DAY ONE: February 10th
Step 1: Learn to be more sly
Potions classroom, 11:33 AM
"Just what do you think you are making, Mr Potter?"
Harry jumped, nearly flinging his plate of sifted Feruja Rose pollen into Ron's lap. He raised his eyes to meet the stony expression of Professor Snape.
The entire class had gone expectantly silent.
"Um. The Third Medieval Era All-Purpose Scouring Elixir," he stated, praying that he'd gotten the entire name right. His stomach churned. If only he'd been paying more attention to Snape's whereabouts… Maybe he would have gotten a closer look at the title lettered pristinely across the front board before Snape descended upon them.
Snape's black eyes glittered. "Odd, Mr Potter, that the Third Medieval Era All-Purpose Scouring Emulsion should be the color of a strawberry Ice Mouse."
Harry's throat constricted. Tittering started up behind him. He thought it might be that Greengrass girl, but even Harry knew better than to turn away from Snape to look.
Snape leaned closer. "I should think that someone who has brewed Bellefleur's Cathexis Catalyst would know better than to misuse potions ingredients for a ridiculous sham of a holiday."
Ron shifted uncomfortably beside him and opened his mouth, but Harry kicked him in the shin.
"My apologies, Professor," he forced out. "I must have used too many fern leaves."
Snape's face went so sour Harry blinked. For a moment, he half expected the professor to hex him or maybe order him to drink his unfinished concoction. But the man straightened abruptly. His wand appeared in his right hand and with a sweep, Harry's cauldron was empty. "Thirty points from Gryffindor. Start over. And you will remain here until your potion is a comfortingly drab shade of green."
Someone, a Slytherin, laughed outright. Somehow Harry managed to keep his face blank until Snape glided away. But he wanted to scream. There was no way he'd finish before class ended. And of course it had to be the one day Potions had been rescheduled for the morning. He was going to miss lunch.
Harry looked around as the sounds of potions making commenced around him again. His gaze fell on the two occupants of the next table. Blaise Zabini had a superior look of amusement on his face. He smirked at Harry and shook his head. For some reason it loosened the tension in Harry's shoulders. He smiled weakly at the Slytherin and looked past him to his partner; he could expect more of the same from Draco, he was certain.
But the blond just met his eyes quickly and grimaced. Blaise leaned in and whispered something to Draco. Draco gave an exasperated sigh and rolled his eyes. He returned to their simmering potion, which was indeed a very nondescript green color. Blaise frowned. His eyes flicked to Harry, then he too turned away.
"Sorry, mate," Ron muttered. Harry tore his gaze from the two Slytherins and looked at his friend.
"It's just Snape's usual… thirty," he said, shrugging. "Don't worry about it."
But Ron frowned. "Nothing usual about thirty." He picked up their flask of diluted oak sap and poured the rest into the empty cauldron. "Why did you kick me? I would've told him it was my fault."
Harry snorted softly. "Yeah. And give him more of a reason to take points away? He still likes me a little more than you because of my midterm project. For some reason. He'd probably give you three weeks' detention."
Ron grinned weakly and Harry had to smile. He turned to their cauldron and dropped three elderberry twigs into the gently seething sap. "Besides, what's a missed lunch in the face of true love?"
Ron turned redder than the Feruja Rose dust. "Shhh!" he hissed.
Harry glanced up and barely hid his grin. Sure enough, Hermione was staring at them both with more curiosity than usual in her disapproving glare. He waved at her casually and positioned his body just enough to the right to block their cauldron from her view. "It's okay. We still have enough pollen to make it for her."
Ron nodded and dog-eared the page in his potions book, then turned to their day's assignment with a rough sigh. "Can we brew it in our room, do you think? She does have a habit of coming in whenever the notion strikes her."
"Maybe if you made it a point to not be in our room whenever you can manage it this weekend, she won't have a reason." Harry stirred their mixture slowly, already loathing whichever ancient potions expert had concocted the ridiculous idea of five full stirs a minute.
Ron scratched his head and peeked again at the dog-eared page. "Don't even know if I'm doing it right," he muttered. "Probably smell like old Quidditch gloves when we're done."
Harry reached over and flipped Ron to the right page just as Snape walked past. "Don't get your book incinerated. It'll smell fine. She'll love it."
