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Ourselves Like We Were Yesterday

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Ourselves Like We Were Yesterday

:::

All in all, he would eventually decide, it had been worth it.

Zacharias Smith had enjoyed getting in his petty digs that afternoon while calling the Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch match, and he had shared his personal disgust with Harry Potter and his nauseating Gryffindor coterie with the school at large with sarcastic gusto. He had not, however, enjoyed being publicly slammed into the ground by Ginny Weasley, who had managed to pound him flat into the hard, barren earth by blitzing the shite out of him via Wronski Feint.

"You contemptible, horrid little slug," she had screeched, dismounting her broom in a flash and smacking him square upside the head with its craggy bristles. "How dare you say such things about my brother! About Harry! After all Harry's done for you, even!"

That had been the last straw. Zacharias seized her broom and yanked, jerking her toward him. "Yeah, twat!" he hissed, jabbing the handle of the broom into her stomach until she stumbled backward. "Tell Harry thanks for getting my best friend killed for no good reason. Tell him I won't forget everything he's done for me ever again." He shoved again and Ginny went sprawling on her arse.

She sprang to her feet, anger dancing in her eyes. "Fuck you, Smith." She brandished her wand, and the next thing Zacharias knew the commentating stand had crashed down around him, pinning him so tightly under its pile of heavy, ancient oak beams that he couldn't draw a breath, and by the time his friends managed to clear the rubble away, his vision had been fading due to asphyxiation.

It was due to this course of events that Zacharias now found himself sulking in the library, injured and sour and thinking dastardly thoughts.

Revenge is dish best served sweet. No. Revenge is a dish best served surreptitiously. Oh, be a sodding man, Smith! Revenge is a dish best served bitter and cold and mouldy and black. That was a bit better. Revenge is a dish best served with one hand, while the other is crushing your enemy's windpipe. Revenge is a dish best served--

"With death?"

If Zacharias could have managed an uptake at this unexpected intrusion into his private sulk, he would have certainly jumped. However, currently his neck was immobilised, due to the crude medicinal binding charm cast there, courtesy of Madam Pomfrey. This archaeic spell was complimented by a series of smaller support charms which snaked down the nubby zip of his spine to wrap firmly around his bruised and aching ribs.

Zacharias absolutely loathed the taste of Skele-Gro and he had refused its treatment in a fit of pique following Ginny's assault. Justin Finch-Fletchley and Ernie Macmillan had levicorpused Zacharias -- battered and bruised, and shaped vaguely in the shape of the letter 'Z' -- to the hospital wing, where Madam Pomfrey had admonished him. "If you aren't brave enough for the Skele-Gro," she'd scolded, holding him in disdain, "you'll just have to heal the old-fashioned way." Zacharias had glowered, but said nothing. He had allowed himself to be bound up in a series of spells so old-fashioned they were rather akin to Justin's dented and creaky-hinged tin of Muggle sticking plasters, in comparison to the far superiour Skele-Gro.

"What'd'you want?" he asked Malfoy, wincing as his neck cramped in protest.

Draco Malfoy raised an eyebrow and stepped out from behind a bookshelf. "I'm not the one talking out loud to myself, Hoofle," he said. "What do you want, muttering madly to yourself like you are? I might take points from Hooflepoofle for your very impolite and most unnecessary disruption of the library atmosphere. Why, my own perusal of the Muggle Studies section has been hindered even." He raised his hand in a sweeping gesture as he spoke, his bored, offhanded tone almost inspiring in its perfection.

God, Zacharias hated Malfoy, the pompous arse. He fixed a flat gaze on the Slytherin and, well, he decided to fuck with him -- it must have been owing to the pain potions. "I'll thank you to take your filthy, blood-traitorous agenda elsewhere, Malfoy," Zacharias said, deadpan. "You, a pureblood, slumming about in the Muggle Studies section? Toss off, you bloody git!" He dropped his head then, under the guise of dismissal, but really it was a right useful manouevre for hiding the smile playing at his lips. The tabletop shook ever-so-slightly, and Zacharias glanced sideways and found Malfoy had laid his books upon it and was pulling up a chair. For the first time Zacharias could remember, Malfoy was considering him as if he were real, as if he were a genuine individual and not just an inferiour creature to be trifled with and then kicked to the pavement when the player got bored.

