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 08

Author's Note:
Thanks to Minx,

Irresistible Poison

Chapter Eight: Falls Apart

And love's the noblest frailty of the mind.

Draco looked up as Hermione stalked back into the classroom, sans Harry, and strode over to sit in the chair furthest away from him. She seemed unsettled, not quite as composed as she usually was; she crossed her arms over her chest and sat there glowering at him. Her eyes narrowed as she regarded Malfoy with an expression of mild distaste, and she started, "I cannot believe that—"

"—that I am stuck here with you for the entire afternoon," Draco finished for her, with a perfect imitation of her offended tone of voice. He rolled his eyes at her, and continued in a bored drawl, "Yes, I know, Granger, my sentiments exactly. Now, moving right along— what's next on the agenda of insults? Oh yes, you're supposed to start telling me what a snobbish, despicable git I am."

Hermione glared at him. "I've got better things to do than pick petty fights with you, Malfoy." Her tone was mildly haughty, and she determinedly picked up a book and held it up in front of her face, shielding Draco from her view. "Now just shut up and start reading."

"Talking about yourself, you mean? Perfect idea."

Hermione slammed down her book and rose abruptly to her feet, her face flushed with anger. "What is the matter with you, Malfoy? Why can't you keep quiet and not be an intolerable, arrogant, obnoxious egomaniac just for once, when everyone else is trying their best to help you?" Her cheeks were flaming with heated rage. "Do you think Harry's having an easy time of this? Does it seem to you like he hasn't enough on his hands, what with Quidditch practice and homework and term assignments, that he'd actually want to get involved in this stupid love potion research? Especially when it's for you? Do you know how worried he is, and how much it hurts him to hide this whole screwed-up mess from Ron? Do you have any idea how angry Ron will be if he finds out? Enlighten me, Malfoy, what is it that you can give him that's a good enough reason for him to risk losing his best friend?"

Draco looked stunned at Hermione's furious tirade, and didn't appear to have collected his thoughts enough to form an answer when Hermione answered for him,

"Nothing!" she snapped harshly. "You've given him nothing but trouble ever since we started school together. Do you remember the time when you tried to get us caught with Hagrid's dragon? When you challenged Harry to a wizard's duel, only to tip Filch off instead? What kind of a coward does things like that? And to think after all you've done to him, Harry still agrees to help you get out of this love potion fix that you single-handedly got yourself into, which you dragged him in through no fault of his..." Hermione paused to replenish her breath, "...and now, while we're racing against time to find a way out of this before the Quidditch game tomorrow, which is a nearly impossible task, all you do is sit around and make snide remarks and generally irritate the hell out of everyone!"

"Hey, I—" Draco started in protest, but Hermione curtly cut him off.

"I want you to know something, Malfoy— I'm not doing any of this for you. I'm only doing it because I think Harry has far too much on his hands to manage at the moment and I just want to help him out wherever I can. And if, for one moment, you've got some ingeniously horrible plan to use this to hurt Harry in any way, let me advise you to get it out of your head right now. And don't think this is just an empty threat, Malfoy, because I swear, if you backstab Harry after all he's done for you, the only thing left that'll be empty is your cranial cavity."

Hermione sat down and slumped back in her chair, looking winded and exhausted, her cheeks still tinged with an angry rouge. A swift, deathly still silence descended in the room, both tense and awkward, until Draco finally spoke up.

"He's worried about me?" Draco asked softly.

Hermione blinked, momentarily thrown— she'd been bracing herself for a snappy retort to which she would have to think of something cutting in reply. She cleared her throat, which was slightly hoarse from her shouting.

"No," she answered frankly. "He's worried for you, Malfoy, not about you." She looked very ruffled, and distinctly annoyed. "Did you hear anything I said after that, or did you lose me after the worried bit? Because I really wasn't done yet."

"I heard you," Draco said, in that same quiet tone. Then he smiled wryly. "That was quite a performance, Granger. Very theatrical and all. I'd say encore, but I think my self-esteem has taken enough of a beating for one afternoon."

"I meant every word of that, Malfoy," Hermione said shortly, fixing Draco with a stern glare. "I don't know what you're up to, and I'll let you know that I have my suspicions about you. But for some strange, bizarre reason, Harry actually trusts you, so this had better be good."

"He trusts me?" Genuine surprise shimmered in Draco's eyes. "Did he actually say that?"

Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. "Does he actually have to say it? Just look at what he's doing. Does Harry look like someone who'd invest his time and energy in something he doesn't truly believe in?" Hermione paused, and gave Malfoy a pointed glance. "Oh, but wait, you don't know him at all, anyway. If you really did, you'd never have done all those horrible things to him. You'd have known what a special person he is, if you'd only given yourself a chance to really know him."

I did, Draco thought to himself, even as Hermione returned to her book and smoothed out the creases where the pages had been crumpled because she had slammed it down on the table earlier. Of course I could see he was special, and I did give myself a chance to get to know him. But he *rejected* me. And that's all he's been doing ever since.

Rejection was a painful, bitter pill to swallow.

Draco pushed the memories of his first meeting with Harry aboard the Hogwarts Express back into the recesses of his mind— the memory of the coldness in Harry's eyes as he didn't take Draco's outstretched hand, Harry's cool, distant voice as he said I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks— and Draco recalled that it was the same, familiar remoteness he still sometimes saw in those clear green eyes.

Thinking about Harry was starting to make him feel distracted all over again, igniting the insistent ache that lurked at the fringes of his consciousness— Draco had to take his mind off Harry, off those shards of emerald pain that sliced deeper than the blade of a knife. He couldn't afford to dwell on those volatile thoughts, not when he was already feeling so unstable, not when they whispered things that were held far beyond his grasp. Dreams that would never, ever, be realised. Yearnings that corroded the soul, unfulfilled.

So, he decided to talk to Hermione, as ridiculous a form of stress-relief as that might have been. He looked up at Hermione, who was deeply absorbed in her book, chewing the tip of her eagle feather quill thoughtfully. Her brow was furrowed in concentration, and she looked completely focused, so disciplined— an amusing thought occurred to Draco, and made him smile.

Hermione glanced up, and caught Draco with a roguish grin on his face. "What?" she asked waspishly.

Draco smirked. "I bet Potter made you promise just now not to get mad at me, didn't he?" he said in a knowing voice. "And you just lost your temper and yelled your head off at me. Ha."

"Oh shut up, Malfoy," Hermione snapped peevishly, although it secretly unnerved her how very perceptive Malfoy could be. "You were asking for a good shouting at, the way you were behaving."

"Oh yes. The masochist in me is just desperate for a good spanking."

"Eurgh," said Hermione, pretending she didn't hear Malfoy's last remark.

