a/n: Special thanks to Finnigan's Irish Girl (who probably won't see this) for betaing :)

Beware the Fury of a Patient Man

"Oi! Harry! Come look at this!"

Harry put down the copy of Quidditch Monthly he'd been skimming through and began searching the aisles, trying to determine which one Ron's shout had come out from. Finally, he located Ron and Hermione at the end of the last aisle, giggling and waving frantically at him. He raised his eyebrows and trotted down to join his friends.

"Look, Harry," Ron grinned, holding his palm out. There, sitting in Ron's hand was a small action figure pacing back and forth. The action figure was adorned in black robes with a scarlet and gold crest on the pocket. Its black hair was sticking out all over the place, brushing its miniature glasses and nearly hiding a lightning bolt scar on its forehead.

"You can't be serious!" Harry exclaimed. "Put that thing away!"

"Here's what you get for beating the Dark Lord, Harry," Ron quipped. "Your very own action figure. It's no First Class Order of Merlin, but I think this is much better."

"This is humiliating," Harry sighed, slapping a hand against his forehead.

"I don't think even Lockhart had one of these," Ron continued. "Teenage girls all over Britain will be putting these on their nightstands and swooning before they go to sleep. And look, you can buy one of You-Know-Who to go along with it. If you put them together, the little Harry takes out his wand and -"

A cloud of smoke exploded from Ron's hands. When the smoke cleared out, they saw the miniature Harry clutching his hands together in the air, in a sign of victory.

"I don't look like that!" Harry objected. "Oh, honestly."

Another hand grabbed the Harry action figure from Ron's palm.

"You've got your own action figure now, Potter?" The trio's heads turned up and scowled at the all too familiar sneering face. "What's next? Were you planning on marketing a line of your own toiletries? Broomsticks, perhaps? The closest thing to riding Harry Potter himself."

"You're disgusting!" Hermione spat.

"What do you want, Malfoy?" Harry asked hotly. He could feel colour rising to his cheeks in spite of himself.

"Professor Snape was just wondering where his favourite Gryffindors were," Malfoy said smugly. "The rest of the group has already lined up to go back to Hogwarts, but oddly enough, you three were the only ones missing. Naturally, he asked me to run and fetch you. Of course, I should have known you'd be over here playing with yourself."

"Oh, sod off Malfoy," Ron said angrily, clenching his fists at his sides. "Harry saves your life and all you do is become an even bigger git. He should've left you to die."

"That's right, Potter, you did save my life," Malfoy said softly, turning to Harry. "You'd better think of a way to make it up to me." With that, he spun around on his heel and left the shop, his black robes billowing out behind him in a manner eerily similar to Snape's.

"I think he's cracked," Ron observed. "Come on then, we'd better get out of here before Snape gives us all detentions."

"But I still haven't found something for my parents," Hermione moaned, glancing around the aisle feverishly.

"There's one more Hogsmeade weekend before Christmas, Hermione," Ron reminded her. "You'll be fine. On the other hand, you won't be if Snape decides to leave us here."

Harry followed behind the two of them silently. He was beginning to wonder if Malfoy really had cracked. It was true that he'd been acting rather strangely all year. He was hardly ever with Crabbe and Goyle anymore, and he acted more venomous towards the three of them than ever. Then there was the fact that Snape had given him three detentions during Potions so far.

Harry and Malfoy had never regarded the fact that one had saved the other's life, mere weeks ago. It had been Malfoy's own fault; he'd been wandering around the Forbidden Forest alone and nearly gotten himself stung by a Manticore. If Harry and Ron hadn't been serving detention that very night (the whole point of the detention was to find any students lingering in the forest), well, Malfoy would be dead. As it was, Ron had nearly keeled over in fear, but Harry had somehow managed to scare the Manticore off.

The fact that Malfoy was in the Forbidden Forest alone was a testament to how strange he'd been acting all year. Since the demise of Voldemort, really. Harry had finally defeated him in the end of their sixth year. As soon as school had resumed, Malfoy had begun playing without a full deck, so to speak.

