Warning: This chapter has been neither Brit-picked nor edited.

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Chapter One: Natural Selection

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Seduce (si-doos', -dyoos') v. t. 1. To lead astray; entice into wrong, disloyalty, etc.; tempt. 2. To induce into surrendering chastity; debauch. SYNONYMS: allure, entice, attract, inveigle, charm, debauch, deflower

Seduction (si-duk'-shen) n. 1. The act of seducing. 2. Something which seduces; an enticement.

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'...Choosing the object of your affections is the first and most crucial step in embarking upon a seduction. When selecting a target, one should take into mind the relative attractiveness, agreeability, and availability (stealing is fun! Details in Attaining the Unattainable, pg. 279). Are they a worthy partner? Could/do you care about them? Do you lust madly after them? Do they deserve the likes of you? Are they even in your league?

Most importantly, let your own feelings guide you; see what you're attracted to, whatever the reason (no matter how ridiculous the reason).

Of course, if you had absolutely no choice whatsoever in selecting your target, then, ha, sucks to be you.

Another factor to take into account would be how attractive you appear to your target. Naturally, the more attractive you are, the easier it will be for you to achieve your goal. Usually, there are basic universal measurements of attractiveness; see how these apply to you. How do you measure up to your target? If the instinctual attraction is mutual, then seduction is simple. Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case...'

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Harry James Potter was not having a good day.

Then again, he didn't seem to have very many of those anymore. Normally, his days fell into the categories of Okay, Mediocre, Bad, Very Bad, Horrible, Truly Shitty, and Fuck, Why the Bloody Hell Did I Even Bother to Wake Up? Today danced somewhere between Horrible and Truly Shitty, although the Fuck was not so far behind.

There was the phrase "waking up on the wrong side of the bed", but sometimes, even a cliché was uncommonly kind. Harry hadn't woken up in bed at all, but actually on page 237 of his Potions text, with a horrible cramp in his neck and one side of his face wet and slightly sticky from his own drool. To add injury to insult, the stupid book had given him a papercut on his index finger.

Immediately following, he had tripped on a scrunched-up rug and stumbled into a table, banging his shin.

Ron found Harry cursing loudly.

Harry found Ron wearing his clothes.

"The house elves mixed up the laundry!"

"Just because it's in your drawer doesn't mean it's yours!"

"Well, I was out of clean underwear!"

"YOU'RE WEARING MY UNDERWEAR?!"

"Well, yeah, what did you expect me to do? Go commando?"

"That's disgusting, Ron."

"Although I do appreciate a cool breeze around my bits..."

"Okay, that has to stop."

"I'll give it back when I'm done..."

"NO! You keep it. Happy Christmas. You're not getting anything else from me."

Feeling unclean, Harry decided he had time for a quick shower, where he ran out of shampoo (there was a sneaking suspicion that Ron's tendency to 'borrow' was the main reason his toiletries depleted so quickly). Out of the bath, he was greeted by his lovely 19-inch Transfigurations essay marinating in a pool of blackest black. This would be, of course, the same essay that he had finally finished at roughly fourish in the morning, due in class that very day.

While he was busy staring in stunned, open-mouthed horror, the turned-over inkbottle rolled off his desk and cracked loudly as it hit the floor.

The Great Hall was almost completely empty by the time Harry made it down for breakfast. Oatmeal porridge, he was told, was the only thing readily available. As he stared down at his lukewarm bowl, he counted no less than five lumps.

Harry hated porridge.

Especially the variety that came with lumps.

Thick grey sludge slid off his spoon, making a sort of gloop as it plopped back into the bowl.

At this viscosity, how long would it take to drown if you fell face-first into a bowl? It would plug up your nostrils, of course, but it would be too thick to inhale into the lungs, and how many seconds, minutes, even, of oatmeal-clogged misery would you have to endure before you finally suffocated?

Brain cells only start to die after five seconds without oxygen.

A fork to the head would be faster, and more dignified, too, but you would have to be sure to stab in the right spot, or else there was the matter of several inches of bone...

"Harry, quick, give me three potions that evolved in Southern Wales and their effects on the Gallic Wars," Hermione greeted, interrupting fantasies of quirky and strange suicide.

"Whatever happened to 'good morning'?" Harry asked.

"Since when have mornings been any good?" Hermione replied, not even bothering to look up from her hefty Potions text. "Now, give me the potions."

