Harry scraped the remains of his treacle tart into his mouth, savouring every last morsel. His eyes, however, were currently occupied elsewhere, in pursuit of his favourite pass time of Malfoy watching. Obsessively stalking, Ginny called it, but Harry disagreed.
The blond Slytherin sat in his usual spot at the head of his table, flanked by the usual acolytes, who seemed to wait with baited breath for their leader's every word. Harry shook his head; he just didn't see what it was that made Malfoy so special.
Even after he had joined the Light side in the war against Voldemort, the Slytherin boy had remained an obnoxious, ferrety git, with the complete inability to say a nice word to anyone - his friends included.
A sharp dig to his ribs pulled Harry from his musings. He turned to find his two best friends watching him, a mixture of amusement and impatience on their faces.
"Honestly, Harry." Hermione let out a long-suffering sigh. "If you could tear your eyes off Malfoy for just a moment, you would notice that Dumbledore is about to make an announcement."
Harry turned his head in the direction of the head table, and sure enough, there was the Headmaster, resplendent in purple velvet robes, on his feet, an amused smile on his face as he surveyed the assembled school.
"You know, Harry," Ron muttered. "You keep staring at Malfoy the way you have been, and people will start talking."
Harry choked rather violently on a mouthful of pumpkin juice, and was saved only by Ginny Weasley's rather hearty slap on the back.
"Yeah, Harry," she whispered, her lips close to his ear. "You wouldn't want people thinking that you liked boys, would you?"
Harry shot her a look that spoke volumes of what the consequences would be, should she decide to pursue that line of conversation. Ginny simply grinned in return and then turned her attention back to the Headmaster.
Dumbledore rambled in his own off-the-wall style for several minutes before finally taking pity on the confused student body.
"Therefore, we have decided that Hogwarts will host its very own Valentine's Ball this year. I'm sure you will agree that we could all use the opportunity to relax, and maybe take the chance to get to know your fellow students in a more informal setting."
The level of noise in the Great Hall rose noticeably. Though the reaction to the news seemed to be split, Harry noted.
On the one hand, there were numerous squeals of delight, originating mainly from Lavender and Parvati, but echoed heartily by Pansy Parkinson over at the Slytherin table. There were those, like Hermione and Ginny and, he suspected, Ron, who were clearly as excited, but refused to partake in such a girlish activity.
Then, there was a fairly large group, made up mainly of males, and Millicent Bulstrode, who, like Harry, viewed the impending event with gut twisting horror.
Dumbledore had swiftly retaken his seat after imparting his bombshell - obviously well aware that he had lost his audience.
"Bloody hell," Ron commented. "That doesn't give us much time to find dates."
"Dates? Dumbledore didn't say anything about needing a date." Harry's eyes widened in horror at the thought, and he was slightly gratified to see a similar expression on Neville's face.
"Of course you need a date, Harry," Lavender butted in scornfully. "It's a ball."
"And don't look at me," Parvati added with a snort. "I'm still recovering from the indignities of the Yule Ball."
Hermione rolled her eyes at the input from Gryffindor's resident airheads. "Ignore them, Harry. You'll have no trouble finding a date. I'm sure the girls will be just lining up to go with you."
"Yeah," Ginny added with a grin. "I'm sure that the Boy Who Lived would be able to get any girl he wanted."
Harry shot her a meaningful glare, and Ginny promptly subsided with a quiet snicker.
"I think I'm gonna ask Mandy Brocklehurst," Ron said, eyeing the Ravenclaw table speculatively.
"And it'd be her brains you're after, would it?" Seamus enquired, grinning madly.
"Yeah, right," Ron scoffed. "You've heard what Terry Boot says about her. Apparently she's a right dirty…"
One glimpse of Hermione's forbidding glare caused the words to die on his tongue.
"Sorry," Ron muttered, though Harry privately thought he didn't look remotely remorseful.
"I should think so, too. It's not nice to spread rumours."
"But it's true," Ron protested. "Seamus, tell her."
Seamus nodded in corroboration, before he, too, quailed in the face of the Head Girl's stern expression.
"Well, I'm going to ask Draco Malfoy," Lavender announced, despite not having been asked.
Parvati let out a squeal. "Oh! But I was going to ask him."
Lavender merely smirked at her supposed friend, and gave a toss of her long hair. "I hear he prefers blondes."
"Who cares?" Ron declared. "He's a Slytherin."
"He's hot," Parvati replied, to a chorus of agreement from the surrounding females.
Ron spluttered his outrage at this statement.
"I know he's a git, but he is quite good looking," Hermione commented. "Don't you think so, Gin?"
"Yep." Ginny nodded emphatically. "He might be an arse, but what an arse it is." She then sat back in her chair, a satisfied grin on her face as she took in the apoplectic expression on her brother's face.
"Harry! Talk some sense into them," he demanded weakly.
Harry merely smiled sympathetically before allowing his gaze to drift, once again, in the direction of the Slytherin table.
Forcing himself to appraise Malfoy with an unbiased eye, Harry was a little disturbed to find himself in agreement with the Gryffindor girls. Watching him, as he laughed with his friends, the candlelight playing off his blond locks, Harry found that Malfoy was actually very attractive. When it wasn't twisted with anger or malice, the Slytherin boy's face appeared softer, and his eyes had something of a twinkle that would make Dumbledore proud.
A little horrified by this revelation, Harry turned away quickly, completely missing the knowing smile that passed between Ginny and Pansy Parkinson.
Draco struggled to keep a smile on his face, whilst inwardly seething. He didn't for one minute buy the old fool's explanation for this impromptu ball.
Dances were a rarity at Hogwarts; in the last six years, there had been precisely one. And that was only held because of the Tri-Wizard Tournament.
