Harry Potter walked absently from the Great Hall in the direction of the large marble staircase leading to the upper floors of Hogwarts Castle. He had just finished his lunch of bacon sandwiches (with lots of ketchup) and was looking forward to an afternoon spent on the Quidditch pitch, enjoying the crisp weather of mid-November in the air with his best friend.
He just needed to nip to Gryffindor Tower to grab his Firebolt (which he still refused to keep in the broomshed with the other brooms; yes, it was a pain to climb eight staircases every time he wanted a quick fly, but he really didn't want the Firebolt to get damaged or stolen), and then he'd be off. A homework-free afternoon was a rare luxury when Hermione Granger was your friend and you were in your seventh and final year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and Harry intended to enjoy every minute of it.
He was already six steps up the staircase when he caught sight of something that shouldn't be there. A student – male, blond and in fifth or sixth year, from what Harry could tell – was crouched against the wall, knees tucked to their chest, arms wrapped around them, head bowed.
His curiosity (and yes, okay, his saving people thing) got the better of him and he tentatively called out.
"Er, are you okay?"
The person visibly tensed, but gave no response. Harry climbed back down the stairs and tried again.
"Hello? Are you all right? Do – do you want me to get a teacher or something?"
Still no answer, although whoever it was seemed to be trying to curl themselves into the smallest shape possible.
"I'm not going to hurt you or anything… can you talk?"
"Sweet mother of Merlin, you never give up, do you, Potter?" came the somewhat muffled reply. Harry stared.
"Malfoy?! What the – what are you doing?"
"I'm having a party, Potter, what does it look like? And you are not invited. Leave. Now."
Harry suddenly realised that his mouth was hanging open and hastily closed it. He was at a total loss. Did he try and get Malfoy to talk? Help him? Hex him while he was down?
In the end, his Gryffindor side won his Slytherin one, and he (somewhat reluctantly) moved his hand away from his left sleeve, where he kept his wand, and walked over to where Malfoy was curled up.
"Listen, Malfoy. Are you – I mean, what – what's going on?"
"Go away, Scarhead!" Malfoy spat, flinching away from Harry's voice. "Or, wait, no, lead me to a really pretty girl… actually, on second thoughts, this is you we're talking about. I'd probably end up standing in front of a Weasley. Or Loony Lovegood. Yeurgh. No, just leave me here. Just walk away and leave me alone. That would be best."
Harry gaped at him. "You're not making any sense, Malfoy."
Malfoy laughed somewhat hysterically into his knees. "No, I suppose I wouldn't be," he mumbled to himself. "And yet, you're still here. Why is this, exactly?"
Harry folded his arms stubbornly and glared at the top of the blond head. "I don't see why I shouldn't be. It's not your Entrance Hall," he said, before belatedly realising how childish that sounded.
Malfoy surprisingly didn't pick up on his juvenile slip. "Believe me, Potter, you don't want to be here almost as much as I don't want you to be here. Just trust me, will you?"
Harry stared. "Now I know there's something wrong with you," he said finally, shaking his head.
He leaned forward yanked hard on Malfoy's arm to try and get him to stand up. And it worked, too; Malfoy half rose and stumbled forward, right into Harry. Malfoy's eyes snapped open and his hands flew out to keep himself from falling flat on his face, but he still ended up clutching the front of Harry's robes.
Harry opened his mouth to either apologise or have a go at him – he hadn't really decided – but ended up not saying anything at all. There was perhaps a second in which the two of them stared at each other, and Harry was baffled at the look on Malfoy's face. He couldn't read it at all. There was shock, definitely. And something that looked like pain. And then there was something else…
But before he could figure out what it was, Malfoy snarled at him, swirled them both around and shoved him roughly against the wall. Harry made a noise of protest – protest, not pain or anything – and tried to shove Malfoy back, but Malfoy held him in place with a growl of fierce determination.
"Malfoy, what the—mmph!"
Harry was abruptly cut off by Malfoy pressing him roughly into the wall by his shoulders, leaning close and kissing him. Kissing him! Wonky-glasses-bashed-noses-mouth-on-mouth kissing!
