Second Place- Alternate Universe
Third Place - Romance

Underwater Light


Chapter Seven

Straight Talking

If you want me all you have to do is ask a thousand questions

Could you put a name to someone else's sigh?

Could you put a face to someone else's eyes?

Is it someone that you'd maybe recognise?

But it all fades into morning when you open your eyes.

Draco stalked under the fresh green leaves of the trees around Hagrid's paddocks, looking distinctly put out.

"The end of March," he snarled. "Bringing the beginning of April. Heralding spring and sunshine, which deliver in their turn sweet summer skies."

He pronounced each 's' as if it had personally affronted him.

Harry suppressed a smile.

"And that bothers you because...?"

"I hate summer," Draco said, narrowing his eyes and enunciating the word as if summer would be in very serious trouble when he got his hands on it.

"All right," Harry answered indulgently, looking up at the pale sunshine and then back at Draco. "Tell me why."

"The sun, of course," Draco replied. "Everybody else with their rotten tans. I find it unacceptable that I can't get one. I've done everything I could think of. I suppose you tan?"

Harry blinked as Draco eyed him accusingly. "Well - a bit."

Draco snorted in an aggrieved manner.

"Of course. Fine! I don't care. I'm not bitter," he informed Harry bitterly. "I'm just an off-putting off-white year in, year out. That's great."

The corner of his lip curled and he kicked rather maliciously at the moss.

Harry suppressed another smile. Draco could be such a sulky brat at times and yet, somehow, Harry was coming not only to accept it but find it oddly endearing.

It had never occurred to Harry that Draco's pale skin might bother him. It was - just part of Draco, wasn't it?

Harry glanced over at Draco, whose shirt collar had slipped down a fraction to expose the edge of one collarbone. The colour of his skin made his bones seem sharper, as if they might pierce through the delicate flesh. There was something almost fragile about his skin, something which coupled with his hair might have made him seem childlike if not for the cold, sharp intelligence of his eyes.

Nobody had skin quite like Draco.

"-revolting," he concluded in a disgusted tone.

Harry blinked again. "Oh - look, no. I mean, you're - er - you know, quite good-looking."

He avoided looking at Draco. Draco gave him a scandalised glare.

"You four-eyed git! I'm bloody gorgeous," he said, folding his arms. "Quite good-looking, indeed! I've never been so insulted in my life."

Harry sighed. "Never mind. Perhaps this summer you'll tan - or freckle, or something."

Draco looked even more outraged. "Freckle! That's not funny, Potter."

"Er. Sorry."

"I should say you are," Draco muttered. "Quite good-looking. Freckle. A desecration of my aristocratically fair skin. Some day, Potter, a girl is going to slap you in the face."

"You keep making me all these promises, but you never deliver," Harry said jokingly. "You promised me attention if I bought these stupid clothes, and they've had absolutely no effect."

"Sure. Ginny Weasley just happened to feel like dumping porridge in her lap."

"I... that had nothing to do with me!"

Draco dipped his head and concealed a smirk, which was the closest he could come, Harry thought, to sparing him from mockery.

"Well, Potter. This eventual girl will be getting someone with no fashion sense or tact - but I'm not saying she won't be quite lucky." He tossed his head. "Not as lucky as the person who gets me, of course."

"Oh, of course."

Draco bit the side of his lip thoughtfully.

"Actually, I consider that it's an honour too great not to be divided. Perhaps I could be shared among a select group."

Harry couldn't help laughing. It was a nice day, the sun was shining, and in a minute Draco was going to make faces at Hagrid's latest monstrosities. Harry leaned back against the fence, shut his eyes and smiled again.

The scream ripped through the air.

And before his mind registered what he had heard, before his eyes even came open, his instinct made him fast enough to grasp Draco's arm just as Draco set off for the school at a dead run.


They burst into the Great Hall and into total uproar.

Harry looked around frantically at the turmoil of panicked faces he did not recognise and tried to make sense of words that were nothing but screams and... It was all just a sea of noise and ugliness and fear, but he still had a grip on Draco's arm.

That felt - safe, like Draco's swift glance back at him as if he too needed reassurance.

He had hardly realised this when Hermione's tear-stained face appeared before him, and he felt terrified concern and a fleeting pang of dismay, because he would have to go to her... and he really did not want to let go.

Hermione leaned in to him as Draco stepped away, and he lost him. He watched Draco's blond head disappear into the crowd of Slytherins even as the Gryffindors surrounded him.

He saw Ron's open scared face, Neville with tears rolling down his cheeks, Ginny's vivid red head pressed briefly against Dean's shoulder, and he knew, he knew with cold creeping horror before Hermione spoke.

"There were twelve students taken," she whispered, her voice faltering. "All at once, Harry, people from each house, and... Seamus is gone. He's just - he's-"

She was wringing her hands and crying, Hermione who was always so brave, Hermione who was never helpless. Harry grasped her hand and she clutched back desperately for a second. Then she turned her face into Ron's chest and they were wrapped around each other, his shaking fingers in her hair. She still kept hold of Harry's hand. Harry leaned against them both a little, half closing his eyes, pretending... He didn't know. That they were warm, together and equally all in all to each other, as they were when they were very young and had magical adventures, and nothing could really hurt them.

Seamus. His dorm mate, his friend. Seamus who still kept the shamrock mascots from the Quidditch World Cup and had a secret but often-discussed crush on Padma Patil. Seamus.

