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every now and then (our stars align)

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“At least bring some of the clothes Molly knitted for you, sweetheart. Ron will notice if you don’t wear any of those jumpers and I don’t want to upset her. You remember last Christmas, don’t you?”

Harry glanced up from where his head had been hanging over the overflowing trunk sprawled across his bed. “I seriously doubt that Ron cares whether or not I wear those jumpers, Mum,” he said, levitating a large, toppling stack of shirts into his trunk. He traced his finger along the embroidered Hogwarts crest, smiling faintly. “Wish she would just use magic to make them.”

“It’s the sentiment that counts, Harry,” she said, pressing a kiss to the top of his head and peering into his trunk. “And you know she’s quite keen on those knitting circles Hermione’s mother mentioned the last time we were all at the Three Broomsticks. Arthur was thrilled when he found out. He’s just as intrigued by Muggles as ever, of course.”

Harry glanced behind him and found his mother observing him, a strangely sentimental flicker in her eyes. It was an expression he had grown familiar to over the last couple of weeks, when the reality of his departure for Hogwarts had struck his family with a strange immediacy on the very morning that his list of school supplies had arrived by a meek-looking tawny owl.

With September the first to arrive the following morning, Harry reasoned that his mother’s sadness shouldn’t have been quite so unexpected. She held him at arm’s length, a faint smile tugging at the corners of her lips before pulling him into her embrace. Harry, needing to lean down slightly, rested his cheek against her shoulder and breathed in the familiar scent of his mother’s auburn hair—clary sage with a faint hint of tangerine. He didn’t consider that her hug might have had an ulterior motive until he noticed her lean around him and pluck out a Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes Skiving Snackbox Harry had hidden beneath his new school robes. Smiling wryly and muttering something that sounded suspiciously like “Just like your father” she wandered out of the room.

Harry sighed, stuffing two woollen, taupe jumpers into his trunk to placate his mother. He watched his black cat, Abrax, slink along his blanket and settle herself, curled up on one of the hideous jumpers. He resumed his packing, a task that proved far more tedious than he had anticipated. He had dreamt about attending Hogwarts for as long as he could remember, but this year, aged seventeen, would be his first time. He had spent his summers prying details about the school from Ron, his best mate, and watched him, his older brothers and, later, Ginny, climb aboard the Hogwarts Express every September with a heavy heart.

He understood the reason why he had never attended, and knew that his parents had his very best interests at heart. Lord Voldemort had set out to kill Harry when he was just a baby, believing it necessary to fulfil the terms of what become known as the Lost Prophesy. As Harry’s parents had told him, the person they had entrusted and considered their loyal friend, Peter Pettigrew, betrayed them and they were seeked out by Voldemort. That night, however, the Potters had been visited by the late Albus Dumbledore mere moments before Voldemort. Dumbledore had arrived, distraught and fevered, insisting that Lily and James take their son somewhere—anywhere—and flee to safety.

It had been too late, however. The startling sound of the hinges of the Potters’ front door snapping open had alerted them before Dumbledore cold fully explain the gravity of their predicament. Dumbledore had forced Lily and James upstairs and out of harm’s way before James could even have begun shouting his protests, his insistence that he be the one to fight alongside Dumbledore to protect his wife and young child. From behind the door of the uppermost bedroom, however, James and Lily could only watch as blue light snuck beneath the door and cast an ethereal glow, bathing the room in a horrifyingly deceptive light. What followed downstairs, in the very kitchen Harry had been fed his evening bottle and Lily had hummed to Celestina Warbeck’s newest song on the Wizarding Wireless just minutes previously, was what was rumoured to be one of the most legionary duels in modern wizarding history—one that could rival even that of Grindelwald and Dumbledore. That duel, however, was to be Albus Dumbledore’s last.

That fateful night, with the fabled Elder Wand in hand, Voldemort had ascended the stairs and managed to unlock the door Dumbledore had sealed the Potters behind. He had laughed, high and cruel at the sight of Lily and James protecting their son. Ignoring them both—Lily’s pleas for mercy to save but only their son, and James’s roar of ceaseless, desperately conjured curses—Voldemort had rounded on Harry. His parents’ joined protection over him, the kind of impenetrable barrier they had created around Harry, however, had produced what most had considered to never be possible; Harry’s parents had saved him from Voldemort’s Killing Curse and, in the process, ensured that it had rebounded on Voldemort himself.

Their joined protection, the love with which they regarded Harry to ensure both his safety and survival, however, had endowed Harry with a mark on his forehead in the shape of a thin bolt of lightning. His parents, however, were weakened to a point close to death. Their frailty had rendered it impossible for them to live a normal life for many years afterwards. Though the Healers at St. Mungo’s ensured that they made a near full recovery, Lily and James knew that they needed to hide themselves—and Harry—away. Never truly convinced that Voldemort was never to be seen again, they provided their quaint house in Godric’s Hollow with every means of protection imaginable and kept to themselves for many years. His mother knew of a special kind of protection that their house was provided, one that would only end upon Harry’s seventeenth birthday, and protect him until that time. Beyond that time, however, remaining inside his house would be just as dangerous as venturing outside.

His father taught him the Ancient Runes and Defence Against the Dark Arts syllabi from the confines of their basement, while his mother specialised in Potions and Arithmancy, brewing and concocting potions from her small laboratory in the attic where there was a permanent purple hue to the walls from a Sleeping Draught gone wrong years ago. They used practical spells around the house (Scourgify being one of Harry’s favourites) and his parents taught him both Charms and Transfiguration as well so that he ‘received an education that could parallel that taught at Hogwarts—his mother’s words, not his own. Harry knew, deep down, that despite their efforts, his home-schooling could never quite compare with the experience that the witches and wizards his age had at Hogwarts.

Just over one month previously, Harry had sanguinely asked to attend Hogwarts for his final year. He knew, deep down, how protective his parents were, how deeply they regarded his safety and how much they set in store by keeping him close at all times. It was paranoia, his mother had once admitted to him, on a blustery night the previous year, and an unrivalled sense of responsibility, one that left her aching for reassurance that her son was alive and well, no matter the cost to her own liberty.

The answer Harry had received, however, was truly unexpected. Sitting around their rickety kitchen table and feasting on cottage pie and chips, Harry had watched as his parents exchanged a pointed look between them, before his father had launched into a long-winded explanation, one that had involved what Harry deemed his father’s ‘stern face’. As his father was—well, his father, such an expression did not often make an appearance. Usually James was the one encouraging Harry’s misbehaviour.

“Your Mum and I have discussed this a lot, Harry,” he had said. “We know how much going to Hogwarts would mean to you, and now that you’re seventeen and the protection you’ve had for so long has been… broken,” he said, wincing at his word choice, “we’ve decided that the choice is yours: you can choose whether you want to go to Hogwarts or not.”

Harry had stared at his father in utter disbelief, his fork suspended between his gaping mouth and his plate. Glancing at his mother, she had fiddled with the string wrapped loosely around a small parcel on her lap, adding, “Of course, if you want us to continue schooling you at home, we would really prefer you to be here with us, but we also understand that—oof!”

Harry had jumped into his mother’s arms, the pair of them collapsing backwards. His father had quickly conjured an overstuffed pillow on the floor to soften their fall, but Harry had paid little heed to such safety measures. Instead, he had pressed smothering kisses on his mother’s face, shouting his thanks and running wildly around the house in search of a spare piece of parchment to write a letter to Ron. Harry’s father had called him back soon after, however, and instructed Harry to sit back at the table, a proud, bemused smile reaching his dark eyes.

“Careful, dear,” his mother had laughed. “You’ll squash your present.” She had handed the parcel into Harry's eager clutches. “This is a little something we’ve compiled so that you won’t feel home-sick next year. Of course, September won’t arrive for over a month but, knowing you, you’ll probably begin shopping for your textbooks tomorrow.”

Harry had smiled, heart leaping in his chest as he untied the twine carefully before he had grown impatient and ripped open the package. An array of items had fallen into his lap: his mother’s recipe book which included her famous spiced mince pies, his father’s pocket watch that blared whenever he was particularly late, a self-refilling mug emblazoned with the Hogwarts crest, and a framed photograph of the three of them (‘Harry, aged five, on a proper broomstick for the first time’ was scrawled on the back). The picture showed his parents on either side of him, joyously shouting words of encouragement. Harry's cheeks had hurt as he smiled at the collection of items, fingers dancing over the edge of the photograph and the small scratches on his father’s beloved watch.

“Thank you,” he had said. His voice, thick with emotion at his mother’s ever good-willed conscientiousness, had betrayed him, cracking over the words.

That day seemed like an unbearably short time ago to Harry. A month had passed since then and, on the evening in question, Harry found himself packing the very same items into his trunk. He realised that these would be the mementos of his parents he would treasure the most at Hogwarts.

Harry’s father’s voice alerted him. “And make sure you give our regards to all of your professors,” he shouted from the kitchen. His father’s footsteps trotted up the stairs and Harry watched his smile as he laid eyes on Harry's half-full trunk sprawled out on his bed. “Moony—Professor Lupin, I should say, is teaching Defence. Merlin, it still sounds strange, doesn’t it, Lily? Professor Lupin.”

His mother, returning to Harry’s room with a tall pile of socks levitating in front of her, waved him off. “You’ll have to be good for Minerva too, Harry. You don’t want to get in her bad books, or you’ll never get out.” She raised her voice, smiling mischievously at Harry, and called “Isn’t that right, James?”

Harry grinned as he heard his father call out fruitless protests, taking feigned offence at his wife’s implicit accusation. He slumped back on his bed and watched as his mother raised her wand once again and the various quills and parchment from Harry’s small desk tucked in the corner of his bedroom began flying across into his trunk.

 “I think that last time you saw Minerva was during the summer for dinner,” his mother said. “She was most impressed by how you transfigured the centrepiece into additional cutlery when the Weasleys arrived. I’m sure she’s ecstatic to teach you, sweetheart.”

“She doesn’t seem the type to get ecstatic about much,” Harry muttered.

Lily frowned, and assured Harry that he just needed to give her a chance; that there was more to people than met the eyes, often. “And your professors are all going to adore you,” she said kindly. “And you know that if the other students ever give you a hard time, you know that your father will march through the Hogwarts front gates and hex them into next Tuesday before Minerva can say ‘detention’.”

“I won’t need to, darling,” James said, entering the room and throwing Harry his broomstick. Judging from the state of his father’s windswept hair, Harry thought, it looked as though his father had been outside riding it. James marched across the room and pressed a gentle kiss to his wife’s cheek. “He may have inherited your eyes, Lily, but he’s got my fight.”

 

*

 

The morning of September the first dawned bright and early, the distant sounds of bells chiming from the local church rousing Harry from his unsettled sleep. He took a moment to smile into his pillow, allowing his competing feelings of dread, anticipation and excitement to fill him up until he jumped from his rickety bed, unable to contain himself. He pulled on his Muggle clothes—faded jeans and a red jumper, the sleeves of which he needed to roll up—with shaking fingers before joining his parents downstairs.

After refusing breakfast at the house because his stomach was in his throat, Harry used the Levitation Charm to topple his trunk into the Vauxhall Astra they had borrowed. Sirius had offered his motorcycle, insisting that Harry would have his choice of any boyfriend in Hogwarts if he arrived to King’s Cross riding it, but Lily had stepped in and insisted that they see Harry onto the train.

His mother handed him a slice of toast with a smear of raspberry jam and he munched on it without properly registering the taste. Harry climbed inside, pretending not to notice his parents’ whispering as he fidgeted with the stiff collar of his jacket. He slumped back in his seat with a sigh.

They set off for London soon afterwards. Passing the patchwork farms of the countryside before travelling through industrial areas, Harry watched the distance between the houses close and the traffic become more congested. Even the air in London seemed thicker, moist in the most uncomfortable of ways and so unlike the clean, fresh air of his own home. By the time they reached King’s Cross, it was almost quarter to eleven and Harry's parents were, predictably, frantic.

“Quick, quick!” his father urged, surreptitiously swishing his wand to place Harry's trunk and a sleeping Abrax onto a cart without attracting the attention of Muggle passers-by. Lily berated him half-heartedly for his rather blatant use of magic. “We can’t have you miss the Hogwarts Express!”

“Well, I suppose you could,” his mother said, pulling Harry into a tight embrace. “At least then we’d have an excuse to keep you at home for another year.” She frowned to herself. “That sounded less strange in my head. I just mean that we’re going to miss you terribly, Harry.”

Harry rolled his eyes but he smiled despite himself. Taking his mother’s hand and giving it a comforting squeeze, he guided her to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, vaguely wondering who was the parent and who was the child in their relationship. The early-morning commuters had long since left so the station was relatively empty, leaving them free to innocuously lean against the wall in turn. Harry pushed his trolley against the bricked wall and watched Abrax and the rest of the cart disappear before he followed.

Harry gaped at the sight before him, torn between wonder and anxiety. Abrax hissed at the smoke from the gleaming train billowing around them and obscuring the throngs of witches and wizards alike crowded there. Shouts and joyous laughter rang through the air. Harry heard calls of “good luck!” and promises to write daily above the thick steam. He heard his parents arrive behind them and spotted a familiar witch with bright-red hair rush over to them. As Harry predicted they would be, his parents, ever-loved by the entire wizarding community, were quickly engulfed by the crowd.

Harry made his way along the platform, calling out apologies to oblivious onlookers as he wheeled his trolley through the crowd. He came to a stop at the nearest carriage, students spilling out compartments and calling to their parents on the platform. None of the students had noticed who he was yet—or, at least, they didn’t know that the boy with a mess of black hair covering the characteristic scar on his forehead, was the Harry Potter. Harry noticed a boy who looked about his age heaving his enormous trunk into the train with a strained expression.

“Want a hand, mate?” Harry asked.

The boy eyed him curiously, setting his trunk back on his trolley and blowing a loose strand of dark hair out of his eyes.

“I’ve always been a bit shit at charms. Tend to set most things on fire,” he muttered in a thick Irish accent, watching Harry levitate the trunk and his sleeping owl into the luggage compartment of the train. “Thanks.”

“I’m Harry, by the way. I’m new.”

“Seamus,” he offered. For a moment, he observed Harry, before his expression changed from one of mild curiosity to one of ecstatic shock. “Holy Merlin’s bollocks, you’re Harry Potter!”

Harry’s shoulders sagged and he smiled self-consciously despite himself. “Yeah,” he said with typical awkwardness. There was really no other way to confirm his identity. He sighed and held out his hand.

Seamus took it enthusiastically and shook it at least four-and-a-half times before dropping his head to smile at the scruffy platform in faint disbelief. “Does Ron know that you’re coming this year? He doesn’t shut up about you, by the way. I’m sure he’ll be over the fuckin’ moon when he finds out.”

Harry laughed, relieved at the mention of his best mate. “Yeah, he knows alright. He’s usually late for the train, though.”

Seamus opened his mouth to reply, but he was interrupted by the loud, blaring horn of the Hogwarts Express.

Harry grinned and thumbed over his shoulder, and Seamus nodded, calling that he would save Harry a seat on the train. Relieved, and keeping a watchful eye out for Ron, Harry rushed through the crowd to locate his parents, squeezing past doting witches and dodging a group of wizards he recognised from the dinner parties whose pipe smoke was adding to the fumes along the platform. He spotted his parents at last and his mother’s face lit up, as though it had not only been ten minutes since she had last seen him.

“Harry, sweetheart,” his mother exclaimed when he fell into her warm arms. She embraced him tightly, as though she didn’t want to let go, and pressed a kiss to his forehead. Pulling back, she held him at arm’s length and look pointedly at him, giving him a stern look. “Now, if you need anything at all don’t hesitate to write to us.” She glanced at her husband with a doting smile, a hint of nostalgia seeping into her tone. “We simply can’t wait to hear the stories from Hogwarts, so make sure to keep us updated. And stay out of trouble. We don’t want to get any letters back from your professors unless they’re to sing your praises.”

Harry smiled into her shoulder, the fabric pressing a mark against his cheek, and felt her tuck a croissant into his shoulder bag. Harry pulled back and rounded on his father who pushed his glasses up his nose, grinning with the same smile Harry saw every morning in the bathroom mirror when they both shaved together, something that—more often than not—ended up in a both of them seeing how much foam they could dangle from their chins without using magic. Harry felt a strange pang of sadness at the thought that he wouldn’t experience that daily, almost mundane aspect of life at home with his parents.

His father, it seemed, had become overcome by emotion. “Have a great year, Harry,” he said. He clapped Harry on the back and sniffed loudly. His eyes glimmered behind his spectacles, though that may have been because they were irritated from the thick smoke encircling them. Harry chose to think that he was, instead, feeling sentimental. Before Harry could turn around, his father pulled him into a tight, surprisingly soft embrace.   

“Thanks, Dad,” he mumbled, despite the fact the his words were muffled against his father’s shoulder.

He nodded once, surveying Harry's expression before clapping him on the back once more. “Don’t do anything your mother wouldn’t do.”

“Which excludes just about everything fun,” Harry said with a grin.

“Exactly the point,” he countered, eyes twinkling.

The horn blared a second time and Harry sent one final wave over his shoulder before rushing through the crowds and clambering onto the train. He scrambled past a group of sixth years inconspicuously eyeing him. He smiled at them nervously and found Seamus in a compartment with a second boy, with dark skin and tight, cropped hair, pressed against his side. Seamus’s eyes lit up and he motioned for Harry to join them through the compartment window.

“Hi mate,” the second boy said with a quiet, reserved kind of voice. “Dean Thomas.”

Harry shook his hand and sat opposite them both.

“Seamus mentioned that he’d seen you on the platform,” Dean said with a wry smile. “I’m sure that won’t be the first of your crazy fan encounters.”

“Oi!” Seamus said indignantly, pinching Dean’s shoulder. “It wasn’t a crazy fan experience, was it, Harry?”

Harry smiled in slight amusement and shook his head. He tried not to stare, but Dean’s teasing tone, the way their bodies were so comfortably intertwined and the twinkle in Seamus’s eye as he tickled Dean’s above his—admittedly, very well put-together—Muggle outfit, made Harry’s heart thud more quickly in his chest.

The train jolted forwards then, the final shouts of farewell heard as the train journeyed north. They passed the bustling London streets and followed the winding tracks through the countryside, leaving only thick steam in their wake.

“So, how come you’re only joining Hogwarts now?” Seamus asked.

Seamus,” Dean chastised.

“I only mean that there had been rumours for years,” Seamus said. “Harry deserves a chance to say whether they have as much truth as a Rita Skeeter article or not.”

Harry shook his head in dismissal at Dean’s apologetic glance. “It’s alright. Er—my parents said that, once I turned seventeen, I could make the decision to go to Hogwarts for myself. I didn’t go when I was eleven for safety reasons, but, being seventeen means that any added protections end, so it doesn’t really matter where I go.”

Dean nodded, surveying Harry with a fascination that was a mere fraction of that of Seamus.

“I didn’t know anything about the wizarding world, or you, until I got my letter,” Dean admitted. “It’s probably why I seem a little less… star-struck than him.”

“So you’re a Muggle-born, then?”

Dean’s eyes narrowed briefly, and Harry realised how that might have come across.

“Didn’t mean that in a bad way at all,” Harry said hastily.

Dean smiled, easily placated by his response. “S’fine, mate. Didn’t think you were one of those anyway,” he said. “You just can’t be sure nowadays.”

“To be honest, I don’t think anyone who truly believes in pure-blood superiority is going to go around screaming it from the top of their lungs. Especially after... everything.”

Dean nodded gravely. Harry heard Seamus make a strange noise that sounded close to a derisive, but slightly amused snort.

“You’d be surprised,” Seamus said darkly. “I’m half and half, but my Ma’s side of the family is pure-blood so most of my relatives were on You Know Who’s side during the War. My Ma and her sister had to break off ties with basically our entire family.  Think some of them still think they can re-start the War without Voldemort.”

“There are people who think like that at Hogwarts?” Harry asked incredulously.

“’Course,” Dean sighed, “but you won’t have to put up with them outside of classes.”

“Or unless you’re forced to share a dormitory with a Slytherin.”

Seamus winced. “I forgot about that. Merlin’s pants, I couldn’t imagine anything worse.”

Harry looked between them in question. “Why would you have to share a dorm with a Slytherin if you’re not one too?”

“Last year, the old lioness—that’s McGonagall for you—decided to change things up a bit,” Seamus said. Harry glanced at the way Seamus was fiddling absentmindedly with the soft fabric of Dean’s jumper, tracing nonsensical patterns. He smiled and sat back to listen.

“She said that the division between Slytherin and the other houses had become ‘untenable’—whatever that means—and started spewing some of that inter-house unity bollocks. Apparently, some snakes were feeling targeted after a small group of them started leaving idiotic threats about opening the Chamber of Secrets.” Seamus rolled his eyes. “Basically, McGonagall told us all that she’d had the brilliant idea of pairing every sixth and seventh-year student together with someone from a different house, instead of the separate house dormitories we used to have.

“Reckon she thought that we’d be old and mature enough to handle a change like that, and that this would be the perfect moment ‘to start forming better relationships with each other’.” Seamus grimaced as he made some air-quotes. “Said we wouldn’t have a choice when we start working at the Ministry or wherever we end up after Hogwarts so we might as well start pretending we’re all best friends now.”

Harry shook his head in disbelief. He had heard countless stories from Ron about the sense of pride of being in house dormitories, sharing with close friends and decorating the walls with banners of your house. “Won’t that make things even more divided, though? Nobody's going to want to be forced to make friends. It’ll just make the whole situation worse, right?”

“You’re preaching to the choir, mate,” Seamus said. He smoothed the front of his jeans before grinning at Harry. “So, what’s going to happen when you arrive? Are you going to get sorted with all the firsties or do you think McGonagall will let you choose a house?”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t know. Both my parents are Gryffindors so I suppose it's quite likely I’ll be one too.”

“Dean and I are both Gryffindors too. Given that you’ll probably be in her house, I doubt McGonagall would be cruel enough to line you up with the first years to be sorted.” He gave Harry an unabashed once-over that made Harry’s insides squirm. “You might stand out a bit.”

Dean sighed. “Ignore him. Being a Muggle-born changes things for me, but he’s just acting like a hippogriff ‘cause he grew up hearing stories about you. Any of the students who grew up hearing stories about you too, though, will probably have the same reaction as him.”

Harry smiled crookedly. “Sounds terrible but you sort of… get used to it after a while. What I mean is, I still don’t much know how to react. To my parents and Ron and everyone I’m just Harry, really.”

“Alright, 'just Harry’. What about saying hello to your best mate, then?”

Harry whipped around at the sound of Ron’s familiar voice and leaped up from his seat, tackling him into a firm embrace and knocking into the partially open compartment door. Harry glanced behind Ron to find Hermione Granger, Ron’s girlfriend whom he had met a handful of times over summer holidays and Christmases spent at the Burrow, worrying her lip.

“Hermione!” he exclaimed, pulling her into a significantly gentler hug.

“Hi Harry,” she said against his shoulder as he got a mouthful of extremely bushy hair. “How are you?”

He nodded and pulled them both into the compartment, watching as a chorus of greetings were exchanged between them and Seamus and Dean.

They spent the remainder of the journey exchanging stories about their experiences at Hogwarts, warning Harry about what to expect from certain professors and lessons, which classes were easiest to skive off and which dark corridors were best for some of the more unsolicited activities the older students tended to get up to. Harry tried not to blush at any mentions of those. He wasn’t prudish, but growing up with his parents as his primary source of company seemed to place a certain restriction on Harry's love life.

After that, Hermione gladly filled Harry in on the N.E.W.T courses they had begun the previous year to make sure that he wouldn’t need to lag behind the rest of the class. His parents had taught him material beyond the core coursework and he was quite sure he’d adjust to the school work quickly—it was the idea of having to fit in with the students outside Ron and Hermione that made him nervous.

Harry glanced outside as the surroundings changed outside once again. The train crossed mounted bridges over rivers and streams, travelling at a comfortable speed. The sun, which had shone high in the sky when they departed, was slowly setting. A gentle blend of orange and pink hues coloured the sky, farmhouses casting long shadows over the country fields they passed.

Just as Harry was about to ask what their arrival time would be, a cheerful voice called for them to change into their Hogwarts robes and announced that they would soon be arriving. Harry found that he was immediately singled out when he pulled on his plain black robes, the same type worn by the first years who had not yet been sorted. Dean, Seamus, Ron and Hermione both had their house crest emblems embroidered on their chest pockets.

“Don’t worry, mate,” Ron said, noticing Harry fidget with the cuffs of his sleeves. “You’ll be sorted before you know it.”

The train jolted to a stop a mere half-hour later, sending the five of them tumbling into a pile of limbs, Dean groaning beneath Seamus as he collapsed into a fit of laughter. They disembarked from the train, assured that their pets and trunks would be sent to their respective rooms, and landed on the narrow platform at Hogsmeade Station.

“Firs’ Years this way! Come along now! Firs’ Years over here with me!” a thunderous voice called.

“That’ll be Hagrid, the gamekeeper,” Ron said. He pulled Harry in the opposite direction, past crowds of anxious first years shuffling around an enormous man clad in a moleskin overcoat, to join a larger group at the perimeter of the station. “There it is.”

Harry turned around and gasped at the sight. In the distance, surrounded by steep mountains in the Scottish Highlands with the Great Lake gleaming below, stood Hogwarts. The vast castle boasted of turrets and towers, the small lights of the windows flickering and casting light across the expansive grounds. Though Dean and Seamus climbed up a small hill ahead of him, no longer quite as enraptured by the sight, Harry was unable to tear his eyes off the castle. They arrived at a gathering where Thestrals, their skeletal bodies and leather wings invisible to most students, pulled the carriages. They scrambled to find a carriage and, from a distance, heard a voice ordering students into each carriage.

“MacMillan!” Seamus called. Harry watched as the boy—Ernie, Ron supplied—banged his head against the roof of the carriage as he was climbing inside before whipping around. He turned expectantly as Seamus and Dean, followed by Harry and Ron, and Hermione—who, with her nose in a book, kept veering slightly too far to the left so that Ron had to gently tug her by the arm—made their way towards him.

Seamus pointed at Ernie’s chest and made a low, whistling sound. “I see you’ve been bestowed with the title of Head Boy. Should I bow down before you? Or should I kiss your hand, perhaps?”

Ron, in an impressively hushed voice, relayed the basics of Ernie’s link with Seamus. Apparently they had dated for a brief period in fourth year, but broke up on amicable terms. Then, Ron, with a supreme lack of subtlety, informed Harry that Ernie was gay, single and down to fuck. Hermione heard this and swatted Ron with the sharp corner of his book, leaving Harry to roll his eyes and smile at the couple in amusement. Merlin, it seemed as though Hogwarts was already teeming with relationships.

“Congrats Ernie,” Ron said cheerily, clapping him on the shoulder. “Not that anyone wasn’t expecting it, though. You were obviously McGonagall’s first choice. And besides, it’s not like they were going to make Malfoy Head Boy.”

All of them—excluding Hermione and Harry—guffawed at the proposition

“Think she’d sooner Gryffindor lose the Quidditch Cup for the next hundred years,” Ron said.

Some of the carriages rolled in the direction of the castle, bypassing the smattering of trees and away from the village of Hogsmeade.

“Come on then, lads,” Seamus said, clambering into the carriage. “The sooner we leave, the sooner we get to the feast and the sooner I can dig into all the delicacies that Hogwarts has to offer. Three months is too longer to suffer without treacle tart.”

They arrived at the castle shortly after that and Ron immediately dragged Harry through the corridors to see McGonagall, rambling about the fact that they needed to request that Harry be sorted separately from the first years. He matched them to the top of the Great Hall, Harry marvelling at the ceiling imitating the night sky in tow.

They spotted McGonagall immediately and she seemed to anticipate them, turning to greet them both, lips pursed. “Welcome to Hogwarts, Mr Potter,” she said primly. “I’m certainly looking forward to ascertain the material your parents have taught you. Knowing your mother, I’m sure she has you very well versed in Potions at the very least.”

“Thank you,” Harry said faintly. Under her close scrutiny, he felt every piece of information he ever learned disappear as though someone had cast a highly effective Obliviate on him.

“Now, I quite agree that it would be unnecessary to put you through the first-year Sorting Ceremony but rules are rules and you still need to be assigned your house.” She flicked her wand and the Sorting Hat, worn and frayed, soared into her outstretched hand. “The first years will be arriving any moment—assuming Hagrid hasn’t toppled into the lake again—so it would be best to do so now.” She pointed to the small stool at the very top of the Great Hall.

“Right now?” Harry exclaimed, suddenly feeling very hot beneath his robes.

“Yes, now, Mr Potter,” she said impatiently. “Unless you would prefer Mr Weasley to leave?”

“No,” he said, glancing up at Ron, smiling as he clapped him reassuringly on the shoulder. He sat on the wobbly stool. “That’s alright. He can stay here.”

Harry closed his eyes and inhaled sharply when he felt Professor McGonagall lower the Sorting Hat on his head.

“Well,” a small, rough voice whispered, “aren’t you an intriguing one. You’re quite daring, I see; very little regard for rules or boundaries. You certainly have a temper on you, haven’t you? And you’ll go to great lengths to get your way. There’s a nobility in your pursuits, though, that’s for sure. And I don’t think Slytherin quite fits with your values, though it would be fascinating to see how well you’d bode there. I suppose, all things considered, it’ll have to be... GRYFFINDOR!”

Harry sighed with relief, his thundering heart slowing down to a less alarming pace. He blinked rapidly in the bright lights when he felt the hat lift from his eyes. He saw Professor McGonagall nod at him approvingly as Ron engulfed him in yet another a tight embrace.  

“You will join the rest of your house for the start of term banquet,” she said before her lips drew into a small smile, her eyes alight behind her spectacles. “I certainly hope you’re good at Quidditch, Mr Potter. Welcome to Gryffindor House.”

The Great Hall soon filled with students and he spotted Seamus and Dean too. Hermione, who had arrived chatting with a girl with a long plait, sat next to Ron.

After the chatter in the Great Hall began to quieten down, the doors to the Great Hall swung open to reveal Professor McGonagall followed by a long line of petrified first years. She turned around at the top and faced the entire hall with a tight, but not unwelcoming smile. “Good evening to you all and welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We’re going to begin with the Sorting Ceremony now, and then you shall be able to enjoy your feast.”

The first years exchanged looks of horror, scrambling to hide themselves in the group. Harry leaned forwards to get a proper view of the Sorting Hat. The very second Professor McGonagall placed the Sorting Hat on the stool, it burst into song.

Welcome, young first years, you’re new to the show,

I’m the Sorting Hat, you see, I reveal what you know

And the house I assign you will cultivate your talents, allow you to grow.

In wisdom you’ll blossom, in bravery you’ll soar,

By the end of your journey I’ve no doubt some of you will return for more.

In Gryffindor you’ll find the fiercely brave and noble-hearted,

Ravenclaw is where your wisdom will expand and venture into the uncharted,

Why, in Slytherin lie the ambitious and shrewd,

And the dear Hufflepuffs value patience and try to make peace, dissolve feuds.

In your houses you’ll learn far more than just skills,

You’ll form friends, share laughter, tell stories with your quills,

You’ll discover where your talents and allegiances truly lie,

Though I must warn some of you not to allow prejudices to blind your eye.

The Great Hall erupted in applause, a couple of Gryffindor students seated behind Harry standing on their bench to whoop loudly, chanting something very rude.

“Quiet down, now,” Professor McGonagall called sternly, eyes narrowing at the sight of the two Gryffindors. She flicked her wand in their direction and they promptly sat on the benches once again, looking mildly perturbed by her lack of reaction. “When I call your name, you must step forward and I will place the Sorting Hat on your head.”

Harry watched as the list trickled down until the final three students were called. Elizabeth Waters, Penelope Worcester and Kenneth Zebley were sorted into Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor respectively and cheers from each of the houses sounded as they were bestowed with a new member.

Without a moment’s notice, delectable food appeared along each of the house tables. Rosemary roasted potatoes, buttery peas, roast beef drowning in gravy, and spicy chicken wings piled into tall pyramids lined the tables. The students dived forward to fill their plates and Harry followed suit, suddenly reminded of how hungry he really was. He was reaching for a bowl of basil and tomato soup when the double doors of the Great Hall swung open.

Harry craned his neck and followed the source of the sound. A tall, slender boy with white blonde hair and a sharp jaw sauntered inside, flicking his wand to extinguish every candle suspended above the Slytherin table. He fell dramatically, yet with an unnerving grace, onto one of the benches before tucking his wand into the pocket of his dark green robes. He glared at the students gaping at him, others sharing incredulous looks.

“Well, what are you staring at?” he demanded.

His voice was clear and he spoke slowly, articulate despite his sneering tone. It carried across the Great Hall and, apparently, quite a few students were listening to him.

Harry heard whispers and exasperated sighs from Ron and the Gryffindors around him. He watched Professor McGonagall’s sharp eyes narrow as she hushed the first years to sit with their houses. She marched down the centre of the Great Hall until she came to a stop beside the boy, who was chewing moodily on a slice of steak and kidney pie.

Most of the students were staring at him; some with awe, others with poorly disguised admiration, and a couple with something close to fear. Harry wasn’t quite sure what was so enrapturing about him; he certainly didn’t recognise his face from any of the photographs Ron showed him of his friends from Hogwarts. Harry noticed a girl beside the blonde-haired boy nudge his side when she saw McGonagall approaching. The boy smirked at the sight of her and raised an eyebrow.

“And why might you be late, Mr Malfoy? This is no way to start a new term. I thought you might have learned by now.”

“Did you really think that, Professor? Or were you just humouring yourself?”

The Slytherins around him chortled, others shaking their heads while the boy opposite Malfoy, wearing a nasty smirk, merely looked entertained.

Her eyebrows shot together. “Ten points from Slytherin House,” she announced loudly, prompting one of the Slytherins beside the boy to groan. “You need to discipline yourself, Mr Malfoy, or I can very well promise you that you’ll be out of this school before the Quidditch season begins.”

The students in the Great Hall were soon distracted by the arrival of a soaking wet Hagrid who fell into his chair, which promptly collapsed into a pile of wood beneath him. Horace Slughorn, an old portly man and Head of Slytherin, sighed and raised his wand. Hagrid’s overcoat and beard dried instantly, though he still looked dishevelled, his skin a clammy grey colour.

Harry, however, had to tear his eyes from where McGonagall was muttering into the boy’s ear. He looked completely unbothered and she left soon thereafter, sighing to herself. As she took her seat at the head of the Great Hall, she leaned down to whisper into Professor Flitwick’s ear. Harry was about to ask who the arrogant and, frankly, rude boy was, when he was interrupted.

“So, Harry,” Lavender Brown, a fellow Gryffindor, said. “How do you think you’re going to fare with all this coursework? N.E.W.T.s are this year, you know.”

Harry was promptly distracted and launched into a conversation with Lavender about the particular demands of Charms and the merits of individualism in Potions, a topic that quickly coaxed Hermione from the book she had been enraptured by. After Harry had chatted to some of the other Gryffindors in his year and had his fill of delicious food, the plates were soon replaced by trays of desserts. Profiteroles overflowing with fresh cream, treacle tart, and pumpkin spice pudding sprang up on the long tables. Harry cut himself a slice of white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake just as Professor Flitwick stood up behind the table, clapping his hands rather loudly to garner the students’ attention.

“While you’re all enjoying the magnificent array of desserts the house-elves have prepared—in particular our Head Chef, Nina—on behalf of Professor McGonagall I have a few announcements to make, one of which I’m sure many of you will be very excited about,” he called.

Harry glanced around and noticed that Professor McGonagall was absent from the table and that she was, instead, marching the blonde-haired Slytherin from before back to his seat at the table.

“Firstly, along with our first years, we have a new seventh-year Gryffindor student to welcome: Harry Potter.”

Harry felt his entire face flush as the entire student body was given a valid excuse to crane their necks to get a good look at him. He looked awkwardly at his hands before changing his mind and glancing at where Ron was clapping enthusiastically and periodically clapping him on the back. By the end of the day, he was sure that there would be bruises there.

“I hope you’ll all make him feel welcome and have regard to the fact that, despite his age, he too will need help adjusting to life at Hogwarts. On behalf on Ravenclaw House, we would absolutely be—”

“That’s perfectly fine, Filius,” Professor McGonagall interrupted, resuming her seat at the top of the Great Hall with an exasperated sigh. “Now along with this, I would like to remind you all, as always, that the Forbidden Forest is strictly out of bounds and any student found there without accompaniment by a professor will have his or her house docked one hundred points and will be subject to three months of detention with me.” Her eyes lingered on the Malfoy boy.

“Next, and as I mentioned at the conclusion of last term, we have decided to adjust the living arrangements for sixth and seventh-year students. You will each have your own house common rooms to socialise, of course, but we hope that this new initiative will tackle the inter-house tension of late, especially among our older students who should be setting good examples. Boys and girls will be separate but each student will be placed with someone from a different house to cultivate better attitudes towards co-operation between all students.”

She whipped out her wand and from it sprang a long piece of parchment. “I will assign each of you with a roommate from the same year but from a different house, and the location of each of your living quarters. There will be absolutely no exceptions. If I hear of any misconduct or bullying, the student or students involved will be severely punished.”  

Professor McGonagall proceeded to listlessly read names from the list. The students each had varying reactions; some visibly winced while others seemed genuinely delighted by the prospect of sharing a room with one of their friends. Harry heard Ron and Ernie’s names called together and spotted Ernie darting to pull a reluctant-but-relieved Ron into his arms. Hermione’s name was called alongside a Slytherin by the name of Pansy Parkinson, and they were assigned the best dormitory in the castle, overlooking the tallest mountain peak behind Hogwarts. That didn’t seem to matter to either Hermione or Pansy, however, as both of them looked as though they would rather share a bed with a Blast Ended Skrewt than spend the next year as roommates.

As Professor McGonagall called out yet more unfamiliar names—though some surnames he recognised—Harry couldn’t help but feel the weight of anxiety settle on his shoulders. They were rigid beneath his clothes. As his stomach twisted and coiled into uncomfortable knots, he suddenly regretted the enormous dinner he had eaten. Ron placed a consoling hand on his arm.

“Draco Malfoy,” McGonagall called, tone laced with distaste. She glanced at the list and sighed regretfully. “Will be paired with Harry Potter in the uppermost dormitory in the Right Tower.”

Harry felt the breath knocked out of him. Draco Malfoy? The very boy who seemed to possess the ability to captivate and instil fear into an entire hall of students was Harry’s new roommate. Suddenly, the prospect of making new friends seemed like a wild fantasy. He glanced at Ron helplessly, feeling the entirely of Gryffindor table grimace and exchange sympathetic murmurs. He heard whispers, some outraged on his behalf, others shocked by his assignment.

 “...imagine being the new boy and having to share with Malfoy. That’s fucking rough.”

“ ...can’t believe McGonagall would do that to him. He should be given his own dormitory for everyone’s safety.”

“...how does she expect Harry Potter to share with Malfoy of all people? He should be the exception, I say. Malfoy should be put with one of the Slytherins. They all worship the ground he walks on, anyway.”

Ron looked just about as furious as when he had found out that the Chudley Cannons’ only decent player—Jane Shaquif—had been seriously injured that previous season.

“But— no,” he insisted to nobody in particular. “That can’t happen. Harry will be murdered in his sleep!”

Once McGonagall had finished reading the list of roommates, she called for silence. Harry slumped against Ron and watched as she rose from her chair, commanding the students’ attention despite her unformidable stature.

“Now, as Professor Flitwick mentioned, we have a rather exciting piece of information that, for some of you whose parents are in the Ministry, will not come as surprise.” She cast her gaze over the four long tables, before extracting her wand from the pocket of her robes. She waved it in a circular motion and an enormous banner reading ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry welcomes Beauxbatons and Durmstrang schools for the Triwizard Tournament’.

The Great Hall broke into gasps and chatter, a couple of students who had already been told about the Triwizard Tournament talking smugly over the cheers.

“Settle down!” she called. “Now, as you’re aware, the last time the Triwizard Tournament was held was ten years ago. We spent most of last year negotiating with the Ministry of Magic to secure Hogwarts as the designated school to host, assured as we were that here would be—relatively—the safest choice.”

A mini firework coloured in yellow and red shot into the air reading ‘Hogwarts to win the Triwizard Cup!’ from the Ravenclaw table.

Professor McGonagall suppressed a smile. “Yes, Miss McLennan, we’re all anticipating Hogwarts to win in this tournament but before we get ahead of ourselves, I must lay down the new rules and regulations decided between the three schools. We came to the following arrangements after some… testing negotiations.”

Professor Flitwick charmed the banner hanging above the long table to depict the badges of each of the houses in the four corners. Professor McGonagall nodded curtly before reading from a piece of parchment.

“Firstly, all eligible competitors must have reached the age of seventeen by the deadline for submission into the Goblet of Fire. Submissions, once made, cannot be rescinded. The Goblet selects the students and those candidates have no choice but to take part, so consider carefully what is at stake before you enter your name. It will be located in the Great Hall for any such students to enter their name tomorrow morning.

"Secondly, the candidates are not to receive any external help, including professors or other students. They are to prepare by themselves. Finally, and most importantly, in accordance with attempts to improve health and safety measures, each of the three schools will propose two candidates. That is, two Hogwarts students will be chosen to work as a team to overcome the Triwizard tasks.” She raised her hand to silence the chatter along the tables. “Students must submit their names individually and the Goblet will choose the best candidates for the Tournament. Best of luck to you all.”

Students from each of the tables stood in unison and battled their way to the double doors at the back of the Great Hall. Harry tentatively watched Hermione—who had insisted that she be the one to convince McGonagall as, in Ron’s words, “McGonagall treats you like you’re her long lost child, ‘Mione.” McGonagall shook her head before Hermione could even speak.

“I’m fully aware that the situation is unfavourable, Ms Granger, but at least he has the benefit of trying to get along with someone new," she said pointedly. "That would never be possible with any of the students from other houses—the students he already knows. At least give Mr Malfoy the benefit of the doubt.”

“But Professor, Harry can hardly be expected to get along with—”

“I won’t hear of excuses, Ms Granger. As you very well know, rules are rules and if word gets out that I made an exception for one boy then everyone will want to swap.” She nodded once before sweeping past them both and out of the Great Hall.

“Thanks for trying, Hermione,” Harry muttered.

“Don’t worry about it,” she sighed. Her mouth twisted into the closest thing to a grimace that his face could manage.

“Just don’t take any shit from Malfoy. He takes real pleasure in walking all over people,” Ron said.

“But do try to stay out of trouble, Harry," Hermione said.

Ron nodded vehemently. "He’s a sneaky little bastard that’ll blame anyone to get away without punishment.”

“You know me, Ron," Harry said, shouldering him. "I’ll always stand up for myself.”

“Yes, Harry, but there’s absolutely no need to be heroic either. Malfoy is going to try to wind you up, so you have to learn to ignore him sometimes.”

They trundled up one of the tall staircases towards the Right Tower, passing stained-glass windows and portraits depicting everything from fighting scenes between giants, to plump, powdered ladies gossiping about the likely candidates for the Triwizard Tournament.

“Think you’ll put your name in the Goblet, then?” Harry asked as they rounded a dark corridor lined with dim lamps.

“I think so, yeah,” Ron said. “Be a great thing to try out for at least. I reckon it would be alright. If I got picked, that is. I’m good with the physical tasks and duelling aspects so having a partner with me can only help matters for solving all the riddles and clues, you know? Could be you, y’know, Hermione.”

Harry hummed. “I’m going to think about it tonight but I probably will, too.”

Hermione pursed her lips and eyed them both. “Just— give it serious consideration before you do anything. And for Merlin’s sake, if you’re chosen, don’t let the time your parents find out be when you’re on the front page of the Daily Prophet, Harry.”

Harry smiled at her concern. “Don’t worry about me, Hermione.” They came to a stop outside Harry's assigned dormitory in the Right Tower and climbed up winding staircases (avoiding the step at the very top). “Now go and do your Head Girl duties.”

Ron smiled proudly at Hermione before they both bid Harry a good night and waved him off. Harry slumped against the wall, taking a moment of reverie to glance out of the window beside the door to his dormitory. The magnificent view spoke of the Great Lake and the mountains encompassing it. The twinkling lights from the downstairs classrooms shone across the sloping hills leading down to the lake that they had climbed that afternoon. To Harry, it felt like a lifetime ago.

He took a deep breath and knocked firmly on the door, expecting Malfoy to open the door. There was no response, however, so he pushed the door and entered the room, muttering “Lumos” to ignite the lanterns on the two bedside lockers.

Two overstuffed chairs, one upholstered in scarlet and gold, the other in silver and emerald green, overlooked a tall window peering over the edge of the lake. Copper lamps cast a warm glow, bathing the room in a soft light. Patchwork quilts covered the two four-poster beds and each of their trunks were set adjacent to the beds. Abrax slinked over to him, purring softly when Harry rubbed between her ears.

“I guess this is home now, right Abrax?”

Harry noticed a second black cat, almost identical to Abrax. She had a distinctive white patch at the end of her tail, however, and her eyes were noticeably darker. She was perched on the bed with the thick, green quilt—Malfoy's bed—eyeing Harry suspiciously. Harry approached her, sitting on the edge of Malfoy's bed to pet her gently. Despite her initial tentativeness, the cat instantly curled against his side, purring into his robes. Abrax leaped onto the bed, jealous of the attention Harry was paying the other cat, and Harry laughed at his antics, rubbing them both behind the ears. Harry watched them both preen under his attention and felt relieved that the second cat and Abrax tolerated each other. He desperately wanted to fall back on the emerald bedsheets, limbs aching from the long journey cramped in the train carriage and sated after the feast. He knew, however, that Malfoy was likely to arrive back any minute.

Harry extracted himself from the two cats and changed into the plaid pyjamas folded on his bed. He brushed his teeth and tucked himself under the bedsheets, Abrax and the second cat joining him curled up on his pillow. Although he was exhausted, eyelids heavy and movements languid, he felt it necessary to stay up until Malfoy arrived back to the dormitory. He didn’t want to leave a bad first impression before falling asleep before he could properly introduce himself, even if it seemed that Malfoy was an arrogant Slytherin. Though he wasn’t sure Harry could even recognise, let alone appreciate, common courtesy, it felt like the decent thing to do.

In the end, Harry forced himself to write a letter to his parents to keep himself awake. He reached over Abrax and the white-tailed cat and found a blank piece of parchment and black ink. His neat scrawl informed them of his initial thoughts on the castle and the teachers, his place in Gryffindor and the announcement of the Triwizard Tournament. He carefully avoided addressing whether or not he planned to enter his name. Thoughts of being chosen for the tournament flooded his thoughts and send a thrill of excitement through him. It would be a chance for him to leave his mark at the school, prove himself and show his capabilities, not to mention the thousand Galleons prize.

He signed off his name and folded up his parchment, making a mental note to ask Ron where the Owlery was.

The door swung open with a sharp bang. Harry started and his gaze shot to the rickety door. Malfoy strutted inside, eyes following the intricacies of the dormitory before they landed on Harry.

“Hi, mate,” Harry said, pulling back the bedsheets and clambering out of bed with less grace than he had intended. He held out his hand, ignoring Malfoy's upturned lip. “I’m Harry Potter.”

“Malfoy,” he muttered, “Draco Malfoy.” His gaze was trained on the inky sky through the window. Harry dropped his outstretched hand.

“Appallingly typical that the Boy Who Lived would be in Gryffindor,” he said, sauntering over to his bed, tracing the Slytherin crest adorning his pyjamas. “Although you are a Potter, so you blood status would dictate that you should be in my house.” He smiled, though his eyes remained unnervingly vacant.

Harry’s shoulders tensed and he tightened his jaw. “If you have an issue with non-pure-bloods then I’m requesting a new room right now.”

Malfoy laughed obnoxiously. “I see why you’re in with the rest of those pointless heroics, then. All too sanctimonious for your own good.” He glanced at where Harry stood with his hands crossed over his chest. “I’m not opposed to non-pure-bloods, I just happened to hear wind that the Sorting Hat may have… lost its touch when it comes to you.”

Harry nodded tersely, eyeing Malfoy as he crossed the room to return to his bed. He noticed two copper bed warmers hanging on the wall and cast an Incedaguia, a charm that produced hot water into both of the bed warmers. He handed one gingerly to Malfoy who nodded at him, tucking it beneath his pillow with his left hand.

“How did you do that?” he asked suddenly. Harry immediately wheeled around to follow his line of sight, landing on his own pillow.

“Cassiopeia—she never goes near anyone except me,” he whispered. Malfoy approached the two cats cautiously, as though afraid to interrupt their sleeping. “How did you do that?” he demanded.

“I don’t know, really, I guess she just liked Abrax and then—”

“If you hexed my cat, I’ll fucking kill you,” Malfoy whispered darkly.

Harry gaped at him, his heart leaping into his throat. “Fuck, no! I swear I didn’t,” he startled. “Why would you even think that?”

He frowned at Harry, eyes scanning his face before nodding, albeit unwillingly. “Abrax, you said? Like the winged horse?”

“Yeah,” Harry breathed. Harry stepped closer to him, relieved that that Malfoy was opening up to him. “You see, my godfather got me the cat when I turned fourteen because he was so delighted that I was able to conjure a Patronus and said that—”

“I really couldn’t care less.”

Harry’s mouth snapped shut. His fists clenched but he stopped himself from retorting as Malfoy stepped closer to the two cats. He rubbed his knuckles on Abrax’s head before gently picking Cassiopeia up from the bed with his left hand. She immediately curved her body into Malfoy's touch, who was stroking along her back and head.

Malfoy glanced up to find Harry staring at him, open-mouthed at his gentle demeanour. “What the fuck are you staring at?” he hissed, voice low as if he was unwilling to wake the cat cradled in his arm. He sauntered over to his bed and placed her at the end of it.

Harry glowered at him, and tried to busy himself with his belongings on his bedside table before getting into bed and turning on his side. Five minutes later, he heard bedsheets rumpling and a heavy sigh. Harry muttered “Nox” and the lights were extinguished.

In the pitch darkness, Harry suddenly felt immensely lonely. Thoughts of his mother's parting words and final goodbye replayed like a broken Wizarding Wireless record. He stared at the faint outline of the bathroom door, trying to will himself to fall asleep. His mind, however, was consumed with thoughts of the confusing, infuriating boy who was muttering in his sleep across the room.

Chapter Text

“Don’t be a tart, Harry. Just drop your name in the Goblet tonight,” Ron instructed the following morning over a tall glass of pumpkin juice and his usual stack of toast. “The worst thing that can happen is that you’re selected. Or not selected, depending on how you look at it.”

“I know,” Harry mumbled, scooping beans moodily onto his toast. “I’m just not sure about it, is all. It seemed so much simpler last night but, realistically, there’s no chance I’ll be chosen. I only know you and Hermione, really, and the Goblet’s supposed to chose two champions based on their compatibility.”

“Listen, mate,” Ron said munching on his toast ad stabbing a sausage with great enthusiasm, “You and I both know that you’ll regret not trying out for it. You’re ridiculously braver than I could ever hope to be. You were basically made for the tournament.”

Harry smiled despite himself and shoved Ron’s shoulder playfully.

“And that’s just a rumour, too,” Hermione informed him from behind an Arithmancy book that made a strangely exasperated huffing sound whenever she didn’t pay it enough attention. “About the Goblet selecting its champions based on compatibility. For all we know, it might pick Neville and Millicent Bulstrode together.”

Ron snorted unattractively and Hermione smiled blithely, returning her attention to her book, which was quickly losing patience.

Harry sunk his teeth into his lip and munched contemplatively on his breakfast. The prospect of entering the Tournament did seem alluring, and he was of age. “Is there anyone in particular likely to be selected?”

Ron sighed heavily. “Merlin’s pants, Harry, there’s loads. Half the Gryffindors liken themselves as the next Hogwarts Champion, but they’re all talk. It’s the silent ones you need to watch out for,” he added, leaning forward almost conspiratorially. “A couple of Ravenclaws—Anthony Goldstein, Michael Corner—and a bunch of Slytherins too. All the Hufflepuffs are cheering on Coraline Reid.”

Harry nodded, feeling his odds of being chosen weaken as Ron gushed about the other likely Hogwarts candidates.

“Alright, settle down,” Professor McGonagall called over the chattering students. “Good morning. I hope you all had a restful night’s sleep because today’s events are sure to tire you all out. I certainly hope that our sixth and seventh-year students in particular are adjusting well to the new living arrangements.

“As you all know, classes will begin this morning at nine sharp. Tonight, however, we will be welcoming our guests from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. I expect you all to be on your best behaviour. At the feast, the Goblet of Fire will be placed in the Great Hall for all students over the age of seventeen who wish to submit themselves.”

She flicked her wand and the class timetables on the High Table shot around the room to each student. Harry glanced at Monday morning’s lessons: Transfiguration with the Slytherins, Herbology with the Hufflepuffs and Potions, once again, with the Slytherins.

“They do that on purpose, by the way,” Parvati Patil said, comparing her timetable with Hermione from across the table. “I have Arithmancy with the Slytherins too. Most of the seventh-year Gryffindors were paired with Slytherins as roommates so McGonagall’s trying to replicate that in the timetables to force us to spend more time with each other."

"I think she wants us all to miraculously become friends overnight," Lavender added. "It would probably look good to have a bit of inter-house unity before the Triwizard Tournament.”

Hermione nodded. “That makes sense, I suppose. We’ll be seen as a weak competitor if we’re internally divided.”

“That’s all well and good,” Harry huffed, suddenly remembering that unpleasant morning and feeling a sharp rise of indignation, “but we can hardly be expected to start playing happy families with people like Malfoy just to intimidate the Durmstrang students.”

Hermione nodded in sympathy, exchanging withering looks with Ron who had said something unintelligible over a mouthful of scrambled egg. “How was he this morning?” Hermione asked kindly.

“A pain in the arse,” Harry grumbled, scooping porridge into his bowl. “I don’t know why I expected differently. He woke me up at four o’clock in the morning because he was shouting in the bathroom, letting out these loud whelps. And I was like, ‘mate, if you’re going to start wanking in the bathroom, then at least put a charm on the door so I don’t have to endure listening to it.’ And then he opened the bathroom door and shot a hex right at me.”

Harry looked between Ron and Hermione pointedly, but his story, however, did not have the impact he was expecting. Ron merely observed his face carefully. “But... you look fine to me.”

“I blocked it with a Shield Charm,” Harry dismissed easily. He sprinkled brown sugar on his porridge and sighed. “But that’s not the point. The point is that he tried to hex me with Mutatio Skullus and I— ”

“You blocked Malfoy’ hex?” Ron asked incredulously. “He’s not going to be happy about that.” He unceremoniously raised himself on the bench to look over to the Slytherin table where Malfoy was eating a slice of marmalade toast and ignoring a bulky Slytherin whispering in his ear.

Harry looked at the Slytherin table, taking delight in the fact that Malfoy seemed unhappy with the company of the brawny student beside him. Malfoy twisted around suddenly, as though sensing someone watching him, and glowered at Harry. Harry’s elbow crashed into his bowl of porridge, splattering it over his robes. He muttered a string of choice curse words before Hermione cast a Scourgify without looking up from her book.

Ron chuckled. “Come on, then. We’d better get to class before McGonagall has our heads.”

 

*

 

“The seventh-year Transfiguration syllabus, as you will soon learn, involves some of the most complex magic you will ever encounter,” Professor McGonagall said, pacing the long classroom, her shoes clanking along the marble floors. “As such, I have set aside a few hours a week from my Headmistress duties to teach you, as well as my first-year class, who I am teaching in order to get to know our new students.

“Now, take out your copies of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration and turn to page fourteen. We’re going to pick up from the basic Human Transfiguration we started at the end of last term, dealing with turning humans into inanimate objects. We’ll be dealing with turning humans into armchairs. You’ll be graded together according to your magical abilities and proficiency in Transfiguration. Sit in pairs as follows: Mr Weasley and Miss Patil, Mr Thomas and Mr Corner...”

She continued down the list of names, Harry twisting his wand in his fingers, silently wishing that there was a seventh year he could tolerate. Seamus, perhaps, or Ernie Macmillan seemed decent. Ron would be best, of course, but he was mainly focused on not getting one particular person. He would take anyone except—

“Malfoy! You’re with Mr Potter.”

Harry let out a sharp puff of breath he hadn’t realised he had been holding. Malfoy trudged unwilling to Harry’s desk, leaving his group of rowdy friends at the back of the room jeering at Harry. “Why, Potter, did you insist on sitting at the front of the room?” he muttered, pulling his seat out. “Prat.”

“Quiet, Mr Malfoy,” Professor McGonagall said sharply. “Now, you’ll need excellent wand power, control and concentration for this. Without wands, repeat after me: Cathedra Mutatio.”

A far less enthusiastic reply of Cathedra Mutatio sounded.

“Now, you must make a sharp jabbing motion with your wands, as outlined on page fifteen. Make sure you have a very clear image of a particular armchair in mind; think of the shape, pattern, size. Try to make it reasonably similar to the appearance of your partner, if possible.”

“You mean a flesh-coloured one, Professor?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mr Finnegan. How you managed to pass you O.W.L.s still baffles me,” she sighed. “What I mean is to take into account their height and demeanour. If your partner is especially tall don’t try to squeeze him or her into a tiny armchair as it will be painful.”

She glanced around the room. “Well? What are you waiting for? Get to it.”

Harry turned to face Malfoy. He was confident that he’d be able to transfigure Malfoy—he’d learned the theory before—but he was highly anxious of what Malfoy might do to him. He felt Professor McGonagall standing behind them, observing.

“You first, Potter.”

Harry stared at Malfoy, picturing a handsome armchair, fabric a deep shade of green with a polished wood trim. He tried desperately to ignore the pale, narrowed eyes boring into him, daring him to make a mistake. “Cathedra Mutatio,” he said clearly, thrusting his wand forward.

Malfoy’s face contorted and his body snapped forward, his spine appearing to break in two. His skin became velvety in places, turning a bottle-green shade as his arms hardened into wood. Within seconds, the very armchair Harry had imagined stood before him, looking unnervingly inviting compared with the wooden stool Harry was sat on.

“Very good, Mr Potter,” Professor McGonagall said approvingly. “Now switch him back. Oh! And be prepared to block any curse he tries to aim at you. Human transfiguration into inanimate objects can be quite painful and Mr Malfoy has never been one to take being transfigured lightly.”

She spotted another student attempting to turn her partner into a rather large sofa and rushed over to her.

“Reparifarge,” Harry said. He watched the faint outline of Malfoy’s distinctive features be carved from the fabric, the stiff wooden handles becoming limp and lighter in colour and the structure of the chair broke down. Malfoy, hair dishevelled and wand outstretched, collapsed on the ground, wincing as his weight fell on his right arm.

Flipendo,” he said weakly.

Harry blocked the spell easily. “Is that the best you’ve got?” he laughed. “Flipendo?”

Malfoy gritted his teeth, pulling himself to his feet. “I’m not landing myself in detention just to give you the satisfaction of being the victim of a Dark hex, Potter. Or are you that much of a prat that you think you’ll be invincible to it?”

Harry glared at him. “Well, you should’ve thanked me for deciding to turn you into an armchair instead of a Blast-Ended Skrewt. Would’ve been easier to turn you into something vicious since you’re already—”

“That’s enough, Mr Potter!” Professor McGonagall said from the opposite side of the room where she had been helping the girl with her wand motion. “Get into position, Mr Malfoy, and do the task I asked or it’ll be ten points from both your houses.”

Malfoy muttered something rude under his breath. He faced towards Harry, sneering at him. He raised his left arm and made a fast jabbing motion. Harry instantly doubled over, his stomach plummeting as he felt his shoulders stiffen. He cried out as a sharp pain spread across his back.

“Malfoy, what have you done?”

He heard footsteps marching towards them and an exasperated sigh of “Reparifarge.”

Harry’s body sprang back and the pain dissipated. He stretched, lengthening his back muscles. “You,” he muttered darkly, pulling out his wand. “You did that on purpose.”

“Put your wand away this instant, Mr Potter,” Professor McGonagall demanded. She rounded on Malfoy. “What was that? You’re one of the most capable Transfiguration students I teach when you put your mind to it. What happened?”

She glanced down, eyes trained on his wand. “Use your wand hand, Mr Malfoy. This spell requires strength and precision. Now take a seat both of you and start learning the theory in preparation for you next essay: The Appropriate Instances of Human Transfiguration and its Misuse during the Muggle World War of 1939-1945’. Three roles of parchment due on Wednesday. No excuses.”

They fell into their seats, Malfoy chewing his lower lip while Harry furiously scribbled notes. The bell for the end of class rung a half-hour later. Harry gathered his belongings, debating whether or not to hex Malfoy on the way out. He decided against it after seeing him take a sharp intake of breath when his wand in the pocket of his robes dug into his right forearm.

“What happened?” he asked, pointing to Malfoy’s arm.

“Fuck off,” he muttered, slinging his bag over his shoulder. “I must admit that I far preferred you as an armchair, Potter.”

“Oh, get grip. I’m not asking because I’m concerned, I’m asking because I need to pass this class. We’re graded together so I need to know if you hurting me without apologising is going to be a recurring thing.”

“Your grades will be just fine,” Malfoy sneered. “Just keep yourself contented and leave me alone, and I’ll do the same.”

He strutted out of the class, the students pushing past each other to get out of the classroom instantly making way for him. Harry stared after him, baffled and slightly perturbed by the Slytherin’s demeanour. He shrugged and tried to focus on packing his books hastily into his satchel before leaving the classroom.

 

*

 

After a pleasant introductory lesson for N.E.W.T.-level Herbology in which they extracted fresh Snargaluff pods, Harry wandered back to the castle with Neville Longbottom and one of the Hufflepuff students he had been working with. They parted ways and Neville directed him to the dungeons, warning him about Slughorn’s class favourites and the legendary 'Slug Club' with the air of someone who had unwanted first-hand experience.

Harry opened the door to reveal a dingy dungeon with a cold draft seeping through. A small number of students was scattered throughout the dark room. The stone walls lined with shelves displayed various jarred creatures and ingredients, as well as some tall piles of old, pewter cauldrons. Harry spotted Professor Slughorn at the front of the classroom, paying the rest of the pupils no heed as he carefully stirred the ingredients in his own cauldron, from which a pleasant lilac hue was being emitted in spirals of steam.

“Alright everyone!” Slughorn called. “Gather around now. What I’ve prepared for you all today and what you’ll be brewing yourselves is a complex, rather difficult potion called Volubilis Potion. Now, who can tell me what this does?”

“Alters the drinkers voice,” Malfoy muttered from where he was slouched against the desk at the back of the group. Though Harry hadn’t noticed Malfoy at first, he certainly did now.

“Draco, my boy!” Slughorn said delightedly, apparently only now noticing his presence. “Good to see you! You’re quite right too. Volubilis Potion will both end the effects of a Silencing Charm and alter the drinker’s voice quite significantly, depending on how it’s brewed. And I daresay, if I hadn’t known you, I would have taken your deep voice as an indication that you yourself had taken a swig or two of Volubilis Potion.”

Malfoy smirked, watching Slughorn let out a wheezy laugh, slapping the table at his own joke. It was only then that Harry noticed that Malfoy’s voice was rather deep, but somehow inordinately clear. His pronunciation was precise and his affected accent close to a bored drawl, but somehow manged to capture Harry’s attention, no matter how unwanted.

“Now,” Slughorn said, still beaming, “to prepare the potion, you’ll need to keep track of all the colour changes—red to green, then add Honeywater and it’ll turn pink and then orange with heat. Once you do that you’ll need to add mint sprigs to it until it reaches a dark shade of green and then back to pink. Add some stewed Mandrake—the precise measurements here are important. The bright orange colour then changes to blue with some Syrup of Hellebore and, finally, heat it until it reaches a nice pale-yellow colour.”

Harry found Ron among the group and dragged him to the corner of the classroom furthest away from Malfoy. They had begun discussing everything they already knew about the Triwizard Tournament when Slughorn ambled over to them.

“Merlin’s bead,” he breathed, peering at Harry as though he was a particularly interesting animal at the zoo. “Why, Harry Potter it’s an absolute honour.”

Harry smiled graciously and took Slughorn’s pudgy hand.

“I had the absolute pleasure of teaching your parents. Such a wonderful witch and wizard, and your mother was quite the high-flyer too. Simply marvellous at Potions. She had a real talent for it, you know. I daresay she could have taken up an apprenticeship had things… been different.”

Harry nodded stiffly and waited for Slughorn, who was patting down his bulging waistcoat, to continue. “She taught me Potions, my mother,” he said.

“And I’m sure she did a marvellous job, too,” Slughorn said. “Now, anything at all you need, be sure to call for me. I’m always happy to help my most prized students, you know. And if you’re anything like your parents, you will surely make the wall, too.”

Harry smiled non-committedly, vaguely wondering what being on ‘the wall’ might entail, and returned to his work. Harry chopped mint sprigs as Slughorn continued, detailing stories of his parents that he had heard recounted many times before, all the while nodding encouragingly. Slughorn didn’t leave him space to get a word in edgeways. By the end of the lesson, he had only managed to circulate the room once to keep watch of the other students’ progress. Despite Harry’s best efforts, their potion was an unsightly mustard colour by the end of the lesson.

“Not to worry, my boy,” Slughorn said, utterly unperturbed. “You’ve more to learn yet, no doubt.” He wandered over to each of the work stations, sometimes passing over the cauldrons with a cursory glance, other times complementing the students. He arrived at Malfoy’s workplace last, one that he shared with a Slytherin with a blunt, jet black haircut. She had a hand on Malfoy’s shoulder and was smiling smugly when Slughorn approached them. Harry felt a sudden, strange and inexplicable urge to hex her.

“Save the best ‘til last, right, Draco? And my, was it worth the wait!” Slughorn exclaimed, peering over the simmering, pale yellow liquid. “Excellent job, my boy, excellent job indeed.”

He strode to the front of the class. “Right, off you go for your lunch. And leave your potions here. We don’t want any voice-altering mishaps on the first day back.”

 

*

 

“Don’t worry about Malfoy,” Ron said as he, Hermione, Seamus and Dean trudged to the Gryffindor common room later that evening, Abrax slinking along behind them. She had taken a liking almost immediately to Hogwarts, but Harry knew that she was still slightly wary about the new setting and preferred to stay near him. “Head of Slytherin House so Slughorn’s always going to be a little biased. And Malfoy’s annoyingly good at Potions so he’s always been Slughorn’s favourite. Think he knows his parents well or something. Merlin knows why he’d want anything to do with the Malfoys—Dad says that they were right inside You Know Who’s inner circle.”

Harry was distinctly unsurprised but surmised that this was yet another reason to avoid Malfoy at all costs.

They climbed through the portrait hole and came into a circular room with a crackling fireplace, carved chairs and dim lamps.

“I don’t care about Malfoy, just need to get away from him for a little while,” Harry said, though he knew that it wasn’t strictly true. He despised him but still felt curious about his hand and how Slughorn seemed to worship him despite his indiscriminate arrogance.  

“Well, you’ll be distracted enough at the feast tonight,” Seamus said. “McGonagall mentioned that Durmstrang and Beauxbatons would be arriving tonight. Apparently, she lobbied for the Tournament to start earlier in the year so that there are a few months between the end of the Tournament and the start of our N.E.W.T.s”

“Clever,” Harry said, kneeling in front of the fire to warm his hands. “Who do you think will be Hogwarts champion with you, Ron?”

Ron shook his head but looked rather pleased—Harry always knew when the tips of his ears turned a bright pink. “I’m not going to be selected, Harry,” he said. “I couldn’t compete with Goldstein or Reid or any of the other students who haven’t confirmed that they’re going to enter. And on top of that, you have to consider the other schools. We’re tied with Beauxbatons for the number of wins and Durmstrang students are fucking mental when it comes to the Dark Arts.”

“Durmstrang hasn’t managed to ever win the Triwizard Tournament, though,” Hermione pointed out as they settled into an array of overstuffed armchairs in the common room.

“Even still,” Ron said, pulling out a Wizard’s Chess board, “they’re known to be brutal in the tasks themselves. Even if they don’t win, they’re bound to use all sorts of Dark curses to sabotage the other competitors and make sure that whoever does win gets a hefty number of injuries along the way.”

“It’s basically tradition that they play dirty,” Seamus added, falling onto the armchair Dean had settled into and managing, somehow, to squeeze themselves even closer together.

Hermione hummed, apparently unimpressed. “It’s really very hypocritical. It contradicts the entire principle of international magical co-operation. I'd imagine there are far more effective ways to integrate magical learning between the schools.”

“Still a good chance for us to meet the other wizarding communities in France and… wherever Durmstrang is,” Harry added, allowing his thoughts to wander to fleeting memories of a blissful weekend spent in the Carcassonne.

“Exactly,” Ron enthused, arranging the pawns on the board with perfect precision. “Are you going to put your name forward, then?”

Harry remained silent for a moment. Abrax curled herself in his lap, as if she was able to sense his body going rigid and understand his need for comfort. “Yeah,” he said with more conviction than he was sure such a reply warranted.

“Have you told your parents?” Hermione asked with the air of someone who already knew the answer.

Harry leaned over and pulled two knights who were fighting each other apart on the chess board. It was an excellent stalling tactic. “Not yet,” he said eventually. “I’ll do it before the champions are announced. And when my name isn’t chosen, then I won’t have to say anything at all.”

Hermione sighed but dropped the subject when Ron tickled the sole of her feet to catch her attention. During the game of chess, in which there were some spectacular displays of cheating, Hermione made a point to throw Harry numerous concerned glances that told him that it wasn’t the last he would hear of that conversation.  

 

*

 

When Harry, Ron and Hermione arrived downstairs to head to the Great Hall for the feast, they found what looked like the entire school crowded in the Entrance Hall. Many other students could be seen running out into the grounds and bypassing Hagrid’s hut nestled at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Some were gaping, others gasping and pointing to the sky. With wide, disbelieving eyes, Harry craned his neck to catch sight of a pale blue carrosse de Beauxbâtons soaring across the sky. It was drawn by enormous Abraxan Winged Horses, their majestic wings slicing through the wind.

“That’s what you’re named after, Abrax,” Harry said, pulling his cat into his arms. She looked distinctly unimpressed and leaped out of Harry’s arms.

They followed the carriage’s journey as the span of the Abraxan horses’ wings cut through the air thermals. The carriage rounded and swooped down, landing unsteadily on the hilly grounds in the distance.

“Do not run out to the grounds, please,” Professor Flitwick called over the chattering. “Leave them time to freshen up before coming to the castle. Hagrid will need to attend to the horses, too. That means you, McLoughlin. Back into the castle now, please!”

They spotted the door of Hagrid’s cabin swing open on its rickety hinges as Hagrid marched out of his cabin and trundle across the grounds, fixing his spotted tie along the way. A group of third years giggled at the sight.

“I would suggest getting a bit higher if you want a good look at the Durmstrang ship arriving,” Professor Flitwick said to Hermione, who was craning her neck to see above the jostling crowd. Ron, standing much taller than the rest of them, looked far too smug for his own good.

Harry tugged on his arm, calling to them both “My dorm has the best view of the lake!”

Nodding enthusiastically and intertwining his hand with Hermione’s, Ron followed him along the route to his dormitory. They bounded up the stairs, avoiding the Bloody Baron along the fourth-floor corridor until they arrived at the oak wood door that sat unevenly on its hinges. Harry pushed it open, panting, and saw Malfoy sitting on his bed, arm of his robes pulled back to expose a dark, gut-wrenching burn across his wrist and forearm. Malfoy’s eyes darted up and he dropped his sleeve, pointing his wand at Harry. Heart thundering in his chest, Harry only just managed to dodge a purple hex that shot past his head. A loud crash sounded as the hex collided with the opposite wall, sending rubble tumbling down the steps and a cloud of dust to settle in the air.

“What in the name of Merlin’s bollocks?” Ron shouted from the bottom of the winding staircase.

“Harry?” Hermione’s shrill voice called urgently. “What happened?”

“Malfoy happened,” Harry muttered as he took out his wand and thrust the door open fully. He rounded on Malfoy. “How did you burn your arm?”

Malfoy glared at him, clenching his jaw in what looked like a single, rather painful motion. “It’s not a burn and it’s none of your fucking business. Now kindly get out,” he ordered.

“What do you mean get out? This is my dormitory as much as it is yours,” Harry said, pushing past him.

“That doesn’t mean you’re entitled to just waltz in here whenever you please,” Malfoy snapped. He then noticed Ron and Hermione ambling into the dormitory. “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Malfoy muttered.

“Is everything alright, Harry?” Hermione asked, firmly ignoring Malfoy.

Harry pasted on a smile. “Yeah, just fine.”

Hermione didn’t have a chance to reply before Ron was tugging her over to the window to watch the Durmstrang ship slowly rise from the Great Lake.

“You sure it isn’t a burn?” Harry said incredulously, reading the book on Malfoy’s bed, the open page entitled ‘Step One: Identifying the Source of the Burn – Tips from St. Mungo’s Hospital Head Healer’.

Malfoy flicked his wand and the book clasped shut and vanished from his bed. “Stop looking at my stuff, Potter.”

Harry thought back to the way Malfoy had winced in pain during their Transfiguration class and how he had shouted out in pain in the shower that morning.

“That was why you were whining this morning, wasn’t it?” Harry said. “The showers here are scalding hot and the water… it burned you.”

Malfoy looked like he wanted to protest but suddenly nodded with a disorienting amount of enthusiasm. “Yes, that’s exactly what happened, even though it’s still none of your fucking business. And I don’t whimper.” He scoffed loudly at the mere proposition. “Quite the contrary, Potter.”

“Harry, mate!” Ron exclaimed. “McGonagall’s just gone out to the grounds to greet Vulchanova and Madame Maxime. Blimey, she looks furious about something.”

“Tell the Weasel to leave before I make him,” Malfoy snapped.

Harry rolled his eyes. He remembered McGonagall’s insistence that Malfoy use his wand hand for the Cathedra Mutatio spell. “I can show you how to heal that, you know,” he said, trying to convince himself that he was only offering his help because he wanted to pass Transfiguration and not because the burn looked excruciatingly painful. “My mother taught me Potions and a bit about basic Alchemy. Her specialisation was plant alchemy and healing remedies. She showed me how to do it.”

Malfoy eyed Harry for a moment. “I don’t need your help, Potter.”

“Because you’re handling the burn just fine on your own, right?”

“Harry, come on,” Ron said, pulling him by the elbow. “Looks like the feast is starting and I want to get good seats to see the Goblet ceremony.”

Harry’s eyes remained on Malfoy’s narrowed ones until he was hauled around the corner and out of sight. He shook his head to free himself of the unusual vulnerability he thought he saw flash in Malfoy’s eyes, instead following an eager Ron and Hermione to the Great Hall.

“Malfoy isn’t planning on submitting his name, is he?” Harry asked.

“Ask him yourself. You do live together,” Ron laughed.

Harry raised an eyebrow as if to say ‘I’d rather eat a bucket of Stinksap’.

This only made Ron chuckle more loudly. “Definitely. Knowing him, he’ll do it in the dead of night, though. He has too much pride to tell people before the Hogwarts champions are announced in case he isn’t selected. Wouldn’t be surprised if he was though,” Ron said. He worried his lip. “Despite the kind of person he is, he’s dead smart. He might be a first-class knob but he’s one of McGonagall’s best students.”

Hermione made a strange, huffing noise and crossed her arms tightly over her chest.

“Not half as smart as ‘Mione, of course,” Ron added, wrapping a tentative arm around her waist. She pursed her lips in a manner that suggested she was trying not to smile. “And McGonagall threatens to suspend him from Hogwarts about as many times as Flitwick falls over from the pile of books on his desk.”

“How often is that?” Harry said, amused by Ron and Hermione’s dynamic.

“About three times a week,” Ron said, chuckling. “Remember that time when we had just come back from the summer holidays at the beginning of fifth year when he barely spoke a word. He just sneered at people.”

“I do,” Hermione said, wincing at the memory. “McGonagall was seething. She threatened to write to his parents when he wouldn’t answer her question, remember? And then he stormed out of the classroom and didn’t go to class for the rest of the day.” Hermione sounded immeasurably appalled at the mere proposition of ignoring a professor.

Harry gaped at them. “Why?”

Ron shrugged. “Apparently he stayed at Hogwarts over Christmas and things settled down soon afterwards.”

Harry’s next question was cut off when they rounded the corner to the great double doors of the Great Hall. The sign behind the High Table was switched to read: ‘Welcome students and professors of Durmstrang Institute and Beauxbatons Academy of Magic!’ Streamers shot out from behind the sign, the coils of coloured material falling onto the heads of nearby students.

Harry spotted the new students—about twenty overall—who had been chosen as the best candidates to put their names in the Goblet of Fire. The Durmstrang students had sidled over to the Slytherin table, clad in heavy fur coats, while the twelve Beauxbatons students spoke to their Headmistress in rapid French, gesticulating wildly.

The candles hung overhead and Puffapods holding shining beans had been bewitched by Professor Sprout to send strobes of light onto the jewelled casket covering the Goblet of Fire. Harry caught a few students staring at it with interest, others with unrivalled longing.

Harry noticed Malfoy enter the Hall, eyes darting around until they landed on the Slytherin table. He rushed over to one of the Durmstrang boys with short black hair and a long nose and tackled him into a hug. The boy turned around, ecstatic and beaming at Malfoy and Harry could make out their rapid conversation and Malfoy’s carrying laughter. Harry thought that it was the first time he had seen Malfoy genuinely happy since he arrived at Hogwarts.

“Settle down, please,” Professor McGonagall called. Harry noticed that she had dressed in magenta robes for the occasion, and her tall hat had small half-moons around the edge.

Once the students had settled into their seats after some minor squeezing and the conjuration of new chairs to accommodate the guests, she spoke again.

“I welcome you all, students and professors alike, to Hogwarts School for the one hundred and twenty-sixth Triwizard Tournament.”

Cheers and applause broke out in the hall.

“We were given the privilege of hosting the Tournament after many years without its revival, and look forward to a new chapter of international unity, sportsmanship and integration. Now, this year’s tournament will be overseen by the Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, Mr MacFarlan and will, of course, be judged by a panel comprising of myself, Mr MacFarlan, Professor Vulchanova and Madame Maxime. From the Ministry, the Head of International Magical Co-operation, Miss Epsilon Achernar will also be joining us. I will allow our Department Heads to explain the rules now.”

A round of applause followed as MacFarlan and Achernar, who both looked tired and frazzled stepped forward.

“Thank you, Minerva,” MacFarlan said curtly. “The rules of the Tournament differ in two substantive ways from previous years. Epsie and I have been working ceaselessly to ensure that the tasks remain just as complex and perilous but that there are regulations in place to ensure that any student in danger of imminent death will be saved.”

“No imminent death? Well that’s very reassuring,” Harry heard someone mutter under their breath.

“The first change is that there will be two students selected from each school to compete. We hope that this this will give the Tournament the kind of revival it needs. This change has also given us the opportunity to change things a little this year. These tasks will be very much focused on team-work, putting you in high-intensity situations where you will need to rely on each other. Champions might have to anticipate their partner’s next move before even they themselves know what they’re going to do. It should also be more entertaining for the audience to watch with two of you to support throughout the Tournament. Now, any questions?”

“Wiz regard to ze Goblet, Meester MacFarlan, shall my students place ze names in pairs or on separate papers?” Madame Maxime asked.

“An excellent point, Madame,” he said brightly, tipping his hat at her. “Students are required to submit their names individually. Although some of you may think you’re perfectly suited to working alongside your one of your friends, the Goblet will decide the two champions from each school.

“The second change that we think you will all very much appreciate is that as part of the award for this year—along with the glory of winning the Triwizard Cup and a thousand Galleons prize money—both champions will be offered positions as Aurors in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement of their country upon their graduation.”

A smattering of chatter broke out, especially among the Hogwarts students, who knew the high requirements for prospective students to become Aurors. Harry suddenly sat higher in his seat. The thought of becoming an Auror was something he had only ever dreamt of, and the thought that he could be handed an opportunity like that sparked his interest in the Tournament further still. He had grown up hearing tales of the seditious work carried out by the Order of the Phoenix that helped pave the downfall of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. The prospect of following in their footsteps felt undeniably natural to Harry, like such a course was something carved by fate.

“That’s quite enough,” Professor McGonagall called as the chatter died down. “We will begin now.”

She stepped gracefully down from the elevated High Table and towards the Goblet of Fire. She tapped the casket three times with her wand. It twisted open with a creak and she plunged her hand inside, taking out a remarkably plain wooden cup. She closed the casket and placed the Goblet on top, exposing the blue-white flames rising and falling from the cup, entrancing its admirers.

“Any student over the age of seventeen wishing to submit themselves as a candidate to represent his or her school for the Tournament must do so within twenty-four hours. Once you submit your name there is no turning back.  If the Goblet chooses you, then you will become one of the school champions. Tomorrow evening, the champions will be selected. I wish you all the best of luck.”

With that, she turned around and piles of mouth-watering foods appeared on the long tables. Harry tucked into a hearty serving of Blanquette de Veau, dipping toasted baguette into the sauce. He listened to Hermione drone on about the amount of Ancient Runes homework she had to do. Harry silently scoped out the competition. At the Ravenclaw table, where most of the Beauxbatons students sat, there seemed to be not one person who looked particularly confident in their abilities. In the Durmstrang group, however, two muscly twins with cropped hair and permanent scowls seemed to command the entire table’s attention.

“Budge over, mate,” Seamus said as him and Dean who, as far as Harry could thus tell, were utterly inseparable, sat down beside him. “Just found out the likely champions of the other schools,” he informed Ron, who had leaned over to hear, oblivious to the fact that his tie was dangling precariously near the gravy boat. “Durmstrang has these two massive lads called Leif and Alexander Larson. Apparently, they’re the real deal when it comes to the Dark Arts. Their family has links with Grindelwald and they rule Durmstrang. Not sure how quick-witted they are, but when it comes to Dark magic, they know it all.”

Seamus bit off a chunk of chicken leg, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Over there,” he said nodding to the Ravenclaw table, “is where three most likely Beauxbatons champions are—Clara Bernard, Victor Linville and Julia Comtois. Clara is pretty much guaranteed her place in the competition but nobody’s sure about the other two.”

Harry nodded, surreptitiously glancing at each of them. “I thought that the two candidates who were picked had to be compatible. Doesn’t the Goblet choose people who will work best together? Wouldn’t it be obvious who she was closer she would work best with?”

“Well that is just a rumour about the Goblet,” Seamus said knowingly, “but even if it was true, nobody would actually be able to predict who would be chosen along with Clara. You see, Julia is her girlfriend but Victor is her best friend who she’s known since they were very young.”

Harry shook his head, suddenly stuck by how vastly underprepared he was for the Tournament. It seemed that even people who weren’t planning on entering knew far more about it than he did. “How do you know all of this?”

Seamus shrugged, slurping his bowl of chicken broth. “I get around,” he said easily.

Harry shook his head in disbelief and looked over at where Malfoy was seated beside the boy he had embraced earlier. They were laughing together and the boy kept pulling his lip between his fingers, the way Harry often noticed Malfoy do. It was annoyingly distracting.

 

*

 

Malfoy didn’t arrive back to their dormitory until much later that night. Cassiopeia had given up waiting for him and had curled herself against Harry’s side for warmth. When the door creaked open at eleven o’clock, Malfoy came inside with a bounce in his step and wearing a rare smile. When he saw that Harry was awake, however, the smile faded.

“What’re you doing up?” he demanded.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Harry said. The raspy tone of his voice indicated just how exhausted he was. He glanced up to find Malfoy with his hands clasped behind his back, concealing something. “What’s that?”

Malfoy hastily flung the bottle in his hands onto the bed.

Accio bottle!”

Malfoy lunged forward but it was too late. The tall bottle darted into Harry’s outstretched hand.

Harry stared at the bottle in a state of mild disbelief—though he wasn’t sure anything he learned about Malfoy could surprise him very much. “Why in the name of Merlin were you drinking single malt whiskey?”

“Keep your nose out of my business, Potter,” he snarled. He shuffled his feet and dropped his gaze. “And it’s not mine.”

Harry threw it back to him but Malfoy extended his right arm on instinct and the bottle fell out of his hand. Malfoy cried out in pain and fell back onto his bed. The bottle crashed on the hardwood floors and the glass broke, the barley-coloured liquid seeping between the floorboards.

Reparo,” Harry muttered, springing out of bed to cross the room. The broken shards of glass arranged back together instantly.

Malfoy hung his head over his right hand, clutched in his other hand, breathing sharply and unevenly. He barely glanced at Harry when he kneeled beside him. “I don’t want your fucking help, Potter,” he all but shouted.

“Well, you don’t have a choice,” Harry said, though his instincts were screaming at him to get out of this situation. With Malfoy as furious as he was, logically, staying could only earn him a direct pass to the Hospital Wing. “Trust me, this isn’t how I planned on spending my Monday night. But you can’t very well practise the Transfiguration spell without any co-ordination in your right hand and I… I need to pass that class. And—unlike you—I consider myself a decent human being. I can’t go to sleep with you fucking bleeding to death in the bed beside me.”

“It’s not bleeding,” Malfoy snapped.

Harry rolled his eyes at his pedanticism. “What was that?”

“It’s not bleeding,” he said loudly, eyes brimming with tears when he finally raised his head. “The bottle you flung at me hit the burn and the alcohol stung it.” 

Harry caught his eye and noticed how guarded Malfoy's eyes were. "Just show it to me, Malfoy, or I won't be able to help.”

Malfoy sneered at Harry before his eyes turned dark and bore into Harry’s skin, his entire body still hunched over. “If you dare to tell anyone about this, Madam Pomfrey included, I will not hesitate to make your life here a living torture, Boy Who Lived or not.”

Harry bit his tongue from retorting. “Pull up your sleeve,” he instructed.

Malfoy yanked back his black sleeve and Harry gulped at the sight. Throbbing red blisters and swelling lined the perimeter of the burn which spanned the length of his forearm and the side of his wrist. The blackened, charred skin at the very centre of his arm looked sickeningly deep. Malfoy’s fingernails, too, had a blue tint.  

Harry wanted to scream at him, demand where he had suffered such a burn—he knew for certain now that it was not from the Hogwarts showers—but he suspected that he wouldn’t get Malfoy to open up this way.

“Okay,” he sighed, breathing shakily and absently thinking that the situation was anything but ‘okay’. He knew the precise spell to relieve the pain and end the swelling, but the antidote would require a trip to Slughorn’s Potions Office to source ingredients for the orange healing paste his mother had taught him to make many times before.

“Well?” Malfoy said, voice defeated, as though he knew Harry couldn’t help him. “Can you heal it or not? If your Potions skills are any indication of your skill with natural ingredients then I’d rather my chances being healed by a blind mountain troll.”

Harry glowered, “For the moment I can stop all the pain you’re in and stop the swelling and blistering from getting worse,” he said. “But I’ll need until to tomorrow to heal it properly.”

Harry noticed Malfoy’s face contort, as though trying to stifle his relief, before he schooled his expression and merely raising an impressed eyebrow. “Right,” he said, coughing awkwardly. He controlled his face to resemble its usual scowl. “Well, get to it, Potter.”

When he cast the spell, directing the golden light to soothe the swelling blisters and searing hot skin, Malfoy groaned with relief. Harry startled at the sound but tried to direct his concentration on muttering the spell under his breath—“Remedium Ardeat”. He watched the thin thread of golden light wrap around Malfoy’s forearm, as though bound by a piece of glowing rope. The blistering skin turned a light pink shade, less inflamed, and the worst of the blistering subsided.

“Is that it?” Harry asked after most of the swelling had stopped. “Do you have burns here too?” He reached over to pull up the sleeve of Malfoy’s left arm.

Malfoy yanked back his arm with such vigour that he shoved Harry’s hand away.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Got a Dark Mark to hide just like your father, then, Malfoy?”

As soon as the words left his lips, he regretted saying them. There was no possible way Malfoy would be endowed with the Dark Mark—he was as young as Harry when Voldemort fell.

Harry watched hurt flash across Malfoy’s face before his features contorted and he pulled himself onto his feet. Malfoy pulled out his wand in an instant, surprising Harry as he made a quick sweeping motion through the air. Harry barely managed to block the curse on time by whipping out his own wand, and fell back onto his bed from the force of it. Malfoy stood a few centimetres taller than him, squaring his shoulders.

“Sorry, that was stupid,” Harry said instantly. He threw his fingers into his hair, tugging hard. “I didn’t mean it. Just—sorry.”

“Don’t ever compare me to a Death Eater,” Malfoy whispered darkly. His eyes were narrowed and his balled fists seemed to shake at his sides. “Think because I’m in Slytherin you’ve got me all worked out? Think you know what I believe just because I tick all the boxes of a Dark Lord supporter?”

Harry’s breath caught in his throat as the heat of Malfoy’s glare struck him. “I told you, I’m sorry. Just forget I said anything.”

Malfoy sneered down at him. Nothing Harry said seemed to register with him. “Don’t assume things about me just because I fit your little preconceptions. Just because it’s expected doesn’t make it right.”

Harry pushed himself off the bed and sighed. “Malfoy, I said I was sorry, alright? You haven’t done anything to stop people assuming things like that about you, though.”

Malfoy turned away and suddenly seemed much smaller, his posture deflating and shoulders sagging. “Sometimes people play the part they think they have to perform,” he said, more to himself than to Harry. A strand of hair fell across Malfoy’s face, covering his eye. “But scripts tend to lead people astray when they set too much in store by their value. Sometimes, they become outdated, or cumbersome. And sometimes you need to improvise.”

Harry watched Malfoy swallow thickly. He felt unnerved at the sight of Malfoy, turned away from him and trying to justify himself to Harry, using a metaphor for Merlin’s sake. Harry felt strangely sympathetic. 

“That’s the hard part,” Malfoy whispered. He turned away and breathed sharply. “Because when you’ve been taught how to think and act and believe for so long and then everything is snatched away from you... people don’t tend to like hearing your own thoughts.”

Harry was lost for words, finding that his relayed apology was stuck in his throat. The quiet, almost vulnerable boy across the room was unrecognisable from the arrogant Slytherin he was used to. “I really didn’t mean—”

Malfoy whipped around and glared at Harry, eyes flashing. He seemed to remember exactly who his company was. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” he snarled. “The Boy Who Lived—famous and revered by the wizarding community before he could walk or talk. It’s easy for some.” Malfoy turned on his heel and snatched back the hangings from his four-poster without another word.

That night Harry lay awake, eyes fixed on his crimson bedsheets. He knew he shouldn’t have accused Malfoy of having a Dark Mark. He had tried to reason with himself that the accusation wasn’t unfounded; Malfoy hadn’t done anything to prove that he wasn’t the self-entitled Slytherin everyone presumed him to be. But he knew that what he said hadn’t been fair, despite Malfoy’s unexpected reaction.

Malfoy had looked vulnerable and tired, more so than Harry had ever seen him before. He felt shocked, still, that Malfoy was so vehemently opposed to Voldemort. Though he hadn’t expected to find a loyal Dark follower in him, Harry knew that Voldemort sympathisers still roamed Britain and that many of them had their origins in Slytherin.

How had Malfoy come to despise accusations linking him to Voldemort?  Harry recognised the surname Malfoy; it was a pure-blood name that had a dark notoriety attached to it, the kind of name that evoked particular emotions in people depending on their views. He had a feeling that Malfoy’s monologue might be more than a personal opinion, that it was a reaction he felt, an emotion that hit close to home which culminated in his outburst. 

Malfoy’s parents were surely Death Eaters. If Malfoy’s emotional outburst truly was a reaction to the views held by so many like his parents, then perhaps there was more to the Slytherin than met the eye. Perhaps he had defied them, Harry thought, or rejected their views and tried to create his own name for himself. He wasn’t doing a particularly good job if that was the case, Harry thought absently.

The sound of parchment rumpling and a quill scratching caught his attention. Harry huffed and turned on his other side away from Malfoy’s bed. He somehow felt guilty for thinking about Malfoy. Why did he even care? Malfoy had made it quite clear that he wasn’t interested in getting to know Harry beyond what was necessary as roommates and Transfiguration partners.

He heard Malfoy’s feet pad across the hard-wood floors and then the door slammed shut. Somehow, he knew exactly where Malfoy was going: to put his name in the Goblet of Fire.

Chapter Text

The next morning Harry woke up with fur tickling his cheek.

“Abrax,” he groaned, his throat horribly scratchy. “Get off.”

He heard Malfoy stifle a laugh from across the room before he called Abrax’s name and poured nuts into her saucer. Abrax leaped off Harry’s face and he pulled himself into a sitting position. He watched as Abrax rubbed against Malfoy’s calf before sauntering over to her saucer. He caught Malfoy watching Abrax with something resembling a faint smile, though perhaps the morning sunlight was distorting his vision. Malfoy was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and Harry was relieved to see that his burns had healed substantially. There was still charred skin at the centre of the long burn but the redness had subsided and his arm had started to scab over.

“Thanks,” Harry muttered, plucking fur off his bedsheets. He walked over to pet Abrax as she ate her breakfast.

Malfoy shrugged and turned away. He busied himself with packing his bag with his textbooks and rolling up his Transfiguration essay. “I was feeding her so that you wouldn’t,” Malfoy said eventually.

“What?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes and resolutely avoided Harry’s eyes. Harry noticed him fidgeting with the strap of his satchel. “She has a Vitamin E deficiency because you’re feeding her too much fish. She needs different types of protein and nuts to counteract it,” Malfoy said rather calmly, walking over to the closet and pulling on his robes without so much as a second glance at Harry.

Harry gaped. “What?” he repeated incredulously.

Malfoy sighed, fixing his pristinely ironed tie impatiently. “At least pretend not to be as thick as you actually are, Potter.”

“No— I mean, how do you know that?” Harry said. He rubbed behind Abrax’s ears. “You drink whiskey, you get mysterious burns that you refuse to tell me about, and you talk to cats now too?”

“I don't know how you consider it any of your business to endow me with traits but I don’t drink whiskey and I don’t talk to cats,” Malfoy snapped. He marched over to his desk and shoved the rest of his books in his satchel before slinging it over his shoulder. “I only told you because I know. If you payed attention to her feeding patterns, then even you would have noticed too.” Malfoy fixed him with a firm stare. His eyes were dark but a beam of sunlight danced over his pale skin, illuminating the faint purple rings beneath his eyes. “Cassiopeia likes her. Merlin knows why, but she does and I’m not going to watch you slowly kill your cat— ”

“I think that’s a little unfair—”

“—and not do anything about it. Cass hasn’t ever taken a liking to any other animal besides Abrax.”

Harry pursed his lips and nodded. Now that made more sense. Malfoy wasn’t telling him as some kind of peculiar cat owner-to-cat owner tip, but for a self-serving purpose: he wanted his own cat to have a friend. Harry heard the door shut and shook his head.

Making his way down to the Great Hall, his stomach rumbling like a malcontent hippogriff, Harry found it mostly empty. Only Professors McGonagall and Sprout sat at the High Table talking quietly. In the centre of the aisle stood the Goblet of Fire, the flames muted in the gentle morning light.

Harry spotted Ginny and Ron engaged in a fierce argument at the far end of the Gryffindor table, Hermione watching with wary eyes and pursed lips. Harry shot her a sympathetic glance and ambled towards them.

“…barking mad, Ginny! I only tried to—”

“And trying, Ron, is what got you into this mess.”

“Trying! I was trying to help you, Ginny.”

“And when has that ever worked out for you, Ron?”

Ron spluttered for a moment, clearly at a loss for any kind of coherent response. “Well… I don’t know what… Mum never tried to stop anything of the sort before—”

“And you set that much in store by what Mum does now, do you, Ron?” Ginny demanded. She flung her hair over her shoulder, glared at Ron, rounded the table to sit beside Hermione. Harry had to admire how she resolutely didn’t pay her brother a second glance, all the while he gaped in misguided indignation.

Deeming it far safer to approach the scene—unless one counted Ron’s predictably grumpy mood as unsafe—Harry settled beside Hermione and quickly pulled a bowl of granola and yoghurt towards him before Ron’s elbow landed inside the bowl. Weasley fights were notorious for ending in food fights and he didn’t fancy cleaning a yoghurt stain from his school jumper for the next week.

“Morning Harry,” Hermione said mildly.

Harry smiled and tilted his head towards Ron—who had taken to glowering at his plate of sizzling sausages—in question. Hermione shook her head, glanced briefly at Ron and sighed.

“Ron entered his name in the Goblet of Fire last night,” she explained. “And… well…”

“I turn around and find my sister in the corner of the Great Hall, snogging the face off Michael Corner,” Ron interjected.

“Which I am perfectly allowed to do, thank you very much,” Ginny said. She looked pointedly at Hermione. “I apologise on behalf of my prude of a brother if all you’ve managed in a year and half of dating is holding hands, Hermione.”

Hermione snorted into her pumpkin juice.

Harry raised an eyebrow at Ron. “Right.”

Ron looked distinctly perturbed by his lack of reaction, but Harry thought it best to distract Ron before he began ranting about his sister’s illicit rendezvous, something which he apparently took personal offence to.

“So you entered the Tournament, then?” Harry said. “That’s brilliant, mate.”

Ron visibly relaxed at this, a modest smile drawing the corners of his lips. He glanced at Hermione and his expression instantly softened.

“Yeah,” he said. “You’ll never guess who I saw last night putting his name in the Goblet too.”

“Who?”

Ron shook his head.

“It’s too early for guessing, Ron,” Harry groaned, scooping beans onto a slice of toast.

“Your delightful roommate,” Ginny said with a wry smile. “Apparently he put it in last night.”

“Yeah, I heard him leaving,” Harry mumbled. He busied himself with scraping his bowl, before changing his mind and replacing it with a hearty spoonful of raspberry yoghurt. “Who else was there?”

“Vulchanova and all the Durmstrang lads. I think I saw the two twins everyone has been talking about—Leif and Alexander,” Ginny said.

Harry nodded. “You putting your name in the Goblet, Ginny?”

He shook his head and smiled. “Not of age yet,” she said with a wistful sigh. “I’m up from helping the Hogwarts champions, though, if it ends up being you.”

“Isn’t that against the rules, though?” Harry asked, glancing to where Hermione was nodding in earnest agreement with him.

Ron laughed loudly. “Since when have you ever followed the rules, Harry? Besides, everyone gets help.”

“I disagree with it on principle, of course,” Hermione said, with a sharp glance at McGonagall, “but even I have to admit that it’s part of the Triwizard tradition.”

Harry continued his breakfast, entrenched in thoughts about the Tournament, as Ginny and Ron relayed stories they had heard of previous Triwizard Tournaments, with the helpful dates and corrections Hermione provided. He absentmindedly fingered the small piece of parchment in his pocket. He tried to distract himself by listening to them but as the descriptions of the tasks became more gruesome, he couldn’t take it anymore.

“…and then there was that time that all the champions had to go through that obstacle with only one spell and the Hogwarts—”

“I’m going to do it,” Harry said suddenly.

“What?” Hermione said, whipping around from where she had been smiling in amusement at Ron’s running commentary.

