Slash Drama
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire
Published: 01/15/2002
Updated: 06/11/2004
Words: 116,388
Chapters: 15
Hits: 191,616

Love Under Will


Story Summary:
In their 5th year, Harry and Draco choose to be with one another; but the story--and the battle-- is just beginning...

Chapter 16

Chapter Summary:
Draco has returned to Hogwarts, sporting the shiny new Imperius curse he got over the holidays. Harry angsts (as usual), Hermione is wary (as usual), and the Slytherins are busy being, well, Slytherin. Ron is seeing things--but what does it have to do with Harry? And does it mean that Draco is in (more) danger?


Five nights had passed since New Year's Eve, and Harry Potter still couldn't sleep.

His bed was hot and clammy from nights spent shifting irritably under the covers, the sheets grubby and clinging to his skin, so he had moved to the windowsill, where he sat looking out over the frozen grounds of Hogwarts and thinking far too much.

Without the familiarity of four other bodies breathing in irregular rhythm in the beds around him, without the faint light from the other dorm rooms spilling under his doorway, the tower felt like a strange place. The silence was stiff and tense; the emptiness of the room without the others there was immense; Harry felt that just now, even his cupboard would have been more comfortable.

It wasn't a lonely emptiness, though. It was instead the kind of tense unease that came from waiting, from lying alone at night, thinking too much and waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

So this is what it's like, he thought, to miss sleeping next to someone.
Okay, so he'd only slept next to Draco once, but still it felt good to think of it again--as if quantifying it made it stronger. As if it were only the absence of Draco beside him that was keeping him awake.

Right. If only.

He missed Draco, definitely. But he wasn't an idiot, nor was he in denial.

It wasn't Draco, but the dream he had had five nights before, that haunted him.

Whenever he closed his eyes, he had flashes of it again, like an echo in his memory--the screaming pain of his scar, and a strange voice mumbling. It all sounded like gibberish to Harry, but it was gibberish that seemed to mean something different every time he thought about it. It could have been anything--a plea or command, a cry or a snarl. The more he tried to hold on to it, the less he understood it.

The thing he did understand, the thing that bothered him the most, was the light. Throughout the dream, Harry had seen a blinding white light that threatened to wash over him and everything around him; that threatened to wash everything away.

He thought maybe it was the light that made the dream so disturbing, more disturbing than any of the dreams where he could see people, places, faces--more frightening than any of the visions where he could make out Voldemort's eyes gleaming venom, or see the eyes of his victims wide with horror. Dreams like those, he could meet head-on. Dreams like those, he understood.

Sometimes as he lay in the dark, he would catch himself thinking that maybe it would be better to have the old dreams, the normal ones when he heard his parents' screams, or saw the green curse that killed them. Dreams of low murmurs and sheer white light, light that crept inside him and made his forehead boil in pain--this he could not understand or control. Instinctively, he was afraid of that light: of what was inside it, what was beyond it. He was afraid of what he would see if the light should fade, and afraid of what he might miss--what he might lose--if it didn't.

So, instead of sleeping, for the fifth night in a row he was awake.

Tonight was the last night of Christmas holidays, and the students would be returning the next morning. Finally, he would see Draco.

He ought to be happy about it, but instead he was nervous. He drummed his fingers dully against the frigid windowpane, trying not to think about it too much.

A queasy feeling had settled over him ever since the night of his dream, a knife of anxiety that cut into him more sharply with every passing night of insomnia. Things would be fine; he knew that in his head. He would see Draco, they would talk; things would be fine.

Draco would kiss him, and things would be fine.

Except things weren't fine.

Something was coming.

Harry knew it--knew it as surely as he knew that whatever incomprehensible thing he had seen and heard in his dream that night, wrapped in a gauze of white light, was going to return to haunt him. Harry was going to have to face it, whatever it was. And he would face it.

But Draco--would Draco be able to face it? Would he even want to?

Would he even care?

When Harry closed his eyes, he could almost imagine that he sensed Draco coming silently up behind him. If he squinted hard enough he could almost capture the memory of rough lips brushing against his neck, or against his temple. "I promise," Draco had said, looking into Harry's eyes. "I won't deny this."

I promise.

Harry opened his eyes again. His hands were balled into fists.

Let it come, whatever it was. Even if it came for both of them. Let it come. Harry loved Draco. As long as he loved Draco, that was worth whatever anyone else tried to do to them. He knew that. Surely Draco knew it too.

Harry ground his knuckles hard into the stone base of the windowsill. "Let it come," he muttered, pressing his forehead against the pane.

The moon had passed behind a cloud; Harry watched its path across the night, and did not sleep.

8 January 1977

House points: 335 (Well done, Gryffindor! In first place leading Slytherin by a full 25 points!)

Password: Skywalker.

As you can see, yet another reason this place desperately needs a Muggle Studies course. The Star Wars craze has hit Hogwarts, and none of the wizards know what to make of it. All the students with Muggle families and friends went to see it over the holidays, and now no one can talk about anything else. I've never seen anything like it--half the boys in school have turned into heavy-breathing, Vader-obsessed fans. Meanwhile the ones who don't get to go to the movies or interact with the Muggle world are completely in the dark, and it's not exactly a harmonious environment. The Slytherins, who kept hearing mention of the Force, collared some poor Hufflepuff third-year into telling them about it and now are acting as if it's a deep dark Pureblood wizarding secret they've known about all along. Not to mention they keep trying to use the Force on anyone who disagrees with them--and I mean that in the most literal way possible. Peter and Sirius have been trying to create magic light sabres out of their wands ever since school resumed. Rumour has it the Ravenclaws are thinking up ridiculous plans to try to capture Voldemort by building a Death Star.

All in all, this week has reminded me about the ways in which Wizards so often misrepresent Muggles. We place all this emphasis on the ways Muggles misunderstand Wizards, but in reality sometimes I think it's the other way around. After all, what Muggle hasn't wanted to be able to do magic--to possess the power of the Force, or whatever trumped-up name they're giving it these days? Sometimes I think Wizards don't understand the value of what they have. They have the Force at their fingertips every day, and they have so many real, integral advantages over Muggles that they take for granted.

I feel so strongly that the best way for Wizards and Muggles to get along is not for Muggles to become used to Wizards, but for Wizards to really begin to extend their hand to Muggles. Right now I know it seems like all that matters is stopping Voldemort (I refuse to write You-Know-Who, as it is much too wordy and I think it's a pointless nickname. Perhaps I should start calling him Darth Vader from now on?) from taking over everything and killing off everyone in sight--but even past that, I can't stop thinking about what comes next. I know Voldemort won't win, I just know it--but beyond that, the question remains: what will Wizards do with all that freedom when they have it? Will they turn around and continue to feel superior over Muggles?

It's so obvious to me that people like me, and Peter, and even Sirius Black, have more in common with working and middle-class Muggles than we do with people like the Puceys and the Malfoys. Why can't more of us start to understand that? The only way we'll ever be able to win the battle against Voldemort is to put a stop to this elitist idea that we're somehow better than they are. I'd love to see a coalition of Muggles and Wizards working together to educate one another and share resources: technology and magic combined--just imagine the possibilities! I don't know, maybe it could be a joint branch-off of the Ministry of Magic and Labour--a group of Muggle politicians working hand-in-hand with the Department of Muggle Affairs. I'd love to see something like that happen in my lifetime. I know it'll take years but I have a feeling it's just around the corner.

Maybe when I get out of Hogwarts, if and the war ends, I'll start it myself.

What prompted this? Oh, nothing extraordinary--on top of the Star Wars thing, Peter and the others had another run-in with Snape yesterday, and this time Snape managed to insult not only my bloodline but my skills as a witch before Peter's friends hexed him quiet. I can't help feeling sorry for him. In some ways he reminds me quite a lot of Peter--at least of Peter before I got to know him well. Quiet in his way, and reserved, but always watching, watching everything anyone does. The biggest difference is that whenever Snape opens his wretched mouth he can only spew bile, and Peter--Peter says the sweetest things.

I had a long and serious--well, I suppose the only word for it is quarrel, I guess--with P. last night. It didn't start out that way but before we knew it we were piling frustration on top of frustration and I had no idea there was so much built-up resentment and anger and--things can't ever just be simple, can they? You want somebody, you want to understand them and find out what they're feeling--you think all you have to do is ask them, and want the answer enough, because surely once they look at you and see how much you want it, how much you want the truth, they'll just give it to you. Right? I guess not. I guess P. just can't tell me things, or--at least that's what he says. I want to believe it's that. I want to believe it's that he can't tell me, and not that he won't tell me. Because if he can't tell me things, then it's my priority to trust him, isn't it? But if he simply won't tell me, then it's my duty to myself to know why he won't trust me. But--but which is it? How are we even supposed to know these things?

I'm so sick of questions. Lately all I ever have around Peter are questions. Something's changing him, and I don't know what it is. He doesn't even respond to my touch the way he used to. I can't really ask him why, because if my gaze even lingers on him too long he gets hostile and accuses me of suspecting him of hiding things from me.

Which, well, okay. I do suspect him of hiding things from me--but how can I get him to tell me what's wrong if he doesn't trust me not to reproach him? It's so confusing. I know he's hiding something, I don't just suspect it, I know it. I know it like you know your way around your own room, even in the dark. I used to know my bearings around Peter. Now I'm constantly reaching out for something familiar to cling to, and searching more and more all the time.

Whenever I get disheartened, I tell myself that the only thing that can make a difference is love--the strength of love, the strength of it even in the face of everything else in the entire world. And yet, it never seems to be enough. I'm not sure what will be.

I know that doesn't make any sense. At least, it does in my head--on parchment it just looks silly and paranoid. But something has changed, is changing. Changing us--changing everything.

What worries me is this: are we being changed from the inside or from the out?

