A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous. –Ingrid Bergman

Everyone feared there would be an attack that weekend. A period of two weeks had passed between each of the three attacks, and since another two had gone by, it was only logical for the population at Hogwarts to assume the culprit would follow their previously laid-out pattern and petrify another student. The more apprehensive students–which consisted mainly of the lower years–tried to pass nearly the entire weekend away in their common rooms–venturing out only when it was time for meals. The rest, who were less weary but cautious all the same, weren't afraid to wander the castle and snow-covered grounds ; though, you never saw a student who wasn't a Slytherin pureblood or courageous Gryffindor upper-year, alone. The tenseness of the staff didn't help the castle's overall atmosphere as they watched their pupils with eagle-eyes, ready to pounce on whomever looked to be starting trouble.

However, what no one in the school could have possibly known was that the probability of an attack that particular weekend, was at absolute zero.

Because, as it happened, on that particular Saturday afternoon, Slytherin's heir was too busy scouring the castle in search of the boy who had kissed him in the snow and then run off as though the hounds of Hell were snapping at his heels.

Truth be told, Tom hadn't actually planned on what had happened happening. He had been in a state of stupefaction once Harry's lips had touched his. All he'd wanted was to "rescue" the younger boy from Dmitry's clutches, and he'd only thought to bring Harry outside because it had snowed.

Harry loved the snow.

He hadn't intended to retaliate to Harry's snowball with an attack of his own. He hadn't planned on Harry chasing him, for them both to fall, for the younger boy to–

Not that he really minded. It was a delicious secret he'd always kept to himself for fear that Harry would leave him, disgusted with his unnatural thoughts. It had terrified Tom that one day Harry would find out, that he wouldn't understand, and Tom would once again be all alone. Sure, he'd have Abraxas and Orion–as long as Harry told no one, or the two simply didn't care–but neither of them would be able to fill the giant void Harry would certainly leave behind.

Tom checked the path from the Great Hall to the library with incredible thoroughness, poking his head into every classroom–used or unused–and even going so far as to make a quick stop off at the Hospital Wing. The process was slow and extremely frustrating. More than once the Slytherin sixth-year had wished he had a map of the castle that could just show him wherever Harry was hiding.

After agitatedly pursuing the entire first four floors of the castle, Tom stopped and leaned against a random wall for a bit of a break. It was time to use his hibernating brain and actually think of the most probable places Harry could be rather than searching the entire castle. Not only was it gargantuan in size, but the younger boy could have been continuously moving and stopped off at a place Tom had already checked.

Letting out an aggravated growl, Tom began to mentally list all the places Harry might be, followed by all the best hiding spots in Hogwarts that he knew of. There was the library, the dungeons, the owlry, the dungeons, the kitchen, another House's common room, the dungeons…

Tom's blood froze as he was coming up with ideas as a new prospect wormed its way into his train of thought. What if Harry hadn't meant it? What if it was just a random kiss, spurred by the moment? Those types of things occasionally happened. It could even have been that the kiss was meant in merely a friendly sort of way, and the reason Harry had run off was because he'd been embarrassed that it had connected with Tom's lips rather than the older boy's cheek or forehead. Harry had sometimes joked in the past that the two of them were closer than brothers, and Tom had heard that it wasn't uncommon for family members to give each other innocent kisses from time to time. In fact, Orion's older sister did it every time the young Black left for Hogwarts at the beginning of each year…

No, Tom wouldn't accept it. Harry hadn't meant it in a familial way, he was positive. He was convinced. And if Harry tried to play the kiss off as something else, he wouldn't believe it. He'd extract the truth from the younger boy, even if it was doing its damndest to stay covered in the dark. Tom had been waiting years for Harry, having become suspicious of his unusual feelings for the younger boy at age thirteen, and when he'd turned fourteen, he'd known for sure.

But now was not the time to think of that. First, he had to find Harry, and the best place to look seemed to be the dungeons. There were an abundance of unused classrooms down in the dank maze underneath Hogwarts, any one of them a splendid place to hide from someone. Tom was sure that's what Harry was doing, and even though he had to go back the way he came, he could make a pit-stop at the kitchens and inquire within to see if the house-elves knew anything.

Actually, he thought as he hurried back the way he came, maybe the best course of action is to simply ask an elf to find him for me…

"Tom!" Sucking in his cheeks and closing his eyes, Tom counted to ten, very slowly in his head to calm down. It wouldn't do to curse the girl into oblivion for the interruption; she didn't know any better. He also didn't want Harry to become angry with him for behaving impulsively, and he knew that's just what Harry would do if Tom inflicted and sort of damage on the approaching female.

Amaryllis Lacoursiere was probably the prettiest girl at Hogwarts, but that was due in part to her mother being half-veela. The rest of her good looks, she received from her father, who was quite the looker himself. Tom had the impromptu pleasure of meeting the man on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at the end of last term. Amaryllis just had to introduce her parents to the boy whom she'd set her sights on, but that wasn't an uncommon occurrence for him either. Many females at Hogwarts desired him, though Tom thought they were all somewhat featherbrained and should spend more time studying their atrocious spellwork rather than gazing wistfully after him wherever he went. Unfortunately, that was the price one paid for being incredibly handsome, wonderfully intelligent, and a splendidly smooth-talker, even if it was all false praise. One needed to keep up appearances if they wanted to get anywhere in life, and you always caught more flies with honey than with vinegar, Miss Hallwicke, one of the teachers at Tom's muggle school, had told him one day after he'd made another boy cry by insulting the child's artistic abilities. Tom hadn't expected the other boy to be so sensitive–not that he really cared–but had taken his teacher's words to heart when he'd arrived at Hogwarts, and his dealing with other people had become much easier.

Amaryllis caught up to Tom, who hadn't really slowed when she called out, and flashed him a dazzling smile, her long, near-white, platinum blonde hair flowing behind her in soft waves.

"We haven't spoken in a long while, how have you been?" she asked, her words tinted with the barest hint of a French accent.

"Alright," Tom answered civilly. "And you?" He didn't wish for the conversation to continue on, but he had an image to uphold.

Amaryllis let out a tinkling laugh that might have easily ensnared a more common man, but all it did was force Tom to count again. "I have been enjoying myself well. It is difficult, though, to soothe the worries of the younger students in my House. Being a prefect can be terribly tedious at times, don't you agree."

"It can, but the benefits outweigh the unpleasantness."

"Yes, I do so love the bathroom allowed only to us." She sighed and glanced at Tom out of the corner of her eye. "But still, one would think that, having been sorted into Ravenclaw, they would be able to figure out for themselves that there is no real danger."

"No?" Tom said, interest mildly peaked.

"Of course not," Amaryllis confidently replied, raising her head a little higher, proud that she seemed to have figured something out no one else had. "If the person behind the attacks really intended anyone to come to permanent harm, the first attack and even the ones to follow, would have been much more damaging than a simple petrification that can be cured with an easily brewed Mandrake Drought."

