Second Place- Alternate Universe
Third Place - Romance

Underwater Light



Author:Maya


Chapter Thirteen

The Way We Were

Once upon a time

When we were friends

I gave you my heart

The story ends

Harry was lying in bed that night, on the point of sleep.

He could not stop thinking about what had happened. He had not been able to think of anything else for hours, and it could not be any different here in the soporific darkness, Ron's breath slow in the bed next to him, his eyes shut tight as if he could will himself into oblivion.

Why did I do that?

Why had he even wanted to... what had possessed him to... He had no answers for himself.

He was... he liked girls. So what the hell had he been playing at? Had he ever even thought about it...?

Thought about what it might have been like today, if Draco's soft mouth had parted under his. If he had been allowed to touch that body, run hands over Draco's chest up to that neck, with Draco's hair so soft between his fingers, and if Draco had touched him too...

Draco's body against his. The taste of him and the thought of those lips pushing back with concentrated ferocity, his head tilted back as Harry kissed him, his skin smooth and sweet under hands and mouth... Draco's voice growing dark and low as it did when his emotions were intense.

"Harry! Harry!"

Harry woke with a gasp and looked up at Ron's concerned face.

"You were making noises," Ron explained. "Was it - a dream about You-Know-Who?"

Harry gulped. "Er, no. It was... It's all right."

Ron nodded sympathetically, and went back to bed.

Harry lay in the darkness, trying to get his breathing back under control.

All sweaty and frantic now. Not good.

So - it was no good trying to think up rational explanations. Hot beads of perspiration were slipping down his face, making his pyjamas stick to his clammy skin. Desperation was making things starkly simple.

I want him.

Wanted him badly. Why hadn't he realised before...? Had he felt...

Harry closed his eyes and tried to shut out thought, but images kept flooding back to him, tiny vivid particles of colour hitting the darkness. His throat was dry.

The feel of Draco on top of him at the Duelling Club. The curl of his mouth when he smiled. The glitter in his grey eyes, as if the sun had just burst out on a storm-tossed sea. The almost malicious and almost childish sound of his laugh. The feathery feel of his hair under Harry's hand.

Harry realised that his teeth were clenched and his body arched in a spasm of longing. He tried belatedly to calm himself.

I am unbelievably stupid.

He should have realised - and he should never have done what he had done.

The memory of Draco's face hit Harry now like a blow to the stomach. That look of suffering turned in on itself, how his mouth went tight and his features all seemed to sharpen with the effort of holding himself in. Harry knew it so well, and he had never meant to... oh, how could he have made Draco look like that?

The bitter twist of his lips, and that last distinct glance of - betrayal.

I never meant to hurt him! Harry thought with a sudden wrench of anguish. I never, ever meant to do that. Not Draco.

He's been hurt enough. I know that. Nobody knows that as well as I do.

And it was with this pain, rather than with the irrepressible happiness earlier or this sudden shock of desire, that Harry understood exactly how much this lonely acerbic creature had come to mean to him.

Draco.

How was he going to make this right? How on earth could he make this up to Draco? How could he even face Draco again after that?

He absolutely could not bear the idea of losing Draco. Draco was - he needed him!

Harry pressed his face into his pillow.

Things would have been simpler if the Triwizard Tournament hadn't happened. Things used to be clear.

He could not bear it if things went back to the way they had been.

So that's what all this was about, Draco had said. Draco thought the whole friendship was just some kind of hormonal impulse. Draco thought...

Draco was probably disgusted and horrified, and Draco thought...

Draco thought that Harry didn't care about him.

And how was he supposed to explain? He couldn't say that he didn't want Draco, and then Draco would still think...

Harry hardly slept that night.

He said "Draco," under his breath many times, much as he had said "Voldemort" when he was younger. Daring the object of his thoughts to appear, conjured out of the air by his call. He had almost wanted to summon Voldemort then, to try and fight him, to banish fear.

Name the demon and it loses its power.

He wanted to summon Draco - for a thousand things. The desire for revenge was among them, the urge to demand, how could you believe I was using you, how dare you make me feel like this and then run away. He also wanted to simply have Draco with him, quiet and comfortable, simply to be able to glance over and receive an occasional smile.

And he wanted to kiss him again.

Harry bit his lip and shut his eyes.

*

He could not respond to Ron the next day. He barely saw Hermione in the common room. It was as if they could not be there, as if he was operating on a different level, was looking up through water to their dimly perceived forms.

Only one thought was impelling him today, this one driving anxiety.

And when he reached the Great Hall, there was only one face that was real, that he could see at all clearly.

Draco was at his level. Draco was all he could see.

He was sitting at the Slytherin table, toying idly with some toast. Harry could only make out the too-sharp curve of a chin, and the licks of blond hair lying against his neck.

It held him, for a moment. He had never realised how true the metaphor of a pinned butterfly could be. He was transfixed by a single point of pain, regret and worry and affection and desire all forming a sharp edge. Confusing and tearing feelings churned inside him and his throat ached as if something was trying to claw its way up.

Once he could move and breathe, Harry acted. He could not help himself.

He went over to the Slytherin table, desperately uncaring about making a scene, and said,

"I need to talk to you."

Draco looked up.

The look shocked Harry backwards. It was a single purposeful blast of vision, like a sword-thrust, and it was entirely lacking in any emotion but anger.

"Then you can go on needing, Potter."

His tone was furiously cold.

"Draco-" Harry said, terrified to hear the depth of passion in his own voice.

Draco's plate and cup went clattering down the table as he shot upright, his face cut clean by venom.

"My name is Malfoy," he hissed.

Harry hated the remorseless lack of warmth in Draco's gaze, and found it utterly impossible to look away.

"Draco," he flung at him, almost in a challenge.

"Shut your mouth."

It was a chilly, typically Malfoy thing to say. And Draco's fists were clenched on the table as if he were aching to kill something.

"Draco, won't you just listen-"

Draco snapped.

He jumped over the table, and seized hold of Harry's robe in order to shove him backwards into a chair.

Harry stumbled at the painful impact, but refused to fall.

Draco's mouth twisted with frustrated spite. He stood there looking white as rage, utterly malevolent and very much as if he wanted to strangle Harry with his bare hands.

Something must have flickered in Harry's eyes, because Draco's became slits of steel.

"No," he said, each word a carefully selected weapon. "I won't listen. I never want to see or speak to you again. This whole farce of friendship is over, Potter, so go crawl back to your loathsome little cronies and leave me the hell alone."

He still had hold of Harry's robes. Harry grabbed his in return.

The flare of outrage in Draco's eyes reminded him too forcibly of yesterday, brought back with terrible clarity the taste of his mouth. Harry forced the memory away with a surge of anger.

"Stop being a stubborn bastard and listen to me!" he shouted.

Draco shoved him, and Harry shoved him back. And then suddenly they were fighting, not hitting each other but locked in straining, shoving, utterly fierce combat.