Then of course, there'd been that bit in the Prophet . . .

"Harry, come on! You're walking slower than Trelawney!"

When they'd caught up with the other students, Snape shot them a look that could kill and rushed them towards the horse-less carriages. There were no empty carriages left, so they were forced to split up: Ron with Seamus, Dean, and Neville; Hermione with Pansy Parkinson, Blaise Zabini, and Millicent Bulstrode; and Harry with two Ravenclaws in their third year. The ride back to Hogwarts was silent and boring. While most of the students were becoming restless in anticipation for the upcoming holidays, the Ravenclaws were still studying as hard as ever. The ones in his carriage spent the entire ride with their noses behind thick books.

Once they'd reached the castle, the sun was already beginning to set. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had already eaten in Hogsmeade, so instead of going for dinner in the Great Hall, they decided to return to their common room. Seamus, Dean, and Neville were there too, and soon it turned into a regular party.

"Oh, Neville, the look on your face was priceless," Hermione laughed, wiping tears from her eyes. "You just looked so shocked, as though we'd turned you into a frog."

"I don't think it's very funny," Neville sulked. "How'd you like it if I put you under a body binding spell?"

"I doubt you could," Seamus pointed out. "Don't be so pouty about it, Neville."

"Before you begin making fun of Mr. Longbottom, I suggest you take a look at your own Transfiguration marks, Finnigan," Professor McGonagall said firmly as she walked into the common room. Seamus went red rather quickly. "Here are the sign-up sheets for Christmas. If you plan to stay at Hogwarts over the holidays, please sign up now."

Harry and Ron immediately signed up. Hermione was planning on spending half of her holidays with her parents, the other half at the Burrow. She and Percy had been seeing each other since the end of the summer and flirting with each other since the beginning of it. Once Penelope Clearwater had moved to France to study Ancient Runes, Hermione and Percy had begun writing to each other. Eventually, they started dominating the conversation around the dinner table at the Burrow with debates about trivial things like whether or not there could be a thirteenth use for dragon's blood.

"Isn't it a little sordid that you're going to my house for holidays but I'm not?" Ron asked, passing the sign-up sheet on to Harry. "It's a bit warped, if you ask me."

"Well, I'm sure you're not losing any sleep over it," Hermione said righteously. "Your mum is very upset that you're not coming home. I don't see why you don't just take Harry with you."

"Because, Hermione, this is a perfect opportunity to not spend time listening to you and Percy argue the fundamentals of loose-leaf parchment," Ron said, faking a gag. "I just hope you two don't end up getting married. I'll be forced to spend every Christmas hearing about how one small wizarding community in Japan worships the rain as their Christmas god, or some other boring tidbit."

Hermione let out a mumble that sounded distinctly like 'prat' and kicked Ron swiftly in the shin. "Oh, Ron, I'm sorry. My foot must have slipped."

Harry chuckled and glanced down at the Christmas list. A great deal more people were leaving this year than two years ago; it seemed that while Voldemort was still around, most parents wanted their children to stay at Hogwarts, where they were safe. Harry, Ron, and the Creevey brothers were the only Gryffindors staying behind. Apparently, this had already been passed around in the Great Hall, for most of the houses' sheets already had several names on them. Several meaning an average of about four, but nonetheless, it seemed that everyone who was signing up already had.

"Me dad's taking me skiing over the holidays," Seamus announced. "He's made me swear that I won't use any magic on the slopes, so don't be surprised if I come back in a body cast."

"Gran and I are visiting family in the hospital," Neville said quietly. "Same thing we do every year."

"Is someone sick, Neville?" Hermione asked, her eyebrows knitting together in worry.

"No, just tired," Neville replied.

Harry shot Neville a sympathetic look. After Voldemort had been killed, Neville had come to Harry about his parents. Harry admitted that he had known about it; Neville had initially been angry that Dumbledore had let the information slip, but then realised that sooner or later someone was bound to find out, and he was just glad it had been Harry.