Harry struggled, of course. He struggled harder than he probably would if Malfoy was a Death Eater trying to cut his throat, but Malfoy seemed almost possessed; the grip he had on Harry's hair and shoulder holding him in place was really strong.
Harry tried to bring his knee up to get Malfoy where it really hurt – this was hardly the time for fighting fair, after all. However, even that Malfoy seemed to predict, stamping down hard on Harry's foot before he could get a good aim, and continued trying to get his tongue into Harry's mouth.
Then, Harry heard something that he'd never before been glad to hear:
"… Finnegan, you may be surprised to hear that I don't arrange my detentions around my students' social calendars. You will be in my office at eight o'clock sharp tonight, do I make myself clear? Now sit down, you magnificently unintelligent boy, or it's twenty points from Gryffindor."
Harry quickly freed his head from Malfoy's grasp, wincing as a few hairs were pulled out by Malfoy's clutching hand. "Sir! Pro—ouch, shit! Professor Snape! Please, get him off me!" Harry yelped, wincing again as, denied of Harry's mouth, Malfoy bit down hard on his neck.
"Five points from Gryffindor for your language, Potter," Snape drawled, taking in the sight of the two of them and smirking. "And amorous encounters are to be kept away from the school corridors. A further five points."
Harry didn't even have the strength of mind to reflect on how phenomenally unfair this was; Malfoy's hand was valiantly trying to force itself down Harry's trousers and, supposedly heroic and chivalrous or not, he would gladly give up all of Gryffindor's house points to save himself from that fate.
Snape fingered the end of his wand thoughtfully as if considering whether to leave Harry at the mercy of – the apparently now legitimately crazy – Malfoy, but Malfoy helpfully chose that moment to grab the top of Harry's head and shove it backwards into the stone wall so forcefully that Harry's vision was momentarily distorted with tiny white stars.
"Oh, very well, Potter." Snape lazily pointed his wand at the pair. There was a brief flash of light, and when Harry had blinked away the last of the stars, he saw that Malfoy was sprawled on the floor on the opposite side of the hall. He started to get up and head for Harry again, but with another idle flick of Snape's wand, found himself blocked as if by an invisible wall. He let out a moan of frustration.
"Th-thanks, sir," said Harry, staring at Malfoy in horror and feverishly wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Snape raised an eyebrow.
"Care to explain, Potter?"
Harry looked up. "Sir?" Snape pointedly directed his gaze to Malfoy, who was pressed against the invisible barrier, his eyes fixed on Harry. From the way that Malfoy was standing, Harry couldn't help but notice the all-too-obvious bulge in Malfoy's trousers. He gulped and looked away.
"I've no idea," he said honestly. "He was just sort of crouched down over there—" he gestured to the wall, "—and I asked him if he was okay, and he just went mad. I mean, at first, like I said, he was all hunched over, he wouldn't look up, and then when he did, he started… er… well, you saw him, sir."
"Indeed," Snape said curtly. He strode through the barrier that held Draco like it wasn't even there and spoke to him loudly, as if to one who was deaf or stupid. "Mr Malfoy. Did somebody curse you?"
Draco looked like speaking was causing him great pain. Without taking his eyes off Harry, he spat out, "No. Potion. Nngh, Potter!"
Snape glared sharply at Harry. "Did you give him a potion?"
"No I did not!" Harry protested said hotly. "He was like that when I found him, I told you! I was in the Great Hall, you can ask anyone, I—"
Snape ignored his pleas and turned to Malfoy again.
"Mr Malfoy… Draco, look at me."
Malfoy's gaze stayed resolutely on Harry.
"Malfoy!" Snape barked. Malfoy seemed to be trying; he turned his head in Snape's direction, but his eyes remained fixed. Harry felt distinctly uncomfortable. Snape, apparently losing patience, jerked Malfoy's chin towards him. Malfoy's stare was broken, and he gasped as if emerging into the air after spending a long time underwater.
"Oh, shit! Professor! Oh crap oh crap oh crap I… Merlin!"
"Mr Malfoy," Snape said calmly. "Did Potter – don't look at him – did Potter force you to drink a potion?"
Malfoy looked like it took a phenomenal amount of energy to keep himself from tuning back to Harry. He bent his head and stared at his shoes instead of looking at Snape and addressed his answer to them.