"Get away from me!" Draco snarled, lashing out savagely.

"Bloody well listen!" Harry was breathless from the effort of fighting.

Draco's arm hit out, brutally cutting off his air supply.

"I don't want to!" he spat.

Harry flung the arm down.

"I don't give a damn! Because I'm not giving up until you do, I won't go away, I'm not letting you walk off from this! Because you're my friend!"

"I'm not your friend," Draco growled. With a sudden rush of strength, he hurled Harry backwards.

Harry grabbed Draco's wrist as he fell, and caught himself. They both saw the other wince at the force of the blow, the sickening twist of the wrist.

Then they were at arm's length, and slowly became aware of their surroundings. All of Hogwarts was staring open-mouthed.

It didn't seem to matter.

Draco's face untwisted gradually, and as he gazed at Harry it seemed still and unforgiving as a frozen landscape.

"I'm not your friend," he explained, "because I hate the very sight of you."

Harry stood stricken.

It had been stupid to place his trust and affection in someone like Draco Malfoy. He realised that now, numbly, even while he knew that the mistake was irrevocable. Draco had a horrible capacity for cruelty.

Now, watching the slow collapse of Harry's face, the corner of Draco's mouth curled in satisfaction.

"Now get lost," he ordered, and turned away.

Harry watched him leave the Great Hall, and then Blaise Zabini's sneering face came into view.

"You heard what he said," Zabini snapped. "Get away from our table, Potter. You're not welcome here."

He stood close to Harry, and lowered his voice.

"You were never welcome here. And now he's come to his senses, and if you come anywhere near him again - you're going to regret it."

Zabini stepped back, Crabbe and Goyle flanking him, the promise of menace in their faces.

Harry stared at them dully.

He's come to his senses.

*

Harry ran up the stairs from the Gryffindor common room, ran so fast the world was blurring in front of his eyes. He didn't want to talk to anyone, couldn't explain and couldn't sort out his own feelings and could barely think through the pain-

He hit Ginny Weasley so hard the breath was knocked out of them both.

"Harry!" she said in her soft sympathetic voice. "I just heard about the fight. Are you - okay?"

Harry backed away from her with sudden alarm, trying not to be close to her in the darkness of these stairs, trying not to see her hopeful wide-eyed gaze in the dimness because it was all so like... It was just like...

Back in sixth year, when Snape and Sirius had both tried to remove five hundred points from each other's favoured houses, and all of them had found themselves storming up to Dumbledore's office to complain about each other.

"You know, Snape," Sirius had snapped, "you might be a less utterly obnoxious person if you hadn't been born hideous and unable to get any."

Every Slytherin outside Dumbledore's office had sucked in a hissing breath. The assembled Gryffindors and Slytherins had all glared at each other.

Harry, standing staunchly at Sirius' right, had sent a ferocious look of hatred towards Malfoy, who had his arms crossed and was positioned firmly on Snape's left. Malfoy had curled his upper lip disdainfully.

"I can't think of anything which might make you less obnoxious," Snape had replied. "You were unbearable from the moment we met - you and your precious cronies, the traitor, the werewolf and the utterly hypocritical-"

Sirus had lunged at Snape then, black eyes flashing, and they had fallen in a flurry of robes and fists.

Malfoy had turned, clearly with the intention of lending his favourite teacher a bit of dishonourable help. Harry, stinging from the insult to his father and the outrage from Snape's latest points cut, wasn't having any of that.

He had grabbed Malfoy's arm.

Malfoy'd whipped around, his cold eyes bright with fury, and swung at him.

"Don't you dare touch me, Potter," he had ordered, even as his fist connected with Harry's jaw, snapping Harry's head back.

Harry hadn't thought before he had hurled himself at Malfoy and knocked him to the ground. He was barely aware of both houses taking this as a signal for instant war, couldn't hear the roar of erupting mayhem above his pounding blood and the pained gasp of Malfoy's breath.

He had heard Malfoy's icy voice very clearly.

"Of course, you people think that scrapping like mad dogs solves everything. Where does your convict godfather get off, attacking our head of house?"

Then he'd jerked his elbow up to hit beneath Harry's ribs.

Harry had let out a sick startled breath, and Malfoy had taken the opportunity to shove Harry off him and onto the floor.

"Where does Snape get off, insulting my father?" Harry snapped.

Malfoy'd calmly rolled on top of him and given him a bloody nose.

"I didn't hear him insulting anyone," he sneered. "I just heard him telling the truth."

"How would you feel if people talked like that about your family?" Harry demanded. "Oh wait, I forgot, you don't have feelings. About anyone other than yourself, that is."

He'd grabbed Malfoy's robes in a fist, kept him lying on Harry as he punched him in the gut.

"And you don't have a family," Malfoy had said between gritted teeth.

And just - pure rage at all Malfoy's crap had levered Harry up off the ground, scrambling almost upright and then falling into the seething mass of bodies on top of Malfoy.

"Another thing I forgot," Harry had snarled, "was that everyone does talk like that about your family."

Malfoy's eyes had narrowed even as he tried to heave Harry off. "You bastard, Potter."

He'd hit Malfoy in the mouth.

"Takes one to know one, Malfoy."

He had seen with fierce satisfaction the blood welling on those curling lips, that arrogant hateful face going flushed with frustration as Malfoy struggled to get Harry off him. He'd exchanged punches and kept him pinned down as he fought and lashed out, twisting as Malfoy shoved up and breathing came ragged and...

Dumbledore had come out of his office and the brawling mass had frozen.

"Students!" he'd bellowed. "What is the meaning of this? Where are the teach-"

His voice had been cut off as Sirius and Snape raised their heads, and two furious pairs of black eyes met his.

Harry had glared down once more at Malfoy, who was breathing and bleeding heavily, but who nevertheless returned the glare with interest. Then he had pushed himself up and off. Malfoy'd risen in one smooth motion, and both of them backed away to their respective sides with their eyes still locked.

Dumbledore had dismissed the students while he dealt with Snape and Sirius, and Harry had made his way up the stairs from the common room, rather urgently wanting a shower.

He must have been distracted or something, because he'd almost knocked down Ginny Weasley. She had smiled at him despite it.

"Harry! I just heard about the fight. Are you - okay?"

Harry had realised he was still breathing hard. He needed a shower now, but she was standing there hopefully and he had to answer her and he had been angry and frustrated and - just itching to do something...

He'd flashed on the memory of Malfoy's hateful pale face beneath him.

I wish I'd got one more good punch in, he had thought.

And he'd said, "I'm just fine," and taken hold of Ginny's hair gently, and kissed her with a sort of straining desperation to be doing something and to feel something...

Her hesitant kiss back hadn't been right and hadn't been enough and he was empty and everything was bleak, like always, and Harry'd drawn back as soon as he could.

He had looked at her with a sort of blind horror, and she'd blushed.