Love Under Will

Part Two: The Serpent and the Dove

Nor let the fools mistake love; for there are love and love. There is the dove, and there is the serpent. Choose ye well.

-Aleister Crowley, The Book of the Law, 57

Chapter Sixteen: Perpetual Anticipation

Perpetual anticipation

is good for the soul

but it's bad for the heart.

The Slytherin dormitories burrowed beneath Hogwarts: long, narrow, and hidden like a snake beneath its feet. To get from one end of them to the other, you had to begin at the common room and walk due north, ducking low stone ceilings; beneath the dungeons; and further out past alternating sets of dorm rooms. If you weren't careful, or were even the slightest bit claustrophobic, you would very likely lose your bearings, between stretches of dark twisting corridors with intermittent patches of light. If that happened, you would most likely be unprepared for the long hallway's end, for it dead-ended abruptly into a low-ceilinged study room that stretched the length of the underground chamber. This room featured what was in fact Slytherin House's one and only window: a solid wall of thick, cold glass, the only barrier between the house of Slytherin and the vast, dark Lake of Hogwarts.

For a few hours during the day, the window admitted the sunlight as it topped the peaks around the school and penetrated the water. When it rained, the students would press their noses against the window and crane their necks towards the surface, where every raindrop shattered the lake like a mirror cracking into a thousand pieces. At night, the water thickened into an inky blackness that delivered nothing back to their eyes but an occasional fish darting too close to the glass.

Some days the giant squid would hover a few feet away, and all the students would come running, slowing their steps to a creep as they slipped carefully into the room, afraid of scaring it away by their movements. Everyone remembered with perfect clarity, whether they had actually been there or not, the time it had come right up to the window, and frightened all the children by glaring at them with one huge round eye. And none of the boys had quite yet forgiven Cynthia Warrington for telling her mother about the time the mermaids played games near the Window one warm spring day. Her mother had owled a complaint to the Headmaster about the impropriety of the MerPeople swimming naked around impressionable young boys and girls, and Professor Snape had grumbled and put a heavy black curtain up over the window.

Neither he nor Dumbledore had asked any questions when the drape promptly disappeared--and Cynthia Warrington never told her parents what went on in the Slytherin dorm rooms again.

If you were a first or second year, your main job for Slytherin house was to alternate cleaning the window once a week. Many, even older students, would wash it more frequently even than that. Once a year Filch could be seen muttering as he entered the bowels of the castle with a bucket of Magnus' Maximiser, a thick sticky glue that dissolved instantly and held forever; everyone in Slytherin knew that he was protecting their Window from cracks, and they all left him alone.

On days when the lake was smooth and still, you could squint your eyes and imagine that the water was so pure you could see straight through to the other side, nothing but a chasm of ice-blue space in between.

Virtually none of the other students from the other houses at Hogwarts knew that the Slytherin dormitories stretched beneath the lake. As far as any of the Slytherins knew, no student from any other house had ever been invited down to the Slytherin dormitories. Their layout was such that it would have been impossible to sneak anyone in without their being noticed by the other Slytherin students. And, while it wasn't unheard of to occasionally make a friend outside one's own house, actually bringing someone not in Slytherin down to Slytherin House was unthinkable.

The Slytherins weren't about to let just anybody see their window, or even know about it. One of the Muggles might break it, for all anyone knew.

But the Slytherins also knew, without ever having to say it aloud, that the exclusion was mutual. It wasn't as if any of them knew the secrets the other houses kept. Only one of them had ever even been inside the common room of any other house.

In late November of Blaise Zabini's fifth year at Hogwarts, the word had gotten round the school, as it inevitably must, that Malfoy had waited outside the Gryffindor dorms for hours demanding to see Potter.

Neither Blaize Zabini, nor any of the rest of the Slytherins, had known what to think. Not because of the simple fact that Malfoy had gone there--but because he had not mentioned it. A Malfoy who acted in outrageous ways was not a surprise. But a Malfoy who did something outrageous and then didn't say a word about it to anyone--that was a bit harder to grasp.

Of the fifth-year Slytherins, Tracey Davis had been the first to find out. Millicent frequently called her the only Slytherin girl who could pass for a Muggle if she wanted; and quite apart from the fact that Tracey Davis was probably the only girl in Slytherin who would have let such an insult pass unanswered, Millicent, as usual, was right.

Tracey Davis wore her not-quite-Weasley-red hair in a ponytail, and always had on a pair of baggy, faded jeans and an equally faded t-shirt. There were rumors that in the summers she played Muggle football for fun, but anyone who knew Tracey well enough, knew that she would just as soon drink the blood of a Muggle as participate in any of their activities.

Because of the clothes and the ponytail, and the way you could easily imagine her kicking a ball down a field, Tracey Davis was the most approachable witch in Slytherin.

This had also made her its best spy.

Given a little time, she could make friends easily with any of the girls from the other houses. If you needed to find out something important--or even if you didn't--Tracey Davis would hear about it first.

So Tracey Davis heard from Eloise Midgen that Lavender Brown had told Padma Patil's sister that Malfoy had actually been inside the Gryffindor dormitory the night before in order to challenge Potter to some kind of duel.

Tracey had responded that of course he had, all the Slytherins had known about it before the Gryffindors--and he had kicked Potter's scrawny little arse, too.

Then she had run to find Pansy Parkinson.

Pansy Parkinson had been in their dorm room trying on a new black lace corset and a tube of blood-red lipstick. Blaise had been lying on her bed, watching her do it and wishing there were something better to do.

When Pansy heard the news, she straightened up from the vanity and silently offered the slope of her back to Tracey so that Tracey could undo the laces in the back of the corset. "Don't say anything," she said at last, squirming a little as Tracey acquiesced and started untying. "He hasn't mentioned it, so he must have gotten into a fight and lost. God, your fingers are cold."

"So untie your own next fucking time," Tracey said pleasantly, giving them a final yank at the bottom so the corset dropped right off.

Blaise rolled her eyes as Pansy flung her boobs all over the place, and said, "It don't look like he's been in a fight to me."

"There are healing charms," said Daphne Greengrass mildly from the window seat, where she had been reading a book and combing her long, long hair. Daphne Greengrass had no personality whatsoever to speak of, and the things she said were little regarded by the other Slytherin girls--even when she had a point, as she did now.

At that moment Millicent Bulstrode popped open the door and said loudly, "Healing charms, what? Who needs a healing charm?"

The others stopped talking, and Blaise sat up on her bed. Tracey's eyes narrowed, and she took the armchair in the corner. Millicent breezed into the spot she had just occupied, which, not coincidentally, was the center of the room.

Pansy turned around and gave her a beautiful smile. Millicent, completely ignoring the fact that she was half-naked, said, "That lipstick makes you look like a whore."

"This lipstick came from Paris," said Pansy, pouting.

"A Paris whore, then. What about healing charms?"

Pansy colored and turned back to her mirror to wipe the makeup off.

From the window seat, Daphne Greengrass offered, "Malfoy got into a--"

"Shut up, Daphne," said Tracey curtly. "It's no big deal," she added to Millicent.

Millicent scoffed. "Did I just hear the name Malfoy? No, not a big deal at all." She crossed to Tracey's armchair and straddled her lap. "Tell."

Tracey scowled. Pansy looked over at them and giggled.

"You are such a bloody dyke, Millicent," said Blaise.

Millicent looked over her shoulder at Blaise, her black curls falling into her glasses. "Jealous?" she said, grinding her hips deliberately against Tracey's lap. Tracey rolled her eyes and shoved her away, but Millicent whirled around, grabbed her ponytail and yanked it, hard. "Bitch. Don't you ever push me."

Tracey winced but bit back disdainfully, "I thought everybody knew you liked it rough, Millie."

"Alright, shove over," said Pansy as she joined Millicent on the armchair and plopped down on Tracey's lap between them, facing Millicent.

"Oy! Ow," said Tracey pointedly.

Pansy only laughed and wrapped an arm around Millicent. "Do you like the purple any better?"

"What color is 'Pansy, get your boobs out of my face?'"

It was precisely at this moment that Cynthia Warrington opened the door--without knocking, as usual--saw the three girls on the chair, and gasped.

"Go away, Cindy!" yelled four of the five girls in the room. The fifth, Daphne, grabbed her comb and joined Cindy in making a quick exit.

"Fucking finally," said Blaise. Pansy giggled, hopped off the armchair, and began getting dressed. Millicent dropped a noisy kiss on Tracey's forehead and lay down on Pansy's bed, stretching her legs and watching Pansy pull on a hot pink bra and a fuzzy pink sweater.

"The thing is," said Pansy once she had fluffed out her hair again, "Draco was up in the Gryffindor dormitory last night."


"He didn't stay long, but he was there because of something to do with Potter. We were discussing whether or not we should mention anything to him. All the Gryffindors know about it."

"No, all the school knows about it," interrupted Tracey.

"But Malfoy hasn't said anything to anyone," said Millicent, sitting up and straightening her glasses.


"So he got his arse kicked."

"Maybe, maybe not," said Blaise. "Did anybody say what Potter's story was?"

Everyone looked at Tracey, who shrugged.

"Did anybody even see Malfoy yesterday after lunch?"

"He had that letter from his father," said Pansy suddenly, remembering.

"And he walked out of the Great Hall crying like a five-year-old," said Millicent with a smirk.

"He did not," said Pansy defensively.

"Oh, come on, Pansy, you know he turns into a wimp whenever his father says anything to him."

"Can you blame him?"

"You'd never catch me letting my dad tell me what to do and what to think."

"Yes, but your father doesn't have anything to lose if you step out of line," insisted Pansy. "Not the way Malfoy's does."

"That's because I'm a good girl," said Millicent sweetly. The other three girls laughed.

"Does it strike you," Tracey said in the pause that followed, "that Malfoy's been acting odd in general lately?"