"You're fortunate I'm no stranger to sarcasm, Hoofle," Malfoy said, draping himself over the chair in a silky, smooth way no one else could have duplicated. He leaned forward. "That is if you are being sarcastic. You'll understand, of course," he said, his tone perfectly patrician, "that I know nothing about you." There was a minute where all was silent, except for the sound of Malfoy's fingernail tapping idly on the wooden arm of the chair. "Well, I do know you're a bloody frightening Quidditch player."

Zacharias couldn't tell whether this was meant in a complimentary way, but he erred on the side of it not being an expression of faith of his Quidditch skills on Malfoy's part. "Mmm," he grunted, quashing his urge to sucker-punch Malfoy in the nose.

"Rather brilliant job of calling the game, though," Malfoy continued.

"Right." Zacharias rolled his eyes. "You weren't even there."

"I heard," Malfoy said, with an easy shrug. "You disagree?"

"I neither agree nor disagree," Zacharias said in a clipped tone. "It is what it is. It's done and over with."

"You hate Potter," Malfoy said, as if the thought had just occurred to him. He was silent for a long moment. "You really hate Potter. As much as I do?" It was clearly a rhetorical question. "Doubtful, that."

"Can I help you with something, Malfoy?" Zacharias asked, no longer particularly interested. His head had begun to ache now and he wanted to go back to Hufflepuff and rest. "For example, can I show you the door?" Get stuffed, Daddy's Boy.

"Draco?" A lilting, haughty voice interrupted them, its owner enquiring unseen from somewhere within the stacks.

Bloody hell.

Zacharias's stomach dropped and fluttered in a stupid, embarrassing way. He knew very well that voice, knew it by heart in fact, its inflection and tone memorised long ago. Crap, he thought. Should've known. Yet, he couldn't help himself, either -- he jerked his head upward far too eagerly as Pansy Parkinson minced toward them, winding her way through the scattering of chairs. She perched her pretty, firm little arse on the arm of Malfoy's chair and Zacharias remained silent as they came together -- their energies melded perfectly, weaving together oh-so-subtly. Zacharias tried to take heart regardless. Maybe they aren't shagging, he bluffed to himself. They probably were, but a bloke could always hope, yeah? It was likely an empty hope, true, but Zacharias had fancied Pansy Parkinson as long as he could remember -- or at least that's how it seemed to him. His unrequited fascination with her was as familiar to him as any other part of his day-to-day existence here at Hogwarts, such as Charms or Quidditch or breakfast or the yellow and black furniture dotting the Hufflepuff common room.

This moment, here in the library -- this random, strange moment -- was actually the closest Zacharias had been to Pansy since his first year (her second), and he leaned forward in what he hoped was a casual manner and outright stared at her.

Zacharias's usual countenance was dour and moody. He was quite able to guise his interest in her as a bored, passing appraisal, but as he considered Pansy, he was in fact mapping her fully, the eager cartographer in his brain etching madly and with great enthusiasm into his memory the notch of Pansy's chin, her upturned nose (not unlike his own) with its smattering of light freckles, and her shining brown hair that today turned up at the ends. Pansy's figure was lithe and graceful, and Zacharias watched in secret frustration as she lifted her hand and fluttered her fingers against Malfoy's shoulder, brushing lightly at a bit of nonexistant fuzz she imagined there, and he was reminded of the elegant, curving arc of a fine archer's bow as she reached. It was a fitting metaphor, for as Pansy let her hand fall back to her side, she trained her wide eyes on Zacharias, and he was shot clean through the heart by her pitch-dark gaze as she deigned to consider him.

