Title: Resolution. Chapter 1: New Year's Eve (1/?)
Author name: Frances Potter
Author email: email@example.com
Category: Slash (Harry/Draco), Humour, Romance, Angst
Keywords: Harry, Draco, 7th year, Slash
Spoilers: All books
Rating: PG, Slash overtones. Forecast: Slash becoming stronger, possibly PG13.
Summary: res·o·lu·tion, noun -- solving of doubts, problems, questions etc. The Concise Oxford Dictionary
When you've spent six years fighting evil, all you really want is a quiet time. But when your name is Harry Potter the chances of that are very slim. A series of vignettes chronicling Harry's final six months at Hogwarts. Exams, friends, lovers, Quidditch, the war and Draco all conspire to make the year end seem a very long way away. Slash (Harry/Draco)
Chapter 1: New Year's Eve: When Draco decides to go skiing, he doesn't plan on spending the night away from Hogwarts, but then it starts snowing again. Meanwhile, Harry wants nothing but a quiet New Year on his own.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Dedication: This chapter is dedicated to Lynn, whose hard work and dedication has helped create the heart and soul of this story.
Lynn actually deserves joint authorship on this chapter. She has guided me through the conception and birth of this story and it belongs to her as much as it does to me. Thank you Lynn.
--------------------Resolution Chapter 1: New Year's Eve
It had been snowing all night, but the rising sun had crested over the mountains to greet a glorious New Year's Eve day complete with a cloudless blue sky stretching from horizon to horizon. Cold, crisp air greeted him as he opened the carved entrance doors of the castle, the sort of air that took his breath away as it touched deep into his lungs. The shock of the cold made him cough, breath condensing into white mist before him.
He stood for a moment on the steps, looking across the expanse of the school grounds. The snow formed a near-perfect, untouched carpet, stretching into the distance. Here and there, the tracks of an animal marred the white perfection, but for the moment, he felt like he was the only person in the whole universe.
Wrapping his green and silver Slytherin scarf around his neck, Draco Malfoy carried the long cross-country skis down the steps and laid them side-by-side on the snow. His ski boots clipped easily into the toe bindings, leaving the heel free, and he quickly checked that everything was secure. He put on a hat, tucking in his blond hair, and pulled on a pair of gloves. Then, picking up the thin, lightweight ski poles, he slid his gloved hands through the pole straps and pushed off across the virgin snow. Dressed in the new yellow and red ski gear his parents had given him for Christmas, Draco wondered whether anyone in the castle was watching him. He exaggerated a few twists and turns, deliberately flaunting his skills.
He loved skiing and had been a regular on the slopes of the Swiss ski resort where the Malfoys had their winter retreat since he was old enough to walk on his own. Downhill was fine, but what really got him going was cross-country. Being able to get away from the crowded slopes gave him a freedom he had never managed to achieve anywhere else. Fortunately his parents much preferred downhill skiing, and so they never wanted to accompany their wayward son on his cross-country jaunts over the snowfields.
Of course, they were in Switzerland now, while he was stuck spending Christmas and New Year at Hogwarts. It was a punishment, his father had told him, because of the number of detentions he had received since starting his seventh year. Three didn't seem that many to Draco, especially when, as far as he was concerned, none were actually his fault.
The castle disappeared from view as he left the grounds and headed out into the surrounding countryside. Cold air brought a pink flush to his face, and he pulled his scarf up around his mouth.
What he missed most about not going to Switzerland was the New Year Ball. He'd been looking forward to it for months. Last year, at his first Ball, he'd been left with the other younger children; but now at 17, he had expected to sit at the adult tables and get to enjoy the occasion. Damn it, he had been practicing those wretched dance steps all year! And for what? The Hogwarts Yule Ball a few weeks ago hadn't even come close and his fellow pupils were hardly in the same league as the people who would be at the New Year Ball. Big Names within the Wizarding community, and with them, their rich and (hopefully) pretty daughters.
Still, there would be next year when he would be 18 and ready to be matched with some rich, pretty daughter. And the thought of that almost scared him to death. He was quite happy to play with these daughters for an evening, but to be stuck with one for the rest of his life?
Lucius was generally very indulgent with his son, but he did expect Draco to make a good marriage match to a woman Lucius found suitable. And that marriage would be sooner rather than later.
Of course, Draco could always refuse, but he suspected that he might find himself thrown out of Malfoy Manor if he did so. And if he had to choose between true love and the Malfoy fortune, Draco knew which he would take.
The fortune every time.
His father had high expectations for him. Draco was, after all, the sole heir to the Malfoy fortune and thus was expected to fulfil his role with finesse befitting a Malfoy. He still smarted from the dressing down his father had given him when he had turned up at the school unexpectedly just three weeks ago. Draco had packed and ready to go home for the Christmas break when the house elf arrived in his dorm room with the message. Draco was expected in Snape's office. He remembered checking his watch and cursing under his breath. If he missed the train....
Snape was not there. Draco recognised his father's back instantly. A flash of pleasure ran through the 17-year-old. His father had come to collect him. He would get to spend the journey home with his beloved parent -- get the chance to talk to him.
Draco stepped forward. "Father."
Draco recognised the tone, and any thoughts of father and son quality time quickly vanished. He froze, but not out of fear. He had never feared his father. What he had was a great respect for the person who was his father, mentor and role model.
Lucius turned, looking at his son with eyes cold with anger. Yes, cold. A misnomer Draco knew. Anger was normally hot; but with his father, it was always like a blast of ice. He looked down at the floor. Lucius' voice matched his eyes and the tone froze Draco into a statue.
What came next was a 20 minutes tirade on Draco's behaviour, his lack of focus in his studies and his constant disrespect for his family and the Malfoy name. When he finished, Lucius looked away and it was as if some spell had been removed from his son.
Draco's head shot up and in the silence that followed, his face exquisitely reflected just how he felt about the scolding. He pouted. He looked indignant. He acted as if betrayed. "It wasn't my fault. He started it..."
"And you made sure you finished it. How many times have I told you to walk away? He is not worth your punishment by these people..." Lucius gave a wide gesture, which encompassed the whole school. "... who think he is a hero."
Lucius raised a finger to his own lips, gesturing for silence. He stepped forward and placed a hand on his son's shoulder. "We live in dangerous times, Draco. They are always looking for an excuse to bring us down, to destroy our family and to take away everything we believe in. We... you... MUST be careful not to show weakness. You must start hiding your emotions behind that mask you wear so well and you must walk away from confrontations."
Then it came. The Punishment. "You will not be coming to Switzerland with your mother and myself."
"What?" Any attempt at hiding his emotions disappeared, replaced by the petulant spoilt boy most of his fellow pupils knew. "That is not fair."
The hand dropped from his shoulder. "What isn't fair is that I have to come here to remind you of your responsibilities. What isn't fair is that you don't seem to have listened to anything I have said. You will remain here. You will catch up with your studies and you will make sure you stay out of trouble. If I receive any more negative reports on your behaviour you will remain here until you graduate." Draco started to respond, but Lucius raised his finger again. "And there will be no 18th birthday celebrations. Do I make myself clear?"
Draco tried not to scowl as he met his father's eyes. "Yes, father."
"Good. These next few months will be important, Draco." Hands gripped at his son's shoulders, one on each side. "You are important to our cause, never forget that." He favoured the boy with an indulgent smile. "Now, I have some time. Let's get something to eat."
Breathless, Draco finally made it up the steep hill, and stopped on the crest. He pulled the scarf away from his face and took off his sunglasses, squinting against the snow glare. Below, the view was stunning. The slope dropped into a valley made featureless by the snow, and in the distance, the smoke from a building was drifting lazily on the breeze.
His father had stayed for several hours, and Draco had basked in his presence. They had sat in the Great Hall, eating a late breakfast and Draco was very aware of others watching them, whispering words behind their hands. Draco hadn't cared, however. He had soon forgotten the reprimand and was just pleased to be with his father. It had all been so wonderful.
Then Harry Potter had walked in.
Draco had been sitting with his back to the door, so he didn't see Harry. What he saw was the change of expression on his father's face. Lucius' expression hardened, and the grey eyes, a mirror of his own, glared icily at something behind him.
Draco had looked over his shoulder. Seen Potter stop in mid-stride under the older man's malevolent stare and meet the ice with his own emerald gaze. Potter had pushed a hand through his long black hair as if to deliberately reveal that wretched scar on his forehead. Then he had smiled. Oh, not a huge grin, but a pleasant upturn of the mouth. Draco saw his father's jaw clench tight. And then the final insult. Potter had nodded his head in a silent 'good morning' before walking away.
So ended the father and son quality time. Lucius had hardly spoken another word and had left his son at Hogwarts while apparating off to the winter slopes with his wife. If it hadn't been for his father's earlier warning, Draco was sure that he would have walked over to Potter and punched the smug git in the face.
His father's words still hurt, even now, weeks later. Oh, he could deal with the cancelled trip and even being stuck here at Hogwarts, but to lose the high opinion his father had of him was the most difficult thing to deal with. It hurt that his father hadn't been in touch with him since that day, and his silence was more of a punishment that any ruined holiday. Lucius knew about reprimands and knew that depriving his son of his contact was much more effective than any form of physical castigation. The fact that his father had left in anger made matters even worse. Before Potter had put on his little show, he and Lucius had been getting on just fine. Draco could almost have believed that his father's reprimand hadn't happened. But afterwards? Draco was sure that was why there had been no word from his father. Lucius was punishing him for Potter's actions.
He would get him, though. Draco mused as he surveyed the world of white surrounding him. He would make Potter pay for ruining everything. And there were ways that didn't involve physical violence.
Taking off one of the gloves, Draco reached for his wand and laid it across his bare palm. "Point me," he intoned and the Four-Point spell made the wand automatically point towards north. The valley lay on an almost north-south line and he knew that Hogwarts lay southwest from his current position.
Satisfied as to his location and direction, Draco put the glove back on and set off down the slope.
Unfortunately he didn't look behind him. If he had, he would have seen the huge, grey, snow-filled clouds creeping ever closer. They had already deposited another couple of inches of snow over the Hogwarts grounds, completely covering any traces of his tracks, and now they looked intent on making sure Draco had a particularly rough time.
Harry Potter was in the middle of a snowstorm as well. His, however, was a mental aberration of his own making. He was sitting at a table, which looked like it had taken the brunt of one of Neville Longbottom's spells. It was untidily covered with countless open books and heaps of parchment rolls.