He looked at her now with a different sort of blind horror, but she blushed in just the same way.

"Even then," he whispered. "Oh - shit, even then, oh - I'm sorry, Ginny. I'm - I'm so sorry."

He fled up the stairs, and she stood trembling and delighted in his wake, caressing the memory of unmistakable desire darkening his eyes.

*

Now he was sure, absolutely and hopelessly sure...

It was strange... wanting something again. Harry had almost grown used to the dull ache of not caring very much any more.

And now, suddenly, he wanted something so much.

It was terrible.

It came as a shock every morning. He would wake up tranquil, wondering perhaps what he and Draco would do today, and then something would remind him, and this astonishing new desire would hit him again.

Often, it seemed so bizarre Harry thought he was dreaming. Surely he couldn't - wouldn't he have known before...?

It only took a glimpse of Draco to resolve this doubt.

At other times the feeling would seem purely physical, the distress as well as the lust coiled up in his stomach, too real to be simply emotion.

Every time he tried to tell himself that he couldn't be... that way, something would occur to him, like...

Harry knew Draco Malfoy's mouth better than any other mouth on the planet.

He had spent almost seven years watching it, knew every expression it could form. He had thought about every wicked curl, every smirk, every scowl with varying emotions and equal degrees of intensity.

He had observed it in classrooms and Quidditch, focused on it as if simple furious attention could just force the boy to shut up.

At certain times he had glared in pure hatred at that mouth when it was snarling out something truly appalling, and he had visualised his fist slamming into it.

More recently, he had tried to decipher emotions from that mouth. It went slightly tight when Draco was upset.

He had never dreamed, in all that focusing and hating and analysing, that he would come to obsession.

But perhaps it was inevitable.

Now when he passed him in the corridor, one corner of that mouth curled in involuntary disgust, and it hurt.

And when Harry was sitting in classrooms or walking through the school or staring up at the ceiling of his dormitory on yet another sleepless night...

That mouth was before him again, so flexible, which only expressed the emotions Draco wanted to express. His whole face was trained, including the curve of his mouth.

Harry thought about them, turned over the feel of them in his mind again and again. Dreamed about pressing his thumb down on that lower lip, feeling it give, being able to do that. Dreamed about the feel of that mouth, opening in returned kisses.

On the night before the next Young Order of the Phoenix meeting, during which he was planning somehow to talk to Draco, he dreamed.

He dreamed he was sitting by the lake, and the sky was grey and cold but that was all right because he was protected by the translucent walls of the maze.

Draco was walking towards him, sure and silent, wearing a set of Snape's robes. They were a little long and overlarge, the collar slipping down to the left. Harry stared at the soft white skin of exposed collarbone and throat.

"Why are you wearing those clothes?" he asked, since it seemed a little odd.

Draco pushed Harry up against the wall next to the statue, and Harry closed his eyes and turned his face into Draco's hair.

Draco's voice was low and precise in his ear.

"Don't you know?" he said, and Harry just turned his face blindly towards the warmth of Draco's breath.

He blinked and stared at the face of a griffon, then a chimera, then a basilisk.

"Don't you know?" it asked him.

Hermione was kneeling on a sofa, sifting through a pile of books. Harry looked at them in confusion: Men Who Love Dragons Too Much was among them, but she selected an enormous tome.

"Don't you know?" she inquired, taking off her glasses.

Draco leaned against his chest, and everything was all right, they were in the boat and nothing had ever changed, and Draco was saying, "I like cats," but all Harry could hear was "Don't you know?"

Harry woke up gasping.

He knew what he wanted.

*

Hermione thought that the world could be restored to order, now.

Malfoy and Harry had had their huge public fight, and the entire ill-conceived friendship had fallen catastrophically and irrevocably apart. As for Harry's little - thing, well, teenage boys often had odd hormonal impulses, and Harry was too sensible to let it affect him for long.

It broke Hermione's heart to see him unhappy, but she and Ron tried to keep him amused. He smiled when Ron beat him at chess, even.

Everything else was so hard. She told herself this was going to be all right.

It was at the first Young Council meeting since the fight that she realised how wrong she was.

There was no scene. There was not even the slightest hint of unpleasantness, not the slightest hint of anything, and that, when it came to Draco Malfoy's reactions to Harry Potter, was strange and almost - terrible.

She saw Harry flinch when Malfoy glanced over at him, but Malfoy's gaze was impassive and simply swept the room, checking that everybody was present. And that lack of reaction actually shocked her, felt wrong at bone level.

He was just sitting there idly, twirling his quill in his fingers, and Harry had his eyes fixed on him, and she had never seen anything quite like this before...

Except that she had.

When Draco Malfoy had just joined the Young Order in fifth year, he had behaved in a perfectly civil manner all the way through the first meeting. Ron had announced that it was a Slytherin plot, but Ron also thought that the Slytherins made it rain when the Gryffindor Quidditch team practised.

Harry had vehemently agreed.

When Malfoy started passing him in the hallways and not insulting him, Harry twitched with annoyance.

On the third day Harry got his finger stuck in the gargoyle's mouth above the sink in the Potions classroom. Malfoy bit his lip, clearly dying to fire off several dozen insults and erupt into laughter, and then passed over a towel.

Harry shoved Malfoy against the doorframe when they were leaving class, which was the first time Hermione could remember him touching Malfoy voluntarily.

"What's all this about, Malfoy?" he demanded. "What are you planning?"

"Get off," Malfoy snapped. "Are you having one of your psychotic episodes, Potter? Is your scar going off ag-" He paused, and breathed in. "I mean," he said tightly, "Why are you being so unreasonable? We all have to work together."

"I'll find out, you know," Harry said, and shoved him again.

"You do that," Malfoy told him, pushing him away and walking off.

Harry had stared after him, face intent.

"I'm not letting him get away with this," he said. "Whatever it is, I mean."

Hermione'd thought that he was spending too much time with Ron.

In the next Young Order meeting, Lupin had asked people to shake hands across the table in an effort to quell the hostility towards this Slytherin influx. Malfoy had glared over at Hermione, who he was sitting opposite, and said sharply,

"I don't see why I have to touch a Mud-"

Then he had shut his mouth, to the amazement of all, reached over and abruptly shaken Hermione's hand. He had sat back down quickly and begun writing on the parchment stretched out before him. He looked up several times when people said stupid things and Hermione had seen the palpable yearning to mock clamped down on, and the quill taken up to write ever more vigorously.

Hermione stood up at the end of the meeting and glanced over at the parchment in the moment before he could roll it up.

Over and over again, Draco Malfoy had written 'Get over yourself.'

Harry, vibrating with anger, had interposed himself between Malfoy and the door.

"Look, what are you trying to do?" he exploded.

Malfoy's fingers had been white against his bag. "I'm trying to get through the door," he told Harry, obviously struggling to keep his voice even. "Do you think you could help me with that?"