"Anyway, where did you learn to threaten like that?" Draco asked in a grudgingly impressed tone. "It's pretty effective and, er, vivid."

Hermione allowed a small smile. "When you grow up watching enough Muggle gangster movies, certain colourful phrases sort of stick in your mind and come in rather handy at times." She looked over at the book that Draco was leafing through, and nodded at it. "Why are you reading about Imperius?"

Draco appeared deep in thought for a few moments, before he carefully set the book down and looked squarely at Hermione. "Do you remember the essay I wrote for Lupin's class? About Imperius?"

Hermione nodded. "I remember. You said that love potions are related to the Imperius curse, in some ways. Although there are certain distinctive differences, such as the aspect of complete and constant control, which is a feature of Imperius but not love potions."

"But one of the major similarities between love potion and Imperius is the loss of conscious control, even if to different degrees." Draco paused. "Do you also remember that during Lupin's Imperius practical session, the only three people in class who were able to repel the curse were you, Potter and myself?"

Hermione nodded again. "I managed after a few tries, and Harry— well, he's had practice."

"Well," Draco continued, his voice low and grave, "the difference for me was, I didn't even have to try to fight it. Since I was already under the effect of the love potion, I was immune to any other curses of a similar nature, Imperius being included among them."

Hermione stared at him for a moment as understanding gradually dawned on her. "So..." she trailed off.

Draco looked directly at Hermione, his expression completely serious. "I've never actually been able to fight off Imperius before." His eyes were downcast; he hesitated for a moment, and bit on his lower lip. "My father has drilled me a few times in how to repel Imperius— I've managed to shake it off for about half a minute, but never completely like the way I did in Lupin's class."

Hermione stiffened slightly at the mention of Draco's Dark Arts 'training' back home; it was something she'd suspected all along. "So that's the reason why you managed to fight it off so easily during that lesson." She couldn't help remembering Ron's suspicions about Malfoy, and now she knew that Ron had been partly right— Malfoy's success hadn't been due to his own magical prowess.

"Yes." Draco spoke very softly, and he kept his eyes averted.

"So you get a lot of this kind of 'training' back home, then?" Hermione asked grimly.

"Everyone learns things in their childhood," Draco answered, in a careful, non-committal way. "You pick up useful tough-guy gangster lines, I pick up useful spells to get along in life. Same thing."

"It is not the same thing. The spells you mess with are Dark, and very dangerous— don't even get me started on the love potion, and also, it was a horrible thing you did to that beetle just now." Hermione's tone was a reprimanding one, and she shuddered involuntarily. "Don't ever do that again in front of me again."

"I didn't do anything horrible to it," Draco protested.

"Yes you did. You tortured it. You made it twitch and shudder."

"You call that torture?" Draco let out a derisive snort. "You know, Granger, if one day war breaks out, and you get captured by the enemy... you're in for a big surprise."

Hermione sobered, and started to contemplate the implications of what Draco had told her about the potion. "This love potion is more complex that I had thought. It's immune to the effect of Imperius, has healing powers… anything else I should know about?"

"I'll let you know if I turn into a fluffy white Valentine rabbit at the stroke of midnight, how about that?" Draco answered through clenched teeth, looking very aggrieved.

"That would be a simple and convenient solution," Hermione commented dryly. She took the book from Draco and began scanning through it. "And by the way, I want to borrow your Imperius essay, the one Lupin read out in class. The similarities you highlighted might toss up some interesting inferences, so we can go from there. And it must be worth something, for Lupin to have mentioned it." There was a muted tone of resentment in her voice, though it was not reproachful.

"Have you ever kissed Potter before?" Draco suddenly asked, very unexpectedly.

Hermione blinked, confused for a moment; then she considered the question. "Just the once, on the cheek," she answered, remembering her parting peck on Harry's cheek at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, more than two years back. "And that was some time ago."

Draco shook his head impatiently. "I'm talking about a proper kiss, Granger. On the mouth."

"No, I haven't."

"Why not?"

"Why not?" Hermione shot him a look. "Because he's my friend, that's why not."

"And friends don't kiss?"

"So should I be led to believe that you kiss Crabbe and Goyle on a regular basis?"

Draco sputtered, and made a face at Hermione. "Don't be disgusting, Granger."

"Suits your stupid reasoning." Hermione snapped irritably. "But I hear that you have no qualms about kissing Harry, even though he's not your friend." She paused, and then gave Draco an inquiring look. "But you don't really like him, do you?"

"Of course not," Draco retorted, too quickly, his voice flaring with agitation. "What does 'under the influence of a love potion' tell you, Granger? How about 'coerced love'? Of course I don't really love him. Don't be ridiculous."

Hermione arched an eyebrow, and thought, I asked if you liked him; I never said anything about love. But she said nothing, and let it pass as a slip of the tongue, a faux pas caused by the intoxication of the potion. Even though love and like were entirely different things altogether.

"So, do you like Pansy Parkinson, then?" Hermione asked, reluctantly curious.

Draco gave Hermione another withering look. "She looks a lot like my grandmother's ancient poodle. Oh yes, really hot and cute, in an ugly, senile sort of way."

"You took her to the Yule Ball," Hermione interjected fairly.

Draco shrugged. "There wasn't much of a choice, was there? There was Millicent Bulstrode, but I didn't quite fancy looking like I was leashed to a walking tree trunk on the dance floor." Hermione stifled a chortle at this; Draco looked mildly annoyed. "And I didn't want to go alone with Crabbe and Goyle, either."

"So you went with Pansy," Hermione said, rolling her eyes. "How charitable of you."

"Yep," Draco said airily. "I figured, what the hell. I mean, it's not a big deal, there's just that little blemish between her ears— her face."

"Why didn't you ask someone else from another house, then?" Hermione challenged. "Oh wait, don't tell me— it's the Slytherin pride thing."

"In a way," Draco conceded, with an offhanded shrug. "Actually, my father specifically instructed me that I was to take a pureblood Slytherin to the Ball, no less. Didn't leave many options for me, did it? Unless I went with Blaise Zabini. Maybe I should have, he's quite pretty and not a bad dancer, either. And he'd probably have let me lead, too." Draco paused, and tilted his head. "You know, Slytherins aren't as sexy as they're cranked up to be." Then he offered a lopsided, superior grin. "Of course, myself being the only exception."

Hermione muttered something about Slytherins definitely being as warped as they were cranked up to be, shook her head and went back to reading.

* * * * * * *

When he stepped through the portrait hole at quarter to six later that evening, Harry was extremely relieved to find Hermione sitting quietly in the corner of the Gryffindor common room, doing her homework. He went up to her and asked, "So?"

