like that, if you didn't know already,' Blaise cracked, smirking.
'Shut up,' was the only comeback Harry could come out with as she struggled to hide how flustered she was. Merlin, was Draco Malfoy actually...? She shook her head slightly, still disbelieving and shaken.
But then, another thought struck her. 'Wait,' she said urgently, 'did you say he's dealing with all the students alone?'
'He's fine,' replied Blaise reassuringly, immediately catching onto what she was getting at. 'He can handle it.'
'But,' began Harry, thinking about how wild and positively overwhelming the students could be. She could imagine it now, a helpless Draco Malfoy standing in the middle of the Great Hall, unable to get a single word out while all of Hogwarts completely surrounded him, shouting his ears off with their enthusiastic questions, demands and assumptions. And his determined fangirls, with Lisa Turpin in the lead – what would they do to him –?
'Harry,' her friend cut across her frantic thoughts, 'happy though I am to discover that you do care for his well-being after all,' – Harry gave a start of shock at his unexpected remark – 'believe me when I say that I just left him and he's quite alive. He's a Malfoy; he knows how to silence people, even those as, er ... obnoxious and loud as the typical Hogwarts' gossiper.'
The young witch stared at him, not entirely convinced. 'Perhaps ... but maybe I should go down,' she muttered, frowning.
'Oh no, you don't,' Blaise snapped at once, throwing out a hand to hold her back.
'This is my responsibility as much as his,' Harry said firmly, trying to shake him off. 'Malfoy and I are both in this engagement, remember? It's only fair that I –'
'Harry,' her friend interrupted her exasperatedly, refusing to relinquish her. 'Draco's doing this for you, remember? You've already faced this on your own earlier when the Prophet printed that picture of you two snogging; you were the one to get the initial brunt of that. So, in terms of fairness, it should be Draco in that position this time around.'
'Why do you think I'm here? Draco asked me to warn you off from going to the Hall this morning.'
'You don't have to be the hero every time, Hariah.'
Harry froze. What?
Blaise gave her a lopsided smile. 'It's not a bad thing, you know, to be the damsel in distress every once in a while. Why don't you just take it easy and let Draco be your hero this time?' His voice took on a teasingly provocative tone as he spoke the last sentence.
'Wha – what?' Harry began to splutter, face going red, but Blaise only laughed. Giving her arm a tug, he began to lead her up the corridor.
'Come on. While you're chewing it over, let's find a place to sit down. I have something to show you that might take your mind off things.'
What madness, honestly, had driven him to do this?
That was what Draco was thinking as he irritably looked around the packed Great Hall. His ears were ringing from the tumult of their raised voices as the students crowded around him, trying to get his attention. No one seemed to have realised that that was not doing them an ounce of good, for how was he to answer when he could not make out a single one of their jumbled questions (though, of course, he knew the chief point)? All around him were faces; excited ones, uncertain ones, incredulous ones, angry ones, even disappointed ones ... Only the tactful minority were still in their seats, watching the chaos intently.
As for the teachers – under different circumstances, Draco would have enjoyed their reactions. Most of them, like Professors Flitwick and Slughorn, were shell-shocked and open-mouthed, while quite a few looked torn between disapproval and amusement (Professor Vector, the Arithmancy teacher, was actually trying to scowl through her laughter, the weird woman). The others seemed at a loss; Professor Sprout got up and sat down twice, obviously unable to decide what to do. Beside her, Madam Pomfrey had buried her face in her hand, giving up on the situation entirely. The only exception was the Headmistress; her lips were so thin it looked white even from that distance and Draco knew it would not be long before she exploded...
Was all this what Potter had to face earlier, when the Daily Prophet had dropped the first bomb? If so, he really did not envy her –
Wait. Hariah Potter. Of course. She was the madness that had driven him to do this.
With a determined sigh, Draco squared his shoulders and took a step forward.
'Listen to me,' he began loudly, but his voice was lost in the mayhem. They were still screeching like a maddened pack of hyenas and Draco felt the last of his thinning patience evaporate.
'Enough!' he snapped, now fully scowling. 'Would all of you just ...! Let me speak – OI, I SAID SHUT THE HELL UP!'
That did the trick.