"And what do you two plan to do with yourselves while everyone else is away?" Seamus asked, turning to Ron and Harry. "Oh, we're going to be very manly," Ron said proudly. His chin was turned up cockily, his eyebrows were raised, and his mouth was pressed into a smug line. "No girls will be left, so we'll swig butterbeers and belch freely. Perhaps we'll even walk around in our undershorts. You'll wish you'd stayed behind, Seamus. It's going to be an incredible man-fest."

* * *

"So, Harry, who do you fancy?"

Harry and Ron were spread on the floor in front of the fireplace in the seventh year boys' dormitory; each clad in their pajamas with a pillow tucked under their arms and stomach. A bowl of Bertie Botts' Every Flavour Beans sat between them and a pair of fluffy bunny slippers were nestled onto Ron's feet (which were dangling in the air at the end of his crossed calves).

"No one!" Harry protested. "Hey, give me that pink one."

Ron passed a pink bean over the bowl to Harry. "All right, but if it's cotton candy, don't come crying to me. You do this every time you eat these, you know."

Harry bit the bean delicately. He chewed for a moment and broke into laughter, rolling over onto his back in a fit of giggles.

"What is it, Harry?" Ron asked with a puzzled look.

"It's . . . well, I believe it's ham," Harry managed. He handed Ron the half-eaten jellybean. "Here, try it."

Ron batted his hand away with a look of horrified amusement on his face. "I'm not going to eat your pre-bitten leftovers! Honestly!"

Harry caught his breath with a gasp and rolled back onto his stomach. "You know, this is quite the man-fest we're having. All we need are a bunch of beauty magazines, then I'm sure Parvati and Lavender would be jealous of our Christmas vacation."

"What are you talking about?"

Harry gestured at Ron's slippers (which were now kicking back and forth in the air) and began laughing again. Ron shot him a look of indignation and kicked the slippers across the room.

"Come on, Harry, tell me who you're in loooove with," Ron urged, eager to get the subject off of his bunny slippers (which his mum had given him, thank you very much). "Everybody knows."

Harry stopped laughing and flushed red. "Wh-What? Everybody knows what?"

"Everybody knows you've got a secret crush. Sometimes in class, you just stare off at the tapestries with this look of . . ." Ron attempted to give an example by puckering his lips and crossing his eyes.

"I do not look like that!" Harry yelled. He threw a handful of jellybeans at Ron.

"Yes you do," Ron laughed. "Come on, if you can't tell me, who can you tell?"

Anyone but you, Harry thought. Ron would be so mad if he knew!

"Hermione thinks it's Parvati," Ron continued. "But I told her that's absolutely ridiculous. She reckons you've been pining over her for years. Dean thinks it's Ginny, but Dean is a moron. And Colin Creevey thinks -"

"Colin! Just how often do you lot sit around discussing me?!" Harry exclaimed.

"Harry, you're in the hospital wing a lot," Ron said solemnly. "What else are we supposed to talk about while we sit there waiting for you to wake up?"

"Oh, I don't know, my medical condition perhaps?"

Ron snorted. "Where's the fun there?"

Harry was horrified. He had never imagined he'd been so obvious. And to think they'd all started discussing it! Surely, they couldn't have guessed, but the very fact was frightening. Of all the people to have a crush on, he had to pick That One. Yes, with capital letters. The only one he couldn't. He shouldn't. He wouldn't!

"Anyway, they're all wrong. I know who it is."

Harry froze.

"It's me," Ron bragged. "It's rather obvious, too, if you ask me. It's okay, Harry. I don't mind if you're gay." He quickly ducked the pillow Harry launched at his head.

By Day Two of the Christmas break, Harry and Ron were already bored. Christmas wasn't even for another two days, and the lack of students left little to do. Wandering around the castle had lost its charm, and Filch had started eyeing them up like Christmas turkeys every time he ran into them. Besides, they'd already finished off the good jellybeans (and even some of the dangerous looking ones).