“I’m going to do it,” he repeated calmly. “I’m putting my name in there. At least before the rest of the students arrive.”

Hermione eyed him with concern. “Harry,” she sighed. “I know that it’s your choice and you’re perfectly entitled to do as you please but I really think that you should consider what your parents will say. What your Mum will say.”

Harry ignored the subdued, yet persistent pang of guilt in his chest and sighed. “And that’s why I need to do it,” he said. “I’m sick of living vicariously through everyone else; all of you getting to go off to Hogwarts every year while I'm stuck at home. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why, I just… I think I need to try this for myself.”

“Harry are you sure you’re not taking—”

“I’m not taking what they did for me for granted,” he said with more force than he had intended. He allowed his shoulders to drop and felt a slightly tentative hand on the back of his neck. He glanced up and smiled at Hermione. “It’s going to be fine, ‘Mione.”

She looked briefly like she wanted to argue but eventually conceded. Lifting his gaze, Harry found Ron beaming at him.

“Good luck, mate,” he said.

Harry grinned, squared his shoulders and, foregoing reticence, marched straight towards the Goblet, the scrap of parchment clutched in his hand. In the morning light, it seemed far less intimidating than it had last night, the bright flame glimmering in the darkness.

He noticed a sleepy Hufflepuff eye him curiously and a group of third-year Ravenclaws cheered loudly. It felt rather anticlimactic.

He glanced behind him and found Ron and Ginny giving him a thumbs up. He smiled despite himself and crossed the Age Line. The flames in the Goblet danced and spilled over the rim in a strangely alluring motion. His breath held, Harry pulled his lower lip into his mouth and dropped the piece of parchment inside. Sparks flew out of the Goblet and his name shone for a second before it disappeared in the blue flame.

He let out a shaky breath and stepped back to watch the rhythm of the flames return. From the opposite side of the hall Professor McGonagall caught his eye and nodded once, her expression indecipherable. He smiled nervously and turned around to find Ron clapping loudly and Ginny making an outrageous whooping noise.

“Shut up,” Harry laughed.

They were interrupted by the Durmstrang group, led by Leif and Alexander Larson, arriving in the Great Hall and sitting down at the mostly bare Slytherin table. He caught the taller one—Leif’s—eye. His eyes, an attractive shade of steely grey, roamed across Harry’s body and he wore a slight smirk. Harry looked away pointedly and wiped the crumbs off his jumper.

 

*

 

“Concentrate,” Professor McGonagall called. “I want to see improvement. Remember the sharp jabbing motion or the transfiguration won’t go to completion. Miss Patil won’t thank you for turning her into a half armchair, Mr Prendergast.”

“Well? Get to it, then,” Malfoy said.

“It’s your turn,” Harry said. “I did it yesterday, remember?”

Malfoy sighed and muttered something unintelligible under his breath.

“Would you stop acting like such a wanker for two seconds?” Harry said exasperatedly. “If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t even be able to do the spell properly.”

Malfoy glared at him, eyes darting around to room to see if anyone had overheard. “Shut it, Potter,” he hissed. “I was perfectly capable of handling it without you.”

“Yes, it definitely looked like you had the whole thing under control,” Harry muttered.

“I never asked for your help,” Malfoy said sharply. “If you think I would ever—”

“That’s quite enough talking over there,” Professor McGonagall called.

Malfoy settled on glowering at him. He raised his wand and pointed it at Harry, eyes narrowing. He bit his lip sharply, turning it a deep pink. “Cathedra Mutatio.”

Harry’s entire body lunged forward. He felt his back muscles stretch as if he had no vertebra and his shoulders widened painfully. He glimpsed his skin turning a pleasant periwinkle shade before he was distracted by a heavy thump as he felt himself collapse to the ground.

“Very good, Mr Malfoy,” he heard Professor McGonagall say. “Mr Fawley, you would do well to look at this. You see the fine trimmings along the armchair here and the solid base—that’s a good indication of preparation.”

Harry felt someone prod at his right shoulder.

“I see that theory assignment did you some good then, Mr Malfoy,” Harry heard her say. “Don’t make me have to assign you extra work a second time.”

He heard Malfoy reply but couldn’t quite make out what it was.

“Very well. Now change him back.”

He heard Malfoy say “Reparifarge” and felt a sharp pain in his back as his entire body sprang backwards. He felt a pull at his neck and noticed his skin return to its normal pallor. Before he could react, he felt his knees shake and crumble. He tumbled into something firm and felt an arm around his stomach, holding him from falling. There was a dark green fabric covering the arm around his waist and he tried to pull away.

A moment passed where he thought Malfoy was going to keep him pressed against his chest, until he heard a rough “Get off me, Potter” and was shoved. He clambered to his feet, knees still shaky and collapsed into the chair, cheeks burning from embarrassment. Malfoy yanked his own chair out from under the table and sat down beside him. Professor McGonagall glanced between them with a look of mild curiosity.

“That’s quite enough practice for now,” she called. “Open your books to page seventeen and read about Emeric Switch’s contribution to Human Transfiguration.”

 

*

 

The morning passed quickly and Harry was able to ignore Malfoy during his Potions lesson as they were dealing with a particularly tricky Shrinking Solution. He caught the boy’s eye on the way out, both of them stopping at the dungeon door before Malfoy shoved passed him. Harry had rolled his eyes but couldn’t help but dwell on Malfoy’s moment of hesitation, as though his immediate reaction was to let Harry pass first before he thought better of it.

By the time his final lesson—Herbology—finished, he was looking forward to the feast awaiting them in the Great Hall. Neither Ron nor Hermione had chosen Herbology as a N.E.W.T level class, but Neville had caught Harry in a moment of weakness and managed to convince him that he could fit the evening class with the Hufflepuffs into his timetable. Returning for what he hoped would be another delicious meal, it seemed the only thing everyone wanted to talk about was the likely Hogwarts champions.

“You think Ernie could do it?” Hannah Abbott asked as they made up the sloping grounds towards the castle. “And Hermione Granger would be great too. She’s so clever.”

Justin Finch-Fletchley made a noise of disgust. “Absolutely not, Hannah. Hermione Granger would rather lose the Triwizard Cup than break a rule.”

Harry opened his mouth to defend his friend, but then realised that if Hermione was with him, then she would probably be arguing that very point of view. He resigned himself to veering the topic elsewhere.

“What about the Slytherins?” Harry asked, though he wasn’t quite sure why he was concerned about them.

“What about them?” Hannah asked.

“Are any of them likely to be picked?”

Justin and Hannah exchanged a look.

“It’s possible,” she said carefully. “It pains me to say it but there are quite a few who would probably be very good; Walker, Zabini, Malfoy—you’re rooming with him right?”

Harry nodded.

Hannah smiled in sympathy. “Rather you than me,” she said. “If he gives you too much trouble, I’m sure Professor McGonagall would be more than willing to listen. But anyway, they’re all likely I suppose. I have to admit that Malfoy probably has the ability for it.”

“The Slytherins certainly think so, at least,” Justin said, his expression wrought with distain. “But if we’re talking about compatibility, I can’t see any of those snakes being willing to work with another person. They’d all be too selfish to share any of the glory.”

Hannah glanced over at Harry, watching as he hummed absently. “He’s not giving you too much of a hard time, is he?”

Harry shook his head. “I can handle it. He’s just so intense.”

Justin and Hannah burst out laughing, Justin’s loud, rather obnoxious cackle ringing through the Entrance Hall. Harry raised his eyebrows in bemusement.

“Pretty sure intense isn’t the only way to describe him.”

“Yes, try arrogant, conceited, rude, dickhead,” Justin said, listing them off his fingers with ease.

Hannah tutted.

“Maybe I underestimate him,” Harry said, bringing his hand to the back of his neck. “I don’t know him as well as the rest of you though.”

Hannah frowned. “Nobody truly knows him. At least, not really. I mean, he has quite a lot of other Slytherins who tend to trail after him.”

“Grovel, you mean,” Justin said.

“Well, yes,” she conceded. “But I suppose he’s not the kind of person anyone would make an effort to properly get to know.”

For some reason, this thought did not sit particularly well with Harry.

They made their way into the Great Hall and found that it had been decorated especially for the occasion. The light from the candles above bounced off the golden goblets and the evening sky cast contrasted with the bright glow. He took his seat beside Ron—whose knee kept bouncing uncontrollably—and Hermione.

“Y’alright, mate?”

“Yeah, I’m good,” he said, smiling weakly. “It’ll be fine, just fine.”

Harry followed his gaze to the Goblet of Fire, watching the blue flames growing larger, more enthrallingly dramatic. Quite a few other students were watching the Goblet, anticipating the champion selection. He spotted Malfoy at the Slytherin table beside the Durmstrang boy with short black hair he had hugged the previous day.

“They look cosy,” Harry said.

“Who?”

“Malfoy and that Durmstrang kid.”

Ron craned his neck to find them at the end of the Slytherin table. They were indeed sitting rather closely together and laughing uproariously.

“Dunno,” Ron said, returning to mashing together his peas and creamy potato, much to Hermione’s apparent distaste. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew half of Durmstrang. Probably a family friend or something. Why?”

Harry shrugged. “Nothing, just didn’t think Malfoy had the capacity to actually like another person besides himself.”

Ron laughed appreciatively and Harry changed topic to avoid thinking about him. The sight of the two of them made him slightly uncomfortable.

They watched the rest of the students hurry to grab the best seats along each of the tables and talked idly about their lessons, despite both of them being distracted by the blue flames in the Goblet. The flames danced and grew higher as the time until the champions were chosen elapsed.

The feast appeared on each of the tables then; rows of beef Wellington and steak and kidney pie, jacket potatoes and corn-on-the-cob, wild salmon and toad-in-the-hole. They tucked in and Harry soon forgot about the heavy weight of anxiety that had seemed to lull whenever he forgot about the impending champion selection.

By the time they finished their fill of meringues and apple pie with clotted cream, the bewitched ceiling had turned into a dark swirl of clouds and Harry could only spot stars flickering above them.

Professor McGonagall stood up and a hush fell over the Great Hall.  “We will now proceed with what I’m sure is the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the champion selection,” she announced.

A thrill of excitement shot through the Great Hall as students giggled and jeered at their friends, whispering frantically and exchanging last-minute bets. Professor McGonagall walked straight to the top of the aisle and stood next to the Goblet. She lifted her hand, arm rigid, and directed her palm to the Goblet.

The Great Hall was plunged into silence as the blue flame sprang up and turned a fiery red before thrusting out two pieces of parchment, both charred at the edges. There was a collective intake of breath.

Professor McGonagall swung her wand and both pieces fell into her hand. “The Durmstrang champions are Alexander Larson and Leif Larson.”

The hall broke out in applause and shouts and chants from the Slytherin table carried across to the top of the Great Hall. Harry turned around to see Alexander—the stockier of the two—followed by Leif—who was slightly taller—striding towards Professor McGonagall. Alexander looked resolutely ahead while Leif’s eyes roamed the crowds staring at them. He caught Harry’s eye and the corners of his lips twitched into a small smile.

Vulchanova followed them both, a sleazy smile on his long face, and they were guided into a separate room. The applause from the Durmstrang students didn’t subside until Professor McGonagall called for silence.

She held her outstretched hand out to the Goblet and silence fell around the hall. This time the Goblet seemed to spit flames, light lilac in colour. It took longer for the two pieces of parchment but when they did, Harry heard a quiet hush at the Ravenclaw table next to them. Harry noticed Ron glare at a boy he assumed to be Michael Corner. The Beauxbatons students sat at the edge of their seats, some worrying their lips, others smiling reassuringly at their friends.

“The Beauxbatons students are Clara Bernard,” McGonagall said, waiting for the shouts to subside before reading the second name. “And Julia Comtois.” The applause for the second name was distinctly less enthusiastic and accompanied with some murmurs from the Ravenclaw table. Harry clapped politely as the two girls stood up and took each other’s hands, walking the length of the Great Hall to shake Professor McGonagall’s hand. The girl with sleek hair tied into a long plait—Clara—seemed to be whispering into Julia’s ear. Madame Maxime glided along behind them, her hands resting on their shoulders.

When they were brought into the second room a charged silence fell over the Great Hall. Students craned their necks to get a look at the Goblet. Even Professor McGonagall seemed particularly anxious to find out which students would be representing Hogwarts. She turned back to the Goblet and made the same hand movement, eyes narrowing. It took her longer again this time; the flames seemed to swirl and tumble endlessly until finally, one piece of parchment flew into the air.

Professor McGonagall caught the slightly blackened piece and pursed her thin lips. She remained silent. Restless chatter broke out but her eyes remained trained on the Goblet, anticipating the second name.

“Who do you think it is?”

“Merlin, it could be anyone, really.”

“She doesn’t look happy, that’s for sure.”

“Who is it Professor?” a sixth-year Gryffindor called.

“Nobody will be selected until their partner is too,” she said firmly. “And sit down, Miss Doyle.”

A chorus of chatter broke out once more as the blue flames swirled like a whirlpool and a second piece, smaller this time, sprang from the Goblet. Ron gripped his shoulder and smiled nervously. Even Hermione, who had made her disapproval quite evident, looked entranced by the Goblet.

“It’ll be alright, mate,” Harry said. He turned back to Professor McGonagall who had turned away from the Goblet, both pieces of parchment clutched in her hand.

“The Hogwarts champions,” she called, pausing to relish the silence, “are Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy.”

Shouts, gasps, a smattering of applause, and the crash of a goblet on the floor all erupted at once. Harry’s jaw dropped. He felt himself be pushed to his feet, shocked, and shoved by various hands towards the front of the Great Hall. The Slytherin and Gryffindor tables, it seemed, were overjoyed by the prospect of having one of their own represent their respective houses. Everyone, however—Malfoy and Harry included—was astounded that they could be picked together.

Harry felt his feet carry him to Professor McGonagall, her face illuminated by the subsiding blue flames. Hands patted his back along the way and he felt someone ruffle his hair. He felt as though he was being dragged by an invisible rope to the front of the hall.

“Congratulations, Mr Potter,” McGonagall said with a rare smile. Harry shook her hand and stood awkwardly beside her as they watched Malfoy saunter down the Great Hall, his eyes locked with Harry’s and looking very much like he wanted to kill him. It fazed Harry more than he would ever admit.

Malfoy stopped in front of McGonagall and Harry tried to listen to their quiet exchange but the shouts and applause had grown louder and the two of them were drowned out by the noise. Harry tried to catch Ron’s eye but couldn’t spot him in the mass of Gryffindors hollering and shouting. He saw Ginny standing up further along the bench, fisting the air and chanting his name. Despite everything, he couldn’t help but smile at the sight of them.

“Off you go, inside now,” McGonagall said, ushering them into an adjacent room Harry had never been in before.

Harry determinedly avoided Malfoy’s glare and walked into the cold, tall-ceilinged room. There were cabinets lining the walls and small relics, phials and other instruments he didn’t recognise inside. The other four champions were standing by a roaring fire and they whipped around when they saw Malfoy and Harry.

“Ah, Mee-nerva,” Madame Maxime said. “We ‘ave been awaiting your arrival for some time now.”

Professor McGonagall spoke quietly with her and Harry stood at the edge of the group, as far away from Malfoy as he could. Clara and Julia were huddled together, whispering in rapid French. Harry startled when he felt someone stand beside him, making more room beside the fire.

“You seem cold,” Leif said. His voice was deep and his low tone seemed to travel through the room.

Harry forced himself to smile and stepped closer to the fire, heating his hands as he tried to grasp exactly what had just happened. He thought back to that morning, when he had put his name in the Goblet. It struck him that he had never really thought the circumstances through. He had pictured himself lifting the Triwizard Cup, just like every student who entered, but he never considered it more than a fantasy. He hadn’t thought he stood a chance. It all seemed so unrealistic, so unlikely, that out of all the eligible Hogwarts students he was chosen and was paired with Draco Malfoy on top of that.

Professor McGonagall caught his attention, glancing around at each of the champions. Harry didn’t think he imagined the way her eyes lingered somewhat sadly on him.

The door swung open then and the Heads of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, and International Magical Co-operation, Mr Elmer MacFarlan and Miss Achernar, came in with a flurry of long scrolls of parchment and robes.

“Terribly sorry, Minerva,” Achernar said with the air of someone who had much more important business to which to attend. “Hold up at the Ministry this evening had us all drowning in paperwork.”

“Ah! So, these must be our champions then!” MacFarlan said enthusiastically. He shook hands with each of them, winking unabashedly at Malfoy and Harry, muttering a quiet “Hogwarts for the win, eh?”

“Now, as you’re all aware, you will compete in three separate tasks,” Achernar said, with rather more professionalism than MacFarlan. “These will test your combat abilities, your intellectual strength of mind and, importantly, your teamwork skills.” She pressed her lips into a thin line. “I needn’t remind you that getting external help from another student or professor is strictly forbidden. You must work together exclusively.”

“Ven vill the first task be?” Alexander asked.

“Three weeks from tomorrow,” she said promptly. “It will take place in front of the other students and a panel of judges. You will be armed with your wand only. And each other, of course.”

Harry glanced up to find Malfoy glaring menacingly at Leif, his thin, pointed face contorted into a scowl.

“Very good indeed,” MacFarlan said. “I say, I’m looking forward to this first one. It should challenge you all rather immensely and I’m sure you’ll put on quite the show for us judges, too.”

“Elmer!” Achernar chastised. She smoothed the front of her robes importantly and cast her eyes around the six of them. “Now, you will all be required to keep up your studies this year but owing to the rather time-consuming nature of the Triwizard Tournament, you will be exempted from all your exams. Apart from the tasks themselves and some likely press interviews, you’ll also be required to attend The Weighing of the Wands tomorrow.”

“I think that’s it, isn’t it Minerva?”

“Yes, that’s everything. I suggest you all have a good night’s rest. You’ll have classes first thing,” she said, glancing between Malfoy and Harry, “but the Weighing of the Wands will be during lunch.”

They went their separate ways, Madame Maxime guiding Clara and Julia straight out of the room. Vulchanova stood in front of the Durmstrang twins and muttered something that prompted them both to stomp their feet in unison and make a gesture resembling a salute. They left the room, Harry catching Leif’s eyes wander back to him. He felt slightly unnerved now that he knew he was the competition, though he couldn’t deny that it was a nice change to be noticed by another boy.

“I must get going, Minerva,” Achernar said, stuffing her wand in the pocket of her robes. “Good luck over the next couple of weeks,” she said, nodding to Malfoy and Harry. Before they could thank her, she had left the room at a quick jog. Harry thought he saw something close to nostalgia cross over Professor McGonagall’s face and wondered whether Achernar was a past pupil of hers.

“Well then boys,” MacFarlan said exuberantly. He clutched Malfoy and Harry’s shoulders and pushed them together until their shoulders knocked, smiling between them as though he was a proud, if slightly drunken, uncle. “Excited, are we? Ready to get the win for Hogwarts?”

“You know very well that I wouldn’t expect anything less, Elmer,” Malfoy said, smirking deviously.

MacFarlan led out a roaring laugh. “Draco, my boy, never change! Just like your father, you are. Same looks, same wit, same ambition. How is he, actually?”

Harry felt Malfoy stiffen beside him.

“I wouldn’t know,” he said eventually, voice empty of emotion.   

“Right, right,” he said absently. “Well, give him my best nevertheless. His only son a Slytherin Triwizard champion? I’m sure he’ll be very proud of you for this.”

He turned around and nodded at Harry. “And Harry Potter, of course. Our man of the hour,” he said with a slightly manic smile. “We met once before, when you were quite a lot younger. Of course you probably don’t remember, but it’s good to see you again, all the same.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Harry said, trying to place the name MacFarlan, and how his parents might know him. If he was as familiar with the Malfoy family as he let on, then Harry was slightly wary how he had met the man before.

“Excellent, excellent,” MacFarlan said to himself. “Well boys, I best be off or old Epsie will have my head.” He flashed a winning smile at Professor McGonagall and followed behind Achernar out the door.

Harry suddenly realised that it was only him, Malfoy and Professor McGonagall left in the dimly-lit room.

“How are you both feeling?” Professor McGonagall asked kindly, surprising them both.  

Harry smiled self-deprecatingly. "Fine, Professor, “ he said. "A bit nervous." 

Malfoy scoffed.

“As if you’re not nervous too, Malfoy,” Harry snapped.

“At least I’m not being a little bitch about it.”

“Language, Malfoy,” Professor McGonagall scolded, her thin lips pressed in a tight line. “That’s five points from Slytherin House.” She looked between them, eyes narrowed, and then sighed exasperatedly. “I shouldn’t have to remind you to keep your temper in check, Mr Malfoy. You’re not only representing yourself; you’re representing Hogwarts too.”

Malfoy nodded stiffly.

“Despite your rather obvious differences, you’re going to have to work together,” she said firmly. “The other competitors have probably already picked up on the fact that you couldn’t even stand beside each other. Don’t let them single you two out as easy targets this early in the Tournament.” She sighed and pointed towards the door. “You’d best get back to your respective common rooms. I suspect your houses will want to celebrate their new champions.”

Harry smiled at her and Malfoy pushed past him. Harry wheeled around followed, trotting behind him.

“Malfoy! Wait!” he called.

The Great Hall was empty when they returned and the ceiling above them was dark and murky. Malfoy’s steady footsteps rang loudly as he strode down the centre aisle.

“Wait! Just wait for one fucking minute, Malfoy!”

Malfoy whipped around, eyes dark and seething. “What is it, Potter?” he hissed.

“Stop acting like such a prick, would you? I’m trying to talk to you.”

Malfoy closed his mouth, glowering. “Then talk.”

“Well,” Harry sighed, suddenly at odds with himself as to what to say. He hadn’t planned this far in advance. “I don’t know what that was, and I don’t know why we were put together for the Tournament but we’re going to have to make this work. Whether you like it or not, we’re in this for Hogwarts.”

“Like you could feel anything for Hogwarts,” Malfoy said with a nasty glare. “You arrived, what, three days ago?”

Harry heaved a heavy sigh. “That doesn’t matter. We were both picked and these tasks are going to be made in a way that forces us to work together. Just— we’re going to have to do that if we want any chance at winning. McGonagall already said the others have singled us out as the weak partners—”

“What McGonagall said doesn’t mean shit right now,” Malfoy said. “The other champions can speculate whatever they want. It’s only winning the tasks that’ll prove otherwise. And that’s what I’ll be doing.”

With that he turned on his heel and strode out into the Entrance Hall.

“What you’ll be doing?” Harry said incredulously. “In case you’ve forgotten, we’re in this as a team. You need me.”

“I don’t need anyone.”

Harry laughed derisively. “Oh, drop the mysterious loner image, Malfoy. Nobody fucking buys it,” he snapped.

“You know, for someone who’s trying to get me on your side, you sure are doing a terrific job.”

Harry watched Malfoy saunter past the staircase and towards the tall, oak doors leading out to the grounds.

Alohomora.”

“Where are you going?”

“Keeping tabs on me now, are you, Potter?” Malfoy said sharply.

“No, I— you know what?” Harry said exasperatedly. “I don’t give a fuck. Just don’t expect me to heal your burns this time.”

Harry marched in the opposite direction, furious. Who did Malfoy think he was? He couldn’t bring himself to accept a simple offer of truce so that they could make it through the Tournament alive, let alone have a chance of winning. He thought angrily of the way he had almost felt a pang of sympathy for Malfoy during his conversation with Hannah Abbott that very morning. He barged past the Bloody Baron along the way and stomped up the staircase until he reached the entrance to the Gryffindor common room.

“Fatum placuit,” he muttered to the Fat Lady. The painting swung open and he felt two arms pull him inside. The Weird Sisters’ new song blared and he was met with an onslaught of shouts and cheers from people he had never spoken to before. Streamers and mini fireworks sprang from wands throughout the circular room, some spelling his name, others saying rather rude things about the other Hogwarts champions. He was engulfed by the crowded common room.

“Hi Harry,” one particularly eager girl said, latching onto his arm. “I’m Loretta. I was so thrilled when your name was called. I spoke to my Mum about it and I just knew—”

“Riley,” another boy said, pushing past her and thrusting his outstretched hand in Harry’s face. “Nice to meet you, mate. Pleasure, really. Obviously we’re all dying to hear how you—”

“Congratulations, Harry,” another girl said, pressing her claw-like grip on his arm. “You’ll do it for Gryffindor won’t you? We don’t claim that Muggle-hating Slytherin bastard but we’re rooting for you.”

Harry frowned, prying her off his arm. “I actually don’t think he hates Muggles but—”

“So, you’ve been paired with Malfoy, huh? There’s a spot of tough luck if ever I saw one,” a second boy interjected, dragging Harry towards the centre of the room where a table teeming with delicacies had been set up. “You’ll need someone to rely on, you know, what with him as your partner—”

“Harry?” a familiar voice called urgently.

“Ron, mate, thank Merlin’s hairy bollocks,” he said, muttering apologies and pushing past a couple of fourth years who had been smiling at him hopefully.

He felt Ron’s strong arm latch onto him and he pulled Harry up a short flight of stairs where he could finally hear himself think. It was times like these that he appreciated Ron’s height and Keeper’s build. It was then that he saw Ron’s sad smile.

“It shouldn’t have been me,” Harry sighed eventually. He sat on the lower step and dropped his elbows on his knees. “You should have been chosen. I don’t know what I was thinking, really.”

“Are you barking mad? Of course not Harry,” Ron said firmly. “It’s not supposed to be about whether or not you should’ve been chosen. You were and Malfoy doesn’t deserve a partner half as good as you.”

“Oh, sod off, you softie,” Harry laughed. “I can’t even be a Gryffindor champion when I only arrived here two days ago. Everyone down there,” he said, gesticulating wildly down the stairs, “are… intolerable.”

Ron grinned and made a very rude gesture. “I’m sure even the straight Gryffindor lads are going to start drooling at your feet now and slipping you love potions so you’ll take them to the Yule Ball,” he said. “If being the Boy Who Lived isn’t enough, now you’re the Triwizard champion too.”

“Bunch of fucking social climbers, the lot of them,” Harry sighed, but his mind was elsewhere. Despite the distractions—the Yule Ball, the photoshoots, the bets and predictions—he kept picturing the tasks that lay ahead of him, imagining himself in some kind of danger and knowing that Malfoy would save himself over Harry in a heartbeat.

“Mate, it’s going to be fine. I’ll be there, won’t I? And Hermione’s about the smartest person we know.”

“She already said she wasn’t breaking the rules for any champion.”

Ron waved his freckled arm dismissively. “She’ll come ‘round,” he said.

Harry smiled sadly. “That’s all well and good before the tasks, but Malfoy is the only person I can rely on during the tasks themselves.”

Ron grimaced. “Just— let’s get back down there and enjoy the attention before—”

“I die in the first task?” Harry said.

Ron shoved his shoulder playfully. “You’re as dramatic as Moaning Myrtle sometimes.”

“Who’s Moaning Myrtle?”

 

*

 

Harry hadn’t heard Malfoy arrive back to their dormitory the previous night, so when he woke up, he was surprised to see him sprawled out on his bed, fully-clothed, with Cassiopeia and Abrax both tucked under his arm. The morning light made him look younger, Harry thought, as he pulled on his robes and spent longer than he normally would fixing his hair. By the time he finished, he had managed to make it even more unruly than it had been when he woke up, which was quite an achievement.

Malfoy groaned and rolled onto his back, causing Cassiopeia to leap from the bed with a hiss. Malfoy’s mouth was completely agape and he snored lightly, his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm. Harry snorted at the sight. Malfoy always looked so refined and controlled to the point of self-restraint. It was slightly disconcerting to see him so natural. 

Harry glanced at his watch and noticed that they only had fifteen minutes until their Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson. He debated leaving Malfoy to sleep but thought the better of it, reasoning with himself that this was the first step towards something close to a less strained relationship with him.

Harry prodded Malfoy’s shoulder with his wand. “Malfoy,” he said. “Wake up, we’ve got DADA in a few minutes.”

Malfoy’s head turned towards Harry and he seemed to snuggle closer into his bedsheets.

“Malfoy,” Harry said more loudly. “Wake up.”

Malfoy murmured something into his pillow. Harry considered using Aguamenti over him but figured he might end up in the hospital wing if he did.

“Wake up, Malfoy,” he sighed.

Malfoy jolted awake and startled at the sight of Harry, jumping back and banging his head on the headboard before reaching for his wand. It was only then that Harry realised he had been standing rather close.

“What in the name of Salazar?” Malfoy spat. His tone, devastatingly rough from sleep, made Harry’s insides squirm.

Harry shook his head. “DADA starts in ten minutes and I figured I should’ve—”

“Why the fuck didn’t you wake me, you prat,” Malfoy demanded, pushing himself off the bed and rushing to the mirror.

Harry glared at him, the squirming of his stomach replaced by intense irritation. “That’s what I was doing!”

Malfoy ignored him and pointed his wand to his chest, smoothing the creases that had gathered from spending the night in his robes. Malfoy caught Harry’s eye in the mirror as he was combing his fingers through his hair. He raised an eyebrow. “What are you looking at? Piss off.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Why do I even bother,” he muttered angrily. “I’m going to class. Don’t expect me to wake you again.”

He slung his satchel over his shoulder and stormed out, letting the door slam and rattle behind him.

 

*

 

Harry’s morning lessons passed in a flurry of note-taking and half-listening to his professors droning on about various methods to approach nonverbal defensive charms and the eating habits of Venomous Tentacula. He had to weave in and out of the crowds, grateful for his height for the first time in his life as he went relatively unnoticed when he kept his head down and stuck beside Ron or Hermione. By the time lunch rolled around he had almost forgotten about the Weighing of the Wands. He only managed to grab a piece of Yorkshire pudding to take with him before Professor McGonagall was pulling him and Malfoy by the elbows up four flights of stairs to a small classroom.

They found Leif and Alexander standing beside one of the windows overlooking the Great Lake. Julia was whispering to Clara and seemed visibly upset about something. Harry watched Clara rub small circles on Julia’s hip, over her robes. The three other people in the room—MacFarlan, Achernar and Mr Ollivander—stood together in the opposite corner of the room.

“Ah! Our final two,” Mr Ollivander enthused, nodding between the two of them. “We can begin, then.”

“Terrific!” MacFarlan exclaimed. He winked at Malfoy and Harry, and gestured to them all to take a seat.

Harry sat between Leif and Clara, leaving Malfoy to the seat at the end of the row. Mr Ollivander sat primly opposite them, muttering to himself as his eyes swept across them all.

“I believe I sold only two of you one of my own wands,” he said, eyes focusing on Malfoy and Harry. “Let’s leave you two until last then, shall we? Let’s see… Clara Bernard? May I have your wand?”

Clara looked unwilling to depart with her wand but Julia nudged her and she pressed it into Mr Ollivander’s palm. “Ah, yes, Poplar wood, I see. Rigid. Ten and a quarter inches; rather long for someone of your stature. And the core?”

“Unicorn tail hair, Meester Ollivander,” she said stiffly.

He nodded to himself. “Not the most powerful of cores for the kind of magic you’ll be using during the Tournament but the wood certainly compensates for that,” he said. His long, thin fingers flitted to the tip of both of the wand before he nodded. “Very well, Miss Bernard.”

Julia went next, followed by Alexander. Harry caught Malfoy’s eye the second time Mr Ollivander made a slightly snide remark about another wandmaker’s preference. Mr Ollivander reached for Leif’s wand next.

“Aha! Now this is certainly an unusual wand,” he said quietly. “‘One will never fool the cedar carrier,’ as my father used to say often. Very good for Dark magic, indeed. Fourteen inches precisely and a nice flexibility to it, too. The core?”

“Basilisk horn,” Leif said, sitting up straighter in the rickety chair. “Passed down from my grandfather.”

Mr Ollivander observed him curiously for a moment before holding the wand out for Leif. “It’s rather unusually attached to you,” he noted before setting his hands on his lap. He seemed to remember the final two wands he had left and beamed between Malfoy and Harry. “Which of you would like to go first?”

Malfoy pulled his wand out of his robes and Mr Ollivander’s sagging cheeks pulled into a smile when he touched the dark wood. “Ah yes, I remember this wand was particularly partial to you when you came into my shop. Hawthorn, isn’t it? A rather unusual wood and one traditionally bestowed on warriors. I have generally observed that the hawthorn wand seems most at home with a conflicted nature, or with a witch or wizard passing through a period of turmoil.”

Harry glanced over to watch a tentative, almost self-deprecating smile stretch across Malfoy’s lips.

“Now, precisely ten inches long, reasonably pliant. Unicorn hair, is it?”

“Yes, sir,” Malfoy said proudly. “From one of the oldest unicorns found in recent memory, in the Białowieża Forest.”

Harry wanted to reach across and shake the boy on the opposite side of the room and ask what he had done with the real Draco Malfoy. The Malfoy sitting with his long legs planted on the floor, smiling eagerly at Mr Ollivander as he spoke resembled the Slytherin he had woken up that morning in nothing more than appearance.

“Mr Potter?”

The squeaky voice caught his attention and he thrust his jet-black wand into Mr Ollivander’s hand.

“I remember this one clearly,” he said slowly. “Holly, eleven inches, a combination I often find works most happily for those who may need help overcoming a tendency to anger and impetuosity,” he said, glancing up to catch Harry’s eye. “Phoenix feather core, if I’m right.”

“Yes, sir, that’s right,” Harry said. He felt Leif shift forward in his chair.

“Excellent,” Mr Ollivander said with a watery smile. He reluctantly handed Harry’s wand back to him. “Why, it’s rather lovely to reminisce on wands sold and passed down through the years.”

“You’re finished, then, Ollivander?” MacFarlan said loudly from where he and Achernar had been talking quietly. “Wonderful. Right, you’d better get back to class before McGonagall has your heads.”

Harry placed his wand back in his robe pocket and felt a tap on his shoulder. Leif stood with his chest puffed out, hands clasped behind his back. Harry absently thought he looked like he was going to salute him.

“Harry?” he enunciated slowly. “Your vand core… it is phoenix feather. Vere I am from, phoenix feather is given only to most powerful vizards from pure-blood lineage. That is the same in Britain?”

“No,” Harry said shortly, standing slightly taller. “Phoenix feather wands are available to any witch or wizard. It doesn’t matter if they’re pure-blood or not.”

That seemed to placate Leif. He smiled warmly before glancing over Harry’s shoulder.

“Do you need something, Alexander?” Harry heard Malfoy ask sharply.

Harry’s whipped around to find Malfoy scowling between them.

“My name is Leif,” he huffed.

“Malfoy, Harry—a word?” MacFarlan asked from across the room.

Leif looked between them and shoved his wand into his robes before trudging out of the room.

“What the fuck was that?” Malfoy hissed to him when the door shut. “Why were you talking to him?”

“He asked me a simple question, Malfoy,” Harry said, refusing to meet his eye. “It didn’t have anything to do with the Tournament.”

Before Malfoy could reply, MacFarlan swooped down towards them, eyes gleaming.

“So, boys, how are we feeling? Had a good rest to mull everything over?” He didn’t wait for a response before his smile grew wider. “Good, good. I just want you both to know that if you need anything—a bit of guidance, a nod in the right direction—don’t hesitate to go looking for it. I promise you that old Vulchanova won’t hesitate to help his boys, and neither will Maxime. Even if McGonagall’s a bit of a stickler for the rules, doesn’t mean you have to be at a disadvantage.”

“You know me, Elmer,” Malfoy said with a wicked grin. “Hogwarts has nothing to worry about when it comes to winning. I may not follow all the rules, but at least I have principles.”

MacFarlan’s booming laugh sounded around the small classroom. “Good, good. As long you know that we’re all rooting for you to win, whatever the cost. Take care of yourselves, boys.” He patted both of their shoulders and looked between them, lips stretching into a wide grin.

He left soon after, leaving only Malfoy and Harry in the classroom.

“Didn’t know you were interested in unicorn origins,” Harry said, avoiding Malfoy’s eye.

“You wouldn’t be alone in that,” Malfoy said stiffly. “Why were you talking to Larson?”  

“You heard us, Malfoy,” Harry said exasperatedly. “He was asking about my wand, not sabotaging us.”

Malfoy nodded tightly before whipping around and leaving the room. Harry followed behind him.

“So, do you study Care of Magical Creatures then?” he asked, jogging to match Malfoy’s long strides.

“What is this, the Wizengamot?”

“Merlin’s beard, Malfoy, it’s a simple fucking question.”

 “No,” Malfoy sighed eventually. “I— I couldn’t fit it into my timetable.”

You couldn’t fit it into your timetable?” Harry said incredulously.

“That’s precisely what I said, Potter.”

Harry blinked, watching the way Malfoy seemed to shift uncomfortably under his scrutiny, and the way he seemed to tense when Harry had mentioned Care of Magical Creatures. “I don’t believe you,” Harry said, trotting down the stairs behind the other boy and jumping over the final trick step. “You don’t seem the type to let something like that stop you from doing what you’re passionate about.”

Malfoy’s footsteps halted and he wheeled around to stare directly at Harry. He was struck be how dark Malfoy’s grey eyes could appear.

“What I’m passionate about,” he enunciated slowly, “is not your concern.” He whipped back the sleeve of his robes and glanced the thick-banded watch on his slim wrist. “I’m late for Charms.” With that he stormed down the hallway, glaring at two first years worrying their lips and holding their timetables upside down.  

Harry rolled his eyes. He smiled one of the first years. At least he could show them that not every seventh year in Hogwarts was an unapproachable, arrogant git like Malfoy.  “Need a hand?” he asked them kindly.

 

*

 

“Now, you two stand at the back… yes, very good. And Miss Bernard, is it? Yes, you sit beside Mr Potter and cross your legs like Miss Comtois. No, the other way. Perfect. Big smiles this time, please, this is for the front page of the Daily Prophet.”

The photographer had become mildly impatient at Malfoy’s refusal to smile, which meant that he had spent the last ten minutes repositioning them all so that the rest of their bright beams would take the focus off Malfoy’s permanent and irresolvably stubborn scowl.

Harry was just about ready to throttle Malfoy. Malfoy knew that Harry hadn’t finished his Transfiguration essay and that their next lesson was scheduled straight afterwards. Harry guessed that delaying the photoshoot and leaving no time for him to write the last half-foot on the uses of epoximising was Malfoy’s form of revenge for the previous night. Malfoy had sauntered into their dormitory to find Ron sitting on his bed, munching on a Chocolate Frog. He had blamed Harry, naturally, for allowing Ron into their dormitory, but Ron hadn’t escaped without boils erupting all over his skin. Harry had been anticipating Malfoy’s retaliation against him all morning but, then again, delaying Harry and securing him extra homework seemed a bit tame for Malfoy.

“Now, I’d like to snap a couple shots of the each of the school champions together, if you will,” the photographer said. “I think the Prophet are doing individual articles on each of the schools. Beauxbatons first, shall we?”

As Julia and Clara were already in a relationship, it was easy work photographing them; they sat, their cheeks pressed daintily together, hands intertwined, their glimmering teeth matching their bright eyes. If Harry didn’t already know the context, he would have guessed they were posing for a wedding photograph.

“Wonderful, ladies,” he called, motioning for Leif and Alexander to take their places. He instructed them to stand shoulder to shoulder, with their hands clasped behind their backs. Neither of them smiled but the similar firm line of their mouths and steely glares were enough to make them look like a team.

The door swung open and a petite woman with corkscrew curls and a knowing smile waltzed inside. She spotted the photographer who looked like he would rather be swallowed by the rickety floorboards than have to face her.

“Clem, darling. I’ll let you finish up with the others before I get started. You carry on!” she said with a shrill voice. The woman marched over to one of the windowsills and leaned against it, eyes darting to every person in the room. Harry glanced at Malfoy and found the colour drained from his face.

“Now, last but by no means least: Hogwarts,” the photographer said, somewhat less cheerful than before the woman’s arrival. He raised an eyebrow expectantly between Malfoy and Harry, who had somehow managed to stand as far away from each other as possible in the small confines of the unused classroom.

Harry dragged his feet over to stand next to Malfoy, who leaned against the wall, the picture of nonchalant elegance.

The photographer scrutinised them both, eyes flicking back and forth as though trying to figure out a particularly difficult maths problem. “How about you rest your arm on Mr Malfoy’s shoulder?” he asked Harry.

Malfoy snorted derisively. “He’s too short to reach.”

Harry glared at him. “Gives me a better angle to knee you in the bollocks, Malfoy.”

“Perhaps not,” the photographer sighed. “Mr Malfoy, could you put your arm around Mr Potter’s shoulders, then.”

“We’re hardly posing for a Quidditch team photograph,” he muttered, scowling. He tentatively reached behind him and placed his hand on Harry’s shoulder. Harry felt his cheeks heat up. He fidgeted with the cuff of his robes and willed himself to ignore the sensation as Malfoy’s long, thin fingers pressed into his shoulder.

The photographer took his position behind the camera set-up but not a moment passed before he emerged from the black cover. “Do try to look like you can stand each other’s company, boys,” he pleaded.

It was no use, however. They looked contrived and forced and Malfoy periodically dug his fingers into Harry’s shoulder, as though his arm was spasming, which caused Harry to wince.

“That’s not it, then,” the photographer sighed.

Malfoy dropped his arm to his side instantly.

“Is it the burn?” Harry asked. “Don’t tell me you managed to make it worse.”

“It’s just flaring up again,” Malfoy gritted out.

“Clem, darling, this is taking far too long. You know how it is; places to be, people to meet, lives to live. I’m going to go ahead and start with these lovely ladies,” the woman called. Harry noticed her leading Clara and Julia to an adjacent classroom and absently thought that she must be the Daily Prophet journalist.

“You could try the same pose as the Durmstrang lads,” the photographer said eventually. He pointed to where Leif and Alexander were sitting on two desks, speaking to each other in hushed voices.

He positioned them beside each other and instructed them the same way but quickly shook his head. “No, no, that won’t work.”

Harry silently agreed. They looked like a poor imitation of the Larson brothers, but not a fraction as menacing.

“I’m trying to help you boys,” he sighed eventually. “You’re not going to get much support if you don’t look like a team.”

“We don’t need photography shoots to help us win,” Malfoy muttered under his breath.

Harry whipped around to glance at Malfoy, his eyebrows drawn together. It was the first time he had referenced to them as a team. Malfoy, it seemed, had realised that too, if the way he pointedly refused to meet Harry’s eye-contact was any indication.

“By the time I win the first task, nobody will be paying attention to this anyway.”

The photographer shook his head. “Boys, if you’re not going to co-operate, you’ll just have to have separate portraits.”

“Fine by me,” Harry said at the same time Malfoy said “I quite possibly couldn’t agree more.”

They wrapped up soon after and the two of them, along with Leif and Alexander, were sent into the other room.

“After you,” Leif said, opening the door for Harry.

Harry smiled tightly and went through. It felt rather strange that Leif was acting particularly nice to him. With the rest of the kids his age at Hogwarts, he had only ever had innocent, fleeting summer romances before. If Leif wasn’t his opponent, Harry thought, he would’ve been able to appreciate his flirting. As it was, however, he couldn’t help but feel extremely suspicious.

They went inside a large room with various armchairs, the walls covered in overflowing bookshelves.

“Draco and Harry!” a high, feminine and saccharine voice exclaimed. They were dragged further into the room Harry supposed was the staff room. Harry spotted Clara and Julia storming out, both looking indignant. “Has a lovely ring to it, doesn’t it? Draco and Harry.

“Rita Skeeter,” she said with a toothy smile. She fell into one of the patterned armchairs, crossing her thin legs, and indicating for them to do the same. “We’re just going to have a little chat, alright? No need to be nervous. I’m here to show the word the very best versions of yourselves.” Her eyes lingered on Malfoy.

Harry sat beside Malfoy on the beige sofa opposite her. He noticed Malfoy was already irritated but seemed to be making a point of being polite to her.

She extracted her wand from her mahogany robes and produced a frivolous quill and notepad. “So, Draco, how are you feeling about the first task? Nervous?”

Harry snuck a glance at Malfoy to find him smiling amusedly.

“Not nervous, no,” he said. “I’ve no doubt that I’m going to win this Tournament so I have no reason to be nervous.”

Rita seems delighted by this piece of information, scribbling frantically on her notepad. “I hear you’re quite the model student. No doubt you’ve been getting help from your favourite professors.”

Malfoy laughed uproariously. Harry felt rather unnerved by the sound.

“A valid effort,” Malfoy said eventually, still grinning, “but I’m fully aware that we can’t get any external help besides our teammates.”

“Ah, yes,” she said tartly. “And how are you getting on together?” She smiled deviously between them.

“Perfectly fine,” Malfoy enthused.

Harry gaped openly at him. He felt Malfoy snake an arm around his shoulders before he realised what he was doing and tried to arrange his features into something closer to mild surprise.

“Our skill-sets definitely complement each other,” Malfoy said easily. “Harry’s extraordinarily talented at Transfiguration. I haven’t seen him duel yet, but I’ve no doubt he excels at it.” Malfoy turned towards him and smiled stiffly, though his stare remained eerily vacant. “I think I can speak on both of our behalves when I say that we look forward to working together over the coming months.”

Harry sunk his teeth into his lips to prevent the peel of laughter threatening to escape.

Rita pursed her lips and looked distinctly disgruntled, as though her carefully-formulated plan had been sabotaged by Malfoy himself. “Thank you, Draco,” she said. “Now, do tell me, how are your parents?”

Malfoy’s smile fell instantly, his entire face contorting into an expression of rage. He snatched his arm back from Harry’s shoulder and rose to his feet, glaring furiously at her. “If you mention anything beyond my parents’ names, I’ll make sure you’re never commissioned to write for another newspaper again,” he snarled.

Malfoy leaned down, making a fuss of tying his shoelace, and in the process whispered, “Play along, Potter. I know what I’m doing,” before storming out of the room. The door shook on its hinges and left Harry and the reporter in the strange stillness of the professors’ lounge.

Harry suddenly felt very helpless. Malfoy’s touch had been firm but fleeting, leaving him disoriented and acutely aware of the woman intently watching his every move. He turned back to her and tried to smile sympathetically. “He gets like that sometimes,” Harry said with a breathless laugh that sounded fake even to his own ears.

“Not to worry,” she said brightly, waving her arm in dismissal. The bangles across her arm shimmered in the weak light. “I expected as much from Lucius Malfoy’s son.” She leaned forward in her armchair and smiled invitingly. “So, how do you feel about your teammate? Confident you’ll win the first task?”

“Oh—er—yes, very confident,” he said carefully. “Malfoy— I mean, Draco is a really… great teammate. Like he said—”

“Harry,” she sighed impatiently. Harry despised her patronising tone. “There’s no need to lie. He’s gone. You’re perfectly entitled to speak the truth.”

Harry wanted to laugh. As if Malfoy being in the room or not mattered; either way, an article would be published about his hatred of Malfoy. If he told the truth, he might as well book himself a permanent hospital bed in St. Mungo’s.

“You know anyone would believe your word over his in a heartbeat,” she continued. “What’s the son of a reputed Death Eater compared to the Boy Who Lived, hm?”

Harry felt a sharp sting of indignation. He despised being identified and given preferential treatment purely on the basis of something that happened far before he could remember. “No, it’s the truth,” he said with more vigour. “Malfoy’s really great at—er—Potions and everyone says he’s one of the smartest in the year. It’s great to be able to have him as my teammate.”

“And what about you?” Rita said sourly, regarding his response with readily apparent distaste. “Why did you enter the Tournament? What are you looking for? More fame? Glory, perhaps?”

“Definitely not fame,” Harry said, slightly startled by the way she had leaned all the way over to observe him more closely. “I suppose I thought it would be a challenge and I guess I wanted to make my mark, being new to Hogwarts and all that. And the prize, of course. Getting to work as an Auror would be really amazing, I’m sure.”

She nodded primly. “Perfect,” she drawled. “That will be all, Harry.” With that she motioned Leif and Alexander over to the couch without paying Harry a second glance.

Harry scurried out of the room, shut the door behind him and ran straight into a hard chest.

Oof!”

He stumbled back and found Malfoy smirking at him before he schooled his features into his familiar scowl.

“What did you say?” Malfoy demanded, drawing closer to Harry. “Did she ask you the same questions?”

“You can take the wand out of your ass, Malfoy; I kept up the lie.”

Malfoy sighed. “Good. What did you say about me?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Harry said, rubbing his head.

Malfoy didn’t look amused. “Tell me, Potter.”

Harry dropped his hand and tilted his head to the side. “Or what? Going to hex your favourite teammate? The person who ‘compliments your skillset’?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes rather than reaching for his wand. “Don’t flatter yourself,” he said before marching down the hallway. Harry thought he saw a small smile playing on his face.

“I thought you said nobody would pay any attention to the photoshoots and articles once you ‘single-handedly’ win the first task, anyway,” Harry said. “Why did you bother lying?”

“That interview’s different,” he said shortly.

“How?”

“Read a fucking book, Potter,” Malfoy sighed. He avoided Harry’s eye, busying himself with checking the contents of his satchel. “Journalists like her are… like vultures. They cling to any tiny, insignificant thing you say and twist it into a story. If we appear like anything less than best friends, she’ll write her whole piece on how Hogwarts are destined to lose.”

“So? That’s not going to change our chances of winning.”

“Not exactly,” Malfoy muttered. “But it’s almost impossible to salvage a tarnished reputation.”

Chapter Text

The article was published precisely one week later. One of the Hogwarts barn owls swooped down the next Wednesday and dropped the Daily Prophet onto Harry’s lap. The first thing he noticed was that their single portraits hadn’t been used. Instead, a large photograph of Malfoy’s twitching arm perched over his shoulder, Harry wincing beside him, took over the entire top half of the opening page. Malfoy kept glancing over to him in the photograph, his expression unreadable, his posture upright and rigid as ever. Harry poured himself a tall glass of pumpkin juice—though he knew that even the strongest Firewhiskey wouldn’t calm his anxiety—and started reading.

HOGWARTS TO LOSE THEIR WINNING STREAK IN THE TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT? RITA SKEETER UNCOVERS THE RIFTS, THE RIVALRIES AND THE INTERNAL DIVISION BETWEEN THE TWO HOGWARTS COMPETITORS

Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, and Draco Malfoy, a Death Eater descendant, are the two unlikely Triwizard champions the Hogwarts Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall, has managed to produce for this year’s tournament, writes Rita Skeeter. I meet them both mere weeks before the first death-defying tasks they must endure, and am instantly transported back to a time in which rivalries and distrust alike were rife at Hogwarts and in the wizarding world beyond. They are both, quite actually, walking, talking house stereotypes. Like notorious Gryffindors and Slytherins, Potter and Malfoy can’t hide their hatred of each other, and students I speak to outside our limited interview time inform me of their renowned rivalry. Despite’s McGonagall’s strive towards improved inter-house relations, clearly these two forefront projections of the opposing sides of the Wizarding War slipped through the gaps of McGonagall’s plan. (To read more about McGonagall’s disastrous initiatives at Hogwarts since her predecessor, Dumbledore’s, death, see page 5.)

Draco Malfoy strikes me as a charming boy, boasting of quite the anarchic attitude one might expect of someone of his lineage. The only child of the titled Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, he is the epitome of the teenage rebel distancing himself from his parents’ views (though perhaps not their wealth) by entering this dangerous tournament to find his own identity. When I meet him on a showery morning in early September he is polite, if distant with me and shockingly sour to Potter. Speaking only to rebut something the Gryffindor seventh-year says, he sits in the corner of the airy, wallpapered delight that is the Hogwarts Staff Room. Something tells me that there’s more than a pretty face behind this elusive Triwizard competitor. When I ask him about his mental state mere weeks before the first task, he tells me quite plainly that he is confident in his ability to win.

“And what about your teammate?” I ask, already sensing the palpable tension between the two. “Do you think that you will mesh well together to overcome the first task?”

Previously exuding nonchalance, Malfoy becomes suddenly stiff at the mention of his Triwizard partner and sworn enemy. “I have no doubt that Hogwarts will win the first task,” he tells me. “I will make sure of it with or without his help.”

Naturally, I find this highly intriguing and I probe Potter for further information after Malfoy merely shrugs in response to the rest of my questions. By this stage in the interview, I can positively see the fumes coming out of the new Gryffindor student’s ears. He was listening to his teammates interview and, quite evidently, did not like what he heard. Malfoy, since, has wandered to the opposite side of the room and I assure Potter that he is unable to hear our private discussion. He relaxes visibly at such reassurance, and I wonder just how comfortable he truly feels in the foreign environment that is, to him, Hogwarts School.

The rumours of their loathing of each other have been escalating since Potter, son of reputed Order of the Phoenix members Lily and James Potter, whose questionable decision to home-school their son and reject Hogwarts teaching received extensive criticism, joined the school. Such a decision was subject to wide scale debate as to their young child’s safety in the aftermath of the downfall of He Who Must Not Be Named. Rumours surrounded the purported reasons to remove Potter from the limelight to such an extent that he was never afforded the chanceuntil nowto attend the staple of magical learning, Hogwarts School.  

“Do you think you’ll be able to overcome your difficulties to succeed in the first task?” I ask, watching him hang his head in defeat. The youngest, yet speculatively the most underestimated competitor, Potter, 17, certainly doesn’t have high hopes for the upcoming task.

“I don’t know how we’ll do it when he can’t even look me in the eye,” he mourns. I pat his shoulder sympathetically as he details the failed attempts to have a relationship with Malfoy “just to get through the tasks,” he says. “I used to want us to get past this silly rivalry he initiated but he’s not making it any easier.”

I get the impression that there’s more than just frustration that Malfoy won’t work alongside him on his part. I ask whether he considers Malfoy a competitor to the same extent as the other students of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang.

“Oh, definitely,” he tells me solemnly, his candid tone telling me more than words could express. “He’s willing to take me down to achieve all the glory on his own. I need to consider him as a competitor. We’re in this alone.”

I’m also curious about the real reason I suspect Potter joined the tournament: to seek the fame and glory he so lacked in his formative years due to his parents’ decision to shelter him from such attention. He tellingly avoids my eye at this point, and repeatedly mentions the added prize to this year’s tournament, a position as a trainee Auror at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. It’s certain his parents will have a thought or two about their son’s ruthless ambition.

Our time is out, then, and I leave the two seething at each other. Let’s hope the first task doesn’t involve any dragons because I’ve already seen enough mutual distrust and fiery passion for one day.

Harry had hardly finished reading the final sentence, already indignant, when he heard Malfoy’s ridiculously loud, clipped footsteps cross the Great Hall. They stopped directly behind him.

“Want to make some more noise, Malfoy?” Harry quipped. “Just to make sure everyone hears how pissed off you are?” He turned around to find Malfoy standing rigid, his shoulders tense and fists shaking at his sides. His face was ghostly pale, and his eyes glimmered in the weak morning light.  

“What is this?” Malfoy demanded. He didn’t shout, but remained unnervingly still, his voice barely quivering but dripping with malice. Although he whipped out his wand and kept it pointed at the ground, Harry recognised from Malfoy’s stance that he was ready to hex him. Malfoy took a step closer to Harry. “You told me that you maintained the story when I left.”

“I did, you bonehead,” Harry hissed. Half of the Gryffindor table had stopped their conversations to eavesdrop. “And put your fucking wand away. I never said any of that shit. She twisted the story for both of us, in case you haven’t noticed… ‘ruthless ambition,’ my arse.”

Malfoy narrowed his eyes. “Looks like you still managed enough time to weep in her arms about how much of a bully I am, apparently.”

Harry suddenly felt a sharp, galling indignation in his chest. He rose up to a fuller height and glowered at Malfoy. “Well you are a fucking bully, Malfoy, so that shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.”

Malfoy raised his wand, his face contorted into a despicably cruel expression.

Enough!”

They swivelled around and found Professor McGonagall standing before them, looking between them furiously. Her thin lips were almost invisible and her eyes were alert, darting between them both. Malfoy dropped his arm, though his expression told of his indignation.

“Follow me,” she ordered.

Harry snatched the newspaper from the table and followed behind her, Malfoy in tow. He ignored the unabashed stares they received from every student in the Great Hall that morning. He had no doubt that by the end of the first lesson, the whole school would know about both the article and their fight.

They rounded concealed corners and went up three flights of stairs and down another two on the opposite side of the castle. By the time they reached the gargoyle entrance to the Headmistress’s office, Harry felt more irked that he hadn’t remembered to bring his slice of marmalade toast than angry about the article. Malfoy, it seemed, was still fuming.

“Lemon bon-bon,” McGonagall said with an impressively impassive expression.

She brought them through to the small circular office. Harry craned his neck to see the endless portraits of past Hogwarts headmasters and headmistresses lining the walls, the cabinets brimming with various instruments, and the ornate tapestries carved into the ceiling above them.  

“Sit down, both of you,” she said. She spent another minute looking between both of them. “Give me the article, please, Mr Potter.”

Harry handed her the paper and they sat in silence while she read. The portrait on Harry’s right kept arguing with the bearded man above him, making them rather amusing entertainment. He felt Malfoy’s glare burn the back of his neck.

Professor McGonagall sighed heavily. “Evidently, this is neither of your faults so you can stop pointing fingers at each other immediately,” she said, her gaze lingering on Malfoy. “I understand this is not a particularly favourable article about either of you, but you’re going to have to move on from it.” She turned squarely to face Malfoy. “Do not threaten that woman, Mr Malfoy. I’m not dealing with another complaint about you from the Daily Prophet.”

Malfoy shifted his position on the upright chair but didn’t counter her.

“Regarding your little scene in the Great Hall,” she sighed. “I expected better of you, Mr Potter, and your behaviour was unacceptable.”

“Yes, Professor,” Harry said, “but he accused me of snitching to that woman when I never—”

“Oh, don’t pretend like you haven’t been waiting for the right time to go crying to somebody about me,” Malfoy snapped.

“Be quiet, Mr Malfoy. You very well know that’s not true,” McGonagall said. “I’m deducting fifteen point from both of your houses and giving you both detention with me tomorrow evening. Your punishment should be much more severe but this situation is obviously undesired on both sides of the Galleon.” She sighed exasperatedly. “You need to learn to tolerate each other at the very least and set aside your differences. The first task is in two weeks; you’re supposed to be fighting whatever obstacles the first task presents, not each other.”

 

*

 

The following morning, a handsome tawny owl swooped down and dropped a piece of mail into Harry’s lap for the second time in two days. He knew from the careful, thin handwriting on the front that it was from his mother; he could only be relieved that it wasn’t a Howler. Harry opened with it reluctance, ignoring the knowing look Hermione shot him from across the table.

Harry, my darling,

Just a few lines to let you know that your father and I are constantly thinking about you. As you probably have too, I read this morning’s (to you, yesterday’s) Daily Prophet and was rather upset. I’m sure that awful woman twisted your words as she’s known for doing, and I want to reassure you that no one at home truly believes what that article says.

Naturally, we were both quite shocked and, initially, upset, that you didn’t tell us you were submitting your name to the Goblet (although, as your father just pointed out, we probably should’ve known that you would). We will, of course, be in attendance for the first task and are looking forward to seeing you again. Your father is planning on bringing a set of dress robes for you to wear at the Yule Ball, too (although, between you and me, I question his fashion choices sometimes).  

I wanted to be angry, Harry, I really did, but over the last little while after seriously considering it, all I can wish you is luck. You are such a strong, independent boy and I know you’ll be more than capable of handling anything the Tournament throws in your path. If you find yourself doubting your own abilities, or whether you can go on any further, just remember how far you have come.

We also read that you’ll be competing with Draco Malfoy. We never really talked much about the Dark supporters during Voldemort’s reign while you were growing up because we didn’t want you to be exposed to those kind of mindsets (and, selfishly, neither of us wanted to dwell on what is now mostly in the past). But, as Ron has probably told you by now (I know Arthur has the displeasure of meeting Lucius at the Ministry every now and then) that family is bad news. All I’ll say is stay aware. Put your safety first and always question his motives. His father is known to have a way of manipulating people to get what he wants, and, though he was never proved to have any ties with Voldemort, he certainly wasn’t opposed to his ideals. Strong rumour has it that he managed to avoid any time at Azbakan through well-placed words, bribery and one of the UnforgivablesImperius. I know there has to be a certain level of trust between you and Malfoy in order to succeed in the tasks but don’t let it extend beyond what’s absolutely necessary. 

All my love,

Your mother.

Harry slumped back in his seat and tried to ignore the prickling in his eyes. Thoughts of his mother sitting at their kitchen table, with its light wood and patterned cloth, wearing her auburn hair in a loose plait that twisted at the end, sprang in his mind. With astonishing vividness, he imagined her taking an hour out of the previous afternoon to write him a letter, pausing every so often to ask to hear his father’s thoughts. Harry could picture his father outside, perhaps helping Moony draw up plans for his Lycanthropy Fellowship Organisation, calling for Lily’s input every now and then.

“You alright, mate? Your parents weren’t too mad, were they?” Ron asked.

Harry smiled rather unconvincingly. His mother’s familiar voice rung in his head and he suddenly craved her presence. “Everything’s good, yeah. It’s just… strange being away from them this long.”

Ron eyed him with passing sympathy. “You’ll see them soon, though, won’t you? I’m sure they’ll come to the first task. Not long yet ‘til then.”

Harry slumped against the table and sighed, his feeling of nostalgia dissipating only to be replaced by annoyance. “Thanks for the reminder,” he muttered, biting his slice of toast moodily.

 

*

 

Detention that following evening was an arduous task; they had to pair together the O.W.L and N.E.W.T exam results of every student since 1947. According to Professor McGonagall, it was part of the new school policy that an individual reference, including both sets of exam results, be given to the employer of every graduated Hogwarts student. Harry thought she just needed an excuse to force them to work together on a task.

They were sat on the hardwood floor of a small office with a patch of mould on one of the corners, sifting through papers.

“They’re already divided into N.E.W.T.s and O.W.L.s,” Malfoy said, lazily flicking his wand so that one stack of files glided across the floor. “We need to keep them divided and put them in alphabetical order first. We can pair them at the end.”

“No, that’ll take too long,” Harry said, heaving a pile of duty folders from one of the cupboards. “We should divide them by year and then match them.”

Malfoy gave him an unimpressed look. “Your method will take even longer again.”

“Not like you’ve anything better to do, Malfoy,” Harry said, already dividing a stack of piles by year. Malfoy had been avoiding any contact with him outside class hours. For the last four nights, he had snuck off after dinner in the Great Hall and wasn’t in their dormitory when Harry woke up. Harry had a vague suspicion he was going to the Forbidden Forest, if the mud on his usually immaculate shoes and the fabric tears he sometimes spotted at the seams of Malfoy’s robes were anything to go by.

“What I do with my time is none of your business,” Malfoy said sharply.

Harry frowned. “It is if it’s going to affect our chances in the first task.”

They hadn’t received any indication of what the first task could involve yet. Harry knew from past Triwizard Tournaments that the champions sometimes only found out what they were to face minutes before the tasks themselves began, but the prospect of being so entirely underprepared was worrying.

Malfoy hung his head over a file and began observing it intently. “It may, I suppose,” he said finally. “At least I think so.”

Harry snapped out of his reverie. “What?”

Malfoy turned to face Harry, teeth sinking into his bottom lip until it turned a dark pink colour that contrasted so wonderfully with his pale skin. “I’m not talking about it here,” Malfoy said. He seemed conflicted, mouth twisting and eyes narrowed, as though in deep thought. “Tonight… I’m going again tonight.”

Harry’s eyebrows shot together and he noticed that Malfoy couldn’t quite meet his eye. “Is this your way of asking me to come with you?”

“For my own benefit,” he snapped. “You need to know what we’re up against so that you don’t entirely fuck it up for me.”

Harry didn’t dignify that with a response, surprised as he was that Malfoy had offered to help him, help them, even if he had a selfish motive for doing so.

Harry turned his attention back to the enormous stacks that surrounded him. “How about we make this a competition?”

Malfoy lips quirked into a smile. “Deal.”

“If I win—”

“Like that’s going to happen.”

“—then you have to wear Gryffindor robes for a week,” Harry said.

Malfoy managed to make his responding smirk rather menacing. “Fine by me,” he said. “When I win—”

If you win.”

“—then I spend the Christmas holidays at your house.”

Harry whipped around from where he had been begun dividing the files between them. “What?” he squawked.

Malfoy didn’t look up from where his index finger was dancing over one of the pieces of parchment. “You heard me,” he said evenly.

Harry grappled with a response. “No,” he said firmly. “Absolutely not.”

“Fine,” Malfoy said, exuding nonchalance. “I suppose I just won’t bring you along tonight.” He flicked through a bundle of files without paying Harry a second glance. “Oh, and if I were you, I’d be careful where you decide to store your possessions in our dormitory.”

Harry rounded on him, his shock matched by his indignance at Malfoy’s nerve. “Are you seriously threatening me, Malfoy?”

Malfoy hummed non-committedly. Harry thought he recognised the tune from the Weird Sisters’ new song before quickly dismissing the notion; Malfoy would never listen to anything quite so generic.

Harry sighed. “Why would you even want to come to my place for Christmas?”

“Your marvellous company, of course,” Malfoy said, deadpan.

Harry was pleased to note that Malfoy was behaving as his predictably sarcastic self—it always mean that he was concealing something by deflection. Malfoy flicked his wand and divided the workload evenly between them.

“Why don’t you just stay at Hogwarts over Christmas? Or go to one of your own house? Or a friend’s house?” Harry probed.

Malfoy sighed, as though Harry was an insufferably annoying burden, and the entirety of his life problems would be solved if Harry would merely disappear. “You see, Potter,” he said, with rather less composure than before. He set aside one of the stacks, as though gathering himself to explain a very basic concept to very incompetent, ill-behaved child. “I don’t wish to stay at Hogwarts because I enjoy availing of every possible opportunity to get away from this forsaken school, and seeing it covered in snow and icicles does not make it any more enjoyable—quite the opposite, in fact. I also do not wish to go to a friend’s house only to either spend my time listening to frightfully boring pureblood rhetoric, or be propositioned to marry a distant relative’s daughter. You, it seems, are the final, if not completely tolerable, option.” He frowned. “Close your mouth, Potter, it’s frightfully rude.”

Harry coughed, loud and scratchy, but continued to gape at Malfoy.

He raised an eyebrow, suddenly looking slightly less well-composed. “So? What is your answer?”

Harry shook his head to himself, wondering why he had to be endowed with his mother’s good morals and Christian conscience. “I had better get my half done first, then.”

Harry watched as Malfoy took a single moment to process his response. He raised an eyebrow in mild surprise, and his lips quirked into a small smile before he lunged forward straight away, pulling the pile closest to him even nearer. Harry smiled despite himself and followed suit. He was interested to read the grades of some people he knew or surnames he recognised, but by the end of the first hour and with a quick glance at Malfoy’s slowly diminishing pile, he sped up. Malfoy kept surreptitiously sliding some of the files over to Harry’s side, to which he responded by throwing a crumpled sheet at Malfoy’s head. The entire time, Harry’s thoughts refused to let him stray from the notion of Malfoy in his house. It was a thought that strangely propelled him to move faster, and slow down in his work.

The proposition was absurd. Home was the Quidditch posters in his bedroom and the familiar smells from the pantry; the rickety furniture and creaky floorboards; the small garden where they spend summer afternoons playing Quidditch, and built snowpeople during the winter that Abrax would inevitably pounce on in a spur of suspicion and irrational jealously. Home was when Moony and Padfoot came by unannounced and they stayed up far too late talking and playing Wizard’s Chess; it was the way his father took his mother’s hand mid-way through cleaning up after one of their famous dinner parties, only to lead her in a gentle slow dance around the kitchen.

Draco Malfoy was not part of the equation. He represented the farthest thing from home. He was to be suspected, unreliable and arrogant, and played absolutely no part in Harry’s idyllic, if sheltered, upbringing.

Two hours later, minor sabotaging on both their parts, and a sore back from bending over so long, Malfoy finished first. After hastening during the final fifteen minutes, Harry huffed, leaning against the countertop in defeat.

“Well that was easy,” Malfoy said smugly. He swished his wand and the neat files flew back into the cupboards lining the walls.

“Cheat,” Harry sighed, envisioning his father’s face when he found out that a Malfoy would be sitting at the kitchen table for Christmas, all blonde hair and self-satisfied smirk.

“Nobody likes a sore loser, Potter,” Malfoy said. He stood up briskly, smoothed down the wrinkles that had gathered in the two hours of frantic work kneeling on the floor, and smiled. “Make sure to write to your parents to prepare a room, Potter.”

 

*

 

“You’re telling me that Malfoy invited himself to your house for Christmas?” Ron said incredulously. “And you let him?”

Harry sighed and rubbed at the corner of his eye. “Ron, that’s what I said.”

Ron grappled for a response, his mouth hanging open in blatant and indiscriminate shock. “But… why?”

“It’s not a question of why, it’s a question of how,” said Hermione earnestly. “Honestly, Harry, you can’t let him walk all over you.”

“I didn’t,” Harry insisted, warming his hands in front of the roaring fire in the Gryffindor common room. “I was the one who came up with the idea of a bloody competition in the first place.”

“Yes, but you let him dictate the rules of that competition, Harry,” she said patiently. Hermione set her book aside and crawled down from her armchair to sit beside Harry in front of the fire. The flames danced in a mesmerising, subdued pattern, spitting sparks periodically and casting a warm glow around the common room. “You just need to go back to your dormitory and tell him that the deal is off.”

Ron snorted. “I’m sure he’ll take that well.”

Harry groaned and dragged a hand down his face.

“Look,” Hermione sighed. “Catering to Malfoy is not your concern,” she said. “You may have felt some sympathy for his situation—”

“I did not!”

“—in the way that he framed his predicament, but that doesn’t mean that you have to let him stay with you over the holidays just because he caught you in a moment of weakness.”

“Hermione,” Harry sighed. “It wasn’t a moment of weakness, it was…”

“A moment of complete and utter insanity?” Ron suggested.

Harry threw a pillow behind him and heard a satisfying thump and Ron’s undignified squawk of protest.

“I just have to convince him that anywhere is better than staying at my house. Maybe then he'll back off."

Harry watched Ron and Hermione exchange a look.

“Rather you than me, mate.”

 

*

 

After feasting on a particularly delicious dinner of garlic bread and shepherd’s pie, Harry dragged his feet back up to his dormitory, sated and exhausted after a long day. Malfoy was already there, hunched beside his bed and sifting through his trunk.

“Where are we going, then?” Harry asked.

Malfoy ignored him, frowning into his trunk.

Harry rolled his eyes and wandered over to his desk, pulling out his Herbology essay on the links between Fanged Geranium and the Muggle War of the Roses. The howling wind outside, the constant sound of items being thrown out of his trunk, and Malfoy’s muttered swears dulled behind him as he immersed himself in his work.

He was scrawling his conclusion when his quill slipped from his fingers and shot into the air. He wheeled around, indignant comment about to roll off his tongue, when he saw Malfoy directly behind him. He stood bare-chested, eyebrow raised, with Harry’s peacock feather in his hand. Malfoy’s chest was as pale as Harry had anticipated—not that he had been anticipating what Malfoy’s chest looked like—and was lean, rather than thin. It has a strangely silvery hint, as though caught in a mesmerising light.

“What are you doing?” Harry said. His voice sounded foreign to him, breathy and flustered.

Malfoy eyed him cautiously, before nodding to the enormous pile of clothes on his bed. “Searching for something,” he said. “We’re leaving as soon as I find it, so get ready.”

“Just use Accio,” Harry said, rolling up his parchment.

“None of my belongings can be summoned.” Malfoy bended over the pile and threw his clothes and books back into his trunk. The view Harry was given shouldn’t have been as appealing as it was.

“I should have known you’d be the type to curse your own stuff,” Harry said. He tucked One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi back into his satchel and crossed the room, avoiding looking at Malfoy’s back muscles. He glanced through the circular window beside his four-poster and sighed at the sight of the murky sky and raging wind outside.

“We’re going to the forest, aren’t we?”

Malfoy pulled on his hooded robes and stuffed something small and pink into his pocket. “Yes,” he said stiffly. “Not another word about this until we’re out of the castle.”

The clock hadn’t struck curfew yet but there were only a few students lingering in the hallways, most having returned to their common rooms. They made their way down the tower and passed the portrait of Edessa Skanderberg who demanded loudly where they were going.

Silencio,” Malfoy said, jerking his wand.

Harry raised an eyebrow.

“She’s never liked me,” Malfoy muttered.

“Join the club, Skanderberg.”

They rounded the corner and continued down the Grand Staircase. They crossed the Entrance Hall and were almost at the great oak doors leading out of the castle when Harry saw a harassed-looking Professor Sprout walking towards them. She had a long piece of parchment in her hand and seemed to be reading it under her breath.

“Quick,” Harry whispered urgently. He shoved Malfoy behind a knight in shining armour, wincing at the momentary clatter of metal. He heard Malfoy grunt and tried to cover it up with a loud, almost obnoxious cough.

“Merlin’s beard, Mr Potter,” Professor Sprout exclaimed, looking up to find Harry directly in front of her. “Gave me a fright there.”

“Sorry, Professor,” he rushed out. “Just— just on my way back from the library. I was returning a book for that Fanged Geranium essay.”

“Oh, excellent,” Professor Sprout said with a proud smile. “How are you getting on? I’m sure you’ve got it all under your belt but you know I’m always willing to help in my free time.”

“Thanks, Professor,” he said with his best imitation of a winning smile. “Yeah, all good with me. Never been much interested in Herbology before all this practical work, you know. Mostly learned the theory bits with my dad. We can’t exactly keep Devil’s Snare in our greenhouses or the Muggle neighbours might start asking questions.”

Professor Sprout smiled sympathetically. “I’d imagine it’s not the same. That’s great to hear you’re enjoying it so far. If you ever need anything, my office door is always open,” she said. She lifted the parchment rather awkwardly. “Best get back to this. Good night, then.”

“Night, Professor,” Harry said on a relieved breath.

Professor Sprout passed Harry, returning to the piece of parchment and turned to go up the staircase. Harry waited a moment until she was out of sight until he motioned for Malfoy to come out. Malfoy emerged from the knight, wand in hand and looking very much like he wanted to hex him.

“Do you have any understanding how undignified that was?” he demanded, regarding Harry with a condescending sneer. “Without me, you’d be going into the first task without a troll’s brain about what to expect. Shove me into a filthy knight again and I will gladly let you go into the next task completely unprepared.”

Malfoy barged past him and to the double doors, thrusting them open. Harry fixed his robes angrily and slumped behind Malfoy, grimacing at the sight of the sheets of rain falling across the castle grounds.

“They’re not going to like this weather,” Malfoy muttered to himself. He stomped out into the rain showers and directly into a puddle. Harry followed.

“Where are we going, then?” he shouted over the wind whipping past them as they stumbled down a muddy patch near Hagrid’s cabin.

“Just follow me.”

They crossed the small pumpkin patch and reached the edge of the Forbidden Forest. They whipped out their wands and Malfoy barrelled forward while Harry teetered on the edge.

Malfoy turned around, his long, wet hair stuck to his face. “I thought you Gryffindors were meant to value bravery,” he sneered. “Hardly a redeeming quality when you don’t even possess it.”

Harry glared at Malfoy and shouldered past him, marching undeterred into the forest.

“You know you can’t expect to look intimidating with hair like that,” Malfoy called. “You look like a drowned Acromantula.”

They were more sheltered beneath the thick canopy of trees the further they ventured into the forest. Malfoy led them down a path with various markings on some of the trees, remaining within sight of the edge of the forest. If Harry strained his eyes, he could still make out the flickering lights of the castle.

They heard a sharp sound and the rustle of leaves. Harry stepped closer to Malfoy, eyes darting around them. After a moment, they heard the rustle again.

“I’m going to go over and—”

“No,” Malfoy hissed. “Why, in the name of Merlin, would you approach the danger? Just— walk. I’ll look ahead, you look there.”

Malfoy gripped the hood of his robes and directed Harry deeper into the forest while he watched the spot where they heard the noise. After ten minutes with no noise apart from the distant howling of the wind, Harry turned back around.

“We’re close,” Malfoy muttered.

They weaved between the thick trees and dodged the darker crevices of the forest. Suddenly, they saw a sudden flash of orange light in the distance. They edged closer, approaching from the side until they came to a small clearing about fifty feet away. There Harry saw a moss-coloured creature with a long snout crouched in a huge cage.

“It’s a dragon,” Harry whispered, horrified.

Malfoy narrowed his eyes at him, as though personally insulted by Harry’s tone. “A Common Welsh Green to be precise. Not nearly as dangerous as some of the others they have a bit further in the forest.”

“What? What others do they have?” Harry said frantically.

Malfoy huffed, rolling his eyes. “They have two others: the Ukrainian Ironbelly and the Saudi Scarlet-Tongue.”

“One for each of the teams, then.”

They spent the next five minutes quietly observing the Common Welsh Green, curled around herself in the corner of the cage. Her eyes were shut but they could see the steady rise and fall of her chest. Every couple of minutes, she exhaled through her nose, sending a thick cloud of smoke and sparks onto the charred ground around her cage.

“I called her Faunus because she tends to eat sheep,” Malfoy announced conversationally.

Harry whipped around and found an expression close to awe colouring Malfoy’s features, his eyes glimmering as he watched the dragon stir in her sleep. Harry desperately wanted to make a snide comment, or question Malfoy about his interest in dragons, or stomp his foot at how intangible he was. He remained silent.  

“Where are the dragon’s handlers?” he asked.

Malfoy sighed. “With Diane, I suspect.”

Diane?”

“Dionysus, but I call her Diane,” Malfoy explained quite contently. “She’s been unsettled the last two days so they tend to spend most time with her.”

“Right,” Harry said, still beyond baffled by Malfoy’s change of tone. “Can we see her?”

“Are you as thick as you look?” Malfoy said sharply, returning to his usual demeanour. “I just told you that all the handlers are with her. I can’t risk them seeing either of us.” Malfoy glanced at his watch. “Besides, I still need to finish practicing the Bird-Conjuring Charm for McGonagall. And so do you, for that matter. From what I saw of your practical work in our last lesson, a troll could have brandished his wand more precisely.”

Harry rolled his eyes and followed Malfoy back to the school, anticipating snuggling into his warm, toasty bed with Abrax curled beside him.

 

*

 

“So, what do you think about the task? They can hardly expect us to fight the dragons,” Harry said from his position lying upside down on his bed, revising the chapter on Undetectable Poisons in Advanced Potion Making.

Five days had passed since the night they had visited the Common Welsh Green for the first time, and they had since been twice again. Harry had seen the Ukrainian Ironbelly in the distance on a clearer night. Enormous, metallic grey in colour and boasting of vicious talons, Harry sincerely hoped that they weren’t confronted with him.

Malfoy finished fixing his tie before responding. “I don’t know exactly,” he said carefully. “I haven’t gotten close enough to see yet.”

“Well then what do you think we’ll be doing?”

“Stop irritating me and read up on McGonagall’s assignment,” Malfoy snapped. “I don’t fancy you causing my grades to fall because you can’t manage a simple Cross-Species Switch.”

Harry scowled, snatched his book and stormed out of the room, shutting the door with a slam.

Malfoy had been acting particularly volatile recently; every time they approached treating each other with something less than disdain he would shoot a snide remark or ignore Harry completely.

He grabbed a slice of scrambled eggs on toast before leaving for his Herbology lesson with Justin Finch-Fletchley.

“I heard that Achernar and MacFarlan are coming to the school today to give you your clues for the first task,” Justin said as they set their bags in one of the cubby holes in the greenhouse.

“How is it that whenever there’s a rumour, you’re always the first to know?” Harry said, pulling on his dragon-hide gloves. He absentmindedly thought that Malfoy would probably disapprove of such gloves.

Justin shrugged. “I get around. Besides, you’d better watch out for those Durmstrang lads. There’s no telling what they might do to try to sabotage you two before the competition. It would give them a bit of an advantage, you know?”

Harry sighed in agreement as Professor Sprout handed out their corrected assignments. Despite the ‘E’ in the top corner of his essay and the supportive smile Professor Sprout sent him, he couldn’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed by the sense of immediacy that accompanied the first task.

 

*

 

“Now, gather around, please,” Achernar said as they left the separate corners they had confined themselves to.

They were congregated in an unused classroom to, as Justin had correctly anticipated, receive their Triwizard clues. 

The champions huddled closer around Achernar. Harry felt Leif sidle in behind him. Someone coughed loudly.

“Alright, everyone, the moment you’ve all been waiting for,” MacFarlan enthused. “As you’ve probably worked out by now we’re here to inform you about your first Triwizard Task.”

“It will take place in eight days at nine-thirty and you will be required to meet us two kilometres north of the Quidditch pitch,” Achernar said. “Don’t bother finding the place before then as it won’t contain any hints as to what your task will involve. Everything has been pre-designed and Professor McGonagall has allowed for a temporary Portkey into Hogwarts to bring the set-up straight here beforehand.”

“Excellent,” MacFarlan said. “Now, for the task itself. It’s going to require sharp perception and, believe it or not, nurturing skills too.”

“Vhy vould we need to nurture?” Alexander grunted. “Is this not a tournament?”

Harry silently agreed with him. He thought back to the way Malfoy seemed to handle the dragons, cautiously, yet with a gentle nature. Perhaps they would have to mind the dragons, nurture and care for them in a way that would keep them placated despite their aggressive tendencies?

“It is indeed,” MacFarlan said. “This particular task just requires a different kind of thinking.”

“You’re also going to need to pack a small bag of belongings that will, naturally, be searched before you’re admitted into the task,” Achernar said. “You should include only personal essentials like clean clothes and very basic sanitary items. We don’t plan on reducing you to savages without toothbrushes for twenty-four hours.”

“Will we be allowed back to the castle at all during the task?” Harry asked.

MacFarlan and Achernar exchanged a look.

“We can’t disclose that just yet,” she said.

“We’ll take that as a no, then,” Malfoy said.  

Achernar turned towards him, her usually composed demeanour becoming rigid. She narrowed her eyes and clutched the files in her hand to her chest importantly. “You can deduce what you very well like, Mr Malfoy,” she said sharply, “but that doesn’t make me want to prove you right or wrong.”

Malfoy seemed to take a lot from her reaction, smiling knowingly and considering her for so long that MacFarlan looked away awkwardly. Harry couldn’t tear his eyes off the two of them.

“You’ve met my father, I see,” Malfoy said suddenly.

Achernar looked disgruntled but not particularly surprised by Malfoy’s response. “We had better get back to the Ministry. Good day to you all and good luck with your preparation.”

She left with MacFarlan, muttering under her breath.

“Well zat was not useful at all,” Clara huffed. “Zey might as well ‘ave told us nothing at all.”

Harry noticed that Leif and Alexander were already in deep conversation, both arguing in their mother tongue. When he turned around, Malfoy was watching him intently. Harry walked over towards him reluctantly.

“Are you surprised?” Harry asked. “It sounds like we’re going to have to care for one of the dragons.”

“Not surprised,” Malfoy said, eyes darting around the room. “Suspicious. It’s far too basic.”

Harry hummed, inclining his head to where Alexander was gesticulating wildly. Leif kept pointing to the window, in the direction of the Forbidden Forest.  “Seems those two have figured out about the dragons.”

“I know they have,” Malfoy said. He stormed out of the room without paying Harry a second glance.

Harry felt like throwing his hands up in exasperation. Whenever they approached something akin to restrained camaraderie, Malfoy pulled away fiercely from him. It was infuriating and always seemed to leave Harry with an unsettling urge to follow Malfoy.

 

*

 

The next morning marked one week before the first task. Harry awoke to an empty dormitory as usual, though, for some reason, the sight of Malfoy’s neat bedsheets and Cassiopeia and Abrax curled on top made him feel strangely empty. He showered quickly before casting a hasty Hot-Air Charm through his hair and pulling on his robes.

The hallways were mostly empty as students above second year and guests had been given permission to visit the village of Hogsmeade. Harry trotted downstairs, thoughts revolving around the prospect of spending a full day with Malfoy. Despite resolutely ignoring him for the entire previous day to the point where Harry was seriously entertaining the idea of hitting him with a Bat-Bogey Hex, Malfoy had suggested the previous night that they use the time to research in the library and visit the dragons.

“Morning Harry,” Ginny said as Harry sat beside her at the mostly-empty Gryffindor table.

Harry piled his plate with buttery toast and fried egg. “I’m going to need my sustenance today for dealing with Malfoy,” he grumbled.

Ginny laughed. “I honestly don’t know how you’ve gone this far without him seriously injuring you. You can’t be that good at blocking his spells.”

“Well, maybe I am,” Harry said with a teasing grin. He smeared raspberry jam on his toast. “Besides, he doesn’t try to curse me nearly as often as he used to.”

Ginny eyed him, cracking a mischievous smile. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he has a little crush on you.”

Harry scoffed loudly, shovelling a corner of toast into his mouth. “As if,” he said indignantly. “He treats me like Blast-Ended Skrewt dung on his shoe.”

Ginny’s eyes widened suddenly and she glanced behind Harry, mouth twisting. Harry ignored her, memories of Malfoy’s cold dismissal of him the day before consuming his thoughts.

“He may not have hexed me the last couple of days,” Harry said, letting all the instances of Malfoy’s nasty temperament flood back, “but he’s come close more times than I can count. He’s vile and arrogant and the second we finish this task he’ll go back to being the same prick he was before this tournament.”

“I’ll be in the library, then, Potter.”

Harry whipped around at the sound of a sleep-rough voice; the tone was laced with something close to forced nonchalance. Harry caught the sight of Malfoy’s slouched, retreating back, his confident strut not quite as confident as usual.

Harry’s heart sunk and he felt a heavy weight of guilt weight down his shoulders. “Malfoy! Wait!” he called, scrambling from the bench. He dropped his toast, ignoring the curious look Ginny gave him and ran along the central aisle of the Great Hall after him. He reached out to grab the sleeves of Malfoy’s robes but Malfoy shook him off.

“What is it?” he said impatiently.

Harry watched his upturned lip and his narrowed eyes.

“I— I shouldn’t have said that to Ginny about you,” he said quietly.

Malfoy sneered.  “If you think I give a shit what you think about me then you’re sorely mistaken, Potter,” he said. Harry noticed that the lofty arrogance that Malfoy usually exuded was faltering, though his voice was steady and spiteful. “I’m putting my dislike of you and every Gryffindor bastard aside so that I can get through this task. I’d appreciate it if you do the same.”

Harry felt the guilt in his chest subside instantly.

Harry rose up on his feet, glowering at him. “That’s fine with me so long as you’d actually listen to me for once,” he all but shouted. He hadn’t anticipated quite how loudly his voice would echo beneath the high-ceiling of the Entrance Hall but he found the ringing extremely satisfying, despite the attention it would undoubtedly draw. “Believe it or not, we’re supposed to work as a team. This isn’t just about you.”

“Well then stop bitching to Weaselette and help me so that neither of us get killed next Saturday,” Malfoy yelled.

Harry opened his mouth to retort before he saw Professor McGonagall storming towards them.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded furiously. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire school could hear you both.”

Harry had the grace to look contrite.

She glanced between Harry’s guilty expression and Malfoy’s sneering indifference. She sighed with something close to defeat. “I don’t know what you expect me to do,” she said. “You two need to learn to overcome whatever issues you have with each other if you have any hope in succeeding in this task.”

“’Elping your Triwizard candidates, are you, Mee-nerva?” Madame Maxime asked, gliding down the corridor towards them.

Professor McGonagall whipped around. “Certainly not,” she said stiffly. “I was doing quite the contrary.” She turned back to towards them, eyebrows pinched together. “Ten points from Gryffindor for shouting in the corridor and ten points from Slytherin for foul language.”

“But Professor—”

“No buts, Potter,” she said. “Now off you go and make yourselves busy.”

Malfoy snatched the side of Harry’s robes and dragged him towards the library.

“I can walk perfectly fine on my own,” Harry snapped, slapping Malfoy’s hand away. Harry marched ahead of him and into the Restricted Section of the library.

“Where do you suggest we start?” Harry asked, staring at the narrow rows brimming with shelves. He flicked his wand and a book entitled A Guide to Dragon Feeding Patterns soared towards him.

Malfoy pulled out one of the oak chairs and placed his bag on the table. “Not with that, anyway,” he said sharply, plucking it out of Harry’s hand. “We’re not researching dragons in general, Potter. They’re individuals. Those three have specific needs. We’re finding out what makes them tick and then we’ll work from there. That is, if your incompetence doesn’t get in the way too much.”

 

*

 

“I think I found one that gives instructions on how to block fireballs but I don’t know how effective it would be if we got the Saudi Scarlet-Tongue,” Harry called. Despite the fact that it was only him and Malfoy in the library, Madam Pince hissed “no talking in the library” with particular vigour.

Harry was kneeling on top of one of the tables, reaching up to grab A Comprehensive Guide to Blocking, Deterring and Repelling Curses on one of the taller bookshelves. “You see, there was this thing I read in my Muggle Studies textbook that said that a mad wizard once bewitched a Muggle cannon to shoot fireballs and it was used during one of the Muggle wars. I think there was something about how they blocked the fireballs with a particular curse that dragon-tamers use nowadays— What are you looking at?”

Malfoy’s eyes shot up from where they were lingering on Harry’s bum. “Don’t flatter yourself,” he said.

Harry scoffed inwardly.

“I remember Binns droning on about that once too,” Malfoy continued, unperturbed. “They used Exite Globus Igneus. There’s also wizards who work with dragons who transfigure fireballs too.” He frowned at Harry. “Why’re you even up there?”

“This book doesn’t respond to Accio so you have to get it manually,” he sighed, snatching the book only to fall back on the table. “The more you try to summon it, the harder it resists.”

Malfoy paused for a moment, apparently debating his response. “Put it back, Potter,” Malfoy muttered. “General dragon researching is not going to help us in this task; that’s what the Larsons and the Beauxbatons girls will do. We need specificity.”

’We need specificity’,” Harry mocked under his breath, Malfoy’s posh, drawling intonation so easy to replicate—and mock. “Fine. What do you suggest then, if you’re the expert?”

“Come here,” Malfoy said, taking a seat beside the window. Rays of light from the weak sun shone on the oak table where he placed a small stack of books.

Harry trudged over to him and curled into the floral armchair beside Malfoy.

“This here is a book on Middle-Eastern dragons,” Malfoy said, passing him a thick-bound book called Habitats, Enclosures and WelfareA Not-So-Typical Manual on Rearing Dragons. “Has a good piece on the eating habits and natural environment of the Scarlet-Tongue. It was badly translated from Arabic to English but you’ll get the gist of what’s being said.”

Harry noticed that Malfoy’s voice had become oddly mellow, speaking with ease and a gentler tone—one that Harry had never heard Malfoy use.

“This one is specific to Ukrainian Ironbellies,” Malfoy said next, handing Harry a book with a long scorch mark on the third page. “Think the wizard who wrote this was a bit of a fanatic. Started acting more dragon-like the longer he lived with them, according to his research partner.

“And this last one,” he said, heaving an enormous book with a strange discoloration onto the table, “specialises in dragon communication.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “You’re pulling my wand.”

Malfoy’s calm demeanour instantly became rigid and he glared at Harry. “This isn’t some kind of joke, Potter. Unless you want to get us burned alive next week, you better fucking read this.”

“So, you realise now that this is an ‘us’,” Harry said, pulling the first book into his lap. “That we actually need each other to get through this.”

“Well, considering that it required seven tamers to handle Diane last week, I’d imagine so,” Malfoy hissed. “I don’t need your spilled blood dirtying my hands just because you’re too incompetent—”

“No talking in the library” they heard from three shelves over.

“—or too proud to listen to what I say.”

Harry looked up to find Malfoy glowering. “I’m not too proud to read a fucking book, Malfoy. Just—never mind.”

He felt Malfoy’s burning stare as he busied himself reading but refused to look up. After a moment, Malfoy collapsed back into the armchair beside him and began practicing the Bird-Conjuring charm he had become so fond of. With the small trio of robins fluttering and chirping, and the morning sun bathing the illustrations in the books in a weak light, it was rather peaceful.

 

*

 

Two days after their study session in the library, Malfoy and Harry found themselves in the Forbidden Forest as planned. They snuck behind a Flutterby bush covered in nettles beside the small clearing. The sun was setting and they could make out the evening sky above the canopy of trees. They spotted the Saudi Scarlet-Tongue resting, the land around her crate charred and smoking in places.

“Keep low,” Harry whispered.

“Easy for you to say,” Malfoy muttered. He glanced up from the bush to check that the coast was clear before ducking down again. “Remember what I said: Diane is particularly vicious and she’s not acclimatising well to being at Hogwarts. Don’t do anything until I tell you to.”

Normally, Harry would protest to being ordered around, but he knew better than to question Malfoy when it came to dragons. From listening to him that morning explaining about their tendencies, their protective nature and their abilities, he could not only tell that Malfoy had an encyclopaedia of knowledge about them, but that he was also very passionate.

“Make some noise to alert her but don’t come out yet. She needs to know that there’s something out there before she actually sees you, otherwise she’ll go ballistic.”

Malfoy rustled some of the Flutterby leaves and stood on the crunchier fallen leaves, nodding for Harry to do the same.

They heard a sharp noise and a rattle of bars.

“Keep going,” Malfoy urged.

Feeling supremely stupid, Harry stomped on the ground and Malfoy tore a branch from the bush and snapped it into smaller pieces.

A deep rumble and the scraping of claws against metal.

Harry felt his pace quicken as visions of an enraged dragon flooded his thoughts. The prospect of approaching the dragon suddenly seemed foolish and like the precise thing that his father had warned against when he had told Harry not to do anything his mother wouldn’t do.

Malfoy caught his eye, inclining it towards the cage. “Walk out, right, but don’t look at her. Pretend to mind your own business.”

Though every fibre in his body urged him not to, Harry nodded tightly. The assuredness of Malfoy’s tone absurdly comforted him. They both stepped out from the bush, Harry keeping his eyes trained on the ground and inching closer to the charred ground. Malfoy yanked him back by the sleeve of his robes.

“Not that far,” he hissed. “Stay away from the burned leaves. It means her range reaches that far.”

Harry gulped, his heart jack-rabbiting in his chest at the realisation that her range had to be close to thirty feet and that he could just as well be burned to a crisp by now if Malfoy hadn’t pulled him back.

They heard a low, suspicious grumble and the sharp scraping sound of talons.

“Keep making noise and don’t make any quick movements.”

Harry’s hands, clammy and cold, tingled by his sides as he tried to navigate his way. It was rather difficult to walk with his eyes trained to the ground. His heart thumped and he felt his head become light as every possibility of what might happen flooded his thoughts. He was approaching a dragon— willingly.

“Try and stand up straighter,” Malfoy whispered as they passed each other. “She responds better to confidence, otherwise she’ll think you’re easy game.”

It took another five minutes of making noise, the constant sound of grumbling and rattling of bars behind them, before Malfoy deemed them ready to look up.

“She knows that she’s trapped and can’t chase anymore so she’s relying on breathing fire now more than she’ll be during the task.”

“Terrific.”

The corners of Malfoy’s lips quirked into a small smile. “You go first.”

Harry breathed out shakily, making sure to stay out of the dragon’s range, and glanced up. He caught the Saudi Scarlet-Tongue’s eye instantly, the blood-red pupils latching onto him. Harry was suddenly conscious of Malfoy’s presence behind him, how he was observing his every move. He stood resolutely still, trying desperately to maintain eye contact (while every muscle in his body screamed run!).

The Scarlet-Tongue clicked her teeth, sending sparks out and rounded her scaly body to face him, a thunderous thump sounding as her tail smacked the floor of the cage. Harry glimpsed a flaming red, serpent-like tongue shoot out.

She stared back at him.

“Potter,” he heard Malfoy say warily, “step closer to her. She hasn’t reacted yet so that’s a good sign.”

“You look up first,” Harry said, not taking his eyes off her milky irises, injected with throbbing, red veins. Despite Malfoy’s ambiguous explanation, he had a fair prediction of what might happen if he broke eye contact with the Scarlet-Tongue, one which involved quite a lot of burned skin and a permanent bed at St. Mungo’s.

Malfoy hummed thoughtfully. “Well, I’m rather enjoying watching you, actually. So I’d rather not for the minute.”

“Malfoy,” Harry warned.

“She seems quite taken by you, actually,” Malfoy mused. “I’ve lost all respect for her.”

“Malfoy, look up now.”

The Saudi Scarlet-Tongue hissed and her long, twisting tongue darted out. She scraped her nails against the cage aggravatedly, eyes flicking between them both.

“She’s just overwhelmed,” Malfoy said lowly. He stepped closer to Harry. “Stay where you are and don’t lean forward. She perceives that as a sign of aggression.”

Malfoy shifted closer to him until she no longer needed to glance between the two, her sole focus on Harry again.

“She won’t stop looking at you. I’m going to get your wand for you,” Malfoy muttered. “Stay exactly where you are and I’ll put it in your hand. Then step closer to her.”

Harry nodded minutely, eyes straining from the intensity of the Scarlet-Tongue’s stare.

Malfoy reached behind Harry, patting the outside of his robes until he found Harry’s pocket. Harry ignored the flush of his cheeks. Malfoy plucked his wand out and slowly lifted it into Harry’s raised hand.

The zeal of the dragon’s gaze dulled and her tail dropped sharply.

“Go now,” Malfoy said.

Harry took a shaky breath, steeling himself, and stepped into the charred area, sidling around the edge.

Malfoy made a noise of approval. “She’s lowering her body,” he said. Harry thought he heard something close to delight in his voice, leaving him with a strange surge of confidence.

“Keep going before she changes her mind,” Malfoy urged.

“You better come here too, Malfoy. If I get killed because of you then I’m taking you with me,” he said through gritted teeth. He shuffled closer to the cage, crossing the blackened tree-stumps and scorched ground. The Scarlet-Tongue closed the gap between her corner and the railing closest to Harry. He teetered beside a half-eaten carcass.

“Keep going!” Malfoy whispered gleefully. “That just means she’s prepared for you to come closer.”

Harry stepped closer again, inching nearer to the side of the cage. He felt the bizarre urge to start laughing at the delight in Malfoy’s voice.

The dragon leaped from her hind legs, sending tremors through the cage and Harry startled. He heard Malfoy step directly behind him.

“Step closer,” Malfoy said. “I have you covered if she loses her temper.”

Loses her temper?” Harry said incredulously. “This isn’t your Great Aunt Agnes getting annoyed at Christmas when even the best magic won’t salvage her burned turkey, Malfoy. We’re dealing with a fucking dragon here.”

“You’re worse than fucking Moaning Myrtle,” Malfoy muttered. “Just keep going. I have absolutely no inhibitions about letting you be burned alive.”

“Then why are you standing right behind me?”

Malfoy remained silent.

Smiling in satisfaction, Harry walked reluctantly closer to the crate, pausing after each step. He came to a stop five feet away from the corner of the enclosure.

The Scarlet-Tongue seemed to realise this too and let out an almighty roar, shooting a crimson flame directly at him.

Harry fell back, screaming “Exite Globus Igneus!” at the same time a huge body of water, with the power of a breaking dam, erupted from Malfoy’s wand. The explosion of water quenching the flames rose around them, consuming them in a vast body of smoke. They collapsed back onto the solid ground, groaning, their robes smoking in some parts and soaking wet in others.