'Good,' he grunted to himself when, at long last, shocked, blessed silence fell over the Hall.
At the high table, Professor McGonagall, who had risen to her feet to control the students, lowered her wand. She was watching him sternly, allowing him to have his chance.
'First of all,' he began loudly, looking keenly around the room. He spied his target, standing off to one side, looking both the superior messenger and the crestfallen fangirl; an odd combination. 'My thanks to you, Lisa, for that prompt announcement. You really did save me a lot of time.'
Lisa Turpin blinked and went a little slack-jawed. Draco swallowed a smirk.
'Secondly,' he turned back to the mob, 'yes, what she said is true. Hariah Potter is the one who received my ring. She's had it all this time; she is my betrothed and that's all you need to know. Anything else concerning this engagement is between us only, and has nothing to do with any of you. So, I'd appreciate it if all of you would leave my fiancée and me alone.'
Without waiting for his words to sink in, Draco turned and stalked away. The students behind him, still struggling to digest his abrupt declaration, seemed to part almost automatically, making way for him. He upped his speed, eager to leave as soon as possible. He had made his point with as few words as necessary and he was in no way inclined to speak to them any longer.
'Whoa, wait ... so ... you really did snog her again last night ...?'
Draco almost missed a step at the unexpected inquiry, but then grew exasperated. He did not bother to dignify the stupid question with an answer as he stormed from the Great Hall.
People nowadays, he thought dryly, really do need some serious help to sort out what is important and what's not.
'What did you want to show me?' asked Harry of Blaise when they had finally found some privacy in an empty classroom on the second floor.
'This,' he replied shortly, shutting the door before he walked over to where she had settled down on a chair. Reaching into his bag, he pulled out a wrinkled copy of the Daily Prophet.
Harry looked at the newspaper with unconcealed aversion, unwilling to discover whatever humiliation was awaiting her in its pages. Honestly, by now, she was completely and utterly sick of the Prophet.
The Slytherin seemed to realise what she was thinking.
'Don't worry, it's not about you,' he said bracingly, dropping the paper onto her desk as he sat down beside her. 'I just thought you'd like to know that the Ministry of Magic has got wind of the Rita Skeeter scandal and is now looking into the matter.'
The Gryffindor perked up at once. 'Really?' she asked eagerly, grabbing the paper and quickly smoothing it out.
While she glanced over the headlines (DAILY PROPHET REPORTER ACCUSED OF ILLEGAL ANIMAGI TRANSFORMATION: MINISTRY UNDERTAKES INVESTIGATION) and flipped the paper open, Blaise continued smugly, 'Yes, really. That little Gemino trick you and your friends pulled yesterday worked out well. Apparently, plenty of students, whose parents work in the Ministry, wrote to them about it, and of course, they can't take such a case lightly. They're already investigating.'
'Mm hmm,' Harry murmured, smiling widely as she scanned through the article, trying to find the section that would report what Rita Skeeter's sentence would be if – no, when they found her guilty. What she found instead, though, was:
'Hang on ... "no sign of Ms Skeeter when Ministry officials called at her residence in London to summon her for an immediate questioning"...?' Harry slowly read aloud. She raised her eyebrows. 'What? She's disappeared?'
Blaise nodded. 'Right after The Quibbler came out, it seems. They can't find her at all. I suppose they'll soon get in touch with her contacts and try to trace her.'
Harry frowned, beginning to grow angry. 'So, she's fled ...?'
'For the time being, I suppose,' Blaise said, not seeming very concerned. He eyed the look on Harry's face and his lips twitched. 'You're afraid she's going to go unpunished?'
'Well, yeah, no, I – I mean ... we all tried so hard to ... but if she's escaped, it just seems pointless ...'
The brunet chuckled lowly. 'Listen, Harry, there may be a ton of daft buffoons in the Ministry, but they're not all completely hopeless. In fact, after Shacklebolt became Minister, I think the lot are beginning to improve quite nicely.'
'Yeah, but ...'
'They've already arrested quite a number of the Death Eaters that escaped after the Battle.'
'So, I figure it's only a matter of time before they track down Skeeter as well.'
Harry lowered the Prophet, still uncertain. 'You think so? She's probably in her Animagus form. It'll be next to impossible to find her.'