"Unless the person behind the attacks is trying to lull everyone like you into a false sense of security before really striking out," Tom said softly. Amaryllis was right, he didn't really want any harm to come to the mudbloods whilst he was still in Hogwarts–that might prove problematic for him–but there was no reason to give her the impression that he thought there was some truth to her words. The whole point behind the attacks was to inspire fear in the populace of Hogwarts. Fear, by his hand, even if the castle did not know it was him by name.

"That would be rather cunning of him, the heir of Slytherin–House of deceit–but what he obviously did not foresee wasmy Ravenclaw intelligence untangling his master-plan and discovering that the heir truly means no one any harm at all. He's just trying to cause a ruckus. Stir up unnecessary trouble. It might even be that he's bored and attacking students without bringing harm to them is the only way he knows how to have fun."

"Why does it have to be a boy?" Tom asked, steering the conversation, hopefully, in a different direction. "Why can't it be a girl? Slytherin must have had female heirs, otherwise at least one wizarding family would still go by the name 'Slytherin.'"

"Unless they thought it was too risky and changed their name."

"They wouldn't have changed their name, they would have proudly stood at the height of wizarding society using all the power that name brought them. Plus, I doubt Slytherin's line consisted only of males, either way," Tom finished. He never really enjoyed speaking with Amaryllis, but she was tolerable, most of the time. "And, I'm sorry, but I'm a touch busy at the moment. If it's possible to continue this conversation at another time…?"

"Oh, what are you doing?" Tom sighed internally. Yet another price to be paid for having such a charming façade. People just didn't seem to want to leave you alone, even when you asked nicely.

"I'm looking for someone, and I think the house-elves might be able to help me locate them. So I'm going to the kitchens to ask."

"And who is this… person, you seek?" Amaryllis asked in clipped tones. Tom clenched his jaw, having not the patience, the desire, nor the time to deal with Amaryllis' feelings of covetousness for him.

"I don't really see how it's any of your business, but if you must know, I'm looking for Harry," he replied, doing his best too keep from seeming too friendly or too harsh.

"Oh, him." Amaryllis was suddenly all smiles and cheer again. "I saw him earlier, dashing through the corridors."

Tom slammed to a halt and Amaryllis passed him a few paces before stopping as well and turning back. "Is something the matter?"

"Where did he go?" Tom bit out in haste.

The Ravenclaw girl blinked thoughtfully, looking back on what she'd seen. "I'm not sure. I wish I could help, but it was when I was leaving the Great Hall about two hours ago, I think. Something must have shocked him greatly; he had a hand covering his mouth and a look of disbelief on his face." She frowned. "I do hope he's alright now…"

"That's why I have to find him." Tom started off again, scolding himself for getting his hopes up. There would be no reason for Amaryllis to really pay attention to where Harry was going. Not many people usually did.

The two didn't speak again until they had reached the second floor. "You know, Tom," Amaryllis began hesitantly, "I didn't just call out to you only because I was curious about your well-being, there was something I had to ask you."

Oh, do get on with it already. "I see, and what was that?"

"I just–you see, I was wondering, since you don't have–I mean, would you attend Slughorn's Christmas party with me?"

Not another one… He'd had girls coming up to him all week requesting he go with them to the party. Some had invitations of their own; some did not.

"The party is tomorrow," Tom said slowly, as if speaking to a child. "Why would you ask me twenty-four hours prior to the date?"

Amaryllis' steps faltered and Tom pulled ahead in strides. Seconds later, her hurried footfalls–echoing off the walls–had her catching up and moving ahead of Tom so she could peer back at his face while walking. "But, you aren't going with anyone; I know you aren't. You never go with anyone–"

"Precisely," he said, fluidly cutting her off. "To be frank, it would be a bother and bring me unnecessary trouble if I were to escort anyone to even one of Slughorn's events."

"But what if we go as friends?" Amaryllis suggested desperately, grasping at straws. "I heard that's what your friend Harry and his friend Dmitry are doing, and they're both boys–"

Once again Tom halted in his journey towards the kitchens, and fixed Amaryllis with his coldest of glares, allowing satisfaction to flow through him when she visibly flinched.

"Harry, like you said, is my friend." His words were chips of ice. "I do not appreciate you hinting at such things about him, and if I ever catch you, or hear of you, doing so again, I will terminate whatever relationship the two of us have, immediately." He didn't think Harry would bee keen on having such rumors spread, no matter what truth there was to them, and it was the only threat the older Slytherin would openly be able to carry out at the school.

Amaryllis' lip quivered and she glanced down, clenching the material of her robes in her hands. "I'm sorry–I did not mean…" She sniffed once.

"But, if you promise to behave yourself and let me be until next term, I might be able to save at least one dance for you." Amaryllis was a valuable asset to have–a prefect, and part of a distinguished French family. She might not be his favorite person, but he couldn't go around throwing away people he might later need favors from over nothing. Though, if she ever did say anything unfavorable about Harry to anyone other than him, Tom would not hold back his wrath.

His words caused her head to shoot up and hope to fill her eyes. "Of course, I won't say anything else! I didn't mean to imply before–I apologize." She gave him one last smile. "I guess I'll see you at the party then. Don't forget the dance, and good luck with finding Harry!" She traipsed off to rejoin whatever grouping she'd abandoned for him.

Grateful to be rid of the bothersome girl, Tom finished the rest of his short trip to the kitchen. Tickling the pear in the portrait of fruit, he watched, frowning, as it giggled and turned into a door handle. He didn't understand why the piece of fruit had been made to giggle, but many things in the wizarding world had simply not made sense to Tom, and a great many more probably never would.

The clamor of pots and pans and the hustle and bustle of the house-elves bound to Hogwarts assaulted his senses as soon as he opened the portrait door. Smells of dinner being prepared made his stomach rumble, seeing as how he'd missed out on lunch by utilizing his time to search for Harry instead.

Immediately after his stomach emitted the sound of hunger, three house-elves had rushed over and pulled him to a small table in the corner, out of the way. Almost as soon as he was seated, three more elves carrying a large silver platter of fruits and cheese and a goblet of pumpkin juice came running and placed the food and drink in front of him.

"Would the young master Tom Riddle be wanting anything else?" squeaked an elf wearing a tea cozy like all the others.

"Actually, I was wondering if you could help me find someone," Tom said, grateful for the food and popping a grape into his mouth. He assumed it was the duty of the house-elves to know the identity of all who lived in the castle, and therefore didn't question how they knew his name.

There was a murmur amongst the gathered six, and the house-elf who had previously spoken said, "We's is not supposed to be helping students find students. We's is only supposed to be's bringing them foods."

Tom put on a helpless face and stared worriedly out at the creatures. "But it's terribly important that I find him quickly, and I'd be forever grateful if you could help."

The elf's eyes widened and it's ears twitched once… twice… and it shooed the other elves back to work.

