Chapter 6

Deathly Partnerships

Harry wasn't planning on telling his friends about attending the Slytherin Quidditch victory party for their win over Ravenclaw. In fact, he wasn't planning on telling them anything about the time he had been mysteriously absent and back in the wee hours of the morning. He had begun the arduous task of formulating a water-proof, plausible excuse almost immediately after he stomped away from the dungeons, right after Malfoy laughed at him and returned inside. Only Ron knew that he had sneaked out under his Invisibility Cloak, but Harry didn't want to overlook this by taking it for granted that the redhead wouldn't spill the beans to Hermione; that girl did have, he knew, a method of coercion of her own, and Ron wasn't the most strong-willed of people when it involved big hazelnut eyes brimming with tears, quivering lower lips, and timid arm twisting.

Harry knew if Hermione did that, Ron would be done for. He could picture it in his head right now: Ron, tall and gangly, standing in front of a beseeching Hermione, his freckled face twisted and torn rather unattractively between his confidences in Harry and wishing to tell Hermione, and when Hermione dealt the final blow of tossing her head wanly with her hand, all was lost; Ron would go on his knees and confess his deepest secrets.

It was breakfast in the Great Hall. Harry was tucking into his favourite meal of Shepherd pie, and beside him, Ron was consuming the assortments on the table indiscriminately, not one to bother with specific preferences for food. Hermione was busy juggling eating her toast and scribbling notes on her parchment as her eyes darted from it to her Ancient Runes textbook.

Harry ventured a furtive glance at the Slytherin table and spied Malfoy throwing his head back in laughter, having a good time with his 'friends.' He shagged me. The thought came from nowhere, and with it, those images from yesterday came forth hurtling: Malfoy's grey eyes, absolutely misted over in wanton lust; his face approaching, his lips caressing his own whilst taking his clothes off; that intoxicating smell of saliva that came with kissing infused into the sizzling air of an anticipated sexual experience; Malfoy's face as he pumped into that girl. What was her name again?

Harry, already hot and bothered, started at this thought. Wait, yesterday he had a girl sucking his prick and all his thoughts could only begin with was Malfoy? Harry stopped chewing. Did this make him gay? Was he a faggot? Harry turned around into his seat and faced the table again, mind whirring. He swallowed hard as he tried to marshal his defence to that preposterous notion. Of course he wasn't a poof – he never thought about peeking at the other blokes in the showers, never thought about doing anything remotely intimate with Ron or something. Merlin, yuck! So he was safe on that, yeah, never been a homosexual. Then why the hell did he feel a strange, indecipherable, poignant pang when he thought about last night, of Malfoy's face – eyes closed in concentration and pleasure as he came up and down his prick, the small tuft of blond pubic hair tickling his perineum. And, Merlin, why was his mind continuing to omit that Vamilda girl from the picture like she hadn't been there, like she hadn't worked his prick, like he hadn't felt her breasts? "I don't..."

"Mwa?" asked Ron in a muffled voice. His mouth looked just about to explode with everything that was shoved in it.

"What did you say, Harry?" said Hermione, looking up from her workings.

"Nothing," Harry answered quickly, surprised that he had said that out loud. And from the heat he could feel on his face, he knew he was blushing like mad, and this was confirmed when Hermione raised an eyebrow. Ron, however, was quite prepared to dismiss him and he resumed the attack on his plate. Harry bit tentatively into his pie again, but not before venturing another surreptitious glance at the blond enigma only three tables away as soon as Hermione turned back to her book.

The Great Hall started emptying out and three of them made their way to Potions – first class on a Monday morning. The Potions class trickled in quickly as per usual, given who taught the subject. And equally as usual, the door flung open violently and slammed shut as noisily as usual as the Potions master glided to the front of the classroom, black robes billowing behind him furiously. With a sudden twist, he faced the class and fashioned them a scathing glare, even though the students hadn't done anything characteristically inept yet.

"Today," Snape began with that drawling twang that grated on Harry's nerves, his dark eyes roaming coldly over the upturned faces of the students, "we will begin work on brewing, or attempting to brew, the Draught of the Living Death. Of course, no one expects you to produce a satisfactory draft of such a famously complex potion by the hour, thus it is seemly we make provisions and prepare for the worst." His black eyes rested on Neville's round face for a moment, (more than a few Slytherins sniggered and Neville slipped down his seat, purple in the face) then he looked away, and started pacing down an aisle. "This potion will be attempted over a period of three days with a partner." At this, noise picked up in the Potions classroom as students glanced around inquiringly and conversed feverishly with their colleagues, some already forging presumptuous partnerships, but Snape was speaking again, and his tone couldn't have been more indulgent. "The allocation of partnerships will, of course, fall upon my discretion, and thereafter you are to remain with your partner for the duration of the task." Some students looked pale, and others grumbled indignantly, among whom was Harry, who had a good idea of what Snape had in mind, and it wasn't appealing in the slightest.

