Second Place- Alternate Universe
Third Place - Romance

Underwater Light



Author:Maya


Chapter Two

If I Reached Out A Hand

Every time I try the words make little sense

Until you’re gone, and everything must change

And so I must resolve to say it

It’s just me myself again and I’m just talking to the wall

It’s just me myself and I deciding on a plan

Deciding on my plan

And everything must change, change

Inside and out

     Harry stumbled into the Gryffindor common room. He blinked, holding up a hand to shield himself from the light and to shield his confused eyes from the others.

 A burst of greeting immediately assaulted him.

     “Good on you, Harry!” Seamus.

     “Poor Harry, imagine saving Malfoy!” Ginny.

     “That was brilliant, Harry, but couldn’t you have managed to duck him a bit more?” Ron.

     “So what did Professor Dumbledore say?” Hermione.

     And now Hermione had asked the obvious question, and each of those faces had turned to him, sure that he could explain everything.

     Harry felt utterly exhausted.

     “He has no idea what happened,” he replied. “Nor do I.”

     There was silence, and then a great, hearty burst of conversation.

     “Well, whatever it was, you were amazing!” Seamus exclaimed.

     “You must have gone into shock when you saw Malfoy there,” commented Hermione.

     Malfoy.

     God. I have to think about Malfoy.

     He had to get away, and then he had to think about Malfoy.

     He looked around the room. Neville Longbottom waved a goblet at him, his suit jacket and dungarees somewhat lightening Harry’s mood.

     Now that the wizarding world was split into two halves, both halves had become extremist. You killed Muggles or you loved them.

     Those opposing Voldemort had therefore embraced every Muggle custom they could lay their hands on. Muggle clothes were commonly worn outside the classroom.

     People from pureblood wizarding families like Neville were getting things slightly wrong, though. Harry still treasured Colin Creevey’s photo of the ‘Tutu Incident’ in fifth year.

     Hermione laid a gentle hand on his arm.

     “You look a bit tired, Harry.”

     He looked up at her with gratitude.

     “I am,” he said fervently.

     “Maybe you should get some rest.”

     Harry’s fingers closed around her hand in mute appreciation. She squeezed back with that terrible sympathy.

     Everyone waved to him as he left, and then he was free.

     Harry leaned against the door. Now he had to try and understand.

     We’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss.

     Why Malfoy?

*

     He could understand it not being Ron. He loved Ron, he would always love Ron – but a distance had grown between them, a tiny fraction which nevertheless left Harry feeling lonely.

     Ron had never been terribly good at empathy. He had not understood, three years ago, that Harry would never have entered the Triwizard Tournament without telling him.

     Now Harry was in even graver need of understanding, and Ron could not give it.

     It didn’t help matters that Ron had been devoting so many hours to being Hermione’s besotted boyfriend.

     If it had been Hermione… She was the smart one, the one among them all who came closest to understanding.

     Or if it had been Sirius. Sirius had been away for Harry’s fifth and sixth year, but now he was teaching at school, helping with Lupin’s workload. Lupin was trying to deal with Herbology and Defence Against the Dark Arts, and Sirius had been welcomed with that half-desperate warmth shown so often these days.

     Harry had hoped they would grow closer, though those golden thirteen-year-old dreams of an adopted father had long faded.

     Still, if it had been Hermione, or Sirius…

     If it had been anyone but Malfoy!

     Harry walked quickly across the room and sat on the windowsill, curling his legs under him, pressing his cheek against the cold glass.

     He shut his eyes.

     So. Malfoy.

     A pale sneering face came instantly into focus against his closed lids.

     Harry was vaguely startled by how clear and immediate the image was. He supposed he was familiar enough with Malfoy. The prat had been around for years, after all.

     But what was familiarity? Familiarity bred contempt. In the case of Harry’s familiarity with Malfoy, it bred contempt like rabbits.

     What had changed over the past three years?

     Very little.