"Oh, get over yourself, Malfoy," Harry snapped.

And Malfoy's face had slowly relaxed into its usual malice.

"Now, Potter, why should I do that?" he inquired lazily. "I think I'm marvellous."

Harry's face had relaxed into its familiar Malfoy-induced expression of disgust.

"Only you and your girlfriend are deluded enough to believe something like that."

"At least," Malfoy had pointed out in acid tones, "I have a girlfriend."

Pansy Parkinson had appeared, glowering, at his elbow. Hermione had noted with amusement that she was slightly taller than Malfoy. Of course, Hermione was taller than Harry and Malfoy as well.

"Oh, congratulations," Harry snapped.

Malfoy and Harry had been hissing at each other, like two small but ferociously angry cats. Harry grabbed Malfoy's elbow.

"I knew you hadn't changed!"

Malfoy'd raised an eyebrow. "Why try to improve on perfection? You're right. I still think exactly the way I always have. I'll never be one of Dumbledore's little lackeys," he said. "So breathe a righteous little sigh of relief and push off, Potter. Go sign some autographs for the swooning little Creeveys, why don't you, and do try not to touch me again. I'm sure your retinue of Weasleys has given you lice."

He had shoved Harry smartly away, and walked off with Pansy behind him.

Parvati had come up behind Harry and Hermione.

"He'd better pray he grows into that strut," she remarked. "Mind you, if he does..."

"Oh, be quiet and stop being ridiculous, Parvati," Harry had snapped, face twisting in revulsion.

After that Malfoy, while making an effort not to seriously disrupt the meetings, had no longer held himself back to the point where it looked as though his head would explode if he didn't taunt somebody.

That had happened, but back then Malfoy had been significantly worse at ignoring people. And then Harry had been bothered, even unduly so, and afterwards had shoved at Malfoy a good deal more... but he hadn't been upset.

And now Malfoy wasn't trying to behave better, but was actually being more unpleasant than he had been for a while. He was only acting as if he hardly noticed Harry, and for some reason Hermione found this a great deal more disturbing.

And Harry was now, clearly, in pain.

Hermione looked at him in concern throughout the Young Order meeting.

When Hannah Abbott came in late Malfoy drawled, "Please don't apologise, Abbott. It isn't as if these meetings are about anything important - although of course we all miss your unique contribution of squeaking at the alarming points."

Hermione had only been able to spare one glare for Malfoy in her anxiety. Harry looked as if he had hardly been sleeping. God, what made him think that malicious little idiot was worth all this?

Later Professor Lupin had quietly discussed the details of how much the Ministry had to disclose to Muggle governments, since a link between magic and Muggles had to be maintained.

"A link the Mudbloods keep open," Malfoy muttered.

"Mr Malfoy, that remark is entirely inappropriate," Lupin returned, as everyone in the room looked at Harry.

Harry said, "Draco, don't," in a low serious voice.

Malfoy had not looked at Harry, and said, "Malfoy," without a trace of expression or looking at him now.

At the end of the meeting, Harry had got up with a look of determination on his face that filled Hermione with dread and gone over to corner Malfoy before he reached the door.

"Malfoy, can I talk to you?" Terry Boot asked mildly, getting up with much less haste.

Malfoy pushed by Harry as if it was the most natural thing in the world not to bother about him, and answered, "Of course."

"Look," Harry said, "Draco - God, Malfoy if you want-"

"Do you mind, Potter? I'm talking," Malfoy responded calmly.

Hermione put her hand on Harry's arm and tried to draw him towards the door. Every muscle in his arm was taut.

"I hadn't been able to catch you before," Terry said, putting his books in his bag. "I just wanted to apologise-"

"You can talk," Malfoy interrupted with a smile, and reached out to take off Terry's reading glasses, "but you have to remove these. I promise I'm not text."

Terry smiled back. Hermione had always quite liked Terry Boot, and was horrified to see how she had misjudged him. At the very least, she had had too high an opinion of his taste in companionship.

"I have to say I'm sorry about not telling everyone about you at the other meeting," he said. "I panicked. I realise now that I put you in a terrible position. Can you forgive me?"

"Nothing to forgive," Malfoy told him easily. "It wasn't some kind of plot to defame me. You only meant to help."

At this point Hermione finally succeeded in pulling Harry out of the door.

"Come on," she said, "Ron's waiting for us in the common room-"

"I - you go ahead," Harry answered, his voice dark with unhappiness. "I just need to - clear my head. I'm going to go out and practise loops. The Cup Final's coming up, after all."

His mouth twisted, and he walked off quickly.

Hermione cradled her books to her chest, and made her way back to the common room. She was thinking about how indescribably strange it was to see Malfoy ignore Harry, and yet he had tried it once before.

She remembered him writing 'Get over yourself.' The only reason Draco Malfoy, of all people, would have tried to control his own overweeningly arrogant behaviour was if he had a serious objective to attain. If he felt he absolutely had to succeed.

He was an absolutely vile person, and he was hurting Harry now, but as she remembered back then, she could only think of one reason for the effort he had made. If he actually cared about the Young Order and the war, then...

She went into the common room, and took a chair at the table where Ron was sitting.

"Ron," she said slowly, "I'm starting to think Draco Malfoy isn't the spy."

She expected one of their fights, but Ron looked seriously up from his homework.

"I don't know," he said slowly. "The fight with Harry - I mean, I hate him, but if he was really trying to worm something out of Harry why would he fight with him?" He paused, and set his mouth. "It doesn't make any sense. What do you think we should do?"

Hermione leaned in to him, ready to cry with relief. Ron could be so difficult, and over and over again they would be frustrated with each other, but he had never let her down once when she really needed him.

She rested her hand on his shoulder, and almost said, "I love you," but instead said, "We need more parchment."

It was later when Harry returned, looking even more exhausted.

"What are you doing?" he asked as he came in. Ron looked up from the parchment Hermione was writing on.

"We're making a list of possible suspects for the spy," he said.

Harry's face was tight. "I thought you'd made up your mind on that subject."

"We're reconsidering," Hermione explained. "Do you - want to help?"

She hesitated because of the look on Harry's face, but Harry was nothing if not determined.

"Yeah," he said. "Give me that list."

*

When Harry looked back on pain, with the distant feeling one got at the cusp of sleep, events stood out.

Draco's face when he had said 'Mudblood' again in the Young Order of the Phoenix meeting. Everybody had turned to look at Harry... and Harry had been silent, staring at the only countenance not turned to his, feeling a completely inappropriate pang of desire.

He already felt as if he was going mad, and then this had to be added to the mix. The Slytherin-Gryffindor match, which would decide the House Cup.

It had been the same in third, fifth and sixth year. Gryffindor and Slytherin, battling for the Cup, locked in first place with the eternally feuding Seekers locked in combat.

It was different this year, for both of them.

Draco seemed even more focused. When they were standing in front of each other at the match, his eyes were narrowed down into nothing but steel and hate.