No, stop thinking about it!

"Wh - who else?"

Ron's face was sick and pale. He couldn't seem to say.

Harry looked towards Dean, who was always calm, but Ginny was still leaning against him and his girlfriend Parvati was looking desolate. He seemed occupied.

Eventually, it was Hermione who spoke once more, her voice ragged and muffled in Ron's robes. Hermione was always brave enough to take charge in a crisis, even if she was trembling and on the point of breaking down.

"I - I don't know. Younger students mostly... Orla Quirke, and B-Blaise Zabini's little brother, and - some first years. I didn't know their names, I-" Her voice became a cry. "I didn't know..."

"Hermione, it's-" Harry began.

Ron, who was never demonstrative, kissed her hair and held her close.

"It's all right, sweetheart," he said, tucking her head under his chin. "It's all right."

Blaise Zabini's little brother... Harry couldn't help looking over at the Slytherins.

Draco was kneeling down, a position Harry had never seen him in before. His face was white and determined, and he was talking to a first year.

Harry watched his mouth shape the words "You are not afraid," an almost brutal order, but Draco seemed so sure, and now the first year looked more sure too.

Harry kept watching, not certain why the sight touched him so.

Then Draco allowed himself to lean closer towards Zabini.

Harry tried to see the expression on Zabini's face, but his head was bowed.

"Oh, Harry," whispered Ginny, "what will we do?"

Harry took her hand and squeezed, and she drew gratefully closer to him. Poor sweet Ginny. He could still be almost a hero for her - or at least a friend.

"I don't know," he said, noticing her wet eyes. "But don't cry, Ginny. Please don't."

She held fast to his side, clinging to his arm.

Harry watched Draco's hair brush Zabini's sleeve.

And then the sounds of distress and despair stilled around them, because Dumbledore had stood up and everyone was staring at him.

Their headmaster was older now and frail, but it was not he himself so much as their belief in him that helped.

The only wizard that You-Know-Who ever feared.

Hermione and Ginny were both blinking back their tears.

Professor Dumbledore still had a very powerful kind of magic.

"We are at war," he said simply. "In war horrors are inevitable. My consolation is that I believe you will all suffer courageously. Those who have been taken, I believe we will recover. Those who remain, I know will continue to fight."

There were faces glowing in desperate hope across the room.

"I know that I can count on you all to be brave. Professor Lupin will discuss further precautions at the Young Order meetings, but the most important thing for you all now is simply to face danger, and to keep the conviction that we are fighting for the right reasons and we will not be defeated."

There was an easing of tension around Harry, and a growing conviction in all the faces he looked into.

The Slytherins, Harry noticed, were looking at Dumbledore with respect but without that shining faith. He had never been to them what he was to the rest of the school. Draco was standing up now, resolute and blond and a little like a knight in shining armour, if you didn't look at his eyes. Slytherins were crowding around him. His hand was on Blaise Zabini's arm.

They kept near to him as they moved out of the hall, and Harry thought, where's Snape? They need somebody - Draco needs somebody...

He would have liked to speak with him again for a moment, but Draco was with the Slytherins now. He was theirs.

So Harry put on a brave face and put a brotherly arm around Ginny, and went with them all to Gryffindor Tower. They all crowded together in the common room because nobody could face the empty beds and besides, there was safety in numbers.

And Harry told himself that he belonged with them, and it was enough, and he was comforted.


Hermione and Ron ended up sleeping curled together on the couch in the common room, holding each other tight against the pain. It was late when Harry climbed the stairs helping up Neville and Dean, weary and scared.

"Good night, Harry," Ginny said as they went.

"Night." He wondered what Draco was doing right now.

The trip to his bed was fast, terribly fast. He tried not to look at Seamus' bed, tried not to see the others avoiding it and pretended every motion they made was not sharp and terrified. Harry tried not to think about being alone, and how people were taken sometimes when they slept. He tried to summon up the sunlight from earlier, and the laughter.

It didn't work. He was twisting among thoughts of who could be taken next, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Dean... and amid the nightmares and the longing he fell asleep and...

He was swimming in the lake at night. He felt peculiarly heavy in the water, as if he might sink at any moment.

That would mean drowning, wouldn't it? He felt strangely at peace with that idea.

Hermione drifted by in one of the boats Hagrid took the first years in, a lantern beside her shining on her book.

He called out to her, and she said, "Harry, I'm very busy. I have to fight a war. Could you please be quiet?"

When the next boat went by, he saw Ron, absorbed in diagrams of Quidditch strategy. He yelled his name, but Ron lifted his head and said,

"I'm sorry, Harry, but after I'm done with these I have to spend a little time with Hermione."

He was getting heavier and heavier.

"Sherbet lemon."

Harry twisted around to see Draco in the water.

"Wh-what did you say?"

Draco laughed, a sound like the light trembling on the lake. He swam backwards, his skin gleaming wet and pale.

"Who do you trust?"

Harry reached out for him then, and woke up.

The night was close around him, and his bed was colder than the lake. Dean and Neville were sleeping, he could hear them, and he needed to be away from the absence of Seamus' faint snores.

He wanted to go talk to Draco, but it was the middle of the night and he had to be asleep; and besides, wandering the corridors at this time... Harry got up and sat by the window, watching the pale dawn as the sun rose.

"Awake, Harry?" Dean asked quietly.