"Well...um...let's see, I know this...there's the Evergreen something...and...er...oh, shite. God, Potions exam. Right."

Hermione nearly dropped her book. She suddenly stared at Harry, mouth slightly agape. "Don't tell me that you actually forgot about our Potions exam today!" There was a small pause as she finally looked him over. "And for God's sake, what happened to you? You look like Hell!"

"Thanks, Hermione. You sure know how to make a bloke feel good about himself," Harry rolled his eyes, stifling an impeding yawn. "And for your information, I look like this because I stayed up all night studying."

"Well, for all your sacrifice, you seem to have reaped very small rewards," Hermione reprimanded. "You didn't sleep at all?"

"Well...not really..."

"You can't keep doing this to yourself, you know."

"I know, I know," Harry sighed.

"It's not healthy."

"You think I want to do this? That I like feeling gross?"

"Why don't you have better study habits? Why don't you study ahead of time?" Hermione's tone bordered on nagging, "You need to apply yourself more. Study better. You're not doing well enough in that class to afford to slack off, and clearly last-minute cramming is not working for you! You don't want to fail, do you?"

"Look, Hermione, I'm really stressed right now and your nagging and telling me I'm going to fail aren't exactly doing very much to help matters, are they now?"

"But you will fail if you continue on like this...you're clearly unprepared for today's exam...I don't know how to help you."

"I know, I know," sighed Harry again. "Relax. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. I've got it covered."

Harry made the most of his History of Magic lesson by staring at the Potions text in his lap, surreptitiously turning the pages. Soon, however, the words were swimming in his murky, bloodshot vision and he knew he was losing the battle against the soporific effect of Professor Binns's drone. Ron had already waved a figurative white flag of surrender, slumped over in his chair, snoring softly and drooling slightly. Harry trusted himself to prevail where Ron had failed, but he could barely even see the text. He didn't so much remember falling asleep as he did remember waking up whenever Hermione jabbed him with the pointy part of her quill. (This happened quite often, although it was difficult to tell the time intervals between each jab.)

But what he really wanted was not to wake up at all.

Or maybe he would wake up, and this horrible day was just another horrible dream.

The day turbulently tobogganed down the alpine slope of bad to worse. Harry was able to hand in a hurriedly-copied over, far inferior version of his essay on time, but there was no chance for cramming in any amount of studying in Transfigurations. Of course McGonagall would take away points, maybe even give him a detention, if she found him with another professor's text open upon his lap. Although Harry resigned himself to his doom, his exhaustion continued to take its toll upon him. He could barely manage to stay awake in class, never mind participate. (Upon waking up from one of his many blackouts, he found himself staring eye-to-eye with the snail that he was supposed to be giving wings.)

Leaping from his seat as the bell rang (without bothering to wait for either Ron or Hermione), Harry hurried to Potions, trying to read while he walked. If he could possibly cram in a precious few more minutes of absorbing information, he would do it.

Where there's a will, there's a way, so they say. But sometimes even clichés can be uncommonly cruel.

Unfortunately, Harry had not quite accomplished the multitasking required to be able to read and walk at the same time. Inevitably, he collided into someone as he rounded a corner.

"Oh!" a girl's voice cried as books and papers went flying everywhere.

"Watch it!" growled a boy's voice.

"I'm so, so sorry," Harry apologised as he hurriedly piled everything together, trying to separate his own things from the other person's.

"You'd better be," the boy muttered gruffly.

"Now, Michael, I'm sure it was an accident, I mean...Harry?" the girl said.

Harry looked up at the sound of his name. "Cho?"

Cho Chang, Harry's ex-...whatever, smiled at him. She looked as pretty as ever. Prettier, even. The long, black hair that Harry had once so admired seemed even shinier and silkier than he remembered it.

"Harry, long time no see. How are you?"

"Honestly?" Harry shrugged. "I could be better. How are you doing?"

"Pretty good, I guess. You remember Michael...?" She gestured at the rather surly-looking boy standing next to her, obediently holding her books. His last name was something like...Crook? Nanny? Something sharp and pointy...Corner! That was it.

"Ah, yes. You used to go out with Ginny, didn't you?" Harry asked.