"Thank you," said Blaise. "I've been noticing but I thought it was just me."

"What, you mean the way he's never around and keeps blowing me off like I'm a first-year?" Pansy examined her nails.

"You're just pissed cause he's started treating you like he treats everyone else," snickered Millicent. Pansy poked her in the ribs.

"And the way he's been keeping to himself," continued Tracey. "He doesn't even gloat anymore."

"Right!" Blaise moved to the edge of her bed. "And you know when I think the whole thing started? After he beat Potter at Quidditch."

A strange silence ensued, as none of the other girls particularly knew how to reply to this.

Pansy glanced over at Blaise, her eyes narrowing. "If you're implying that Draco can't handle being Quidditch captain because of--"

"Only I'm not implying it."

"Shut up, Pansy," ordered Millicent. She had turned towards Blaise too, and was appraising her. "Everybody knows you want to be Seeker," she said.

"Yeah, that's right. Everybody knows, including Malfoy. I'm not going to get anywhere by lying about him if I really want to be Seeker, am I?"

"I don't know--sure you don't have a death wish?" snapped Pansy, her eyes glittering.

"Fuck off, Parkinson," snapped Blaise right back.

"Shut up, both of you," hissed Tracey. "I think Blaise is right. Not necessarily about when it started happening, but that it's happening."

"You think it's got anything to do with Potter?" asked Millicent.

Simultaneously each one of them rolled their eyes. "When does it not have to do with Potter?" said Pansy, the slightest note of rancor entering her voice.

Blaise grinned. "Right. They should put down the wands and beat each other to a bloody pulp and get it over with."

"Old news," said Millicent impatiently. "Zabini, keep an eye on Malfoy."

"I can do that," said Pansy indignantly.

"No, you can't," said Millicent flatly. "No offense, but you're about as perceptive as Cynthia Warrington."

Pansy looked highly insulted.

"I'll do it," said Blaise. "But what do we do when the other Slytherins find out?"

"Nothing. Wait and take the cue from Malfoy."

"They're bound to be asking questions."

"So, we shut them up," said Tracey.

"Right," nodded Millicent.

Pansy looked uncertain, but nodded after Millicent.

And that was how it had gone. Blaise Zabini had agreed to 'keep an eye on' Malfoy, and she had.

For the most part Malfoy himself had put a stop to any questions about Gryffindor Tower the next day, by responding, whenever he was asked what it was like, with "Red." But each of the girls had done as directed, and subtly distracted anyone who got too near asking why Malfoy had been up there in the first place. Tracey would offer to share the latest gossip about that Ravenclaw slut Cho Chang. Pansy would strategically re-adjust her cleavage. Millicent would declare outright that the next person who mentioned the Gryffindors would be drinking from a straw. Blaise would bring up Quidditch practice, and keep an eye on Malfoy.

She had kept an eye on Malfoy when he had crept back into the Slytherin dorm rooms at all hours of the night and sometimes well past dawn. She had kept an eye on Malfoy when he had given up his regular morning run because he barely slept the night before. She had kept an eye on Malfoy when he and Potter fairly bristled when they passed one another in the hallways, and when Snape tried in vain to catch his eye during Potions so that he could give him one of his searing 'just-what-exactly-do-you-think-you're-doing?' stares. She had kept an eye on Malfoy on the days when he acted totally normal, and on the days when he acted like someone else altogether. She kept an eye on Malfoy when it seemed like every other person in Slytherin was keeping an eye on him too.

What she concluded, while steadily watching Draco Malfoy, she kept to herself.

Who said Slytherins didn't look after their own?


The return to Hogwarts was always worse in the winter. The icy blasts of wind pummeling through Hogsmeade Station greeted the students like a slap as they stepped off the train. The tiny, scant awning of the depot afforded no shelter from the cold or the wind, yet they all huddled there anyway. When the horseless carriages arrived to return them to the castle, they made a mad rush to the coaches, even though it was colder inside them than out. They sat four to a carriage; each seat was a cold iron bench, and the windows had great gaping cracks between pane and sills. The wind sliced through them as the carriage rattled along, and left stinging red imprints across cheeks, as if the flat of a blade had been pressed there. The students would huddle together even more desperately, attempting to cast warming spells against the jolting and jostling of the carriage as it lumbered up the steep hillside, unseen horses clambering for purchase on the icy path.

It was customary during this frigid ordeal, and indeed through all similar rituals such as a Hogsmeade weekend or the boarding of the Express, for the houses to stick close together. Occasionally the lone odd-numbered student would be tagged to form a fourth with students from another house. The Slytherins, who were notoriously protective of their own, liked to subvert this by charming their cabins to shrink so that only three people, or two, could fit inside them. Though the other houses viewed this as a mark of Slytherin stinginess, they dared not take issue with it; in general, even before they were safely within the grounds of Hogwarts, the Slytherins did as they liked.

Consequently, when a particular cabin of odd-numbered Hufflepuffs found themselves making room for Draco Malfoy, they were quite perplexed. Not only was it decidedly rare that Slytherins would lose one of their own this way, but it was next to unthinkable that the leader of the fifth-years, Draco Malfoy, should escape their notice. It was even more unlikely that Malfoy, forever flanked by those two fat bullies of his, should simply wander off alone to make chitchat with other houses.

Yet that appeared to be precisely what had happened. Had any of the Hufflepuffs watched as the boy was deposited onto the train--he did not have a family to see him off, but that was not unusual--they would have noted that he had made no effort to join the others of his house, but had taken the first empty spot he came to, among a group of curious but wary Ravenclaw second-years, and sat quietly, looking out the window for the remainder of the journey. They had seen none of this, however, and so stared at him in unashamed wonder as he climbed into the coach with them and sat, hands folded in his lap, blinking into space as if nothing were extraordinary about his presence there at all.

They needed several moments of wondering silence, while the carriage wheels ground into motion and the hooves of the invisible thestrals found a steady rhythm against the pavement. At length Ernie Macmillan cleared his throat.

"What gives, Malfoy?"

The other three students winced a bit at the use of Malfoy's name--it was not a curse or a verboten children's tale of terror, but it was still unpleasant enough. Its owner, however, appeared completely oblivious, so lost in thought was he as he stared out at the foggy, snow-capped landscape. When he did not respond or give any sign of hearing, Ernie Macmillan said again, more politely this time, "Malfoy?"

This time the other boy swiveled slowly around to look at him. For a suspended moment he gave no response still, only blinked lazily at Macmillan. Then, as if someone had flicked a switch inside of him, he snapped to attention; his gaze focused sharply in on the Hufflepuff, his lips parted in a sneer, and he snarled, "Bugger off, Macmillan," before turning and focusing on the passing countryside once more.

The other three students bristled and exchanged defensive glares with one another, and then ignored him; this they did so well that he, in turn, appeared hardly to notice them for the remainder of the journey, and remained impeccable and silent as the coaches set off on their long climb towards home.


More for the sake of warmth than anything else, the Slytherin fifth-year girls were huddled into one carriage, trunks and bags stuffed everywhere they could find room for. Pansy was bundled up in a frost-white Eskimo parka and sitting in Millicent's lap. Tracey and Blaise were scrunched together, sharing the seat with somebody's portmanteau, and Daphne sat next to Millicent, huddling as far against the corner window as she could.

The five of them were silent, as they always were on these freezing winter returns. Millicent's excellent warming spell had to be recast every few moments because the wind cutting through the cracks in the carriage windows kept blowing it out. Apart from that, and Pansy's occasional audible shudder, they did not talk until they got to Hogwarts.

As the students all unstuffed themselves from the carriages and hastened up the long stairs to the castle, Millicent grasped Pansy's elbow and nodded towards the ends of the coach line-up. Blaise left Tracey to get past the portmanteau by herself, and caught up with Pansy outside the carriage, just in time to follow Millicent's gaze toward the back of the line.

There, among a lot of Hufflepuffs, who were all deliberately ignoring him, stood Malfoy, cloaked in black, his robes tucked tightly around him so that he resembled nothing so much as a long, tall licorice stick.

Pansy's eyes widened in surprise, but Millicent's remained narrowed. Malfoy was standing casually, indifferent to the sharp winds blowing about him. He looked lost in thought, as if he were contemplating whether he might like to go inside, hop back in the coach, or possibly stay standing there in the snow. Pansy started after him, her stride impatient and determined as she shoved her way through the Gryffindors to the last carriage. Blaise and Millicent stood watching as she moved to Draco, caught his elbow, and dragged him back to the mob of Slytherins, who were moving to the dungeons in a huddle, casting warming spells every few paces.

"I thought you were keeping an eye on him," said Millicent in a low voice to Blaise. It was the first time she had mentioned their conversation.

"I took a holiday break," Blaise answered stiffly.

As Pansy and Malfoy drew near, Blaise could hear that Pansy was lecturing Malfoy about getting too close to the other students, even for a moment, because who knew what information those bastards might keep and use to get them later. Millicent turned toward the castle, rolling her eyes. Blaise followed her, wondering whether it was wise to suggest to Pansy the futility of lecturing Malfoy, of all people. For one thing, even though Malfoy had chinks in his armor, even though he allowed the Gryffindors to put him on his mettle constantly, he had been the one to teach their class of Slytherin how to play their cards close to the chest. He had his methods, and he stuck to them, and for the most part, until Harry Potter swaggered around, they seemed to work; it was ludicrous to think he'd be swayed by anything Pansy Parkinson had to say on the subject.

You couldn't tell a Malfoy anything anyway. And you couldn't tell a Slytherin any more about who to trust than he already knew by instinct.

Malfoy was, in fact, looking bored and distant, and he finally interrupted Pansy as they were coming into the Common Room to tell her languidly to shut the hell up.

Millicent snickered audibly.