Ron's smile was tender and not directed at Harry or his potions book. "I hope so."
Class was disrupted once again about four minutes from the bell, when Neville's cauldron began to froth splatters of an alarming magenta shade over the rim. Snape whisked over, a fervent gleam in his eye, and Harry craned around, trying to catch Draco's attention. But unlike Blaise, who was watching Neville sputter out an explanation for the interesting qualities of his potion, Draco was not paying any attention to the chaos on the far side of the room. His potion bubbled gaily in his cauldron, green liquid licking at the edges. Draco had pulled out a positively huge potions tome and was reading intently from one of its pages. Harry's spirits fell.
Neville's explanation seemed to have garnered few points; Snape was scowling. "Then once again, you have failed utterly, Longbottom. Clean out your cauldron. You will remain over lunch as well."
Harry sighed, as did Neville. His roommate's partner, a honey-blonde seventh year from Ravenclaw, was eyeing him in a demoralised manner. Harry saw her rub one hand over her belly. Harry's own stomach growled. He sighed and shifted in his seat. Potions in the morning should have tipped him off: it was going to be one of those days.
The bell sounded and all but three of his classmates rose and began to pack. Snape stopped them all with a glare, shrouded in his black robes at the front of the room. "Allow me to issue a small reminder. If anyone thinks of making a pink potion in my classroom this coming week, I can assure you your Valentine's Day will be spent finding our just how well today's scouring emulsion works on cauldrons! Now get out."
Hermione walked past primly, casting a somewhat chagrined but ultimately there-you-have-it look at them both. Ron caught her hand as she went by and she blushed prettily before moving away. Harry watched Draco pack his book bag and raise it gracefully over his shoulder. For a long moment, Harry thought Draco would not even glance at him as he left. But then grey eyes flicked to his, and the faintest of smiles crossed the blond's face.
Harry's heart lifted and he returned his attention to their cauldron. Ron ladled in a healthy dollop of crushed fern leaf and took over stirring. "She'll be a right difficult one to distract from questions this time," he murmured, a smirk twitching his lips.
Harry grinned. Suddenly lunch without food didn't seem so bad.
* * *
Step 2: Organize some quality time
Lakeside, 2:20 PM
"Can't we just get this over with?" Draco muttered, slapping at his arms with gloved hands. Without waiting for Harry's response, he strode off, kicking through the thin layer of snow. Harry tugged his hat down over his ears and hurried after him.
"What are you in such a hurry for?"
Draco continued toward the side of the lake at the same rapid pace. "I would like," he huffed, "to catch a bloody Ice Nixie to take back to that bloody cottage so I can bloody well be done with it."
Harry caught up to him at last and matched his stride, watching the ground underfoot for snow-covered roots and stones. "I hardly think hurrying's going to make a difference. Hagrid'll just send us out for another until class is over."
Draco's eyebrow was nearly at his hairline. The glance he spared Harry was smothered in a self-righteous smirk. "Not according to this." He flicked a folded piece of parchment from his pocket and waved it under Harry's nose. Harry tried to grab it but Draco snatched it away and returned it to his pocket. "This says I'm off this ice-hole of a lawn and back inside the instant I complete today's assignment."
"Dungeon. Snape's project takes precedence over just about everything, thank Salazar. Couldn't be bloody soon enough in my opinion." Draco's words were interrupted by the chattering of his teeth. He came to a dead stop. Harry nearly went past him. Draco was glowering fiercely upward. "Fuck, isn't it about time you were getting warmer?"
The Slytherin whipped his wand from his coat and flung his arm up, pointing at the patchy blue sky overhead. "Incendio!"
Harry blinked as yellow sparks zinged upward and vanished into the sky. Draco didn't wait for a result; he shoved his wand away and began stomping toward the lake again, muttering.
Harry jogged after him, grinning. "Yeah, now I know you've been working too hard."
Draco turned around fully, not missing a step, and frowned at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Draco. You just shot a warming spell at—" Harry glanced up, shading his eyes. "At that rooster-shaped cloud."
"Rooster?" Draco shot back scornfully. "Potter, that is clearly a basilisk."
Harry shook his head, biting his lip against laughter. "Doesn't look a thing like a basilisk."