"Well, would you look at that?"

Harry glanced at Ron, who was peering through the doors of the Great Hall. "What?"

"Malfoy's stayed behind for Christmas, and he's alone!" Ron said gleefully. "Remember how he used to pick on you for staying behind?"

Before Harry could even reply, Ron had flounced into the Great Hall, and Harry had no choice but to follow him. Sure enough, Draco Malfoy was the only one there, sitting in his usual spot at the Slytherin table. A book was spread out on the table in front of him, and he appeared to be rather involved in it. If he'd heard the two of them come in, he had made no sign of it.

"Ron, don't pick on Malfoy because you're bored," Harry said heavily, with a wary glance at the blonde boy.

"Why shouldn't I? It's not like he doesn't do the same thing to us." He quickened his step, and Harry practically had to jog to keep up with him.

"Come on, Ron," Harry said urgently. "This isn't fair. You're just looking for a fight. There are plenty of other things to do. We could have a snowball fight. We could go fly around the pitch. Hey, I'll even let you borrow my Firebolt."

Despite Harry's protests, Ron continued his stride towards Malfoy.

"Hey, Malfoy!" Ron called. "How come you didn't go home for Christmas?"

Malfoy's shoulders rose and visibly tensed, but the Slytherin's head remained bowed towards his book.

"Ron," Harry pleaded quietly.

"Oh, Harry, what do you care what I say to Malfoy anyway?" Ron hissed under his breath. He leaned towards Malfoy; his hands spread flat on the Slytherin table to bear his weight. "Say, Malfoy, what was it you used to say about Harry? That he didn't go home because no one cared about him? I can't help but wonder why you> haven't."

Malfoy still said nothing. Ron pulled a seat out of the table and sat down casually, resting his legs on the chair beside it. Harry pressed his lips into a thin line and focused his eyes on the ceiling with a sigh.

"What could it be?" Ron murmured. He began ticking reasons off on his fingers. "It can't be a girlfriend. Crabbe? Goyle? No, I don't think even you could be that disturbing. Daddy's locked in Azkaban, so I reckon you aren't hiding from him. What about your mother?"

Harry paled.

"That must be it," Ron decided. "Doesn't poor ickle Drakie's mother love him anymore?"

The words hardly had time to hang in the air before Ron hit the floor. In one swift motion, Malfoy had lunged across the table and knocked Ron and his chair to the ground. He had even, somehow, managed to mark and close his book beforehand.

Ron, however, was much stronger than Malfoy. Within a few seconds, he'd rolled them both over and now had the upper hand. Always the portrait of grace, Malfoy somehow managed to appear just as dignified on the ground as he did swaggering around the school. There was no sign of fear painted on his face; he looked amazingly svelte, despite the fact that six feet, three inches, and roughly, one hundred and seventy five pounds of Weasley were pinning him to the ground.

Harry reached forward and grabbed the back of Ron's robes. Unfortunately, at that very moment, Ron pulled his fist back. His elbow collided with Harry's face, knocking his glasses off immediately before his fist met Malfoy's eye.

"Ron."

Ron looked up from Malfoy, startled at the severity in Harry's tone. Harry stood over the two of them frowning, his hand clenched to his eye. Malfoy, who was clutching his own eye, took the opportunity to roll out from under Ron.

"Gosh, Harry, I'm sorry!" Ron exclaimed.

Harry looked at him sternly as he held a hand out to Malfoy. Malfoy stared at it with curiousity before grabbing it and allowing Harry to help him off of the floor.

"Well, I hope you're satisfied Weasel," Malfoy said briskly, brushing off his robes. "The next time you decide to wail upon unsuspecting students, remind me to at least give you a reason before hand."

He glanced at Harry out of the corner of his eye before spinning around and sauntering out of the Great Hall as if he hadn't just been clobbered. Harry shook his head in amazement.

"Harry, I'm sorry," Ron said apologetically, reaching out to touch Harry's eye. "I didn't mean to whack you."