He picked up one of the half-filled parchments, cursed because it was not the one he wanted, and began rummaging through the others. "I know I wrote it somewhere."
In exasperation, he swept the rolls into a big heap and tossed them into the air. They fluttered like extremely large snowflakes onto the floor around him. Elbows found a now-clear space, he dropped his head into this hands.
Harry heaved a deep sigh of annoyance and took of his glasses, dropping them onto the table. One of arms of the glasses ended up in his inkbottle. He stared at the bottle for a long time before tugging at his dark hair, which already stuck out untidily from constant fiddling over the past three hours.
His hair reached to the collar of his robes these days, and was his one real rebellious streak. He had grown it long originally because he just couldn't be bothered to cut it. Then he had found out just how much Uncle Vernon hated longhaired layabouts. Harry had taken great delight in showing up at Privet Drive with his hair a couple of inches longer than its current length. The ensuing fight to cut it off had left both of them and cousin Dudley with black eyes and numerous other contusions.
He plucked the glasses from the bottle and let the black ink drip from the arm. Things were not going well. He stared absently at the ink and decided that 'not going well' was actually an understatement. He was beginning to feel that he was in a nightmare with no chance of waking up. Of course, Hermione would say that it was his own fault for not getting on with his Potions dissertation earlier, but there was always something more important to do. More urgent. More enjoyable. He would get it done over the Christmas break, he had told her. And, of course, he had meant it ... really had planned to set aside the time ... but now he was beginning to panic because the task was rapidly turning into something akin to battling the Dark Lord.
Harry was convinced that he would fail. He needed a good grade from this paper to be able to sit for the Potions exam, and he needed to pass that exam, along with all the others, in order to graduate. At the moment, it looked to him like The Boy Who Lived would be The Boy Who Failed Spectacularly. Nearly seven years worth of work down the drain just because he couldn't write ten parchments on "Sleeping Draughts - Their Uses and Abuses". It should be so easy actually, but it just wouldn't come together. Every time he tried to check up on the ingredients, each textbook seemed to give a different reason for their use.
Maybe, just maybe, starting from scratch would be a good idea. But he had already spent three days trying to make sense out of the musty old books, struggling to translate their arcane language before even beginning to try and understand what they said.
He shook the remaining ink drops from his glasses, and wiped them with a piece of parchment before sliding them back on.
Getting to his feet, Harry stepped lightly over the scattered parchments and wandered over the wooden floor, with its scattered rugs, to the large inglenook fireplace. It was so big that the mantelpiece running along the front was actually at eyelevel. He rested his hands on the wood and ran his fingers along the grain. It felt warm to his touch, heated from the grate below where the logs burned merrily before him.
Harry was pleased to be in the cosy little cottage which Hagrid had acquired a little over a year ago. Situated about a mile from Hogsmeade, it was too far from Hogwarts for Hagrid to use it all the time, but the half-giant was more than happy for Harry to use the single-storey building whenever he wanted time away from the castle. Those excursions had became more and more frequent just recently. For some reason Harry felt a need for solitude on occasions, something just not possible within the confines of the school.
And he was glad to be studying here rather than in the Gryffindor common room or any of the classrooms, all of which were empty during the holiday break. There were so many people spending Christmas and New Year at the school this year, it seemed like half the school had decided to stay.
He pushed away from the mantelpiece and reached for another log, adding it to the grate with a shower of sparks. Straightening, he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and surveyed the low-ceilinged room with its beams and wooden panelling. He scrunched his toes in the warmth of the sheepskin rug, wondering briefly where he had left his shoes. Not that it mattered. The floor was warmed by a heating charm and he could have walked about happily with bare feet if he so wished.
Hands still in his pockets, Harry crossed the small lounge towards the door leading out into the front garden. Beside it, the window was opaque with condensation. He knelt on the cushioned window seat, resting his elbows on the sill and wiped a panel clear with his hand. The water droplets were cold and he quickly dried his hand down the side of his jeans.
Outside, the snow was falling again, much harder than it had during the night. He could no longer see the path that he had so carefully cleared the previous day, and the hedge which surrounded the cottage now blended into the landscape. Snow had drifted up against it on one side and had formed strange, almost sculptural structures on the other. He studied them. The shapes were strangely organic, almost living, like some great white monster creeping ever closer to Hagrid's cottage.
Harry shivered at the image, and, despite the fact that it was only the middle of the day, he quickly pulled the curtains over the window, shutting the monster outside the warm sanctuary of the room.
He was actually pleased that it was snowing again. He had promised to return to Hogwarts for the New Year festivities, but now that the weather made that impossible, he could remain here in his self-imposed exile. Somehow he couldn't find it within in himself to join in the celebrations. Christmas had been difficult enough, and all he wanted now was his own space where he didn't have to deal with other people's problems.
Harry gave a little laugh. What a boring old wet blanket he was turning into. Only 17, and he preferred sitting by the fire rather than dancing the night away.
He walked back across the room, past the over-stuffed sofa with its odd assortment of miss-matched cushions, to the little alcove with its table and chairs. It was lit by several lamps, which cast enough light to work by. Maybe he should take a break and get some lunch. Perhaps then, with a clear head, he would be able to finish the much fretted over dissertation.
Crouching down, Harry began picking up the scattered parchments. As he did so, he read through them again, and realised for the first time that there was some semblance of order in what he had written. Slowly, he sank to the floor, sitting cross-legged as he continued sorting through them.
When the cottage door burst open, Harry physically jumped. His first instinct when anything unusual happened these days was to take cover; at least until he knew what was happening. Not exactly a Gryffindor trait, but it was one that had proved useful on more than one occasion recently. He grabbed his wand and scrambled behind the wooden partition separating the table area from the lounge. His heart seemed to be beating so hard and fast; it felt like it was trying to break through his ribs.
"Calm down," he mouthed the words silently as he tried to catch his breath. "Calm down."
Then quietly, he came to his feet.
What had begun as a pretty snow flurry, sending flakes scattering about him, had rapidly turned into a blizzard complete with hard, sharp ice particles. The weather and visibility had deteriorated so quickly that Draco couldn't have made it back to Hogwarts even if he had tried. He debated whether he could make it to the shelter of the Forbidden Forest, but the weather was coming from that direction and there was no way he could battle against the raging storm.
He did try to use his wand. With his back to the nearly horizontal snowstorm, Draco tried to get a direction, but to no avail. He tried to conjure up some shelter, but it was as if the spells were being reflected off the snow and were not working. Tucking the useless wand away, he had no choice but to keep going forward in the hope of finding shelter. He knew there was a building in the valley; he'd seen the smoke from it earlier, but it scared him to think that he could pass within feet of it without even realising he had missed it.
It also scared him that he was actually slowing down. A bad sign, because it showed that he was beginning to get hypothermic, and if he didn't find shelter soon, he would be in real trouble. He had prepared for bad weather, the new ski gear was supposed to be the best, supposed to be both wind- and waterproof. But like the wand, his clothing was letting him down. The snow had worked its way through, and he could feel the dampness seeping into the layers underneath, chilling him through to the bone.
He found the building by falling over the invisible hedge.
Cold and exhausted, he was tempted to remain exactly where he had fallen, the ground suddenly being the most wonderful, comfortable place in the whole world. Fortunately for Draco, his conceited, self-opinionated notions of his own self-worth made him get back to his feet. Somehow he managed to get to the door.
Struggling with the fastening on his skis, Draco tried to get them off, but his fingers were numb with cold. He cursed, then whimpered and finally let out a sob of gratitude as the clips sprang open.
Then, without the niceties of knocking and waiting for a response, he managed to get his wand to unlock the door and stumbled into the warm interior. In fact, it felt so warm; it almost burned the exposed areas of flesh on his face. He scrambled across to the fire, trying to pull off his waterlogged gloves, but his numb fingers felt next to useless. He did manage to rid himself of the hat and scarf, blond hair hanging in damp rat's tails around his face.
Peering around the partition, Harry could just see the edge of the door. Snow billowed through the opening for a few seconds, then the door slammed shut, cutting off the howl of the storm.
A figure stumbled into view. Red and yellow, with a flash of a green hat and scarf. Harry backed up, flattening his body against the partition and held his breath. His last confrontation with a Death Eater was still too fresh in his mind for comfort. He couldn't deal with that again. Not here. Not now.
His grip tightened on his wand and Harry realised that his palm was moist with sweat. Silently, he turned, faced the partition and pressed both hands on the wood. Then carefully, he leaned to the right and looked into the room. Because he had drawn the curtains over the window, the only light was from the fire. The intruder was standing before the fireplace now and Harry could see the wand in the person's hand. He swallowed nervously and began running through defence charms in his head.
Something clattered on the wooden floor, the sudden noise making Harry jump. Green eyes flashed at the intruder and he saw that the wand was now on the floor at his feet. The intruder seemed to be struggling with his hands and his gloves. Then, he grabbed at his hat and scarf, dropping them to the floor by the fallen wand.
Harry gasped, eyes widening in disbelief as he saw the blond hair and familiar profile.
Harry dropped his gaze to the floor for a second, as though a change of view might alter what he was seeing. When he looked back, the Slytherin was, unfortunately, still there, but now on his knees on the sheepskin rug.
Harry realised he was gawking, his gaze raking over the figure. He could see that Malfoy was soaked, the last remnants of snow melting in the heat of the fire and dripping from his cuffs, sleeves, hair and fingers. He was sure that the boy whimpered as he tried to pull off his gloves. And the frustration was clear in his body language, as the hand went to his face, pushing wet hair away, only to be made worse by the soaked glove.
Harry finally lowered his wand, never taking his eyes off the other boy, as his initial reaction of "what the hell is he doing here?" changed. It was clear that his long-time adversary was actually in trouble. Malfoy's normally pale complexion was devoid of colour, and his face looked puffy. He was also shivering so hard, Harry could see the tremors across the room.
Hesitating for a minute or two, Harry finally stepped out from his hiding place. "Malfoy."
The blond head slowly turned toward the voice, the simple act requiring all his concentration. Draco frowned at the owner of the voice. Eyes registered first shock, then a strange sense of resignation, but the derisive retort Harry had expected never materialised.
Instead, Draco sat back on his heels and looked down at his gloved hands. "Potter, I could use some help here."