The blond turned on him. "Oh, and how the hell would you kn—" He stopped, stared at Harry for a long moment, then rolled his eyes and stomped away again. Harry heard something that sounded an awful lot like "Bloody Gryffindor heroes."
The middle of the lake was still mostly frozen over, but dark water lapped at the edges in a sweep at least as wide as Harry was tall. Chunks of broken ice floundered in the shallows. Harry hunkered down and poked at some of the drifting pieces, trying to find the tell-tale etchings on the edges that marked the recent presence of an Ice Nixie. Draco walked along in front, hands in his pockets, nudging with the toe of his boot at the larger blocks.
"Hagrid's been into smaller creatures lately," Harry ventured. He discarded an oblique slab of ice into the shallows. It splashed his face with freezing water. Draco snorted.
"Not likely. Have you ever seen an Ice Nixie?"
"Oh, yeah. I come down here every day and spy for them. No."
"Shape-shifters, Potter." Draco had that look on his face, the one Harry found himself rolling his eyes at often enough. He sat back on his haunches and waited for the lesson. Draco lifted his shoulders and his eyebrows, and smirked at him. "They can be anything they want. They could be you, for all I know. Their size is unpredictable. Water Nixies have been known to take people away and drown them, and then become them."
Harry looked at the bumping ice fragments over the dark water and got to his feet. He backed away from the edge. "Isn't Hagrid afraid one of us could… you know… come back a Nixie?"
Again Draco gave him a condescending look. "Ice Nixies are fairly benevolent, as Nixies go. They don't usually kill anyone. The oaf will probably have us light a torch for him or something. A Nixie won't touch anything attached to fire, and then we'll know who's real."
Harry frowned at him. "That's so reassuring, Draco."
Draco breathed into his hands, hopping from foot to foot in an abrupt, ungainly manner. "Will you just find us one already, Harry? I'm bloody freezing!"
Harry walked over to Draco, rubbing his own hands together. "Seems to me you're the one more qualified to find one. You know everything about them, after all."
Draco hissed at him and went back to breathing puffs of steam into his cupped hands. Harry stopped at his side and gazed out over the lake. The ice was pearly white in the middle, the hillsides a deep, velvety green beyond, scattered with snow. Thick, curling clouds rolled up and over the top, streaking overhead in the wind. Harry watched their shadows flow over the hills and ice; dark, light, dark again. The air was cool and crisp, fresh as mint in his throat.
Truth was, he didn't want to find an Ice Nixie. He hadn't seen much of Draco this last week because of Snape's project, and he'd been so glad of Care of Magical Creatures, especially when it had been rotated to the last class of the day, thanks to Snape's incredible prickishness. It was Friday; he missed Draco, and he'd thought… But if Draco found his Nixie, then he'd leave again. Harry sighed softly and attempted to lose himself in the clear air, the piney scents from the forest, the crackle-pop of ice breaking on the water.
"You wore your coat."
Harry opened his eyes and found Draco gazing at him, a quietness about his features. Harry looked down at himself. His coat was covered in a thin film of sifted snow from the wind, the wine color glowing richly in the sunlight. "Well, it is a bit colder than usual."
When he looked back up, Draco was looking at him pensively, eyes squinted. His expression was queer, almost-bright. Harry frowned and straightened. "What?"
Draco blinked twice and shook his head. Harry was about to chalk it all up to nothing but the necessary Draco-ness when the blond stepped forward and slid his hand over Harry's collar to cup the base of his neck. He met Harry's lips in a brief, warm kiss. Harry stilled, surprised, then returned the kiss haltingly. Draco let out a contented sigh through his nose and stepped back. He wasn't smiling, but his face was more open than usual. Eyes wider.
Harry hesitated, then leaned in a fraction. Draco's eyes flicked away for an instant, and then there was a warm body pressed against him, gloved fingers brushing his hat aside to card through his bangs, and the gentle touch of lips once more. Draco broke the kiss after only a few seconds and licked his lips. Harry held his face gently in both hands, and touched his forehead to Draco's. Their breaths mingled, tiny wisps of fog between them.