"I... yeah. I had an odd dream."

He could talk to Draco at breakfast.

"What was it about?"

Harry frowned. "I - don't remember."


Draco wasn't at breakfast, and they had no classes with the Slytherins that day. At lunch he was surrounded by people; at dinner Harry was occupied with all the Gryffindors discussing Dean and Parvati's split that morning and wondering if it had anything to do with Ginny Weasley, and Draco had booked the Quidditch pitch afterwards.

For some reason, Harry watched the Quidditch practise from the tower window, but he didn't see Draco properly until the meeting of the Young Order.

Draco was leaning back in his chair, his face very pale. There were faint shadows under his eyes, and his hair was ever so slightly out of place. He looked as if he hadn't slept at all.

This is outrageous. Someone should be looking after the Slytherins. He's going to be ill.

Pansy was clinging to one of his hands, which he permitted with a regal air. Blaise Zabini was pressed close to his side. All the Slytherins were clustering about him, closer than ever.

Harry understood why with Lupin's opening words.

"Professor Snape is away, attempting to gather information which will help explain the recent attack. Professor Black and I will be taking his place."

Harry wondered vaguely whether they were desperate enough to let Sirius teach the Slytherins again. That had been forbidden by Dumbledore since the Great Points War of sixth year, when Sirius and Snape had begun a vicious cycle of point removal and Gryffindor and Slytherin had both ended up with negative points. As Harry recalled, there had also been a pile-up outside Dumbledore's office when everybody stopped screaming and finally leaped at each other. Harry remembered trying to crack Draco's head open against the flagstones when Dumbledore came out.

Draco had always liked Snape, and he clearly already knew Snape was gone. A few Slytherin girls looked on the point of tears.

Draco was looking at Lupin, and he seemed calm and absorbed. Harry didn't think he looked too distraught.

"New safety regulations are in place," Lupin continued. "First to third years are absolutely forbidden to leave their common rooms without a teacher. Moreover, a prefect will be on duty at all times to enforce this. Nobody is to leave the school building except as part of a class, and Quidditch practise will be supervised by Madam Hooch. Nobody is to wander alone for any reason whatsoever. This includes the Young Councillors - Harry Potter, I saw you walking the school alone yesterday. Don't let it happen again."

Harry saw the concerned look in Lupin's eyes, and felt wretched for worrying him. But I was going to meet Draco. If we can't go alone to meet each other, and we can't go outside, when am I ever going to see him?

"I realise many of you must be in pain," Lupin said softly. "But all of Professor Snape's information so far tells us that the people we have lost are not dead. You-Know-Who has been displaying a great amount of interest in the Captus charm."

It was Ginny who shyly raised her hand and asked what that was.

Lupin, who always encouraged discussion, asked if any of the other students felt competent to explain it, and the force of Hermione's hand shooting up almost levitated her out of her chair.

But it was Draco was spoke without being called on, his voice lazy and almost distracted.

"It's a new form of an ancient spell," he elucidated slowly. Harry watched his long, pale fingers play idly with a quill. "Back in the old days, when wizards were more powerful and there were more of us - we could create a whole world, trapped in a tiny sphere, and trap real people inside it. Enter it ourselves and have the world as our realm, and the people as our slaves."

He did not seem at all repelled by the idea. Rather, he looked intrigued and just a little like a drawing of those ancient wizards in Professor Binns' books, with pureblood lines and refined cruelty.

Ron muttered something like, "Typical of you to know."

"So does your girlfriend, Weasley," snapped Draco. "The magic to create whole worlds has been lost, but it's thought that Dark Magic has recently been used to create prisons within spheres. A thousand tiny Azkabans You-Know-Who can keep in his pocket, that Dementors can patrol and nobody can ever escape from. The advantage to him is that he has a chance to torture our people for information, and to convert them, maybe use the purebloods for arranged breeding later. The advantage to us is that - perhaps we can get them back."

Ron's voice was slightly louder now.

"Odd that you should know so much about Dark Magic, Malfoy."

Draco leaned back in his chair.

"Know your enemy, Weasley."

"Because of course your family has always been so opposed to the Dark Arts," Ron shot back. "Did your Daddy teach you-"

"Ron, don't!" Harry exclaimed.

"Shut your mouth about my father."

The harsh crack of Draco's voice made Pansy reach out to him - he held her off with an imperious gesture. Harry carefully did not meet Ron's shocked gaze.

"I think we can refrain from personal attacks, gentlemen." Lupin's voice was calm, but instantly quelling. "Well explained, Mr. Malfoy, thank you. Does anybody have any questions?"

Blaise Zabini's voice was sharp, almost an accusation.

"It's true that the Dark Lord is being helped by someone inside Hogwarts. Isn't it?"

Draco's been talking to him.

But it made sense, as it had when Draco told Harry. It was something they all knew, though most people didn't speak of it except in half-formed whispers.

Lupin looked back at Zabini, his gaze level. Harry knew that Lupin wouldn't lie to one of his students.

"Yes - I believe it is. We have no idea who it could be, though. I can only urge you all to be discreet and watch for any signs that somebody is communicating with the other side."

All the students watching each other with fear and distrust. That could so easily lead to paranoia. And perhaps that was Voldemort's plan.

Harry was appalled to find himself considering the faces around the table, searching for a flicker of guilt.