"Draco!" Pansy said, with all the indignation she could muster. Blaise smirked and pulled Pansy away. It wasn't that she considered herself to be friends with Parkinson; indeed, she could think of few people whose silly prattle she liked less. But they were housemates, and she had learned that no matter how flighty Pansy might seem, it was never a good idea to let Pansy's anger fester.

Blaise guided a furious Pansy away from Malfoy, who didn't give either of them a second glance, but walked away without a word. When she had succeeded in foisting Pansy off on Millicent, she headed back down the hallway to see if she could catch up with Malfoy. He had already gone to his dorm room, apparently, but Blaise, taking a spot near the fire, sat down in the common room and continued to watch, and wait.

What she was waiting for exactly, she didn't know, but it didn't faze her in the slightest.

There might not be an opportunity at the moment to put all of this Malfoy-watching to good use.

But Blaise Zabini was a Slytherin.

She knew that one would present itself eventually.


For the past several minutes, Hermione had been leveling a steady gaze at Harry from across the table, the look that meant she wanted to talk; and even though they were sitting right next to each other, he was just as studiously trying to ignore her.

Harry had gotten dressed hours earlier than usual that morning and wandered downstairs for lack of anything better to do. He had then proceeded to fidget in his chair, pace the common room, half-heartedly attempt to do the crossword from Hermione's Daily Prophet, and generally be irritable.

He had managed to avoid most of her attempts at serious discussion over the vacation, but he knew that was only because she had been letting him avoid it. She had watched, and he had said nothing, and they had maintained awkward, tense silences ever since their talk in the Owlery. He also knew that the longer he avoided her, the more furious the storm would be when it finally broke; but just on this particular day (and all the previous ones) he wasn't really inclined to deal with it.

He had taken up the habit of pretending to be oblivious whenever she acted like she wanted to talk. In this particular instance, he had developed an overt and unusual fascination with his crossword puzzle, in the hope that at least Hermione couldn't take him to task for being idle--he figured not even she could object to word games.

As Hermione cleared her throat for what might have been the third or fourth time in the last quarter of an hour, Harry bent forward over the sheath of parchment and chewed the tip of his quill. "What's an, uh, eleven--no, ten-letter word for 'mental block?'" he asked, as if this were a question of serious importance.

"Occlumency," replied Hermione, as if this were a fact no human should actually have to think about. Harry wrote 'Ocl' and then groaned as the blank squares on the page began to rearrange themselves into completely new forms on the page, definitions re-scrambling themselves according to the new positions.

Hermione looked up over her section, the weekly Herbs & Manors insert. "Not again," she said indulgently. "It's two 'c's,' and an 'e' rather than an 'a,' you know. Poor Harry. You'll be working till they come back at this rate."

"Still better than listening to you remind me what a bad speller I am," said Harry grumpily.

"Oh, really," she responded complacently, "Being a good speller's not such a priority in the scheme of things. No one cares whether or not you can spell, for instance."

Harry's head shot up.

Hermione, registering his expression, immediately softened. "I didn't mean it like that, Harry," she added firmly. "You know that your friendship is what I care about, not what kind of hero everyone thinks you are."

"No?" Harry looked at her, and laughed. "Maybe you should start."

"Harry," Hermione said, her voice taking on the tone she always used when she was about to Tell him Something About Himself. "Don't misunderstand me. I care about you, not about what--"

"Not about what? Not about what Voldemort wants to do to me? You don't care about that?" Harry's fingers tore through the stiff parchment of the crossword where he was clenching it, so fierce was the rush of anger that had swept over him. "What about what he could do to you? What about what he did to Cedric?"


"What about it, Hermione! Will you care if I can spell your name right when I'm casting it onto a tombstone?"

"Harry, enough!"

She sounded truly wretched, but Harry wasn't finished. There was something viciously satisfying about seeing her at a loss, for once.

"No, it's not enough." He crumpled the parchment and tossed it onto the table. "You think I don't know I have to fight? You think I don't spend every day thinking about the fact that he wants me dead? You think that his name, the name you can't say, isn't constantly in the back of my mind no matter what I do?"

"Harry, I didn't mean to--"

"No, of course you didn't, because to you it's all just another problem for you to solve, isn't it?" Harry relished the sound of his own voice, and relished the pain in her own when she attempted to interrupt him yet again. There, he thought. Take a little of your own back. How does it feel, Hermione? How does it feel to be the one having to get the lecture, for a fucking change?

"Harry, you know that I'd never--"

"Oh, yes, you have, Hermione," he said, ignoring the hard knot in his throat. "For weeks you've been digging through all your books, combing the library, going over clues, all because you're obsessed with figuring out what that stupid Christmas greeting was about. It must be buckets of fun for you, trying to unravel the big great mystery behind it all. There's not any fucking mystery, Hermione! He wants to taunt me, he wants to remind me just how much he wants me dead! And yet, you have the nerve to be disappointed in me for not being as eager to help you as you think I should be--"

"Yes, Harry, I am disappointed in you," Hermione snapped back.

Harry's jaw dropped. "What fucking nerve do you have to--"

"Oh, come off it, Harry!" She was standing by now, and at this she slammed her fist down, hard, on the table. Harry flinched, but she kept right on yelling at him.

"If I've been obsessed with trying to solve the problem," she seethed, "it's only because someone has to be in order to keep you safe, because it's obviously not going to be you. You've gotten so used to relying on other people to get you out of things you don't even bother to make the effort to do things on your own, Harry! It was a miracle you survived the tasks last year at all, and you wouldn't have even gotten to the third task alive without everyone else's help, do you want to know why? It's because you're always too preoccupied with feeling sorry for yourself. Why me, I was cursed at birth, why me, the goblet picked me, why me, my life is so hard--" she took a deep breath--"and you won't do anything about it. You can't be arsed to because you're always too busy brooding over all the ways you've been wronged, brooding over Malfoy, brooding over You-Know-Who, brooding over your parents, or Cedric, or something, and frankly I think it's childish and beneath you and I'm growing sick of it!"

Harry glared at her and leaned against the table to brace himself against the surge of anger that overtook him, feeling that at any second it would boil over and spill out of him and never, ever stop.

Finally, he found his voice, and stammered out the first thought he could make sense of, which was: "Don't bring Draco into this."

He hoped his tone told her how much he meant it.

"Oh, right, because him being a Malfoy and all has absolutely no bearing on the issue of your safety and the situation with You-Know-Who," she retorted.

"That's exactly right," he said, and now he stood up, his voice quavering with anger. "As far as I'm concerned his being a Malfoy has nothing to do with it, and if that changes then it still won't be any of your business, will it?"

"Apparently, Harry, none of your friends are allowed to care about your safety, or try and help you, even though we want to help you, even though we worry about the danger you put yourself and Malfoy in, because it's none of our business!"

"You wouldn't understand anyway even if I talked to you, so why should I waste my breath when you're just going to tell me I'm being selfish?" Harry realized that by this point he was probably screaming at her, but he just didn't care.

"Harry, that isn't true, and if the fact that we've been friends through all this time, if that isn't enough reason for you to trust us--"

She broke off suddenly, and drew the back of her hand to her mouth, biting it. Harry had never seen her do that before. It was an odd, uncontrolled movement from her, and he suddenly felt queasy with guilt.

Hermione sat down again slowly, looking a bit paler, and very much as if she didn't trust herself to speak.

Harry forced himself to sit down, too.

They sat silently for a long, long time, avoiding eye contact. Harry stared at the crumpled up newspaper, and finally began to flatten it out and un-crease it again with his palm, until it was readable once more and he could make sense out of his own tumbled-up thoughts.

After a long time, he said quietly, "It's not that I don't want to deal with things, Hermione. But." He waited a long time, until the stinging feeling in his throat had subsided a little, before he spoke again.

"But there are some things you can't help me fix."

Hermione looked up at him then, sharply.

There were tears in her eyes, but her mouth was pressed together in a tight line, and they didn't fall.

"But Harry," she said, "I have to try."

Harry looked back at her. If there was anything you could say about Hermione, it was that she never hid how she felt. Right now she looked like someone who was carefully reconstructing something they loved, after it had just gotten shattered beyond all hope of repair. Harry thought, looking at her, that that was just Hermione for you--that no matter how much you tried to get her to accept reality, she would still look for a reason to keep holding on to her vision of how the world was supposed to be. Everything was logic, and sense, and stubborn idealism with Hermione. Harry realized suddenly that if the opportunity ever presented itself, Hermione would--would do what his mother had done for him in a heartbeat.

Except that Hermione wouldn't do it just for him. She'd do it for anyone--she would do it just because in the World According to Hermione, it was the right thing to do. To Hermione there was always one side, always only one point in an issue--the right one. The right one, and forget everything else--if you weren't on the right page it was your own problem.

Love probably wouldn't have had anything to do with it.

Harry wondered why he was struggling not to hate her, right now, of all times, when she was right here in front of him and looking at him with wide eyes and tear-stained cheeks.

"You couldn't stop what happened to Cedric," he said in a low, hollow voice. "Nobody could."

"Oh, Harry."

"I don't want you to think that you can stop it happening to me," he said. "Because you can't. No matter how much you try. You can't stop it, Hermione, not for yourself, not for me." He swallowed. "Or for Ron."

Hermione reached out for the newspaper and began to reassemble and fold the loose parchment. Impulsively, Harry reached forward and took her hand, forcing his lips into what felt like a stiff grimace rather than a smile.

A little of the tension went out of her lips.

"We're not talking about Ron," she said. But her voice had gone very quiet.

Harry began to speak rather awkwardly, but as he did there was a noise behind him and they both turned towards the sound; it was the creak of the portrait being shoved open. Harry heard the Fat Lady muttering, "Goodness gracious, it's worse than a pack of trumpeting elephants," and then the herd appeared.