"Oh, I don't care," Harry said bitterly. "What's the matter with you, anyway? Any other time, you become a babbling idiot when you're with Malfoy. Why did you have to act so smooth now?"

"Huh?"

"You couldn't have just left him alone about it? Why did you start a fight with him? It makes you no better than he is."

"What are you talking about? Harry, that guy's been picking on us for no reason for years! How many times has he insulted my family? How many times has he called Hermione a Mudblood? I finally get one on him, and now you're defending him?"

Harry exhaled loudly. "You don't pay attention to anything, do you?"

Ron looked mystified.

"Oh, honestly. I read the paper more than you do, and it was your subscription I was reading. Have you even glanced at an issue of the Prophet once this month?"

"My mum makes me subscribe to that. I don't have time to bloody read it."

"Narcissa Malfoy tried to kill herself."

Ron's face fell. He opened his mouth to say something, but only air came out.

"She's in St. Mungo's now," Harry went on. "Imagine how you might feel if your mother wanted to kill herself-especially if you were the only child. And we all know Lucius Malfoy is in Azkaban, which is probably why she did it, but still. Imagine it was your mother. You would probably feel like -"

"She didn't love you," Ron finished in a voice barely above a whisper. "Harry, believe me, I didn't know."

Harry nodded. "Well, now you do."

"I think I'm going to be sick."

* * *

He could feel the eyes on the back of his head every time he ate. He didn't have to turn around to know they were staring at him. Weasley had even tried approaching him at dinner on Christmas, but had quickly retreated to the Gryffindor table at the sight of Crabbe and Goyle cracking their fat knuckles.

Draco was not oblivious to the fact that Potter and Weasley had been trying desperately to catch him when he was alone for the entire duration of Christmas vacation. It had almost become a game, although he had his doubts on whether or not they were aware he knew. He'd taken to spending his free time in the most obscure places at Hogwarts he could find. He'd even spent the better part of Christmas Eve in the Hospital Wing with a faked case of Turkey Pox. Unfortunately, Madam Pomfrey had seen right through that, and he'd been forced to spend the rest of the afternoon helping her sort cottonballs and cottoncubes.

Harry and Draco's matching black eyes had not gone without notice. Professor McGonagall had taken twenty points from both Slytherin and Gryffindor, and given them a speech in front of the remaining students about fighting not being in the spirit of Christmas.

"It's not fair!"

Ron stabbed his stuffing violently and glared at Malfoy's shiny head across the room.

"What's not fair?" Harry broke out of his daze and turned to Ron with a questioning look.

"Malfoy," Ron frowned. "It's like he's purposefully avoiding me. Why can't that slimy git just sit still and let me apologise to him? And for pity's sake, who the hell are you sitting there daydreaming about, anyway?"

Harry flushed and turned his attention back to his dinner roll. "I was thinking about that Defense Against the Dark Arts scroll we have due at the end of holidays."

Ron sighed with exasperation and put his fork down. "Everyone knows you're mooning over someone, Harry. Even Dumbledore's probably wondering by now. I don't see why you're being so secretive anyway."

Because you would kill me, Harry thought mournfully. He decided to conveniently lose his hearing for a moment, a trick he'd picked up from Hagrid, and went on eating as if though Ron had said nothing. Ron, who had been around Hagrid for just as many years as Harry had, recognised the game immediately and rolled his eyes.

"I'm going to go down to the Owlery and send off Uncle Mercer's Christmas gift," he said, wiping his mouth. "Coming, Harry?"

"Christmas gift?" Harry asked, raising one eyebrow. "It's New Year's Eve."

"Well, I didn't expect he'd get me one!" Ron explained. "So I just hope he'll think it was too cold for Pigwidgeon to get it there on time. Rather convenient that way, the post is. Are you coming?"

"No, I want to finish my dinner," Harry decided.

"Suit yourself. See you later." Ron threw his napkin down and sauntered out of the Great Hall lazily.