     Malfoy was still the same malicious little git, still the one who got so far under Harry’s skin it was amazing he didn’t hit bone. Harry still absolutely loathed him.

     Except now, apparently, according to some damn goblet and his own traitorous subconscious, he didn’t.

     How had Malfoy changed over the past three years?

     Very little.

     No… perhaps that wasn’t fair.

     There had been the – Lucius Malfoy thing. Malfoy’s father had been killed early into their fifth year. The rumour that had filtered through the wizarding world was he’d tried a double-cross on Voldemort in an attempt to gain more power, and Voldemort had executed him.

     Harry didn’t know the details. With the war going on, the families disappearing, fear everywhere… nobody cared enough to investigate.

     Harry had even felt a grim satisfaction, remembering how Lucius Malfoy had almost killed Ginny, how he had stood in a circle of Death Eaters and watched a boy of his son’s age duel hopelessly with the Dark Lord, and laughed…

     In retrospect, that satisfaction seemed almost horrible. Harry had never felt the smallest shred of sympathy for Malfoy. All he had thought was – “Well… that will shut him up”.

     They’ll be the first to go, now the Dark Lord’s back!

    Draco Malfoy had been wrong – his father had been one of the first to go.

    And Harry had, almost unconsciously, agreed with Ron’s blunt verdict of ‘It served him right.’

    Malfoy had never seemed particularly grief-stricken. He and his usual gang had turned up to Lupin’s Young Order of the Phoenix, to the slight surprise of many, and had immediately become its most disruptive element, to the surprise of nobody at all.

     Dumbledore had been right, then. Mr Malfoy is on our side.

     So Draco Malfoy wasn’t a Death Eater.

     Wait. Do we have a character insight here?

     Surely you know him, Dumbledore had said.

     Malfoy had always been extremely annoying, but despite his Death Eater father he had never seemed murderous. He hadn’t even retaliated to Hermione’s slap in third year. He said disgusting things and played dirtier than a professional mud wrestler, but he wasn’t a killer.

     Fine. Harry was prepared to concede that he was not the heart of blackest evil.

     He didn’t see how this led to him being what Harry would miss most in the world. After all, Malfoy was the most irritating person he’d ever known.

     Harry pressed his face harder against the window.

     It bothered Harry that he had not felt the slightest sympathy for Malfoy. Harry liked to think he was a – fairly decent person. He had told Blaise Zabini that he was sorry about his mother, and nobody knew whether Mrs Zabini’s disappearance had been death, flight or conversion to the Dark Side.

     That was the most irritating thing about Malfoy. He was the only one who could bring Harry down to his own level.

     Oh, he could disobey the Dark Lord’s order for him to beg under the Imperius Curse… and then he went off and behaved like a prat because of Draco Malfoy.

     Mustn’t let Malfoy see him sooty and with broken spectacles. Mustn’t let Malfoy see him led off to the infirmary because of the Dementors. Must beat Malfoy at Quidditch.

     Harry suddenly remembered the start of his sixth year.

     He was sixteen, and the growth spurt he had been praying for had finally arrived over the summer. Sadly, still lacking manly muscles, but at least he wasn’t ridiculously short any more.

     He knew who would be. That was why he had been dashing around the train like a maniac, more animated than he had been for a year and more, desperate to find Malfoy and laugh down at him.

     Harry recalled with a peculiar intensity the fierce spurt of anger inside him when he had run into a carriage and met a pair of icy grey eyes exactly on a level with his own.

     He had been furious. It felt as if Malfoy had grown deliberately to annoy Harry.

     Which was absurd.

     But he had been furious all the same. Malfoy had that effect on him.

     Like in the Young Order meetings when Malfoy would make an off-colour remark about Muggles, and Harry would snap out of a dreary reverie into outrage. Or during those monotonous Quidditch matches when Harry would suddenly be galvanised into action by Malfoy’s ever-spiteful face in the crowds. The boy would make a show of himself supporting Hufflepuff as long as it got to Harry.