“Get off me,” Malfoy grunted.

Harry pulled himself onto his knees and lifted himself to his feet, wand at the ready. The smoke around them was enveloping them but it seemed the Scarlet-Tongue had stopped breathing fire. He couldn’t see her behind the thick smoke.

“She’s either very angry or very intimidated,” Malfoy muttered.

“Let’s hope it’s the latter. Remind me why we’re here again?”

Malfoy accidently banged into him in the mass of smoke. “I said get off me, Potter,” he snarled. “We’re here so that you can get used to being around a dragon so I don’t have to sit through your funeral when I could be preparing for the second task. And maybe pick a shorter fucking spell next time.”

“Well, how about, ‘next time’ you warn me when Diane over there is planning on burning me to ashes so I can prepare my fucking spell choice in advance,” he shouted.

The smoke was starting to rise into the canopy of trees and Harry could make out bloodshot eyes staring through the haze.

“She’s looking at me.”

Malfoy seemed to perk up at that. “Okay, just— wait for the smoke to clear a bit so I can look at her stance. Don’t break eye contact this time.”

“I never did,” Harry snapped.

The smoke rose until a misty hue was left and there were only wisps of smoke coming off the burns of their robes.

Malfoy stepped closer, spotting how the Scarlet-Tongue was retreating to the corner of the cage. He watched the way her wings were turned inwards and her gaze was equally as penetrating

“I’ve never seen that before,” Malfoy whispered.

“Because you’ve had so much experience working with dragons.”

Malfoy ignored him, stepping nearer to the opposite side of the cage. “She’s responding to you astonishingly well.” He whipped around. “Come closer, Potter.”

Harry stepped to his right, still wary.

“Closer to her, not me, you imbecile.”

Harry’s cheeks heated. He muttered something unintelligible about a need for clarification. Malfoy narrowed his eyes at him.

Harry came close enough to reach out and touch the bar, the Scarlet-Tongue in what looked to be a low, crouched position. “What spell did you use just there?” Harry said, raising his wand as he edged closer.

“Aguamenti Maxima,” Malfoy muttered. “Basic Charms, Potter.” He observed the Scarlet-Tongue and Harry taking uneven steps closer. “She’s not going to attack.”

Harry nodded. Despite everything, he found comfort in Malfoy’s words. The firmness of Malfoy’s tone, though often infuriating, left him confident in Malfoy’s abilities. He moved close enough to poke the dragon with a long stick. “What do I do now?”

Malfoy paused. “Introduce me,” he said quietly.

Harry whipped around. “Excuse me?”

A low grumble.

“Maintain eye contact!” Malfoy hissed.

Harry wheeled back around, finding that the rumbling subsided instantly. “What do you mean, introduce you?”

Malfoy sighed. “You’re the one she latched onto first. She doesn’t trust you because you’d have to form a proper bond with a dragon for that, but she would consider you a friend rather than a foe should she be attacked.”

“Does she think that’s likely?”

Malfoy shrugged. “Depends on her lifestyle in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “You need to pull me over to her so that she sees that I’m with you. She’ll automatically latch onto the fact that not only are we together, but that you’re the one in charge.”

Harry almost laughed at the notion of Malfoy offering himself to be pulled over to meet a dragon. “I’m the one in charge?”

Malfoy tilted his head condescendingly, simpering mockingly. “Think you can act like you’re the one in charge, darling?”

“Fuck off,” Harry spat between his teeth, the pet name (despite Malfoy’s despicable tone) having raised the hairs on his arm. If there wasn’t an enormous dragon in their presence, Harry would show Malfoy exactly how well he could take charge when the situation presented itself. “I’m more than capable of—”

“Eye contact, Potter.”

Harry met the Scarlet-Tongue’s eyes once more, anger still coursing through him at Malfoy’s patronising tone. She had lowered her head significantly, huffing and sending smoke out of her nostrils. Harry shifted along the edge of the railing until he was close enough to Malfoy to reach out.

“Just make a big show of bringing me over to her,” Malfoy muttered. “And have a chat with her.”

“Have a chat? About what? The fucking weather?”

Malfoy glowered at him. “Explain what’s happening to her,” he said.

Harry yanked the sleeve of Malfoy’s robes. “Aha!” he called loudly. “Diane! Look who I managed to catch. You’ll have a great big feast tonight!” He lifted Malfoy’s arm into the air dramatically and made to drag him over to the dragon.

Harry caught Malfoy trying to stifle a laugh before breaking out in a low snigger. Harry trod on his foot. He pretended to drag Malfoy closer to the Scarlet-Tongue, whose wings fluttered, but she otherwise stayed resolutely still.

“Stop tugging.”

“You told me that I’m in charge, Malfoy,” he said earnestly.

“Well, consider this time the last time,” Malfoy said under his breath.

They closed the gap between themselves and the Scarlet-Tongue.

“Let go now,” Malfoy said slowly, “and look at me so that I can make eye contact with her. She’ll take that as a good indication that you want her attention on me.”

Harry pursed his lips, parting his gaze with the dragon and turning towards Malfoy. He heard a low rumble, could feel the slight tremors on the Scarlet-Tongue dropping her foot against the iron base of the cage from such a close distance, even felt a spark fly onto his robes as the dragon exhaled. He watched the side of Malfoy’s face; his sharp jaw and light, wispy hair, the soot and frayed pieces in his hair, the charred collar of his shirt.

Despite the fact that the dragon was right there, the only thing Harry could focus on was the heat emanating from Malfoy and the faint smell of charcoal and sulphur encasing them both. Harry leaned over to pick a small ash-covered twig out of Malfoy’s hair, or perhaps tuck one of the loose, blonds strands behind Malfoy’s ear to expose his jawline. As his arm was stretched, Harry caught himself at the last second and yanked his arm back instantly. What in the name of Merlin was he doing? Objectively, he knew Malfoy was quite striking—handsome, even— but fixing his hair? Watching Malfoy out of the corner of his eye when there was a ferocious dragon beside him? If Ron saw him, he would probably drag Harry to Madam Pomfrey without a second thought.

Suddenly, Malfoy laughed; a real, hearty, genuine laugh that shot through the still air like a bullet. Harry watched his eyes light up in wonder, his lips parting as he gazed at the Scarlet-Tongue. He caught the way Malfoy’s expression softened, his features becoming fuller, less pointy and strained.

“This is unbelievable,” Malfoy said, more to himself than to the other two. “See the ridges on the tongue? Scarlet-Tongues developed that as a mechanism to cope with the extreme heat. Happened over a—”

The sharp crunch of leaves woke Harry from his stupor and caught them both off-guard.

“…saw smoke from here and thought someone was handling it.”

“…surprised that she would get like this again, and with nobody around, too.”

Malfoy’s panicked eyes met Harry’s as the strong Scottish accent of one of the dragon handlers drew closer. When Harry blinked helplessly, Malfoy bolted. Harry took a second longer before stumbling over his feet and sprinting behind him.

The Scarlet-Tongue rounded towards the noise, which was emerging from the same direction that Malfoy and Harry had taken that afternoon. Harry caught a glimpse of her bringing herself to full height, wings inching open until they spanned wide and magnificent.

Malfoy and Harry darted through a dense part of the Forest, their robes catching on sharp branches, ripping and tearing. In the distance, Harry spotted something brighter, fuller.

“Do you know where we’re going?” Harry called, once he knew they were out of earshot of the dragon handlers.

“Obviously,” Malfoy said, slowing down to a light jog. He let out a huff of breath and panted lightly for a moment. “These trees are the ones at the outskirts of the far side of the Forest, about a mile and a half from Hagrid’s cabin.”

As they came closer to the light source, he saw an enormous moon, a chunk bitten off near the top but otherwise full.

The trees were sparser here, and the small animals scurrying along the track were far less intimidating in the late evening light.

“Think Diane forgives us for abandoning her?” Harry asked as they reached the edge of the forest. He watched Malfoy smile privately, that private one he could never help whenever Harry called the dragon by her name.

“Absolutely not,” Malfoy said. “We’ll have to do that all over again tomorrow, except his time I’m making eye contact first.”

“Don’t tell me you’re jealous of a dragon’s affections, Malfoy,” he said incredulously.

“I’m not jealous,” Malfoy spat. “I just can’t believe she can actually tolerate you. Typical that even a dragon can’t resist the Boy Who Lived.”

As he turned on his heel, Harry noticed a small smile tugging at the corners of Malfoy’s lips.

Chapter Text

After changing out of his destroyed robes, Harry wandered down to the Great Hall later that evening to find that most of the students had arrived back from Hogsmeade. The Great Hall was full of bustling students, some still clad in their travelling cloaks and heavy coats, exchanging Honeydukes sweets and Zonko’s products that Filch hadn't managed to snatch from their hands. Harry spotted Hermione and Ron sitting together at the Ravenclaw table, Ron laughing loudly as Hermione smiled around a spoonful of treacle pudding.

“Did I miss dinner?” he asked, collapsing onto the bench in a tangle of robes beside Ron.

“Yeah, mate,” Ron said. “Saved you a hunk of cottage pie, though.” He pushed a large slice towards Harry and leaned forward. “So, how was it? Ginny mentioned what happened in the Great Hall this morning.”

Harry’s heart sank at the memory, but he waved Ron off good-naturedly and helped himself to the cottage pie which was, as usual, delectable. “It was actually… better than I thought. We managed to get some preparation done.”

Hermione made a noise of faint surprise. “Really? Do you know what the task’s going to involve?”

A couple of students sitting opposite them quite blatantly paused their conversation and kept glancing over, trying to eavesdrop.

“I’ll tell you later,” Harry muttered.

“I’m just surprised you managed to spend a day with him and come out at the end of it without a visit to the Hospital Wing,” Ron said.

Harry hummed non-committedly. Though he hardly made for gregarious company, Malfoy had, in hindsight, been surprisingly prudent. He had certainly been far less inhibited when they were around Diane, and his reservations had immediately tapered off when they had come closer to her. Harry couldn’t imagine how he might have changed had the not been interrupted by the dragon handlers.

Students started getting up from the benches, sated and ready for a quiet night in after their visit to Hogsmeade.

“Where’re you off to now?” Harry asked, folding a piece of pastry crust in a napkin to bring to Abrax and Cassiopeia and slipping it into his satchel.

“Meeting with Professor McGonagall,” Hermione sighed. “Ernie decided to schedule one every week of term and it’s already starting to cut into my study schedule.” Her eyes widened. “Not that I don’t consider my position important, it’s just…”

“Your doing great, Hermione,” Ron said, looping a gangly arm around her shoulder. “I honestly don’t know how you manage to still be top of the class as well as all your extra duties.”

Hermione smiled and laced her fingers with Ron’s, looking quietly pleased. She turned to glance at Harry. “Where are you off to?”

“Library,” Harry said. “I have to get out a few books that Malfoy said I should read.”

Hermione narrowed his eyes. “You’re getting on that well?” His voice was curious rather than accusatory, but Harry still felt sheepish.

“No,” Harry insisted. “Definitely not. Not at all. It’s just— he knows his stuff for this first task.”

Hermione nodded but folded her hands in her lap, an indication Harry had come to associate with her lectures. “I wouldn’t trust him beyond that if I were you.”

“Of course,” Harry said easily. “There’s nothing to worry about there.”

“I’ll come with you,” Ron said. “I have to return a couple of books before old Pincers skins me alive.”

Madam Pince,” Hermione hissed.

Ron and Harry waved her off and out of the Great Hall. They passed the tall statues in the Entrance Hall and rounded the corner, passing the Grey Lady emerging from the library. While Ron busied himself with inventing an entirely unconvincing story as to why precisely he was returning his library books three days late, Harry wandered over to the Restricted Section, the piece of parchment with the books Malfoy prescribed him written in small, neat cursive, clutched in his hand.

Making sure not to draw attention to himself, Harry kept an eye out for the grey, fur uniform the Durmstrang students wore to make sure the books he needed to gather weren’t seen by any students from the foreign schools. Harry quickly piled the books Malfoy had listed into his arms and walked to the general section on magical creatures. The bookshelf was almost empty and every book specialising in dragons was gone.

Harry rushed out of the library, clutching the books to his chest, and ran up three flights of stairs and the winding staircase of the Right Tower until he reached their dormitory, panting heavily. He pushed the door open and saw Malfoy eating a sandwich moodily on his bed, reading and absentmindedly stoking Cassiopeia.

“They know,” Harry said with a light pant.

Malfoy didn’t look up, instead turning the page of his book and tickling Cassiopeia’s ears. She purred loudly. Harry felt strangely ruffled by Malfoy’s disinterest.

“All the general books on dragons are gone,” Harry huffed, throwing the books onto his bed.

Malfoy glanced over and counted the five books. He laughed darkly. “Of course they are. The Larsons have Vulchanova. And I could tell that Clara knew it had something to do with magical creatures the moment Achernar mentioned that we’d have to nurture something as part of the task.”

Harry gaped at him, slightly irked that Malfoy had failed to mention this crucial piece of information to him before. “Why are you accepting this so easily, Malfoy? We hardly have an advantage now.”

Malfoy rolled his eyes, flicking his wand and sending his book to land on his desk. “The books I told you to get, Potter, are the only ones you’ll need for actual theoretical preparation. The others might know that they’re going to be facing dragons, but it’s not like they know what breed, or where they are, or what they’re like. It’s only knowing particular things about them from actually getting to know the dragons that will probably help us,” he said. Malfoy titled his head, as though considering something, before adding “A book won’t teach you how to understand them individually or how to be perceptive or nurturing.”

Harry fell silent. He nodded, though Malfoy had turned his attention to back to Cassiopeia. “That makes sense, I suppose.”

Malfoy raised an eyebrow.

Harry ignored him and fell onto his bed, opening Protectiveness and Pride: My Year Living Among Common Welsh Greens. He was absorbed in the book, reading until the firewood had burned to a crisp and Malfoy had fallen asleep. He fed Abrax some crust pieces before he noticed Cassiopeia peer over at them. He sighed and wandered over to her, crouching beside Malfoy’s bed and opening his palm to feed her too. As her tongue deftly licked the remaining crumbs from his hand, Harry was sure he saw Malfoy peak an eye open to watch them, his eyelashes shut a little too tightly when Harry glanced up. Harry tried to quash the surprising warmth that spread through his chest.

 

*

 

“Alright! Alright, settle down now,” Professor Slughorn called, beaming at them over his slightly bulging belly. “Now I hope you all revised Golpalott’s laws because you’re going to be mixing antidotes for me today. I have a range of poisons here lined up for you,” he said, pointing to the various vials on his desk. “Now, one person from each pair come up here and select one of the poisons.”

Harry followed the Slytherin girl in front of him and Ron to the front of the classroom and peered over the small bottles. Some of the liquids inside them were bubbling and frothing over, others spewing steam, while one of them looked remarkably like tar. He picked a mossy green coloured one with an attractive sheen.

“Excellent! Now, take a few minutes to examine your potion,” Professor Slughorn said, walking around and nodding at each of their choices. “Then check for the presence of particular ingredients. Once you’ve finished, you can use the remainder of the lesson to brew a basic antidote to cure the major effects of the potion.”

Harry grimaced at Ron, unable to identify the main potion straight away, let alone any ingredients that had been excluded or included. “Well,” he said slowly. “I suppose it contains Hellebore leaves. They’re the exact same shade as that during winter.”

“Yes, good,” Ron said, squinting at the small vial. “And then those shiny bits at the edges could be unicorn hair.”

They set about conducting tests for certain ingredients and with a quick glance at Advanced Potion-Making, they identified it as a weak brew of Veritaserum with counteracting ingredients combined. Harry set about making an antidote hurriedly in the last ten minutes of class.

“Very well, that’s time up,” Professor Slughorn said. He peered over their bubbling antidote. “And what might you two have brewed for me today, Mr Potter and—er—Mr Watson?”

“An antidote to Veritaserum with Hellebore and Gurdyroots,” Harry said, saving Ron the trouble of, yet again, reminding Slughorn of his surname.

“Marvellous,” Professor Slughorn exclaimed, clapping his hands. “I must admit, this one was a little trickier to identify.” He made a note on his clipboard that looked like a clean circular shape. “An excellent job indeed.”

He walked between the other four desks, muttering under his breath about excessive reliance on bezoars.

“Draco! And Blaise, too!” Professor Slughorn exclaimed, rounding Malfoy’s long desk and peering over the rim of his cauldron. “I was looking forward to this one, m’boy. And what was it that you noticed about this particular potion?”

“It was brewed the same way as Amortentia,” Malfoy said, glancing at his potions partner, who Harry recognised as Blaise Zabini. “Contains Ashwinder eggs and Pearl Dust just like Amortentia and had the same spirals of steam but…”

“Yes, my boy?” Slughorn said eagerly.

“I was expecting a particular scent,” Malfoy said quietly. Harry thought that he heard a shade of disappointment in his tone. There were titters from a couple of students sitting behind Malfoy and he whipped around to glare at them. Trying to ignore the way his blood ran cold at the thought of a pretty, faceless Slytherin girl whose scent Malfoy found so alluring, Harry focused on smoothing the non-existent lines on his robes. The movement apparently caught Malfoy’s eye because he glanced over at him before dropping his gaze to his cauldron.

“Precisely, Draco, precisely,” Slughorn said, turning around to the rest of the class. “This brew here has the same physical features and almost all of the ingredients of Amortentia, as Draco rightly said. But Bundimun secretion has been added to eliminate the characteristic scent. I daresay you’re disappointed to have to wait until class is over to smell your lucky lady’s hair.” He let out a loud, wheezy laugh.

Malfoy looked distinctly unimpressed. Blaise snorted loudly and Harry could make out Malfoy jabbing his elbow into Blaise’s side.

“Now, then, what was your antidote to the potion, m’boy?”

“We brewed a normal Love Potion Antidote, Sir,” Malfoy said tightly, “but forewent the Wiggentree twigs because there was no powdered Moonstone to supply the particular scents.”

“Very good indeed! You certainly have shown quite a talent for this branch of magic,” Slughorn replied. He turned around to the class but seemed to keep his gaze between Malfoy and Harry. “Now, for homework I want you all to write a two-foot essay on the steps taken by Gunhilda de Gorsemoor in discovering the original cure for Dragon Pox.”

The bell rang and they trundled out of the class, Harry adding up the amount of time he would have to spend on his Potions homework on top of their three-foot Transfiguration essay on concealment of the Gemino Curse.

Harry spotted Malfoy lingering at his desk and stepped to the side to mutter, “Think that was a hint from Slughorn about dragons?”

“I’ve no doubt that it was,” Malfoy said, nodding at something Blaise said to him before waving him away. “Slughorn has never quite learned the art of subtlety.”

 

*

 

Their escapades to the Forbidden Forest became routine and they divided their time between the three dragons. Malfoy would take the lead with Faunus, the Common Welsh Green, and Hephaestus, the Ukrainian Ironbelly, while Diane seemed to prefer Harry’s company, leaving Malfoy to observe them both and take notes. The back of Harry’s neck always seemed to prickle when he sensed Malfoy watching him interact with Diane, hearing only the melodic scratching of his quill. Harry made his way through the books every night, Malfoy answering Harry’s questions, albeit unwillingly.

Harry found himself seeing less of the Larson twins and the Beauxbatons girls around the castle. When he wondered aloud about this to Neville during a particularly loud Herbology class when they were dealing with Screechsnaps, the boy nodded.

“Yes, I noticed that too,” Neville said, stuffing his Screechsnap beneath dragon manure enthusiastically.

“Excellent, Mr Longbottom, but do be careful,” Professor Sprout called. “They’re semi-sentient, you know.”

“Will do, Professor,” Neville called. “Hermione said that she sees Clara and Julia in the library whenever she’s in there, which is a lot. And I haven’t seen the Durmstrang champions in ages.”

Harry hummed. “Wonder if they’re checking out the location.”

“Have you been told it yet?” Neville asked. It always struck Harry that he rarely asked to quell any personal curiosity, but more often out of concern. The change was appreciated.

Harry coaxed two Screechsnaps attached together into the dragon dung. “Yeah,” he said. “Achernar and MacFarlan told us. It’s a little further than the Quidditch pitch. They said that they weren’t setting up before the morning of the task, though.”

“I wouldn’t put it past Vulchanova to have it all worked out for them already. And they’re probably just spending more time on that ship,” Neville said, trying to placate the Screechsnap squirming in his grip.

“I quite agree,” Hannah added from Harry’s other side. “You should just try and focus on yourself, Harry. You can’t change what they already know, so just try and prepare as best you can and avoid Malfoy at all costs.”

 

*

 

The morning of the first task dawned bright and early. Harry opened his eyes long before he was ready to get up and stared at the red hangings with gold trimmings above him, absentmindedly rubbing his thumb over the smooth, velvet fabric. He allowed the nerves to wrack his body for a moment before decidedly shoving the hangings to the side and stepping out of bed. The floorboards were cold beneath his feet. Harry glanced across the room. Malfoy’s hangings were drawn and Harry couldn’t spot Abrax so he assumed she was sleeping in Malfoy’s bed. For some reason, that thought reassured him.

Harry ambled into the bathroom, trying to ignore the way his muscles were rigid and his teeth chattered despite the Permanent Heating Charm in their dormitory. He stepped into the shower and closed his eyes under the searing hot water which cascaded over his shoulders. He revelled in washing his hair thoroughly, cleaning every crevice of his body; he knew that it would be his last time washing himself properly until the next day. He wiped the steam on the mirror and confronted his reflection in the mirror. The boy he saw had pink skin from the water, and his eyes were astonishingly green, and scared.

Harry wrapped a towel around his waist and reached out for his wand, directing a Hot-Air Charm over his hair. He stepped out, a cloud of steam emerging from the bathroom with him.

The first thing that caught Harry’s attention was that Malfoy suddenly sat bolt upright beside his bed, his eyes wandering over Harry’s body carelessly before he looked away and walked over to his side of the room. He pulled on his clothes, taking special care with the remnants of his burn mark.

“Hogwarts are going to win this task.”

That was a change Harry had noticed in the last two days; instead of declaring to everyone that he would win the first task, Malfoy had elected to say that Hogwarts would win it. Harry had a feeling that it wasn’t an unconscious change, though it was an annoyingly pedantic one.

Harry pulled on the fireproof gloves Malfoy had ordered for them the previous week and a form-fitting shirt with the Hogwarts crest that had been placed unsuspectingly on his bed.

“Stay still,” Malfoy grunted, raising his wand at Harry’s chest.

“What’re you doing?” Harry asked, slightly panicked at the fact that Malfoy was directing a spell at his torso.

“What I meant to do last night,” he said. Malfoy rapped the tip of his wand smartly on the centre of Harry’s chest. “Specialis Revelio.”

Glancing down hesitantly, Harry found that absolutely nothing had changed, apart from the acid green spark from Malfoy’s wand. It tickled his skin and he sighed with relief.

Malfoy did the same to himself and, when nothing happened once again, nodded to himself and slid his wand into his trousers.

Harry slung his small bag over his shoulder and made his way downstairs. “Want to get some breakfast before I start to feel sick again,” he muttered.

Malfoy nodded tightly. “Come back here straight after. The longer you’re exposed before the Tournament, the bigger the target you are for last-minute sabotaging.”

Though Harry rolled his eyes, as he made his way down the stairs, he silently agreed with Malfoy. Jogging into the Great Hall, he saw only a few Durmstrang students huddled together and an exhausted-looking Professor Trelawney pouring pumpkin juice into a goblet and spilling most of it onto the table. Harry grabbed two apples and two croissants before hurrying back to their dormitory, suddenly paranoid.

He handed half of his food silently to Malfoy. “What do we do now?”

Malfoy seemed to be in conflict about something. He stood up abruptly before sitting back at the edge of his bed primly. “I’m going to the site,” he announced.

Harry stood up in silent agreement, compulsively checking that he had everything with him. There was a sense of foreboding trailing after them both and casting doubt each time Harry thought about the task they were about to confront. They left the dormitory and walked in relative silence across the grounds towards the Quidditch pitch.

“Do you play?” Harry asked suddenly. It felt peculiar asking Malfoy a question for the sole purpose of finding out more about him; their usual topics of conversation involved dragon habitats or feeding patterns. He tried not to dwell on the fact that he was actually curious about Malfoy’s answer.

It seemed that the whipping wind, or the fresh air, or perhaps the particular day that it was, prompted Malfoy to answer rather than sneer or ignore Harry completely. “Yeah, I got on the team in second year,” he said, apparently taking delight in informing Harry of this piece of information. “Slytherin Seeker. We came second in the Quidditch Cup last year, only to Hufflepuff. Lucky snitch fifteen minutes into the game ended it. We should have won. We deserved to win.”

Harry smiled and kicked a tall tuft of grass. “Nice to hear that you’re not still bitter about it, then,” he said as the pitch drew closer.

The corners of Malfoy’s lips lifted. He proceeded to relay last year’s tournament in detail, with an heavy imbalance of objective analysis compared to personal—and highly insulting, if amusing—comments about the other players.

They marched across the boggier land beside the pitch until they made it to the other side and saw an enormous structure made of a dull concrete, low but almost twice the size of the Quidditch pitch in length. Harry stared with awe and even greater trepidation.

As they came closer, he saw that the entire building was divided into three main sections, with smaller rooms scattered throughout. A second aspect he noticed was that it was surprisingly loud; workers took no heed as they passed, shouting orders to each other, long pieces of wood and scaffolding soaring above their heads, and the last-minute touches being added to the building.

Even before they walked into the main entrance, they could hear two people arguing loudly in French.

“The Beauxbatons girls are here, then,” Harry muttered.

The interior of the concrete enclosure was far more welcoming; cream and honey tones and dark wood surfaces along the hallway. They were led to a large circular room for the champions with dark wood furnishings and a collection of armchairs, bundled in sets of four. Harry presumed that they were to accommodate teachers and family members.

Alexander and Leif stood behind one of the chairs, listening intently to Vulchanova, whose back was turned away from Harry and Malfoy.

They silently agreed to wait on the opposite side of the room to the Durmstrang champions. They sat in charged silence for a moment. All the fear Harry had effectively dispelled from his thoughts in the days prior suddenly returned and condensed, leaving him frozen to the spot. He trained his eyes on his knees and despite every rational fibre in his being urging him not to obsess, he kept playing the flash of flames and the deadly glint in the Scarlet-Tongue’s eye over in his mind's eye. The fear coursing through him was deafening.

Malfoy dropped his chin on his hands; Harry fidgeted with his robes restlessly, fingers twisting in the dark fabric.

“Would you stop that?” Malfoy said impatiently, placing a cold hand on Harry’s. “I’m trying to think.”

Only then did Harry realise that their hands were touching. He glanced up in surprise, stilled by the smooth skin of Malfoy’s hand. Malfoy yanked his hand away with such vigour that Harry thought it would come off its socket. Placing his hands sheepishly on his lap, Harry ignored the way his heart stuttered at the loss of Malfoy’s touch. Harry pretended to examine the fabric of the armchair, willing himself to focus on the blurring pattern so that he didn’t have to dwell on the feeling of Malfoy’s skin against his.

Clara and Julia came in half an hour later, collapsing into the armchairs directly opposite Malfoy and Harry. Clara glowered at them; Julia wiped the tear stains from her cheeks. She was subtle, but Harry still noticed.

Harry was about to politely move to any other seat in the room when he heard Malfoy, with complete lack of sympathy, say “There are twelve other armchairs available in this entire room.”

The door swung open as Clara rose to her feet. A young Durmstrang girl, a Beauxbatons boy Harry recognised as Clara’s best friend, Ron, and a Durmstrang boy with short, black hair were ushered inside. Clara was distracted and ran to her friend. He saw Malfoy latch onto that last Durmstrang boy, and vague memories of them sitting together at mealtimes flooded back to Harry.

“Harry!” Ron said loudly, pushing past Malfoy and the other boy and pulling him into a tight, one-handed hug. “How are you, mate?”

“What do you think, Ron?” he snapped. As Ron’s face fell, Harry felt a heavy, guilty thrum in his chest.  He shook his head, muttering “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ron dismissed easily. “Suppose it's a stupid question now. You’re probably bricking it.”

Harry nodded glumly.

“You’re going to do great, mate. I really believe it. And we’re all rooting for you,” he said, smiling warmly and pulling Harry back in for a hug. “Everyone’s got these ‘Hogwarts For The Win’ chants all lined up and rehearsed and everything.”

Harry smiled weakly. “Thanks, mate.” He glanced at his watch and sighed. “Think Mum and Dad are coming so you might see them in the stands.”

Ron’s face lit up. “Brilliant,” he said. “Think my Mum wants to come for the final too.”

Harry smiled despite himself. He couldn’t imagine anything worse than Mrs Weasley sobbing in the stands before the task had even begun; he knew that her worry would rival that of his parents. She would most certainly insist that he wear at least three more layers on top of the light shirt he wore.

Harry glanced at where Malfoy was muttering to the Durmstrang boy, but seemed to be staring intently at Harry at the same time.

“Harry?”

He whipped around at the sound of his mother’s gentle, relieved voice. Harry saw her auburn hair tied into a knot, the deep plum robes she always wore for special occasions, and the way her face broke at the sight of him. Something warm and familiar bloomed in his chest. Harry rushed over to her, collapsing into her arms.

“Oh, sweetheart, it’s so good to see you,” she whispered against his shoulder. Her grip was tight and steadying, rubbing the tense muscles in his back with ease. “My darling boy, you must be so nervous.”

“I’m fine, Mum, really,” he said, his words muffled against the collar of her robes. He let go of her reluctantly, noticing his father, who pulled him into a tight hug. “Thanks for coming. I know you said you would but—you know, it’s just—it’s really nice to see you.”

Harry’s father, who had been looking over his shoulder and frowning, directed his attention back to him and smiled. “Harry, we wouldn’t miss this for the world,” he insisted. Harry noticed that his dark eyes suddenly became quite reserved, as he apparently watched Malfoy behind them. He muttered something into Harry’s mother’s ear and they exchanged a dark look. Harry didn’t have time to dwell on that, however, as he felt Ron brushing past him.

“Hi Auntie Lily,” Ron said, kissing Harry’s mother’s cheek. He shook Harry’s father’s hand and allowed himself to be pulled into a conversation about the most recent Chudley Cannons Quidditch match that Padfoot had apparently placed a very high and very ill-advised bet on, as per Ron’s advice.

Harry’s mother pulled him into a quiet area. She rubbed her hands up and down the back of his arms, observing him with the expression of a concerned, if resigned parent. “Now, I’m not sure how long we’ll have before the task starts, but you must remember to stay alert,” she instructed. “These tasks are designed specifically to test you, and catch you out. You never know what they’ll throw at you.”

Harry nodded and squeezed his mother’s hand. “Don’t worry, Mum,” he said, feeling like he needed to convince her more than he needed to convince himself.

The door swung open again to reveal McGonagall, Achernar and MacFarlan, all looking a little wan.

“Good, good,” Professor McGonagall said distractedly, counting each of the champions. “Alright, we must insist that all apart from the champions and their teachers leave now.” She noticed Harry parents and smiled warmly at them, making a gesture that they would talk outside.

“Stay safe, my sweetheart,” Harry’s mother said, pressing a final kiss to his forehead.

“Trust your instincts only,” Harry’s father said, pulling him in for a final hug.

Harry watched their retreating backs, waving absently, and felt a sudden urge to follow them. He felt Malfoy’s burning stare on him as he turned back to where MacFarlan and Achernar were ushering them closer.

“The tournament itself will begin in half an hour,” MacFarlan said, “but the stands are filling up already so we cast a charm on this area to mute the sound outside so that you aren’t distracted.”

“As we told you the last time, this task will take place over a span of one day and one night,” Achernar said. “Your assigned stations will consist of one small room to sleep and place your belongings, and a large outdoor arena. We can now inform you that you will not be able to leave your stations while you’re busy during the task. Your task will cover a range of obstacles all centred around… dragons.”

Harry nodded, glancing around at the other champions. Despite Achernar’s attempt to convey suspense, Harry noticed that the reveal didn’t come as a surprise to any of them.

MacFarlan plucked a small brown bag from his pocket and held it in his palm. “Inside here are three vicious dragons you will not only have to find and confront, but also nurture in a way that will leave them in both the best possible state and habitat by tomorrow morning: the Common Welsh Green, the Ukrainian Ironbelly and the Saudi Scarlet-Tongue. Now, we’ll let the ladies go first.”

Julia pursed her lips; Clara breathed sharply and pulled out a miniature dragon with a grey coat and long talons—the Ukrainian Ironbelly. Harry breathed a sigh of relief.

MacFarlan smiled at them and turned to the Durmstrang twins. “Right, guests next.”

Leif nudged Alexander, who shoved his hand inside the bag and pulled out a green dragon with long, arched wings. Harry sighed anxiously, torn between relief and anxiety, knowing exactly which dragon was left.

“And the best for last, boys!” MacFarlan exclaimed.

Harry reached into the bag and pulled out a miniature version of the Scarlet-Tongue, the long, lizard-like tongue darting out and scalding his glove.

“Excellent,” Achernar said tightly. “The Common Welsh Green for the Durmstrang champions; the Ukrainian Ironbelly for the Beauxbatons champions; and the Saudi Scarlet-Tongue for the Hogwarts champions.” She whipped out her wand and three pieces of paper sprang from the tip, shooting out of the room. “You’ll have the next twenty minutes or so to prepare and then each pair will be accompanied to your respective stations,” she said, before smiling between them. “Good luck.”

MacFarlan winked at Harry and Malfoy before catching up with Achernar and waltzing out of the room.

Malfoy pulled him to their clutter of armchairs and sat him in a rather unsightly maroon-coloured one.

“So, we got Diane,” Harry said.

Malfoy seemed to prefer pacing in front of him in lieu of answering his questions. “Yes,” he huffed finally. “Listen, Potter, it pains me to say this but I need you to co-operate with me for this task.”

Harry frowned, taken aback by Malfoy’s abruptness. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do since we were paired together in the first place.”

Malfoy sighed impatiently. “I don’t— I mean that Diane responds well to you and I need you to listen to my instructions when it comes to her. I can’t afford us losing this task.”

“Malfoy, you do know I want to win this just as much as you do, don’t you?” Harry said with a wry smile.

Malfoy’s pacing halted. He leaned over Harry, his hands placed on each of the armrests, elbows locked. Harry shifted back in the armchair.

“I know,” he muttered, staring intently at him despite the fact that Harry’s gaze was trained on a small, dark stain on the armchair. “Just don’t fuck this up, Potter. And for Merlin and Morgana’s sake, keep eye contact with Diane until I say to stop.”

 

*

 

A foghorn blared beyond the confining walls of the small room where they were waiting. Malfoy kept clenching his jaw, eyes glassy and absent. Harry kept scraping his shallow nail beds along his thighs.

“Any minute now,” Malfoy muttered.

They had been brought to the tiny room fifteen minutes previously and told to wait until a single door opened. It would be their only source of privacy; somewhere to hold their small bags and take turns sleeping.

The door swung open. Harry gulped in the air rushing into the small room before stepping outside. The arena was enormous, covering a rocky terrain with sharp cliffs and small areas of sand, as well as a small lake of murky water. Tall stands surrounding the arena were filled with people shouting and roaring at them, waving banners and calling chants, but they couldn’t hear anything besides the trickle of water and each other’s tentative footsteps.

“They must have—”

“A Silencing Charm,” Malfoy said, inching closer to him.

Harry nodded, eyes roaming the crowd to find anyone he recognised, but they looked like colourful blurs at such a height.

“The others must have separate arenas, then,” Harry said quietly. “How big is this place?”

“Doesn’t matter now,” Malfoy muttered. “We need to find Diane.”

They ventured further into the arena, wands poised. Harry surveyed the open space, narrowing his eyes and peeking around the taller rocks. The far end of the arena was dominated by an enormous rock and a sharp cliff behind it.

Malfoy craned his neck, squinting at the vast sky above them. The arena was uncovered, leaving them vulnerable to the elements. “Maybe… maybe she’s not here yet.”

“Wait,” Harry hissed. “Listen.”

They heard a low, familiar rumble as they approached the steepest cliff behind the jagged rock.

“She’s underneath the cliff,” Malfoy whispered.

Indeed, they couldn’t see the bottom of the hard vertical cliff, drowned in darkness, and the grumble seemed to come from inside the rocks themselves.

“Think we can Apparate down there?”

“Worth a shot,” Harry muttered, prodding one of the rocks with his foot. It slipped underneath him and fell down the edge. He counted the time it took until he heard a resounding noise. “About three seconds so the drop could be anywhere between thirty and forty metres. There’s definitely a cavern because of the echo.” He glanced behind him to find Malfoy straining his face, his eyes shut.

“I can’t Apparate,” Malfoy said brusquely. “We’re going to have to get down there another way.”

He joined Harry at the edge of the cliff, grimacing. Motioning for Harry to follow him, Malfoy skirted along the edge, finding a spot easier to descend. He prodded the rocks to test for their stability.

“They’re sharp, so we can cling onto them,” Harry said.

“Yes, but we’ll still be in a bad position to defend ourselves if anything happens mid-way down the cliff.”

“Listen, this is already taking too long,” Harry said impatiently. “We’re supposed to find Diane; that’s part of the task. Let’s just get this over with.”

Incarcerous,” Malfoy said, pointing at one of the huge boulders. Thick, binding ropes sprung from the end of his wand, wrapped in knots around the boulder, and coiled at his feet.

Harry raised the ropes and directed them to wrap around their bodies, holding them underneath their armpits and thighs. Though the idea of climbing down the cliff, with the knowledge that Diane could be anticipating them both at the bottom, left his palms sweaty and his heart racing.  He took a steady breath, wand raised, and climbed onto a jagged part of the cliff. The ropes felt tight and uncomfortable around his body, burning his thighs. He clung to the sharper rocks and climbed lower on the rockface. He tried to keep his bare skin from the rocks, but kept having to cling there, leaving small cuts along his forearms.

They ventured further until Harry could hardly make out the top of the cliff, his view obscured by a sharp protrusion.

“I hear her,” Malfoy said lowly. The faint grumbling was becoming stronger and Harry noticed that the rocks here were charred and smoking in places.

They plunged deeper—as did Harry’s heart and sanity—approaching almost total darkness. Harry tried to still his heart thumping in his chest as he grappled down the cliff.

“Don’t use Lumos,” Harry muttered. He could make out a small body of water below them, touching it with the tip of his shoe.

“How deep?”

“Shallow,” Harry said, stepping into the murky water. He was barely able to make Malfoy out in the pitch blackness as he loosened his ropes. Harry lifted his foot to step out of the puddle into the dim cavern when he found it stuck. He tugged both feet but the water rose to his ankles, constraining him. He gasped, clutching the cliff on instinct to steady himself. He was panicked, tugging his legs desperately. With each heave, however, the water clung to his shoes.

“I’m stuck,” Harry said, heart pounding. “The water— it’s like a solid. My foot’s stuck.”

What?” Malfoy said in a strangled voice. A pause passed between them, Harry’s sensing a heavy weight settling on his chest, until Malfoy said in a calm voice “Try to tug your foot out.”

“That’s what got me stuck in the first place,” Harry snapped. “Just— don’t step into the water. Try to skirt along the edge.”

Malfoy leaped over the puddle rather gracefully and Harry head a faint stumble beside him. Harry could only make out his bright eyes and vague outline in the darkness.

Harry directed his wand to his feet. “Ascendio,” he muttered. He felt his feet rise inching out of the water until only the soles of his feet were stuck to the surface. He repeated the spell but his feet stayed firmly attached to the water surface. He groaned in frustration.

“What if—” Malfoy said quietly. “Let me try something.” He lifted his wand and pointed it in Harry’s general direction, straining his eyes. “Carpe Retractum.”

A long, purple rope shot from Malfoy’s wand and bound Harry around his waist. Malfoy whipped his wand back sharply, as though pulling a fishing rod from out of a lake, and the rope yanked him out of the water. He flew straight out and fell straight into Malfoy, their chests knocking. Malfoy stumbled and his back collided with the rocky wall. Harry followed suit, barely finding his footing in the pitch blackness. Even in the darkness, all-consuming and deafening, Harry could make out the mere inches between their faces.

“What’s with you and tying people up in ropes?” he said, pushing Malfoy off him firmly. He was briefly thankful that the darkness concealed the deep flush of his cheeks.

“Don’t pretend like you don’t like it,” Malfoy muttered.

An embarrassing sound escaped Harry lips and he managed to make it sound like a hefty coughing fit. He didn’t think Malfoy was convinced.

They ignored each other, stepping around the puddle and deeper into the cave. They were surrounded by persistent, drowning darkness but could make out a small ball of light in the distance. The golden light glimmered and seemed to flicker like a lighthouse, guiding them.

“This is ridiculous,” Malfoy snapped, after tripping over another rock. “I can’t see a thing.”

“Just keep looking at that light source. Don’t use Lumos,” Harry said. “Keep your head up and stop making noise.”

“No, we should be making noise,” Malfoy said. “That way Diane will hear us coming.”

“I doubt it’s just Diane down here,” Harry said lowly.

Lumos,” Malfoy murmured.

The entire cavern lit up, the rocky terrain at their feet, the hollow walls and the ceiling of the cavern that was entirely covered with a swarm of bats. Harry stumbled back as a thousand yellow eyes shot open. Before he could get to his feet a huge swarm swooped down and darted towards them, screeching. They latched onto their faces and clothes, piercing and slashing.

Flipendo!” Harry shouted, a loud bang erupting from the force of the spell. The bats swooping towards him were knocked back, fluttering as though battling a strong wind.

Malfoy, who had fallen back and was thrashing underneath them.

Flipendo!” Harry repeated with more vigour, pointing his wand at the bats swarming around Malfoy. The bats were blown back, flapping rapidly before the light from Malfoy’s wand faded and they retreated back into the cave.

Malfoy swore loudly, pulling himself to his feet unsteadily.

“What in the name of Merlin’s bollocks were you thinking?” Harry shouted furiously. “I said not to use Lumos and you—”

“Oh, quit complaining, it was an honest mistake,” Malfoy snapped. “How was I fucking supposed to know there would be bats?”

“In case you’re not aware already,” Harry muttered, rubbing his aggravated skin, “this is the Triwizard Tournament. They’re throwing anything and everything our way to try to trick us.”

“Well, at least I didn’t complain like Moaning fucking Myrtle when you got yourself stuck in that puddle.”

They heard a deafening sound, something between a furious roar and a desperate whimper, and a wave of heat washed over them.

“She’s hurt,” Malfoy said quietly. “That— that sound is like a cry for help.”

“Come on then,” Harry said.

They clung to the walls of the cavern, edging closer to the source of light until there was a split in the cavern; one turn was enveloped by darkness, the second leading to the light source.

“Did you hear where that was coming from?”

“No,” Malfoy sighed.

“We could wait until she does it again, but that might take ages.”

Malfoy nodded. “I think she’d probably stay closer to any source of light.”

“And at least we know there won’t be any bats down here.”

The ‘but there might be something worse’ went unspoken between them.

Harry led them down the tunnel, the ceiling becoming lower and the interior becoming narrower the further they ventured. Rocks jutted out at sharp angles, and the terrain was unsteady at their feet, leaving them to cling to the walls for support. It was horribly confining, though they could make each other out as the entire tunnel was bathed in light.

“We’re going deeper underground,” Malfoy said uneasily. “This route is definitely leading downhill.”

“Maybe the tunnel leads to another cave?” Harry said, though even he knew it was a weak argument. “I don’t know, I just don’t like the idea of going down the dark one. At least here—”

A hand grabbed his shoulder.

“Potter,” Malfoy said sharply.

Harry whipped around and saw Malfoy staring directly at the light source—a ring of glowing, wispy smoke—mere metres away.

Malfoy pulled Harry closer to whisper into his ear, eyes trained on the light. “That’s a Hinkypunk,” he said lowly. “They try to deceive you and send you in the wrong direction. And they can shoot fireballs if you come close enough.”

Harry’s eyes widened. The light looked inconspicuous but he didn’t think he imagined the way it seemed to change shape the closer they came. “Okay, we’ll just— let’s turn around and go back the way we came.”

Malfoy nodded silently, turning in the opposite direction.

“Unless that’s the obstacle,” Harry said quietly. “What if we have to get past it to find Diane.”

“I’d rather not risk it. There’s no point trying to get past it if we aren’t certain—”

“But isn’t it worth a shot while we’re here? We’re wasting time by going back the way we came.”

“I’m not sure how you spend your free time, Potter, but I’d rather spend half an hour finding the safer route than be assaulted by fireballs,” Malfoy said.

“But at least we can rule one option out if we go this way,” Harry insisted.

They heard sizzling sound and a fireball the size of a watermelon whizzed past them, skimming Malfoy’s sleeve, singing it and missing the tips of his blonde hair by millimetres.

“DUCK!” Harry shouted.

A second fireball shot faster than the first, heading straight where Harry’s head had been a second beforehand.

Aguamenti,” Malfoy muttered, pointing his wand at his sleeve. “Come on, we need to get out of here.”

Harry shoved him out of the way as a third fireball darted at him, banging off the walls of the cave. “Come on, we need to get past it,” he said. “I have a feeling that’s part of the obstacle.”

“I swear to Merlin if you’re wrong about this—”

Exite Globus Igneus!”

The fireball stopped, suspended in mid-air before collapsing into the rock, creating a hissing, fiery crater in the ground.

“Hurry up!”

They jumped over the hollowed fireball and scampered along the detached, rocky ground. Harry dodged the final fireball until they shoved passed the Hinkypunk and rounded the corner. They were instantly surrounded by darkness, but the air in here was swelteringly hot.

“She must be close,” Malfoy muttered.

They stepped further into the cave, pressing closer together as the gap between the walls became thinner, forcing Malfoy to walk behind him. Harry became uncomfortably conscious of just how close they were in the stifling heat. The pitch darkness, too, seemed to make him particularly susceptible to missing a step and falling into Malfoy. He hastily quickened his pace.

“It’s boiling down here,” Malfoy muttered, pulling off his outer layer and tying it briskly around his waist. “There has to be something other than just Diane down here to make it this hot.”

By the time they reached the end of the tunnel, they were panting and sweating profusely, shoulders and chests glistening; Malfoy had even cut off his trousers at the knee.

What?” Malfoy demanded, kicking the solid wall of rock. “This can’t possibly be the end of the tunnel.”

“Maybe there’s a rock we have to pull or something. Like a concealed door.”

They felt along the walls, patting and prodding the rocks but the wall didn’t budge.

Alohomora,” Harry said desperately. The wall remained firmly intact.

“I refuse to believe that this is the end,” Malfoy said petulantly.

Harry rolled his eyes, collapsing against the wall. He yelped loudly. “Fuck,” he hissed, leaping away. “That rock— it’s boiling hot.”

Malfoy wheeled around. He stared at the rock and yanked his wand out of his pocket, pointing it directly at the rock. “Wingardium Leviosa.”

The boulder shifted and shoved the wall constraining it in position, rubble crumbling down until it broke free. Malfoy made a sharp jabbing motion, lunging forward with his entire body, and the rock retreated back.

They were hit with a wave of scorching heat. Harry’s jaw dropped as he peeked behind the rock. The sight before them was like nothing they had even seen. The cavern was enormous, at least twice the size of the Great Hall and three times as tall. Harry felt his pulse quicken as he saw Diane at the centre of a huge ring of fire, the flames rising higher than her height. She was curled around herself and visibly trembling, even from a distance.

“She’s injured,” Malfoy said. He lowered himself from the edge of the sheer drop, Harry following.

“Wait!” Harry said suddenly. “Think about this. They would never injure her on purpose. So… either she’s somehow injured herself down here or they artificially injured her.”

“What does it matter?” Malfoy said sharply. “The objective is obviously to heal her. We’re wasting time talking about it. We need to concentrate on getting closer and then we can extinguish the fire.”

Harry felt a sharp surge of anger at Malfoy’s dismissal. He followed behind him, his mind playing every possible scenario in which Diane might have been injured. He knew that he was right, but Malfoy was as resolutely stubborn as ever.

They tried to jog closer but the sweltering heat became unbearable, leaving them to amble along.

“How are we supposed to extinguish it?” Harry huffed.

Malfoy didn’t answer, instead frowning at the flames, scanning something inside them. “She didn’t make them,” he said under his breath.

“What?”

“Diane didn’t make them,” he repeated. “They’re not her flames. As I understand, they look very similar to Salamander fires.”

Harry turned around and watched the soaring flames, straining his eyes. Indeed, he could see glowing red shells of hundreds of Salamanders at the base of the flames. He glanced behind him and found Malfoy sitting on the ground, hunched over and directing his wand in a strange circular motion.

“What’re you doing?”

Malfoy ignored him, eyebrows pinching together as he concentrated on something in front of him. Harry crouched beside him and saw that he was carving something into the stone itself.

“There,” he sighed eventually. He glanced up at Harry’s confused expression. “It’s a list of Salamander uses. Salamander blood is really useful in remedies and potions.”

“You think they’re there on purpose? For us to use to heal her?”

Malfoy pulled himself to his feet, wiping a layer of sweat off his forehead. “I don’t know. Just— don’t extinguish the fire. We’re going to have to find a different way to get to her,” he said eventually.

They didn’t dare edge closer to the flames, instead observing the fire. Harry noticed Malfoy wince and fidget with his wand every time the Scarlet-Tongue grumbled in pain.

“If we quench the Salamander fires,” Harry said after minutes of fruitless observation, “they die instantly, right?”

Malfoy nodded stiffly as Diane let out another cry, curling more tightly around herself.

“What if we somehow take a couple of Salamanders out of the fire and collect their blood—enough to make whatever potion you think will cure Diane—and then extinguish it?”

Malfoy pursed his lips, huffing through his nose. “Yes,” he said eventually, “that could work. But I have no idea what’s wrong with her.”

“What’s the most amount of Salamander blood you’d need for a dragon potion?” Harry asked, already considering spells that could extinguish flames of that magnitude.

“I’m not a consulting Potions Master, Potter,” Malfoy snapped. He leaned back on his elbows, turning away as a smothering wave of heat rolled over them. “Three pints, maybe,” he sighed eventually. “I can’t imagine any potion for someone her size would need anything more.”

“Fine,” Harry sighed. “Three pints, that’ll be…”

“No more than five Salamanders.”

A reverberating roar send some of the flames higher and the Scarlet-Tongue breathed fire at the flames in frustration. Harry noticed from her movement that she had noticed them both, but her concern remained on her wound. Harry took this as a sign that she was seriously injured.

“Let’s get this over with.”

Harry paused to spot Malfoy as he watched Diane for a moment, the way she had coiled her body to protect herself and taken no heed of their presence. At Malfoy’s affirmative nod, they separated, each taking the opposite side of the flames.

“We’ll make this quick, alright?” Harry shouted.

Malfoy gave an affirmative sign and they raised their wands in unison, gripping tightly and yelling “Ignem Extinguere.”

The flames subdued, retreating into the ground. Harry didn’t look at the Salamanders, focusing instead on taming the roaring flames until, with a final thrust of his wand, the flames only reached their ankles. Harry glanced across the flames and saw Malfoy, his chest glistening and biceps straining as he made a quick sweeping motion with his wand until the flames were completely extinguished. They both ignored the smoking remains encircling the Scarlet-Snout and rushed towards her.

Harry tried to meet her eyes but they were shut tight, her head resting against her tail.

“She’s too distressed to even protect herself,” Harry whispered anxiously. “She’s not even opening her eyes.”

Malfoy approached her long neck, pressing the tip of his wand firmly against it. He shut his eye and muttered something very rapidly under his breath. Harry had the vague impression that he was counting in a foreign language.

“She’s dropping in and out of consciousness,” Malfoy muttered.

Harry walked around her, inspecting her as Malfoy tried to find a steady heartbeat.

“Draco!” he said suddenly. He realised that it was the first time he had ever uttered his first name but, seeing the glimmer of hope in Malfoy’s eye as he rushed over to him, he didn’t think Malfoy noticed. Harry’s heart stuttered in his chest. Harry pointed to the exterior of Diane’s thigh.

“Her leg,” Malfoy whispered. “It’s swollen with some kind of… infection.”

The entirety of the Scarlet-Tongue’s short front leg was inflated and visibly throbbing.

Harry watched how the colour drained out of Malfoy’s face. It suddenly seemed unbearably cold in the cavern without the Salamander fires, the sweat drying on their skin along with a thick layer of grime and dust. He bent down beside Malfoy.

“It looks like she’ll need a Deflating Draught,” Harry said carefully. “That contains—”

“Yes,” Malfoy whispered. “It contains Salamander blood.”

Harry gasped. “And bat spleen too!”

Malfoy turned around and startled when he saw how closely Harry was crouching. “We can— yes! Back further in the cave. And water—we can use Aguamenti for that—and… dittany.”

Harry’s heart fell and his mouth twisted dejectedly. “Think there might be some dittany plant here?” he asked sanguinely.

Malfoy shook his head. “Not underground and I didn’t see any plants growing on the rocks.”

“We could summon some.”

“Not from down here and unless you know exactly where—”

“I know how summoning works,” Harry snapped.

Malfoy shot him an exasperated look. “We need to start on the basic solution,” he said firmly. “With or without the dittany the swelling will still go down, it’s just that the whole wound won’t heal properly.”

Harry nodded. “You stay with Diane and I’ll get the bat spleen,” he said, turning on his heel to return the same direction they came.

“No!” Malfoy called. He looked conflicted, his mouth set in a firm line, not quite meeting Harry’s eyes. “Diane likes you. She responded well to you the first time. And that was after she’d been breathing fire at the handlers she’s known for years.”

Harry was taken aback but shook his head. “I can’t— I don’t know what to do to help her. At least you can identify what she feels and what’s wrong with her.”

Malfoy shook his head, rising to his feet “That’s not going to help her right now. Just keep using a basic charm to control some of the swelling until I get back,” he said. Malfoy paused, brushing his fingers gently over the hard shell covering Diane’s back. “And… talk to her. Like you did last week. She’ll… she’ll recognise your voice.”

Harry’s response was caught in the back of his throat. “Okay,” he said. For some reason, he wanted to say something to Malfoy; something that would save his conscience from the terrible guilt he felt for staying behind.

Malfoy nodded once, his eyes following Harry’s movements as he kneeled beside Diane and began murmuring “Reparifors” and directing the thread-like light around the most severe swelling. He turned away and jogged towards the tunnel. Harry ignored his sudden urge to chase after Malfoy.

 

*

 

“It’s almost ready,” Malfoy called, making periodic circular motions with his wand over the steaming cauldron.

“And then, Ron brought over this huge group of friends on the first day of the holidays—I don’t know how he managed to get that popular in the space of a couple of months, to be honest—and one of them had a Firebolt Premier. We all took turns using it. It was unbelievable. It felt so light and precise; almost like it could anticipate my next move,” Harry said. He stroked Diane’s back, something that Malfoy told him she enjoyed. “I’m sure it’s nothing compared to what you’re capable of, Diane. Can’t imagine what it would be like to soar above forests and seas and be able to roam free.”

He heard Malfoy’s footsteps approaching and closed his mouth, resuming the stroking that seemed to soothe her. “I said talk to her, not gossip about your summer holidays,” Malfoy said, but Harry could see a small smile dancing across his lips.

Malfoy got onto his hunkers beside him, and placed the hastily-transfigured cauldron at his feet. “We’re going to have to apply it quickly,” he said, whipping his wand out and hovering some over the most severe swelling.

“Malfoy, wait!” Harry said, covering Malfoy’s hand with his own. He yanked it back when he felt Malfoy freeze under his touch. “I—you can’t apply it there first. Deflating Draught needs to go around the very edge first and you need to make your way closer and closer to the middle. Otherwise the swelling will just become uneven.”

Malfoy eyed him for a moment before conceding. “I suppose having Hermione Granger as a friend does present its perks every so often,” he mumbled.

Harry let out a sharp puff of laughter.

Malfoy nodded at him to carry out the same motion. Between the two of them, they managed to apply the entire Deflating Draught in less than an hour. By the time they had finished, Diane had begun to breathe more heavily, but normally. She sent sparks and sharp puffs of steam out of her nostrils and even shifted her wings to a more comfortable position. She let out a strange noise of satisfaction, something unnervingly similar to a long, drawn-out moan that echoed through the chamber and sent Harry into a fit of laughter. Malfoy wore a bemused expression at the sound before glancing over at Harry and smiling despite himself.

Hearing Malfoy’s low chuckles, Harry broke into uncontrollable laughter. The sound rang through the cavern should have been eerie and misplaced but it left Harry with a smile on his face. The sound of Malfoy’s unabridged laughter was something of a rarity.

Eventually, their laughter subsided and Harry was left watching Diane intently and avoiding looking at Malfoy. Their proximity was enough to leave Harry’s skin hot and scratchy and he didn’t need to make matters worse by initiating eye contact with Malfoy, something that always left him simultaneously unnerved and yearning for more. He shook his head at his train of thought and tried to focus on the task ahead of them.

“She’s asleep,” Malfoy said eventually, after they had spent the better part of two hours waiting for the swelling to subside. “I really think we need to find some dittany. It’s just— it’s too obvious a remedy for it not to be necessary. I think he judges will expect it.”

“I know,” Harry sighed. “Slughorn’s potions store is bound to have some but I’ve never tried summoning from that distance and I don’t even know what it looks like.”

“We could— we could always go back to the school,” Malfoy said slowly.

Harry narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“The potions store is bound to have some, like you said. We could sneak in and take it.”

Harry shook his head. “Anyone in the school will see us right away. And besides, they’ll know we took it, too. We’ll be disqualified.”

“No,” Malfoy said, turning towards him. “Only Slughorn will know. He already gave us a hint in our last Potions lesson, remember? The dragon blood essay? The antidote practical work?” Malfoy crossed his arms firmly. “He wants us to win. We just can’t get caught stealing by anyone besides Slughorn himself.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Well, how do you plan on going back to the school?” he said incredulously. “There’s an entire arena watching our every move.”

Malfoy opened his mouth but fell silent. He pursed his lips and heaved a sigh. “Fine,” he muttered.

“We could do more exploring, I suppose,” Harry said. “Now that we found Diane, they’re bound to throw something else at us so we might as well confront it before nightfall.”

Malfoy looked reluctant but eventually nodded. He stood to his feet and brushed the dust from his shins. “Lead the way, then, Potter.”

They wandered back out the same direction they arrived, prepared this time to dodge the Hinkypunk and bats. By the time they reached the outdoors again, sidestepping the puddle, it was late in the evening. They made their way back up the sheer cliff, keeping a watchful eye out for any danger or dittany plants.

“I’m absolutely exhausted,” Malfoy said eventually, after they had made their way twice around the rocky terrain to no avail. Most of the crowd had left, others still shouting and calling their names whenever they looked up. Harry felt strangely lonely, seeing them shout words of encouragement but not hearing a word that left their mouths.

“I don’t think there’s anything here apart from rocks,” Harry muttered, sitting on one of the larger boulders with a defeated sigh.

“Well, where else are we supposed to find any plant or ingredient with any healing properties?” Malfoy said.

Harry hummed thoughtfully. “The only thing I can think of is the other tunnel in the cave that we didn’t go down.”

“You mean the one I said we should go down?” Malfoy said, crossing his arms smugly.

“Hey, if we didn’t pass the Hinkypunk like I said then we never would have found Diane,” Harry said.

Malfoy surveyed the huge area around them, raising his wand and muttering under his breath.

“What’re you doing?”

“Looking for a way to get underground other than that cliff,” Malfoy muttered. “There has to be a different way.”

Harry pulled himself to his feet and stood beside him. “Revelio,” he said, twisting his wand and dragging the blue light across the terrain.

The large boulders remained still but the small lake of murky water near the edge of the arena began to swirl into a turbulent whirlpool. Malfoy caught onto Harry’s spell and repeated it, both of them drawing up the body of water until it grew, crashing outwards. Harry stumbled back and noticed Malfoy’s mouth, the way his eyes narrowed and jaw tightened in concentration. The tall rocks surrounding the rapidly increasing body of water confined it to the size of a deep swimming pool, settling at an enormous height.

“What in the name of Merlin’s baggy Y-fronts?” Harry whispered, staring up at the huge lake that had risen from the ground. “The dittany… it must be there, underwater.”

“Come on,” Malfoy said, making his way to the lake. He jumped over a small gathering of rocks and began climbing one of the boulders keeping in the water.

Harry spent a minute watching Malfoy stretching his body, leaning and reaching as he climbed up the boulder, before Malfoy’s shout broke him out of his stupor. He leaped over the pile of rocks and caught up with Malfoy, climbing close behind him. They were at almost eye-level with the spectators in the lowest stands up here. Harry spotted a couple of young Hogwarts students waving their scarves in the air, their mouths opening and closing in unisons, as though shouting a chant, though Harry could hear nothing  but Malfoy’s laboured breathing. Once he reached the top, Malfoy held out his hand and helped him up the last metre, much to both of their apparent surprise. Harry clambered to his feet and stared in awe at the dirty, opaque water.

“Can you see anything inside it?” Harry asked.

Malfoy shook his head. “Tergeo,” he said, pointing his wand at the lake. The murkiness disappeared instantly, leaving clear water with a strange, brown tint at the base.

 

“That must be the dittany,” Harry said, nodding at the brown plants. “Accio dittany.”

The water stayed perfectly still.

“You’ll have to swim down to get it,” Malfoy said, sitting on one of the rock ledges.

Harry raised an eyebrow. He would have offered to retrieve it but the tone of Malfoy’s command irritated him. “And why should I have to do it?”

“We need one person to stay up here in case something goes wrong,” he said simply. He suddenly became very interested with the pattern on one of the rocks. “And besides… I heard you telling Diane that you live on the coast and you go swimming there during the summer.”

Harry’s cheeks burned. His thoughts lingered on the fact, not only that Malfoy had been listening to their conversation, but that he had remembered that insignificant detail about him.

“Fine,” Harry muttered. He pulled off his shirt, shoes and slit the ends of his trousers until he was left shivering in the evening wind. He caught Malfoy’s gaze following the curve of his stomach, the contours of his back and the dip of his collarbones.

“Think you can concentrate long enough to save me from any Grindylows, Malfoy?”

Malfoy’s eyes flicked up, smirking. He didn’t even have the grace to pretend to feel guilty. “Let’s get this over with, Potter,” he muttered.

Harry skirted carefully around the edge of the lake, wand clutched in his hand. He dipped his toe in the water, finding it surprisingly warm. He gripped his wand tightly, and slid into the water in one swift movement. From this angle, he could see the dittany more clearly, the fresh green spikes and long, bundled leaves. He glanced behind him to find Malfoy crouched at his side. Harry breathed deeply and plunged underwater.

Although the water was clear and pleasantly warm, he could barely make out more than the faint, blurry plants ten feet below him. He swam downwards, ignoring the pounding of his head, and reached out, snatching the tip of one of the plants. He tugged sharply, unearthing a hefty stem and swam lower, feeling around the base of the water to push off. His leg got caught on something slippery. He yelped, swallowing water, and wrenched his foot away. He broke free, but not before he felt something curl around his ankle, smooth and pulsating. He had only caught a glimpse of a tentacle tightening before he lashed his wand roaring “Flipendo!”.

The word was drowned out and the weak of blue light dissipated, fading into darkness. He tried to conjure the spell non-verbally but he was rapidly losing the ability to do so in the creature’s grip. He reached up, trying to swim with it still clinging to his leg, inching higher around him, suffocating his calf such that he could only kick with his left leg.

A flash of blue light streaked past him but missed the Selkie by inches. Harry was fast dropping out of consciousness, muttering “Ascendio” under his breath, weakly pushing the Selkie off him. Something sharp pierced his upper thigh, Harry felt the dittany slip out of his fingers and saw something large block his view and grip his arm before he was submerged in darkness.

Chapter Text

Harry jerked awake, wheezing and gasping desperately for air. He shot up, heart pounding in his chest, and whipped around. He was in the cave; a fire burned beside him, and Malfoy sat facing him, his hand absently stroking the outer curve of Diane’s wings.

“What—how—what happened?” Harry demanded. His voice was scratchy and raspy, his throat unbearably dry. “Why did you bring me here?”

Malfoy narrowed his eyes before turning his attention back to the Scarlet-Tongue, seemingly placated now that he knew Harry was conscious.

“I needed to bring Diane the dittany,” he said eventually. “A gash in her leg opened to infection since we were here last.”

Harry nodded and shifted himself into a sitting position. He winced as a sharp pain shot through his leg. “What time is it?”

Malfoy considered Harry’s question for a moment. “Probably about ten at night. Your eyes opened for a second almost straight after I removed the water you swallowed from your trachea but you didn’t wake up fully,” he said. He shot Harry an unimpressed look. “I had to heave your deceptively heavy body down here with me.”

“You brought me through the tunnel?” Harry said incredulously.

Malfoy waved his hand dismissively. “No I didn’t bother with the tunnel.”

Harry raised an eyebrow, confusion dawning on him. “Then how?”

Malfoy folded his hands in his lap, lower lip pulled into his mouth, as though considering something. “The water,” he said eventually. “The lake… it was too warm for it to be natural, especially at this time of the year. I figured that it had been heated up from the underground Salamander fires so I started moving some of the rocks and found this… kind of vertical tunnel.” He pointed at the far end of the cavern. “It led straight back to our cavern, here.”

Harry nodded, leaning his weight on his left leg and pulling himself to his feet. He dragged his right leg closer to where Malfoy sat. He collapsed beside Malfoy to inspect his application of the dittany.

“What’s with the fire?” Harry asked. “I don’t think Diane needs heat right now. If anything, the inflammation of her leg needs to settle down.”

Malfoy remained silent for a moment. “The fire’s not for Diane,” he said quietly. “The heat’s supposed to open up your chest cavity. To help you breathe better.”

Harry’s movements stilled. He didn’t dare meet Malfoy’s eye, focusing instead on the healing scales of the Scarlet-Tongue’s leg. He felt on odd heat spread throughout his chest, a feeling that was foreign but not unwelcome. “Thank you,” he said, ignoring the strange feeling in his chest.

He heard Malfoy shift his position behind him. “Diane is sound asleep but it doesn’t look like she’s eaten today,” Malfoy said, decidedly ignoring Harry’s words. “She can’t go too long without anything substantial and she’s not ready to find something by herself. Her leg is not strong enough yet. If we leave it too long, she won’t hesitate to have one of us.”

Harry nodded. He set about using a basic healing spell to cure the worst of the stinging on his calf while Malfoy listed the kind of foods Scarlet-Tongues tended to eat.

“Malfoy,” Harry sighed frustratedly, “unless we can actually find some of those foods, we’re still back at square one.”

Malfoy glowered at the ground, as though it had personally insulted him. “There’s bound to be more creatures somewhere in this cave,” he said. “The task is supposed to involve caring for her and we can’t be expected to do that if there aren’t any sources of food for her here.”

Harry pushed himself up to standing position. “Fine,” he said shortly. He racked his memory for everything he knew about a Scarlet-Tongue’s basic diet. “What about Giant Glumbumbles? They live in dark places like caves, right?”

Malfoy’s head shot up and he nodded quickly. “Yeah, yeah… that could work. If we can find some, she would certainly eat them.”

Harry thought back to his Care of Magical Creatures textbook, trying to remember anything that would indicate where they might find the giant insect. “All I know is that they eat nettles so they can’t be too far from open sunlight, but they prefer to create their nests in dark, cool areas.”

“We could try the other tunnel,” Malfoy said. “I doubt they’d make an entire new part of the arena if there wasn’t anything we have to find there.”

They made their way back through the junction, passing the familiar surroundings and squeezing past the tight corners in the tunnel.

“They live in dragon reserves, you know,” Malfoy said conversationally, after an hour of hiking further up the tunnel in relative silence.

“What?” Harry said, glancing up to catch his eye.

“I heard you ask Diane if she could roam free in Saudi Arabia,” Malfoy said, panting lightly as they rounded a steep corner. “They’re held in captivity and studied. Some breeds would be in extinction otherwise. And the risk that they’ll be seen by Muggles is too high.”

Harry was at a loss for words. Why did Malfoy always seem to baffle him at the most inconvenient of times, when he was in no position to even consider the significance of Malfoy’s words? Harry, of course, had known that the dragons were kept in specialised sanctuaries—Charlie Weasley worked with them directly, in a remote area of Romania—but something stopped him from telling that to Malfoy. “I didn’t know that,” he sighed, wiping the sheen of sweat from his forehead. It trickled uncomfortably down the back of his neck. “Where did you learn so much about dragons?”

A dark shadow crossed Malfoy’s face. “I’ve been interested in them for a long time. Since before Hogwarts, at least.”

Harry knew he was evading the question but decided to drop it. Malfoy had saved him from the lake, had lit a fire to help his breathing and had been more civil to him in the last day than he had ever been. Harry didn't want to risk irritating him and sending their relationship right back to square one.

They reached the junction again, emerging from the bright tunnel to turn down the darker, eerie route. Harry faltered for a moment before stepping into the pitch darkness. It utterly surrounded them, ensnaring them and leaving only their shrewd eyes visible. Harry sidled along the edge of the cave, reaching out to steady himself against the wall. They trundled along slowly, leaning precariously against the walls, wands outstretched. The further they ventured into the tunnel, however, the more anxious Harry felt.

“I don’t think there’s much else down here,” Harry muttered.

Malfoy remained silent.

“They make loud, buzzing sounds,” Harry insisted. “We should’ve heard something by now.”

A large hand gripped his shoulder and yanked him back. “Look,” Malfoy muttered into his ear.

Two sets of watery, bloodshot eyes were approaching them.

Lumos.”

Two dwarf-like creatures with a sickening, green pallor and blood-red caps stood ten feet away from them. Harry almost clutched his chest in shock, their proximity jolting him.

“Merlin,” he breathed. “Don’t— don’t do anything yet. They mightn’t attack if they know that we’re wizards.”

The Red Caps were both wielding long weapons that looked alarmingly like bones. Harry raised his wand threateningly and one of their faces contorted in a grimace. The other Red Cap stared at Malfoy, his hand falling to his side, the bone-like weapon lowering.

Flipendo,” Malfoy said, pointing at the Red Cap who still had his weapon raised. A loud bang sounded as the creature was flung against the wall of the tunnel.

“Why did you do that?” Harry hissed.

“He looked suspicious,” Malfoy muttered, shoving past him.

The other Red Cap had rushed behind him and pulled his companion to his feet and both were running in the opposite direction. Harry could hear the echoing thud of their footsteps dull in the distance.

“Easier than I expected to get rid of them,” Malfoy muttered as they followed the downward path of the tunnel.

“I just don’t think he liked you,” Harry said quietly. He was suddenly overcome with a strange bashfulness.

“What?”

Harry paused for a moment, gripping to a protruding rock in the tunnel wall. “One of them was staring at your face,” Harry said, scratching the nape of his neck, suddenly embarrassed. “And they— Red Caps… they’re repelled by beauty. We didn’t need to hex them because they were already—er—repulsed.”

Even in the pitch darkness, Harry knew Malfoy was wearing his infuriating smirk. Harry refrained from hexing him, though it was a close call.

“I’d be flattered, Potter, if I didn’t know that they actually just didn’t like the light from your wand.”

Harry trod on his own foot and swore loudly, much to Malfoy’s apparent amusement. When his laughter subsided, a charged silence settled between them. They persevered, climbing the small piles of rock that had fallen from the walls of the cave. An acidic, burning smell pervaded the air.

“That’s it,” Harry muttered, holding his nose. “It’s the Giant Glumbumbles. They must be infesting a bee hive or something, otherwise the smell wouldn’t be that strong.”

Malfoy made a noise of assent, holding his nose in repulsion.

They reluctantly ventured closer to the scent until they reached three separate pathways. The rocks on the walls had become less solid, almost waxy in texture and both of them had to grip the walls to prevent from slipping.

“Think we should divide and conquer?” Harry asked, sniffing the air to try to find where the scent emerged.

Malfoy shook his head firmly. “No. The task is supposed to be about teamwork. All these divided tunnels… it’s a test to see if we’ll split up. There’s no way anyone could get through the obstacles alone.”

Harry smiled at Malfoy’s admission and the reluctant acceptance in his tone, though Malfoy couldn’t see it in the pitch-dark tunnel. They chose one path at random, advancing cautiously.

“Do you hear that?” Malfoy asked suddenly.

Their footsteps halted and Harry could hear a faint, low buzzing.

He nodded excitedly. “Yeah, yeah, I hear it. We’re going to have to freeze them, because they’ll already be too aggressive to fight off if they’re invading a nest.”

They progressed along the same, torturously slippery path for another two hours until they were both exhausted. Although drawing nearer to the buzzing sound, it still seemed distant and unreachable.

“This is preposterous,” Malfoy snapped, after tripping over another loose rock. “The sound isn’t getting any nearer.”

“It is,” Harry insisted. “I just think it’s hidden, or something.”

Malfoy muttered something unintelligible under his breath before marching ahead.

“Wait,” Harry called. He felt along the walls caressed the walls, fingers moving up and down, before sighing. “Come here for a second.”

Malfoy stormed back, standing with his chest almost pressed against Harry’s. “What is it?” he demanded.

“Just— you’re taller than me,” he said. “Touch the ceiling.”

Malfoy pursed his lips and reached up to paw at the tall, uneven ceiling.

“Do you feel that?” Harry said.

Malfoy nodded, reaching up to press both palms against it. He smiled uncontrollably before his head fell back, chuckling to himself. “It’s— the ceiling... it’s buzzing.”

Harry’s mouth fell open at the realisation of precisely where the Giant Glumbumbles were. “They’re above us,” Harry whispered. “The Glumbumbles… they’re in the ceiling.”

Malfoy’s laughter instantly subsided. “Merlin,” he sighed. “We’re going to have to… what? Blast a hole through this area and then freeze them?”

Harry swallowed thickly. “Unless we can take one of the other routes to bring us up to their level.”

“It’s probably close to four in the morning now,” Malfoy sighed. “That would risk us wasting even more time. And we don’t even know if either of the other tunnels will lead there.”

Harry pulled his lower lip into his mouth. “You’re right,” he said under his breath.

Malfoy muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “Aren’t I always?”

Harry shot him a glare. “We’ll just— we need to time this right, otherwise they’ll attack.”

Malfoy nodded. “You blast the hole. Realistically they’ll swarm out straight away, so we should stand over there a bit,” he said earnestly, pulling Harry by the wrist. He gestured to the ceiling and made a long sweeping motion. “They’ll fly down this way and we can use the Freezing Charm on a couple to bring them back to Diane.”

“That’ll work,” Harry said slowly, “but only if there’s a small swarm of them. If there’s a huge colony then…”

“We’ll deal with it,” Malfoy said firmly.

Somehow, Malfoy’s decisiveness reassured him. Harry smiled to himself, relieved for the darkness of the tunnel.

Harry stepped back and pointed his wand directly above him. “Bombarda Maxima,” he shouted.

The ceiling above them exploded violently, rubble and debris falling and smashing against the base of the tunnel. Smoke surrounded them and loud, incessant buzzing encased them almost instantly. Harry spotted thick, grey fur and enormous beetle-like eyes.

Immobulus!” Malfoy called.

The buzzing halted instantly. Harry coughed and spluttered through the smoke, stepping back with his wand extended to prepare for another onslaught from the Glumbumbles. The air remained still.

Four sets of jet-black eyes pierced the thick smoke. Harry couldn’t find a light grey pair. “Malfoy?” he shouted, twisting around.

“I’m here,” a rough voice called.

Harry turned around and waded through the smoke. The Giant Glumbumbles were still suspended in the air, which he took reassurance from. He knew that Malfoy was within reach to cast the charm.

Harry pushed past a pile of rubble and almost tripped. “Lumos,” he said frantically. He spotted a huge mound of debris, the smoke billowing from the top. Malfoy lay underneath it, his leg completely trapped.

“Just give me a second, Potter,” Malfoy muttered.

Harry watched him flick his wand back to the Glumbumbles and pull himself onto his elbow. He felt strangely empathetic of Malfoy, covered in a layer of soot and struggling to pull himself to his feet.

“Can you… never mind,” Malfoy said.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” Malfoy managed to pull himself up into a sitting position and removed most of the debris on top of his leg.

Harry reached down to offer him a hand up but he suddenly felt someone bang against him. A crashing sound, as though Malfoy had tripped, echoed around them.

“Alright,” Malfoy said loudly. “We need to go now.”

Harry simply nodded and kept his wand raised, watching as Malfoy directed the Glumbumbles ahead of them through the tunnel. Harry cast light around the tunnel, safe in the knowledge that there were no unwanted creatures who disliked the light residing there.

Malfoy’s tall figure two paces ahead of him cast a long shadow around the tunnel. Harry occupied himself during the walk back to Diane by watching the way Malfoy’s back muscles strained and pulled at his rather fitting shirt.

Even before they arrived back to the Scarlet-Tongue, Harry knew something was wrong. The entire tunnel had become unbearably hot again and they could hear Diane’s distant roar behind the rock that concealed their cavern.

Malfoy took off at a pace, the Glumbumbles darting ahead of him, their immobilised forms banging into each other. Harry hurried behind them, but the exhaustion of travelling all day was finally taking its toll, his body shattered. They caught their breath at one of the archways, the waxy walls hot under their fingertips when Harry tried to lean on them.

Aguamenti,” Harry said, sending a stream of water from the tip of his wand into his mouth. Malfoy repeated the spell and thrust his head back, gulping down the water eagerly. Harry tried not to look at the long, sweaty column of his throat, or the way his Adam’s apple protruded.

“Come on,” Malfoy demanded, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. “We need to get back to her before things get worse.”

“Well, pick up the pace, then,” Harry snapped. “You’re the one running ahead of me.”

“Only because I have to direct the Glumbumbles too, Potter,” he said.

Harry huffed. “Fine, I’ll take them,” he said. He found himself determined to outpace Malfoy and, despite the scorching heat, set off at what he knew was an unsustainable pace. The Glumbumbles shot ahead of him, colliding with each other and with the walls of the tunnel rather comically. Harry thought he heard Malfoy chuckle behind him.

They made it to the secluded cavern faster than either of them had anticipated. Malfoy bent over, panting desperately, his hands resting on his knees. Harry wanted to lie on the ground and douse himself with freezing cold water.

“Fuck,” Malfoy muttered.

Harry turned around the corner and found precisely what he had feared. The entire side area of the cavern was engulfed in high flames, soaring to reach the ceiling. Diane was leaning on her front legs and breathing fire around her, the characteristic scarlet tongue shooting out like a lizard’s. She roared, the flames reflected in her sharp, furious eyes.

“Diane’s feeling better, then,” Harry said.

Malfoy pursed his lips and watched the Scarlet-Tongue like a concerned parent might watch their misbehaving child. Harry smiled despite himself.

“Come on, then,” Harry said, attempting to re-gain Malfoy’s attention. “Once we show her the food maybe she’ll get over her tantrum.”

Malfoy nodded absently, his gaze fixed on her. They trotted down the steep rocks to the base of the cavern floor and hid behind one of the larger rocks. Malfoy directed the Giant Glumbumbles closer to Diane, but far enough that she would have to leave the encircling flames to eat them.

“She’s too caught up,” Malfoy sighed. “We need to make some noise nearer to the Glumbumbles so that she looks over there.”

Harry nodded and, muttering the Caterwauling Charm under his breath, directed his wand to the creatures. A high-pitched, ringing scream, one that could challenge even the Scarlet-Tongue’s roar, shot through the air. Harry pressed his hands against his ears and peered around the edge of the rock to watch Diane. Harry felt Malfoy press close behind him, saw his chest rise and fall as sharp breaths counted the length of the scream.

The Scarlet-Tongue whipped around and they both spotted the exact moment that her nose twitched and she lunged for the Glumbumbles. The dragon ripped and tore at the skin ferociously, collapsing onto her back legs to devour them.

Harry silenced the charm, which left only Malfoy’s relieved sigh ringing in his ears. Harry suddenly realised how very close they were sitting. He shifted into a more comfortable position and leaned back on the shaded rock, closing his eyes. He felt Malfoy shift across to sit on top of the rock beside him.

“Do you…” Harry said, cutting himself off with a yawn, “do you think we can get a wink of sleep before something else goes wrong?”

Malfoy eyed him curiously before deeming his question worthy of a reply. “There’s that room we were given to sleep in but I don’t think they actually intended any of us to use it.” Malfoy glanced at his watch. “Besides, it’s almost half six in the morning. First task ends at nine.”

Harry’s gaze caught Diane burning one of the Glumbumbles to a smoking crisp. “Think this is it, then? We just have to get back out of this cave and it’ll all be over.”

Malfoy almost smiled. “It’s hardly going to be that easy, Potter. Remember what Achernar said? About nurturing the dragons?”

Harry narrowed his eyes at Malfoy before they flicked back to Diane and to their surroundings; the waxy cavern and the confining, underground spaces, the nocturnal animals and the narrow tunnels.

“Her habitat,” Harry said under his breath. “We need to get her back to the top level, with the tall rocks and heat and open air.”

Malfoy tilted his head, expression impassive apart from the slight lift of his eyebrows. “That’s what I thought,” he said quietly. “I wouldn’t have thought about it if it weren’t for the kind of sandy rocks up there… almost like deserts. And the open sky obviously.”

Harry nodded absently, head whipping around in the hopes to find an insight to indicate how they would bring a dragon out an underground cave. His gaze returned to Malfoy’s resigned smile.

“I’ve been thinking about it for the last few hours,” Malfoy admitted. “I’ve no indication whatsoever about how to do it.”

Harry yawned loudly. “Diane seems a lot more content now so maybe we could sleep on it or something.” His leg was paining him from their travelling, and he was desperate to rest it, even if he didn’t want to give Malfoy the satisfaction of knowing that he was in pain.

Malfoy looked almost solicitous, but Harry figured that his concern was probably for Diane’s welfare rather than his. “I’m waking you in half an hour,” Malfoy said, before leaning back on his rock and crossing his arms firmly.

 

*

 

Something smooth stroked along his cheek and Harry absently thought that it felt like the pad of someone’s thumb. He dismissed the thought instantly, reasoning that Malfoy was more likely to propose to McGonagall than gently wake him up.

“Get up, Potter. I’ve got an idea.”

Harry pulled himself to his feet and rubbed his dust-filled eye. Malfoy seemed eager to tell him something.

“You remember I said that there is a kind of stairway that leads from the end of the cavern up to the lake?”

Harry nodded sceptically.

“There’s obviously no way we can get her through any of the tunnels.”

Harry sighed. “And there’s also no way we can get her to swim either.”

Malfoy glared at him. “I was getting to that bit,” he said tersely. “Since we can’t get her through the tunnels, I figured we could try a different method. Do you remember what I told you to read from Habitats, Enclosures and WelfareA Not-So-Typical Manual on Rearing Dragons?”

Harry gave him a bemused expression—the book was over five hundred pages in length, with intricate diagrams drawn throughout the margins. “Which part?”

“The part about how dragons make use of penetrable rocks when attacking prey,” Malfoy said. “You were reading it two days before that Potions test. I specifically remember you annoying me with questions that evening.”

Harry’s eyes widened with recognition. He didn’t dwell on the fact that Malfoy could remember such an insignificant detail. “Yeah, when dragons are particularly angry or desperate for food, they’ll scorch anything that comes in their path, including penetrable rocks.”

Malfoy nodded. “And running through these rocks they’ve been—”

“Waxy,” Harry breathed, struck by Malfoy’s plan. Excitement thrummed through his veins at the prospect. “And really fucking hot... like they could be destroyed.” He smiled and ran his finger along the edge of the rock. “You think we could get her to expand that passage so she could… what? Fly out of her own accord?”

“Yes,” Malfoy said. “We’d need to shrink that lake again first and stimulate her somehow so that she widens the passage enough for her to fly through.”

They both glanced to where Diane was sleeping, her breathing pattern irregular and occasionally burning the ground beneath her nose from the steam that she huffed out.

“Let’s do it.”

 

*

 

Harry returned an hour and a half later, after drying up the lake, to find Malfoy trying to reason with Diane, looking mildly disgruntled. Harry took that as meaning that Malfoy was highly distressed beneath his façade.

“What is it?”

“I used Incendio near to the passage to try to get her attention but she was more occupied with settling fire to the other corner she’s in now,” Malfoy said. He swore loudly and kicked the jagged rock at his feet, causing him to wince in pain.

Harry craned his neck to see Diane breathing fire in a long line, dragging across the edge of the cavern.

“We’ve half an hour left and the fucking—”

“What about more Glumbumbles?” Harry asked. “Do you think we could entice her with food?”

Malfoy shoved his hand against one of the loose rocks in the wall. “You don’t think I’ve tried that already, Potter?” he said sharply.

Harry gritted his teeth and refrained from replying. He shut his eyes and lifted his wand, picturing the matted grey fur and beetle-like eyes. From the degree of incessant buzzing, he knew that there had to be more Glumbumbles than the small colony they had captured. He tried to convince himself of his suspicion with every fibre of his being. “Accio Glumbumbles!”

Malfoy huffed obnoxiously and Harry knew that there was a waspish comment on the tip of his tongue. Harry watched as Malfoy jogged closer to the wall and sent small blasts of rocks away from the secluded passage, widening it minimally.

A loud, fast approaching sound caught their attention. Malfoy whipped around and Harry glanced up to find an enormous colony of what must have been twenty Giant Glumbumbles darting across the cavern.

Immobulus,” they screamed in unison.

The Glumbumbles halted instantly in mid-air but Malfoy and Harry didn’t have a second to spare before the thunderous sound of Diane pulling herself to her feet and bounding towards them interrupted the sudden stillness.

“Quick!” Harry shouted. “Help me direct them to the passage.”

Wingardium Leviosa,” Malfoy said and the same time Harry made a sharp jabbing motion and shouted, “Tarda Momentum!”

The rapid pace of the Glumbumbles was no match for Diane’s clumsy stomping and she grew impatient and frustrated, unable to spread her wings.

“Keep them at the entrance to the passage so she can still see,” Harry shouted, leaping over one of the rocks and rushing over to Malfoy.

The Glumbumbles were just beyond Diane’s reach but she was in Malfoy’s line of sight. Harry yanked the back of the Slytherin’s shirt and dragged him beyond the reach of Diane’s fire. They flattened themselves against the jagged wall just as Diane roared and breathed searing hot flames at the rocks blocking her from the Glumbumbles.

The rocks—or material resembling rocks, rather—began to move apart, some parts melting against the rocky terrain while other parts crumbled beneath her wrathful stare.

“We need to get closer in order to keep directing the Glumbumbles,” Harry said urgently.

They inched closer to her, Malfoy directing the creatures to linger teasingly beyond her reach. The spade of her tail whipped back and forth menacingly and she prepared to take flight up the passage. Seemingly aware now that she could break through the rock, she breathed fire around her in calculated motions, pushing upwards in the chamber-like passage. Her talons clung to the walls of the passage as she ventured further upwards.

Malfoy and Harry darted to the passage, Malfoy trying to see past the Scarlet-Tongue’s enormous body to direct the Glumbumbles just beyond her reach.

“It doesn’t matter now,” Harry said, placing a hand on his arm.

Malfoy wheeled around and Harry wrenched his arm away.

“I just—” he said, as a huge chunk of rock and debris fell behind them. “She’ll see the light and want to get out whether the Glumbumbles are there or not.”

Malfoy nodded stiffly.

They craned their necks to watch Diane make her way up the passage, roaring as she went, until the smoke and fragmented rocks plummeting around them became too much. After seconds, the roaring became more urgent, more manic, and Harry felt a final burst of heat shoot down the passage before he could hear only the sound of crumbling rocks.

“You think—”

Malfoy didn’t wait for a response, instead beckoning Harry to stand directly beneath the passage. There were still rocks smouldering, smoking and collapsing above them. He grabbed Harry roughly by the shoulder and pointed his wand directly above them, shouting “Ascendio!”

Harry wanted to scream. He hid his face beneath his elbow as his eyes burned, rock debris slashed at his open skin and heavy smoke burned his skin. They shot directly upwards and an enormous rock fell past them, missing Malfoy by centimetres but sending shards of rocks to puncture his skin. A razor-sharp piece caught Harry’s lip and slashed it open, sending hot blood dripping down his chest. Harry glanced up and winced, catching a strip of light above them before he was hurtled against solid ground. He and Malfoy tumbled and skidded across the rocky terrain, thrashing against each other and the sandy ground until they collapsed into a pile of heavy, scorching limbs.

Harry could hear heavy thuds in the distance, could feel Malfoy shifting above him, but he felt utterly defenceless. And he despised that feeling. Wand laying limp in his hand and his entire face burning, he blinked his eyes open blearily, fluttering his eyelashes to remove the small pieces of gravel. He could see a vague outline of Malfoy’s body sprawled on top of him and rendering the lower half of his body numb, but he could also make out tiny specks of colour in the distance, seemingly jumping up and down.

Malfoy grunted above him and keeled over to lie on his back beside him. Harry wanted to scream atrocities at him but his mouth was flooding with blood and he knew any sound he made would come out like a gurgle. He tilted his head until his cheek scraped the gravel and blood dripped from his parted lips onto the ground, like ink falling from his quill onto a clean sheet of parchment. He spat out the blood, until it no longer felt clumpy in his mouth, leaving only a metallic-tasting residue.

Malfoy hauled himself to his knees and leaned over him, breathing laboured and uneven. He muttered something unintelligible. Harry felt a pair of hands grip him beneath the arms and pull him to his knees. He lurched forward and coughed out the rest of the blood, a heavy hand on his back. Harry recoiled at the sight of the blood and tore himself from Malfoy’s hand, pulling himself to his feet. He whipped around and saw Malfoy staring at him, leaning against one of the rocks. One of Malfoy’s cheeks had a long, twisted scrape and his wrist was propped against his hip at a strange angle, as though it needed to be supported.

“You,” Harry breathed murderously, taking a tentative step closer to Malfoy and prodding his chest. “Why—what even? Did you not think for one fucking second that it might be a bad—” he coughed loudly, sputtering, “a bad idea to follow the same route as a dragon who just burned everything in her path?”

Even beneath the heavy layer of soot and the long gash, Harry saw Malfoy’s jaw tighten. Malfoy shifted his arm, wincing, and grabbed Harry’s shoulder, turning him to face the opposite direction.

Harry gasped. The entire audience in the arena surrounding them was screaming, leaping and frantically waving signs at them. Blinking slowly as the vague, colourful shapes came into focus, he saw his parents beaming, Ron hollering and Hermione clapping proudly; he spotted faces he recognised from classes, or from passing some in the hallways; he even saw Moony—Professor Lupin—clapping earnestly with his hands raised above his head. Despite the dull ache of his leg, the sharp taste in his mouth and the stinging of his eyes, he smiled. Malfoy nudged him.

“Diane is over there,” Malfoy said quietly.

Harry glanced behind him and saw the Scarlet-Tongue demolishing the remains of the Glumbumbles, perched on a sandy rock that, from Harry’s viewpoint, rather looked like sand dune. “I can’t believe it took us this long to figure out,” he said, suddenly anxious about the time it might have taken the other champions to figure out that they had to return their dragons to their natural habitat. Harry realised it was the first time that he had thought about the other champions since the previous morning.

“Depends on what kind of landscapes the others had,” Malfoy muttered, interpreting the nervous lilt to Harry’s tone. “The Common Welsh Green would be pretty predictable but, then again, the Larsons are hardly the sharpest knives in the drawer.”

Harry had opened his mouth to respond when a deafening roar sounded around them. Both of them whipped around, wands prepared, to find Diane polishing off the last Glumbumble. It was then that Harry realised that the Silencing Cham around the arena had been lifted; the shouts and roars from the Hogwarts supporters could be heard and Achernar’s clear, articulate voice above them all.

They heard Diane’s loud roar as the dragon handlers—who had somehow appeared inside the arena itself—dragged her away. Harry saw something dark flash in Malfoy’s eye before Achernar’s voice caught his attention.

“We ask the champions now to make their way towards the room where their belongings were held for medical attention and food. Your scores will be delivered afterwards.”

Harry followed Malfoy across the arena, limping. It seemed like an impossibly long stretch and the sharp pain that shot through his calf worsened with every step. Harry watched Malfoy’s conflicted face for another couple of minutes before Malfoy said something under his breath and pulled Harry’s arm around his shoulder.

“…only because otherwise I’d be waiting all fucking day for you otherwise.”

Harry ignored the comment and leaned against Malfoy, both of them trudging across the expansive stretch of land until they finally reached the door to their assigned—and utterly untouched—room. Harry still felt a strange sense of propriety over it. As soon as he twisted the handle of the door, hands reached out and snatched him and Malfoy, whisking them both away to another room.

If Harry thought that he and Malfoy looked seriously wounded, their conditions could not compare with the Durmstrang twins. The wounds that had been inflicted on them looked almost irreparable. Alexander’s left leg was completely mangled and Leif’s face was covered in deep burns and a huge purple bruise.

Harry was instructed to lie down on one of the hospital beds that had been transported down to the arena. He spotted Madam Pomfrey bustling around them, apparently scandalised at the proposition of “dragons, really,” in the Triwizard Tournament.

“Open wide, dear,” she said, pressing the tip of her wand to the corner of Harry’s mouth and illuminating the inside. She huffed and handed him a tall glass of a mint green-coloured potion, instructing him to drink it all, before attending to Malfoy’s wrist.

“Harry!” his mother’s voice called from across the room. He pulled himself up in his hospital bed, prompting a disgruntled Madam Pomfrey to tap a quick spell to his calf and move back to Malfoy.

“Mum!”

Harry’s mother pushed past the others hurrying around the room until she pulled him into a tight, warm embrace, rubbing his back soothingly. Her bright face shone with concern and unbridled pride. “My darling boy, we were so worried. You were underground for so long. We arrived back again this morning, about an hour ago, and then we heard about the Selkies in the lake last night. We saw you shooting into the air after the dragon and you scared the living daylight out of me. And then he helped you walk— wait. Where is he? Where’s Draco?”

Harry pulled back from her and gaped. His mother was asking for Draco Malfoy of all people?

She twisted around until her gaze caught Malfoy’s, who had apparently been watching their exchange.

“Lily Evans-Potter,” she said, stepping over to his hospital bed and extending her hand.

Malfoy, looking equally shocked as Harry felt, accepted her hand and shook it firmly, his expression masked and, to Harry, at least, utterly indecipherable.

“Draco Malfoy,” he said, his lips in a very rigid line.

“I assumed wrongly about you,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him, as though trying to detect any hint of his guilt. “Thank you for looking after my son.”

Harry felt slightly indignant at that comment; was the ‘looking after’ not shared between them? Wasn’t it Malfoy’s idea to send them through a burning hot tunnel, so that they would make it back in time for the end of the task. Perhaps it was Malfoy’s startled expression, or his geniality around Harry’s mother, but he didn’t protest.

Malfoy nodded and smiled stiffly. “All part of the competition, Mrs Potter.”

Harry spotted a mess of black hair and a rueful grin and shot up from his hospital bed, running with an annoyingly deterring limp toward his father before Madam Pomfrey could notice.

“Harry, my boy!” he exclaimed, ruffling Harry’s impossibly messier hair and sending a shower of dust, grime and dried blood over his robes. He didn’t seem to notice, or care. “You were fantastic! Absolutely. Padfoot came along this morning, too. I think he wants us to meet up later in the Three Broomstick’s—you know, celebrate your win!”

“We don’t know the scores yet, Dad,” he insisted.

Harry’s father waved him off, before looking over Harry’s shoulder to see his wife talking with Malfoy. Harry watched his expressed subdue substantially. Patting Harry on the back, he strode over towards them with the air of someone with far more confidence than sense. Harry sighed and caught Madam Pomfrey’s eye before shuffling back sheepishly to his bed.

Harry’s father, it seemed, was determined to let it be known to Malfoy that he didn’t trust quite as easily as his mother. “Ambition is a blade that cuts both ways, Malfoy. Don’t let my son end up on the wrong end of that blade.”

Harry wanted to protest to his father’s words, feeling completely embarrassed, but, from Malfoy’s earnest expression, he found that his response was lost in his throat. Harry’s mother, it seemed, had no qualms about chastising her husband. She turned pointedly at Malfoy and smiled politely, though she somehow managed to simultaneously direct an accusatory glare at her husband. It was quite impressive.

For the rest of their conversation, Harry couldn’t quite meet Malfoy’s gaze. His mother, father and the rest of the visitors were ushered out soon after Clara and Julia arrived, both limping, but looking substantially healthier than the rest of them. Julia was actually smiling.

Harry’s heart plummeted and he glanced at where Malfoy was narrowing his eyes at them.

After their minor cuts and burns were healed or covered, all of them were escorted to their arena. Harry spotted the other champions looking around with interest. Clara kept pointing to one of the tall dunes and talking in sharp French, gesticulating wildly.

The arena reached its entire capacity and Harry saw that the crowd now consisted of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons supporters, too. He saw the judges—Achernar, MacFarlan, McGonagall, Vulchanova and Maxime—sitting in a neat row in the bottom tier and smiled. McGonagall caught his eye and gave him a short nod from beneath her spectacles.

“We will begin, please, with the Durmstrang champions,” Achernar called.

A hush fell over the arena.

Vulchanova read out his school’s results, consulting a slip of paper Achernar handed him. His voice dripped with distaste. “Durmstrang has been awarded thirty points in total. Points were reduced for incompletion of the final challenge, acquisition of serious and avoidable injuries and one instance of misuse of magic.”

The crowd began to shout, some delighted with the result while others were outraged and demanded further reductions. Harry caught Leif grimacing to his left.

“We will now proceed with the Hogwarts champions,” Achernar said loudly.

A high-pitched scream and an outbreak of giggles shot through the air before total silence fell. Harry noticed Ron and Hermione in the crowd and smiled at their simultaneous thumbs-up.

Professor McGonagall cleared her throat, scanning the slip of paper that Achernar gave her before speaking. Harry felt Malfoy shift closer to his side.

“Hogwarts has been awarded a total of forty-two points.”

Harry’s heart leaped in his chest and he felt considerably lighter on his feet; though he didn’t know how well Beauxbatons had fared, forty-two certainly seemed considerable. The arena erupted in chants and shouts, scattered applause and claps on the back. Harry turned to Malfoy, who apparently couldn’t decide where to fix his gaze, despite the small smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

“Points were deducted for some minor instances of poor teamwork and a rather poorly-calculated decision to follow a dragon up a flaming passage which resulted in serious injuries.”

Harry smiled despite himself and noticed Malfoy struggling to quash his own smile, something that proved rather difficult. His face certainly seemed fuller, Harry noticed, when Malfoy was smiling—a genuine smile rather than his default sneer.

They kept eye contact, Harry searching for something beneath Malfoy’s curious gaze, until the sound of Madame Maxime’s thick accent caught their attention.

“Beauxbatons ‘as been awarded thirty-seven points. Points were taken away because one of ze challenges—to treat ze dragon’s injuries—was not carried out and ze final challenge was not completed to its fullest extent.”

Harry almost jumped into Malfoy’s arms with the realisation that they had won the first task. Malfoy seemed to breathe out a sigh of relief and outright beamed at Harry, reaching out before fidgeting with his hands and shoving them in his pockets.