Harry took another step. "What?" The word was a whisper, catching in his throat.
Draco's hands rose a little higher. "I can't get these off."
"Oh. I..." Harry blinked, stunned by the request, even though it was so simple. Malfoy had never... NEVER... asked him for anything. Putting down his wand with exaggerated care, he crossed the room to Malfoy's side and crouched down. Eyes flickered briefly to the other's face before returning to the outstretched hands. Harry reached for the glove, grimacing at its cold wetness. He struggled with the fastening for a moment, having to turn the hand back and forth before releasing the glove's grip. Then, taking Malfoy's wrist in one hand, he pulled, freeing the hand from its wet wrapping.
A frown flickered across Harry's face as his hand brushed against Malfoy's. The flesh was clammy and cold to the touch, fingers as colourless as his face had been. He looked back at the other's face and saw that the features were still deadly pale, the grey eyes in stark contrast to the white skin. "You're frozen."
"What did you expect? Heat stroke?" Draco's voice was tinged with annoyance. He was aware of his teeth chattering and wasn't even sure the words were clear.
The second glove quickly followed, and Draco gripped his hands together. He raised them to his mouth and breathed warm air onto them in an effort to get heat back into the cold flesh. It was an almost pointless exercise, and in the end he gave up and grabbed at the zip of his ski jacket with the deadened fingers. His attempts at pulling down the zip proved pointless and Harry thought Draco mumbled something like "Pathetic."
On his knees, mirroring the Slytherin's posture, Harry watched the struggle and then finally pushed the cold, white hands aside. "Come on, let me." He reached for the zip.
Draco's gaze shot up, meeting and holding the green eyes. He sat very quietly, trembling badly and watched Harry with a strange feeling of fascinated concentration. A part of him was thinking how nice it would be just to lay down now and go to sleep. If he slept, it would all be over. The rest was just aware of the boy kneeling in front of him, inches away, and of the hands yanking at his clothes.
Harry was aware of the other's eyes fixed firmly on his face as he struggled with the zip. Doing his best to ignore the look, he tugged at the expensive looking red and yellow jacket, finding the act of pulling down a zip much more difficult than he thought it should be. The jacket was all bunched up around Draco's waist and hips, and in the end he shuffled forward a little and pulled Malfoy up to aid the task. Draco came up, knees at right angles, hands held in tight fists at his side.
What am I doing? Harry questioned himself as the zip finally came free. I am on my knees undressing the person who has tried to make my life a misery for the past six and a half years. He slipped his hands under the opening of the jacket and slid it off Draco's shoulders. It fell to the ground as Draco pulled his arms free, and Harry picked it up by his fingertips as it dripped melted snow over the floor.
"Yuck." Harry tossed it to one side, realising that the exercise had dripped water over his own clothes, and that the knees of his jeans were now wet. He looked down at the rug on which Draco knelt and saw that it was already sodden. Eyes followed the body upwards and finally rested on Draco's face. "There, you can do the rest yourself." He stood up. "I'll get you a towel."
Harry turned, grimacing at his own wet clothes and marched off to the cottage's only bedroom.
Draco watched him leave, a slight frown creasing his forehead. His head throbbed and he felt strangely light-headed as the warmth from the fire bit into him. The heat actually hurt, and his fingers were beginning to burn with pins and needles. He raised a hand to his mouth again, this time sucking on the fingers, desperate to get feeling back into them.
Rummaging in the linen closet, Harry found a clean towel, and, as an afterthought, pulled out a couple of blankets as well. He stood for a moment and dried off his own hands, surprised at how cold they seemed after the brief contact with Malfoy's wet clothing.
Part of him would have been extremely contented to remain in the bedroom and leave the intruder to his own devices. But leaving Malfoy wasn't really an option. Harry knew the boy needed help, and as much as he loathed him, he didn't really have a choice.
Picking up the bundle of blankets, he walked back into the lounge.
Draco had moved. He was now sitting on the floor, his long legs stretched out in front of him, but he had done little else. His eyes were closed, and Harry wondered for a moment whether he might be dead. That would take some explaining to Lucius Malfoy -- his precious son expiring in Hagrid's cottage while Harry Potter looked on. Dropping his bundle, Harry crouched down again, looking hard to see if Malfoy was breathing. His chest rose and fell beneath the collarless midnight blue shirt, and Harry could see a pulse beating at his throat.
For several seconds, he stared at the softly beating point, fascinated by the sight of the movement beneath the pale skin. He had never seen Malfoy so still before, had never noticed the curved line running down to the hollow in his throat, or the small scar which disappeared from that point into the neckline of his shirt. Harry wondered briefly how Malfoy had gotten the scar.
The moment passed, as horrified that he should even be watching Malfoy, Harry looked away. He swallowed, shaken by the fact that he should have been so entranced by what he saw and felt more than a little ridiculous. In an effort to shake off the strangeness of the situation, Harry turned his attention to the lacings of Malfoy's boots.
The fastenings had tightened in the wet, but came free relatively easily. Damp socks followed, and Harry looked down at the perfectly formed feet. His jaw tightened imperceptivity as he thought about his own nasty bony feet with their dry skin and lumps and bumps. Trust Malfoy to have perfect dainty feet to go with the long fingered hands.
Oh, what! Harry mentally slapped himself. He was supposed to be saving this guy from hypothermia, not deliberating on his good and bad physical attributes. He picked up the towel and threw it at Draco.
Draco jumped, more from the voice than from being attacked by the towel. He looked down at the offending object, taking a second to realise what it was, then slowly began to wipe his hands and face on it. Then he just sat, face buried in the dry cloth.
It was painful to watch, Harry found. This person who had never been short of a snide comment, who always had a quick-witted response, was barely functioning now. Harry wished he knew what was happening to Malfoy and how to deal with it. His medical knowledge was severely lacking, and the only reason he recognised hypothermia now was because of some Muggle medical TV programme he had seen at the Dursleys.
Well, if nothing else, he had to get Malfoy out of the wet, cold clothes. He could not believe that he was planning on undressing Draco Malfoy. It was an image so utterly alien to anything he could ever envisage that he wouldn't be surprised to find that it was all a stress-induced illusion. "Can you stand up?"
"Leave me alone," the muffled voice groaned from inside the towel.
"No." Harry grabbed at Malfoy's wrists, pulling them away from his face. "Come on. Up." Harry pulled on Malfoy's arms, levering Malfoy's dead weight from the floor and dragging him to his feet.
"Okay, I am up." Draco's voice was tinged with annoyance, and the feel of the wet rug beneath his feet seemed to rouse him from his growing stupor. He pulled a face and stepped clear of the water and closer to the fire.
"What the hell were you trying to do, Malfoy?" Draco looked to where the voice had come from and found Harry Potter at his side. "Kill yourself?"
"No. The weather was fine when I set out. I was ... Hey, what are you doing?" Concentration returned like a bolt of red light, and he shoved Harry's fingers away from his waistband.
"I am trying to get you out of these wet clothes." Harry's voice was full of exasperation. Let him rant, Harry decided. At least I can deal with a ranting Malfoy. All mouth and contemptuous looks. But this restrained, quiescent Malfoy made Harry shiver, and he didn't like his own reaction. Didn't understand his reaction. Harry let his hands drop away. "But I've got plenty of better things to be doing with my time."
"Okay." Draco heaved a sigh. His body ached, and he knew that he couldn't get his own clothes off. In fact, he wasn't sure how he managed to actually remain on his feet.
Harry watched Draco close his eyes, the action softening the brief hard look, and he wanted to shout at the Slytherin, make him angry again. "Don't do me any favours, Malfoy. You can stand and drip on the carpet all day for all I care."
The red and yellow ski pants were like dungarees, with straps going over Draco's shoulder. Harry pulled at the straps more roughly than necessary, using his own anger to hide something he would rather not consider. He was actually getting a kick out of undressing Malfoy. How sick could he get! "Hope you kept the receipt for this stuff, because it is not doing its job properly." Draco staggered slightly under the rough treatment, but remained on his feet, eyes focusing on some point way beyond Harry's shoulder.
Taking a quick breath, Harry grabbed Draco's shirt and tugged it from the ski pants. It was wet all through, as though the Slytherin had been standing in the rain. He looked at the small buttons and debated whether to unfasten the shirt. Instead, he balled his hands on his hips. "Okay," the word was drawn out across a breath. "Can you do the buttons?"
"Of course," Draco drawled, hoping the intonation sounded suitably nonchalant. "I'm cold, not stupid." With rapt concentration, he began fiddling with a button half way down his shirt. He worked as if his very life depended on the button coming loose, stopping occasionally as the pins and needles which tingled in his fingertips became too painful. Harry watched the clumsy fingers as they worked on the simple task, now one of the most complicated things Draco had ever tried to achieve.
Harry fidgeted, wanting to hurry Draco along, but realised it was important not to interrupt. When the button finally popped out, Draco looked at him, a derisive smile on his face. "See, I can do the buttons." He started on the next.
"Yeah, well if you carry on at that speed, it will be summer before you finish." Harry brushed the hands away and reached out for the shirt. It was made of soft silk-like material, which Harry couldn't quite place, and it flowed between his fingers as he took hold of the shirtfront and began releasing the colour-matched buttons from their individual buttonholes. He worked upwards from the one Draco had dealt with, revealing a lighter blue T-shirt underneath. He swallowed, nervous perspiration pricking at the back of his own neck as Draco raised his chin a little to allow access to the button on the neckline. As the button came undone, Harry had the sudden urge to run the flat of his hands over the material, and he pulled away as if burned, shocked by his own thoughts.
Every fibre of his body told him he should not be enjoying the sensation of undressing this ... person with whom he had exchanged emotional, physical and mental blows with over the last six years. He felt nothing ... nothing ... for him apart from animosity and bitterness since they had met on the Hogwarts Express back at the beginning of their first year.
But did he really hate him? a voice somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind questioned. Harry tried to remember the first time they had argued, the first time they had come to blows. No! Don't go there, another voice shouted. Don't question and don't even think that you have been mistaken all these years.
He hates you.
You hate him.
Trying to detach himself from the task, Harry finished the remaining buttons as quickly as possible, denying to himself the fact that his hands were trembling very slightly. The last button finally came free and Harry pushed the shirt back off Draco's shoulders.