Hermione looked up as Harry collapsed into the chair opposite her. "So, what?"

"So how was it with Malfoy?" Harry asked anxiously, eyeing Hermione appraisingly. "Couldn't have been all that bad, could it? I mean, your presence here signifies that you two successfully refrained from ripping each other to shreds."

Hermione gave him a tired smile, and stretched. "Well, let's see. Malfoy made a snide remark, I lost my temper, and there was a general lot of yelling, most of it done by me, but in the end it worked out quite all right. He was unconscious for the rest of the time, anyway." Hermione burst out laughing at Harry's alarmed look. "Just kidding! He was pretty subdued, really. We actually managed to get some work done, and I found out a thing or two about him as well. I just came back about fifteen minutes ago."

"You found out a thing or two about him?" Harry echoed, sounding mildly incredulous. "You mean both of you were actually on civil, talking terms? At normal volumes?"

Hermione shrugged. "As I said, he wasn't as obnoxious as usual. And he did let slip a few things— about his family, for instance." Her expression darkened. "Lucius Malfoy has apparently been acquainting him with Dark curses— he inflicts them on Draco to train him to fight them off."

There was a significant pause; Harry looked troubled, and he finally said slowly, "So Ron's right, then. Malfoy does know too much about the Dark Arts."

Hermione nodded. "That's very disturbing, and not just because Malfoy probably grew up reciting curses instead of nursery rhymes. What worries me now is exactly that— Malfoy has a fairly strong background in Dark magic, but he still hasn't a clue about how to get around the love potion." She sighed. "I'm not very optimistic about finding a cure to it anytime soon, and definitely not before the game."

Harry groaned. "I suppose it's pointless to hope that the love potion will somehow wear off, given time?"

"Sure. Maybe a lifetime." Hermione sighed heavily, picked up her Potions textbook and began flipping through it; she was finally getting down to work on Snape's project, and she was already way behind schedule. "Look, Harry, we've reached a dead end here. That spellbook of Malfoy's isn't complete enough to base any plans on. The Latin quote turned out to be from a two-thousand-year-old epic poem, and the Greek myth isn't setting off any bells in my mind. And I've gone through every vaguely relevant book there is in the accessible sections of library. There simply isn't any available information that's useful to us."

Harry did some quick thinking. "Do you think there'll be anything useful in the Restricted Section?"

Hermione pondered. "There might be, but I'm not going to put any money on that. It may not be Hogwarts' policy to carry books which give explicit detail on how to concoct a banned potion, even if it's being shelved for research purposes." She paused, considering the scant options they had. "But anything's worth a shot, I suppose— do you think you can get a signed note? Or you can ask Malfoy to get one from Snape— he is the Potions Master, after all."

Harry ran his hand through his hair, pushing his fringe out of his eyes. "I'll let Malfoy know the next time I see him," he said wearily. He raised his eyes to look at Hermione, and they were clouded with frustration. "I don't know, Herm. This just feels all wrong."

Hermione glanced up, surprised at the confusion and uncertainty so evident in Harry's voice. "What do you mean, all wrong?"

"I mean, everything's just spinning the wrong way," Harry said, sitting back in his chair. "This whole deal with Malfoy— it's complicating a lot of other things, too. The Quidditch game. Having to worry about Ron finding out. And now, we're stumped as to whether or not there's a cure for the love potion in the first place. And Malfoy—" Harry paused in mid-sentence, as if casting for the right words to express his feelings.

"What about him?" Hermione queried, watching Harry carefully.

Harry hesitated, and then said slowly, "He already seems defeated— do you notice that about him? It's like he's lost hope, even before we know for sure how things will turn out, for better or worse."

Defeated? Hermione wondered with mild incredulity even in her mental voice. Draco Malfoy, defeated? That's certainly a first. Seems like this love potion sure precipitates a lot of 'firsts'. She tried to recall Malfoy's demeanour just a while ago— he hadn't exactly seemed defeated, at least not to her. He'd been more sombre and dejected than anything else. But he probably behaved differently with Harry— and unsurprisingly so.

"I think this whole thing has hit him pretty hard," Hermione answered thoughtfully. "I suppose falling in love the natural way is hard enough for most people— but for Malfoy now, it's more along the lines of being thrown into love, and he suddenly finds himself overwhelmed with strange, new feelings which he has no control over." She shuddered slightly. "Just thinking about it is scary enough. I can't imagine actually having to live it. Maybe that's the reason I'm cutting Malfoy some slack here and there."

Harry sighed, and a peculiar mix of unnamed feelings stirred troubled circles in his eyes as he cast a tired glance across the common room. "You know," he said softly, almost to himself, "I'm really not looking forward to the match tomorrow."

* * * * * * *

Draco awoke the next morning with a strange feeling of unease churning in the pit of his stomach, like a phantom ache so acutely entrenched that it penetrated the very fibre of his being, dark blood running deeper. He sat up abruptly, and the first coherent though that shot through his dream-slurred mind was that it was the day of the Quidditch match. He groaned softly, and rolled over on his side, closing his eyes, though by no means shutting out the fear.

How Slytherin was going to win the match, Draco had no idea. For starters, he hadn't been able to concentrate on Quidditch practice all week— a handful of times, he'd only narrowly missed the very embarrassing occurrence of being knocked off his broom by a Bludger hit by one of their own Beaters. Of course, Draco had yelled at the guilty Beater for being blind and senseless, but deep inside he knew that he hadn't been paying close enough attention.

And now, of all people to face today, he was playing against Harry. He didn't know how the hell he was going to play in an even remotely decent fashion, when all he would be able to think about on the pitch would be how fetching Harry looked, with windswept black hair framing his defined features and a light flush of excitement from the intense flying colouring his cheeks— and of course, Harry's fluid grace on his broomstick, which Draco had found stunning even without the influence of a love potion.

Draco got out of bed, deciding to abandon all thoughts of going back to sleep since it was already dawn anyway. He listlessly opened his drawer and took out his green Quidditch robes; just then, something heavy and metallic, which had been embedded amidst the clothes, fell out and struck the floor with a sharp hollow clang.

It was the handcuff. Harry's handcuff, in all its cruel silver glory.

Draco slowly bent to pick it up; it felt ice-cold to the touch, and rather heavy, as if laden with the dense memories of everything that surrounded its inception. Echoes of distant recollection sounded faintly in Draco's mind as he closed his eyes momentarily, and allowed himself to remember…

I'm not doing this to humiliate you, Malfoy.

Harry's voice was still vivid in his mind, even the quietly surprised tone that belied his words. So intense were the memories of the scene that Draco could almost feel the way the handcuff had bit into his wrist, coldly mocking; he remembered looking up at Harry, and seeing the burning sincerity in his eyes, which had been so genuine and truthful that the memory of it still remain undefiled by the bitterness which had festered since then.