The surly expression quickly gave way to embarrassment and awkwardness. "Ah, yes, well, er...that's old news. Cho and I have been together for a while now," the Corner boy quickly stammered out. He stepped a bit closer to invade Cho's personal space.

Cho cleared her throat. "In fact, he just bought me a promise ring the other day," she declared, extending her dainty left hand. Cliché of clichés, cruellest of cruel, it was even a Claddagh ring: the golden heart with its outward-pointing crown gleamed mockingly from her ring finger. "Isn't Mikey such a sweetheart?"

Harry bit back the oatmeal that threatened to come back for an encore.

"Oh, yeah, that's...nice. Wonderful, I mean. Congratulations. I'm really happy for you. Really happy."

Cho handed the rest of her books and papers to Corner –Doormat would be more appropriate--, then threw her arms around Harry's neck for a quick and awkward hug, made even more awkward by the fact that Harry had his arms full. "Thank you so much, Harry. I knew you would be. You know, it's really been a while."

"Yeah, well...I've been busy and...you know how it is." He pulled away from her casually, smiling to himself at how uncomfortable Corner looked at that very moment. "Cho, I'd love to stay here and play catch up with you, but I really have to get going. I have an exam."

"Oh! Of course!" Cho returned to her current beau's side, grabbing his arm (causing him to drop several scrolls in the process). "But we must get together sometime."

"Of course," Harry echoed. "I'll see you around, Cho."

By the time that Harry made it to Potions, everybody was already seated and frantically flipping through pages of their text, surrounded by a flurry of papers. One or two of his classmates even seemed to be praying. He hurried his way over to his seat, opened his book, and –

"Books and notes away, class. There should not be anything on your tables except a quill and an inkwell. Do not open the scroll until you are instructed to do so. Anyone who looks at the questions ahead of time will receive an automatic failure."

Mechanically, Harry took out his writing utensils, acting as if he were well-prepared. It wasn't that he had forgotten to study, after all.

"You will be given 2 hours to complete the exam. Should you finish ahead of time, go back and look over your work. No one is allowed to leave until the class has been dismissed. Stop working when time is called. Anyone who continues to work after time has been called will receive an automatic failure."

A scroll to each student.

"You may begin...now."

An ubiquitous rustling around Harry, his classmates breaking open the seals and unfurling their scrolls.

Harry stared at his own for several long minutes.

The sound of quills scratching furiously against parchment brought him sharply back to reality. He quickly opened his.

On the first page, he was greeted with ten assertion-reason questions, the only multiple-choice part of the exam. Of course, it was very unlikely he would be able to reason out the correct answer in these, as assertion-reason questions were designed to reduce the likelihood of scoring by guessing randomly, or even guessing intelligently.

1.) The Draught of Drought primarily uses about three varieties of Dragonsbane

BECAUSE

The different species of Dragonsbane consist of different chloroplast count, leaf arrangements, and can be manipulated into several unique extracts.

Choose:

A if the assertion is correct and the reason is a correct explanation of the assertion,

B if the assertion and the reason are both correct but the reason is not a correct explanation of the assertion,

C if the assertion is correct but the reason is false,

D if the assertion is false but the reason is true, and

E if both the assertion and the reason are false.

Harry stared blankly at the question for some more moments. He honestly had no clue as to what the answer was, and skimming down the page, he only had a vague idea of what might be correct for the following questions. Feeling rather discouraged, Harry skipped down to the next section, which contained five short answer questions, broken up into parts.

11.) When concocting the potion for Rejuvenation, you are given .26 grams of powdered Chicken's teeth, two pecks of Chameleon tongue, and 3.8 grams of dried mistletoe berries, all boiling in a cauldron at 167 degrees Celsius, stirred 12 times widdershins.

A.) How many grams of Mermaid's Hair do you need?

B.) What is the final temperature of the cauldron after the Mermaid's Hair has been added?

C.) What is the rate of dissolution of Chameleon tongue at the temperature and agitation? How long will it take for all the Chameleon tongue to dissolve?

D.) What is the proper nomenclature for this potion?

E.) List the other ingredients.

REMEMBER TO SHOW ALL YOUR WORK.

He read all the questions on the page, scratching down a few answers to the parts that he was sure of, and then left the rest blank. Maybe he would be able to handle the next section...

Part III. Long Essay(s).

Please answer the following in five-paragraph formal essay form: beginning with a thesis and ending with a conclusion, using complete, articulate sentences.