"Fizzy has decided Fizzy will help the young master," the elf, Fizzy, said enthusiastically, turning back to Tom. "Who is it young master Tom Riddle wishes Fizzy to seek?"

"Harry Evans, if you don't mind."

"Oh, no, oh, no. Fizzy doesn't mind. Finding young master Harry Evans should be no problem!"

Tom watched as Fizzy's face screwed up in concentration. It took a moment, but soon there was a small pop signaling the house elf's disapparation. Tom relaxed into the too-small chair and quickly devoured the food he'd been given. He'd need the energy for whatever face-off he and Harry were about to have.

The minutes ticked by and the food slowly vanished. Tom was beginning to think that it was a lost cause to try and involve a house-elf, when Fizzy returned with another pop.

"Did you find him?" Tom asked excitedly, nearly stumbling over the words in his mouth.

"Fizzy did finds the young master," Fizzy began slowly, nervously. "But Fizzy doesn't think you can finds him since he doesn't wants to be found."

Tom's brows furrowed together. "What? Why not? Why can't you jest tell me where he is?"

"House-elves serves all the young masters at Hogwarts, but we serves the Headmaster the most. Young master Tom Riddle asks Fizzy to find young master Harry Evans, and young master Harry Evans asks Fizzy not to tell. Fizzy should have never gone looking in the first place." Fizzy shook his (or was it a her?) head violently. Tom held his tongue.

"That's alright, Fizzy. You did your best. I'll just have to find him on my own." He stood and made for the door. What else could he do? The house-elves of Hogwarts weren't bound to him specifically. Like Fizzy said, they were bound to the Headmaster, whomever it happened to be at the time. No matter how much Tom yelled, threatened, or inflicted pain, Fizzy would not be able to give away Harry's whereabouts unless Headmaster Dippet ordered the elf to.

That, and it would not do to insult the house-elves who took care of his food, laundry, and cleaned his dorm. Tom knew when it was pointless, he knew when he'd lost, but that didn't mean he liked it. "Thank you for the food."

Manners were appreciated in every species.

He didn't bother examining the dungeons after his kitchen failure. It would probably end up being a waste of his valuable time. Besides, Harry was sure to turn up at dinner that night, and Tom would corner him afterwards. So, he returned to the Slytherin common room and down the winding staircase to Harry's dorm, expecting the others to still be there.

Opening the door, he found Orion stretched out on Dmitry's bed, Abraxas sitting daintily on Harry's–legs crossed and one hand rubbing his chin in deep thought–and Dmitry standing in the center of the room, modeling a set of midnight blue robes with small, silken periwinkle stars decorating the cuffs.

There was no Harry.

His entrance had caught the attention of all, and the three inside the dorm turned to identify the intruder.

"Tom," Orion said with no little surprise. "What are you doing here?"

"Where's Harry?" Dmitry put in. "I think I've finally decided on wearing this, and I want his opinion as well."

"To answer both questions in one go," Tom said, crossing the room to sit stiffly beside Abraxas, "I'm back because Harry took off."

Orion gaped in horror. "Have you two had another fight?"

Tom opened his mouth, but was promptly cut off by Dmitry. "No, they can't! We've all just become close again; I don't want to have to choose sides!"

"Because you know you'd choose Harry's, and you're afraid of what Tom may do to you?" Orion said with the tiniest of grins, taking enjoyment from Dmitry's dismayed disposition.

"No! Well, yes," Dmitry admitted sheepishly, "but I don't want to have to choose because I want to be able to spend time with all of you! If they've had a fight and Harry truly is irritated with Tom, again, then I won't be able to anything fun with anyone."

"Isn't that a little bit of an exageration?"

"It isn't! It's the truth! Harry won't want me speaking to any of you, Tom won't want any of you speaking to me–it would be much too horrible to bear! And with the holidays only a week away now, things will only get worse over the separation." Dmitry trailed off and then lit up as though he'd just had the grandest of all ideas. "Unless," he turned to Tom, eyes sparkling in hope, "you and Harry are able to make up over the holidays, since the two of you are always here, together. But, then, if you truly have fought, Harry might decide to take me up on my offer and come with me back to Russia–"

"You offered to take him to Russia over the break with you?" Abraxas asked in astonishment. "What did he say?"

"He said he couldn't because things with Tom and him were just beginning to right themselves, and it would be better to stay here," Dmitry sadly explained. "But maybe he'll be coming next summer. Of course, you all are invited as well. I'll just have to make sure it's all right with my family first."

"And if it's not, I'll just go with my family when I normally do, and Abraxas can tag along," Orion helpfully put in.

"Yes, I'd been anticipating that of you, just in case–"

"If anyone cares," Tom interrupted, mildly irritated that he'd not been able to get a word in edgewise, "Harry and I have not, in reality, had a fight."

They all stared at him as if he'd grown an extra head, which wasn't a good sign.

"Then why," Abraxas drawled, "did Harry 'run off,' as you put it?"

"It's private," Tom growled with a baleful glare at them all, his patience for the day having been all used up on the useless house-elves and grating Amaryllis.

And that was the end of that.

Tom had hoped to see Harry at dinner, but the boy never turned up. He'd waited in the Slytherin common room until midnight, playing wizards chess with Orion. Harry did not appear. He even woke up at six in the morning to check if Harry had climbed into bed at an even later time. The boy's bed was vacant and untouched. By breakfast Tom was admittedly worried and showing a few visible signs of it. Abraxas was busy consoling him when the owl came for Dmitry.

"Harry says he's okay," Dmitry said, reading the letter. Tom, who hadn't been paying any attention to Dmitry or the owl (what if Harry had been ambushed by Gryffindors and his body left somewhere to die?), struck out like a viper and snatched the letter out of Dmitry's hands.

Sorry I disappeared yesterday–if you noticed– but don't worry, I'm still taking you to Slughorn's party. It starts at seven, so I'll meet you in the entrance hall at six fifty-five? And don't fret over what to where. You'll look good in anything, even a paper bag.

Harry

Tom read and re-read the letter. Shouldn't I have been the one he sent a reassuring message to?

"Why didn't he send a letter to you, Tom?" Orion voiced from Dmitry's side across from him. "Or did you lie about having not really had a fight?"

Tom refrained from tearing up Dmitry's letter out of spite. He folded it once, down the middle, and handed it back to the Russian with perfect composure.

"I think," he said in an unwavering tone, "that Harry believes me to be very, very angry with him, and that's why he's chosen to hide himself away in some secluded nook of the castle."

"And are you?" Abraxas asked at the same time Dmitry questioned, "Why would he think that?"

"I'm not mad at him, no. I could never be mad at him for what he ended up doing. Bust as to what that actually is, is a private matter that Harry might tell you when you see him tonight, or he might not. I have no control over the matter, but, Dmitry, I trust you have it within you to give up some time you would be spending with Harry so that I may make him understand that everything's fine between us."

