We All Fall
No we can't be friends
Not while I'm still so obsessed
I want to ask where I went wrong
But don't say anything at all
The next day, Harry chose the corridor with the stone witch in it to do the job. It was fairly isolated and quiet, and he had the spare badge from Lupin, supplies Madam Pomfrey had given him, and Hagrid's huge cage.
All he had to do was look at the Slytherin badge, and concentrate.
"Er," he said, and that was a very peculiar sound in Parseltongue. "Come here, snakes. I want you all to come here. Any snakes near or around Hogwarts - come here at once!"
He heard some faint questions, and comments of wonder, and simple acquiescence.
When the first small grass snake slithered into the cage, he felt a twinge of accomplishment.
He had felt so useless and frustrated for too long. He would never have allowed it to bring him down if he had felt he could do something, anything, to stop it all. But for almost a year now, Hogwarts had been slowly bleeding to death, and it had become nothing but a background of depression because nobody knew what to do about it.
If it was possible that it was the snakes, and this would stop them...
"Go on, come here," Harry said persuasively, the syllables sliding and hissing over his tongue.
"Oh baby, talk dirty to me."
Harry jumped, spun around and rolled his eyes in Draco's direction. Draco grinned and leaned against the wall of the corridor.
"You almost gave me a heart attack," Harry told him, and for a moment speaking English seemed strange.
"We Slytherins are masters of cunning and subterfuge," Draco said, sounding absently proud. "Look, I thought we should talk."
"Er. Right, probably," Harry answered, and added quietly panicking to his list of things he should do after he had collected all the snakes. He shifted his gaze from Draco's face to the badge on his chest, and added, "Come," once for good measure.
Draco coughed. "That's a little distracting," he commented.
More snakes were slithering into the cage, coiling together until he lost count of them.
"Well, I'm sorry, but this happens to be important," Harry said, more sharply than he'd intended.
"I know that," Draco said coldly.
"And you're not helping," Harry added. "Couldn't we talk about whatever it is later?"
"Oh, certainly!" Draco exclaimed, his voice growing sharper. "What time would suit your convenience?"
"Look, this isn't for me," Harry told him. "If it was for me - if it could be, then I'd make time for you. But I have to do something for everybody now. You have to understand."
"No, not really," Draco said reflectively. "What could I know about responsibility? I'm not a hero, after all."
"Don't be a brat!" Harry snapped. "I know you're upset about Snape-"
"Don't shove your nose into my business," Draco ordered, eyes narrowing at the mention of Snape. "Fine. So sorry to have bothered you. I'll be running along now."
He turned around and stalked off.
"Draco!" Harry yelled after him, but Draco did not turn around.
Harry gave the snakes a glare of exasperation, and then crushed it down.
"Come on," he said, looking at the badge in his hand again.
It was an extra call for good measure, but he thought that he had them all now. The cage was a glistening, coiled mass.
It was their only idea, and these could be the spies, or the scouts for the spy.
Harry remembered, when he was eleven, freeing a snake from the zoo.
Well, times were different now.
He picked up the poison, and began to pour it in.
Harry had forgotten that Draco had guard duty that night, and he told himself that he'd talk to him tomorrow.
The next morning, Draco, Crabbe and Goyle skipped breakfast, and the empty place at the teachers' table made it clear why.
Harry had not known it would be so soon.
He had to go and see Draco. Draco would be in class, and he could take him aside afterwards and tell him that... well, tell him nothing that would make him feel any better, but at least Harry would see that Draco was all right.
Of course Draco would be all right.
Harry did not want to speak to Hermione, who was clearly in the midst of some furious calculation about how Snape's absence would affect them, or to Ron, who was watching a red-eyed Pansy Parkinson apprehensively. Slytherins possessing tear ducts seemed to have come as a nasty shock to Ron, and he looked as if he was afraid she was going to explode.
He certainly didn't want to look at the teachers' table, where Sirius was being very cheerful indeed.
He just glared at his porridge, and then ate it.
Draco was not at any of his classes. Harry thought about going to the Slytherin rooms, but he didn't know how tactful it would be to insist upon disturbing all the apparently distraught Slytherins, and he certainly wasn't going to do the invisibility cloak thing - he was on thin ice after the eavesdropping already.
Which left him feeling bad and, worse, useless, and sulking on the stairs to the boys' dormitory with a book of defence spells.
He thought they were going to be useless, but he also thought he might accidentally score an Outstanding in his Defence Against the Dark Arts NEWT.
He was reading the chapter on cursed tombs when he heard Draco's voice in the common room below, imperiously asking where he was.
He got up at once and went downstairs.
Draco was standing with his back to him, and there was a distinctly unpleasant atmosphere, as if he had just insulted someone or at least worn a particularly disdainful expression.
The atmosphere did not appear to be affecting Colin Creevey, who had looked up brightly from his chair and was walking over to Draco.
"Hello," he said, blithely confident as if Draco had not mocked him or ignored him continuously over six years, "Look, Malfoy, I'm making a collage of the Young Council, so I'm sure you won't mind-"
He lifted his camera.
"Yes I would," Draco snapped, just as the camera clicked.
There was a flash of light, and Colin said, "I'm not sure if I got the angle right - could you-"
Draco reached out, and pulled the camera strap over Colin's head. He spoke slowly.
"I told you not to point that thing at me."
There was the unmistakable, crunching sound of the camera breaking. Colin's expression changed into an one of wounded horror. Draco tilted his head, as if he was quite enjoying the sight and wanted to get it at a different angle.
The rest of the Gryffindors were sitting in shocked immobility as Draco added smugly, "Let that be a lesson to you."
Harry found his voice.
"Draco," he said loudly. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Draco turned, letting the camera fall. Colin's desolate gaze followed it.
"Oh, Harry," he said in a bored voice. "There you are."
"Outside," Harry snapped. "Now. And then you're coming back in here and apologising."
He grabbed Draco's arm and hauled him towards and then out of the exit. As they both scrambled outside, Draco yanked his arm away.
"Don't order me around like a naughty child!" he snapped, sounding outraged. "And don't you dare touch me."
He could not believe the nerve of him.
"Don't bloody well make me hit you again," Harry snarled.
Draco raised his eyebrows. "Make you?" he asked sharply. "Funny, I don't recall spreading my arms wide open and saying 'Please, Potter, take your best shot.' I would have been quite happy if you hadn't fought back at all. Hitting me was all your own idea."
