Draco Malfoy Harry Potter
Slash Drama
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban
Published: 07/16/2001
Updated: 02/26/2003
Words: 123,712
Chapters: 16
Hits: 275,826

Irresistible Poison


Story Summary:
A Harry/Draco SLASH romance. Under the influence of a love potion, Draco learns that poison doesn't always bring death -- there are other ways to suffer and live. Chemical emotion runs feverish as Harry and Draco discover the intoxication of love. Written by a remorseless slash girl *g*, this story explores the intricate relationship between Harry and Draco.

Chapter 04

Author's Note:
Thanks to Minx, Heidi and Celeste for beta reading. For Si, a dear friend who's always there for me; for Cassie Claire, who loves Harry/Draco as much as I do; and for Megan, for being the wonderful person she is.

Irresistible Poison

Chapter Four: Indifference

The opposite of love is not hate; it's indifference.

Draco managed to find some time to himself in the library after sending Crabbe and Goyle off to the kitchens to steal food and terrorise the house-elves. He seemed to be doing a lot of this lately — avoiding his fellow Slytherins, spending time in solitude, finding a certain woeful solace in being alone, even though nothing extinguished the feeling of being hopelessly incomplete.

It didn't help that he hadn't been sleeping properly — Draco hadn't had a decent slumber in the past few nights, specifically ever since that night in the Forbidden Forest. He'd either lain sleepless asking himself for the millionth time how he could ever have messed up so badly, or stayed awake thinking of Harry. Either option was proving highly detrimental to his mental well-being.

Draco unhappily pored over the thick book laid open in front of him, the musty smell of the aged parchment making him feel slightly nauseous. Spellbooks all had a characteristic, archaic pungency to them, and it recalled to his mind the chilly memory of his father's own library, shrouded in dark secrecy, where he'd baited danger one time too often, where it all began, with that damned book.

Draco had learned to live his life never acknowledging his mistakes.

But when the mistake tormented you every waking second and sleeping moment, when it threatened to tip the scales of your sanity as everything you had so carefully framed around yourself came crashing down around the singular, aching knowledge that it was all your own fault, it was hard not to admit you were wrong.

It had been two days since he spoke with Harry, since he told Harry to stay away from him, and to his credit, Harry had actually complied, and hadn't so much as approached Draco in the past couple of days. Although physical distance did absolutely nothing to ease this mental isolation.

He'd been spending an inordinate amount of time in the past days thinking about Harry. Thinking, not in the real sense of the word; it was more of a hollow contemplation, devoid of feeling, a very detached kind of emotion. It was as if his mind was filled with nothing but images of Harry — how he looked, the colour of his eyes, his raven-black hair, his boyish smile — but Draco was unable to wrap his consciousness around these fleeting images, to give them depth and reality.

But of course, the intangible memories promptly coalesced and formed when Harry walked into the library, accompanied by Ron and Hermione.

Draco drew a sharp breath, his intake of air catching in his throat; Harry saw him too, and stiffened, his footsteps faltering briefly, causing Ron to bump against his back.

"What is it, Harry?" Ron asked curiously, sounding puzzled.

Harry's calm gaze rested on Malfoy for a moment that seemed to freeze in time as the tension crystallised between them, icicles that ran blue and silver from the recent days of their hostile truce. Harry couldn't see Draco's hands, clenched into fists under the table; then the instant melted by, felt and forgotten, and Harry averted his eyes and moved toward another table at the far end of the library, away from where Draco was sitting.

In response to Ron's question, Harry casually shook his head. "Nothing," he offered over his shoulder, "I almost forgot something, that's all."

In the past two days, distracted by Quidditch practice and a pile-up of homework, Harry had almost consciously forgotten about Malfoy and his bizarre love potion problem. It had been relegated to the back of his mind, only demonstrated by his almost natural avoidance of Malfoy in the hallways and during lessons — not that Malfoy had made that hard for him to do.

Harry wondered again if Malfoy was just trying to wind him up, if this was all just a stupid fabrication to get him all worked up about nothing. But the faint flicker of emotion in Malfoy's eyes when their gazes had crossed was too stark to be forged, and too real to go unnoticed.

Harry turned around, glancing back at Malfoy's table — but it was empty. Draco was gone.