     Not to mention the Slytherin/Gryffindor matches. In the last one Malfoy had, according to rumour, kept a Quidditch rulebook with him and ticked off every rule as he broke them. He cheated furiously and shamelessly, but he most definitely played to win.

     He and Malfoy had ended up screaming at each other until Madam Hooch forcibly dragged Harry away. Harry had been alive with seething rage.

     Harry had felt… alive.

     Harry got up from the window ledge, very carefully.

     He walked to his bed and lay down on it, watching the well-known slide of faint moonlight and shadows on the wall opposite him. Light writhed palely against plaster, as if pinned there.

     He didn’t like Malfoy. He had never liked Malfoy.

     We’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss.

     But Malfoy had somehow become – important to him. He was the challenge that nobody else dared to be. He made Harry want to get up and strangle him, but at least he made Harry want to get up. He was – providing a motivation for Harry’s life.

     This was messed up.

     And this had been going on for years. Not that Malfoy had even done much.  He had simply been himself, a needle under Harry’s skin, a constant infuriating pain.

     Harry had never even realised – and now that he had, he was appalled.

     Life had actually come to a stage when he was clinging to anger to help him live it. When only anger could make the blood pound in his veins, crackle along the very ends of his hair, bring the world into sharp focus and make him react to it.

     It was as if he was an adrenaline junkie, and Malfoy was his dealer. And this – this had somehow become more important to him than his friends.

     What did it say about him, and his life?

     This was an insult to those he loved. And if Malfoy was important to him, at all, in however twisted and terrible a way… it was terrible that Harry hadn’t been sorry about his father.

     Harry sat up and drew the curtains on his bed.

     He was horrified to realise that he was sharply focused on the world now. He was not lost in depression, andhis very breath was coming out fast and strong.

     He twisted on the bed, as if trying to jack-knife through water away from it all.

     This couldn’t be true. He wasn’t certain – it didn’t seem entirely true.

     It seemed uncomfortably close to the truth, though.

     He had to find out everything about this. If Malfoy was important to him, he could not stay this hostile rival. There had to be a reason why he could affect Harry.

     Harry had to find that out too.

     He’d gone as far as he could alone. And Dumbledore couldn’t help him.

     There was no use thinking any longer. But he did think, he kept thinking. He thought as he tossed restlessly on the bed, forgetting to take off his clothes or slide under the covers.

     Tomorrow…

     Tomorrow he would have to confront Malfoy.

*

 

     “Harry, you seem a bit jumpy.”

     Harry jumped.

     “I – uh, no. I’m fine,” he said uneasily.

     Hermione was looking at him in concern, her piece of toast poised in the air. Harry tried desperately to look as if he hadn’t been up half the night, wasn’t wearing the same clothes as yesterday and really, really wasn’t watching the doors to see when Malfoy would arrive.

     Hermione looked at him for another long moment, and then returned to her toast.

     I’m just looking at the door, Harry tried to project to the world. The door. Fascinating door. Haven’t appreciated it properly over the past six and a half years, must appreciate it now.

     Breakfast wore on, and Malfoy did not arrive.

     Oh come on! This was disgraceful. Breakfast was the most important meal of the day. People shouldn’t go around recklessly skipping it.

     Even Crabbe and Goyle were there, and Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bulstrode and Blaise Zabini, all of his usual crowd. Otherwise known as ‘Malfoy’s court.’

     Harry stared across at them until they noticed and gave him nasty looks. He looked away in a hurry.

     It’s not my fault. I just want to talk to him. People should eat breakfast.

     “Harry, you’re not eating any breakfast,” Hermione said.

     Harry, extremely distracted, took some toast and spread it, and took a large bite.

     Then he realised that he had just bitten into toast and porridge.

     This was ridiculous.

     This continued all day.

     Seven years, thought Harry. Almost seven years of wishing he would fall into some black hole and the day I’m trying to talk to him he disappears off the face of the earth.