“I knew we would win,” Malfoy said, smiling smugly. His eyes followed the crinkles of Harry’s eyes. “Well… well done, Potter.”

“And you,” Harry said happily, watching him curiously. “Apart from what was possibly the stupidest decision I’ve ever seen you make.”

Malfoy looked like he had a retort hanging from the tip of his tongue but seemed to accept the criticism, nodding stiffly.

Someone in the crowd had found a way to get onto the rocky terrain from the stands, and a huge onslaught of Hogwarts robes and bright smiles rushed towards Harry. He and Malfoy were instantly engulfed and separated by the crowd.

 

*

 

The morning after the first task, Harry woke up to an empty dormitory and a letter on his bedside locker. It was addressed to him, his name inked with slanted, angular handwriting. He hauled Abrax onto his lap and reached for the letter, tearing it open carefully.

Dear Mr H. Potter,

Your presence is requested in Professor McGonagall’s office today at half past nine, where you and your fellow Triwizard champions will be provided with details of the Yule Ball and the upcoming task. The password is Treacle Tart.

Harry lay back in his bed, absently glancing at the bright sky through the circular window between their beds, and savouring the triumphant feeling that had consumed his every thought the previous day, until he checked his watch: half past nine precisely. He whipped back the covers (sending a hissing Abrax halfway across the room) and ran around his dormitory, pulling on a clean pair of robes and swiping a toothbrush across his teeth. He rushed to the mirror to fix his hair before glancing at the cut on his lips and the gashes on his cheeks and deciding that any effort he made with his hair would probably go unnoticed anyway. He spotted the open letter on Malfoy’s bedside locker and cursed every deity that had insisted that Malfoy—inconsiderate, volatile, infuriating Malfoy—be his roommate.

Harry darted down the stairs and skidded along the hallways until he came to an abrupt stop outside Professor McGonagall’s office.

“Treacle Tart,” he said with a shallow pant. The gargoyle sprung to life and he climbed the rotating stairs quickly. He knocked firmly on the door, which swung open instantly to reveal the five other champions, all of whom (apart from Malfoy and Leif) glared at him with varying degrees of disdain. Harry realised quite quickly that he wasn’t the only one with rather unsightly injuries.

“Ah, Mr Potter,” Professor McGonagall said, peering at him over her glasses. “Kind of you to finally join us.”

Harry apologised and stood beside Malfoy. “Why didn’t you wake me up this morning?” he demanded through gritted teeth.

Malfoy ignored him, watching as Professor McGonagall rounded her desk and retrieved three thin envelopes.

“You spent all of last night talking my ear off about how tired you were, in case you don’t remember,” Malfoy muttered eventually, not meeting his eye. “I figured I could repeat anything McGonagall says to you later.”

Harry was suddenly struck by the sincerity of Malfoy’s tone—despite the language concealing and contradicting it—and how it resembled that of the previous morning, when it had seemed that Malfoy truly regretted sending them through the passage.

“Oh,” he said.

He spotted Malfoy roll his eyes and return his attention to Professor McGonagall.

“After the successful completion of the first task yesterday morning, each team will be given an entirely different clue to work with in order to prepare for the next task,” she said, handing out the envelopes to each team. “You will use these clues to the best of your abilities and must not accept help, in any form, from another student or teacher.”

She stared deliberately around at them before pursing her lips. Harry glanced at where Malfoy was restlessly fussing with the envelope, toying with the corner and sliding his finger beneath the flap. Harry was struck by how very long Malfoy’s fingers were.

“Now, as Triwizard champions, you will be expected to open the Yule Ball—a traditional dance that will take place on the fifteenth of December at eight o’clock. As champions, each of you and your partners will lead the first dance. For you two,” she said, focusing on Malfoy and Harry, “there will be a short dance lesson led by Professor Lupin and Sinistra in the upstairs classroom beside the Owlery this afternoon.”

“Headmistress McGonagall, vill we have to participate in this dance practice?” Leif asked. “Ve have been taught these dances since we vere young; it is part of Durmstrang tradition.”

“No, it is not mandatory, though you are welcome to join should you like.”

Leif breathed a sigh of relief and Harry caught his eye, smiling privately as he shared his worries about formal dancing. Leif winked at him unabashedly before returning his attention to Professor McGonagall.

Harry felt a flush rise to his cheeks. The thought of inviting someone to be his date to the Yule Ball was terrifying in itself but having to open the dance in front of the entire school? Harry sighed and rubbed a hand down his face. He made a note to ask someone tall to hide behind during the dance.

“Mr Potter? Do you need something?” Professor McGonagall said impatiently.

Harry turned to find only him and Malfoy left in the circular office. “No—er—sorry,” he said, scrambling to follow Malfoy to the door. He saw her shake her head exasperatedly.

Malfoy walked three paces ahead of Harry, the envelope hanging by his side. Seeing Malfoy in the light of day as they passed through a long corridor with stained-glass windows, he saw a painful gash that missed Malfoy’s eye by mere millimetres. The effects of the long drag of one of the sharp sweltering hot rocks down Malfoy’s cheek were evident, and looked horribly painful. Harry saw beneath the swish and sway of Malfoy’s robes that his ankle had been bandaged.

“Open it,” Harry said once they reached their dormitory.

Malfoy collapsed on his bed and glanced up at Harry expectantly. Harry perched at the end of Malfoy’s bed, close enough to read the contents of the clue but not close enough to touch Malfoy should he reach out. Not that he would ever want to reach out.

Malfoy slid his thumb beneath the flap of the envelope and pulled out a piece of parchment, reading aloud.

Spiral downward and dive

Inside greenwood and grass

Where answers are held and dangers unparalleled.

Search high, higher, roam the skies,

Fall to the earth, find your key in disguise.

A steady silence washed over them as they considered the clue and each other’s reactions.

“So… we’ll have to fly,” Harry said after reading the clue a couple of times until he could recite it from memory. “It says ‘search high, higher, roam the skies’ so we’ll have to find something in the sky, then.”

Malfoy nodded and let his chin rest against his knuckle.

“And it mentions falling… twice. ‘Spiral downward’ and ‘fall to the earth’, right?” Harry said.

A heavy silence settled between them.

“Can you fly?” Malfoy asked suddenly.

Harry twisted his mouth into a grimace. “I can. I’m… decent, but haven’t had much practice apart from during summer holidays, really. Nobody to practice with.”

Malfoy huffed sharply. “Do you have a broomstick at least?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, I’ve a Nimbus 2001.”

Malfoy sunk his teeth into his lower lip. “That’ll do. You’re going to have to practice with it, though.”

“We’ve got a couple of months,” Harry said, waving him off and allowing his thoughts to wander to the prospect of spending the holidays flying in the back garden with Malfoy. He wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea. “Next task is not ‘til the end of January so that leaves loads of time to practice.”

Malfoy remained silent, tracing their names on the envelope languidly.

Harry shifted closer on the bed and tugged the parchment from Malfoy’s grip. “What about this, though,” he said. “’Inside greenwood and grass’. That could mean that we’re looking for something in nature. And all the mentions of danger, too.”

Malfoy’s head shot up in realisation. “The forest. The Forbidden Forest. That has to be it.”

 

*

 

Harry, along with every student in fourth to seventh year, was sat in a long, cluttered room in the West Tower when the prospect of dancing in front of the entire school body hit him. They had gathered to practice for the Yule Ball and Harry very much wanted to hide behind the tall Ravenclaw sixth year sitting in front of him rather than face such embarrassment.

Moony—or, Professor Lupin—and Sinistra had demonstrated a basic waltz to much rambunctious sniggering and jeering from the students. Harry had to admit that they could dance rather well, even if Lupin sometimes tripped over Sinistra’s olive robes. Harry was sure that his father would very much appreciate a re-telling of the entire ordeal.

“We’re going to ask a couple of students to come forward,” Professor Sinistra called after they had shown them the steps a couple of times.

Harry felt the entire student body around him shift uncomfortably. His eyes fell to the floor, avoiding her searching gaze.

“You’ll all need to try at some stage,” Professor Lupin said, smiling hopefully. Harry knew that he hated having to choose individual students, preferring them to answer voluntarily during class. He hoped that this might be one of those occasions.

“How about we let our Triwizard champions start us off?” Professor Sinistra said.

Harry’s heart sunk. He felt hands clapping his back and the outbreak of nervous laughter before he realised exactly what she had proposed. Ron, while simultaneously managing to cackle loudly at his disgusted expression, pushed him to his feet. Harry tried to cast his memory back to the Vanishing Spell he had read about the previous week to self-vanish from the spot as he felt himself stumble over to them both. Lupin shot him a sympathetic smile.

He saw Malfoy strutting over in his peripheral, apparently unbothered by the prospect of dancing in front of what felt like the entire wizarding population in Britain. Knowing Malfoy, Harry thought sagely, he had probably spent his childhood attending extravagant balls and parties where he had perfected something as basic as a simple waltz. Everything from the manner and poise with which he held himself, to his impeccable posture, probably aided his dance skills.

“Miss Bletchley would you please partner with Mr Potter,” Professor Sinistra said, nodding at a seventh-year Ravenclaw the same height as Harry. “And Miss Harper with Mr Malfoy, please.” The second girl was a Hufflepuff—Layla Harper—that Harry had spoken to before during Herbology. She looked rather alarmed to be paired with Malfoy. Harry couldn’t blame her.

“Excellent,” Professor Sinistra enthused once they had taken their positions. She and Lupin stood to the side of the room and she flicked her wand, prompting the introductory music to sound throughout the room.

“No need to be nervous; we’ll help you along,” Lupin assured.

The airy whistle of a flute filled the air and Harry was suddenly faced with the prospect of dancing with Heather Bletchley in front of all of his sniggering classmates.

Heather smiled nervously, noticing Harry’s hesitation. She placed one hand on his shoulder and lifted his stiff hand with the other. Harry placed a light hand on her waist and glanced behind him. Malfoy was staring at them.

Harry turned away promptly, awaiting the signalling violins before launching into the dance.

“Very good… and turn… and lift,” Professor Sinistra called. “Try to let Mr Potter lead you, Miss Bletchley.”

Harry cringed as he missed a step and lifted Heather in the air too early, leaving her to land on the ground with a heavy thud as the light flute mocked him for his mistake. They twisted and twirled, Harry wearing a grimace and Heather a tight-lipped smile. He knew that they looked stiff and he didn’t dare glance to where Malfoy was probably excelling.

“Mr Malfoy, stop looking at Mr Potter and at least try to concentrate on your own dance.”

Harry’s cheeks heated and he tried to ignore the outburst of laughter on his right that sounded distinctly like Seamus’s loud cackle. They travelled in the final circle around each other, Harry attempting to look like he knew exactly what his next step was supposed to be, rather than following Heather’s every move, until the music came to its conclusion to both of their relief.

“Alright, let’s have another two couples to practice. Mr Finnegan? How about you lead the next dance with Miss Parkinson.”

Heather smiled warmly at Harry and thanked him quietly for the dance.

“I should be thanking you,” he replied. “I would’ve fallen flat on my face otherwise.”

She tucked her hair behind her ear and flashed her teeth at him. “It was no problem, really. I was watching you at the first task, by the way. You were brilliant.”

Harry thanked her rather awkwardly, still unused to being praised for his performance even after everyone he had spoken to since then had congratulated him. From the way Heather lowered her head and looked at him through her eyelashes, he got the impression that she was flirting. He tried to continue smiling, but it felt rather foreign. He was soon saved from the dread of the apparent obligation to engage in post-ballroom dancing small talk when Professor Sinistra ushered them back to their seats. Harry sagely thought that Malfoy was probably an expert in ballroom dance etiquette. He caught Malfoy’s gaze across the hall, and Harry noticed that he looked disgruntled, flicking his hair out of his eyes sulkily and turning away.

“Harry, that was hilarious,” Ron said as he took his place and glanced over to where Seamus was stomping around the dancefloor with less grace than a mountain troll. “You should’ve seen your face when you lifted her about five beats too early.”

“Thanks, Ron,” he muttered drily.

“And Malfoy!” Ron said, grinning wolfishly.

Harry narrowed his eyes. “What about Malfoy?”

Ron’s head tipped back in laughter and Hermione looked as though he was trying extremely hard not to chuckle to herself. “He looked ready to commit murder,” Ron said gleefully. “Not that he doesn’t always look like that but, Merlin’s knotted beard, he kept looking over to you and Heather. Wouldn’t even make eye contact with Layla. I was half-convinced he would drop her during a couple of those lifts.”

Harry piqued his eyebrows but remained silent, watching instead as Professors Sinistra and Lupin returned to the centre of the room to demonstrate a more complicated spin. There were many reasons why Malfoy might have been watching him with Heather; he was probably preparing to taunt Harry about his diabolical dancing.

Harry shifted closer to Ron’s side and titled his head to gain his attention.

“Everything okay, mate?”

“Yeah,” Harry sighed. “Just— I was thinking. Am I going to have to take a girl to the Yule Ball?”

Harry despised the vulnerability in his tone. Homosexuality was not a taboo as such, but the notion of carrying on surnames and producing heirs was still rife within pure-blood circles and Harry assumed that the traditional nature of the Yule Ball would dictate male and female partners only.

Ron shook his head vehemently and Hermione added “Of course not. I just heard a couple of people complaining that Professor Lupin and Sinistra should have let you two pick your own dance partners rather than presumptively pairing you with girls.” She nodded discreetly to two Ravenclaws who were holding hands and whispering to each other. “There’re a few same-sex couples at Hogwarts, Harry, even if some of them are a bit quiet about it. Seamus and Dean, for one example.”

“And aren’t the Beauxbatons champions dating?” Ron said. “They’ll be going together for sure.”

Harry smiled, suddenly relieved. “Yeah, yeah,” he sighed. “You’re right. I just— I wouldn’t know who to ask, let alone who’s even interested and–”

“Harry,” Ron said sternly—or, as sternly as his facial features would allow. “People are literally falling over each other to ask either of the Triwizard champions, mate. I promise you won’t have any issues there.”

Harry was decidedly unconvinced.

The music changed to a more complicated three-beat waltz and Professor Sinistra demonstrated with a seventh-year Slytherin that Harry vaguely recognised from Potions called Blaise Zabini. He was an extraordinary dancer, Harry thought. He seemed to dominate the dancefloor, movements graceful and fluid yet fuelled by purpose and poise. Harry dropped his forehead into his palms defeatedly.

 

*

 

Malfoy was becoming restless. Harry had known of his impatience but the fact that they hadn’t established anything about the second task beyond the fact that they would have to fly and that it might take place in the Forbidden Forest, left him irritable and volatile. On top of dealing with Malfoy and his long, distracting fingers, Harry also had to confront the task of inviting someone to the Yule Ball.

Faced with the prospect of spending a night with one person, with the eyes of the entire school on him, left him suddenly aware of just how many students there were in the school—and just how many prospective dates were there.

“Love is in the air!” Ron announced loudly. “I’ve just seen three people be asked to the Yule Ball and I haven’t even had my breakfast yet. Merlin’s crabby wife, I’m starved.” With that, Ron collapsed into the seat beside Harry and heaped six sausages onto his plate.

“How is it,” Harry said, smothering his slice of toast with marmalade, “that you have a girlfriend and a date to the ball when you say things like ‘Merlin’s crabby wife,’ meanwhile I battled a bloody dragon and have to deal with Malfoy on a daily basis, an am still dateless.”

“Not a clue, mate,” Ron said through a mouthful of food, though he didn’t look particularly concerned. “I’m not complaining, though. I’m sure you’ve got people salivating at the thought of bringing you to the ball.”

Harry groaned. “Why do people think that? I’ve been stared at by the entire school but asked by about seven girls in total. I figured the word should’ve spread by now that I’m not particularly interested in taking a girl. I mean—I’m not opposed to it, I just…”

“Prefer blokes?” Ron said, taking a vicious bite of toast. It was actually rather amusing.

Two Gryffindors sitting opposite them who had been observing him quietly began whispering furiously. Their rather blatant eavesdropping was beginning to irritate Harry.

“Just go up to someone who looks halfway decent and just ask ‘em,” Ron said, shovelling scrambled egg into his mouth.

“Easier said than done,” Harry muttered sagely.

He turned to look behind him, finding half of the Hufflepuff table whipping back around, a couple of third-year girls giggling uproariously.

“Well what about the other champions? They’ve got dates right?”

Harry nodded. “Clara and Julia are going together, of course. Leif’s bringing Gwen Duke from Slytherin and Alexander’s bringing one of the Durmstrang girls.”

Ron nodded to himself before turning back to Harry. “And Malfoy? He’s literally in the exact same position as you.”

Harry pursed his lips and turned primly back to his slices of toast. “He’s in high demand, apparently,” he said stiffly. “It seems that the entire school has forgotten what an entitled prick he can be when the mood strikes. I even overheard a group of Hufflepuffs in the library talking about how ‘luscious and flowy’ his hair apparently is.”

Ron snorted into his pumpkin juice. “Well, all I’ll say is get to it already, mate. People are getting impatient.”

Chapter Text

“Untransfiguration,” Professor McGonagall said, flicking her wand to write the essay title they would need to complete on the blackboard, “or reversing the effects of transfiguration, is a complicated branch of magic that requires serious concentration. Human Untransfiguration requires another person to be very familiar with the person they must Untransfigure for a high degree of accuracy…”

Malfoy shifted his chair until he was next to Harry, leaning against the desk between them with little regard for Harry’s personal space. Somehow, Harry didn’t mind very much.

“I’ve been thinking,” Malfoy said under his breath. “We haven’t had nearly enough time to properly discuss the—”

“Mr Malfoy, if you do not have something productive to add to this discussion then I suggest you turn around and return your attention to your textbook,” Professor McGonagall said. “Now, Untransfiguration is a branch of magic that is vastly underestimated, which can produce grave consequences so listen carefully…”

“I know there hasn’t been a lot of time to talk about the next task,” Malfoy muttered, utterly unperturbed. “But I think it’s time we visit the forest again. There has to be some clue about—”

“Malfoy, you’ve just lost Slytherin House ten points,” Professor McGonagall said sharply.

Malfoy didn’t have the grace to look apologetic, merely mildly irritated at her interruption.

“Fine,” Harry said under his breath, heeding the warning glance from both McGonagall and Hermione. They were frighteningly similar sometimes. “We can go later tonight, after curfew.”

Harry knew that, unlike the weeks approaching the first task when the hallways were mostly empty after dinner, they would not be so able to sneak out of the castle undetected. Since the announcement of the Yule Ball, students had taken to lingering in the corridors and the Entrance Hall in the hopes of asking someone to the ball—or being asked.

Malfoy nodded his assent and Harry tried not to dwell on the fact that Malfoy hadn’t moved his chair back to its previous position.

That evening, when they were in their dormitory—Harry reading about forest-dwelling creatures and Malfoy re-reading his Potions essay—he realised just how cordial he and Malfoy had become. Calling Malfoy an entitled prick that morning to Ron hadn’t sat right with him, coming out contrived and leaving a bitter taste in his mouth.

“We need to leave before it gets too dark to see outside,” Harry said from where he was sprawled across his bed.

Malfoy muttered something under his breath, folding his essay and slipping it into his satchel. He wrapped his cloak around himself and raised a pale eyebrow questioningly at Harry. Harry realised that he had been staring and tore his eyes away from Malfoy, busying himself with wrapping up in warm layers—the wind had picked up, howling and whipping across the vexed Great Lake.

They trundled—or, rather, Harry trundled and Malfoy swanned—out of the dormitory, broomsticks in hand, and were met with dark corridors lit with dimly flaming torches. The castle was eerie and unnerving when its hallways weren’t teeming with students chattering and laughing, rushing to Transfiguration class ‘before McGonagall has my head!’

They snuck behind a gargoyle at the staircase leading to the Entrance Hall, making sure that the coast was clear before rushing down the stairs and out to the grounds.

Harry instantly regretted choosing such a despicable night to venture out to the Forbidden Forest. Two weeks since the first task had passed and, though all of his minor wounds had healed, he still sported a gash on his lip, and his calf pained him whenever he climbed up the stairs to their dormitory in the evenings.

“Come on, Potter,” Malfoy muttered.

They made the familiar journey across the sloping grounds of Hogwarts, stumbling down the waterlogged grassy patches until they made it past Hagrid’s cabin and to the edge of the forest.

“What exactly are we looking for?” Harry said irritably, thinking of the thick, woollen blankets adorning his warm bed. Although, he had to admit that the prospect of riding across the Hogwarts grounds, even in such murky weather, was still appealing.

“That’s what we’re here to find out,” Malfoy said shortly. “All we have to work with is that we might have to find a ‘key in disguise’ in the forest and that we have to approach it from a height.” With that, Malfoy lifted his leg over his broomstick and kicked off firmly from the boggy ground.

Harry huffed to himself and followed Malfoy, hovering steadily before shooting up to catch up with Malfoy. They steadied at about twenty feet from the tops of the tallest trees, flying at a moderate pace above the forest.

They flew for about twenty minutes, covering the perimeters before making their way inward to the very heart of the forest. The wind whipped past them, leaving Harry’s cheeks numb and his jaw tight. All either of them could see were boundless patches of dense foliage and the faint outline of muddy tracks in some of the sparser areas. Harry thought he saw a pack of wolves roaming near a scattering of thick trees but within the blink of an eye they had disappeared.

Malfoy let out a noise of frustration from ahead of him.

“No need to get your wand in a knot,” Harry muttered. “I’ll fly a bit higher to get a proper view of the forest.”

“It’s not that,” Malfoy snapped.

Harry sped up against the wind until he was hovering beside Malfoy. He noticed that Malfoy was wincing, his hand resting on his ankle while the other gripped his broomstick.

“We should head back now, anyway,” Harry said in an attempt to reassure him. “You can visit Madam Pomfrey in the morning about your ankle.”

Malfoy looked like he wanted to argue but eventually nodded tersely and they flew back, Harry landing precariously in the slippery grass. Feeling rather exuberant, and more alive than he had in days, Harry quickened his pace to keep up with Malfoy. They made their way back to the castle in silence.

Harry wanted to reach out to help Malfoy every time he heard a sharp intake of breath when he leaned too heavily on his ankle or slipped in a puddle, but every time Harry turned towards him with an open mouth to offer a shoulder to lean on, Malfoy glowered at him.

“Malfoy, I’m trying to help you here,” Harry sighed after Malfoy almost smashed in one of the panes of the glasshouse with how hard his hand splattered against it to halt his fall. “You helped me at the end of the first task. If you’d just let me then we’d be even; I’d have a clear conscience and you wouldn’t have a broken ankle.”

“Because my priority is clearing the conscience Boy Who Lived,” Malfoy said, though there was little spite in his tone. He stopped in his tracks and heaved an arm reluctantly around Harry’s shoulders. He allowed Harry to support him up to the castle doors until he snatched both of their broomsticks and muttered something along the lines of “at least let me carry them.”

They eventually arrived at the Entrance Hall when the time was approaching midnight. They traipsed back to their dormitory, narrowly avoiding Peeves, and collapsed back onto Malfoy’s bed. If someone asked him, Harry thought, he would say that Abrax and Cassiopeia were curled up on his bed and that it seemed unreasonable to move them when Malfoy’s warm, emerald bedsheets looked quite enticing.

 

*

 

“I have an idea.”

Two weeks had passed since the first night that they had roamed the skies above the Forbidden Forest in search of any indication of what the second task might involve. Since then, they had snuck out four times, returning to their dormitory more disappointed with each fruitless attempt.

Malfoy lowered his copy of A Practical Application of Defensive Magic and raised an eyebrow at Harry. “You have an idea?”

Harry glared at him. “Do you want to hear it or not?” he asked impatiently.

Harry watched as Malfoy seemed to fight the smile tugging at his lips and motioned with his hand for Harry to proceed.

“You remember last month after the first task when McGonagall gave us our envelopes?” he said, not waiting for a response. “She said that the envelopes would each contain a different clue about the second task, right? Right now, there seems to be no other way of interpreting our clue other than what we’ve already searched for above the forest. So I was thinking that, now, the only thing left for us to do is find the other hints and piece them together to give us a better idea.”

Malfoy observed him quietly, head tilted in contemplation. “I thought you were a Gryffindor through and through,” he said with a small smile.

“I still want us to win this,” Harry said firmly. “And right now, at least, getting any more help we can seems like the only option.”

“Ambition is a blade that cuts both ways,” Malfoy said sagely.

Harry was suddenly struck by the fact that Malfoy had quoted Harry’s own father. He didn’t quite know what to make of this. He settled on avoiding Malfoy’s eye and picking at a stain on the sleeve of his shirt that he had noticed that morning but hadn’t bothered cleaning.

Malfoy turned his back to him, toying with the binding of his textbook. “It’s the least impractical plan at our disposal, but that’s not exactly saying very much. I don’t see how we’ll pull it off. To begin with, we don’t even know where exactly the Larsons or the Beauxbatons girls are staying, let alone where they keep the clues. And on top of that, they probably have security spells that we’ve never heard of and probably can’t break through.” Malfoy caught his eye and smiled despite himself. “But the first task proceeded far better than I expected, given my company so… I’m in.”

Despite the snide comment, Harry smiled, his chest feeling considerably lighter, and met Malfoy’s resolute gaze before glancing back to the open textbooks and pieces of parchment scattered around his desk.

“What about sneaking onto the Durmstrang ship?” Malfoy said. “The Beauxbatons carriage is far too small for us not to be noticed and the Durmstrangs are hardly even there—they spend far more time in the castle itself.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, but I honestly haven’t a clue how we’d manage that without being caught,” he said, smiling ruefully. “I didn’t think that far ahead.”

“Do you ever?” Malfoy muttered, his tone dripping with insouciance.

Harry sighed, glaring at him despite the fact that Malfoy was completely immersed in his book. If was never quite as satisfying when Malfoy refused to acknowledge his glares, however.

“Vulchanova never leaves the ship and all the Durmstrang students know what we look like. If someone even catches a glimpse of us, Vulchanova will have us instantly disqualified.”

Malfoy sunk his teeth into his lower lip, squinting his eyes as though regarding something confusing. “Unless we could convince one of them to let us on.”

Harry thought he was joking, until he saw the look of grim resoluteness in Malfoy’s eye. “That would never happen.”

Malfoy looked mildly disgruntled. “Well, I don’t see you coming up with a better plan,” he snapped.

Harry returned his attention to the letter his mother had sent him to inform him of the banal activities and events back home (apparently his parents had been Christmas shopping in Muggle London and his father had been utterly enraptured by their stationary Christmas crackers and  silent ornaments), letting her neat handwriting blur beneath his gaze. The more he thought about Malfoy’s proposition, the more his mind returned to one particular person he knew could be the key to giving them access to the Durmstrang ship.

“What about the Larsons?” Harry said suddenly.

Malfoy dropped his gaze to his textbook and crossed his arms across his chest tightly, distinctly ruffled. “Well, Leif looks dim-witted enough to let us onto the Durmstrang ship if we asked him politely enough. A simple Confundus Charm might even do it.”

“No, no,” Harry said, “I don’t mean convince him, I mean we could impersonate him… or Alexander, even.”

Malfoy eyes lit up with a strangely alluring mischievous glint, that seemed all the more prominent in the weak light of their dormitory. “You mean Polyjuice Potion? Or a Transfiguration Charm?” he said, shifting to the end of the bed eagerly, closer to Harry’s desk. “That… that might actually work, Potter. If one of us pretends to be one of the Larsons we could just ask the other where their clue is, or possibly find it on the ship itself.”

“Exactly,” Harry said, his mind whirring with the possibilities. “We’re going to have to get a bit of one of them, though. Not to mention stealing all of the ingredients from Slughorn’s cupboard.”

Malfoy leaned over his bed and reached for their own clue lying on his bedside locker, revealing a thin strip of pale skin at his hip. Harry felt a sudden, inexplicable urge to reached out. He flicked his gaze back to Malfoy’s face, slightly contrite.

“It’s in two months and the potion will take half that time to brew but…”

“We should do it as soon as possible,” Harry said firmly. “We don’t know how long it might take us to work out the clue, even after we find it.”

 

*

 

Two days and much contemplation later, Harry made the apparently grave mistake of informing Malfoy of his precise plan to snatch a tuft of Leif’s hair for the Polyjuice Potion—seduction. They had agreed that Harry be the one to sneak into the Durmstrang ship and for Malfoy to create a distraction that would buy him time to find the Larsons’ clue. Harry had said that he would be the one to snatch a piece of Leif’s hair. He had deigned not to inform Malfoy of his plan until that very evening when Malfoy, sprawled on his bed and taking notes on the effects of Wiggenweld Potion, had asked him.

“Oh,” said Harry, blushing fiercely. “Well— I… I knew he’d notice if I tried to use Accio on him. And I didn’t want to knock him unconscious because then he’d be suspicious after waking up. So… well, I just thought that I’d—er—tug his hair a little.”

Malfoy regarded him with an amusing level of incredulity for a long time before rolling onto his side to face Harry. He quirked an eyebrow with Malfoy-esque presumptuousness. “Thick as he may be, Potter, you don’t think he might notice if you tug an enormous chunk of his hair out?”

“Well, I figured that if I got him in a moment of weakness, in the right setting, that he’d be willing to… let me tug his hair a little,” Harry said quickly, busying himself with shading in his diagram of a Snargaluff pod with vigour.

He heard the headboard of Malfoy’s four-poster creak beneath his weight, sensed Malfoy stalking towards him and felt hot air against his cheek. “You’re going to what?”

Harry huffed and rolled up his parchment, shoving it inside his satchel. He tried to ignore the racing of his heart at Malfoy’s tone and squared his shoulders with grim determination. “You heard me, Malfoy. If you have an alternative plan, I’d be happy to hear it. If not, then stop breathing down my neck.”

Malfoy crossed his arms and clenched his jaw. “No,” he said simply.

“What do you mean ‘no’?” Harry said incredulously, raising an eyebrow at Malfoy’s stance. “Time is running out. Obviously, this is a last resort but it’s all I’ve got right now.”

“No,” Malfoy repeated, with more certainty this time, as though he had suddenly found a plausible justification for his opposition to Harry’s proposal. “In case you’ve forgotten, he’s the competition. Being in a position like that… he could try something. You don’t know what he could do when it’s just the two of you.”

“Since when have you been concerned about my wellbeing?” Harry said, pushing past Malfoy to pull out a clean set of robes to wear to dinner.

“Since we actually had a genuine shot at winning this tournament, Potter,” Malfoy snapped. “I can’t have you getting injured by Larson just because he succeeds in catching you in a moment of weakness. That would be entirely stupid, even by your remarkably low standards.”

Harry pretended to search deeper in his wardrobe to prevent Malfoy noticing the residual blush on his cheeks. “Well, then come keep a look out for me, then, if you’re that concerned about my wellbeing,” he muttered.

“I would rather spend an evening at Azkaban than watch you attempt to proposition Larson,” Malfoy said.

Harry rolled his eyes. “He’s not going to try anything,” he said firmly. “We already have a huge advantage on Durmstrang. They know not to mess with either of us. And it’s not like I’m going in defenceless; I’ll have my wand with me at all times and, in case you haven’t noticed from first-hand experience, I’m rather handy with blocking jinxes.”

Malfoy muttered something under his breath about first-hand experience and stormed past him. The lavatory door slammed shut.

Harry slumped into the vanity seat and began to attempt to tame his hair—something that, ultimately proved fruitless—feeling far less confident about his prospects with Leif than he did before.

 

*

 

Harry watched Leif leaving the Great Hall from behind a large gargoyle at one of the pillars. Anticipation and anxiety coursed through him; he desperately wanted to grab a couple of strands of Leif’s hair and return back to his dormitory, unscathed and victorious.

As soon as Leif stepped into the Entrance Hall, Harry flicked his wand expertly and watched the papers Leif had clutched in his hand escape his grip and fall to the ground.

Harry rushed over to where he was crouched, gathering them hastily. He bent down and picked up two thin textbooks.

Leif’s face lit up at the sight of him. Harry sighed with relief and mentally willed himself to calm down, which transpired to be an entirely redundant exercise.

“Thank you,” Leif said, reaching out to take the papers from Harry.

“Not a problem,” Harry said, smiling in what he hoped could be perceived as flirty manner. It was probably more of a tight grimace. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you, actually.”

A shadow of confusion crossed Leif’s face before shrugging. “Of course, vat vas it you vanted to talk about?”

“Well,” Harry said, clasping his hands behind his back to avoid scratching his wrist—something Malfoy had once mentioned was an immediate give-away that he was lying. “I— I heard you say to Professor McGonagall that you’re taught dance at Durmstrang.”

“Ve are,” Leif confirmed. “My brother and I vere taught from a young age. Mostly we learned to prepare for dances and formal events.”

“That’s very lucky,” Harry said, trying (and failing rather spectacularly) to feign his earnestness shading his tone. He prided himself on reading Leif correctly and lifting such a coy, helpless façade that he seemed to be lapping up. Harry could feel himself cringing. “You see, that’s not what happens in England, really. We aren’t taught anything like that at Hogwarts and, even after our practice a few weeks ago, I’m—er—hopeless at dancing.”

Leif seemed to relish the strangely charged silence between them for a moment. Evenetually, however, the scrutinising look with which he considered Harry melted into an unnervingly knowing smile. He paused to glance over his shoulder before turning his full attention to Harry. “Vould you valk me, Harry?” he said, opening his arm to gesture down to the dungeon corridors.

Harry nodded and followed him down the winding stairs until they reached one of the darker passageways where some of the rarely-used classrooms were. He tried to ignore the racing of his heart as Leif’s proposal struck him with profound immediacy.

“I vill teach you to dance, if that is what you are asking,” Leif said.

“Oh—er—I really couldn’t ask you to do that,” Harry tried to insist.

Leif shook his head and smiled wolfishly. “It vould be my pleasure.”

Harry was beginning to dislike Leif more and more by the minute, but somehow knowing that he wasn’t attracted to him in any sense was quite reassuring. He could focus entirely on the task he had in mind, and complete it as quickly as possible. He could already envision the look on Malfoy’s face when he produced a clump of Leif’s fair. “Well, maybe you could show me a few steps just so I don’t make a total troll of myself at the ball.”

They continued down the corridor, Harry glancing around every so often. He thought he saw a long shadow on the staircase, though he reasoned that he may have mistook it for one of the ghosts. He patted his robes to ensure that his wand was easily accessible, to be certain.

Leif led him to a classroom Harry had never been in before. He silently prayed that there weren’t any evening tutoring sessions assigned to that classroom before shutting the door behind him. He saw a sharp flash of light behind the door and slowly reached behind him to pat his robes, sighing once he felt the outline of his wand again. It was becoming more compulsive to check his wand the longer he remained with Leif.

Leif stood on the opposite side of the room, untying the constraints of his robes. He looked rather intimidating standing in the dim light of a deserted classroom; Harry began to think that perhaps Malfoy had been right.

“Vat you need to do first is actually come over here,” Leif said with a wry grin.

Harry laughed loudly—even to his own ears it sounded forced. He forced himself to cross the expansive classroom and stood in front of Leif, lifting his chin to meet his eye.

Leif extracted his wand and Harry jolted, reaching for his own wand. Expelliamus was on the tip of his tongue until he noticed Leif’s expression. Leif looked rather disappointed with his reaction.

“Relax,” he said with a surprisingly comforting tone. “I am just playing some music for us to dance vith.” He pointed his wand to a suit of armour and muttered “Cantis.”

The suit of armour sprang to life and replicated a familiar waltz tune.

“Now, you must take my arm and relax your shoulders like so… make yourself… how do you say it... looser, less straight in your back,” he said, gently lifting Harry’s arm and placing a hand on his waist. He smiled. “Better already.”

Leif guided him in a basic two-step at first, something Harry proved to be—and there was no other word for it—diabolical at. With a patient sigh, Leif tried showing him a box step, leaving them both laughing each time Harry pulled back when he was supposed to step closer, or twist the wrong way and leaving them in a muddle of limbs.

Harry knew that taking the traditional position of the girl in their dance was utterly unhelpful if it was practice he needed. Judging from the dark glint in Leif’s eye as the dancing proceeded and they both became rather more restless, however, neither of them intended to get much practice done. Harry kept trying to find excuses to comb his fingers through Leif’s hair and, if his lewd stare was anything to go by, Leif had far less innocent things than a simple two-step on his mind.

“That’s good,” Leif said after Harry had miraculously caught onto one of the swift turns. “You are getting much better already.” The way Leif moved was graceful and effortless, fluid between movements and gentle with every touch.

Harry forced himself to beam, allowing Leif to lead him in the traditional three-beat step. He somehow found that pretending that his dance partner was Malfoy instead of Leif made the whole experience slightly more bearable.

“Only because I have a great teacher,” Harry said.

Leif seemed to like hearing such a compliment, pressing a gentle pressure on the small of Harry’s back and stepping closer. Harry thought about how, if Leif’s role was exchanged with Malfoy, he wouldn’t have hesitated to revel in such a comment—after mocking Harry, of course—by leaning down, tightening his grip on the juncture between Harry’s neck and shoulder to whisper something filthy in Harry’s ear. Harry decidedly returned his attention to Leif and swallowed thickly. He caught Leif’s eye, reminding himself precisely why he was here to begin with.

The steady rhythm picked up and Leif’s movements with it. He did not lead, but instead guided Harry around the make-shift dance floor with appreciated patience. Harry couldn’t quite believe how he managed to keep up with the sharp twists and quick steps.

“You must lift your head up, Harry,” Leif instructed. “Keep your eyes on me and the movements will become natural.”

Slightly breathless—from the dancing itself, more than anything—Harry caught his eye and smiled. Leif pressed closer against him, allowing his hand to wander to the small of Harry’s back as he brought him flush against his chest. Leif wasn’t significantly taller, but he had an intimidating poise and a broad chest that seemed to make Harry feel as though he needed to compensate.

They moved closer as the music progressed, picking up to its crescendo, all the while Harry felt like time around him was slowing down. He kept trying to make excuses to reach into Leif’s hair, but none of the dances felt intimate enough for such a gesture.

Leif gentle pressed a hand on Harry’s hip and lowered his head until their foreheads brushed. The quick pace of the music forgotten, they swayed on the spot, panting lightly.

Harry felt fingertips dancing across his lower back and the sharp puffs of warm breath against his mouth. He shut his eyes and felt harsh, demanding lips press against him. Harry kept his lips firmly against Leif’s, disentangling their hands and plunging both of his into Leif’s hair. It was a rather uncomfortable position and he absently thought that Malfoy’s hair looked much silkier; the long, sinewy strands would wrap around his fingers as he tugged, unlike the short, dull strands of Leif’s hair.

Leif pushed him against one of the desks and Harry sat willingly, tangling his fingers in his hair and tugging harshly. Leif seemed to take this as a sign that Harry was very interested and trailed his hands along Harry’s thigh, squeezing and massaging. Harry felt Leif’s tongue slip into his mouth and he shifted up to gain leverage and tug another few strands out. Leif moaned into his mouth loudly. Harry felt entirely too prudish to be listening to a noise like that. He prayed that the sound couldn’t be overheard.

Harry pressed back rather unwillingly, simply to give himself a better angle to get a proper grip on the hair at the nape of Leif’s neck. He tugged sharply and, in one swift motion, desperately sucked on Leif’s tongue in a bid to try and distract him from the pain of having a n entire handful of hair ripped from his scalp. Harry even felt slightly apologetic. It seemed to work as Leif’s hips jolted forward and he grunted into Harry’s mouth.

With a firm grip on the generous tuft of hair in his sweaty palm, Harry slowed their pace. He turned his head to allow Leif to—rather sloppily—kiss along his cheek and jaw.

“I… I really should head back to my dormitory,” Harry said carefully, trying to let disappointment bleed into his tone. In reality, he was ecstatic; despite the less-than-mediocre kiss, he had managed to grab enough hair for them to use for the Polyjuice Potion.

“You must go?” Leif said roughly, pushing Harry’s hair aside to kiss below his ear.

“Yes, yes, I really should,” he insisted, pulling away slightly and disentangling their legs. He carefully lowered his hand into his robes and dropped the hairs into his pocket, swiping his sweaty palm on the fabric. “I’d love to do this again.”

He certainly had no plans to do any such thing but didn’t want to leave a sour taste in Leif’s mouth. There were too many risks to upset his Triwizard competitor.

Leif grinned. “I’m sure you vould. Perhaps ve could dance together again at the ball?”

“Yes,” Harry said, though he very definitely would not be sharing a dance with Leif again. In fact, he would rather Padfoot and his father sing a drunken rendition of You Charmed the Heart Right Out of Me to the entire student population at the Yue Ball. Harry pasted a smile on his face, pushed himself off the desk with rather less grace than he had intended and crossed the room. Leif simply watched him, visibly adjusting himself beneath his robes.

“You really are an excellent teacher.” Harry shot a final, coquettish smile over his shoulder before leaving the room. If Harry had learned one thing from the entire ordeal—other than that Leif Larson had either an astonishingly high pain tolerance or a major pain kink—it was that he was a hopeless dancer.

Harry trotted up the stairs, weaving through some of the shortcuts Malfoy had pointed out over the past couple of weeks and smiling to himself this time. He knocked open the door, startling a snoozing Abrax in the process, to find it empty. His smile fell. Though he figured that Malfoy was probably in the library or snacking in the Great Hall before dinner vanished, he couldn’t help but selfishly hope for someone to share his excitement with; they were one step closer to figuring out the next task.

He took the time to change into his pyjamas and settle into bed, a mug of milky tea clutched in one hand, A Guide to Helpful Herbology Hacks in the other, and a packet of chocolate biscuits underneath his armpit. He eventually settled into his nightly routine, and even managed to read the chapter he had been meaning to read for Professor Sprout. When he was marking his page to turn in for the night, the rickety door flung open. Malfoy sauntered inside, paying no regard to Harry’s quiet greeting.

Harry set aside his book and placed his mug on top, whipping back the bedsheet to face Malfoy. “I got the hair,” he announced.

Malfoy ignored him, favouring instead to tug irately at his collar.

“All we have to do now is gather the ingredients from Slughorn’s cupboard,” Harry said.

Malfoy made a non-committal noise.

Harry figured that Malfoy was irritated that his plan had arisen without a hitch, despite Malfoy’s admittedly reasonable protests. He made an irritated noise, despite knowing how petulant he probably sounded, and slumped onto his bed. Reaching across it, he pulled Abrax onto his lap and re-opened the passage he had been reading on taming Whomping Willows. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry watched Malfoy fold his robes neatly in the corner of his eye, his movements stiff.

“Look, I know it wasn’t a great idea,” Harry sighed eventually, “but it’s the best I could think of. He was way easy to manipulate and the plan worked so I don’t get why you’re in a huff.”

Malfoy turned on his heel and walked straight to Harry’s bed, eyes finding his instantly and burning with emotion. “You don’t think maybe there’s a reason Larson was so easy to manipulate?”

Harry shut his book firmly and leaned forward in his bed, fully aware that his red plaid pyjamas and the mug in his hand with a picture of the Chudley Cannons’ mascot didn’t make him look particularly intimidating. He privately agreed with Malfoy, but something spurred him to be contrary. Malfoy had no reason to act indignant when the plan had succeeded, no thanks to him.

“Is it that hard to believe that he might actually just like me and not have an ulterior motive?” Harry said instead.

Malfoy scoffed and threw his hands into the air in exasperation. “Of course it’s not hard to believe, Potter, but he’s our competitor; he’s the person who’s going out of his way to make sure we lose and I promise you that he and his brother and Vulchanova will do anything to make sure of that.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” Harry snapped, forcing himself not to read into Malfoy’s response. “I got the hair, and he didn’t suspect a thing. Don’t you think he would have tried something just now if he was trying to sabotage us?”

“And if he had?” Malfoy demanded, raising his fist and shaking it at the door behind him. “What would’ve happened then? You think a basic Protego charm would’ve brought Larson to your feet?” He gripped the base of Harry’s bed and dropped his head. “They teach serious Dark magic in Durmstrang. That little stunt Larson pulled by lifting you on that desk? He would’ve had you at his mercy and you wouldn’t have had a chance to even attempt to block one of his curses.”

“I admitted it was a poorly thought-out plan, alright?” Harry said. “Believe it or not, I want to win this next task just as much as you do and that plan was all I could think of. But it worked and I’m still— hang on. How did you know that?”

Malfoy’s jaw snapped shut and he averted his gaze.

Harry’s heart skipped a beat and his pyjama shirt suddenly felt unbearably constraining around his chest. A deep flush rose up his neck. “You saw me sitting on the desk?”

A steady stream of curses coursed through Harry’s thoughts, all of them indignant, scandalised, embarrassed and highly distressed that Malfoy had seen him and Leif.

Malfoy stalked over to the side of Harry’s bed and reached out. Harry didn’t have time to panic before Malfoy drew his finger down the column of Harry’s throat in a swift, fleeting movement. The tough was light, irreverent and entirely different to the Leif’s harshness. Harry swallowed thickly.

“You have love bites all over your neck,” Malfoy said. His tone dripped with revulsion. He snatched his finger away, drew his wand from his pocket and, flicking his wrist with expertise, drowned the room in darkness.

Harry sat bold upright, a response caught in his throat. Harry despised Malfoy’s tone, his attitude and his entire outburst but something about Malfoy’s apparent vexation seemed to ignite something dark inside of Harry. A million scenarios where Malfoy had watched them through the small window where he had seen a flash of light bounded through his head. He knew that Malfoy’s primary concern was to prevent him from being incapacitated, guaranteeing him a partner for the second task, but Harry couldn’t help but wonder whether something else had pushed Malfoy to follow them. A wild thought sprung in his head, that Malfoy had wanted to ensure that he was safe at the hands of another wizard. He dismissed the thought instantly and pulled his bedsheets sharply over his head.

 

*

 

The morning of the tenth of December—precisely five days before the Yule Ball—lay a heavy blanket of snow across to fall on the grounds and castle of Hogwarts. Their classes had finally ended for Christmas but it seemed that almost every student eligible to attend the Yule Ball had decided to stay at Hogwarts for the holidays.

“Harry, mate,” Ron sighed, his words slightly muffled by the thick Chudley Cannons scarf wrapped around his neck and lower face. “Have you even considered the amount of people who probably want you to take them to the Yule Ball? You just need to comb your hair a bit, pluck up some courage and ask someone.”

Harry concentrated on the delicious cheese and tomato chutney sandwich in his hand, avoiding the wandering eyes of the students sitting near them. “No,” he said. “It’s just… anyone who’s asked me so far have been either very young or very female.”

He had counted seven people who had directly asked him and many more who had insinuated that they would like to go with him.

“And all the people who have dropped hints… Well, I don’t know any of them. I don’t want to take someone that I’ve never spoken to before in my life,” he said, taking a large bite of his sandwich. Taking his frustration out on food didn’t help his predicament, but it was certainly satisfying.

“Harry,” Ron said, evidently taking it upon himself to assure Harry, “you just have to grin and bear it.” He chewed thoughtfully. “What about Ernie MacMillan?”

Harry shook his head. “Going with Stephen Cornfoot, apparently.”

“Ginny?”

“Michael Corner, remember?”

Ron’s expression darkened and he muttered something that sounded awfully similar to “slick git.”

“Anthony Goldstein?” Ron suggested, before pausing. “Actually, no. Hermione said that she caught him in the Transfiguration corridor with someone the other week, when she was on her Head Girl patrolling duties.”

Ginny herself arrived at the Great Hall a moment later, and Ron took inordinate delight in telling her Harry’s precise predicament.

Harry dropped his forehead into his palms. He debated asking McGonagall for some kind of exemption from the Ball. Perhaps he could get in trouble—nothing serious, just something that would mean he would be prevented from suffering through this dreaded affair. Even Harry had to admit, though, that would be steeping to a very low point indeed. He didn’t think he would ever be desperate enough to spend the evening of the Yule Ball alone with Abrax and Cassiopeia, banned from attending the Ball with a week’s worth of detentions awaiting him after the Christmas holidays. The image reminded him uncomfortably of Filch and Mrs Norris.

Harry was distracted from a number of offensive thoughts of an older, greasy version of himself and a skeletal Abrax, chasing students through the corridors of Hogwarts by Ginny’s expression. Her face suddenly lit up, as though remembering something significant. Harry watched her warily.

“No, no, absolutely not,” Ginny said, grinning at Harry with something close to amusement. “You’re going about this entirely the wrong way.”

Harry stared at her blankly.

Ginny’s grin only grew broader. “You’ve been looking in all the wrong places for your Yule Ball date,” she clarified. “You don’t want an Ernie or an Anthony Goldstein—you need a Slytherin.”

“A Slytherin?” Harry repeated.

“Yes,” Ginny said earnestly. “A foil to your noble Gryffindor ways, and a good dancer. And there’s precisely one person for that.”

Harry raised an eyebrow, feeling his patience grow thin.

She nodded her head towards the Slytherin table with little subtlety. “See the stocky boy with dark skin? That’s Blaise Zabini. He’s definitely interested in boys and he’s definitely interested in you—heard him asking around about your blood lineage, the bastard. He’s a bit of a prick at the best of times but you probably saw him at that dance lesson, didn’t you? I have to admit that he’s a good dancer. And that’s all you need, really.”

Ron chuckled to himself at the memory of Harry’s rather atrocious attempt at dancing. Harry didn’t summon the energy to glare at him—he had made peace with his extreme lack of dancing talent.

Harry shot both Ron and Ginny a distinctly inhibited look, but leaned over Ron nonetheless to get a better view. His gaze caught Malfoy sitting next to the same Durmstrang boy with cropped, black hair he was often with. He spotted the boy Ginny was talking about directly beside Malfoy; he was rather good-looking with form-fitting robes and long, slanting eyes. Harry recognised him as Malfoy’s Potions partner and, though he had only exchanged a few words with him, Harry knew him to be tolerable—as far as Slytherins were, that was.

“He’s friends with Malfoy,” Harry muttered, as though that settled the issue.

Ginny raised an eyebrow at him. “I thought you two were starting to get along?”

Harry snorted loudly. “We were until last night when he—actually, never mind.”

Neither of them dwelled on his reluctance, and he was thankful for it. After finishing their meal, Ron led them down the front steps and into the heavy snow. They trudged along, listening to the ringing shouts of laughter and shouting, ducking as misaimed snowballs thundered towards them.

“Well, I don’t see how him—or anyone, for that matter—being friends with Malfoy should stop you from asking them to the ball,” Ginny said eventually. “They’re rooting for him; it’s not like they’ve got it in for you or anything.”

Ron looked like he wanted to disagree.

“I suppose,” Harry said glumly. He leaned against a tree trunk while Ron tied his shoelaces. A powdery snowball hit him square in the chin.

“GOTCHA!” Ron shouted gleefully, running in the opposite direction.

Harry smiled despite himself, crouching behind the tree trunk and hastily making snowballs. He flung three snowballs around the tree in quick succession, hitting Ron squarely in the back and shoulder. Ginny managed to ruthlessly charge at him until he was rolling in the snow, squirming as it made contact with his bare skin. They kept walloping each other with snowballs, dodging expertly and diving dramatically until the previously untouched, rather majestic snow around them looked like a chaotic battlefield.

Harry felt a snowball hit him squarely in the back of the head and yelped loudly.

“There he is,” Ginny said, completely unaffected by his protest. She pointed to where Malfoy was leading a small group of Slytherins—including Blaise—down to the Great Lake. “Go on,” he said, pushing Harry in their direction.

“What? Ginny I thought you were joking!” he said, digging his heels into the snow.

“Of course not, Harry,” she sighed, ruffling yet more snow in his hair. “You have to go with someone and the number of gay men at Hogwarts who are still dateless has pretty much diminished to you, him, and Anthony Goldstein, but Hermione said—”

“I know what Hermione said,” he muttered irritably.

Ginny regarded him with pursed lips and an unimpressed glint in her eye. “Well, who else, then? Unless you’d rather tag along with Michael and I?”

Harry sighed. He had resigned himself to anything but being the person to ask someone to the Yule Ball, hoping that another person—someone decidedly male and within an appropriate age range—would ask him before that eventuality was necessary.

Ginny seemed to notice his hesitation and take it as a sign of assent. “That’s the spirit, Harry!” she enthused, propelling him towards the mostly Slytherin group.

Harry spluttered for a moment. He was suddenly conscious of the fact that his robes and hair were covered in a light dusting of snow. He wiped his hands down his front absently, his gaze focused on Malfoy and his sycophants—sorry, ‘friends’.

“Should I not wait until he’s alone, or—”

“Harry, just get it over with before he’s snatched up as someone else’s date.”

Harry paused. He thought back to the number of new romances that had blossomed since the announcement of the Yule Ball, the countless number of people who had confirmed their dates in the last week alone, and the fact that there seemed to be an ever-shrinking pool of possible dates.

Though only speaking to Blaise a couple of times during class to ask him to pass the Gurdyroots, or to borrow his jar or set of glass phials, Harry had found him to be surprisingly friendly. Perhaps friendly was too kind—tolerable, he decided. Blasie was tolerable and a good enough dancer to distract from Harry, and that was all he needed.

“Alright, alright, I’m going,” he huffed. “Keep an eye out for me, won’t you? I don’t fancy being hexed by one of them. Especially not Malfoy.”

Harry marched over to the group, feeling rather like a weak predator sneaking up to prey that he had no business trying to catch. He trotted to the back of the group until a couple of seventh-year girls turned around and eyed him quizzically.

“Blaise?” he said, relieved to find the Slytherin trailing near the back of the group. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

The entire group whipped around, Malfoy included, and stared at him. Harry noticed that Malfoy’s blonde hair was coated in a light sprinkling of snow, making his skin take on an enticingly glowing quality. Harry shook off the thought.

“Sure,” Blaise said, smiling smugly and pushing past two of the girls. He nodded deliberately at the group to continue on the path to the Great Lake. They all left except Malfoy, who lingered five feet away from them and, despite Blaise’s glare, didn’t look like he planned on leaving.

Harry resolutely ignored him.

“What was it you wanted to talk about?”

Harry caught his gaze and smiled nervously. His eyes darted back to Malfoy to find him shoving his foot into the snow and dragging it back and forth. He glanced back to Blaise. “I was hoping to ask—er—if you’d like you come to the ball? With me?” he said before he could change his mind.

For some reason, Blaise glanced at Malfoy, a look of mild curiosity crossing his face before he turned back to Harry, a broad, smug smile on his face. He nodded. “Yeah, sure,” he said, annoyingly suave. “You needed a bit of dance practice for the opening of the ball, I presume?”

“He’s had quite enough dance practice.”

Harry whipped around at the disdainful voice to find Malfoy scowling at them. Harry pursed his lips and turned back to Blaise. “Yeah, that would be—er—good.”

Blaise smiled smugly and gave him an unabashed once-over. “See you soon, then.”

Blaise walked straight towards Malfoy and yanked his arm, dragging him towards the Lake. Malfoy shook him off angrily after a couple of paces and stormed off.

A mound of snow thrown over his head alerted Harry to Ron’s presence and he tore his eyes away from Malfoy’s retreating figure.

“Mate! You seriously asked Blaise Zabini?” Ron said, scrunching his nose. “What did he say?”

“Oh—er—yeah, he said yes,” Harry said distractedly.

Ron nodded, expression still one of mild distaste, but seemed more relieved on Harry’s behalf than anything. He whooped loudly and pulled him into a one-handed hug. Harry smiled, shoving a handful of snow down Ron’s coat before diving for cover to block against Ron’s retaliation. Harry couldn’t help but feel that he may have made the wrong decision by asking Blaise.

 

*

 

“We’re getting the ingredients tonight.”

Harry opened an eye from where he had been napping on his bed after an afternoon of playing Wizard’s Chess and listening to Ron complain about the length of the Transfiguration essay they had been set.

Harry pulled himself into a sitting position and startled to find Malfoy crouched beside him. “Since when did you need my help to get something?” he said.

“It’s not that I need your help specifically,” Malfoy said. Harry absently thought that his tone lacked much conviction. “But since you’re the kind of typical Gryffindor who’s willing to sacrifice himself, I figured you could take the blame when we get caught. And we will be caught.”

Harry could hear the annoyance in Malfoy’s tone and, reluctantly, had to sympathise with his frustration. As the days progressed, it seemed less likely that they would be able to sneak into Slughorn’s potions store without being caught. Ron’s assertion that ‘love is in the air’ at Hogwarts seemed to have materialised; it was as though the pumpkin juice in the Great Hall had been replaced by a powerful love potion. Harry could no longer walk down to the Great Hall for his evening tea and scones without seeing couples snogging or holding hands in the secluded hallways and dark corridors. The teachers had taken to patrolling the corridors past curfew to separate students and send them back to their respective dormitories. The fact that the Potions corridor was an ideal hiding place for a midnight rendezvous went unsaid between them.

Late that night, after re-reading the list of ingredients for the Polyjuice Potion for the final time, Harry and Malfoy made their way down the Right Tower, passing the portrait of Edessa Skanderberg, and crossing through a shortcut at the end of the Charms corridor.

They sidled down the stairs, taking care not to alert Peeves, and darted down the final set of steps to the dungeons. It was darker here, the crevices and corners submerged in darkness and only the main pathway bathed in a dim light from the flaming torches.

They crept along the corridor, whipping around sharply at the smallest of noises; a mouse scurrying, the wind howling outside and a strange ticking noise from one of the classrooms.

“The Slytherin common room isn’t far from here,” Malfoy muttered. “If you hear something then follow me there, alright?”

Harry nodded, creeping further until they halted in front of the tall, wooden door.

Alohomora,” he whispered, pointing his wand at the round, brass knob.

The door swung open to reveal tall shelves covering every inch of the walls. They were teeming with bottled eyes and coiling animal skin; fangs and unicorn horns; vials filled with acid green and blood red liquids that seemed to shine behind the shadows. There were various potions—some bubbling manically, others steaming lightly—brewing along a few rickety benches too, and Harry had to tug at Malfoy’s robes to stop him from banging into one of them.

“Shut the door,” Malfoy whispered.

Harry closed the door carefully. “Alright, you get the top half of the list and I’ll get the bottom half.”

Malfoy nodded and began searching the shelves frantically. They both knew that it would be too dangerous to use Accio, afraid as they were that the ingredients they needed would whiz from the cabinets and send others toppling to the ground.

Harry set about gathering the Lacewing flies and the Boomslang skin, reaching up on one of the small footstools to snatch them. He held the ingredients tightly to his chest and rounded the corner to find Malfoy counting the amount of fluxweed they would need.

“I think that’s about everything,” Malfoy said. “I got the knotgrass last week during class.”

Harry nodded, arms full of jars and vials, and they crept out of the store cupboard, locking the door behind them. A thrill of excitement coursed through him because they did it—they managed to steal all of the ingredients and, in the process, hold a relatively civil conversation, something that hadn’t happened in weeks.

“Did you hear that?” Malfoy hissed.

Harry paused and he strained to hear the faint approaching footsteps.

“Turn around,” Harry said urgently and, with his arms full, nodded his head towards the corridor leading down to the Slytherin common room.

They rushed along the dark passageway, could hear the footsteps growing louder, more prominent and firmer, as though their owner had found a purpose to follow them.

“Down here,” Malfoy whispered, edging along the dark corridor.

If the person pursuing them found them now, they would have absolutely no plausible excuse. Two Hogwarts Triwizard champions sneaking through the school at night, arms brimming with ingredients that were infamously associated with the Polyjuice Potion? Not to mention the fact that Malfoy had a permanently devious smirk etched across his face and a notorious history that seemed to attract blame from all of his professors.

The footsteps were coming nearer, the familiar click of a heel hitting the hard stone in the dungeons.

Harry had reached a dead end, a large statute Salazar Slytherin blocking his path. Malfoy, rushing behind Harry, banged into him, sending the jar of fluxweed tumbling to the ground. The loud crash as the glass smashed on the stone echoed throughout the halls. Harry’s heart plummeted as the footsteps grew louder and more impatient and they spotted a tall figure turn at the end of the corridor.

Suddenly Harry felt a body slam against his, pushing against the statute. He gripped tightly to the ingredients clutched in his hand as he felt more bottles and jars pressed between them. He suddenly felt hot air on his face and felt Malfoy breathing down his neck.

“Close your eyes,” Malfoy whispered frantically. “Just— go with it. She’s coming.”

Harry shut his eyes, hit with the realisation of what Malfoy was doing: he was concealing their ingredients by blocking Harry and pretending to kiss him. Until he was no longer pretending.

Harry felt searing hot lips press fiercely against the rapid pulse in his neck. He felt Malfoy slowly shift their positions until his robes were spread out and covering the ingredients held between their chests. Harry winced as the bottles clinked together. Harry opened the column of his neck, pulling the clattering glass bottles away while also giving Malfoy better access. Malfoy’s lips were far softer than he had imagined, yet insistent and demanding, leaving Harry’s heart racing and his skin alight.

The sound of faltering footsteps and a single, rather exasperated sigh alerted them to Professor McGonagall’s presence.

Harry felt Malfoy press gentle kisses along the curve of his jawline, carefully shifting his body to separate the bottles between them.

“Malfoy! Potter!” Harry heard her exclaim. Though Malfoy blocked most of his view—and his head was lowered to concentrate on not dropping the ingredients—he was quite sure from the tone of her voice that she was more scandalised than angry. “Ten points from Slytherin and Gryffindor. Now get to bed, both of you. Separate beds!”

She turned on her heel and marched in the opposite direction.

Malfoy lowered his head to Harry’s shoulder breathing heavily.

Harry clutched the ingredients tighter in his sweaty palms, his heart still pounding in his chest. “Merlin, that was too close,” he muttered. He felt Malfoy smile against his shoulder before Harry realised their position and scrambled away from Malfoy.

They rushed back to their dormitory, Harry determinedly examining the small set of handwritten instructions wrapped around the container of Bicorn horn rather than meeting Malfoy’s gaze. His cheeks were burning furiously and his eyes kept darting compulsively to Malfoy’s feet as he trailed behind him.

When they finally arrived at their dormitory, he pushed past Malfoy and dropped the ingredients in his arms onto his desk. Malfoy followed him, stacking them neatly. Harry shifted away in a swift movement and smoothed the bedsheets unnecessarily. He felt Malfoy’s astute eyes burning his back.

“Why’re you so… uptight?” Malfoy asked, falling into the chair beside Harry’s desk and crossing his legs.

“I’m not,” Harry said sharply.

Malfoy raised an eyebrow at him. He observed Harry for a moment before his face broke into a sudden, self-satisfied smile. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in the chair. “If this is about the kiss—”

“It’s not about the kiss,” Harry snapped, dropping his gaze to the open copy of Moste Potente Potions on his bed. He cleared his throat. “It didn’t mean anything. Obviously.”

Malfoy paused for a moment, dragging his finger across the chestnut wood arm of the chair. “Obviously,” Malfoy repeated. His tone was melodic and contemplative, as though he was considering the connotations of the word. “Just like how your kiss with Larson didn’t mean anything?”

“What are you talking about? Of course it didn’t,” he said firmly. He met Malfoy’s insisting gaze. “I thought I made it clear that I kissed him so that we could take some of his hair so that we could brew the Polyjuice Potion. Bit like how you kissed me so that McGonagall wouldn’t suspect us of anything so that we could brew the Polyjuice Potion.”

Malfoy pursed his lips and opened his mouth but Harry held up a hand to silence him.

“In case you haven’t figured out that link, Malfoy, everything I’m doing here is to help us figure out the clue for the second task. It’s not some quest to kiss all the Triwizard champions.”

Malfoy nodded tersely, seemingly satisfied. He pulled his tie aggressively off his head and flung it onto his pillow. “I’m taking a shower,” he announced.

Before Harry could respond, Malfoy had stalked into the lavatory and shut the door. Infuriated by Malfoy’s paradoxical disdain and indifference towards him, he huffed heavily. Malfoy was intangible; he blurred the lines of their relationship, treated him like an inconvenience one minute and brought up Larson the next, and always seemed to end their conversations leaving Harry unhinged, as though Malfoy had managed to extract more about him than Harry had wanted to share. As he crawled beneath his bedsheets and lay in bed absentmindedly stroked Abrax’s fur, Harry couldn’t help but touch the place across his jaw where Malfoy’s lips had left their mark.

 

*

 

On the morning of the Yule Ball, Harry was awoken by an irritating, insistent tapping sound. He heard Malfoy groan loudly, followed soon after by a firm thump. Harry glanced to his right and saw that the pillow Malfoy had thrown across the room had missed him by mere inches.

“Thought you were the Slytherin Seeker,” Harry muttered, voice slightly raspy. “Aren’t you supposed to have good aim?”

A second pillow embroidered with the Hogwarts crest hit Harry squarely in the chest. It wasn’t entirely unexpected.

The tapping persisted and Harry rose to his feet, following the sound until he reached the window beside Malfoy’s bed. He whipped back the heavy curtains and found the source; a tawny owl with white feathers around her eyes stood expectantly on the windowsill, a letter attached to his leg.

Harry opened the window and took the letter carefully, shutting the window quickly to prevent the heat from their dormitory escaping into the blizzard roaming across the grounds of Hogwarts. He recognised his mother’s handwriting from the address and beamed down at the letter, padding back to his bed. He cocooned himself in blankets, pulled a reluctant Abrax and a very docile Cassiopeia onto his lap, and opened the letter. He noticed immediately that it was divided into two parts—the first portion, slightly longer and significantly neater, was written by his mother, and the second, with sharply crossed t’s and veering slightly downwards, was from his father.

Harry, my darling,

We received your letter about your Christmas holiday plans just last night and, at first, we both a little surprised—your father more than I, but between you and me, he’s always been a bit of a drama queen. I blame Sirius. Anyway, we’re delighted, of course, that you want to come home for Christmas, rather than stay at Hogwarts with Ron, Hermione and the rest of students you’ve undoubtably made friends with over the last few months. Hearing that you’d like Draco Malfoy to stay here was a little surprising—your father has just made a ridiculous snorting noise from the other side of the kitchen, so no doubt the piece he plans to include after mine will be frightfully exaggerated—but Draco is more than welcome too, provided that’s what you want. I actually think that getting to know each other a little better might do you both good, especially considering you two didn’t know each other before the tournament while the other champions did.  

Looking forward to seeing you both tomorrow morning,

(And remember to tell Draco to wear Muggle clothingwe have a special surprise planned for you both),

Your mother.

Harry sighed, smiling at the careful phrasing of the letter, and his mother’s concern, that somehow reflected in even her writing. He turned next to the familiar, unruly scrawl beneath his mother’s.

Harry—

Genuine question from your very concerned father: have you entirely lost your mind? Draco Malfoy at our house for Christmas? I don’t mean to question your taste in friends, Harry, but I didn’t picture him being the kind of person to bake mince pies, sing along to A Cauldron full of Hot, Strong Love and decorate the Christmas tree. On the very probable chance that the Malfoy boy has managed to cast a Confundus Charm on you, Padfoot and I have taken the task of preparing his room upon ourselves, with extensive assistance and a hefty discount from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. If not, and Lucius Malfoy has actually managed to produce a relatively tolerable child, then I’ll have lost a ten Galleon bet with your dear (and very irritating) godfather.

See you tomorrow,

Dad.

He spotted Ron and Hermione sitting at the end of the Gryffindor table. They, unlike the rest of the Great Hall who were chattering and exchanging early Christmas gifts, were engaged in a quiet conversation. He decided against interrupting them and caught Seamus’s gaze from further along the table.

“Nollaig shona dhuit!” Seamus exclaimed. He laughed hysterically at Harry’s confusion. “Means happy Christmas, mate.”

Harry smiled, bemused, and dropped into the seat next to him. He ladled porridge into his bowl and sprinkled it with a generous spoonful of brown sugar.

While half-listening to Seamus and Dean’s conversation—something involving a Muggle football team called Westham and a lookalike player on the Kenmare Kestrels—Harry spotted Malfoy strut into the hall, flanked by a couple of Slytherins Harry vaguely recognised. He distractedly nodded along to Seamus’s detailed retelling of how he apparently saw one of the players buying a tankard of Firewhiskey in a the Three Broomsticks, meanwhile watching Malfoy smirk at something one of the Slytherins said. He caught Harry’s eye and stopped smirking. Instead, Malfoy smiled; a faint, hopeful smile that hinted at his familiar mischievousness, as though they were co-conspirators in something exciting and illicit (which, as Harry thought back to the Polyjuice Potion brewing beneath Harry’s desk, they probably were).

Harry dropped his gaze and busied himself with pouring himself a cup of hot, sweet tea. His shirt suddenly felt slightly too tight across his chest.

They spent the rest of the morning in Gryffindor Tower, swapping and comparing early Christmas gifts, as they wouldn’t get to spend the holiday together and Hermione had insisted on sharing gifts together, rather than by owl on Christmas morning. Harry received a magnificent quill from Ron, a limited-edition box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans from Neville—who was apparently supremely grateful to have Harry for a Herbology partner—and a small foe-glass “to use in the second task” from Hermione. Harry had thanked him profusely, pulling Hermione into a tight hug and making a note to tell Malfoy. He knew that Malfoy would appreciate such a present.

He had bought Malfoy a gift—one half of his two-way mirror—but was unsure, still, whether or not he would give it to him come Christmas morning; he thought it was too intimate an item, risky and something that Malfoy would either cherish or ridicule him for gifting. He had bought it on an impulse at Dervish and Banges and, at the time, it had seemed an excellent idea—the perfect way to communicate should they be separated during one of the tasks. He reasoned that he would decide after they had spent a few days together over the holidays.

Harry was distracted from his thoughts by Ron offering to start a game of Self-Shuffling Cards. They feasted on mince pies and pulled Cribbage's Wizarding Crackers that had been provided as a Christmas treat for any of the students who were returning home for the holidays, laughing and joking before returning to the Great Hall for a delicious lunch. Harry glanced over to the Slytherin table to find Malfoy wearing a lopsided, red Christmas cracker crown. Malfoy caught his wandering gaze, holding it steadily until Harry looked away.

Later that evening, Harry and his friends trudged back to their respective dormitories, their chatter noticeably subdued as nervous laughter and fidgeting filled the voids in their conversations. Harry bid Ron and Hermione goodbye and opened the door to his dormitory tentatively, sighing with relief to find it blissfully empty.

Harry spent time fixing his hair in the mirror, brushing it out of his eyes and attempting to tame it with a particular potion that Hermione had managed to procure which made it rather sleeker than usual. He heard the door open behind him and smiled awkwardly at Malfoy through the mirror. Malfoy nodded at him, seemingly intrigued by Harry’s method of styling his hair.

They changed into their robes, Harry compulsively smoothing the front. He stood beside his bed and watched as Malfoy let his sleek hair fall below his ears and curl slightly at the nape of his neck. He looked extraordinaryily elegant, holding himself with the kind of poise that Harry could never replicate.

When the clock struck half past seven, Harry coughed loudly. “I’ll see you down there,” he said. “Said I’d meet Blaise at the Entrance Hall early.”

Malfoy stood up sharply, hands splayed on the desk of his vanity. He paused, apparently debating whether to reply, before nodding stiffly.

Harry left the dormitory, dismissing the small voice in his head telling him that there was something more Malfoy wanted to tell him. He walked down the spiral staircase, pausing at the grand, rusted mirror.

“Potter!”

Harry whipped around at the voice. He saw Malfoy jogging down the stairs until he stood directly opposite him. Harry smiled faintly and raised an eyebrow.

“Just— be careful tonight,” Malfoy huffed, not quite meeting Harry’s eye. “I know that the Larsons are just as frustrated with their clue as we are with ours. You don’t know what Leif could try or… persuade you to do if he gets the chance.”

Harry considered Malfoy’s words for a moment. There was a curious sincerity to Malfoy’s tone, an urgency almost, that told him that he had his interests at heart.

“I will,” he said. “I’m not… you don’t have anything to worry about. He’s a competitor so it’s out of the question. And, even if he wasn’t, I wouldn’t want… I’m not interested in him.” Harry winced at the thought, the memory of the not-quite-tolerable kiss with Leif lingering in his thoughts.

“Of course,” Malfoy said shortly. He turned sharply and trotted up the staircase. Harry couldn’t tear his eyes away from his retreating figure, the tails of Malfoy’s robes swaying entrancingly, until he was out of sight.

Harry sighed heavily. He made his way to the Entrance Hall and spotted Blaise; he was wearing wine-coloured robes made of a thick velvet fabric that looked magnificent beside the midnight blue Harry wore. Harry smiled nervously at him.

“You look—er—nice,” Harry said.

“And you,” Blaise said earnestly, eyes roaming the deep tones of Harry’s robes.

They chatted idly, asking each other about their families, Christmas plans and the rather difficult Potions Christmas exam Slughorn had sprung on them. Harry found Blaise to be reserved but, equally, shrewd; he listened carefully to anything Harry said and seemed to savour any common interests they found.

The Entrance Hall began to fill up with students; bright, flowing robes and glamorous hair, a refreshing change from the usual sea of black robes. He caught a glimpse of Ron and Hermione talking near one of the enormous Christmas trees, the lights strung around the tree glistening above them.

At ten minutes to eight, Professor McGonagall came rushing into the Entrance Hall wearing mulberry robes and a frown. “Come along now,” she urged. “Triwizard champions over here, please.” She quickly explained that they were to enter the Great Hall in procession after the other students had been seated.

She left them to lead the rest of the students into the hall and Harry caught a glimpse of the silvery hue emitted when the great doors were opened and could hear the quiet gasps as they were promptly bundled inside. When the doors closed again, it became strangely quiet. Harry saw Leif and Alexander dressed in a similar heavy fabric, though Leif’s robes were a steely grey and Alexander’s pitch black. Both their partners looked slightly intimidated by their tall stature. Ahead of them stood Clara and Julia; they both wore blushing pink robes, though Clara’s had a lace collar and the sleeves of Julia’s robes flowed when she moved her arms. Malfoy was yet to be seen.

“Where is Mr Malfoy?” Professor McGonagall said sternly, as though it was Harry’s fault for his absence.

“I don’t know, Professor,” he said.

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously but before she could respond, they both turned at the sound of purposeful footsteps walking down the stairs.

Malfoy approached them with a brittle smile, Heather Bletchley—the girl Harry had danced with during their practice—on his arm. She seemed a little disgruntled. Harry didn’t know what to make of them and settled for arranging his expression into one of mild disinterest.

Professor McGonagall ushered them over to the group and instructed them all to line up in pairs. Before Harry could utter a word to either of them, Blaise took his hand, and they were shepherded inside.

The Great Hall had been utterly transformed; a magnificent dancefloor was encircled by small, round tables with centrepiece ice sculptures and thistles twisted along the backs of the chairs. The twelve Christmas trees had been placed where the teachers usually sat and the tips of the branches frosted by glimmering snow. The ceiling hung immense, crystalline icicles which curved around the walls into a silvery cave of ice.

The students in the hall stood up and cheered as the champions walked inside. Harry smiled when he spotted Ron and Hermione seated at a table near the edge of the dancefloor. He felt rather uncomfortable under the scrutinising eye of the students, teachers and Achernar and MacFarlan who stood, clapping politely, at the table beside their own.

The champions took their positions on the dancefloor and Harry noticed Malfoy turn Heather slightly, giving him an unobstructed view of Harry and Blaise. Harry’s eyes flashed away and he tried to concentrate on Blaise. He looked completely unbothered by the amount of attention they were attracting, smiling at Harry and quietly instructing him to take his hand. Harry was relieved that neither of them had to assume the traditional role of the girl, both of them wordlessly agreeing to simply hold each other’s shoulders.

The mellow sounds of the bassoon and gentle plucking of the flute alerted him to the beginning of the dance. He was suddenly struck how vastly underprepared he was.

Blaise broadened the line of his shoulders, awaiting the introduction of the violins before leading Harry in the familiar waltz. Blaise lead him, their arms outstretched and legs aligned beneath their robes. They tore across the dancefloor with graceful, light steps; they spun and twisted with the rhythm of the music. Blaise commanded the dancefloor with such poise that Harry felt that the eyes of the entire Great Hall were focused on them. He caught Malfoy’s eyes before a particularly quick side-step and almost tripped, relieved when he felt the strong tug of Blaise’s arms whisk him away.

When the waltz finally ended, Harry insisted on getting Blaise a drink to escape being dragged to a second dance. The rest of the students rushed to the dancefloor and Harry darted away, smiling as people complimented him—or rather, Blaise—on the dance.

His thoughts wandered back to Malfoy—something that seemed to happen with ever-more frequency of late. Harry tried to convince himself that Malfoy choosing Heather as his date was a coincidence; perhaps he had noticed her while Harry and her were dancing and asked her afterwards. There was no reason to believe that he had chosen Heather to make him jealous; Malfoy must have known that he wasn’t interested in her in that way.

As Harry filled two goblets of cherry punch, he overheard two sixth-years gossiping about some of the couples at the ball. From what he could make out over the trumpets, it seemed that Malfoy’s choice of partner had not only come as a surprise to him—not only did the two find it highly unusual that Malfoy would not have chosen a fellow Slytherin, but apparently Heather had been engaged to bring a Ravenclaw friend of hers just the previous day.

Harry dug his teeth into his lower lip and cast his gaze to where Malfoy was lifting her. He had to admit that she looked very pretty in silky, mauve robes. He tried to quash the sudden weight of inadequacy he felt as he wandered back to where Blaise was seated. The large group of students tripping over each other to speak with them both made space for him beside Blaise.

Harry handed the drink to him wordlessly and, rather than glare at the girl beside Blaise who had sunk her claws into Harry’s date’s arm and was boasting of her family’s fortune, he found his gaze following Malfoy.

On the dancefloor, Malfoy wasn’t a fraction as graceful as Blaise, though he had good rhythm and seemed to bask in the attention he was receiving. Malfoy’s gaze wandered over anyone that distracted him for too long and he seemed intent on avoiding Heather, despite the fact that they were arm-in-arm. His head kept turning abruptly, mouth in a stiff line as his eyes scanned the crowd frantically. His gaze stopped on Harry. They made eye contact for a moment before Malfoy’s entire demeanour changed. He squared his shoulders and spun Heather enthusiastically, held her waist and steered her across the dancefloor. Harry gulped the punch, suddenly parched.

The sight of Malfoy dancing with another person agitated him more than was reasonable. He wanted more than anything to switch places with Heather, to hold Malfoy’s long, rather delicate fingers between his and spin with him around the dancefloor until they were dizzy and laughing. Harry didn’t often get jealous but something about the intimacy of the waltz, the reverence of the steps and how they tentatively held each other’s hands sparked something inside of him. He glumly watched the way Malfoy gently guided Heather in the parting circle before the dance finally ended.

“Would you like to go up for another?” Blaise asked as a livelier tune began.

“Yeah, sure,” Harry said distractedly. He took Blaise’s hand and led him to the edge of the dancefloor, near to where Hagrid and Madame Maxime were swaying and Ron was loudly describing a distant Icelandic relative of his to Helka, a Durmstrang friend Hermione had made, who seemed rather bemused.

Harry plunged into the dance, trying to replicate Blaise’s sharp movements and fast spins. They whirled around the dancefloor until they were both grinning and Harry could almost forget about Malfoy. They launched straight into the next dance, their laughter joined by others as the stiffness of the first half hour of the ball dissipated.

After three more songs and a quick break to catch up with Ron and Hermione, Blaise dragged Harry back to the dancefloor once more. The opening notes of the song were slow, with a melancholy tone, and Harry noticed that the couples around him were wrapping their arms around each other, heads crooked into necks or resting on chests.

Glancing up, Harry found Blaise looking at something in the distance, his eyes narrowed. Harry frowned as he watched Blaise’s previously hopeful smile drop. Harry’s heart skipped a beat as he felt a large hand that didn’t belong to Blaise settle on his shoulder.

“May I have this dance?” Malfoy said. With the way Malfoy leaned so close to him and breathed hot and shallow breaths in his ear, Harry could hear just how deep his voice was, how he seemed to weight each word before speaking it, placing purpose or something akin to value on each syllable. As though asking Harry to dance meant something to him. Harry dismissed the thought immediately.

Harry caught Blaise’s gaze and, noticing his hesitation, shook his head. “Why don’t you ask Heather?” he said stiffly. He turned to face Malfoy to find his lips quirked into an amused smile.

“You see, I would ask Heather,” he said thoughtfully, “but, gorgeous as she is, I’d much rather share this dance with you.”

Harry eyes him suspiciously. There was something imposed about Malfoy’s tone—it was almost mocking, and yet fuelled by conviction, as though he was silently communicating something that Harry couldn’t quite grasp. His robes suddenly felt horribly containing and he regretted eating that third slice of baked Alaska.

Blaise sighed. “I’ll grab you a drink,” he said to Harry. “Do yourself a favour and ignore his bullshit.” He sent Malfoy a resentful look before walking away from the two.

Malfoy instantly pressed closer to him, wrapping his arms around Harry. His heartbeat quickened and Harry suddenly became aware of their proximity and how very large Malfoy’s hands felt around him.

“I thought you two were friends?” Harry said stiffly.

“Friends is a generous word,” Malfoy said. He leaned closer to Harry and guided them in a small circle, eyes never leaving him.

Harry felt hot beneath his robes; his skin sparked with every fleeting touch, with every sway and dip a thrill jolted through him.

Malfoy leaned down to press his lips to Harry’s ear. “The Larsons snuck out of here about two minutes ago,” he whispered, tightening his grip on Harry waist to make it seem to onlookers as though he was muttering something indecent. “They left through the side entrance and were glancing behind them, all nervous. They looked highly suspicious.”

Harry’s heart plummeted. He caught the steely look in Malfoy’s eye. “We should follow them.”

Malfoy nodded firmly.

Harry realised how their exit might be perceived by the crowd encircling them; dancing slowly, apparently whispering seductively in each other’s ears and leaving the ball early, together no less. Blushing furiously, Harry led Malfoy over to the door.

Harry tried to ignore the knowing looks, the scandalised whispering, the lewd wink from someone he had never seen before as they made their way to the wooden door on the opposite side of the Great Hall. He heard a loud wolf-whistle as it shut behind them and ignored the way his cheeks flushed.

“Did you see which way they turned?” Harry asked.

Malfoy shook his head. “They can’t have gone far,” he said.

They scurried along the corridor as quietly as their dress shoes would allow and rounded the corner. Hearing a loud bang, Harry rushed towards the noise, leading them both to the Entrance Hall. They spotted Leif and Alexander arguing with one another by the staircase; Leif was indignant while Alexander kept shaking his fist aggressively. The twins were speaking in a different language, however, leaving Malfoy and Harry to stare dumbly at them, with neither a hint of context, nor what they were arguing about. For all Harry and Malfoy knew, it was a sibling’s spat about who’s turn it was to write back to their parents.

Realising that spying was futile, Harry slumped against the wall. “Suspicious, you said, Malfoy?” he said incredulously.

Malfoy sighed. “They kept checking behind them to see if anyone was following them,” he muttered. “It looked suspicious to me.”

The familiar sound of heavy footsteps climbing the stairs alerted them.

“Wait,” Harry hissed. He darted around the corner and saw Leif and Alexander’s retreating backs jogging up the stairs.

“You think they know where our dormitory is?” Malfoy whispered urgently.

“No,” Harry said firmly, his heart falling at the thought of the Larsons invading their privacy. Though this was appallingly hypocritical of him as it was exactly what he intended to do, Harry couldn’t help the surge of indignance at the mere idea of Leif and Alexander ransacking their dormitory. Harry thought back to their clue, carefully concealed by spells and hidden beneath a loose floorboard beside Malfoy’s bed. “How could they?”

Malfoy remained silent.

They rushed up the stairs behind Leif and Alexander, wands drawn. Harry spotted them turning around the bend rather than continuing up the twisted staircase that led to their dormitory. He breathed a sigh of relief.

“What’re they up to?” Malfoy said under his breath. He sounded genuinely curious and Harry had to agree. Leif and Alexander seemed intent on reaching a particular place, not pausing to check or change their route. They snuck along the corridor with an unnerving degree of familiarity.

Harry pulled Malfoy along, slinking across the upper corridors until they reached the seventh floor. It wasn’t until they passed the portrait of Barnabas the Barmy that Harry realised where Leif and Alexander were going.

“McGonagall’s office,” Harry hissed into Malfoy’s ear. His gasp was caught in his throat at the sudden realisation. “They’re going to try and find the rest of the clues. They probably think that she has copies of the original clues.”

Malfoy gaped at him, his eyes widening. He clutched to Harry’s robes and they lunged faster down the corridor before Leif and Alexander could make it to the gargoyle concealing McGonagall’s office.

Harry raised his wand, pointing it at Leif and Malfoy did the same to Alexander. “Petrificus Totalus,” he cried at the same time Malfoy shouted “Stupefy!”

Though his aim from the opposite end of the corridor wasn’t precise, he managed to hit Leif on his shoulder. His arms snapped to his side and he collapsed on the ground. Alexander, however, had faster reflexes and swiped his wand across the air, blocking Malfoy’s spell.

Malum Telum!” Alexander bellowed. Hundreds of arrows, shaped like bones, shot from his wand directly at them.

Protego Horribilis!” Harry screamed. A white shield sprung from the tip of his wand, reaching to cover both him and Malfoy. Alexander stumbled back from the force of the shield, seething. He gritted his teeth as the arrows bounced off the shield, sending them to scatter across the floor.

Incarcarous!” Malfoy cried. Thick ropes sprung from the tip of his wand and bound Alexander, knocking him to the ground with the force of the curse.

Alexander lay beside a rigid Leif, writhing and thrashing, trying to reach for his wand beside Malfoy’s foot. Malfoy picked it up and spun it in his fingers.

Harry stared between them, panting heavily from the enormous shield charm he had produced. He shoved his own wand back into his pocket.

Firm, hurried footsteps echoed around the corridor.

“Someone’s coming,” Malfoy muttered.

“We’ll just explain what happened,” Harry said, glancing behind him. “They can’t possibly—”

Methisi,” a voice hissed.

Harry felt a sharp sensation jolt through his leg, as though stung by a swarm of bees. He heard a faint shout but nothing seemed to be registering clearly in his mind. He felt himself sway, catching a glimpse of faces, doubling, tripling around him. A lightness blossomed beneath his feet, like he was about to start floating. He opened his arms, tilting his head back, and sighing as the strange feeling consumed him before everything went black.

Chapter Text

“…said that he should have a few hour’s bed rest and then he’d be fine. A bit weak, maybe, but fine.”

“I still can’t believe Malfoy let that happen to him. He might be a stuck-up prick but he’s dead good at DADA.”

“We don’t know for sure that Malfoy let it happen, Ron, and we certainly shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Leif or Alexander could’ve surprised both of them.”

There was a heavy pause.

“And I get the impression that Malfoy wouldn’t just stand by and watch Harry be hurt, for some reason.”

Harry could hear their voices drifting in and out of focus. His head felt light and clear but his limbs felt heavy as lead. He tried to lift his arm but it felt like someone was pushing it into an uncomfortable mattress.

His eyes shot open. He squinted, blinking rapidly as the bright lights brought Hermione and Ron—who were both staring anxiously at him—into focus.

“What happened?” he said, his voice rough and raspy. He cleared his throat loudly, wincing as a sharp pain shot through his chest.

Hermione smiled sadly, reaching out to coax him into a more comfortable position. “I’m afraid we don’t know the full story yet. All we know is that Professor McGonagall found you unconscious outside her office.”

In an instant everything came back; following Alexander and Leif after the Ball; duelling them with Malfoy and sending both of the brothers to the ground; the strange, floaty sensation.

“Where’s Draco?” Harry said urgently. His head whipped around and, ignoring the pain, he searched frantically, leaning over Hermione from his restricted corner of the hospital wing.

Hermione tilted his head curiously at Harry before pointing her thumb over her shoulder. “With Professor McGonagall, I suspect. They’ve been gone about half an hour or so.”

Harry slumped back in his hospital bed. “What about the Larsons? Where’re they?”

Hermione folded her hands in her lap. “Harry, we really don’t know,” she said regretfully. “We just saw you being brought here, levitated on a stretcher.”

“They’re not here, though, so they’re probably not seriously injured,” Ron said. “Those gits deserve it, though.”

The doors to the hospital wing swung open and McGonagall stormed in, followed by an equally furious Vulchanova, Madam Maxime and Achernar. MacFarlan, whose arm was wrapped around a rather sheepish-looking Malfoy, trailed behind them. Harry sighed with relief.

Harry watched Malfoy, whose gaze was resolutely trained on him, ignoring MacFarlan whispering in his ear. Malfoy’s eyes were blank, his face pale, and the top buttons of his shirt were undone. His usually perfectly-styled hair was dishevelled and sticking up at the back, as though he had been running his hand through his hair all evening. Harry’s breath caught in his throat.

“Ms Granger, off you go,” Professor McGonagall said sharply, marching towards them. “And you too, Mr Weasley. I need to speak with Mr Potter alone.”

Hermione didn’t even try to protest. Her tone left no room for argument.

“We’ll be just outside,” Ron muttered to Harry, smiling reassuringly.

“You will not, Mr Weasley,” Professor McGonagall said sternly. “It is approaching midnight. Back to your dormitories now, both of you.”

They trooped out, looking disappointed.

Harry glanced around at the rest of the group gathered around his bed. Madame Maxime was scrutinising him sceptically, as though she didn’t believe that he really was injured.

Professor McGonagall turned to Harry. “What has Madam Pomfrey said?”

“I… I don’t know,” Harry said. “I haven’t seen her. I just—er—woke up a few minutes ago.”

“She must still be with Alexander,” Vulchanova said darkly. He glowered at Malfoy. “It’s an absolute outrage, Minerva! Alexander’s injuries will most certainly affect his chances in the next task, and could leave him in a worse position permanently all because he—”

“I quite understand,” said Professor McGonagall stiffly. “And Mr Malfoy will be dealt with accordingly. But, really, the chances that Mr Larson will be affected long-term are very low.”

Harry turned to find Malfoy looking at her imploringly. Harry felt utterly confused; he still didn’t know how he had been injured—he thought that Malfoy had taken Alexander’s wand—and now it seemed that Alexander had been wounded by Malfoy? And whose footsteps had he heard down the corridor?

“What we need to address is how all of this affects the overall Tournament,” Achernar said. Harry noticed that she had a grim look on her face. “From what Mr Malfoy has said, he and Mr Potter followed both of your champions, Borislav, who were trying to gain access to Minerva’s office. If that is assumed to be true—”

“And why should we believe him?” Vulchanova interrupted angrily.

“—then I would say that Mr and Mr Larson should be subject to serious repercussions.”

MacFarlan was nodding vehemently in agreement but neither Madam Maxime nor Professor McGonagall replied. Harry caught Malfoy’s gaze, watching as his blank expression became one of annoyance.

“Mr Potter,” Professor McGonagall said, catching his attention. Harry tore his eyes away from Malfoy to look at her. She removed her spectacles and eyed him carefully, but not unkindly. “Do you remember what happened?”

Harry gulped underneath their burning gazes. He found that, for once, looking at Malfoy while he spoke comforted him. Malfoy’s lips turned into a small, almost imperceptible smile. He looked relieved somehow.

“Well,” Harry said. “We saw Leif and Alexander arguing in the Entrance Hall and then… then they started running up the stairs. We followed them—”

“So you were spying?” Vulchanova said imperiously.

“No,” Harry said sharply. “We only followed because we thought they were trying to sneak into our dormitory. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for them to do something while everyone else was at the ball.” He felt a sharp pain in his leg and winced, shifting it to a more comfortable position. “They were going all the way up to the seventh floor. We… we saw them stopping in front of the entrance to Professor McGonagall’s office. And then…” Harry trailed off and dropped his gaze to the scratchy material of the bedsheets. “Then we tried to stop them.”

“You mean that you cursed two innocent boys. Unprovoked, you thought that it was your right to hex them,” said Vulchanova, eyes flashing.

“With good reason, surely, Borislav,” MacFarlan said. “Those boys were evidently trying to gain access to Minerva’s office. I think that ought to be good enough reason for the boys to react, don’t you?”

“What happened then, Mr Potter?” Achernar said earnestly.

“Then… then we heard footsteps down the corridor, I think,” Harry said, desperately sifting through the confusing, sometimes contradictory memories. “And I remember that Draco took Alexander’s wand and I… I heard something… a spell, maybe and then everything became sort of… floaty, I suppose.”

Malfoy’s leaned over to grip the end of Harry’s hospital bed with both hands, his knuckles white.

Harry watched as Professor McGonagall clenched her fists and pursed her lips into a thin line. Only she, Malfoy and Achernar seemed to react visibly.

“What is it, Epsie?” MacFarlan said, voicing Harry’s confusion.

“Well,” Achernar said stiffly, “I’m no Healer but, judging from the way Madam Pomfrey has Mr Potter positioned and his description of the curse as… floaty, it seems that he was hit with a Methisi Curse—something that, if cast by a powerful wizard, can permanently paralyse someone.”

Harry’s jaw dropped and he felt a heavy weight of panic drop on him. He frantically started to move and he tried to lift his arms and legs before he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Not to worry, Mr Potter,” Achernar said. “It was clearly poorly-cast. Madam Pomfrey will have you back on your feet very soon, I’m sure.”

Harry sighed shakily but still felt anxious, his skin burning beneath the uncomfortable bedsheets.

“If Madam Pomfrey can confirm this,” Achernar said, “then Mr Larson’s punishment will be in your hands, Borislav.”

Vulchanova smiled coldly. “Naturally.”

“As for the wider repercussions for the Triwizard Tournament,” Achernar said, “there’s nothing to be done on our behalf. While it is regretful that Mr Larson and Mr Potter have been injured, the fact that they’re champions does not automatically mean that this… duel pertains in any way to the Tournament unless it can be proved that there was cheating on anyone’s behalf.”

Malfoy let out a noise of protest and opened his mouth.

“A conspiracy to cheat,” said Achernar loudly, “is not sufficient.”

“Very well, Epsilon,” said Professor McGonagall. “I’ll be sure to speak to Mr Malfoy about his behaviour.” She said this directly to Vulchanova, whose lips twisted into a nasty smile.

“And I, the same for Alexander,” he said.

Harry startled as a sharp bang reverberated through the hospital wing. He craned his neck to spot Madam Pomfrey bustling inside, her wand raised and a trolley wheeling behind her.

“Is it what we suspected, Poppy?” Professor McGonagall asked.

Madam Pomfrey exchanged a dark look with her. “Yes. And Mr Potter was lucky that the spell was weak or he could have been permanently injured. It seems like it was cast using a wand that wasn’t the castor’s.”

“Leif,” Malfoy muttered.

Everyone turned towards him.

“It was Leif’s wand,” Malfoy clarified. “I had already taken Alexander’s wand but Leif was lying right beside him. Alexander must have reached for that one.”

Madam Pomfrey huffed loudly and fussed over Harry, checking his temperature and lifting his arm up and down, as though measuring its weight.

“And my students?” Vulchanova demanded. “Where are they now?”

“On their way to bed, I hope,” Madam Pomfrey said primly. “A good night’s rest and both will be fine. Minerva had already used Reparifors on the one who had been body-bound when I found him. I was able to fix the effects of Mr Malfoy’s hex on the other boy quite quickly too.” She pursed her lips and looked deliberately at Malfoy. “It seems after so many years of healing students Malfoy has injured, I’ve gotten quite familiar with the particular spells he likes to use. My hospital wing has never been busier since he came to this school and that’s saying something because I had to deal the Weasley twins and all their shenanigans.”

Harry caught the familiar smirk on Malfoy’s face and smiled despite himself. Malfoy must have hexed Alexander when he realised that he had been cursed, Harry reasoned. A warmth spread across his chest at the thought and Harry had a feeling that it had nothing to do with the potion Madam Pomfrey had thrust into his hand and instructed him to drink.

“Now, I really must ask you all to leave,” Madam Pomfrey said sternly, placing her hands on her hips. Harry had to admire how the prestige and seniority that accompanied the Ministry officials and professors didn’t faze her.

Achernar said something quietly to Professor McGonagall and MacFarlan smiled reassuringly at Harry before they both left the Hospital Wing. Vulchanova and Madame Maxime followed soon after, neither of them paying Harry so much as a second glance.

Professor McGonagall sighed and hung her arms limply at her sides. “When will he be healed, Poppy?” she said.

“Not long now,” Madam Pomfrey said, watching Harry carefully to make sure he drank the entire potion. He winced as the peppery liquid burned his tongue. “After this he’ll probably need something to relieve the pain but he should be in good health to return to his dormitory tonight. He should be fit as a fiddle in the morning.”

Professor McGonagall glanced between Harry and Malfoy, clearly exasperated. “I’ll speak with you both tomorrow morning before you leave for the Christmas holidays about your punishment but, for now—”

Harry opened his mouth to protest—he had thought McGonagall was bluffing about reprimanding them in order to placate Vulchanova—but Malfoy beat him to it.

Punishment?” Malfoy said incredulously. “Professor, you know as well as we do exactly what those bastards were planning on doing. You can’t possibly punish us for deterring them from cheating.”

“I can and I will, Mr Malfoy,” she said, suddenly stern. “You two followed and attacked two Hogwarts guests and that certainly will not go unpunished. I will see you both in my office tomorrow at nine. The train to King’s Cross will be leaving an hour afterwards, so do try to be on time, Mr Potter.”

She fixed the front of her mulberry robes, bid Madam Pomfrey goodnight, and marched out of the Hospital Wing without another word.

Harry gulped the last of the nauseating potion and slumped back in his bed defeatedly. He saw Malfoy tentatively sit at the end of his bed. Madam Pomfrey whisked the bottle of potion out of Harry’s hands and scuttled away into the back room.

“So,” Harry said, suddenly feeling extremely drained from the entire ordeal.

Malfoy watched him out of the corner of his eye, his expression artfully masked.

“You cursed Alexander, did you?”

“I did,” Malfoy said smugly, laying at the base of Harry’s bed.

“You know, that’s really not something you should be smiling about,” Harry said. “Makes you look a bit like a sadist. And it doesn’t really do much for the Slytherin stereotype.”

“So I’ve been told,” Malfoy said. He dragged his finger along the edge of the bedsheets before glancing up to meet Harry’s gaze. “Still felt fucking brilliant, though.”

Harry burst out laughing. Cursing never seemed to come particularly natural to Malfoy, and it clashed so satisfyingly with his posh drawl that Harry couldn’t help it. The multitude of conflicting emotions after everything—the Yule Ball, sneaking off with Malfoy, duelling the Larsons and, now, waking up in a hospital bed to find that Malfoy had cursed Alexander—seemed to weigh on his shoulders and he could only laugh in spite of it all.

Madam Pomfrey bustled over to him. “Give the boy some personal space, Malfoy,” she sighed.

Malfoy heaved himself back slightly, wearing an expression of distinct distaste, but otherwise remained sprawled out at the base of Harry’s bed.

“Now, dear, this should relieve some of the worst pain,” Madam Pomfrey said, pouring a small glass of thick, lilac liquid from a bottle with a tall neck. “You won’t feel it for couple of minutes but this’ll nip it in the bud for you. The pain will last about fifteen minutes but then it should subside soon afterwards. You’ll be right as rain by tomorrow.”

Harry smiled gratefully and swallowed the minty potion without a second thought.

She nodded once at him, narrowed her eyes at Malfoy and then left them, muttering under her breath about changing the bedsheets.