Harry felt a twinge of guilt, a stir of responsibility within him — but then he remembered Draco's words, still freshly etched in his memory, and sliced with bitterness and hatred: Stay away from me. I don't want your help.

Fine, then. An absent resentment simmered to life, and Harry resolutely pushed all thoughts of Malfoy out his mind, Malfoy and his ridiculous love potions and general dose of sheer madness. Let him sort it out on his own. I don't care.

Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath. I really don't care at all.

* * * * * * *

Draco sat on his bed, a book propped open on his lap, completely forgotten. He could barely focus his concentration on a task at hand for more than five minutes without his mind straying to the invariable mental terrain dominated by thoughts of Harry Potter.

Potter had a pleasant face, Draco mused absently to himself, forgetting that he was supposed to not think of him. Harry had that sort of intrinsic appeal, the kind that halted passing glances and drew second looks; it wasn't that he was handsome, but he definitely was attractive. Which only further proved that his hatred for Harry had been an acquired habit.

Draco reached his hand into his pocket, his fingers coming into contact with cold metal, invoking an even colder remembrance. He slowly drew the cuff out, the sharp metal striking sparks of emerald fire from the conjured flame by his bedside, too familiar a colour.

He held it up to the light, and inspected it closely for the first time; he'd never really looked at it carefully while it had been shackled around his wrist — every time he'd so much as glanced at it the manic hysteria had threatened to start all over again in his mind.

Draco had been immensely surprised and relieved when Harry had taken it off him; he'd privately been afraid that Harry would refuse, either out of revenge or malice or just plain spite. After all, had their positions been reversed, he wasn't so sure he would've complied as readily as Harry had. Not without first milking the moment for what it was worth.

But Harry was different from him. And Draco was secretly grateful for that.

Draco ran his forefinger lightly over the engraved name, sunk in fanciful, cursive lettering on the metal band, not on the interior of it, but right across the smooth silver surface. Almost mocking, a muted insult to dignity, a mark of undisputed possession.

H J Potter.

He pressed down hard against the engraved surface of the cuff, so forcefully that the embossed letters were imprinted on the flesh of his fingertip, a reverse branding of sorts. The very implication of the name seemed to bleed through his flesh, a stark reminder of reality, of invisible chains that ran silver poison through his veins, binding intangible cords around the one true thing that was supposed to be boundless — love.

It was a sheer mockery, indeed.

It was a loss of control, the most intimate choice ever given wrenched away, now predestined by a reckless coincidence completely unplanned and entirely horrifying. Disbelief still lingered amidst the last vestiges of hope, the slender hope that this was all just a terrifying dream, that perhaps the potion he'd taken was actually a severe hallucinogen and this obsession with Harry was only a delusion of his deepest fear coming to life.

Or perhaps, his deepest longing.

He didn't know the difference anymore. This was how the love potion was slowly corroding him from within, confusing illusion with veracity until they ran like a seamless blend, indistinguishable from each other, doused with a resentful hatred that alternately faltered and flared.

He hated Harry. But at the same time, he loved him too. Two violent opposites trapped inside him, inconceivably yoked together, like polar ice pitched into the heart of a volcano. It was almost becoming too much to bear, the mounting tension threatening to explode with the slightest provocation.

Draco closed his eyes, and he could almost hear the shatter of ice fissuring, cracking apart and splintering like smashed glass, leaving only broken mirrors of silence in his mind.

* * * * * * *

"Defence Against the Dark Arts tomorrow," Ron groaned, taking out his quill and smoothing out a half-completed roll of parchment on the table. "I haven't finished my Imperius essay yet."

"Neither have I," Harry answered, rubbing his eyes as he pored over the chapter in the textbook on the Imperius Curse. "Got about seven inches to go, I think."

Professor Lupin had returned at the start of the term to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts to the seventh years, much to everyone's delight. Harry was very pleased that he'd be learning his favourite subject from the best Dark Arts teacher they'd ever had, especially since they were going to be taught how to fight the more advanced forms of Dark magic, it being their final year at Hogwarts.

Naturally, one the first topics to be covered was the Unforgivable Curses. Ever since the incident with the faux Mad-Eye Moody demonstrating the Curses in front of their terrified fourth-year class, Dumbledore had deferred the topic to be covered only in the seventh year. He hadn't actually even authorised Moody's in-class Imperius demonstration to begin with.