"Clever show today, Hoofle," Pansy said to Zacharias, unsmiling, turning again toward Malfoy. "Didn't you think so, too, Draco?"

"Funny, but -- it's Smith, right?" Malfoy asked, pausing as if lost in deep thought, and Zacharias knew Malfoy knew exactly who he was. All good Quidditch players knew everything about their competition, including their entire families' Hogwarts Quidditch histories, what size robes they all wore, and what brand each particular piece of equipment the other used was, right down to their protective wear.

"That's right," he said, through clenched teeth. "Smith."

"Yes, well, Pansy, as I was saying, it's funny, but Smith and I were just discussing his obvious talent for calling the game." Draco turned into Pansy slightly, his voice dropping. He whispered into her ear until she smiled, and Zacharias couldn't restrain himself.

"You're smiling," he burst out. It came out far more foolishly than he would have liked. Pansy scowled.

"Why wouldn't I?" she asked. "Really, what a stupid thing to say!"

"It's just--" A wave of panic surged through Zacharias. He was used to watching her from afar. He was used to her being just an impression in his mind, to considering her only at his own leisure when it was convenient for him. This unexpected meeting was almost overwhelming and it was certainly wasn't under his control. "You're just always so cross, Parkinson," he finished lamely.

She clucked. "You're rather rude--"

"Smith is right," Malfoy interjected, looking at her with affection. "You are a very, very cross girl."

"Can we leave, please?" Pansy huffed, regarding Zacharias as she might a dung beetle's plaything.

"If you'd like," Malfoy said, giving Zacharias an inscrutable look; he paused for the slightest of moments and Zacharias suddenly felt on alert, appraised even. He was definitely being sized up, which wasn't unusual per se -- he was a good-looking boy who didn't want for romantic attention. In fact, there had even been that unfortunate incident with Justin Finch-Fletchley where Zacharias had had to ward off several unexpected drunken advances after Justin had gotten into Owen Cauldwell's bottle of firewhiskey -- who knew the bloke tapped his bat on both sides of the wicket? But that wasn't at all the vibe he was currently getting from Malfoy. Zacharias was being scrutinised, but bloody hell if he knew why. "Say goodnight to Smith, then, Pansy, and we'll be off."

Zacharias could see the wheels in Pansy's head turning, deciding how to leave it. Apparently, her delight at leaving Zacharias behind overrode her innate cattiness. "Ta, Smith," Pansy said, turning on her heel. She paused, though, and looked back at him. "It's Zachary, right?" Malfoy actually looked pleased at Pansy's further inquiry.

"Zacharias." He shifted in his seat, wincing again as his bruised body protested.

"That's so old-fashioned," she said, crinkling her nose at him.

"Oh, yes, and 'Pansy' is so modern and keen." Zacharias rolled his eyes and began to gather his books. He shoved them into his rucksack without care, not worrying at the sudden sound of crumpling parchment. "Let me guess -- it's a family name, and you've other relatives called 'Fungus,' 'Compost,' and 'Spore.'" He mustered all his available strength and managed to not grimace as he stood to leave. "A garden theme. How fey." Malfoy snorted into his fist and Pansy's eyes narrowed.

"So what if it is a family name, then?" she hissed. "The Parkinson line goes back thousands of--"

"Guess what?" Zacharias leaned in to her as he made to pass by; she smelt of green tea and ginger, and he tried not to be obvious as he breathed in her scent. "Nobody cares." He sidestepped Malfoy to leave, but the other boy's hand caught his forearm. Expecting Malfoy to take a pop at him he braced himself, but when nothing was forthcoming he looked up.

Malfoy was regarding him with curiosity and (Zacharias noted) in a manner that purveyed tacit approval of sorts. "Smith," Malfoy said imperiously, "don't mind Pansy's mood. Come with us. We'll have some meade and chat Quidditch."