"And it'll be my idea one more time if I ever see you bullying anyone like that again!"
"If you're so concerned about that annoying little Mudblood, tell him not to bother me again," Draco snapped.
"I will not, and you won't use that word again," Harry raged. "You can't treat people like that!"
"You're strangely mistaken," Draco informed him. "I just did."
His mouth had a mean little twist to it, and Harry was angry because it was familiar, because he knew this was what Draco was like and this was why he had disliked Malfoy so much, and he still...
"You're going to apologise," he said flatly.
"You can go to hell," Draco returned furiously. "I'm not one of your devoted little followers. I won't scurry off to obey your orders."
"And I'm not one of your Slytherins! You don't care about anybody else, but I do, I have to!" Harry yelled back. "I don't think that kind of behaviour is funny, and I won't let you away with anything. And that's why you're angry, isn't it?"
Draco regarded him stonily.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Harry pushed him. "Because you're so used to people dropping everything for you, to being in control."
"Oh yes," Draco said, his voice rising. "I'm always so in control of everything. I'm so glad you've noticed that the whole world is arranged according to my wishes-"
"You want to be! You want to be just like your father and able to manipulate everyone and command respect and if people don't do just what you want them to you think it's not respect and you lash out because you're afraid!"
"I'm not afraid!" Draco yelled, and shoved him. "And don't talk about my father."
"I'll do whatever I think is right! And I won't bother to consult you about it. I know what you're trying to do, acting like your father-"
"I said shut up!" Draco snarled.
"And I said no! I don't care as long as what you're doing is helping people. But if you're just going to be a malicious little bully-"
"I'll be whatever I like. You're not telling me what to do. I'm not here to do everything you want. What does he matter, anyway?"
"What does he - he's a person!"
Draco's lip curled. "He's not interesting, and he's not useful, and he was in my way."
"Oh, like Crabbe and Goyle are so interesting and useful," Harry sneered. "Nobody deserves being tormented, you little git, so you can go in there and apologise at once!"
He pushed Draco again. Draco was staring up at him, pale eyes narrowed and pale face malevolent.
"You wish," he said, and knocked Harry back against the other wall, so hard that Harry's head cracked against it and Harry saw stars.
When he could focus again, Draco was gone.
He stormed back to the common room, and met a startled-looking Ron and Hermione as he made his way towards the dormitories.
"Harry, what's the matter?" Hermione asked.
"Bloody Malfoy," he snarled. "What else?"
As he stalked up the stairs, he heard Ron say, "Just like old times."
Harry seethed throughout the next day, in which Draco and his thugs were once again conspicuously absent.
It was sheer stupidity for Draco to be missing meals and classes. What good would it do Snape? What good would it do anybody? But Draco didn't think of that, he just wanted to indulge himself and sulk somewhere, it was all about him, his father and his teacher and his revenge, and what did he care about anybody else.
Someone should teach him a lesson.
He broke a quill while he was thinking that, and Lupin and Hermione gave him a concerned look. He mumbled some kind of apology and dug out another one.
Someone should just punch his stupid, bigoted head in, throw him down and make him sorry and...
"Two in one class, Harry?" Lupin asked.
Harry looked at the mangled quill in his hand. "Must be a bad batch," he snapped.
Stupid shoddy workmanship.
He felt - itchy, uncomfortable in his own skin. Draco deserved to be punched for what he'd done to Colin, and he needed to be comforted because Snape was gone, and Harry still wanted to ask him questions about that stupid issue he shouldn't even be bothered about.
Terry Boot caught him as he was going out of dinner, which he had more sort of stabbed with his fork than actually eaten.
"Hi there," he said.
"Hello," Harry said coldly, looking at him. He was oddly satisfied to see that he was taller than Terry.
"How'd the snake thing go?" Terry asked.
He didn't talk like he was clever, either. And his eyes were quite small.
Harry had to stop this.
"OK," Harry answered curtly.
"Well, it was a good idea, anyway," Terry said absently. "Look, about - ah, Malfoy-"
He looked worried and disturbed, and rumpled back his hair.
"I really don't want to talk about him," Harry informed Terry, and walked off.
He sat on the edge of his armchair in the common room later, and turned what Terry had said over in his head and fretted over it. What had he meant, it was a good idea, anyway?
Neville was talking somewhere about putting Devil's Snare in the cellars. Harry blinked and tried to pay attention.
Someone touched his knee to get his attention, and he started.
It was Parvati, curled on the armchair next to him and looking fetching in pink pyjamas and infringing on his personal space.
"Yeah?" he asked.
"I saw what happened with Colin yesterday," she said, tentatively.
She was twisting her black plait of hair as if she felt awkward, and it was very unlike confident Parvati to hesitate about anything. He supposed she was wondering how to phrase 'your friend is a nasty little git who should be smacked in the head.'
"It was awful," he said. "So was he. I know, I shouldn't have given him the password. We're changing it."
"Well," Parvati said, and hesitated again. "Well. Yes. Good."
She studied a stray thread on her sleeve, her eyes dropping so as not to meet his. Her lips looked as if she had something pink and glossy on them, even though she was dressed for bedtime.
Harry wondered suddenly if she had ever kissed Draco.
"Is there something you want to say, Parvati?" he snapped.
She lifted her dark eyes to his. "I don't think much of Slytherins," she said directly. "But Malfoy, he's always been OK to me." She laughed slightly. "I know the same can't be said for other people, and it was probably because he fancied me a bit-"
"I'm very happy for you two. Do you have a point, Parvati?"
Parvati looked puzzled. "It's nothing like that, Harry," she said. "He's not really my type. I'm just saying - I think he's OK, and he's your friend. Don't you think you're being a bit hard on him?"
Hermione had always said that Parvati and Lavender were a bit dim. He suddenly and fervently believed her.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Did you just say that you think I'm not being fair to him? He comes into our common room and commits vandalism and acts like a nasty little bully begging to have his lights punched out, and I'm not being fair?"
Parvati bit her lip. "I'm not saying that," she said. "It's just that - Harry, he's lost his two best friends."
Harry was aware that Neville's voice had broken off, and people had turned around to look at them. He ignored them all and fixed his eyes on Parvati.
"What?" he asked, in a lower, more reasonable voice.