Consistent with his creative, insightful approach to teaching the subject, Professor Lupin had asked them to write an essay about Imperius. The assignment was not simply to expound on the history and function of the curse, but also to give personal viewpoints and a critical analysis on why they thought the Imperius Curse was so deadly effective.

"Fighting Dark curses isn't just about memorising counterspells," Lupin had wisely told them. "To successfully repel a curse, you have to understand it. You have to be aware of its source of potency, how it strikes its target the deepest. You don't just want to know how it works; more importantly, you have to know why."

"Why — what the hell does he mean, why?" Ron grumbled; he'd clearly finished the easier part of the assignment which could be lifted directly from the textbook. "Why does it work? Because the spell hits you and you can't think properly and you just do whatever the person who cast the spell tells you to, that's why. How the hell am I supposed to fill—" he checked the parchment length, "ten more inches of parchment with that?"

"You could try really big handwriting," Harry suggested unhelpfully, distracted with his own unfinished essay. He tried to recall his experiences with the Imperius Curse, drawing on first-hand knowledge of how the Curse felt, and what it was like to fight against the sensation of powerlessness.

Fiery ice and cold flame, detached bliss and conjured heaven, that's how Imperius felt. It was the most beautifully hollow sensation ever imaginable, so rich with an emptiness that felt both ephemeral and everlasting, and it was like drowning in wine, intoxicating yet mortal, whitewater closing overhead, obliterating pain and pleasure alike...

Fighting it off required every ounce of conscious willpower Harry had possessed. It called for every shred of concentration he could muster, coupled with the singular mental determination that he would not succumb, drawing on a genuine revulsion for what that foreign, haunting voice in his mind compelled him to do, the fervent conviction that he did not want to yield.

It was all about control, Harry decided, chewing thoughtfully on the tip of his quill as he deliberated on how to phrase his thoughts into words. It was the ability to make someone yield to something which even they knew wasn't true, and make him helpless to behave otherwise; a knowing deception, one that blended truth with lies and blurred the boundaries of coercion and willingness.

Satisfied with his mental answer, Harry set the tip of his quill against the parchment, and began to write.

* * * * * * *

Draco spent the rest of the evening immersed in his homework, an extremely rare occurrence for him. He couldn't remember ever putting so much time and effort into a single essay before, and he didn't know if he was throwing himself into work just to distract himself or whether the topic of the assignment truly intrigued him so much. Probably both.

He set his quill down, balancing it on top of the bottle of ink on his bedside table, and started measuring the length of his parchment, now finally completed and ready for submission. To Draco's utmost surprise, he'd actually exceeded the minimum requirement by a good fifteen inches. Quite momentous, indeed.

Draco flexed his fingers; they ached from writing almost all evening, especially while in a position on his bed that wasn't quite conducive for proper writing. But he didn't want to go back to the library in case Harry and his friends were still there, and the Slytherin common room was, as usual, a riot in the making.

After tidying his scroll away, Draco found himself compulsively reaching for the handcuff in his pocket again.

He took it out and looked at it, its silver glint now dulled by smudges of his own fingerprints. His almost instinctive need to keep the bloody handcuff close to him was, to say the least, very disturbing. He didn't quite know why — perhaps because it had Harry's name on it. Or perhaps because it was so bitterly ironic that this ugly, degrading contraption was actually representative of the situation he was locked in right now, bonded to Harry in a non-physical sense, which was truly far worse.

Draco thought about that spell Harry had used to create the cuff — it really was a nifty little spell, not to mention with a high kink factor. Draco was surprised that he hadn't learned it before, considering how he prided himself on being well-versed in obscure, quirky charms. And he was even more surprised that Harry knew spell in the first place — Perhaps Gryffindors do have more spunk than we credit them with.

He'd been reading extensively over the past few days, sifting through as many spell encyclopaedias and index books as he could get his hands on. In the course of it, he recalled coming across Harry's cuffing spell on a few occasions. Draco heaved up a particularly formidable-looking black leather-bound volume onto the bed and began flipping through it, his fingers deftly finding the page he was looking for.