Essay # 1.) Consider the following quotes excerpted from the text: "Potions in Europe during the Middle Ages solely served to impede the progress of the development of mankind; despite Merlin, the rest of the world was shadowed in ignorance..."

OR

"...A critical enumeration of advances were obtained in the vast field of Potions during the Middle Ages in Europe, discoveries which are completely essential for the modern practise of this art..."

Choose a quote and support this point of view using examples we learned in class as to the course of history. Also be sure to cite (using proper notation) at least three specific potions and their benefit/detriments to mankind.

Essay # 2.) Prior to the exam, you were asked to memorise a selected list of potions and their usage. Of the five potions listed below, choose two and a.) list their ingredients, and in what proportion, b.) explain the steps involved in their brewing, and c.) explain how these two potions can be used in conjunction with one another. Please include diagrams to illustrate the more complicated steps/certain details of ingredients.

The list of potions was daunting, even if Harry barely glanced at it. He knew he wasn't familiar enough with any of them to be able to replicate them, step-by-step, from memory alone. Of course there was no partial credit. If a potion was missing even the slightest ingredient, or the most trivial step, the entire brew was ruined. This was a very all-or-nothing type of thing.

The maddening sound of quills against parchment had not stopped since the very beginning of the exam. Harry supposed he shouldn't even bother to make an effort, and give up now.

Suddenly, it just all seemed very pointless, and Harry felt very tired. There was nothing short of a miracle that could help him achieve a decent mark on this exam, and he wasn't very sure that a God existed, and if He did, then He hadn't proven Himself to be very fond of Harry. So, divine intervention was out, and without it, it seemed that it would be very unlikely that he would manage even a passing score. So what would the consequences of that be? Not doing well on this exam would mean that he wouldn't do well in Potions, and not doing well in Potions would mean that he wouldn't be able to become an Auror, thus screwing him over for life. This was all inevitable, as there was nothing he could do for his situation now...maybe he could cut out the middle man and end it all himself after the exam was over, instead of waiting for his own impending doom in the future.

He just wanted to put his head down on his desk, maybe take a nap.

Sleep, and maybe it was all just a bad dream.

"60 minutes are up, you have 60 minutes left. The exam is now half over. You should be proceeding to the Long Essay section, if you are not already working on it."

Harry sighed and set his quill to parchment.

----

Draco Lucius Malfoy was not having a good day. Then again, good days for Draco usually entailed some big accomplishment, enough to write home about to make Mother proud, make her happy, make her notice. (She wrote nearly daily, her letters short and sweet and hurriedly scrawled off en route to some party or event. Draco wrote a lot, but tended not to say much of anything.) It used to take a lot less for him to have a Good day. Good days just weren't as easy to come by anymore.

Normally, however, Draco was able to get by with something ego-boosting or pleasant, so that he could have an Okay day or a Nice day or even a Hey, That Was Rather All Right day. Normally, Draco didn't have very much to feel particularly Awful about. He considered himself to be a very intelligent person. Draco Malfoy prided himself on being one of the few literati in the school –while managing to maintain a social life- who achieved good marks without really trying that hard, and still had free time to help Crabbe and Goyle with their homework( if he was in the mood). Normally, he had a Brilliant and Cunning Plan for each and every occasion. Normally, Draco Malfoy did not do stupid things like make stupid bets with stupid Blaise Zabini concerning stupid Potter.

This new development was like some sort of disease; the very thought of it made him severely, nearly physically ill. He even checked in with Madame Pomfrey. Disappointingly, the diagnosis was medically favourable.

Diagnosis: Healthy as a unicorn stallion in heat.

That woman always did have the strangest expressions. Then again, her source of human contact consisted primarily of sick people.

Draco sighed. He was well aware that he had made the wager in possession of sound mind and body. Damn that Zabini. Damn him and his silver tongue, well known in its usage in winning arguments and in other practical applications of a more physical nature.

The task shouldn't be too difficult, however. Thirty days to seduce Potter, debauch him and convert him into Draco Malfoy's love-slave. What a grim thought. From personal experience, Draco knew it usually only took him a couple of days at the most to score with the subject of his current fancy, so the fact that Blaise gave him such a lengthy amount of time was faintly ridiculous.

Of course, that only made the whole affair more suspicious.