As Quidditch captains, they had been forced to shake hands.

It was the first skin on skin contact they had had since the... since that day on the lake.

And the cool bite of Draco's unfriendly grip made Harry's head spin out of control.

The furious strength of that grasp made him think of tight crazed clutchings, being alone together, pressed up against the Quidditch bleachers. That other Draco's face was heated and his soft hair was everywhere, even between Harry's lips as he kissed his neck, tasting sweat and skin and...

Draco yanked his hand away from Harry's as fast as possible. Harry was left blinking, staring at this icy cold face with its perfectly arranged hair as if he did not recognise it.

He struggled against insane urges and the bleak bereft feeling he had, and tried to leave emotion behind him as he kicked off. For a moment it felt as if he had succeeded - he was buoyed up in the air, hair and robes whipping in the wind and all he felt was that normal hot rush of exultation.

It would be all right. He had had a crush on Cho Chang and it had never affected him. It was always like the first time he had ever flown...

When Draco had taunted him with Neville's Remembrall, and seeing the shock in Malfoy's eyes had been such satisfaction, and this was nothing like Cho Chang because she had never been his enemy and had never been his friend and never been anything real to him, and he had never really cared about her at all.

He needed it to be like it had been before. In either of the befores.

Last Quidditch match he had been boiling over with fury, and Malfoy had watched him with narrowed eyes, and at every break to discuss a foul he had gone and checked the rulebook. Harry remembered hating every molecule of Malfoy's body at about the third time Malfoy had chucked down his broomstick and gone striding over to the bleachers. Malfoy had sat down, flipped open the rulebook, glanced venomously over at Harry through his falling hair, deliberately licked the nib of his pencil and crossed out yet another rule.

And Harry's hands had clenched on the broom just as they were clenching now as he realised he knew exactly how Draco flew. It was so calculated, he put so much into getting it exactly right, and it looked smooth as instinct but Harry knew from the pauses before kicking off and after hovering that it wasn't. He had watched for that, to feel the little thrill of triumph.

It wasn't so strange, for him to stare greedily at Draco Malfoy.

Not that he'd ever thought about it before, of course not, not when he felt guilty about thinking about that now. It wasn't about that.

It was random that memories were imprinted on his brain, like those long linked fingers or the sweep of a Quidditch robe to show a thigh curved tense over the stick.

A body impacted heavily against Harry's, and shock almost sent him tumbling out of the air. He banked sharply to the left, broomstick cutting into the path of the other player, and of course Harry knew who it was before he glanced over.

Draco was a blur of speed and wind-wild hair for a moment before his stick connected with Harry's and was jarred still. Then his face came into focused, flushed with exertion and strained by concentration and absolutely coldly furious.

He flung his head back and fixed Harry with a chilly glare.

"Don't you dare throw this away, Potter."

It took a moment for Harry to absorb what Draco was saying, because there was a sheen of perspiration on his bare white throat and warm beads of sweat glistened on the skin above his upper lip, rolling down slowly and trembling on the curved line of that mouth.

Then he concentrated on his eyes and felt the beginnings of something like outrage reflected there.

"Throw the game?" he snapped. "Have a high opinion of yourself, don't you, Malfoy? I've never thrown a game in my life."

"Good," said Draco. "Keep it that way."

"Oh, go to hell," Harry snarled, banking right and speeding downward. In the corner of his eye he saw Draco's broomstick dip and hurtle to follow Harry.

There was no Snitch in sight. Harry just had the vague idea that he could help some of the players the Slytherins were targeting.

Last match Malfoy had knocked Ginny out of the sky, and Harry had only just been able to catch her. Harry vividly remembered the clutch of her hands around his neck, and the mocking glance Malfoy had tossed him as he argued with Madam Hooch that Gryffindor certainly shouldn't get a penalty shoot when all he'd been doing was fulfilling one of Weasley's little prepubescent fantasies.

This match, though... everything seemed quiet. The Slytherins were ahead on points because they were making little Natalie nervous and tricking Dean with feints, left when they were going right and vice versa, but they weren't actually - they weren't cheating.

They weren't cheating.

The Slytherins always cheated in Gryffindor games. Since Draco had taken over in fifth year, they cheated far less with the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws. Just like with his own flying, Draco liked to make it look easy, liked to show off and make sure it was clear that he could win without effort. He cheated when he had to, but it was rare... unless Slytherin were up against Gryffindor, when the cheating was redoubled and savage and drove Harry utterly insane.

Now it was the last Slytherin-Gryffindor match, the last they would ever play against each other, and everything was different and it was even more important. And Draco was too proud and angry to cheat.

For a sinking minute Harry thought about that, the ferocious obnoxious haughtiness of him, and he did feel tempted to throw the game.

But he knew Draco better than Draco thought he did, and he wasn't the kind of person who betrayed others, no matter what Draco thought. And he had never thrown a game in his life.

He did a swooping circle around the pitch, eyes searching and searching, and then he saw a glint of gold, high up in the sky.

Draco was far above him, far closer to it. He kicked the broom straight up, tearing vertically through the air with the wind sucking at his cheeks, and then Draco saw him and he was speeding towards it, don't look at him don't look at him, and all Harry could see was the Snitch and the other player was going to reach it first because his broom simply could not rise fast enough. So he stood up on his broom, swaying violently, and heard the scream of the crowd below as he caught the Snitch in his fist.

Draco's broom slammed to a stop beside Harry's, as if he were a bird who had hit a window.

The blank look on his face made Harry realise what a slap in the face it must have been to see Harry win with something Draco had taught him, back when they were friends.

It had just been instinct to win, in whichever way he could. And since he knew how to do it...

Draco's pale eyes were intent and unforgiving.

"At least you didn't toss it," he said.

And they were more alike in the end than anyone could ever have dreamed.

"Look," Harry said in desperation, reaching out with the hand that didn't hold the Snitch, "Please-"

Draco did not even glance over at him, just veered left and down, sharply removing himself from the sky.

Harry swooped down until he reached the ground, slowly touching down into the cheering mass of people and hugging Ron in a leap of exultation that fell too fast, and accepting yet another Cup he no longer wanted.

*

Eventually Harry thought it would probably be safe to go have a shower. Ron had already gone when Hermione wrinkled her nose and refused to hug him.

Harry had already been hugged by Natalie, Ginny, Ron, Dean and - horrifyingly enough - Professor McGonagall. He was all ready for a nice, soothing shower.

"Potter, could I have a word with you?" asked Professor McGonagall.

Typical.

Harry nodded and gently disengaged himself from Ginny, who was talking brightly about his catch.

Professor McGonagall had become slightly rumpled in the mele that had occurred when everyone rushed Harry, and her hat was still askew. Harry's irritation subsided when he saw the streaks of silver in her black hair.

Seven years ago, all of her hair had been black as a crow's. Now the grey had almost consumed it.