A fluttering splash turned Draco's head, and then a hand gripped Harry's arm tightly. Harry peered at the water's edge and saw largish ripples slipping over the rocks by the bobbing ice. From where he stood, he could see the delicate scratch marks decorating the edges of the ice chunks, as if made by little fingernails. "Was that—"
"I think so."
Another splash, and Harry saw what looked like tiny 'feet' made of… water ripple above the surface. He sighed and pulled back. "Alright, what do we do?"
* * *
Step 3: A reality check is always readily available
Front atrium, 8:46 PM
Harry exited the Great Hall in good spirits, despite not seeing Draco there. Dinner had been hot and filling, and Harry had managed quite a lot of it, seeing as he hadn't had lunch. He left Seamus and Lavender cooing and nuzzling at each other over the remains of their treacle pudding, and headed upstairs. Ron's potion would need setting up; the first set of ingredients required a day to ferment in hyacinth solution before the rest could be added. And Hermione would never go poking about under Harry's bed for what she was terming "Ronald's secretive little fixation."
Harry came up to the library floor and thought briefly about detouring inside. Draco would be hard at work, reading that giant tome of Snape's. It was nice to consider giving him a bit of a break. But Harry decided against it before the library door was even in sight. If he left Draco alone tonight, he would have a better chance of distracting him tomorrow.
He came around the corner and saw Susan Bones walking ahead of him with another girl from Hufflepuff. Their voices echoed down the hall and Harry could just hear their conversation.
"…wonder who Leann's going to ask. Had her eye on that Ravenclaw fifth year for a while now."
"She might," Susan answered. "But she's too shy, I think. We should do it for her."
Susan's friend giggled. "Oh, that'll go over well. I'd better just worry about myself. Are you thinking Dean Thomas, then?"
Susan shook her blonde hair. "Was. But I don't think so now. Besides, he's still fixated on Ginny Weasley. It would never work. I was thinking Harry Potter, actually."
Her friend stared at her. "Harry Potter? What about him?"
"I'm going to ask him to be my Valentine."
"But I thought… Isn't he going out with someone? You know." The girl's voice became hushed and she whispered a name to her friend. Susan laughed.
"Oh, please. Everyone knows that's just a rumor."
Harry's feet came to a halt in the middle of the hallway. Susan and her friend continued down the hall, their voices fading into silence. Harry swallowed.
He'd known there would be rumors the second Draco had finally left the tower on Christmas morning. Maybe he hadn't been fully considering the magnitude of those rumors at the time - thinking was rather difficult when he was being kissed by Draco Malfoy - but he'd known just the same. It was a certain by-product of living at a boarding school, and more so, of finalizing his relationship in front of nearly every student in his House in the middle of the night. He'd expected rumors.
But he hadn't expected them to take this form. Someday he'd have to write to Rita Skeeter about the particular characteristics of the anti-rumor.
Harry had realised rather quickly that Draco was not the touchy-feely sort. The first week after Christmas had been plenty of evidence that they weren't about to have the sort of fawning, tender public relationship that Ron and Hermione shared. Draco was content just to be around Harry, and plainly discouraged any sort of open intimacy. Harry had agreed fully at first; he was still much too uncertain of how to go about said intimacy at all to want to argue it.
But after… Harry was chagrined to say that he'd been a bit of an idiot, until he realised that he really had no reason to expect otherwise. It wasn't about Draco needing distance in front of his peers; they'd gotten into plenty of arguments over the matter, usually beginning with Harry being petulant and ending with Draco angrily changing the subject or stalking away.
But it never lasted long, and it was always Draco who let it go and found Harry again, kissing him quietly and folding himself into Harry's embraces. Draco had been so twitchy, jittery, unsure of where to put his hands but determined to put them somewhere, uncertain if Harry even wanted it half the time. And Harry had been little better.
He had finally figured out two weeks into their relationship that it wasn't embarrassment. It was Draco trying to get used to this, not him. And then he felt rather stupid. Draco's open display on the rooftop early Christmas morning had taken on a certain desperation in Harry's eyes, and at night when he thought of the implications, they staggered him. He contemplated Draco while staring at the ceiling and listening to Seamus mumble in his sleep. The final conclusion he came to was that it had been much more of a last-ditch, no holds barred effort to undo the damage of their fight than he'd first realised.
The next day, Harry had stopped pushing.