He froze in mid action as he met the other's gaze. Framed by the wet rat's tails of his blond hair, Draco's eyes were locked on Harry's face, the look strangely intensive. For the first time, Harry realised that the eyes watching him weren't grey. They weren't steel, ice or any of the descriptive words he had ever thought of for the colour. Calling them 'grey' did not do them justice. Grey was old, dreary, overcast. Grey was a foggy, depressing, bleak day.
These eyes were not grey. Mixed in with the ice was the palest dusky blue, the colour so intense in its simplicity. It was like looking at his own reflection and seeing himself from a different angle. It was like a frost-covered, crystal clear mountain stream. On the surface, the frost held everything in place, still, placid. But underneath, the water was in a frenzy as it flowed over and around rocks, pooled in dark recesses, caught in eddies. It was ...
Oh, shit! Harry dragged the shirt free and broke the contact, still able to feel the gaze as intense as if he was actually looking at it.
Fortunately for Harry, at that point, Draco had absolutely no idea what was going through Harry's mind or of the effect he was having on the Gryffindor. If he had, he would be rubbing his hands with glee, but instead he missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime for the greatest payback he could give. Instead, he mused on why one moment Harry would be quite gentle and the next as rough as hell.
When Harry turned back, it was in a 'rough as hell' frame of mind. He blamed Malfoy for everything. After all, if he had stayed away from the cottage, Harry would never have been put in this situation. He could have gotten on with his work and have the quiet New Year he'd expected and planned for. But now.... Now HE was here ruining everything yet again.
He looked at Draco's T-shirt, which turned out to have long sleeves. "Had trouble deciding what to wear this morning?" The voice was cutting, sharp and hard, like the emerald colour of his eyes. His mind pleaded get this over with now ... do it as quickly as possible.
Draco huffed. "It's better to have several layers for warmth," he finally answered, voice muffled as Harry dragged the T-shirt over Draco's head. "What are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?"
"And for dryness? Did you leave the Slytherin umbrella behind?" Harry ignored Draco's question and dropped the T-shirt onto the growing pile of discarded clothing. He ran a hand over the final, thankfully dry layer and felt his mouth go dry. "Silk underwear?" He raised an eyebrow. "Now, why doesn't that surprise me?"
Harry picked up a blanket and handed it to Draco, who managed to wrap it around his own shoulders, clutching it tightly to himself. Taking a breath which was supposed to be calming, but which, in effect just made matters worse, Harry reached again for the waistband of the damp ski pants and removed them while the Slytherin's attention was fixed on fiddling with the blanket. Draco gasped and glared at Potter, but said nothing.
The silk continued all the way down the Slytherin's legs, which were clad in a pair of what Harry could only describe as long johns. He ran a hand across his forehead at the indignity of being on the floor at Malfoy's feet, clutching his trousers and looking at his silk underwear. Hermione and Ron would probably laugh their socks off when he told them. When? He reconsidered the thought. IF he told them. The story of this last 30 minutes would go with him to his grave, and he was seriously considering using a memory charm on Malfoy.
"Very fetching," he commented, as he kept reminding himself that he hated Malfoy.
"It's for warmth, Potter. I take it you've never skied." Draco stood there, looking irritatingly dignified despite his rat-tail hair, tatty grey blanket and silk underwear.
"No," was Harry's only response. He'd never been on holidays, let alone gone skiing. He remembered seeing Dudley's photographs of his Smeltings ski trip. Dudley, in his brand new ski clothes, looked like a very fat banana in a bright yellow jacket and trousers. He wondered whether his cousin actually got onto the skis and whether the ski lift managed to hold his weight. When he flung the second blanket around Draco, it was none too gently. He dragged it up and over the boy's head, like an old lady's shawl. "I wish I had a camera."
"Don't get tetchy with me. Not my fault you were a deprived child." Draco stood, eyes closed, trembling by the fire as Harry cleared away the wet clothes and removed the now soaked rug.
"You can sit down." A voice shouted.
Draco looked around the room and found that Potter was nowhere in sight.
"The sofa isn't rigged to explode or anything."
Draco wanted to sit, but he wasn't sure that if he moved, his legs wouldn't just collapse under him. He did eventually manage the manoeuvre, and curled up in one corner of the sofa, huddled under his blankets.
This was not a good moment in his life he debated. Being stuck at Hogwarts was bad enough. Being here with Potter was the depths of despair. Potter would make the humiliation of this day last to the end of the school year and probably beyond. He could just hear all the Gryffindors laughing as they heard about how poor Malfoy couldn't even undress himself. Before long, the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws would be joining in and he'd have to sit there and take it like he had promised his father. "Walk away from confrontations," his father had said. "Don't let them get to you." On and on, right up to Prize Giving and the Leaving Ball.
Yes, the Prize Giving ceremony and the wretched speech Potter was bound to end up giving. Who else but The Boy Who Lived would get to be Valedictorian? Draco could picture it now. His mother and father would be sitting there watching proudly as their son received his NEWTs and no doubt a few other awards. Then just as everything was going so well, Potter would rise to tumultuous applause and start giving his speech. He would talk about how he had defeated the Dark Lord on so many occasions, and everyone would coo and cheer over their little hero. Then, when Potter decided his speech could do with a little light relief, he would turn on his old adversary. "Let me tell you about the day Draco Malfoy tried to ski and I saved his life."
Draco suddenly decided he was most definitely just a little delirious. And the pins and needles in his fingers and toes? That was almost painful enough to make him cry.
Harry wasn't close to tears, but he was more than a little grumpy.
In the kitchen, he had rigged a line across the room and was busy hanging up Malfoy's wet clothing. His grumpiness was actually at the intrusion, rather than at having to deal with Malfoy's laundry. The latter task he carried out without really thinking about it. For ten years of his life, he had been an unpaid servant for his aunt, uncle and cousin, doing their household chores almost without question. It became so ingrained into him that he would just get on with the tasks without complaint.
Hogwarts had helped him change his perspective of the work ethic a little, and the once automatic responses to the Dursleys' commands gradually lessened. He even refused sometimes, but Uncle Vernon was much bigger than Harry and non-compliance still earned punishment. So even at 17, he still did other people's chores without really thinking about it. Sometimes Hermione would tell him off for clearing up after Ron or for tidying up the dorm after his roommates had left it particularly messy. Would she tell him off for hanging out Malfoy's washing?
This summer Harry would be 18 and he had no intention of going back to Privet Drive when he graduated. He wasn't sure just where he would go, but it wouldn't be anywhere with Surrey in the address. He would be happy never to see the Dursleys again.
He picked up the T-shirt and begun spreading it over the line. It smelled like Draco. Of cloves and cinnamon and spices and of Christmas.
The T-shirt slipped from his suddenly numb fingers and landed on the floor in an untidy heap. Dumbfounded, Harry stared down at the offending object, green eyes wide with horror at the betrayal once more of his own mind and thoughts. He tried to work out what shocked him more. Having any idea what Draco might smell like or the fact that he had actually thought the name 'Draco'. There it was again. Draco.
Harry never called him 'Draco', not even in his mind ... especially not in his mind! Draco had ALWAYS been 'Malfoy'. Oh, there had been a few rare occasions when Harry had used 'Draco' as an insult, but he could count those on one hand. He glanced furtively at the door, suddenly worried that Draco ... no MALFOY might just appear on the threshold, asking what he was doing.
Cautiously, he retrieved the T-shirt from the floor and after a moment's hesitation, he gave it a cursory sniff. Of course it would smell like Malfoy, he reminded himself. It BELONGED to Malfoy, so who else would it smell like? But, Harry's betraying thoughts mused, how did he know? When had it filtered into his mind that his adversary reminded him of Christmas?
Of his 17 Christmases, Harry had spent ten with the Dursleys. He hardly had any happy memories from those occasions. Goodwill to all men did not extend to Harry Potter in that household. Gifts had never been important because he never really got any, and those he did get were normally given so that his family could have a good laugh. As for Christmas smells, all he could remember was the smell of Brussels sprouts, which lingered in his cupboard under the stairs for days afterwards.
But there had been something, he remembered now. Mrs Figg, the lady who occasionally looked after him, somehow always managed to give him a small Christmas gift. The little bag, which she always claimed Father Christmas had left with her by mistake, would contain some chocolate coins, a few nuts (which he had never managed to crack open), a couple of satsumas and a strange thing she told him was a Clove Orange. This dried orange, which had been sprinkled with powdered cinnamon, was tied with a red ribbon and had cloves studded all over it. The smell of orange and spices would last for weeks (or until Aunt Petunia found it, whichever was sooner), and he remembered hiding it away and only bringing it out when everyone else had gone to sleep. The fragrance would mask the kitchen smells in his cupboard and let him dream of the one Christmas he had spent with his parents.
Of course, he didn't actually believe what he dreamed. After all, how could he remember? He had only been five months old for that one and only Christmas. Yet the dreams had seemed so real with all the sights, sounds and smells intact. The smell of a cigar, which he now knew belonged to Sirius, would instantly transport him back to that moment. He could remember the taste of mulled wine from his mother's kiss and the spicy smell of his father's embrace. These smells would mingle with the pine scent of the Christmas tree, giving him a scent, which, to him, summed up 'Christmas'.
Harry bunched the T-shirt up in his hands and inhaled the scent again. It was that memory of a five-month-old baby. It was a Clove Orange. It was the Great Hall at Hogwarts on Christmas Day.
It was Draco Malfoy.
The tastes and smells of Christmas were the furthest thing from Draco's thoughts, as he lay huddled in his blankets. His hands were clenched tightly in his armpits in an attempt to warm them, and his feet were curled under him as he tried to warm his toes. Somewhere in the depths of his mind, he knew that if he really did have hypothermia and frostbite, he was supposed to remain awake. But he was drifting into a nice sunshine-filled place where it was always warm and summer never ended.
He was just finding a comfortable place on a grassy hillock when a sweet voice called his name. "Malfoy."
A hand grabbed his shoulder, shaking him roughly. "Malfoy! Wake up!" A second hand gripped the other shoulder. "Malfoy!"
Eyelids fluttered open and dusky blue eyes attempted to focus on the face before him. "I'm awake." Green eyes looked deep into his, then away. Fortunately for Harry, Draco was too drowsy to see the blush colouring Harry's cheeks. "Potter, I am awake." Draco tried to untangle himself from the blankets, in which he had effectively cocooned himself.
"Just don't go to sleep. Madame Pomfrey said you shouldn't go to sleep until I've checked that you're okay."