It was a Binding Charm — a simple, clever spell that conjured a pair of handcuffs, and which was unbreakable by anyone other than the caster unless very advanced, complicated magical spells were used. The power to unlock the cuffs was unique to the person who cast the spell, and thus the name of the spell-caster was engraved on the cuffs to prevent confusion of ownership, the book said.

How very conveniently humiliating,
Draco thought grimly, scanning the details of the Binding Charm.

Evidently, Harry had remembered the charm wrongly — instead of the accurate manicas inice, Harry had said manicam inice, which had accordingly resulted in only one handcuff appearing. Draco mentally recanted on what he'd said about Gryffindors having any flair at all — it wasn't very impressive knowing a spell but casting it wrong. Although Draco reckoned he should be thankful Harry hadn't miscast the spell in a way that resulted in his wrists becoming the size of turnips or something horrid like that.

A wave of bitterness washed over him. *I* should be the last person to talk about messed-up magic.

Draco sighed, and started to memorise the Binding Charm, which he had a feeling might come in useful some time in later life. "Manicas inice," he muttered to himself. "Not manicam, that's the wrong one, it's supposed to be manicas. Whoever came out with this spell, anyway? Probably some egotistic eighth-century warlord with too many slaves so he had to label all of them to keep track..."

"Draco?" came a familiar voice, and the corresponding head of Goyle poked itself into the dormitory, lit with a broad, goofy smile. "Oh, there you are! I've been looking all over Hogwarts for you!"

Draco sighed irritably. "Really. And what a lucky coincidence that you've managed to tracked me down, since the Slytherin dorm is about the last place you'd expect to find me! Even though I keep all my stuff here and sleep here every night. Spiffy detective skills, Goyle."

"Um... yeah." Goyle clearly didn't grasp the sarcasm. He lumbered in, and looked curiously at Draco. "What are you doing?"

Draco surreptitiously slid the handcuff back into his pocket. "My homework, of course."

"Who were you talking to? There's no one here." Goyle looked quizzically around the empty dormitory. "Are you talking to yourself, Draco?"

"Yes, it's about the only way I can be sure of intelligent conversation these days," Draco remarked dryly.

Goyle looked slightly put out. "Oh, come on, Draco. You keep ignoring us these past few days... are you mad at us about something?" He looked shifty, then approached Draco on the bed, and said in a conspiratorial whisper, "You're not angry about the chocolate cupcakes, are you? Because that was all Crabbe, not me."

Draco frowned. "What?"

Goyle looked contrite. "The chocolate cupcakes your mother sent last week."

"I thought you said my owl ate them."

Goyle glanced over his shoulder, as if afraid someone might overhear him. "No," he said, shaking his head, his eyes gleaming. "Crabbe ate them. He was afraid you'd be mad, so he said your owl did it."

"Oh well, he's absolutely right. I am mad. With both of you. So go away." Draco picked up another book and held it open in front of his face. "Don't you have anything else to do? Have you finished all the food in the kitchen already? You can start eating the house-elves next."

Goyle looked revolted at first, then seemed to consider the idea. "You mean they're edible?"

"How would I know?" Draco rolled his eyes. "Why don't you run along and find out? And while you're at it, you can eat Mrs Norris for dessert. Now go away and leave me alone."

Goyle looked unhappy. "You hardly ever hang out with us anymore," he complained in a whining voice. "It's no fun without you. Even Potter has started to notice, and it's getting boring because you're not around to help us make fun of—"

"What?" Draco's head snapped up immediately. "What did you just say? About Potter?"

Goyle blinked, and took a moment to mentally rewind his own sentence.

"I said," he repeated slowly, "Even Potter's noticed you're not hanging out with us nowadays. He asked 'So where's Malfoy?' when we bumped into them just now."

"And what did you answer him?" Draco demanded sharply.

"I don't know."

"You don't know what you told him?" Draco's voice rose in annoyance.

"No. I said, 'I don't know'." Goyle blinked dully again. "Then I went all over Hogwarts looking for you and finally found you here."

"Yes, very thoughtful of you." Draco sighed, and leaned back on his bed. "Well if Potter ever asks you again, tell him it's none of his bloody business."

Goyle brightened. "Can I show him it's none of his bloody business, too?" He cracked his massive fists with unsettling enthusiasm, trying to look mean and menacing and actually succeeding quite well.

