Disclaimer: Do I really have to say it? Again? Come on! Fine. I do not own Harry Potter. I am not profiting in any way from the use of these characters/themes.
A/N: Draco Malfoy was a trending topic on twitter today (yay alliteration), so I figured it was the internet's way of telling me to update something. The only warning for this chapter is a bit of angst (inevitable, really).
September 8, 1995
Harry was, in a word, miserable.
One week into his fifth year, and the whispers still hadn't died down. Despite the near-exhaustive coverage by the Daily Prophet, despite numerous press conferences and public statements, it still seemed that all anyone could talk about was Voldemort.
Between Harry's involvement in the whole ordeal (as well as a close relation to every other person instrumental in Voldemort's downfall) and his half-victory in the Triwizard Tournament, he was more popular than ever. Everywhere he turned, people were kissing his arse, desperate to befriend the Boy Who Triumphed (a name no one would drop, no matter how many times Harry insisted he bore no responsibility for killing Voldemort).
Some daft bint in fourth year even tried to slip him a love potion in a bunch of chocolate cauldrons. Luckily, Hermione threw them out before Harry ate any. The last thing he needed was to be mindlessly pining over some psychotic fourteen year old, he thought with a shudder.
And, to top it all off, things with Draco had been strained at best since Harry's birthday at Grimmauld Place. Neither boy ever mentioned 'the incident' to anyone, although Harry had caught a few knowing looks from Hermione afterward. The whole thing had grown into this great massive beast, lurking over their heads and making everything hopelessly awkward between them. Draco responded to the tension with his standard brand of cold distance, leaving Harry not only confused, but alone as well. He'd been relieved, for once, to be back in Gryffindor tower, but that relief quickly turned to annoyance at his housemates' relentless fawning.
He began retreating into himself more and more as the year progressed. He spent most of his free time with Hermione, reading by the lake, studying in the library or even just laughing and playing games in the room of requirement. He'd been ecstatic when Dobby first showed him the room, thinking he'd found himself a safe haven at last. He hadn't counted on Dobby sharing the knowledge with Draco, as well.
He was talking quietly with Hermione, walking arm in arm along the seventh floor corridor when they heard a shriek. They both started forward, wands drawn, but relaxed at the string of shrill giggles that followed. They rounded the corner to find Pansy Parkinson, cheeks flushed and hair mussed, playfully swatting at an equally disheveled Draco. Just behind them, a great wooden door was melting back into the stone wall around it.
Draco let out a growl, moving in to grab the petite brunette, when Pansy caught sight of Harry and Hermione, her hand flying up to cover her mouth with a small "Oh." Draco's gaze soon followed hers, the mirth dying in his eyes when they locked onto Harry's. Harry felt his stomach plummet down into his shoes as Draco straightened, swallowing heavily.
Pansy, oblivious to the tension, raised her hand in a girly wave, smiling coquettishly at Harry. "Hello Harry, don't you look the dashing hero today?" Her dark eyes traveled to Hermione, whose arm was now wrapped protectively around Harry's waist. Her smile twisted into something derisive and hateful as she acknowledged her with a terse, "Granger."
Hermione responded with a condescending toss of her head before turning to Harry, tugging at his jumper, pulling him to face her. "Let's go somewhere else, Harry. It's nice out, we could visit Hagrid, or maybe go out to the shrieking shack? What do you say?"
Harry could read the sympathy in her eyes, and was grateful for it. He swallowed past the lump in his throat and nodded, curling an arm around her shoulders and turning them both. They heard Draco call out to their retreating forms, but with a slight shake of his head, continued forward, leaving Draco to look forlornly at their retreating backs.
They didn't stop until they'd reached the lake, at which point Harry slumped down against a large rock, staring blankly out over the water as Hermione sat down beside him.
"I feel like such an idiot."
"Oh Harry," Hermione responded, her hand finding his and giving it a gentle squeeze. "You're not an idiot. If anyone's an idiot here it's Draco. I mean Pansy? Really? Ew."
Harry's lips quirked into a humorless smile. "He doesn't seem to find her so disgusting."
"She's easy, that's all. Most boys can't help themselves with girls like that—they throw themselves at them and they don't even think to resist."
Harry nodded. "Most boys. Normal boys."
"You're perfectly normal, Harry."
He leveled an incredulous look at her, at which she blushed slightly and looked away.
"Okay, maybe not normal. Better than normal. Exceptional."
He shook his head but said nothing, his chest filled with the cold, alien feeling he so often felt these days, always singled out, followed by stares and whispers, constantly watched, judged. He hated it. He looked to Hermione and found her looking sadly out over the water, eyes misty and seemingly on the verge of tears. He knew she worried about him, knew his own misery was infecting her like a cancer, dragging her down with him, and he hated himself for it.
He resolved himself to fix it, somehow. Maybe he couldn't be happy, couldn't have what—who—he wanted, but she didn't have to suffer for it. Fixing what he hoped to be a casual-looking smile on his face, he nudged her gently with his shoulder.
"What about you? Got your eye on anyone special, or are you still missing Krum?"