"Pomfrey's here?" Draco brought himself fully awake at the thought that someone else, even if it was only the school nurse, was here to save him from being alone with Potter.
"No, I've been fire talking to the school. I wanted them to know you were okay."
"That was very noble of you." The voice dripped sarcasm. Even when ill, Draco could still muster the correct tone, and he realised that he was actually feeling rather better, thank you very much.
"I was thinking of them, not you. Someone was bound to notice that you hadn't come back, and, even though it was you, they would have sent out search parties."
"When are they coming to get me?" He finally got free from the blankets and struggled to sit up.
"Calm down." Harry pushed Draco back down. "Hogwarts is snowed in. They can't even get to the village at the moment."
"They are wizards. Surely they are capable of dealing with a little snow?"
"Maybe." Harry glowered at him; cross that Dumbledore had refused to send someone out to get this useless Slytherin out of his hair. "Or just maybe they don't want you there. Have you thought of that?"
Harry didn't want Draco here any more than Draco wanted to stay. He didn't like the way his mind was reacting to the boy. In fact, he didn't understand why he was reacting like this, and he reminded himself yet again that he hated Draco Malfoy. Hate. Detest. Loathe. He wanted to be as far away from Draco as possible. He felt like pointing a finger at the door like some pantomime villain and saying 'Out into the snow wretch, and never darken my door again'.
"I need medical treatment." Draco sulked. "I could be dying."
"If you give me a moment, I will check to make sure you aren't." Harry retrieved his wand from the table and returned to the sofa where he pointed it at the boy. The look Malfoy gave him was so venomous that Harry wondered how he could ever have found him endearing.
"It's pronounced 'Avada Kedavra', Potter. Get it right, I don't want to be turned into a flobberworm or something equally as obnoxious." He folded his arms across his chest and stared coldly at Harry.
"You are such a knob, Malfoy." Harry muttered an incantation. Almost instantly, Draco felt the blankets begin to warm slightly, just enough to take the edge off his chill, but not enough to actually make him hot. "And don't you dare make fun of the Killing curse." The hard edge to Harry's voice took Draco by surprise. "Or I will take great delight in turning you into a horklump, which, like you, has no discernible use."
Harry spun on his heel and left the room. If he had stayed, he might just have punched the daylights out of Malfoy.
For several minutes Harry stood staring out of the kitchen window. It had stopped snowing and the landscape was now a smooth white world stretching as far as he could see. The sky was still full of dark snow-laden clouds, however, and Harry was sure that more snow was on its way. He realised he had lost track of time and he glanced quickly at his watch. It was nearly 1pm. So much for the quiet New Year he had been hoping for.
He pushed his hair back from his face, and grabbed at the dark curls where they covered his neck, and pulled a little. If he closed his eyes, he could see the green light of the Killing curse, see it flash through his mind and hear the sound of Voldemort's high-pitched chuckle. In one breath, Malfoy had gone from being Harry's remembrance of Christmas to the despoiler of his parents' memories.
Malfoy wouldn't joke if he knew what the curse could do. Wouldn't joke if he had seen it in action. Harry had lost his parents to it. Been scarred for life by it. Seen someone killed by it. And had killed someone using it.
Using the Killing curse had been the most awful thing he had ever experienced. Avada Kedavra didn't just kill; it comes back on the person using it. Harry had felt the life go out of the person, like he just ... stopped. One moment the Death Eater had been a living, breathing human being, and the next, it was like snuffing out a candle. The action of the curse had been so quick, but the moment of its devastating effects seem to go on and on forever. He was aware of that moment; the split second when life became nothing. That moment was with him all the time, like a freeze-frame on a video.
Would it always hurt so much to use it Harry wondered? Had Voldemort felt the same frozen instant when he killed Harry's parents? Or did training in the Dark Arts prepare a person not to feel what they did to their victims?
And what about Malfoy? How deep did the boy's dark magic go? Everyone seemed to think that the Slytherin was some sort of trained Dark Wizard, but if that was the case, why bother with an education at Hogwarts? Would he really joke like that if he truly understood what the Forbidden curses could do? Understood what it felt like to use them?
He leaned towards the window; resting his forehead on the cold glass, hot breath condensing and fogging the glass. Sooner or later, he would have to go back into the lounge. He still needed to make sure Malfoy's hypothermia wasn't life threatening, and that he didn't have frostbite. Maybe once he'd done that, he could send Malfoy off to bed as Madam Pomfrey had suggested. But the woman had also said that Harry needed to keep an eye on Malfoy in case his condition deteriorated in any way. He was not going to play nursemaid to that self-righteous arsehole.
Head still on the glass, Harry sighed deeply. Perhaps he should just leave. Even being stranded out in the snow had to be better than being stranded here with Malfoy.
Draco was thinking much the same thing when the Gryffindor came back into the room. He was still debating Harry's constant seesaw emotions and trying to understand why this normally very laidback individual was not holding himself in check.
Harry was very much like himself and Lucius in some ways. All three of them hid their true feelings. He and his father were experts at the art of keeping their emotions masked, hiding what they really thought. But Harry was different. His face was always expressive, but his true emotions and feelings were hidden behind those glasses, shrouded in the emerald eyes. They masked what he felt from the world. They were also his weapons, which he used to good measure. Not many people could have stared down Lucius the way Harry had in the Great Hall. In fact, most wouldn't even meet his father's eyes.
Like all children in the Wizarding world, Draco had been brought up with stories of The Boy Who Lived. But he had also been told a very different version to what Weasley and his siblings had heard. In these other stories, Harry Potter was not a hero. These stories were full of excuses and explanations for how a baby could overcome the greatest wizard of them all. Of how this half-blood would eventually pay for what had happened come the great day of Lord Voldemort's return when all Mudbloods and Muggle-lovers would meet their end.
He had never had any reason to doubt his father's version of events until he was asked to do the unthinkable. He was 11 years old, about to be sent away from home for the first time. He was going to Hogwarts, and his father wanted him to make friends with Harry Potter. Lucius Malfoy wanted his son to make sure Potter didn't fall in with the wrong sort -- the Weasleys for example and the other Muggle-lovers and Mudbloods that Dumbledore let into Hogwarts.
Draco remembered the moment all too well. He had a near-perfect photographic memory for such things. It was a shame it didn't work as well for more important things -- such as his lessons for example.
"But why, father? I don't want a half-blood for a friend."
"Because it is important that we prevent him being used against us."
"But he's a half-blood!"
"And that is why it is permissible to use him as we see fit. He is no better than a house-elf, Draco, but he does have a gift of power, which we will use. Our enemies think he is their saviour, but if we bring him to our cause, he will become the instrument of their downfall."
At the time, he didn't really understand what his father meant, but he wanted to please Lucius. How hard could it be to get someone to like him? He was, after all, rich, intelligent, good-looking, great company, in fact everything a friend would want.
When it all went wrong, Draco had been mortified. How dare this half-blood turn him down? Surprisingly, his father had not been very disappointed at his son's failure. Instead of being grateful for this, it actually made Draco more annoyed. Having his father displeased with him felt worse that an out-and-out punishment. He had brooded over the incident, which grew out of all proportion to the original event. It was made worse because most people liked Harry Potter -- students and teachers alike.
He'd tried to get his own back, but everything always backfired. The first flying lesson when he had wanted to show how good he was had ended with everyone cheering Potter. Then the Gryffindor had been picked as Seeker for his Quidditch house team he even got to have his own broom, something unheard of for first years. Even when he had tried to catch Potter breaking the school rules, he ended up being punished as well. He should have known that McGonagall would give him a detention when he told her about Hagrid's dragon. It wasn't so much the detention, but the look of delight on Potter's face that unset him. The git had just lost his house 150 points, but he still managed to smile at Draco's misfortunate.
Then had came the final humiliating end to the year -- Gryffindor being awarded the House Cup by default. Draco had listened in disbelief as Dumbledore had fixed everything so that the Slytherin victory was turned to defeat. It just was not fair, and he was reminded of his father's comments on how people like Dumbledore would go out of their way to undermine purebloods. It was these incidents that that lead to the animosity he felt for Harry. He had been made to suffer, so Harry Potter would as well.
Everything had changed during the summer break after the Triwizard Tournament.
Lord Voldemort had returned, and the resurrection of the new, all-powerful Dark Lord completely changed Harry's status in Lucius' eyes. His father no longer saw Harry as just something to be used and thrown away when it was worn out. His father now had his Master back, and Harry Potter went from being no more important than a house-elf to the deadly nemesis overnight.
To make matters worse, Lord Voldemort wanted Harry Potter dead, and for his father, the wishes of his master became his new priority. Harry was suddenly a target for any Death Eater or Voldemort supporter. And Draco, at just 15, was expected to hand Potter over to Voldemort if the opportunity arose.
Draco had been shocked by his father's instructions, and for the first time in his life, he had considered not obeying him. He knew what his father expected of him, what had always been expected. But this was something else. It was one thing to wage his own personal vendetta against Harry, but could he really allow himself to be responsible for his death? His love-to-hate relationship with Harry had matured over the four years into something that he found difficult to define. The hate had slipped into something else -- he wouldn't like to admit a fondness for the Gryffindor, but there was a need to be around him. How else could he explain his fascination with him? The next two and a half years were spent trying to please his father while not letting him know of the complicated relationship he shared with the one person his father hated.
Draco knew his adversary's strengths and weaknesses; felt he had an idea what made Harry tick. He had spent almost every day over the past six and a half years studying Harry the way he studied his other lessons, and he wondered now whether Harry's friends actually understood him, or whether it took an opponent to do that?
He knew the Avada Kedavra quip was uncalled for, but he had promised himself to get back at Harry for making his father leave. Hurting him emotionally was one way to wound without a physical fight (and thus avoid the obligatory detention). The only problem here was he couldn't bring himself to tell Harry why he had said it, and what was the point of payback when the target didn't know? And that made him irritable.
As for his father. If Lucius knew that Harry was alone in this cottage, seemingly unprotected, and that Draco hadn't told him...
"I want to talk to Dumbledore." Harry had hardly set a foot into the room when Draco made his demand.
"Fine by me, but he will only say the same things he said to me." Harry stopped in front of the sofa, arms folded across his chest. "I need to check your hands and feet."