'Ah, but she can't stay as a little bug forever, now, can she?' The other spoke up reasonably.
Immediately, Harry was reminded of Peter Pettigrew, who had lived twelve years of his life as a common garden rat. She bit her lip.
Blaise saw her unconvinced expression and straightened. In a more serious voice, he said encouragingly, 'It might prove hard for the Ministry, but I daresay it won't be impossible. And look on the bright side, Harry. The fact that she's gone into hiding is strong proof that she's guilty, isn't it? The evidence against her is building up; she won't have it easy when they catch her.'
Harry nodded slowly. 'I suppose ... But for the sake of argument, let's say they can't find her.'
'Then she'll have to live out her life as an outcast,' Blaise said breezily, leaning back in his chair and swinging his legs up onto a table. 'She might not be imprisoned, but living in hiding is not much better off, is it? And she won't be able to publish anymore of her ridiculous articles about you or anyone else. So, your objective's achieved anyway.'
His point of view made sense and Harry began to smile, now more at ease. 'I guess you're right ... Thanks a lot, Blaise. I feel much better.'
'I'm always right,' the Slytherin drawled with a smirk.
Rolling her eyes in amusement at his typical behaviour, Harry returned to the Daily Prophet. She idly flipped through the pages, looking through the newspaper with disinterest when, suddenly, an article printed in bold letters caught her eye. Harry leaned in closer, curious.
Blaise, who had taken to experimenting how far back he could balance his chair on its hind legs, asked lazily, having noticed her silence, 'Anything else of interest in there?'
'Hmm ... the Ministry is urging people to increase the defences around their homes,' Harry muttered thoughtfully, almost to herself.
'Are they?' Blaise said lightly, now beginning to rock his chair. 'But isn't that a daily reminder? They've been printing that in the papers ever since the Battle, what with all the Dark wizards that managed to escape.'
'Yeah ...' Harry said, still reading the article intently. 'But this doesn't look like a mere reminder. See, they've added a whole list of more spells we should perform. They're practically ordering wizards to take precautionary measures. "Report peculiar occurrences or strange behaviour" ... "Avoid interaction with all strangers" ... "Do not leave the house at night" ... "Never travel alone" ...'
'Wait ...' Blaise dropped his chair back on four legs. He scooted closer to read over her shoulder. 'That is a little forceful. Last time I read the reminder, it was just encouraging us to maintain shields around our homes...'
Harry pushed the paper towards the Slytherin. Leaning back in her seat, she folded her arms, her eyes filling with suspicion. 'Blaise ... do you think something's going on? Something to do with Dark wizards?'
'I don't know. Maybe,' he said distractedly. 'There are still some on the loose. Maybe the Ministry's tracked down more of them ...'
The girl said nothing in reply. It was just an article and it could mean nothing big, but for some reason, it bothered her.
Harry was apprehensive, but defiant when she went down for Quidditch practice later that morning, a few minutes before eleven. Though it would be easier to face her friends than the whole of Hogwarts, she was not looking forward to their reactions.
To her surprise, though, the sight that met her on the pitch was quite the contrary of what she had envisioned. Her Quidditch team were already waiting; they were utterly silent as she walked up to meet them. Harry looked round them quickly, remembering the awkward episode she had had with Ron and Hermione earlier. She was tremendously glad to see the Weasley amongst them; she had unconsciously feared that he would not turn up.
Ron gave her a short nod when their gazes met. His eyes told her they would talk properly later and Harry returned his gesture, acknowledging his nonverbal promise.
'So, Captain, what tactics will we be trying out today?'
Harry looked at Ginny, who grinned enthusiastically. She could not help but notice that, on either side of the youngest Weasley, Jimmy Peakes and Demelza Robins were both giving her a wide berth. In fact, most of the team members seemed to be avoiding looking at her.
Oh, that explains it ... The captain felt her lips curl up, getting an idea as to what had happened. Ginny had probably treated them all to a threatening session, warning them to leave her alone. Harry also had a feeling that the Bat Bogey Hex had been much abused.
However, she was quite aware that, despite their obedient silence, the rest of the team were shooting furtive looks at her left hand. Strengthening her resolve, she made up her mind. It was time to get it all over with.