"Thank you. All the prefects can escort the others back to their common rooms now. The Young Council needs to discuss further safety measures."

Harry smiled at Ginny as she got up, because she looked so white and scared, as if she really hadn't realised what Lupin said was true. She smiled back, though her smile was shaky.

Harry considered squeezing her hand, but he was distracted by Pansy tentatively pecking Draco on the cheek. Draco let her do it, Pansy's lips grazing against the soft white line of his cheekbone, and Harry thought, but he doesn't like people to touch him, he doesn't want her to do that...

Then she swept off, flanked by her Slytherin girls and by Crabbe and Goyle, leaving Blaise and Draco. Harry noticed that Blaise moved his chair closer to Draco's after they had gone.

"All right," Lupin said with quiet intensity, as soon as the door closed on the last non-Council member. "The situation is grave. We all have to act in this emergency, and this is one of the things we must do. Here are maps of Hogwarts, with danger spots which could be escape routes marked, and also enchanted to show the whereabouts of everyone in school."

The wartime version of the Marauder's Map, courtesy of Messrs. Moony and Padfoot.

"The teachers need help guarding these danger spots at night, so with Mr. Boot's help I've made up a schedule for you..."

Lupin was passing out maps and schedules, and Harry took his automatically, reaching for a quill to write his name on the top, and listening to Lupin reading out names.

"And on Tuesday night Padma Patil and Professor Sinistra will guard the statue of the one-eyed witch-"

A list of names, and Harry was reading it and Lupin was reading it out loud and-

"-and Hannah Abbott guarding-"

"Hey!" Harry said. His voice was much too loud, absolutely inappropriate for this time of practical planning and he simply did not care. "What am I doing?"

Lupin's eyes were half-shut as if he was sealing himself off from Harry's pain. Hermione wouldn't meet his eyes. Draco did, but his gaze was utterly noncommittal.

"Why isn't my name on the list?"

"Well. Harry. We all thought it would be wisest to keep you from harm. Nobody doubts that you want to be useful-"

Harry's laugh was jagged, and if it hadn't been for the flicker in Draco's watching eyes Harry would have doubted that it came from him.

"You just don't think that I could be useful. You think you need to protect me."

It was a simple word, protect, a word that was meant to be good but was strangling and merciless.

I don't want your pity. I don't want any of this. And I'm not putting up with any more.

"No, Harry, be reasonable-"

"If I can't be like all the other Councillors then why was I put on the stupid Council? We're supposed to help protect the rest of the school, we're not supposed to be helpless and looked after and - don't touch me-"

Hermione snatched her hand back as if Harry had bitten it.

"Harry, you have to understand that you are You-Know-Who's target-"

"We're all Voldemort's target!" Harry shouted, pronouncing the name viciously. "This is a war! I don't want to be safe while everyone else is in danger, I don't want everybody to feel sorry for me, I don't want to be weak and maybe I don't want to be Harry Potter."

And the secret was out, the pretence ruined, everybody was hurt and Harry just no longer gave a damn.


"Shut up! I'm not a weak little orphan, you don't need to shelter me or to try and make me feel better. I'm a member of the Council, and if I can't be treated like everyone else then - screw the Council. Screw the Triwizard Tournament. And screw you all."

And at last there was a flicker of some feeling in Draco's gaze; it even seemed like he was going to say something, but just then Harry looked away and stormed out of the Council room.


Harry leaned his head back against the wall, and told himself that he was not going to cry.

He was still furiously angry, a knot of heat burning in his chest, but the bleakness was beginning to wash over him. He was so tired of all this.

He had blown up a few times before; comparatively minor incidents, but they provided him with a script for this occasion. After waiting a suitable time, Hermione would come looking for him. Then she would lead him back to Gryffindor Tower, where everybody would treat him with that horrible sympathy.

And he'd accept it. He couldn't let them down. He was Harry Potter, poor pitiful victim, brave boy hero.

Harry clenched his teeth until his whole jaw ached.

He could visualise it all now. Hermione's light step down the hall in half an hour, her gentle knock, her tact, not being angry because everyone felt sorry for Harry...

There came a knock that was probably denting the door.

"Potter! Let me in, or I will break down the door and beat your thick head in with the pieces!"

Draco. Nobody else could sound quite so aristocratic and pissed off at the same time.

"What are you doing here?"

"Alohomora!" The door went flying open. Draco stood in the doorway, looking around with an unimpressed air. "Flitwick really doesn't secure the Charms classroom properly."

"You could have waited for me to open it," Harry snapped.

"Malfoys are known for their patience." Draco smirked. "That is, people point us out, say we suffer from a severe lack of it and tell stories about my uncle, a waiting room and a bear."

It suddenly dawned on Harry what Draco was doing here.

He was here to offer sympathy. He was Harry's friend, and he'd seen he was upset, and he'd felt sorry for him. And now he was out to comfort him and coax him back.

Oh, Draco. I thought you were different!

"Now," Draco said briskly. "While I'm here, I want to know what the hell that witless little display of self-pity was about."

Harry blinked.

Okay. Still very different.

And kind of insulting.

"I wasn't being-"

Draco tilted his head. "Maybe I don't want to be Harry Potter," he quoted in falsetto tones. "Maybe Neville Longbottom doesn't want to be Neville Longbottom. I'd say the odds are pretty good he doesn't. I'm sure a lot of people are feeling sorry for themselves these days, but one thing they're not doing is disrupting bloody important Council meetings."