Draco glared in the direction of his Head of House, and found him reluctant to meet his gaze. That decided it for him; there was definitely more to this dance than a chance to relax and mingle. And Draco rather suspected it had his mother's interfering fingerprints all over it.
The sourness of his own mood had not managed to affect his dinner companions, however. Pansy and Daphne were already engaged in in depth discussions regarding possible attire, and bemoaning the lack of time, and opportunity to select anything new.
"We'll have to get together one evening, so that we can go over our outfit ideas," Pansy said suddenly, turning her attention to him.
Draco scowled. "I am not going," he snapped.
Pansy looked at him thoughtfully for a moment before she laughed lightly. "Don't be silly," she chided good-naturedly. "Of course you're going. Valentines is a big day, especially for you."
Draco's scowl darkened at Pansy's last words, but he chose to ignore them. "Even if I were to attend this travesty of an event, I'm quite capable of selecting my own attire without any help from you."
"But, Draco, we need to make sure we don't clash. Plus, you'll need to know what colour corsage to get me."
Draco's scowl faded and a smirk slid over his face instead. "Very sure of yourself, aren't you? Who said I was planning to ask you?"
"Because no one else would put up with a date who stares at other blokes' arses while they're dancing."
Draco choked on his drink. "One time!" he spluttered. "You make me sound like some kind of prowling deviant."
Pansy brushed his words aside with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Anyway, there's no one else for you to ask. Daphne and Tracey already have dates, and you know you won't take anyone from another house."
Draco looked a little stunned. "How can they have dates already?" he protested. "It was only announced ten minutes ago."
"Well, while you were busy indulging in a fit of sulks, Blaise and Theo asked them."
"There's still Millicent," Draco pointed out, suppressing a faint shudder; she was too manly, even for him.
Pansy shook her head pityingly. "Millie's going with Crabbe and Goyle."
"Both of them?"
"Yep. You know those two do everything together."
"Yes, but I didn't realise that included Millicent."
Now it was Pansy's turn to shudder. "That was a mental image I didn't need. I may have to Scourgify my eyeballs later."
Draco turned and looked to where the three bulky Slytherins sat, huddled together, further down the table. They looked decidedly…friendly.
"I'll be your date on one condition," he said decisively. "I'm sharing your bed that night. There's no way I'm running the risk of seeing those three frolicking around the dorm."
Pansy grinned. "Okay. But, you know, it might not be necessary."
Draco watched his two bodyguards fawning over their…girlfriend. "I'm not so sure. Have you seen the glint in Crabbe's eyes? Not even my parents could afford the therapy bill that that experience would necessitate."
Pansy chuckled at this. "No, I didn't mean that. I just meant that…well, it's Valentine's, isn't it? You might have found your mate."
Draco treated his friend to his fiercest Malfoy Death Glare. "Remember that conversation we had about you learning to hold your tongue?" he enquired coolly.
Pansy simply nodded, a wary expression on her face.
"Well, if you mention the 'm' word again, you won't need to worry about holding it. After all, it's very hard to hold what isn't there."
Pansy flushed slightly and bit back a scathing reply; one look at Draco's face told
her he was likely to make good on this threat.
Severus Snape was carefully ladling a potion into a delicate glass vial, when his office door burst open, and a blond whirlwind entered.
"He knows, doesn't he?" Draco snapped without preamble, allowing the door to slam behind him.
Snape scowled at his favourite pupil, and then went calmly about cleaning up the now-spilt potion. After he had cast a thorough Cleaning Charm on both himself
and the workbench, he turned to face his godson.
"I suggest you control yourself, Draco. I will overlook your rudeness this once, as you are clearly distressed about something, but I will not tolerate further childish outbursts."
Draco's head drooped slightly. "Sorry."
"Apology accepted. Now, why don't you tell me what's got you in such a state?"
Draco's head snapped up again. "Dumbledore knows, doesn't he? About me, I mean."
"You are referring to your heritage, I presume, rather than just your mere existence?"
"Yes," Draco replied shortly.
"And what, may I ask, has led you to such a conclusion?"
"It's this Valentine's Ball charade of his. There's more to it than the old man's letting on. It's too much of a coincidence. Has my mother been here?"
"I don't believe that Narcissa has visited the Headmaster, though she did express an intent to write to him."
"And you didn't think to stop her?" Draco demanded, his eyes flashing with anger.
"You forget yourself, Draco," Snape replied sharply. He watched the discomfort spread over his godson's face. "You know as well as I do, that nothing on earth can stop your mother, once her mind is made up. Something I believe your father had to learn the hard way."
Draco acknowledged the truth of this statement; stubbornness was definitely a Black trait.
"But it's so humiliating," he whined. "It's like they're my pimps, or something. Setting up this dance just so they can get me mated."
Snape couldn't help but chuckle; it was a deep, throaty sound, that would have come as a surprise to most people, who thought him devoid of all emotion, save anger.
"It's not funny. It's bad enough that I keep being molested by lust-crazed idiots between classes, without my mother trying to fix me up with some complete stranger. And for the rest of my life, too."
"You do exaggerate, Draco. You have the dampener-"
"Damn it, Severus, it's not working anymore. I woke up this morning and Vincent was trying to climb into my bed. Do you have any idea how traumatising it is to see a semi-naked Crabbe crawling up the bed towards you? Let me tell you, it's not an experience I care to repeat."
Only his closest friends would have recognised the Potions master's facial tic for what it was: amusement. However, he restrained from laughing at his godson's predicament.
"Draco, you knew this would happen eventually. Your Veela side is growing stronger as the traditional mating approaches."
Draco wrinkled his nose in disgust. "I've asked you not to use that word. It makes me sound like some kind of animal."
Snape sighed. "There's no point in you fighting this; it's part of who you are. Your father had to deal with it when he was your age, and his father before him. It's a rite of passage."