     Oh, no. He couldn’t be one of the disappearances, could he? Not now.

     Harry was shocked to feel something like fear.

     This disturbing emotion was thankfully wiped away when he spied the palest hair in school among a group of Slytherins going to Potions class.

     Right!

     “Come on,” he said to Ron and Hermione. “Quickly now, to Potions. No lollygagging.”

     Lollygagging? He was going mad.

     No time to think about that. He would go to Potions, and then Malfoy would push disdainfully past his desk as usual, tossing him a rude comment, and instead of gritting his teeth and resisting the urge to start throwing punches he would…

     Um. Well. He hadn’t quite worked out that part yet. But say something, definitely.

     Words. That was the plan.

     The plan was entirely useless.

     Malfoy didn’t go near Harry’s desk. Every other Slytherin went by, though, muttering even more virulent things than usual. They seemed to think the entire affair was a plot to humiliate their chief.

     Harry had no idea what Malfoy thought. He sat at the back of the classroom as usual, and was very quiet.

     It would have been lovely if Snape had been quiet as well.

     “Well, well, well, Mr Potter,” he said, his face looking more disgruntled than ever. “It seems your plan is not only to glorify yourself but to make the Slytherins look bad. Congratulations on a very childish display.”

     “But Professor,” Ron said in outrage, “Harry couldn’t possibly-”

     “It was a mistake,” Hermione chimed in. “Harry didn’t-”          

     Harry turned around in his chair to see if Malfoy agreed with Snape.

     Malfoy was staring straight ahead, his face perfectly blank. It was a narrow, ascetic face not made for expression, and Harry had no idea of the thoughts going on behind it.

     “Mr Potter,” Snape called out. “Eyes to the front of the classroom, please. Where the lesson is going on? Thank you.”

     Harry could feel himself blush. This was all terribly embarrassing.

     So he’d talk to Malfoy after the lesson.

     He didn’t. Malfoy was encircled in a crowd of Slytherins as he walked out. The same went for lunch, and Care of Magical Creatures, and the hallways, and dinner.

     They clustered around him like bees around a flower, and Harry found it extraordinarily frustrating.

     Why do you all like him so much? He’s an annoying git!

     Years and years of Malfoy showing up all over the place to laugh at Harry, and now people decided to build a human fortress around him.

     And then he was back at the Gryffindor common room after a very, very tiring day in which absolutely nothing had been accomplished. He felt dispirited and frustrated and…

     He’d had enough. Harry was tired of hanging around Malfoy waiting for the boy to grant him an audience.

     If he wanted to go talk to Malfoy, he was going to go talk to Malfoy.

     “I’m off for a walk,” he announced to the common room at large, and sprinted away before anyone could offer to accompany him.

    

*

     Halfway to the Slytherin dungeons, Harry changed his mind.

     This was ludicrous. He didn’t want to talk to Malfoy. He hated the prat. He certainly didn’t want to go wandering into the midst of the Slytherins and making a fool of himself in front of Malfoy.

     Oh, God. That senseless pang of anxiety again.

     Harry remembered hearing Ginny’s Valentine in second year, and the clutch of desperation in his chest when he realised Malfoy was going to hear it too. The stupid idiot’s opinion mattered to him, for some reason.

     He had to find out why.

     Harry took a deep breath and hastened through the corridors, concentrating on getting to the Slytherin common room before he could lose his nerve.

     Once he had reached it, he hammered on the stretch of bare stone that Harry remembered was the Slytherin entrance. Just like the Slytherins, he reflected, to have an entrance hidden from the other houses. Slytherins were always doing things like that, and appearing in the bottom of lakes where nobody wanted to see them, and then refusing to talk to people all day.

     He hit the wall more vehemently.

     The wall behind him slid open, and he whirled around and tried to look as if he had been facing that way all along.