Parvati blinked. "I thought he would've told you."
"Nobody told me anything," Harry replied, trying to keep his voice level.
Nobody ever talked much about the disappearances. It was pointless, dwelling on something none of them could change. You tried to ignore it, tried to move on, because there was nothing else to do, and damn it, he'd talked about Crabbe and Goyle and Draco must have thought he knew.
"Crabbe and Goyle disappeared the night before last," Parvati said, hugging her knees to her chest. "I think it was just after Snape left."
"Oh, no," Harry said, feeling sick. "I - look, I have to-"
He left her then, getting up and out as fast as he could. He should probably have thanked her, but it didn't occur to him until he was going down the staircase to the Great Hall and he was not turning back then.
That was what Terry had meant. If there had been more disappearances, it hadn't been the snakes after all.
Harry muttered a curse under his breath and knocked on the wall in front of the Slytherin entrance. After a moment, a muffled voice said:
"Harry Potter," Harry said.
Harry heard a brief debate conducted on the other side of the wall, and something that sounded like 'bloody Potter again.' Eventually the entrance opened, and two suspicious-looking first years regarded Harry.
"Thanks," he said, pushing past them and then recalling his duty as a prefect. "Also, you're much too young to be cursing like that," he added absently.
They snorted and he moved on, through a common room full of Slytherins who more or less ignored him and then flinging the door of Draco's room open.
Draco was sitting on the pushed-together armchairs by his fire. He had his arms around Pansy Parkinson, and she was crying on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," Harry said at once.
Pansy jerked her head up, and blinked back the tears fiercely as if her eyes were not puffy and red, and he would be completely deceived. She let go of her tight hold on Draco's ratty grey T-shirt.
Draco disentangled himself from her, and walked over towards the door.
"Do you want something?" he asked warily. He looked ashen and strung too tightly.
"No," Harry said.
Draco's mouth stretched in a straight line, as if he was attempting a polite smile but could not manage it.
"Well then," he said. "If you'll excuse me-"
"I just heard," Harry blurted. "I didn't know before. I'm really sorry."
Draco's mouth moved again, but again his attempt to smile failed.
Harry looked at him and felt absolutely helpless and stupid. He had no idea of what to say. Draco just stood there looking tired and ill, and he'd looked like that yesterday too, and Harry had been too angry to notice.
He stared some more. "Your hair looks terrible," he said at last.
Draco stared at him as if he had never seen anyone quite so stupid in his life, and Harry privately agreed with him.
"There are more important things than hair," Draco said, his voice sounding strange.
Pansy giggled from the sofa, a touch hysterically.
"That's it," she said faintly. "We're all going to die."
The corner of Draco's mouth turned up just a little. "Well done, Harry. You broke her," he said. "My hair looks terrible, indeed. Are you coming in, then?"
Harry did so.
"Don't close the door, I'm just going out," Pansy told him. She looked sagging and exhausted on the chairs where Draco had left her.
Draco went over and sat beside her again, putting one hand on her bowed back.
"You don't have to go anywhere," he said, his voice strained. Harry thought he was trying to sound gentle.
Pansy hunched one shoulder in what approximated a shrug.
"I want to," she answered. "I have to go plan my outfit for tomorrow."
Draco nodded thoughtfully. "I suppose we can't all be natural beauties."
"Get bent, Draco, even Harry Potter thinks your hair looks awful," Pansy said.
Harry was starting to feel very self-conscious about that hair comment, but Pansy did not look as if her leader had been horribly insulted and she would have vengeance. She offered Harry a grudging half-smile as she went out.
Draco barely spared Harry a look as he got up from the chair, and wandered around his room, almost aimlessly. He looked smaller than he should have, out of place without the bulwarks of Crabbe and Goyle to retreat to. He looked small and pale and too thin, scruffy clothes sloughing off him and hair a tangled, tired-looking mess.
Harry reminded himself that it wouldn't really be wise to touch him.
"I'm so sorry, Draco," he said instead, and put his hands in his pockets in order to effectively resist temptation.
Draco turned and looked at him. His eyes were bleak.
"Are you," he said flatly. "Why's that? You didn't like them much."
"I didn't want them to be taken!"
"Well, no," Draco conceded. "But if you had to choose who would be taken, and who would be saved..."
He looked around the room blankly, and then went and sat on the bed. His fingers closed tight around the bedstead.
"It doesn't matter whether I liked them or not," Harry said, and risked a step towards him. "I know you liked them. And so I'm sorry."
Draco let go of the bedstead, and drew his knees up to his chest.
"Father had me tutored when I was younger," he informed Harry in a distant voice.
Harry tried not to say anything horribly banal like, I hear the homeschooling system has its advantages, and nodded instead.
"They have study session groups for most wizarding children," Draco explained. "But Father didn't want me to mix with anyone undesirable at an impressionable age. I mean, traitors like the Weasleys were attending the groups too. So I got taught at home."
Harry felt obscurely that he should speak up for the Weasleys, but Draco had his cheek laid against his arm, and he kept talking in that very tired voice, and Harry did not think he'd hear him if he did speak.
"Father thought I should have some companions when I was about eight," Draco continued. "So he told some of his political friends to send their children over on some days that summer. Some of them were older and some were younger, and - I don't play particularly well with others." There was a gleam of wry humour in Draco's eyes. "You might have noticed that," he added.
There was something about the wounded curve of his mouth that made Harry come and sit beside him on the bed, a careful distance away.
"Maybe once or twice," he said.
"I might have had the occasional tantrum," Draco admitted further. "And then they didn't like me, and so I called them names. And there were these two stupid hulking boys, and everybody teased them, and I did too, and - they just didn't go away. Everyone else went away after I called them names. I suppose their fathers told them not to, and they... they were very stubborn when they got one idea fixed in their heads. They stood there and took it, and when I went away they followed and I hit them, and they took that too. And I didn't have anybody else, and they didn't have anybody else either, and then I sometimes tossed them a few sweets or told them what to do so the others wouldn't tease them so much, and they liked me. For something as small as that. They didn't want to go away. They wanted to stay and be with me."
He looked very far away, and sounded a little bit proud. As if nobody had ever wanted to be with him before that, as if Crabbe and Goyle had been granting him an honour.