In retrospect, Draco knew that Harry had meant what he had said, that he had really wanted to help him, not humiliate him. Of course, Harry never lied. But after all this while, Harry's sincerity was what struck Draco the deepest, even slicing past the layers of resentment and hurt and hatred to lay bare a certain realisation on his part, that perhaps Harry was as noble and virtuous and special as he was made out to be.

But each time he allowed himself to dwell on that thought, another irrational part of his mind would scream out that It's just the love potion talking! And call him Potter, for god's sakes!, and he would feel the swirling confusion start over again. Perhaps it really was the love potion wreaking havoc on his thoughts and feelings, and the tentative yet heartfelt attraction he felt toward Harry was just induced sentimentality. Because, really, with poisoned blood filtering through his heart with every throbbing pulse, he couldn't quite trust what his heart was telling him anymore.

Sighing heavily, Draco got to his feet and carefully slipped the handcuff back into the drawer, camouflaging it amidst a bundle of socks stockpiled for the winter. A quivering spark shivered through his fingertips as they came into brief contact with Harry's name, etched in the smooth outer surface of the cuff, and whispering thrills involuntarily coursed up Draco's spine.

Controlled. Owned. Harry's.

Futilely shaking the scattered thoughts from his head, Draco made his way out of the Slytherin dungeon to take a shower, with the silent, engraved taunt of being the branded possession of H J Potter still ringing in his ears, flooding the plains of his consciousness, compounding his helpless desperation.

* * * * * * *

Hermione lingered just outside the changing rooms, waiting for Harry to fetch his Firebolt from the broom shed. Because the Quidditch match had been rescheduled to a Wednesday instead of the usual Saturday due to the pitch resurfacing work, the school was given the day off to watch the game. It now was a quarter to eleven, fifteen minutes before the match was scheduled to begin, and Ron was already inside, chattering animatedly with the rest of the Gryffindor team as they changed into their scarlet Quidditch robes. Hermione wanted to catch a quick word with Harry before he went in to give his team the usual pre-match pep talk.

Harry appeared, looking decidedly more tense than usual, although his broom was casually slung over his left shoulder, and his own set of Quidditch robes draped over his right arm. He offered a wry grin when he caught sight of Hermione, but it quickly faded into a subdued, troubled expression.

Hermione gave him an encouraging smile. "You feeling all right?"

Harry forced another smile. "Okay, I guess. A little worried. You know."

"Look, Harry—" Hermione's expression sobered considerably, and she wore a grave look of concern as she leaned forward, "I don't know what plan you have in mind, but I think you should just play as normally as you can. Act as if nothing's happened between you and Malfoy— because this match means a lot to Gryffindor, and Ron in particular." She looked searchingly at Harry. "What I mean is, don't just throw away this match, you know?"

"I know," Harry replied tersely, mild agitation edging his tone. "I know what to do, all right?"

"Okay." Hermione gave him an anxious glance, but wisely left it at that. She could sense his apprehension and misgivings about the match, and she wouldn't go so far as to say they were completely unfounded. But she offered him a broad smile to hide her own uneasiness. "It's going to be all right, Harry, don't worry. This is just a game, after all—" she dropped her voice, "and the love potion shouldn't affect it much if both of you just concentrate on playing the match." She patted him on the shoulder. "Give it your best shot, Harry."

Harry's tenseness eased somewhat as he flashed her a quick, grateful smile and nodded, then disappeared into the changing room. Hermione watched him go, then turned and walked back out toward the spectator stands, where students had already gathered; as she rounded a bend, she abruptly came face-to-face with Draco Malfoy.

Hermione stiffened when she saw Draco; she swallowed her first impulse of giving him a cordial nod, and instead, she waited for him to react first. Now that they were in public view of other people, she privately wondered if Draco would be as forthcoming as he had been the day before, when they were alone in the Charms classroom.

Draco drew to a halt, and eyed Hermione appraisingly for a few moments; he didn't greet her, although with the briefest nod he acknowledged her presence, and then gracefully sidestepped her. As he passed her he turned slightly in her direction, and Hermione saw the imperceptible upward curl of the edges of Draco's mouth; he gave her the quickest of enigmatic glances, then, in the blink of an eye, it was as if he hadn't turned to her at all, and he continued on his way to the changing rooms without a backward glance.

Hermione's eyes narrowed thoughtfully as she watched his retreating figure. Draco seemed calm and composed enough— even more collected than Harry was, frankly. Hermione was worried, as a thought had occurred to her last night that Harry might give Draco some leeway during the match as consideration, because of the love potion— and knowing Malfoy, as intensely competitive as he was, he might just about be able to separate his feelings from the demanding contest between himself and Harry and play it like a fair, normal game. And when it came to Malfoy, 'fair' still meant a lot of sneaky and devious tactics even without being overtly antagonistic. Essentially, this likely scenario would mean that Harry might end up throwing away a perfectly good match for nothing.

Weighed down with a heavy heart, Hermione made her way up to the top row of stands to join the other Gryffindors. For once, she didn't know what to expect, and this distinctly unsettled her. She wasn't quite sure that Harry would take her advice, either. Truthfully she wasn't even sure if Harry actually really wanted to win the match, or if he was too distracted to be single-minded about victory. Hermione sighed; she supposed that she should feel glad that Draco seemed to be in all right shape, but that only complicated the possible outcome of this mercurial match even further.

Ron materialised from the crowds by her side; he looked cheerful and energised, and he was clearly all geared up for the match ahead. "Hey Herm— the match is going to kick off in a few minutes time— Harry's just having a couple more words with the team. They should be out any moment now."

They reached the top row, where Neville and Dean were already seated, waiting. Ron proceeded to whip out his pair of Omnioculars, which Harry had bought him at the Quidditch World Cup, and began tuning it to the correct settings. Hermione cast him a mildly amused glance— Ron had certainly came to the match well equipped.

Ron scanned the stands, which were now filled with chattering students, the excitement of this crucial clash peaking as kick-off drew closer. He peered through his Omnioculars, adjusting it until he could see the pitch below clearly— he saw the doors to the changing room open, and Gryffindor team marched onto the field, led by Harry.

"They're out!" Ron announced to the others, feeling a surge of anticipation rise within him. From the raised seats it was hard to see the pitch far below, where the two teams had now emerged and were making their way to the centre of the field; however, the Omnioculars efficiently magnified everything to a comfortable size and detail, and Ron's attention gradually fell on Harry.