"Yes, well, my father got my mother for a mate. Who in Merlin's name am I going to get landed with? There isn't a boy in this school that I would want to spend the night with, never mind the rest of my life."
He paused here before looking at his godfather with horrified eyes. "What if it's a girl?"
Snape allowed a small smile to show on his face this time. "It won't be a girl," he reassured. "If you had bothered to read any of the literature that I supplied you with, then you would know that."
Draco slumped into a nearby chair, a petulant pout marring his good-looking face. "I don't want to be a Veela," he whined. "Can't I just keep wearing this for the rest of my life?"
"You know you can't. The dampener was only ever a temporary measure. You said it yourself; its effects are starting to wear off."
"What about that potion I read about? That works, doesn't it?"
Snape settled into a chair opposite his godson and rubbed tiredly at his face. "Draco, we've been over this repeatedly. That potion is only effective in the short term. Like the dampener. Prolonged use of it will cause irreparable damage to your cerebral cortex."
Draco slumped back in his chair, arms folded tightly across his chest, and a severe scowl on his face. "There has to be a way around this. I can't go the rest of my life having random people pawing at me. Some of them are Hufflepuffs!"
Snape sighed. "There is a way," he agreed. "Once you are successfully mated, your pheromones will become attuned to your mate. And although the allure will still be present, it won't be nearly as potent as it is currently."
"And in the meantime I just have to put up with being molested? Is that what you're telling me?"
"It is only for a few more weeks, and I'm sure that you are more than capable of defending your honour in the meantime. I've seen some of the curses that your father taught you."
Then, spotting the gleam in his student's eyes, he added, "And nothing fatal, mind. Or permanently disfiguring."
Draco pouted again. "Spoilsport."
"And finally, Potter and Malfoy."
Harry gathered up his belongings and made his way over to the Slytherin side of the classroom. He could feel the weight of Professor Snape's malevolent gaze on him, but ignored it, not wanting to give him the satisfaction.
Really, Harry reflected, you'd have thought that Snape would get tired of being so predictable.
He stumbled slightly as he neared Malfoy's table, tumbling into the vacant chair with more speed than grace.
"Potter. A pleasure as always." Malfoy's voice was heavy with sarcasm. "Falling for me already, I see."
"You wish," Harry muttered, busying himself with arranging his textbooks so that he could avoid meeting the other boy's gaze. The last thing he wanted was for Malfoy to see how flushed his cheeks were and jump to conclusions.
With an overly dramatic flourish of his wand, Snape listed the instructions for that day's potion on the board in front of them. "You will follow these instructions to the letter," he snarled. "Any deviation could have explosive results."
He paused here, and his intense gaze swept over the assembled group. "Due to the complexity of this potion, I have paired the more incompetent among you with a more highly skilled student. I do not expect to see their work hampered by your ineptitude."
Harry didn't miss the meaningful stare that was aimed, exclusively, in his direction. Nor, it seemed, did Malfoy, who snickered softly.
A swirl of black robes followed and Professor Snape disappeared into his private office.
"I'll get the ingredients, shall I?" Harry offered.
Malfoy raised a brow at this; though it was clear he had no intention of completing such a menial task himself.
Harry headed off in the direction of the store cupboard, relieved that the first potential flashpoint of the day had been negotiated without incident.
"Pass us those beetle wings, mate," Ron asked from behind.
Harry passed the jar in question to his friend and went about gathering the rest of his supplies.
"You got stuck with the donkey work as well?" Ron continued, making a long arm for the dried slugs.
Harry just shrugged. "I offered."
"You feeling alright?" Ron teased, making as if to feel his friend's forehead.
Harry batted his hand away. "No point getting into a row over it. You know Snape only pairs us like this so he can get a rise out of us. He's just praying one of us kicks off, so he can take points off Gryffindor."
Ron snorted. "He'd have to take a hell of a lot of points. Have you seen the hourglasses lately? We're a dead cert for the House Cup this year."
"Very sure of yourself, aren't you, Weasley?"
Both boys turned around and saw Pansy Parkinson leaning casually against the doorframe.
"Nothing wrong with being confident," Ron muttered defensively.
Pansy pushed away from the doorway and walked closer. "And I'll bet you've an awful lot to be confident about," she commented, running her gaze suggestively down Ron's body.
Ron flushed as red as his hair, grabbed the remainder of his ingredients, and scurried from the room with a high-pitched, "Eeep!"
Harry couldn't help but chuckle at his friend's discomfort.
"Something amusing, Potter?" Pansy enquired, stepping closer still.
Harry fumbled the jar in his had, almost dropping it, before he too fled.
Pansy watched him go, a broad grin on her face. "Gryffindors," she commented to Blaise Zabini, who had entered in search of his own supplies.
He nodded his agreement, but didn't miss the glint in his friend's eyes. "Weasel or Scar head?" he asked, without further explanation.
Pansy, it seemed, fully understood the question. "Oh, the Weasel, definitely. It's that red hair and fiery temper. Plus, I heard from Lavender Brown that he's a demon in the sack!"
"You're such a slut, Pans." Blaise grinned.
Pansy gave a toss of her long, dark ponytail. "You're one to talk."
When Harry got back to his seat, he found it already occupied - by Zacharias Smith. Finding himself ignored, he coughed loudly, clearly indicating his presence.
Such subtleties were clearly beyond the blond Hufflepuff. Harry had never been particularly fond of Smith; he had been such a prat during the D.A. in their fifth year.
He looked edgily in the direction of Snape's office. His luck being what it was, Snape was bound to appear and hold him personally responsible for the current situation.
It was Malfoy, of all people, who came to his aide. "I believe Potter would like his seat back," he commented coolly.
"You don't mind, do you, Harry?" Smith replied, his gaze never once wavering from Malfoy's face.