"They were doing what their fathers wanted them to do," Draco said, his eyes wide and glittering, "but after that summer, they did what I wanted them to do. I never had to trick them or talk them round or do anything. It didn't matter what I did. They liked me. And they were different, too, everyone always talked as if they were the same person in two bodies but they weren't. Crabbe was this complete secret romantic and I laughed at him about it and Goyle was afraid of the dark when we were younger."
Draco pushed away from the edge of the bed and flung himself down on the centre of it, staring up at the ceiling with blank eyes. Harry looked at one of Draco's hands, lying on the pillow with his fingers curled inwards.
"They were different," Draco insisted, as if Harry was arguing. "And I told them we were changing sides and I didn't even explain why and they were on my side. They left their families and they didn't even ask me why. They trusted me, I could rely on them, they would never have gone away and left me-"
His voice cracked, a painful distraught sound, and Harry looked up from his hand. Draco's face was turned in towards the pillows, hair falling into it, and he only saw a twisted glimpse.
"Draco, don't," he said wretchedly, and threw himself down beside Draco, put a hand on his back and held on.
Draco's face was curved in towards him now, and he could feel him swallow and try to put himself back together.
"They were mine," he said, his breath damp and hot against the side of Harry's neck, "And I let this happen to them, they changed sides for me and I couldn't even protect them-"
"It's not your fault," Harry said fiercely into his hair. "Nobody can protect anyone from that. You couldn't have done anything, Draco, don't-"
Draco was trembling violently and Harry held on tighter, curving his arm protectively around him but also trying to keep his distance, lifting his other hand to brush Draco's hair out of his eyes and keep them a few inches apart.
"They were mine," he repeated, almost angrily. "There's nobody else and I don't know what to do!" He drew in, lips and eyelashes damp against the side of Harry's face, and Harry caught his breath as he felt Draco's fingertips settle against his ribs, and Draco said, "I-"
His eyes flickered open, and Harry looked at him. They were so close that Harry's glasses were pressing into the bridge of Draco's nose. Draco's breathing was suddenly like that of a panicked animal's.
He shoved Harry savagely away from him, and Harry almost fell off the bed.
Draco threw himself off the other edge, and onto the floor, drawing up against the wall with his knees against his chest again and his eyes, slitted and suspicious, glaring at Harry over his linked arms.
"I don't trust you either," he spat. "I'm perfectly aware that your friendship isn't some beautiful undemanding thing. Everybody wants something, and I'm too tired!"
Harry sat up, breathing hard.
"Draco," he said, "what on earth are you talking about? If you think-"
"Oh, don't be a hypocrite, Potter," Draco said, still raging in that small, precise voice with his arms around his knees. "My father taught me better than that. You didn't want to be my friend when we were younger. You didn't like me particularly when I broke that Mudblood's camera."
Harry got off the bed, since it seemed inappropriate to stay there, and he stood looking across the bed over at Draco.
"What, is this some sort of test?" he asked helplessly. "Look, I don't have to approve of everything you do to want to be your friend! And I'm not going to - to throw you off or anything if you do something I don't like! This isn't supposed to be a test, that's not how it works-"
"Sure it's not," Draco said, his mouth twisting. "Doesn't matter whether you want to admit it or not, Harry. Everyone's bought and sold. I know that much. And I'm tired of it all, I'm sick of it, I want to go home and I want - I wish-"
Draco leaned his head against his arms, and all Harry could see was that bowed blond head and the huddled figure against the wall.
"Draco," he said. "Please-"
Draco's voice cracked out like a whip.
"Go away!" he snarled. "Don't do this. I can't - Leave me alone!"
Harry hesitated. "Can't I-"
"Please!" Draco said it like an insult. "Go!"
Harry went. He didn't want to go, could hardly bear the idea of leaving Draco alone like that, but he could not stay when Draco asked him like that.
He got back and found Ron and Hermione sitting by the fire. The firelight was bright on Ron's red hair, and Harry came towards them with a huge sense of relief. They both smiled at him hesitantly as he came in. Ron had a game of Exploding Snap set up on the table that he was probably trying to persuade Hermione to play, and Hermione had an open book in her lap.
"What is it?" Ron asked, looking up into his face. "Did you have another fight with Malfoy?"
"No," said Harry. "Yes. Sort of."
To give Ron credit, he only grimaced slightly as he said, "Sorry to hear that."
The snakes weren't the culprits, and Crabbe and Goyle were gone, and Draco was sitting bitterly alone in the dungeons.
"I," Harry began. "I mean. Just so you know. You guys. I. That is."
Hermione closed the book, and looked up at him with confused eyes. "Yes, Harry?"
"Well. You know," Harry said awkwardly, and leaned down and caught her up in a hug.
It was the first hug with her that he had actually gone in for first, and he could hear the pleased, uncertain sound of surprise she made against his chest. Then she put her arms around his neck and held on for a minute. Her frizzy hair was in his face, and he held on tight.
"Yes, I know," she told him.
He let go of her, and laughed uncertainly. "You were always the smart one."
She settled back on the chair and smiled up at him. "It was never hard."
Ron glanced up apprehensively as Harry leaned against his chair.
"I don't think we should hug," he said quickly. "I think we're too manly."
"Boys," Hermione remarked in her old resigned way, and Harry punched Ron in the shoulder.
"Want to play Exploding Snap?" Ron asked.
Draco was back in his classes the next day, but he wasn't speaking to anyone. He sat beside Pansy or Blaise Zabini, and shied away from speaking to them. Hagrid tried to talk to him after Care of Magical Creatures, and Draco muttered a few words and then walked away very fast.
He clearly did not want to be bothered. The thing to do was respect his boundaries and his wishes, and wait until he was ready to accept some comfort. Much comfort that Harry could give him, of course, but that was not the point.
The sensible thing to do was leave him alone.
So Harry did so all day, and didn't even look at the Slytherin tables during meals. He talked with Neville and Dean instead, as Neville tried to describe and Dean tried to draw for him the plan of setting Devil's Snare in the pipes, enough to let water through but stop anything else.
He speculated steadfastly with them about plumbing for a couple of hours after dinner, and then Neville decided to broach the plan to everybody else.
It was halfway through Neville's explanation to the other Gryffindors that he broke and made an excuse, and went to go find Draco.
He almost tripped over Draco when he got to the bottom of the stairs. Draco was lying on his stomach playing marbles.
"Nice walking," Draco remarked. "Practise often?"