And he wasn't disappointed: he was partnered with the person Harry least desired to be partnered with for three whole days. Moodily heaving his bag on his back, he trudged away from Ron and Hermione, who were making their way to Millicent Bulstrode and Neville Longbottom wearing scowls, and headed towards the front of the classroom where the Slytherins were concentrated. Flinging his rucksack onto his seat, he shot dirty looks at Snape's back as the man brushed past him with a most satisfied expression on his sullen face. Then, when it seemed he couldn't stave it off for any longer, and attempting to banish all his awkward feelings, Harry folded his arms as he turned and stared at the very person who had sodomized him merely hours ago:

"Malfoy."

After meddling about with the apparatus on his desk, Malfoy turned to him and regarded him with a smirk. "Now, now, Harry, surely you can't be calling me by my last name after we've been so intimate with each other."

It was as though a brick had been thrown in his face. It was one thing that it had happened in the first place but quite another for it to be mentioned in such an open and familiar place. Now the two worlds were irrevocably fused together. Harry merely stared at Malfoy with his jaw hanging between his feet.

Evidently, Malfoy didn't fear seen being chummy with Harry Potter, for he reached out to gently shut Harry's open mouth with an expression of utmost understanding before crossing his arms, and this expression, more than anything, shook Harry out of his stupor, and it vaguely occurred to him that Malfoy had referred to him with his given name.

"Draco," he said forcefully and quickly, as though doing so might lessen the shock of calling Malfoy by his own given name, to the accompaniment of a few Slytherin glances coming his way. Fittingly, Malfoy cast him a reproachful look before his eyes sank lower to his lips and his expression turned disgusted; he appeared as though he believed Harry had soiled his name with the way he spoke it. Harry looked around cautiously as a flush crept into his cheeks. "So what are we doing?" he asked, still a little louder than he had intended.

"Draught of the Living Death," answered Malfoy with a half-concerned, half-scathing side-glance as he removed several items from a small, handsome, seaweed-green chest with the words 'Elitist Potioneer' embossed in a silver flourish across the lid. Harry was quite sure nobody else owned such a kit and his swift sweep around the classroom confirmed this.

"Oh, right," muttered Harry, feeling dumber by the second and almost removed from the diligent buzz of working students, but Malfoy paid him no mind and was preparing their workplace, his now gelled white-blond hair gleaming in defiance of the wan torchlight of the cold dungeons.

Standing there unoccupied, being generally ignored by Malfoy, and in the haughty midst of the Slytherins, quite faraway from his Gryffindor housemates, Harry was visited by a distinct sense of loneliness and self-consciousness, and Snape's voice floating over the milling din wasn't of any comfort:

"Do try to appear as though you have an idea of why you're in this classroom, Potter. I should disabuse you, perhaps, of the illusion that you don't have to contribute to the assignment and have Mr Malfoy labour with his own devices." Then in a louder voice, clearly addressing the rest of the class as well, he went on, "There will be critical marks awarded for your efforts in brewing Living Death. Thus-" And his eyes glittered maliciously upon Harry, who was quite sure this said peer assessment was a very recent invention. "-to a certain extent, I fear you're left to the mercy of your partner's scruples, and I daresay some of you will find them-" His black eyes darted to Malfoy and then back to him. "-lacking."

Low giggles – spearheaded by a loud shriek of laughter from Pansy – erupted from the Slytherins and many of them had proud smirks on their faces as they looked admiringly at Malfoy, who was leaning on the wall behind him with his arms crossed and who promptly gave a mechanical, almost bored, sort of smirk at Harry, who, for a moment, gave himself over to the tempting belief that it was an upon-request, light-switch, perfunctory sort of gesture, one that, despite one's own feelings, had to give.

"Get to work, Potter. I'm sure your partner will require the yew leaves very soon, yes?" he directed at Malfoy over Harry's head.

"Very shortly, yes, sir," said Malfoy sweetly. "Their in that top cabinet there, Potter. Make it quick – they're the first ingredients to be added, just in case you didn't know."

Snape smiled coldly at Harry, and behind him, the Slytherins lapsed into hysteria, with some exchanging gleeful looks, no doubt laughing at Harry being ordered around like this by his peer, and his arch rival to boot. Hermione huffed and Ron inflated indignantly, his face growing red.