Hermione let out a soft sigh. "We still write each other, but it feels more like friendship than romance, you know?"
Harry nodded. "Is there anyone else, then?"
"Well…er…" Hermione looked away, a faint blush rising in her cheeks.
"There is! Come on, tell me! You know I can keep a secret." Hermione bit down on her lower lip and shook her head briefly. "I'll just have to guess then, won't I?"
"Is he in Gryffindor?" Hermione shrugged, but Harry continued on, watching her expression closely for clues. She was a terrible liar. "Ravenclaw? Hufflepuff? Slytherin?" Her eyes darted to his anxiously and his jaw dropped. "A Slytherin, Hermione? Ooh, this is getting good…is he in our year?"
"Harry, really, it doesn't—"
"Oh wait, I've got it…" Of course, why hadn't he seen it before? "Theo!" Nott was quiet, studious, and a bit awkward socially. Perfect for Hermione.
She buried her face in her hands with a pained moan, mumbling "He doesn't even know I'm alive" into her palms.
"Of course he does, don't be ridiculous. You're smart, beautiful, and best friends with the Boy Who Triumphed. Everyone knows who you are." He smiled warmly at her pained groan. "Honestly, though, you two are kind of perfect for each other. I'm sure if it weren't for house rivalries, you'd have been hanging out years ago."
Hermione finally lowered her hands, revealing a violent blush that covered her cheeks. "I don't understand why they continue with the houses the way they do—it only serves to spread enmity amongst the students."
Harry nodded absently, an idea niggling at the corners of his mind. "We should, I dunno, do something about it."
"I don't know, bring people together."
Hermione jerked forward, eyes shining. "I've got it! We can start hosting interyear, interhouse parties in the room of requirement! You're so popular now, I'm sure everyone would come, and maybe we could have games or something to get people mingling and talking to each other!"
Harry thought about it. It could work. It could also fail spectacularly, but the excitement shining in Hermione's eyes made it worth the risk. "Yeah, let's do it."
She flashed him a brilliant smile before fishing some parchment and a quill out of her bag, and quickly rambling off a list of supplies and people to petition for help. Harry watched her go into planning mode, feeling pleased with himself for both lifting her bad mood and managing to think of anything that wasn't Draco for the last five minutes. Maybe there was hope for fifth year after all.
October 1st, 1995
Harry stood with Hermione at the entrance to the room of requirement, looking out at the large crowd of students gathered in the wide, accommodating space. The room had provided several large clumps of comfortable seating along one end of the room, nearest the huge, roaring fire, and along a wall lined with enormous windows were tables for billiards and ping pong, as well as several large card tables. They'd set up drinks and food at the back of the room, provided by an eager to please Dobby and his friends in the kitchens, while the middle space was mostly clear for dancing or roaming about. A wizarding radio played loud, boisterous music, while hovering paper lanterns cast multi-colored lights over the crowds below.
Everything was perfect…except, of course, for the bloody students.
People gathered in tight clumps, divided by age and house, casting awkward glances at the people around them whilst talking amongst themselves. No interhouse mingling, no unification.
Harry straightened his shoulders and gave Hermione a decisive nod before taking her hand and leading her out into the middle of the room. Along their way, Harry caught the arm of Luna Lovegood, towing her as well. As they neared a group of Slytherin boys, Harry called out "Hey, Theo!" motioning the tall, sandy-haired boy over.
Now standing in the center of the room, beneath a clump of brightly colored lanterns, he turned to Theo. "Theo, you know Hermione..." Theo gave a shy nod to Hermione, which she returned with a blush and a small wave. Harry smiled and continued. "Hermione loves reading, but hates flying. Theo broke his leg the one time Draco talked him into sitting a broom and spent the rest of his stay camped out in Father's library. Dance." He gave Hermione a little push forward, and Theo caught her instinctively, leaving his hands at her waist while she lifted hers to his shoulders and they began the awkward sway that made up 90% of teenage dancing.
Harry gave Hermione a thumbs up behind Theo's back, and then turned to Luna, catching her hand and giving her a dramatic spin. She laughed lightly and moved easily into a free-style dance that quickly drew the attention of the students around them. Slowly, in twos and threes, the spaces around them filled with dancing and light-hearted laughter. Most of the couples were strictly same-house, but here and there a daring Gryffindor would catch the arm of a shy Hufflepuff, a reserved Ravenclaw, and pull them into the mix. The Slytherins, predictably, were the hardest nuts to crack, but showed promise as Millicent Bulstrode shocked all by pulling Neville Longbottom, of all people, into a clumsy spin.
Harry looked to Hermione to share a grin of triumph, but found her smiling coyly up at a blushing Theo. Turning Luna in a wide arc, Harry caught sight of a familiar shock of blond hair hovering at the edge of the crowd. Draco quirked his lips in a conspiratorial smirk and mouthed "Well done," before his attention was diverted by Pansy's insistent tugging at his side. Harry's gut clenched uncomfortably, but even seeing the dark-haired girl hanging on Draco's arm was easier, less painful than it'd been before. Pushing the image from his mind, he focused once more on the group of friends dancing around him, all care-free smiles and youth and promise.