"That was easier than I expected," Harry told him.
Draco propped himself up on one elbow. "What was, exactly?"
Harry looked down at him. "Finding you."
"Oh," said Draco, and then with what appeared to Harry to be supreme irrelevancy, he went on: "This is what I was doing when I was twelve."
He took a marble from the pile beside his elbow, and then rolled it towards the set in front of him. The marble hit one other marble, which went red, and rebounded off it to directly hit three more. They all went red, blooming suddenly as blood from a cut on the floor, and Harry looked down at them and then sat on the floor.
Draco's face was on a level with his, and he could not possibly have become thinner within a day, but that ferociously restrained look of pain made his cheekbones look horribly sharp. His eyes were wide and tragic and furious with the world.
Harry repressed the urge to reach out.
"Wizard marbles," Draco said, sounding vaguely pleased with himself. "You try to kill as many as you can. And you can only kill the other marbles if the centre of yours hits the centre of each marble. Four is pretty good, but I was up to seven when I was thirteen."
"Er," Harry said. "I think collecting Chocolate Frog cards is a good bit less murderous sounding."
"It's a game of skill," Draco told him, offended. "And wanting to kill stuff."
"That's so you," Harry said, and laughed at him a little bit. "Because you are, of course, a terrible person."
"I stopped playing it, obviously," Draco informed him, "because I, unlike you, am terribly mature and sophisticated."
"I still collect Chocolate Frog cards," Harry informed him back, "because I, unlike you, do not give up."
Draco rolled another marble, and got five this time. He looked briefly smug.
"Tell you one thing I'm giving up," he announced. "After all this is done, I shall stop being nice to people. I hate it. In fifth year, I used to make lists about all the people I was going to be absolutely horrible to and how I was going to do it and exactly what I would say."
Harry reached out for a marble, and Draco slapped his hand away and gave him a stern lo.
"I assume I was on the list."
"Forty-five times," Draco replied promptly. "My vengeance will be terrible and complete."
"Oh," said Harry. "This is still going to happen?"
"Yes," Draco said in a very definite tone.
"I thought since we're friends and everything-"
"Terrible and complete," Draco repeated. "No cowardly shirking, Harry. Your life, should you not choose the better part of valour and flee the country, will be an epic misery."
Harry linked his arms around his knees and mimicked Draco's lofty tones.
"I defy you and all your fearsome threats, Draco Malfoy. You can be as nasty as you like, I'm not going anywhere."
"That's fine," Draco said calmly. "Then I shall exact vengeance on all my enemies, and also friends, and also strange passerbys I don't like the look of, and then I shall spend the rest of my life in comfort, hated and feared by all and pausing only to read a few books and occasionally sit on the balcony and look like a sun god."
"A sun god," Harry repeated sceptically. "Draco. You might freckle."
"Forty-six times on the list. Keep talking. Make my day." Draco raised an eyebrow, and paused like a challenge. Harry just about managed not to take it up, and Draco said wearily, as if Harry had been bothering him about it for so long he surrendered, "I bought Creevey a new bloody camera, if that makes you happy."
"Did you do it to make me happy?"
Draco sneered. "No, I'm just a giver." He flicked another marble, and only got two.
"Did you get him the same camera? He really liked it."
"I did not," Draco said, his lip curling. "I got him a better one. A Malfoy does not go into a shop and ask for substandard goods." He brightened. "Actually, I got myself one too. The shopkeeper let me see a book about photography, I think it might be quite interesting. Do you know that magical photographers don't exist, except for the papers? Think about scenery photographs with rivers still running."
"Maybe you and Colin can start a club," Harry said.
"Forty-seven," Draco told him. "I take no pleasure in this, you know. Well... maybe a tiny bit."
He levered himself up, white T-shirt stretching just a little on his shoulders, and then he got into a sitting position. Then he fished a folded piece of parchment from his pocket, and flicked it across at Harry.
"I got a letter from my mother yesterday," he remarked. "You can read the first bit of it. If you like."
"Er, all right," said Harry, wondering if this was part of a fiendish plan to make him crisis Narcissa Malfoy.
Not that 'crisis' was a verb.
He unfolded the letter, and read it to himself.
'Dear Draco,' the letter read, 'Your last received with great interest. Ths nothing like tradition. If you have made up with Harry Potter by the time you receive this Owl, please give him my regards. If not, please do not send me a Howler. I do not think they are appropriate missives from a child to his respected parent, and the last one scared the house elves.'
Harry lowered the letter, smiled and offered it back to Draco.
"I take it the last letter was along the lines of Why I Hate That Sod Potter, Volume IV, Part VII?" he asked.
Draco lifted his chin. "More or less, perhaps," he admitted. "I wrote the Owl back when we were fighting. Naturally, she only replied yesterday - and naturally, I wrote back to her right away again." His lip curled, possibly at himself. "I just - wanted to show you it. I lose my temper sometimes," he went on, "but it doesn't mean that I hate you forever or anything."
Harry squinted. "Is this a really roundabout apology for hitting me, Draco?"
"Maybe," Draco admitted loftily.
"All right, then," Harry said. "I'm sorry I hit you back."
Draco reached over, and pulled the letter back from Harry's hand. "I'm not planning on apologising to that Muggleborn Creevey, mind," he said. "I have my pride."
"I don't see what your pride has to do with him being Muggleborn," Harry stated, trying to leave it at that. "He and his brother can't help it."
Draco looked mildly surprised. "He has a brother? I thought he sometimes looked shorter than other times."
"Yes, he has a brother," Harry said. "Honestly, Draco."
"Oh, please," Draco sneered. "Name one fifth-year Slytherin. Just one. Go on."
"Er," Harry said. "Er. Is that Chaser, whatshisname, er, is he in fifth year?"
Draco made a creditable attempt at cackling.
"I admit it," Harry said with dignity. "I'm a little absentminded."
"You mean you're self-centred," Draco corrected him.
"I'm sorry, kettle, I think I just heard you calling me black."
"And you're oblivious," Draco went on blithely. "And you're just not really a nice person."
"I think I'm all right some of the time," Harry replied.
Draco smirked. "Ah, but not when push comes to shove."
He did what was necessary, what would be best for people in the end, when people like Ron turned away from the door - when push came to shove. And Draco was always pushing and shoving him to that point, and it amazed him how much he wanted to be pushed and shoved as long as it was Draco.