Ron noticed the pensively troubled expression on Harry's face; he turned to Hermione, and commented, "Harry doesn't look very happy today." He looked in the Omnioculars again, only to see Harry turning his head slightly and staring off into the distance, as if something else far away was holding his attention instead of the match at hand. "Is something bothering him?"

"He's been stressed out lately," Hermione answered equivocally, trying to sound as casual and offhand as she could. She cast a sidelong glance at Ron, wondering if he suspected anything out of the ordinary. "He's been through a lot recently— way too much on his hands with way too little time."

"Hmm, true," Ron answered absently; something else had caught his attention. Ron had turned the direction of his Omnioculars slightly and Draco Malfoy appeared in view, strutting in front of the Slytherin team. Ron's eyes hardened as he saw Malfoy, and he added in a disgusted tone, "Oh, I really hope we flatten Slytherin today. And maybe something unpleasant will happen to Malfoy and wipe that smirk off his face for a really long time."

"Ron," Hermione said sharply. "Don't say things like that. Besides, don't you know that if you curse your opponent before a match, you might just about end up bringing misfortune upon yourself?"

"Faerie myth," Ron scoffed, although he left off detailing what other conveniently nasty things might happen to Malfoy. He kept the Omnioculars trained on Malfoy, watching him critically. "Harry's making his way onto the pitch— oh, just look at the way Malfoy's staring at him. He obviously has something going for Harry."

Hermione smothered a soft noise that sounded like a cross between a snort and a gurgle.

"Are there spells that can be cast just by staring at a person?" Ron continued, oblivious to Hermione's response, too engrossed in what was happening down on the pitch. "Because Malfoy is looking at Harry in a really weird way— he must be trying to hex Harry without him knowing, that bastard! — Harry! Harry! Turn around and look at Malfoy! — ah, now Harry's caught sight of him. Good."

Down on the Quidditch pitch, Harry felt the weight of a gaze fixed upon him. Extricating himself from his conflicting thoughts, he turned around to find Draco looking at him from about fifty feet away, his silver grey eyes lit with the turbulence of a brewing storm. And even across the distance, Harry could somehow sense Malfoy's confusion and quiet anguish, and strangely enough, it mirrored a facet of his own torn feelings about exactly how he was going to approach this particular showdown between them.

Draco saw Harry turn to look at him, and for an eternal moment their eyes met and held; instantly Draco found himself being drawn into those eyes of calm emerald, so far away yet also, impossibly near. They were like jade mirrors, showing nothing but reflecting everything, and in Harry's eyes Draco could feel his own fear and insecurity, the sinking trepidation coiled with the rising tension within him born of the potion in his blood flaring to life, flaying his nerves with a sensation of gentlest agony.

Then Harry looked away, and the fragile perfection shattered to pieces once again.

Madam Hooch had already made her way to the middle of the pitch, and a short blow of her whistle signalled that the teams should get ready for play. She waved the two captains over for the pre-match formalities. Draco slowly walked toward her, and his measured footfalls closing the distance between him and Harry reflected his own apprehension and silent dread.

"All right now, captains, shake hands," Madam Hooch instructed, as Harry and Draco both drew to a halt in front of her.

Harry glanced up at Draco, and seemed to hesitate for a moment— Draco watched him evenly, an ambiguous emotion darting in his eyes. Their gazes met and held again; Draco extended his hand in a slow graceful way, and Harry reached over and grasped it with his own.

The sensation was electric. Draco could feel the warmth of Harry's palm nestled against his own, and the firm pressure exerted by Harry's slim fingers as they closed over his— it was as if that single touch distilled every fibre of emotion they shared, or rather, he felt for Harry. The disconcertion churned to the surface once more as the noise from the impatient crowd in the stands faded to a faint hum in the background, like inarticulate shouting heard from underwater.

Then Harry released his hand, breaking contact, and Draco automatically pulled away and stepped back, trying to push the reckless confusion out of his thoughts, but it still lingered on the frontier of his mind. Draco looked inquisitively at Harry, who wore an impassive expression on his face, and he wondered if Harry had felt the liquid current of emotions that leaked between them— if he had, Harry certainly wasn't showing it. It was amazing how they could both maintain such a distant air of nonchalance, even after they'd been so intimately close those times before.

"Mount your brooms," Madam Hooch was saying; Draco mechanically got onto his broom, all the while watching Harry straddle his Firebolt, noticing the way Harry swung his right leg over the side of the broom handle, and volatile mental images rose unbidden in his mind. No.

NO. Draco repeated to himself, like a feverish mantra, furious at his own lack of control. Stop thinking about Harry. Concentrate on the damn match. Concentrate.

Harry looks so damn good like this now. And the way he straddles his broom...


The shrill sound of the whistle, and the match was underway. Gryffindor quickly gained possession as both sides tested the waters, trying to gauge each other's strategy and attacking style. Slytherin vs. Gryffindor had never been an easy tie— the margin of victory, either way, was always slim, all the more accentuating the importance of catching the Snitch as soon as possible.

The weather was the only thing to be joyful about— the skies were clear and cloudless, a crystalline sort of brightness filling an otherwise pale winter morning. The air was crisp and cool, and Harry could feel the gentle sting of the dry breeze caressing his face as he gracefully guided his broom skywards. He glanced around, and saw Malfoy a short distance away, scouring the surroundings for any trace of fluttering gold. Draco seemed perfectly fine, his manner focused and unaffected, although Harry noticed the way Draco was gripping the handle of his broom— very, very tightly, until his knuckles stood out like flecks of snow, as if he was holding on to a lifeline which was slipping from his grasp.

Down below, Seamus Finnigan was commentating: "Gryffindor begins their defence of the title, Seeker Harry Potter takes to the skies on his Firebolt as his Slytherin counterpart Malfoy trails miles behind on— what's that, only a Nimbus? No competition when it comes to brooms, even less so when it comes to talent."

Seamus' commentary was greeted with boos from the Slytherin crowd, and Professor McGonagall crossly leaned over and warned, "Finnigan, personal opinions to yourself!" (Lee Jordan would have been proud of his successor.)

Draco gritted his teeth as he flew in a careful arc, circling the pitch. The rustling wind wasn't strong enough to drown the commentary, and he heard Seamus' less-than-savoury remarks about him. He hated to be reminded of his inferior broom— his father had flatly refused to upgrade his broom until he managed to beat Harry Potter in a Quidditch match, a task that he had yet to accomplish. Draco wasn't quite sure if today was going to improve his chances of getting the latest Firebolt II, which was slated to hit the stores early next year.

Draco stopped listening to the commentary and concentrated on looking for the Snitch. Looking for the Snitch. Somehow it was a lot easier said than done, when his mind seemed more interested in looking at Harry. Draco saw Harry hovering a few hundred feet away from him, intently scanning the skies, perfectly centred on the task at hand. Easy for him. So very easy.