"Actually," Harry began.
"So, I was thinking," Smith continued, as if Harry had disappeared. "Next weekend is a Hogsmeade weekend." He gazed up at Malfoy coyly, from beneath lowered lids.
Malfoy rolled his eyes, and Harry couldn't help but grin to himself as the Hufflepuff boy remained oblivious.
"I think Millicent is waiting for those ingredients."
Malfoy gave a slight shake of his head, causing strands of silken hair to fall over his face. Harry couldn't help but wonder if it was as soft as it looked. Clearly, Smith had the same thought, as he reached out and clumsily brushed the hair away.
Harry knew what was about to happen a split second before it did; he'd seen those grey eyes narrowed at him in a similar fashion on numerous occasions.
Malfoy's wand was levelled on the Hufflepuff, his expression icy. "The next part of you that touches me, you won't be getting back." His tone was so cold that Harry had to suppress a shudder.
Smith appeared crestfallen. His cheeks flushed, shoulders sagged, and his head drooped in disappointment. He slid out of Harry's chair. "'M sorry, Draco," he mumbled, his expression so woebegone that Harry almost felt sorry for him.
Instead, he slid into his chair with relief, and shot a wry smile at his partner.
"Not a word," Malfoy snapped, putting his wand away.
The lesson progressed without further incident, for which both boys were extremely grateful. Although, Harry struggled to ignore the penetrating glare coming his way from a certain Hufflepuff.
He tried his hardest to focus on the potion they were making, and actually found himself admiring Malfoy's potion making skills.
Having partnered Hermione for most of the last six years, Harry was more than used to having a competent partner. Which, considering his lack of expertise in this area, was something the entire class should be grateful for.
But, watching Malfoy, as he deftly sliced their Arrowroot, Harry realised that this was Potions taken to a whole new level. There was concentration on the Slytherin's face, that was a given, but there was something else also. Something Harry was loath to call passion, but found that no other word would do.
Malfoy not only excelled at the subject, but he clearly loved it too.
As Harry watched his partner's long, slender fingers, precisely wrapped around the glass stirring rod, his eyes were suddenly drawn to the other boy's arm. Glinting against the marble-like skin of Malfoy's wrist was the most beautiful band of engraved silver that Harry had ever seen.
Before he realised what he was doing, his hand was stretching outwards, fingertips itching to trace the intricate patterns on its surface. So consumed was he by this desire, that Harry never even stopped to consider what Malfoy's reaction to this action would be.
In fact, Malfoy's reaction was somewhat delayed. It took him several seconds before the reality of the situation made itself known. "You're touching me, Potter," he muttered, glaring fiercely at his partner.
Harry seemed not to hear him, but continued stroking his fingers over both the bracelet and Malfoy's wrist. Finally, Malfoy snapped. He batted Harry's hand away angrily, causing it to impact with their cauldron, sending the majority of its contents down the back of Padma Patil, who sat in front of them.
Padma's shrieks roused Snape from the depths of his office. He swept back into the classroom and took seconds to survey the scene before handing down his judgement. Gryffindor swiftly found itself minus fifty points, and Harry found himself in possession of several nights of detention with his 'favourite' teacher.
"I haven't noticed it," Hermione admitted, a frown on her face that she always wore when puzzling out new information. She reached for a sheet of parchment and took up her quill. "Describe it to me."
Harry slumped down onto the sofa at her side, already regretting his earlier impulse to see her advice. "Umm, I dunno. It was a silver bracelet, and it had a kind of pattern on it."
Hermione glared. "You've just described a piece of jewellery owned by half the witches in this country."
"But they're girls," Harry pointed out defensively.
Hermione's glare didn't waver and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"It was about two inches wide, and the pattern was…well, it looked like wings. Lots of wings, going all the way round it."
"And you said you felt drawn to it?"
Harry nodded. "Yes. Once I spotted it, I just couldn't stop staring. It was almost like there was this voice inside my head telling me to touch it."
"You didn't, though, did you?"
Harry flushed slightly and nodded again. "I couldn't help it. It was almost like Imperius. You don't think it's some kind of Dark artefact that controls people, do you?"
Hermione shook her head. "Harry, you really have to get over this fixation you have on Malfoy. Much as it pains me to say this, he's not evil; he fought on our side during the war. And anyway, you're not affected by Imperius, so it can't be that."
"But how do you explain-"
"I don't know," Hermione interrupted. "But if it will make you feel better, I'll look into it."
"Please. And for your information, I'm not fixated on Malfoy at all. Zach Smith, on the other hand…"
"You're fixated on him?" Hermione demanded incredulously.
"Merlin, no! I mean that he's got a thing for Malfoy. I swear he was trying to ask him for a date in Potions today. And he touched his face." Harry paused and grinned at the memory. "I thought Malfoy was going to kill him."
"Now that you mention it, something very similar happened in Ancient Runes yesterday. Terry Boot actually offered to walk Malfoy to his next class, and tried to carry his books for him, too."
Harry just snorted. "I'm surprised the snobby git didn't just let him. He's probably used to having servants fetch and carry for him. That's probably what the bracelet's for, to turn us all into his willing slaves."
"I don't think so," Hermione said thoughtfully. "He looked awfully embarrassed by it at the time."
Harry shrugged. "Who can figure out why those Slytherins do anything. Speaking of which, I'd better get off. Don't want Snape taking more points off us."
Harry reluctantly made his way down to the dungeons for this detention with Snape, all the way cursing Malfoy for his predicament.
During the war, Harry had been forced to work closely with the snarky Potions master, and whilst they certainly hadn't become friends, a sort of cautious truce had sprung up between them. Harry had always fancied that it was the result of mutual, yet begrudging respect for the other's work.
