A/N: I just want to say that I am so terribly sorry that I put the story on hold for so long. This chapter, however, does not mean that I will be continuing with the updates regularly, but I will definitely try to update as much as I can. I'm going to try putting up a new chapter every two weeks on Friday. I'm sorry if you were mad at me for the delay, but honestly I was so good about updating until this time. I hardly ever missed a week, and If I did I let you know about it beforehand. I've wanted to come back for many months now, but other parts of my life are simply more important than fan fiction. I have tons of schoolwork, my computer has been acting crazy (and it still is, unfortunately), and life never seems to let up, it just keeps throwing more stuff at me. You all know what that's like, I'm sure./p

Anyway, thank you to the readers who have been waiting patiently and for those who defended me against those rude people out there. I hope you and your families have all been well during the hiatus, and I hope you aren't too angry with me! Enjoy the chapter!

"Mayhem achieved, boredom relieved."

-Bruce McCall

22

Yule Ball Mayhem

As more and more people finished dinner, the center of the room began to fill once again with dancing couples, their hems being lifted as they spun around. The table emptied until Harry and Susan were the only ones left. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her glancing at him and then at the dance floor, so he stood up and extended his hand for her to take. Color rose in her cheeks, but she took his hand, and they went to the center of the room to dance.

The music got faster and louder, and soon he was jumping up and down beside her as the group sang along with the band. Through the colorful-clothed students, he saw Cho in silver dancing with Diggory, and Granger, her face as pink as her dress, with Krum. Harry felt somewhat foolish dancing, but following Susan and the beat of the music made it easier.

When both their faces were red and their mouths were dry, they left the dance floor. Harry went to get drinks. The long table with bowls of beverages and rows of frosted glasses was near the opened doors to the room. As he walked away from the pounding music, he heard people shouting in the Entrance Hall, and curiously went closer.

He recognized the strained voices of Weasley and Granger.

"—just friends, Ron!" Granger exclaimed.

"Just friends? Seems like he wants to be more than just friends to me."

"Well, at least he figured out I was a girl before you did."

At first Weasley didn't reply, but then he blurted, "He's much too old for you."

Granger sighed angrily. "What is this even about? If you're upset that I didn't say yes to you, Ronald, then next time there's a dance pluck up the courage to ask me before anyone else does!"

Harry heard her heeled footsteps against the marble coming towards him, but with his back pressed to the wall she didn't see him as she marched towards the dancing crowd. He walked towards the door, and glanced out to find Weasley sitting on the steps to the first floor, his head bowed slightly.

Maybe it was because he just felt like torturing the redhead more, but Harry stepped out into the hall and said, "You really should've asked her, you know."

"Do you ever mind your own business?" Weasley said through gritted teeth.

"Not really."

"Just get the hell away from me."

"I heard she didn't tell you who she was going with. But is it any wonder if you just go to conclusions?"

"Who the hell asked you? I said get the hell away from me!" Even in the dim light, Harry could see that his ears and cheeks were getting red.

"I think she fancies Krum. You can tell from the way she keeps touching his arm and from the ways she laughs at everything he says." At Harry's words Weasley glanced up quickly. It was the exact effect he had been looking for. The redhead looked into the Dining Hall, his eyes searching for Granger.

"Did…did she tell you she was going with him?" Weasley inquired.

Harry simply shrugged his shoulder, not wanting to say yes or no, but Weasley stood up from the steps and began straightening his robes and hair. Harry turned away to go back into the Dining Hall, a smirk on his face, when he met Pansy Parkinson at the door.

"Can I talk to you for a moment, Harry?" She glanced behind him at Weasley and Harry did, too, but he seemed too preoccupied with flattening his hair.

"Err…sure."

She grabbed his forearm and pulled him away from the Entrance Hall. He followed her around a corner and a few feet down the empty, dim-lit corridor. It was completely quiet. The sound of the band playing couldn't be heard anymore from there.

"What was it you wanted to talk about?" Harry asked, wondering why they had gone away from the festivities.

"It's just that…" She glanced down at the ground momentarily, before looking up into his eyes. "I want to come clean. I…Well, I like Draco, really I do, but I only dated him…to get closer to you. You do what you believe it best. Draco only does what his father tells him to. You're so much braver than him, and so much kinder, and you're a champion in the Triwizard Tournament."