In stampeded a cavalcade of Gryffindors, newly returned from their Christmas vacations, chattering madly and shivering from cold as they stamped their boots, dusted snow from their cloaks, and huddled near the fire. The staccato burst of noise was deafening in comparison to the tense silence of only seconds before, and Harry stared at the rest of his house-mates, half-grateful for this intrusion, half-resentful.

Then it hit him suddenly that Gryffindor was back, which meant Slytherin was back, which meant Draco was back.

He smiled at everyone.

The fifth-years came in. Parvati and Lavender came directly over to say hello, but Neville went straight across the room to take the hand of a shy-looking fourth-year Harry recognized as a friend of Ginny's. Harry blinked: Neville had a girlfriend? How had he missed that? But then the obvious answer presented itself: he had spent his free time sneaking off with Draco and barely noticing what everyone else had been doing.

Harry averted his gaze. He'd ask Neville about her later, maybe, he thought.

He felt a sudden, sharp twinge of bitterness at the thought that no one would be asking him about his boyfriend.

If he even still had one.

The Weasley twins appeared through the portrait-hole in a cloud of laughter. A beleaguered Ginny, who looked as if she had endured one too many hexes from her brothers on the way there, followed them in, and after her came Ron, Dean, and Seamus. They entered together, all arguing loudly about Quidditch. Harry didn't often see just the three of them together, and he noted the sight with a start. It was always just Seamus and Dean or just him, Ron, and Hermione together. The combination felt a little odd, a little off-balance, and he wondered a little selfishly if Ron were having as much fun with Seamus and Dean as the two of them used to have.

Used to have.

Harry wondered when they had stopped having fun.

Maybe when Cedric died.

He shoved that thought quickly out of his mind.

Just then Ron spotted Harry and Hermione. He left off talking to the others as soon as he saw them, and Harry couldn't help but be cheered. "Hi, Harry! Hi, Hermione!" He pushed across the room through the crowd gathering by the fire and flopped down into the chair next to Harry, grinning. "Happy New Year," he panted--it sounded as if he'd jogged all the way up to the seventh floor. "What've you two been getting up to?"


Harry opened his mouth to say something that wasn't 'We've been fighting over the fact that I've been sleeping with Draco Malfoy,' but Hermione cut him off.

"We haven't done much," she said. "Snuffles gave Harry a Firebolt case for Christmas."

"So I heard, Harry owled me about it," said Ron. "Why didn't he give it to you 'fore you left, though?"

"Huh?" said Harry.

"The night before we all went home, when you met him at the--" he looked around significantly, and lowered his voice to a level that would have been comical had it not been full of Ron's typical earnestness--"at the you-know-where."

Harry blinked, and Hermione kicked his shin from under the table.

"Ow--oh! Oh." Harry wondered darkly how many more times he'd be required to lie for Draco's sake. "He had to have it shipped--he didn't think it would get to me in time."

"Really? All he had to do was get it direct from Diagon Alley--what's the name of that shop?--you know, the one where the owner hand-tests the brooms?"

Ron scrunched his nose in thought and Hermione, clearly looking around for a distraction, said pointedly, "Hi, Ginny!" and waved in her direction.

Ginny sailed over and threw her scarf and gloves down on the table, her cheeks burning red from the cold. "Hi, Hermione! Hi, Harry!" she said in a rush. "Did you have a good Christmas? We had a fabulous one. Dad's brothers came over with all their families and we made igloos for them to stay in--"

"How many igloos?" Harry asked.

"Five? No, six. Was it six, Ron?"

Ron shrugged. "I dunno. Was a lot, though."

"It would have been six," said Hermione. "Your dad has six brothers, doesn't he?"

Ron counted mentally in his head, then nodded, looking sheepish. Harry stared at them. "Wow. I never knew your family was so big. How many cousins do you have?"

Ginny groaned. "Oh, please don't get started on the cousins. It's bad enough keeping track of all our uncles and aunts."

"Why? How many of those do you have?"

Ron looked to Hermione for corroboration, and Harry stifled a smile at the fact that she knew more about Ron's family than he did. Hermione pursed her lips, evidently waiting on Ron to give it his best shot.

"Six uncles and three aunts," Ron managed, "but, uh, two of our uncles have been married twice and one of our aunts married one of our second cousins, one of Sir--er, one of Snuffles' family--so it's like maybe, seventeen aunts and eight uncles? Is that right, Ginny?"

"Uncle Algie didn't marry," said Ginny. "You didn't count him, did you?"

"Oh, right. Sixteen aunts, then. Our Uncle Algie--" Ron held his hand level and waggled it meaningfully--"We think he's a bit funny."

"Oh, okay," said Harry. A sudden chill swept over him. He forced himself to ignore it.

"So anyway, Dad had all these igloos all over the lawn, and he enchanted them to stay warm all the time but he forgot to do the outside so the igloos kept melting all over everybody."

"Yes," said Ginny eagerly, "and the twins made huge snowmen enchanted to look like real wizards with wands, and then levitated them inside the igloos so one morning everyone woke up to see these huge hulking shapes everywhere beside their beds. Aunt Isador ran outside in her nightgown screaming, 'Murder, murder!' Dad ran out with his wand drawn and nearly hexed her senseless, he was so worked up."

"Hey, at least she wasn't naked," called out George from the other end of the common room.

Ginny caught Harry's eyes as the laughter subsided, and she grinned at him. "Harry," she said, wrapping him up in an eager hug, "thanks so much for your owl. You didn't have to write me back--I really appreciated it."

She left her arms around his neck, and he tried to unwind them as politely as possible. "It wasn't a problem, Ginny," he said, flashing a quick smile at her. Ginny looked as if she was going to take the seat opposite him. He hoped she wouldn't. He liked Ginny, but she was still a bit star-struck whenever she looked at him, and since he found the whole concept ridiculous, he never knew how to act around her. The Weasleys, he reflected, were a bit like a thick, friendly homemade quilt: sometimes when you were coldest and at your most brittle all you wanted was to be surrounded by their warmth and ease; but when you were already feeling stifled and smothered, what you welcomed on any other day was suffocating.

Harry shifted in his chair and glanced guiltily from sister to brother, hoping rather than expecting that Ron would get the message and make Ginny leave the three of them to themselves. Instead he noticed Ron looking curiously at them both.

Ginny must have noticed it too. Her eyes flitted over to Ron, and she said slowly, "Well. I need to take my things upstairs before they start to thaw out."

"Bye, Ginny," said Ron pointedly, still watching Harry.

"I'll see you later, Ginny," echoed Hermione, watching Ron watch Harry.

"Right," replied Ginny, giving all three of them a confused look before she gathered her coat and went upstairs.

Great, Harry thought. All I need next is for Ron to think I'm sneaking around with his little sister. He tried to picture Ron's reaction. Knowing Ron he'd be delighted, Harry thought. Except he'd probably expect Harry to give him a rundown of everything they did on every single date.

Then again, the idea of it probably wasn't any more absurd than the thought of him dating Malfoy. It was easy enough to imagine Ron's reaction to that. Not that Harry particularly wanted to.

Harry thought about what Ron had said about his uncle, about him being funny. How did they know? Had Ron noticed? Had one of his brothers noticed and pointed it out to him? Harry wondered suddenly how much Ron was noticing about him. Ron thought he was seeing a girl. What if he figured out that it wasn't a girl after all? What would he say then?

Harry straightened in his chair, suddenly acutely aware of all his movements and gestures, even the way he talked. What if he did something that made Ron figure out that Harry liked boys? What would he say? What would Fred and George say? They'd never make fun of him the way Ron had just made fun of his uncle. Would they?

Harry felt as if he'd just been caught cheating on a test or telling a lie. Did he act funny, like Ron's uncle Algie? How was he supposed to know what funny was, anyway? All he knew how to be was just himself. That had always been good enough for Ron, hadn't it? It was good enough for Draco.

But that was the whole point: Draco liked him. What if Draco liking him was enough to make Ron turn against him altogether?

The whole idea of Ron--or of anybody, really, but especially Ron--suspecting that he and Draco were seeing each other had never bothered him before, but ever since Hermione had found out, Harry had been extremely jittery over the whole subject. Now that Ron was finally in the room with him, Harry's stomach felt like dead weight. He'd been walking around with that uneasy, hollow feeling for days now: the sensation that something was about to happen, something bad, something unexpected.

What if Ron finding out was the something awful?

Harry chanced a glance over at his best friend, who had started trying to work the remnants of the crossword puzzle and had wasted no time getting into a fight with Hermione over how to spell 'homunculus.' At any other time Harry would have been checking the clock to see how many minutes they'd managed to go without sniping at one another, but at the moment he just felt wretched.

Here they were, the three of them, just as they always were, and maybe right now to anybody watching it seemed like nothing could break them apart. But even if Ron was okay with Harry liking boys, all it would take was the slightest mention of the word "Malfoy."

Harry's stomach lurched.

Ron would probably never speak to him again.

Harry looked at Hermione. He needed to communicate to her just how vital it was that Ron not find out about Draco.

Hermione deliberately didn't look up at him then, but waited till Ron was preoccupied with a word in the crossword puzzle. Then she glanced at Harry sharply, cold assurance written all over her face.

The message he read in her expression was clear.

No, he won't find out from me, but it's only a matter of time before he finds out from someone.

Harry settled back in his chair. No, of course she wouldn't let on. Hadn't she been the one, after all, to tell him she would never want Ron to hear something like that from her?

And if anyone would know how furious Ron would be, it was Hermione.

Harry looked over at Ron. His expression was currently twisted in frustration as he wrestled with the puzzle, which was moving stubbornly around and rearranging itself while he cursed it and chewed impatiently on the end of the quill. He was so earnest. You could ask him anything and he'd never lie to you; even if he tried to, guilt would be written all over his face: in the downward quirk of his mouth, the pained wince in his eyes, the nervous movement of his jaw muscles. No, Ron couldn't tell a lie, no matter how much he might want to. It wasn't in his nature.