Once Voldemort was defeated, and they had returned to Hogwarts, Snape seemed to slip easily back into his favoured role as bad tempered teacher. But Harry realised there wasn't the usual venom behind the words, and he definitely spent less time in detention than in previous years.
Which was why he held Malfoy entirely responsible for his current situation. Harry scolded himself mentally for being so stupid as to fall into whatever trap the Slytherin boy had laid for him this time.
There had to be more to that bracelet than simple jewellery, Harry was convinced of that. There was no way that he would be that drawn to a simple trinket. And with Hermione on the case now, Harry had every confidence of getting some answers soon.
As he rounded the last dimly lit corner, Harry spotted the object of his thoughts. Malfoy was leaning casually up against the dungeon wall, a bored expression on his face.
His companion seemed oblivious to his disinterest. Lavender Brown gazed up at him through lowered lashes, one hand twirling in her flowing blond locks.
Stepping closer, Harry was surprised to fee the beginnings of irritation rising within him. A soft, yet insistent voice, in the back of his mind, was suggesting to him that Lavender was standing entirely too close to Malfoy. Harry found himself agreeing with this, and felt a sudden impulse to go and drag her forcibly away.
Just as his foot moved forward, as if of its own volition, Harry checked himself. Shaking his head to clear it of such irrational thoughts, Harry realised that he needed to get as far away from the other two as possible.
But the problem was that Malfoy was stood outside the Potions classroom, and Harry had detention with Snape, inside that classroom. So unless he wanted to spend the rest of term scrubbing cauldrons, Harry was going to have to control himself sufficiently to negotiate the final few yards to his destination.
Lavender's hand was now resting tentatively on Malfoy's forearm, her fingers tracing slowly upwards. Harry recognised the familiar tic of annoyance in the other boy's jaw, but was surprised to see that his wand remained firmly in his pocket. Maybe Malfoy's pureblood principles didn't allow for the hexing of girls, Harry thought.
"So, I was wondering," Lavender simpered. "If you would come to the ball with me? I promise I'll make it worth your while."
There was no mistaking the suggestive leer in her tone, or the way her body pressed up against Malfoy.
Harry was faintly gratified to notice the somewhat horrified look in the other boy's eyes. Malfoy tried to extricate himself from Lavender's embrace, but she was having none of it.
When her fingers began tugging forcefully at the buttons on Malfoy's robe, Harry had had enough. However, before he could stride to the rescue, someone else intervened.
Harry had never before been so pleased to see Pansy Parkinson. The petite Slytherin girl had the tip of her wand pressed into the tender flesh of Lavender's throat.
"Back off, Brown," she warned, and Harry could have kissed her. Well, almost, but she did seem to be standing awfully close to Malfoy too.
Lavender took one look at Pansy expression and promptly fled to the relative safety of Gryffindor tower.
Pansy then turned her wrath onto her friend. "Just what the hell did you think you were doing?"
"I wasn't doing anything," Malfoy snapped petulantly. "I was minding my own business, and she just started groping me."
Harry was amused to note that Malfoy quailed in the face of Pansy's temper, much as he did with Hermione. It seemed that some things didn't change, no matter what house you were in.
Pansy grabbed her friend's arm. "C'mon. Let's get you back to the common room. You know better than to wander around alone. It's not safe for you right now."
"I wanted to see Professor Snape," Malfoy muttered sullenly, but allowed himself to be pulled along regardless.
Harry watched the two Slytherins walk away with a sense of relief, the slightly fuzzy sensation in his head clearing. A quick look at his watch showed him he had mere seconds before his detention was due to begin.
He hurried the short distance to the Potions classroom and entered quickly.
"Ah, Mr Potter. So good of you to join me."
Harry wisely said nothing, but slid into a vacant seat and looked at his teacher expectantly.
"I'm curious, Potter, as to your explanation for this morning's debacle. Is it now common practice for you to molest your fellow students?"
"No, sir!" I didn't…I mean…I couldn't help it."
Snape raised a brow at this. "Indeed. So it was Mr Malfoy's fault, for being so irresistible. Is that what you're saying?"
"Yes. No. I'm not sure." Harry couldn't think straight under that penetrating gaze. "It was that bracelet or his," he muttered defensively.
Harry's eyes were fixed on his desk at that point, so he missed the way that Snape's eyebrows show upwards at his last words.
"You will find the dirty cauldrons in the sink at the back of the room. Once you have cleaned them all, without the aid of magic, you may leave."
Harry looked up in surprise. "You're not staying?"
Professor Snape sneered in return. "I, unlike you, have important business to attend to." With those words, and an impressive swish of his robes, he promptly left the room.
"Well, that's certainly interesting." The Headmaster sat back in his chair, hands steepled under his chin.
"Interesting? I tell you that Potter is Draco's mate, and that's all you can say. It's a bloody nightmare is what it is."
"Calm down, Severus. There is no point in getting worked up over this. We do not even know for certain that it is true."
Snape scoffed at this. "Did you not hear what I said? Potter saw the dampener. The only way that is possible is if he…" He trailed off here, an expression on his face showing just how distasteful he found this situation.
"That may be," Dumbledore agreed. "But I have found, in the past, that where Harry is concerned, anything is possible."
A derisive snort escaped the Potions master's lips, but his Headmaster ignored it. "Would it really be so bad, Severus? There are a lot worse possible outcomes of this situation."
"Such as? Tell me what could possibly be worse than this? Those two have hated each other since the day they met."
"But I am led to believe that the strength of the Veela bond would overcome any of their previous…objections." Dumbledore leant forward and took hold of the steaming pot of tea on the desk in front of him. "Tea?"
Snape nodded his assent. "In theory, yes. But as you said earlier, where Potter is concerned, things rarely go as they should."
"He may surprise you yet," Dumbledore commented, sipping from his china cup.