Once in Potions, Draco took the chance to closely examine Potter.

Diagnosis: horrible.

Dark circles around rather bloodshot eyes,

Unusually pale skin– but not porcelain like yours truly, but rather sallow, sickly-- with a faint greenish tinge,

Awful complexion,

And, as the coup de grace, hair in even greater disarray than usual.

To put it simply, Potter Looked Like Hell, or possibly something puked up by something hellish, and Draco didn't think he could possibly have looked any worse had he tried.

Normally, Draco would have inwardly rejoiced at looking even better in comparison, given the obvious superiority of his dashing good looks. Now, there was only revulsion at the thought of sleeping with that. Somehow, it seemed as if his own attractiveness would decrease by association/contamination (-10).

He just despised ugly people.

Draco finished the exam early, as usual. After checking it over half-heartedly, he looked over to where Potter sat, writing intermittently upon his exam. Potter's brow furrowed in concentration from time to time, but every now and then he would heave what would seem to be the resigned sigh of a convicted man staring up at gallows.

Clearly, he was struggling.

Pathetic was the word that came to Draco's mind, and he supposed that Potter ought to be pitied in his sheer incompetence. Then again, a Malfoy never held any pity for anyone, least of all the weak. If Draco could even experience pity at all, he had already used up too much of his reserves on himself to have any left for anyone else.

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"Now that wasn't too bad, now was it?" Hermione asked as they stood outside the Potions classroom. "I thought number 6 was a little tricky, but I figured it out in the end. I think the answer was c. What did you get, Harry?"

"Could we not talk about the exam right now?" Harry groaned. "I don't think I did very well."

"Well, it wasn't nearly as hard as our last exam, and..."

"Hermione..."

"Oh! And which potions did you write about for the essay? I chose a Dissolution Solution and—"

"Hermione! Could you shut up? I really don't want to talk about it, okay?" Harry fairly snapped. Hermione looked taken aback.

"I don't see why you're so worried. You thought you were going to fail last time, and you still pulled off fair marks," Hermione remarked somewhat coldly. "And we always discuss the exam after we take it!"

"No, I really didn't do well this time," said Harry, "and I'm positive of it. I'm sorry...but I'm really stressed and I kind of just want to forget the whole thing, all right?"

"I understand if you're stressed, but there's no reason why you should take it out on me."

There's plenty of reason, thought Harry. "I said I was sorry, okay?"

"Sorry I took so long," said Ron, exiting the classroom. "I spilled my ink and had to clean it up and just narrowly avoided getting detention." He made a face. "Lost some points, though. So what did you think of the exam? And do we have Quidditch practise this afternoon?"

"Harry doesn't want to talk about the exam," said Hermione.

"Didn't I just say sor...Quidditch practise?" Harry said, managing to not quite successfully link two entirely different ideas into one sentence.

"Yeah, didn't you book the pitch for today?" Ron asked.

"You're absolutely right. I did."

"So are we going to have practise today?" Ron glanced at the ceiling, as if that would somehow inform him of the weather. "It looks like it's going to rain." Then again, there were no windows to look out of in the lower levels of Hogwarts.

"Rain or shine, Ron. Isn't that the cliché? Rain or shine." After all, misery loved company.

----

Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle, obviously, did not have Potions class. Thusly, Draco was fairly confident that he would be able to carry out his plans for the afternoon (horribly undignified, as they were) alone and unhindered.

"Draco darling," came an all-too-familiar purr. Slim hands, complete with long French-manicured nails, slid around his waist from behind.

"Pansy," Draco acknowledged flatly. Of course, there would be the self-proclaimed queen of his court, Pansy Parkinson. He was not much in the mood for her.

"What did you think of the exam?" Pansy breathed into his ear, nipping the bottom of one lobe lightly.

Draco jerked his head away. "Easy." He attempted to remove her arms from around his torso, but Pansy held him in a vice grip. He had learned, over years of experience, that Pansy could be deceptively strong should she choose to be.

Suddenly, Pansy whirled him around, so that they were face to face, with only a puff of air in between. "Question 6 was tricky, wasn't it?" she asked slowly. She wore burgundy-brown lipstick. Each word was tinted pillowy-soft and dark. "I think the answer was c...what did you get?"

Draco glared back steadily, unfazed. "I don't remember."