Harry's head jerked up. "It wasn't just about the Council meeting!" How dare Draco act as if Harry had been in the wrong? How dare he demand that Harry defend himself?

"Oh, you're right there," sneered Draco. "Half the time you're moping around the place putting everybody off their food. It's bloody ridiculous. I suggest you snap out of it."

Harry leaped up.

"I suggest you don't stick your nose into things you don't understand!"

He realised his fists were clenched. Draco glanced down at Harry's fists, and a corner of his mouth curled.

"Enlighten me." He smirked. "Or hit me, Potter. Whichever you'd prefer. Knowledge is power, and power is fun, but a bit of rough and tumble never goes amiss."

"Oh, shove off and stop being such a bastard!"

He wasn't going to hit him. He wasn't.

"I can prove my legitimacy, Potter. Back twelve generations, if I have to."

Well. Maybe just once.

Harry stepped in close enough so Draco tilted his head back. Harry tried to keep his voice cold and level.

"Stop laughing at me! You don't know what it's like."

"What what's like?"

Draco's voice sounded almost bored, and it was infuriating, and so Harry took a deep breath and told him everything.

"What it's like to have the whole school pitying you! What it's like to have everyone know you failed and someone died! What it's like to be the poor fragile orphan who nobody trusts with anything, who everybody protects, who everybody coddles. You've seen it. You know. Everybody knows. The way - I was made Quidditch captain, and Triwizard Tournament champion, and the way everybody always tries to make me feel better and yet nobody will let me do anything because they know I'm useless! I hate it - it's unbearable and it's - it's-"

Harry stopped, panting for breath. I said it, he thought, dazed. I said it - and now Draco can see...

Draco's eyes were wide.

"Crap," he said.

Harry blinked. "What?"

"Why are you talking such total crap, Potter?" Draco demanded. "Were you dropped on your head as a child repeatedly?"

"Malfoy, if you're going to make fun of how I feel-"

"Of course I'm going to make fun of how you feel. That's what Malfoys do." Draco looked down his nose at Harry. "I'm also going to ask why you decided to spew sentimental idiocy into my ear. Quite frankly, I feel violated. You failed and someone died, in-bloody-deed. So you couldn't stand up to the Dark Lord and a ring of Death Eaters, all by yourself at the age of fourteen. Yes, you certainly let everyone down there. If only Longbottom had been in your place, he would have saved Diggory by heroically soiling himself."

"It's not funny!"

Though it did sound strangely more convincing than Don't blame yourself, Harry. There was nothing you could have done.

Draco was raging on.

"Why were you made Quidditch captain, for the love of... You're right, Potter, it could only be sympathy run mad. They really should have given the captainship to the whiz kid of the team, the youngest player in a century - oh, hang on just a minute, they did, didn't they! Next minute you'll tell me people are letting you win matches when you've won almost every one you remained conscious for since first year. Do you even listen to yourself when you whine? Get a grip!"

Draco looked thoroughly exasperated, and a bit like he would have enjoyed hitting Harry with a chair. Draco could not have been nastier, considering these were someone's honest feelings; he was just being the callous and selfish git Harry had always wanted to pummel into unconsciousness and...

Draco had a point. This was great.

"Everybody coddles you, indeed. What else can you expect, if you go around pouting about your Great Big Emotional Mess all the time? These are Gryffindors, Potter, the useless do-gooders, if you don't recall. Of course they're going to be nice to you. I doubt their whole lives revolve around protecting and nurturing you, unless you count the smitten Weasley and that creepy Creevey kid. And people say I'm vain. I ask you."

Draco exhaled sharply.

"This school is full of people who couldn't give a damn about Harry Potter and his pathetic little crises. Poor fragile orphan. Get over yourself, Potter, students are disappearing all over the place and nobody has time to care about you or your precious par-"

"Watch it, Malfoy."

Harry stepped in so furiously close that he almost felt the movement of eyelashes against his face when Draco blinked.

"Get bent, Potter." But he didn't finish his sentence. "Where was I? Oh, yeah. Demolishing your pretty little castle of delusions. They're protecting you because you're so cute and feeble. Am I right?"

Harry certainly wouldn't have phrased it like that, but - "Yeah..."

"Of course. It all makes sense now. They couldn't possibly be afraid for you for a legitimate reason. Since practically everyone in school has foiled the Dark Lord's evil plans for world domination at least once. Lupin can't have thought this one out logically and decided to not to have Harry Potter as a guard and tempt the forces of darkness to swoop in bent on murder."

Harry blinked. He hadn't actually considered it that way.

"Is that what you believe?"

"Actually, no," Draco answered. "You-Know-Who hates you, we all know that, and I think if there was any possibility he could get you, he'd have nabbed you already. I think you're one of the safest people in school. But I can certainly see Lupin's point, and I don't think that anyone believes you need to have your little hand held as you walk through the corridors."

It was at that moment of tremulous relief, with the floating thought that maybe, just maybe, Draco could be right... that Harry realised he was wrong.

"There's the Triwizard Tournament," he said, lifting his chin. "It was made with practically the same tasks, just to make me feel better and get closure. Explain that."

Draco stared at him as if in disbelief.

"You are so lucky you weren't put in Slytherin," he informed Harry. "If I'd had to listen to this kind of babble for six years, I'd have hauled off and murdered you with a broomstick."