Malfoy craned his neck around the corner Madam Pomfrey had just turned and leaped up from the bed. It was then that Harry noticed a gash on his neck. Before he could comment on it, however, Malfoy had walked around his bed and poured a second hearty glass from the bottle. He handed it to Harry wordlessly.

Harry raised an eyebrow.

“You’ll be wanting that,” Malfoy said importantly. “It's completely irrelevant that Alexander had appalling aim and couldn’t even manage to properly paralyse you. I’ve read about the effects of the Methisi Curse; you may not have been fully paralysed but it will hurt far worse than a Blast-Ended Skrewt bite.”

Harry swallowed the potion eagerly, hoping very much that it wasn’t possible to overdose on a simple anti-pain potion.

He felt the effects of the curse a couple of moments later and stifled a shout as a wave of dizziness overcame him. He gritted his teeth and let his eyes fall shut. A heavy weight thudded inside his chest, a dull, throbbing pain that stretched around his body.

Harry felt a comforting hand on his ankle.

“Will I fetch Madam Pomfrey?”

“No,” Harry said stiffly. “No, just— distract me.”

Malfoy raised an elegant eyebrow in faint bemusement. “What?”

“Distract me,” Harry said impatiently. He felt a wave of nausea drop on top of him like a veil, making his head feel heavy and dizzy. “Talk to me like you used to order me to talk to Diane so that we could distract her from her pain during the tournament.”

“I didn’t order you— oh, fine,” Malfoy sighed. “You really are preposterous, Potter. Let’s see… we're finished our classes now and we’ll be starting back after the holidays, I suppose. And the potion should be ready for us to use by then, assuming you didn’t completely mess up the stirring pattern last week. I checked on it before I left for the ball, actually. The colouring seemed right but, then again, I’ve never brewed it before. I’m quite certain that Slughorn suspects us for stealing the ingredients, by the way. Obviously, he’d never snitch on either of us, but the way he keeps—”

Harry winced tightly and whimpered as a sharp pain jolted through his legs. He felt Malfoy shift from his position at the foot of the bed

“Potter, being some sort of pain-enduring heroic only makes me lose respect for you,” Malfoy muttered. “Typical Gryffindor.”

“No,” he said tightly. “It’s fine. It passes in waves. Just keep talking. It actually helps.”

Malfoy eyed him sceptically but continued talking regardless. Harry, however, was focusing less on his words and more on the intonations and melodic flow of his rough, tired voice. Malfoy’s finger made small, distracted circles on his pillow. Harry clenched his jaw as he felt a sharp pain cut through his leg. He turned his neck and watched the slow, mesmerising circles Malfoy was drawing on the starched pillow, mere inches from his neck.

 

*

 

“Are you finally awake, Potter?”

Harry shifted and opened his eyes blearily. “I’m still here?” he said, glancing around at the sterile hospital beds.

“I needed to wake you before Madam Pomfrey got back,” Malfoy admitted. He wore the kind of smile that worried Harry—mischievous and utterly unapologetic. “That particular potion apparently has a drowsiness side-effect if more than the recommended dosage is drank. I didn’t want her finding out that you’d had a little more than that.”

Harry reached behind his head, pulled out the stiff pillow from under it and walloped Malfoy on the shoulder.

Malfoy laughed, only mildly indignant, and shoved him away. “It’s entirely your fault for forgetting to take Leif’s wand,” he said, pretending to massage his arm.

“That wasn’t my fault,” Harry said. “You just weren’t paying proper attention—”

“Alright, Mr Potter, you may go,” Madam Pomfrey said, rounding the corner with neat, starched bedsheets folded in her arms.

“Thank you,” Harry said, pulling himself off the bed and onto his feet. He swayed slightly, gripping the handrail before he found his footing.

He looked up to find Malfoy watching him carefully.

“And do try not to hex someone on New Year’s Eve, Malfoy,” Madam Pomfrey said, flicking her wand and piling the bedsheets into a neat stack. “I want at least one holiday without having to deal with another one of your creative curses.”

“I would never make a promise I couldn’t keep, Madam Pomfrey,” Malfoy said.

To Harry surprise, she merely shook her head, smiling, before propelling them both out of the hospital wing.

As they made their way back to their dormitory, Harry was struck by how drastically his relationship had changed with Malfoy in a mere evening. It felt like days had passed since he had nervously left for the Yule Ball, irritated by Malfoy’s determination not to speak with him unless absolutely necessary. They dragged their feet up the spiral staircase, past the portrait of a sleeping Edessa Skanderberg with Christmas lights strung around her head, and into their delightfully warm dormitory.

Harry collapsed back into his familiar bed with a sigh, rubbing his thumb over the gold Hogwarts crest embroidered into his blanket. He tugged his robes off and dropped them to the floor, convincing himself that he would pick them up and hang them in his wardrobe before he went to bed even though he knew that would decidedly not be happening. He changed into his pyjamas and noticed a small brown package on his bedside locker.

“Malfoy?” he said quietly.

Malfoy whipped around from the opposite side of the room, a slight look of panic etched on his face. “What is it?”

“I wasn’t really planning on giving you this,” Harry said, suddenly anxious about how Malfoy might react, “or, at least, I was going to give it to you closer to the second task itself. But now feels more… fitting, I suppose. I was in Hogsmeade last month and I picked this up and thought that it would be useful and could, y’know, double as your Christmas present.”

Malfoy sauntered over to him and it was then that Harry realised that Malfoy wasn’t wearing a shirt. Instead, he was clad in pyjama bottoms that trailed on the floor. Harry absently thought that they were a safety hazard and determinedly tried to focus on that fact rather than the pale, smooth skin of Malfoy’s toned chest directly in front of him. Malfoy took the present and spent time untying the string binding the small box.

“I didn’t wrap it myself,” Harry added hastily. “The lady in the shop, she offered and…”

Malfoy raised an eyebrow, apparently amused. He wrapped the string around his wrist and tore off the brown paper. “It’s a two-way mirror,” he said.

“Yeah, I figured it would be handy for us both to have during the tournament in case we get separated or something.”

Malfoy nodded silently, schooling his look of pleasant surprise into a more vacant expression. He handed Harry one half of the mirror and took the second, slightly larger one, for himself.

“I didn’t buy you anything,” Malfoy said shortly.

“It’s fine, I really wasn’t expecting—”

“But thank you,” Malfoy said loudly. His tone was surprisingly emphatic. “They will definitely be useful.” He ran his finger along the ornamented gold-plated edge of the mirror. “They’re quite ornate too.”

“Oh—er—yes,” Harry said, slightly confused by Malfoy’s sudden fixation with his mirror. “I suppose so.”

“They might be antique. You see this marking along here,” Malfoy said, pointing towards a small black squiggle at the back his half. “That’s the marking of Janus Galloglass—you know, in Diagon Alley? Anyway, I’d imagine these two passed through there. My mother owns a small collection of Galloglass family artefacts in the drawing room. There’s an unmistakable resemblance.”

Harry almost felt like laughing. If he told his former self a mere four months ago that his life at Hogwarts would consist of entering a death-defying tournament and discussing the origins of two-way mirrors at two o’clock in the morning on Christmas night with a blood member of the Malfoy family, he probably wouldn’t believe it.

“Yeah, you’re… probably right,” Harry said weakly instead. He tried to stifle his yawn, blinking rapidly up at Malfoy. “I’m going to bed now,” he said, titling his head back to his bed. “Good night, Draco.”

Malfoy—or, Draco, Harry supposed—watched him for a moment before nodding and wandering over to the lavatory without another word shared between them. Harry had fallen asleep by the time he returned.

 

*

The rumours of their duel with the Larsons had spread to every corner and crevice of the school by the time Harry walked down to breakfast the next day. Before he had even stepped inside the Great Hall, a lithe body with a mess of flaming red hair hurtled into him.

“Harry!” Ginny exclaimed, both of them stumbling and banging into one of the Christmas trees. Ginny gripped Harry’s shoulders and shook him, as though she didn’t quite believe it truly was him. “You’re alive! Ron told me—well, I don’t know why I still believe him, but he said you were in the hospital wing. I figured Madam Pomfrey would be able to fix you right back but— oh, I’ll murder Ron. He made it out like you were morbidly ill.”

Harry shook his head at the though and allowed her to steer him through the Entrance Hall.

“Come on, then,” she insisted, tugging Harry into the Great Hall. “You must be starving.”

“By that I’m guessing you mean that you’re starving,” Harry laughed.

“Oh, yeah, I am too,” said Ginny happily. “Could eat a Hippogriff.”

They trundled into the Great Hall and heard loud conversations turn to hushed, frantic whispers and staring as soon as they stepped inside. Harry glanced at the Slytherin table and saw that neither the Larsons nor Draco were there. He lost sight on Ginny as she was enveloped by a gaggle of Gryffindors from her own year.

Harry tried to ignore the muttering that followed him as he walked over to where Hermione was talking across the aisle to a girl at the Ravenclaw table. He recognised her as one of the Prefects, and they both looked very worried.

Harry slumped into the seat on the Gryffindor table, pretending that the boy sat opposite him observing him like a difficult puzzle didn’t faze him. He had started smearing his morning toast with gooseberry jam when Hermione realised that he had arrived.

“Harry!” she exclaimed, her bright voice ringing. “You’re okay. I was so worried. Ron and me, we were planning on visiting you this morning but Madam Pomfrey said she had already let you go last night. She said that Malfoy brought you back to your dorm.” Hermione’s face twisted into an uncomfortable smile. “You are okay, aren’t you?”

“’Course I am, Hermione,” Harry said, smiling reassuringly. “He… yeah, he stayed with me and then helped me back to our dorm.” He dropped his gaze to the table, ignoring the way his stomach twisted at the memory. “Kind of surprised, really,” he added.

“Yes, it certainly is” Hermione said. She narrowed her eyes, as though suddenly uneasy about something. “It was kind of him, I suppose, and what any decent person would do, surely.”

Harry smiled non-committedly and returned to his breakfast. It wasn’t long before Hermione became restless with curiosity and asked him exactly what happened last night.

“Someone’s been spreading rumours saying that Durmstrang were disqualified. Apparently Achernar said that they’d breached one of the tournament rules or something,” Hermione said in a hushed voice. “I don’t believe it, of course. That would be a serious step to take considering you and Malfoy are both relatively healthy today.”

Most of the people seated near them had paused their conversations to eavesdrop or were craning their necks and staring unblushingly at them.

Harry shook his head. “No, Achernar just said that it couldn’t be proven that they were cheating so they wouldn’t be disqualified,” he said, shrugging.

Hermione grimaced. “That’s a spot of tough luck,” she said. “I’m sure Professor McGonagall would absolutely have stepped in if something like that—”

“Hang on,” Harry cried, leaping to his feet. “McGonagall!” The memory of last night hit him with the startling speed of a Bludger to the stomach and he realised why Draco wasn’t in the Great Hall. “I have to go,” Harry said, snatching his satchel. “Meeting with McGonagall.”

He rushed through the Great Hall and kept his head down, heard the smatter of excited whispering in his wake as he climbed the stairs. He reached her office fifteen minutes late and panting heavily. He pushed open the door and scurried inside to the clipped voice of Professor McGonagall saying “Late again, Mr Potter.”

“Sorry, Professor,” he said, falling into the chair beside Draco and smiling apologetically at her.

“You’re excused,” she said shortly. “You have only your teammate to thank. He already informed me that you were still recovering.”

Harry glanced to where Draco was looking resolutely ahead. He noticed that the gash he had noticed on Draco’s neck the previous night had since healed, a faint scab in its place.

“Now,” Professor McGonagall sighed, looking between them. “I told you both last night that there would be repercussions for attacking two unprovoked guests—particularly your use of that hex, Mr Malfoy—and I’m sticking by my word.”

Harry felt a heavy, distinctive weight sink on his shoulders. He could picture his parents’ disappointment when they received a letter informing them of his misbehaviour, how his privileges had been taken away, how he had almost been disqualified from the Triwizard Tournament. They would be understanding, of course, but he knew that there would always be something underlying his experience at Hogwarts, something horribly tainting.

Professor McGonagall sighed exasperatedly. “However, since both of you possess the same blatant disregard for rules and no number of detentions seem to affect that, I have arrived at an alternative punishment.”

Harry glanced nervously at her.

“I have to attend to some business with the Wizengamot for the two weeks after New Years,” she said curtly. “It cannot be avoided and this means that I will not be in attendance to teach either of my Transfiguration classes—seventh and first-years. As one my most… competent Transfiguration student, Mr Malfoy, and a very promising student, Mr Potter, both of you will be teaching my first-years in the time that I am away.”

Harry’s jaw fell open. He and Draco teaching a Transfiguration class? Together? The proposition alone was laughable. They might be proficient in the subject but neither of them had taught before and neither of them were particularly suited to the task. Not only was Draco impatient and temperamental but he seemed to be able to intimidate people with a mere glare.

“Professor, I really don’t think that we’d be... suited to teaching,” Harry said desperately.

Draco—who had been distracted by one of the portraits chastising him above his head—broke out of his initial stupor and Harry felt him shift to the edge of his seat. “But Professor,” Draco said, grappling for a response that could fully express his horror at the prospect of their punishment, “that’s… we could never… that’ll cut into the time to figure out the next clue! Professor, you surely want Hogwarts to win this rather than let those two Durmstrang—”

Do not finish that sentence, Malfoy,” Professor McGonagall said. “And watch your tone. That I wish for Hogwarts to win is besides the point of your punishment. You both should have considered this before gallivanting through the corridors, searching for trouble.”

A surge of indignation rushed through Harry. One glance at Professor McGonagall’s sour glare, however, warned him not to argue. Draco, apparently did not heed that warning.

“Professor we weren’t gallivanting!” Draco shouted. “They snuck out of the ball and tried to get into your office—”

Harry reached out and fisted Draco’s sleeve to catch his attention and stop Draco from securing them a second punishment.

“Mr Malfoy!” Professor McGonagall exclaimed, rising to her feet furiously. “Unless you want me to send yet another letter to your father, you will learn not to shout at a professor.”

She glared at him and Harry felt Draco tense beside him, his hands clenching at his side.

Professor McGonagall sat back in her chair, equally as incensed but rather more composed. “You two will begin on the Monday of your return to Hogwarts after the Christmas holidays. I teach three classes per week with the first-year students. You will prepare each class, keep your tempers in check”—she said this with a pointed glance between them—“and, in the process, should learn something about teamwork. I will be speaking with my students when I return and if I hear of any recklessness or misbehaviour on either of your parts, then there will be extremely serious repercussions.” She stared deliberately at them over her spectacles. “Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

“Yes, Professor,” they said listlessly.

Professor McGonagall nodded tersely and reached beneath her desk, dropping two battered copies of A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration by Emeric Switch in front of them. “You can use these to prepare your classes,” she said. She crossed her hands-on top of her desk and sighed. “I’m assigning you this task to show you precisely what can be achieved with teamwork—what this Triwizard Tournament requires and the very thing you two seem to be lacking.”

Harry nodded, slipping the book into his satchel. He grudgingly had to admit that she was right; the Larsons were twin brothers and Clara and Julia sickeningly in love. They could each anticipate their teammate’s next decision, the spell they would cast or the direction they would turn in the fraction of a heartbeat. Meanwhile, Harry couldn’t even read Malfoy’s expressions well enough to know when he was irritated or amused.

Professor McGonagall eyed them both carefully, as though trying to discern something. Sighing, she eventually said “You may go.”

Draco charged out of the room, Harry hot on his heels, and walked straight into a startled Elmer MacFarlan.

MacFarlan rearranged his robes rather angrily before he noticed precisely who he had banged into. “Draco! Harry!” he exclaimed. “How’re you both? Feeling better after last night, Harry? Good, good,” he said, not waiting for an audible reply. “Listen, I must get going. The old lioness isn’t one to appreciate tardiness, you know.”

Harry didn’t have a chance to reply before MacFarlan interrupted him again.

“Anyway, be sure to contact me for anything you need over the next couple of weeks,” he said earnestly. “Though I’m sure you won’t need it—probably worked out your clue already, haven’t you?”

“Absolutely,” Draco said. He laughed, high and loud, as though the prospect of not having the clue figured out was absurd. Harry startled at the sound, whipping around to stare at Draco. “We’ve had it worked out for a couple of weeks now,” Draco continued in the same beguilingly cheerful tone. “Harry here can hardly wait to get started, really.”

Harry schooled his features into a blank expression to mask his surprise. “Oh—er—yeah. Can’t wait,” he said.

“But of course you can’t wait, Harry!” MacFarlan said, delighted. “Shouldn’t have expected anything less, really.” He glanced at his watch and grinned. “Better go, boys.” He tipped them an enormous wink, patting their shoulders and sauntered into Professor McGonagall’s office.

“What was that?” Harry demanded as they continued down the seventh-floor corridor.

“What do you mean?” Draco said, unaffected to the point that their entire conversation was beneath him.

“How can you go from shouting to McGonagall to sucking up to MacFarlan in the space of two seconds?” Harry muttered as they descended the stairs.

Draco slid his hand down the railing, eyes latched to the polished wood. “I know how to work people,” he said eventually.

Harry raised his eyebrows incredulously. “And that doesn’t sound worrying in the slightest.”

Draco’s grinned, as though he couldn’t quite help himself, and looked away. They trotted down the main staircase leading to the Entrance Hall. “If McGonagall knows we’re angry about the punishment, her standards for us will be lower,” he said eventually. “If MacFarlan knows that we have the clue figured out already, he’ll get off my fucking case and leave us alone.” Draco smirked mischievously. “For example, if I threaten you with telling McGonagall that the Polyjuice Potion was your idea, then you’ll let me skip our punishment and you can teach the first-years by yourself.”

Harry trotted down the steps ahead of Draco and sent a perfectly-aimed Jelly-Legs Jinx over his shoulder. He heard Draco’s shout followed by a satisfying thud and, foregoing a glance over his shoulder, sauntered inside the Great Hall to finish his breakfast.

 

*

 

Hogsmeade station was enchanting in the bright, albeit weak, December sun. There were about three hundred students gathered on the long, winding platform; some were huddled in small groups, seeking warmth and fussing over their caged owls; younger students were engaged in what looked to be a vicious snowball fight further along. Harry was stood in a strange limbo between speaking with Seamus and Dean, and keeping Draco not far out of sight (or mind).

Having already bid Hermione and Ron good-bye after breakfast and hastily preparing his trunk directly afterwards, Harry was struck by the realisation that wouldn’t be spending time with either aboard the Hogwarts Express. It seemed that sharing a carriage with Draco was inevitable.

Seamus was jovial and even Dean, always the more subdued of the too, looked thrilled by the prospect of returning to his family for Christmas. Draco looked dashing in a pale grey pea coat—as per Harry’s mother’s instruction to wear Muggle clothing—which seemed to annunciate the colour of his eyes, but he looked remarkably opposed to the company in which he found himself. He was standing quite apart, his gaze was fixed on the village of Hogsmeade nearby, where the thin coating of snow on the slated rooves was reflected in the sunlight.

“Still can’t believe he’s staying with you and your folks for Christmas,” Seamus said with a sympathetic wince in Draco’s direction.

“Yeah, it’s… it should be fine, I suppose,” Harry said.

“’Fine’ is hardly the word for it,” Seamus said, as though taking offence for Harry’s predicament on behalf of him. “A pain in the arse, it sounds like.”

Harry muttered something in vague agreement and glanced behind him, where Draco was examining a scrape wound around his left wrist, the one he had received during the first task that had since turned to a thin scar.

The train arrived soon thereafter, obscuring the sun in a thick, almost suffocating cloud of engine smoke. They all clambered aboard, heaving their trunks or, for any student proficient in Charms, levitating them, into the lower decks. Seamus beckoned them into one of the smaller compartments and the four of them followed, relieved for the warm air permeating through the train. Harry thought that it smelled faintly of pumpkin pasties.

Harry sat next to the window, with Draco perched on the seat next to him. Harry fell into easy conversation with Dean and Seamus, which Draco resolutely ignored until the topic turned to Quidditch and he became quite pleased to inject his own analysis (and snide commentary) into the conversation. Despite Draco’s persistently distracting presence, Harry found himself easing into the conversation.

The journey seemed far shorter than it had when Harry first arrived in September—perhaps it was the absence of anticipation or the bundle of nerves knotted in his stomach, but they arrived at King’s Cross far sooner than he was ready for. Waving good-bye to Seamus and Dean, Harry turned to find Draco watching him—his trunk at his side and Cassiopeia curled atop—with an expression of slight bemusement.

“Come on, then, Potter,” Draco said, marching past him with his usual air of importance.

Tugging his trunk behind him and feeling slightly disillusioned, Harry disembarked from the platform and instantly entered an entirely different scene. Platform nine and three-quarters was bustling with witches and wizards; he spotted a strange mixture of Muggle and wizarding attire, heard the shouts and exclaims from relieved parents, and the billowing smoke seemed to enclose the platform in a heavy, stifling air.

Harry spotted his parents standing near the back of the crowd, quite inconspicuous despite the pointed glances some people were paying them. The second his mother caught his eye, however, her entire face lit up. She waved frantically and Harry grinned, rushing through the crowd as quickly as his bulky trunk and hissing cat would allow him. He was pulled into a tight hug by his mother and father, feeling slightly embarrassed at the attention they were undoubtably garnering, but mostly relieved to see them. Harry stepped back to find both of his parents looking over his shoulder; his father wore a readable frown of discern, while his mother was still smiling.

“It’s lovely to see you again, Draco,” his mother said genially, gently pushing past Harry. She smiled at him, full and beatific, and Harry saw Draco visibly relax. Harry saw Draco’s vacant smile bypass distrust or uneasiness, and becoming something akin to genuine.

“Thank you for having me to stay,” Draco said, nodding politely at her. His hands were clasped firmly behind his back and there was a rigidness to his posture that Harry had only seen once: on the morning of the first task. Harry was desperately thankful that his mother didn’t insist on hugging him. Draco seemed quite determined to shake Harry’s father’s hand, however, making a point to extend his own. Harry’s father took it and, though his distrust quite blatant in his expression, Harry could only sigh with relief when the moment ended.

“Well, we had better get going,” Harry’s mother said, astutely noticing the slight tension hanging in the air. She grasped the handle of Harry’s trunk, waving away his protests, and ushered them all out of the platform.

Harry breathed in the fresh, biting air of London when they stepped outside. The streets were dirty and frightfully loud, with flower stalls and street entertainers and shopping bags being wielded like swinging weapons. It felt diverse, and loud, and obscure, leaving Harry feeling entirely unselfconscious about the fact that he was a wizard in the centre of a frenzied Muggle city—nobody stopped to gape at his scar or swap stories about the boy who lived because he and his family were utterly anonymous here.

“Where are we going, Mum?” Harry asked once they had piled their belongings in Mr Weasley’s Ford Anglia and took off at a brisk walking pace.

“London, sweetheart,” his mother answered airily.

“Yes, but where specifically?”

“Well that wouldn’t make it a surprise any longer, would it?” she said with a bright grin.

Harry shook his head and fell into step with Draco a few paces behind his parents. A few moments of silence passed between them in which both of them took in the rich, festive atmosphere. Some of the Christmas lights had been switched on, and there was a choir singing in the near distance, their honey tones and harmonies carried, along with the smell of roasting chestnuts, by the wind.

“Your mother is quite pleasant,” Draco said.

Harry frowned at him. “My mother is quite pleasant?”

“Yes, Potter, that’s precisely what I said,” he said in a clipped tone.

“Because that’s a perfectly normal thing to say to someone,” Harry muttered, smiling despite himself.

“It was meant as a compliment, but you clearly don’t possess the appropriate conversational skills to comprehend that,” Draco said. “Besides, I despise small talk.”

Harry shook his head. “Fine,” he said, searching his surroundings for a point of common interest. They had already exhausted the topics of school and Quidditch on the Hogwarts Express and he wasn't keen to bring up the next task so early into their holidays. “Is there anywhere in particular you need to visit while we’re in London? Any last Christmas gifts?” he asked. “Godric’s Hollow is pretty sparse.”

Draco shook his head, pursing his lips in distaste when a man with a shaggy bead and bulging eyes leered at him. Draco moved closer to Harry and crossed his arms over his chest.

“We’re almost there, boys,” Harry’s mother called as they rounded a corner.

They were instantly presented with an unobstructed view of the Thames and, standing proudly, with its dominating structure and bright lights twinkling, the Millennium Wheel.

“Potter,” Draco drawled, his tone slightly hysteric. “If you tell me that your parents are bringing us to ride on a precarious Muggle contraption made of plastic and metal, that lifts us five hundred feet in the air, only to bring us back down again then Merlin help me, I will take great pleasure in hexing you right here.”

Harry caught his mother’s eye a few paces ahead and grinned. “Do your worst, Malfoy,” he said, tugging on his sleeve to drag him over to the ticket queue. Draco made a noise of indignation, apparently grappling for a response that could adequately express his intense opposition to such a proposal.

“Absolutely not, Potter,” he hissed as they sidled in behind Harry’s parents. “I will not stand in a swinging Muggle contraption only to be flung into the Thames when this atrocious wind inevitably knocks the death-trap off its hinges.”

“Relax,” Harry said, trying exceedingly hard to supress his smile. “It’s perfectly safe, otherwise the Muggles wouldn’t be able to use it.”

“It’s safe by their standards, Potter,” Draco said. “Which are significantly lower than ours. They take pleasure in placing their lives in the trust of weedy, irresponsible teenagers,” he said, pointing towards a rather glum boy in a visibility jacket escorting a group into one of the open capsule, “only to derive pleasure from the thrill of almost dying.”

Harry snorted. “I think almost dying is a bit of an exaggeration,” he said. They joined the winding queue for the ticket desk behind Harry’s parents. “And the Millennium Wheel isn’t controlled by him. He just presses the button to open and close the doors.”

Malfoy shot him an unconvinced look. “Even still, Potter, I certainly don’t intent to— wait. We have to pay to ride this absurd machine?” he demanded, as Harry’s father extracted a handful of Muggle coins from his wallet and slid it to the attendant with an apologetic smile.

“James, I thought you said that you knew how to handle Muggle money,” Harry’s mother said under her breath, smiling nervously at the attendant. “Otherwise I would have done it.”

The attendant, however, was distracted by Draco and regarded him carefully. “The ‘absurd machine’ is called a Ferris wheel. And yes, it costs twenty-five pounds per person.”

Draco turned towards Harry, utterly disregarding the attendant. “How much is that in Galleons?”

“About five, I think,” Harry muttered, slightly distracted by his parents’ silent argument, which involved a lot of bulging eyes, noises of frustration and titled heads in the direction of the enormous pile of coins.

It wasn’t until he turned around that Harry noticed what Draco was doing. He had slipped his hand into his pea coat and extracted five gleaming Galleons. He pressed them into Harry’s mother’s palm.

“Malfoy,” Harry hissed frantically, standing in front of the attendant to block her view. He widened his eyes pointedly and indicated towards the attendant, who had glanced up from where she was counting out ten pence coins to watch them, dithering.

“Draco, dear, I can’t accept this,” his mother said with a smile, reaching out to hand him back the coins. She patted his hand gently, touched that he had offered. “This is a special treat for both of you. I promise you’ll enjoy it.”

Draco shook his head. “I would far prefer to pay for my own ticket, Mrs Potter.”

“Lily is fine, Draco, and I must insist,” she said. Her smile had become rather amused and she shared a curious look with Harry, communicating something he couldn’t even begin to discern.  

Harry placed a hand on Draco’s elbow and pulled him to the side, allowing his mother to liaison with the attendant and help her count the coins, all the while managing to give James a faintly chiding look.

“Come on,” Harry said, pulling him towards the unhappy teenager.

Th teenager’s eyes lingered on the place where Harry was still tugging at Draco’s jacket. Harry quickly dropped his hand, tearing his gaze from Draco, who was watching him with his lips drawn in a thin line. The teenager guided them closer to the Ferris wheel and Harry noticed Draco observing the panelling at the base, clearly unconvinced by its quality. He opened the hatch for capsule and directed them inside. Draco eyed his luminous jacket with distaste.

Harry shook his head. Draco’s expressions baffled him. There were times—such as this—when Harry knew definitively what Draco was thinking, could even anticipate the remark on the tip of his tongue. Other times, however, he masterfully cleared any indication of his personal thoughts from his expression—and these tended to be the instances when Harry was most curious to find out what such thoughts were.

“Muggles baffle me,” Draco muttered, apparently oblivious to the fact that Harry was steering him inside the capsule.

Harry hummed in agreement and felt himself drawn by the remarkable view on the opposite side of the capsule. He peered over, absorbing the vast view of Big Ben and the Thames, with disturbed water drifting with the course of the wind. Harry glanced over to find that Draco had joined him a short distance away. He was observing the faint outline of Buckingham Palace with keen interest.

“…don’t know what she must have thought about us, honestly, James.”

“It was hardly my fault—all the coins look exactly the same! And how is it that the fifty pence is bigger than the pound?”

Harry heard his mother and father climbing aboard—evidently still discussing his father’s debatable knowledge of Muggle currency—but both were silenced by the sharp seal of the capsule door. Draco instantly drew out his wand.

Harry startled. “It’s just moving,” he said, careful to catch Draco’s frantic eyes.

Draco slipped his wand back into his pocket, though his eyes remained watchful.

The capsule, indeed, had begun to move. It was slightly shaky on its hinges to the point where Harry needed to clutch the centre handrail, but when it locked into position, the journey was surprisingly smooth. The four of them gathered on the far side of the capsule, leaning over to appreciate the vastness of the view that was slowly evolving before their eyes.

It felt almost flying, except without the added preoccupation of concentrating on his balance and speed, or the wind whipping his face and blowing his hair into his eyes. Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the House of Parliament, so prominent before, migrated in the distance as the greater London landscape came into view. Harry heard Draco’s shallow breaths the higher they soared, as the capsule reached the very top and began to rock once again.

“Think of it like flying,” Harry said quietly, before he could second-guess himself.

Draco let out a sharp laugh. “Hardly the same.”

“What do you mean?” Harry said.

“Flying gives you control,” Draco said. “You dictate your pace, and how far you travel, and where you travel. This requires someone else to dictate that on your behalf.”

“Technically it’s the engineer manuals rather than someone that dictates it,” Harry said, finding it very easy to distract Draco from his slight distress.

“Don’t be simple, Potter. Pedanticism doesn’t suit you.”

Harry sighed. “Just let go, then. Let someone else decide for you,” he insisted.

Draco pressed his thumb to his temple. “It’s not nearly that straight forward.”

Harry tilted his head in contemplation, awaiting the inevitable thud as the capsule locked into place, suspended at the very top. “It could be, if you convince yourself. Press your forehead to the glass like this,” he said, leaning the rim of his glasses gently against the glass. “And hold onto the railing, like you’re gripping a broomstick.”

“That would make the broomstick the wrong way around, in case you haven’t yet noticed.”

“Who’s being pedantic now?”

Draco sighed, arranging his expression into one of reluctant participation, and replicated Harry’s position.

They looked very daft, Harry was sure. He found that he didn’t much care. Draco was clearly unimpressed, but didn’t seem remotely as frightened as he had beforehand.

“Just like flying,” Harry said with a grin. The river cruise was gliding along the waters of the Thames with surprising ease. The top, open-deck of the cruise was filled with people, their colourful raincoats flapping wildly, all burning cheeks and bright smiles. Harry could see a few of them staring directly upwards, waving frantically up at them. Instinctively, he raised his hand, though he knew the chances of them seeing him very slim. He thought he heard Draco sigh.

“Well, you certainly look like you’ve been flying in that wind,” Draco said with a pointed glance at his hair, though there was little malice in his words.

“Alright, boys,” Harry’s mother suddenly interrupted, approaching them from the opposite side of the capsule and wielding a camera in a vaguely threatening manner, the way only a mother could. “Great big smiles, now. Harry, can you do something with our hair? Perhaps try to flatten the sides a bit?”

“Having lived with him for the better part of four months, Mrs Potter,” Draco interjected. “I can confirm that his hair is a lost cause.”

Harry raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to retaliate, only to find that he had no way of defending himself. With a glare at Draco, he patted down the top of his hair in a futile attempt to tame it, until his mother was satisfied that it looked “better than your father’s, at least.” This earned her an indignant squawk on Harry’s father’s behalf.

“Alright boys, do try and smile. One… two…”

Feeling slightly panicked about where to place his hands, Harry settled them against the railing and leaned back in a less nonchalant replica of Draco’s position. He caught his father’s eye and smiled just as the camera clicked, and an enormous puff of smoke with a distinctly green hue emitted too.

“That’s wonderful,” Lily said, smiling at the photograph. “I can send a copy to your parents if you’d like, Draco.”

Harry saw Draco pause in his movement to turn back around to admire the view. He cleared his throat and said in a noticeably strained voice “That won’t be necessary, thank you, Mrs Potter.”

Before Harry’s mother could respond, however, the capsule shuddered and, with a deafening creak, slotted back into place. They began their descent.

“Oh, Merlin, this part is horrible,” Draco said, clutching the railing like a man drowned at sea.

Harry had to agree; his stomach lurched uncomfortably and he suddenly regretted the second treacle tart on the Hogwarts Express. Determined to ensure that Draco enjoyed his experience aboard a Muggle Ferris wheel, however, he pasted on a smile, that probably appeared more like a grimace.

“You’re the Slytherin Seeker, right?” he asked. “Think of it like flying down to catch the snitch, just a few feet above the ground.”

Draco pursed his lips, as though trying to supress a smile. He nodded down towards the cruise, to a particular woman at the very back of the group on the top deck, who was wearing an enormous yellow jacket with a matching hat. “And she’s the golden snitch?”

Harry snorted. The glass in front of him fogged up and he wiped it with the sleeve of his jumper. “We can probably take the cruise down the Thames and you can meet your golden snitch in person.”

“Yes, and save you from drowning for a second time?”

They reached the bottom far sooner than Harry had anticipated. The grumpy teenager open the capsule door once again, and Draco rushed towards the door, much to Harry’s father’s apparent amusement.

“Thank Merlin,” Draco said, sounding relieved as they stepped back onto the pavement.

“What’s the matter, Draco?” Harry said with a wicked grin, as they passed the same attendant, who was watching them keenly. “Not enjoy yourself?”

“Absolutely not. I’ll be sure to leave an abominable review about the attraction in the Muggle equivalent to Witch Weekly. Come along, though, Potter,” he said, marching towards the gift shop, “I want to buy a souvenir.”

Chapter Text

The evening shepherded the fierce sea winds inland; wicked sheets of rain roamed, indiscriminate across the broad plains on the outskirts of Godric’s Hollow and the wind roared, battering against the car.

They had spent the rest of the evening wandering around the shops in London and visiting the attractions, most of which only Lily had been to as a young girl. By this stage, however, after an enduring amount of walking and a stress-inducing trip to the cinema, they were exhausted. During the entirety of the film Draco had loudly demanded that Harry explain the precise function of various Muggle appliances such as a telephone, and why the storyline of every female in the film revolved around a romantic relationship. Harry’s mother significantly warmed to Draco after this rather astute comment, though Harry wasn’t sure that the rest of the cinema patrons appreciated Draco’s scathing—if amusing—commentary.

Mr Weasley’s Ford Anglia had only just managed to bring them to three miles outside the village before it gave a final, hopeless puff of steam and shuddered to a stop. The four of them—previously occupied by a Wizarding Wireless analysis of the (rather appalling) Chudley Cannons tactics used in their most recent game—shared an intake of breath.

“Oh, Merlin,” Harry’s father said in a panicked whisper. He shifted the gears and tapped his wand against the Muggle steering wheel. The car gave a tired jolt, a low groan and began chugging along the battered road for three feet before collapsing for a second time. “Oh, bollocks, no.”

The rain, persistent as ever, seemed ever more ominously present as they sat in relative silence, apart from James’s futile attempts to re-start the car.

“Honey, let me try,” Lily said patiently, shifting her lithe body to reach across the console. She followed the rhythmic pattern they had both been taught by Mr Weasley to no avail.

James wore loudly. The car groaned in agreement as the magic-altered engine began to make a faint—and vaguely alarming—gurgling noise.

“I suppose there’s always the Knight Bus,” Lily muttered as James began yet another futile attempt to re-start the car.

“No, we don’t need to take the Knight Bus,” James insisted. “I’ll get it working in a jiffy.”

Harry caught his mother rolling her eyes and had to agree; his father was stubborn to the point of inducing exasperation. James Potter would rather walk three miles in the rain than take the Knight Bus and admit defeat.

They spend the next few minutes in relative silence, with the sounds of the pounding rain and Harry’s father’s muttered profanities filling the gaps. Harry’s mother extracted a book from her bag and became quite engrossed; Harry fidgeted, trying to find a comfortable position to rest his head that wasn’t the hard window pane; and Draco began to examine his souvenir—a globe with a miniature Millennium Wheel coated in a dusting of snow.

It was fifteen minutes later when Lily eventually cracked.

“James, darling,” she sighed, prying his attention away.

Harry cracked an eye open and saw his father stick his head up from beneath the steering wheel, where he had been fiddling with the foot pedals. His hair had become astonishingly unruly, sticking upwards and outwards in every direction, and his lip curled in frustration.

“You’re the love of my life,” she said, “but I will not hesitate to hex you if I have to hear another obscene equivalent to ‘Merlin’s hairy balls’.”

Harry heard Draco snort and twisted in his seat to find him staring resolutely at his snowglobe, supressing a smile.

“Well, what do you suggest then?” Harry’s father said, wiping his forehead and running his fingers through his hair with poorly-disguised frustration.

Harry’s mother tapped her wand in the corner of the book to mark her page—Witches and Willows: A Study of Feminine Magical Connections with Nature—and turned to face Harry’s father with a grim, pleading look in her eye. “The Knight Bus.”

Harry’s father shook his head. “No, there’s no need. I’ll crack this, Lil.”

“Your history with mending Muggle machines would beg to differ.”

“This isn’t a Muggle car!” Harry’s father insisted. 

“All cars are Muggle cars, James.”

“Arthur’s completely reinvented this one, though,” Harry’s father said, gesticulating around him, as though the physical appearance of the car’s decidedly Muggle interior would support his point.

“James, I understand that you want to fix this yourself, and in any other situation I would fully support you, but this is ridiculous. We can take it to Arthur’s tomorrow so that he can take a look at it. This is probably the longest journey the car has ever endured in one day; I’m frankly surprised it got us this far.”

Harry had to agree with his mother, but voicing such agreement wouldn’t earn him any points with his father, and watching his parents from his position curled up in the corner of the car was significantly less tiring. It had been an exhausting day, and his mind was adamant on returning to thoughts of Draco, for some reason; stolen glances where he had caught Draco smiling, or attempting to engage in civil conversation with his mother. His father had remained resolutely indifferent to Draco’s presence throughout the day, apparently deciding that ignoring him was the safest option for both of them. Harry had to admit, however, that whenever a situation demanded that Draco and his father speak, Draco was remarkably polite.

“Yes, but we can hardly leave it out in the rain overnight in the middle of nowhere,” his father continued.

“We can but an Impervius Charm on it. And the rain isn’t meant to last more than a couple of hours.”

“No,” James conceded, shaking his head. “But it’ll still get battered by the wind.”

Harry’s mother sighed. “What is your problem with the Knight Bus?”

“I don’t have a problem with it,” Harry’s father muttered, becoming far more frustrated as he attempted to open the console from beneath the gearstick junction. “Besides,” he added darkly, lifting his head to address Draco, “surely your father considers something as despicably Muggle as a bus to be an outrage, Malfoy.”

 “James!” Lily exclaimed.

Harry was startled from his semi-present musing, sitting up in his seat in time to catch the ghost of Malfoy’s smile. Apparently realising his place to defend himself while Harry’s mother chastised his father, insisting that he apologise, Draco held his hand up.

“It’s quite alright, Mrs Potter,” he said evenly. “It’s a perfectly true statement.”

“Truth doesn’t forgive unkindness,” Harry’s mother said gently.

“Lily’s right,” Harry’s father said, turning in his seat. “That was uncalled for. We… we can take the Knight Bus. I’ll owl Arthur in the morning; wouldn’t want to send for Errol in this monsoon.”

Harry felt highly embarrassed on behalf of his father, but he mostly felt strangely irritated. His father had his best interests at heart surely, and he knew that Draco and him were far from friendly, but he didn’t think that their strained relationship warranted any unfairness. Harry could tell that Draco was trying, despite how uncomfortable he probably felt.

Glancing to his right—Draco had insisted on sitting behind the driver to watch the operation of the steering wheel and gearstick—Harry saw that he was bolt upright, rigid as ever, though affecting a distinctly undeterred expression.

Suddenly, the car gave an enormous, heaving jolt.

“Oh, Merlin!” James said, eyes lit up. He scrambled to tap out the pattern on the steering wheel with the tip of his wand.

Giving another hopeful, trundling shake, the car seemed to spring to life.

“Alright boys,” Harry’s father said, turning in his seat. He rubbed his hands together conspiratorially. “I think we going to have to give her a bit of a push.”

Draco raised an eyebrow, looking entirely unamused. “Pardon me—a push?”

James nodded, his dark eyes gleaming behind his spectacles. “That’s right. Out you get, boys,” he said, opening the car door with a slight struggle only to give the downpour access to the perfectly dry, toasty front seat. “Come on!”

Harry grimaced in sympathy as he watched his father clamber out of the car and round it to the rear. He heard his mother make a sound somewhere between an endeared chuckle and a sigh of exasperation.

“Come on, Draco,” Harry sighed, removing his seatbelt and heaving  himself out of the car with languid, fumbled movements. He truly was exhausted.

As soon as he opened the car door, he was not only sprayed, but utterly drenched by the rain. The cold December wind-chill seeped into his bones, rendering him shivering as well as soaking.

“Come on, Draco! If I have to get wet then you do too,” he called into the car, where Draco was watching him with distaste and wariness, as though Harry was bordering on insane.

“That’s hardly a reasonable argument, Potter, unless you happen to espouse Communist values,” Draco said.

“What?”

Draco muttered something about Muggle Studies class and wasted intellect but, still wearing his unimpressed scowl, unclasped his seatbelt and shifted across the back seat. Harry smiled despite himself. He looked particularly perturbed by the prospect of leaving the warmth and security of the car. It wasn’t until he heard Harry’s father’s shouts, carried by the wind, that he finally relented.

Harry grinned, holding out his hand to help Draco out of the car before he could second-guess himself. Draco piqued an eyebrow at Harry’s proffered hand and promptly ignored it, making a noise of amusement. Harry wasn’t sure what to think of this.

“I think one good shove altogether will be enough to get her going again,” he said, grinning when they joined him at the rear of the car. “I levitated it out of the slight ditch the back wheel was stuck in, but we’re going to have to sort the rest out manually. I don’t know how much magic it could sustain otherwise.”

James’s hair, no longer dishevelled, was dripping wet and plastered to his forehead. Harry’s hand instinctively leapt for his own hair—predictably, it would just like his father’s.

To the contrary, Draco looked like a creature who inhabited the rain on a regular basis, rather than profoundly unfitting outside, battling the elements. Somehow, the wind turned his cheeks faintly pink and the moonlight, obscured though it was by the dull clouds, brought out the steely greyness in his eyes.

“While we’re young, Potter,” Draco sighed, nodding towards where Harry’s father has fastened his grip directly below the license plate.

Harry sighed, wiping the rain cascading down his face and dripping horribly off his nose. If Draco Malfoy could endure the impending storm, then he surely could. He took the spot beside his father while Draco took the opposite side, each clutching their respective side like drowned men at sea. Draco's mouth was twisted into a grimace at the sludge and mud at his feet, undoubtedly staining his boots.  

“On the count of three we push up and forward, alright? One great shove should do it,” Harry’s father called as another gust of wind threatened to knock the three of them off balance. “One—two—three!”

With white knuckles, straining thighs and locked elbows, Harry propelled all of his strength into charging the car upwards and forward. What felt like far longer—but probably only lasted five seconds—passed before the car gave an almighty creak, followed by a loud bang. A shower of dark smoke and sparks were emitted from the exhaust fumes, coating the three of them in a hot layer of soot-like smoke.

Coughing and waving his hand in the air to rid the smoke from his face, Harry croaked “Did it work?”

The smoke instantly evaporated and Harry spotted his mother standing at the side of the road, a charm shielding her from the rain, with her wand raised, the smoke trailing behind her like an absurdly dark fog.

“It worked!” Harry’s father exclaimed.

Indeed, the engine had ignited and, though producing a worrying amount of smoke, was undoubtably working.

“Quick, quick,” James urged, ushering them back into the car. “Before it stops working.”

“Very reassuring to hear that you gave so much faith in your own mechanic skills, darling,” Harry’s mother said, though her tone was playful.

Scurrying to get back into the car, and casting a quick Hot Air Charm over the back seat of the car—which Draco didn’t acknowledge—Harry could sigh with relief as the dampness was drawn out of his clothes.

It was ten minutes later when they finally arrived at Godric’s Hollow, the car creaking to an unsteady stop directly outside their front gate, that Harry often helped his father paint during the summertime. Seeing his home after months without so much as a photograph of the familiar features and intricacies left him with a strangely nostalgic yearning. He could hardly wait to climb the familiar stairs, with portraits and photographs lining the walls; to curl up on his bed beneath his oldest bedsheets—scarlet, with floating golden snitches stitched into the fabric—with Abrax curled at his feet; to wake up to the sound of Celestina Warbeck on the radio drifting up the stairs along with the smell of frying breakfast. Hogwarts was a special place—one where he felt fulfilled and accepted—but Godric’s Hollow was home.

Harry glanced to his right to find Draco watching him with a curious, yet guarded expression.

They gathered themselves and climbed out of the car one after the other. His mother cast the same charm to shield them all from the downpour, and she linked her arm with Harry’s, guiding him into the house. Draco trailed slightly behind, his trunk levitating behind him—as it was a Wizarding community, his use of magic wouldn’t be frowned upon.

Unlocking the front door made Harry’s insides twist with anticipation, but it was only seeing the faded canary yellow walls in the hallway, the array of misplaced objects scattered on the surfaces and the notices written on paper snowflakes suspended in the air reading the most mundane tasks—'Collect anniversary present for Remus and Sirius’ and ‘Shopping: Powdered Root of Asphodel, a pint of milk and ingredients for Christmas pudding’—that compounded just how must he had missed home. And somehow, despite the sentimentality of the moment, he didn’t for one second feel uncomfortable having Draco there. Draco didn’t feel like an intruder, but more of a surprising guest with whom he had a rather strained relationship.  

“I haven’t touched your room since you left, sweetheart,” Harry’s mother said, gently squeezing his shoulder. “How about you show Draco to your room?”

Harry turned on his heel, ignoring Draco’s watching gaze. “Won’t he be sleeping in the guest room?”

“Ah, yes,” Harry’s father said, scratching the back of his neck sheepishly. He shut the front door, sealing them from the rain, and carefully toed off his boots. “There was a bit of an—er—malfunction when Padfoot and I were preparing the guest room. I’m afraid, well, it’s a little… unsafe at the minute.”

“Unsafe?” Harry repeated, his thoughts leaping to conclusions and entertaining absurd visions of an explosion of some kind rendering their perfectly lovely guest room destroyed.

“That’s right,” James said earnestly, having the decency to look slightly contrite. He spared Draco a glance. “I’ll set up a spare bed in your room, though.”

Harry’s mother hummed. “James, I’d imagine it will be a bit of a squeeze for them both in Harry’s room,” she said.

“I’m sure it will be perfectly acceptable. I wouldn’t wish to intrude by insisting you prepare another bedroom,” Draco interjected. It was then that Harry noticed just how tired he looked; evidently, he wasn’t being particularly fastidious about his sleeping conditions. Draco caught Harry’s eye and gave him a pointed look. “Besides, I think that after the last couple of months I’ve become relatively immune to your intolerable snoring.”

“I hardly snore,” Harry said, though he didn’t have any evidence to the contrary. It was reflexive, by this point, that he counter and defend himself against anything Draco accused him of.

“You undoubtably do, Harry. Even when you were a baby you snored like a hibernating bear,” his mother said with a smile.

Harry wasn’t quite sure what to do with this information. He sincerely hoped that Draco hadn’t heard her comment.

“Come along, then,” his mother said, guiding him and Draco up the staircase.

Though Harry desperately wanted to at the very least survey his bedroom, Draco insisted on following directly behind him. He tried to reason with himself that giving Draco unfettered access to his bedroom wasn’t as significant as it felt—they had lived in close quarters for almost four months—but, somehow, his bedroom felt like such an intimate place to willingly bring Draco into.

“I’ll just get some spare bedsheets for you, Draco, dear,” Harry’s mother said, making her way across the hall to the laundry room.

Oddly nervous, Harry brought Draco further along until they were directly outside the closed bedroom door. He jammed his thumb into the small hole in the mahogany, finding that concentrating on it was far less dauting than making eye conact with Draco while attempting to apologise for the predictably terrible state of his room. Before he could even consider why he was bothering—Draco certainly wouldn’t appreciate an apology, nor would he have provided Harry with one, had their roles been reversed—Draco held up a hand to silence him.

“Potter,” he sighed, pushing past Harry to twist the doorknob. “I quite frankly do not care if your room contains a shrine to Gwenog Jones; all I need is an acceptably comfortable place to sleep.” With that Draco promptly turned on his heel and marched inside.

The first aspect that struck Harry was how terribly sparse his room was. Naturally, most of his belongings were spread between his dormitory at Hogwarts and his trunk downstairs, but it was disconcerting to see the room that was so often overflowing with items—books, his broomstick cleaning kit, boxes which stored any of the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes products that Fred and George hadn’t deemed sufficiently safe for sale—almost completely bare.

Harry fell back onto his bed with a sigh, resting his head on his pillow and allowing himself to breathe in the familiar air. He watched with narrowed eyes as Draco observed his room with a strange delicacy. His fingers glided across the cold, hard surface of his desk with the faintest touch; his eyes greedily roamed Harry’s bookcase; he cast a Lumos as he leaned against the windowsill to take in the view of Harry’s back garden and the roaming landscape of sheep farms in the near distance.

“I hope you don’t mind the Holyhead Harpies, Draco, they’re the only spare set I could find,” Harry’s mother said, levitating a neat pile of bedsheets that were dark green with a gold talon emblazoned on the pillow. She lowered them onto Harry’s bedside locker and pulled the rickety chair out from underneath his desk, preparing to transfigure it into a bed.

“Not at all, Mrs Potter,” Draco said with a charming smile. Harry eyed him suspiciously.

Lily smiled. “I think I bought them last Christmas for Ginny when her and Ron stayed over last summer, actually. I distinctly remember Ginny sneaking out most nights to play midnight Quidditch, though, so I imagine you’ll be the first to actually use them.”

Draco nodded, leaning back at the base of Harry’s bed to watch her begin the transfiguration.

Lily raised her wand, her wrist twisted so that her palm was almost fully exposed, and with a sharp flick the rickety chair began to stretch. More wood seemed to produce, unfolding and shifting until what had initially looked like a long, wooden canoe resembled a bed. It was with a second flick of her wrist that the rails became defined and the headboard adopted an intricate winding pattern.

“I’ve produced better, but I suppose it will have to do,” Harry’s mother said with a modest smile, storing her wand in her pocket.  

Draco shook his head vehemently. “It’s ideal. Thank you.”

“You’re sweet, Draco. Let me know if you need anything else,” Lily said. She turned to give Harry a pointed look. “Harry, come help me with something for a moment, would you?”

Harry caught her eye, raised an eyebrow but quickly heaved himself off his bed before Draco noticed anything peculiar. Knowing Draco’s astute eye, however, he probably already had.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asked, following his mother down the stairs.

He noticed that his parents had hung a new framed photograph of the three of them in the Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour from the only hot day in England the previous summer directly above the stove, and that his mother had re-painted the dining room, something she had been meaning to do for months. Otherwise, the kitchen he spent so much time in helping his father prepare dinner, or chopping ingredients for his mother’s potions, looked precisely the same. It was very reassuring. Somehow, that despite Harry’s absence, so much had remained the same.   

Harry’s mother smiled nervously. “Draco is alright, isn’t he?” she asked.

Harry frowned. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “Why?”

Lily worried her lip. “I was a little worried,” she admitted. “Is he usually quite that…”

“Much of a prick?” Harry said, eliciting a guilty smile from her.

Lily sighed and ruffled his hair playfully. “I was going to say uptight, Harry. Do you think he feels comfortable? Choosing to spend the Christmas holidays here, away from his family certainly couldn’t have been his first choice.”

Harry shrugged, though he felt distinctly less nonchalant about the subject. “I think he enjoyed today well enough,” he said, scratching the back of his neck. “He really doesn’t seem any different to how he usually acts.”

She seemed placated by this, nodding to herself. “That’s fine, I suppose,” she said, leaning back against the kitchen counter. “I just don’t want him to feel out of place, and your father isn’t helping one bit on that account.” She sighed, rubbing the corner of her eye sleepily, before looking at Harry directly, her gaze imploring. “I know that you two don’t—or at least didn’t—get on very well, and I know you’ve been very patient trying to give him a chance, but I think that spending time together over the next couple of weeks will be a great opportunity for you both.”

Harry shifted his gaze to the pot of four leaf clover that was humming a familiar tune horribly off key, the leaves swaying along with the beat. “I suppose,” he said slowly, careful to avoid her observant eye. “I promise you that everything will be fine, Mum. He’s not the kind of person to… show his emotions very much.”

Harry’s mother made a faint noise, and patted his shoulder gently, pressing her thumb on the crease of his shirt. “Alright, sweetheart. I’ll speak to your father too. Hopefully he’ll feel more comfortable after spending time with you in a more natural environment.”

“Mum,” Harry sighed, suddenly disproportionality anxious that she had seen something in the way Harry and Draco treated each other, something he had become particularly conscious of that morning. “I don’t need him to… open up to me or anything. We’re not meant to be friends—we just have to be able to rely on each other.”

Harry’s mother watched him with sad eyes, suddenly looking very tired, but equally as attentive. “Harry, you should never try to prevent—”

“I really don’t want—or… need that from him,” Harry said, stepping back and crossing his arms.

“I only mean that the circumstances in which you were obliged together weren’t ideal,” she said, ever patient. “Being here might help remind Draco that there is far be more to you than the person he sees during the Tournament. I just don’t think it’s fair that that’s the only version of you that he gets to see.” She sighed, gently brushing her hair behind her ear. The dim light in the kitchen caught the movement and shone across her fair skin. “I hope that this holiday might help him get a glimpse of that.”

Harry felt himself lower his arms, his defensiveness dissipating as soon as it had seeped into his consciousness. “Thanks Mum,” he mumbled, smiling as she waved him off good-naturedly.

“Don’t worry about it, sweetheart,” she insisted. “Now, you’d best get to bed. I’m sure you’re tired after today.”

Harry nodded to himself, feeling slightly rueful. “Good night, Mum.”

She swept past him, reaching up to drop a kiss to his cheek, muttering a good-night over a yawn.

Harry poured himself a glass of water—it always felt more refreshing than a simple Aguamenti—before remembering the boy in his room, probably snooping through his photo albums by this stage, and pouring a second glass. With a heavy sigh, he dragged his feet up the stairs, the glasses levitating precariously in front of him.

“Why, pray tell, do you have a total of three moderate to mediocre standard broom cleaning kits in your room? You hardly need three, Potter.”

Harry slumped back on his bed and lowered the two glasses on his bedside table. The water overflowed, but he couldn’t summon the energy to clean the spillage.

“One of them I bought myself, and the two other were from presents, I think,” Harry said, blinking at where Draco was perched on his newly-transfigured bed. Draco had added the Holyhead Harpies bedsheets to the bed, and was toying with the loose folds.

“That doesn’t demand that you keep the other two sets,” Draco said, shaking his head, as though such a proposition was preposterous. “Why not just return them?”

“I don’t know,” Harry sighed, draping his forearm over his forehead to block the bright light from his lamp from shining directly into his eyes. He had forgotten how intense that lamp was, especially when his eyelids felt dull and heavy.

Draco made a noise of discontent, apparently not satisfied by his response. “And I thought you didn’t enjoy living in excess.”

Harry frowned, surprised by the Draco’s tone—mildly unsettled, and speaking more to himself than to Harry.

“What?” he mumbled.

Draco didn’t respond immediately, instead slipping beneath his bedsheets and arranging them around himself until they were smooth. Harry absentmindedly thought that he looked rather uncomfortable.

“There are very few possessions that you value,” Draco said evenly. “I wouldn’t have considered you someone to keep unnecessary, superfluous objects.”

“I really didn’t think that much into it,” Harry sighed, feeling very drained. He wriggled beneath his own bedsheets and tugged them up to his chin.

“Clearly,” Draco snorted derisively, allowing his gaze to trail around the room. “You still manage to keep those items you do cherish in an inordinate chaos.” 

Harry heaved the pillow from beneath his head and flung it across the room. He was quite certain that he had missed but Draco still gave an indignant squawk.

Draco muttered something about “absolutely no decorum” and Harry fumbled for his wand, bathing the room in a persistent darkness. The sliver of light peeked through the cotton curtains and cast a long, slender shape across the hardwood floor.

A couple of minutes passed—shifting, squirming and tugging at his bedsheets—before Harry finally relented. “Draco,” Harry said, his cheek pressed against the hard mattress. “Give me my pillow back.”

Even in the darkness, Harry could visualise Draco’s predictable smirk.

“You know, Potter, I don’t think I will,” Draco said conversationally. “It’s rather more comfortable with two pillows, actually.”

“You don’t say,” Harry muttered. He heaved himself up from his bed and skimmed his feet across the hardwood floor. Sighing, he made his way over to Draco’s bed, wand in hand. “Draco,” he muttered, his knees banging against Draco’s bed.

“Salazar’s Snake, Potter,” Draco yelped, startled. A faint thud sounded beneath Harry.

“Sorry,” Harry muttered, not feeling particularly apologetic. “Just give me my pillow back.”

“Absolutely not,” Draco said, still irritated. “That would set an abominable precedent.”

A draft of wind from the slip beneath the door send a thrill of goosebumps across Harry’s skin.

“How so?” Harry asked glumly, wrapping his arms around himself.

“Handing you back the very pillow you walloped at my head not five minutes ago?” Draco said. “I don’t know about you, but I would consider that a highly untenable precedent.”

“Malfoy,” Harry sighed, clenching his jaw to deter his chattering teeth. “I’m not talking about untenable precedents with you at bloody half past eleven when I should be in my warm, pillow-containing bed, fast asleep.”

“Fine with me, Potter,” Draco said.

The lights in Harry’s room flicked on and Harry startled, blinking rapidly to adjust to the sight before him: Draco Malfoy in his striped, silk pyjamas, with ‘D.M.’ embroidered on the chest pocket, sprawled out on the bed in a manner that should not have been nearly as enticing as it was, and wielding his pillow.

Harry huffed, snatched it from his hand and turned on his heel back to his own bed. Falling asleep proved annoyingly difficult, however, because all Harry could think of was how desperately he wanted to crawl into the bed across the room, ideally with Draco curled into his side.

Chapter Text

“Harry James Potter, come down here right now, please.”

The tone of Harry’s mother’s voice left entirely no room for argument; firm and unrepentant, Harry only spared Draco (who looked as though Christmas had come a week early about the prospect of watching Harry be thoroughly chastised) a glance before racing down the rest of the stairs into the kitchen. 

The weak morning light, the December sun shrouded in a cloud that promised snow, crept through the cotton curtains and cast long rays across the hardwood floors. Harry’s father was sitting at the kitchen table, his glasses askew, glancing between the Daily Prophet and an enormous pile of paperwork. Harry knew that there had been a ministry raid the previous night and that his father would undoubtably be required for Auror advisory work. Like Harry, he found being desk-bound terribly tedious, but it seemed that academics had become more attractive to him over the years.

Beside him, Harry’s mother stood, wearing a distinctly reproving expression while stroking an unfamiliar tawny owl with utmost gentleness. It was a strange contradiction, but Harry knew that if his mother truly was angry then she wouldn’t admonish him—she would instead only reveal her disappointment in him, something that made him feel more contrite than any telling-off ever could.

Clutched in her hand was a letter, the familiar gold Hogwarts seal on the ripped envelope. Harry felt Draco sidle closer to the kitchen table to surreptitiously glance at the letter.

“Professor McGonagall wrote to me telling of your escapade the other night,” Lily said. She glanced between them both, sighing to herself. “Do sit down,” she said mainly to Draco, gesturing to the opposite chair.

They each pulled out a chair—Draco primly and Harry sheepishly—and sat down comfortably closely. Lily slipped out her wand from her pocket and, with a modest flourish, a bowl teeming with fruit and a generous plate of toast soared towards them.

“Harry, I try not to jump to assumptions, but I really hope that you have a good explanation for this,” she said, plucking a handful of berries form the bowl and feeding them to the tawny owl.

“Mum, I really—” Harry began, sighing as he tried to gather his thoughts into a coherent explanation in which he could bypass the issue of sneaking out of the Great Hall with Draco. “The Larsons were sneaking around while everyone else was at the Yule Ball. We had to follow them—they were clearly up to something and I wasn’t going to sit back and just let it happen.”

Harry’s mother nodded, glancing towards where Draco nodded in confirmation. He otherwise gave no indication that he was listening, instead focusing on spreading cream and blackberry jam evenly on his scone.

“So you followed them, then?” Harry’s father prompted, folding the Daily Prophet and picking up McGonagall’s letter instead, eyeing it with slight amusement.

“Er—yeah. And they went straight to McGonagall’s office,” Harry said with a grim twist of a smile. “We had to do something to stop them.”

“You duelled?”

“Not a proper duel,” Draco interjected. “There was hardly time for formalities.”

“You attacked them unprovoked?” Harry’s mother said, slightly overwrought.

“It wasn’t unprovoked—it was a case of legitimate defence, Mrs Potter,” Draco said simply.

Sighing, Harry eyed Draco, who seemed entirely unaffected by their conversation. “It sounds worse than it is, Mum, really. There wasn’t time to properly think.”

Harry’s mother sighed. “Well, from what Minerva says here it sounds as though the Larsons’ actions proved far more serious,” she admitted. The anxiety in her voice gave way to thoughtful concern. “He used a Methisi Curse, James.”

James dropped his fist on the table, sending the pile of papers sprawling. “You’re having me on!” he exclaimed, eyes flitting over the letter in his wife’s hand until they apparently landed on the part telling of Alexander’s poor aim and the failed fatal curse. “Methisi? And they’re still allowed in the Tournament after a stunt like that?”

“Achernar decided that, as the duel wasn’t technically part of the tournament, there was no jurisdiction for them to be disqualified,” Draco said, his tone making clear that he was still deeply resentful of her decision.  

“But that’s ridiculous,” Harry’s father said furiously. “Harry could have been paralysed.”

Harry dropped his gaze to his toast and shifted in his chair. He felt slightly uncomfortable beneath his father’s fierce, determined gaze. He was fantastically defensive, but Harry couldn’t help but feel that sometimes, it was almost unjustified.

“You have Larson’s incompetence to thank that he wasn’t,” Draco said with a slight rueful smile. Harry thought that he was sharing a joke, but the smile slipped behind Draco’s usual blank nonchalance immediately afterwards.

Glancing back at his parents—his father making not unfounded protests on his behalf, and his mother seemingly torn between emphatically, but fairly, agreeing with her husband and re-reading the letter—Harry was struck by how oddly normal this felt. Not three months ago, the prospect of spending a morning with his parents and Draco Malfoy would have been something dreaded, or at the very least concerning. Although perhaps not cordial, nor a particularly superficial conversation about more refined breakfast topics, the morning felt easy to accept. Harry’s body was neither rigid nor alert, nor was it fully in tune with the fast-paced atmosphere that always seemed to pervade Hogwarts. Instead, he felt relaxed in their company; excited, even, at the prospect of flying later that morning, and relieved at having avoided dealing with the tremendous guilt stemming from his mother’s disappointment.

“Alright,” she sighed, breaking his train of wieldy thoughts, “let’s clear up breakfast and head out to the moor. You boys can spend some time there before we head into the village for some last-minute Christmas shopping.”

Harry nodded, pushing his chair back with a horrible screech across the hardwood floor. He began piling up his breakfast plates, licking gooseberry jam from his thumb, before levitating a precarious pile of dirty plates into the kitchen sink.

“What are you clearing up for?” Draco demanded.

Harry stared blankly at him. “So that Mum doesn’t have to do it all herself,” he said, slightly unsure where Draco was taking his line of questioning.

Draco frowned, his pale eyebrows thinning. He glanced over to where Harry’s parents were in serious conversation, his father sighing intermittent. “But what about your house elf?”

“Oh,” Harry said. “We don’t have one. We did at one stage when I was younger, I think, but I don’t think Mum felt comfortable about having another creature be treated like a slave. And Hermione’s a big advocate for—er—elvish welfare.”

Draco pressed his lips in a firm line. Though his expression was difficult to read, Draco didn’t make a further comment. Harry assumed that Draco considered their conversation to be over—he certainly didn’t mind abrupt endings—and would take his leave and return to Harry’s bedroom. As he leaned over the table to catch a glimpse of the Daily Prophet, however, Harry felt Draco shift behind him and, in an instant, the four napkins on each of their placemats shot across the kitchen and arranged into an elegant stack beside the toaster. Harry turned on his heel to meet Draco’s eye, but he resolutely ignored him, instead walking across the room in long strides and setting the bowl of fruit beside in its proper position.

“Thank you, Draco, dear,” Harry’s mother said with a grateful smile.

Harry merely gaped at Draco. What could Draco—intangible, difficult, paradoxical Draco—have to gain from behaving so politely? Willingly helping to clean up; abstaining from making a snide comment about his mother’s attitude towards house elves; not even engaging in any kind of debate during breakfast aside from contributions to support Harry’s case? It was maddening, and Harry couldn’t wrap his head around the insurmountable question of why.

“Come along, Potter,” Draco muttered, tugging Harry’s pyjama sleeve. “You can hardly wear this playing Quidditch.”

 

*

 

Climbing the sloping hills a mere three miles beyond the outskirts of Godric’s Hollow—without magic—took the better part of an hour. Though he only had a broomstick slung over his shoulder, the climb was surprisingly tiring. When they finally arrived at the swarthy, waterlogged moor, the sun had fully risen and, weak though it was, tickled Harry’s skin and left his eyes squinting to make out the exquisite view of the village below.

Harry’s mother extracted a portable chair set from her bag and placed a large, quilted rug on a dry patch while Harry’s father cast a few surreptitious Warming Charms. From Harry’s point of view, there was a sparse forest, consisting mainly of Cedar trees, a short walk beyond the moor. He beckoned Draco—who was smoothing the non-existing wrinkles of his jacket—towards him.

“See over there,” Harry said, pointing beyond the clearing. “We could use those taller trees as goal posts.”

“I suppose it will have to do,” Draco mused, gripping his broomstick and striding determinedly towards Harry’s suggested Quidditch site with the air of someone marching towards battle. Within the first ten minutes of playing, however, Harry realised that Draco very much did consider it a battle—and that he was devoted to winning.

“Keep up, Potter,” Draco called victoriously, swerving to catch the Quaffle before it even brushed the thick branch of his make-shift goalpost.

Harry sighed angrily, clutching his Nimbus 2001 yet more firmly and staring intently at Draco, anticipating his next shot. It soared far above him and he leaned forward, shooting upwards and expertly swooping at the last second, catching the Quaffle firmly in his grip. He grinned, streaking back down and avoiding the prickly branches threatening to toughen his descent. With a cursory glance to where Draco was hovering, Harry could see that he looked mildly impressed and distinctly annoyed.

“Lucky catch, Potter—I was going easy on you,” he said.

“Really?” Harry said, throwing the Quaffle lazily in the air and leaning back to catch it in the other hand. “Why don’t we make things even, then? Or maybe you don’t think your ego can handle losing.”

Catching Draco attempt—and resoundly fail—to supress a smile, Harry decided, was one of his favourite things to watch. He quickly looked away to avoid catching Draco’s eye.

“Hardly,” Draco called. “I simply don’t consider you a worthy opponent to grace with my Quidditch expertise.”

Suddenly filled with nerve, Harry locked his elbows in place and shot towards Draco, pulling to a clean halt directly opposite him. “Quidditch expertise?” he said with a grin. “How about this: we race from here back to my parents, and the first one there gets to claim to superior title.”

Draco eyed him warily, as though searching for some sign of deception. “Absolutely not,” he said finally.

“Why not?” Harry asked, watching Draco out of the corner of his eye. “Looks like you’re just afraid of losing, Malfoy.”

Draco looked up sharply at the mention of his surname and something flickered in his eye. “Fine,” he said in a clipped tone. “But you only have yourself to blame when you lose.”

“I think I’ll bear it,” Harry said, turning his broom and shooting back towards the earthy terrain.

They stood side-by-side, shoulders squared, each gripping their brooms. Harry could hear Draco’s shallow breathing.

“On the count of three,” Harry said, pressing his weight into his toes, ready to kick off from the ground. “One—two—three!”

With a hefty kick, Harry gilded upwards with ease. Draco, it seemed, had begun to fly before Harry had finished counting—light and nimble, he flew five feet ahead of him. Harry gritted his teeth and lowered himself against his broom, curving his body against the sleek wood. They reached the canopy of the trees and were struck by the severity of the winter winds; they prickled Harry’s cheeks and carded through his hair, swiping it into his eyes. The wind whipped Draco’s jacket upwards, revealing the pale skin and taut muscles of his lower back. Clearing his throat and pointedly looking away, Harry instead focused on speeding ahead.

The wind rushed past him, obscuring the sounds of the rustling leaves and each of their panting.

“Do try and keep up, Potter!”

Harry clenched his thighs around his broom and sped up, ignoring the howling of the wind. He spotted the familiar patchwork quilt and two figures—his parents—in the distance. More determined still, he managed to push ahead of Draco, twisting to align himself with the wind pattern which had been deterring him.

“I could say the same thing!” Harry shouted back, hearing only Draco’s muffled reply.

He could see his parents more clearly, could make out that his mother was reading, and that Abrax had apparently joined them, as she was curled on his father’s lap, vying for his attention. Harry was preparing himself to begin his descent when he felt something bang against his shoulder—Draco had sped up and they were neck-in-neck. Pressed against his side, Harry winced as Draco’s presence send another jolt through his stomach; he could barely think for the fact that Draco was grinning wickedly and calling taunts that no longer needed to be carried by the wind.

From such close range, Harry could make out his mother waving up at them, a beatific smile on her face. If they didn’t begin their descent soon, they would have to plummet towards the ground at a more vertical angle, an unsafe feat for even the most talented of flyers.  

“You’ll think next time you try and challenge me, won’t you, Potter?”

Harry shook his head, veering downwards and steadying himself for a final, downwards push towards the earth. “Not if I beat you first, Malfoy.”

They were almost perfectly even; where Harry was quick, daring and tenacious, Draco was precise in his movements and never let the struggle of endurance show on his face, something that proved rather worrying to Harry—Slytherin’s always had a second option prepared.

Before Draco could try anything to sabotage his efforts, Harry dived. The wind rushed past his ears and stung his eyes, the blinding light of the low, winter sun leaving him to rely on instincts rather than clear vision. He held the handle with all his might, curved his back and shoulders inwards and hunched over his broom until he was almost pressed flat against it. His stomach nauseous, his head light and his fingernails tinted blue, Harry pushed onwards. He could just about make out the patterned blanket, could hear Draco’s shouts—they were close, far too close for Harry’s liking. He swerved at the final second and hit the ground with a frightfully unsteady thud. Before he could properly absorb his surroundings, however, something hit the back of his calves and he was wrenched backwards, losing his footing and falling into a tangle of limbs.

“Potter, you moronic prat!”

Harry stuttered for a moment, heaving himself from underneath what transpired to be Draco’s broom. “Me?” he said furiously. “You’re the one who crashed into me as I landed. Landed first, too.”

“I did no such thing,” Draco said, his tone outraged. “You were headed for a spot at least ten feet over there until you swerved right beforehand.”

Harry felt his stomach drop—he had swerved, but only to avoid Draco, who he had thought was right on his tail. “Well, I—er—”

“So you admit it,” Draco huffed, clambering to his feet with a grace that Harry could never conceive of achieving. Harry glanced up and caught Draco’s expression; his cheeks were stained pink, his eyes alight and his hair artfully wind-swept. With his broomstick balanced over his shoulder and the Quaffle beneath his arm, he could have been a poster model for Quidditch Stars Weekly.

“Harry? Draco? Are you boys alright?” Harry’s mother’s concerned voice carried across the moor and, glancing up, Harry spotted her rushing towards them.

“Fine, Mum,” he said, plastering a smile on his face. He clambered to his feet and waved a Scouring Charm on his trousers to remove the worst of the grassy streaks and mud stains. Draco had managed to emerge from the fall unscathed.

She examined them both, worrying her lip. “Okay, sweetheart. If you two are ready to go, your father and I thought we might head back to Godric’s Hollow to run a couple of last-minute errands,” she said, taking each of their brooms and expertly shrinking them until they were discrete enough to slip into her bag. “According to the weather forecast, a snow blizzard is expected to arrive tonight and I’d feel more comfortable having everything ready for Christmas eve in case we’re snowed in.”

Harry nodded, trailing after his mother towards where his father was threatening to disavow Abrax if he didn’t stop banging his head into his leg. Draco made his presence known with a heavy sigh, falling into step beside Harry.

“What in the name of Salazar is a weather forecast?”

 

*

 

“What can I get for you, dears?” Mrs Fowler asked.

The owner of Teapots and Trinkets, the quaint café at the edge of the village, was an elderly woman  who wore an enormous, flowing apron and emanated a floral, yet musty mixture. Mrs Fowler had a soft spot for Harry and, when he was younger, greeted him with a pinch on the cheek and a handful of chocolate frogs. Though she was a witch, Mrs Fowler was well versed in Muggle matters as Godric’s Hollow was home to a small albeit not insubstantial Muggle population.

“Four hot chocolates and mince pies, when you get a moment,” Harry’s father said. He nodded towards the towards the rest of the patrons and bustling waiters. “Have you been this busy all the Christmas season, Valarie?”

“Absolutely,” she said with a delighted sigh, taking in the busy café, alive with the smell of brewing coffee and chattering families. The radiator beside Harry seemed to be humming Christmas carols, which Harry was sure would be appreciated by Mr Weasley. “We’ve become a popular weekend destination since we opened up the bed and breakfast upstairs.”

While Mrs Fowler chatted to his parents about the upsurge in visitor numbers, Harry snuck a glance to where Draco was re-aligning his cutlery—apparently Muggle etiquette was different to that of wizarding folk.

Draco had been curiously quiet while they picked up last minute items from the local market, though he seemed to have been thoroughly amused listening to Harry discussing his flying with his father. Draco had known a great deal about Harry’s father’s Quidditch days, which he had let slip by clear accident when they were debating the merits of techniques particular to Seekers. Though he had initially assumed that Draco knew about his father’s Seeker skills as a matter of common knowledge—House teams often made it their business to learn about Quidditch history at Hogwarts as generational and family talents—but Draco’s reaction to letting slip such information led Harry to think that he felt sheepish about revealing this knowledge. To the contrary, Harry’s father was delighted.

“So, how long have you been playing for your House team, then?” Harry’s father asked after Mrs Fowler handed them each a steaming mug of frothy hot chocolate. Quidditch, evidently, was a topic Harry’s father felt comfortable discussing with Draco, and Harry was happy to oblige in any conversation that would ease the tension between them.

“Since second year,” Draco said proudly.

Harry’s father nodded once, evidently unwilling to reveal any admission that second year was an impressive age to be chosen as a starting player.

“But you didn’t make Captain?”

“James,” Harry’s mother said under her breath.

“No,” Draco said in a clipped tone, slicing his mince pie into four even pieces. He paused. “Slughorn had a preference for Urquhart. He knew some of her family, I believe.”

“Slughorn was always one for favouritism,” Harry’s father said, turning towards his wife and beaming. “He adored you, didn’t he, Lily?”

“I think adored is an exaggeration,” she said, shaking her head and smiling to herself. “He certainly valued having connections to the influential, though. Not that he always proved to be correct. Slughorn often set too much in store by people’s family trees.”

Harry’s father nodded gravely. “Slytherin won the House Cup last year, right? Urquhart must’ve been the right choice after all.”

Draco pursed his lips. “He had a penchant for choosing the brawniest players. The tactic worked well for the Beaters, but our Chasers weren’t as quick as I would have liked. Ours were certainly better than the Hufflepuffs, of course,” he said with a rather nasty grin, “but I would have chosen Chasers with better reflexes and more competence than the likes of Vaisey.”

They delved into competing tactics and player selection processes then and, though Harry wasn’t entirely familiar with every player, he knew enough from Ron’s letters to be able to contribute his own analysis. Though perhaps not comfortable, Harry could see that both his father and Draco were making an effort. At times, his father’s questions could affect an accusatory slant, and Draco’s replies were primarily calculated and often evasive, but Harry didn’t feel on edge, instead regarding the two in conversation with a cautious ease.

After their delicious snack, they trundled back along Church Lane to the find a copse of Christmas trees for sale beside St. Jerome’s. Snow had begun to fall, light and fine, coating the tips and extended branches in a delicate layer of white.

A boy not much older than Harry and Draco was heaving the taller pines to balance against the rickety kissing gate, the entrance to the Godric’s Hollow graveyard. He noticed their arrival and smiled good-naturedly. “Anything I can do for you? We just got this batch in from the Forest of Dean late last night,” he said, patting one of the shorter, bushier trees. “For every tree we cut down, we plant three and all of our proceeds go towards habitat conservation.”

While Harry’s mother engaged in conservation with the Muggle boy about animal habitats in British forests—and his father nodded vehemently beside her, with a slightly perplexed look on his face whenever an animal he hadn’t comes across was mentioned—Harry made his way along the rows of trees, Draco in tow. Despite not being particularly fussed himself, Draco, on the other hand, seemed to have an opinion about everything from the shade of green to the dimensions of the trees.

“This one?” Harry said, pulling one of the more docile trees from the far side of the wall.

Draco wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Absolutely not,” he said, breezing past Harry.

Harry sighed, and dragged his feet behind Draco, allowing his fingers to brush past the tips of the branches. And enticing scent wafted about the place; heady and rich, it filled his thoughts and, despite the fact that he was at home and with his parents, filled him with a peculiar nostalgia for Christmas’s past.

Harry plucked another tree from a smaller bunch, each already decorated with ornate, golden bells.

“If you want a tacky tree, be my guest,” Draco said primly.

Harry sighed. “If you’re going to be this picky then just choose one yourself, Draco.”

“Of course not,” Draco dismissed. “It’s your tree, and I’m not here to impose.”

“It sure seems like it,” Harry muttered with less spite than he had intended. He wandered further, watching the way the snow settled almost tentatively on each of the trees. “How about this?” Harry suggested, tugging yet another tree by its stalk and standing it up imperiously for Draco to observe.

Thrifty and handsome, Draco paused only a moment before replying “It’s certainly better than any of the others you proposed. Though beating some of them was hardly a challenge.”

Harry smiled up at the tree, its immense foliage trimmed and shaped, and nodded. “It’s perfect.”

 

*

 

The drifting snow had picked up in pace, falling at a steady pace and obscuring the view outside the kitchen window. It was oddly comforting that the snow left nothing—not the church, nor the thatched rooves, nor the now treacherously icy paths—untouched.

Harry’s mother, it seemed, was quite determined to fulfil her vow to create a circumstance in which Draco and Harry could spend some quality time together aside from the tournament itself. Her proposition, however, was entirely unexpected.

Gingerbread people?”

Harry stared in faint disbelief at the array of ingredients covering the kitchen table, and the prominent smell of ginger wafting through the kitchen, creating a wonderfully festive scent to accompany the pine tree in the dining room.

“Yes,” she said happily, pulling two rolling pins out of the cupboard and placing them on the table. “Without magic, of course. It’s far more fun to use your hands when making pastry.”

Harry heard Draco’s familiar, purposeful footsteps descending the stairs. He stood slightly innocuously at the doorway.

“Come on inside, Draco, sweetheart,” Harry’s mother said, beckoning him with a kind smile. “I was going to make some gingerbread cookies to bring to the charity Christmas bake sale at the local parish and thought you two might help.”

Harry peered over to find Draco wearing a slightly bemused expression, though he certainly didn’t look opposed to baking. Harry couldn’t find it in him to decline his mother’s offer—she looked far too hopeful. Sighing, he joined his mother at the table and reluctantly pulled on the last apron, white with elaborate frills—Draco had snatched the pale blue apron.

Harry’s mother tapped her wand against the cookbook in the centre of the table and it sprang to life, the pages fluttering as though caught by the wind until they stopped on the correct page. A high, simpering voice filled the room which, after a brief moment of panic, Harry realised was emerging from the cookbook itself.

“Step one: sift three cups of flour into a large bowl and add two tablespoons of mixed spices. Combine with a wooden spoon until the mixture is evenly distributed.”

“Do keep up, Potter,” Draco said, sprinkling cinnamon into his own bowl from a height.

Harry scrambled to locate the sieve and quickly added flour to the bowl placed at his assigned work station. The following forty-five minutes continued like that; the cookbook gave an instruction and Draco followed along diligently, even adding his own personal touches to the recipe, while Harry struggled to tell the difference between a whisk and a slotted spoon. It was less that Harry was a poor chef, and more that Draco was a very impressive one that caught him off guard.

Once their pastry had cooled, they could knead it out and form their own gingerbread people.

“I remember you used to love making these, Harry,” his mother said, reaching up to remove a photo album from one of the cabinets behind the kitchen table. She carefully brushed the flour from her hands and leafed through the book until she found the photo she had been searching for, presenting it proudly to Harry, as only a mother could. The picture was of Harry, aged about five, his glasses slightly too large for his face, with a thick layer of flour on his nose and cheeks. Grinning from ear to ear, arms elbow-deep in a bowl of pastry, he was mouthing ‘Happy Christmas!’ before letting out an enormous sneeze, sending flour on every near surface.

“Mum,” Harry sighed, feeling slightly embarrassed both at the photograph and her endeared smile.  

“Oh, don’t be coy, Harry, you know you were adorable,” she said.

“Yes, adorable,” Draco echoed, his tone horrifyingly mocking.

Harry could already anticipate his self-satisfied smirk. Turning on his heel to conceal the photograph, he realised just how closely Draco was stood. Instantly, a defensiveness rose in his chest and he felt irrational annoyance surface in his stomach. “Piss off, Malfoy,” he muttered, slipping the photograph back into the photo album.

“Harry, there’s no need for that.”

Draco, however, appeared utterly unscathed, simply raising an eyebrow. “Touchy, aren’t you, Potter?”

“I’m not touchy,” he said, scooping a generous helping of dough from his bowl onto the flour-covered surface and rolling it with considerable more vigour than strictly necessary.

“Of course not,” Draco said with a derisively sympathetic smile. His smirk—an ever permanent feature whenever it came to irritating Harry—re-appeared.

It was then that Harry was struck by how badly he wanted to dunk Draco’s face into his bowl of dough. He was quite certain that Draco would have time to retaliate with a well-placed jinx before he even came close, however, so Harry did the next best thing: he scooped a pile of flour into his hand and dropped it over Draco’s head. The reaction was immediate.

Potter!” Draco exclaimed, his voice high and outraged.

Harry dived across the room for his wand as Draco extracted his own. From his viewpoint, he could see that Draco’s hair, face and chest were smeared with heavy, clinging flour but that, even beneath the coating, he looked more determined than angry.

Wingardium Leviosa! Inflatus!” Draco shouted. The ball of dough in his bowl soared across the room and inflated at an astonishingly rapid pace until it resembled a four foot, dough balloon. Before Harry properly had time to marvel at the pace at which it was conjured, Draco directed it above Harry’s head. It burst with an enormous pop and sent thick, sticky mixture all over Harry; into his hair, down his face—and knocking his glasses askew in the process—and down his front, most of which was uncovered by the apron.

Harry clutched his wand and leaped behind the counter top to avoid a second impact. Positioning his wand carefully at the kitchen table and spotting Draco rush towards the back of the cabinet, he shouted “Locomotor eggs!”

Instantly, half a dozen eggs dashed through the air in a uniform group. Despite managing to swerve at the final second, the eggs splatted against the wall beside Draco’s forehead, sending egg yolk to streak down the right side of his face.

Harry grinned at the sight. Draco looked furious at this stage, reaching one hand up to swipe away the majority of the flour and egg obscuring his sight. Before Harry could catch him in a second moment of weakness, however, Draco’s ringing voice called “Volu captionem!” and the resulting spell completely incapacitated him.

He was trapped in what appeared at first glance to be a sand storm but, with the potency of the smell, he realised was actually brown sugar. Whipping around him as though he was caught in the eye of a vicious tornado, he felt almost bound from retaliating. It seared his bare skin, grinding and peeling against it. Determined despite his condition, Harry channelled his might into raising his wand, shouting “Finite Incantatem.”

The sugar storm ceased instantly and Harry stood panting and feeling very much like a sticky, frilly dessert with bad eyesight and worse hair. Across the kitchen Draco, too, was breathless; his lips were slightly parted, as though he had just spat out a mouthful of raw egg and flour but had forgotten to close his mouth. His gaze met Draco’s and, for mere moment, he paused; the sight before him was ridiculous and absurd, yet all Harry could do was crack a grin. Uptight, precocious and utterly civilised Draco Malfoy had willingly partaken in a food fight with him. And he had rather enjoyed it.

“When you’re quite finished staring, Potter,” Draco said, flicking his wand and sending a pound of butter flying across the room. Harry instinctively reached forwards and caught the butter before it could strike his chest. He threw it in the air and caught it in his other hand, trying to focus on the prospect of having to clean up the abominable state of his parents’ kitchen and not on the way Draco’s eyes, when trained on Harry, seemed to have glimmered for the first time with mischievousness rather than malice.

Chapter Text

After spending a considerable amount of time clearing the mess in the kitchen and suppressing a repentant grin in response to his mother’s raised eyebrow, Harry dragged his feet upstairs to his bedroom. The snow had begun to fall in thick flurries, whizzing past his window and leaving nothing in its wake untouched. Comparatively, his bedroom was cosy, thanks in no small part to the small, candle-lit lanterns Lily had scattered throughout the house just in time for Christmas, which spilled light and warmth into each room. 

As far as he could tell, Draco was still downstairs, probably icing the gingerbread cookies and packaging them with his mother. It was becoming a concerning habit, spending so much of his time either in Draco’s company or conscious of Draco’s presence. Though not naturally a creature comfortable in his own company, Harry needed a moment to himself to re-evaluate. Hermione would certainly be proud of his self-awareness, he thought absently.

Harry sighed, closing his eyes and allowing the blurring sight of snow falling, and the sounds of both St Jerome’s bells ringing and the Christmas carols playing on the Wizarding Wireless to fill his thoughts. It was less soothing and more disconcerting, isolating himself in his own home, but it felt like the correct response to the circumstances. He had spent time with Draco Malfoy and had managed to enjoy himself. Neither he nor Draco had needed to swallow any kind of personality-altering potion, or act particularly more cordial towards each other than usual, and yet he felt perfectly content to spend more time with Draco. At times, even, he had vied for Draco’s attention, or seeked his opinion, regardless how scathing or sarcastic.

Draco was as complacent and inscrutable as ever, and Harry no longer felt suspicious of his politeness towards Harry’s parents, but there was a different quality to Draco that he hadn’t noticed until that afternoon, something he couldn’t quite place. It made Draco more approachable, as though he was less inhibited, less concerned with maintaining a pretence. Perhaps Harry’s mother was right; Draco may have needed a different environment for Harry to be able to find something beneath the murky surface.

“Harry! Sweetheart, we’re going to drop these cookies off now,” Lily called.

“Coming, Mum!” Harry shouted, swinging his legs off the windowsill and slipping his socked feet into his winter boots. He tugged on his jacket and caught his reflection in the mirror, turning to brush the last of the flour from his cheek. Draco had conveniently forgot to mention that there was still flour on his face when Harry had asked him, then. As usual, his hair was frustratingly tangled, sticking up at the back and the sides as though he had combed it purposefully to defy gravity. Harry sighed, deciding that any effort he made with his hair would be quickly negated by the blustering winds regardless.

Marching down the stairs—his winter boots allowed for no other way to walk, really—he spotted his mother and Draco waiting by the door, each carrying a Christmas tin filled with cookies. Draco caught his eye before affecting an expression that always seemed to irritate Harry; slightly superior, as though Harry wasn’t worth his time or attention, and wholly unaffected, making Harry feel horribly insignificant. He suddenly wished he had tried to tame his hair, before remembering that Draco’s opinion didn’t matter when it came to his appearance.

“Oh, wonderful,” Lily said, nodding at his winter boots and handing him the third tin, the exterior designed with penguins that winked at him whenever he touched their noses. “I was worried that your boots wouldn’t fit properly—you’ve become so tall, Harry. And we need to remember to take that tin one back with us—don’t want to frighten any of the Muggles.”

“All ready?” James asked, emerging from his study and making to pluck one of the gingerbread people out of the tin. “Those look delicious, Lily.”

“Yes, thank you for your input, James,” Lily said, shaking her head at him. “And don’t eat any before we get there.”

“Alright,” he said with a grin. “Let’s go before all the nicest baked goods are taken.”

“I’m sure there will be plenty left,” Lily said genially, opening the front door.

Harry winced as the bright, ubiquitous snow rushed inside the doorstep. He stepped outside quickly, clutching the tin to his chest—the penguins adorning the front of the tin were shivering, funnily enough—and revelling in the way the snow crunched beneath his feet. Glancing behind him, Harry saw Draco wearing a peculiar expression; his eyes were following the movement of the snow, but his feet were firmly planted on the ground, as though he couldn’t quite manage to continue onwards without taking in the view around him.

“Alright?” Harry called, opening the front gate with a slight struggle; the ice, apparently had already began to settle on the walls and seal the cracks between the rocks.

Draco whipped around and nodded firmly. He made his way towards Harry and the two walked ahead, along the footpath and towards the church. The enormous, if gangly, village Christmas tree perched at the entrance to St. Jerome’s had been strangled in lights, illuminating the snow settled on its branches and bathing the doorstep in an unearthly light that was quite fitting for a church.

Two women, both wearing Christmas hats, beckoned them both inside. Harry recognised one of them—the older of the two with the sturdy demeanour—as a friend of his mother’s.

“Aren’t we lucky to have such strong, handsome young men helping us this year, Jane?” the second woman wearing a lilac cardigan said, steering Draco into the parish centre attached to the church.

“Oh, don’t mind Celia,” his mother’s friend, Jane, said, waving her hand in dismissal. “You’re very good to come along, Harry. Your parents have been such great helps with the charity drives this year already. They mentioned you’d gone to boarding school this year, though. We were a little worried you wouldn’t be home for Christmas.”

“Oh—er—yeah,” Harry said, allowing himself to be guided into a bustling room filled with delicious baking smells and elderly woman gossiping. “I’m home for another couple of days and then I go back to school.”

Most of the people in the room turned to take in Draco and Harry. Any wizarding folk there would instantly recognise Harry, and he spotted a sycophantic man tipping his hat at him almost immediately. Draco, too was attracting unsubtle onlookers both due to his characteristic white-blonde hair, and his choice of dress. He was deigned not to wear wizarding robes, but his forest green polo neck and dark, tailored suit was certainly formal by even the highest of Muggle standards.

Jane hummed, her manner ever good-natured. “Seems very isolated to me, attending a boarding school up in a secluded, nameless place in Scotland. I’d never even heard of the school before, but your father insisted it was quite reputable.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, it’s great. It’s quite—er—private, though. Very selective of the students that are admitted.”

“Ah,” she said knowingly. “You bright boy—you must have got in on talent alone, then.”

Draco made a noise of derision.

Harry laughed self-deprecatingly and stood on Draco’s foot. “I wouldn’t say that…”

“There’s no need to be modest, dear. And this must be your friend from boarding school, then,” Jane said, smiling at Draco as she directed them both to a free table near a young couple piling chocolate eclairs in a tall, precarious pyramid.

Harry nodded, twisting his mouth slightly—he could hardly deny that they were friends or the women would begin to question why someone he could only moderately tolerate in small doses was staying at his house or they’d begin to ask questions. “Yes, this is Draco,” he settled on.

“Draco,” the second woman—Celia—enunciated slowly. She settled two Christmas hats on each of their heads before either of them could protest. “Unusual name, isn’t it?”

“It’s a constellation located in the far northern sky,” Draco said stiffly, plucking his hat from his hair with the air of someone handling something distinctly unsanitary. He brushed his hair back into place quickly.

“Oh, I’m sure,” Jane said, preparing trays for their gingerbread cookies. “Is your friend Ron here too, Harry? He goes to the same school, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah, he does,” Harry said. “But he’s staying there over the holidays.”

“A pity,” Jane sighed. “He was more than happy to take care of all the leftovers last Christmas.”

Harry grinned at the memory; it had almost become a tradition to donate to the charity drives at Christmas time and Ron’s arrival had meant no exception last year.

“How about you two give me a hand in the back?” Jane said, gesturing for Harry and Draco to join her in the adjacent room.

Harry nodded and joined Draco with her, relieved that they were no longer the centre of attention. She instructed them to carry the craters filled with cups, pots and saucers inside and set them up next to the tea and coffee stand.

“Your friend is certainly something,” Jane said, not unkindly, as Draco strode ahead. Harry could see that Draco was itching to use magic to lift the craters, but that he was resigned to manual labour due to the sheer number of Muggles in the vicinity.

“Er—yeah, I suppose,” Harry said, reaching up to grasp one of the larger craters by the handles. He caught Jane watching him with a peculiar smile playing on her lips, as though they were sharing an illicit secret. Harry wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. 

Jane nodded, apparently placated by his response and pointed in the direction of the tea and coffee stand. The sight before him was enough to send the craters in his arms falling to the ground, however. Draco was surrounded by frivolous, garrulous old women, some poking and prodding at him, others merely speaking about him directly to his face, and all apparently transfixed. To the contrary, Draco looked distinctly confounded, his pale eyes wide and alert as he attempted to extract himself from their disconcertingly tight clutches. Harry decided to take his time making his way across the room, enjoying the view far more than he should have.

“…and must have done some modelling before—”

“…certainly—such wonderful posture, don’t you see—"

“…just wish my own grandson would make as much of an effort with his appearance. Same age, I’m sure, but all he does is slouch around the house in these awful tracksuits. Terrible, really—”

“…not to mention the rest of the boys your age. Why, they would laugh if I asked them to give up their Christmas holiday to help at a charity bake sale—"

Harry sidled in behind the group, heaving the crater onto the table and beginning to unpack the cups and saucers onto the table.

He hadn’t been discreet enough, however, as Draco’s frantic eyes caught his own. “Potter,” Draco hissed, his jaw tight.

Harry raised an eyebrow and continued piling the cups onto the table, feigning ignorance.

Potter,” Draco insisted, evidently impatient at Harry’s less-than-enthusiastic response. Draco  turned towards the woman—who had begun to loudly declare the importance of custom-fit suits—and carefully extracted himself from her clutches. With purpose and poise, he headed straight towards Harry, wearing a discernible scowl.

“Not used to old women fawning all over you?” Harry said with a grin.

The corners of Draco’s mouth twitched. “Surprisingly, yes,” he said, re-arranging the stack of mugs Harry had placed on the table into a neater pile. “I have quite a few elderly female relatives that enjoy poking me at every Malfoy function and party. They tend to spend their time attributing all of my physical features to genetic inheritance and blood purity. It’s horribly tedious.”

Harry’s grin fell. “I knew that your family—”

“Prescribed to blood purity ideology?” Draco supplied.

Harry raised his chin in expected defiance, but Draco merely looked at him with a strange expression that Harry could only describe as imploring. He paused. “But you don’t.”

Harry had meant it as a question but, as a statement, it seemed to ring truer. Draco’s sharp gaze softened at the edges and he gave a short, definitive nod before returning to re-doing every attempt at mug and saucer arrangement that Harry made. It was rather annoying, but Harry was preoccupied with Draco’s admission and allowing Draco to release his compulsive organisational tendencies on the crockery seemed to placate him.

Despite how rigidly Draco aligned himself with Slytherin principles, Harry had already suspected that Draco didn’t believe that blood status warranted discrimination. Harry hardly expected to find Draco leading Muggleborn-equality marches, but knowing that he didn’t agree with the values he was brought up with was reassuring to say the very least. Draco had already proven that he wasn’t a spineless Slytherin during the first task, but handling a dragon was very different to defying the diet of indoctrination he had been fed from a young age.

“Alright boys?” Jane asked, making her way over to the hot beverage stand they were almost finished preparing.

“Fine, thanks,” Harry said, smiling absently.

He tried to catch her gaze, but it seemed to be flickering between him and Draco. It was only then that Harry realised just how closely he was standing next to Draco. Draco’s arm brushed his own as he reached forward to align the mugs into a more orderly stack. When he glanced up, Draco’s lowered head was inches away from him and he caught a whiff of a heavy bark and mulling spices. Startling, Harry stumbled away and would have tripped into the table if Draco hadn’t extended his arm to break Harry’s fall.

“Honestly, Potter,” Draco sighed, allowing Harry to grip his arm and heave himself to his feet again with extreme reluctance, “are you actively trying to destroy my crockery display or do you just enjoy being a complete bunger?”

Once Harry had found the source of his almost-catastrophic fall—the untied laces of his winter boots—he caught Jane’s eye and found her smiling in amusement.

“You call your best friend by his surname?” she asked curiously.

“Only when he’s behaving exceptionally incompetently,” Draco said, just as Harry stuttered out a weak: “Draco was… just—er—joking.”

She laughed loudly at this, shaking her head at Draco’s apparent—but perfectly truthful—statement. “Oh, you’re an absolute diamond in the coal, Draco!”

Harry was pleased to see that Draco looked slightly nonplussed by her exclamation. He sent Harry a slightly uneasy glance, as though silently communicating his communication-induced distress.

“Regardless, your mother was asking for you both,” Jane said, looking between them as though they were a puzzle she was desperate to solve.

Draco acted as though he couldn’t get out fast enough. Harry smiled at Jane and thanked her before trotting after Draco, just about keeping up with his long, determined strides.

Harry spotted his mother and father laughing together near the door, both fastening their coats securely.

“Oh, Harry, Draco!” Lily said, waving to them both as they approached. “We’re going to head home now if you’re both ready. Remus sent his owl saying that he and Padfoot will be arriving a little earlier than expected to avoid the snow blizzard tonight.”

“Brilliant,” Harry said, instantly recalling past Christmases spent with Padfoot and Moony both, all of which involved Firewhiskey and delicious food; raucous laughter and hearing stories about his parents’ wilder days at Hogwarts. They almost always gifted Harry the best Christmas presents too.

They trundled out of the hall and made their way along the main pathway—which had become significantly more treacherous—towards their house. The snow was falling at a steady pace, whipping around them and pinching their cheeks. Harry had to squint his eyes and lower his face beneath the rim of his scarf to shield himself against the wind.

“Potter, what in the name of Salazar is Padfoot?” Draco demanded above the distant howling of the wind roaming down the mountainous slopes.