In some ways Ron was as unsteady a friend as he was loyal; his loyalty had certain bounds, certain understood and pre-determined limits. Harry had known this ever since the tournament. He'd never discussed it with Ron because he hadn't needed to, just as he hadn't needed to hear him apologize. Ron couldn't apologize for what he was. There was no sense asking him to. Ron had seen that there was no logical way for Harry to have had his name drawn from the goblet without him putting it there himself, so he had judged accordingly. Harry thought occasionally that in temperament Ron was a lot like Percy, in more ways than just being good at chess. The difference was that where Percy would never have accepted that he had made a mistake to begin with, even if the truth was right in front of his face, Ron was the kind of person who would never make the same mistake again.

That was his strength: he was motivated by loyalty, and if he had doubted you, or inadvertently hurt you, he'd do his best to make up for it in all the ways that he could. The only problem was that with Ron, you never knew what logical conclusion he'd be jumping to next, or how angry and stupid he'd be in his haste to make some kind of short-sighted judgment about whatever it was.

Not that any judgment he'd make about Harry's relationship with Draco would be exactly short-sighted or stupid.

Not that Harry even had a relationship with Draco at this point. Who knew, since Draco hadn't even bothered to return his letter?

Harry gritted his teeth and suppressed a sigh.

Most of their other housemates had clambered upstairs to unpack and dry off. Ron, in the middle of what must have been his third or fourth attempt to salvage Harry's doomed crossword, abruptly gave up with a muttered 'bloody hell,' and impulsively started to fold the scattered pieces of the newspaper back together. Hermione, who had left off salvaging the pieces of the parchment earlier, looked on in amusement while Ron grew more and more flustered with every attempt to match up sections and line up the folds. Inevitably, he gave up and muttered one last curse, then sat back and sulked.

Hermione grinned at him and reached across the table, where she proceeded to undo the havoc he had wrought upon the Daily Prophet and re-fold the sections of parchment according to their appropriate creases. "My grandmother taught me that you can always tell what kind of a person somebody is by watching how he folds his newspaper," she said, clearly suppressing a smirk.

"So, what," said Ron irritably, "I'm sloppy and impatient and clumsy just because the bloody parchment keeps folding itself the wrong way?"

Hermione laughed and said nothing. Ron still looked miffed, but relaxed when she smiled.

"I guess I'm just lazy," Harry offered. "I never fold them back at all."

"Well, obviously, I mean--who has the time?" scoffed Ron. "I'm a busy man. Do I look like I have time to go around sticking pieces of paper back together? Honestly, Hermione."

Hermione promptly began reminding him that he folded the paper the way he folded his clothes--not to mention the fact that he had yet to master the art of doing his own laundry, even though it should take no time at all if he'd just learnt the spells she had taught him about the proper way to starch and press fabric.

Harry turned to grin at him, and then saw that Ron wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention to either of them.

Instead he was staring fixedly at the back of the last section of the newspaper he had folded, concentrating on one of the articles there.

Harry looked down at the Prophet. "What is it?" he murmured to Ron; but Ron had already scooted his chair back and was standing up. His eyes were as wide as Harry had ever seen them.

"I just, um, thought of something I need to check upstairs," he said hastily--

--and then he took off.

Harry and Hermione stared at each other as Ron's footsteps died away. Hermione narrowed her eyes and nodded her head at the parchment. Harry shrugged and pulled the parchment closer.

At first he couldn't tell what could have captured Ron's attention; but then he saw it, a small news item occupying a tiny box on the bottom left corner of the page:

Still no leads in rare book heist .

Just over two weeks after the owner of Lacuna, the noted bookstore in London's Mortome Row, was found under the Oblivius curse, Ministry officials still have no suspects in the attack. Since the shopkeeper, Gertrude Gandy, was the victim of a short-term memory loss spell, authorities are still unsure whether anything was stolen in what appears to be an isolated case of vandalism. Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt, speaking to the Prophet Wednesday, said that although the store is a treasure trove of rare and exotic manuscripts, it is unlikely anything of value was taken. "It looks like a direct attack against the shop's owner and not a robbery. She's convinced they were after something, but since she can't remember what it is they would have been looking for, we might as well be going on guesswork." The investigation continues. Mrs. Gandy has been released from St. Mungo's and plans to re-open the bookstore next week.

Harry stared at the article, and the tiny picture of the bookstore that accompanied it, in shock. It was no surprise to him that there'd been some kind of robbery there--Draco had been there, had seen the street roped off himself.

But why on earth would Ron care about it?

He looked the paper over once again, but there was nothing remotely notable on the page Ron had been looking at--apart from this.

Harry's mouth had gone dry. He swallowed, and looked up to find Hermione watching him curiously.

"Well?" she asked. "What was it?"

Harry blinked. "I don't know."

Hermione raised an eyebrow.

"There's nothing here," Harry said, and shoved the paper over to her, reflecting that he was getting surprisingly good at this whole lying-to-friends routine. "Take a look."

Hermione scanned the back page of the paper, a good three times before she was through. When she looked up, she still looked unsatisfied, but Harry could tell she hadn't registered the importance of anything she'd seen.

"Maybe he remembered something he had to do upstairs," Harry offered.

Hermione pursed her lips thoughtfully, but nodded. Sometimes, at least, she knew when not to ask questions, thought Harry.

He, on the other hand, was full of questions.

For the rest of that afternoon and all through the evening. Harry walked around with a swirl of fear in the pit of his stomach, trying and failing to think about something other than Draco. The wait during the two weeks they had been apart--had it really just been two weeks? --was nothing compared to the waiting now, the frustration of knowing that Draco was somewhere in the castle and he couldn't go to him.

Just a few more hours, he repeated; but those few hours stretched on endlessly, and Harry grew more preoccupied.

He listened to Neville tell him all about his new girlfriend. He helped Dean put together his new science lab kit. He looked through the twins' most recent collection of Quidditch magazines. He sorted through two whole bags of Bertie Bott's Beans with Ron, taking out all the booger and dirt-flavored ones and putting all the grass-flavored ones into their own pile. (Harry had no idea which flavors were which, but Ron, an expert on Bertie Bott's since birth, it seemed, could tell just by looking.) He even did his homework without complaint.

When he had forced himself to finish Professor Binns's essay assignment (1675 words on the historical importance of Persephone Piniot's invention of the Time-Turner), he finally allowed himself to raise his eyes and look at the hourglass across the room.

Ninety-three minutes before dinner.

He still had an hour and a half before he would see Draco.

Ron had been lying on his bed, his head buried in another magazine the twins had given him--this one emphatically not about Quidditch, unless they had added a lot of highly irregular rules to the game. At Harry's sigh of frustration he looked over.

"Something wrong, Harry?"

Harry shook his head and sat down on the bed. "No. Just--just bored is all."

"Did you take a look at these?" Ron answered with a grin, holding up one of the magazines. "This'll keep you from being bored."

He flipped to the middle and spread open a centerfold of a witch with enormous breasts. She was wearing only a large pointed hat and was holding her wand in a blatantly wrong location.

"She looks ridiculous," Harry said flatly. "Who in their right mind would want to pose for one of those things?"

Ron winced. "Well, come on, just because you don't appreciate it doesn't mean it's not artistic."

Harry shrugged and turned away. He had been working on putting away his Christmas gifts, and as he stuffed his Weasley sweater under the bed Ron said curiously, "What's that, Harry?"

Harry looked at him and saw him pointing to his mother's diary. Ordinarily Harry hid it away in his chest underneath his invisibility cloak, but he had had it out last night reading it when he couldn't sleep and forgotten about it.

Harry's throat tightened.

"It's... it belonged to my mum," he said after a moment. He couldn't bring himself to lie about his mother's diary.

Ron's eyes widened. "Really," he breathed, picking it up and running his hand over the cover. "Wow. Your mom kept a diary? Wow." His expression softened as he examined it. "Where did you get this?"

Harry took a deep breath, and lied again. "Snuffles," he said. "He gave it to me--you know, when he was here and all."

Ron's eyes narrowed. "Really? How'd he carry it all that way if he was--you know, Snuffles?"

"I--I think he must have transformed it somehow. I didn't really ask him."

Ron nodded. "That makes sense." He ran his hand across the cover again. "Wow," he echoed, and moved to open the book.

Harry had snaked his hand across the space between their beds to stop him before he even realized what he was doing.

Almost at the same time, he thought of something else: The necklace. He slid his thumb over what he knew to be the necklace's spot, tucked away as a placeholder near the back of the book, and squeezed harder on the book to hold it shut.

Draco had forbidden him to put the chain on, and even worse than the idea of having to explain to Ron why Sirius would have given him a necklace, of all things, was the thought of Ron slipping it on just for fun. He had no idea what might happen when anyone tried on the necklace, or even what the necklace was, and the last thing he wanted was Ron finding out for him.

Ron looked down at Harry's hand clamped around the book, then back up at Harry.

"Right," he said sheepishly. "Sorry, mate."

Harry nodded and sat back on the bed, bringing his mother's diary with him. "It's just..." he hunted around for something that wouldn't sound stupid. "She wrote some weird stuff. About her old boyfriend and things and--"

"Your mum went out with somebody before your dad?" Ron blinked at him. "Was it anybody we know?"

"No," Harry said automatically, averting his eyes.

Ron looked at him evenly for a moment, and then said, "Okay," without emphasis.

Embarrassed, Harry shifted on the bed and slid the diary under his pillow. "I didn't have a chance to show you before you left," he said.

"S'okay. A lot was happening," said Ron in the same toneless voice.

"Yeah," said Harry, still not meeting his gaze.