"I won't hold my breath for it. I'm serious, Albus. I can't foresee a way that this situation could possible turn out to be anything other than an unmitigated disaster."
"Draco is already struggling to come to terms with his heritage. It would not take much to push him into outright rebellion against it. And if there is one thing guaranteed to do that, then discovering Potter is his mate is it."
"So you believe that Mr Malfoy may refuse to accept his destiny? Always assuming that it is to be Harry."
Snape placed his cup gently back onto its saucer. "Yes, I do. Even taking into account the great risks to his own mental and physical well-being. And even if, by some miracle, we can get him to accept it, it will only make it a thousand times harder when Potter rejects the bond."
Dumbledore's blue eyes gazed at his friend in silent contemplation for a moment. "You think that Harry would refuse?"
Snape nodded sharply. "Of course. You can't tell me that you think Potter would agree to this bond, under any circumstances. To be bound to a boy he despises for the rest of his life."
Dumbledore shook his head sadly. "I had hoped that you had gained a greater insight to Harry during the war. But it seems that he is still a complete mystery to you."
Snape opened his mouth to refute this, but Dumbledore waved him silent. "No, Severus, you need to hear this. Harry has his faults, I won't deny that; he can be thoughtless, foolhardy, and hot-headed. But at the core of it all, he is a decent boy. Loyal, kind, brave, and more loving than anyone growing up as he did should be."
Snape shifted impatiently. "I didn't come here to listen to you extolling Potter's virtues," he muttered.
"The point that I am trying to make, is that Harry would never willingly, or knowingly hurt another person. He's too much Lily's son for that. If, as you say, he is Mr Malfoy's mate, then I sincerely doubt that he would refuse the bond. Not knowing what the consequences would be if he did."
Snape drank his tea, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Let us hope you are right."
"Indeed. Now there is one bright side to this, however," Dumbledore commented, a bright twinkle in his eyes.
Snape raised an eyebrow in question.
"You will get to have the pleasure of telling Lucius Malfoy that he has Harry Potter as a son-in-law."
Even the dour Potions master could not fail to see the humour in that, and a dry chuckle escaped his lips. "A bright side indeed," he mused.
"What I propose," Dumbledore said after a moment, "is that we ask Remus to have a word with Harry about this. After all, he is the closest thing to a parent that the boy has."
"I suppose that's not a bad idea," Snape agreed begrudgingly; he was still smarting over the Werewolf's return to teaching. "But just a general chat. I don't want him being given specific details of Draco's private confidences."
"Of course not," Dumbledore agreed. "It would just be to sound him out, get him used to the possibility of such things. I think also that it may be expedient if we were to arrange for them to spend more time in each other's company."
Snape nodded, knowing full well that the Headmaster would do as he pleased regardless of anyone else's input.
"Excellent. I will speak with their other Professors later."
Pansy slumped down into the sofa nearest the fire, and promptly found Draco's feet in her lap.
"Comfy?" she asked archly.
"Very. I don't suppose you fancy giving me a foot massage?"
Pansy screwed up her snub nose. "I can't think of anything I'd enjoy less. Apart from possibly massaging Goyle's feet."
Draco just grinned smugly and wriggled his toes enticingly. Pansy gave them a sharp smack. "What have you done to Theo?" she enquired. "I looked for you in the dorm earlier and he's in bed, with the hangings drawn. Blaise says he's been like that all evening and he refuses to come out."
"Ah." Draco had the good grace to appear sheepish. "I came back to the dorms during dinner. I wanted a shower, you know?"
Pansy nodded, because she did know. With the increasing potency of his allure, Draco had found that the only safe time to shower was when he was alone.
"Well, this damn thing was annoying me, so I took it off." He indicated the dampener with a wave of his hand.
"Draco, you didn't," Pansy chided.
"I thought I was alone," he protested
"So I take it you weren't? Theo was there as well?"
Draco flushed a little. "Yes. But I didn't know that 'til the sex fiend climbed into the shower with me."
Pansy chuckled throatily at this. "I bet that gave you a shock."
"Not as much of a shock as the one I got when I realised he was naked." Draco shuddered from the vivid memory. "It's a good job he's a scrawny thing, or my virtue would have been in serious jeopardy."
Pansy threw back her head and laughed merrily at that. "I don't know what's more funny," she gasped, wiping tears from her eyes. "The mental image of a naked Theo, or the fact that you still think you have virtue left to defend."
Draco scowled at his friend, but was unable to fight the smile tugging at his lips for long. "It's not funny," he protested weakly.
Pansy gave one of his feet an affectionate squeeze. "It won't be for much longer. Once you've found your mate, your allure won't be as strong."
For once, Draco didn't lose his temper at the reference to his heritage. "If that was meant to comfort me, you failed. Reminding me that I will have to spend the rest of my life bonded to some complete stranger, not of my own choosing, is not exactly a mood booster."
"You never know," Pansy replied. "It might be someone you already know. Considering the size of the wizarding population, there's quite a good chance of that. It's probably someone who goes to Hogwarts."
"Merlin, I hope not. There's no one here that I find remotely appealing"
"Really?" Pansy sounded slightly surprised. "There's no one you like, even the tiniest bit?"
"I already said no." Draco struggled to stamp down his irritation; really, sometimes Pansy asked the most stupid of questions.
"It's just that I thought…never mind."
Draco took one look at the thoughtful expression on his friend's face and decided against asking for further explanation. Sometimes Pansy could be startlingly insightful. Usually when Draco wanted it least.
"I suppose there's always the Weasel," he said, keen to distract her from whatever thoughts she was having.
Pansy grinned. "Oh yes, you two would make a wonderful couple. I can just imagine your parents welcoming the Weasleys into the Manor."
"Hmm, though you'd much rather be welcoming the Weasel into your bed, wouldn't you? Blaise told me about your little conversation earlier."