Fuming enough for the three of them and then some, Harry shoved a desk aside angrily and he stomped across the room, wending between jeering Slytherin faces to reach the indicated cabinet, wrench the door open, and plunge his hand in on the first thing it caught. Almost blind with fury, his shaking hands fumbling with the varied ingredients, so incensed he was, it took longer to find the ingredient he was looking for, but then he finally found it – a wrinkled and frayed, light-brown cardboard box with 'yew leaf' scrawled jerkily on it in thin, fading black ink – and he turned around and headed back to Malfoy.

"About bloody time!" snarled Malfoy, urgently plucking the tawny box out of his hand before he could blink and quickly depositing seven, yellow, needle-like leaves into a gently simmering opaque grey liquid that instantly turned a muddy, sickly green colour not unlike that of Malfoy's Elitist Potioneer kit. Putrid fumes rose from the cauldron and the both of them recoiled, wearing identical grimaces of disgust.

As Malfoy grew busy with making the potion, quite content with him hovering there beside him uselessly, Harry looked at Malfoy, studying him, his green eyes unmoving, flat, fixed upon the side of Malfoy's face, which was unobstructed by his white-blond hair, slicked back as it was, and he was visited again by that strange, indecipherable, poignant pang that clawed at his chest. He truly didn't know what to feel about seeing Malfoy after what had happened in the dungeons. He worried his lips. The three ugly girls, Malfoy lying on top of him, Malfoy surveying his new looks behind him in the mirror, Malfoy being hit on only moments after they left his room, Malfoy leading him and Vamilda to his room, Malfoy kissing Vamilda, kissing him, fucking Vamilda, fucking him.

Suddenly, a sharp sense of disgust at Malfoy bloomed within Harry, followed shortly by another less discernible emotion that might have resembled something like indignant disappointment. A deep frown creased his brow as that strange pang kicked at his chest again. He truly didn't know what to feel about seeing Malfoy after what had happened in the dungeons.

"Upset stomach, Potter?" asked Malfoy, snapping Harry out of his thoughts. He was obviously referring to Harry's concentrating frown. His face was flushed and shone with sweat, no doubt due to the smelly fumes, which was now a normal looking grey. Harry's face assumed a similar shade of pink as well, and he looked away abashedly.

"How far is it?" he asked, peering into the cauldron a good distance away.

Malfoy snorted incredulously as he stirred clockwise. "You have a nerve. After just standing there looking like Trelawney with your arms folded, you ask about a potion you're even not helping create?"

"Yeah," said Harry simply, pointedly readjusting his indeed folded arms in the face of Malfoy's glare.

"You have to do some work, Potter! Don't forget it is I who is going to decide whether you fail or pass this assignment in the end."

"No, you're not," argued Harry. "As long you make the right potion we'll pass. All you do is give me a few extra marks on top of that or no marks at all and the same goes for me." Harry immediately regretted saying this, for he feared he had put ideas in Malfoy's mind even as he highly doubted it they hadn't already occurred to him before he had opened his mouth.

"But you forget, Snape has a soft spot for me," said Malfoy, smiling balefully.

Those words affected Harry in more ways than he would have expected; that strange pang gave him another kick to the chest, and he sweated momentarily. He didn't speak.

Noting that he had silenced Harry, Malfoy went on, "You underestimate my charm, Potter-"

"What happened to 'Now, now, Harry, surely you can't be calling me by my last name after we've been so intimate with each other'?" Harry asked briskly.

Malfoy raised his eyebrow, and his stirring ceased momentarily, but it commenced, if a little jerkily, and for a moment, Malfoy seemed to lose his composure. He peered into his cauldron and then Harry noticed his grey eyes avert and dart around the Slytherins before returning to the potion and then back to him. Malfoy then made a strange movement: he jerked his head as though to toss his hair, which, oddly enough, was gelled flat onto his scalp as though ironed on there, incapable of bothering him and therefore not needing to be tossed. But perhaps Malfoy had merely jerked his head to dislodge an invisible fly Harry hadn't seen land on his wet forehead, though he doubted flies would find the dungeons attractive enough to explore, given its cold dimness.

"We have to work, Potter," he finally said curtly. "Grab those gob stones and grate them. Then weigh them on the scale according to the measurement in the book."

Glad of something to occupy himself with, Harry dismissed his indignation at being ordered for the second time by Malfoy – and this time with the incentive of having no audience of forty-odd eyes and ears – and studied the page in the book for the measurement. Then, taking odd pleasure in having licence to touch Malfoy's exclusive Elitist Potioneer Kit, Harry rifled through its contents interestedly, and then he asked, "What do gob stones look like?"