It wasn't a question, and everyone knew it. "Of course," Dmitry easily complied. "I like it even less than you when the two of you are fighting."

A humorless smile stretched Tom's lips. "I doubt that."

After breakfast Dmitry penned a response to Harry, justifying his act to the others because the time Harry suggested they meet was merely a suggestion and ended in a question mark.

Tom spent the day studying and finishing up the few assignments he had left to turn in the coming week along with figuring out just what exactly he was going to say to Harry when the two came face-to-face. Twice, he wished he has a time-turner that could take him to the future, rather the past, and three times he wished he had a time-turner to return to the past and follow Harry, rather than lie in the snow, so he wouldn't be so anxious about the upcoming party.

"Well, would you look at that?" Orion said in the common room at six-forty that evening as he and Tom waited for Abraxas and Dmitry to show up. It was not compulsory to attend wearing dress-robes, so both boys were dressed in their school uniforms. Exceedingly clean, well-pressed school uniforms, but all the same, not dress-robes. Orion didn't wear them because he didn't like the fanciness of it all, and Tom didn't wear them because he didn't own a pair. It wasn't in his budget. Other students would be wearing their uniforms too, but it didn't really matter to Tom if he and Orion were the only ones underdressed or not.

"What is it?" Tom asked, coming over to the bulletin board where Orion stood.

"They've extended the term by one day, Saturday, and turned it into a Hogsmeade weekend."

Tom scoffed at the sheer ludicracy of the idea. "Why do that? If it was to give those staying in the castle an extra shopping day, they could have done it without keeping the rest of the school behind."

"Yes, but the administration of this school leaves much to be desired, don't you think?"

Tom hummed in agreement. "Maybe I should become Headmaster after I graduate."

"I doubt it," Orion said with a laugh. "It's just, Dumbeldore's Deputy Headmaster, and so if Dippet retires, Dumbledore automatically gets the job," he hastily amended. It wouldn't do to have it seem as though he was saying he didn't believe Tom could become Headmaster.

"But you forget, dear Orion, that I am a master of manipulation, and if I were to somehow become a part of the staff, I give it two years, five tops, before Dippet hands Dumbledore's prestigious position over to me. Then, it's just a matter of time before I poison my way into the position of Headmaster."

"Tricky, deceitful, cunning, crafty–I love it!" Orion approved. "Except the bit about getting a teaching position right after school. None of them are open."

"Let's just say I may or may not have spent a good chunk of time with Professor Merrythought, during which our dear Defense Professor most certainly did not get a bit too wasted and inform me that she's thinking that next year might possibly be her last. I happen to let slip, however, that the south of France was a lovely place to visit."

"You didn't?" Orion said, a sly grin stretching his face.

"I did. And I'm thinking that, if I continue on the path of being a studious teacher's aide for that class, when I apply for the job Merrythought might even recommend me."

Orion clapped Tom on the back. "Excellent. You'll really go places in the world with that sort of attitude."

"What sort of attitude?" Abraxas asked, coming up behind the pair in pearl-white robes. Dmitry sauntered up as well in the midnight-blue choice from yesterday.

"They extended the term by one day to give everyone a Hogsmeade trip," Orion said, matter-of-factly to distract the duo of well-dressed wizards. "Come, let's be off." He held out his arm for Abraxas to take, but the blonde swept past as though the Black heir were invisible.

"That's odd," Dmitry remarked as they exited the common room, Orion complaining up ahead to Abraxas about how the Malfoy was a terrible date, even though the two weren't technically going together.

"Yes, it is," Tom agreed distractedly. If things went well with Harry tonight, he'd want the entire population out of the school as quickly as possible so he could have his wicked way with–

He coughed once, earning a quick glance from Dmitry, but said nothing. Now was not the time for thoughts such as those.

In the entrance hall, the trio of sixth years bade goodbye to Dmitry and continued up another level. This year, Slughorn seemed to have pulled out all the stops and was not hosting the party from the depths of the dingy, desolate dungeons. According to the invitation, the location was a large unused classroom on the second floor.

"May I escort you through the doors, my darling?" Orion threw at Abraxas with a blindingly white smile that made Tom think he'd used a whitening charm when he thought no one was paying attention.

Abraxas' smile was chillingly frightening. "No."

Pushing past the two with a shake of his head, Tom handed his invitation to an elf that was apparently guarding the entrance from those unwelcome, and stepped into the party.

0 /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\ 0

Harry's brusque walk was really more like a half-run. His hand was clamped tightly over his mouth, and his eyes were bulging insanely from their sockets. He couldn't believe what he'd just done. It was stupid, it was careless, and he didn't understand why he'd been overcome with the sudden urge to kiss Tom. Even less comprehendible was why he'd succumbed to that feeling.

He passed little packs of students as he traveled aimlessly through the castle, trying to put as much distance between himself and Tom as possible. None of them paid him any mind. One or two students here or there curiously watched him rush away, but that was about it. No one tried to follow him or ask what was wrong.

That was one of the advantages of not being the Boy-Who-Lived. The entire population of Horwarts–of the wizarding world wasn't forcing their way into his business; business they had no place being.

He replayed the event over and over again in his mind. It didn't seem real.

An optimistic thought sprung up that maybe, just maybe, it hadn't really happened. That it was all just a figment of his imagination, and that Tom was still out on the grounds, utterly baffled as to why Harry had suddenly run off. But that hope was soon trashed. He knew it wasn't possible; he shouldn't try to convince himself of otherwise.

When Harry finally looked up and paid attention to where his feet had taken him, he was in front of a long stretch of wall on the seventh floor across from a tapestry depicting a wizard attempting to teach trolls to dance.

The Room of Requirement. Despite the situation, the corners of Harry's lips twitched in barely noticeable satisfaction. It would seem that, if he was ever in need of a place to lie low, his body would bring him to the Room whether he was fully conscious of it or not; and he did need to hide. Previously, he'd only been thinking of getting away from Tom before the older boy could take action against him, but now… Yes, tucking himself away there was probably the best thing to do.

He paced the length of the wall three times thinking, I need a place to hide, and a door morphed into existence. Taking the brass knob firmly, he pushed the door open and grinned feebly, despite himself.

The Room never disappointed. It had fashioned an almost exact replica of Harry's Slytherin dorm, with the only differences being that the number of beds had dwindled down to one and there was a window beside his desk.

Closing the door and locking the deadbolt feature generated by the Room, he strode over and threw himself facedown on the bed, letting out a frustrated scream. He didn't understand. Why had he kissed Tom? There was no point to it. Nothing to gain from it; Tom was a boy–

So? began a traitorous little voice inside his head, springing into existence. You've been dreaming of him for weeks.

Harry wanted to deny the claims and murder the voice, but he couldn't. One, because it was a manifestation of his mental being, and the other–

Because I'm right.

Go away.

You know it's true. Just like you know what you feel for Tom is–

What about Cho, what about Ginny? I loved her–

'Loved' being the operative word there. Feelings change, and you haven't seen Ginny Weasley in a decade, at least.