“Oh! My godfather, Sirius Black,” Harry called, stuffing his gloved hands beneath his armpits to warm them further. “It’s a nickname.”

“I see,” Draco said, pursing his lips.

Harry watched his expression transition from contemplative to guarded. “What is it?”

Draco eyed Harry for a moment before promptly saying: “I believe this ‘Padfoot’ is an estranged first cousin once removed of mine, if my family tree knowledge is correct.”

Harry wasn’t quite sure what to make of this information. His father had explained to him in the past that almost every pureblood family was related in some manner, no matter how tenuous. He also knew, however, that Sirius wanted nothing to do with his family besides occasionally seeing Andromeda, his first cousin. Harry doubted very much that Sirius would be particularly pleased to see Draco if he was reminded of his blood ties by his mere presence. However, Harry knew that Remus—his DADA professor—would have told Sirius a little more information about Draco than he would have gathered otherwise. If only to maintain the peace in their household at Christmas time, Harry sincerely hoped that both Draco and Sirius withheld any snide comments and kept their tempers under tight reigns.

“Have you met him before?” Harry asked.

They arrived at the doorstep and rushed inside, revelling in the blast of gloriously warm air, the lingering scent of the gingerbread people making Harry very hungry for a Christmas feast.

“No,” Draco said, pulling Harry out of his musing. “I believe he was disinherited from the Black family and, by extension, the Malfoys, before I was born.”

“That’s about right,” James said, hanging his coat on the cloak hanger next to them both. Harry was surprised to see his father looking particularly earnest. “Padfoot came to live with me and my parents when he was just sixteen.”

Draco’s eyebrows raised near his hairline but he deigned not to comment further. Harry hoped beyond hope that the evening would proceed without a visit to St Mungo’s.

Chapter Text

The anticipation of Padfoot and Moony’s arrival made Harry considerably more anxious than normal. Since James had interjected in their conversation, Draco had remained entirely silent about the subject, choosing instead to follow Harry up to his room. They both deposited their snow-drenched clothes on the heater and Harry left his bedroom to change in the bathroom and give Draco privacy in his bedroom, feeling slightly like a stranger in his own home.

Their dormitory at Hogwarts was far larger than Harry’s cosy bedroom and, though he wasn’t sure why, Harry felt that stripping into his boxers in the same small room as Draco would make things unnecessarily awkward. It was safer, Harry decided, to keep his distance whenever the opportunity presented itself. Besides, after that morning, Harry was categorially more confused than usual about where he stood in relation to Draco. Though Harry oddly didn’t feel like Draco was incongruous in Godric’s Hollow, it was evident that Draco was tense. Perhaps it was merely Draco’s nature, but Harry knew that he didn’t feel adept at navigating his place in the Potter household, despite Lily’s best efforts to make him feel welcome and comfortable.

When Harry had finished changing into blissfully dry clothes he wandered back into his bedroom to find Draco wearing a high-collared jumper with his hair severely-styled after being coated in a light dusting of snow. Although he would never admit it, Harry thought that Draco had looked better with snow settled on his white-blonde hair; as though he was a creature that inhabited the cold rather than the kind of person who loudly complained to anyone who would listen whenever the temperature of the room was ever so slightly too chilly for his liking.

“Come along, then,” Draco said, marching out of Harry’s room and making his way downstairs. “The abomination of a tree you chose needs decorating.”

“I thought you said the tree was acceptable,” Harry muttered, following Draco towards the living room.

In the corner, standing proudly, was the luscious pine tree that they had chosen and, next to it, an enormous cardboard box with ornaments spilling out.

“Acceptable by the general standard set by the rest of the trees for sale,” Draco corrected. He reached down into the ornaments box and plucked a hanging red soldier that marched across Draco’s hand, wrist and forearm before he hung it on a lower tree branch.

“What, are the Malfoy trees fifty feet tall and made of solid 18 carat gold?” Harry said, unwinding the lights and attempting to wrap them around the base of the tree.

The corner of Draco’s lips twisted into a smile. “Of course not, Potter. Don’t be preposterous. We have an entire forest of glistening pine trees in the back garden instead.”

Harry supressed a laugh at Draco’s tone and set about the task at hand, focusing on decorating the lower branches so that Draco wouldn’t have an opportunity to tease him about his need to reach up on his toes to reach the upper branches. Though their height difference was hardly considerate, Draco always seemed to derive an inordinate amount of pleasure from pointing it out.

They spent the next few minutes untangling the lights and covering most of the bare patches in the tree with them, despite Draco’s insistence that smothering the gaps and branch inconsistencies in lights would merely draw attention to those areas. Draco charmed the lights to switch colours every few minutes, varying between rich crimson and emerald green. Hanging the ornaments, however, proved to be far less enjoyable, mainly due to the fact that Draco took every opportunity to mock the handmade ornaments Harry had made as a toddler, which had somehow survived years spent in their cramped, dusty attic.  

“Please tell me that your eyesight was even worse when you were a child, Potter, or I’ll be forced to conclude that your artistic skills are even worse than your Potions skills, which would be quite a feat,” Draco said. He raised an expectant and, somehow, derisive eyebrow at a painting decorated with copious amounts of red paint and cotton wool. “Did you really have a sheep bleeding to death in mind when you were creating this?”

Harry stifled a laugh and snatched it away from Draco. “I was five, Malfoy. Besides, can you really not recognise Father Christmas?” he said. “The cotton wool is his beard and the red bit is his Christmas suit, not blood, you idiot.”

Harry caught Draco tittering as he turned his attention to a string of glistening, silver bells that hummed ‘Silent Night’ only slightly out of key. Overall, Harry was in a jovial mood. The snow was falling at a rapid pace, cocooning them inside and making the explosion of lights and colour in the living room ever more prominent. Harry could hear his parents laughing together in the kitchen further down the hall and the smell of Christmas spices had begun to waft through the house.

The doorbell rang, startling Harry. He glanced up and noticed Draco’s posture still where he was hanging a snowflake—the one that released glitter whenever it shivered—near the top of the tree. Harry’s parents’ footsteps rang through the hallway and, in a moment, a chorus of chatter, Sirius’s shout of something rude, laughter and the distant sounds of howling wind ensued.

“Come in already! You’ll catch your deaths out there.”

“…thought we’d get here earlier—"

“…weather wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected—”

“…hang your coats up on the heater—”

“…and you wouldn’t believe the number of times he changed his outfit—”

“Harry!”

Hearing his mother’s beckoning, Harry quickly placed the bauble in his hand on the branch in his eye-line and made his way out of the sitting room. Sirius—his hair shorter than the last time Harry had seen him, and styled artfully in a way that Harry’s hair would never achieve—caught his eye and beamed. Unable to help himself despite how childish it probably looked, Harry raced towards him and charged into a hug. Sirius laughed, loud and rough around the edges, exclaiming “How’s my favourite godson?”

Harry laughed and clapped him on the back. “All good, Padfoot. You?”

“Fine now that we’re finally here,” he said. “Your dad has been harassing me about visiting more often.”

“Only because you’re turning into a recluse trying to sort out that house all by yourself,” James said.

“I’m not technically a recluse, James; Kreacher makes wonderful company when he’s not muttering profanities under his breath and polishing my dear mother’s cane.”

Harry looked behind Sirius to spot Remus levitating both of their coats onto the downstairs heater. Harry pulled him into a brief hug, feeling considerably more relaxed around him outside of a classroom setting.

“Draco, sweetheart, come on in,” Lily said kindly.

Harry turned on his heel to find Draco lingering in the doorway. Though his chin was high and proud, Harry could sense a kind of reluctance to Draco’s posture. The fact that Draco was resolutely avoiding Harry’s eye worried him and the anxiety that Harry had tried to ignore in anticipation for Sirius and Draco’s meeting returned.

Draco smiled graciously at Lily, though it didn’t reach his eyes. He stepped into the hallway—which was quickly becoming cramped—and held his hand out first to Remus, saying a clipped “Professor.” His gaze skipped Harry and landed on Sirius.

His throat suddenly parched and his hands fidgeting against his will, Harry watched his godfather raise an eyebrow at Draco.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Sirius said, extending his hand.

Draco grasped it, never breaking eye contact, and shook it firmly. “Nor do I. Family estrangement tends to do that.”

Harry almost tripped over his feet in his haste to do something—though he wasn’t quite certain what—until he caught himself at the last minute. Draco wasn’t being disparaging or sardonic, he realised; Draco was smiling, as though genuinely amused by the circumstances of their meeting. Harry planted his feet on the ground and kept his mouth firmly shut.

Sirius laughed, rough and genuine in a way that only Harry’s father could make him laugh. “Then you should know that I’m the last person to judge someone based on their family relations,” he said with a rueful smile.

Draco nodded before slipping his extended hand into his back pocket, appearing significantly less uneasy. Harry let out a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding and allowed his gaze to linger on Draco’s indecipherable expression; it toed the line between reserved and scrutinising of his surroundings.

“Well, how about we all have some dinner, then?” Lily suggested. “You two must be starving after coming all the way from London. I always find that Apparation takes a lot out of me if I’m travelling further than just a couple of miles.”

While Remus and Lily discussed the merits of Apparation and Harry’s father tackled Sirius into another hug as though they were both teenagers again, Harry dithered, watching Draco fix the collar of his jumper punctiliously. For some strange reason, he wanted to ask what Draco was thinking. The Slytherin was inscrutable at the best of times but, somehow, Harry knew that the mention of family always resulted in Draco isolating himself more than usual. He didn’t think Sirius’s presence could change that inevitable result, despite the fact that nobody had drawn their wands yet.

Remaining cautious until he was proven wrong, Harry made his way back into the kitchen without waiting for Draco. Besides, Harry reminded himself, Draco was neither his responsibility nor his priority during the Christmas holiday. He was more of a burden, really, but one that annoyingly always seemed to be on Harry’s consciousness (or his conscience).

 

*

 

“So,” Sirius said conspiratorially, “how are things going in preparation for the second task?”

They had opened the first bottle of Firewhiskey and were sitting among each of the armchairs around the roaring, crackling living room fire. The latest Celestina Warbeck Christmas album was playing gently from the kitchen and the merry sounds of laughter and chatter of each of their individual conversations filled the air. Harry had chosen to sit in the armchair furthest from Draco, which just so happened to give him a direct, unobscured view of Draco so that he didn’t need to turn around in his armchair to register how Draco’s night was proceeding. Though visibly tense at first, Draco soon became engrossed in a conversation with Remus about the N.E.W.T Defence Against the Dark Arts course and Harry felt able to relax, paying undivided attention to his godfather’s antics.

At Sirius’s question, the room suddenly fell eerily silent, with the sole exception of Celestina Warbeck’s crooning about her bewitched lover falling in love with a Veela. Harry caught Draco’s eye and found him smiling over the rim of his Firewhiskey, a curious glint in his eye.

“Well—er—not bad,” Harry said, reminded of the Polyjuice Potion brewing upstairs in his bedroom, which they had had enormous difficulty smuggling under his mother’s watchful eye.

“Don’t be modest, Harry,” Remus said, smiling at him. “Your display in the first task was marvellous,” he insisted, looking between Harry and Draco.

“As far as we can tell, this second task is going to involve some unanticipated aspects that won’t be nearly as straightforward as finding a dragon within an allocated period of time,” Draco interjected.

Sirius leaned forward in his armchair and poured himself a hearty glass of Firewhiskey, watching Draco who, admirably, never faltered beneath the scrutiny. “How do you know that?”

Draco paused a moment before saying: “The clue we were given is seriously lacking. It seems to be more of a puzzle piece than anything; one part of a series of interconnected indications of what the second task might entail.”

“Well, what have you been told so far?”

Harry made to get up and fetch the clue from his trunk until Remus interjected.

“I really shouldn’t engage in this conversation,” Remus said, following Harry out of the living room. “As a friend, perhaps, but absolutely not ass a professor. McGonagall would have my head if she found out.”

Before Harry could begin the climb upstairs, however, Remus gently beckoned him to the corner between the kitchen door and the cupboard under the stairs, over which hung a photograph of his parents’ wedding day.

“How are things going with Malfoy? Lily mentioned that you two are starting to get on now. That came as quite a surprise. I distinctly remember Sirius snorting into his morning pumpkin juice when I informed him.”

Harry smirked humourlessly. “I think ‘getting on’ might be a bit generous.”

Remus hummed. “Perhaps ‘no longer want to jinx each other into oblivion at every turn’ might be more appropriate, then.”

Harry laughed at this, feeling slightly out of his depth talking about his relationship with Draco candidly when he didn’t even understand where they stood in relation to each other.

“Well, no matter what the case may be, just know that I’m always here if you need some advice. And don’t be wary about asking when we’re back at Hogwarts, either.”

“Advice?” Harry said, making a face. “I won’t have to address you as Professor Lupin when we’re talking about feelings, will I?”

“Harry, I don’t think you’ve ever spoken about your feelings before in your entire life to anyone so I can’t imagine why you’d want to start now, with me of all people.”

Harry grinned. “You did take about two decades to realise that you were in love with your best friend, after all.”

“Alright, the attack on my personal life ends there,” Remus said, though his eyes were shining with mirth. “Go upstairs and grab your clue to show to Sirius and I’ll pretend to be temporarily deaf to everything around me except Celestina and that song about her disastrous love potion.”

 

*

 

As it transpired, Sirius had rather a lot of opinions about their clue, despite the fact that not one of them managed to be of very much help. Although, this may have said more about the amount of alcohol he had consumed than his aptitude for unravelling the hidden meanings in their Triwizard clue.

“’Spiral downward and dive’… what could that mean?” Sirius said, his index finger encircling the rim of his glass. “I’d imagine you’ll be flying, but the question in where or under what conditions.” He glanced up suddenly, his hair askew and eyes slightly dazed, and focused between Harry and Draco. “Can you both fly well?”

“Is that really a question you need to ask Harry, Padfoot?” James said, guffawing. “He’s my son, of course he can fly well.”

“Modest as ever, James,” Lily said from where she was admiring the Christmas tree. “You boys did an excellent job, by the way. I was expecting to find the tree set on fire, but it’s beautifully decorated. And I hadn’t realised that I’d kept so many of the decorations you made when you were younger, Harry. You used to be so embarrassed having them put on display.”

“I can’t imagine why you’d be embarrassed of your masterpieces, Potter,” Draco said, his smile entirely too vicious for Harry’s liking.

“And the next part,” Sirius interrupted, “’Inside greenwood and grass, where answers are held and dangers unparalleled’. What could that possibly mean?”

“Greenwood is a magical inner tree bark found mainly in the Grand Banks in Newfoundland, the Atacama Coast in Chile and Po Valley in Italy,” Draco supplied flatly, making clear by his tone that he had dissected the significance of these regions and found answering questions that he had already researched horribly tedious.

“And what do those places have in common?” James asked.

“They’re three of the foggiest places in the world,” Harry supplied, deciding to relieve Draco of his question-answering duty before he became impatient and snapped. “Other than that, we’re as much in the dark as you are.”

“Does greenwood have any particular magical or healing properties that you know of? Or could some plants with greenwood bark be planted in the Forbidden Forest, perhaps?” Lily asked. She didn’t wait for an answer before disappearing out of the room, an expression reading of her curiosity and determination flickering in the low lighting.

“I don’t understand how they expect you to prepare for a task with such little to grapple with,” Remus said, picking the empty Firewhiskey bottle out of Sirius’s hand and making his way back to the kitchen, undoubtably to find something with far less alcohol.

Harry quietly agreed that the clue revealed very little, but had admittedly spend an awful lot of time listening to Draco’s rants about insufficient information to feel anything apart from reluctant acceptance of the situation. Besides, the Polyjuice Potion upstairs was brewing according to plan and the second phase of their plan to steal the Larsons’ clue could be put into action as soon as they returned to Hogwarts.

Lily reappeared then, a long roll of parchment and quill in hand. She set the parchment on the coffee table and began to write, her characteristically slanted handwriting legible even from Harry’s position on the armchair beside her. ‘Natural Magical Properties and Remedies by Gamfoy Golard; Magical Herbs and Vegetation Across the British Isles by Irene Skallin; Interrelations between Muggle and Wizarding Flora by F.M. Sumption.’

“I can’t imagine you’ll be able to find a textbook dedicated solely to research about greenwood—it seems to be a relatively rare bark, after all—but some of these books might contain information on it,” she said.

Harry nodded, thanking her and allowing his eyes to skim the brief list. He thought that the book titles might mean more to Draco than to him, and allowed the parchment to be tugged out of his hands, right on cue, by the boy himself.

“So, back to the flying,” Sirius said, interrupting Harry’s train of thoughts. “If that’s the only thing about the next task that you can be sure about, you’ll need to be even better at it than your old man.” James made an indignant squawk at this, but Sirius ploughed ahead. “There’s a reason they revealed that flying would be a part of the second task. They gave you the clue months in advance for that reason; to practice and improve your flying skills to a level that you’ll be comfortable facing all kinds of obstacles on a broom.”

Harry let this thought resonate with him. Sirius was right, of course; both Harry and Draco’s flying skills were impressive, but he wasn’t sure he would be able to duel on a broomstick.

“I’d imagine that Harry’s better at flying than you were at his age, James,” Sirius said, amusement trickling through his tone. “If I remember correctly, you spent less time looking for the snitch and more time fixing your ridiculous hair or trying to catch Lily’s eye in the stands.”

James laughed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Surprised you took the time to notice my habits, Padfoot. You seemed to spent most of our final years at Hogwarts drooling on Remus’s lap—literally and figuratively.”

Sirius let out a bark of laughter. “I remember that time, actually,” he said, turning to address Harry. “You dad convinced everyone that he was allowed to bring a great black dog into the Gryffindor common room under McGonagall’s special orders. Spent the entire evening trailing after people. I’m quite certain that Gwen Pattinson suspected something was up though.”

“I’m certain she did,” Lily said, shaking her head in amusement. “You’re not a very convincing dog at the best of times Sirius, and I very much doubt that you were less reckless as a teenager, either.”

“Reckless, indeed,” Sirius snorted and ran his fingers through his hair. “Aside from being an undoubtably better flier, though, Harry somehow looks more and more like you, James, each time I see him.”

Harry was so accustomed to hearing this remark that it didn’t bother him anymore. There were pictures of his parents in their youth scattered throughout the house in albums and lining the walls that reminded him of the fact every day. Apart from the colour of his eyes and the length of his nose, he was almost an exact physical replica of his father.

“And you too, Malfoy. You certainly didn’t inherit the Black beauty we’re all renowned for.”

Harry’s head jerked up. The air around him—previously thick with the smell of Firewhiskey and filled with laughter—was wrought with tension. Glancing at Draco, Harry found him watching Sirius carefully, as though trying to discern where he was taking the conversation. To Harry’s immense relief, he didn’t seem angry or insulted, though Harry knew better than anyone else how easily that could change.

“Perhaps not,” Draco said evenly, taking a long sip of his Firewhiskey and not quite meeting anyone’s eye. “I managed to inherit the pureblood supremacy-obsessed upbringing, if that’s any consolation.”

Harry suddenly felt very self-indulgent and furious with himself; the former because, in that moment, he wanted Draco to continue talking about his upbringing more than he could bring himself to care about what kind of arguments could ensue between him and Sirius; the latter because Harry had never thought to ask Draco himself. Granted, the opportunity to ask Draco—private, astute and emotionally-reserved Draco—about his personal life and childhood had never presented itself, but Harry thought about what it must have been like being raised in such an environment more than he would care to admit.

“Less of a consolation and more of a verification of my suspicions,” Sirius said, his tone astonishingly clipped and business-like, as though he hadn’t just consumed half a bottle of Firewhiskey. “You still speak with your parents, I assume? How is my dear cousin Narcissa, anyway?”

Draco’s jaw clenched and Harry saw his Adam’s apple move, exposing the long, pale column of his neck. His eyes, ever pale and glassy, were unreadable; the only way Harry could describe them as was circumspect. Carefully, Harry pulled his right leg underneath his left thigh and reached back, closer to where his wand was on the shelf beside him. If a commotion ensued, however, Harry wasn’t quite sure who he would need to defend; or who he would feel the impulse to defend. He decided not to ponder that question.

“I wouldn’t know how my mother is even if I asked her,” Draco said after a moment. He crossed his long legs rather elegantly and seemed to either relish the moment of silence or detest it; Harry couldn’t tell which. “You should know as well as I do that emotions are considered far too undignified to discuss in pureblood households. We prefer more refined subjects like enslaving inferior magical creatures and marrying our cousins.”

To Harry’s surprise, Sirius let out a cackle of laughter, rambunctious to the point of manic. Draco, no longer chary, allowed himself to smile. Around him, Harry’s father looked sceptical, as though the conversation was a charade that he wasn’t privy to and Lily seemed to be slightly unsure how to feel, her expression contorting and shifting. To the very contrary, Harry let out a laboured sigh, feeling relieved and unable to find any slight hint of humour in the conversation.

At that precise moment Remus returned with a tall bottle of Lemongrass Fizz in one hand and an old photograph that Harry recognised from the dining room in the other. “Can you believe this picture was taken twenty years ago? It feels like only yesterday that—” his eyes roamed the room briefly and he raised an expectant eyebrow at Sirius, who didn’t look even mildly sheepish, still giggling to himself. “Have I missed something?”

Within seconds the room burst into a buzz of chatter and nostalgia as Harry’s parents, Sirius and Remus shared the photograph—apparently it had been taken along a deserted promenade in Hull on a stormy day in the heart of January—and recalled their various memories of a past time. Harry seeked Draco’s eye but Draco seemed intent on ignoring anything except the very slight crease in his collar. Frustrated (and fuelled by the half-glass of Firewhiskey he had drunk), Harry made his way across the room to sit in Sirius’s vacated seat beside Draco.

“What in the name of Merlin was that?” Harry demanded.

Draco turned towards him, his expression masterfully blank. “I have entirely no idea what you’re talking about, Potter.”

Harry could have let the subject go as soon as Draco waved his hand dismissively, but something deep inside of him whispered to probe further not only because he wanted to, but because perhaps Draco needed to be persuaded. “Yes you do,” he insisted. “What you were talking about with Sirius—who you’ve only just met, by the way. How come you haven’t once approached me about that kind of thing?”

A shadow crossed Draco’s face. “What kind of thing, exactly?” he said, tone laced with distaste.

“Your life with your parents,” Harry said, suddenly rather impatient. “Their pureblood mania.”

Draco’s entire demeanour changed in an instant; he looked slightly dazed for a  moment, as though he was seeing Harry for the first time or the Harry that he knew had morphed into something ugly and resented. “Listen carefully, Potter, because I won’t repeat myself: what I choose to share with anyone about my life is my business and mine alone. You’re not entitled to my personal biography just because you’re eager to further your knowledge about my life only to blackmail me at a later date. My upbringing isn’t some sort of story about the depths to which humanity can sink to when they become obsessed with privilege and prejudice. And I won’t be subjected to questioning from you of all people.”

Harry felt as though he had been struck in the head with a particularly fierce Bludger. Before he could register—or even fully comprehend—what Draco had said, however, Draco was on his feet, wishing the adults a terse good-night and heading towards the stairs. Harry scrambled up from his seat before his brain could catch up with his feet and raced out of the room.

“Draco,” he called, his train of thoughts lapsing into disorientation, frustration and disappointment. “Draco, what the actual fuck are you talking about?”

Draco ignored him in favour of marching up the stairs and into Harry’s bedroom. Harry sighed angrily and bolted up the stairs before Draco could shut the door.

“I’m not asking for… whatever you think I’m asking for,” Harry said, cursing his inability to vocalise exactly how he felt. He tangled his fingers in his hair in frustration and tugged harder than necessary. “It was a simple question… I—I wanted to now why you suddenly felt comfortable enough to voluntarily mention your upbringing to a man you’ve only just met when you refuse to talk to me about… anything except what’s absolutely necessary for us to get through the Tournament. Me: your Triwizard partner and roommate and the person who’s giving you a place to stay for the Christmas holidays and gets nothing in return.”

Draco looked at him, his gaze harsh and scrutinising. “I was completely in the dark about where Sirius Black stood in relation to the rest of my family aside from the fact that he existed and was a cousin on my mother’s side,” he said. His gaze settled on a lampshade in the upstairs hallway, just beyond Harry’s line of sight. “I know that he and I are not as different as I had once assumed in circumstantial ways alone. I needed to communicate that I do not uphold my parents values or he would automatically assume that I did. That’s how this vicious cycle of pureblood superiority works. It’s a default that whenever I meet a pure-blooded witch or wizard, then I draw the conclusion that they discriminate against Muggle-borns unless they show me the contrary. It’s not a case of simply disagreeing with those kind of beliefs; growing up surrounded by them you need to affect a resistance to them so strong that you hate them with every fibre of your being. Like a disease, you have to resist it.”

Harry took a moment to digest everything that Draco had burdened him with. He swallowed thickly and made to open his mouth to reply before he realised that he had no response that wouldn’t sound weak or ineffectual. Instead, he settled on nodding, attempting to communicate everything—his understanding, his respect, his acknowledgement—in a charged look that Draco didn’t bother to search for anyway.

“Now, if you don’t mind, Potter, I’m frightfully exhausted,” Draco said, nodding towards his bed. He turned on his heel but Harry managed to catch his eye, if only for a second. Draco looked disgruntled but, for once, his anger wasn’t directed at Harry.

“Right, okay,” Harry said. “Good night, then.”

Draco nodded, tight and self-directed, before shutting the door behind him.

 

*

 

Harry awoke far earlier than he had anticipated, parched and sweating. He had dreamt that Draco was drowning in the Great Lake and that every time Harry dipped his toe in the water to save him, a part of his body became bound and immovable. He didn’t have the energy (nor the proper state of mind) to analyse what it could signify.

His bedroom was pitch dark and he could her Draco’s faint breathing on the other side of his room. Climbing out of his bed slowly and cautiously—his limbs felt like lead, after all—Harry made his way down the stairs by some miracle, his eyes bleary and sight unfocused. He really needed to invest in another pair of glasses that he could locate in the dark without causing a racket.

 “…can tolerate him as Harry’s partner in this tournament, Lily, but liking him beyond that is a step too far.”

Harry stopped in his tracks outside the kitchen door to hear his parents—their voices hushed but audible—arguing.

“For Godric’s sake, James, I don’t expect you to start trading chocolate frog cards with him. I just mean that I’ve noticed Harry becoming more comfortable around him. This really isn’t our place to make a judgement on Harry’s behalf.”

“It is if Malfoy is going to affect our son’s wellbeing. I think the first task showed well enough that he’s more concerned with winning than anything else.”

Harry felt something angry claw in his chest; he couldn’t believe that his parents were discussing him and his relationships with Draco as though he wasn’t able to make decisions for himself. For some reason, this irritated him immensely.

“Harry’s just as ambitious about this tournament as Draco and you know it.”

“But Harry’s also a Gryffindor, Lily.”

“You can be so superficial sometimes, James. I can’t believe you’re setting so much in store by Hogwarts Houses. This is much bigger than that.”

Harry head a laboured sigh, as though his father either conceded or recognised his mistake. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I only want Harry to be have the best—a friend who he can trust to look out for him. Malfoy definitely isn’t that person.”

“I would have absolutely agreed with you three months ago but I really think being forced together has taught them both a lot about tolerance and capacity for change—”

“You always think the best of people.”

“—Draco might make Harry want to tear his hair out sometimes but you make me want to hex you into tomorrow most days and I still love you for it.”

“Yeah?” James asked, his voice suddenly about four octaves lower and charged with unanswered longing. Harry’s eyes widened and he prepared to scramble back to his bedroom before he heard something that would leave him scarred, and not in the lightning-bolt-on-the forehead type of scar.

“We’re not doing that now, James,” Lily said, and Harry thanked the heavens for that. “What I’m trying to help you see is that people can appreciate each other’s imperfections; embrace them, even. Draco may not be our first choice and he certainly wasn’t Harry’s, initially, but I really think that they have fun together. Not typical Gryffindors getting up to mischief fun like Harry has with Ron, but wilder, brasher fun that really pushes Harry to his boundaries and challenges him.”

“And you think that’s a good thing?” James asked contemplatively.

“Yes, in certain cases. We’ve kept him sheltered for very long. I know it was necessary, but Harry seems more alive and in touch with his own feelings and desires than ever. He might not know that yet—Godric knows he can be as oblivious as a troll sometimes—but in time he’ll come to see that, I think.”

Harry didn’t have the energy to feel even mildly insulted, but his mother’s words resonated with him enough that his feet dragged him back to his bedroom, glass of water forgotten. He collapsed into bed, hoping very much not to have woken Draco.

What could his mother have meant by the fun he had with Draco? The two words couldn’t possibly have been more opposite; most of the time Harry spent with Draco involved Harry feeling confined to studying or arguing or feeling verbally inept. Although the anger and frustration was still present, Harry had to recognise that their relationship was no longer fuelled by those components of their relationship. They were absolutely still present, but when Harry thought of Draco, confusion was a more prominent emotion than resentment. Draco was a paradox and while there were days that Harry wanted nothing more than to dangle him from the astronomy tower by his white-blonde hair, there was also a gentle stream of instances where Draco had surprised Harry by his consideration or quiet observations. Harry sincerely hoped that the stream became steadier as time progressed.

A quiet, persistent voice in his head, however, kept recounting his argument with Draco from earlier that evening and he felt ever less confident that they would reach a stage in their relationship where that could be the case.

Chapter Text

Christmas morning arrived in a flurry of delicious food, spontaneous carol-singing and hastily-wrapped presents. Harry awoke to the astonishingly desperate desire to sneeze. The source of such a desire, it seemed, came from Cassiopeia’s fur. She had curled herself upon Harry’s chest, appearing wholly unaffected by Harry’s allergies. If anything she looked rather smug.

Sighing, Harry thrust his hand over to his bedside locker and, after a moment of aimless surface-grappling, located his glasses. He put them on and his bedroom—disorganised apart from Draco’s pristine, folded bedsheets—came into focus. Cassiopeia opened one eye and stared at him, as through threatening him in advance of her inevitable removal from Harry’s chest.

“Off you get, Cass,” Harry grumbled, finding his voice rough and sleep-worn. After a short, determined struggle, Cassiopeia finally relented and trotted out of the room with her nose in the air. Harry swung his legs over the side of the bed and had to catch himself from falling backwards—his head felt heavy and his movements lethargic. He tried to remember how much Firewhiskey he had drunk—it couldn’t possibly have been more than one glass—before the events of the previous evening came flooding back with such starting speed that Harry had to close his eyes.

Draco and Sirius’s discussion, Draco’s ignorance to Harry’s imploring eye and their ensuing fight. Harry allowed himself to feel slightly sheepish for his reaction; he had a right to feel irritated, he told himself, but perhaps shouting at Draco had been slightly disproportionate. He felt slightly guilty admitting so, but Harry knew that their argument had been worth it if only for Draco’s short, rather poetic admission. Draco had compared his upbringing—infested with prejudice and hate—to a disease that he had to resist.  One that he despised to his very core and resented so completely that he had to detach himself from any association with it.

Harry’s childhood had been filled only with happy memories and, despite his isolation from Hogwarts students his own age, he has only ever been familiar with values of inclusion. He couldn’t bear to think what growing up in a home where he rejected the very same discriminatory institution that his surname upheld would be like.

Knowing this, however, equipped Harry with a strange feeling towards Draco that he could only describe as kinship; he felt as though Draco had revealed a part of himself to Harry that was not only understandable, but tangible. Harry felt as though he could point to instances that directly correlated with Draco’s advertence to discussing family matters. Even his reluctance and rigidness at the beginning of the Christmas holidays upon entering the Potter household now felt significant to Harry.

Feeling more optimistic, Harry made his way downstairs in his t-shirt and Chudley Cannons boxers, hoping very much that everyone would be so distracted by the Christmas presents beneath the tree that nobody would notice.

Before he had even entered the living room, Harry heard the faint sounds of the bells of St. Jerome’s Church form across the square and his mother’s laughter. He peered over the door frame and saw a his parents and Draco each sat on an armchair and sipping hot chocolate, his mother telling a story over a fit of laughter while Draco and James listened intently, both amused. The tree to Draco’s right was, indeed, wonderful; handsome and artfully decorated with ornaments, flickering lights draped across the branches, it made the paleness of Draco’s skin ever more stark. His skin was almost pearly, but Draco’s cheeks were shaded pink, as though he had indulged in a swig of Firewhiskey that morning too.

“Morning, sweetheart!” Lily said, breaking the train of conversation (and the story that had James roaring with laughter and Draco smiling as though his mouth was straining from trying to supress his laughter).

“Morning, Mum,” Harry said, kissing her cheek. “Happy Christmas!”

 “Happy Christmas to you too,” she said, beaming. “The owls just arrived a few minutes ago.”

Harry followed her line of sight to the tall pile of envelopes and snow-covered brown paper packages beside the windowsill. Walking closer, he recognised Ron’s thin, slightly inconsistent handwriting as well as Hermione’s neat cursive on two of the gifts. Beneath the tree rested even more presents and one in particular caught his attention—long, thin and with groomed bristles peeking out at the end, Harry recognised it instantly as a broomstick. At the risk that it was Draco’s present rather than his own—Harry certainly wouldn’t put it past Draco to be the recipient of more than half the presents beneath the tree—Harry kept quiet.

“Aren’t you both going to open your present?” Lily asked, excitement evident by her tone. “When you were younger you were a little bundle of energy on Christmas morning.”

Harry grinned despite himself and pulled the snow-covered presents addressed to him into his lap. Harry had already exchanged presents with Hermione and Ron, so he couldn’t fathom why they had sent him even more until he ripped open the brown paper; Mrs Weasley’s homemade mince pies, churned toffee and cauldron cakes tumbled into his lap. The attached card—decorated with winking snowpeople who took their hats off whenever Harry touched the front cover—bore the names of all of the Weasleys and Hermione. Written in Ron’s familiar scrawl, it read: Mum sent this all the way to Hogwarts for me and ‘Mione to add our names to the card and then send it to you. Happy Christmas, mate! Here’s to many more (assuming Malfoy doesn’t kill you first or you don’t end up in Azkaban for killing Malfoy). Squeezed at the bottom of the card Hermione had written: Have a wonderful Christmas, Harry. Hoping you’re managing to spend some quality time preparing for the second task! Love from, Hermione.

Harry placed the baked goods on the coffee table after munching on one of the delicious-looking (and even tastier) mince pies that Mrs Weasley was renowned for.

The next present addressed to him came from Remus and Sirius, who usually bought him a joint present. To his delight, they had given him two tickets to the Appleby Arrows versus Puddlemere United quarter-final of the national Quidditch league in July. He made a mental note to thank them at a later date, sure that Ron would drool at the chance to accompany him to the match. Passing the tickets to his father to inspect—he had already started theorising about the chances of Puddlemere United’s Chasers against the Arrows’ strong defensive squad—Harry noticed that his mother’s gaze was focused on the other side of the room, where Draco was sitting.

“That one is from us, Draco,” she said, smiling warmly.

Harry noticed that she had sat forward in her armchair, seeming slightly more anxious than usual. Interest piqued, Harry shifted his position beside the Christmas tree to look up at Draco. He had a neat pile of wrapping paper at his feet and a generous number of presents—including what looked like Quidditch memorabilia, many books and a new set of crystal phials that Harry knew Draco had wanted since the end of October—beside him on the armchair. In his lap was a delicate present of diminutive size that Draco was eyeing with interest.

“There was really no need to buy me a Christmas present, Mrs Potter,” Draco said with surprising earnestness.

Lily’s anxious smile dissipated and was replaced by a slightly sentimental one. “Of course we wanted to buy you a gift! You’re our guest,” Lily insisted. “As well as Harry’s… friend. You’re more than welcome to a Christmas present.”

Harry couldn’t help but feel slightly at odds with her statement. ‘Friend’ didn’t sit with him particularly comfortably. Adverting Draco’s gaze, Harry noticed him place the gift aside out of the corner of his eye.

“In that case, I would like to give you the presents that I bought first,” Draco said. He bent beside the tree and removed a thin envelope, the words ‘Lily and James Potter’ written in elaborate calligraphy. He handed the envelope to Harry’s mother, who continued to insist that Draco need not have bought them a present.

“Merlin’s bollocks,” James exclaimed before Harry had time to move closer towards where his parents were seated.

“Oh, Draco, this is far too generous,” Lily said, making to return the gift.

James beat her to it, however, taking the envelope from her to scrutinise it, as though he couldn’t quite believe that it was genuine.

“What is it?” Harry asked the room at large.

“A voucher to Lundstrom’s,” Lily said, her tone reflecting her evident astonishment.

Harry couldn’t help the slight eyebrow raise that he knew Draco had caught. Lundstrom’s was a restaurant that had reservations booked-out until the following Christmas, the majority of patrons there either wizarding foreign ministers visiting London or high-class celebrities. Not only was the food renowned, but it was the first of many new progressive restaurants to provide appropriate facilities and offer holidays and full-payment to its elf chefs. For any of the elves that rejected payment but insisted that they continue working there, the restaurant provided educational courses for them to attend, teaching them of their social standing, former slave-like existence and the indoctrination of elvish inferiority in wizarding society.

“I must insist that you accept, Mrs Potter.”

Lily looked rather lost for words. She shot Draco a watery smile and stood up, puling him into a short, tight embrace—the kind that Harry knew to be wonderfully soothing. Draco, to the contrary, looked anything but soothed; stiff and wearing a rather alarmed expression, he looked moderately uncomfortable but more surprised by the hug.

When James followed Lily, Draco shoved out his hand to pre-empt a hug and replace it with a handshake. Harry snorted and watched their short exchange.

“Well,” Lily said, her eyes continuing to dart to the voucher—which was undoubtably worth close to a hundred Galleons, along with the money Draco probably spent to pull a few strings at the restaurant to secure a reservation in the first place. “Why don’t you open your present, Draco?”

Draco conscientiously untied the string and set it aside before tearing the paper along the seal. Harry craned his neck to get a better view of the gift. Into Draco’s outstretched palm tumbled a miniature model of a Saudi Scarlet-Tongue with a tag around its neck reading ‘for Draco’. He gaped at the tiny dragon—which was about the width of his hand—that regained its footing on his knee. Without a second glance at anyone else, Draco watched as the Scarlet-Tongue spread its red wings and took flights, soaring around the room.

Draco got to his feet as though pulled by a string and watched the Scarlet-Tongue flutter its wings and glide above their heads, swooping down and hovering at their ankles only to soar back up again. Harry smiled at the sight of Draco watching the Scarlet-Tongue’s every move, following it with whimsical, almost childlike awe. After a few moments, Draco stretched out his arm tentatively, palm flat, and the Scarlet-Tongue landed gracefully in it. Draco’s face broke into a smile.

Harry felt strangely like he was intruding on a private moment that he very much wanted to feel welcome to watching. For some reason, he was desperate for Draco to extend that very smile to him so that he could feel less like a stranger.

Harry noticed that Draco had torn his eyes from the miniature Scarlet-Tongue and was schooling his features to seem less affected. Harry wished that he wouldn’t.

“Thank you very much, Mr and Mrs Potter,” he said quietly.

“It was all Lily’s idea,” James said, though he looked rather pleased about Draco’s clear enrapturement with the gift.

“It’s nothing at all Draco,” she said, smiling warmly at him. Harry caught his mother’s eye and she raised an eyebrow at him, communicating something unsaid that Harry couldn’t decipher.

“Your gift from us is under the tree, Harry,” Lily said, looking as excited as though the present was for her rather than Harry.

Harry realised quite soon that the final present resting under the tree—the long, broomstick-shaped one—was from his parents and was, indeed, a broomstick. “Oh, Merlin,” he breathed, tearing the hastily-wrapped brown paper—his father’s handiwork, no doubt. Before him, its brass handle shining, twigs neatly brushed and wood gleaming a honeyed chestnut was the latest Firebolt Premier. “Thank you!”

He pulled both of his parents into a joint hug with only minor muscle-pulling-induced protests. He felt both of their laughter crackle around him before pulling away, his eyes instantly latching onto his broomstick.

“Why don’t you put on some clothes and then we’ll head out to the hill so you and Draco can practice on your brooms again?” Lily asked.

“Yeah, sure.” Harry smiled and jerked his head towards his bedroom at Draco’s expectant expression. Grabbing all of his presents in his arms, the Firebolt Premier securely in his grip, he made his way back upstairs, Draco trailing behind him. It was only then that Harry became conscious of the fact that he was only wearing a pair of boxers and a thin t-shirt.

“Your choice of sleeping attire astounds me, Potter,” Draco muttered from behind him. “Actually, consider me mistaken. It doesn’t astound me; merely reaffirms what I already knew.”

Harry hummed non-committedly, unsure why he was entertaining Draco’s inevitable insult. “And what is that?”

“That you have a terrible taste in style and couldn’t dress yourself if your life depended on it.”

“I’m so lucky to have such a considerate friend in you, Malfoy,” Harry muttered drily, heaving his presents onto his bed and startling a snoozing Abrax.

Draco snorted at the word friend and leafed through Harry’s closet, eyeing each item with varying degrees of distaste and sniffing a couple of older pieces of Muggle clothing. Harry ignored him, choosing instead to write a short letter of thanks to Padfoot and Moony for the Quidditch tickets.

While he wrote the letter, he tuned into Draco’s periodic monologue about his miniature dragon, listening to his rather alluring, melodic voice as he explained even the most mundane features of Scarlet-Tongues. The way Draco handled himself around dragons, the care and reverence with which he spoke of them—something akin to familiarity—enchanted Harry. It marked such a startling contrast to his usual sneering indifference and seemed to spark something inside of Harry that drew him closer to Draco, made him trust him inexplicably more.

After he had given the letter to his father’s owl—Elroy—Harry arrived back to his bedroom to find an outfit laid out on his vanity. Draco stood beside it with his arms crossed tightly, wearing an expression of grim determination.

“Is this some kind of intervention?” Harry said in slight disbelief.

“Not the word I would have chosen but yes,” Draco conceded. “At least, something along that vein. It’s Christmas day, Potter, and you can’t possibly wear the same clothes I’m forced to regularly see you in on an occasion such as this.”

Harry nodded slowly. “And you felt the need to chose an outfit for me?”

Draco tilted his head at this, as though surprised by Harry’s ability to understand even that much. “Exactly. Clearly you’re not as dim-witted as you look. Or, at least, will continue to look if I have to see you in those hideous boxers for another minute.”

Harry smiled despite himself and, when he was sure Draco had gone to the bathroom, examined the clothes that had been laid out for him. A cream jumper, a long, jade scarf that he had never seen before, his leather boots, the scratchy navy coat that he never wore because it tended to irritate the skin at his wrists and neck and a pair of fitted jeans that he usually felt too self-conscious to wear. Feeling slightly out of his depth, Harry told himself that he would merely try on the outfit. It was hardly Draco’s jurisdiction to tell him what to wear in the first place, but he nonetheless felt curious.

After squeezing into his jeans and wincing at the rough fabric of his coat, Harry examined his reflection. Apart from his disastrous hair, Harry thought he looked rather better than usual. His eyes seemed brighter against the green shade of the scarf and, though he still despised the navy coat, even Harry had to admit that it paired with the rest of the outfit.

Deciding to keep the outfit and ignore Draco’s undoubtably smug comment whenever he returned from the bathroom, Harry picked up his Firebolt Premier and marched downstairs.

 

*

 

Draco opened a couple of Chocolate Frogs, setting the chocolate aside to read through the collector cards.

“Sharing is caring,” Harry said, holding out his open palms.

“Well then I don’t care, Potter,” Draco said, batting his hand away and pulling the chocolate closer to his chest. “Now kindly fuck off.”

They were sat opposite each other on the Hogwarts Express, having left King’s Cross station not ten minutes beforehand, and Harry was suddenly reminded just how much of a calming influence spending time at home with his parents had had of their relationship.

The final couple of days of the holiday were spent enjoying the Christmas festivities, visiting Diagon Alley to pick up some more ink, quills and parchment for the following term and enjoying the unearthly blankets of snow that they awoke to every morning. While Harry was looking forward to returning to Hogwarts, he would miss the tranquillity of those days spent in his parents’ company, spending every waking minute on his new broomstick. Draco had taken to putting his miniature Scarlet-Tongue in his robe pocket whenever they went flying on the hill and would narrate his surroundings (as well as Harry’s vastly improving Quidditch skills) to him, much to Harry’s amusement.

Seeing the bustling platform, filled with gossiping, pointing students and parents alike, however, reminded Harry of the bubble he and Draco had been confined to over the Christmas holidays. It was time to return to normality, but this also meant confronting the pressing question of just what his relationship with Draco meant upon their return to Hogwarts.

Chapter Text

Winter at Hogwarts was always a wonderland of excitement and seasonal festivity. Arriving back after the Christmas holidays, relaxed and well-rested, was no different. Though the magnificent Christmas trees in the Great Hall had been removed, the snow flurries persisted and the portraits along the second floor corridor often broke out in spontaneous carol singing. The Black Lake remained frozen, giving students with a propensity for skating an opportunity to appreciate the glorious looking-glass view beneath the thin surface of ice. Though the Slytherin’s were undoubtably used to seeing the merpeople and the giant squid from their common room, the ice-skaters from other houses took joy in making out the moving shadows below and blindly chasing after them.

Lessons resumed as normal the very morning after Harry and Draco arrived back to Hogwarts. Though the status of their relationship remained a prevalent thought of his, Harry hardly had time to ponder anything besides the upcoming test on Golpalott’s Laws that Slughorn had sprung on them, in which they were apparently required to achieve an Exceeds Expectations at the very least.

Harry and Draco had also been preoccupied with brewing the Polyjuice Potion—which was set to be completed later that week—and were taking turns to follow the final steps of the intricate stirring pattern each night. Bringing the potion from Godric’s Hollow, aboard the train and smuggling it back into their dormitory had proven rather difficult, as they had added the boomslang skin and bicorn horn, which meant that they needed to prevent the potion from shifting; even the slightest unsteady jolt of the train had resulted in both Draco and Harry lunging towards the cauldron to prevent it from spilling over. Concealing it had been far easier, as Draco had cast a Disillusionment Charm, but Harry was reasonably certain that they had attracted a few curious glances as he and Draco tried to transport it to their dormitory, complete with an excess of swearing on both of their parts.

It wasn’t until the third night since their return to Hogwarts that either of them were able to give McGonagall’s post-Christmas punishment for duelling the Larsons—teaching Transfiguration to first years—any consideration.

“Did McGonagall say what chapter they were reading at least?" Harry sighed. He was sprawled across his bed, Abrax pressing her claw uncomfortably into his arm, with A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration levitating in front of his face.

“Transfiguring spoons to bells, apparently,” Draco mumbled into his Defence Against the Dark Arts essay. Harry had read the first foot-and-a-half of it the previous evening and remembered exponentially less confident in his own abilities and, in turn, envious of Draco’s. “It’s a new term, though.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Draco sighed. “Therefore, we can start a different topic with the first-years. Something that doesn’t make me want to rip my fucking hair out.”

Harry rolled onto his chest, legs dangling in the air. “Think we could try changing slugs to pearls?”

Draco groaned loudly. He dropped his forehead to his parchment, smudging his neat script and leaving a black ink mark across his pale skin. Harry felt the strange urge to rub the ink down Draco’s pink cheek if only to see his reaction.

“What about turning belt buckles into metal boxes?”

“Far too rudimentary,” Draco dismissed with a wave of his hand. “I can’t understand why McGonagall is forcing us to teach her first-years.”

“I think she chooses to teach to try and get to know the incoming first-years,” Harry said, reading the theory on a simple Switching Spell. “Learn their names and what they’re like before they start causing trouble, you know? Instil a bit of fear in them.”

Draco rolled up his parchment and thrust it into his satchel with particular aggression. Harry watched him glare at his satchel before, predictably, removing the parchment again and smoothing the sight crease there. “Fine,” he spat, looking particularly impatient as he replaced the parchment more carefully. “But if you suggest another Switching Spell, I’ll set your bed on fire.”

“And if you threaten any of the eleven-year olds tomorrow, I’ll dye your robes red and gold,” Harry said, closing the textbook with a heavy sigh.

 

*

 

After an exerting Double Potions lesson the next day, in which Slughorn repeatedly emphasised the importance of their test the following day, Harry and Draco made their way up to the fourth-floor corridor. They came to a stop outside of their designated classroom. Harry peered inside; he could see the backs of sixteen pupils’ heads.

“Looks like Gryffindors and Slytherins from their robes,” Harry said.

“Thank Salazar,” Draco muttered. He shoved past him and pushed open the door dramatically.

A sharp bang prompted all of the first-years to whip around; one girl sitting near the front jumped in her seat and clutched her heart. Harry tried to smile reassuringly at her as he marched to the front of the classroom behind Draco, flicking his wand to close the door behind them.

“What’re you two doing here?” a boy with thick eyebrows and a heavy Newcastle accent asked.

Harry glanced around to find sixteen pairs of shocked, almost disbelieving eyes staring between him and Draco. It felt rather overwhelming.

“We’re here to teach Transfiguration for the next week,” he said, leaning lightly against the desk. “I’m Harry and that’s Draco.”

Harry glanced behind him to find that Draco had taken a seat at Professor McGonagall’s desk, his feet propped up and his hands resting behind his head. He smirked at Harry.

“We know your names,” the girl beside the Newcastle boy said, smiling. “You’re the Triwizard champions!”

Harry nodded tightly, feeling rather embarrassed beneath their unabashed scrutiny. “Well, Professor McGonagall is away from the caste at the moment so she’s asked us to—er—step in for her,” he said. He twisted his neck and scowled at Draco, hissing “Now if my co-teacher here would get up off his arse then we’ll give each of you a handkerchief to start the lesson.”

Draco’s lopsided smirk grew impossibly wider. He slipped his wand out of his robes and, with a sleight of hand, two boxes of handkerchiefs in the cabinet behind him raced into his outstretched hands. He handed one box to Harry before sauntering over to the right side of the room where most of the Slytherins were sat.

Harry narrowed his eyes at Draco before dividing the handkerchiefs between each student on the left side of the room. Most of them smiled up at him, apparently delighted at the prospect of being taught by two Hogwarts champions. He couldn’t help but smile back.

“My sister says that you’re the best-looking champion,” a girl with thick, black hair said matter-of-factly.

Harry startled, almost snatching back the paisley handkerchief he had handed her.

“She’s in fourth year,” the girl continued, utterly unperturbed by Harry’s reaction. “She thinks you look like a model from America that she likes from Witch Weekly.”

“Oh,” Harry said. He felt a blush rise to his cheeks and busied himself with taking out the next scarf to hand to the boy next to her. “Well—er—okay. Thanks.”

The girl grinned.

There were, quite evidently, a couple of students who looked just about ready to scramble out of the classroom with fright. Harry watched as Draco strutted down the right side of the classroom, how students dropped their gazes and gripped their desks, some even audibly sighing with relief once Draco had passed their desk.

“Do you set up fucking torture chambers in the Slytherin common room or something?” Harry muttered when Draco joined him at the top of the classroom.

“No, why?” Draco said, an elegant eyebrow raised in curiosity.

Harry tilted his head subtly towards Draco’s self-designated side of the classroom. “Half of the Slytherins look about ready to piss their pants.”

“All part of my charm,” Draco said under his breath. He raised his voice, adopting a commanding tone to address the class. “You’re going to learn to change the colour of the handkerchief. If any of you can master that by the end of the lesson then you can move on to changing the fabric from cotton to velvet.”

“The spell is Colovaria,” Harry said. “It’s a bit complicated but since you’re only using it on handkerchiefs, at least some of you should be able to get the hang of it today.” He plucked a blushing pink handkerchief from the box and pointed his wand at it. “Colovaria.

The blushing pink instantly changed to a shade of periwinkle blue.

“Sometimes it helps to imagine a particular colour,” Harry said. “And make sure you jab your wand at the fabric.”

The class set about attempting to switch the colour of their handkerchiefs, loud chatter and a chorus of the same spell being uttered at the same time sounding throughout the classroom.

“What do you mean jab your wand, Potter?” Draco demanded, apparently affronted the suggestion. “You have to flick your wrist for a spell like this.”

The classroom fell silent in an instant. A wand even clattered on a desk. It seemed that the first-years were desperate to hear their Triwizard champions fighting right before their eyes. Harry could only imagine what kind of rumours about their hatred of each other had spread since the beginning of term.

“Don’t be stupid, that’ll just make incomplete transfiguration even more likely. Jabbing is much more powerful,” Harry said.

Powerful,” Draco snorted derisively. “Typical.”

Harry folded his arms and leaned back against McGonagall’s desk. He caught some of the Slytherins near the front of the classroom smiling smugly and whispering to each other at Draco’s comment.

“Power ensures inconsistency,” Draco said. “It is far better that a spell is case as consistent rather than incorrect and destructive, like excessive force guarantees.”

“If you think flicking your wrist is better, Malfoy, then why don’t you demonstrate to the class?”

Harry caught some of the Gryffindors grinning. The girl with the thick, black hair looked like she was teetering at the edge of her seat with excitement.

“I shouldn’t have to prove my methods to you,” Draco said, seemingly basking in the attention of an entire audience.

“Oh, not to me,” Harry said, smiling. “No, no, to the class. All in the name of magical learning, isn’t it? What would your favourite Headmistress say if she heard you were denying her students new methods to use a spell?”

The corners of Draco’s lips twitched. He walked straight over to Harry until he was standing directly in front of him. Harry caught his eye and felt a thumb brush over his wrist before the periwinkle handkerchief was plucked out of his hand.

Colovaria,” Draco said, his wrist flicking pointedly.

The light blue turned to a delightful shade of evergreen.

Draco glanced around at the class, a devious glint in his eye. “How about a little competition?”

A rush of excitement weaved through the class and the students looked between Draco and Harry like they were watching a rapid game of Quidditch.

“Alright,” Harry said. “Gryffindors doing the jabbing motion and Slytherins doing the wrist flick. Whichever House has the most handkerchiefs change colour wins.”

“Wins what, exactly?” a Slytherin girl with a long plait asked.

“House pride,” Draco said. He joined Harry beside McGonagall’s desk and leaned closer to him to whisper “Though I was under the impression my ‘favourite Headmistress’ wouldn’t approve of such inter-house division, Potter.”

Harry glanced at him from the corner of his eye and rapped his knuckles on the desk behind him, suddenly nervous. “A little competition never hurt anyone, Malfoy.”

Draco observed him for a moment, his gaze lingering on Harry’s small, fleeting smile.

“Alright! Everyone start now,” Draco called suddenly.

The following forty minutes were spent observing the class’s wand techniques and teaching them the particular nuances and theory of the spell. Draco walked around the class with a stern expression, his hands clasped behind his back. Much to Harry’s surprise, Draco was exceptionally patient with his own house, guiding them and giving extra help to the weaker students. Harry was distinctly reminded of the way Draco had handled the Scarlet-Tongue.

By the end of the lesson, two Slytherins and three Gryffindors had managed to change their handkerchiefs (though one change was debatable—the colour had merely shifted from beige to light brown).

“Although, to be fair,” Harry said, collecting the handkerchiefs, “the Slytherins were at a disadvantage from the start with Malfoy as their teacher.”

The Gryffindors laughed uproariously at this. The bell rung and silenced them instantly. The first-years scrambled to gather their belongings and rushed out of the classroom, chattering animatedly.

“The odds were unfair,” Draco said when the final student had shut the door, sending a smile over her shoulder. “You had nine students to my seven.”

‘Like I have nine inches to your seven?’ was on the tip of Harry’s tongue before he caught himself, worried that such a quip might make Draco uncomfortable. Despite the notable progression of their relationship over the past couple of weeks, navigating where the line between friendly and over-familiar was still presented a daily challenge. Though he was sure Ron would have cracked up laughing at that retort, Harry was quite certain that Draco wouldn’t have appreciated it to the same extent. Harry closed his lips and followed the final student out of the door. He shut the door before Draco’s predictable insults to his teaching skills reached his ears.

 

*

 

Harry pushed open the door to their dormitory the following evening, exhausted after both the panic-inducing Potions test and the three hours spent with Hermione in the library researching for a Herbology practical exam the following day. As he pushed the rickety door, a thick cloud of smoke came billowing out. He coughed loudly, shielding his watering eyes and feeling thankful for the very first time in his life for the miracle of glasses.

“Draco?” he choked out, stumbling to his window and shoving it open. The smoke instantly escaped into the chilling wind. Harry spotted Draco crouched on the floor staring intently at the bubbling Polyjuice Potion.

Draco whipped around, a mask covering his eyes. Harry crouched down beside him, watching the potion almost overflow before collapsing into itself.

“It’s ready now,” Draco said. He plucked Leif’s hair from the vial and dropped it in the centre of the potion. The murky brown shade instantly changed to a raspberry shade.

“It doesn’t look half bad,” Draco said, scooping some into the glass they usually used to store their toothbrushes.

Harry scowled at him. “You have at it, then,” he mumbled.

Draco raised an eyebrow and tilted his head in feigned consideration. “I think I’ll leave it to you, Potter.”

Harry brought the glass to brush his lips, eyeing the potion suspiciously, before throwing his head back and gulping it. He dropped the glass to the floor, making a face of disgust. “Tastes like burned toast.”

Draco cast his gaze to the floor, suddenly interested in the threads of the carpet.

Harry eyed him curiously. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” Draco said, dragging his socked foot along the edge of the carpet. “You should drink more of the potion. You need it to last as long as possible.”

Harry watched him carefully but Draco’s expression had become artfully vacant. Harry took a second gulp and his insides began to writhe uncomfortably; he felt a sharp, burning sensation spread out from his stomach. He saw Draco stare at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. Suddenly he felt an excruciating pain burning his skin and he fell to the floor, wincing as his skin prickled.

“It’s working,” Draco breathed.

Harry cracked an eye open and watched as his skin seemed to bubble beneath the surface, pulsating and thickening. His hand jolted to his face; he felt his nose lengthen and his hair shorten. He dragged his tongue along his teeth and startled at the unfamiliar sensation. The sensation of his robes tightening was vastly more uncomfortable than he ever could have expected, constraining him as his shoulders widened and his chest expanded. Harry kicked off his shoes and untied his robes rapidly, loosening his tie and the collar of his shirt. He lay on the ground, panting heavily.

Harry brought his hands to his face and saw that his fingers were long and thick, with shallow, dirty nailbeds. He stared in horror at the sight of his shirt—which was almost at breaking point—and his robes—which were about five inches too short—reaching his upper calf.

He whipped around at the ringing sound of Draco’s laughter. Harry glared. “Shut up and give me some of those furs you took,” Harry said, crossing his arms over his—Leif’s—hard chest. “I don’t know why I didn’t change into his robes beforehand…”

Draco had convinced him that Leif had been taken care of by “someone I know in Durmstrang, don’t concern yourself with it, Potter”, who had also happened to lend Draco a spare set of his robes. Although Harry had found this highly distrustful, Draco had managed to convince him that Leif would be kept occupied and out of reach while Harry found the clue so that neither he nor Alexander would suspect anything.

Draco, chucking derisively under his breath, handed him the furs to him. Harry, feeling slightly self-conscious that Draco continued to watch him despite the fact that it was Leif’s body rather than his own that he was sharing, raised an eyebrow at him. He pulled off his own robes and laid them on his bed. The elastic of his briefs clung to his waist and he tugged the fabric until they sat more comfortably on below his hips. Finally, he pulled on the grey and brown uniform and walked towards the mirror.

“Merlin’s nightcap,” he said in Leif’s low, flat voice. He had to crouch to fully see himself in the vanity mirror. Harry stared at his pallor, touching against the pale skin, and stared at the steely grey of his eyes. He caught Draco watching him a tentative couple of feet away.

“We need to go,” Draco said eventually. “I can’t be certain how long the potion will last given the number of estimates and irregular factors, and we may not find Larson for ages.”

Harry nodded, not trusting his unfamiliar voice.

He tugged his wand out of his robes and they left the dormitory hurriedly. Distributing his weight and height was an extremely strange experience. He had to square his shoulders and take longer, more purposeful strides. Draco had tried to direct him down the stairs but it only made them break out in nervous laughter.

The castle corridors were bustling with students, some returning from dinner while others were lingering in the Entrance Hall, making evening plans with friends.

“Try and sit near me,” Harry said as they crossed the Entrance Hall. “In case something goes wrong.”

Draco pulled his lower lip between his fingers, watching Harry with narrowed eyes before nodding once. “It won’t,” he said firmly. “But fine. I’ll… I’ll sit near you.”

Harry marched into the Great Hall, ignoring the stares and muttering—as he presumed Leif would—and found Alexander hunched over his meal at the end of the Slytherin table. He felt a distinct uneasiness as he sat beside him, acutely aware of how well Alexander knew his own brother, how likely it was that he would notice something suspicious, something out of the ordinary, something that would uncover his identity.

“Leif,” Alexander grunted, pouring beef stew into a bowl directly in front of him, grumbling something under his breath that Harry couldn’t decipher.

Harry’s stomach dropped. They had planned everything, every possible minute detail, every feasible scenario, every appropriate reaction and yet both he and Draco had managed to forget the very significant detail that Harry didn’t know whatever language Alexander was speaking. He could deduce from Alexander’s expectant expression that he had asked where he had been. Harry knew that he needed to find an excuse not to speak in his native tongue.

“I vas in the library,” Harry said, busying himself with spooning peas onto his plate. He was shocked by the low, rough sound of his voice but ploughed ahead. “I think that I found another part of the clue.”

Var tyst,” Alexander snapped, glancing around and glowering at some of the Slytherins sitting near them.

Harry spotted Draco taking a seat further down the table and caught his eye for a moment before his gaze returned to Alexander. “I am speaking in English,” Harry said. “I am thinking—er—that improving my English will help me with… with the Hogwarts boy.”

It was an impulsive gamble that Leif had intended to use Harry to find out more about the tasks, but his prediction transpired to be true.

Alexander looked pleasantly surprised by this piece of information. “You are getting somewhere with him?”

Heart still pounding in his chest, Harry nodded, avoiding Alexander’s eye. “I think he might be willing to tell me something soon. He is very careless with telling me things.”

Alexander grunted. “You did not tell me that you had been speaking vith him. I didn’t think he would after the duel.”

“It is only recent,” Harry amended, desperate not to raise suspicion. Harry glanced to his other side and found Draco staring at him. Draco’s gaze was fixed elsewhere but he make a hand rotation, an indication for Harry to convince Alexander to go back to the Durmstrang ship more quickly. Draco had estimated that he would have about half an hour before the effects of the potion wore off, but he insisted that he couldn’t know for definite.

“Alexander,” Harry said. “Ve must return. I need to see our clue again.”

Harry watched as Alexander scoffed loudly.

“You do not remember it by now?” he said, guffawing.

Harry smiled uncomfortably. “I need to see it,” he insisted. “I… I am thinking… it has something to do with the—er—parchment, not just the words written.”

Though completely drawn from the blank crevices of his mind, this seemed to pique Alexander’s interest. He watched Harry, eyes scanning his face before he stood to his feet rapidly. He whispered into the ear of one of the Durmstrang boys sitting near him and then stalked out of the Great Hall.

Harry scurried after him, catching Draco’s gaze as he left. The thought of leaving Draco and the safety, the familiarity of the Great Hall suddenly seemed to frighten him. A heavy weight of anticipation for the inevitable dropped on his shoulders and he regretted not asking Draco to follow them down to the ship, despite the risks that would be involved.

They marched down the sloping grounds in relative silence. Harry was relieved that Alexander didn’t require that he justify his reasons for believing that the clue had something to do with the parchment or explain how he had come to that conclusion. They climbed aboard the ship—which was docked by the edge of the Great Lake—and Harry could hear Alexander mutter something under his breath and tap a peculiar pattern on the door with the tip of his wand.

The evening air gliding across the Great Lake was chilling and Harry was thankful for the thick, almost suffocating layer of furs he had. He wrapped them around himself tightly and followed Alexander into the dark, cramped interior of the ship. They walked down a dingy corridor, Harry almost stumbling on a faded rug, and into one of the cabins. He banged his head on the ceiling and rubbed his forehead angrily, unused to his new height.

There were two beds here, both narrow and low to the ground. Harry watched as Leif stood directly opposite one of the walls behind the beds with his wand raised. A burst of purple light erupted from his wand as he made a sharp cutting motion. The wallpaper slashed open to reveal a hole in the wall holding a small, white box and a familiar envelope behind it.

Harry stepped closer.

The envelope was thrust into his hand by Alexander. He pretended to touch the parchment carefully to maintain the pretence in front of Alexander before he pulled out the parchment. The corners of the parchment were dampened and the ink had flowed around the edges, as though the parchment had been wet and hastily dried.

Rising in the east

Only then will the sun show this beast

Seen from above, their tracks must you seek

Waiting impatiently for your arrival behind the peak.

Harry read the words again and again, foregoing interpreting their meaning and concentrating on memorising them to recite later to Draco.

“Vell?” said Alexander gruffly. “Vat is it, Leif?”

Harry sighed heavily. “I thought the parchment meant something but now I am not sure,” he said, suddenly anxious to leave the ship. He didn’t know how much time had elapsed since they had arrived on the ship. He fumbled with the envelope and dropped it back into the hole in the wall, swallowing thickly.

Alexander gritted his teeth. “Vat did you think before?”

“I… I must go back to their library,” Harry said. “I made a mistake vith the parchment but I might… have another idea.”

A heavy thud sounded behind him and he wheeled around to find Alexander thumping his bed ferociously. “Ve do not have long, Leif,” he said. “Hurry up!”

Harry nodded unsurely, glancing over shoulder to find Alexander collapsing onto his bed defeatedly. Whipping around, he hurried out of the cabin, frantically pushing past two Durmstrang boys in the cramped corridor and making his way off the ship. His head was heavy and he felt an eerie prickling sensation on his back, as though he was being watched. He darted across the ground, trundling through the slushy snow and waterlogged patches until he made it to the castle.

Harry felt the Durmstrang clothes become looser on him, less constraining. He had to shuffle through the Entrance Hall with his head lowered as his shoes felt about three sizes too big on him. His heart raced in his throat as he stumbled up the winding staircase, tripping over his robes until he finally hoisted them up. He dashed up to their dormitory, arriving panting and exhausted, but feeling lighter than he had in days.

He pushed the dormitory door open to find Draco with his hands pressed against his eyes, pacing the room furiously. The moment he caught Harry’s eye he sighed with relief and darted straight towards him.

“Well?” Draco demanded. “Did anyone see you? Did Larson suspect anything?”

Harry could see that the rings around his eyes were slightly reddened. He shook his head. “No,” he sighed. “I don’t think so, at least. Told him I was going to the library, though, so you’d better let your friend know that so he can take Leif there and cast a quick Confundus.”

Draco seemed reluctant to leave their dormitory but nodded tersely, eyes wandering across Harry’s small form engulfed in the ridiculous amount of furs. “Fine,” he said. “Stay here. I want to hear everything.”

Harry slumped onto his bed as the door shut behind Draco. He languidly pulled off his fur robes and peeled off his sweaty undergarments. It was only when Harry was beginning to contemplate taking a shower when the door opened and Draco waltzed inside.

“Get out!” Harry cried, jumping behind the hangings of his four poster. Though he had never placed much in store by his own modesty—and lounging around his house in his boxers was certainly testament to that—Harry wasn’t particularly keen on lying, half-naked and directly in Draco’s line of sight.

He head a soft chuckle. “I… I need to give the Durmstrang robes back.”

Harry sighed heavily and gathered Leif’s clothes, holding them out from behind the crimson hangings. He felt Draco take them, his fingers pressing lightly against Harry’s wrist. Harry’s breath caught in his throat. Draco’s touch left a second later, though his burning touch remained, and Harry heard the door close. An unsteady breath escaped his lips and he shook his head to rid himself of thoughts of Draco’s lingering touch.

Chapter Text

“It makes so much sense now,” Harry said. “The flying… Searching above the Forbidden Forest… We were in the right place but just at the wrong time. ‘Rising in the east, only then will the sun show this beast’. We have to go in the morning, when the sun rises.”

They were sat on opposite sides of Harry’s bed; Draco was slumped against the end while Harry—his hair wet from a long, scorching shower, and cocooned in blankets—was sitting cross-legged on his pillow.

He had retold the story of finding the clue with only minor embellishment and Draco had listened attentively, hands spread on the back Harry’s bed. Though it was dim and the hangings around them were drawn, Draco had lit a small fire in a jar which was sitting precariously between them, their clue and the Larson’s rewritten clue beneath it. Draco had Abrax in his arms, restraining him from pouncing on the glass of fire and Cassiopeia was asleep on Harry’s lap.

Draco nodded. “I’m not entirely sure what we can expect,” he sighed. “The main priority is to fly around—probably aimlessly—and look for a peak. I’m sceptical that there even is a mountain there; the terrain seems flat.”

Harry sighed. “There’s mountains all around Hogwarts, though. But I don’t think the clue referred to that; everything else points to the Forbidden Forest.”

They sat in amicable silence, each caught in their own tangle of thoughts about what the rather unspecific clues could mean. The weight of the day hit Harry with a sudden forcefulness and he felt his eyelids droop and his movements between stroking Cassiopeia’s fur become lethargic.

“I suppose we’ll have to see tomorrow morning,” Draco said, catching Harry’s eyes.

Harry smiled faintly and yawned into his shoulder. “Yeah, yeah. Tomorrow.”

Harry was struck by the intensity of Draco’s eyes glimmering in the light of the fire. His gaze followed Draco as he pulled himself up from the bed and nodded before shutting the hangings behind him. Harry felt strangely alone without him nearby.

 

*

 

The next morning, they wandered down the sloping lawn, brooms over their shoulders, the chilling wind whipping their pink cheeks. The Forbidden Forest wasn’t nearly as frightening during the weak morning light, especially compared to the shadowy darkness they were used to venturing through.

“So… What do you think we should be looking out for besides some sort of ‘peak’ we have to ‘seek’?” Harry said.

Draco didn’t crack a smile. He merely grunted non-committedly.

Harry rolled his eyes. Despite the fact that he knew Draco was decidedly not a morning person—nor was he much of an early afternoon person, really—Harry couldn’t help but try and make conversation with him.

“Just cover the right side of the forest and I’ll do the left,” Draco said as they ambled towards Hagrid’s cabin.

Harry nodded, lifting his leg over his Firebolt Premier. His birthday gift certainly didn’t disappoint; not only was the exterior sleek and polished but the broom followed his every twist and turn, anticipating obstacles and adjusting to the slightest of movements. He soared high above the trees, surveying the slight inclinations and slopes of the forest floor and trying to find any kind of peak.

He swooped lower, narrowing his eyes at the landscape rushing past him. The ground, however, was stubbornly flat. He spotted a cluster of particularly tall pine trees in the heart of the forest, one in particular reaching higher than the rest. They were covered in a light dusting of snow, distinct from the bare trees around them with golden, crunchy leaves scattered around their trunks.

“Draco!” he called suddenly.

A small figure in the distance charged towards him. Draco came to a smooth halt beside him, his hair windswept and a loose, white-blonde curl tumbling into his eyes. He blew it out of his face frustratedly.

“What is it?” Draco said. He glanced below him, scanning the area. “There’s no peak here, Potter.”

“Clearly,” Harry sighed. “It just… it doesn’t look like there are any hills or peaks of any kind.”

Draco nodded reluctantly.

“I was thinking, though,” Harry said, “what if the clue wasn’t talking about peaks in the landscape? What if the peak could be the tallest tree?” He titled his head towards the towering pine tree.

Draco’s expression instantly changed to one of curiosity. “You know, that might actually be it.” Without a second glance at Harry, Draco leaned forward and gripped his broomstick, darting towards the ground.

Harry followed swiftly and they approached the tallest tree cautiously, wands drawn.

“The clue says that whatever beast we have to confront is behind this peak somewhere,” Draco said.

They inched closer to the tree and, even from a distance, Harry noticed something peculiar about it; the tree was artificial. The branches were full and even, and the muddy earth beneath it was completely bare of pine needles. The trunk of the tree was gigantic, wider than the length of Harry’s broomstick, and a mahogany brown colour.

They edged along the perimeter of the tree until they had no choice but step into the wet mud to approach it. The liquid consumed Harry’s entire shoe and the tops of his ankles. He winced as he dragged his foot through it but every step seemed to strain his feet.

“Wait, Draco,” Harry said, grabbing his shoulder and pulling back.

Draco jerked his shoulder, however, and tripped over his own foot. In a quick, almost disbelieving moment Draco stumbled and crashed straight into the muddy pit. His entire lower half was swallowed by the mud and the front of his robes and pale skin splashed with droplets. Harry’s eyes widened and he stared as Draco pulled his hands and wand out, furiously wiping the mud from his face.

Harry stifled a laugh, digging his teeth into his lower lip and trying not to catch Draco’s eye as he looked down at him. “Want a hand, Malfoy?”

Draco glowered at him, chest rising and falling rapidly. He swiped his sleeve across his mouth viciously, not tearing his eyes off Harry. “Come here for a moment, Potter.”

“What?” Harry said urgently, whipping around with his wand raised.

“No, no,” Draco said calmly, smiling pleasantly. “Nothing of that sort. Just step closer.”

Harry watched how Draco flashed his canines, charming despite the darkness of his stare. Harry stepped closer to him, wand still clutched in his hand, until he was directly beside Draco. Harry felt arms wrap around his calves and before he was shoved sharply into the mud. He fell with a shout, tipping head first into the mud with a horrific splash. His entire front was devoured by the mud and he felt it seeping into his clothes and onto his skin. The coldness seemed to seep into his bones too, leaving Harry both shivering and drenched, and entirely unwelcome situation.

Just as he was pulling himself up, grappling for his wand, Harry felt a hand on the back of his neck plunging him back into the mud. Harry surfaced, panting and tasting mud on his lips. He heard Draco’s victorious, ringing laughter.

“Still find it funny, Potter?”

“You prick, Malfoy!” he spat, swiping the mud off his face. “You fell in by accident tripping over those ridiculously long leg of yours. You didn’t have to fucking push me in too.”

“Ah, but it’s terribly unfair if only get drowned in mud,” Draco said, pulling himself to him feet. He extended a hand to Harry, which Harry promptly swiped away.

“What do you mean unfair?”

“We’re even now,” Draco said simply.

“We absolutely are not!” Harry exclaimed. “I’m positively soaked in mud. You’re just… lightly smeared.”

Draco snorted.

“Just— come on,” Harry said. “Tergeo.” The majority of the mud disappeared instantly but he felt the skin on his face prickle, irritated from the thick layer of mud.

They trudged past the tree, encircling it carefully. Aside from its even, untouched branches and significant height, there was nothing about the tree to suggest that there was any kind of beast hiding near it, waiting to pounce.

“Merlin’s beard,” Harry exclaimed, glancing at his watch. “We’re going to be late.”

“I don’t have any classes this morning,” Draco said dismissively, still observing the tree.

“Nor do I, usually,” Harry huffed, shoving his wand inside his robes. “But we both do today. The first years, remember?”

“Fuck,” Draco said. Harry watched as Draco ran his fingers through his tousled hair and thought that he would very much like to tangle his own fingers in the loose, blonde curls.

“Salazar’s robes,” Draco sighed, breaking Harry’s musing. “I have so many things I’d rather do than torture myself teaching them.”

“What, and I don’t?” Harry said, climbing onto his broom. He cast a charm over the patch of mud to remove their footprints before pushing off into flight. “This may come as a surprise to you, Malfoy, but teaching first years isn’t exactly high on my list of things to do.”

Draco pursed his lips. “You had better have a lesson plan prepared, Potter,” Draco called as they flew higher, syncing their movements until they were following the same air thermal.

“And why is that my responsibility?” Harry said sharply.

“Your parents were essentially professors, teaching you,” Draco said. “It’s logical that you would be interested in teaching too.”

Harry shook his head. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Malfoy, I spent last night as Leif Larson, pretending to understand a foreign language and avoiding being caught, tortured and killed by his evil twin brother, so excuse me for forgetting a lesson plan.”

He heard a sharp huff of laughter.

“And besides,” Harry said, swerving neatly above a cluster of tall trees, “just because my parents taught doesn’t mean I want to. Quite the opposite, really.”

“How so?”

Harry felt a sharp thrill of energy spread from his chest. Draco had never shown an interest in him aside from what was necessary for the tournament. It felt strange, unnerving even, that he would ask him a personal question that could in no way be tethered to the tournament.

“My parents… They knew that they were it for each other since they were at Hogwarts themselves. They did everything straight away; marriage, me, shared vault at Gringotts,” Harry said. He swerved a flock of birds and veered closer to Draco, though his gaze remained fixed ahead of him. “Everything they did was with each other or for each other.”

“They needed to stay hidden, though,” Draco said, his quiet voice carried by the wind.

“Yeah, for our safety, I suppose,” Harry said, seeking Draco’s eye. “But even afterwards, they chose to stay together, keeping everything private and between the three of us. I just— I want to see what’s out there first. I don’t want to rush into making permanent plans like that and staying at home always symbolised that… At least it always did for me.”

Harry glanced to his right to find Draco’s mouth set in a firm line, staring directly ahead of him. He seemed to be considering Harry’s words, despite not deigning it necessary to respond.

They flew lower, brushing the treetops with their shoes and allowing the wind to whirl them downward until they landed by the edge of the forest. Harry tucked his broom under his shoulder and marched towards the castle. Harry glanced behind him to find Draco trailing behind him, eyes narrowed. They rushed up the corridors, bypassed the trick steps and finally reached the fourth floor.

Draco shoved the door to the Transfiguration classroom open and waltzed inside, paying little regard to the twenty startled students watching them both.

“Why do you have your brooms?” a Gryffindor asked loudly.

“That’s none of your business,” Draco said.

Harry glared at him before shoving his broom beneath McGonagall’s desk—which Draco had since claimed as his own—and turning back to the boy. “We were just practicing. Now, regarding—”

“Practicing for what?” a Slytherin asked from the back of the classroom.

“Unless you’ve managed to master the Switching Spell we asked you to practice then you shouldn’t be concerned about that,” Harry said patiently. “Now, we’re going to check to make sure that you’re all able to change the colour of your handkerchiefs and then… well—er—what are we going to do, Malfoy?”

Draco lifted his feet and crossed them on McGonagall’s desk. “You’re all going to be changing cantaloupes into candles and I don’t want to hear a word,” he said sternly. “Potter and I have work to discuss.”

Harry tried to ignore the way his heart seemed to beat faster as he caught Draco’s eye. There was something in Draco’s tone that never failed to catch his attention.

 

*

 

“Are you alright, mate?” Ron asked during Potions class the following day.

They were working on a tedious task—taking notes on antidotes to counter the effects of Veritaserum using multiple sources and consulting their practical work for individual commentary. Harry felt completely void of any individual thought beyond what was absolutely necessary to pass the classwork, having spent his morning surveying the tree (again) to no avail.

“Yes,” he said, crossing out his previous sentence frustratedly and splattering black ink across his parchment. “Why?”

“Nothing really,” Ron said tentatively. “Just— you seem very tense, is all. And you keep glancing over there to look at Malfoy.”

“I do not,” Harry said more loudly than he had intended. Two Slytherins in front of them peered curiously at him over their shoulders.

“Yes, you do,” Ron insisted. “You just looked over at him again.”

Harry dropped his gaze to his parchment. “I’m just— I’m nervous about the next task,” he said eventually.

Ron smiled temperately and patted his shoulder. “You know I’m here if you need anything, mate.”

Harry nodded tightly and returned to the passage he had been reading. He tried to ignore the pang of guilt in his chest for lying to Ron. He was certainly anxious about the second task—they hadn’t yet figured out what it was about the tree that could hold the answer to the obstacle they would have to overcome—but there was another feeling that fuelled his tenseness; he thought he might actually like Draco Malfoy.

He didn’t quite understand how he could like Draco of all people and had dismissed the idea as soon as it had crept into his thoughts the previous morning. The time he had spent with Draco had been less than civil—they were both covered in mud by the end of it—but he had enjoyed Draco’s company more than he would ever admit. And still, two days later, the unnerving thought that he might be developing feelings for him—as more than just a teammate or a roommate or an unwilling friend—lingered.

Every time he thought about it while Draco wasn’t there, the idea seemed ridiculous. Not only was Draco unbearably arrogant but he was also rude and self-absorbed. Passionate, shrewd and fiercely protective over a very select number of people and things, he was the poster boy for attractive Slytherin traits. In his (increasingly little) time apart from Draco during lessons and at meal-times, Harry could almost dismiss the notion completely.

However, every time he caught Draco’s eye from across the room or saw his devious smirk; every time Draco said something particularly witty or remembered a piece of information Harry had said before, even in passing; every time he saw Draco strut through the corridors—the very strut that he used to loathe—he felt a strange thud in his chest, as though his heart skipped a beat.

Harry sighed and returned his attention to his Potions assignment. Even if he did like Draco—something he would resolutely deny if anyone happened to ask him directly—there was no possible way that Draco could ever like him back. There was a higher chance that Alexander Larson would march into his dormitory to apologise for jinxing him or that Professor McGonagall would proudly bestow the title of Head Boy on Draco. It simply wasn’t a possibility.

 

*

 

An afternoon at Hogsmeade on the last day of January (and one week before the second task) saw Harry in a highly undesirable situation—he had nobody to go with. Or, at least, nobody he particularly wanted to go with. Ginny’s privileges had been revoked after being caught in an unused classroom after curfew with her arms wrapped around a Durmstrang boy whose name Harry couldn’t remember. Harry was rather reluctant to tag along with Ron and Hermione (who had taken to stare longingly at each other before one of them looked away, blushing). Ron had mentioned that he was planning on taking Hermione to Madam Puddifoot’s, something which sounded remarkably like a date, though Ron had insisted otherwise.

Harry had decided to go with Seamus and Dean, though he rarely saw them outside of school hours. More and more of his time seemed to be claimed by Draco and the impending second task. They certainly didn’t make Harry feel unwelcome and, though Ron and Hermione made an enormous effort to include him, it was clear that they were used to spending their time alone with one another. Harry assumed that, since Dean and Seamus had been together so much longer, they were able to spend a conversation without feeling the need to hold hands or smile lovingly at each other in a manner that never failed to make Harry feel slightly uneasy.

As such, Harry found himself tiredly pulling on a thick jumper and contemplating joining Dean and Seamus in the Three Broomsticks. Harry wrapped a scarf around his neck and trudged down to the Great Hall.

Harry and Draco had discovered a series of strange markings carved into the bark of the tree the previous morning. Draco had instantly recognised them from his Ancient Runes class but couldn’t identify them without consulting some older library books and the Rune Dictionary. Making their way back to the castle, they had agreed to take a well-earned morning off the next day. Neither of them had mentioned having plans at Hogsmeade.

Harry made his way into the mostly empty Great Hall—a significant number of students had apparently already left for Hogsmeade—and spotted a nervous-looking Ron shovelling creamed rice pudding into his bowl.

“You look like you’ve just eaten a bucket of Stinksap,” Harry said conversationally, sitting next to him.

“I do?” Ron exclaimed, slapping his cheek to bring some colour to his clammy face. “I’m just… nervous, is all. I don’t understand why you can’t come with us, Harry,” he said, pouting down his rice pudding.

“I’m not being the spare cauldron to your potions party, Ron.”

“It’s fine, mate. Just— enjoy your time alone with Hermione.”

Ron grinned at him over a mouthful of strawberry rice pudding.

Harry glanced behind him to find Draco ignoring the Slytherins speaking to him and absorbing himself in a compact book that Harry had seen on his bedside locker that morning. He turned back to Ron and patted him on the back kindly.

Ron dropped his gaze to his breakfast and smiled privately. “Well what about you, then?” he asked. “Who’re you going with?”

“Er… Probably Dean and Seamus. They said that they were going to ‘get smashed’ in the Three Broomsticks, apparently.”

“Oh, great!” Ron said enthusiastically. “Well… Have a good time, mate.” He slung his satchel over his shoulder and smiled nervously.

Harry watched him go, ignoring the pang of inevitability that he would have to mingle with a group of people who had known each other since the age of eleven and pretend to know them better than he actually did.

The Three Broomsticks was bustling with people; shouts and unbridled laughter ringing through the heavy air filled with the familiar scent of mead and Butterbeer. Harry saw Madam Rosmerta placing mugs in front of a group of Slytherins—including Blaise Zabini, who caught his eye and smiled. Harry’s heart sunk in his chest. He knew that he still owed him a proper apology for debatable abandonment at the Yule Ball and now he had absolutely no excuse for putting it off any longer. His stomach twisted into an uncomfortable coil at the prospect of it. Speaking to Blaise didn’t excite him quite like it might have a month ago.

“Harry! Over here!” Seamus called. He waved Harry over to the bar and, to his relief, he was immediately embraced by him, Dean and their group of friends, a few of whom he had spoken to before in Herbology, including Ernie MacMillan and Hannah Abbott. The strange thing about being both new to the school and a Triwizard champion was that everyone acted like they knew the real him from merely watching the way he had fought in the first task, or from what their parents had told them about his family. Though the Hufflepuffs were welcoming, Harry was thankful that they were far less obsequious than some of the other people who had tried to befriend him after the first task.

“Harry, hi.”

Harry turned around to find Blaise directly behind him, a slight hesitation to his stance. “Blaise,” he said in a taut voice. He glanced around at the people nearby who had been engrossed in their own conversations but had paused to hear Harry’s.

“Want to sit down in the back?” Blaise asked quietly. “My mother knows Rosmerta. She won’t mind us being there.”

Harry nodded and followed him through the rather cramped pub until they reached a quiet area with barrels of Butterbeer stacked against the walls. Blaise gestured for him to sit.

“Is this where you take all your boys?” Harry teased.

Blaise chuckled and sat beside him, crossing his legs.

“Listen,” Harry sighed. “I owe you an—er—apology for standing you up at the Yule Ball. I really didn’t mean to but… Well, you’ve probably heard by now about the Larsons and the duel but, still, that doesn’t really make up for it.”

Blaise folded his hands in his lap and glanced at Harry out of the corner of his eye. “I suppose it does make up for it in this instance, though,” he said after a moment. “The tournament is your priority at the moment, is it not? And, from what I’ve heard, you were just trying to stop the Larsons from cheating.”

Harry nodded unsurely.

“So I understand why you left,” he said. “I play to win—as does Draco, obviously—so I’m not going to get in the way of that.”

Harry figured that was Blaise’s equivalent of an acceptance of his apology. He thought, perhaps, that there was a more significant undercurrent to Blaise’s mention of Draco but quickly dismissed that notion. “Right,” he said, shifting his position on the barrel. “Well, yeah. For the next few days, at least, the second task is all I’ll be thinking about.”

Blaise nodded, apparently resigned. “You’ll be there tomorrow, though, right?”

Harry frowned, racking his memory. “What’s happening tomorrow?”

Blaise narrowed his eyes, as though he didn’t quite believe that he didn’t know. “The February Eta Draconids meteor shower. It takes place every year, four months before Draco’s birthday.”

“Oh,” Harry said, feeling strangely guilty under Blaise’s scrutiny. “He never… He didn’t mention it.”

Harry had a sudden thought that Sirius may have mentioned a tradition of constellation celebration in the Black family. He had mentioned that Sirius—the brightest star in the Earth’s sky—was best visible in late February and that, when he was a boy, his parents organised celebrations for the star-gazing event.

Blaise nodded with a look of faint bemusement. “I’m not surprised that he didn’t mention, actually. He’s always a bit of a grumpy prick on his birthday. And the day of his constellation’s meteor shower is no different. Salazar knows why—he usually loves the attention.”

Harry smiled, nodding in agreement. Thinking about Draco, however, made Harry consider him from a different stance. The small area at the back of the Three Broomsticks suddenly felt very vacant without Draco. He had spent his mornings, most of his classes and every evening with Draco for weeks. Now, faced with the prospect of talking to a very attractive, very interested boy (if Blaise’s presumptuous smile and request for privacy were anything to rely on), Harry wanted nothing more than to be smothered under blankets in his dormitory, listening to Draco rant about their latest Potions assignment.

“Afterwards, though,” Blaise said. “You have a few months until the third task, right?”

“Oh, yes,” Harry said absently. “It’s not until the end of April, I think.”

“We should do something then,” Blaise said decidedly. “You can make up for standing me up.”

For some reason, Harry was not particularly interested in making up for anything other than forgetting about Draco’s namesake. “Yeah, fine,” he said distractedly. “I’d better get back to—er—Ernie now.”

He collected his Butterbeer and walked back towards the main bar, Blaise following closely behind him.

Blaise sneered lightly. “That Hufflepuff know-it-all?” he said incredulously.

A sharp sting of indignation rose in Harry’s throat. “He’s very nice, actually.”

Blaise raised an eyebrow at him, apparently amused. “Why don’t you come and sit with us instead?”

Harry followed his line of sight to where Blaise’s group of friends—including Draco—were sat. Though he liked Ernie and always had fun with Seamus and Dean, something in Harry’s chest stirred at the thought of joining them. He somehow knew that Draco wouldn’t appreciate that, however. He hadn’t looked impressed the last time Harry had approached Draco’s group of friends to ask Blaise to the Yule Ball—on the contrary, he had looked positively livid—and Harry didn’t want to sabotage his tentative friendship with Draco by making the same mistake. Gryffindors were indiscriminately brave; Slytherins protected only the ones they loved with every ounce of their selves and Harry didn’t want to wreak what he had with Draco by joining Draco with his people.

“I’m good,” Harry said, smiling tightly. “Just forgot that I have to meet my cousin so… Yeah, I’ll see you around, Blaise.”

Harry placed his empty tankard on the bar and handed two Sickles to Madam Rosmerta before rushing out of the Three Broomsticks. His cheeks flamed at the thought of Blaise’s startled expression as he made his way down the deserted main street. Most students were flittering between shops, picking up gifts and meeting friends and avoiding the forecasted showers.

Harry marched bitterly past Madam Puddifoot’s and into the new Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes shop. He busied himself with looking around at the endless products lining the shelves, the burst of colours, the puffs of smoke, and the delighted giggles from one corner of the shop.

His thoughts kept wandering back to Draco; he tried to justify leaving the Three Broomsticks for any reason other than to avoid Draco. Why should he care that Draco didn’t want him to mingle with his friends—or, rather, with Blaise? It wasn’t any of his business who Harry spent time with, even if Draco apparently didn’t approve. Besides, he was friends with Blaise. There was no reason for Draco to resent their relationship besides acting childishly protective over his clique.

He paid for a box of Weasleys' Famous Unlucky Dip and stuffed it into his pocket, sighing as he glanced outside to see the rain spattering against the windows in heavy droplets. He pushed the door open rather more harshly than necessary and marched out into the rain, dismissing the voice in his head—which sounded remarkably like his mother’s—telling him to wait until the rain had subsided. He trudged along the main pathway, past Honeydukes, and onto a side road that was partly sheltered by trees.

“Potter!”

Harry wheeled around at the familiar, slightly throaty voice. He tried to dismiss the way his heart leapt.

“Where are you going?” Draco huffed, jogging to meet him, covering his hair with a book called Magical Hieroglyphs and Logograms.

“Not sure your precious hair is worth covering with a book that could help us win the next task,” Harry said with more spite than he had intended.

Draco frowned at him but ignored the comment. “Where are you going?”

“Back to the castle,” he said shortly.

Draco remained silent. He met Harry’s long strides with ease as they left the main street. “I made progress on the carvings in the tree,” Draco said eventually. “I spent the entirety of this morning working on it. It looks like the symbols roughly translate to intra in ligno in Latin. That would mean that whatever we’re supposed to be looking for is inside the tree.”

Harry stopped abruptly in his tracks, shielding his eyes from the rain. “Inside the tree?”

“That’s what I said, Potter,” Draco said with surprising patience. He narrowed his eyes at Harry, searching his expression with something balanced between curiosity and concern.

The rain pounded on them, soaking the front of their robes and blocking their direct view. Heavy droplets dripped from Harry’s hair down his face. He shook his hair like a dog, something that prompted a faint smile on Draco’s face.

“We need to get shelter,” Draco said firmly as the downpour escalated. The dull, grey sky rumbled loudly and sent another deluge of rain across the village.

Harry nodded and beckoned Draco to a side road where the puddles were rapidly filling but significantly smaller. They leaped over the puddles and climbed over the precarious cobble wall around the centre of the village. Draco tugged him back to huddle under a large oak tree about half a mile west of the Shrieking Shack. The branches swayed in the wind and flung a bucketful of water on top of them.

“We can’t stay underneath here,” Harry huffed, sniffling loudly and blowing onto his dripping wands. “If there’s lightning it’ll hit a tree first.”

Draco squared his shoulders, nodding firmly. “Race you,” he called, breezing past Harry with a mischievous grin.

“Wipe that smile off your face, Malfoy!” Harry shouted above the howling wind. He sprinted up the sloping, overgrown grass surrounding the Shrieking Shack.

Drenched and panting but wearing similar grins, they reached the Shrieking Shack, huddling beneath the roof of the terrace.

“You never told me that tomorrow’s your constellation celebration,” Harry said. He hated how accusatory his tone was.

Draco scowled, though he didn’t look contrite. On the contrary, he looked deeply resentful. “Did Blaise tell you that?”

Harry tilted his head. “Does it matter who told me?”

“Yes,” he spat. Draco placed his hands above his head and flattened his hands on the roof. He stared hostilely around at the landscape and the louring sky above them. “I celebrate neither that date nor my birthday and Blaise knows that. He was just being a prick by mentioning it.” Draco dragged his finger along the decaying wood of the terrace. “Besides, nineteen is nothing to write home about.”

“You’re turning nineteen?” Harry exclaimed. For some reason the thought sent a sharp tangle of nerves to his stomach. There had to be reason for Draco’s age—and why he despised any mention of his birthday.

Draco whipped out his wand fiercely but didn’t move to cast a spell. Harry often found that, when angered, Draco’s first impulse was always to draw out his wand, even if he didn’t intend to use it.

Draco gritted his teeth and shoved his shoulder against the crumbling wall of the shack. Harry noticed that some rain droplets had clung to the tips of Draco’s eyelashes. “The rain is clearing up,” Draco said stiffly.

Harry cast his gaze to the chaotic rain striking the grassy Scottish landscape and heard the furious roar of thunder. With a glance at Draco’s stance and the glare that Draco hadn’t directed at him with any vigour in weeks, Harry decided against contradicting him.

They trundled back to the school, arriving—dripping wet and disgruntled—a half hour later. Draco had remained mostly silent, curiously stroking his wand the entire time and speaking only to cast a Silencing Charm on Edessa Skanderberg, who ridiculed them both.

“I’m taking a shower,” Harry announced when they reached their dormitory. He snatched a clean towel from the cupboard and walked straight into the bathroom without a second glance at Draco.

As he stepped beneath the steaming hot water, sighing, he could finally confront the question that had graced his every thought for the past half-hour: what was Draco’s story? His strange affinity for dragons, his relationship with his parents and, now, the revelation of his age. Either Draco had repeated a year at Hogwarts—which Harry highly doubted—or he had started at a late age. Which begged the question of why.

Harry sighed heavily and rinsed his hair beneath the searing hot water. Wearily wrapping a towel around his waist, he dragged his feet back into their dormitory to find Draco sitting on his desk, vacant stare following his miniature Scarlet-Tongue—which he had proudly informed Harry was called Pliny.

Draco lifted his gaze and his slightly rheumy eyes lit up. He glanced at Harry, expression coloured by prurient curiosity, before laying out his palm for Pliny to land on. He was surrounded by a tottering pile of Ancient Runes books, some weathered with foxed pages while others looked brand new.

Harry dressed quickly behind the hangings of his bed.

Draco broke the silence lingering between them. “I don’t celebrate my constellation’s meteor shower because it has negative connotations with my family. I don’t like celebrating my birthday because it reminds me of a bad memory.”

Harry dropped the shirt he had in his hand, chest constrained despite his lack of clothing at the heaviness of Draco’s voice.

“You may think that you deserve and explanation but I don’t intend to talk about it,” Draco said firmly.

His words seemed practiced, as though he had been contemplating them during the time that Harry spent in the shower. Which, Harry absently thought, he probably did. Harry had learned many things about Draco over the past months (and deduced many others) but he knew for certain that anything Draco said had a purpose. He didn’t talk for the sake of filling a void or a lull in conversation; if he talked to someone, he either had a genuine interest in them or thought he could gain something for himself by speaking with them. This was neither of those times. Draco was speaking to explain himself to Harry because he cared about what he thought.

Harry’s heart pounded in his chest and he busied his restless fingers with buttoning his shirt. How was he expected to respond? Thank Draco for his honesty? Draco would probably scoff loudly and jinx his lips together as an afterthought. He wouldn’t dream of prying further into Draco’s memory—from what Ron had mentioned, his father was a devout sympathiser to Voldemort’s cause. He had occupied a senior advisory role in the Ministry and, though not a Death Eater nor part of Voldemort’s inner circle, he had apparently assisted in the Ministry’s early downfall during Voldemort’s reign of terror. Harry couldn’t imagine what kind of childhood memories Draco possessed. Not that his upbringing could justify Draco’s rudeness and arrogance but, logically, Harry knew that not only being exposed to but residing in such an environment must have affected Draco.

Harry swallowed thickly and walked out from behind his hangings and over to him. Draco had hung his head, lightly kicking the desk below him and watching Pliny flutter in small circles.

“You don’t have to explain yourself right now,” Harry said. He lifted his hand, yearning to reach out and brush the hair out of Draco’s eyes. The prospect in itself was very simple but he couldn’t do it. He jerked his hand back pretending to snatch one of the Ancient Runes books instead.

Draco titled his head up and watched Harry carefully. He dragged his tongue over his lower lip languidly. Pulling himself up from the desk, Draco rounded it and stood behind it. “This one here,” Draco said, pointing towards the small triangular pattern Harry was pretending to examine. “It’s usually applied in Latin contexts. I’m guessing that’s why it’s on the tree, rather than an English translation, so that none of us will have an advantage in the task.”

Harry nodded, watching Draco’s long, slender finger follow the pattern and brush his wrist. His breath caught in his throat.

“And what about the three dots at the end of the carving?” Harry asked.

A hand held Harry’s shoulder and his breath halted in his throat. His heart seemed to stop with it. Draco leaned over him, pressing against his back and grabbing a second book.

“This here,” Draco said, breathing closely to his ear, “is the symbol resembling the Latin for ‘inside’ or ‘within’. Hence my theory that whatever we have to fight will be inside the tree.”

Harry nodded. He felt Draco’s hand belatedly release his shoulder.

“Well, you’re studying Herbology,” Draco said, tossing his damp hair out of his face. “What kind of creatures live inside pine trees?”

“None that I know of,” Harry said, suddenly finding a conscious stream of thought at the loss of Draco’s touch. “But it’s not exactly a pine tree, is it? There could be any manner of animals inside once the conditions in it are right. It could be hollow for all we know.”

Draco glanced up, something mischievous igniting in his eyes as he caught Harry’s gaze. He smirked. “Well, there’s only one way to find out.”