Somewhere along the way, Pansy had undergone a complete transformation, a metamorphosis of sorts. From disgusting caterpillar to gypsy moth, if not butterfly. Draco remembered her at one time being pug-faced and podgy, a combination which definitely constituted ugly and theretofore, untouchable in Draco's book. Her new and improved look was far more appealing. She had emerged from the chrysalis of summer an entirely different creature. In addition to considerable weight loss, she had gotten a complete makeover that seemed more along the lines of a miracle cure. 'Pug-faced' no longer applied. There was no way that anything less than 'attractive' could apply. Even her hair, once a dirty-blonde-light-brown, had been dyed dark, near-black. She looked a whole new person. She even seemed to have a new nose. She could have been stamped with the Malfoy Seal of Approval.

In time, it would be easy to forget that she had ever been anything but attractive.

But somewhere over the course of the summer and the months following, Pansy had elected herself Draco's girlfriend, which Draco did not approve of at all. While he was no longer ashamed to be seen with her in public, she clung upon him every free minute they had together. Her adhesiveness could have given even the Giant Squid competition.

Moreover, she was most certainly not his girlfriend. He had no intention of being monogamous at this point in his life, if ever. It was difficult to imagine sleeping with the same person, night after night, for the rest of your life. Even if he did find that person who wouldn't bore him within a week, he doubted he would choose Pansy. Who was to say that she wouldn't metamorphose in reverse? Go from Beauty to Beast? What if he woke up one day next to Sleeping Ugly? Such psychological and emotional trauma could cause impotence, even.

Of course, he hadn't exactly been faithful, oh he of bad faith. From the beginning of the year up until his bet with Blaise, he had enjoyed a rather healthy and vigorous sex life, rich and varied with many different partners.

Pansy was either extremely stupid or extremely smart where these matters were concerned; most of the time, she tended to look the other way whenever Draco brought someone new in "for a tour of the Slytherin dungeons". And likewise whenever he came home from "late Quidditch practise". And she was wonderfully understanding whenever he had to do "Potions extra-credit". Even "I need to go to the broom shed because I'm all out of linseed oil" didn't faze her in the least.

Of course, while having Pansy around did not affect his sexcapades, Draco imagined that, in the long run, she would be a nuisance to deal with where this bet was concerned. Well, he was sure he would think of something in due time.

If nothing else, Draco had always been rather good at overcoming obstacles.

"What's the matter, darling?" Pansy put her arms around Draco's neck, leaning in.

Draco placed two fingers on her burgundy-brown mouth in the place of a kiss. "I wouldn't do that if I were you, sweet-pea." He turned his head to one side and coughed delicately. "I seem to be coming down with something."

"Oh, how horrible! Is it serious?"

"Not really," Draco said quite solemnly, "But highly contagious." He managed a rather convincing cough.

Pansy stepped back a little.

"I don't want to cancel our plans for this afternoon," Draco continued. "I know that it's important-- oh!"

"What is it?" asked Pansy, concerned.

He pressed two fingers to his temple. "Oh, it's nothing, I just have this splitting headache, too..." He followed this statement with another convincing cough.

"You know, maybe you should get some rest," said Pansy.

"Oh no, it's quite all right, I'll be fine..." Draco put on his best pained-but-trying-ever-so-desperately-to-be-brave expression. "I think I'll manage somehow."

"Are you positive?" asked Pansy, slightly hopeful, mostly doubtful.

"Oh, yes. I wouldn't want -cough- to ever -cough- -cough-...disappoint."

Pansy looked seriously concerned. "I don't want you endangering your health. And I wouldn't even enjoy your company if you're ill. Right now, we should go back to the dormitories and you should get rest. After all, we can always go out over the weekend." She took his arm to lead him back to the Slytherin housing part of the dungeons.

"Oh, Pansy. You are so good to me."

"Why wouldn't I be? You deserve it," Pansy smiled, kissing him on the cheek.

----

The rain stung, shiny, spiny, needle-like, anywhere skin was exposed.

The skies had broken open in heady downpour right in the middle of practise. Sheets of water swept the grounds, consecutive, continuous, seemingly without end.

It was probably not the best of days for Quidditch.

Visibility was near zero. Team members kept on getting knocked about by the one Bludger they were practising with, judging from the sudden cries. The wild winds buffeted them about on their brooms. Whipped around, they were flimsy as paper-winged kites.