Pulling the blanket tighter about him, Draco hid his hands in the folds. "They are fine. I've looked." He had stopped shivering now, mainly thanks to the warming spell Harry had put on the blankets.
"Madam Pomfrey said..."
"Well, she's not here, is she?"
"Then don't blame me when your fingers all go black and fall off."
Draco harrumphed and finally held out his hands.
Harry dropped down onto one knee and took hold of a hand, carefully studying each digit. He knew that Malfoy's skin was normally very pale, but his fingers were more bloodless than just pale. He rubbed a finger over the flesh and saw it colour up a little. Blood was still flowing to the fingertips, which was good sign, plus there were none of the signs the nurse had asked him to look for. "Have you got pins and needles?" Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Malfoy's smirk.
"I did earlier, but it's gone now." The smirk disappeared and in its place Draco put a strange wistful smile, which he knew would unsettle Harry. "Are you going to propose?"
"What?" Harry turned the hand over, looking at the back.
"Well, there you are, down on one knee. Holding my hand." Draco was pleased by the look of horror that flickered across Harry's face before the Gryffindor had the chance to hide it. "I thought you might have changed your mind and decided that you liked me after all."
Harry stared angrily, but said nothing; he was too embarrassed to actually say anything at that point, especially as touching Draco actually gave him a buzz. And especially as he thought Draco had winked. Malfoy, he reminded himself. His name is Malfoy. Quickly, Harry continued with his task, refusing to meet Malfoy's eye.
Draco watched Harry intently, noting the colour that had risen across his cheekbones. Oh, how he loved it when he could get at a Gryffindor like this. It was even sweeter when it was Harry; it almost made life worth living. Just a shame that like the Avada Kedavra comment, there was no one else to see his little triumphs.
Of course, he had no problems in thinking of Harry as just 'Harry'. The change had occurred halfway through their fifth year. Harry had returned from the summer holidays a changed person. The 'open' Potter was gone, and the person who replaced him was insular, closed, locked in his own thoughts. They said it was because of Cedric Diggory's death, but Draco knew it was more.
His father had told him what had really happened at the graveyard. He had learned about the Dark Lord's return and the new death sentence Voldemort had placed on Potter's head. Once the initial shock at this news had gone, Draco had realised he needed that to relearn exactly what 'loving to hate' Harry really meant.
Now, two years later, he still hadn't really decided how he felt about Harry. Was it possible to like and hate someone at the same time? Draco didn't know the answer to that, but somehow calling him 'Potter' didn't seem right any more. Of course, he still called him 'Potter' to his face, but that was more like a formality to him now. One day, he would call him 'Harry' out in public, in the halls of Hogwarts and in front of all his Slytherin classmates. But not just yet. Not now.
Draco let Harry take his other hand. He let Harry take its weight and watched as the Gryffindor's fingers ran lightly over his skin. The touch left him pleasantly surprised. For some reason, he had always assumed that Harry would have hard and callused hands, just like he imagined all Gryffindors would have. After all, weren't they always getting their hands dirty, doing all those good deeds, being bold and fearless? Yet Harry's hands were smooth, even soft, and Draco had to admit, he had a very nice touch. He was quite disappointed when Harry finally let go.
"I'm supposed to check your feet."
"Okay." Draco stuck them out from beneath the blankets, deliberately wiggling the toes. "You know something, Potter, you would be the perfect assistant to Pomfrey, with your exquisite bedside manner."
Harry looked positively mortified at Malfoy's sudden change of demeanour. One minute he was being his normal painful self, and the next he was a pain in a different way. Malfoy might be doing as Harry asked, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. Harry looked at the perfect feet and the offending digits, and desperately wanted to touch them. To see if the skin felt as smooth as it looked, to find out if he was ticklish.
Harry froze on the spot and thought for a moment that he might throw up. This was not good, and was not a train of thought he wanted to continue. Hell, it wasn't even a train of thought he understood!
He gripped his hands in his lap, refusing to go anyway near the feet. "They look fine," he finally said. Pulling himself together, Harry got to his feet. "You'll live." He turned away.
"Do you have some clothes I can wear?"
"You surely aren't going to make me sit here in these moth-eaten blankets?"
"Because when it comes down to it, you are one of the good guys and you wouldn't leave me shivering in the cold."
"Wanna bet?" The trouble was, Harry knew Malfoy was right. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't leave Malfoy half-naked until his own clothes dried. Even the warming spell Pomfrey had given him wouldn't dry them instantly. He disappeared into the bedroom and returned with a pile of clothes and a smirk on his face. "Here." The clothes were relatively new, but all were Dudley's cast-offs. "Now, listen, Malfoy. I've got work to do, so just stay out of my way."
Draco picked up the shirt, his nose wrinkled in distaste. "You expect me to wear this?"
"It's either that or blankets, take your pick." With that, Harry strode from the room.
Neither spoke much over the coming hours. Harry set about his work again, trying hard to ignore the fact that Draco was sprawled on the sofa reading a book. It didn't help that he was struggling with Potions work, while the best Potions student at Hogwarts was sitting a few feet away. A couple of times he had been on the verge of asking the Slytherin for help, but he had quickly brushed aside the idea. He would never live it down.
Draco, on the other hand, was beginning to feel the after-effects of his day on the slopes. He ached in places he didn't remember having and felt drained. He was also extremely bored. Suddenly the idea of attending the Hogwarts New Year Ball seemed the most exciting thing that could happen to him. Harry had fed him earlier, but they had barely exchanged a word since then. And the only sounds in the room were the scratch of Harry's pen and the tick of the large clock on the mantelpiece.
Five o'clock, the big black hands said. Draco put the book down and carefully got to his feet, stretching out the stiffness in his limbs. He wandered over to a window next to the front door, pulled back the curtain and scrubbed away some of the frost which had condensed on the inside of the glass. It had snowed again during the afternoon, but now the dark sky was cloudless and the moon was cresting a hill, casting a silvered sheen to the snow's surface. He suddenly remembered that somewhere beneath that whiteness outside the door lay his skis, and he debated for a moment whether to try and find them. His sensible side won through, and he decided to leave any search for the morning.
He turned back and surveyed the room from the window seat. It was in darkness except for two spots of light, one by the sofa where he had conjured a light to read by, the other on the far side where Harry was sitting bent over his work, long black hair hiding his features from view. Much longer, Draco debated, and he would have to tie it in a ponytail. As well as the sofa, there were several comfortable chairs placed around the fireplace, and, in deference to the season, there was a large Christmas tree on the lounge side of the partition, which divided the room.
Draco smiled. Compared to his home, the place was a hovel, but there was something charming about it in a rustic sort of way. It oozed 'cosy and nice'. No dressing for dinner here, thank you very much. Even the other rooms gave the same impression. The bedroom had a big 'cosy' bed with pretty chintz covers and matching curtains. The kitchen was the epitome of a 'cosy' country kitchen complete with a big pine table and chairs and a cooking range. As for the bathroom, he had spent a happy hour lazing in the big tub, which seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of hot water.
He knew Harry often disappeared from Hogwarts at weekends and he had wondered where the Gryffindor spent his time. Obviously it was here wherever 'here' was.
Feet clad in Harry's socks, Draco strolled back to the fire and stared at the flames.
Across the room Harry glanced up surreptitiously at the figure outlined by the firelight. The jeans Draco wore only stayed up because of the belt, and the red and white checked shirt reminded Harry of a Muggle song about a lumberjack. Why was it, Harry debated, that clothes which made him look like a street urchin, somehow looked like designer gear on Draco Malfoy? He gave a silent groan and returned to his books.
Draco, meanwhile, had stacked a couple of extra logs on the fire. "Who does this place belong to?"
"What?" Harry mumbled from his table off to Draco's left.
"This place. I take it you haven't gone into the property business."
"Who does it belong to?" Draco asked again.
"Hagrid? He owns a place like this? Where did he get the money from?" Harry did not reply, but his body language said it had nothing to do with Draco. "He lets you use it?"
"And what are you doing here?"
Draco's eyes narrowed. "Are you capable of replying in sentences longer than one word?"
"No." Harry glanced towards the fire. "Not at the moment anyway."
"Would you like me to light the tree?" Draco gestured towards the decorated Christmas tree.
"Because, Malfoy, I don't feel particularly Christmassy."
"Then, what better than a tree to cheer you up?" Draco picked up his wand and lit the multi-coloured lights. They illuminated the room, chasing shadows into the corners. "There, isn't that better?"
"If I'd wanted Christmas, I'd have stayed at Hogwarts."
Draco raised an eyebrow, the tone of Harry's comment unexpected. It was normally him that got to ridicule high days and holidays. To hear it from a Gryffindor was a surprise. Harry didn't look up as he stopped beside the table. "Studying upsetting the normal celebratory zeal?" He picked up one of the parchments. Harry snatched at it, but Draco kept it out of his reach. "Oh, Potions. Not finished your dissertation yet then?"
"It's due in a week." He scanned the parchment. "I've already handed mine in."
"Don't know why you bothered. Snape would pass you if you'd handed in blank sheets."
Draco dropped the parchment and picked up another. "It might come as an unpleasant shock to you, Potter, but Snape takes as much delight in failing Slytherins as he does to anyone else.'
"Ha!" Harry sat back and looked up at Draco. "Who are you kidding? I've totted up how many marks he's taken from Gryffindor and Slytherin, and there is no comparison."
"Maybe that's because we are better than you. As for these dissertations, they have to be marked by an independent adjudicator, so blank sheets wouldn't work. And as I can't find out who the adjudicator is, I can't offer to sleep with them and thus pass with perfect marks." He gave Harry one of his bewitching smiles. "So you got a sleeping potions question."
"Unfortunately. What did you get?"
"Poisons and their uses."
Harry's eyebrow rose, green eyes sparkling in the glow of the Christmas tree lights. "Now, why doesn't that surprise me?"
Draco carried on working his way through the parchments. "So what's the problem?"
"You've started this so many times I expect they've run out of parchment in Diagon Alley."
"And why would I want to discuss this with you?" Harry's thoughts betrayed him. He might have said one thing, but what he really wanted to say was 'please, please help me'.
"Fine, Potter. Just trying to help. But you're missing the point here." He waved one of the parchments at Harry and pulled up a chair. "You're wasting your time talking about herbs that aren't important."
"I am not." Harry pulled the parchment from Draco's fingers and scanned over the words. "This is all relevant. Chamomile, lavender, passionflower, hops. They are all ingredients used in sleeping draughts."