They sat across from each other for a few moments in awkward silence. Finally Ron picked up one of Fred and George's magazines again and started to open it. But Harry, sitting up straight, asked him abruptly, "Ron, what did you see?"

Ron started. "Huh? When?"

"This morning when you were looking at Hermione's newspaper."

The speed at which Ron's face went totally ashen was something unreal. "You saw that?" he said faintly.

Doing his best not to crack a smile, Harry said, "Yeah, I noticed you saw something."

Ron's expression went even graver, and he looked around to make sure none of the other boys in the room were paying attention. Neville was lost in a book and Dean had fallen asleep over his homework. But Ron looked so serious that Harry moved in closer and dropped his voice. "That bookshop--was it the article about the bookshop?"

Ron's jaw dropped. "How did you know?"

Harry started to answer, realized he was going to have to lie about that too, and wound up shrugging. "I don't know. A guess, I guess."

"Oh." Ron looked as if he were hesitating over something and then said in a low voice, "I thought maybe you might have remembered."


"The dream."

Harry frowned in confusion. "What dream?" he said. Ron was looking at him seriously, his features lined with concern.

Suddenly Harry remembered.

"The woman in the dream--she said 'Harry Potter.' "

A cold chill crawled up Harry's insides. "You mean the dream you were telling us about the morning everyone left Hogwarts, don't you," he said slowly.

Ron nodded.

"But--but you didn't say anything about a bookstore," Harry said carefully. "You didn't say anything at all."

"Yes I did, you just weren't paying any attention," said Ron urgently, dropping his voice half a notch lower, so that Harry had to bend in even closer to hear him. "I had this dream that this--there was this lady, whoever she was, was sitting in a chair reading and then--all these things happened at once; this guy came in and hexed her and just before he hexed her, he asked her a question and--it was like I was there seeing it happen. The lady got this determined look on her face and she said your name, and--and then he hexed her, and--that was the end of my dream. And then, today--I saw the picture of the bookstore in the Daily Prophet and somehow I just knew that was the place I had seen in my dream. And the article--did you read the article? It said the store owner had been put under the Oblivius curse."

"What's so important about the Oblivius curse?"

"The man in my dream put the woman under the Oblivius curse," said Ron in a voice that was barely above a whisper. "And--the newspaper said the store was robbed just over two weeks ago. When I read the article I came up here to--to owl Percy and ask him if he knew the actual night the robbery took place. I think I may have been seeing it in my dream while it was happening." He hesitated. "The same way you see things sometimes, you know?"

Harry nodded slowly. He had to swallow before he could speak again. "Ron," he finally bit out. "The man in your dream. What was the question he asked the lady before he cursed her?"

"That's the only part that didn't make sense," said Ron. "They were having some kind of argument about a book. The man wanted it and she didn't have it, and finally he asked her, 'where is it?' and she got the look on her face and said--she said your name, Harry."

Harry stared at him, unable to say a word. Ron looked back at him just as gravely.

"I thought for a moment, you know--when I first saw the diary..."

Harry blinked. "What? Oh. No. It--it didn't come from there."

"But you've been there, haven't you?" said Ron hesitantly. "To the bookstore?"

The cold chill closed around Harry's heart.

"No," he said. "I've never heard of it before today."

The flash of disappointment on Ron's face was unmistakable. "Oh," he said. "I mean--that's great. I was sorta worried you had someone after you."

"I do," said Harry dully.

"Well, yeah, but--besides him," said Ron hastily. "It's not like you needed somebody else trying to hunt you down over a stupid book."

Draco, thought Harry suddenly, sitting up straighter. I have to warn him that someone is after Slytherin's Memoirs.

He glanced at the hourglass. Still over an hour before they could meet. Staving off his impatience, he shrugged and said to Ron, "At least it was an interesting coincidence."

"It's just--I felt like I was right there."

"Yeah, well. Guess your visions are still a little rusty. Sorry about that."

He smiled, but Ron didn't. He looked as if he were debating whether or not to reply, and after a moment, taking a deep breath, he did.

"Harry," he said. "I--I've been thinking. What if I did--what if I could... see things?"

Harry looked at him. "Do you think you might be able to?"

Ron frowned. "Well... I've noticed things before. Just little things that add up to be something I feel like I've known all along. And sometimes I'll get--I call it a Feeling, really. I get this Feeling that something is going to happen, and then--then something happens."

He paused, and did not elaborate on the sorts of things that had happened. Harry did not ask him to.

"And, whenever I play chess, or card games, or something like that--sometimes I'll just... I'll just know where somebody is going to move. I won't have to guess, I'll just know." Ron began to speak more quickly as he grew more earnest. "Sometimes every now and then I'll dream about something, and then a couple of days later I'll read about something that happened just the way it did in my dream, or hear somebody talking about it. And when I'm dreaming I always feel like I'm there, watching it happen while I sleep. This would have been just like the other times only--only it was so real. I was really thinking..." He looked down at his hands. "If you had said you'd been in that bookshop, ever, even once, I would have gone to Dumbledore and asked him how you can tell if you're a Seer."

Harry's jaw went slack. If he had felt embarrassed before, what he felt now was utter mortification. "You should go," he said hastily. "You should ask him, Ron. Really. Just because you didn't get that one part right doesn't mean the rest of the dream was wrong. I mean, maybe... maybe you just heard wrong. You could have heard her say something completely different. Maybe she said 'Mary's daughter,' and your brain just translated it into something more familiar."

Ron looked up at him a little doubtfully. "Really?" he said, sounding uncertain and insecure, but oh-so-hopeful.

"Really," said Harry firmly.

Ron's expression brightened, and Harry grinned at him.

"Okay," said Ron. "I will. I'll go tomorrow."

"I'll come with you if you want," said Harry impulsively, decidedly not thinking about why it was suddenly so important to prove he was a good friend.

Ron opened his mouth and was clearly about to say yes, but just as his lips formed around the 'Okay,' he stopped, and hesitated. Harry blinked at him, but Ron sat back and said contemplatively, "No, I think--just for tomorrow, anyway, I'd rather talk to him by myself."

"Oh," said Harry. "Sure." Since Ron still looked unconvinced, he added, "It's fine, Ron, really. I think it's great, and I hope he tells you something good."

Ron didn't reply, but his cheeks reddened.

Harry glanced again at the hourglass. Fifty minutes till dinnertime.

I hope Draco tells me something good soon, too, he thought.


Blaise awoke to the lovely feeling of having her arm viciously pinched.

"Bugger off, you arse," she spat, opening one eye.

"How long have you been here?" Pansy barked at her.

"Since I got back," said Blaise, sitting up and stretching in the chair she'd dozed off in. "Since this afternoon. Why?"

"Draco's not in his dorm, nobody's seen him there," said Pansy impatiently. "You've been here the whole time, did you see him leave?"

Blaise straightened, wondering when someone would get up the nerve to suggest to Pansy Parkinson that she was not Draco Malfoy's personal keeper. "No. He was gone when I got here. I didn't see him go back to his dorm room. He could be anywhere."

"That's not good enough," Pansy wailed, flinging herself down in the chair beside Blaise's. "Someone has to have seen him."

"Ask someone, then," retorted Blaise. "Don't ask me."

She stood up, yawning, and stretched again. It was dinnertime, and Slytherins were trickling out of their dorm rooms and milling around the common room. Blaise's clothes were completely disheveled from having fallen asleep in the armchair, but she was less concerned about that than about not having an answer for where Malfoy had gone.

Millicent Bulstrode came in then, saw Pansy, and herded her towards the exit. "Don't worry about it," she said. "You'll see him at dinner."


"Okay, I give up," said Seamus. "What's his problem?"

Harry kept right on glowering into the fire of the Gryffindor common room and didn't answer. He wasn't surprised when Hermione answered for him, making up some story about how Harry had forgotten to do his essay for Professor Binns's class tomorrow and was sulking because he had it all to do tonight.

"Shouldn't he be working on it, then?" asked Dean.

"Not if you're Harry," Ron answered. "He's got about ten more hours of putting it off first."

The other fifth-years laughed, and Harry slumped lower in his seat facing the fireplace.

Fucking Draco Malfoy, he thought, along with a lot of other things that didn't really make much sense when strung together in a sentence, but which certainly sounded gloriously angry.

"I'm going out," he said abruptly, standing up and glowering at everyone.

Ron frowned at him. "You okay, Harry? Seriously, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," Harry said dismissively. "I just feel like going out for a walk."

He turned and bolted up the stairs to his room before anyone could say anything else, but he heard Seamus' voice echoing up the stairwell behind him: "Okay, if he says he's going out for a walk, why does he always have to go up to his room first?"

He was bending over his chest unfolding the invisibility cloak when the door opened behind him and Hermione said calmly, "Don't you think you might want to calm down before you go and find him, Harry?"

"I am calm," said Harry, giving the cloak a vicious shake.

"Harry," said Hermione. "You haven't heard from him yet, have you?"

"No," he admitted, standing up and tugging the invisibility cloak over his shoulders. "Not since the day I--when you and I talked."

"Do you think he's avoiding you?"

Harry shook his head, the only part of him still visible. "I don't know. I feel like he would have written back by now if things were okay. And now I haven't seen him all day. Normally he would never have waited this long to come find me."

Hermione's eyes widened. "Do you think something might have happened to him at the Manor? What if he didn't come back?"

Harry colored. "He's here. I checked the map a couple of hours ago, just to make sure. I just meant that... things might not be okay between us."

A shrewd look replaced Hermione's prior alarm. "Oh," she said slowly. Deliberately she moved away from the doorway into the room, closing the door behind her.

"It's nothing we can't work out," Harry protested.

Hermione wasn't buying this, he could tell. He wondered if she would prod him for more, but she didn't.