"No!" Draco snapped roughly, without thinking. "You hit him and I'll kill you."

Draco was genuinely shocked at his own words the instant they spilled from his lips; Goyle goggled at him incredulously.

Draco took a deep breath, and clarified, "What I mean is, if anyone's going to do anything to Potter, I'll be the one." His words were carefully ambiguous. "And I don't want you crippling him before I have a chance to get at him."

Goyle seemed sufficiently satisfied with Draco's explanation, and grinned a broad nasty smile. "All right! Go Malfoy!" He pumped his chunky fist into the air in a ridiculously camp fashion. "You go get him!"

Draco said nothing in response, lowering his eyes to the meaningless blur of text. He waited until Goyle disappeared out of the door, his heavy footsteps fading away, then set the book down and sat staring off into space.

"Yes," Draco said softly to himself, "I wish I could."

* * * * * * *

Four hours later, at one in the morning, Draco was still awake, although barely so. He was in bed, lying on his side, the copy of Most Potente Potions he procured from the library resting in a few inches in front of his face. The covers were pulled all the way over his head, shielding him from view. Dim wand-light provided sufficient illumination to read, but his eyes were getting tired and bleary. It didn't help that there wasn't anything remotely useful in the book, since it only dealt with legal, mainstream potions, and love potions were, to say the least, outlawed.

Draco sighed, and closed his eyes to rest; the lighted wand-tip flickered and faded, and his wand silently dropped from his fingers onto the sheets as he started to doze, and finally he fell asleep.

Darkness and confusion flowed in palpable waves all around him, and the bitterly cold wind stung his face like icy needles. He drew a sharp, almost painful breath and looked around wildly, his shrouded surroundings gradually becoming more distinct, painted in bold strokes of black night on every side of him.

He recognised the place: he was in the heart of the Forbidden Forest.

The trees and thickets towered ominously over him, so dense that they trapped the darkness in a continuous black hedge, streaked with the faintest veins of pale moonlight, like traces of silver unicorn blood spilled across the inky sky.

His limbs were leaden and recalcitrant as he tried to take a step forward. A dull pain shot through his arms, and slow horror dawned as he realised that he
couldn't move — he was bound to the thick, gnarled trunk of an immense tree, so tall its branches disappeared into the mist above.

His eyes widened, horrified, disbelieving; both his ankles were fettered, and heavy chains encircled his waist, restraining him against the tree. Sleek iron bands manacled both his wrists — they resembled the bonds Roman slaves used to wear — and his arms were pinioned on either side of him, flat against the tree trunk. The rough bark chafed against his back, rubbing his skin raw; he couldn't quite figure out if he was wearing anything at all, but if he was, it didn't offer much protection from the abrasive wood, or any insulation from the biting cold.

He tried to twist his body around to get a better look at the bonds shackling him; he suddenly sensed a flash of movement to his left, and as the silhouette swam into focus, his jaw dropped.

Harry appeared by his side, seeming to coalesce from the substance of shadows, born from nothing yet filling every space between them. Without any hesitation, Harry moved closer to him, his eyes like emerald moons in the starless night.

He stared, forgetting to struggle against his chains, his body still awkwardly aligned against the trunk. His fingers compulsively gripped the rough bark beneath his palms, as if grasping for support that wasn't tangible, and he didn't register the pricks of pain as the thorny wood drew shards of blood.

Harry said nothing, only glided even closer, coy seduction exuding with his every movement, silent and graceful like the midnight breeze.

He shook his head and blinked once more, scarcely believing; but when he opened his eyes again, Harry was still standing in front of him, their faces merely inches apart, the light in Harry's eyes beckoning him like virgin rays of dawn, piercing through the darkness, shattering the night.

He felt his breath catch in his throat, and he parted his lips to speak, but no words found form, only silent wonderment; then suddenly time rushed forward in a dazzling burst, like a splintering hourglass, and the next moment Harry's mouth was on his, kissing him, hard.

Everything except his pounding heart ground to an abrupt halt; the moment immersed him completely, and Harry's lips were all he could feel, scorching his own with feverish passion, mouthing wordless desire. He shivered helplessly as exquisite pleasure overwhelmed him, and he strained against the cuffs that held him back, which kept him away from where he belonged...