'Right, since you're all just dying to ask me,' Harry said wryly, pulling off her left glove with a flourish. She dangled her hand under their noses for good measure, growing mildly amused at the looks on their faces. Without giving them time to recover, she swung her leg over her Firebolt and prepared to open the small chest containing the four balls.
'Now that we've got that out of the way, shall we get going?' Harry shot them a glare, daring them to ask more questions. Ginny added to the warning with an overly exaggerated cough of her own.
There was a hurried scramble to mount their broomsticks. No one said anything about her ring.
Harry smiled, relieved and satisfied. 'Good. Let's start.'
Quidditch practice went well enough with much discussion and trying out of tactics and new strategies. Harry's mood was decidedly improved by the time they were finished; her teammates worked well together and she had no doubt that Gryffindor had high chances of winning their upcoming first game, regardless of who their opposing House might be.
Harry dismissed them with the usual reminder of when the next practice would be held. With quick goodbyes – and another round of discreet glances at her white gold ring – all of them dispersed with the exception of the two Weasleys. The black-haired girl turned to face them, smiling slightly.
The Weasley in question looked quizzically at her, feigning ignorance. 'For what?'
'For whatever you did to my team before I came to the pitch.'
Ginny simply laughed in response, while her brother rolled his eyes as he swung his Cleansweep Eleven onto his shoulder.
'You wouldn't be saying that so casually if you had actually seen her in action,' he told Harry, his tone sardonic. 'I swear she's channelling Mum.'
'I'll take that as a compliment, brother mine,' the younger said, grinning wildly. 'So, shall we? I'm starving!' She darted ahead of them, leaving Harry and Ron to fall into step together and follow her.
They walked all the way to the Entrance Hall in silence, the former occasionally glancing at her best friend. The atmosphere was growing awkward again. Harry wondered how to breach the subject of Hermione; she still could not identify why the morning had turned out the way it had, but Ron proved unhelpful for he did not seem eager to discuss it right then.
The subject, however, was temporarily erased from Harry's thoughts upon hearing the muffled chattering of students issuing from the Great Hall. She abruptly stopped walking and, almost automatically, turned and marched off in the opposite direction.
'Harry?' Ron spoke for the first time since Ginny had left them. 'Where are you going?'
'To have lunch. I didn't get any breakfast and I'm starving.'
'Er, mate,' Ron said in the questioning tone of someone pointing out the obvious, 'the Great Hall is that way...?'
The girl paused to shoot her friend a wry look. 'I'd really rather eat in peace than answer a million questions right now, so do forgive me if I choose the company of house elves over them.'
Ron's expression cleared and a rather sheepish smile crossed his face. He scratched his head. 'Oh, right, I get it ... I'll come with,' he added eagerly and made to follow her to the kitchens.
'It's OK,' Harry said, a little surprised. 'You don't have to.'
'But what about Hermione?'
Ron's smile faded a little. 'Yeah, about that ... Harry, we need to –'
Harry did not find out what they needed to, for at that instant, several things happened. An almighty CRACK rang from the Great Hall, much like that of a giant whip, followed by what seemed like miniature firework explosions and startled screams. That moment, the very same sounded from Ron's general vicinity and he was abruptly knocked off his feet by a bright, white flare that went off around him. Almost instantaneously, the flare disappeared, only to be replaced by a thick, swirling white mist that engulfed his fallen form.
'Ron? Ron? Are you all right?' Harry cried, eyes wide with shock and worry as she took a few shaky steps towards the mist.
The girl stopped dead, her hands automatically tightening around her Firebolt. Wait, what?
For one, insane, ludicrous millisecond, she was assaulted with the disconcerting idea that some devilish magic had exchanged her best friend's humanity for something more ... feral. It might have something to do with the passing memory of a bushy-haired girl with a furred face and a tail growing out of her backside. But then, two things happened that promptly trashed that particular theory:
A mixture of human screams and some strange calls that were definitely not of human origin broke the short silence that had befallen the Great Hall. And outside, the swirling mist dissipated, revealing the source of the mreow and one very stunned Ron Weasley.