Harry ignored the voice and turned on his side, curling up into a ball. There were people who didn't see each other for extended periods of time, and their feelings didn't disappear…

Their feelings also run much deeper than anything you ever thought you felt for darling Ginevra. Why is it o hard to admit that maybe you just like Tom? A lot.

Harry grit his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut, as though coming to terms with his emotions gave him great physical pain.

Fine, so maybe he was a mildly attracted to Tom. The voice snorted, but he continued to pay it no mind. Tom had been making a regular appearance in Harry's dreams, as of late, and so, logically, attraction was the correct option to choose when you added in the scenarios in which he was cropping up.

But I don't have to like it, Harry thought vehemently.

Don't kid yourself, the voice scornfully replied. If you didn't like it, why would you dream of him? If you didn't want it, why would you kiss him?

Harry cursed the rationale of the voice's argument. No comment.

Don't purposefully blind yourself to the facts; it's terribly unbecoming. The first step is acknowledgement. Step two, coming to terms with it. And the third, most vital step is to simply go on with life.

HOW CAN I CONTIUE ON AFTER KISSING TOM? He'll kill me!

The voice heaved a mental sigh (if that was even possible). So does that mean you'll kill yourself before he gets the chance to? Funny, you never seemed suicidal before. Face it, mistakes get made all the time. You think you've done a cosmic wrong, so what? The sun will set tonight and rise tomorrow. Some things will continue living; others will die. Life. Goes. On. Deal with it.

Harry decided it was probably his inner voice of reason speaking with him because everything it was saying made an epic amount of sense. He still didn't like it.

But Tom–

If Tom ends up murdering you just because you happened to give him a little kiss in the snow then he wasn't a very good friend to begin with, the years you spent in his company meant nothing to him, and no matter what you tried in the future or did in the past, he's already predestined to become Lord Voldemort, and you might as well die now than spend half a century fruitlessly trying to stop it, the voice snapped rudely. Do you really have such little faith in him?

No–

Then either one of three things will happen. One: he cuts all ties with you, because he's an arse. Two: he ignores it and acts like it never happened, which is a good thing. Or, three: he liked it.

How is– Harry opened his eyes and sat up so fast his vision blackened, and he momentarily felt the effects of vertigo. WHAT!

Hmm? Came the nonchalant response.

What do you mean by 'liked it?'

Exactly how it sounds. Maybe he has hidden feelings for you–like you for him–that he hid in order to avoid a possible confrontation that would result in a severed friendship.

But, I would never break off–

And yet you expect he would? If the voice had a corporeal form, Harry was sure it would be staring down at him and smirking in triumph. Stop looking at him as though he's Voldemort, and look at him as Tom. Tom, the boy you grew up with. Tom, the only one whom you befriended out of the scores of people you met in the muggle world. Tom, who chose only you to be his friend as well. There's a bond between the two of you, forged the day you walked into Wool's, so stop acting and thinking as though he'd seriously injure you over such inconsequential matters.

Harry scowled. He didn't think a kiss was such a minor thing. He also didn't believe what the voice had said about Tom harboring secret feelings for him to be true either, but realized how imprudently and thoughtlessly he was acting about the situation. Tom was his friend, and if one day Ron had come up and kissed him, Harry wouldn't have abandoned the redhead just like that. He wouldn't have spitefully tried to get back at the other boy either. He would have been surprised, sure, but–had Ron dashed off like Harry with Tom–Harry would have dropped the subject until Ron brought it up, while sustaining his camaraderie with the youngest Weasley male. If he could be that way with Ron, why couldn't Tom be that way with him? Their friendship should be just as strong, if not stronger since he and Tom had known each other for ten years rather than six.

However, Harry didn't feel as though running away from the scene was too rash of an action to have taken. The probability of something going terribly, irreversibly wrong was exceedingly higher, if he had stayed.

But now there was the dilemma of facing Tom again. It would be remarkably cowardly of him if he stayed in the Room of Requirement for the rest of his life, no matter how much it seemed like a good option now. On the other hand, he didn't feel as though he could handle being in Tom's immediate company at the moment. Harry had literally just come to terms with the very high and inauspicious probability that he felt something deeper than friendship for Tom, and not in a brotherly way.

He needed time to think–to come to terms with this epiphany, and the Room seemed like the best sort of place…

Yes, that was it. He'd spend the rest of the day, night, and most of the following camped out in the Room dealing with hysterical "what-ifs," and when he emerged in time for Slughorn's party, he'll have accepted his odd emotions for Tom, one hundred percent.

Or, at least, that was the plan. And maybe not one hundred percent per se. Being around seventy-two or even forty-three would be fine. Not the greatest he could do, but still better than zero; one hundred percent denial.

After pondering over the notion some more, Harry decided that most sensible way to regain control over his tempestuous emotional mentality, was to simply block it all out. Distract himself by doing something else. So he settled down to read.

It was an interesting book he was provided–taken from the bedside stand–and looked vaguely familiar. He couldn't place where he'd seen it before, but there was an itch in the back of his mind he couldn't get rid of. Two chapters in and, right when he felt like he was about to remember where he'd seen the text, his thought process was interrupted by a small pop, signaling the appearance of a house-elf.

And indeed, there was now a house-elf, wrapped in a tea-cozy with the Hogwarts emblem on it, standing at the foot of Harry's bed.

"Master Harry Evans, sir?" it squeaked. Harry assumed it was a male, since the pitch of its voice was more reminiscent of Dobby as opposed to than Winky.

"Yes?" he asked cautiously. Harry had no idea why a Hogwarts house-elf would be seeking him out. The only time that had ever happened was when Dobby had given him the gillyweed that the elf had stolen from Snape's stores.

The house-elf before him now gave a little bow. "Fizzy has been asked by the master Tom Riddle to finds master Harry Evans!" While Fizzy appeared delighted that he was able to fulfill a request from a student, Harry felt his blood freeze in his veins.

No, he couldn't let Tom find him yet. He wasn't ready; it was too soon!

"Erm, Fizzy," Harry said, awkwardly sitting up from where he'd been lying on his stomach. "Is it possible for you to not tell Tom where I am?"

Fizzy's face fell and the elf shuffled its weight from foot to foot nervously. "Master Tom Riddle is wanting to know where master Harry Evans is… Master Tom Riddle is a prefect, Fizzy should be helping… Master Harry Evans isn't being up to no goods, is he?" Fizzy's eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Harry quickly held up both hands and denied the accusation. "No, no; no trouble at all. I just want to be alone–I don't want anyone to find me. It's why I'm here."

"Yes, Fizzy noticed yous being in the Come and Go room." Fizzy surveyed the conjured surroundings. "But when students don't wants prefects finding them, they's is usually ups to no goods!"

Harry sighed, rubbing a tired hand down his face. How could he make this house-elf understand?