Harry cast a furtive glance at Draco, who was lingering a distance away. He had been surreptitiously watching Draco for the most part of the match so far— from the looks of it, Draco was getting steadily more distracted, less composed, less focused on the game instead of… something else. And twice Draco almost collided with another player, simply because he hadn't been watching where he was flying. To Harry, it seemed more as if Draco was just trying to look like he was searching for the Snitch, than actually like he was really trying to catch it.

Harry was concerned. It was emotionally draining to have to keep up facades like that— Harry knew it only too well. Harry remembered all those nights he had curled up in his little cupboard back in Privet Drive, his face wet with silent tears, his mind awake with wistful dreams, and he knew how hard it had been to dry his eyes and pretend everything was fine when the morning came so that they wouldn't know he had been sleepless and so very miserable.

Harry was on the verge of flying over to ask Draco if he was all right, when suddenly he saw Draco's broom lurch into a sharp dive— for the fleeting heartbeat of a moment Harry thought that Draco had lost control of his broom, or had fainted, but before he could recover from his initial surprise he saw the shimmer of silver-gold fluttering near the ground, by the Slytherin goal-posts. And Draco was racing toward it, even as Seamus shouted, "The Snitch! The Snitch has been sighted!"

Harry recovered from his shock quickly, and tore after Malfoy, pushing his Firebolt as fast as it could possibly go. Malfoy had quite a sizeable head start already, and Harry's heart sank even as he leaned forward on his broom, aligning his own body parallel against the handle to reduce air resistance. The passing wind hissed in his ear like a crackling flame establishing itself, and he hurtled after Malfoy, steadily gaining ground— now he was inches away from the tail of Malfoy's Nimbus, but it was no good, Draco was already closing in on the Snitch—

All of a sudden, out of nowhere a Bludger burst onto the scene, like a black fist hitting through the air. With considerable force it struck the tail of Draco's broom, disrupting its delicate balance in mid-flight and sending Draco's Nimbus spinning out of control. Harry hastily swerved away to dodge the ricocheting Bludger and avoid colliding with Malfoy— Harry took his eyes off the Snitch for that split-second just to steady himself, and when he looked again it had vanished. Harry cursed inwardly, utterly frustrated.

On the other hand, Draco struggled to regain control of his broom, alarmed as it launched into a dangerous dip— he seized the handle and yanked it upward, forcing the broom into a steep climb so as not to brush against the ground and wreck the flailing balance any further. He managed to manoeuvre it away from a likely nose-down crash and returned to a safe altitude, his Nimbus slightly wounded by the assault of the Bludger. Draco turned around to assess the damage— not severe, although a few twigs had been ruffled out of place. He swore heatedly, dimly aware of the ripple of excitement rising from the crowd in the stands.

Truthfully, Draco hadn't expected to detect the Snitch so soon. He hadn't even been looking for it— noticing it hovering above the ground next to the Slytherin goal-posts while he had been briefly assessing the performance of their Keeper had been just a stroke of luck. Even in his distracted frame of mind, Draco had reflexively gone after it, based on the pure instinct of any Seeker. Part of him had been relieved, really, even as he had chased down the pitch toward the tiny fluttering Snitch, because if he caught the Snitch the game would end, and the insidious torment of flying alongside Harry would be over. And that was all he wanted for now, even more than he desired the glory of winning the game or the prospect of getting a new broom from his father as a reward. Damn that bloody Bludger.

In the stands, Ron was bellowing and jumping up and down, which Hermione found decidedly distracting, although she was too engrossed in the game to tell him to calm down. There was a roar of anticipation from the spectators as Harry and Draco both raced after the Snitch, Draco in the lead but with Harry swiftly gaining on him— then the Bludger, expertly hit by the Gryffindor Beater, had scattered them both, and the Snitch in the process as well. Hermione found that her lower lip hurt from where she had been biting down on it, and she winced.

To say that Ron was worked up would be a gross understatement— he was positively livid. "What the hell is wrong with Harry?" he yelled in utter despair. "Malfoy saw the Snitch first, can you believe it? For crying out loud he almost caught it, did you see that? What is Harry doing?"

"Maybe Harry didn't see it," Hermione said nervously, still chewing on her lip as she watched Malfoy and Harry rise to the skies again, where they could have an eagle eye view of the action.

"Didn't see it?" Ron sputtered incredulously, waving his Omnioculars around in an exaggerated manner. "Harry always manages to see it first, that's why he can go after it and win the game!" Ron raked a hand through his red hair, which matched the colour flushing his cheeks now. "What's the matter with Harry? He just isn't being attentive enough!"

Hermione secretly agreed, although she had a far better idea than Ron did about exactly why Harry wasn't being attentive enough. This was as she had predicted and feared— Harry, being overly fair and noble, would end up watching out for Malfoy more than he watched out for the Snitch, just so he could convince himself that Malfoy was indeed managing all right, throwing away the victory in the process. Frustrated and helpless, all Hermione could do was watch and hope that Harry would come to his senses quickly and start to really play the game, the way he always did.

As he looped back up to a decent altitude, Harry was furious with himself. He was angry that he had been so stupid to put his own personal matters ahead of the good of the team and Gryffindor's chances of victory, and that he had been foolish enough to worry that Malfoy might not be all right. He should have known— heck, he did know— what a fiercely competitive person Malfoy was, and he should have guessed that being under a love potion would have no effect on the potency of Malfoy's threat on the Quidditch pitch.

Harry shook his head, still disgusted with himself, and partly angry with Malfoy as well. He should have listened to Hermione; he recalled her anxious words to him outside the changing room, Act as if nothing's happened between you and Malfoy... don't just throw away this match. Harry couldn't help feeling that he had let her down somewhat.

Well, not anymore. Harry gripped his broom determinedly, and arced in a reckless circle in mid-air, diving abruptly and speeding down the length of the pitch at breathtaking speed just to vent some of his own frustration. Now I'm *really* going to play— and I'm going to *win* this match.

Draco reflexively jerked his head in Harry's direction when the other boy made a sudden dive, as if he had spotted the Snitch— he instinctively followed Harry, although with mere half-hearted resolve. A persistent headache was seeping into his skull, blunting his alertness; Draco suddenly felt very exhausted, as if the exertion of flying was draining him of his last shreds of energy. He knew his concentration was faltering— and as he lingered near Harry, he sensed something else, too.

Harry was angry with him. Draco could sense it, radiating like heat waves of scarlet, crackling like a raving bonfire between them. It was a harsh, unyielding sort of sensation— it wasn't very intense, but it definitely could be felt, like underlying currents running through the invisible threads that bound them together. The sensation sent hot chills up Draco's spine— it was a pleasantly uncomfortable feeling, if there was ever such a thing; like butterflies and needles, roses and thorns.