"No, it wasn't him. It was… oh, Merlin, I need… I need…"
Snape, rather than berating Malfoy for being rude (as he would have done with Harry, potion or not), seemed to consider this. His cold black eyes swept the floor near the wall. He suddenly marched over and picked up a small bottle – about the size of a Muggle food colouring bottle – that Harry hadn't noticed, and held it up to the light.
"You did not administer this potion to Mr Malfoy, Potter?" he asked, glaring at Harry again.
"You did not see who gave the potion to Malfoy?"
"Very well." Snape slid the bottle into an inside pocket of his robes. "I will take Mr Malfoy to my office and attempt to discover just what has occurred this afternoon. You, Potter will accompany us. I presume that you are not otherwise occupied?"
Harry, his heart sinking, thought longingly of the lush green grass and brisk winds of the Quidditch pitch. He shook his head glumly.
"Good." Snape nodded once and flicked his wand at Malfoy, vanishing the invisible barrier. Malfoy's eyes immediately snapped from the floor back to Harry and he flew towards him, a distinctly predatory look on his face, and Harry yelped. He saw Snape swiftly walking away down one of the corridors that led to the dungeons, and, evading Malfoy's grasp, rushed down the passage after his Potions professor.
The room was cold and damp and memories of his mind being repeatedly plundered assaulted him as soon as he stepped through the door. He shivered and eyed the few floating dead things in jars that had appeared since he was last here. This was not how he expected to be spending his free afternoon.
On the way from the Entrance Hall, he'd hidden in an alcove and held his breath until Malfoy had run past him with a crazed expression. Now he was in Snape's office, it seemed he'd calmed down somewhat; he was sitting straight-backed in one of the wooden chairs that stood before the desk, resolutely not looking at Harry. Harry went to take the chair next to it, but Snape stopped him.
"Do you really think that sitting within three feet of Malfoy is the wisest course of action right now, Potter?" he said unpleasantly. "I would suggest that you use whatever form of matter residing within your skull that passes for a brain, but I am becoming more and more convinced that your cranium is entirely hollow."
Snape rolled his eyes. "Sit in the chair by the door, you fool."
Harry sat in the chair by the door, thinking that at least he might be able to make a quick exit if Malfoy went mad again, although Malfoy didn't seem to have moved at all since Harry walked in. Harry looked at him curiously, wondering if Snape had put a Body-Bind on him, but then he noticed that Malfoy's hands were fiercely gripping the seat of his chair. His knuckles were white.
Harry turned his attention to Snape, and watched in silence for what seemed like an eternity as he methodically chopped, stirred and poured over a fairly small (Harry guessed standard size one-and-a-half) cauldron. The afternoon's events kept running over and over through his mind, as much as he'd pay to forget them. Malfoy looking – though Harry hated to say it – uncharacteristically vulnerable, curled around himself, refusing to look up. And when he did…
Wait a moment. He didn't want to open his eyes, because when he did…
A horrible thought occurred to Harry.
"It's not a love potion, is it?" he blurted.
Snape didn't answer; he threw a yellow-coloured powder into the cauldron, which immediately began spurting out jets of purple steam. He leaned into the steam and sniffed, and emerged with a satisfied smile. "No, it's not," he said. Harry let out a sigh of pure relief.
"Oh, good," he said. "Because that would have been awf—"
"It's a lust potion."
Harry nearly inhaled his own tongue. "It's a… what?!" he choked.
"A lust potion, Potter, are you deaf?"
Harry glanced weakly at Malfoy, who didn't seem all that surprised. Not for the first time, Harry wondered who did give Malfoy the potion.
"Can you fix him?" Harry asked.
Snape let out an irritable sigh. "Potions, Mr Potter, cannot be fixed. They may have remedies, or antidotes, but never will they have a fix."
Harry didn't see the difference, really, and was about to say so, but Snape continued.
"There is, however, a possible antidote to this particular potion – which was sold under the name Orexis Votum, should you for once in your life take an interest in something other than yourself – although due to the complexity of the recipe, it does not take a small amount of time to brew."