Harry yawned and poked at his dinner. What a boring New Year's Eve. While everyone else was having huge bashes, all he and Ron were going to do was lie around the common room playing Exploding Snap with the Creevey boys. Last year's party had been wonderful, as most everyone stayed behind. The best part had been when Neville had accidentally turned Hermione into a toad. She'd croaked for weeks afterward.

He glanced across the room and noticed one glaringly empty seat. Where had Malfoy gone?

He turned to the rest of the hall, and saw that the doors were just falling close. A-ha! He quickly pulled his chair out and jogged out of the hall. Malfoy was nowhere to be seen, but one of the front doors clicked shut as soon as Harry walked into the foyer. Stealthily, he crept outside, where he had seen Malfoy rushing towards the lake. He waited a few minutes and followed.

When he reached the lake, however, he found he was completely . . . alone. He stood confused for a moment, and began searching through the high bushes.

"Here, Malfoy-Malfoy," he muttered quietly, as if he was beckoning a kitten. The only sound he heard was that of his own footsteps. Damnit! He was sure the little prat had come down this way, and he couldn't possibly have turned around and gone back without Harry seeing him. Harry began to feel stupid. Maybe Malfoy really was avoiding them on purpose.

A bright glare in the corner of his eye caught Harry's attention. He turned his head and stopped walking when he saw a blonde head a-top a set of black robes standing by the water of the lake. Draco Malfoy was the only person at Hogwarts with hair that blonde. Harry's stomach flipped with nervous guilt. Technically, he didn't have to go talk to Malfoy. No, no, that was a lie. He did. And so, he went.

For a moment, they simply stared at each other, each daring the other to be the first to break the gaze. Malfoy's eyes were narrowed into a menacing stare; Harry's blank and unimpressed. The scene was silent, save the lapping of water and a soft breeze; the tension hanging thickly in the air was so obvious, Harry felt that if he had reached up and tried to grab it in his fist, he probably could have.

Malfoy drew in a long breath and turned back to face the lake.

"If you've come to punch me in the other eye, make it fast and leave me alone."

"I didn't come out here to fight with you," said Harry with a reluctant sigh.

"Then why are you here?" Malfoy asked irritably.

"This isn't your own personal lake, Malfoy," Harry scowled, out of habit. Five minutes with Malfoy, and already he was beginning to get annoyed. Why had he expected Malfoy to stand there and let him speak? "I can come here if I please. I go to this school too, you know."

"Oh, really? I hadn't realised," said Malfoy, sarcastically. "You're so inconspicuous, so naturally I never noticed you. I'll take that into consideration the next time I see a 'Harry Potter is my Hero' slogan on something and wonder who they're talking about."

"Can't you go five minutes without turning into a royal pain in the arse?"

"No."

"Well that's nice to know. I'll just go walk somewhere else, then."

"Potter, wait."

Harry frowned and turned around.

"You don't have to leave," Malfoy sighed. "I'll go. You practically own the school, so that may as well include the lake, too."

Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise. "It's a public lake, Malfoy. There's plenty of room for both of us to be here. I wasn't asking you to leave. Why can't we both stay?"

Malfoy crossed his arms. He appeared to be searching for a witty comeback. The black eye made him look even younger than usual, and the reflection of the lake made his hair look even whiter. In general, he looked eleven years old again. In the past few years, Draco had grown taller, but had not gained much weight. Due to this, he tended to look like he was suffering from malnourishment most of the time. His robes hung off of him like a tarp, and his bones jutted out fiercely beneath the pallour of his skin. Despite his constant cloudy expression, Malfoy had never really looked his age.

"Because you're you, and I'm me," he said finally.

"That's right," Harry said slowly. "I'm me, and you're you. I'm glad we've established that. But, if you'll pardon the cliché, this lake is big enough for the both of us, so I don't see any reason for either one of us to leave."

Malfoy's eyes shifted to Harry's forehead for a moment. Harry felt his shoulders involuntarily stiffen, but showed no sign of discomfort. He felt as though he were being evaluated -- Malfoy the interviewer, and he the applicant, trying to prove himself worthy of sharing the lake. It was absurd. It was ridiculous. It was -

"Fine."