Pansy shrugged unrepentantly. "Trust me, if you'd heard the things about him that I have, even you'd be tempted to give him a try."
Draco looked repulsed at the mere suggestion. "Merlin's balls, Pansy, are you really that desperate for a shag? He's a bloody Gryffindor."
"And a Lion between the sheets, apparently. According to Lavender Brown, at least." Pansy had a lascivious smile on her face as she spoke.
"How do you know that?" Draco was torn between outright revulsion and curiosity.
"Girls talk," Pansy replied simply.
"Oh," Draco said, before a look of horror crept over his face. "When you say talk, you don't mean that you…"
"Don't worry; I made sure to talk you up when they asked."
Draco relaxed against the back of the sofa with a sigh. "Good." He tilted his head back, eyes falling closed. A split second later his eyes were wide open again and glaring intently at his friend.
"What do you mean 'talked me up'? I'll have you know my skills need no exaggeration."
"Draco, we had sex once. You cried afterwards and then declared yourself gay. It was hardly the most earth shattering experience a girl could have."
Draco huffed petulantly and scowled at his friend. "Bitch."
Pansy smiled sweetly. "Yes, and don't you forget it."
Harry was awake early the next morning. His dreams had been plagued, somewhat disturbingly, by relentless images of Draco Malfoy. Not particularly sexual in content, but he had woken up sticky nonetheless.
It wasn't that his dreams featured another boy that bothered him; many months had passes since Harry had come to terms with his sexuality. But Malfoy? That poisonous ferret? Harry shook his head in disbelief, praying that his Silencing Charm had held. He was nervous enough about Ron finding out he was gay, never mind him finding out that he was lusting over the boy who had plagued their school years.
A quick shower later and Harry was down in the common room, finishing up his Transfiguration homework. A movement on the sofa next to him caused Harry to look up from his work. Ginny Weasley sat, grinning back at him.
"Morning, Harry. You're up early."
Harry shrugged. "Couldn't sleep. I figured I may as well get a head start on this."
Ginny ruffled his hair. "Hermione would be so proud of you."
Harry scowled. "Well, it's not like I can do it at night. Not now Snape has my evenings sown up with detention for the rest of the week."
Ginny smiled. "Oh yes, I heard about that. Rumour has it that you were trying to feel Malfoy up."
Harry spluttered in outrage at this, but the memories of his recent dreams caused a flush to spread over his cheeks.
"It's okay, Harry," Ginny soothed, patting his shoulder. "Malfoy's hot. I
understand. You might be the Boy Who Lived, but you're only human."
"I was not molesting Malfoy. I can't believe you would even think that. He's got this bracelet with some kind of Charm on it. It's kind of like Imperius; I couldn't help it."
"But I thought you were immune to the Imperius Curse?" Ginny asked innocently.
"I said it was like, not that it was. Hermione's looking into it."
"Oh, Harry. Why is it so hard to just admit you fancy him? I thought you were through this denial faze?" Ginny gazed at him steadily, and took his hand in her own, smaller, freckled one.
"There's nothing going on between me and Malfoy," Harry snapped.
Realising that Harry's famed temper was on the edge of fraying, Ginny decided that further teasing was not wise and she went for a change in subject. "I've been thinking about the Valentine's Ball," she said.
Harry looked a little surprised by this change of direction, but was grateful for it nonetheless. "What about it?" he asked cautiously.
"Well, I was thinking, that as neither of us can go with who we really want, maybe we should go with each other." Ginny sat back and looked at him expectantly.
"Who do you really want to go with?" Harry asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.
Ginny huffed. "You know this, Harry. We've had this conversation like a hundred times."
"Zabini," Harry answered. "So you really want to go with that snake, but you'll make do with me, is that it? Thanks, Gin, that's a real compliment." He wound up giving his friend a playful shove.
Ginny giggled. "Considering the fact that I'm a penis short of being your ideal date, I don't see how you can complain."
"You two look cosy."
Harry spun round quickly and felt panic rise in him when he saw Ron standing there. He scrutinised his best friend's face for any sign that he had heard his sister's last comment. The beaming smile on the redhead's face told Harry that he hadn't.
"We're just discussing the dance," Ginny replied, seeing that Harry was struggling for words.
"You're going together? Mum will be pleased to hear that. She was beginning to give up on you two ever getting yourselves together."
Harry flushed and squirmed uncomfortably at this comment. The stifled snort he heard coming from Ginny didn't help. "Just as friends, Ron," he muttered.
"Of course," Ron replied, though his tone clearly indicated he didn't believe it.
"Have you got a date yet?" Ginny asked, a sly edge to her voice. "I'm sure I know of one girl who'd go with you."
Ron perched on the arm of the sofa, his expression betraying his interest. "Who?"
Ginny grinned. "Pansy Parkinson. I hear she's quite keen on you."
Ron looked startled. "Who told you that?"
"Now that would be telling, wouldn't it," Ginny replied smugly.
"You've just made that up," Ron snapped, the flush on his face indicating his annoyance.
"I don't know, mate. She seemed quite taken with you in potions yesterday."
Ron gave his best friend a look of betrayal. "You're only saying that cos then you'll be able to take Malfoy," he shot back in return.
It was Harry's turn to flush now. But before he could come up with a worthy comeback, Hermione had joined the group, and began herding them downstairs for breakfast.
The brief mention of food was all it took to wipe all thoughts of the conversation from Ron's mind. He sped towards the Great Hall, leaving his amused friends behind in his wake.
By the time lessons that day were over, Harry was convinced that there was some form of dark conspiracy at work. Not only had he been partnered with Malfoy in Potions, (not that that was anything new) but also in Transfiguration and Charms, too.