Of course, Draco knew why Harry was mad at him. Harry was angry that he had gone after the Snitch first. Draco knew that their unsettled predicament had affected Harry as well, because in any other situation Harry would definitely have spotted the Snitch first, especially when it was in such an obvious location. And now in the furious backlash, Harry was really taking the game to Draco, twisting and weaving in between the other players and dodging the Bludgers with sharp precision, as if recklessly trying to throw Draco off his trail as he sought out the elusive Snitch once more. Draco could see that Harry was purposefully ignoring him.

Faintly Draco could hear Seamus' excited commentary: "...and a heart-stopping moment when Slytherin's Seeker almost had the Snitch between his fingers, before a cleverly placed Bludger by Gryffindor's Beater thwarted the surprising attempt. Malfoy almost falls off his broom in the process— well, better luck next time, mate." Draco could hear the smirk in Seamus' voice. "We continue play, with everyone more than a little ruffled by the early Snitch sighting, a mere seven minutes into the game."

Seven minutes? Draco could barely believe his ears. It felt more like seven hours. Surely it couldn't only have been seven minutes. He groaned inwardly as he followed Harry's zigzagging trail from a loose distance, moving more out of subconscious reflex than actual intention. How long is this torture going to last?

The worst part was that Draco had no idea how long the match would last. This was the exciting, unknown element of a Quidditch match: the continual anticipation about the duration of it, whether it would end in the next second or last for the next fortnight. Either option was equally possible; literally, it could go on forever.

In this particular aspect, Draco realised, it was no different from the love potion. He had found himself plagued by this exact feeling of timeless dread in the past days and nights, like staring helplessly into the dark, fathomless column of a well that he'd dropped a necklace down; it was a dense darkness that extended forever, the shimmer of hope dim like watery light glinting off black water. Sinister. Fearful. Endless.

Oh god, when will this ever end? Draco asked himself desperately; and he wasn't quite sure if he was only referring to this Quidditch match.

Harry glanced around, keeping a keen eye out for Draco; unsurprisingly, he saw Draco fly toward him again. Harry noticed something strange, something different about Malfoy's flying style today— he seemed almost scared, which Harry inferred from the way Draco clutched his broomstick so tightly with both hands as he wove between the other players in a careful, guarded manner. It seemed as if Draco was afraid that he was really going to fall off his broomstick.

"Gryffindor lead Slytherin fifty points to forty," Seamus announced, bringing Harry's drifting thoughts back into focus on the game again. "Slytherin are giving away more penalties than they can afford— not that anyone's complaining— Slytherin's Keeper seems intent on committing every single foul in the book. Gryffindor have taken three penalties already, slotted away with no problem at all, and they're in possession now..."

Draco turned away from the mellow glare of the sun and found himself looking in Harry's direction once more. The dull ache in Draco's head grew steadily worse, accelerated by the darkly heated vibes he was getting off Harry, and there seemed to be no way for Draco to insulate himself against that. It combined with the volatile potion in his veins like a crimson tide, rushing up the shores of his mind and obliterating coherent thought— Draco lost control momentarily, and that was all it took for his broom to spin off on a tangent—

"And Slytherin's Keeper has committed yet another foul," Seamus was remarking dryly, "Now we can add 'poke the opposite team's Chaser hard in the stomach with your broomstick handle' to the list of professional fouls." While most of the players on the pitch were engaged in the furor at the Slytherin end of the field, Harry took the opportunity to scan the grounds for the Snitch— and then he saw it, hovering in mid-air near the Gryffindor goal-posts this time, like a golden snowflake illuminated by the pale sunlight. The Snitch.

Harry froze for a moment, his heart leaping in exhilaration; then the shock melted away, and he rushed forward, putting on a spectacular burst of speed as he raced toward the Snitch, the brilliant, unmistakable sparkle against the backdrop of blue sky—

—all of a sudden, Draco appeared out of nowhere in front of him, blocking his path and forcing him to twist sharply off-course, jerking away from a headlong crash at the very last instant.

"Sod off, Malfoy!" Harry yelled angrily, as he wrenched his broom sideways, veering away from a collision just a second before impact; he had even felt the hem of Draco's robes graze against his arm as they passed. Harry took a moment to steady his broom and orientate himself back on track— he spun around to glare at Malfoy, but what he next saw made his eyes widen with dawning horror. "Malfoy?"

Draco was dimly aware of Harry shouting at him, although he couldn't quite figure out what Harry was yelling— Draco's fingers released their hold on the handle of his broom, and his sense of balance vanished with a shrill siren of silence, and then, he was falling… he seemed to fall for an eternity, suspended in the air like a weightless feather— Draco shut his eyes and surrendered to the dark pulse that thrilled through his veins, before the ground finally struck him with a dull, sickening thud, and he was plunged into a chasm of empty nothingness.

Harry watched in undisguised horror as Draco tumbled off his broomstick and fell to the ground, his body limp and seemingly lifeless, looking so painfully delicate and fragile— he glanced back over his shoulder, where the Golden Snitch was still fluttering enticingly, just a few feet above him— then Harry looked back at Draco, falling through the crisp air as if in slow-motion, and he didn't have to think twice.

Harry pointed his broom downwards and tore after Draco's falling form— it was the same sort of nose-dive he had executed back in his first year, where he was racing with the force of gravity to save Neville's Remembrall. It was the same whistling exhilaration as he ripped through the tense atmosphere, dangerously and recklessly— but now, Draco hit the ground before Harry could draw level, and the dull impact of Draco's body on the ground jarred Harry equally much, like a jolt of reality.

Draco had landed awkwardly, crashing straight into the hedge lining the far end of the Quidditch pitch, opposite from the spectator stands. The brittle, leaf-stripped branches crunched under the weight of Draco's unconscious body, the serrated ends of the brown twigs tearing through Draco's clothing, cutting deep, rough grazes on his flesh.

In the stands, the students were in uproar, especially those who had seen the startling episode in mid-air, with the almost-caught Snitch and Malfoy's subsequent fall. And Ron, who had turned his attention briefly away from the dispute over the Gryffindor penalty, had seen all of it through his Omnioculars. So had Hermione.