As long as he could push and shove back.
"Maybe not," he admitted. "I don't think nice people save the world."
"They don't get to be my friends, either," Draco remarked, as if he saw the two things as of fairly equal importance.
"Well, it's all quite lucky, then," said Harry, and thought about pouring the poison in for those snakes.
"As for the Muggleborn," Draco said, slowly. "Before we started mixing our blood with Muggle blood, wizards were safer, you know. And we used to be able to breed abilities, before the mongrel strain came in."
"I think that marriages shouldn't actually be arranged in breeding kennels," Harry said, giving Draco a look. "My mother was Muggleborn, you know."
"I know, Harry, but don't worry about it, the Potters were a very good family," Draco comforted him absently. "Natural Animagi were born in the old days, the books say. And Metamorphmagism ran in my mother's family, before so many of the wizarding families mixed their blood with Muggles, and the gene pool became too small and the line became weaker. There was only one Metamorphmagus in my generation, and she's half Muggle. She won't be breeding any more."
"I've met her," Harry said, thinking of the girl in the Order of the Phoenix. "She's nice, actually. And I'd feel much more comfortable if you didn't say the word 'breeding' ever again."
"Yes, but, Harry," Draco said with that bright-eyed fervour that Harry liked to see, even when he thought Draco was talking complete and utter rubbish. "We were creatures of myth once, we were incredibly powerful and we held the whole world in our hands, and then we were debased by Muggle blood and betrayed by Muggle talk and burned." He sent another marble spinning, and struck six marbles. Red flared among them. "Something to think about," he added, glancing at Harry.
Harry stole one of his marbles, and flicked it at Draco himself.
"Something else to think about," he said. "How exactly is any of that Colin's fault?"
"Well, it's not," Draco admitted grudgingly. "I just happen to think he's a twerp."
Harry laughed out loud. "You're a twerp," he said, affectionately.
"Perhaps," Draco said haughtily, leaning over and gathering up his marbles, "but I could have been a Metamorphmagus. Imagine that, I could have looked like anyone. I could have been the sex god of Hogwarts. I could've had anybody I wanted."
"I'm not saying you couldn't use some help," Harry agreed innocently. "Parvati Patil was just telling me how much you weren't her type."
"Well, no, Harry," Draco said, giving him that 'Potter, you hopelessly dim bulb' look. "She had a crush on you back in fourth year. I can't imagine that anyone who ever had a crush on you might have a crush on me, we couldn't be more different physical types. Unless of course," he said thoughtfully, "one of us was Millicent Bulstrode."
"Bags not me," Harry said. "Wait, Parvati had a crush on me?"
Draco resumed his prone position on the floor, and began eyeing the rearranged marbles with in a predatory fashion.
"She couldn't stop yapping about the Yule Ball and how you'd chosen her," he informed him. "Harry, you oblivious git, you do not deserve to have a love life. What does a person have to do to get your attention?" He glanced up, a wicked glint in his eye. "Aside from playing a Seeker against you, apparently."
To his horror, Harry felt himself start to go red.
"That's not true," he said. "I don't - it's not - I've never noticed a Hufflepuff Seeker at all."
"Didn't you?" Draco asked. "Not to stir up painful memories, but Cedric Diggory wasn't bad."
"Draco!" Harry exclaimed. "Did you have a crush on everybody when you were younger?"
"Might have," Draco conceded grandly, hitting four marbles as his ears went a bit pink. "Except for that Fleur Delacour. Couldn't see what everybody else saw in her, to tell you the truth. I absolutely hate blondes."
Harry flattened his hair absentmindedly. "Are you telling me," he said slowly, "that Veela allure is less powerful than your personal vanity?"
"Don't judge me," Draco said.
"I'm just a little frightened, that's all."
"Catch me sharing personal reminiscences with you again."
"I didn't fancy Fleur either," Harry said. "I was stuck on Cho at the time, of course. I didn't even notice that Parvati fancied me at the Yule Ball."
He stretched out beside Draco, and tried to align his eyesight with Draco's and see how he was hitting the marbles.
"Shortly after the Yule Ball commenced, she did not," Draco announced. "Because you are, and it pains me to have to repeat this, an oblivious git."
"At least I didn't go dressed as a vicar," Harry pointed out.
Draco wrinkled his forehead. "I did not go - I cannot believe you even noticed - I'll have you know that I look very debonair in black velvet."
"Like a very debonair vicar, maybe."
"Don't try to give me fashion tips, Harry. It's like the blind leading those with Omnioculars. And my robes, debonair as they were, also came second on my list since I had to persuade Crabbe out of these frightful things with Marvin the Mad Muggle lining and into Goyle's - spare-"
Draco fell silent. Harry leaned over, and touched Draco's back briefly.
"Draco," he said. "I really am so sorry."
"Yes, well," Draco said distantly, and got to his feet and began to brush himself off. "I should really be going."
"Going? Where?" Harry asked.
He had noticed, but he had not put together, the facts that Draco was wearing white jeans and a tight white T-shirt, and his hair had that softer look again.
"First Friday of June," Draco said. "Club night. God knows we could all do with some relaxation."
"Oh," said Harry. "Don't - do anything stupid."
"What, like ignore an attractive girl who fancies me all night long? More your province than mine," Draco said, winking. "Honestly, Harry, you can be so stupid. Here," he added abruptly, and put his marbles in Harry's hands. "Take these. I think you should learn how to play."
"Thank you," said Harry, looking down at them.
Draco shrugged, and closed Harry's fingers over the marbles. "It's nothing," he said. "I seem to recall you giving me a present once before, for no reason. I also seem to recall not saying thank you."
He looked white and silver in the dim light. Harry got to his feet.
"Well," he said. "Yeah. Mannerless brat."
Draco laughed. "I'll talk to you tomorrow," he said, and then turned and made his way down to the dungeons.
Harry went slowly up to the Gryffindor common room, where Ron was looking at Harry's copy of Flying with the Cannons.
"Oi," he said. "Did you know someone's been writing all over your book?" He squinted at the marbles. "Those wizarding marbles?"
"Er, yeah," Harry said.
"Mum didn't allow us to play with them," Ron commented. "She said that families like - you know, the dark wizards - used to play marbles with tiny shrunken Muggle heads."
"I don't think that's true, Ron," Harry said. "Surely you'd bowl with heads, or something."