 

*

 

The squelching of mud beneath their feet and the way Draco had clutched Harry’s shoulder to prevent his fall alerted them that they had almost reached the tree. Hunching beneath a low branch and toeing carefully around the deeper patches of mud, they made their way to the thick trunk. Draco inspected the rune drawings while Harry touched the tree trunk, trying to break a piece of the bark off to inspect it.

“Ah!” he cried, jolting his hand away and nursing it.

“What’s the matter?” Draco asked urgently.

“Don’t touch the bark,” Harry said. “It stings.”

Draco raised his wand and carefully lifted a thin etching of loose bark from the trunk of the tree, levitating it to land at his feet. The gap left behind in the trunk was instantly replaced by an exact replica of the bark.

Harry sighed and glanced up to find Draco frowning at him. Rays of moonlight passed through the gaps between the branches and the sheen of sweat on Draco’s pale skin shone. Suddenly, the excruciating stinging of his finger felt like a mild throbbing pain. Harry desperately wanted to reach forward, to touch Draco’s cheekbone and drag his finger down Draco’s neck, to press gentle kisses along it and around his tightened jawline.

Potter,” Draco said sharply. “Were you hallucinating there?”

“No, no,” Harry said, relieved that the darkness hid his blush. He shook his head and smiled self-deprecatingly. “I’m fine.”

Draco eyed him, as though he didn’t quite believe him. “Fine.”

Harry returned his attention to the tree, forcing himself to concentrate. “Keep watch for me, would you? I’m going to blast open one of the branches.”

“What? No,” Draco said frantically. “If you leave any kind of damage the adjudicators and McGonagall will all know that we were interfering with one of the tasks beforehand. It could disqualify us.”

“You just tried to tear off some of the trunk,” Harry said indignantly.

“A small piece,” Draco said. “And it didn’t even work. We don’t know what’s inside there.”

“So you’re willing to just wait until the task itself to find out,” Harry said incredulously.

“Yes, if it means we’re actually staying in the competition!” Draco said. He gritted his teeth, fist clenching around his wand. He looked like he wanted to retort until he determinedly turned on his heel and marched over to his broomstick. Not bothering to wait for Harry, Draco off from the ground and soaring above the treetops.

Harry followed him, exasperated. His stomach flared at Draco’s volatility, the extent of his sense of self-importance and his illogical insistence on defending his own views. Harry ignored the voice in his head whispering that he was equally as stubborn.

They landed hastily, storming side-by-side back up to the castle, reaching the Right Tower faster than usual.

“Well that was totally useless,” Draco muttered, marching up the winding staircase that led to their dormitory.

“Don’t blame me. It was your idea to go back there tonight,” Harry snapped.

“Because I thought we could figure something else out about the fucking clue!” Draco exclaimed. “All you managed to do was get yourself stung by a fucking tree trunk.”

Harry gritted his teeth. “And all you managed to do was read a couple of drawings carved into that tree.”

“Quarrelling like an old married couple,” Edessa Skanderberg commented loudly.

Silencio.”

“You don’t exactly seem interested in at least trying to work out this fucking clue without resorting to force,” Harry said sharply. “Why don’t you just go back to reading your fucking Ancient Runes books?”

“Well, why don’t you go back to drooling over Blaise Zabini? Sounds like a better use of your time than getting stung by a fucking tree,” Draco said spitefully.

“What the fuck?” Harry spat, pausing on the stairs and narrowing his eyes at Draco. “I can’t believe you don’t think that this tournament is my first priority.” He balled his fists and glared at Draco. “Ever since I asked him to the ball, you’ve found every possible way to make sure we don’t get together. I don’t even like him but you’re too protective over your little posy of sycophants to realise that I’m not a threat to it.”

Draco’s eyebrows furrowed together. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about the fact that you’re acting like a typical fucking Slytherin,” Harry said, suddenly spurred into another burst of anger. “You protect your own group—Blaise and all those other Slytherins—and prioritise them to make sure I don’t go tainting your little group of friends.”

Draco gaped at him. Something in Draco seemed to click and he expertly masked his expression, rising to full height and squaring his shoulders. “If you haven’t realised by this stage that I consider you one of those people that I feel the need to protect, then let me make something perfectly clear,” Draco said, his voice firm and ringing. “You’re sorely mistaken for believing that protecting Blaise is the reason why I don’t want you with him.”

Harry stared up at him, watching the deep green glean in his eyes disappear behind his pupils. His throat suddenly felt suffocatingly tight. “Well… good,” he said shortly. With a heavy head and Draco’s voice ringing in his ear—’I consider you one of those people that I feel the need to protect’—Harry pulled his lower lip between his teeth, marching past Draco and inside their dormitory.

Chapter Text

The day before the second task brought foul weather; pitiless rain and a sullen sky that promised further rainfall. They had visited the tree twice more since the evening before Draco’s constellation celebration, though both visits had left them frustrated and anxious. Attending classes, though mandatory, was fruitless; Harry simply couldn’t focus on anything besides the impending task. He felt underprepared, compulsively racking his brain and repeating their clue during every lesson, every spare moment and late at night.

Spiral downward and dive

He added a handful of scurvy grass to his Befuddlement Draught and stirred the mixture hastily. He caught Professor Slughorn’s sharp gaze and pretended to be glancing at the potions cupboard behind him.

Fall to the earth, find your key in disguise.

He chopped the sneezewort plant rather more aggressively than necessary and dropped it into the potion, watching the pale blue shade turn to a mink brown.

Rising in the east… Only then will the sun show this beast

“Merlin,” he breathed. His knife clattered on the desk, the sound cutting through the air, and a dozen heads whipped around to stare at him.

Harry stalked across the classroom to where Draco was focused on slicing his sneezewort plant in equal pieces. Harry’s cheeks burned at the unabashed stares he received from Blaise and the other Slytherins seated near him. “I need to talk to you,” he muttered urgently in Draco’s ear.

Draco lifted his gaze, following the firm line of Harry’s jaw and his steely eyes. “Does it have to be now?”

Harry was suddenly aware of how close they were. He could see bruised, purple rings beneath Draco’s eyes and his pale skin was cracked from the biting wind that morning. “Yes, right now,” Harry breathed.

Draco looked up, smiling servilely at Slughorn, “Professor?” he asked. “Could Harry and I please be excused for a moment?”

Harry startled at hearing Draco call him by first name. Had they arrived at that point yet, Harry thought, or was he merely maintaining a pretence of their friendship for Slughorn? He tried not to dwell on the way Draco said his name; he enunciated every syllable, making it sound reverent yet slightly rough around the edges. It shouldn’t have made his heart leap like it did.

Slughorn looked rather surprised but nodded nonetheless. “Of course, my boy,” he said, pulling at the buttons of his waistcoat which were straining over the bulge of his belly. “Do make sure you’re back before the bell chimes, though. You’ll need your essays returned.”

Draco nodded tightly and dragged Harry from the room. Harry shut the door to the dungeons and sighed, closing his eyes to avoid looking directly at Draco’s insistent stare. Draco tapped his foot restlessly, the sound reverberating through the corridor.

“The tree,” Harry said. “The clue… It says that we have to fly until we reach the peak—the highest tree, that is—and then spiral downward.”

Draco nodded blankly. “We’ve already established that.”

“You said that what we’re looking for is within the bark but it stings to touch from the outside. I think… I think we have to fly inside the tree,” Harry said discordantly. “The bark stung me because we’re not supposed to look at the exterior of the tree. We’re supposed to go through the inside to get our clue.”

“That… that makes sense,” Draco said defeatedly, as though he couldn’t bear the thought of admitting that Harry was right. He slumped against the stone wall beside him. “And we have to go in from the top, right? The trunk will be wide enough to fit our broomsticks, at least.”

Harry nodded. Though he finally felt lighter than he had in weeks, the immediateness of the task the next day negated the consolation that he had a plan to grapple with.

“If it’s right, that is, then we’ll have solved an important part,” Draco said eventually. “The whole inside of the trunk will have to be hollow so that we’re both able to fit through. We just need to manage to blast some sort of hole through the top of the tree that’ll allow us to go through it.”

They sighed simultaneously, staring at the opposite wall, their shoulders lightly brushing off each other.

“What do you think is at the base of the tree?” Harry asked. He thought back to the roots that crawled beneath the pools of mud around the tree. The trunk was easily was wide as two broomsticks, though, for some reason, he didn’t think that they would meet any kind of solid earth.

“I’d imagine it’s some kind of cave beneath the ground.”

The bell chimed loudly and Draco sauntered back to the door of their Potions classroom. He leaned over his shoulder and caught Harry’s eye. “We’re well used to those, though,” he said, winking.

Harry was thankful that Draco walked inside the classroom then because he didn’t think he could stand Draco seeing his disbelieving gape. Since when had Draco Malfoy winked at him? Perhaps it was the dingy dungeon light, or his recent sleep-deprivation, or it might have simply been Draco’s relief that they had reached a firm theory about the task, but it certainly seemed out of character.

Harry shook his head and trudged back into the dungeon, dropping his gaze to avoid meeting Draco’s eye. A wink didn’t mean anything, he reasoned, helping Ron place the ingredients back on the shelves. It’s not always a flirtatious gesture, is it? His own father winks, for Merlin’s sake. It couldn’t possibly mean anything beyond Draco’s acknowledgement of their mutual (and rather unfortunate) familiarity with caves. Linking that with anything other than the current state of their relationship—something slightly more than unwilling companionship—would be ridiculous. He sighed unevenly and focused on the task ahead of them.

 

*

 

“Mobiliarbus,” Harry said, flicking his wand. The mahogany floorboard beside him broke from its restraints and levitated in the air. He directed it, allowing it to hover above his head before thrusting his wand forwards. The wood broke into two equal halves. “Reparo.”

“When you’ve finished destroying our perfectly good floorboards, we need to talk about this,” Draco said from where he was laying across his bed, absorbed in a piece of parchment spread out on his stack of pillows.

“I’m not destroying them,” Harry said, sheepishly dropping the floorboard back into its position. “The Mobiliarbus Charm can move and break any tree or material made of wood. Hermione thought it would be useful tomorrow.”

“That’s what we need to talk about,” Draco sighed. “Tomorrow.” He rubbed his eyes tiredly and yawned into the crook of his elbow.

Harry pulled himself up from the floor and dragged his desk chair over to Draco’s bed, sitting down tentatively. “What?”

Draco remained silent, stroking behind Abrax’s ears instead. “Last time I underestimated what they were going to throw at us,” Draco said eventually. “Even if you happen to be right about going inside the trunk of the tree, that’s certainly not going to be the only thing they will throw at us.”

Draco sunk his teeth into his lower lip. Harry couldn’t tear his eyes away even if he wanted to.

“The Larsons and Beauxbatons girls are probably going to be in the same venue as us this time and it’s… it’s going to be different,” Draco said emphatically. He creased and folded the parchment frantically, as though trying to distract himself. “I… I need us to be on the same page because there won’t be time for fighting once we’re there. We need to undoubtably win this task.”

Harry watched Draco for a moment, allowing the singularity and starkness of Draco’s determination, his earnestness, to register in his thoughts. He knew that Draco was ambitious, willing to go to great lengths to prove himself, but he had never imagined that Draco might be the first of them to properly acknowledge their situation and offer, what? A truce? An offer of camaraderie? A promise, a pledge, even, to each other?

Whatever it was, Harry found himself drawn to the sincerity of Draco’s voice. “Yes,” he said simply. “We’re a team, right?” He despised the slight tremor in his voice, wanting desperately to replicate the same decisiveness of Draco’s tone.

Draco narrowed his eyes at him, searching, wordlessly probing. He nodded tightly.

Harry smiled, trying to quash the burst of delirium in his chest. “Is there anything else?”

Draco shook his head. Harry felt Draco’s eyes watching him as he crawled into bed. He decided against drawing the hangings around him that night and allowed the swollen moon to cast long, silvery shadows across his bedsheets. It also gave him a clearer view of Draco on the other side of the dormitory, but that was neither here nor there.

 

*

 

When they arrived at the Forbidden Forest the next morning, the trees were covered in a heavy, almost impenetrable fog. It hung across the entirety of the landscape, drowning the forest in a soporific stillness.

The crowds around the edge of the forest, however, were anything but still. They were gathered in tall, narrow stands, sporting face paint and waving banners, shouting and chanting above the protests of a very disgruntled Professor McGonagall.

Harry followed Draco—who was glaring petulantly at the fog—to the small group gathered on the dewy grass beside the nearest row of trees. Six battered-looking broomsticks lay inconspicuously to the left of the group. Huddled together and glancing around suspiciously stood Clara and Julia while Leif and Alexander were resolutely ignoring each other, instead focusing on MacFarlan, who stood between both teams.

“Greenwood, a magical inner tree bark found mainly in the Grand Banks in Newfoundland, the Atacama Coast in Chile and Po Valley in Italy—three of the foggiest places on earth,” Draco muttered, as though consoling himself that they had been prepared for one aspect.

“Draco! Harry! Excellent, excellent,” MacFarlan exclaimed, rubbing his palms together conspiratorially. “Now, the task will begin in a few minutes. I just need to inform you of a couple of things first.” He pulled out a short piece of parchment from the pocket of his midnight blue robes and read aloud. “For the second task, the champions will be required to use any means at their disposal to find one—or more—of the three particular objects located in the Forbidden Forest. Any one of these objects will help them in the third task. The first team to successfully retrieve one object will win the task. Six broomsticks will be made available for the champions and they are advised to utilise them.”

Harry felt Draco press his lips to mutter into his ear. He felt his breath catch in his throat.

“As soon as the whistle blows,” Draco said through gritted teeth. “Accio one of the brooms and kick off straight away in the direction of the tree. I’ll follow behind you.”

A deep, unpleasantly sensation of dread dropped in Harry’s stomach. He nodded, albeit reluctantly, however. One glance at Draco’s expression told him that this situation was exactly what Draco had in mind the previous night.

He knew the general direction of the tree, had led Draco towards it the first time and followed the same route many others. Obscured by a thick fog, however, the thought of seeking it out seemed hopeless.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Achernar’s rather unenthusiastic voice called over the roars of the crowd. “The second task of the Triwizard Tournament is about to begin. Champions, please take your positions.”

Harry stood next to Draco—who was slightly crouched, preparing to sprint toward the brooms—and surreptitiously placed his hand on the faint outline of his wand beneath his robes. The forest above him suddenly looked insurmountable, the fog settling lower around them.

“On my whistle, now!” MacFarlan called. “Three—two—one—”

He gave sharp blast of a whistle and Harry jolted out of his stupor.

Accio broomstick!” he yelled.

One of the bedraggled brooms shot through the air just as Draco and the rest of the champions charged forwards. He frantically climbed atop of the broom and stomped down on the wet grass, clinging to the broom.

He soared higher, through the light layer of fog. The broom was a fraction as agile and quick as his Firebolt Premier but he steadied himself, remaining low enough to brush the tips of his shoes on the uppermost branches.

A flash of green light shot above his head, penetrating the fog. One of the other champions was near him. The shot was poorly aimed but, from its intensity, Harry knew that someone was within duelling distance. His heart thumped in his chest and he raced faster.

A second flash passed his ear this time and Harry plunged into the foliage below him to avoid it. He shoved the sharp branches off him, wincing as they scraped across his bare skin, and climbed higher. He frantically veered in the opposite direction, whipping around behind him to see if he could make out another person, a shadow, perhaps. The fog, however, was even and profoundly concealing.

Harry gripped his broom and bent lower, speeding north-east, where he knew the tree was located. It was infuriatingly disorienting trying to make his way through the fog to find the tree; the only similar feeling was walking down a familiar set of stairs in pitch darkness. A heavy weight—ironically reminiscent of the fog weighing him down—settled on his shoulders. It wasn’t until ten minutes into his journey—his initial adrenaline morphing into anticipation—that he realised what was wrong; Draco hadn’t found him yet.

He flew higher, naively hoping that the fog might fray into heavier and weaker patches above the trees. After futilely searching and finding that the fog did not cease or deplete, he plummeted back down, closer to the treetops. Dejected but more determined than ever to find the tree, he raced ahead.

Thunderous red and blue light crashed above him and he gripped tightly to his broom. He knew that he should be approaching the tree any minute, he just needed to remain alert and near to the treetops.

A cry broke through the heavy fog above him. The familiar depth of the voice startled Harry. It belonged to Draco.

Harry craned his neck and looked frantically above him. The blue light was subsiding and the red was flashing, pulsating through the fog.

AGH!”

Harry didn’t consider the repercussions, didn’t even think about the fact that he might lose his path towards the tall tree and simply climbed higher, approaching the light with his wand raised. Frantic images of Draco raced through his mind, pinning every possible scenario to that agonizing shout; Draco injured on his broom, crying in pain, his wand falling to the ground, Draco following his wand.

He couldn’t see Draco, could merely make out the shadow and the origin of the blue light injecting the thick fog.

Flipendo,” Harry bellowed.

The blue light subsided instantly and he heard a panicked shout. It sounded feminine. He heard her struggle—one of the Beauxbatons girls apparently trying to clutch back onto her broom—and he darted through the fog surrounding him, squinting desperately to find Draco.

He heard an aggrieved grunt and shot through the fog towards the sound. Draco was hunched over and apparently injured, gripping to his broom with all the strength he could muster.

A purple light bolted between them, brushing off Harry’s thigh and setting it on fire. “Aguamenti,” he muttered, wincing as an icy jet of water sprung from the tip of his wand and soothed his skin.

A second purple light darted towards them but he blocked it easily, clutching his broomstick to steady himself. “Impedimenta,” he shouted, pointing his wand in the general direction of the girl.

“She can see,” Draco gritted out, still hunched over. “The two of them… they can see through the fog. I’ve tried any spell I can think of for better visibility or to clear the fog nearest to be but it’s impossible.”

Harry didn’t have time to ask how the Beauxbatons girls could possibly see through the fog when an enormous light, forked like lightning, shot into the sky.

“We need to get out of here,” Draco muttered. “I couldn’t duel her in this fucking condition.”

Harry nodded and he motioned for Draco to follow him. They dived north-east, returning to Harry’s original route. Draco kept grimacing, his face contorting with pain. He was significantly slower than Harry on his broom, and seemed to veer slightly to the right.

The further they continued, nearing closer to the tree, the fog became impossibly heavier; it seemed to wrap around them. Harry could only make out Draco’s faint outline behind him from a mere two metres away.

“You shouldn’t have followed me,” Draco said under his breath. “I told you to find the tree. I would have gone there.”

“I know,” Harry said. His thigh still burned with the slightest of movements and he had to clench his leg muscle around his broom to remain steady. “I heard you shout, though. Couldn’t just leave.”

Draco remained silent.

Harry plunged lower to the treetops. An enormous trunk emerged from the fog and he swerved rapidly, crashing into one of the pine branches. A sharp stinging sensation ran through his tangled limbs. He cried out and tried to disentangle himself, reaching for his broomstick above his head. Harry extended his arm desperately, fingertips brushing the handle of the broom. The stinging was rendering his leg excruciating and he couldn’t bear to try and pull it out of its position, lodged between two branches.

A hand was thrust into his face. “Come on, grab on,” Draco said urgently.

Harry gripped Draco’s hand and was heaved with astonishing strength out of the branches. He grabbed his broomstick at the last second, shoving it between his legs and grasping it with all of his might. Harry kicked off from one of the branches with the sole of his foot and followed Draco, both of them soaring higher until they reached the very top of the tree.

“It doesn’t look like anyone’s been here yet,” Harry said. He winced at another jolt of pain in his thigh. The stinging seemed to have exasperated his burning thigh and he couldn’t even drop his gaze to inspect it. The pain was lurching through him in sharp, abrupt surges.

“No,” Draco said, inspecting the tree. “That spell you were practicing last night… Try that.”

Harry nodded tersely. “You’re going to have to do it too,” he said. “I haven’t tried with something this size before.”

They wordlessly raised their wands and flicked them in unison, saying “Mobiliarbus.”

The top of the pine tree shook and shifted, pines spurting around it. It broke away from the main trunk, as though sliced, and raised up between them. Harry had to grip the handle of his broomstick to keep from falling with the force of levitating it. He caught Draco’s eye and, with a sharp flicking motion of their wands, the top of the tree was flung down. It crashed through the trees below them, sending tremors through the ground and disturbing the fog.

“Salazar,” Draco sighed. Harry thought he was referring to the fact that the other champions would have heard them and were probably already charging towards them until he followed Draco’s line of sight.

The enormous tree trunk was entirely hollow, the circumference thinner than most of their textbooks and the centre wide enough to comfortably fit them both.

“We need to go,” Harry said. He hunched over his broom from the strength of another jolt of prickling pain through his thigh.

Draco watched him carefully and nodded.

They flew higher until they could achieve an almost vertical angle with their brooms. Harry stared down into the heavy abyss of fog before plunging through the trunk of the tree without a second thought. Instantly, the fog vanished and was replaced by a heavy, stomach-churning darkness. The walls of the trunk were foul-smelling and coated in a thick layer of sap. It was confining in a way that the fog wasn’t.

Ignoring the same eerily enclosing sense, he plunged deeper, gaining speed against his own accord.

“We should be nearing the base, so slow down slightly,” Draco called. His voice echoed through the hollow interior of the tree, distorting and confusing the reverberations.

Harry pulled back, whimpering into his shoulder as the flesh covering the muscle of his thigh burned. He clutched his broomstick and jolted up to stabilise it. He could make out the base of the trunk, tried to time his landing, until another searing pain struck his thigh and he fell with a crash into a shallow puddle.

He heard Draco trundle to the ground beside him, gripping the wall to steady himself. Harry pulled himself to his feet and glanced around; it seemed that they were underground, surrounded by a low cave dripping with sap.

Lumos.”

The walls of the cave were drenched with a sticky sap.

“This better fucking lead somewhere,” Draco muttered.

They inched down the cave, which was low enough that they both had to hunch down. Wetness spread across Harry’s shoulders and down his back as the heavy sap dripped onto them.

Hunched over, the burning pain down his thigh was agonising. He feared that the stinging had travelled to his groin as the entire area between his hip and thigh was inflamed.

“Potter, if you need to stop then do. Don’t be a fucking martyr when we’ve get to find anything of use.”

Harry shook his head. “It’s fine. I’m fine,” he said through a clenched jaw.

“Lean against the wall while I survey further,” Draco commanded.

Heaving a sigh, Harry complied, slumping against the wall. It struck Harry that it wasn’t quite a cave so much as a continuation of the tree trunk. It had the same barky texture as he assumed the inside of a tree would, though the ground was uneven, covered in small boulders.

He ripped the top of his charred trousers and examined his thigh. The burn was not gaping but the flesh was scattered with throbbing, stinging blisters. He felt his stomach lurch and had to force himself to take slow breath. He raised his wand shakily.

A large, ghostly pale hand with a thin gash along the wrist covered his own. Harry swallowed thickly.

“Let me do it,” Draco said gently. He narrowed his eyes at Harry’s wound, surveying the most severe blisters. Draco lifted his wand made a long sweeping motion and muttered “Reparifors.”

The purple-white light soothed the burning pain instantly, replacing it with a dull throb.

“Thanks,” Harry muttered. He pulled himself to his feet hastily and, even in the dim light, caught Draco’s nod.

They continued down the tunnel, pausing only to stretch their aching back muscles. It wasn’t until about a half hour into their journey down the tunnel—which was probably only a mile in length due to their unbearably slow pace—when the reality of the task struck him.

“Where is this even leading?” Harry said exasperatedly. “There’s supposed to be a time limit on this fucking task and we’ve gotten nowhere.”

Draco didn’t respond. Instead, Harry noticed, he, had begun to sink to his knees, clutching them and apparently rocking back and forth, as though deranged. He seemed to be embracing himself as a kind of self-soothing gesture.

“Malfoy,” Harry said cautiously, feeling slightly like he did when he had approached the Scarlet-Tongue dragon for the first time. Suddenly a wave of harrowing despair swept him to his knees. Harry racked his mind frantically; they couldn’t possibly be required to expel Dementors, could they? He wasn’t particularly cold, nor depressed; he merely felt desperate. The ground below him seemed to come alive, the small boulders shaking and growing taller—

“Pogrebins,” Harry exclaimed, drawing out his wand.

The rocks began to transform completely, rising higher. The foot-tall demons, their heads formed like rocks, began to crawl over to Draco, identifying him as the weaker of the two.

Stupefy,” Harry said, pointing his wand at a hoard of them climbing over to sink their razor-like teeth into him. He clambered to his feet and knocked back a second pogrebin attempting to climb onto his back. “Draco! Draco, get up. The rocks… They’re Pogrebins.”

Draco startled and kicked one of the demons that had latched onto his foot. He scrambled to his feet, wand raised. “Stupefy,” he said. He stumbled over to Harry and they rushed down the path, trying not to tumble over the uneven slope.

“What’s a… Pogrebin?” Draco said, panting lightly. “They can’t be native to Britain or I would have encountered them.” Draco seemed to take special care, stepping over them as lightly as possible, as though afraid to disturb them.

“They’re demons, I think. Disguise themselves as rocks and create a sense of despair in anyone near them. Then they attack.” Harry winced as a strange pressure spread throughout his thigh. “I only know about them because I had to compare their effects to Dementors in this essay—"

A small, green light emerged in the distance and Harry scrambled to whip out his wand. The light gained speed and enlarged, charging at them. Harry blocked the bolt of light expertly, sending it crashing into the ceiling of the tunnel and sending shards of prickling wood and thick droplets of sap around them.

“We need to get out of here,” Draco said urgently, motioning at the hole above them. Craning their necks, they could make out the forest floor above them and the heavy fog that was painted across it. The fog began to seep into the tunnel, distorting their view.

“No,” Harry said, battling over the heap of bark and wisps of fog. “We have to keep going down here. It’s what the clues pointed to.”

A second bolt of light bolted towards them and Harry barely had enough time to block it, directing it above him once more. “They’re getting closer,” he muttered.

Harry felt a weight on his shoulders, craned to see Draco placing his wand over his shoulder, directing it around the slight bend of the tunnel. “Stupefy!”

The sound of a shout and a heavy thud in the near distance travelled through the tunnel.

“Come on,” Harry muttered. He held his wand firmly in front of him and climbed over the second stack of rubble. Anticipation crawled into his every movement; he was expecting a second spell to come rocketing towards them, prepared to defend them both. It never came.

They came across Leif, stunned and drenched in sap—something that made Draco smile rather vengefully. Harry grimaced.

“Stop admiring your work, you sadist,” Harry muttered, tugging him further down the tunnel. He ignored the way his hand burned as his skin brushed off Draco’s; clammy and slightly sticky from leaning against the walls of the tunnel. “What else about the clue is there?”

Draco coughed roughly before repeating the end of their clue in a rich tone that seemed to reverberate off the walls. “Search high, higher, roam the skies. Fall to the earth, find your key in disguise.

“Key in disguise,” Harry said thoughtfully. He raised his wand higher, above their heads and made a short, flicking motion. “Revelio.”

The entire roof lit up in a soft, yellow light. It bathed the tunnel around them in an ethereal light, as though they were in the centre of a honey-glazed doughnut.

“Merlin,” Draco breathed in his ear.

Harry startled at how close Draco was. He grinned sheepishly. Draco didn’t seem to notice, however; he was frantically wiping away the sap from the roof, staring intently at it. Harry crouched beside him and then he saw exactly what Draco was captivated by. The entire inside of the tunnel had tiny markings, engravings in the wood just like the ones they had seen on its exterior.

“What does it say?” Harry asked excitedly.

The markings, it seemed, repeated in a simple pattern above and below them. Wiping the sap away, he spotted the same four symbols replicated around them; it was strangely maddening.

“They… they’re words of encouragement,” Draco said, narrowing his eyes. “It’s similar to Old Latin, actually. It says something like ‘just within reach’.”

Harry nodded frantically. “Okay, that’s… that’s good,” he said. In reality, his heart soared at the prospect of them being near the end, their object within reach.

Draco caught Harry’s eye, alive and shining in the blurring light from his wand. Draco smiled faintly.

AGH!” a shout broke the stillness. “Au secoursClara!”

The voice was high-pitched and maniacal and they heard a frenzied thudding sound. Suddenly, the tunnel shook violently. Smoke—black, heavy, scalding smoke—billowed down the tunnel towards them. Harry only had time to catch Draco’s eye before they both sprinted down the tunnel.

They stumbled and tripped, still hunched. Draco caught some of the smoke in his lungs and spluttered, coughing harshly. Sap, it seemed, was highly flammable. A shower of sparks within the smoke latched onto the walls of the tunnel and set it alight. The fire was furious and incessant, travelling down the tunnel at an alarming speed.

Draco doubled over, his congested coughs making Harry’s heart twinge. Harry saw a tiny glimmer of brightness—an almost enticing fire—charging down the tunnel. He reached out and snatched Draco’s hand, jerking him down the rest of the tunnel.

“We’re almost there!” Harry shouted, though he had awful visibility in the smoke and couldn’t see more than a metre ahead of him. The smoke was threatening to suffocate them both and Harry had to hold his breath, his eyes burning as sparks of hot sap dripped onto the wood.

Draco’s hand was slipping in his own; Harry could feel it breaking free, could hear Draco coughing spasmodically, wheezing and gasping. Harry’s chest felt like an irreconcilable weight and the lack of oxygen was making his head spin frantically.

He beat his hand back and forth, crying out for Draco to grab a hold of him. He fell to his knees and snatched what felt like a piece of fabric. Through the hazy smoke, he made out a body, could feel a weight, and Harry jerked his hand up, dragging the body he knew to be Draco’s with him. He saw a pair of watery, bloodshot eyes stare helplessly at him before Draco clutched Harry’s shoulder, apparently dragging himself along the floor, and pulled himself to his feet. They stumbled further down the tunnel, reaching ahead of them desperately.

Suddenly, the smoke vanished. It was as though it had been vacuumed directly out of the tunnel and all that surrounded them were burning remains.

Draco,” Harry wheezed. He blinked rapidly behind him, clutching the wall of the tunnel. Harry whipped around and spotted Draco on his knees, facing away from him. Harry dragged his feet, almost crying with the agonising pain in his thigh. That was when he saw it.

Shining, like a derisive beacon of hope, was a golden compass. It stood on top of a shelf-like, jagged piece of wood in the tunnel and completely unscathed from the raging smoke.

Harry turned to watch Draco’s expression, one of confused joy and shock. His eyes were inflamed and his skin was covered in a layer of soot. Draco coughed wheezily, dust escaping his mouth in sharp puffs. Draco turned to face him and gave Harry a watery smile.

“Must be it,” Draco said, rather redundantly. His voice was strained and rough, the sound causing Harry to reach out, placing a hand on Draco’s shoulder. The muscle was rigid under his touch.

Draco reached out and grabbed the compass. Harry pried it out of his hands, inspecting it carefully. He sighed. “What now?”

Draco shook his head regretfully.

They had both lost their broomsticks somewhere between landing in the tunnel and finding the Pogrebins.

“Why don’t we… Let’s just at out of this fucking tunnel first,” Harry said.

Draco cracked a small smile and allowed Harry to help him to his feet.

“We can’t actually be far from the edge of the forest,” Draco mused. “I mean, the tree was about a mile and a half in the forest, and the tunnel must’ve been about that length, going in opposite direction.”

His suspicions were confirmed as Harry cast a Bombarda above them and ringing applause and cheers filled the air. Harry heard a horn blast and could almost make out the tune of one of the more familiar chants he had heard in the days following the first task. He shared a smile with Draco, who was beaming despite his watering eyes.

Draco clambered out of the hole above them and hoisted Harry up, placing his hand beneath Harry’s thigh to lift it. Though Harry’s focus was on the piercing pain jolting through his thigh, he caught Draco’s eye and couldn’t help but smile. They had done it—together.

The pair hobbled through the trees at the edge of the forest, wandering further west and towards the shouts and applause. The fog had turned to mere wisps and seemed to be burning off in the midday sun. Suddenly, through the foliage, the stands came into view. Harry felt like crying out with relief. He could make out the bright colours and the banners, the shouts of “Tommo and Malfoy beat the Durmstrangs by miles!”

Their arrival caused an outrageous amount of cheering; students were jumping on the rickety benches and shouting, while other were clapping a steady rhythm above their heads. All he could spot were endless proud, admiring smiles. There was only one that truly captured his attention, however.

“Do you see any of the others?” Draco asked quietly.

Harry had to lean in to hear him properly over the roaring crowd. He shook his head. “Could be with Madam Pomfrey, though,” Harry said. He found, however, that he didn’t much care if they had arrived last; the relief that washed over him was compensation enough.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” MacFarlan’s voice rang through the stands. Harry spotted McGonagall smiling through pursed lips at his deafening voice. “May I welcome the second pair of champions back with their object for the final task—the Hogwarts champions Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy!”

The applause erupted once again but Harry caught Draco’s resolved, but disappointed sigh. Draco held up the golden compass regardless and smiled around at the crowd. Harry watched as Draco’s eyes roamed across the stands, absorbing the moment of glorious victory. Draco’s eyes, then, landed on Harry and his smile grew.

“Come on,” Draco said. He nodded to where Madam Pomfrey was bustling over to them, flanked by Professors McGonagall and Longbottom.

Before either of them could register what exactly had happened, two hospital stretchers appeared behind Harry and Draco and shoved firmly into their calves, forcing them both to lie atop of them. They were swiftly carried behind the tall stands to a small tent, where Madam Pomfrey had apparently set up a small medical station.

After hastily clearing Draco’s lungs of residual smoke, she attended to Harry’s thigh. He could only lie back and glance sporadically at Draco lying next to him. Harry could see the silhouette of two others behind a small curtain—one was lying on a stretcher similar to his own while another was crouched over the bed, apparently talking.

“It’s the Beauxbatons girls,” Harry sighed. “They got back before us.”

He had almost anticipated that it would be them—he knew they were vastly underestimated—but he had hoped that the Durmstrang boys would prevail to even out the score.

Before Draco could respond beyond an affirmative grunt, a group of about seven raced into the tent, some with manic smiles, others with concerned frowns. Harry spotted Ron ambling over to him, wide eyes disbelieving and a large poster—which looked suspiciously like something Hermione might have made—hanging limply at him side.

“Harry!” Ron exclaimed, essentially jumping on top of him to tackle Harry into a hug, much to Madam Pomfrey’s disapproval. “We were so worried when you just charged straight into the bloody fog and Ginny was sitting near McGonagall and she said something about a fire and— Merlin’s beard, mate!” Ron shook his head exasperatedly. “Hermione said for a moment that the fog might be poisonous or something but you just flew straight in!”

Harry smiled and nodded against Ron’s shoulder. “I’m alright, Ron,” he sighed. “The actual task was fine, it was just the fire at the end that was the bad bit.”

Ron’s face became grave and he shook his head regretfully.

A second horn sounded and Harry heard MacFarlan’s voice announce the Larsons’ arrival. At the same time, Ginny and Hermione—apparently taking the opportunity to break into the tent—charged towards him.

“Harry, mate, you total tosspot!” Ginny exclaimed, pulling him into a tight hug. “How in the name of Merlin did you know where that tree was? McGonagall spent the whole time talking to Flitwick about how you just went straight into the fog, like you already knew where you were going.”

Hermione hummed beside Ginny. “Yes,” he said thoughtfully. “You and Malfoy always seem to take the difficult route but it always works in your favour, eventually.”

Harry grappled for an answer for a moment until he was silenced by a large hand curving into his lower back. Harry turned to find Draco startlingly close to him—he had apparently crossed the room in mere seconds to stand behind Harry—his hand wandering unknowingly down Harry’s back.

“The difficult route? Why?” Draco said in a rough voice. “How did the others find the tree?”

Ginny frowned at Draco but his tone didn’t hint at any visible reservation. “The Durmstrang Dummies flew above the fog. It cleared up about fifty feet high and I heard McGonagall say that there was some sort of pattern in the fog that lead them to the tree. Something like that, at least,” Ginny said, shrugging.

“Yes,” Hermione said, nodding earnestly. “There was also a different route that the Clara and Julia took. I asked Achernar; apparently it’s a self-guided flying path through the fog that overlapped with your route when you were underground. They designed this task specifically so that there was a possibility you could come across one another. The object they found was stationed much closer to them, though.”

“Malfoy, get back onto your stretcher this instant,” Madam Pomfrey exclaimed.

Draco muttered something under his breath and slouched back to the stretcher on the opposite side of the tent. Harry watched his retreating back and felt a sudden need to drag Draco right back. Instead, he muttered a quiet “Wingardium Leviosa” and directed the hospital bed to levitate back towards them, all the while Draco grinned mischievously at him.

“Harry,” a voice said urgently.

He found Ron watching him and absently thought that Ron must have been trying to gain his attention for some time, judging from the look of mild exasperation and concern Ron shot him.

“Yeah, what is it?” he said sheepishly.

“They’re about to hand out the scores, come on.”

Madam Pomfrey had left already to attend to Leif and Alexander, so they could scurry out without having to hear her protestations.

Ron helped Harry back onto his feet and the four of them trudged onto the grassy area and around the bend to the tall stands. The noise was ferocious and Harry couldn’t help but smile to himself, despite the dull ache of his thigh. Harry watched as Draco determinedly walked beside him, leaving Ron to step behind them both rather reluctantly. Harry noticed that Draco’s arm kept swinging nervously by his side, stretching to reach out towards him before he snapped it back to his side. Harry smiled in slight amusement.

He and Draco joined a hobbling Julia—supported by Clara—below the stands, where Leif and Alexander already stood. They looked nervously up at the five judges, seated in the bottom row. Harry saw Ginny take his seat behind McGonagall and give him a thumbs up.

“We will begin, please, with the distribution of the points,” Achernar called.

An anticipatory hush fell over the crowd. Harry felt Draco sidle closer to him, their hands brushing with each nervous sway.

“For finding their object first and for early anticipation and immediate identification of obstacles within the task, Beauxbatons come first,” she said.

This was met by resounding applause and Harry saw Madame Maxime sit impossibly higher in her seat, smiling proudly between her students. “However, points were significantly reduced for lack of team-work in crucial moments. In total, the Beauxbatons champions have been awarded forty points.”

Harry noticed Clara murmuring into Julia’s ear, could hear Julia’s quiet sobs into Clara’s shoulder, even above the polite applause. She was clearly still in shock.

“In seconds place, Hogwarts school,” Achernar called.

This was met with thunderous applause and loud whistling. Harry tried to match Draco’s serious expression but couldn’t help a small smile at the crowd’s reaction. Despite coming second, the crowd seemed more determined than ever to demonstrate their support.

“Awarded for finding their object second, admirable perseverance, extraordinary team-work and battling an unforeseen fire, Hogwarts has been awarded thirty-nine points.”

Harry’s jaw dropped and he felt a strong arm hold him tightly across his back. He glanced to his right and saw that Draco was looking directly at him, his palm pressed to his heart. Draco’s lips were spreading into a slow, faltering smile; his grip of Harry’s back, too, was gentle and hesitant. Harry smiled reassuringly and, without properly thinking about the consequences—or about what it could mean for their relationship—Harry pressed his chin into Draco’s shoulder, sighing.

They broke apart almost instantly and Harry felt his face burn, dropping his gaze to the long blades of grass. That split second, though, he felt Draco’s tentative hand cascade down his back once; it was comforting, he realised. Comforting in an unfamiliar way, but also in a way that let him know that he was safe, despite everything. Merlin, Harry needed a vat of Firewhiskey to drown his emotions.

The Larsons were awarded thirty points; apparently one of them had started the fire in the trunk tunnel.

“We’re still winning,” Draco said quietly, as McGonagall instructed the Prefects to lead their houses back to the Great Hall for a celebratory feast.

Harry smiled wryly. “Still winning,” he said. He could hear the defeat in his voice, however. Everything he had just experienced—the anticipation, the fighting, the total despair of being underground, the fire, the fleeting yet incessant thought that he might have lost Draco in the smoke—collapsed on top of him.

The crowds had begun to disperse, clambering down from the stands and chattering excitedly about the task. To them, Harry realised, it was simply an excellent morning of entertainment and a missed Charms class. To him, though, it felt like an entire entity in itself. The Tournament, adjusting to his life at Hogwarts, the constant fear and anticipation culminated in an overwhelming sense of confusion. It felt like an insurmountable wall had been erected between him and everyone, everyone—except Draco.

Draco’s smile wavered and he peered closely at Harry. “You need to sit down,” he said firmly. Draco whipped out his wand and one of the hospital beds charged across the lawn. With reluctance, Harry climbed on it and couldn’t quite meet Draco’s unwavering scrutiny. Before Draco could comment, however, Professor McGonagall marched towards them with a stern expression.

“This can’t be good,” Harry muttered.

“Mr Malfoy, Mr Potter,” McGonagall said, nodding between them. She narrowed her eyes behind her wire-rimmed spectacles before her thin lips twisted into a smile. “I wish to congratulate you both. That was excellent work on both of your behalves.”

Harry’s eyes widened in surprise. “Thank you, Professor,” he said. He glanced to his right to find Draco staring at her in disbelief.

“Sorry, Professor,” Draco said suddenly. Harry saw a glint in his watery, bloodshot eyes. “But would you mind repeating that? Or perhaps you could write it down for my mother to read? I want to savour you telling me that my work was excellent.”

Professor McGonagall’s entire expression changed; Harry wasn’t quite sure whether she was going to laugh or assign Draco a month of detention. She settled on a faint smile. “Rare though my compliments may be, Malfoy, you both showed very good team-work, especially considering Mr Larson’s idiotic idea to use a flame to guide his path down a tunnel made of bark.”

Harry could hear the incredulity in her voice and suppressed a grin; the Durmstrang champions had diminished points because of their blunder.

“I sincerely hope this good team-work continues,” McGonagall said, eyeing them carefully. She looked between them as though she expected them to kiss or gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes or something equally ridiculous. The moment passed before Harry’s cheeks had properly heated and Madam Pomfrey bustled over to them, muttering about her intense distaste for healing burn wounds.

After he and Draco had been cleared to leave the hospital wing, the gravest of their injuries either healed or bandaged, Harry felt rather lost. The task had been the precise thing they had both been anticipating for months, yet it was over in less than two hours. He felt hopelessly confused, as though he didn’t quite know what to think about or do with his restless hands.

They had both been fed and watered at the hospital wing but, after standing together in uncomfortable silence in their dormitory for a mere five minutes, Draco had left to “get some food from the feast for Cassiopeia and Abrax.”

Harry slumped back on his bed, stroking Abrax who purred consolingly into his chest. He lay on his bed for a half-hour before forcing himself to change into a clean set of clothes and write to his parents. They had penned him an apologetic letter the previous week, explaining an unanticipated and unavoidable educational reform meeting they had agreed to advise the Minister on. He knew that they would both be waiting for his letter, including details about the task that the Daily Prophet would most certainly exaggerate, as well as a blow-by-blow analysis.

As he signed ‘With love, Harry’ at the bottom of the slightly yellowed piece of parchment, he knew that his mother would have questions. She had been strangely evasive about giving Draco a Christmas present and, since the first task, had asked about Draco in every letter; whether it was blunt or intertwined with the letter as a whole. Harry had always evaded responding directly about Draco, choosing instead to describe Draco or their relationship in ambiguous terms, scared as he was to confront his feelings.

This time, he didn’t write with that same reservation. He wrote of Draco’s insistence that Harry be the one to escape the brawl for brooms and fly to the tree, he told them of their struggle through the tunnel and the hideous fire, how he had felt suffocated and lost as Draco’s hand had slipped away from his. His mother knew him like the back of her hand and Harry was fully aware that she would be able to see through his language, his palpable emotions, and the sense of yearning he described when Draco’s hand had escaped this grip. She would know immediately why he was so conflicted. He decided against sending the letter.

The door swung open and Draco walked inside, his usual purposeful footsteps more tentative. Harry heard the clatter of food falling into the two trays by the door and felt Abrax spring from his grip, heard her pad across the wooden floors. Harry bowed his head and fingered the edge of the parchment, smiling sadly at the words inscribed there.

The firm sound of Draco falling back onto his bed sounded. They were locked in an agreeable silence until Draco broke it, his voice even and practiced.

“I really wanted to win,” he said. “But I think that, even though we didn’t come first, we deserved to.” Draco paused and Harry titled his head back to watch Draco stroke the Slytherin crest embroidered on one of his pillows. “You did, at least.”

Harry carefully folded his piece of parchment and slid it beneath his bedsheets. “We both did.”

Draco sighed. “Of course we both did,” he said exasperated lay. “Honestly, your penchant for equality is infuriating. I’m telling you that you did especially, Potter. Accept my word. You’re as pedantic as a Ravenclaw sometimes.”

Harry shook his head, smiling. “Thanks,” he said eventually. “McGonagall was right, though. Team-work suits us.”

“McGonagall also thinks that we’re fucking, so I wouldn’t take her word on something like that,” Draco said deadpan. He glanced up at Harry and grinned ruefully.

Harry spluttered, laughing unabashedly. He stared at one of the thin gashes on his hand in lieu of meeting Draco’s eye, willing the pink tinge of his cheeks to subside.

They lay on their respective beds, smiling to themselves. Harry watched his crimson, velvet hangings sway as Abrax twisted herself around it.

Draco broke the silence first. “I couldn’t see you,” he said quietly. “In the fog. I took out the two-way mirror but you… you weren’t looking.”

A palpable heaviness sunk in Harry’s chest. He swallowed thickly, his fevered pulse racing. Harry didn’t know why he felt unbearably guilty about not looking in the mirror; he had told Draco that they could use them if they were separated but, with the immediacy of the task and Draco’s insistence that Harry take the lead by himself, he had completely forgotten.

“I should’ve looked at the mirror,” Harry admitted quietly. He could feel Draco’s stare on his cheek, saw that he had angled his body towards Harry in his peripheral. He had to force himself to catch Draco’s gaze. His eyes were intensely grey, red-rimmed and brimming with resigned rejection. “I’m sorry,” Harry breathed.

Draco nodded tersely. “Don’t do it again,” he said. “I didn’t know what had happened. You could have been helpless and I wouldn’t have known.”

Harry wavered at the edge of his bed. He breathed shakily, once, as though the thought of disturbing that moment would taint it. He wanted to brush Draco off, insist that nothing had happened and that there was no reason for his concern. Glancing at Draco’s imploring face, though, he couldn’t bear to. Instead, Harry clasped his hands around his knees to steady them and met Draco’s gaze.

“Why do you care?” Harry asked. It wasn’t accusatory or malicious; he was weighted by a deep sense of confusion. Before the task, he had known exactly where he had stood with Draco. Yet one piercing gaze or misplaced word or concerned voice could topple over his carefully-crafted impression of Draco and disorientate him entirely.

Draco stood up, unsteadily finding his footing. He caught Harry’s eye with a kindred gaze and said, “I care because I know that you do.”

Chapter Text

I care because I know that you do.

Draco’s words replayed in Harry’s thoughts like a broken Wizarding Wireless record.

He lay on his bed, defeated, and stared at the white tip of Cassiopeia’s tail as she coiled it around herself. She always seemed to sense whenever Harry was drowned by anxiety or upset or simply lonely. He had been feeling more comfortable adjusting to life at Hogwarts but his heart still panged with sadness whenever the thought of his parents. Fleeting moments still passed when Ron or Hermione would unknowingly talk about times in their life at Hogwarts that Harry had never been a part of. His parents, though, they knew him, were privy to the most intimate and personal moments of his life that his new friends, frankly, were not. He yearned to speak with his mother through more than just parchment and ink. Polite, distant, rather tedious letters weren’t the same as sitting together over a mug of steaming tea and allowing her to tease information from him about a secret summer crush he was harbouring or the bass player from the Weird Sisters that he liked.

He knew that his mother would see right through him if he ever spoke about the boy across the dormitory, sleeping soundly. Harry noticed that, whenever they had a particularly long day or had been injured (which was happening with alarming frequency), Draco slept soundlessly, his grunting snores replaced by melodic breathing.

Harry pulled the bedsheets higher around him, turning away from the other boy. Draco had, with apparent pleasure, succeeded in wrecking every preconceived notion Harry had formed since the moment they had met. I care because I know that you do. What could he possibly have meant? That Draco felt obliged to protect Harry because Harry felt the same way? That Draco thought he owed Harry something? That he needed to defend Harry so that they could be even? Harry reasoned that Draco couldn’t have meant that he cared about Harry just because Draco wanted to. If that was the case, he would have phrased it completely differently. He wouldn’t have made caring seem so contrived or artificial, as though it was a foreign concept to Draco. As though he felt equally as confused about their relationship as Harry did.

Harry tried to dismiss the notion but it creeped into his every thought. Draco cared because he felt he had to, because he had never been in a situation where he needed to rely on someone else like he did on Harry. And he felt guilty, Harry thought. Draco must have felt like he owed him something, he reasoned. Draco must have felt compelled to care for him, was willing to care for him if only to destroy the feeling that he had somehow let himself down by relying on another person; he wanted to care for Harry to save his own sanity.

That night, Harry dreamt that he was walking through the burning remains of his house back in Godric’s Hollow. A fire had caught, he was told, and destroyed the entirety of his childhood home. Everything he had held dearest to him was charred and decimated. He was preoccupied, however, with a deep, unquenchable desire to find someone, someone he needed, and yet couldn’t find a trace of them. He wandered the house aimlessly, throwing charred objects over his shoulder, objects that once held so much significance but, in the aftermath of a fire, meant so little. All he really needed to do was find his person. And they were just out of reach.

 

*

 

When Harry awoke the next morning, Draco’s bed was empty. The bedsheets had been folded neatly and Abrax—who had taken to sleeping in Draco’s bed despite Harry’s protests—was curled at the foot of Draco’s bed. The sight filled Harry with a sense of lost opportunity.

Harry hastily pulled on his robes, taking care to conceal his bandaged thigh with warm layers. He knew who he needed to speak with, though he wasn’t quite sure where to find her. Wandering down the main staircase and smiling at the students who congratulated him for his performance, Harry made his way to the library. To his delight (though not unsurprisingly), he found the person he was looking for sitting behind a small stack of books with appallingly complex titles, writing frantically.

Harry gingerly took a seat beside her. Hermione glanced up instantly and rolled up her parchment, smiling easily.

“Hi Harry,” Hermione said.

Harry smiled. “Did I interrupt you?”

“Of course not,” she said. “I was just rewriting my Arithmancy essay to incorporate some new research I stumbled on in Ancient Greek Isopsephy.”

She tilted her head and examined him. Harry suddenly felt very conscious of the undoubtable purple markings beneath his eyes, the rough grazes on his skin and his matted, messy hair.

“You must be feeling tired after yesterday,” she said earnestly.

Harry shook his head modestly. “I’m fine.”

“Still, you did an excellent job yesterday. You and Malfoy both, actually. Ron talked my ear off about how great your flying was.”

“Wait,” he said, “how could you see from the stands?”

“Oh, didn’t you know?” she said, looking mildly surprised. “The fog was cleared for the audience the second the horn went off so that we could see properly.”

Harry sighed. “Seems like the Beauxbatons girls knew that spell too. Draco told me— I mean... Malfoy mentioned that Clara could definitely see through the fog.”

Hermione observed him lightly. “Still,” he said, “they only managed one point more than you two. They split up at one point and that left Julia with all those burns. That mistake also lost them a significant amount of points for lack of team-work, I imagine.”

“Maybe it wasn’t them losing points that got the margin so close though,” Harry said. “I rather think it was mine and Draco’s brilliance that got us points so close to theirs.”

Hermione shook his head, grinning. “Modest as ever, Harry,” she joked.

“Quiet in the library,” Madam Pince hissed, scowling between them.

Harry smiled at her and, for a moment, he felt like a rather terrible friend. He had rejected spending time alone with either Hermione or Ron—they seemed to be permanently together nowadays—in the weeks preceding the second task and rather regretted it.

“Ron’s probably in the Great Hall,” Hermione said with a short, tired sigh. “I told him that I have to finish the Potions essay for Professor Slughorn. It kept me up most of the night; I just couldn’t stop writing and every time I tried to write a conclusion, I remembered something new that seemed relevant.”

“Quiet in the library,” Madam Pince said waspishly.

Hermione motioned for Harry to follow towards a corner other library—the same corner he had spent countless hours researching about dragons with Draco. Instead of dappled sunbeams dancing over the worn armchairs, however, the sky was sombre and drizzling. He sat on the armchair Draco claimed each time they visited

“So what was it you wanted to talk about?” Hermione said.

Harry smiled diffidently. Hermione had evidently picked up on the fact that it wasn’t an impromptu visit that brought him to the library early on a Monday morning; he had a purpose for seeking Hermione out. The immediacy of asking Hermione about Draco, though, struck him sharply. What would Hermione think of him? Would she sympathise? Advise him against associating with Draco beyond what was necessary for the tournament? He knew Hermione was quite intuitive but he didn’t know her well enough to know what her reaction might be, especially considering her blood status and Malfoy notoriety.

Hermione smiled encouragingly at him.

“I wanted to ask you about—er—Malfoy,” Harry said.

Hermione’s eyebrows shot up, but it was evident that she was trying to make her surprise less apparent. If anything, she looked rather pleased.

“What about Malfoy, exactly?” she asked. Her tone was careful, as though she was treading on thin ice broaching such a sensitive subject. Harry wasn’t sure whether such a tone was for her benefit or his.

“What do you— I mean, how do you—er— I just don’t really…” he trailed off, feeling like an utter fool. His thoughts seemed to scramble on top of one another, yelling at him to blurt out anything that could give him a foundation on which to understand more about Draco.

Hermione smiled sympathetically. “I’m going to make an assumption that you’re feeling quite confused at the moment,” she said, watching him carefully.

Harry nodded.

“Not only did you succeed in yesterday’s task with Malfoy but you’ve also spent the last couple of weeks with him in your house and neither of you arrived back to Hogwarts with any injuries that I know of so I can only assume things went relatively well.”

Harry shrugged, finding it very relieving to listen to Hermione rather than confess his own feelings. Hermione clasped her hands in her lap, watching him and making Harry feel slightly scrutinised.

“There are two main possibilities that come to mind,” she said gently. “Firstly, you’re just disoriented; you thought you despised each other but over time and with patience, you’ve learned to co-operate and appreciate each other. That alone is something that you obviously weren’t prepared to consider and you’re not sure where the line between rivals and friends is.”

Harry, feeling slightly unhinged, nodded. “And the second possibility?”

Hermione smiled almost sympathetically, as though she thought it pathetic that Harry had reached the conclusion by himself.

“That, perhaps, you like him as more than just a friend and you’re not sure how to understand your relationship with him, let alone whether he returns your feelings,” she said.

Harry felt a strange sensation trickle into his bloodstream. He could identify it neither as hot or cold, all he knew was that he felt profoundly uncomfortable. His throat suddenly felt unbearably dry and constrained, as though he couldn’t quite breathe in enough oxygen. He jolted to his feet, the armchair screeching against the floorboards. Harry knew from the hotness of his cheeks and his shortness of breath that he needed some time alone to consider his thoughts. Pondering his own emotions from the comfort of his bedroom was one thing; hearing Hermione propose that he truly liked Draco was another thing entirely.

“Hermione, I—”

“Harry?” she said suddenly, looking at him anxiously. “Are you alright?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, of course, I just—” he gestured outside, smiling at her in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.

Before Hermione could respond, Harry’s feet were dragging his past Madam Pince, out of the library and outside. The frosty wind bit his cheeks and he suddenly regretted not bringing a jacket. At least the freezing air opened the channels of his airwaves and he heaved three steadying breaths before leaning back against the stone slab of the castle’s exterior walls and shut his eyes.

“Harry?”

Jerking out of his daze, Harry’s gaze landed on Blaise Zabini, watching him with keen interest and faint surprise.

“Blaise? What are you doing here?”

“Choosing to venture into the cold on Monday morning won’t get me locked up in Azkaban, will it?” he teased.

“I didn’t mean— I just wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

Blaise nodded. “I’m meeting Draco on the Quidditch pitch,” he said, making a face that suggested he would rather spend his morning doing anything else. “Apparently he developed a penchant for flying over the last couple of weeks you’ve been practising.”

Harry nodded. “I think we both have.”

Blaise hummed and gestured towards the slopes. “Walk with me?”

“Er— yeah, alright.”

They ambled across the grounds towards the Quidditch pitch, both admiring the exquisite scenes around them. The snow had melted, but areas of the grounds were still waterlogged from floods of rain from the previous week. The sky, with blues and peach shades intertwined and a dark cloud behind the mountains that threatened rain, looked magnificent.

“How are you coping with Draco? You too seemed more than comfortable with yesterday’s task,” Blaise commented lightly.

“I suppose, yeah. Things are going well,” Harry said. He was suddenly reminded of the fact that Blaise undoubtably knew more about Draco than he did and might be able to aid Harry’s predicament. “You’ve known him and his family for years, right?”

Blaise nodded sagely. “Our families move in the same circles. I’ve known Draco since I was a boy.”

“Has he always been so closed off?” Harry asked abruptly. He winced at himself for his bluntness; surely Blaise knew by this stage just how desperate Harry was for any indication about Draco’s upbringing that could help him understand more about him and, in turn, Harry’s relationship with him.

To his surprise, Blaise laughed loudly. He swayed his head from side to side, considering Harry’s question. “Yes,” he decided on, though it was hesitant. “When we were younger, he ignored me entirely. I believe he thought that he was better than me because of our age difference; almost two years seems so significant in a child’s eyes. He liked to keep to himself—all part of being an only child, as I’m sure you’re aware. It wasn’t until Hogwarts that he became that… intense or churlish, though.”

Harry nodded thoughtfully. For some reason, the thought of a Draco as a child—alone, quiet, reserved and living in what he imagined was a regal, antiquated house filled with unimaginable Dark objects—upset him. He couldn’t imagine being raised in that environment without the infinite love and attention his parents showed him. Harry forced himself to stop thinking about Draco’s childhood—something like a lonely upbringing could never justify his actions later in life, even if they contributed to them.

“Why did he start late at Hogwarts?” Harry said instead.

Blaise smiled wryly. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “It was never brought up in front of me. He usually gets angry every year around this time. And, Harry Potter, even if I happened to know, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. It’s common knowledge not to touch Draco on his birthday unless you want to spend the night at the Hospital Wing.” Blaise ruffled the sleeve of his robes and avoided Harry’s eye. “He wasn’t the same as usual this year, though.”

Harry thought back to the previous week, when Draco had confessed that he despised his birthday. Something about his admission felt significant. Draco didn’t share much about himself beyond anything that pertained to their situation. He looked forward to the next challenge, the next barrier, the next obstacle, rather than inward. Despite his outburst in the Shrieking Shack, Draco hadn’t been any less bearable than usual. Perhaps Blaise was right, that he wasn’t the same this year, and that actually talking to Harry had helped that pent-up anger. Then again, Harry thought bitterly, Draco hadn’t been particularly receptive of Harry’s offer to listen, to help him.

“What do you think of him?” Blaise said, eyeing him carefully.

Harry nodded, smiling weakly. “He… confuses me,” he admitted quietly, thinking back to his conversation with Hermione. He was surprised by the truth of the statement. Though Draco was many things, confusing seemed to be Harry’s predominant emotion whenever he thought of him, tried to contain him in a tangible entity that he could properly consider. Draco seemed to escape him every time.

Suddenly, and with startling clarity, Harry knew that he didn’t want to go to the Quidditch pitch. Not because he knew that Draco would be there, but because he knew that Draco would see him accompanying Blaise, and Harry wanted to wait until later that evening, after their predictably tiresome lessons, to talk with Draco. Posing the excuse that he had promised to help Ron with their Potions essay, Harry waved a good-bye to Blaise, feeling significantly less confused, but continually more intrigued.

 

*

 

Nothing could be done, Harry reasoned, ambling back to his dormitory later that evening. He had spent an extremely unproductive Alchemy class pretending to read a passage on alchemic experimentation during the Middle Ages. During that time, he had managed to reach a decisive conclusion about Draco Malfoy: nothing could be done.

Harry knew that there was more to Draco behind his arrogant sneer; his interest in dragons, his questionable yet rigid moral principles, his treatment of Harry. However, Harry also knew that it wasn’t his place to pry into Draco’s life. Harry was unreasonably curious about him and with every passing glance at Draco’s determined eyes or pink lips, Harry felt that his infatuation was only escalating.

It was interest, Harry tried to reason with himself. He was interested in Draco because he was an anomaly and far different than he had anticipated, especially all of the rumours that encircled him. The version of Draco that Harry saw—sleepy after a tiring Transfiguration lesson, sprawled across his bed, conjuring birds to flutter around the room and laughing when Abrax chased them—seemed so different from the haughty, conceited Slytherin the rest of the school knew. Harry just couldn’t place the source of his interest. Sighing, Harry dragged his feet up the spiral staircase to their dormitory.

The issue was that Harry was afraid that it might possibly be more than interest that attracted him to Draco. The proposition that he could like Draco—overbearing, hubristic, rude Draco—was ridiculous. Just because Draco could be charming when he chose to be and he spoke in a purposeful, taut voice and had a penchant for his cat could not excuse his behaviour. He couldn’t take Draco’s actions during the tasks into account either. Draco had made it perfectly clear that he was competing to win. Therefore, Harry thought rather forlornly, everything Draco had done—helping Harry, depending on each other, working together despite everything—could be characterised as Draco’s fulfilling his own agenda.

I care because I know that you do.

As Harry languidly pulled off his robes, Draco’s voice repeated those words over and over again. He cast a protective spell on his thigh to prevent the scorching water soaking the bandage and stepped into the shower. He closed his eyes and let out a heavy sigh. Nothing can be done, he told himself aloud. His voice was unconvincing even to Harry’s own ears. He poured a generous amount of shampoo on his hand and massaged it into his hair with more vigour than he had intended. Nothing can be done, he said again, louder and more firmly.

“Are you alone in there, Potter?”

Harry almost fell into the shower basin. Frantically gripping the tiled wall, he called “Yeah”, his voice unusually high-pitched and breathy. He sounded guilty.

Draco snorted from their dormitory.

Harry pressed his forehead against the shower wall, breathing “Merlin.” He needed to concentrate on anything other than the boy right outside the lavatory door. Rinsing his hair before wrapping a towel around his waist, Harry stepped out of the shower. The door creaked as he opened it and Harry winced. Draco was sitting at his desk, hair draping around his face in loose curls. His head was hung over a book but he glanced up for a moment. His eyes roamed Harry’s bare, dripping chest. Draco caught Harry’s eye and his lips teased into a smirk. Harry felt his breath catch in his throat. He turned on his heel and quickly pulled on his pyjamas.

Pliny, Draco’s miniature Scarlet-Tongue, soared above Harry’s head before spiralling downwards to land on his shoulder. He smiled down at Pliny, stroking between his wings with his index finger like Draco had instructed. Harry sat on his bed, mindful not to disturb Draco, and took out the letter his mother had sent him that morning. In the end, he had decided to send his original letter. The parchment was slightly creased in places and the ink smudged, as though she had written it very hastily. She had never failed yet not to send him weekly updates on life at home, however, and the thought that, despite the chaos of his father’s book launch, she had found time to write to Harry made his heart soar.

Harry, my darling,

Thank you for writing to us. You can’t imagine how worried we both were yesterday. I could hardly focus all day because I was waiting to hear from you. I must say that I was very worried when I heard about the flying aspect of the taskI thought it might involve some kind of Quidditch equivalent. You certainly take after your father when it comes to flying, though, as he never fails to remind me!

Minerva sent me an owl, detailing the fire. Those wretched Durmstrang boys apparently lit fires with their wands for light in the tunnel instead of using Lumos. I’m relieved to hear that your burns were minimal, but make sure you visit Madam Pomfrey again about your thigh. If it gets infected, she’ll know exactly how to remedy it.

Regarding the debacle you allude to about Draco Malfoy, unfortunately I really don’t think there’s much I can advise you, however much I want to. I know that’s not what you were hoping to hear but I really can’t make these decisions for you. I don’t know Draco like you doI only know of his family, and that’s hardly a fair indicator of what he’s like. You’ve spent the last five months complaining (“endlessly” your father is shouting from the kitchen) about him. From that, it seems that this interest you have in him might just be derived from a need to have someone you can trust in the tournament. He certainly doesn’t sound like the ideal partner but, as your mother, I have to respect him because he has helped you and that’s all a mother could ask for.

Try not to let your feelings get the better of your sound judgement, Harry, but remember the importance of compassion and patience.

With love,

Your mother.

Harry breathed shakily and folded the letter, crossing the room to place it in his trunk. He startled, however, when he saw Draco looking directly at him. He was observing Harry’s shoulder with an affectionate smile. Harry turned to look at it, finding Pliny asleep there, small sparks shooting out of his nostrils with every snore. He caught Draco’s eye and smiled cautiously.

“Should I wake him?” Harry asked, peering down at Pliny.

Draco shook his head, pulling back his chair and walking towards Harry with quiet, purposeful steps. He sunk his teeth into his lower lip, eyes flickering between Harry and Pliny. “He’s never fallen asleep on me before,” Draco admitted. “I can’t let him fall asleep on the bed or he might set fire to the sheets.”

Harry nodded, unsure how to respond. The intimacy of the moment struck him; Draco’s affectionate, slightly apologetic smile, his gentle demeanour whenever he handled animals and how it contrasted so starkly with his usual presence.

Draco stepped closer to Harry and brushed his fingers along Harry’s shoulder blade. They lingered for a moment, Draco’s fingertips dancing across the fabric of his loose shirt. Harry felt his pulse beat rapidly in his chest. Foregoing thinking about his actions, Harry reached up and placed his hand on top of Draco’s. He was rewarded with a look of curious surprise. Draco didn’t move his hand, instead dragging his thumb from side to side to rub through the fabric of Harry’s shirt.

Pliny huffed in his sleep and a shower of sparks shot on Draco’s palm, who scrunched his nose in slight exasperation and carefully removed his hand from beneath Harry’s. He picked Pliny up and placed him on Draco’s bedside locker.

“Why is it that you’re so interested in dragons?” Harry asked suddenly. He watched as Draco held the corner of his locker, the muscles of his back straining beneath Draco’s shirt. Despite his clear discomfort, Draco turned around.

“I’m not talking about that,” he said brusquely.

Harry didn’t know why he was surprised by his disappointment. Draco hadn’t stormed out of the dormitory, however, or jinxed him, so Harry considered that an indication to probe further.

“I don’t need you to tell me your whole back story, Malfoy,” he sighed. “It’s a simple question.”

Draco sat primly on the edge of his bed and stared at Harry intently, as though trying to uncover an ulterior motive. Harry shifted on the spot beneath Draco’s gaze but met it firmly.

“The first piece of magic I ever did—the accidental kind, at least—was transfiguring a book into a miniature dragon,” Draco said eventually. He glanced at his clasped hands. “They’ve held… significance to me for quite a long time.”

Harry nodded, smiling almost wistfully at the thought of a young Draco. It was perfectly appropriate, he thought, that Draco would conjure something as complicated as a paper dragon at a young age; most young witches and wizards caused fires or miniature explosions—they weren’t as controlled or exacting as producing a transfigured dragon.

“What about cats?” Harry said, falling back onto his own bed.

Draco frowned at him.

“You obviously have more of a penchant for animals than you do for other wizards,” Harry clarified.

Draco piqued an eyebrow and unclasped his hands, setting them behind himself and leaning back. He opened his legs invitingly and set his feet firmly on the ground, the picture of unheeding arrogance. Harry should not have found it as attractive as he did.

“Not necessarily,” Draco said. “A lot of wizards here are tragically mediocre but there are others I find interesting. Though cats make much better company.”

Harry could sympathise with Draco’s desire for company, noise and chaos. Perhaps, company of a different variety but their shared experience as only children was at least something he could appreciate.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Having Abrax at home with me made things a lot less dull.”

Draco smiled wryly. “How so? I was under the impression that being home-schooled would be all fun Celestina Warbeck sing-offs and Gobstones parties.”

Harry made sure that the pillow he threw at Draco’s chest had an enormous Gryffindor lion emblazoned on it.

“You should know what it’s like, Malfoy,” he said. “I love my parents but they were constantly breathing down my neck. Their protection was… out of love, but sometimes I wanted nothing more than to be at Hogwarts with Ron.”

They fell into a lull of silence, filled only by the quiet purrs of Abrax playing with a small ball Harry had bewitched to roll across the carpet beneath his desk. He heard the definitive sound of Abrax pouncing and smiled.

“I get to ask you the same question,” Draco said suddenly.

Harry looked curiously at him. He was frowning slightly, as though annoyed that Harry, too, had not picked up on this apparent certainty.

“What question is that?”

“When was the first time you performed accidental magic?” Draco said simply.

Harry nodded, pulling his lower lip into his mouth. The memory had a strange nostalgia tethered to it. The day he first performed an appreciable piece of magic had been an indelibly moving time, something that always seemed to emerge in his thoughts whenever he was missing his parents.

“My mum mentions lots of little things that happened when I was quite young—furniture moving ever so slightly if I was angry or upset about something, you know. But the real first piece of magic—the one I actually remember—was when I was ten,” Harry said. “It was the day before Ron’s birthday, at the end of the summer holidays. My parents said I wasn’t able to go because they were travelling to German Ministry of Magic for a meeting one of them had about British magical education.

“I was so upset,” Harry said, laughing but feeling slightly guilty. “I tried everything to stop them from going and… I managed to turn the entire house bright orange; the floor and walls and furniture. Even all the food in the kitchen went the same colour as the Chudley Cannons’ uniform. “My parents were… not particularly happy with me.” Harry chuckled at the memory; his father’s equally shocked and impressed expression, his mother’s frantic wand-wielding to turn the exterior walls back to their original duck egg blue shade before their Muggle neighbours could notice.

“You sound like a delightful child,” Draco said, deadpan.

“You’re one to talk,” Harry said with no real vinegar. “Ron said that you jinxed his fingers together during your first lesson at Hogwarts because he was ‘blocking your view’. Doesn’t exactly sound like you’re any less of a prick now than you were when you were younger.”

Draco went strangely silent. He dropped his gaze to a loose thread in his bedsheets and grinded his teeth compulsively.

Alone with him, Draco seemed to change his behaviour and mannerisms, even his tone of voice. He could make Harry sympathise with him with apparent ease, even when it wasn’t sympathy that Draco desired. He felt constantly reminded of the version of Draco he had moulded into outside the confines of their dormitory; the Slytherin who would hex someone who looked at him the wrong way, who would push McGonagall’s patience beyond the verge of collapse, who carried himself with an unbecoming air of superiority.

“I don’t get why you’re taking offence, Malfoy,” Harry sighed eventually. “I was joking with you. If you need to talk about whatever shit went on in your childhood—”

Draco’s head snapped up and he stared at Harry with deep set, glaring eyes. “Stop prying, Potter,” he said. His voice was firm but choked, as though Draco was struggling not to let it waver. “What happens in my life is my business.”

Harry stood up abruptly and glared back at Draco. He had tried countless times to talk to Draco semi-cordially, convincing himself that each time he tried Harry would receive a different answer, one that didn’t result in Draco seething at him. This time, however, Harry was jaded.

“Why are you treating me like I’m not even a part of it, then?” Harry demanded. “In case you haven’t realised, I’m trying with you. You can shut me out all you fucking like, Draco, but you can’t act like I don’t care because I do. And I know that you know that, so stop pretending like you’re in this alone. I’m staying whether you like it or not.”

With that, Harry tightened his jaw and stood up. Draco followed his movement. However, where Harry felt affronted, Draco’s cheeks had gone pink; where Harry was glaring at Draco, Draco looked wounded, yet hopeful. There was a slight raise to his eyebrows and his light green eyes looked watery beneath their shine.

Harry swallowed thickly and walked out of the dormitory, still wearing his Gryffindor pyjamas.

 

*

 

It wasn’t until later that night, after spending the late evening in the Gryffindor common room with Ron, that Harry wandered back to his own dormitory. When he had vented his frustrations to Ron (without going into specifics) a weight was lifted from Harry’s shoulders. Ron had been an admirably understanding listener, rubbing Harry’s back and making sympathetic noises in all the right places. The issue, Harry realised, was that he was enthralled by Draco—he was an enigma, inscrutably attractive, like an unattainable goal, and intangible in a way that could excite and confuse Harry and leave him desperate for more. But, he conceded, Draco wasn’t the type of person he needed.

Harry traipsed back to their dormitory, ignoring Edessa Skanderberg who demanded loudly where he had been. Draco, Harry realised, was something to cling to but not to rely on. The Triwizard Tournament placed them in an environment where they had to depend on each other but, with his idiosyncrasies and contradictions, Harry knew that he could never fully rely on Draco outside of the tasks. He didn’t even feel like he knew Draco.

Harry noticed that Draco’s hangings were drawn and that Abrax was nowhere in sight. Harry assumed that Abrax was sharing Draco’s bed as he often tended to. Harry collapsed in his own bed with a sigh, pulling the bedsheets over him and reaching for Cassiopeia.

He pulled out his Transfiguration textbook—A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration—to prepare for their practical lesson the next day. Sifting through the pages aimlessly and trying (rather unsuccessfully) to remember the theory of hair colour transfiguration, he couldn’t help but feel exhausted. Not only was the theory unbearably tedious but Harry couldn’t take his mind off Draco. He flung his book to the foot of his bed and slumped back on his pile of pillows, letting his eyes close.

When he woke up abruptly a half hour later, Harry knew that something had gone amiss. His hangings were drawn back and Draco was looming over him with a scowl.

The sky was painted an inky blue and Cassiopeia hadn’t quite fallen asleep yet. She was looking at Draco, apparently unimpressed by his rude imposition on her efforts to find a comfortable position on Harry’s bed. Harry shared her sentiments.

“What is it?” Harry said roughly.

“I found this,” Draco said, thrusting a crimson pillow with an embroidered lion into Harry’s chest, “on my bed.” He flicked a loose curl out of his eyes dramatically. The moonlight from the circular window between their beds caught the movement. “It’s yours,” Draco huffed. “Keep your belongings on your side of the room or I’ll set it on fire.”

The moonlight bathed Draco’s face in a silvery light, following the contours of his skin and tracing the outline of his jaw.

“Wouldn’t be the first belonging of mine you set on fire,” Harry muttered. “We both have a certain proclivity for fire.” He piled the pillow behind his head and crossed his arms. Draco was still watching him. “Go back to bed, Draco. You always act like even more of a prick than usual when you’re tired in the morning and I’m not in the mood to wake you up for DADA tomorrow.”

Draco muttered something under his breath that Harry didn’t catch. The look in Draco’s eye was enthralling rather than threatening. It held the similar pensive gaze Draco often had whenever it was just the two of them.

Draco reached forward and swiped his thumb across Harry’s forehead, brushing his dishevelled hair out of his face. Harry felt his jaw drop, breathing heavily. He felt his pulse race and his skin prickle beneath Draco’s touch. Draco watched him for a moment, daring him to react, to say something, to shove his hand away. Harry didn’t utter a word. The corners of Draco’s lips turned into a faint smile before he pulled his hand away. Harry almost reached to snatch it back, to brush the impossibly smooth skin of Draco’s palm and drag his fingertips across the scars and marks covering the pale skin on the back of Draco’s hand.

Draco followed Harry’s gaze, blinking slowly before dropping the hangings of Harry’s four poster without another word. Harry was immediately engulfed by darkness. He slowly pulled the bedsheets high around his neck, smiling sadly as Cassiopeia padded across the bed to curl up closer to him. Even watching the gentle rise and fall of her back, it felt unbearably lonely. Harry’s forehead burned from Draco’s touch and he could still feel the light tickle of Draco’s fingertips brushing his hair aside. He fell asleep with visions of long, slender fingers and defiant eyes, daring Harry to close the distance between them.

 

*

 

Harry dragged his feet to Transfiguration the next day with a heavy heart. He had resolutely spent the morning avoiding Draco. He knew it was inane, arguably cowardly and would very probably lead to a fight between them, but Harry simply could not conceive of a situation where talking to Draco after his decidedly intimate gesture would not be uncomfortable.

The issue was, Harry resolved, biting off the corner of his toast with slightly more aggression than necessary, that he had liked it. After overcoming his initial astonishment, Harry felt almost beguiled by the power Draco seemed to have over his sense; how Draco could entice him by the faintest of touches. Draco always spent one second longer looking at him than others; a second that seemed inconspicuous at first but made Harry’s insides wriggle and squirm.

“Ah, Mr Potter,” Professor McGonagall said as Harry stepped inside the classroom, smiling apologetically. “Kind of you to finally join us.”

“Sorry, Professor,” he said. “I was—”

“Enjoying your breakfast in the Great Hall, I assume,” she said, raising her eyebrows at the slice of jam toast in his hand.

Harry hastily shoved the slice into his robe pocket, wincing as the jam seeped through his robes. He took his seat beside Draco, who was staring intently at him. The moment their eyes met, Harry felt a strange link tether them together; it felt like an endless distance separated them and yet they were a mere desk apart.

“As I informed you all in the last lesson, you will be demonstrating the practical application of the theory we covered last week to change hair colour,” Professor McGonagall said, drawing Harry’s attention back to her. His cheeks were hot and his dry lips pressed tightly together, determinedly not glancing to his right where Draco had taken to quietly observing Harry’s very apparent nervousness.

As Professor McGonagall revised one of the differences between Metamorphmagi hair colour change and Transfiguration-induced hair colour change, Harry tried to listen. He desperately followed every word McGonagall spoke but none of it seemed to register in his thoughts. All he could concentrate on was Draco’s burning gaze. He whipped around impatiently and found Draco watching him, amused.  “Can you stop?” Harry hissed.

Draco looked thrilled by his reaction. “Stop what, exactly?” he said, smiling demurely.

“Stop staring at me,” Harry said through gritted teeth.

“Ah,” Draco said, nodding as though he had only just realised what he had been doing. “You see, I probably would stop, but I’ve found it quite fun to watch you like that.”

Harry knew that he was being led into a trap but couldn’t help but ask the follow-up question. “Like what, precisely?”

Draco’s devious smile grew impossibly wider. “Your reaction: squirming and blushing,” he said with a feigned, doting sigh. “All I’m doing is sitting right here and you can’t even concentrate on what McGonagall’s saying without turning bright pink.”

Harry’s blood boiled. How dare Draco act like he had any kind of control over him? The superiority dripping from Draco’s tone was infuriating and he was smiling condescendingly at Harry, as though Draco owned the keys to all of Harry’s secrets. Harry leaned closer to Draco, glaring at him. “I can’t concentrate because you’re getting on my fucking nerves,” he snapped. “If you’d just stop staring at me like you’re not a clinically obsessed troll, then I could at least concentrate on what McGonagall’s saying. And if you think that I could ever—”

“Mr Potter! Mr Malfoy!” Professor McGonagall said sharply. “Instead of spending your class time arguing, how about you two be the first ones to demonstrate?”

Harry sighed, nodding silently. He and Draco stood up and faced each other. Harry took satisfaction from Draco’s look of mild irritation.

“Alright, Mr Potter, you go first.”

Harry raised his wand stiffly and pointed it Draco’s hair, which fell in loose, white-blonde curls around his ears. “Capillus Mutatio.”

Draco’s hair changed immediately; a crimson red colour originated from the roots and spread down until the very tips of his ringlets turned a shimmering gold. Harry was quite proud it.

“The Gryffindor colours!” one of the girls behind him exclaimed ecstatically. “Absolutely iconic, Harry!”

Draco’s expression morphed from one of casual bemusement into one of irritation. He reached up and frantically yanked his hair in front of his eyes to see the evidence for himself. Harry couldn’t contain his victorious grin.

Draco swept his fingers through his hair and caught Harry’s eye. “Of course you would do that, Potter,” he said wryly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you’re childish and petty,” Draco said, calmly plucking his wand out of his pocket.

“And you’re not?”

This elicited a short outbreak of giggles behind Harry. He noticed Ron across the classroom suppressing an appreciative smile.

“That is quite enough!” said Professor McGonagall, marching towards them. “You go next, Malfoy. And should you use any spell besides this one, you’ll find Slytherin House falling even further behind in the House Championship.”

Draco didn’t look particularly fazed by this remark, turning his wand on Harry insouciantly. There was a spark of competitiveness that Harry had often spotted during the tasks or when they were paired together for practical classwork. He tried to ignore the strange dryness of his throat as Draco pointed his wand purposefully at him.

Capillus Mutatio,” Draco drawled.

Harry felt a slight tingling sensation on his scalp before it travelled through each strand of hair. He pulled a chunk from his fringe in front of his eyes  He was met with an attractive, blushing pink. It was the shade of pink he would expect new parents to paint the walls of their baby girl’s bedroom, the light pink that was alluring yet innocent. He brushed his hair off his face and tilted his head in confusion at Draco.

Harry was met with a knowing smile.

“To match your cheeks,” Draco said with a wry grin.

Harry didn’t quite know how to feel. It was hardly a romantic gesture, Harry reasoned, teasing someone about the colour of their cheeks. He had expected Draco to rise to his challenge, perhaps colour his hair emerald green with a great silver snake through the centre. It seemed, however, that Draco was playing a completely different game.

They moved onto eyelashes soon afterwards, something far more technical than Draco’s sleek hair. Harry noticed, however, (while decidedly not focusing on Draco’s long, thick lashes) that his Transfiguration partner had become oddly contrite. Draco pointed his wand with only a fraction of the confidence he had possessed before and wouldn’t quite meet Harry’s eye. He acted as though he regretted revealing something—perhaps too much too soon—and desperately wanted to snatch it back.

Class ended soon afterwards and Harry left for Herbology with a sense of incompletion on top of his confusion, as though there was something he needed to resolve with Draco.

 

*

 

“I don’t know what you’re complaining about, mate,” Ron said, shrugging. “Malfoy seems to be acting less and less like a prick by the day. Hasn’t jinxed anyone in days, as far as I know. Although, that might be because there’s no Quidditch Cup this year.”

“I actually think you have a positive influence on him,” Hermione said earnestly.

Harry scoffed loudly, walking faster to catch up with Ron and Hermione’s quick footsteps. “All I can think about is his stupid smug smirk whenever he says something sarcastic or when we argue about something and he ends up being right. He doesn’t even gloat like he used to—he just watches me from his bed, acting all superior. It’s fucking infuriating.”

Ron sighed. “Just keep an open mind, mate.”

Hermione watched Harry curiously before nodding his assent with Ron. “You weren’t here during the worst of his egotism over the last couple of years. You should consider yourself lucky that you only have to deal with this version of Malfoy.”

They made the rest of the trip to the library in relative silence, Harry’s thoughts trained on Draco.

Harry pulled out a seat from one of the empty desks, the sound of the chair scraping against the floor sending Madam Pince into a fit of disgruntled hissing. The problem was that Hermione was right, Harry reasoned; Draco had multiple versions of himself. In the last six months alone Harry had witnessed Draco’s public persona and the quieter, more introspective version of himself in their dormitory, studiously finishing schoolwork or playing with Abrax and Cassiopeia. He was still the same sarcastic, sharp-witted, observant Slytherin but he had a degree of quiet self-awareness and gentleness in their shared dormitory that he seemed to lack everywhere else in the castle.

With an exhausted sigh, Harry pulled out his Charms textbook to revise the effects of growth charms, darkly wondering whether he truly might have had a positive influence on Draco, or whether it was merely that Draco had a negative influence on him.

 

*

 

It wasn’t until one week later that Harry properly noticed Draco’s behavioural changes. Hermione had pointed out numerous times that Draco had begun to evolve since Christmas time, jinxing other students less and deigning not to act like his usual surly, impertinent self quite as often as he used to. Harry, however, couldn’t appreciate his apparent changes—subtle though they were—until Transfiguration class the following week.

They hadn’t spoken about the midnight incident where Draco had caressed Harry’s face—something Harry sometimes thought may have been a fragment of his imagination. Then again, they had hardly spoken at all. Draco had taken to leaving their dormitory early (something Harry knew must have required quite a great deal of effort considering Draco’s particular disdain for mornings) and arriving late in the evening, when Harry was preparing for bed. Any words exchanged between them had been stiffly cordial, uttered only when necessary and with minimal eye contact.

The nature of that particular Transfiguration class, however, refused to sustain the uneasy tension between them. They were dealing with another topic in Human Transfiguration: changing eye colour. The topic, regrettably, required Harry to meet Draco’s tenacious gaze.

“Alright,” Professor McGonagall called, tapping her wand on the blackboard to clean the white squiggles from it. “We are beginning now, so settle down, please. What you’ll be practicing today is an unusually intricate spell and one which requires a great deal of focus. I don’t expect many of you to achieve this on your first attempt, though it is considered essential should any of you wish to pass your Auror training next year.” Her gaze lingered on a couple of Gryffindors, including Hermione, near the front of the class who smiled proudly. “You may begin now.”

Harry twisted his chair around to face Draco. The prospect of staring into the steely grey shade of Draco’s eyes suddenly seemed far more daunting than that of casting a complicated spell. He found that he didn’t want to change Draco’s eye colour; the shade was light in a way the suggested truth and sincerity, as though Draco had nothing to hide. Ironic, Harry thought as he pulled his wand from his robes, that even Draco’s eye colour would be deceptive.

Draco looked blankly at Harry, though there was a noticeable reluctance to the way he was sitting; though his legs were spread and planted firmly on the floor, the way he crossed his arms over his chest suggested a self-protective gesture. Harry found that, sometimes, Draco wrapped his arms around himself while studying. Harry liked to think that he was comforting himself.

“While we’re both still young, Potter,” Draco sighed.

The slight raise of Draco’s eyebrow intrigued Harry. He cracked a smile despite himself and raised his wand to Draco’s eyes, picturing a mustard yellow colour. “Mutata Oculis Meis.”

Draco’s eyes remained a stubborn grey. “It seems you have even more difficulty maintaining eye contact with me than you did with Diane,” Draco said, amused.

“At least Diane was smart enough not to irritate the person pointing the wand at her face. Not like you can say the same thing.”

Draco smirked.

It took another four attempts and a handful of curses before Draco’s eyes shifted colour; the grey turned to a golden, honey colour. It brought out the brightness in Draco’s skin that Harry had only seen in the last few weeks, since the second task had ended.

Harry grinned in satisfaction. “Your turn now.”

Draco—who had apparently been lost in a daze—was startled out of it. “What?” he exclaimed. He frantically searched in the satchel slung across his chair and pulled out a small mirror. It wasn’t until Harry examined it more closely that he realised it was the two-way mirror he had gifted Draco for Christmas. Harry felt peculiarly pleased that Draco kept it with him. He decided not to dwell on this.

“Really, Potter? Yellow?” Draco said, unimpressed.

Harry bit the corner of his lips and shrugged innocently. “Rumour has it you’re becoming more and more like a Hufflepuff by the day, Malfoy.”

Draco glared at him. “That particular rumour holds less truth than your brain holds capacity to remember a single Transfiguration spell,” he said. Harry noticed that there was little malice in Draco’s tone, however, and he had suddenly become very defensive, as though Draco thought that he needed to deny Harry’s allegation. Harry found this inordinately interesting.

“Go on then,” Harry sighed. He caught Draco’s eye and watched the way they narrowed in concentration before Harry couldn’t help himself—he burst into laughter. The yellow shade was unnerving yet highly amusing and Harry found that with every glance at Draco’s eyes and his impatient frown, he laughed again. Harry desperately tried to control his short laughter but each time he glanced at Draco, he started laughing to himself.

Draco glowered.

“Sorry,” Harry said through a fit of laughter. “I just can’t take you seriously with yellow eyes. You look like a lizard.”

Draco rolled his eyes, a faint smile tugging the corners of his lips. He muttered the counter-spell at his eyes, returning them to their original shade instantly. Draco watched Harry try to stifle his giggles with a hint of a smile capering across his lips.

“I can’t concentrate on your eyes, Potter, when they go all… crinkly when you laugh,” Draco said impatiently. Judging from his expression, however, Draco very much wanted to keep watching Harry try to control his outburst of laughter.

Eventually, and after Draco had let out a particularly exasperated sigh, Harry managed to quench his laughter, smiling guiltily. They had caught the attention of some of the Slytherins sitting nearby, though Draco didn’t seem to mind.

“Mr Malfoy, have you at least attempted the spell?” barked Professor McGonagall, apparently annoyed by the lack of progress the rest of the class had made.

“I would have, Professor, if Potter hadn’t been distracting me,” Draco said easily.

Harry’s heart pounded in his chest. He had a retaliation to Draco’s comment on the tip of his tongue but found that Draco’s wry smile was enough to silence it.

Professor McGonagall pursed her thin lips. “Well get to it now, then, please. I would expect you to successfully cast this spell on your first try.”

Draco smiled ruefully.

“Wait— I wasn’t trying to distract you,” Harry said, looking pointedly at him.

Draco rolled his eyes and pointed his wand at Harry’s eyes.

“I’m serious, Malfoy,” Harry persevered, turning slightly pink under Draco’s scrutiny.

“Whatever you say, darling,” Draco sighed. “Now can we get this over with?”

Harry’s jaw snapped close and his retort flew out of his thoughts. Darling? With a cursory glance at Draco, Harry found that he looked equally surprised by the slip of tongue, but recovered quickly, expression developing into one of vacant boredom. Harry nodded mutely and folded his hands on his knees. It was obviously a mistake, Harry told himself firmly. Draco probably used terms of affection around his friends all the time; perhaps he had one of them on his mind while speaking to Harry.

Mutata Oculis Meis,” Draco said.

A slight flicker of white light emerged from the tip of Draco’s wand and shot directly towards him. Harry watched Draco’s eyes light up, his lips part slightly. Something tugged inside Harry’s chest, leaving him desperate to capture Draco’s expression. He shut his eyes, suddenly nervous to see how Draco had changed them.

“Your eyes aren’t going to pop out, you know,” Draco said with a hint of amusement. “You can open them.”

Not wholly convinced that his eyes wouldn’t fall out, Harry cautiously opened them. Draco was looking directly at him, expectant and with a glint of something close to satisfaction in his smile. Draco handed Harry his half of the two-way mirror. Their hands brushed lightly, Draco’s thumb caressing the bone of Harry wrist before he wrenched his hand back. Harry watched Draco swallow thickly before glancing into the mirror.

His eyes were the precise same shade of green as they always were. He glanced up at Draco in confusion. “They haven’t changed,” he said simply.

Draco tilted his head, smiling. “I don’t like inconsistency,” he said. “I don’t want to change your eye colour only to have it slightly different when it’s changed back.”

Harry smiled, slightly taken aback by Draco’s sentiment. “My eye colour won’t be different. They won’t be different once you cast the Counter-Spell.”

“Your eye-colour will still have been tainted,” Draco said firmly. “Besides, I did change your eyes, just not the shade. Look closer.”

Harry watched him curiously for a moment, following the angle of his eyebrows and the way the skin covering his cheekbones strained when he frowned. He looked into the mirror carefully. There, he saw that his eyes were, indeed, a familiar shade of green but they seemed to shine and flicker in certain places. A brightness rose and fell within them, like a flame. Draco had cast a green flame in his irises. “That’s… incredible,” Harry breathed. “How did you do that?”

Draco shook his head and smiled enigmatically. Harry felt his heart twist in his chest, constraining his robes slightly. He determinedly looked away from Draco’s gaze.

 

*

 

“Hurry up!” Harry called through the lavatory door. “It’s already started!”

That night, the Wizarding Wireless Network were featuring a special debate on the Triwizard Tournament, its history and the champions that year.

Draco emerged from the lavatory behind a cloud of thick, rolling steam. A towel was perched low on his hips and he languidly dried his hair with a smaller towel which, on closer inspection, had Draco’s initials embroidered on it. Harry refrained from rolling his eyes, which had latched onto the toned muscle across Draco’s chest and his soft, pale stomach. The scars and burns along his forearms had faded to mere pink streaks, though a few still had a painful-looking rawness that made Harry want to reach out and drag a finger across the marks. Or perhaps his tongue.

“When you’ve quite finished,” Draco said lightly, following Harry’s wandering eyes with a small, satisfied smile. Harry blushed and averted his gaze pointedly.

Harry had begun to notice over the past couple of weeks that the smile adorning Draco’s face had changed whenever they spoke; it was no longer a condescending sneer, or a smirk, but a gentler, more cautious smile. It felt real, natural despite Draco’s initial tentativeness.

Harry smiled back at Draco. “Get your arse over here already,” he ordered. “It’s starting in a second.”

The crackling of the Wizarding Wireless alerted them both.

“Now, folks, as you all know, this year is the one hundredth and twenty-fifth Triwizard Tournament and the first since the 1792 cockatrice incident. Some of our listeners were very concerned about rules and regulations when they heard about the revival of this year’s tournament.”

Draco pulled on his pyjamas, apparently deliberately taking his time simply to irk Harry which—infuriatingly—worked. Harry watched cautiously as Draco sat opposite him on the slightly uncomfortable wooden floorboards of their dormitory, the small radio between them. Harry couldn’t prevent himself from glancing up to watch Draco’s reaction. Each time he did, however, he found that Draco’s gaze had already been fixed on him. Though Draco’s gaze was intense, it was not unwelcoming, and all Harry could do was glance back at the radio or pat the ground beside him so that Cassiopeia would wander over to him.

“Although, Silas, I must say that the tournament has received quite the make-over since then,” the second reporter, Hattie Lane, said brightly. “This year has two champions from each of the schools—our very own Hogwarts, Beauxbatons Academy, and Durmstrang Institute—which means that the whole thing has been given that extra layer of precaution.”

“You’re right there, Hattie. One of the main components is team-work—something that sparked quite a bit of debate when the Hogwarts champions transpired to be a Gryffindor and a Slytherin who had never even met each other!”

“Quite a debate indeed. The Daily Prophet article released about the two was even more amusing than anything else. The two certainly couldn’t stand next to each other without looking like they wanted to fire a nicely-aimed hex at the other!”

“Oh, it was quite an amusing article, Hattie. Certainly reminded me of the rivalries in my school days. Now, Draco Malfoy, son of Lucius Malfoy, as you all know, and Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived himself, may have disliked each other—”

“Try loathed each other, Silas!”

“—but, if any of that animosity remained by the time the first task came around, it certainly wasn’t apparent to any of us.”

Cassiopeia made an affronted noise in Harry’s lap, as though personally offended by the reporters. Harry grinned and stroked behind her ears. He thought back to the beginning of the school year. It felt like years had passed since their photoshoot. Harry’s perception of Draco since then had changed drastically. With every fleeting glance at Draco, Harry saw less of the insufferably dismissive Slytherin and more of the person willing to go to great lengths to win the tournament with Harry. Because that was one of the differences that stood out to Harry; Draco was no longer competing for himself but he cared about winning with Harry, together.

“Absolutely, Silas! And I would take anything Rita Skeeter writes with a pinch of salt, too. I may be harbouring a slight bias here but I thought this year’s Hogwarts champions outshone the other two teams by a Quidditch field!”

“I definitely agree with you there. I’d even go as far as saying that their perseverance—especially in light of some of those unforeseen obstacles in the second task—would give Enoch Greengrass, the 1732 champion, a run for his Galleons.”

“Too right,” Draco said smugly. Abrax purred loudly into Draco’s chest and Draco beamed down at him.

“That’s quite a bold statement, Hattie! Folks, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this year’s champions, the tasks thus far, and Hogwarts School’s chances for winning this year’s Triwizard Cup, so send in your owl to us.”

“Before that, though, we’re going to give you a taste of what’s coming up on Witching Hour with Glenda Chittock later this evening. We’re going to kick things off with a classic for you all. Here’s the Celestina Warbeck hit You Charmed the Heart Right Out of Me.”

The opening chords and the tender crooning of Celestina Warbeck filled the room but neither of them moved to switch the radio off.

Harry cradled Cassiopeia against his chest, relieved that nothing scandalous had been mentioned about Draco’s family or any of their personal details. He had actually found the special broadcast intriguing; all the facts about previous tournament winners and the tasks they had confronted. Harry was about to comment on that when he glanced up and paused. To his complete shock, Draco was on his feet, Abrax still clinging to his chest, dancing. Harry’s jaw fell open and he gaped as Draco swayed to Celestina Warbeck’s gentle crooning about her forbidden love. The sight was strangely adorable, even though Harry’s brain unhelpfully supplied an image of Filch dancing with Mrs Norris at the Yule Ball. This was different, though; Draco was ironically twirling Abrax, almost taunting Harry to react. Draco was smiling faintly at Abrax, wrapping her protectively in his arms and humming the familiar tune against her fur.

They had left the curtains open and the faint moonbeams scattered across the floorboards and followed Draco’s moving form. His lower body, clothed only in light cotton pyjamas, was plunged in a dark shadow but Harry could follow Draco’s eyes, alight beneath the light, from the floor.

Harry watched him, tangled in the lightness of awe and fascination, propelling him to gather Cassiopeia into his arms and scramble to his feet. “Didn’t take you for a Celestina Warbeck fan,” Harry said, failing to hide the amusement from his tone. The notion in itself—that Draco enjoyed slow-dancing to songs middle-aged witches listened to with Harry’s cat gathered in his arms—was absurd.

“I’m not particularly partial to her,” Draco said, meeting Harry’s eye with a wry grin. “My mother is, though.”

Harry stored this piece of information away for later dwelling. Draco evidently had a good relationship with his mother if he was reminded of her by a song that could elicit such a gentle side of him. Harry wondered whether Draco missed her.

“Mine too,” Harry admitted. “Think it’s a generational thing. And perhaps a female one.”

Draco hummed non-committedly and peeked at Harry over Abrax’s head. Harry smiled indistinctly and followed Draco’s movements as the chorus resonated through their dormitory. There was very little space between them, with the Wizarding Wireless at their feet and about a foot of space between their chests. The thought made Harry more nervous than he cared to admit. The delicate skimming of piano keys matched the tenderness of the song, the tune slow yet mesmerising. Cassiopeia, however, didn’t seem to be fond of Harry’s swaying and twisted uneasily in his arms.

“You’re still as bad a dancer as you were at the Yule Ball, Potter,” Draco said, amused. “Clearly, your copious number of dance lessons from all your admirers didn’t make any difference.”

The remark lacked Draco’s scathing intent and came across acrid and jealous. Harry felt something stir inside his chest. Draco couldn’t possibly be jealous of Leif or Blaise, though, Harry reasoned. Even to his own mind, however, the argument against Draco’s jealousy was weak. Draco had dropped his gaze to the floor, cautiously avoiding the way Harry was observing him.

“Teaching my two left feet to dance is hardly a privilege, Malfoy,” Harry said. “Besides, I didn’t exactly get around to learning much about dancing considering I was too focused on pulling Larson’s hair out.”

Draco didn’t smile, instead stroking Abrax’s fur with murderous fixation.

“You’re one to talk, anyway,” Harry said, nodding at Draco’s simple, albeit rhythmic swaying.

“I’m infinitely better than you.”

“I thought you said that wouldn’t be hard.”

“It wouldn’t,” Draco said, smiling impishly, “but I’d be reluctantly willing to change that.”

Bending down to set Abrax on the floor, Draco caught Harry’s eye and held it firmly. The seductive piano mimicked Draco’s slow, purposeful movements as he rose to full height and closed the gap between them. Cassiopeia caught Harry’s moment of hesitation and leaped out of his arms. Harry’s heart jack-rabbited and he suddenly felt that he needed his cat-barrier that was Cassiopeia back in his arms.