Harry stared at the scene her eyes beheld, jaw hanging open in surprise. There were five, small ... well, cats, she supposed, for that was the closest thing these creatures resembled. However, these were no ordinary cats, obviously, for their fur was so long that they appeared to be wearing thick, shaggy coats; coats that were not of a definite colour as it kept constantly changing, so fast that the eye could not follow and it simply ended up looking like a shimmering blur. Their tails and ears were abnormally long and fluffy and all of them were currently "attacking" the unmoving red-head, mreow-ing all the while.
'Ron?' Harry repeated, utterly perplexed.
He stared blankly at his cuddly assaulters as they playfully nipped and tugged at his robes before meeting the other Gryffindor's gaze. As one, they turned their heads to stare at the open doors of the Great Hall. The cacophony had gotten louder and they could both clearly hear the noises that were going mreow and noises ... that didn't quite sound like mreow...
Their eyes met again and, without a hint of uncertainty, they voiced what the other was thinking,
Seamus Finnegan, Draco would think later, had impeccable timing.
The issue of Draco's engagement with Hariah Potter had already caused an upheaval of remarkable magnitude within the walls of Hogwarts, but then right afterwards, the eccentric Irishman had strolled into the Great Hall during the last few minutes of lunch and made the afore-mentioned upheaval positively gargantuan. No one could have said how he had done it.
Mouth hanging open in a manner that would have made every single one of his Malfoy ancestors roll in their graves with shame, Draco stared around the chaotic Great Hall with blatant disbelief. All the students were currently being assaulted by a horde of shimmering creatures. They were strange to look at, what with the multitude of colours that were incessantly flashing across their ... skin? Coat? Fur? Looking more carefully, he realised that there was a variety of them and, even more intriguingly, every House appeared to be plagued by one kind only.
The Gryffindors – from what he could see, as they were on the other side of the room – were struggling with the onslaught of a pack of furry, cat-like animals, while their neighbouring Hufflepuffs were desperately trying to avoid being pounced on by what appeared to be over-energized, miniature bears. Next to the Slytherins, the Ravenclaw table had gone amok; the students were screeching and flapping their hands to protect themselves from their assailants that happened to be peckish ... ravens? Crows? Random flock of birds? It was very hard to tell. And as for the Slytherins –
Draco would deny ever having let loose a high-pitched scream of such volume and intensity so as to halt all activity in the Great Hall for a fleeting moment, but – as he later tried to recover his shattered self-respect – he would obstinately assure himself that having a blasted frog jump on his face and shove its slimy tongue right in his eye more than justified a startled (and extremely manly, thank you very much) "yell" on Draco's part.
'Get it off!' The Slytherin screeched, tearing the thing off his face and flinging it away with all his might. However, as he opened his eyes, he realised that his troubles had only just begun. Previously, flabbergasted by the commotion at all the other tables, he had completely missed what was going on at his own. Now he saw himself surrounded by a small bunch of ribbit-ing, tongue-lashing, shimmering frog-like creatures – and all of them were hopping straight at him.
'GET AWAY FROM ME!'
Draco leapt off the bench with the idea of literally running for the hills, only to crash into one of his housemates that had been running in the opposite direction. He automatically grabbed the person's arm to stop their fall, barely managing to keep on his own two feet as well.
'Waa –! Ah ... Thanks, Draco...'
Panting, they gazed at each other for a moment before looking around as one to assess the situation. The Slytherin table was overrun by frogs, though it was rapidly emptying as the small amphibians leapt away after their escaping quarry. Speaking of which, Draco and Millicent's personal tormentors were closing in on them as well. The frogs took two leaps for every step they took back.
'Stupid things!' snarled Millicent in frustration and whipped out her wand. 'Evanesco!'
If there was one thing Draco knew about Vanishing spells, it was that they were meant to, well, vanish things; not bloody multiply them. Where they had been five frogs after Millicent before, now there were ten.
'Genius,' he drawled, swiftly snatching his foot away before one of the frogs could wrap its tongue around it. 'You deserve an Order of Merlin, First Class for that display of utter brilliance.'
From the look the girl shot him, he knew that if the circumstances had been less demanding, she would have punched him at that point. Or something.
'At least I tried, Malfoy! I don't see you –!'