Harry had several things to say to that, the first of which that he did too take an interest in something other than himself – he was planning on saving the world, wasn't he? – but he was once again cut off before he could speak.
"How long?" It was the first time Malfoy had spoken since Harry had been in the room, and Harry was shocked at how subdued he sounded. The look Snape gave him was something Harry had never seen before – it was almost… gentle.
"About a month." Malfoy said nothing, only bowed his head. Harry could almost feel the dejection coming off him in waves.
"I'm sorry, Draco. Orexis Votum was banned by the Ministry almost thirty years ago. They don't sell the antidote in apothecaries any more, not even in Knockturn Alley. Frankly, I'm astounded you managed to get hold of the potion itself. If all goes to plan, it should be ready just before Christmas."
"Best present ever," Malfoy said dryly. "Merry Christmas, Draco! You don't want to shag Harry Potter any more. Enjoy!"
Harry stared. He'd realised that he was somehow involved with the whole lust-potion thing, obviously, but hearing it in such blunt terms coming from Draco Malfoy's mouth was just weird. And definitely not good weird. More like verging on the worst weird there could possibly be, with a huge pile of really not good at all heaped on top.
"I doubt it's going to be sunshine and daisies for me either, Malfoy," he said.
"You, Potter, have no right to complain about your involvement in this. This is all your fault," Malfoy spat, still facing forwards.
"My fault?!" Harry yelped.
"Yes," Malfoy said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "If you minded your own business once in a while we wouldn't be here right now."
Harry snorted. "Yeah, you'd still be hunched up on the floor of the Entrance Hall," he said. "Why were you just sitting on the floor, anyway? Were you just planning to stay there for the rest of your life?"
There was a slight pause in which Harry knew Malfoy was scowling. "Shut up, Potter. I was… gathering my thoughts."
"Your thoughts, yeah right. Maybe if you did think once in a while, you wouldn't be in this situation," Harry growled, glaring at the back of Malfoy's head.
"And maybe if you weren't so determined to get everybody to love you, you wouldn't be in this situation," Malfoy said mockingly. "It's probably because you never had a mother. Although I doubt even your mother could ever love you."
Harry stood up abruptly. His chair made a loud scraping noise against the stone slabs of the office floor. "Malfoy, you just shut up right now or I swear I'll—"
"When you've quite finished this childish bickering!" Snape interrupted, glaring at them both.
Harry fell silent, fuming.
"Thank you. Now, obviously this month both of you are going to be affected by this godforsaken state of affairs. I can guarantee that neither one of you will survive this ordeal unless you cease acting like children and start behaving responsibly. You are both of age; you should not need me to tell you this!"
Harry cast a glance at Malfoy, who had his head bowed again, and sat down slowly. He guessed it was a little silly to be bickering with Malfoy at a time like that. Maybe he should try acting responsibly. Snape gave him a rare look of approval.
"Now, lust potions develop feelings of desire in the taker without the affection that a love potion gives, so Malfoy, you will find that you continue to see Potter as the insufferable twit that he is." Snape smirked and Malfoy let out a snort, while Harry tried out his new responsibility by not reacting to the taunt, however much he wanted to hex both Snape and Malfoy with something nasty and hopefully irreversible.
"However," Snape continued, "You will require contact with Potter on an almost daily basis. The research surrounding Orexis Votum is very inexact due to the illegal nature of the potion, so we cannot predict how you will react under its influence."
"Wait," Malfoy put in. "I'll require contact with him? It's not just a mental thing?"
"Technically, yes, the effects are solely mental," Snape said slowly. "However, the influence is so strong that your mind will be convinced that without him, you cannot survive. This is one of the reasons that it was banned by the Ministry; strong lust potions have the power to send the drinker insane, even kill them."
Malfoy muttered something under his breath. Harry caught the words 'going to kill' and 'bastard'. Then something occurred to him.
"What exactly do you mean by 'contact'?" he asked warily. "I'm not going to have to, like… do it with him, am I?"
"As delightful as I find your childish language, Potter, I cannot give you a concrete answer," Snape sneered. "Even if proper research were to be carried out, the level of desire induced by the potion would be specific to each individual. Only Draco himself can tell how strong a pull the potion has over him. I assume, though, that copulation will not be necessary."