"Could've been true," Ron said, looking obstinately determined to cling to this tale of his childhood. "It could have been."
Hermione came over to them, reaching up her hand to lean against Ron's shoulder.
"What's the matter, Harry?" she asked, looking concerned. "Weren't you going to see Malfoy?"
"Well... yes," Harry answered. "But it was club night."
"Was it," Hermione said, and her eyes narrowed. "And you're just going to sit home and mope, are you?"
"I thought I might learn to play marbles."
"You must get so bored, Harry," Hermione proceeded, regardless. "You should get out and meet some people."
"Some people who go to my school, d'you mean?"
Hermione waved this quibbling aside with her hand. "You know what I mean," she said. "Lots of people tag along on this club night. It's great fun."
"Hey, it could be," Ron agreed, brightening.
"Hermione," Harry said. "I really don't think..."
Two hours later, he was still trying. "I'm, er, just not sure..."
"Oh come on, Harry," Ron said encouragingly. "I promise you, it'll be fun."
As Harry looked apprehensively around, it didn't seem much like fun. The club beneath the Three Broomsticks was smoky and crowded, the darkness broken intermittently by circles of garish colour. Bodies were twining around each other in revealing robes or non-existent Muggle clothes.
Harry wasn't sure this was his scene at all. It seemed more for couples, or - those who were desperate for any kind of body contact.
Harry didn't think he was quite there yet.
Ron and Hermione were looking at him expectantly, their hands joined, apparently waiting for him to jump for joy and leap into the dance fray.
"I'll get a drink," he mumbled, beginning to make his way through the crowd.
He had barely gone a few steps when he saw him.
Draco was sitting at the end of the bar, lounging on a bar stool, his fair hair slightly dishevelled and hanging above his empty glass. He looked faintly amused and deep in thought.
Harry brightened and moved through the crowd towards him.
He did not get very far before it happened. Blaise and Pansy both appeared by Draco's side, taking his arms. Draco glanced up and laughed at them, his lips moving in a brief remark Harry couldn't catch.
They were both grinning, trying to drag him off the stool. He was shaking his head, smiling at them, his face lit up and his manner easy.
That's not the way he's supposed to be with other Slytherins. That's the way he's supposed to be with me.
Blaise was speaking into Draco's ear. Harry watched the movement of his lips so very close to Draco's skin.
Draco leaned towards them, appearing ready to be convinced.
Pansy, less forbidding than usual in a small black dress with an unguarded grin, tugged on his arm. Finally Draco let them pull him up and followed them onto the dance floor.
He was absolutely at his ease, as he was when he was happy. He was smiling brilliantly as he greeted a couple of fifth years, probably ordering them to get him a drink with that absolutely Draco-like lack of awareness that he was doing something appalling.
And he was dancing, not noticing or perhaps not caring about the gazes sliding over him. Not even noticing the idiot staring at him, utterly still in the middle of the dance floor.
He danced with smooth practised grace, moving as if he loved to, shaking his hair back and smiling a shade wickedly.
His hair and T-shirt were glaring white in this light, red and blue colours shimmering on them as he moved.
Slytherins danced closer than anyone.
Pansy and Blaise were on either side of him, moving up against him, all of them moving in slow and almost lascivious sync.
Draco was laughing again, flirting shamelessly, letting Pansy fix his collar and trail her fingertips along his neck, letting Blaise slide a hand over his hip. Occasionally he let his face near one of theirs, let his cheek graze theirs and his ruffled hair brush their skin, and then leaned back watching how it affected them.
He had been trying to distance himself from Harry for weeks.
Harry knew he was just having fun, of the carelessly cruel kind he preferred. Harry knew it meant nothing.
Harry felt sick.
It didn't feel like emotion. It felt like he was actually ill, like some disease had taken hold of his stomach and in his throat was a dull ache, the precursor of vomiting.
There was jealousy, dark violent irrational jealousy that made him want to hurt one of them as he watched Blaise Zabini watch Draco. There was desire and despair, and then moving through him like a cold wind there was this... bleak realisation.
Harry moved backwards, moved clumsily through the crowds as if he was not in control of his own body. He turned his eyes from that pale face, saw the rest of the world blur as he stumbled through the throng, shoving his way out of the heated cluster half-blind to reach an exit and oh, the clarity of the cool night air.
Harry sank onto the edge of the pavement, his face in his hands. His head was spinning as if he had drunk too much, the air was thick and there was this intense pang centred in the middle of his chest and...
The cold, clear voice was unmistakable. Harry shivered at the way it said his name and shuddered because, please no, he couldn't deal with this now.
He lifted his head again, the world still swimming around him. Draco was standing under a streetlamp, the only white streak against a black empty world.
He looked thin as a blade in his white clothes and that white light. His eyes were still glittering with alcohol and excitement, his dishevelled locks were tumbling into his face, and his neck and arms were gleaming with light sweat.
Harry watched with dumb misery as Draco stepped out of the light towards him, flicking hair out of his face. He stared at the too-thin line of Draco's wrist.
"Are you all right?" Draco's voice was almost kind. "Have those wanton Gryffindors let you drink too much? You look like hell."
"I feel like hell." Harry's voice was dry in his own ears. "But I haven't been drinking."
Draco's shadow fell on Harry now. It was almost like a touch.
"Then what-" He made a small, exasperated noise in the back of his throat. "Look, you're not being stupid, are you? Because - not that it's any of your business - I don't have anything going on with Pansy or Zabini. Come back in, I might even dance with you."
There was an easing of that gnawing jealousy. It didn't really help.
"I can't come back in."
Draco's tone was irritated now. "Why not? Look, you promised that - that it wouldn't change anything. You said we'd be friends like before, so why can't you-"
"Because it can't be that way!"
Harry had almost shouted. His voice rang off the brick wall: Draco absorbed it with that chilly indifference he assumed when he was hurt.
"Oh." He paused, and his voice grew subtly sharper. "So that's the way you want it. Because you-"
Harry felt the urge to punch Draco again, shove him up against a brick wall and hit him for being such an idiot.
"Because I love you," he snarled, and then froze in horror.
He had to hand it to Draco, Harry thought distantly. He didn't exclaim anything or run. He didn't even say the 'What?' which staves off the inevitable by pretending you haven't heard what you didn't want to hear.