     “Honestly, Pritchard, have you forgotten the Slytherin password again?” said Malcolm Baddock, a small and rather shifty-looking fourth year.

     He stopped and stared when he saw Harry Potter, champion of all things Gryffindor, looking rumpled, decidedly nervous and standing on the Slytherin threshold.

     “Er,” said Harry, losing control of his tongue at the crucial moment.

     Baddock blinked, and looked stunned when Harry was still there.

     Harry wished desperately for self-possession. “Er,” he said again, cursing himself. “Er. Um. Could I see Malfoy, please?”

     There. Not exactly eloquent, but it certainly got his message across.

     Malcolm Baddock stared for just one more moment, and then turned and pelted away with a yell of, “Everybody! Come quick!”

     In a couple of seconds, Harry found himself faced with a huge crowd of Slytherins, jostling and peering to get a look at this unbelievable sight.

     To the fore were Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini, wearing identical scowls.

     This had been a bad idea.

     “What do you want, Potter?” inquired Blaise, his dark face suspicious and distinctly unwelcoming.

     Pansy crossed her arms, as if Harry was going to attempt storming the common room.

     Harry swallowed. “Could I see Malfoy, please?”

     Oh, good. Now he had turned into a parrot, hysterically repeating the same phrase over and over.

     “Why?” Pansy demanded stonily. “What else do you plan to do?”

     “Nothing! I didn’t do anything!” Harry protested. “I just need to talk to him!”

     Blaise and Pansy exchanged hard glances, and seemed to come to a decision.

     “Well you can’t,” Pansy informed him curtly, making to close the entrance.

     “What the hell is going on here?” demanded an imperious and bad-tempered voice. “Some of us are trying to get some work done, you know…”

     There was no mistaking that aristocratic tone, nor indeed that white-blond head as Malfoy made his way to the front of the crowd.

     Harry simultaneously felt relief, and a flash of the fear he had felt when he thought Malfoy had disappeared.

     He realised that he was not only afraid of what might happen to Malfoy, but of what Malfoy might do. If Malfoy was important to him – Malfoy could hurt him. And Malfoy liked to hurt people.             

     When Malfoy reached the front of the crowd, he stood staring for a moment, grey eyes wide. He seemed as thunderstruck as Malcolm Baddock had been.

     “You!” he exclaimed blankly. Then, collecting himself in an instant and rather to Harry’s envy, he asked coldly, “What do you want?”

     I will remain calm.

     “I want to talk to you,” said Harry, and reddened uncontrollably.

     Malfoy leaned against the doorframe with careless ease, his arms folded. He watched him with those opaque eyes, reflective, silvery and giving away nothing.

     Harry noticed he was wearing a white jumper and jeans. He was one of the very few Slytherins in Muggle clothes.

     “Well, here I am,” Malfoy replied. “Talk.”

     Harry looked around at the ranks of dangerous-looking Slytherins, arrayed in the mouth of the door like teeth in a shark’s mouth.

     “Couldn’t we talk alone?” he asked desperately.

     Malfoy looked vaguely startled, but then waved down the outraged buzz behind him.

     “I suppose,” he said slowly. He stepped out from the threshold, Harry backing up a few paces as he did so.

     The stone wall slid closed, replacing the stunned faces of the Slytherins. Harry was pleased by this improvement.

     Then he looked back at Malfoy, who was now leaning casually against the wall, and got back to the business of being nervous.

     He was beginning to understand why making a fool of himself in front of Malfoy was so terrible. Malfoy had far too much self-possession for a boy his age, and it seemed to put you at an automatic disadvantage.

     “So – er,” said Harry. “Shall we, er, find an empty classroom to talk in, or something?”

     He certainly didn’t want to hang around in the corridors where anyone could spot them and spread God-knew-what rumours all over the school.

     Malfoy raised a pale eyebrow.

     “I spend too much time in classrooms already, thanks. We can go for a walk around the lake.”

     “Malfoy, it’s icy out there and neither of us have cloaks!”