"Oh, you have a different idea?"

Draco pushed Harry back an inch so he could lean forward.

"Oddly enough, I do. And my idea is much more plausible, which is less odd since yours is the stupidest I ever heard. People do not hold international tournaments to make moody schoolchildren feel better. People hold tournaments to make the entire wizarding world feel better. Don't you realise that Beauxbatons has been shut down, and that they had to take their third champion from the last pathetic remains of a wizard school in France? Do you honestly think you're worth all the bother?"

Harry would have answered no, but all he seemed able to do was stare at Draco with hope gathering in the pit of his stomach.

"Please, Potter," said Draco in his most disdainful tones. "They arranged this to put a bit of heart into the wizarding world. It was a very simple campaign move so that they'd have something other than disappearances to put in the paper. And sorry, but I don't think they're going to waste their time changing the tasks too much. We're in the middle of a war, and besides - I'm sure everyone would be happy if you won. You are Harry Potter, after all. It would be nice for the papers. But I certainly don't think it was arranged for your benefit."

Draco surveyed him, almost as if he were despairing that anyone could be so stupid. Harry was almost gasping.

Then he slammed Draco up against a wall.

"If you're trying to make me feel better, I'll never forgive you," he swore.

Draco shoved him back.

"I don't try to make people feel better," he replied distantly. "And I don't lie for any purpose other than to serve myself. So why don't you quit it with the amateur dramatics, Potter, and tell me why."

He smoothed down his robes and walked over to Flitwick's low desk, leaning against it with no suggestion that his height in any way discommoded him.

Harry looked after him.

"Why what?" he asked.

Draco smiled, a needle-bright and flashing smile. "If this is what you believed people thought about you for years - if that's what makes you look like a wet week sometimes - then why did you let people think it? You're not the deceitful type. What were you hiding?"

Harry sat down on the floor. Hard.

"Malfoy, don't-"

He drew his knees up, hid his face against them, and maybe he was a child after all, and Draco could be remorseless.

Draco walked over to him, and Harry heard him sit in front of him. Harry looked up and met his intense gaze.

"You can tell me," he said.

"I just let them believe what they wanted, all right?" Harry snapped. "There's nothing wrong with that. If they wanted to think I was some kind of martyred innocent, that was better-"

"What are you?" Draco threw the words at him, fast and cold and hard.

Emotion bit sharply inside Harry. "I'm - oh, damn it!"

He remembered his hatred of his parents' murderer, and the look on Ron and Hermione's innocent horrified faces.

Harry doesn't want to kill anyone, do you, Harry?

The blinding hatred he had felt for Voldemort just hearing about Neville's parents, and then after Cedric... and knowing that nobody else could ever know what the boy hero was thinking, knowing that he wasn't really innocent like them and knowing now - that he had to tell somebody. Draco.

"I hate Voldemort," Harry said thickly, with venom loading his tongue. "I hate him. I loathe him, more than any of the others can imagine, I want to kill him, I'd love to kill him... and I'm not supposed to feel like that!"

He was leaning forward, just his knees between himself and Draco, and Draco didn't hesitate for a second.

"I do," he said steadily. "I hate him too. It doesn't mean that you have to hate yourself."

And that cold bleak bitterness ran through Draco's voice, that murderous fury, and Harry thrilled to it and knew it, and there wasn't that automatic recoil he had expected. It was nothing like he expected.

He lowered his head to his knees again, taking a deep helpless breath.

Draco's touch was between his shoulder-blades, brief and light.

"Is that all you've been torturing yourself about?" he demanded. "Just that you want revenge and you don't think the others would understand? It's perfectly natural, it's perfectly normal, and they might understand. Even if they don't, it's all right to be different from them and-" Draco paused. "Potter - are you crying?"

Harry lifted his face indignantly. "No!"

Draco looked distinctly relieved. "Oh. Well. Good. I was about to go running for Granger. Is that it, then?"

He'd hidden it all so well, like a guilty secret, because he wasn't supposed to have that sick anger thrumming through him. Like the secret of being almost sorted into Slytherin, which he'd never told Ron or Hermione. But he'd told Draco, who was Slytherin and who understood pain and hatred and absolutely lethal rage.

He'd told Draco.

"Pretty much," Harry answered. He felt utterly drained.

He could feel Draco leaning forward to peer into his face, feel the weight against Harry's legs, and he felt almost bereft when the weight was removed. Draco seemed satisfied with what he had seen.

"You're a bit of an idiot, Potter," he observed without any real rancour.

Harry leaned back. "Maybe so," he said tiredly. "I can't imagine why you agreed to be my friend."

"Obviously, there's the amusement value," Draco pointed out. He paused, and Harry saw he had that bright vacillating light behind his eyes that meant he was thinking. "And because of - how you feel about You-Know-Who," he said at length, with his eyes focused on Harry. "Because you can do it too."

The ferocity of Draco's gaze answered Harry before he asked his question.

"Do what?"

"Live." Draco threw up his hands. "I mean really live. I don't mean to exist with or without a purpose, I mean to enjoy existing. I mean - I don't have to explain it. You know it. What else do you feel when you're flying?"

Harry remembered with a sudden vivid power the feeling the first time he had been on a broom. That utter joy - this was easy, this was wonderful.