And so…

They stood.

"Did you get what you wanted for Christmas, Potter?"

Harry was startled by the question. It was alarmingly . . . normal. "Er, I guess. Not really. I don't know."

"I didn't," said Malfoy, flatly. "I did manage to get a cheap imitation though, which isn't saying much."

Harry didn't know quite how to respond to that. He wondered, idly, if Malfoy had received a knock-off gemstone of some kind. It seemed the type of thing he would want for Christmas. What was the stone that looked like a diamond called again? Maybe he'd wanted a sword and gotten a dagger.

"I suppose they're right when they say if you spoil a child, they'll forever expect to get everything they want," Malfoy continued. "Let me tell you, Potter, you never get everything you want."

Well that's definitely true, Harry mused to himself.

"You're just learning that now?" He said aloud, raising an eyebrow. "Congratulations, Malfoy."

"It's been a long year." Malfoy seemed to think this served as an appropriate answer, and Harry was too irritated with Malfoy's cryptic dialogue to ask him what he meant by it. Of course, it had been a long year. For everyone. "I'm allowed to have an epiphany if I'd like."

"Yes, I reckon you do."

Without realising it themselves, the two of them had begun strolling along the shore of the lake. Or rather, more precisely, Malfoy had begun walking and Harry had followed.

"Rather strange, isn't it?" Malfoy was looking down at his feet while he walked the normal haughtiness of his stature nowhere to be found. "A year ago we wouldn't even have been allowed out of our dormitories at this time. No wonder everyone praises you; aside from sending countless Death Eaters to Azkaban, you've also raised the curfew."

At this, Harry remembered the reason he'd approached Malfoy in the first place. Somehow, he seemed to have forgotten he was the one who'd come out to the lake to talk to him. Harry wondered how Malfoy had managed to take control of the situation, leaving Harry feeling very much like he'd been the one sucked into a conversation. Again, Malfoy had made it look as though he was steering and everything Harry did was part of his grander scheme. As always.

"I'm sorry about your parents," Harry spoke up quietly.

"Why should you be?" Malfoy asked dryly. "We're not friends. It's not as though you've spent time feeling penitent about it, so don't bother putting up the formalities for my sake. I don't need that."

"Well, in any case, I'm sorry about what Ron said. He didn't . . . he didn't know."

Malfoy said nothing. They walked in silence for a few moments. When Harry glanced at Malfoy out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the paler boy had no sign of contempt on his face. The usual smirk was gone, leaving his face to be a rather blank page.

Harry shivered. He'd left the Great Hall in such a hurry that he hadn't been able to get his cloak. He envied Ron, sitting in the common room by the fire, all warm and toasty.

I wonder if I should talk to Ron, Harry thought passively. How mad could he be? I certainly have no plans to go and ask for a date with -

"Well, I suppose this would be a great shock to everyone," Malfoy mused, interrupting Harry's thought stream. "The two biggest rivals at Hogwarts taking a stroll by the lake together."

"What are you talking about, Malfoy?" Harry stopped walking. "You're not some sort of arch-nemesis of mine, if that's what you're implying."

"Oh, come on Potter," Malfoy snorted, as he turned around to look at Harry. "Don't pretend you don't spend as much time thinking of ways to piss me off as I do you. That's what enemies do. Incidentally, I just happen to be better at it than you."

Harry blinked and gave him a confused look. "Actually, Malfoy, I don't think about you much at all. Did you really think you had that much of an effect on people?"

Malfoy's cheeks flushed pink with anger. He lunged towards Harry as if he were about to grab him by the throat, but stopped short a few inches from his face. For a moment, Harry wondered if the Slytherin was about to spit on him. Instead, much to his surprise, Malfoy smiled.

He really has cracked, thought Harry.

"Happy New Year, Potter," Malfoy said with a trademark sneer, and stomped off.