     “So?” Malfoy inquired. “You said you wanted to talk. I want to walk around the lake. That’s where we can talk – unless, of course, you’ve changed your mind.”

     Harry was reminded, at this point, that he still hated Malfoy.

     “Fine,” he said, through gritted teeth.

     Malfoy smiled one of his faint triumphant smirks. Harry felt his blood come to a simmering boil.

     “Splendid,” said Malfoy. “Let’s go.”

    

*

     The wind swept in a ravaging sheet across the grey land and water alike. Everything seemed subdued and flattened by it, until you noticed the tiny rebellious ripples on the lake’s surface. The wind came sharp as a sword from the sky, which was so covered in clouds that only an occasional tinge of steel-grey relieved the vast whiteness.

     Harry was freezing, and the wind seemed to have adopted his hair and robes as playthings to buffet around.

     Malfoy strolled slightly ahead of him, hands in his pockets, as if out walking on a mild summer’s day. His fair hair was only a little stirred by the wind, lifted and rearranged by invisible fingers, blown back a shade from his brow.

     Harry wondered what on earth he was going to say.

     This was pretty much as far as his plan had gone, and now he had a supercilious Slytherin on his hands waiting for words he hadn’t actually worked out.

     They walked in silence for a while, Malfoy seeming quite comfortable with both the silence and the weather. He had lost all traces of uncertainty he might have shown earlier.

     Eventually he turned around. His eyes seemed darker out here, matching the shadowed uneven grey of the lake beyond.

     His unhurried drawl was the same as ever.

     “Did you simply want to indulge in a bit of taciturn bonding, Potter? Because I have a date with some hot cocoa and a textbook, and frankly this is getting dull.”

     “A – a textbook?” Harry stammered. It seemed bizarre that Malfoy might do something as commonplace as study.

     “Why, yes, Potter. This is a school, you know. I would have thought even you might have that worked out after all these years. Classes do tend to be involved.”

     “Malfoy, shut up,” Harry snapped. “I’m trying to say something here.”

     “Say it, then.”

     Malfoy stopped and looked at Harry, his air almost amused but his glance a direct challenge.

     “Er,” said Harry. “Ah. Um. That is-”

     “I take it this isn’t one of your lucid days?”

     “Malfoy!” Harry exploded. “Could you just be quiet, and pretend for a second that you’re a halfway decent person? I really do have something to say, and I can’t say anything if you keep interrupting with your nasty comments.”

     Malfoy shrugged. “Sure.”

     “You’ll be quiet?” said Harry, suspiciously.

     “I don’t have all day to listen to your pathetic bleating. I’ll be good,” Malfoy promised. “On my honour as a Slytherin.”

     Harry was extremely dubious about the validity of this pledge, but…

     “OK then. I, uh, you know yesterday and the lake, um, thing?”

     He paused and waited for a response. Malfoy observed him in silence, and it wasn’t until Harry noticed the smirk still playing about his lips that he realised.

     “You can speak when I’m asking you a question, for God’s sake!”

     “Oh, can I?” Malfoy asked innocently. “So sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt the narrative flow. Of course I remember, you pillock.”

     “Er. Didn’t you, kind of, wonder what it was all about?”

     “Not really. I put it down to my irresistible sexual appeal and moved on. Life’s too short.”

     Harry had conceived of a new plan. Kill Malfoy, hide the body in the lake, and then see if he really missed him all that much.

     “Malfoy, stop being stupid,” he exclaimed. “I have been thinking about it.”

     “What conclusion have you come to, Wonder Boy? I have no doubt it’s brilliant.”

     Malfoy’s eyes said: Imbecile.

     Harry screwed his eyes up, and stared at the lake. His train of thought was liable to be derailed by impulses to beat Malfoy senseless if he kept looking at him. 

     “Oh, spit it out, Potter.”

     Harry took a deep breath and plunged into an explanation.