She still had a commanding stride, though, and Harry had to lengthen his to keep up. He thought that was impressive for an elderly woman.

They passed the Slytherin stands on their way out of the Quidditch pitch. Draco, Zabini and Pansy were all sitting on Draco's Quidditch robe, spread out on the grass beside the stands. Harry turned his face away from Draco, trying not to stare.

Once they were out of earshot, and walking back up to the school, Professor McGonagall spoke and effectively captured his attention.

"Miss Granger tells me that you have been sleeping badly."

"I..." Harry said, and what he wanted to say was How and why and It's none of your business, but Ron told Hermione everything, Hermione had been giving Professor McGonagall bulletins about other students ever since she became Head Girl and he wasn't stupid enough to say anything like that to Professor McGonagall. Instead he said, lamely, "It's nothing."

"Potter," Professor McGonagall said in a voice sharp with exasperation, then stopped and softened her tone slightly. "You know what Professor Dumbledore told you about your dreams. The nightmares come for the same reason your scar hurts - if You-Know-Who is close or feeling especially murderous. Your dreams are warnings, and you cannot afford to ignore them."

Harry looked at her and tried desperately to frame 'Actually, my recent dreams are more along the lines of sexual fantasies, and thus do not involve Voldemort' into any sort of sentence he could utter in front of Professor McGonagall.

"I really think-" he began, and stopped himself from adding 'Draco Malfoy taking his clothes off probably isn't in any kind of evil plan.'

He glanced at his broom, and wondered whether he could just beat himself into unconsciousness with it.

"Potter, I know it must be difficult for you to judge what is important," McGonagall told him, not without sympathy. "That's why we had a Somnasieve brought in."

"Um. Professor, what's a Somnasieve?"

They reached the top of the hill, and McGonagall began to climb the steps.

"Come along, Potter," she said briskly. "I'll show you."

*

Professor McGonagall's office had been moved to the dungeons during sixth year. She and Snape had been doing research together Transfiguring suicide potions for soldiers into innocuous-looking badges that would turn back in times of need.

It was yet another stupid unnecessary pang when they passed Snape's empty office, and Harry remembered the desolate look on Draco's face when he said Snape's name.

McGonagall's office was as neat and tidy as Harry remembered from a couple of visits, a large desk with docketed stacks of paper dominating the room. The only personal touch was a small, shabby cat basket in one corner.

It hadn't changed at all except for the shallow stone basin in the centre of the floor, which was inscribed with runes and looked, aside from the absence of any silvery contents, to all appearances exactly like a Pensieve.

"Pensieves and Somnasieves in the wizarding world filter the contents of the human mind, and keep the intended residue," McGonagall said, looking happier now she had a chance to teach. Harry suppressed the urge, which he suspected Hermione would have found irresistible, to go find some parchment and start taking notes. "The Pensieve does this with thoughts. The Somnasieve does it with dreams. What did Professor Dumbledore tell you about Pensieves, exactly?"

Harry tried to remember.

"That it's... easier to spot patterns and links with the excess thoughts put in the Pensieve," he said slowly.

If his dreams being recorded would help with the war, he had to do it.

He wasn't ready to deal with this himself. He didn't know if he was ever going to be ready to let Professor McGonagall deal with it.

That couldn't matter.

"This Somnasieve is specially calibrated to draw out dreams locked in your subconscious, which your conscious mind has forgotten," McGonagall went on precisely. "It is also designed to draw out dreams which come to you from an outside source, rather than the dreams your own mind manufactures."

The relief was so great Harry could only stare.

"What?"

"It's an unusual design," McGonagall continued, and Harry thought he saw now that the runes on this stone basin were different and more complex than those on Dumbledore's Pensieve. "It comes by special order from the Ministry, and with several scrolls' worth of instructions from young Percy Weasley. I think it will siphon off only the dreams sent by You-Know-Who, which will save time and also be significantly less embarrassing for you."

Harry's head jerked up. Professor McGonagall was just ever so slightly pink, but smiling wryly.

"I was young once too, Potter," she informed him severely.

Harry's first impulse was to deny everything and demand whether she thought he had lewd dreams all over the place - which he didn't - and then he visualised the words he was about to say, which would include 'Draco Malfoy,' 'fairly recent' and 'physically improbable.'

"Um, I doubt you were a teenage boy, Professor," he said instead, and she smiled just a bit more.

Harry walked forward, touched his forehead with his wand and then poked his wand into the basin.

He had wondered, after seeing Dumbledore do it, how it felt. He had thought he might see thoughts - dreams, now - rewound in his mind and then played again in the Sieve, like a video recorder.

Instead, it was slightly like a wound administered under anaesthesia must be. A slice into himself that was observed rather than felt, and then the flow of... something, a secondary silvery and more elusive kind of blood. He stood there and time seemed to stretch, viscous as the contents pouring into the Sieve.

And then he opened his eyes, which seemed to have fallen shut.

Soft light was rising from the Sieve, a pale shimmer hanging over the silver surface of it. Professor McGonagall was smiling approbation over the shimmer.

"Well then, Potter," she said. "Let's see. If it is working correctly, it should begin with your most recent warning dream."

She lifted her wand and put it into the Somnasieve.

Harry watched and saw the contents of the Somnasieve go transparent. The image of a lake briefly appeared, and then an image of a maze was superimposed on it.

And then there was Draco's pale face, slightly blurred but coming into ever clearer focus until only the ends of his hair still looked liquid, as if he was underwater. He prowled forward, Snape's robes slipping down off one collarbone, and Harry's image in the Somnasieve backed up against the wall.

Harry felt the simultaneous urges to yowl 'But you promised!' to Professor McGonagall, and to hide his face in his hands and proceed to die of embarrassment.

"I see," said Professor McGonagall. "Do you ever get a sense of menace from Draco Malfoy?"

"No-" Harry stopped, and added as forcefully as he could, "Not for years."

McGonagall only nodded, and kept staring into the Somnasieve. He watched her face and saw her expression subtly alter once, but looked back at the images and could not guess what had affected her.

Next was a small shred of violence Harry hadn't even remembered, just a stranger's face and a scream. Harry felt the line of his mouth go grim.

And then - the lake at night. That dream the night after Seamus had disappeared. Harry was swimming, and he saw his bare shoulders and thought edgily, Was I actually wearing anything?

Professor McGonagall was one of the last people in the world he wanted to see him naked, next to Moaning Myrtle, and that ship had already sailed.

Boats, and Ron and Hermione and then Draco again but Professor McGonagall couldn't think that meant anything, Hermione was in both dreams too. Draco swimming and Oh my God, was Draco actually wearing anything?

"Are you all right, Potter?"

"Fine," Harry said faintly.

He had to start paying more attention to his subconscious.

Looking up after that dream, he saw that Professor McGonagall had definitely gone paler.

"What did you-"

"Hush," McGonagall said sternly, leaning forward.