'... you've got to be joking.' Draco stared in disbelief at his own multiplied horde of frogs that were incessantly hopping closer. Was there no stopping them? Instinctively, he raised his wand again, but right then, Millicent grabbed his wrist and pulled him with her into a run, directly at the frogs.
'What are you –?' Draco began hysterically, eyes widening as all their assaulters leapt up at them in unison. He squeezed his eyes shut, expecting to feel their disgusting little feet clutch at his robes and body any second, but –
Miraculously, no frogs landed on him. Draco looked up in amazement. Millicent was leading him towards the open doors of the Great Hall – like all the remaining students – and their way was unbelievably clear. However, almost immediately, Draco heard their ribbits from behind. They had managed to evade the frogs, but the creatures were hot on their heels.
Running for their lives from sparky-looking frogs of all beings. Oh, the shame.
Ugh, damn it.
'It seems defensive spells like shields work fine against these things,' Millicent panted as they ran.
'And offensive spells only make it worse,' Draco added, quite unnecessarily.
Millicent did not look back, but a part of his brain fancied it could hear her going, 'No. You think?' complete with unrivalled sarcasm and demeaning eye-roll.
They were only a few yards from the doors when Draco noticed who were standing to one side of them. Grinning like a maniacal idiot was Seamus Finnegan (of course), who was cuddling two cats in his arms and laughing at another one that was perched on his head in a real-life – and less extravagant – impersonation of that one Ravenclaw girl's infamous roaring-Lion-head hat. And right beside him, watching the Great Hall with infuriating amusement, was none other than Blaise Zabini, who appeared quite unaffected by the frogs that were leaping all over his robes, including the one that was dangling off his arm by its tongue.
The two of them exchanged a word and began to leave the Hall.
For just a fraction of a second, Millicent stopped. She had noticed the pair, too. Then, with unspoken agreement, the two Slytherins made a beeline for the troublemaking mastermind and his newbie sidekick.
Draco could hear a roaring in his ears. He wanted nothing more than to get his hands around Finnegan's throat and wring the solution to the frog-problem out of him. Leprechaun Boy was taking things too far.
At their yells, Finnegan and Zabini had stopped and were turning around. Draco sped up. He was almost there –
From almost out of nowhere, someone else had jumped right into Draco's path. She had been trying to fend off a flock of the crow-raven-whatevers, but she froze at the sight of the charging Slytherin. For a split second, their eyes met. Next thing Draco knew, their bodies collided with enough force to knock the wind out of him and they were falling, falling, falling...
'AAAHH!' The girl cried out as they crashed through the doors and onto the Entrance Hall floor. Her agony was doubled by the fact that she was crushed underneath him; the only things that had broken her fall were his arms that had instinctively wrapped around her waist. Arms that felt completely flattened by that point.
'Merlin.' Draco grinded his teeth against the pain. It did not help that the girl was clutching at his shoulders so hard that her fingernails were cutting into him.
Suppressing a groan, he muttered to her. 'Are you all right?'
With a pained sigh, she finally opened her eyes and, looking properly at her for the first time, Draco found his vision filled with blue eyes and honey-blonde hair.
It was like a stampede, one that would have undoubtedly crushed the two unfortunate Gryffindors had Harry not yanked Ron to his feet and pulled him back against one of the walls of the Entrance Hall. The five, shaggy cats followed the Weasley with enthusiasm, still nipping at his heels and attempting to chew off his robes despite his distracted attempts to kick them away.
Harry and Ron gaped at the mass of yelling, jostling, panicking students that streamed out of the Great Hall, half of them taking off up the marble staircase while the rest tried to find shelter in the chambers leading off the Entrance Hall. Many even ran for the doors leading outside. Amongst them were the shimmering creatures, happily following the pupils without relent and still trying to "attack" them – though, by then, it was apparent that were not really dangerous, but rather ... disturbing and quite irritating. Being bowled over by biting, pouncing, peckish, keyed up cats, small bears, weird birds and even frogs was surely not the most pleasant of situations.
'Seamus really outdid himself this time, didn't he?' Ron muttered. 'Ugh, stop it,' he added, swinging his broomstick at the cats, which did not help in the slightest. Instead, it only exposed his inviting left wrist to the little critters, which did not hold back.