Harry's hands slid across his shoulders, running over his neck and moving to hold his face, firmly yet tenderly, and the kiss seemed to go on forever as eternity gave itself up in careless inconsequence. Harry's manner was slow and gentle, taking his own time, drawing out the moment with painful pleasure, and Harry kissed him so deeply that it almost hurt, not on his lips but in his heart.

He arched forward plaintively, moaning against Harry's mouth, losing himself in the kiss; suddenly he was vaguely aware that the tightness gripping his body had abated — the cords binding him slithered off his body like metal serpents, and the cruel metal braces on his wrists melted into the mist, liberating him.

Initial surprise quickly turned into ecstasy, and in this ethereal dimension where time ran like grains of sand between his fingers, he found himself free at last. Without hesitation and riding the surge of pure instinct, he desperately threw himself forward, against Harry — but with a stomach-churning lurch everything suddenly slid from his grasp, dissolving into nothing; and he was falling, falling into darkness, falling into himself...

Draco's eyes flashed open, wild with fever, and he bolted upright, breathing hard, his body covered in a cold sweat. Damp strands of his fringe clung to his forehead, and he raked a trembling hand through his hair, pushing it out of his eyes as the familiar surroundings of the Slytherin dormitory swam into focus.

His entire body was still shaking as he covered his eyes with his palms, his mind's eye unable to be shielded, and the reality of his dream ran through his veins like poisoned blood. Draco drew his knees up to his chest and buried his face in his arms, trying desperately to collect his scattered thoughts now swirling in random panic.


Kissing him.

Kissing him like he had never imagined anyone could kiss anyone else before, and probably because that was exactly what it was — a figment of his feverish imagination. Because the day Harry Potter kissed him out of his own free will... he could probably make a lifetime out of waiting for that day.

This wasn't the first time he had dreamt about Harry in this kind of scenario, and from the looks of it, this dream was by no means the last of its variety. What was even more disturbing was, his dreams were steadily becoming more deviant and sensual, and the presence of clothes in the dreams was becoming increasingly rare. Probably in the next dream he'd find himself gloriously naked with Harry soaking in a clear glass bathtub filled with champagne.

Draco shook his head vigorously to clear his thoughts as that mental image invariably began to form in his mind. He really could do without that last straw to wipe out his sanity, whatever still remained of it.

No, he definitely could not afford to fall asleep again — the dreams he'd been having were becoming unbearable. Vivid torture.

Draco picked up the book he had been reading earlier, which lay half-open next to him, and reached for his wand, whispering, "Lumos." A quick glance around made sure that everyone in the dormitory was still sleeping soundly, and the grunting rhythm of Goyle's snores filled the still room.

Draco turned a few pages randomly, and started to read again, holding his wand above the page. But the meaningless blur of words ran like ink and charcoal on wet canvas, dissolving in incoherence as the remembrance of Harry's kiss took prevalence over everything else, sending a warm shiver down his spine.

It was just a dream, he told himself, over and over again, a fervent mantra, although he wasn't quite sure if he was relieved or rueful. His shallow breathing had gradually eased, although the mental alarm showed no signs of reaching a plateau. Only a dream.

But deep inside, he knew that the essence of a dream was true yearning and fear, lost in denied reality.

* * * * * * *

Apart from the fact that they seemed to very conveniently avoid crossing paths of late, Harry mused to himself as he headed down the corridor toward Professor Lupin's classroom for Defence Against the Dark Arts, there was virtually no indication of anything else amiss with Malfoy.

Well, almost no indication. The lack of derisive remarks was, in itself, extremely strange.

Class was steadily becoming a much duller affair without Malfoy's antics, Harry realised as he settled down next to Ron and Hermione, waiting for Professor Lupin to come into class. He remembered the countless times he and Malfoy had faced off in class or in the halls. Wand fireworks flared with abandon as warfare would erupt every once in a while, and the rest of the class would watch in fearful fascination as they duelled, a personalised variation of the Slytherin vs. Gryffindor rivalry. Such showdowns often landed both of them with detention.

Harry's eyes cut across the classroom, searching out Malfoy's familiar figure amidst the Slytherins — the other boy was engaged in conversation with Pansy Parkinson, who was batting her eyelashes flirtatiously at him, although Draco for his part seemed less than enamoured of her. An air of indifference surrounded Draco's casual gestures, still graced with effortless arrogance.