There was a long stream of violent fragments of dreams, most of which Harry had not even remembered. A few had lingered, had lain by him coldly in his bed at Privet Drive or in the dormitory but always alone, but he had had no idea there had been so many.

He wondered, with a chill, what kind of effect these dark bloody images had on a mind soaked with them.

He didn't know how long he could stand this.

"How far does it go back?" he asked, voice determinedly steady.

"Since you and You-Know-Who's agent, Quirrell, entered the school in your first year," Professor McGonagall returned quietly.

Harry shuddered and kept watching.

There was the one in fourth year, where an owl had carried him to Voldemort's window and Voldemort had cast Cruciatus on Wormtail...

"An eagle owl," Professor McGongall said thoughtfully. "I know we have one in the Owlery. Do you know whose it is?"

"No," Harry lied instantly, and then paused for a frustrated moment. "I mean - Draco Malfoy's, but-"

Professor McGonagall waved him quiet.

It doesn't mean anything, Harry told himself rebelliously. Obviously all these warnings are mixed up with random dream images. I must have noticed Draco's owl at breakfast that day or something.

Since they were back at fourth year, he was vaguely reassured by the fact that lustful thoughts were unlikely to spring forth and appal Professor McGonagall.

He kept doggedly watching, trying to steel himself against the screams. It was odd whenever he himself appeared in the Somnasieve, progressively younger and younger until at last he was a first year with astonishingly knobby knees, fighting with the Sorting Hat.

The turban was in the dream. A warning that had arrived seven years too late.

Harry looked up once that last dream was completed to share a rueful glance with Professor McGonagall, but she was looking even paler and more - scared than she had before.

"Professor, what is it?" he exclaimed.

She seemed to shake herself out of a reverie, her lips tight.

"It's nothing, Potter. I think I might have seen something... I'm not sure. It is no longer your concern."

"It's my mind!" Harry said.

Her voice was strained.

"Yes, and I thank you for your assistance, but you are still a student and I will place no further burden on you!"

Harry looked at her, speechless, but in the next minute McGonagall had composed herself.

"Could you carry a message to Professor Lupin for me?" she inquired. "I wish to see him as soon as possible."

Harry turned and walked quickly towards the door, then stopped at the threshold, struck with a sudden thought.

"Professor - it's already getting dark, and it's a full moon tonight."

He and Sirius had memorised the lunar calendar. And... Dumbledore was at the Ministry and would not be back until late. There was nobody to turn to.

"Should I go fetch Siri - um, Professor Bl-"

"No," Professor McGonagall answered. "No. It can wait until morning. I - thank you, Potter, that will be all."

She was still visibly shaken. While Harry was hesitating in the doorway she walked over to her desk and leaned against it, pushing her hat off. It slid off and crumpled on the desk, and he saw the grey and the pins in her hair.

"When Miss Granger was looking through the books," she murmured, and stopped. She looked up and said sharply, "I said that will be all, Potter."

Harry hesitated another moment, and her face softened.

"If you ever need to talk, Potter," she said, a little stiffly, "I realise your godfather is available - but I am your head of house, after all."

Harry didn't feel as if he could do anything but try to reassure her with a quick, forced smile.

"Yes, Professor," he said, and left.

He walked wearily down the corridor, making for the entrance from the dungeons into the Great Hall. He felt that old ferocious hatred twisting in his stomach, like curling darkness and claws. Voldemort caused all this, caused all that pain and sent it to me...

He looked up, and was standing by the wall leading to the Slytherin rooms. Even his hatred felt tired.

He didn't - he didn't have anything worked out, and he didn't want anything new, he just... He wanted to see Draco, to have that gift of understanding offered in an easy voice and not meant to be comfort. He was so tired, and he was aching for something that felt right.

Harry lifted his hand and pounded on the wall.

He pounded once or twice more, even after it became clear that nobody was going to answer. Then he realised that there were two younger Slytherins standing beside him, and regarding him stonily.

"Well?" he snapped. "Why don't you say the password and get in, then?"

They continued obdurately silent. He let his hand fall.

"Fine," he told them. "But you can tell him I'm coming back."

He stormed off, and there was nothing in the world but that black hatred, and being utterly alone with it.

*

Hermione didn't know exactly what had happened with Malfoy, but she could see what it had done to Harry.

She could see what it had done to Harry, it wasn't difficult... the difficult part was knowing what to do. Because she loved him as she had always loved him, but he didn't come to her with his problems any more, and she didn't know how to reach out and reclaim that old trust, let alone help him.

And it was a heartbreaking thing about friendship, that even when she knew she was going to blunder... she didn't know how not to try.

Harry had come back from his talk with Professor McGonagall and refused to talk all evening. He was sitting in front of the fire with his legs stretched out in front of him, head bowed over Flying with the Cannons. His attitude towards that book seemed to have become that of an addict to his drug.

She waited until the common room was empty for a time, and then reached out and touched his knee.

"Harry."

He looked up, green eyes shadowed. "What is it you want to say, Hermione?" he asked in a peculiarly neutral tone. "You've been watching me since I came back."

You're hurting, and I'm desperately worried about you, but I can't reach out to you because I don't understand and reaching out will only hurt you more.

She looked down into her lap, and hoped that she had caught him at a time when he was tired enough to be honest with that painful openness which might help him.

"You're not... happy, Harry."

He was quiet for a minute, and then he said, "No."

The admission was enough to break her.

"Harry..." she said, and she was horrified when her voice seemed ragged and on the point of tears. "Can't you just tell me, I'll understand, I swear - can't you just tell me what you... I'm asking you not to shut me out. If you'll just tell me - what you want-"

He glanced up at her, affection and pain and distance in his eyes.

Slowly, he said, "I want him back."

"Come on, Harry - just think of all those years when you'd have been glad to be rid of him-"

Her scared, uneasy laugh was cut off by the look in his eyes, a look as if he'd been wounded and the wound was still open and bleeding.

"No," he said. "You don't understand."

She looked speechlessly into his face. I know I don't, she thought. I know, and don't you think that hurts worse than anything, that in these terrifying times I can't even be sure things will be right between us...

"We weren't friends when I found him at the-" Harry swallowed. "At the bottom of the lake."

"But that was a..." Hermione's voice almost failed her, and she heard the next word pass her lips as if she was afraid of it. "Mistake?"

"No," Harry said again.

She stared at him imploringly, as if she could make him change his mind. He was looking broodingly into the flames.

"I never had anyone before Hogwarts," he told her, and his voice seemed almost still. "And then I came here, and I met you and Ron, and - it was you and me and Ron. Then it was you and Ron so much that there didn't seem to be much of a place for me. But I met him at Hogwarts too, and sometimes when we were fighting - I didn't realise, it was just a constant, I didn't think about it but sometimes... it was just me and him."

He clenched his jaw.