'Ow, they bit me! Stupefy!'
Harry, who had been speechlessly watching the teachers that had finally emerged from the Great Hall and were trying to set things right to no avail, was distracted by the consequence of Ron's Stunning Spell. Her mouth fell open.
'Ron ... weren't there five just a moment ago?'
'Wha – Impedimenta!'
And now there were twenty leaping and pouncing at the unfortunate red-head. Glowering, he dropped his wand hand.
'This is a Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes joke, isn't it?' He growled, trying to dodge and swat simultaneously at the cats (not a good idea as it only resulted in him falling flat on his face). 'Double the number every time we use magic – that is such a Weasley twin trick.'
As he staggered to his feet (harder than it sounds, considering that a quarter of the cats had happily jumped on his back), Ron finally noticed what neither of them had realised at the beginning.
'What?' Harry grunted, throwing herself sideways to avoid a random Hufflepuff that was unsuccessfully attempting to outrun some forty or so excited bear-like animals. Professor Sprout came running after her, frantically trying to help without exacerbating the situation.
'Why aren't – ugh, gerroff me, you brutes! – why aren't you being attacked?'
Harry came to a standstill and looked down. She blinked. Huh.
It was true. There weren't any small, shimmering animals pouncing around her. No bears, no birds, no frogs and definitely no cats.
She stared at Ron, who returned her perplexed look.
'I don't ...'
Before she could finish, an unfamiliar, feminine voice, raised in a yell louder than the surrounding pandemonium, sounded from the general direction of the Entrance Hall doors,
'WHAT IN MERLIN'S NAME IS GOING ON HERE?'
Harry turned, but could not pinpoint the source of the voice through the frenzied mob. However, she caught sight of tiny Professor Flitwick perched on one of the newel posts of the staircase, where he had been trying to find a solution to the chaos from his high vantage point. Panting, he looked towards the woman and, with a strenuous attempt at a smile, returned her shout,
'Ah, welcome to Hogwarts, my dear Professor Jones. I'm afraid we're having a rather ... rough time today.'
Harry's ears seemed to prick up with excitement at the rank and name. For a moment, the prank Seamus had played on the entire school was entirely wiped away from her mind as she made to run towards the doors, eager to discover who their new teacher was and why she had been delayed. The name rang a bell...
'Harry, watch out!'
Ron grabbed her around the waist, pulling her away towards the Great Hall to avoid three students, each chased by a pack of cats, that had almost run her over. Harry fell back against him, shaken.
'You OK, mate?'
'Yeah, yeah, I'm OK –'
Harry and Ron looked round at the doors of the Great Hall from where the two shouts had come from. Seamus and Blaise had just emerged, grinning; they stopped short upon hearing their names and turned to face back – only to leap away from the entrance with identical, startled yells.
Next moment, two entwined bodies almost flew through the doors – as if they had been launched by some giant sling – and crashed painfully onto the ground. Ron, who had yet to remove his arms from around Harry's waist, tightened his hold at once and both of them automatically leapt back, Ron half-pulling the latter along, to avoid the two students that came sliding along the small stretch of floor between them and finally stopped at their feet.
'Bloody hell, are they OK?' Ron exclaimed hoarsely.
Harry was about to kneel down beside them when she suddenly realised exactly who were lying at her feet. The white blond hair of the boy was incomparable and the girl...
Harry felt her eyes widen. Her arms fell loosely to her sides and the Firebolt slipped from between her numb fingers. Somewhere deep inside her, a strange, unpleasant explosion seemed to take place.
Draco Malfoy. And lying underneath him with her arms around his shoulders ... Lisa Turpin.
A/N: More details on Seamus' insane prank next chapter! It's one of the craziest I've ever come up with and I want to do it justice! xD (And for the record, I'm not going to make this an overly angsty, cheesy, filled with heart-breaking drama and jealousy sort of fic. Just sayin', so that you don't get the wrong idea)
Not sure about when I can update next. I'll be writing little by little. Apparently mid-term break is coming up soon; I'll see if I can get the majority done by then :D
PS: Be sure to check out Acara Whitefox's "Unorthodox Matchmakers: Draco's Thoughts on Her". You won't regret it!
Like always, feedback is most welcome :)