Suddenly, Harry felt her hands on his chest, pushing him lightly until his back was resting against the cold corridor wall. He could have resisted, he could have pushed her away, it's not like she was using any spells or potions, but nonetheless he felt somewhat entranced by the whole experience. All of a sudden she was leaning towards him and he was leaning towards her, and their lips met, warm and sweet and wet.

But then behind his closed eyes he saw a bright flash of light and a high-pitched laugh. Harry opened his eyes and stepped away from Parkinson to find Rita Skeeter and her photographer friend standing at the end of the corridor. They stood there for a moment, as Skeeter consulted her floating Quick-Quotes Quill.

From a nearby corridor, a voice asked, "Pansy? Pansy, are you around here?" Then, as if they had all been asked to meet here, Draco was standing at the end of the corridor as well, looking from Harry to Parkinson and back./

At the exact wrong moment, Skeeter said, "Hmm…what should be the next headline, Harry? Harry Potter caught in a lovers kiss? This is going to sell quite rapidly, you know." She walked away, the sound of her heels echoing down the hallway. The photographer took another photograph of their stunned faces, and then left.

The three of them stood there for a moment in complete silence. Harry looked from his friend to the floor. He wouldn't even look at Parkinson. He didn't want to make things worse. But finally he couldn't take the quiet anymore. "It's not what it looks like, Draco."

"It's exactly what it looks like," Draco said very quietly. "You and my girlfriend were kissing behind my back. How long has it been going on?"

Harry was completely dumbfounded. Draco thought they had been snogging for ages, making him look the fool. "What? It was just this once, and she kissed me."

"Do you think I'm an idiot?" Draco's voice was finally starting to rise.

"At the moment, yes! She came onto me, Draco. I wouldn't kiss your girlfriend. You know me."

"I'm not so sure anymore." Draco glared at him, his gray eyes seemed to pierce his very conscious, and then walked away.

Parkinson turned back towards him. She put a hand on his chest again. "Forget about him. It can be just you and me."

Harry looked at her and then stepped away, incredulous. How could she just forget about what had happened here not a moment ago? "And what'll happen when another braver, kinder bloke comes along? You'll go right along with him. You don't fancy me, Parkinson; you just fancy the idea of me." He walked away, leaving her in the dark corridor. As he walked towards the Entrance Hall he heard sniffling. It was any wonder he had heard it at all he was so wrapped up in his own thoughts, but the sound was undeniable.

He looked down the last corridor before the Entrance Hall and found Susan around the corner wiping tears from her eyes. She looked so small and sad that he just couldn't leave her there. But when she glanced up at him, her eyes welling up again, she ran away down the corridor, and he simply didn't have the energy to follow her and make things better again. He decided to talk to her another time, when he could talk to her properly.

But all he could think about at the moment was the fact that he had just screwed everything up again with Draco, and although he wouldn't entirely call it his fault he still felt guilty. Draco wouldn't talk to him for days, if not weeks, now. And he wasn't sure what to do about it. What could he say that could fix this?

Hopefully, Draco would realize that it had been Parkinson who had gone behind his back, and not him, that he had just been strung along, that they both had been strung along by her.

Harry sat down on the stairway and put his forehead in his hands. He used his fingers to massage his hairline, but it didn't help the thoughts from raging through his head. He needed to talk to Sirius. Maybe he would have some advice for him.

Suddenly, he realized that not only was Draco never going to talk to him, or Susan, but that a picture of him and Parkinson kissing was going to be in the next day's iDaily Prophet/i for the whole world to see. He would be laughed at and gossiped about by the whole school tomorrow. Everyone was going to be talking about it. And he had finally thought he was done with being part of people's rumors. He was clearly wrong.

Thinking about the people that had witnessed the kiss, Harry also recognized that it was odd that they had all been there at the same time. It was just too planned to be a coincidence. He stood up, his blood starting to boil, and went in search of Rita Skeeter. He found her sitting alone at the table that Snape had occupied previously. She was overlooking her Quick-Quick Quill, no doubt it was the article she would be publishing about him and the kiss.

"Who told you?"

"Pardon?" Skeeter asked, looking up from the parchment. She took her glass from the table and brought it slowly to her lips.

"Who told you where I was going to be? There's no way that was a coincidence. You didn't just happen upon us. Somebody told you. Who was it?"