"Medicinal draughts. The question is about abuse of power using sleeping draughts. Read it again."
"It does not say that."
"Didn't you listen to Snape when he was going over all the questions? He specifically talked about the Draught of Living Death with this one. That is not about something used in Madam Pomfrey's hospital ward."
Harry grabbed at his hair, as he scanned through the question paper again. The hand then gestured at the paper, and he repeated, "It does not say that. How am I expected to answer this when Snape doesn't even explain what he wants?"
Draco sat back in his chair and picked up one of Harry's quills. "And that is the whole point. You know Potions is all about interpreting riddles. The subject is full of them, and one of the skills needed to successfully make Potions is to know how to interpret those riddles. Snape is giving you a riddle here in this question." He dropped the quill and started sorting through the books on the desk. Selecting one of the largest, he flicked through the pages, and, finding what he wanted, pushed it over to Harry. "Here, look at the recipe for Draught of the Living Death. Look at the subtitle of it."
Harry looked from the Slytherin down to the words: Draught of the Living Death: A sleep-inducing potion for destroying the will of the imbiber. "Are you saying that the question 'Sleeping Draughts - Their Uses and Abuses' is just about this one potion?"
"Look at it from Snape's point of view. What was the first thing he ever asked you?"
Harry's brow creased in thought and his shoulders rose in an exaggerated shrug. "I don't know."
"For goodness sake, don't you remember? That first day in Potions? He came bounding into the classroom and looked at you and said 'Ah yes, Harry Potter, our new celebrity'. Remember?" Draco's impression was near perfect. Harry had a vague recollection of the event and wondered why the Slytherin should remember such a thing. "The first question he ever asked you was: 'What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?'. The answer, of course, is Draught of the Living Death. Asphodel is a herb sacred to Persephone, who spent half the year in the underworld. It is associated with the fields of the dead and was planted near tombs. That's the death connection. It's also part of the lily family Lilaceae, which is a direct connection to you and your family." Draco spread his hands as if everything should now be crystal clear. "Snape personalised all these questions for each of us."
"Yeah, right." Harry tried to sound convincingly negative about the whole thing, but he was still stuck with the thought of how, or why, did Draco remember what had happened to his adversary in one lesson over six years ago?
"Have it your way. Just think for a minute what he gave to the penniless Weasel. Transmuting base metals. And Granger -- she gets a question which involves the only practical work in the whole class. We all know what an expert she is at book study, but not so hot on the practical side."
"And your poisons?"
Draco's small smile was all knowing. "Perhaps he thinks I have some Machiavellian tendencies I might just be putting to good use when I graduate."
Harry watched Draco for a moment, absently chewing the end of his quill. Draco didn't look like the Slytherin he was used to dealing with. There was no smugness in his tone, and the typical look of self-importance he would normally have worn when winning a point from Harry was nowhere in evidence. He almost looked ... well ... normal. Harry felt like he could be sitting here with Hermione or Ron. Was the Slytherin spinning him a yarn? In a strange twisted way, what Draco said made sense, but if he based his paper on that and it turned out to be wrong, Harry would lose every single mark. Maybe he could write about the draught then add something on sleeping draughts in general.
Maybe he should just give Draco a chance.
"Okay," Harry finally said. "Let's discuss Death."
It was a good thing none of the friends of either boy were able to see them. The blond head and the dark head bowed over the same books would probably have caused them to faint on the spot.
Several hours later, Harry was sitting on a cushion on the floor, leaning back against the sofa. The now dry rug was back on the floor, and his legs were stretched out across it, crossed at the ankles. This was his favourite place, somewhere to chill out after a hard day's work, and the fact that the floor was magically heated, made it even more comfortable.
He took a sip from the bottle of Butterbeer and closed his eyes as he swallowed. He would have to write out the dissertation properly, but at least it was finally finished, and even though Draco had been there, it was all Harry's own work. Harry had seen a completely different side of the Slytherin, who had managed to quietly point him in the right direction without actually telling him the answers. Contrary to everything that Harry might have thought, Draco Malfoy had the makings of a great teacher. Or an incredible actor, he reminded himself. Don't ever forget that Draco could act the socks off most people!
Harry was aware of a weight on the sofa behind him, and he realised his quiet chill-out was over. Draco had finished whatever had been keeping him occupied and was now coming to inflict himself on Harry again. He chose not to move or open his eyes.
"Here, try this."
An arm snaked over Harry's shoulder, resting its weight there and he finally opened his eyes. The hand held a small glass, half-filled with a smoky-looking liquid. "What is it?"
"Don't know, but it is definitely alcohol and definitely interesting. I imagine your friend Hagrid has been producing homebrew."
Harry took the glass and sniffed at the liquid, expecting it to be overpowering, but it was almost odourless. "Have you tried it?"
The arm finally pulled away. "Oh yes. It'll knock your socks off. I've a whole new admiration for Hagrid. He could make a fortune with this stuff."
"I think maybe I should stick to Butterbeer."
"Come on, Harry, live a little. Or is The Boy Who Lived scared of getting drunk?"
Draco couldn't see the little smile on Harry's face at being called his given name. But the smile disappeared almost instantly as the voice changed to a mocking tone as he used 'The Boy Who Lived' line. When Hagrid had first called him that back on his 11th birthday, Harry had liked the term. He had found it endearing and looked on it with fondness. It had been a connection with his parents, a gesture that said they hadn't died in vain. But over the years it had almost become a term of abuse, particularly from people like Malfoy. The Boy Who Lost, The Boy Who Got It Wrong, The Boy Who Killed Cedric, The Boy Who... It went on and on. Whenever someone wanted to take a dig at him.
"Don't call me that."
He could hear Draco just behind him, lying so that his head was at the same end of the sofa as Harry sat. "The Boy Who Lived crap." Harry suddenly felt very tired. He had been through so much in the last year and now it felt like every incident was crashing in on him, crushing his resolve and dragging him into an emotional blackness. Ron being injured. Killing the Death Eater before the man could kill Ron. His knowledge of Voldemort's advancing forces. The fact he was not able to share this knowledge with this best friends and the growing loneliness this caused, cutting him off from everyone. The expectations of people that he could do something about the Dark Lord. And to top it all, the stupid potions dissertation which he had been struggling with for weeks.
"Oh? I always thought you liked it. Your little sign of affection from the masses."
"First, I'm not a boy anymore." No, Harry thought, I stopped being a boy when I killed someone just before my 17th birthday. He wondered again how much Draco knew about the Dark Lord's activities. Did he know just how strong Voldemort's armies now were? How his forces were slowly gaining ground in the fight to control the Wizarding community. If Lucius were a Death Eater, then surely Draco would know how the Dark Lord had set up his new legions in the West Country, basing them in the Arthurian town of Tintagel. Draco must have seen Voldemort's proclamations. That he was Arthur, the once and future King came back again to reclaim his throne.
Had Lucius told his son that the killings had started again? Did Draco know how Harry had left his childhood behind when he finally used the Avada Kedavra curse in anger and for real? Sixteen years old was too young an age to have to kill people, and he hated himself for doing it. Hated himself for having to choose between the life of a friend and that of a Death Eater. What gave him the right to decide who should live and who should die?
Harry wondered what it would have been like if he had known the Death Eater. Would he be able to kill someone he knew, even if a loved one was in danger? What if it had been Draco who stood there? Everyone seemed to assume that Draco would join Voldemort and become one of his followers. Could he kill the person lying behind him now? Just stand there and point his wand at Draco and take his life?
He shuddered at the thought, and, needing something to take away the bitter taste of death, he emptied the glass in one go. The liquid trailed comforting warmth from his mouth down into his stomach. Automatically he took a deep breath and was treated to an instant chill catching in the back of his throat. He stared at the empty glass, other more serious thoughts temporarily forgotten. "Wow, this is just so... incredible." He took another breath, amazed at the fire and ice sensations vying for control between his mouth and stomach.
"So you're not a boy?" The arm came across Harry's shoulder, this time holding a bottle. Harry took it.
"No. How would you feel being called that when your parents had been killed in an attack you had lived through?" Harry filled his glass again and gulped down the liquid. This time he held his breath, keeping the warmth for as long as possible. When he finally gasped for breath, the shock of the ice was almost mind numbing.
Harry felt the weight of Draco's arm across his shoulder again, and he glanced up at the empty glass held in his fingers. He filled it up from the bottle.
Draco shrugged, even though Harry couldn't see the gesture. "Don't know. I've never thought about it."
"I didn't want to be famous. Given the choice, I would much rather have my parents alive then some stupid little name." Harry carefully put the bottle down, watching its cloudiness swirling around the bottle. It almost looked like there was some living thing inside the glass.
"Ah, but if it is the choice between the fame or nothing, what would you rather have?"
"Okay. Your parents are dead, you come to school and nobody cares. How would you feel then?" Harry didn't respond, but he became very still. "You are The Boy Who Lived and you can't change that. It's what makes you what and who you are."
"Since when have you been an expert on what and who I am?"
"Know thine enemy. Isn't that how the saying goes?"
"And are you?" Harry spun round, holding his knees, and looked at Draco. "Are we enemies?"
Draco was startled by the change in posture; it was one thing talking to the back of Harry's head, but to suddenly be caught in that jade gaze. "I don't know, Harry. What do you think? Wouldn't squabbling school children be a better term?"
"Are you going to join him?"
"Who?" The Malfoy poker face was firmly in place. This was not a conversation he wanted to have.
"Voldemort." Draco didn't answer. "I know we have different views, but even you can't want to be part of what he preaches. Want to be branded with his Mark." There was still no response. "There are other ways."
"What can you offer me that other people can't?"
Harry gave a small laugh. "I'm not offering you anything, Draco. This isn't a game where you can play the two sides off against each other."
"Oh? I thought that was what it was all about. Your side against the rest? Imagine if it had been different, Harry. Imagine if you'd taken my hand on the Hogwarts Express. Imagine if you'd been sorted into Slytherin."
"I still wouldn't have joined him." Harry gave the smallest of shrugs. "He killed my parents. Nothing will ever change that."
"There are things here you can never understand. Duty, obligation, obedience."
"To what? Him? Your father? What about yourself, Draco? What do you want?" Harry tapped his finger on Draco's chest. "Isn't that what's important here? How do you feel? What do you truly believe?"