Staring at Draco, Harry searched his enticing gaze for a hint of what he could expect from Draco. Infuriatingly, however, Draco remained as impassive and unpredictable as always.

Harry’s heart thundered in his chest and his limbs had gone limp and useless at his sides. Draco kicked the radio on its side in a way that shouldn’t have been as beguiling as it was, and closed the gap between them until Harry could feel Draco’s breath hot against his skin. There was a faint smell wafting towards him, something heady and smoky, different to any musky, masculine scent he had expected Draco to wear.

Fingertips brushed across Harry’s wrist and Harry’s breath caught in his throat. It felt the same as their dance at the Yule Ball, yet heavier, more significant. A rich tension, palpable and thick, had developed between them and, alone with Draco, Harry felt wildly reckless. He reached up and pulled Draco’s arms around his waist. Draco stared at Harry from beneath his eyelashes, head bowed over him and following Harry’s every movement.

Celestina Warbeck’s sultry voice filled the air and Draco swayed his slender hips to the tantalisingly slow rhythm. Harry let out an uneven breath and reached up, wrapping his arms around Draco’s shoulders. Their faces were close, separated by mere inches, and Harry watched the loose curls fall from Draco’s styled hair over his eyes as they swayed. Harry clasped his hands together behind Draco’s neck but they quickly became unbearably sweaty and instead he tickled the base of Draco’s hairline at the nape of his neck. Draco huffed sharply, probably taken aback. Harry watched Draco’s eyes fall closed and he closed the distance between them until their chests touched with every slight movement.

It was terribly domestic, something Harry’s parents might have done. Harry could picture them preparing dinner together on a warm, summer evening. They would be talking about trivial matters—memories and acquaintances and how expensive fresh vegetables were at that time of the year—when the opening chords of the song they first danced to at their wedding would play on the radio. Harry could picture both of their reactions—his father’s wistful smile and his mother’s glazed eyes. His father might take his her gently by the arm and lead her in a slow, nostalgic two-step around their cluttered kitchen, reminiscing their youth together.

Harry tried to rid his thoughts of his parents as Draco tilted his head and breathed hot and harshly in Harry’s ear. The music ended, then, and Silas Featham’s bright voice filled the room.

Silencio,” Draco whispered.

Harry jerked out of his reverie at the surprising sound of Draco’s voice, gruff and impatient. His skin prickling with nerves, Harry pressed closer to Draco, following their previous rhythm, expect with his eyes fixed on Draco’s full, parted lips. Thoughts of dragging his tongue across Draco’s lower lip and sinking his teeth in it left Harry hot and desperate to close the infuriating gap between them. He glanced up and caught Draco’s dark pupils and his debauched smirk. He was watching Harry with equal intensity and, somehow, Harry didn’t want to look away. Taking a step closer to Draco, and feeling slightly breathless beneath his gaze, Harry felt the hands around his waist tighten. His breath caught in his throat and thoughts flooded his mind as the quiet stillness seemed to emphasise just how charged the energy between them was.

It was an atrocious idea, a voice in Harry’s head told him earnestly as he leaned closer, meeting Draco’s unflinching gaze. He would most certainly regret it the next day, the voice continued, as Harry watched with bated breath as Draco leaned down slightly, tongue wetting his lower lip. Or, at least, Draco would regret it, a quieter voice told him. Draco would almost certainly consider it a mistake, and attribute it to horniness and convenience, the voice continued with more conviction. Draco would probably sneer if Harry mentioned it, pretend that it never happened, or ignore him entirely. Harry couldn’t quite meet Draco’s eye and dropped his gaze slightly. Logically, Harry knew that kissing Draco, despite how infuriatingly tempting it was, would leave him drowning in regret and trying to navigate their relationship all over again. In that moment, though, the moon casting a silvery light across them, the faint static from the radio, and the sincerity in Draco’s tentativeness, Harry found that his reservations didn’t matter.

Draco seemed to notice his moment of hesitation. Harry felt fingers press into his slender love handles, urging him to look up. Against the protests of every rational thought in his mind, Harry lifted his head and caught Draco’s insistent gaze. The sight was one to behold; even beneath the dark, evening light and the glint of Draco’s eye, Harry could detect a hint of concern. Without uttering a word, Draco’s gaze implored him to pull away, to call it a mistake, a moment of insanity and they could both move on with their lives. Instead, Harry did the precise opposite. He titled his head and leaned up, watching a small bead of sweat on Draco’s forehead as the moonlight dragged a shadow across his face. Disengaging himself from his thoughts, Harry pressed harshly against Draco’s lips, prying them open and sealing their mouths.

Draco tasted different to what Harry had anticipated; tart and hot, his movements yearning and almost desperate. The feeling of Draco’s chest against his own, pressing against him, left Harry’s insides in a tangle of nerves and excitement, his pulse quickening as he felt his own movements become more fevered. Draco’s tongue swiped across Harry’s lips, teasing him to respond. Harry’s skin prickled at the sensation. Wrapping his arms tighter around Draco’s neck, Harry tangled his fingers deeper into Draco’s hair, pulling him closer. Draco, who seemed to be trying to constrain himself, keened at this and kissed him deliberately slowly and with practiced intent.

Harry’s skin felt alight, as though inordinately sensitive beneath Draco’s touch as his fingers pressed into Harry’s waist. Harry sighed into Draco’s mouth and bit lightly on Draco’s lower lip before kissing gently over the mark. Draco stifled a moan and sunk his long fingers into Harry’s lower back, dragging them down his spine. Breathless and desperate to further close the gap between them, Harry pressed their chests together, shuddering as Draco gripped him tightly against himself. Plush, damp lips pressed back against Harry’s own and Harry absently wondered why he ever considered this a bad idea in the first place. With more urgency, Harry pressed his lips against Draco’s holding him still for a moment before they both grew restless.

Closing his mouth around Draco’s lips, Harry alternated between long, sensuous kissing that left him with a strange serenity, and harsh, insistent kissing that Draco—impatient as ever—almost always began. A guttural moan and greedy lips chased his own, pressing along the edge of Harry’s mouth and down, along his jawline. Harry felt Draco’s fingers grip his love handles as the pads of Draco’s thumbs pressed against his skin, leaving Harry’s heart thundering in his chest. Even the thought of the faint marks Draco might leave made his trousers strain as Draco pulled Harry flush against him.

Draco gently guided Harry’s head to the side to expose his neck. Harry felt hot, quick breaths along his neck that made his muscles become rigid beneath his robes. Before he could react, however, Harry felt small, tender kisses follow imaginary patterns along the sensitive skin below Harry’s ear. A broken moan escaped Harry’s lips of its own accord when Draco nipped at the throbbing vein along his neck.

Harry’s throat felt parched and he was certain that, with their close proximity, even Draco could hear just how quickly his heart was beating. Not trusting his own voice—and not wanting to break the stillness between them—Harry tugged Draco’s hair in response. Harry’s breath caught in his throat as Draco’s teeth ever so gently dragged along the taut skin of Harry’s neck. Letting out a soft sigh against Draco’s shoulder, Harry wrapped the hair behind Draco’s ears around his finger, and tugged. Draco paused against Harry’s neck and dropped his head on Harry’s shoulder, letting out a groan against it. Harry felt a small, fleeting sense of satisfaction at the sound. Guiding Draco’s head down by the chin, Harry let his fingertips dance across the sharp line of Draco’s jaw before closing the gap between them again. Draco’s lips were pretty and swollen, the redness contrasting divinely against his pale skin.

Draco pressed as Harry pulled back, chasing and teasing each other as though nothing had changed between them. Even when they were kissing, it felt as though he was in competition with Draco, as though they could never exist amicably because there was always an element of traction; a tension that seemed to pervade every aspect of their relationship. Harry pulled back, panting lightly. A steady resonance hit him in waves until, quite suddenly, the realisation that he had just kissed Draco Malfoy hit him like a Quaffle to the stomach.

The open window, casting light and darkness around the room in abstract shapes had submerged Draco in a horribly ironic shadow. Draco seemed to be bringing his breathing back to normal pace; his head was tilted backwards and his pants erratic. Mercifully, Draco’s eyes were closed.

Harry took an almost tentative step backwards, watching carefully. Draco was not a pleasant person, he told himself sternly. He was dismissive, argumentative and vile, he repeated, futilely trying to convince himself. He treated people like house elves, treated Harry like one for during the entirety of the first three months, even after endless attempts at cordiality and team-work. Harry had been warned on numerous occasions not to associate with him despite their necessary proximity due to the Triwizard Tournament, and this was what all of those unheeded warnings had culminated in. Harry took another step back, stumbling slightly as the back of his knees knocked against his bed.

Draco’s smile faltered. Harry watched the hopefulness drain from Draco’s face, instantly replaced by a look of practiced vacancy. An unbearably desolate blankness filled Draco’s eyes and Harry felt his heart falter in his chest.

Harry knew he should resign himself to making it clear to Draco that he didn’t intend to take their relationship any further; explain to Draco that kissing him was a mistake, that Harry had been caught up in the heat of the moment and Draco’s intangible charm, and that he simply hadn’t thought clearly. He desperately didn’t want to, though. Despite the apparent changes Draco had made—choosing not to jinx anyone who stared at him for too long or treat Harry with the same degree of disdain as he did at the beginning of term—Harry knew that small actions could never redeem Draco completely.

“I can’t, Draco,” Harry whispered. “We can’t do this together.” He watched Draco set his lips in a firm line, the silvery light casting a glaze over his eyes.

“You felt differently a few minutes ago,” Draco said coldly. “Suddenly remembered exactly who I am, did you?”

Harry’s eyes prickled against his will and he furiously shoved his hand into his pocket to retrieve his wand. Draco was unpredictable when he was angry.

“I didn’t know what I felt a few minutes ago,” Harry said eventually. “I… I don’t do casual stuff—”

“Nor do I.”

“—and I don’t think you and I,” Harry said, gesturing between them awkwardly, “should… do this with each other.”

Harry felt his heart sink as Draco’s face drained of colour and his mouth twisted into a grim smile. A moment of dull, charged silence passed and, when Draco caught Harry’s eye, Harry stomach lurched, as though he had just received a Bludger to his chest.

“I shouldn’t have expected anything less,” Draco said spitefully. His voice was dripping with disdain and it seemed like Draco couldn’t quite contain the emotion in his voice; one of Draco’s hands was balled at his side and he was compulsively scratching his forearm with the other.

Suddenly, Harry felt a disgruntled rage in his chest and he hastily stood to his feet. “Get off your fucking high broom, Malfoy,” he said. The words escaped his mouth before Harry could fully consider them. The way Draco was standing, how he seemed to take offence to what Harry had said and how he had the audacity to take it out on him. It was as though the Draco Harry thought he knew had been replaced by the conceited, spiteful Slytherin everyone else knew him as. “You can’t honestly expect us to skip off on an innocent date to Madam Puddifoot’s now, can you?”

Fixing his hostile gaze on Harry, Draco glared at him. “That I would never do,” Draco clipped. “And since you’re acting like your insufferably moral self all of a sudden, I don’t expect you to understand.”

“Understand what, exactly?” Harry demanded, his chest heaving. He despised how his voice sounded rough around the edges.

“I’m not explaining something that I’ve already made quite plain,” Draco said, stalking over to the door. He turned back and caught Harry’s eye with a similar steely determination Harry had seen only during the first task while they confronted Diane. “My intentions with you.”

With that, Draco shut the door firmly behind him. Harry’s heart stuttered in his chest as he was impaled by the force of the door slamming, something that oddly reflected how suddenly he was struck by what had happened. He had kissed Draco and Draco had admitted that he had intentions with him, whatever that meant. As Harry slumped back onto his bed in a confusion of emotions, he heard Edessa Skanderberg’s shrill voice and Draco’s distinct, ringing footsteps.

Chapter Text

The following week brought torrential rain and howling winds to Hogwarts. Sitting in one of the plush armchairs by the crackling fire and watching the sheets of rain pound against the windows in the Gryffindor common room was not how Harry had planned to spend his Friday afternoon.

“What are the ingredients in Girding Potion?” Ron asked, painfully unaware of Harry’s inner conflict.

“Er— Fairy wings and Doxy eggs, I think,” Harry said absently, brushing the long edge of his quill. “And dragon thoraxes.”

“Thanks,” Ron said, scribbling onto a long piece of parchment. He glanced up with a concerned frown. “You alright, mate?”

“Yeah, fine,” Harry said easily.

He was, in truth, tangled in a downward spiral in which every one of his thoughts was at variance with the thought that preceded it. It was exhausting; one moment he decided that he had made the most appropriate, mature decision available. He had made his position not to have a relationship without Draco outside what was absolutely necessary quite clear. Every time he spiralled back to this conclusion, however, Harry felt like a complete fool. Ignoring Draco—and his feelings for Draco—went against everything he had endeavoured for over the last couple of months. The issue that Harry struggled most with, however, was that he knew that he liked Draco, despite his insistence to keep him at broom’s length. Draco was challenging and unyielding in his every belief, yet could be gentle and protective at times. Despite everything, he seemed to care about Harry. And that was enough to tear Harry’s entire plan to steadfastly overlook the fact that he liked Draco into a thousand pathetic pieces.

“You sure, mate? You look a bit ill,” Ron said.

“Absolutely. Just a bit worried about this Potions exam next week,” Harry said. “Haven’t started studying yet.” He smiled at Ron, though he knew it was unconvincing. He knew Draco would’ve seen right through it. He would’ve demanded why Harry was lying and what was actually upsetting him. Ron did neither, returning his attention to his Potions essay, placated by Harry’s mediocre response.

The only two elements of Harry’s wandering, inconsequential obsession with his situation that he knew for certain were that he both liked Draco and yearned to understand Draco. Said aloud, it would sound horribly contradictory but, in his own mind, his desires made perfect sense. He liked the side of Draco that he had revealed to Harry, the way Draco refused to stop because he had a desperate need to attain his—often self-inflicted—goals; the way Draco liked to surround himself with luxury items but truly valued very few; the way Draco had kissed Harry so tenderly, with such impetuous passion that Harry could forget the other side of Draco’s character.

This other side was the one that Harry needed to understand. Draco could cast a dangerous curse with frightful ease, could shut himself off from Harry with the slightest mistake, could tease endless information about Harry out of him while revealing a frustratingly small amount about himself. And Harry needed to understand why. Not merely because he was curious but because he liked Draco, wanted to be able to discern the barrier Draco put up from his true self, wanted to unravel the past that Harry knew with astonishing clarity had inflicted some kind of pain that left Draco as he was, wanted to be able to trust him outside of and beyond the Triwizard Tournament.

He couldn’t exactly march off to Draco with a list of requirements for him to complete—stop jinxing Hufflepuffs purely because they’re Hufflepuffs, treat all his professors more respectfully, learn how to give love bites without leaving red, throbbing marks along Harry’s neck, to name but a few. For one, Draco would either laugh mirthlessly or transfigure Harry’s list into something vicious. The more important reason, however, was that Harry knew Draco would take insult to such a list, insist that Harry was trying to change who he was.

Harry sighed regretfully and pulled his cardigan tightly around himself. He watched a couple of fourth years settle themselves directly beside the fire, the girl distributing the Exploding Snap cards. The boy opposite her kept stealing glances, wearing an expression of tentative affection. The girl was completely oblivious, however, chattering about her ridiculous amount of Divination homework and how she could never remember any of her dreams. The boy, watching her deft hands fly across the cards, nodded vehemently, choking out a “Yeah, I never remember mine either.”

The sight made Harry’s heart twist in his chest. He had the distinct feeling that the boy was too enraptured by the girl that he hadn’t fully registered what she had said. Though harbouring a mildly unhealthy crush, the boy looked blissful to have been given the apparent privilege of the girl’s company. The sight of them, giggling and laughing as the card explosions became outrageously loud, left Harry with a sinking feeling, as though he was falling into an empty space and each time he anticipated his landing, he fell further and faster.

“I’m going back to dinner,” Harry announced.

Ron scrambled to his feet, shoving his books and parchment on one of the small tables. “Thank Merlin,” he sighed. “I’d take any excuse not to finish that bloody essay.”

Harry absently listened to Ron describe the arduous amount of work Flitwick had assigned in the last lesson, though his thoughts drifted almost compulsively towards Draco. The issue was that he didn’t know how to raise the conversation with him. Ask him how his apparently recent interest in acting like less of a conceited prick was proceeding? Explain that Harry really did like Draco, but that he very much wanted to learn about Draco’s childhood to understand the origins of his anger and enmity with anyone who wasn’t within the immediate circle of people he wanted to protect?

I care because I know that you do.

Harry dragged his feet into the Great Hall, deliberately facing the Slytherin table on the opposite side. They were reasonably early for dinner but there were quite a few students devouring the delectable food—toad-in-the-hole with green salad and warm apple crumble for pudding—or lingering in the aisles between tables to talk to their friends from other houses.

His eyes were drawn to the Slytherin table, where he saw Draco sitting beside the Durmstrang boy with dark, cropped hair that Draco had hugged the first day the foreign students had arrived. Harry stabbed his fork into his pastry with more viciousness than he had intended, sending dark, mushroom sauce over the front of his robes.

Scourgify,” Harry muttered distractedly.

He tried to quash the bitter jealousy clawing at his insides as he watched Draco speak into the Durmstrang boy’s ear.

Harry felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Mate, I have a Calming Draught in my dorm if you need one,” Ron said quietly. “You look… tense.”

“I don’t need anything,” Harry snapped. That wasn’t quite true, though. He very much needed Draco’s attention to be focused on him rather than the unbearably attractive Durmstrang boy beside him. Harry knew of Draco’s excellent intuition; he was always able to sense whenever someone else was looking at him and, right then, Draco had to have known that Harry was staring directly at him. Worryingly, Harry couldn’t bring himself to tear his eyes away, however, despite Draco’s refusal to give him the satisfaction of eye contact.

It was jarring, Harry realised, to have the very person he spent countless hours beside—both conscious and asleep—pay him such little regard. Though dismissive during the first few weeks of term, Harry knew that over the last couple of months Draco’s attitude towards him had utterly evolved. Draco always extended the courtesy to listen to his thoughts and consider his input (though he also took great pleasure from reminding Harry that “we’re doing it my way or not at all”).

Draco could anticipate his next move before even Harry himself could and seemed to understand him so acutely that Harry sometimes felt unnerved by it. Harry’s mother liked to call it Spousal Legilimency; understanding the most complex, intimate thoughts of a loved one by the most insignificant of movements or expressions. Auror partners tended to form such bonds, as did most married couples. He and Draco were neither Auror partners nor spouses, however, Harry told himself sternly. They could hardly consider themselves friends.

“Mate, Hermione and I are going to the library now if you want to come,” Ron said rather gingerly, breaking Harry out of his reverie.

Feeling slightly guilty for ignoring to Ron’s inane talking during dinner, Harry nodded and gathered his belongings, shoving them hastily into his satchel. He shot a final glance over his shoulder and found Draco muttering into the Durmstrang boy’s ear, who was observing him intently. The boy had an intimidating stare that could rival even Draco’s, though the Durmstrang boy’s had a warmth, a curiosity that Draco’s lacked. It was highly unnerving. Harry turned primly on his heel and walked out of the Great Hall.

He and Ron met Hermione in one of the deserted corners of the Astronomy section, curled up in one of the armchairs and surrounded by a tottering pile of books. With a quick glance at Hermione’s slightly concealed form, Ron swiftly stepped beside her and pulled one of the books out of her hand with an endeared sigh. Hermione glanced up to identify his book thief and the lines on her face smoothed and she smiled gently, slightly sheepish. The sight was bittersweet and left Harry’s eyes clouded by melancholy.

“Sit down,” Hermione urged. She summoned two of the armchairs to whizz across the floor beside her and Harry collapsed into one of them with a sigh.

Ron shook his head, rifling through his satchel. “Have to grab a few books I left in the common room,” he sighed. “Back in a few minutes.”

Harry followed the smile playing on Hermione’s lips as he watched Ron’s jog turn into a brisk walk when Madam Pince glared at him.

“I overheard Malfoy talking about you a few days ago,” Hermione said thoughtfully, as though he could read Harry’s thoughts and thought that Harry might appreciate that piece of information.

Harry’s heart leapt. The prospect of Draco acknowledging him outside of torn glances and stiff conversation made him feel elated in a way that Harry did not want to consider too deeply. Although, a rational (and very irritating) voice in his head reminded him, it was unlikely that Draco had been singing Harry’s praises or professing his undying love for him.

“What did he say?” Harry asked in a far less nonchalant voice than he had intended.

Hermione shook his head. “I didn’t hear everything,” he admitted. “I was waiting at the bended corridor outside the Ancient Runes classroom. I heard his voice around the bend. I didn’t recognise the voice of the person he was talking to. All I heard him saying was that… that he quite didn’t know what to do about you.” Hermione paused, as though considering whether to disclose anything further. “I know that sounds awfully unhelpful,” she sighed. “The person he was speaking to—a boy, surely—seemed fed up with Malfoy. He kept telling him to stop exasperating his situation and ‘talk to him at least’.” Hermione’s mouth twisted into a sympathetic smile, as though she could see right through Harry, and she shrugged. “I’m not sure whether that would mean anything to you.”

A strange sinking feeling left Harry’s chest feeling tight and constrained in his robes. He shook his head. “Not really, no,” he said. “Thanks for letting me know anyway, though.”

Hermione smiled and waved a hand in dismissal. “Just telling it like it was.”

Harry was relieved at Hermione’s disinterest in probing, how he was willing to supply information but expected very little else in return.

“You like him, don’t you?”

The cautious edge to Hermione’s tone caught Harry’s attention and he nodded despondently before he could consider his response. He caught Hermione’s eye and found only sympathy there, no trace of judgement.

“Am I really that obvious?” Harry asked, his tone contrite.

“No, you aren’t,” Hermione assured. “I just kind of assumed when you asked about me about him.”

Harry smiled ruefully. “I just… I don’t know what to do about it,” he sighed, averting his gaze to the thick rug. “It isn’t just attraction. I actually… I like him and I can’t even understand why sometimes.”

Hermione nodded, considering his response for a moment. “Do you think he likes you back?”

“Whether he does or not doesn’t really matter,” Harry said. “Issue is, I shouldn’t like him.”

Hermione considered this for a moment. “Well, why not?” he asked eventually with slight umbrage.

“Because he’s…” Harry said, grappling for words and slightly desperate to communicate just how tragic his predicament was. “He’s not a decent person most of the time. At least, outside of when it’s just the two of us he’s not. And he used to be such an arrogant prat and he’s so fucking stubborn it drives me up the walls.”

Hermione, it seemed, did not entirely agree with him. She watched Harry with a thoughtful frown, her fingers bunched in the pocket of his robes, as though she was restraining herself from walloping Harry on the head for his stupidity.

“What is it, Hermione?”

“I just think you need to give yourself a little more credit,” Hermione said on a breath. “You shouldn’t beat yourself up about having a crush on him.”

Harry smiled at that, glancing up from where he had been counting the threads in the carpet.

“I just mean there’s clearly more to him than meets the eye,” Hermione said simply. “You know him better than any of us; you know about any of his good qualities, things he likes, how he acts. It’s natural that you have a connection with him, Harry, and it’s not something that you should be ashamed of. You shouldn’t base your perception of him on what everyone else sees. And I must admit that he’s a rather good student too.”

Harry slumped back into his armchair, caught off guard by Hermione’s very logical advice. He berated himself for not asking Hermione sooner. The changes Draco had made, small though they were, had affected the school’s perception of him, but they could never compare to the more intimate aspects of Draco’s character, the parts of himself that he failed to disclose or that Harry could only pick up on from careful observation.

Some students—particularly those in the senior half of the school—had been suspicious at first, resigned to observing the changes with wary eyes and a shield charm at the ready. Others, however, particularly the more forgiving Hufflepuffs, had embraced Draco’s changes as a breath of fresh air. Though the dark notoriety attached to his name, according to some, had been sullied beyond salvation, many others were more than willing to approach Draco with less reservation. His changes comprised less of actions and more of omissions; Draco chose not to react so tempestuously or antagonise Professor McGonagall, rather than consciously acting like the paragon of virtue—something he most certainly was not.

“Sorry I took so long,” Ron said, bustling over to them with a heap of books balanced against his chest. “Couldn’t find my stuff at first and then I met McGonagall on the way back and she wanted to schedule another— Harry? Mate, are you okay?”

Harry smiled faintly. “Yeah, fine,” he said. “Just talking about—er—about how much Malfoy has changed recently.”

Ron smiled at this, nodding in a way that was resigned.

“Yes, it’s made things a lot easier for Ernie, at least,” Hermione said. “A lot less people to bring to the Hospital Wing recently.”

Ron scrunched his nose and pulled his lip between his teeth. “Don’t know why he’s doing it, though. You know how Slytherins are; they don’t do anything without a reason.”

Hermione nodded emphatically. As Ron set about organising his enormous pile of books on the nearby table, Hermione leaned over to Harry surreptitiously. “Maybe him liking you back matters more than you thought it would.”

 

*

 

Ten unpleasant days had passed since their kiss and Harry was restless. The foul March weather had alerted the teachers to the immediacy of their N.E.W.T.s and copious amount of homework—along with their usual revision—had been sprung on the seventh years in nearly every class. Potions had become impossibly tedious, Herbology had begun to require extraordinary concentration (especially after Malachy Orpington touched the Venomous Tentacula without dragon-hide gloves and Professor Sprout had insisted upon better precautions), and Transfiguration class frequently left Harry with a pounding headache and an empty inkwell.

His schoolwork, however, had only come second to his almost constant fixation with Draco’s change of behaviour. Not only had Draco become more distant towards Harry, but he seemed to be detaching himself from everything else. Draco spent most of his time cooped up in his room with a book on his desk and his wand in his hand. It seemed, out of everyone Harry knew, Draco had taken the sudden onslaught of work the most seriously. With Draco studying diligently every night, the prospect of speaking to him (besides their necessary, if stilted, communication during Transfiguration) was presenting itself as a challenge.

“You just need to grit your teeth and talk to him,” Ginny had said that evening as they trudged back to the castle after his double Herbology and her Care of Magical Creatures. “He’s hardly as vicious as he used to be.”

“I’m not sure he could ever be characterised as vicious,” Harry said uncertainly, pulling the double doors open.

“I keep forgetting you weren’t here all along, Harry,” Ginny said, shaking his head at himself.

Ginny’s response did very little to quell Harry’s anxiousness.

Harry had begrudgingly told Ginny about his predicament with Draco after Ginny had pestered him ceaselessly; apparently, Ginny possessed the ability to identify what she had dubbed “the heartbreak face.” Though initially shocked by the revelation, Ginny had taken it in her stride and had pulled Harry into a tight, one-armed hug. Three days later, however, her compassion had evolved into impatience as she urged Harry to confess his feelings to Draco.

“What I’m saying is, you and him have clearly been dancing around each other and you just need to go for it,” Ginny said earnestly. “Besides, he looks fucking miserable without you.”

Harry laughed loudly. “He’d look just as miserable with me too,” he insisted. “He’s drowning himself in work at the moment. I haven’t seen him look up from reading or writing essays in days.”

“Sign of self-loathing! Denial of feelings! Utter heartbreak!” Ginny said in an excellent impression of Professor Trelawney, verve, eccentric hand motions included. “You must reach out for him, boy. Out, into the beyond!” She frantically grabbed Harry’s palm and clutched it as Trelawney tended to do when she was particularly inspired. “It’s written in the stars, dear boy! Destiny! Fate, even, that you should be the Gryffindor golden boy to fall in love with the Slytherin with the dark, twisted soul!”

Harry and Ginny collapsed into laughter at that, their voices ringing around the Entrance Hall. It was then that Harry noticed Draco trotting down the stairs, a thin copy of an Ancient Runes translation book held in his palm. He looked up and caught Harry’s gaze. A fleeting emotion, something that could almost pass for reluctant affection, crossed Draco’s face before a dull, vacant expression replaced it. Draco hurried into the Great Hall with nothing of his usual swagger.

“Oh, he’s got it bad,” Ginny exclaimed, laughing gleefully.

“He does not,” Harry said shortly, though he felt his cheeks blush.

Ginny shook his head. “Harry,” he sighed, “if Malfoy had started walking around with his nose in a book and his tail between his legs like that last year, then I would’ve expected McGonagall to check for Polyjuice in his pumpkin juice because that’s just… It’s not him.” Ginny looked deliberately at Harry. “With you, though, it makes sense. He’s been acting different since Christmas and this… this is just the glazed cherry on the cake.” Ginny peered into the Great Hall with interest. “Speaking of which, I’m grabbing some dinner before I have to get started on that diagram of Blast-Ended Skrewts for revision.”

Harry nodded absently, not entirely convinced. There were a multitude of reasons for Draco’s change in behaviour and very few of them led back to him.

A firm hand held Harry’s shoulder and he glanced up to meet Ginny’s kind eyes.

“Harry, the third task is in two days and you two can’t even look each other in the eyes. For Merlin’s sake and my own sanity: talk to him.”

 

*

 

The rickety door swung open later that evening and Draco ambled inside, diverting his gaze to his desk with practiced ease rather than to where Harry was lying on his bed. Harry heaved himself to a sitting position. He watched Draco set his satchel on his desk and slump against it with a sigh.

“Draco?” Harry asked hesitantly.

When Draco glanced up and met his eye, Harry suddenly forgot everything he had prepared to say. Draco’s eyes were hopeful but his stance was defensive, turned towards his desk.

“What is it?” Draco asked in a rough voice.

“I think we should talk,” Harry said. “Properly.”

Draco nodded stiffly and sat on his desk, plucking at a small hole in his robes. “What about?”

“You know what about,” Harry sighed. “I… Last week… after we kissed… I shouldn’t have pushed you away like that. It wasn’t fair.”

Draco remained still, watching Harry tensely.

“You know why I did, though,” Harry asked. “Don’t you?”

“Yes, and I don’t blame you.” There was a vehemence to Draco’s tone, as though he needed to implore Harry to believe him.

A heavy silence fell between them.

“I reacted badly,” Draco said. His voice was low and thoughtful, and he spoke with his eyes trained on the thick carpet at his feet, dragging the tip of his shoe back and forth.

Harry nodded, distinctly relieved that Draco could admit his own mistake. “I want to… I don’t want us to continue like this.”

Draco’s face contorted into one of resignation. “Don’t say that you just want us to go back to how we were.”

Harry’s heart leaped into his throat and he shoved his hands into his pockets to keep from his nervous fidgeting. What were they? Unwilling Triwizard partners who trusted each other inexplicably? Roommates who lived together in relative harmony (taking both their tempers and their aptitude for well-aimed jinxes into account). Over the past couple of months, Harry had become the kind of friend who woke Draco up early for DADA on a Wednesday despite knowing that Draco would most certainly mutter some choice swear words about the ungodly hour and possibly send a jinx over his shoulder. Draco had become the kind of friend that would taunt Harry mercilessly if he missed a step in Potions class or forgot the theory of a Transfiguration spell, but would leave his notes and a couple of books he had gathered on that subject on Harry’s desk later that evening for revision, something neither of them acknowledged.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

Draco smiled wryly. “I suppose we didn’t explicitly define what we were,” he said slowly, as though placing a particular weight upon each word before uttering them. “The night… when we kissed… That’s when our relationship changed into something that I could actually understand. It felt… honest.”

Harry slumped back against the headboard of his four-poster. Honest wasn’t a word that sprung to mind when he thought of their kiss but, perhaps, it was the right one. Both of them had released their inhibitions and been drawn to each other in such a vulnerable, intimate way—the way that Harry best understood Draco. It had felt natural, anticipated, even. The word honest captivated Harry’s thoughts and every one of them seemed to direct towards Draco. Harry glanced up to watch Draco, the way his expression was so open and willing. Willing to try, willing to explain, willing to let Harry delve into his thoughts and understand him.

“Lying isn’t second nature to me,” Draco said abruptly. He looked slightly surprised at his own admission but ploughed ahead nonetheless. “A lot of people think it comes naturally but it doesn’t. Deflecting and avoiding answering what I should or want to… I know how to do that like the back of my hand.” Draco sighed and glanced at his hands, rubbing a small circle on the protruding bone in his wrist. “The night we kissed felt different to that. It felt like I could be honest with myself, and with you.” Draco’s loud, rueful laugh punctured the space between them, like they had shared a cruel joke. “I was so fucking ready for that to start, for everything—that feeling of not having to constantly be stuck in limbo between not speaking and littering white lies—to end.

“I shouldn’t have ignored you, or gotten angry at you that night. You didn’t owe me anything and I don’t own you. It felt… It just felt like that feeling—of being honest and not being alone—was happening. And then you pulled away and it felt like everything—” Draco dropped his gaze to his thighs “—everything came crashing down again.”

Harry felt his jaw slacken. His throat suddenly felt parched dry and his hands clammy. The realisation of what was happening dawned on him with astounding clarity: Draco was confessing to him. Harry’s feet dragged him towards Draco, as though being pulled sharply by an invisible string or a weak Accio spell. He stood slightly in front of Draco’s parted knees but didn’t dare touch him. Draco met his eye, determined and no longer cautious.

“You can be honest with me now,” Harry said quietly, his tone was emphatic. “I think… I think that I deserve your honesty. I sometimes feel like I know you better than I know anyone else but we were cut out of each other’s life for so much longer than we’ve known each other.”

Draco breathed sharply. He dropped his gaze to the small hole in his robes, plunging his finger inside it. He swirled a long finger around the hole slowly, caressing the skin and enlarging the hole. “What I do… It’s called self-preservation. My parents like pretence; making it seem as though things are perfectly fine when they very clearly are anything but,” Draco said slowly, dragging each syllable out and pausing in careful places. “I suppose that’s what I mean by not lying but… manipulating the truth. I let other people believe things about me without losing myself too.”

Harry waited with bated breath as Draco clenched his fist around his robes before letting go suddenly. Harry reached out to still Draco’s movements and was rewarded with a flash of a smile.

“My father—I don’t know whether you know—he’s a foreign advisor. He consults Ministries all over Europe and Asia, bribes them with gold and keeps the British Minister for Magic happy,” Draco said. He allowed himself to grimace and Harry’s heart clenched, aching to somehow close the space between them, urge Draco that Harry was listening and ready to support him.

“He’s despicable,” Draco spat. “And how he behaves… It’s all part of his views on pure-blood supremacism.”

Harry felt his heart sink at this knowledge. Though he had the impression that Draco’s parents would be of such views, Harry found comfort in the fact that Draco staunchly resented them. He didn’t know that Draco’s parents were within Voldemort’s trusted circle of Death Eaters, but many pure-blood families chose to remove themselves from the blood-spilling and simply stood in the background, neither taking active part nor opposing Voldemort’s reign.

“The thing about his arrogance is that… It’s not just expected of me; I have to live up to it, to expectations,” Draco said, his voice curiously uneven and tense at the same time. “I have to prove that… because of my family and my bloodline that I’m... ‘allowed’ to be this way. That being a pure-blood somehow gives me the right.”

A single, rolling tear dropped onto the crook of Harry’s wrist and he gasped. Reaching out, he pressed a hand beneath Draco’s chin and lifted it until he met Draco’s eyes, rheumy and spilling at the brim. Harry smiled sadly and thumbed the delicate, slightly purple skin beneath Draco’s eyes. Draco was a silent crier. Somehow, this left Harry with a dull ache in his chest. Images of Draco stifling his tears to the point where he no longer made any noise raced through his thoughts. The unshed tears eventually faded and Draco, more determined than ever, ploughed ahead.

“I didn’t show any signs of magic until after I turned twelve; that’s why I started at Hogwarts late,” Draco said slowly. “I was supposed to go to Durmstrang. It’s where my half-brother is.”

Harry felt his jaw slacken at this piece of news. “Your half-brother?” he whispered.

Draco smiled. “The one that you’ve been glaring daggers at the past few days,” he said with an almost amused grin. “He was rather insulted, actually.”

Harry cast his thoughts back to the Durmstrang boy, his dark, cropped hair, his demeanour around Draco and the way they had embraced when they had first seen each other at the beginning of term—like brothers. He remembered the Polyjuice Potion and how evasive Draco had acted when he had asked where he had taken the Durmstrang uniform. Harry’s brain unhelpfully supplied memories of the glares he undoubtedly shot in the Durmstrang boy’s direction and he felt a strange, lingering guilt at never having noticed Draco’s bond with him, how it was close and platonic and brotherly. Suddenly, Draco’s admission made sense.

Draco shifted his gaze back to the hole in his robes and his smile morphed into a tight, forced replica. “Father had an affair with a witch while working abroad when I was very young. Charlie is his name. I saw him sometimes when I was growing up and when he left for Durmstrang—younger than me—I was left devastated.

“My father thought I was a Squib,” Draco said. His voice, thick with emotion, made Harry’s heart ache. “Apparently, there hadn’t been any signs that I possessed magical ability when I was younger—even little things. I was almost twelve and there had been no indication at all. My father… He first became very absent in my life. Then, he started taunting me and getting angry out of nowhere. I had to pretend I was younger than I was whenever we had guests or I had to leave the house with my mother. After my twelfth birthday, though, he used to become… furious more and more frequently. He used to use the Cruciatus Curse—”

Harry lunged forward in shock, gasping against Draco’s robes and clutching him tightly. His heart pounded in his chest and dread sunk on his shoulders. A strange feeling consumed Harry, an emotion that battled between rage and sadness. It felt like there was a trickle of ice-cold water running down his back.

“No! Draco! Oh, fuck,” Harry breathed. “That’s illegal. He can’t get away with that!” Thoughts of a young Draco, his face tangled in distraught, writhing on the floor in excruciating pain as a faceless monstrosity of a man stood over him flashed through his mind.

Draco gently pried him off with a half-pat on his shoulder. “I’m not telling you for sympathy,” he said firmly. “Besides, it happens far more often in wizarding families than people assume. I’m only telling you because it’s… it’s part of this. It’s part of something bigger about me that I want you to know about. So that you might… understand.”

Harry nodded uncertainly and tried to quell the rush of anger, the maddening sense of injustice at the thought of Draco being subjected to any kind of cruelty, and at such a young age.

“He’d only use it for a few seconds at a time but I think he thought that… inflicting pain would somehow prompt me to react magically; resist it or fight back, maybe,” Draco said. He smiled regretfully, his lips twisted into an ugly smile. “It didn’t, so my father stopped eventually. Instead, he ignored me for so long that I thought he’d just pretend I no longer existed until I turned seventeen and could run away. By that stage I had accepted that I was a Squib. It seemed that my father had accepted that fact too, though.

“During the summer before I started at Hogwarts, he did something different. He used to… to talk about Muggles and Squibs like they were the scum of the earth right to my face. I refused to run away and stood there and took it like a… a sick martyr,” Draco spat. He balled his fist and sunk his nails into his palm. “My father… He had this book, a really old one that was sort of a monologue about purist sentiments and how Squibs deserved to be slaughtered along with Muggles. It was disgusting. He used to read it aloud to me and he used this voice, this light, sing-song voice—it was like he was reading poetry, the way he spoke, like he got satisfaction from telling me. And one day… One day I snapped.

Draco’s sharp, ringing laughter broke the air and startled Harry.

“The book he had in his hand burst into flames,” Draco said. “Then, most of the furniture did. There was no smoke, just these ceaseless burning flames. And this tiny dragon—it was smaller than my thumb, even then—rose from the burning pages of the book. It was a little like a phoenix.”

Harry gasped in realisation, staring at Draco as everything seemed to click in place and he finally understood Draco’s affinity towards dragons. He remembered the way Draco had told him about his first performance of magic, how cautious he had been, his voice stilted.

“Father was ecstatic and so was my mother, though I spent very little time of my childhood with her. She and my father never loved one another and, after his infidelity, she detached herself completely from our lives,” Draco said. “I think she felt like she had done her duty with us and only had to appear for public outings.” He blinked in the distance, as though caught in a reminiscent thought.

“Draco?” Harry asked anxiously.

Draco nodded absently before catching Harry’s eye and smiling sadly. “I could never forgive him after what he had put me through, though, no matter how much he tried to make it up to me,” he said. “He’s well-respected and very senior in Ministries all over the world. He knows what I’m like, knows that I’m ambitious and he spent so long trying to bribe me with summer internships with the Head of Magical Law Enforcement or a senior placement at a foreign Ministry as soon as I graduate so I’ve always made it my… goal to do better. To do better than he could ever provide for me. To do things for myself; to get grades high enough to let me do the same things he would have been able give me with a handshake, a sack of gold and some well-placed words.”

Draco sighed dejectedly. “So I closed myself off and met every single expectation of someone of my bloodline and name because I—” he cut himself off and swallowed thickly, “—I couldn’t settle for anything but that.”

“Draco,” Harry said, his voice unsteady. He already hated what he knew he needed to say. He needed Draco to hear him. Taking Draco’s chin gently in his hands, Harry brushed his thumb over a light stubble across his jawline. “Draco, you can’t let your wounds from the past turn you into a… a person you’re not. You can’t act like a total prick just because you think that doing otherwise will change people’s perception of you into something unexpected.”

Draco nodded in quiet acceptance, as though he had long-since understood the truth of Harry’s words. “I’ve never known anything but my surname and my father’s reputation preceding me wherever I go,” he said with a sad smile. “Wounds sometimes don’t heal as quickly as you want them to.”

A steady, almost throbbing silence consumed their dormitory and the shrunk space between them. Overwhelmed by the onslaught of information, Harry breathed for a moment, absorbing it all. He desperately wanted to reach out and pull Draco into a comforting embrace, to heal his scars and whisper anything that could dull the heaviness of the moment. Instead he nodded.

“Dragons,” Harry breathed. “They’re more than just a creature you simply like. They… they symbolise more to you.” He scrutinised Draco’s hopeful expression. “You didn’t just become a wizard that day. You became a wizard of your own accord and... against his antagonising. To prove him wrong.” Harry pressed a light, closed-mouth kiss to the corner of Draco’s mouth. “So why don’t you do that again?”

Draco’s face broke into a beam so bright that Harry was torn between stepping closer and stepping away. The decision was made for him as Draco nodded vehemently, looking beyond proud that Harry could verbalise the very thing that held such significance in his life so succinctly, in a way that showed him just how well they truly knew each other.

 

*

 

That night, Harry was restless in his sleep. His bedsheets, usually comfortable and cocooning, felt like a constraining layer wrapped around him and impeding his every move. The curtains had been drawn and the stillness and blackness were suffocating. He could hear his laboured breaths and the small, erratic movements from the bed beside him; the rhythmic creaks and shuffles, however, did nothing to lull Harry into the sense of closure, of security he craved. The third task loomed and, despite his long, almost cathartic talk with Draco, Harry felt separated from him in a way that made him alert and uncomfortable.

The silence was portentous, thick with emotion, and Harry had had enough. Whipping back his bedsheets and startling Cassiopeia, who hissed and leaped indignantly from the bed, Harry stepped barefoot on to the wooden floor. It was blissfully cold, though he knew that the ostentatious creaks would attract Draco’s attention, even if he was asleep. Harry doubted that he was, somehow.

Crossing the room in cautious, even steps, Harry drew back the curtains and closed his eyes as the splendidly pallid moon bathed the room in a lonesome, almost eerie light.

“You’re awake.”

Harry startled at the sound of Draco’s sleep-rough voice and craned his neck to find Draco observing him, propped up against his headboard.

“I am,” Harry said quietly. He watched as Draco’s carefully guarded expression morphed into one of calmness. He looked relieved, Harry thought. The thought that Harry might have had a role to play in that made his heart soar.

“Can I join you?” Draco asked. His voice was slightly restrained, as though he was trying not to let emotion seep into his tone. Despite their candid talk, Draco still looked nervous, as though worried he had shared too much with Harry and had frightened him away permanently. The truth couldn’t have been further from that proposition, however, and Harry vowed to make sure that Draco understood that.

“Of course,” Harry said, berating himself momentarily for waiting so long to respond.

Draco nodded, the corners of his lips twisting into a small smile. He clambered out of bed with little grace and dragged his feet towards the window. Draco stood slightly behind him, but Harry could feel the steady pressure of Draco’s chest against his shoulder. A tentative hand was placed on his waist and Harry felt his heart thrum so quickly, he was certain that Draco could hear it.

“Is this alright?” Draco asked.

Harry nodded silently and allowed himself to lean back into Draco’s touch. He dropped his head back onto Draco’s shoulder and turned it into Draco’s neck, revelling in the gentle heat. The stillness no longer felt suffocating. In Draco’s arms, their breathing aligned and with the moon casting obscure shapes across them both, Harry realised that, despite the adventures and scrumptious feasts and riveting classes, he felt more at home than he ever had before at Hogwarts.

Chapter Text

The morning of the third task arrived the next day in a flurry of house colours and triumphal chants. Harry stepped out of bed, breaking the crisp, untouched silence. He noticed that Draco’s emerald hangings hadn’t been drawn and that Draco was curled over himself, his arm wrapped around Abrax.

Sighing, Harry pulled on his Triwizard shirt with ‘Potter’ in capital red letters emblazoned across the back. He brushed his hair and washed his face, staring at his reflection; there were bags under his eyes—the colour of faded bruises—and his skin was taut over his cheekbones and dry in patches. Otherwise, Harry found a strange respite in the assurance that he and Draco were on good terms; that Draco had felt comfortable enough to trust Harry, to confide him and allow Harry to see him in his most vulnerable and reliant state.

“Potter?”

Harry whipped around to see Draco—already wearing his Triwizard attire, his hair smooth and combed into submission—ambling towards him, stretching his arms towards the ceiling and revealing a thin strip of pale skin at his navel.

“I think it’s about time we drop the surnames,” Harry said with a grin.

Draco closed the space between them, forcing Harry to lean back against the sink. Though it stuck into his back uncomfortably, Harry found that, with Draco staring down at him with that mischievous grin and a glint in his eye, he couldn’t quite bring himself to care.

“Must we?” Draco said with a heaved sigh. He reached out and pressed his thumb against Harry’s cheekbone, caressing the skin there with unrivalled concentration, until he glanced up and caught Harry’s breath. “I quite like calling you Potter. Think I’ve grown quite fond of it, actually.”

Harry wrapped his hand around Draco’s wrist and allowed Draco to carry on his ministrations, stroking the skin across Harry’s cheek before moving to tucking his hair behind his ears.

“Old habits die hard,” Harry said.

Draco leaned down and pressed his lips to Harry’s, lush and commanding. Responding eagerly, Harry teased the tip of Draco’s tongue and turned his head to mouth at Draco’s neck. He sucked the slightly salty, hot skin along Draco’s neck and bit at the crook of his jaw. Draco moaned roughly at that.

“Fuck,” Draco muttered, his voice gravelly and wrecked by sleep.

Draco pressed quick, unpolished kisses down the column of Harry’s neck, licking and sucking reverently. Harry’s hips buckled weakly, as he searched for any kind of friction. His skin felt hot with and his hands reached around Draco, pressing close to him in a desperate attempt to feel Draco against him.

Harry,” Draco sighed.

Harry turned his head and pressed his lips onto the taut skin on Draco’s collarbone. Smiling against the slight, delicate protrusion of Draco’s collarbone, Harry brought his tongue back and forth in slow, melodic movements against it.

“You kiss like I always expected a Gryffindor would,” Draco breathed.

Harry smiled wickedly and glanced up, pulling away slightly from Draco. “How so?”

Draco paused, dragging his tongue across his plump lips. The light seeping through the window caught the movement. “You sink your teeth in first,” he muttered.

Harry’s heart skipped a beat at the deep resonance of Draco’s tone, the slight edge of amusement, and he leaned up, meeting Draco’s eyes determinedly. “I bet you like it.”

“I bet you know I do,” Draco said with a smirk. Before Harry could respond with a snarky comment, Draco reached down and tangled Harry’s hand in his.

Harry pressed his fingertips to Draco’s waist, dragging them along the hem of Draco’s shirt. “Off,” he sighed against Draco’s chest. Draco pulled the shirt off and Harry watched the way Draco’s muscles strained as he whipped it off and flung it over his shoulders. Draco crowded Harry further against the sink and Harry latched his lips to Draco’s chest. He watched the cold, pale skin flushing beneath his touch and sunk is teeth there, pressing soothing kisses on the small marks.

Draco’s hands flew to either side of Harry’s hips, squeezing the skin gently. As Harry nipped the sensitive skin around Draco’s nipple, Draco leaned down and pressed his lips to Harry’s temple, something so gentle and intimate that Harry paused, glancing up to meet Draco’s eyes.

Ravishing the moment of stillness, Draco’s long fingers wandered up Harry’s sides, dragging his shirt over Harry’s head.

Harry flung his head back as searing hot lips locked onto his skin and pressed firmly against it. Draco’s curls fell across his face as he sunk his fingers into Harry’s hips to steady himself. He licked around Harry’s nipples, sending a thrill of goosebumps across his skin and eliciting a soft whine out of him. Draco lifted his head at that and lapped his tongue across his lips. He smirked down at Harry.

Something furry wrapped around his ankle and startled him.

“Cassiopeia,” Harry sighed with a short huff of laughter.

Draco—who didn’t seem to be able to tear his eyes away from Harry—merely smiled. “We need to go,” he said. His tone was resigned but a glint in his eye as he roamed Harry’s bare cheat hinted that they still shared unfinished business.

Draco sent an Accio over his shoulder and their shirts were whisked into his hand. They hastily pulled them on and gathered their things in preparation for the task. The immediacy of the task dawned on him, something that would usually leave him breathless and panicked. With Draco by his side, however, he was left instead with a curious stoicism pumping through his veins.

“Do you have the compass?” Harry asked.

“Do you have your half of the two-way mirror?” Draco asked with a teasing smile.

Harry smiled and pinched Draco’s hip loosely. He opened the curtains and window to their dorm to let in a fresh breeze. His shirt was slightly loose around his shoulders and it billowed in the fierce wind.

“Come on,” Draco called. “Want to get some breakfast before we win this tournament once and for all.”

“We had an advantage in the other two tasks,” Harry said reluctantly. “All the teams are on an even slope this time. It might be different for us.”

“It won’t,” Draco said firmly.

They trotted down the stairs and heard thunderous applause ring through the air as they entered the Great Hall. Harry smiled modestly and walked past the stares and chants, the hollering and raucous clapping. Ginny raced towards him and patted him on the back, eyeing Draco with slight caution. Harry nodded stiffly at Draco as they parted and he made his way over to Ron at the Gryffindor table, who was kneeling on the bench, whooping and smiling proudly.

The clapping, however, suddenly turned to scandalous whispering.

“What’s the matter, Ron?” Harry asked. He slathered blackberry jam onto his toast and prepared himself to listen to Ron’s morning rambling. Instead, Ron stared open-mouthed at his back. Harry frowned. “What is it?” he asked with more insistence.

“Harry… your shirt,” Ron said quietly.

The rest of the students at the Gryffindor table were craning their necks at Harry, breaking into whispers and frivolous giggles.

“Why are you wearing Malfoy’s shirt?” Ron asked in an even, yet accusatory voice.

Harry heat dropped into his stomach and he frantically clawed at his back, twisting around to get a better view. Indeed, Draco’s surname was embellished on the back of his shirt, emerald green and taunting. He swallowed thickly.

“Mistake,” Harry said, loud enough for most of the table to hear. “House-elves must have—er—made a mistake whose bed they put the shirts on.” Harry felt fleetingly guilty for placing the blame on the (rather lovely) house-elves but, in that moment, his primary concern was dispelling any potential rumours about himself and Draco.

How could they have been so reckless? Perhaps, Harry thought desperately, it could be excused as an innocent mistake. It wasn’t like his shirt was rumpled or stained. That thought alone brought a dark flush to Harry’s cheeks. Other than wearing each other’s shirts, there was no indication that they had been doing anything with each other that McGonagall wouldn’t approve of.

Harry glanced over to the Slytherin table and found about a hundred sets of eyes glaring at him, etched with expressions of disbelief, glee and disgust alike. Draco, however, was no longer seated at the Slytherin table. Instead, he was stalking through the centre aisle of the Great Hall, staring directly at him.

On closer inspection, Harry thought, they really should have realised sooner. The shirt Draco wore clung to his torso and left a sliver of skin exposed between the waistband of Draco’s trousers and shirt. The shirt Harry wore was too loose around his shoulders, dipping below his collar bones.

Draco arrived in front of Harry, his expression masked, though Harry noticed a high blush on his neck. “Potter, you careless prat,” Draco said gruffly. The vexed tone of his voice made it clear to everyone eavesdropping on their conversation that Draco would rather be stuck in the fiery cave again than involve himself romantically with Harry. “Remind me never to trust you with my laundry again.”

“Remind me not to save your neck in this tournament for a second time,” Harry countered. The Gryffindors around him laughed jeeringly. Harry rather enjoyed watching the wry grin on Draco’s face turn expertly into one of disdain.

Draco pulled his shirt over his head in one swift movement, silencing Harry. Draco glowered at him and, somehow, seeing how easily Draco could switch on his hostile façade while displaying the small, red bites along Draco’s chest that he had made, made Harry’s skin heat up.

Draco watched Harry lift his jaw off the floor with a smirk. He held out a hand expectantly and Harry frantically pulled his shirt over his head and they switched.

The chatter faded soon afterwards, most of the students in the Great Hall both placated and convinced that their shirt swap had been an innocent mistake. Harry, however, could not focus on anything except his own shirt as he wolfed down his morning toast and tried to calm his racing heart. Draco had stretched the shirt around the torso and it smelled so patently of Draco—slightly musky, with a dark hint of ink and old parchment—that Harry had to restrain himself from pressing his nose into the soft fabric.

Harry was immediately distracted by Professor McGonagall marching towards them. She certainly did not look convinced by their ‘laundry mistake’ story and made that quite clear by her sharp frown and exasperated sigh.

“Potter, Malfoy,” she said, looking pointedly between them, “you both need to follow me to the venue of the third task. You have your object, I hope.”

“Yes, professor,” Harry said as Draco nodded tersely.

Quite unexpectedly, the realisation that the third task was looming struck him. They had spent months anticipating its arrival, yet the task had crept up on them and Harry felt as though they were floundering, unprepared and timorous.

As they left the Great Hall behind Professor McGonagall, a large, comforting hand rested between Harry’s shoulder blades. He glanced up and smiled at Draco, leaning slightly into his touch.

Professor McGonagall led them down the gently winding corridors until they reached a concealed door. She spoke an unfamiliar incantation, revealing a solid door with a brass handle. Pushing it open, they were confronted with a blast of wind, carrying leaves and pollen. Harry felt Draco tuck him closer into Draco’s side and he felt a strange feeling in his stomach, something between a squirm and a flutter.

“This way, now,” Professor McGonagall instructed.

Harry glanced around and realised that they were just outside the castle, below the Ravenclaw Tower. He had never used this exit before, however, nor had he seen the three identical houses standing innocuously on the lawn three yards ahead of them. The cottages were constructed from white stone, not larger than an average classroom and each equipped with a small front garden encased by a picketed fence. The small plants in each of the gardens, however, didn’t sway in the blustering wind and, when Harry strained his eyes, he noticed that there was a faint shimmer around the cottages, as though protected by a Shield Charm.

The cottages were surrounded by the same tall stands used during the second task, except they were empty of cheering crowds. Professor McGonagall led them further down the lawn to the right of the cottages, where Achernar, MacFarlan, Vulchanova, Madam Maxime and their champions stood.

“Ah, Mee-nerva,” Madam Maxime exclaimed. “You ‘ave found your champions, I see.”

“Yes, indeed,” Professor McGonagall said shortly.

Harry tilted his neck behind him to see Draco staring intently at the cottages with a concentrated frown.

“Excellent,” Achernar said with an echoing clap of her hands. She beckoned them closer. “The tournament will begin in half an hour but, firstly, we will explain the requirements of your task.

“A replica of the Triwizard Cup has been placed inside each of these cottages. However, the cup has been divided into five different parts: the base, the neck, the cup and the two handles. Each part is hidden within the cottage and must be found in order to win the task. You may use your object to guide you towards the parts but, a fair warning; there is magic inside that you have to detect, dismantle and fight. There is not a specified time limit, but keep in mind that it is a race.” Achernar smiled faintly and gestured for them to take their seats on a small bench she had conjured.

Harry slumped onto the bench as Draco perched on the edge, crossing his legs and looking contemplatively at the cottages.

“What are you thinking?” Harry asked quietly.

“I’m thinking this isn’t exactly going to be a game of hide-and-seek,” Draco said wryly.

Harry leaned closer to mutter in his ear. “I think that’s a Shield Charm over the cottages. You see the way everything is still; it’s protected from the wind.”

Draco made a small sound of acknowledgement and turned towards Harry. It was only then that he realised just how close they actually were. Smiling sheepishly, Harry fell back into his hunched position, observing the cottage and impatient to begin.

The stands began to fill with students, chattering excitedly and yelling chants above the howling wind. Harry smiled at the sight of the banners adorned with the Hogwarts crest, the school orchestra getting into position with Flitwick at their helm, and students surreptitiously passing bets under McGonagall’s watchful eye. Soon, the chattering ceased and an anticipatory lull blanketed the stands. Harry felt a sharp tug at his shirt and he hastily pulled himself to his feet.

MacFarlan led Harry and Draco to the furthest cottage and instructed them to take their positions, winking unabashedly. “Good luck, lads!” he said jovially. “Though I’m not sure you’ll need it after your other two performances.”

Draco shot MacFarlan a crooked smile and nodded curtly. Inching away and still looking between them proudly as though they were his own sons, MacFarlan joined a weary-looking Achernar.

Harry sighed unevenly, wrapping his arms around himself as the cold seeped beneath his shirt. “Got the compass?”

Draco pulled the gold compass out of his pocket and held it in his palm. It shone brightly, despite the bleakness of the sky.

The trumpets breaking the relative silence of the stands startled them both. Draco’s hand instantly shot to his wand at the sound, something that disquieted Harry; the knowledge that Draco’s first reaction was to defend himself with the slightest of unexpected events left Harry with a desire to hold Draco against his chest and never let him go.

“Champions at the ready!” Achernar’s voice called above the wind. “Three— two—one!”

A foghorn blared and Harry rushed towards the entrance to the house, directly in front of the shimmering shield.

Confractus Murum,” Harry said, jabbing his wand at the shield. The spell produced a light blue bolt that penetrated the shield, sending cracks through it like a pane of glass breaking into thousands of tiny shards. Harry felt Draco rush beside him and they pushed passed the gate to enter the garden. As soon as they stepped onto the thin path, however, the crowd’s cheers were dulled to a low hum and their surroundings—the other two cottages, the Great Lake and surrounding mountains—were replaced by pitch blackness.

“Come on,” Draco said, steering Harry into the garden.

They crossed the garden, keeping to the thin path until they reached the front door; it was painted a stark red colour with a strange, black symbol engraved in the doorknob.

“Don’t touch the door,” Draco said lowly. He raised his wand and pointed it at the doorknob. “Alohomora.”

The door swung open invitingly. It was unnerving how the cottage enticed them inside; it was quaint, the walls painted a mellow cream, yet concealed dangers and left them with a distinct sense of unease.

Harry raised his wand carefully. “Revelio,” he said.

An enormous bundle of ropes fell from a panel in the ceiling and Harry sprung back into Draco’s chest. The ropes dangled threateningly and Harry breathed shakily as he stepped around them, convinced that they would have bound him if he had forgotten the Revelio Charm. Further along the hall one of the framed portraits on the wall had unthreaded with the spell and displayed a dusty store of potions in a small cupboard.

“What do you think we’ll need the potions for?” Harry asked. When he didn’t receive an answer, he turned on his heel to find Draco staring intently at the compass in his hand.

“It’s pointing this way,” Draco muttered, nodding towards an adjacent room that they hadn’t noticed before. Harry stepped closer and saw the compass arrow whizzing rapidly as Draco stepped closer to the room. As he stepped closer to the door, however, it began to shrink rapidly, the doorframe reducing at an alarming rate.

“Oh, fuck!” Harry said, whipping his wand out. “Impedimenta.”

The door stopped decreasing immediately, but had already shrunk to Draco and Harry’s waists in size.

“I could probably fit through,” Harry said, getting to his knees with his wand raised. “Alohomora.”

A faint series of unlocking sounds filled the room and the door opened slowly, as though unwilling to reveal its contents. Harry was met with a dark, eerie tunnel.

Lumos,” he muttered, bathing the tunnel in light.

It was very short, Harry saw, reaching only six feet in length and ending in a compact safe. Though the stone was cold beneath his touch, it was perfectly smooth, as though the tunnel was made with the purpose of crawling through.

“Think I found where the first piece is,” Harry called over his shoulder. He ambled inside on his knees with one arm raising his wand above him (something that transpired to be a very awkward position). Harry reached the safe and, pointing his wand at it, muttered an unoptimistic “Alohomora”.

The safe didn’t budge.

Sighing, Harry crawled back out of the tunnel. He got clumsily to his feet and brushed off his trousers. “I don’t think any kind of spell is going to do it,” he said.

Draco tilted his head thoughtfully and Harry glimpsed a small mark on his neck that made him blush. He turned his attention back to Draco’s musing.

“I think they want us to use one of the potions,” Draco muttered. He stalked to the small cupboard and pulled out each bottle, examining them intently. “See the green colour in this one,” Draco said eventually, plucking out a tall, corked bottle. “That’s Erumpent Potion. When it comes in contact with something it causes an-”

“Explosion,” Harry breathed. He glanced at the large bottle; that amount of the insipid green potion could cause an explosion large enough to knock down half of the cottage. “We can’t just fling the bottle at the wall, though. We don’t know what other traps it might set off.”

Draco nodded, wearing a grim expression as he looked between the wall and the potion.

Harry turned back to the cupboard and sorted through the potions. “Wait!” he said, plucking a tiny vial of purple liquid from the back of the cupboard. He held it to his nose and winced at the familiar, bleach-like smell. “I recognise this one. It’s Bundimun Secretion. Mum uses a diluted version of it when she cleans the floors. The strong version, though… it has so much acid that it could probably rot through most materials—including the safe.”

Draco gave Harry a blank look that told him quite plainly that it wasn’t time for joking. “You’re saying we should use cleaning fluid on a safe,” Draco said, unimpressed.

Harry rolled his eyes. “It’s highly acidic and probably mildly corrosive too. Just… let me try it.”

Draco made a noise of indifference and set about sorting through the potions again.

Harry sighed and sunk to his knees, crawling into the tunnel with the small vial in hand. With his wand in his left hand, he poured one drop of Bundimun Secretion onto the roof of the safe. Instantly, the shiny metal surface sizzled, as though the potion could burn through the metal. The fumes emitted were thick and nauseating, leaving Harry coughing loudly.

Harry!” Draco’s panicked voice echoed through the tunnel. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m fine,” Harry wheezed. “Just the fumes. It’s working, though.”

Placing down his wand to block his nose, Harry poured a second drop over the safe. The metal spluttered and hissed as the acid touched it. A gaping, jarring hole through the top of the safe revealed a blue, glowing light.

Harry dived forward and pulled out the base of the Triwizard Cup, shining like a beacon of hope in the dark tunnel. “Got it!” he called. Harry crawled backwards with his wand between his teeth and both the vial and the base of the cup in his hands.

“Excellent,” Draco breathed, helping Harry to his feet and smiling at the sight of Harry’s wand in his mouth. Draco pulled it out with nimble fingers, his thumb dragging across Harry’s lower lip. “Think you’ll be needing that, darling.”

Harry pulled his wand from Draco’s grip with a wry smile. “Come on,” he said, motioning further down the hall.

They inched further until they arrived at the small, yet fully-equipped kitchen; there was even a pot of steaming tea and a plate of fudge on the table.

A second Revelio spell showed an apparently stationary potted plant on the windowsill to contain a Fire Seed Plant, which set the cotton curtains alight. Draco quickly extinguished the fire with a sharp flick of his wand.

“Try walking around the room to see if the arrow starts whirring again,” Harry instructed quietly.

Draco circled the kitchen slowly, staring intently at the compass. It wasn’t until he reached the corner of the room that the compass arrow began to spin. As Draco drew nearer to the paisley wallpaper, the arrow whizzed rapidly inside the compass.

“I think it might be inside the wall,” Draco said. He glanced over to Harry. “Think a Bombarda would do it?”

Harry shook his head. “We’re not supposed to tear down the house. There must be another way.”

Draco and Harry observed the wall intently, searching for any indication of how they were expected to tear back the wallpaper without the wall collapsing. Pacing back and forth, Harry tried to find a small crack in the wallpaper. He tapped at the wall, listening for a hollow sound that might contain the piece of the Triwizard Cup.

“This is ridiculous,” Draco said impatiently, pacing past the wall for the fifth time. “I’ll direct a Bombarda spell to a particular area. It’s not going to wreck the entire wall.”

Harry, though still convinced that Draco wouldn’t be able to maintain the structure of the wall after exploding a hole in its centre, nodded listlessly.

Draco changed his stance and pointed his wand at the point in the wall where that compass had spun the quickest. “Bombarda!”

The wall exploded through the centre, throwing rubble and torn wallpaper across the kitchen floor. Harry covered his eyes and coughed through the cloud of dust that erupted. Waving his hand helplessly in front of his eyes to bat away the smoke, Harry winced at the sight of a small, blue light. Diving forward, he grabbed onto the two handles of the Triwizard Cup but not before he noticed a second, very small object attached to the handles by two pieces of string.

“What is it?” Draco said, swatting away the smoke and edging closer to Harry.

Harry blinked at the small, black object. It was vaguely familiar, he realised, though he couldn’t quite remember where he had seen it before.

“Do you recognise that?”

Draco shook his head, scrutinising the object.

Cautiously, Harry tugged at the handles and severed the pieces of string tethering them to the object. A loud, incessant beeping sound filled the room and the small object flashed bright red, showing a countdown clock for sixty seconds.

“Fuck!” Harry bellowed, his heart thundering in his chest as he recalled the Auror Adventure books he used to read. “It’s a bomb!”

“A what?” Draco shouted, his hands pressed tightly over his ears. “Silencio!”

The beeping sound was reduced to a high murmur but the flashing numbers threatening to blast them to smithereens left Harry in a state of panic. His mind kept repeating the image of a catastrophic explosion, casting them into the air and hurling debris at them. He gulped and forced himself to think logically.

“A bomb,” Harry said clearly. He grasped his wand tightly in his hands, partially both to defend himself and to prevent his hands from shaking. “Remember that book series for kids? Auror Adventures? They had to sneak into a Muggle prison once and there was a bomb that blew up the entire building. It’s a… a kind of Muggle contraption that causes a massive explosion.”

Draco’s jaw tightened and he nodded primly. The sight of Draco’s calm yet resolute expression left Harry with a deep, resonating sense of comfort in his chest.

“Must be why there’s a Shield Charm over the house,” Harry said. “So that the explosion doesn’t reach beyond the cottage.”

Draco, who had been staring intently at the device, merely frowned. “Twenty seconds,” he said conversationally, as though he was informing Harry about the weather forecast and advising him to bring an umbrella with him. Draco glanced towards him and their eyes met. “We’re both going to have to direct Shield Charms straight at it. Don’t hold back.”

Harry felt a sudden weight fall on his shoulders and the sight before him—the bomb, the kitchen, even the Triwizard Cup—seemed to become obscure and unfocused. The only thing in the room that was clear and definite was Draco, whose gaze was fixed on the bomb, his face contorted into a firm expression and his stance confident. With a strange, rather ironic clarity, Harry realised that he trusted Draco. He trusted Draco’s honesty and judgement and, above all, that Draco would protect him. Harry took a step backwards, raising his wand with fierce celerity and pointing it directly at the bomb.

“On the count of three,” Draco said calmly. “One—two—three!”

They cried “Protego Maxima!” in unison and a blue-white shield erupted from their wands, joining at the seam and blending into an enormous protective barrier around them. One second passed in complete stillness until a single, loud beep sounded and the bomb detonated.

The entire wall erupted, flinging huge mounds of rubble around them. A scream was drawn from Harry’s chest at the impact the explosion had on his shield. One of the pieces of the wall caught the shield and Harry gripped his wand with all of his might, gritting his teeth and crying out the spell again. The rock was instantly repelled, tumbling at Harry’s feet along with the debris and smoky rubble fulminating around them. Harry heard shattering glass and a deep tremble below him as the floorboards quaked. Glancing at Draco, he saw the boy almost leaning back with the strength of his shield, his skin pulled taut over his jaw and his face covered with a thin layer of soot.

Eventually, the remnants of the wall collapsed completely and Harry could see the fair grass of the back garden, a murky shade of grey from the rubble, and the landscape in the distance. The sight comforted him immensely.

A single thought repeated in his head, the voice both astonished and reassured: we did it.

“Do you still have the handles?” Draco asked, breaking off his Shield Charm with a heavy sigh.

Harry nodded and picked the pieces up from the floor. Though similarly coated in soot, their bright, blue light was still visible.

The crumbled wall and the floor, strewn with cooking utensils and broken plates, left Harry with a distinct sense of unease. With a final look over his shoulder, Harry pulled Draco out of the kitchen and further into the cottage. They ventured along the hallway until they came across four identical doors, each painted in a thick coat of white paint.

Alohomora,” Harry muttered at the first door.

Instead of the sound of an opening lock, however, he was met with the sound of a shrill, mocking giggle.

Sighing, Harry repeated the spell on the other three doors with the same result except, perhaps, the voice seem to become giddier as the spell failed.

Without warning, a slightly translucent poltergeist with two long plaits and a mischievous grin emerged from one of the doors, cackling uproariously. She floated slightly above Harry and Draco, her wide eyes boring into both of them.

“Looks like Peeves found himself a girlfriend,” Draco muttered.

“Silly little boys! All covered in dirt and rudely demanding to come inside,” the poltergeist exclaimed. “Don’t you know not to use magic on my doors?”

Harry had to refrain from hexing the poltergeist. “What should we be using, then?”

“Your brains, silly! That is, if you have any behind that layer of disgusting grime,” she said, flicking one of the plaits over her shoulder. “You have to figure out which door to open.”

“Why don’t you just tell us and save us the trouble?” Draco asked with an audacious grin.

“Now why would I tell you that?” she cackled. “You have to ask each of the doors whether they contain what you’re looking for. They might help you. If you’re polite, that is.”

Trying to ignore the poltergeist’s cackling, Harry crouched at the handle on the first door. Draco let his hand wander down Harry’s back, sending a thrill of excitement through Harry’s spine, before resting it on his lower back.

“Talk to it, she said,” Draco muttered incredulously.

“There’s no harm in trying,” Harry sighed. “You made me talk to a dragon, for Merlin’s sake.”

Harry cleared his throat and spoke directly into the handle. “We would like to find the missing piece of the Triwizard Cup.”

The door didn’t budge but, suddenly, dark engravings emerged across the white wood, carving sharp lines and swirling symbols. Harry stared at them, cautious not to touch. The lines seemed to join together, merging to form an enormous, looping shape.

“What do you think it means?” Harry asked.

Draco shook his head, his eyes narrowed. “It’s not a rune and it’s not a symbol either.” Draco cast his gaze towards the other doors along the hallway. “Try the other ones and see if they make the same thing. It might be a pattern.”

Harry nodded and repeated the same request to the other three doors, watching as a different wood carving appeared on each. The third door had a very simple swirling pattern while the fourth door had a complex series of sharp lines engraved across it.

Taking a step back to observe the doors from a distance (and to avoid the poltergeist, who had taken to grinning deviously at him), Harry lifted his wand across them. “Revelio.”

The dark lines on the doors began to glow, each turning a different colour and contrasting magnificently with the white panels of the doors. Draco sprung back into Harry’s touch as they were both bathed in the strange, vivid light. They stared at the door for what felt like entirely too long, trying futilely to guess what the lines might signify.

“Red, blue, green, yellow,” Harry recited, pointing at the colours on each of the doors. “Hogwarts houses, do you think?”

Draco shook his head. “It might make sense if we were in the same house, but those shades aren’t the same as our houses. The red is too deep to represent Gryffindor and the green is too light for Slytherin.”

Harry sighed in concession. He observed the colours with tired eyes; the adrenaline from casting the Shield Charm was quickly waning and his limbs began to feel heavy as he paced back and forth. Eventually, he collapsed onto the floor with a heavy sigh and rubbed his eyes. Draco threatened to cast a Bombarda on the doors if they didn’t figure out the meaning soon; they had both become painfully aware of just how much time they were wasting.

Suddenly, and without any tangible thought process, Harry gasped. The colours on the doors were familiar, he realised, and replicated almost exactly the colours of each of the store cupboard potions.

“Wait here!” Harry urged, scrambling to his feet. He hurried down the hallway and skidded to a stop before the small cupboard. The lime green, duck egg blue, deep magenta, and canary yellow potions gleaming at him were the exact same colours as those engraved in the doors. Harry bundled them in his arms and raced back to where Draco was standing expectantly.

“Look at the colours of the potions,” Harry said ecstatically. “They’re the exact same!”

“That’s… Fuck, that looks right,” Draco said. He pulled his lower lip between his thumb and index finger thoughtfully. “We need to identify what each of the potions do.”

Harry nodded and they sat opposite one another, setting the potions between them.

“I already know that the green one is Erumpent Potion,” Draco said.

Harry uncorked the small bottle with a rounded handle. “The yellow one is Elixir to Induce Euphoria,” he said. “Smells the very same.”

“Could use some of that now,” Draco muttered, plucking the red potion from the row. “This one could be a strong brew of Oculus Potion, but I can’t be certain.”

“What do you suppose this one is?” Harry asked, carefully examining the squat, corked bottle filled with the magenta potion.

“Draught of Peace,” Draco said instantly.

Harry raised a curious eyebrow.

“My great-uncle has a particular fondness for the stuff,” Draco said with an amused, if fleeting, smile. “He gets impatient with most of my relatives, especially on my mother’s side. He asks me to brew him a batch every time he comes over for Christmas dinner. Used to take me ages because the stirring pattern was so complex but I got used to it after a while and— oh, Merlin,” Draco breathed suddenly.

Harry’s heart sprung as Draco reached to grab Harry’s hand, pulling them both to their feet. Harry felt a gentle, steady heat seep through his fingers as Draco’s hand brushed his, his thumb caressing the curve of Harry’s wrist.

“The doors!” Draco exclaimed, pointing to each of them. “The lines on the doors… they’re the same as the stirring pattern of each potion.”

Harry’s heart leaped at the sudden realisation that Draco was, indeed, correct. The red shade on the third door had the familiar peaked lines he remembered casting during Potions class, and the swirled yellow of the second door was similar to the theory he had learned about the Elixir to Induce Euphoria.

“Wait!” Harry said, pointing at the insipid green colour on the fourth door. There were three simple, slightly uneven lines drawn across it, the opposite of the complicated wand motions required to brew Erumpent Potion. “Not this one. The pattern is completely different.”

A warm body stepped close behind him and Harry’s skin heated as Draco breathed softly against Harry’s neck. “This is it.”

The poltergeist, who had been observing Draco and Harry with a wickedly gleeful expression, raced towards them. “It took you long enough,” she said, flicking one of her plaits off her shoulder frivolously. “And don’t come back out here once you find what you’re looking for!”

With that, she whizzed away, past them and further down the corridor until she was out of sight.

Draco raised his wand and pressed it against the door. With a steady sigh, he cast the stirring pattern with nimble, quick movements. Harry watched with slight trepidation as Draco cast the final stirring motion.

The green shade of the door markings disappeared instantly. Harry’s breath caught in his throat as the handle squeaked. It turned ever so slowly until, with a sharp click, it swung open. Breathing erratically, Harry peaked behind the door, his wand clutched in his hand. The room was completely bare and windowless. There, resting quite innocuously on the floor, was the neck of the Triwizard Cup.

They both rushed forward and Harry picked up the piece, attaching it to the neck of the Triwizard Cup. The two parts fused together with a satisfying click.

“Just the cup itself left to find, now,” Harry said.

Harry caught Draco’s eye but before Draco could respond, the door shut closed. Harry rushed towards the door, his heart thumping in his chest, and wrenched the handle. It didn’t budge, even after casting an “Alohomora”.

“Fuck,” Harry said, resting his head against the door in defeat.

“Harry,” Draco said, his voice unusually cautious. “Come here.”

Whipping around, Harry found Draco in the centre of the room with his eyes trained above him. Harry glanced up and saw precisely what had caught Draco’s attention. The entire ceiling was lowering, as though it was a blanket above their heads, dropping to smother them both.

Harry felt an uncomfortable tightness in his throat, leaving him with short, heavy breath. The ceiling was closing in on them faster than he could have anticipated. It wasn’t ceasing, even as Draco bent his knees to keep from knocking his head. Draco’s eyes were downcast and his chest was heaving erratically. The sight was so disturbing that Harry had to grit his teeth and look away. Pointing his wand directly above him, he bellowed, “Arresto Momentum!”

The ceiling continued to lower, utterly unperturbed.

“What do we—oh, fuck—I can’t—Draco,” Harry said in an alarmed voice. He rushed over to Draco and placed a gentle hand on his neck. The ceiling brushed Harry’s hair and he dropped to his knees unceremoniously. The immediacy of what felt horrifyingly unavoidable struck Harry like a Quaffle to the stomach.

“We need to—fuck—we need to stop this, somehow,” Harry said frantically.

Draco looked at him for the first time since the ceiling had begun to drop. His eyes, Harry noticed, were stunningly green, rich and brimming with unrelieved emotion. It was like Harry saw a reflection of his own impending hopelessness. With startlingly immediate realisation, Harry knew what he had to do.

“Draco, we need to stop it together,” he said. Harry wrapped his hand around Draco’s back and curled his fingers around his hip. The shirt clung to Draco’s torso, slightly damp and covered in a light layer of soot and gravel. “It’s… this is a test. We need teamwork, remember? We have to use the spell together.”

Draco glanced at Harry and nodded once, firm an unequivocal. The dull weight on Harry’s chest eased. Raising their wands simultaneously as the ceiling left them less than four feet, Harry reached his left hand out. He caught Draco’s hand and interlinked their fingers, caressing the rough skin there. Draco’s responding squeeze was desperate and send a thrill of unspoken words, of near palpable promises through Harry.

Arresto Momentum!” they screamed.

It was as if the entire world ceased to exist. Caught in a moment of utter stillness—silent breathing and no movement apart from the steady pounding of his heart. Harry felt Draco’s hand in his, warm and sickeningly clammy. Harry wrenched his eyes open and glanced up. The ceiling had halted directly above their heads.

“Draco!” he cried. “It worked!”

Peering up at him, Draco’s face broke into a disbelieving smile. Draco’s lips quivered and he laughed in a shaky, almost trembling voice. The sound warmed Harry’s chest, coursing through him and setting his skin alight.

Closing the space between them, Draco walked over on his knees and pulled Harry tightly against his chest. Draco wrapped his arms around Harry and clutched him with the kind of aching desire that could rival desperation. Harry held him just as tightly, allowing himself a moment of reprieve, time to allow him to simply be with Draco. Draco’s clothes were covered in soot and there was a small tear in the fabric of his shirt where Harry could feel hot, delicate skin. Harry caressed the skin beneath the hole, tracing small, nonsensical patterns with his fingertips, his movements light and quick.

“We need to keep going,” Draco whispered eventually. “We’re so close.”

Harry nodded, reluctantly breaking apart. His knees had begun to ache uncomfortably from their kneeling and, though Draco was a comforting presence, he was also very distracting.

“What do you propose we do about the ceiling?” Harry asked. “Blasting it might cause the whole thing to crumble on top of us.”

“I say we try and blast the door,” Draco said, though his tone was reluctant.

Snippets of scenarios in which any manner of traps or magical creatures were anticipating them just outside the door flashed in Harry head. He swallowed thickly and tried not to look up; he found himself short of breath whenever he consciously considered just how trapped they truly were.

Harry stumbled across the floor on his knees after Draco, waddling uncomfortably as the hardwood floors chafes his trousers.

Draco took a short breath and raised his wand. “Bombarda!”

The explosion, abrupt and deafeningly loud from their positions so close to the door, was over in a second. Neither Harry nor Draco, however, could have prepared for what arrived in its wake. Emerging from the small heap of rubble, though the smoke, slithered a great, stealthy snake with cold, formidable eyes.

“I told you not to come back!” the poltergeist called mirthfully from behind the door. If Harry wasn’t so distracted by the two thin, yellowed fangs protruding from the snake’s mouth, he would have hexed her.

The snake hissed viciously at them, uncoiling and slinking over the small heap of broken wood. Harry leaped back, forgetting that he was on his knees, and fell onto the ground. The fall sent a jolt of excruciating pain through his ankle. A yelp escaped his mouth and Harry writhed from the sciatic ache.

“Harry! Get back now!” Draco bellowed.

Harry could hardly open his eyes, shut tight as they were from the pain sheeting through him with such intensity that he thought he was going to collapse. Wrenching his wand into his hand, Harry wriggled away, reaching out behind him for a wall to lean against, his body convulsing from the pain in his ankle.

Evanesco!” Draco shouted.

The hissing was louder and more persistent now, and it took all of Harry’s strength to open his eyes and lift his flimsy arm, which begged him to soothe his throbbing ankle. He caught a flash of blood red eyes and a thin, darting tongue before Draco’s roaring voice echoed around the room.

Vipera Evanesca!”

In a puff of thick, black smoke, the snake shrivelled and disappeared. Harry’s head thumped back against the wall with a low groan.

“Harry,” Draco whispered. Harry could sense just how close he was, Draco’s breath hot and ragged against his face.

“What took you so fucking long?” Harry asked through gritted teeth. Every fibre of his being scolded him for snapping at Draco but all he could register was the unyielding, searing pain shooting through his calf.

“I… panicked. Forgot the specific spell,” Draco said. He sighed regretfully, apparently berating himself. “Let me see your ankle.”

With a high, embarrassingly helpless whimper that Draco soothed with a gentle hush, Harry pulled his leg from underneath him. He panted as he tried to control his erratic breathing. Draco’s hand, brushing Harry’s shoulder and rubbing the nape of his neck, could comfort him but didn’t distract him from the dull throbbing in his ankle.

When Draco spoke, his voice was painfully anxious, as though he was completely out of his depth and unwilling to admit so to himself. Which, Harry reasoned, probably was the case.

“Right, I’m going to wrap it in a bandage and then… then you’re going to lean against me and I’ll help you to your feet. Alright?”

Harry doubted that a bandage would quell the pain enough to allow him to stand up, but he knew that Draco was trying desperately to help him. Harry nodded tersely.

Draco directed his wand at Harry’s ankle and, with a sharp flick he muttered, “Ferula.”

With a sound similar to that of a whip cracking, white, pressurised bandages wrapped around Harry’s ankle. They wrenched and pulled, the position of his ankle shifting agonizingly until something in his ankle clicked. Suddenly, the pain dulled to a bearable sting.

Harry opened his eyes and found Draco looming over him, distressed and watching intently. The sight sent a thrill of energy through Harry. “Come on, Draco,” he said. “We’re finding this last piece of the cup, even if it kills us both.”

Draco’s face broke into a familiar smile. “Speak for yourself,” he said dryly, which was promptly negated as he pulled Harry to his knees.

Head spinning but determined to continue, Harry crawled towards the door, climbing over the small pile of rubble. He winced at the sight of a long trail of slime across one of the pieces of wood. Glancing behind him to warn Draco, Harry found Draco’s gaze fixed on Harry’s behind, his mouth hanging open as though caught in a trance.

Draco caught Harry’s eye and quickly drew his lips into a rueful smile. “I can’t help it,” he said. “Your arse is poetry in motion.”

Harry couldn’t argue with that. He made an affronted noise and turned his head back towards the hallway so that Draco couldn’t see the small smile playing on his lips.

They made it to the hall and scrambled to their feet, wands raised.

“Check the compass again,” Harry said.

Draco shuffled slightly before wrenching the compass (which was remarkably unscathed) from his pocket. “This way,” he said, leading Harry further along the corridor.

It wasn’t until they reached the end of the hallway and were met with a single, rickety door that the arrow began to spin rapidly.

“This is it,” Draco sighed. “Alohomora.”

Miraculously, the door swung open on command.

Before they could step foot inside however, a thick rope materialised from thin air and latched onto both of their wrists. Harry banged into Draco’s chest, pressing against him and sending a jolt of pain through his ankle. The rope tightened until their wrists were bound together, leaving them both with one hand free and another constrained.

“Fuck,” Draco sighed. To Harry’s ears, however, it sounded less like a sigh of annoyance and more like a sigh of pleasure. Harry suddenly became conscious of something pressing against his upper hip that was becoming noticeably harder beneath his touch. Feeling immensely guilty as he realised that he was leaning against Draco’s hard-on, Harry tried to scramble away. He found this near impossible, however, with the tightness of the inflexible rope chafing his skin. The thought that being tied together aroused Draco was enough to light Harry’s skin until he was writhing beneath Draco’s touch, conflicted between pulling away and pressing against Draco.

“Hold still,” Draco muttered impatiently. “Diffindo.”

The familiar light green light shone from Draco’s wand but didn’t affect the rope. If anything, it constrained them further.

“Let me try,” Harry huffed.

Wait!” Draco exclaimed. He raised his arm to point at the room in front of him—and, thus raised Harry arm, too.

Harry followed Draco’s gaze and his heart leaped. There, waiting for their arrival on a tall bench, sat the last, gleaming piece of the Triwizard Cup.

“Sweet Merlin,” Draco breathed. He jerked forward and caught Harry with him, sending Harry stumbling across the floor. Draco tripped at the last second and collapsed to the ground, sending Harry tumbling on top of him.

Even with Draco sprawled beneath him, his ankle throbbing furiously and the skin on his wrist raw from the tugging of the rope, Harry couldn’t find it in him to be angry with Draco. “Come on,” he sighed.

Harry and Draco gathered themselves to their feet unsteadily, carefully co-ordinating their movements around their tethered wrists.

“I think this is supposed to be a teamwork thing,” Harry said, dusting off his trousers with his free hand. “We have to connect the pieces together using only one hand each.”

Draco grumbled something under his breath. Draco reached into his pocket to find the two pieces of the Triwizard Cup that they had already attached—the base and the neck. Wincing as he pulled them out of his pocket before he sucked in a sharp breath through a clenched jaw, Draco dropped them clumsily on the tall bench beside the cup. Draco’s hand wrapped in rope clenched and Harry glanced down, finding that Draco’s trousers were straining obscenely.

“Is it really that hard to take something out of your pocket, Malfoy?”

Draco caught his eye as Harry smiled teasingly. The double-meaning was not lost on Draco and he glared at Harry. “It’s your fault I’m this hard and not able to take care of it, Potter.”

There was something about the way Draco used Harry’s surname whenever he was frustrated that sparked something inside of Harry. He swiped his tongue across his lips before sinking his teeth into them. Grappling in his pocket, Harry wrenched the two handles out and set them on the bench.

“Let’s do this.”

It was tedious, Harry soon realised, to attach each of the pieces. Draco was too eager and Harry, apparently, too impatient. Their movements were graceless and hasty, both determined to fuse the parts together as quickly as they could manage. Harry’s breathing quickened, as did his pace, as the realisation that they were about to finish the Triwizard Tournament dawned on him. With a final shove as Harry connected the last handle to the cup, the Triwizard Cup was finally complete, the blue jewels shining and projecting light and shadow across both of their faces.

The rope tangling their wrists together disappeared but neither of them let go. Instead Harry clutched Draco’s hand tight in his own and lifted them, pressing his lips along Draco’s knuckles. They had done it.

In an instant, the cottage—bedraggled and detonated in places—collapsed around them and vanished. Harry and Draco stood side-by-side on a patch of lush grass, staring ahead of them as roaring crowds in the tall stands surrounding them came into view. Harry’s face broke into a huge smile and his chest filled with hundreds of emotions, all of which were unrivalled compared with his relief.

The chants and applause rung in Harry’s ear but all he could focus on was the body pressing into his side. He caught Draco’s eye and watched the way a sad, yet hopeful smile tripped across Draco’s lips, as though he was upset that the very thing that had tethered them together—both figuratively and physically—in the first place, the Triwizard Tournament, had ended. Harry felt a small pang of anxiety in his chest before he quickly dispelled those thoughts.

Achernar’s voice (interrupted by a very enthusiastic MacFarlan, who had taken to shouting in her ear) announcing Hogwarts as the victorious school chimed around them. The Hogwarts anthem, led by Flitwick, who was conducting with frivolous flourishes of his wand, boomed around them.

Harry pressed the Triwizard Cup into Draco’s hand and, both taking a handle each, they raised it into the air. He thought that his mouth was going to tear with how wide his smile was. All he could truly measure was the steady Hogwarts anthem drowning out most of the applause, and Draco’s warm, steady body by his side, a gentle pressure that left him with a feeling of familiarity.

They were broken up immediately by the crowds ruching from the stands like a stampede. Harry felt Draco’s hand slip from his own and, in a moment of panic, he remembered the cave; the smoke enveloping them, Draco’s hand—clutched so tightly in his own—slipping away behind the smoke and the unbearable sound of Draco’s desperate, wheezing cough.

Harry was shaken out of his reverie by the sound of his mother’s high voice calling “Harry, sweetness!” above the throngs of students encircling him and pawing at the Triwizard Cup, desperate to touch it.

Harry smiled at his parents as they spoke to him, both singing his praises and wearing matching expressions of pride. Despite their solicitous, caring words, Harry couldn’t help but be distracted by a couple he noticed standing a small distance from Draco. However, Draco was resolutely ignoring them both, choosing instead to speak with Cadmus Meliflua (something that told Harry that Draco very much did not want to talk to these people, if he preferred Cadmus’s company to theirs).

It was then that, on closer inspection, Harry noticed the physical features of the couple; the man had Draco’s height and he had thick waves of dark hair with small greying patches above his ears. The woman had startlingly grey eyes, but looked very meek, with an expression that told Harry that she would rather be anywhere except surrounded by Hogwarts students. The man turned towards Harry, then, and his lip curled into a sneer, a familiarly despicable sneer.

Making his way through the crowd after greeting his parents, Harry noticed his friends huddled together. He pulled Ron, Hermione and Ginny into a huge embrace which left them all laughing and jousting each other. They each hailed his performance and Ginny demanded a play-by-play recall of precisely what had happened during the task. Hermione, however, seemed to be preoccupied with something over Harry’s shoulder. As Harry was explaining how they managed to fuse the pieces of the Triwizard Cup back together, Hermione leaned into him.

Surprised, Harry asked, “Everything alright?”

“I think Draco is looking for you,” Hermione said softly.

Harry felt the muscles on his face relax instantly. Turning around sharply, he found Draco staring directly at him. Standing still as Madam Pomfrey fussed over a sharp cut along his shoulder, Draco wore a curious expression, ignoring the group of Slytherin sycophants grovelling around him. Draco’s parents seemed to have recognised a lost cause with their son and were standing nearer to the stands, speaking with Professor Slughorn.

Harry felt his pace quickening on instinct alone as he weaved through the crowds, calling apologies over his shoulder as he pushed past people. Finally, he found himself standing directly in front of Draco. Harry heard Madam Pomfrey’s short “You’re finally good to go now, Mr Malfoy” before Draco nodded at her once and crowded into Harry’s space. Harry’s breath caught in his throat as Draco fell into his touch and surreptitiously linked their hands.

“Can we get out of here already?” Draco whispered.

Harry nodded back towards the castle. “I’ll meet you back in our dorm in a few minutes. Just want to do something first.”

Draco’s brow creased but he nodded, making his way up the sloping grounds towards the castle. A thrill of excitement shot through Harry at the thought of Draco waiting upstairs for him. He yearned for them to hold each other, to press gentle, comforting kisses on Draco’s skin, to allow Draco to touch his burns, bruises and thin gashes with reverence, healing them in a way that magic could not. Before that, however, there was something Harry needed to do.

Marching across the grounds until he reached the side of the stands where Draco’s father was nodding vehemently at something Slughorn had said. Harry absently wondered if his plan could possibly work, or whether he was about to be cursed into oblivion by none other than Lucius Malfoy. He thought that the latter was most likely, though the dull ache coursing through his body from the morning’s events warned him against moving any further.

Harry ignored the persistent throbbing in his ankle (which Madam Pomfrey had mended expertly, albeit with a warning not to lean on it). For some reason, Harry didn’t want Draco’s father in any position of weakness—though Harry had the moral upper hand between them—and walked through the protest of the delicate skin pulled taut over his newly-repaired bone.

“Mr Malfoy,” Harry said loudly, catching both his and Slughorn’s attention. Draco’s mother’s eyes were trained on the muddy ground at her feet. “I was wondering whether I could have a word.”

Draco’s father looked between Harry and Slughorn and nodded tersely. “If you’ll excuse me, Horace,” he said, shaking Slughorn’s hand before reluctantly following Harry to a quieter side of the stands.

Harry noticed an enormous sign strewn over one of the benches, reading ‘Hogwarts To Win’. He smiled faintly. He allowed his gaze to follow the way the colours flashed green and red sporadically before turning his gaze to Draco’s father. It was immensely satisfying to see the affronted glare he got in response to his dawdling.

Perhaps it was the fact that the indignant expression on his face was so like that of Draco, or merely that Harry possessed not one ounce of respect for the man and therefore found no reason to restrain himself, but Harry did not feel perturbed by him in the slightest. Instead, he was fuelled by a burning desire to give Draco’s father a hefty piece of his mind.

“I understand that you used to use the Cruciatus Curse on Draco,” Harry began, voice light and conversational. He watched the man’s expression turn to one of outrage. “That can earn you a life sentence in Azkaban, you know, Mr Malfoy. Although, with the company you seem to keep, I’d imagine you would feel right at home there with the rest of the Voldemort sympathisers and Death Eaters.”

Draco’s father’s face turned bright red and he drew himself up to astonishing height, spluttering for a response and reaching for his wand. “How dare you suggest such a thing, you despicable child. How dare you threaten me,” he spat.

Harry clenched his fingers nervously around his wand, though he didn’t truly believe that Draco’s father had the nerve to duel him in such a public setting. “I’ll threaten anyone who hurts Draco,” Harry said defiantly. He wasn’t quite sure where his daring nerve came from, but persevered nonetheless. “If you ever lay a finger on Draco, if you dream of coming near him again or associating with him in any way, I’ll make sure you end up there. Maybe the Dementors will give you a taste of your own potion.”

“As if you’d have the power to do any such things,” Mr Malfoy sneered.

“I don’t,” Harry said simply. “But as I recall, I’ve just won a thousand Galleons, as has your son. And, as I’m sure you very well know, money can be very persuasive in the right hands, and my parents know more than a few people in the Ministry who wouldn’t mind seeing the back of you.”

It was an outright lie, but it seemed to have the desired effect. Draco’s father glared at him, but seemed to recognise his position, a kind of self-awareness that Harry knew Draco vastly lacked. With a long, incensed stare at Harry, Lucius Malfoy swung his robes around himself and strode towards his wife.

Harry sighed shakily, the intensity of the man’s gaze leaving him slightly unnerved. Harry had been pleased to find that Draco’s father’s eyes were a steely shade of grey, so unlike his son’s mossy green. Suddenly, Harry felt a desperate urge to find Draco; to grip him tightly and press his face into Draco’s chest and never let go.

Waving at two Hufflepuffs he recognised from his Herbology class, who had been watching him curiously, Harry ambled back to the castle. The walk to his dormitory seemed impossibly tedious, the staircases seemingly winding every way except in the direction he desired. Finally, and with bated breath, Harry rushed passed the portrait of Edessa Skanderberg and stood outside their dormitory.

Chapter Text

Sitting on the step of the stone staircase were their cats and Harry absently realised that Draco must have hushed them out of their dormitory. Abrax was chewing on something in idle satisfaction, Cassiopeia watching him with the most contemptuous look her endearing face could muster. The sight of them made Harry snort.

The possible reasons Draco may have wanted privacy set Harry’s skin alight beneath his clothes, which suddenly seemed excessive when all he wanted to do was reach Draco’s bare, pale skin. Harry pushed open the door and his gaze latched onto Draco, who was standing with a rigid back, his eyes alert and glazed.

Neither of them spoke a word, both surging forward and wrapping their arms around each other. Harry pressed his lips to Draco’s, soft and tenacious. He lifted his hands and carded them through Draco’s hair, twisting and tangling with utmost contempt for hair gel, and eliciting a low groan from Draco.

Fuck,” Harry sighed.

“Highly eloquent as ever, Harry.”

Draco smirked and allowed his hands to travel across Harry’s back, his nails pressing into the fabric of Harry’s shirt and fisting it roughly. Draco’s fingertips travelled lower and sunk into Harry’s hips. He expertly dragged them beneath Harry’s shirt and along his back. Harry shivered as Draco whipped Harry’s shirt off and threw it on the floor. Harry felt Draco’s long, deft fingers sink into the bare skin covering the dimples in his back. Harry had to keep his body from trembling at the slight sting of Draco’s nails diggings into his skin and undoubtedly leaving sensitive pink lines where only Draco could see.

Tugging at the hem of Draco’s shirt impatiently, Harry quickly helped Draco discard his own. Draco observed Harry’s chest with such sedulous awe that Harry blushed beneath his gaze, fumbling with the waistband of Draco’s trousers. In a moment of wild fever, Draco’s hands grappled at Harry’s trousers and worked at unclasping the button. Harry’s skin prickled with anticipation and he leaned forward, suddenly exhausted, to rest his head on Draco’s shoulder as Draco tore his trousers off him in a single, swift movement. They fell to the floor and, as Harry stepped out of them, leaving himself in just his briefs, he felt highly exposed.

Draco placed two fingers beneath Harry’s chin and carefully guided his head up until their eyes met. “Are you okay?” he asked, tone suddenly patient, as though he would be willing to drop everything solely to make sure that Harry felt safe and comfortable. Harry’s heart ached at Draco’s open, obliging expression.

“I’m good,” Harry said on a breath. He placed his fingers gently on Draco’s slender hips and felt a shiver wrack Draco’s body. Letting out a shaky breath, Harry fumbled at Draco’s trousers (which clung to Draco’s thighs so tightly that Harry thought they were attached by a Sticking Charm) before yanking them down with a little more aggression than he had intended.

“Over to the bed, come on,” Harry said restlessly, pulling him towards Draco’s neat bed, rather than Harry’s indistinguishable bed beneath his pile of clothes and books. Draco fell back onto the bed and, taking a moment to savour the sight of Draco sprawled across it, Harry climbed atop. He took care not to injure either of them in the process—their wounds from the final task were still tender—and rested his knees on either side of Draco’s hips. The sight below him, Draco’s eyes dark and trusting, was something that Harry wanted to etch in his thoughts forever.

Draco leaned up and pressed a kiss with a strange eloquence to Harry’s collarbone, a steady, rehearsed rhythm to the way he swiped his tongue across the slightly protruding bone and sucked insistently to leave a dark love bite.

Harry felt a scintilla of self-doubt course through him under Draco’s attention before Draco met his eye and smiled.

Draco sighed, brushing the curve of Harry’s hip. “How is your skin so delicate, Potter?”

“Didn’t stop you from clawing at my back a second ago,” Harry said, smiling down at him.

“Moment of madness,” Draco dismissed with the ghost of an apologetic smile. He grabbed Harry’s hip and placed h