Harry made his way slowly up the stairs toward the Tower, wincing at the aches in his back. The Ice Nixie had put up quite a… tussle. It had nearly dragged Draco into the water before it realised he wasn't going to give up so easily. Still, it could have turned out like it had for Justin Finch-Fletchley: the last Harry had seen of him had been a shivering huddle of thick blankets and warming charms in front of Hagrid's fireplace, with one shimmering Nixie-shaped… thing perched contentedly on his shoulder, leaving a large damp spot.
Ron was not in the common room. Harry assumed he had spirited Hermione down into some alcove somewhere, possibly under his Invisibility Cloak, for some alone time. Or maybe they were in the common room, under the cloak. Harry dismissed the thought quickly, not really wanting to hear strange sounds that he wouldn't be able to explain away as the crackling of the fire.
He made his way up to their room and found Dean on his bed, reading a football magazine. Neville would be out with Padma, and Ron was nowhere to be seen, as he'd expected. He greeted his remaining roommate and pulled his potions equipment out of his trunk.
"That for Ron?" Dean ventured from his bed.
"Yeah." Harry checked his list again, and dumped the hyacinth solution in, as well as a few whole Feruja petals. "Not complicated."
Dean nodded decisively. "She'll like it."
It was almost ten by the time the door opened, and Harry had one wild moment of fear before he saw it wasn't Ron and Hermione. But his greeting to Neville died on his lips. There was a pinched look on Neville's face, one Harry hadn't seen since the war. Dean called a hullo before realising, but Neville did not seem inclined to answer. He went about the business of getting ready for bed with an efficiency that belied his problems in Potions class, and finally pulled his curtains shut without having done more than nod at either of them. Harry quirked an eyebrow at Dean, but the other boy only shrugged.
Half an hour later, Dean put his magazine away and yawned his goodnights. Harry set the cauldron to simmer and covered it, then slid it out of sight behind his trunk and tumbled into bed himself. Seamus fell through the door laughing just as Harry was tugging his curtains closed. He caught Lavender's mischievous giggle from out in the stairwell. Seamus quieted himself, leaned out to kiss her languorously, and then shut the door. He grinned at Harry and waved. Harry pointed to the dark bruise on the side of Seamus' neck and the Irish boy's face went a nice rouge. He snickered and shrugged one shoulder, then headed for his own bed. Harry shut his curtains, and sat there in the dark for a moment, listening to Seamus clunking around with his trunk. He wondered if Draco were still studying, then thought of Lavender's hickey on Seamus' throat and sighed.
The truth was, Harry had chosen a rather standoffish boyfriend. Not that Draco was cold to him. Gods, no, Harry had testament to that under the collar of his own pyjamas. The thing was, no one else had testament to it.
Was he supposed to let Draco take the lead all the time? He'd been doing so, certainly; his boyfriend had shown a definite hesitancy concerning Harry right from the very beginning, before the word 'relationship' had even come up. And as much as Harry had managed to get over their disaster of a fight just after the Yule Ball, the memory of that day - the looks on their friends' faces, the way Draco had avoided his eyes - still twisted his stomach. He was terrified of repeating the incident, and sometimes Draco's temper just rose so fast he couldn't quite…
The hour ticked away slowly. Harry was so immersed in his thoughts that he barely heard Ron's entry, only registering the previous creak of the door when his friend's familiar snores began sifting through the room. Ron and Hermione had never felt the need to hide. Their relationship had been forged out in the open, denied out in the open, and finally cemented out in the open. Everyone in the school knew when they were happy, arguing, or making up. But Harry found he spent a lot of his time answering Hermione's curious questions about how things were going between him and Draco, and she was one of his closest friends.
Did any of the Slytherins know about Draco's relationship? Did Pansy Parkinson pester Draco at all for details, or did she think he'd broken up with Harry despite her surprising machinations to the contrary? Blaise knew, obviously, but Harry had no idea how much he knew. Did the younger Slytherin girls blush and preen and flirt at Draco whenever they saw him? And the older ones, like Daphne Greengrass? Harry thought of Susan Bones and grimaced.
Seamus was mumbling again. Loudly. Harry frowned up at his bed hangings, resisting the urge to press his hands over his ears.
He sighed. It had been over a month. And no one other than their close friends really knew they were together.