"This is priceless. You preaching to me about what I want." Draco tore his eyes away from Harry and looked up at the ceiling. He had never considered a different path. Never considered that his father's choices were not the only way forward for him. Of course, a few sweet words from Harry weren't likely to change that, but they did plant just the tiniest seed of doubt in the dark backwaters of his mind.
"I remember I was about three when I first heard about you." Draco turned on his side, looking at Harry again. "My father's mother was always a disappointment to him. She had never agreed with his views. I loved her and she would tell me a fairy story about the evil dark lord who was trying to take over the world, and how this little boy who ended up with a magic scar saved everyone." Draco frowned, eyes closing slightly as they shifted to the lightning scar just above Harry's right eye. It was a thin white line in the firelight. He reached out, tracing the mark with his index finger.
The touch made Harry catch his breath. No one had ever touched the mark before, and he felt the caress right down into the pit of his stomach. He blinked once ... twice. "And?" The word was barely audible.
The hand dropped away. "She used to tell me that if I was a good boy I could end up like him. Harry, The Boy Who Lived." Draco left out a small sigh. "I miss her. She died a few years later and the stories changed. Maybe I'll tell you what the new ones were like one day. By the time I was at school, there you were in all those books: Modern Magical History, Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century. You were talked about in hushed tones, this saviour who would bring the Wizarding world to greatness again. While all I had was a family who had once served the Dark Lord and claimed to have been under his spell. I had a vague recollection of my grandmother telling me her son was no more in thrall to You Know Who than anyone else was. That he knew exactly what he was doing."
"Call him Voldemort. Names can't hurt you."
"Can't they? Names are power, Harry. They are one of the prime ingredients of Dark Magic. You need Names to work spells at that level, and his Name is one of the most powerful when invoked."
"Did you father teach you?"
"Dark arts?" Draco saw Harry nod, and he smiled at the Gryffindor. "I'm hardly likely to admit that to you, am I? You being the biggest anti-dark arts person in the Wizarding world."
"Is that why you hate me?"
"Hate you?" There was a long silence as Draco clearly thought carefully about his answer. "I don't think I had ever really hated you. Envy perhaps. Bitter. Angry. Extreme dislike. And I guess that once we started on that slippery slope, it was difficult to get off it. Especially after you teamed up with Weasley. My father had always thought that once you got to Hogwarts, you could be 'taught' to think the 'right things', be part of the right circle of people. He was really upset when he found out the Weasleys had gotten their hands on you."
"You make it sound like there was some sort of ulterior motive to the Weasleys being my friends."
"Everybody has motives, Harry, remember that. You, me, Dumbledore, my father. Even the Weasleys."
"Did you know Ron before Hogwarts?"
"No, not personally. But I knew the family. My father didn't approve of them. They are an old Wizarding family who don't seem to understand the principles of keeping the bloodlines pure. Father would preach about purity and its importance, and there was Arthur Weasley completely entranced by all things Muggle. And of course, he had countless children, while the great Malfoys were stuck with just me to continue on the family line." Draco paused and let out a sigh. "What did you think about me when we first met in the robe shop?"
Harry released his knees and sat cross-legged on his cushion, the movement giving him time to think. The bottle came into view and he picked it up, filling his glass again. He raised the bottle towards Draco who held out his own glass. "Do you really want to know?"
"You've insulted me enough already, once more wouldn't hurt." Draco shrugged and emptied his glass, the hot and cold sensation infusing throughout his body. "And you've seen me in my underwear." He thought Harry blushed, but it could have been the lights from the tree tinting his flesh.
Harry emptied his own glass. "Have I ever told you about Dudley?"
"Muggle cousin?" Harry nodded. "Very fat, spoilt, demanding always gets what he wants."
"Well, you reminded me of him. Except for the fat bit, of course. And you knew so much I'd never even heard of."
"I did say 'hello' to you."
"I know." Harry's voice was quiet.
"I was scared about going off to school. I'd never been away from home before. I knew Crabbe and Goyle, and some other people who were starting, but they weren't really friends. Can I have the bottle?"
Harry passed it back and returned to leaning against the sofa, his back to Draco again. "I think it was something you said about Hagrid that put me off. He rescued me and you called him a savage."
"I was a child repeating what I'd been told."
"You still think he is."
"He scares the shit out of me and always has."
"Hagrid scares you? He's one of the friendliest people I know."
Draco gave a laugh. "If he's on your side. To me he's always been a giant with giant tendencies."
Harry reached for his bottle of Butterbeer and realised it swam slightly before him. He'd never been drunk before, and wondered just how much of Hagrid's fire/ice drink it took to make someone intoxicated. Actually, he reminded himself, this was the first time he'd ever had alcohol. Perhaps he should stick to Butterbeer from now on. "You know, you've been such a git over the last six years. The things you've said and done to people. Hermione, Hagrid, Ron, Neville. Would you have done that if I hadn't been around?"
Draco leaned forward, pushing against Harry's shoulder as he filled the other's glass. "Children are notoriously cruel creatures. I think your friends are hardly blameless. They've all said some pretty nasty things to me. Granger even hit me, remember?"
"How could I forget? Along with the ferret incident, it was a highlight of my years at Hogwarts." Harry imagined the dirty look Draco might be throwing at him. "How did you work out all those things about my Potions assignment? You remembered things about me I'd long forgotten."
Emptying his glass, Draco breathed in the cool aftertaste, relishing in its sensation. He knew everything about Harry. Everything his adversary had been through in the past six and a half years. It was imprinted on him as though it had been his own life, first in hatred and then as something else, something he couldn't put his finger on and didn't truly understand. "I have a good memory." He breathed in deeply again, the cold air tinted with another taste which he realised was Harry. A taste of summer and light. Draco looked at the dark head before him, and watched where the long curls of black clustered around Harry's neck. He'd often wondered about Harry's hair. It always looked harsh to him, like it might be dry and brittle to the touch. "You saved my life earlier."
"You wouldn't have died."
"You didn't know just how bad I was feeling. If I hadn't gotten out of those wet clothes." He reached out a hand and touched a curl at Harry's neck; straightening it and then letting it spring back, almost marvelling at the texture under his fingertips. "You could have just left me." He touched the hair again, leaving his fingers entangled in it.
"No, I couldn't. If I'd done nothing and something had happened, I would never have forgiven myself."
Harry didn't pull away, nor did he lean into the touch. He just allowed the sensation of it to filter through his senses. It was like the touch on his scar. He'd always been a tactile person, but he had spent all his life separate from people, from closeness, from touch. The only touch he had ever received from the Dursleys had been either that of indifference or of pain. Even the pain became welcome in its own twisted way. He remembered going for months without any contact, not even a hand raised in anger. He would sometimes push things just so Uncle Vernon might grip his shoulders and shake him, just for the contact, to remind him of the feel of another human being.
Then he got to Hogwarts and things were different. He had people around him, people who cared. For the first time he felt wanted, needed and loved. Hugs from Hermione and Ron. Hands on shoulders. But his so-called fame stopped most relationships from forming. He had tried to make friends, to fall in love, but there always seemed to be those who wanted to make something for themselves out of a relationship with him. He was forever caught up in the media circus that seemed to surround him constantly.
So even though he was thought of as Hogwarts' most eligible bachelor, no one wanted to go out with him. Even dancing with him at a Ball seemed to make the Daily Prophet headlines. The girls who delighted in making the headlines were not Harry's type, while those he would like to share time with shied away from the publicity, leaving him like a wallflower, surrounded by friends but with no one special. He remembered wanting to date Cho, but after the events of the Triwizard Tournament, he knew that he could never ask her out. Not after Cedric had died.
Of course, there was always Hermione, but she had never been his girlfriend. Their friendship had always remained platonic, which pleased Harry. He loved her without question, and their relationship meant so much to him. Knowing that she would always be there long after each of them had found a partner. Hermione was currently dating Seamus, and Harry had no problem with that. He just wished that he could find someone to make him as happy as they were.
He let out a long sigh which caught in his throat, and he realised his eyes were watering. "I think I've had too much to drink." The words were throaty with tears.
Draco's long fingers teased at the curls. "We've missed New Year."
"Really?" Harry looked up at the large clock and saw that it was already ten minutes into 1998. He pulled off his glasses and carefully wiped his fingertips across his eyes in a gesture he hoped Draco wouldn't see. "Do you think we could spend our last six months here not fighting?"
"Is that what your New Year's wish is?"
Harry swallowed and closed his eyes, the strain of six years of fighting darkness almost too much. And now Draco had touched him, and it felt like every barrier he had ever erected around his emotions had disappeared. It had to be the drink, he decided. "I just want to get through this and come out the other side."
"The other side?"
"School. Voldemort." His voice was almost nonexistent. "We don't have to be friends." Tears seeped from under the closed eyelid; sparkling along lashes before running down his face. He leaned back into Draco's hand. "You can just ignore me."
The hand pushed through the curls and moved around Harry's shoulder, resting protectively across his chest. "Harry, I could never ignore you." He leaned forward and touched his forehead to the back of Harry's head.
"Don't do this to me." Shoulders softly shaking, Harry tried to bite back the tears.
"Make me feel."
"It would take more than me to do that. But I can go if you want." Harry didn't respond, but he turned slightly and leaned into Draco's arm. Draco tightened the grip slightly and the two remained still. Draco's soft breathing in contrast to the hitch in Harry's breathing. Finally, he spoke into the dark hair. "I think you need some sleep."
Twisting slightly, Draco sat up and came down onto his knees at Harry's side. Then carefully, he slipped one arm around Harry's shoulders and the other under his knees. "Come on."
He straightened, lifting the slight body, surprised at how light Harry was, and carried him into the bedroom.
********************I wish I knew how it would feel to be free I wish I could break all the chains holding me I wish I could say all the things that I should say Say 'em loud say 'em clear For the whole wide world to hear (I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be) Free/One -- Lighthouse Family
Chapter 2: Boys just want to have fun... The aftermath of New Year. More snow. The Gryffindor Dorm Debating Society and much more.
Hagrid's alcoholic homebrew is based on a drink called 'After Shock'.
Special thanks to my Betas: Lynn, Ginzai, Ashleigh, Thursday and Josie, who found time over Christmas and the New Year to read this and give me their comments.
Any reviews are more than welcome, either here on the Fiction Alley Board (click on review), to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to post your comments at the following Yahoo group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HP_comingofage.