Not really sure why he wanted to, Harry decided to tell her anyway.

"It's just... In my last letter I told him how I really felt about him, and now he knows, and he's avoiding me."

Hermione blinked. "You told him how you really felt about him? You mean you told him..."

Harry slid the cloak from his shoulders and sat down on his bed, feeling defeated and stupid and small.

"I told him I love him."

After a shocked silence, Hermione blurted, "You mean you told me that you loved him before you told him?" And then, a short moment later, "You mean you told him you loved him in a letter? Harry, you didn't!"

Harry winced and nodded. And it wasn't just that, he thought. It was everything--everything I felt, everything I feel, about Voldemort and Cedric and my parents, and him. And he hasn't even answered me. Not even to say he got it and needs time to think about it, or that we can talk about it when he comes back. Nothing.

"I guess it was a bad idea," he said.

"A bad idea. A bad idea? Harry, you should never write huge important things like that in a letter. It could be taken all sorts of ways, it could be overanalyzed or misunderstood, or, or, read by somebody else, I mean, anything could happen!"

"I know that," said Harry irritably. "But I couldn't wait two weeks until he came back."

"Well, it certainly seems as though he could--and still is."

"Or maybe he doesn't want to see me anymore."

"Oh, please," Hermione scoffed, though it sounded to Harry as if she was none too happy with Draco herself.

"All right, so it was a mistake. It was my mistake, Hermione, not his."

Hermione sat down beside him on the bed. "Harry," she said, as if she were explaining things to a small child. He wanted to throttle her, and felt guilty for it. "You can't have successful relationships without saying the important things. It's not healthy. That goes for both of you--not just you. It's not just your fault."

Harry sat silent and chagrined.

Hermione studied him for a moment. "Look, Harry, I know this is hard, because you've been waiting for so long. But... I really think you shouldn't look for him tonight. The Gryffindors will all be coming up to bed soon, and all the Slytherins will be going to bed. You can't start off the term by sneaking into the Slytherin dungeons. Imagine how much Snape would love it if you got caught."

Harry started to protest and could think of no really good argument beyond, But I need to see him. Since he wasn't about to say that aloud, he sighed instead.

"And, Harry... I think you'll enjoy seeing him better when you're not quite so angry with him," Hermione ended quietly, looking down at the floor.

Harry studied his hands. "You're right," he said.

Well, she was. Right as usual.

"So... so you'll stay here?" Hermione pressed. Harry tried his best not to be annoyed at the sound of hope in her voice, but seeing as he was already annoyed in general, he found it difficult.

"Sure," he said, forcing a smile. "I might as well."

Hermione relaxed, and smiled back at him. "Smart decision," she said, standing up. Harry tried to look grateful.

She ruffled his hair, smiled at him again, and left.

The moment she closed the door Harry threw the cloak around his shoulders again.

After the day he'd had, what was one more lie, anyway?


The corridors were darker than usual, even for the dungeons, as if someone had stretched a mist over Harry's eyes.

This is stupid, he thought, squinting into the blackness as he rounded a corner. Just wandering the halls hoping I'll see you. Why haven't you tried to find me? Why haven't you? Haven't you missed me? Are you afraid? Don't you want to?


The voice was a low murmur, no more than a whisper, but it stopped Harry dead in his tracks.

He stopped short, wand out instantly. Ignoring the somersaults his stomach was doing, he muttered, "Lumos," and the hallway filled with light.

No, not this way, not this way, he thought even as he was squinting into the darkness. Hermione was right. This isn't how you want it to be, not the tone you want to set when you see him again. Walk away, calm down, come to him when you're ready. NOT THIS WAY.

But he had to look, had to pull the invisibility cloak from his shoulders and step forward, had to move closer: because huddling in the corner, squinting against the light, was Draco.

All the tension bled from Harry's muscles. Alarm changed to relief, and his rib cage suddenly felt too small for his heart and his stomach.

"Harry," said Draco again.

With two steps Harry was beside him, pulling him to his feet and pulling him close.

"Draco," he said softly, and then he paused, not knowing what to say. 'I missed you' didn't go far enough, and everything else just sounded lame.

His arms were slung loosely around Draco, who had gone stiff all over in a way that was making Harry extremely nervous--even more nervous. "I didn't... I didn't know if you... I mean..."

He gave up again.

"Harry," said Draco once more, only this time it held a tone of distinct relief. Slowly his arms came up and slid around Harry's waist.

Harry shivered and closed his eyes for a moment. The hesitancy of Draco's touch was something new, something real. It made him think that, maybe, just standing there saying each other's names over and over again was okay after all.

Still with the same measured slowness, Draco nestled his forehead under Harry's chin and shifted closer, in a gesture so openly intimate that Harry was briefly astonished. He hid his surprise, and covered the huge smile that crept over his lips by pressing them to Draco's forehead.

It was too conveniently located to pass up, after all.

"I missed you," he murmured, and this time he was sure he felt Draco smile--could feel his lips parting through the fabric of his robes.

"Hello," said Draco pleasantly. Warmth spread through Harry; his grin grew impossible to disguise, and he pulled Draco in even closer.

"We should go somewhere else," he murmured into Draco's hair. "Anyone could come along--"

"Stay," Draco said at full volume, his voice suddenly urgent. He tightened his fingers around Harry's waist, digging them painfully into his flesh. Ignoring the sting, Harry lifted Draco's chin and looked at him.

Draco's eyes were flat, lit with the faintest light of dawning interest. It seemed to Harry to be a look of fading despair, as if Draco had been in a state of constant worry for the past two weeks and was only just now letting himself be glad that Harry had come back, that Harry was finally there.

Harry knew just how he felt.

He leaned forward and pressed his lips gently to the side of Draco's neck; Draco said nothing, but shuddered and relaxed against him. He was so warm; touching him was addictive. He ran his palm possessively down Draco's back to the small just beneath his sweater. I dare you to break away, he thought gleefully, already half-tipsy from Draco's closeness.

He kissed a line up the side of Draco's neck, from his collarbone to his jaw, savoring the smell and the taste of him. Draco shivered again and arched his neck like a cat with a voiceless purr.

"I thought when you didn't answer my letter that you were mad at me," Harry said softly. "I guess not, huh?"

He brushed his lips against Draco's temple, and moved in to kiss him on the mouth.

Just as he let his eyes flicker shut, Draco's widened.

And suddenly Harry was being shoved violently away.

He hit the wall hard from the force of Draco's push. "Wait! I shouldn't have said anything about it yet," he stammered. "It doesn't matter. I'm sorry."

The smooth expression on Draco's face had shattered. He stared at Harry, eyes suddenly alive with fear and apprehension.

"No," he said in a low voice.

Harry tried to think what he could have just said to Draco that was so horrible, but all he could think of was the letter--he had mentioned the letter. He couldn't seem to get his brain to go further than that.

"No," Draco whispered. "It's too soon."

Harry felt all the air leave his body. Draco continued to stare at him, his lips drawn tight for what felt to Harry like an eternity of silence. Then, abruptly, Draco turned and skittered back down the corridor to the Slytherin dormitories, moving so quickly he was out of sight before Harry had managed to make a sound of protest.

It was a long time before Harry could make his legs work again; even longer before he could bring himself around enough to put one squarely in front of the other, and drag himself back to Gryffindor Tower.


"Draco!" squealed Pansy, bolting upright in her chair. "There you are!"

Prying her eyes open, Blaise looked up just in time to see Draco Malfoy scuttling past them both where they sat in the common room waiting for him, without so much as a glance at either of them. The look on Pansy's face was priceless. "Draco...?" she ventured--but the door to the fifth-year hallway was already swinging shut.

As the door closed behind him, Blaise looked over at Pansy, whose jaw was still firmly locked in the "open" position.

"Satisfied?" Blaise said dryly.

Pansy looked at the closed door in obvious confusion, but did not reply. For half a moment Blaise wondered if it would be doing Pansy more of a service to drop a few clues as to where Draco might have been, or to let her continue on in confused, ignorant bliss.

After another moment's consideration, Blaise opted out.

She stood up and extinguished the few remaining embers from the dying fireplace.

"Come on," she said, taking Pansy's hand. "Let's go to bed."

Author notes:

  • The chapter epigram is a quote from A Little Night Music by Sondheim. The theme of perpetual anticipation set the tone for the writing of this chapter in a number of ways.

  • J.K. Rowling has stated in interviews that the Slytherin dormitories lie beneath the Hogwarts lake.

  • As of Book 5, the jury is still out on whether or not Blaise Zabini is a girl or a boy. In this story she has always been, and shall remain, very much a girl. Each of the other characters in Slytherin are found in canon either by their full names, surnames, or initials (all except Cynthia Warrington, who is the sister of the very male C. Warrington we see playing Quidditch in Book 5).

  • I took a phrase you see in the Prologue directly from a letter I received from a reviewer: She spoke of "the strength of love and will in the face of everything else in the entire world." That line has stayed with me ever since, and I was grateful to get a chance to use it in the story because I think it's crucial to understanding what this fic is.

  • Thank you:

  • To my lovely betas, Debbie, Erin, Franzi, and Rach, who are each not only wonderful critics and taskmasters, but wonderful, invaluable friends;

  • To the wonderful artists who shared their talents with me for this chapter: Gred and Feorge, Flutternight, Lunulet, Mawaridi, Moya, and Orphne;

  • To Colleen (Dracoaccio), whose H/D double cd kept me going last year, and kept me inspired when nothing else did;

  • To Erica, Earthquake, and Rachael, for far too many things to count;

  • To Fiction Alley, as always, for hosting this fic at Schnoogle;

  • To Orphne for her friendship, and to my friends on Livejournal, for your grace.

  • Finally, I would just like to say once again—thank you to all of you who have read. Thank you for waiting so long, for having so much faith in me and in this story.