"I think a better questions is do you fancy this girl you were kissing? You seemed very into it." She was prying. She wanted details that she couldn't get from a photograph. "What's her name? Pansy Parkinson, is it? It seems the Boy Who Lived likes girls with money and influence, does he not?" When he said nothing, she added, "C'mon, Harry, answer the questions! This article is going out later tonight to be printed in tomorrow's paper."

"I'm not answering any of your questions! Tell me who told you where I was going to be!"

Skeeter put down her frosted glass and sighed. "A boy came up to me, told me to go down the corridor, said it would be worth my while. Honestly, he sounded so excited about it I just couldn't resist."

"What did he look like?"

"Red hair."

That was all she needed to say. He knew it was Weasley. He should have known. Weasley had been standing there just before Parkinson had dragged him away. With all that had happened, with all his thoughts racing, Harry had completely forgotten about that.

Harry turned away from the table and bumped right into someone. The person asked, "What are you yelling about, Potter?"

Taking a few steps back, he looked up from the black cloak into the face of Snape. "I wasn't yelling."

"Skeeter, has Potter been bothering you about something? His presence tends to cause distress and mayhem to those around him." He spoke icily, turning his gaze from Skeeter to Harry.

"No, he hasn't been bothering me, Severus. We were just talking about the article I'm writing about Harry."

"Is that right?" Snape's dark eyes seemed to be penetrating his very mind, so Harry averted his eyes. "Harry Potter is getting another article written about him. I wonder what kind of light you're putting him into now. No doubt it's beneficial. We wouldn't want to scar the reputation of the Boy Who Lived."

"That article is far from…beneficial," Harry spat, glancing at Skeeter.

Skeeter turned in her seat to look at Snape. "Harry's just upset that I found him and his little girlfriend kissing in a corridor, and that I got a nice picture of the moment. The world will want to know that the adored Boy Who Lived is growing up so quickly."

Harry looked at Snape, but couldn't read his expression. If they were at Hogwarts he would have had points docked for snogging in the corridors, but they were at another school. What would Snape do now? Give him detention? Frankly, he didn't care at the moment. He just wanted to leave this castle and go back to his room in the Hogwarts Express. He didn't want to be anywhere near loud music or laughing people.

Skeeter took another long sip of her drink. There was silence between them, though the room was practically shaking from the music, but it was when Skeeter said, "I've already thought of quite a catchy headline. Would you like to hear it, Harry?"

He couldn't take listening to this anymore. Turning to Snape, he said, "Give me detention if you want, I don't care. I need to get out of here." He turned on his heel to leave the room, but was stopped in his tracks by Snape's hand grasping his arm tightly. He gazed up into Snape's dark, unemotional eyes, as the man muttered, "We're not done here, Potter. Seeing as I can't deduct points, for you it will be detention. One hour, tomorrow, eight o'clock. Be in the Entrance Hall."

"Yes, sir."

Snape released his grip on Harry, who pulled his arm away and walked away. The high-pitched melodies became softer and subtler with every step he took away from the Dining Hall and the people inside. His mind seemed clearer in the silence, and it made him realize that although he wanted to get back at Weasley for what he had done, the more important thing was repairing his friendship with Draco.

Revenge could wait. His friendship could not.

* * *

Although Harry would rather have gone to his room to lie on his bed and not sleep, he was worried that Draco would be there. And although he wanted to talk to him, to fix things, he thought that maybe his friend needed some time alone to think. So after coming through the fireplace, he stayed in the dim Interchangeable Room, watching through the window as snow continued to fall, slow and heavy. The snow looked dark against the dark sky, and for some reason it made him even more melancholy.

He waited for as long as he could before he just couldn't take it anymore. His right foot was constantly tapping the floor, as were his hands against the armrests. He stood from the chair, threw open the doors, and practically ran down the narrow corridor. But when he reached his room, Harry stopped momentarily.

What if Draco didn't want to talk to him? What if he really believed that he had backstabbed him? What if he wanted to end their friendship because of this? Harry's heart sank as that last thought ran through his head. But he had to at least try.

Opening the door, Harry first saw that it was dark inside. It didn't faze him at first. People who are upset generally want to be in as dark as place as they feel inside. But when he didn't see Draco's body lying on the bed, he realized that his friend wasn't actually in the room at all. Draco must have stayed in the castle to walk around and think. However, it was when he noticed something else as he was closing the door to look for Draco that Harry got really worried.