Has he found a way to get around that potion? Harry wondered; but there was still the inexplicable absence of hostile confrontations between them. I wonder if he has...

But never mind Malfoy, Harry thought suddenly, recalling to mind a disturbing dream he'd had last night. I think his madness has rubbed off on me. Harry had dreamt he was back in the Forbidden Forest with Malfoy, and it was almost pitch-dark, but what was most sinister was that he was kissing Malfoy, not the other way around.

Eurgh. What a nightmare. Why the hell am I thinking about, heck, even *dreaming* about kissing him? Harry shook his head, disturbed and baffled. Must be the post-traumatic stress disorder kicking in.

Students were drifting to the front of the classroom to put their homework scrolls on Lupin's desk; their teacher appeared to be running late. Harry took his scroll out of his bag; Hermione, who sat next to him, was still writing furiously on a parchment already twice as long as the minimum requirement.

"Want me to hand it in for you?" Ron offered. He was holding his own scroll in his hand; he'd eventually managed to fill the required length, with medium-sized handwriting and rather generous spaces in between paragraphs.

Harry handed his scroll over to Ron. "Yeah, thanks." He got to his feet as well, meaning to go over to ask Seamus Finnigan about the scheduling of the next Quidditch match; this year, Seamus was in charge of coordinating and commentating for the matches.

Ron walked down the centre aisle toward Lupin's desk, and as he approached, he came face to face with Draco Malfoy.

Malfoy was holding a scroll almost as bulky as Hermione's, which presumably was his own Imperius Curse essay. Ron eyed the scroll critically, pure dislike and contempt crackling in his blue eyes.

"Showing off how much you know about the Dark Arts, Malfoy?" Ron said acidly, giving Malfoy a venomous look. "Well I'm sure you know a hell of a lot more than you're letting on — with a father like yours, it's not hard to believe."

Draco's eyes darkened to silvery coal, and he regarded Ron's thin scroll disdainfully. "Yes, Weasley, and I see you can't afford enough parchment to write a decent essay — but with a family like yours, it's perfectly understandable."

Ron stepped closer to Draco, his nostrils flaring, his eyes flashing with anger. "One of these days, Malfoy," he hissed hotly. "One of these days, my father will get a warrant to sweep out your house and expose your family for what they really are — Dark wizards."

Draco's eyes narrowed, but he met Ron's gaze evenly, and answered very calmly, "Your father should sweep out your family's Gringotts vault first — I imagine the dust there weighs more than the gold."

That was the limit.

Ron snarled a string of unpleasant expletives and lunged forward, snatching a fistful of Malfoy's collar; Draco responded by jerking out of his grip, shoving Ron's shoulder hard, and—

"Ron, leave it," Harry said firmly, appearing at their side and prying Ron's hands off Draco's robes, dragging him away.

Draco's eyes flickered up to meet Harry's in brief surprise, and their gazes held for a fleeting moment, the space of a heartbeat, before Draco looked away to glare malevolently at Ron.

Ron turned to Harry, aghast; in response, Harry took him firmly by the arm and propelled him away from Draco, leading him back to the Gryffindor side of the classroom.

"What the heck was that about, Harry?!" Ron looked mildly indignant, and sounded thoroughly frustrated. "Why'd you do that for? I almost had him! I was going to—"

"Ron, calm down..." Harry tried to put in, "you can't hit Malfoy..."

"I have every right to hit him! He insulted me!"

"But you started it, didn't you?" Harry pointed out. He'd been watching the exchange between Ron and Draco from Seamus's table, which was a short distance off.

"So? He starts it every other time."

"Don't be the one to pick a fight with Malfoy, Ron," Harry said reasonably, giving his friend a stern look. "He's not making a fuss for once, so don't go finding trouble with him, okay?"

"And why the hell not?" Ron was obstinate. "He seems rather out of it lately, which is the perfect chance for us to get back at him for all the times he's ribbed us!"

"Don't let this revenge thing get to your head," Harry warned. "And if you get into a scuffle with Malfoy in class, you're putting Lupin in a very difficult position, because he'll have to give you detention or take points from Gryffindor, and he clearly doesn't want to do either."