"Well, Fizzy," he began slowly, choosing his words carefully, "I don't want to be found because I'm working on… a surprise, of sorts. It's for Tom–his birthday's coming up–and that's why I'm hiding here. I don't think he knows about this place, and if he does, he can't get in because I've locked the door." He prayed the elf would buy his lie.

Fizzy's already bulbous eyes widened even further and he nodded quite excitedly, ears flapping back and forth. "Fizzy understands; Fizzy loves surprises!"

"That's great, Fizzy," Harry said with a grin. "So you see why Tom simply can't know where I am right now? It would ruin the surprise."

Fizzy went back to being nervous in a quick second, fiddling with the hem of his tea cozy. "Fizzy doesn't know… Fizzy doesn't know if he shoulds be lying to master Tom Riddle about not finding master Harry Evans…"

"Just tell him you found me, but I'm hidden so well that Tom won't be able to, even if you tell him my exact location," Harry suggested quickly. It wasn't a complete lie, and Fizzy would have fulfilled his requested duty, so there wouldn't be any need for the little elf to punish himself later. Fizzy's eyes became alight at the idea, and his whole being perked up.

"Fizzy will do just as master Harry Evans says! Master Harry Evans is such a smart student!"

"Thanks, Fizzy," Harry said, smiling.

"Yous is very welcome, sir!" Fizzy left with a pop, and Harry felt his body sag. That was a close shave…

Reaching out to pick up his forgotten book, he paused, eyebrows rising in slow realization as he remembered where he'd seen it before. It was, in fact, the sister text to that useless tome on blood-warding he'd purchased in Diagon Alley all those years ago.

Frowning disgustedly, Harry stared at the book, contemplating whether or not he should continue reading such obvious trash. It shouldn't hurt, I suppose, to read it. So long as I never try out any of the spells within…

With that justification, Harry spent the rest of his time in the Room reading the book, treating it as if its contents were pure fiction. It was possible, of course, that some of the spells it held might work as depicted, but–having already had one colossal mishap brought about from the series–Harry chose to treat it as though the entire book was nothing but make-believe. The only time he paused in his reading was when he fell asleep, and when he snuck out to the owlry in the wee hours of the morning to spirit off a letter to Dmitry, informing the Russian that he would still be taking him to the party and offering a time to meet.

The book was a good distraction, until he realized it was time to leave.

As the hour of seven on Sunday evening drew closer, Harry felt the butterflies in his stomach that had calmed considerably since the previous day, stir up in an incurable flutter. He felt as through the lunch the Room had provided him was about to make a reappearance, and all he wanted to do was crawl back into bed and hide under the covers. But that wouldn't be fair to Dmitry.

So when six fifty-five rolled around, Harry could be seen emerging from within what most people thought was a broom cupboard in the entrance hall, but was actually a concealed staircase that took you directly to the third floor, only a corridor away from where Fluffy had once lived.

"Harry!" He smiled a genuine smile as he saw Dmitry rushing over from the other side of the hall. When the Russian had almost reached him, Dmitry gave a little twirl so that his dress robes fanned out around him. "What do you think of these? They're glorious, aren't they? I found them at the bottom of my trunk–I thought I was going to have to make a secret run out to Hogsmeade to buy a new pair."

"Lucky you found these then, huh?" Harry said, leading Dmitry to the foot of the marble staircase. "Shall we?"

Dmitry grinned enthusiastically. "Wait." He stuck a hand into the pocket of his robes. "I brought your invitation from the dorm. I noticed it as I was getting ready. It would be bad for our image if we were turned away at the doors and had to go back for this."

Harry graciously took the parchment from Dmitry. "Thanks. I'd forgotten all about this."

"I assumed as much. Oh! Did you know–well, probably you didn't since you didn't return to the common room today–they've extended term one day and turned it into a Hogsmeade weekend."

"What's the point in doing that?" Harry asked as they reached the landing to the second floor.

"To give those staying at Hogwarts an extra day of Chrismas shopping?"

"No, we're allowed to go to the village–if we're above second year and have a teacher accompanying us, that is. And Tom and I usually use a secret passage out if we ever feel the need to visit the town."

"I didn't know there were secret passages out of the castle!" Dmitry exclaimed in mock outrage. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"

"You never asked," Harry said simply. "And it's not really something you bring up in conversation."

"No, it's how you begin a conversation," Dmitry pointed out. "Any of those many days when I've been bored, you could have come up and said, 'Oh, Dmitry, by the way, since things are rather dull right now, would you like to escape the castle with me and go on an adventure?'"

Harry rolled his eyes in faux annoyance. "Sure, it sounds great when you put it like that, but just because you leave the castle when you're not supposed to, it doesn't mean you'll find adventure. You might be just as bored in The Three Broomsticks as you would in the library. Here."

They had reached the appointed destination for the Christmas party, and Harry handed over his invitation to the house-elf blocking the door with the job to keep the uninvited out. It checked the letter once with its eyes and a second time with magic before handing it back and allowing the two Slytherins entrance.

Despite them having arrived a few minutes past seven, the large room was already milling about with people–some in school robes, and many in formalwear.

The normally unused space Slughorn had commandeered was the size of three ordinary classrooms put together and, if Harry was not mistaken, had a pair of glass double doors that lead out onto a small balcony. There was sheer, gauzy drapery hung about on the walls in light silvery-whites and deep blood-reds with golden chairs lined up around the circular room for those who were too tired to dance or stand. Straight across from the entrance was a long buffet table stocked with finger foods and drinks, while the middle of the area was completely cleared for those who wished to dance. Tom, Harry noted with surprise, was already there, twirling around in a graceful waltz with an incredibly pretty blonde girl Harry had only met once before in passing. It didn't take a genius to note her obvious veela heritage.

"Come, come." Dmitry took hold of Harry's arm and pulled him over to where Abraxas and Orion were standing. The Malfoy scion was chatting up two female Slytherin seventh years, while Orion stood there looking rather bored until his eyes landed on Harry.

"Ah, so you've finally decided to show your face," he said cheerfully when the fifth-year duo was near enough. "I thought you'd had enough of hiding out where no one could find you."

"I'm–"

"Don't start in on him for that, Orion," Dmitry snapped, jumping to Harry's defense. "He's here now, that's all that matters. Just drop it."

"Okay, okay." Orion held up both his hands, palms out. "No need to get so testy. I was only joking."

Dmitry gave him one last suspicious look before all traces of irritation vanished. "So, how'd Tom get cajoled onto the floor? I didn't think he'd be one for dancing."

"Oh, Tom always spends a large portion at the beginning of these parties being asked to dance. All the girls have a secret thing for him, even the Gryffindors," Orion added with a cheeky wink. "Most of the time he politely turns them down, occasionally he'll have a dance or two with them because it benefits him in some way. This one–"

"Seems to have sunk her sharp little half-breed claws into him before the party even began," one of the girls Abraxas was talking to said. She had a rather thin face and a pointed nose. Her opaque eyes were narrowed haughtily, and her voice was filled with venom. "As soon as she showed up, she made a beeline over here and dragged him off. Something about a promise he'd made the other day. Disgraceful," she finished with a sniff.