He had expected Malfoy to roll his eyes to the ceiling or mutter something scathing to him, but Malfoy did neither: to Harry's slight astonishment, he inclined his chin and quietly answered, "They're dark brown, shrivelled looking, quite big, bean-shaped, sort of."

Harry stared at him for several seconds, and when he noticed a feint flush starting to glow in his pale cheeks, he quickly looked away and into the Potions kit, searching for such a stone. "How many gob stones do they want?"

"It's in the book," replied Malfoy brusquely.

Feeling hot in the cheeks himself, and with a quick half-glance at Malfoy, Harry returned to Morderne Potions, by Perkus Naelblume, and found that the potion required two gob stones, which he removed from a heavy, silver case that came across to Harry as slightly pretentious, which didn't hold true for the rest of the instruments in the kit, as they were generally modestly elegant. Harry proceeded to look for a grater and found a small, thin, silver one whose flimsiness made it appear rather attractive and almost misleading of its capability. He got to work and began grating a gob stone – a difficult feat, as the gob stone was very hard, as if compacted heavily.

When his biceps began stinging with the effort, he paused, stood up straighter from his hunched posture, and he shot a cursory glance inside Malfoy's cauldron. Malfoy then turned to him, his chin tilted upwards, and appraised the small mound of gob stone powder he had so far negotiated, and then their eyes met. Time ceased to exit. Muscle pains quite forgotten, Harry swiftly resumed grating duty, his hand a blur across the silver pitted surface of the grater, his eyes following his hand with immense interest, though he didn't fail to notice Malfoy give another weird jerk of his head as though to toss his hair again. The few strands of hair that had been steamed loose by the potion fumes fluttered feebly and seemed to mock him.

And he felt the gaze before he saw it. In a foreign whim, he looked up from his grating and spotted Hermione's eyes dead centre on him…

For some reason, fear broke over him, and his heart skipped a beat.

Next to Neville, Hermione, her hair looking much more plentiful and frizzier than when she had entered the classroom, looked away calmly, tilting her head to the side contemplatively as she daintily grated her own gob stone to dust.

Instinctively, his gaze shifted to Ron, whose freckled face was contorted with fear as the towering Millicent Bulstrode jammed her fat finger at the cauldron menacingly. He must not have seen anything; it appeared he had quite a lot to deal with at the moment.

Why it felt as though his blood was itself simmering with miniature explosions inside his veins across his body, Harry didn't know; he didn't understand why he was so fearful, but he did understand his humiliation. He whipped his head sideways to look at Malfoy, but Malfoy appeared vastly unconcerned; he knew only his cauldron and didn't seem to have seen Hermione, which served to restrict and internalize the phenomenon, the… threat to Harry alone. His sense of loneliness mounting, Harry looked down at his growing heap of ground gob stone, his mind racing in step with his blood.

"Hurry up, Potter, and measure it up – I have to add it soon."

Wordlessly, and without turning to him, Harry scooped up the little mountain of grated gob stone he had produced and—

"No, use a spoon to transfer it!" hissed Malfoy, looking incredulous.

"Oh, right," said Harry nervously, and he dusted his hands off and from within the Potions kit took out a petite silver spoon with elegant markings along its handle. Harry used it to scoop up the dust and deposited it onto the brass scale, which tinkled slightly, its super sensitivity surprising Harry, considering the small amount of ingredient he was ladling onto its dish. What was more impressive than this, though, he discovered, was its precision. Carefully piling spoonful after spoonful until the needle finally slid onto the line indicating the right quantity, Harry then murmured to himself, "That's enough," and he lifted the top dish from the dish permanently attached to the chains of the brass scale. His hand holding the brass dish hovered over the top of the cauldron, waiting for confirmation from Malfoy, who, it became apparent, had other ideas: he glanced distrustfully at Harry's suspended hand and then at the potion with panic.

Then, he transferred his wooden spoon – which looked out of place in the middle of all those bronze and silvery apparatuses, then again silver conducted heat readily – to his left hand, his right one left the brim of the cauldron and slipped on top of Harry's as he poured the powder steadily and stirred equally steadily at the same time. Initially, his motions had been of practical surety, but then, a few seconds into holding Harry's hand as he tipped more of the powder into the cauldron, they became shaky, self-conscious, as if awakened to what they were actually doing, and judging by the return of his flush to his cheeks and his drawn lips, Malfoy was obviously flustered, not that Harry was in an entirely different state or relieved of an equal burning in his cheeks.

A little over half an hour later, the bell boomed distantly from the further parts of the castle, and Harry was quite happy to flee the dungeons and not return there for another two days.