"Hermione!" Ron shouted, staring into the Omnioculars and simultaneously shaking Hermione's arm. "Oh my god! Was that the Snitch? — Harry and Malfoy just crashed, and Malfoy's fallen off his broom— Harry's going down too, oh no…"

Hermione was too stunned to react, and she watched the scene unfold as if it was playing out in slow motion, like a surreal nightmare beyond her worst fears. She let out an involuntary gasp and clapped her hand over her mouth as Malfoy plummeted through the last twenty feet of air and crashed into the hedges— she squinted desperately, praying that Harry was all right. Had he and Malfoy crashed in mid-air? Or…

"Is Harry hurt?" Ron hollered to make himself heard above the din; he anxiously peered through the Omnioculars, zooming in as much as he could. "Did he fall? — no, he seems to be conscious, he's all right I think—" Ron looked up, and glanced worriedly down the other end of the pitch. "Do the others know that Harry and Malfoy collided? Oh, Madam Hooch just saw, she's going over right now… my god, Hermione, did you see that? Malfoy could've killed Harry!"

Harry landed on the ground just seconds after Draco did; he staggered slightly from the abrupt landing as he skidded to a halt, and he felt a pang of pain shoot through his right ankle. He ignored it as he hastily got off his broom and dropped to his knees next to Draco. Draco was lying on his side, facing away from Harry; as Harry turned Draco over, he let out a soft exclamation, and then swore— he'd expected bruises, yes, but he hadn't expected this.

There was a deep gash across Draco's forehead, linear and running parallel to the neat arch of Draco's eyebrows. Blood was flowing freely forth, running in narrow crimsons streams down Draco's left temple, staining dark patches of maroon on his green Quidditch robes. Flecks of red clung to the tips of silvery-blond hair, which framed Draco's face, and his pale left cheek was stained with new grazes as well. It was like somewhat of a travesty of nature— blossoming fresh red mingled with cream-white skin, cut by rotting brown, dead twigs. It looked wrong, so very wrong.

Suddenly, something occurred to Harry; without thinking, he automatically reached out his hand and laid it flat against Draco's bleeding forehead, without any hesitation, like it was the most natural thing in the world, and—

—Nothing happened.

Harry stared, disbelieving; he laid his hand against Draco's forehead for a few more long moments, but there was no shiver of healing beneath his fingers, like he had felt that night when Draco had slashed his own chest and placed Harry's hand to the seething knife-wound. Now, nothing happened, not a single thing.

Harry brought his hand away from Draco's forehead, dazed; his hand was matted with blood, Draco's blood, wet and warm between his fingers with the pulse of life. Draco's life. Suddenly Harry was scared, alarmed by the sight of vivid red seeping between his parted, quivering fingers— the sight of his hand stained with blood. Draco's blood. A terrible thought suddenly occurred to Harry: how if Draco was dead?

Harry reached over and took Draco's limp right hand, pulling it toward him; he ran his fingers over the tender pulse point on Draco's inner wrists, desperately feeling for the faint quiver of veins beneath skin—

Suddenly, Draco's eyes fluttered open. Harry froze, his fingers rigidly gripping Draco's wrist. "Malfoy?"

Draco's eyes were glazed and unseeing, the tarnished grey of his pupils hazed with stupor. Harry shook him gently, although with urgency and mounting desperation. "Draco? Can you hear me?" For the briefest of moments, Draco's eyes seemed to focus, and an expression akin to that of recognition flitted across Draco's face; then, his eyes closed with delicate weariness, and didn't open again.

Harry nudged Draco once more, harder this time, but to no avail. Draco's eyelids remained closed and he was unresponsive. Harry turned around in wild helplessness, and yelled at the top of his voice, "Over here! Help! Malfoy's fallen off his broom!"

Harry turned back to Draco. There were stray locks of hair tickling Draco's lashes, and Harry tried to push Draco's fringe away from the bleeding wound, rubbing off more blood on Draco's blond hair in the process, which was now like silver silk dyed with drops of red ink. Again, Harry tried not to dwell on how strangely unnatural that looked; even though the red and golden-blond stood out in stark complement, it still unsettled him immensely.

A rustling flurry of broomsticks nearby alerted Harry that help had finally arrived— he looked up to find the other players running up to where he and Draco were, led by a very flustered Madam Hooch, who had waved over Madam Pomfrey, stationed by the sidelines on standby. Harry was incredibly relieved to see them, because he had absolutely no idea what he was supposed to do next, or even how to stop the bleeding. Right now he had his right hand pressed over the cut on Draco's forehead to stem the flow; blood was still seeping in between his fingers, but at least it wasn't bleeding as profusely as before.

"Potter! Are you all right?" The next thing Harry knew Madam Hooch was by his side, her face knitted with worry and instant alarm as she saw Draco's wound, ugly and seething and disfiguring on his pale face. But she quickly recovered from her shock, and her procedural reflex kicked in as she pulled Harry away from Draco, just as Madam Pomfrey arrived on the scene. "Potter, move back now— can you hear me clearly, Potter? Can you hear what I'm saying?"

Harry wondered if Madam Hooch was vaguely mad, because he could hear perfectly clearly what she was saying and he reckoned that she should be seeing to Draco, not him. What Harry didn't know was that his forearms and face were smeared with fresh blood, and his hands full of red stains, so from Madam Hooch's point of view, it seemed that Harry was likewise injured as Draco was, perhaps only slightly better off because he was conscious.

"I'm all right, Madam Hooch— Malfoy's hurt—" Harry tried to say, amidst a barrage of questions that Madam Hooch was asking him; whether he could walk, whether his feet hurt, if his hands were numb… He finally gave up trying to talk, since she clearly wasn't listening to him, or rather, not giving him a chance to say anything more than a monosyllabic answer.

Harry felt himself behind lifted to his feet, and behind him there was an excited assortment of voices, Madam Pomfrey's telling everyone to 'Calm down! Stand back!' being the loudest among them. Harry winced as he put his weight down on the foot that had been injured earlier when he had landed on the ground; Madam Hooch saw Harry flinch, and she helped him walk properly by supporting him along the way. Harry tried to turn around to see what was happening to Draco— he briefly saw a stretcher being conjured, but then a wave of vertigo suddenly overwhelmed him and he had to close his eyes. His foot was hurting more now, and he suddenly felt exhausted— his eyes seemed to sting, like needles under his eyelids... now, he was indistinctly aware that Madam Hooch had magicked a stretcher and was helping him onto it.

"The game has been unexpectedly stopped…" Harry heard Seamus' voice through the magical megaphone, booming loudly over the noise of the crowd. "It seems that Gryffindor and Slytherin have both lost their Seekers, who were involved in a mid-air collision— Potter is being escorted off the pitch now, he's limping— Malfoy appears to be unconscious, he clearly came off the worse in the crash…"

And those were the last few words Harry heard, before he was carried away from the pitch in the direction of the hospital wing; exhaustion chased away the tentative strands of coherent thought, and Harry was too dazed to answer the single question foremost in his mind: What the hell just happened?