The final betrayal of the day had come in Defence, when Remus, of all people, had paired him up with Malfoy for duelling practice. A quick look at the Slytherin boy's mutinous expression had told Harry he was not alone in his thoughts. And the whispers from the seats behind him, told Harry that more and more people were noticing the pattern.
What was even worse than the enforced pairing, was the fact that Harry had been forced to grudgingly reassess some of his long-held preconceptions of his rival.
Malfoy was smart. And not just like your run of the mill Ravenclaw bookworm, but Hermione smart. It seemed that the Slytherin boy's marks had not, as Harry had previously suspected, been the result of his father's connections and backhanders, but had actually been earned the hard way.
As Harry headed down towards the dungeons for his detention with Snape, he struggled not to think of the other things he had noticed that day. Like how Malfoy's hair shone when the light bounced off it in a certain direction, or how, when not full of malice, those grey eyes seemed to gleam almost silver. And his skin…
Harry tried his hardest not to remember the overwhelming urge he had felt to trail his tongue up the milky-white skin of Malfoy's throat.
Bad thoughts, Harry, he admonished mentally, as he drew nearer to the Potions classroom, almost relieved to reach his destination without further encounters of the Malfoy kind. At least a few hours on the receiving end of Snape's tongue should clear his head, he decided.
With that thought in mind, Harry was certainly not prepared for the sight that greeted him when he pushed open the door to the Potions classroom.
The first thing he spotted was Draco Malfoy. But before his brain had time to process his irritation upon seeing his rival yet again, Harry noticed something else.
Malfoy's usually pale skin was flushed, and his hair was slightly ruffled. Those silvery eyes, that he had admired so intently earlier, now locked onto Harry, and held something of a note of panic in them.
"Potter." Harry never thought he would hear Malfoy sound relived to see him. "You have to help me."
"Come now, Draco. There's no need to involve Mr Potter in our little…misunderstanding."
The decidedly unfamiliar seductive tones of his professor woke Harry up to certain other facts as well. Like how Malfoy's trembling wand arm was extended in the direction of their Potions master, or how Snape was currently making his way towards them with a distinctly predatory gleam in his eyes.
"Your detention is cancelled, Potter. You may leave us." Snape's eyes never once wavered from Malfoy as he spoke.
Harry slid his hand into his pocket, taking hold of his wand, just in case. "Uh, I don't think that's a good idea, sir. Maybe I should just take Malfoy with me."
"That won't be necessary," Snape purred, edging ever-closer still. "Draco will be staying with me. We have some…unfinished business to attend to." Harry had never felt as repulsed as he did at that moment when Snape licked his lips in what he clearly thought was a seductive fashion.
The look of panic on Malfoy's face at this called every one of Harry's protective instincts to the fore. Firmly inserting himself between hunter and prey, he carefully levelled his own wand on the professor.
While Harry suspected that he should have been feeling terrified of the fact he was threatening Snape, of all people, he found it very difficult to concentrate on anything other than the sensation of Malfoy's hands as they slithered round his waist.
"Leave Potter, Draco," Snape commanded, his voice deep and husky.
Malfoy let out no more than a whimper.
"Come here to me," Snape tried again, at his most persuasive. "Come to big daddy and let me take care of you."
Harry was unsure whether to vomit our laugh aloud at hearing such words leave Snape's mouth. However, his thought process was somewhat stunted when Malfoy tightened his grip, pressing their bodies flush against each other.
Harry could hear Malfoy speaking, but was only aware of the other boy's groin pressed snugly against his own bottom. He wanted to listen to what Malfoy was saying, but the sensation of his breath, ghosting over his neck, was causing the blood to leave Harry's brain in a rush, heading for certain other parts of his anatomy.
In the end, Malfoy simply slid his hand over Harry's and altered the trajectory of his wand slightly.
"Accio dampener," he cried, the croak of his voice causing another throb in Harry's groin.
The silver bracelet leapt off Snape's desk and zoomed into Malfoy's outstretched hand. No sooner had he caught it, than Malfoy slipped the bracelet onto his wrist.
Almost instantly, a slightly dazed and confused expression slid over Snape's face. It lasted for mere seconds, before a furious flush took over.
"Out! Now!" he bellowed.
Neither boy needed telling twice, and though he felt bereft as Malfoy pulled away, Harry swiftly followed him to the door.
Once in the corridor, the two boys stood silently staring at each other for a few moments. Neither sure what to say after the encounter.
Harry was only too aware of the pounding of his heart and the thrum of blood coursing through his veins. And over all of this, was a faint, yet insistent voice at the back of his mind, that kept repeating Mine, over and over.
"Thanks for that, Potter," Malfoy said eventually, when the silence became too much.
His cheeks were still pink, and with his hair tumbling messily into his eyes, Harry was painfully aware of just how adorable the other boy looked.
"Don't mention it," he muttered. "Really, don't. Ever. I think seeing Snape like that was more traumatising than facing Voldemort. I mean, big daddy?"
Malfoy snorted with laughter at this, and Harry couldn't help but join in. The empty corridor echoed with the peals of their laughter for several long moments, before a certain awkwardness took hold.
"Right," Harry mumbled, shuffling his feet. "I'd better get going."
"Yeah," Malfoy agreed, though Harry fancied he heard a hint of reluctance in his tone. "Night then."
"Night, Malfoy," Harry offered, before turning to leave the dungeons. He made it several yards before he heard his name called.
Harry turned round and saw that Malfoy was still stood in the same spot. "Yeah?"
"Um…I just wanted to say thanks again. I dread to think what would have happened if you hadn't come in then."
Harry smiled warmly. "Probably best you don't think about that. Not this close to bedtime."
Malfoy nodded. "See you tomorrow then?"
"Yep, tomorrow." Harry had to force himself to turn away, but as he walked out of the dungeons, he could have sworn he felt those eyes watching him.