Harry felt a pang of guilt. He really hadn't meant it to come out sounding so hateful. He'd only meant to clarify that he didn't hate Malfoy as intensely as he presumed. It was ridiculous, though, to think that he and Malfoy could have held a conversation without it turning into anger. Still, he hadn't meant to hurt the other boy's feelings. Assuming he even had feelings. No, he must have feelings. Mustn't he?

Harry sighed at the retreating blonde figure, now no more than a speck against the Hogwarts horizon. For a moment, he considered running after him and apologising. He ran a hand threw his hair and shook his head. Apologising to Draco Malfoy? Again? The stress must have been getting to Harry. Maybe he was the one who'd cracked. Malfoy had certainly never shown any sympathy towards him.

He drew in a long breath and began heading back to Hogwarts himself. Maybe if he told Ron how he felt, it would relieve some of the stress he was putting on himself. Ron wouldn't be too mad; it wasn't as though he was going to act on it. Besides, Ron had fancied Hermione at one point while she was dating Percy as well. Ron may have had a lot of defenses built up for his brothers, but he did love Harry just as much as he did Percy. And at the very least, he could probably understand where Harry was coming from.

* * *

"I'll trade you two Knuts for one Sickle," Crabbe grunted, holding his hand out to Goyle.

"What for?" Goyle asked.

"Then you'll have two instead of one," Crabbe explained. "Two is bigger."

Goyle smiled and dug a sickle out of his pocket. He dropped it into Crabbe's palm along with the crumbs of a pumpkin pasty and grabbed the Knuts before Crabbe changed his mind. Crabbe grinned and dumped the crumbs into his mouth.

The stone guardian to their common room shoved open violently and Draco stormed in, his cheeks and nose tinged pink from the wind. He stopped in front of them and glared as though he were about to say something. Instead, he exhaled loudly, grabbed the box of Bertie Botts' Every Flavour Beans that was sitting on the table between them, and stomped up to their dormitory.

"He stole our food," Goyle frowned.

"I have more. You can have them. And, I'll even trade you three whole sickles for a galleon."

Draco slammed the door to the seventh year boys' dormitory and threw the box of beans at the wall above Goyle's bed. The box broke against the impact, scattering the colourful treats all over the bed and floor. He kicked the post of his bed and immediately howled in pain, grabbing his sore foot and hopping on the other. He limped to the bed and sat down, only to heave his cloak at Blaise Zabini's nightstand (and knock everything off of it in the process).

"I . . . hate . . . you . . . Potter," he seethed, one word for each shoe he took off and the smack it made as he threw it against the wall. He flopped back onto the bed; his energy blown out, and scowled when he realised something very pointy was poking at his neck. He reached underneath his pillow and grabbed the intrusive object. He threw it onto the bed with a remorseful sigh and crossed his arms.

For seven years, Potter had been getting the best of him. It had been a contest, really, to see who could derogate the other the most. At least, that's what Draco had thought. But this really took the cake.

He.

Was.

Furious.

Potter had to pay.

"I'll smother him," he muttered, toying with the edge of his pillow. "Wouldn't that -"

He stopped when he felt something tapping him on the shoulder. He rolled over and glared. A Harry Potter action figure, looking all the worse for the wear and tear of being hidden under a pillow since Christmas, was shaking its head. It pointed at Draco then pointed at himself, and clasped its hands to the left side of its chest.

"Fat lot you know," Draco frowned, letting it walk into the palm of his hand. He closed his fingers around it and held it at eye level. Miniature Harry squirmed for a moment then settled on resting his head against Draco's thumb. "Who needs him, anyway?"

The action figure nodded its head in Draco's direction and grinned knowingly.

"Don't grin at me knowingly. I can smother you as well, you know."

Small Harry wrinkled his even smaller nose. Draco rolled over and glanced at the clock. It told him it was going to be 1998 in five seconds. Four. Not this year, I suppose. Three. Bollocks to waiting. Two. I hate him. One.

"Happy New Year, Potter," he said again softly, and popped Little Harry's head off.

The End.