Pointing his wand at a torch by the door, he exclaimed, "Incendio!" The flames of the torch cast its warm light around the room, illuminating Harry's trunk, which had been pulled open, its contents spilled onto the floor and thrown onto his bed. At first he thought it had been done to get back at him – that Draco had thrown his belongings all over the room to make him feel guilty, as if he didn't already. But as he started putting his robes, jumpers, trousers, and socks back into his trunk, he found that something was missing. Although throwing Harry's things around would probably give Draco some relief, leaving would do so as well.

Harry's Conglomerate Stone was gone.

As he ran down the hallway, used the fireplace, and made his way back towards the Dining Hall, he wished that he could do this on his own. He wished that he knew how to Apparate, so that he could find his friend without anyone knowing that he had gone, but he didn't know how to magically disappear yet, therefore he needed the help of a professor. The band was still playing, students and teachers were still dancing, and drinks were still being downed. He couldn't believe that it was only two hours into the Yule Ball; it seemed hours since it had started.

Harry stood in the doorway of the Dining Hall, staring out at the crowd of people, breathing heavily as he searched for his headmaster. And just as he was about to enter the room to find him on foot, a warm hand touched his shoulder and he spun on his heels to find Dumbledore standing behind him. His wrinkled face looked happy, his blue eyes were glinting in the light of the orbs above them, but at the sight of Harry's worried expression, his smile disappeared, and Dumbledore asked, "What is it?"

"Draco's gone."

With the hand still on his shoulder, his headmaster guided him through the Entrance Hall and into a empty classroom. Two people were following behind them, he could hear their footsteps, but Harry was in such a daze that he didn't look to see who it was. He was sat in a chair. He stared at the floor. He heard Dumbledore's voice, as if from a far distance, ask him to explain what had happened leading up to his disappearance. He didn't want to explain, but he knew he had to. It was going to be in the newspaper the next day anyway.

Harry gulped. "It started because of Pansy Parkinson…" He explained everything, almost, about what had happened that night. "I went to find Draco, but my stuff was everywhere and I realized that he had taken my Conglomerate Stone. There are at least half a dozen places he could be right now."

"Does he know where all the stones lead to, Harry?" Dumbledore asked calmly.

"No, he only knows two of them: Malfoy Manor and the Slytherin common room."

"Where do the others go?"

Although his shoulders felt heavy, Harry finally looked up. "There's one that leads to another part of Hogwarts. One goes to the Burrow, the Weasley's home. Another goes to Spinners End. The other leads to…12 Grimmauld Place." He looked past his headmaster when he felt eyes on him, and saw Snape standing in the doorway. McGonagall was standing just inside the room.

Dumbledore turned to the teachers behind him. "Severus, check Malfoy Manor and your home. Minerva, if you would be so kind as to tell Karkaroff that I have left for a while, it will be much obliged. And then please see Arthur and Molly. I doubt he will have stayed there, but I would like to know if they saw him. I'll be going to London and Hogwarts."

pHarry stood up from his seat. "I want to help."

"Potter, I was not aware of the fact that you knew how to Apparate," Snape spat.

"I don't. But he's my friend, and I want to help find him."

McGonagall took a step forward. "Mr. Potter, you can travel with me if you like."

"No," Dumbledore interrupted. "He will go with Severus. I have a feeling Mr. Malfoy is at one of the places I have told you to set out for."

"Come here, Potter." Harry walked over to his greasy-haired professor. "Grab my arm."

"You can Apparate within the castle walls?" Harry asked.

"Durmstrang doesn't have as many restrictions as Hogwarts," answered Dumbledore.

Harry clutched Snape's forearm, feeling the warm fabric beneath his fingers. Somehow he knew that disappearing and reappearing wasn't going to be quite as comfortable as using Floo Powder. And he was right. One moment he was looking into Dumbledore's eyes, and the next he felt as if a giant's hands were compressing his body and head. Suddenly he was standing outside and it didn't seem as dark as it had been before. Harry let go of Snape's arm, staggered back, and threw up on the paved ground. He wiped his mouth and then walked back towards Snape, who was waiting exactly where had been before.

"Where are we?" Harry asked. They were standing in the middle of a Muggle residential street.

"We're close to a Wizarding community in France. It is too far a distance from Durmstrang to Malfoy Manor to Apparate just once. Grab my arm, Potter."