He simply stood there, hands in his pockets, face in the shadow. Harry couldn't guess what he was thinking.
And then Harry heard a soft sound from Draco's lips, and realised with incredulous horror that he was laughing.
His head jerked up and he stared in outrage.
Draco's eyes were cold, but gleaming with an odd kind of amusement.
He said, "Harry Potter, you need a good shag."
Harry never knew why his eyes didn't fall out of their sockets.
"...what?" he asked in helpless disbelief.
"I said, you need a good shag," Draco repeated coolly. "But you won't be getting one from me. Honestly, Potter. You love me."
His attempt to keep his voice light and mildly entertained failed in that last scathing sentence.
Harry was almost grateful for this small piece of cruelty. He lifted his chin and looked Draco in the eye.
"I do," he said quietly.
Draco shook his head. "Try not to be such a Gryffindor. It's bloody obvious, Potter. You've conceived a bit of lust for someone entirely unexpected. Fine, it doesn't matter. It happens to all of us. What's not fine is this absurd Gryffindor insistence that what you feel has to be pure, that Harry Potter can't feel a twinge of nasty little lust, that you have to call it by a ridiculous name-"
"It's not ridiculous!" Harry snapped.
He was on his feet with no clear idea of how he had got there.
"You don't have to like it," he stormed. "You don't have to return it. But don't you dare try to tell me what I feel."
Draco's eyes narrowed.
"Then stop telling me about your pathetic delusions."
"I'm not deluded!" He stepped up to Draco, furious, and Draco stepped back. "All right, I'm not experienced like you," Harry spat. "I don't know everything about lust. But I do know that I-"
"I don't want to hear it!" Draco rapped out.
Harry stepped forward again, and Draco shoved him back.
"It does matter," Harry said in a low voice. "You matter to me."
He and Draco were circling each other suddenly, voices wary, as if they were about to attack.
"You're bloody insane," Draco answered quietly.
"Just let me-"
Draco stopped moving, his eyes like ice.
"No. Let me tell you something. I don't care what kind of sentimentality you're spouting. What you're talking about is - just about wanting something. People say it to get what they want. It's a cliche spoken for a purpose... and it means absolutely nothing. And that means, Harry," he pushed him once more, almost carelessly, "that this friendship means nothing."
Draco stepped to the door, and Harry saw in spite of his light tone that his face was twisted with fury.
"Don't speak to me again," he ordered, and left.
Hermione lay tossing in the darkness, unable to sleep.
Oh God, how was she going to tell Harry?
She was tired and she'd had a little drink, and the soft sounds of sleeping around her were making her feel even more tired, but her mind kept running on what they had seen.
She had been scanning the smoky club anxiously for Harry, and Ron had been leaning against her, already a little tipsy. She smiled fondly into the darkness in spite of herself. Ron was absolutely horrible at holding his drink.
"Don't look," Ron had been saying in a protective way, as if Hermione's virgin eyes needed to be shielded from the spectacle of a massively drunk and apparently shameless Pansy Parkinson with her legs around Ted Nott's waist and her tongue down his throat.
A lot of Slytherins seemed desperately drunk and ready to grab people tonight. Fairly standard club night, Hermione remembered thinking.
And then they had seen it.
Draco Malfoy had been striding across the dance floor, shoving people out of his way. He elbowed one fifth year Slytherin in the head, and did not seem to notice, and then he stopped in front of Blaise Zabini.
Blaise stopped dancing, and looked at him.
Malfoy stood looking at him, consideringly, the coloured lights making weird patterns on his bizarrely pale hair. Then he had pushed him against a wall, and tilted Blaise's face up to his.
"Erk," Ron said, in horror and disbelief.
There was something very purposeful in it, Malfoy's hand under Blaise's chin, the other hand braced against the wall and keeping Blaise pinned. His mouth had opened over Blaise's and Blaise had responded enthusiastically, tongues and teeth and Blaise rubbing against him and angling his face so the kiss could deepen.
"I can't look," Ron said. "Hermione, don't look."
They had both stood staring. Blaise had put both arms around Malfoy's neck and Malfoy dipped his head down lower, with another direct purposeful kiss taking Blaise's mouth again. Blaise had tried to get his leg between Malfoy's.
"Look at what Malfoy's doing!" Ron exploded. "Only don't," he added hastily. "Can you imagine that? Does Harry know he likes to do that?"
Not from personal experience, I hope, Hermione had thought.
She had looked around the room for Harry desperately again, and had been devoutly thankful not to see him.
Ron had carried on ranting. "What if he fancies Harry?" he demanded, and brightened. "I hope he tries something."
"Ron! Don't say that!" Hermione cried.
"Harry would knock him down," Ron said with satisfaction.
"Oh yes, he might do that," Hermione agreed somewhat desperately. And fall down on top of him, she added privately.
They had seen Malfoy and Blaise leave shortly afterwards, and they had not returned. A close questioning of everyone had produced the fact that Harry had gone out looking ill before the incident, and presumably returned home.
Hermione had been extremely grateful for a moment, and then it had occurred to her that they would obviously have to tell him. She would have to tell him, since Ron could be trusted to do it with a perfect absence of tact.
She dreaded to think of what would happen next. If Harry hadn't realised and he had an epiphany, or if he had and he was jealous or thought he had a chance or... Oh, it didn't bear thinking about!
Hermione had to toss for a long time more before she finally went to sleep.
When she woke up again, it was still night. She wondered if a particularly bad dream had woken her, but she had the impression that it had been something in the real world.
She could hear absolutely nothing.
Hermione listened very carefully, and then was about to settle back to sleep when an idea occurred to her.
It suddenly seemed very cold in her bed.
She could hear nothing. Not the sound of shifting bodies under blankets, or the sound of Mavis' snores.
"Mavis?" she said, tentatively, and hated her own voice for sounding so uncertain. "Parvati? Lavender?"
Her hand was trembling as she reached out and pulled back her curtains, and then she screamed.
The moonlight spilled into the room and showed her everything. Every bed but hers was empty. She was all alone in the dormitory. They had all been taken.
Hermione screamed again, unable to help it, and then she felt slow cold dread rising in her chest.
Very faintly, she could hear wailing supernatural voices echoing her own screams. She counted them methodically in some part of her mind as the rest of her huddled helplessly under the blankets and shook.
The ghosts of every single house were screaming out their losses.