"Now, Violet," Abraxas admonished with a serene smile, "don't be like that. What would your brother say?"

"Brutus doesn't attend Hogwarts anymore, Abraxas," Violet said stiffly. "Or did you forget?"

"Of course not, Violet." Abraxas' voice suddenly became hard. "Or did you forget that, with a simple owl, your brother can easily be made aware of how you're behaving in public. If I'm not mistaken–and I'm really typically not–he told you specifically, as the Head of the Parkinson House, that you were to reign in your open condescension towards your betters."

Violet glared at Abraxas in open-mouthed outrage. "And you think she is my better?" she spat, spittle flying from her lips. It wasn't a pretty picture. Abraxas flicked his wrist in perfect execution and a handkerchief with a beautifully embroidered Malfoy emblem came forth from within his sleeve. He dabbed at the spit marring his cheeks and returned the cloth to its place.

"I don't think; I know. Her mother might be half-veela, but she is also a member of a high-ranking pureblood family in France, and her father is the head of the Department for International Magical Cooperation here in Britain. You might be a Parkinson, Violet, but don't forget that your family was only recently returned to greatness by the Malfoys generosity, and can't stand alone."

Violets face was red with rage, but instead of saying anything else, she smartly held her tongue and stalked off. Her friend sent an apologetic look Abraxas' way and followed after.

"Those Parkinsons sure are a testy lot," Orion said, watching Violet storm though the ever-growing crowd.

"Yes, I'm sorry you had to put up with her," Abraxas said while smiling his most charming smile at a pair of Ravenclaw fifth years. "I was more interested in speaking with Pricilla than her, but oh well. There doesn't appear to be any shortage of women to choose from at this party." And with that, he swept over to the Ravenclaw girls and lead one (the redhead) smoothly out onto the dance floor.

"What did he mean about the Malfoy family making the Parkinson family great?" Dmitry inquired curiously.

Orion sat down in one of the ornate golden chairs with Harry following suit while Dmitry stayed standing, surveying the room.

"Basically," Orion began as though he were about to tell a long and interesting story when really it would only be a summary of events, "Brutus and Violet's father had a gambling problem. A big gambling problem. So big that he gambled the family fortune away. He never told his wife or anyone else until it came out a few years ago and, rather then own up to his mistakes, he committed suicide, leaving Brutus, who was recently of age, Head of the House. Now, because Brutus was the new Parkinson Head, all his father's debts landed in his lap. It was really bad. They were going to lose absolutely everything until Abraxas' father stepped in and helped Brutus pay it all off. And now, Brutus and Mr. Malfoy are engaged in some sort of business partnership, and the House of Parkinson in indebted to the House of Malfoy in a pretty big way for helping out when they did."

Harry wondered if that was why Pansy had always publically been enamored with Draco. It would be exceedingly intelligent for the Parkinson House to join with the Malfoys–thereby eliminating whatever debt was left between them.

"Hello Harry, Dmitry." Harry was brought from his musings as a Slytherin fifth year, Delahila Witte, approached them in a shimmering golden set of dress robes. "I was wondering if either of you would care for a dance with me?"

Dmitry looked down at Harry, who tilted his head in the smallest of ways. Dmitry took the hint.

"I'd be honored to have this dance, Delahila," Dmitry said, and held out his hand, graciously, to escort her away.

"Not one for dancing?" Orion commented once the other two were out of earshot as Harry and he watched the many pairs spin around the room.

"Not really." The song had changed on the gigantic record player being kept out of the way on the opposite side of the room. The girl whom Tom was dancing with hadn't relinquished him yet, not that Harry minded. "I'm not very good at it. I wouldn't have come at all if Dmitry hadn't wanted to go so badly."

"A very kind thing for you to do."

"Yes, but I'm getting a trip to Russia out of it, so I don't mind. Much. I'll just endure the night of Slughorn and requests to dance with a pleasant smile and a thousand, 'No's.'"

Orion smirked mysteriously. "A thousand no's, maybe, but they'll be a yes or two before the night's out. With plenty of pretty girls coming at you from every side, how could you resist?"

Harry raised both his eyebrows at his older friend. "And that's why you come to these? For the girls?"

"Rather devious of me, isn't it? I always come alone, but never leave as such. It's a good way to, well–you know what I mean. All the festive cheer in the air, setting the right mood. Bloody brilliant, Slughorn's Christmas parties."

Shaking his head, Harry looked heavenward and noticed the illusion of snowflakes drifting down from the ceiling. "Does this mean I should leave you to get started on your work?"

"It would be appreciated," Orion conceded. "It seems females feel more inclined to approach the handsome male sitting alone, rather than one accompanied by another guy."

Harry gave a small bow of his head. "As you wish, milord." He stood, stretching his back and hearing a satisfying pop. Feeling somewhat thirsty, he wove his way through the outer crowd of gossipers until he'd reached the buffet table and claimed a goblet of punch as his own.

"Ah, Harry, m'boy. Good to see you could make it!" Harry turned, cup in hand, to see Professor Slughorn approaching.

Swallowing his drink, he plastered a respectful smile on his face. "Hello, Professor. Thank you for inviting me, it really is a lovely party."

"It is, it is." Slughorn nodded in agreement. "Took the house-elves all day to put together. They seem to get better at it every year."

Harry didn't doubt it.

"Anyway," Slughorn continued, "I wanted to introduce you to someone–ah, yes, here he is, the esteemed Nicolas Flamel!"

An elderly man with snow-white hair, thick round glasses, and clothes as eccentric as Dumbledore's hobbled up from behind Slughorn. Harry was absolutely astonished that Slughorn had managed to get Flamel to attend.

"Flamel, here, is a famous alchemist, Mr. Evans–the only known maker of the Philosopher's Stone! Why, he's over six hundred now!"

Flamel gave a somewhat strained smile at this, and Harry though it would be best to change the subject, but his good intentions to make the old alchemist less uncomfortable were stolen by another.

"Here you are, Nicolas. I'd wondered where you'd gotten off to. Good evening Horace, Mr. Evans." Harry wondered if the party could get any worse as Dumbledore sidled up to the little grouping.

"Evening, Albus, I was just introducing your friend Nicolas to young Mr. Evans here. Mr. Evans is quite the potions maker–has the makings to become an alchemist himself one day!"

Now, Slughorn was pushing it. While Harry's skills with potions had far exceeded his previous abilities held while Snape was Potions Master, he was nowhere near–and probably never would be–the level of an alchemist.

"I'm sorry, sir, but I have to disagree with that statement," Harry said with a tiny, cordial smile. "I don't believe I'll ever be at that level in this lifetime."