"We have to do that again?" When Snape didn't reply, Harry took his arm, and the sensation of being squeezed into a very tight space started again, and ended just as quickly. Luckily, he didn't need to vomit again, but he was a little dizzy.

When the lightheadedness had subsided, he found himself standing in front of the massive structure that was Malfoy Manor. He stepped back to see that some windows were lit yellow. Someone was home, but was it Draco? Snape moved to knock on the door, but it opened and his hand was left hanging for a second. Harry's eyes dropped for a few feet when he saw that it was the house elf Dobby. His eyes lit up at the sight of him.

"Harry Potter! Dobby is so happy to see Harry Potter again! But Dobby is wondering why Harry Potter is here when he should be at Durmstrang Institute for the Triwizard Tournament." Dobby stepped aside to let the two of them pass. He didn't say anything to Snape, but glanced at him curiously.

Harry walked into the vestibule, where it was considerably warmer than it was outside. "We're looking for Draco, Dobby. Have you seen him? Has he been here?"

"Master Draco has not been home since the summer, Harry Potter. Master and Lady Malfoy are not expecting him until June." Dobby's eyes narrowed as he said, "Is Master Draco in trouble? I must get—"

From upstairs a voice spoke, sounding irritated. "Dobby, who are you speaking to?" Then voice was quickly followed by the appearance of Mr. Malfoy, who was wearing black robes that contrasted greatly with his long white hair. "Ah, Severus, Harry, how are you? What brings you here?"

"I'm afraid to say that we come here due to a worrying circumstance, Malfoy," Snape spoke.

Harry looked up the split stairwell at Mr. Malfoy, whose relaxed demeanor broke instantly. "What is it? Has something happened?" His face fell, and for barely a moment he seemed like a father instead of just a man, and then he regained his composure. He pushed a strand of hair back over his shoulder.

"Draco is missing. He took Potter's Conglomerate Stone and left Durmstrang sometime this evening."

Mrs. Malfoy seemed to sense that something was wrong because she appeared to Harry's left from the Great Room, looking distressed, her usually pale features were stained with blotches of red. "Draco's missing? What happened?"

Harry stepped forward, looking into her suddenly weary blue eyes and said, "It's my fault. We got into a fight. I found out later that he had gone."

"Do you know where he is, Harry?" she asked quietly.

He shook his head. "No, I'm sorry."

Mrs. Malfoy didn't say anything, but looked up at her husband, who glanced at her and then started walking down the steps towards them. Mr. Malfoy's cane clicked against the marble steps as he descended. "Where are you headed to, Severus?"

"My house."

"I'll join you."

"We have it under control," Snape replied. "I will inform you immediately when he is discovered."

"We?" Mrs. Malfoy asked.

Snape seemed to pause momentarily, before adding that Dumbledore and McGonagall were also out searching for their son. Mrs. Malfoy didn't express either reassurance or concern at the discovery of knowing that more people were looking for Draco, but Mr. Malfoy scowled at the thought. Whether it was the actual people looking or the idea that more people knew his son was missing, Harry wasn't sure.

Harry stepped back and took hold of Snape's arm. The last thing Harry saw before he was compressed out of being was Mrs. Malfoy's eyes looking at Snape pleadingly. The last thing he heard was Dobby from somewhere behind him say, "Goodbye, Harry Potter." Suddenly, all he could see was darkness and all he could hear was the sound of crickets. His eyes took a moment to adjust to the nearly pitch black street outside of Snape's house. The inside of the house looked just as dark. No windows were lit. Harry's wellbeing was starting to deteriorate, and seeing the clearly unoccupied house wasn't relieving his stress or guilt.

"He's not here," Harry said, letting go of his professor's arm. "Maybe he used the Stone and then went somewhere else."

Snape didn't seem to hear him, or was ignoring him, because he walked up the steps and unlocked his front door with a flick of his wand. Harry didn't want to follow him because it was obvious that his friend wasn't inside, but after his professor opened the door and went in he grudging trailed after. It was so dark that Harry nearly bumped into Snape, who had stopped only a foot or two into his house. That was when he heard the sniffling. It was almost inaudible, but it was there.


Preview of Chapter 23—Discovery:

The article about Harry and Parkinson comes out, he wonders if he can still remain friends with Draco, and he goes to his detention…