Harry was not the Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. The position had been offered to him at the very beginning of the year, but there was sneaking suspicion that this was a result of pity over what happened the previous year. Harry had turned down the position on more than one occasion.

Impervius kept the rain off their faces, but it didn't keep the wetness soaking into their robes, making them heavy and waterlogged. It did nothing for the cold that seeped through their skin, absolutely nothing for the chill that dove, graceful as a swan, straight into their bone marrow.

Harry was not the Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, but he might as well have been, for all they listened to his advice, following his every whim. So when he suggested that there should be practise today, everyone assented against their better judgement.

This really wasn't Quidditch practice so much as it was pitting foolish human will against the implacable elements. Only, of course, they didn't know that. Harry really wasn't doing it so much to better his teammates' flying techniques as he was trying to tackle some sort of physical representation of his inner turmoil. Only, of course, he didn't know that.

All he knew was that it was impossible to see the Snitch in these conditions. And that, somehow, didn't really matter.

It seemed that he was always chasing after some goal, some golden victory, that was impossible to catch considering the conditions. He had been lucky in the past, but even serendipitous victories couldn't compensate for his more major recent losses. It was the conditions that sculpted him, moulded malleable human clay into something drier, hard and bitter, tempered and fragile.

All he knew was this moment, up in the sky, battered by wind and rain.

It was him against the elements. He wanted to ride the fury of the storm, bridle it somehow.

He wanted distraction. He wanted destruction.

It would seem as if he almost had a death wish.

Every moment he was up here was another moment closer to any moment, when he could lose his grip and tumble to the ground below.

This was the high before the crash.

The rain came down in sheets. It was like trying to fly through the ocean. Water like the hands of sirens pulled on their robes heavily, wanting them to sink and drown.

All he could hear was the rain in his ears and maybe the howl of wind whipping everything past. It whistled, lonely and desperate and high-pitched; the same sound wind makes over glass bottlenecks that reek of drained cheap champagne.

Ginny must have been screaming for a while before she caught up enough for him to spot her in his peripheral vision. "HARRY!" she screamed. Although, it sounded more like "HA---EEe!" The wind stole her consonants.

"WHAT?"

"IT'S RON!" ("ItSS --OON!")

"WHA--?!"

"RON!"

"RON?"

"RON! HE'S DOWN!" ("ROnn! EES -OWN!")

"RON'S DOWN?!"

Harry wasn't actually falling, but for all that he was feeling, he might as well have been.

----

It was really a shitty day for Quidditch.

Draco peered out of one of several windows overlooking the pitch, staring out at the storm. (He had finally managed to get away from Pansy after convincing her that he needed sleep, and no, she shouldn't stay and watch over him because it was not proper for her to be in his quarters whilst he was unconscious.) He liked storms well enough, as they were violent and harsh and powerful. He liked them best from a distance, where he was safe and warm and dry.

He was, after all, the primed hothouse flower, raised in and acclimated to only the most optimal conditions. Discomfort did not suit him at all. Naturally, he didn't fancy pneumonia, his death of cold, nor even a mild case of the sniffles.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to attempt to tempt someone when you have the sniffles?

"Why, hello, Big Boy... --sniff-- I think you're really sexy --snerk-- Want to go sniffle back to by place --snerf-- and exchange bodily fluids?...Excuse be a bobent while I blow by node."

Blow nose, attempt seductive look.

Ew. Gross.

Most definitely not an option. (It was fortunate that he was not actually ill.)

The players were nothing more than little dots jerking erratically through the air. The water pouring down from the dark clouds overhead blurred the dots, soaked them, made them look almost soft. They could probably barely even see each other. Any idiot who made their team practise in such conditions deserved the worst of accidents that was bound to happen.

Trust Potter to be moronic -- oh, sorry, brave enough to try and play in even this weather.

Part of him wished that Potter would get knocked off his broom and plummet to the ground below. Or, better, struck by lightning and burnt to a crisp. Human bodies are naturally wonderful conductors for lightning. It was a considerably large part of him that wished Potter ill. The small part remaining was most likely on vacation somewhere.

Then, as he was watching, it happened. Well, it wasn't a lightning strike smiting down his enemies, but a Bludger to the head was almost as good. As player and broom plunged to the ground, he could only smile.