"Yes, exactly," Draco said, still looking at him fiercely. "That's it. That's the way it can all be. I know that. That's how I live - that's how you can live. And they can't, none of them, not even your oh-so-special friends and that's why they can't be on my level or yours. Because they can't live with the same fury."

Fury. The word seemed oddly appropriate to Harry, simply because anyone else would have found it inappropriate.

He understood. Draco didn't waste moments, Draco threw himself into them. Draco's enmity towards him had been wholehearted because Draco knew no other way to be. Draco was utterly appalling or utterly amusing, but he was utterly something, because there was always passion there.

Passion. It was about passion. And that was why he and Draco, even when they were enemies, had been on the same level.

"They aren't capable of it," Draco continued.

"Don't," said Harry. "I love Ron and Hermione."

Draco raised his eyebrows. "Yes, well, that's your problem, isn't it? The fact that you loved them made you feel guilty for years. You put yourself back in the cupboard when you decided to love them."

"No, that's not true," Harry answered. "I see what you mean. I see that's why you can live like you do. But love isn't like that. The possibility of danger makes flying better. I want to love them; it makes my life better. It even made my life better being in that cupboard. Because I absolutely knew afterwards that I never wanted to be trapped again."

"I don't see it," Draco said. "I can live, can't I? And I was never trapped."

Harry thought about Draco over the years, the pure energy of him in everything he did, right or wrong. It was the whole reason Harry had hated him so much; because even though he was only another schoolboy and Harry had faced the powers of darkness, he was able to make himself an enemy who could not be ignored.

And he had done that because Harry could hate him so much, could wish with such passion to beat him once and for all.

On the same level, indeed.

"Weren't you?" Harry asked, but he would not bring up the name of Draco's father.

"No," Draco snapped, turning away from Harry in the same decided way he did everything.

"It would be all right to love," Harry told him quietly.

"Who?" Draco demanded.

"Anyone, like I love Ron and Hermione. It isn't the cupboard. It makes everything brighter, it's part of - really living. No man is an island, you know."

"Astute observation. No man is a Quidditch pitch either." The corner of Draco's mouth jerked down. "I don't agree with you."

He smiled suddenly, a smile of such intensity it might have seemed painfully bright to someone other than Harry.

"Anyway. That's why I agreed to all - this." He made an expansive gesture. "All right then. Are we quite done with your emotional breakdown? Sure you aren't thinking about your abusive childhood?"

He got up lightly. Harry looked up.


Draco laughed. "I asked what you were thinking about."

"Oh. I was thinking about you."

Draco smiled slightly, unreadably, and offered his hand. "In that case, perhaps you can get up the hard floor and we can get back to the meeting. I asked them to wait, I didn't know you'd take such an annoyingly long time."

Harry shook his head in disbelief, but couldn't help laughing. "I like it here. It's not like I'm going to see you again often anyway."

"Oh, really?" Draco raised an eyebrow. "You'll see me tonight. I promise. Now will you get up, you useless prat?"

Harry reached up and took his hand. "Okay."


Hermione glared across the table at Blaise Zabini, who narrowed his eyes back at her.

Your little Slytherin leader isn't bringing Harry back. She wanted to say it, wanted to snap it, but Lupin was looking at her and she remained discreetly silent. She knew that bleak look on Harry's face. Harry needed to be left alone after outbursts like this.

Of course, Malfoy hadn't given her time to tell him that. As soon as Harry had fled the room, that interfering Slytherin had knocked back his chair, Malfoy's face a mask that betrayed nothing, and gone after him.

He was no good. Hermione had always known that. And she felt almost satisfied, knowing what Harry's reaction to him was likely to be. Time this bizarre companionship was broken up, anyway. Malfoy was bad for Harry.

Harry. Hermione clenched her fingers around the quill. She hated that miserable look on his face, that shuttered look with the wounded eyes that wanted to be left alone and that made her want to reach out and cry, I don't care what it is, Harry, you can tell me, you can tell me...

In a moment she would have to go to him.

In the next moment Malfoy and Harry entered the room. Malfoy held his chin high and surveyed everybody with that magisterial air Hermione found so intensely irritating.

"Did you miss us?" he inquired airily.

Harry flashed an embarrassed smile in Hermione's general direction, and then quietly took his seat.

Hermione was not at all fooled by the shy, unassuming pose which came to Harry as second nature. She looked at the small smile tugging the corner of Harry's mouth and the unusual brightness of his eyes.

She didn't understand anything.

"No brilliant ideas while I was away? Of course not, I was away," Malfoy rambled to himself in his unbearably conceited manner. "Let's discuss the question of security, shall we?"

That brought Hermione's head up with a jerk. She might hate Malfoy, but she was aware that he was an asset to their side. He and Hermione had worked together on a couple of necessary projects, and in between the snide comments and the frequent mirror checks, the boy could plan.

Besides, Harry rarely contributed. Hermione couldn't let the Gryffindor side down.

Malfoy was standing up.

"There's a spy for You-Know-Who in Hogwarts," he said casually. "So, obviously, we have to take precautions. No one person can know everything. We have to assign different areas of investigation and protection to different sections of the Council and the Order."

"I have to be in on both healing and research," Hermione broke in, keeping her tone business-like. "We're almost at a break-through with the preservation of phoenix tears. It could be crucial on a battlefield."

Malfoy gave a small nod. They had long ago established the boundaries of pretended respect.