     “Well… Dumbledore said it wasn’t an accident so I had no idea what to think, but I knew I had to figure out by myself so I stayed up all night thinking and I could only come up with one possible reason and this is it. You know how we’re sort of rivals?”

     “No,” Malfoy responded. Harry turned and squinted at him in disbelief. “We’re enemies, Potter,” he elaborated condescendingly. “You hate me and I hate you. We’d like to see each other fry. It’s not a jolly little competition over Quidditch. This is a virulent loathing we have going on here.”

     Oh… Well, this was promising.

     Harry was still scrutinising Malfoy. Malfoy had lifted a hand to his hair and caught one flyaway lock absently between his fingers, twisting the fine strand as he waited for Harry to continue. He looked rather thoughtful.

     “Whatever,” Harry said hurriedly, rushing on. “It was just – I was thinking about that, and it was the only reason there was. And now I have no idea how to put this, but er, so, I came to the conclusion that your opinion might matter to me somewhat, which obviously was a thick conclusion, but I still can’t think of anything else, and so I wanted to see if that was true. And I can’t imagine why it should, since basically you seem to be, no offence meant, one of the most horrible people in the world, but if you’re not that might explain somewhat and I just wanted to see and to figure out why so um… Er.”

     Harry was deeply thankful that he had to stop his gabbling because he was short on breath.

     Malfoy tilted his head to one side, seeming caught between diversion and bemusement.

     “Potter, you completely incoherent sod, are you trying to be my friend?”

     Harry exhaled sharply. “Yes.”

     “Oh. Hmm.”

     Malfoy was looking meditative again. Harry was unfamiliar with this expression of Malfoy’s. It replaced his habitual sneer with an abstracted gaze, and was almost pleasant.

     He watched it for a while.

     Eventually, Malfoy said: “What’s in it for me?”

     This blunt and extremely Slytherin question threw Harry.

     “Wh – what?”

     “Well, if I’m your friend can I have the Gryffindor password so I can sneak up and leave dead animals in Weasley’s bed?”

     “No!”

     “OK, will you tell me all of Weasley and Granger’s dirty little secrets so I can embellish them and then spread them around the school?”

     Harry was torn between startled laughter and horror. “No!”

     “Can I trick you and turn you over to the Dark Side?”

     “N-” Harry stopped, and looked at him in some concern. It was, after all, a fairly serious question. “Would you want to?”

     Malfoy pursed his lips, which made his cheekbones appear knife sharp.

     “Not particularly. Be quite funny, though.”

     Harry shook his head in disbelief.

     And yes, fine, in mild entertainment. Nobody could be quite so blatantly nasty as Malfoy, and somehow he was so shameless about it that it almost made you forgive him.

     “All right,” Malfoy said at last.

     Harry blinked. “You – you’re agreeing?”

     “That would be the general meaning of the phrase, yes.”

     Harry couldn’t restrain his bewilderment. “Why?”

     “Ahhh…” Malfoy tilted his head back, looking at the sky. The line of his throat seemed vulnerable, suddenly. “I’m not sure. Call it morbid curiosity.”

     Harry found himself oddly at a loss. He had achieved what he had set his mind on, and now… Exactly what was he supposed to say to Malfoy? Talk to him about how rotten Snape was? Call him Draco? The idea seemed preposterous.

     They walked on for a minute, and Harry risked another glance at Malfoy.

     He was looking at Harry, and by now he was quite windblown himself. He looked rather lost, staring at him under that silvery fringe.

     “What do you do with your friends?” Harry asked him helplessly.

     “I tell them what to do, then they go off and leave me in peace.”

     “Oh.” The idea didn’t seem that attractive to Harry.

     “Will you do what I tell you?” Malfoy asked brightly.

     “No!”

     “Oh,” said Malfoy, in morose tones. “Well… what do you do with your friends?”

     “Er, we talk a lot about how awful you are.”

     “You could do that. I’d take it as a compliment.”