----

"Stop crowding, children! At least give the poor boy some room!" Madam Pomfrey tsk'ed, parting the huddle of Gryffindor team members.

Ron was pale, white like the infirmary colour scheme. His freckles looked dark on his skin, almost like a connect-the-dots picture. He groaned loudly in pain.

"Well, at least he's conscious," Madam Pomfrey remarked.

"W-will he be all right, Madam Pomfrey?" asked Ginny.

"Just give it to us straight, Madame Pomfrey. We can handle it," Seamus said, quite solemnly.

"No need for melodramatics, Mr Finnigan. Of course he'll be fine. Young Mr Weasley here seems to have suffered a concussion, and his right arm seems to be fractured. Very minor injuries. He's very lucky, you know. He could very well have broken his neck. Whose idiotically suicidal idea was it, anyway, to play in these horrendous conditions?"

No one replied. Harry stared at the floor.

"Well, no matter," continued Madam Pomfrey. "He'll be back risking his life with the rest of you in no time. The best thing you could do is to leave him here to get some peace and quiet, and so that I can repair his arm."

"Shouldn't someone stay with him?" asked Harry.

"No, he needs his rest more than anything. He'll need to spend the night, but that should be sufficient. "

"But--"

"No buts, Mr Potter. Now, shoo, all of you, you've tracked mud all over my nice clean floor!"

Reluctantly, the team retreated.

"Children are so unhygienic," Madam Pomfrey muttered to herself. Then she turned to Ron. "Now, whatever are we to do with you?"

----

The team had headed down to the change rooms to rid themselves of their gear and change into dry clothes.

Harry stayed behind until everyone else had left, the changed rooms empty and deserted.

And everything was fine. Nothing was wrong. Nothing was wrong at all.

Harry sighed, slumped over on the bench. His Quidditch robes sat in a soggy heap next to him. It was so quiet he could hear each drip drop drip of water sliding down his tangled hair and hitting the tiled floor. Rain pelted the windowpane in persistent percussion.

It was his fault, goddamnit, all his fault. It should have been him that got hit, should have been him that plummeted, not Ron.

The full-length motivational poster of former captain Oliver Wood (complete with caption: "WWWD: What Would Wood Do?") grinning down at him did absolutely nothing to better his mood.

Ron had gotten hurt, and it was all his fault. Just another blame to take, another score mark to etch into tally.

At least he was alone, now. For a long time, he had just wanted to be left alone. He had wanted his friends to stop bothering him, to stop asking how he was doing, if he was all right. He wasn't sure just what they wanted to hear, what they expected him to say. Of course he was all right. Everything was perfectly fine. And even if it wasn't, it wasn't like they could do anything to help make things better.

It was one of those fruitless losing situations.

If anything, Harry hated the taste of futility.

But now he felt empty, abandoned. There was the guilt, the crushed, crumpled feeling inside. There was that small black creature that seemed to gnaw away at the centre of his chest.

And he had never seen the change rooms this quiet. It was eerie. It made him think of those slasher films Dudley was so fond of, the lone student in empty change rooms, the dark and stormy night raging outside. Once his cousin had even kept the whole house up, bawling about how he couldn't sleep, the Axe Man was coming to get him, he could see his own bloody fate when he closed his eyes.

This could even be a black-and-white Hitchcock. He could even hear the high-pitched chords shrieking as blood swirled and ran down the drain.

Suddenly came the sound of running water. Somewhere nearby, a shower had turned on.

Harry jolted, just a little.

"Who's there?" he asked.

Of course someone might be taking a shower here. It was the change rooms, after all.

But the team had disbanded a good ten, fifteen minutes ago.

"Seamus? Is that you?"

No response but running water.

"Dean? Trent?"

Harry got up, walking towards the shower area, just beyond the row of lockers.

"Neville?"

The shower shut off.

Harry froze in his tracks when he finally rounded the corner.

"Malfoy?!"

The blonde sighed, tossing his head to flip back a wet shank of hair from his eyes. "Could I help you with something?"

----

A/N: Well, I'm back, with a new name and a new identity, but the same inability to write quickly. Hopefully that will renew itself as well. I hate disappointing people, though...but no promises.

I usually use Book!canon, but as you can see, I've sort of tweaked canon!Pansy...because movieverse!Pansy is awfully cute. ;;