"How crucial?" Harry asked. "Phoenix tears only affect physical wounds. I remember that. How much would preserved tears help if the Death Eaters relied on spells? They'd only be useful with injuries that happened along the way. Our whole healing department shouldn't be focused on that."

Hermione blinked and wondered if she had wandered into an alternate universe. Of course, Harry knew about phoenix tears from the Chamber in second year, but... it was so unlike him to speak up in a Young Council meeting.

It was so unlike him to look so - aware. Alive.

"Good point, Potter. See about it, Granger," Malfoy said coolly.

Hermione frowned to herself. Obviously, he didn't care.

"Now. About the question of how much we should trust Professor Lupin with," Malfoy continued.

Hermione was on her feet. "How dare you! He's the head of the Young Order. He set up this whole thing. How dare you even insinuate that we wouldn't trust him?"

Malfoy arched an eyebrow.

"I'm not. I know you Gryffindors are trusting souls. You can trust him if you like - I'm Slytherin, and we don't trust anybody. And right now, in this situation, we can't trust anybody absolutely. So you're damn lucky to have me."


"Miss Granger," Lupin said. "I don't want to force anybody's confidence. Mr. Malfoy is doing his best for the school. I'm willing to be equal to everyone else under suspicion - and I think he's right."

"He doesn't suspect you," Harry said, speaking up again.

Malfoy's gaze flickered briefly.

"No," he admitted, more quietly. "I don't. But I could be wrong. It has been known to happen, once or twice. Now, how about having Terry Boot on the research division? Sit down, Granger."

Hermione sat down heavily, and looked over for her habitual those-frustrating-Slytherins exchange of glances with Harry.

But Harry was looking at Malfoy, glowing with pride.


Draco had said he'd see him tonight.

A few hours later, as he was going down the stairs to the common room, Harry doubted this. It wasn't that he didn't trust Draco, but it was quite possible that Draco had over-rated his own abilities...

Harry was actually wondering if he could put on the Invisibility Cloak, pretend he was going to the bathroom and sneak down to the dungeons. There was the small matter of Ron and Hermione possibly being sceptical about hours-long stays in the bathroom, and the Slytherins might be a little alarmed by invisible presences opening their door, but...

And then he stopped on the step, because Draco was in their common room. He was leaning against the wall drawling lazily to Parvati Patil, who was looking rather charmed.

Harry supposed that Parvati was very pretty.

"Malfoy," Harry said.

Draco turned and smiled. "Potter. Crabbe and Goyle dropped me off here, and I require someone to walk me back. You wouldn't desert an innocent in need, would you?"

Harry grinned. "I'm not sure I'd classify you as an innocent, Malfoy, but I suppose I have to accompany you. You nuisance."

Draco stepped back from Parvati, raising his eyebrows.

"Then I suppose my overdeveloped sense of hospitality will oblige me to entertain you in my room. What a trial. Always a pleasure, Parvati."

Draco favoured her with his most enchanting smile and Parvati smiled back.

Her hair was long and shiny and she was very popular and she had huge dark eyes. She had only just broken up with Dean. It was hardly decent.

Draco was already wandering off towards the door. Parvati stepped up on the step, still smiling and shaking her head.

"That Draco Malfoy," she said in amused undertones. "Shameless."


"Potter, get a move on, I don't plan to live here. Some people here are honest and true, and that kind of thing is catching."

Harry rolled his eyes and took his time walking over to where Draco stood with the martyred air of one who has been kept waiting by ill-mannered boors.

This lasted for all of the two seconds it took to leave the Gryffindor rooms, at which point Draco started a conversation with every appearance of complete good humour.

"I'll say this, you Gryffindors do have a very high standard of female beauty," he remarked airily. "Some of the things Hufflepuff churns out are simply tragic. But your girls are almost without exception attractive. There's Parvati, and she's stunning, and your fan Ginny Weasley is rather cute too."

"What about Hermione?" Harry asked accusingly.

Draco laughed.

"Oh, I don't like the girl, but I have to admit she's very attractive."

"Malfoy, you can't say things like that. What about Ron?"

"No, he's not attractive at all."

Draco made a slight face. Harry forbade himself to laugh. After a bit he said casually,

"So, Parvati. Dean split up with her the other day, you know."

He left the sentence hanging. Draco turned to him, one corner of his mouth lifted.

"You think I'm actually interested in the Patil girl? Please. An innocent Gryffindor." He pulled a lock of Harry's hair. "I have standards, you know."

Harry couldn't help laughing then.

"My mistake."

"It's always your mistake, Potter. So tell me. Is there any chance you can play poker?"

Harry sighed dramatically. "So that's the way it's going to be. No more adventures, just cards with you in your room. I'll probably be bored to tears."

He doubted that Draco knew how to be boring.

Draco was busy assuming his superior air, which involved him shaking his hair back and regarding the world at large dismissively.

"Don't be absurd, Potter," Draco said. "You have an Invisibility Cloak, don't you? And according to my calculations, you and your companions are completely safe. We can go out tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'll teach you to play poker. A teenage boy unable to gamble illicitly, I call it tragic..."

He broke off.

"Well, what are you laughing at, Potter? And what are you staring at? Don't you know that's rude?"

"It's..." Harry shook his head. It was blithe rulebreaking, illicit plans, and laughing about summer, and this intense and morally questionable force invading his life and feeling so much better and - loving it. Loving it.

"It's nothing. Let's go to your room."

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