Hermione clenched her hands around each other until the bones creaked. She hadn't thought about it, hadn't thought about Harry's life before and how much simple undivided attention could mean to him. How much undivided attention could mean from him.

The fire that helped transform house rivalry into a house war in third year, spirals of violent tension centred upon their concentrated hostility. The way Harry, who did not gloat, had pointed out Malfoy's horrified face in first year as if victory over him was what they had to celebrate, was the thing to be savoured.

The way, by fourth year, students ran when they went for their wands, fled down the hall just because of the looks on their faces and Hermione felt that she should have known...

"I miss that more than anything," Harry was saying in that belligerent tone boys use, staring in bewildered anger at their own pain. "I want him back. Any way at all. I can't stand being - this alone again."

Hermione bit her lips to keep from crying. "You're not alone," she said fiercely.

Harry looked at her again, a brief raw glance. "I didn't mean it like that," he said, but he didn't seem comforted.

Hermione bowed her head so he wouldn't have to see her fight off these shameful tears. She'd been so pleased, felt so utterly smug, thought that things could go back to normal now because Malfoy was just his enemy again. But things weren't back to normal, she understood now, Malfoy had never ignored him before, never not sought him out some way before and maybe things had never been normal. Now she understood and worse, now Harry understood, and it was tearing him apart.

"Harry, I'm sorry," she said in a low voice. "I have to go."

She jumped up and ran to the door, her movements oddly clumsy, knocking against the furniture as she went. She didn't even know where she was going until she was out of the Great Hall, hurtling down the steps to the dungeons.

She didn't know what she was going to do until she saw Malfoy himself, strolling down the corridor with his two thugs behind him. Then she - still didn't know what to do.

She was much more painfully conscious of it, though.

There he was, hateful as he'd always been, just as she always pictured him. Sneering and cold-eyed with those gorillas at his back, but maybe he wasn't the same, since now there was no venom in his eyes, no recognition of her as a target because she was Harry's friend but a simple impersonal contempt as if she were Neville and - did that mean something?

"Granger," he said coldly. "Are you lost?"

She hesitated and tried to analyse him. She didn't want to understand him, she wanted to hate him, but she couldn't do that - for Harry's sake.

But could someone who had ruthlessly cut himself from Harry's life care about anything she had to say? If someone was capable of that kind of cold dispassionate fury...

He couldn't care about Harry. She didn't believe it. She would never have hurt someone she cared about like this.

It was useless to try and get anything back for Harry.

"No," she replied, shooting him a single chilly glare. "I was looking for someone who isn't here."

Hermione turned on her heel and walked away, towards the entrance into the Great Hall. She was already up past time, it had been stupid to even come here, she didn't know what she had been thinking, and...

She heard a noise.

It was coming from a dark corridor to her left. It was probably just students messing around in Snape's office, she told herself, and she should go and discipline them, but even as she lifted her wand and said, "Lumos," she could hear the tiny quiver in her voice, and the pounding of her heart in her ears.

She should not have come here alone.

The light trembled as her hand did and she got a firmer grip on her wand, wishing with sudden passion for the everyday comfort of normal things and a simple Muggle torch and one of the plaster corridors at home. The light simply showed the narrow stretch of a stone corridor, massive grey blocks with nooks and crannies running along them where the faint light chased and gave up on shadows.

Then the light glimmered on something else, and for a second she had no idea what it was, but her heart was like a frantic creature running already.

It was the shine of light on fur, and she thought, Just like when the Chamber of Secrets was opened, just like being twelve years old and terrified again.

The wand went clattering out of her hand onto the floor with a short scream she couldn't believe she had made.

There were running footsteps at once, and she was whirled away from the sight by strong hands on her arms, spinning her around, and her throat hurt and someone was almost supporting her.

Pale eyes serious and intent beneath pale hair. Malfoy, she thought, trying to gather her panic-scattered thoughts together.

"Granger," he said, urgently. "Granger! What is it?"

"It's - it's a cat," she forced out, refusing to need support, refusing to crumple up entirely. "It's - Mrs Norris must have been Petrified, it's just like the Chamber of Secrets-"

Stop, she told herself. She would not panic.

One hand still keeping a firm hold on her arm, he lifted his wand and said, "Lumos," in a voice that shook slightly just as hers had before she had seen...

Crabbe and Goyle were behind him, both their faces masks of terror. Goyle was looking and his face relaxed just slightly, he moved forward and said,

"She's right. Just Mrs Norris-"

Hermione could not look around or she would - She could already see it all. Malfoy's jaw was tight, and when she held unashamedly onto his arm and he held back his arm was rigid.

He pushed words past the horror, the words she would not even think, as more footsteps came sounding fast and furious behind them.

"It's not Mrs Norris," he said. "And it hasn't been Petrified."

*

Harry never remembered it all clearly afterwards. Just walking, irritated that Ginny had insisted on accompanying him, and then walking faster because Hermione could be anywhere and he didn't want her asking him where he was going, and then hearing something that sounded like a scream and then running...

Ginny behind him, footsteps fast and light and faltering, and her first scream coming with the sound of someone falling heavily.

Harry saw it was Goyle, still backing away even though now he was on his hands and knees. And he felt a brief sense of ordinary incredulity when he saw Draco, with one arm almost around Hermione.

It all came in bits and pieces, trickling like the cold dread that went through him.

Crabbe's hand had closed tightly on Draco's shoulder, dwarfing it, and the hand that held Draco's lit wand was resting against Crabbe's in a gesture of protection. His face was white and scared, but he was keeping his voice steady when he said,

"It's not Mrs Norris. And it hasn't been Petrified."

There was a dead cat on the floor.

It might just be the dark and the constant fear and the memory of the Chamber that caused Goyle's whimper and the keening cry that Ginny was making behind him, but he saw Hermione's white face. He saw the still look in Draco's eyes, pretending to have strength to loan the others until he did have it.

They knew.

He felt Ginny's hands try to clutch him back, but he moved forward out of her reach. Draco's light was held steady behind him and he had to go on because nobody else would, and he thought I can't do this but he could. He had to.

He thought past the whirling terrors and thought back to a spell taught back a few months since, the words to make the spell Sirius and Lupin had used years ago in the Shrieking Shack easier...

Harry flung the words out in an almost-challenge at last, resounding against the dark close walls.

"In Veterem Revolvaris Figuram."

There was a flash of blue-white light.

Professor McGonagall was lying dead on the floor.

Harry would not flinch, but he looked over at the others when Crabbe moaned with an almost desperate relief. Goyle was backing swiftly away.

Neither Draco nor Hermione would make a sound, but she had hidden her face in Draco's shoulder. Draco looked back at Harry, face young and naked in shock but eyes still steady.

Harry was able to look back after a minute. The pins of McGonagall's hair had fallen out and were glittering in the light, which fell directly upon her open eyes.

Ginny's scream was high and pure as fear, and it went on and on until everyone else came, and saw.



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