     Harry was silent. Some part of him was clamouring for him to tell Malfoy it had all been a bad idea, and run off.

     The rest of him just didn’t… exactly want to.

     Malfoy’s face was slightly screwed up against the wind.

     “While we’re having this awkward silence…” he remarked in an unusually small voice, “could we get inside? I’m shockingly cold.”

     Harry couldn’t stop himself from laughing again.

     “Shut up, Potter.”

     “I told you so, Malfoy.”

     “And I told you to shut up!”

     Malfoy turned and began to walk briskly back, giving up the pretence of a graceful saunter.

     “I only wanted to get a look at the bleak landscape for Creative Magic,” he groused.

     “For…?” Harry had a dim memory of a list, and talk of homework in the common rooms. “Oh, the subject. Is it any good?”

     Malfoy stopped dead. “Are you joking? It’s the best subject in the world.”

     “Oh. I just picked the ones Ron chose,” Harry admitted. “I didn’t really know what they were about.”

     “For crying out loud… That’s what they get, throwing people of Muggle birth into magical schools.” Harry was about to make a decided objection to this racist comment, but Malfoy was continuing oblivious, striding into the wind and speaking loudly over his shoulder. “Creative Magic is like… Well. It’s a transcendence of talent.”

     Harry looked blank.

     Malfoy sighed impatiently.

     “It’s like – there are wizards and witches who can make utterly fantastic books, or plays, or paintings, by being able to transform magic and talent into a single thing so even Muggles are spellbound… So even Muggles say that it’s just like magic.”

     Harry had never seen Malfoy get enthusiastic before. He noticed, however, that the extravagant gesturing which Malfoy commonly used in his cruel impressions was oddly suited to this exuberant description. Malfoy’s eyes were shining, and he looked more open than Harry ever remembered seeing him.

     Harry bet that the entire Slytherin common room was sick of hearing Malfoy talk about this subject – clearly a favourite.

     Still, he had to admit, he was almost charmed. Malfoy was acting like a kid.

     Even when they had been younger, Malfoy hadn’t acted like a kid.

     Unless you counted his all-too-frequent snotty brat moments.

     “Muggles wonder where the time has gone after listening to a Magically Created concert or seeing a Magically Created painting. Because the magic does soak up time, it takes them briefly to another dimension, and then they return to their own dimension never knowing what happened but knowing they experienced… something,” Malfoy continued eagerly, “and… can we hurry up, Potter? It’s getting dark, and I am freezing out here.”

     “You Slytherins are so fragile,” Harry said.

     “Oh, shut up. And walk faster. I’m going to die of pneumonia. Can’t you walk faster than that? I’m cold, I’m cold, I’m cold!”

     Ah. Another snotty brat moment.

     Harry sped up. Obviously, Malfoy could not be allowed to act in this dictatorial manner, but… somehow it seemed natural, coming from him.

     It was certainly a change from the Gryffindor policy of ‘don’t breathe too hard on Harry or he’ll break’.

     Malfoy kept complaining until they were safely inside.

     “We’re in the warm now,” Harry said, laughing. “Quit your whining.”

     “I wasn’t whining, I was about to die of hypothermia,” Malfoy grumbled. “I… Hmmm.”

     Malfoy looked up, and Harry followed his gaze.

     Ron and Hermione were coming towards them.

     “Harry, we’ve been looking for you ev-“ began Ron, and stopped abruptly.

     Malfoy’s eyes were luminescent and contemplative in the shadows that hid his face.

     “See you tomorrow, then,” he murmured. “Same time, same place.”

     He sloped off, his pale head in the middle distance before Harry had a chance to agree. Harry realised that it had not been a request but a command.

     The boy was insufferable. But Harry’s traitorous subconscious might have had something there.

     Shaking his head, Harry laughed a little ruefully, and stepped forward to meet Ron and Hermione.

     “Harry – was that Malfoy?” Ron asked incredulously.

     “Er,”said Harry.    

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