"It's not fair," Ron said mutinously, scuffing his foot furiously against the table leg. "Why don't we get to throw the first punch, for a change?"

"Because it's not right," Harry stated fairly. "We're not like him, Ron, and we don't pick fights just for sport, or hit people when they're down and out."

"I don't care if Malfoy's down and out. It doesn't change the fact that he's a smug little bastard whom I would dearly love to punch in the face for all the horrible things he's done to us." Ron shook his fist. "He makes me so mad I just want to rip out his intestines and use it as jump rope."

"Ron!" Hermione had come up next to them, and caught Ron's rather unpleasant description. "Don't tell me you've been fighting with Malfoy." She gave Ron a severe look. "Again."

To Hermione's credit, Harry admitted that she had a good deal of self-control, especially compared to Ron. She held herself high even in the face of ridicule by the Slytherins, not retaliating or sniping back; the only time she'd reacted to their provocation was when Malfoy had insulted Hagrid, whereupon she had slapped him. But most of the time, Hermione took the Slytherins' affronts in her own stride.

"Ron, you know very well Malfoy's just saying things to wind you up all the time!" Hermione shot Ron a disapproving glance as she rolled up her homework, finally finished. "Just leave him alone and don't get all bothered by him."

"Yeah, take it easy, Ron." Harry agreed, and added, "Malfoy's not worth all that trouble, you know."

Harry looked away, and suddenly saw Draco watching him, from across the classroom, and he reflexively paused, tensing slightly as eyes of grey rested evenly on him, calmly piercing.

Draco wore an inscrutable expression on his face, like a slate wiped clean, and he regarded Harry with eyes that were filled with an ambiguity which could be read in half a dozen different ways. Simmering tension and gathering storm clouds edged Draco's gaze as their eyes held for a split second and a dash of eternity, before Draco lowered his eyes and turned away.

Harry frowned; he felt annoyed at letting himself get drawn into the natural magnetism of Draco's eyes, for even entertaining that lingering look when he should be offering nothing but staunch refusal, both for Draco's sake and his own.

Harry felt... confused. Malfoy was behaving very strangely indeed, and for the life of him Harry just couldn't decipher the mixed signals he was getting, which seemed to contradict one another — a spectrum of anger and haughtiness and hate and indifference and pain woven in swirling undercurrents, unfathomable and altogether very perplexing.

Harry's eyes narrowed, continuing to watch Draco, whose blond head was now dutifully bowed over a textbook. For some amorphous reason, Draco appeared a lot bolder and more composed than he should rightfully be — casting glances that came across as coy and not just furtive, looking away just when he'd captured Harry's full attention... Harry got the impression that Draco was leading him on, which was a rather contrary state of affairs given that the reins were presumably in his own hands, if the love potion story was true.

How ironic, Harry reflected thoughtfully, that the word potion slices 'love story' down in the middle.

There always was a twisted sense of humour in the bitterest of ironies.

Across the room, Draco clenched his fists under the table, feeling the weight of Harry's searching look upon him like the dense breath of a thunderstorm, dark and imminent, almost tangible, skirting on the fringes of his restless dream.

Why? Draco wondered, a rare confusion tipping the scales of carefully controlled panic. Why did he tell Weasley to back off? What the hell is he playing at?

That's just it, said a soft dangerous voice from deep within him. He's playing. He's playing with *you*. Potter's enthralled by this new power, this power over you, and it's just a game to him, a cruel game of revenge. For all the things you've ever done to him, you've just given him the perfect way get back at you —he's torturing you with his presence.

Draco closed his eyes, pained. But had he actually expected anything less? Absolute power corrupts absolutely, even in the hands of the saint commonly known as Harry Potter. It was an evil too exquisite to resist, like Temptation walking around stark naked with a flashing placard that said 'Indulge in me!'.

And Draco knew he was fleshing out his own punishment, and all he was left to contemplate was how much longer he could hold out. All he had to comfort himself was the slender ray of hope that he could find a way to reverse this spell before it bled him of all that he was worth, before it was too late.

Draco glanced over at Harry, who was now smiling and laughing with his Gryffindor friends, and he quickly looked away again, his eyes stinging with a rising desperation.

Or was it already too late?