"Nonsense," Sluhorn said with a dismissing wave. "I know talent–trust me, Harry, I've seen many talented youths in my time here. With a bit more effort, you could become great! Maybe even make your own Stone," he finished with a wink. It was at this point that Harry decided Slughorn was probably a touch inebriated from one too many pre-party drinks. Very bad taste, for the host. Or, Slughorn was just acting as he always did, boasting first and thinking of the consequences later.

Dumbledore used the edgy silence to once again save the day. "Actually, Nicolas, there was someone with whom I wished to introduce you to. A Mr. Splottering–owns a very interesting, if not well-known, publishing company."

"Yes, yes, Splottering!" Slughorn said, delightedly. "Pulled himself up from nothing, he did. And now look at him! He was one of my students, of course–graduated only five years ago! Amazing accomplishment, simply amazing!" The trio disappeared into the crowd.

Suddenly feeling very claustrophobic with the eyes of many upon him, Harry thought it would be best to step outside and breath some fresh air. Another reason for his choice was the cluster of girls near him, all of who were eyeing him as though he were a tasty treat they couldn't wait to devour.

Making his way over to the exit, Harry passed through the sheer, silver hangings and out the glass doors onto the balcony. It was, thankfully, deserted. He didn't think he would be able to deal with any more people for a while after having been in that stuffy, crowded room. He hoped no one had seen his stealthy exit from the party; he didn't want to be bothered anymore.

The outside was not as extravagantly decorated as the party's interior through the frost-stained doors, but there was a string of fairy-lights wrapped around the railing and hanging from awning like twinkling icicles. A few cushioned benches dotted the stone terrace, and Harry made a quick beeline towards one that was partially hidden in shadow. Oh, what he wouldn't give for a strong dose of Calming Drought, right about now. It was nerve-wracking just being in the same room with Tom, and he was sure the other boy had been sending him meaningful looks ever since he'd arrived, giving off the clear intention that he wished to talk to Harry.

The sounds of music and laughter coming from the party got louder all of a sudden, and then dimmed. Curious, Harry tilted his head towards the doors and immediately tensed, catching eyes with the exact person he wanted to see least of all at the moment.

Speak of the devil, and he shall appear... Does that work just thinking of him too?

Tom's dark eyes glittered in the soft glow from the fairies as he crossed the snow-dusted balcony to sit next to Harry. The emerald-eyed boy scooted as far away from Tom as the bench would allow. If the older Slytherin noticed, he didn't comment on it.

The silence between the two was awkward, at best. Neither made any attempt to begin a conversation, and Harry was sure his rigid form wasn't doing much to help the situation as he looked off to his left, away from Tom.

"Why did you kiss me?"

The straightforward question cut through the chilly December night air over the muted on-goings of the party, causing Harry to wince. Trust Tom to get straight to the point.

"I don't know," he answered after a moments pause, fisting at the material of his uniform trousers.

"That's not an answer, you do know; tell the truth."

"Because..." Harry really didn't want to say it. He didn't want to risk the friendship he'd built with Tom, again, over something so insignificant that could be left forever in the dark. He didn't want the truth to be let out in the open, and a part of him still didn't want to recognize it at all, no matter how hard he'd been trying otherwise. He chanced a glance over at Tom. The older boy was sitting ramrod-straight, eyes forward and skin glimmering in the moonlight like a beautifully carved statue. "Because I wanted to."

I wasn't supposed to say that! Harry thought frantically. Wasn't I supposed to come up with a tremendously clever lie?

He saw Tom's breathing, which had been calm and steady, catch in his throat, making an odd sort of accompanying sound.

"And," Tom's voice was shaking slightly. Harry wasn't sure if it was due to anger or something else. "And why did you want to?"

"I dunno, Tom," Harry said, sighing. "I just did it because I felt like it; because I wanted to. Because you looked so–" he cut himself off, feeling his cheeks begin to warm. That definitely wasn't supposed to come out. He really needed to start thinking before he spoke.

Tom's head twisted slowly so that he was looking directly at Harry. Their eyes locked. Harry wanted to look away, he really did, but something within the black depths of Tom's gaze kept him frozen, captivated and entranced by the emotions swirling there.

"'Because I looked so,' what?" He brought up a hand to cup Harry's chin, and Harry noted in the back of his mind that it was trembling. "Maybe," Tom said quietly, in an almost whisper, "if it was anything how you look right now… I suppose I can understand."

Harry's eyes widened as Tom moved in closer, and time seemed to slow. Half of him was screaming to move, to get away, that staying put was a very, very bad idea. And the other half...

Neither boy closed their eyes as their lips touched for the second time in as many days. It was soft and sweet, and more innocent that anything Harry ever felt Tom was capable of. The older boy drew away first and let out a shaky breath that ghosted across Harry's face, warming his cheeks. The kiss hadn't been like the wet one between Cho and him, nor had it been like the more passionate kisses Harry had shared with Ginny.

It was a thousand times better.

Faster than lightning, the boys' were attached at the mouth again, propelled by a fiery need to lay claim to the other. To prove to themselves that what was happening was real. Their movements were borderline frantic, their desires, carnal.

Harry's hands came up and quickly became entangled in Tom's soft locks. He felt a momentary admiration for the texture of the elder's hair before it was lost as Tom's hand not cupping Harry's face managed to elicit a muffled groan from the younger boy as it ran up his thigh, leaving a trail of tingles behind. Their bodies pressed close together as lust and a longing to touch grew thicker around them.

A piercing shriek of laughter from inside brought them out of their self-created bubble and back to reality with a harsh snap. Breaking away from each other and panting heavily, it took a minute for the fogginess to clear from Harry's brain, and when it did, he moved back to his seat from where he'd been trying (and succeeding) to climb into Tom's lap. How could they have forgotten themselves like that? They weren't alone, not completely. Anyone could have wanted a breath of air and stepped outside and seen them...

"Maybe... maybe we should go back in," Harry suggested. It wasn't what he truly wanted to do, but it was better than staying out there and losing themselves again.

"Alright," Tom agreed after a long moment. When they had both composed themselves they stood, sluggishly returning to the party. Tom held the door open for him as Harry passed through the hangings, rejoining the frivolity of the many guests. He snaked his way through the crowd to an unoccupied corner next to a large, white potted poinsettia and leaned back against the wall, watching Dmitry twirl around the dance floor with a girl he'd never seen before. Tom came up beside him and copied his movements, observing the partygoers have their fun.

Harry should have been freaking out inside. He hadn't meant to kiss Tom again; he hadn't meant for any of what had just occurred to have taken place at all, ever.Only it had, and it didn't look as though he could say, "Haha, just kidding," and be done with it.

But the strange thing was, he didn't want to. As much as he probably should, he didn't want to act as if it was all a bad joke. He didn't want to pretend as if nothing had happened; that Tom and he hadn't kissed. There was something between them, and ignorance to that wouldn't do him any good.

And Harry smiled as he felt Tom take his hand in his own.