"You assume?" Draco said weakly. "How can you be sure?"
"I cannot. But, if you learn to control yourself adequately, I am fairly certain that your interactions need not reach that stage."
"Hang on, you still haven't told me what 'contact' means," Harry pointed out. "Can I just hold hands with him or something?"
Snape smirked and Harry got a sinking feeling in his stomach. "I'm afraid only Mr Malfoy can answer that question. As such, Potter, you must endeavour to listen to what he says he feels and cooperate to the best of your ability."
Oh great. So now Harry's virtue depended on Malfoy – who had never been denied anything he wanted, ever – somehow learning self-control while under the influence of a so-powerful-it-was-illegal potion that made him want Harry in his bed more than anything else in the whole world.
Sometimes, Harry really hated his life.
"Professor," he said, standing up. "Unless there's anything else, I really think I should go." Before I decide that killing Malfoy would be the best course of action right now, he thought.
"Of course, Potter," Snape said, sneering. "I'm sure your lapdogs are wondering where you are."
Draco smirked and looked Harry for the first time since the Entrance Hall. His smirk immediately disappeared and he let out a whine. He started towards Harry but Snape's quickly-erected shield charm held him back.
"Control yourself, Draco," he said urgently, all hint of mockery gone. "You're going to be seeing an awful lot of him in the next month and you can't go around repeatedly attacking him. As much as I have tried to convince them otherwise, the Hogwarts staff continue to frown upon damage to their Golden Boy. You need to learn control."
Malfoy's hands were clenched into tight fists and Harry didn't think he was imagining them shaking. Malfoy was still staring at him.
"Take a deep breath," Snape said, looking intensely at Malfoy. "Concentrate on your animosity towards him. Far be it for me to encourage enmity between my students, but if you focus on your hostility, you will find it easier to overcome the potions' urgings. Concentrate, now…"
Malfoy's eyes remained fixed on Harry for several long moments, while both Snape and Harry held their breath. Then, with a wince and a sharp intake of breath, Malfoy tore his gaze away. He shuddered.
"Sometimes, Professor," he complained, "I really hate my life."
Harry emerged from the dungeons with his head still buzzing. What a complete mess. One of these days, he was just going to let the whole world sort their own problems out; trying to help never seemed to work out well for him.
"Harry! Where have you been? I waited down at the pitch for ages!" The voice of Ron Weasley floated down from the first floor. Harry looked up. Ron and Hermione were halfway down the marble staircase and walking towards him. Hermione seemed worried; Ron, annoyed.
"I checked in the dorm but your broom was still there… what've you been doing?"
Harry faltered. He didn't really want to tell Ron and Hermione about his new… situation. At least not right now, under the curious gaze of a good portion of the student population of Hogwarts.
"I, er. I had to sort of some Potions stuff. For Snape." He wasn't lying, he told himself. He met the two of them at the bottom of the stairs. "We can still go flying now, though, right?" he asked Ron.
Ron stared at him incredulously. "Mate, it's half six. And it's pitch-black outside. We were just coming down for dinner. If you hadn't turned up by pudding, Hermione was going to send out a search party."
Harry looked around. Dinner time. That would explain the crowded Hall. He'd been in the dungeons a lot longer than he realised.
"'Course," he said weakly. "Dinner. Er, sorry for worrying you, Hermione."
Hermione gave him her best you-and-I-will-be-talking-about-this-later look. "Never mind about that, Harry. I'm just glad that Voldemort hadn't sneaked in and finally got rid of you."
"Yeah," Harry said somewhat feebly, eager to move the conversation on from his unexplained disappearance. "Well, uh, come on then. I'm starving."
Harry managed to avoid answering Hermione's hissed questions all night by claiming that he had forgotten to finish his Transfiguration essay (Hermione would never come between someone and their homework, no matter how curious she was) and disappearing up the stairs to the boys' dorms. Once there, though, he was alone with his thoughts, and the knowledge of what the rest of the year would entail hung over him like a heavy fog as he lay face-down on his bed.
He didn't know how he was going to manage, but if everything went according to plan, Malfoy was right; this year, Harry was going to get the best Christmas present he'd ever received.