"Excuse me?" Pansy objected. "Draco, you said that we'd--"

"I really don't want to--" Zacharias protested.

"Just one drink, Smith," Malfoy insisted. "You've a sense of humour. I can appreciate that."

"You're mental, Malfoy," Zacharias said, pushing past him. "I'm in no mood for whatever game you've got planned, so shove your casket of meade up your bloody git arse." But Malfoy was still at his elbow.

"Come with us, Smith," he repeated, in a firm tone. "Or by tomorrow the entire school will believe you're on the pull for Pansy here, and what's worse at this shitehole than anyone thinking you fancy a Slytherin?"

"I do not fancy your twat girlfriend!" Zacharias sputtered, mortified, his ears and neck bursting into flames. Was it that obvious? How could Malfoy possibly know? How would he ever face his housemates again, if they even thought for a moment he was on the pull for Pansy Parkinson? Bloody hell!

"Oh, I know you don't," Malfoy said, his grey eyes glittering. "But you know how people are. They'd rather believe the worst of people, which can be most useful at times. And, really, what could possibly be worse for you than the entire school thinking you fancy Pansy here?"

"God!" Pansy tossed her hair, vexed. "Thanks ever so."

Draco patted her hand, placating her. "You know I mean it in the most affectionate of ways," he said, unapologetic.

"Draco, honestly!" Pansy whinged. "Let's go! You've had your fun with the Hoofle, now please let's leave. We've letters to write and you promised you'd help me with my Arithmancy homework, and you also said you'd rub my ba--"

"Smith here's much better at Arithmancy than I am, aren't you, Smith?" Malfoy interrupted, putting his hand up. "And him, a fifth year even. What luck for you, Pansy -- a prot é at your disposal."

"Brilliant." Pansy sniffed and lifted her chin to look down her nose at Zacharias.

"Actually, I'm-- I'm failing Arithmancy," Zacharias lied, zig-zagging around Malfoy again in an attempt to make a beeline for the library exit. "Failing abysmally! Without hope even. So, I'll just be going--"

"Seriously, Smith," Malfoy said, in a low tone that gave Zacharias pause. "No one's having a go at you. Just . . . come and chat a bit, yeah?"

He would never quite be sure what made him take pause at that moment, what made him even consider the idea of socialising with Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson that night. Perhaps it was the echoing hiss of Ginny Weasley's voice still shrill in his ear, or the bubbling, white-hot hatred that roiled in his gut whenever Harry-goddamn-Potter opened his stupid bloody mouth, or the knowledge that there was a dog-eared photograph of himself and his dead best friend Cedric Diggory that never left the bottom of his rucksack, combined with the frustration of knowing exactly who had killed Cedric. His suspicions of how Malfoy figured into the grand scheme of things when it came to Voldemort played at him. As Zacharias had long ago pledged to avenge Cedric's death, perhaps that was why he found himself falling in step with two Slytherins.

The three of them left the library and as they walked Zacharias dared not to even glance at Pansy, who was sniping loudly and with great vigour at Malfoy. He couldn't understand why Malfoy didn't bloody well tell her to shut her damn piehole -- that's what he would do if she were his girl. No man should ever be made to tolerate such incessant harping . . . even from a girl with elegant, curving forearms and midnight eyes and a very fetching notch in her chin.

---

They'd chatted of Quidditch after all, which had surprised Zacharias. He'd expected an elaborate joke to be sprung at his expense at any second, which distracted him and made it difficult to argue the superiourity of the Starfish and Stick as an athletic manoeuver over the Wronski Feint. After several rows over where to go whilst wandering the halls -- they'd bandied suggestions back and forth, each pronouncing the other's idea as Too Hoofle or Too Slytherin or Just Not Neutral Enough -- they'd found themselves in the observatory of the Astronomy tower by default. Zacharias rested now, his back pressed firmly against the safe intrados of the soffited wall of the tower's outer turret, and Malfoy wrapped Pansy within the protective folds of his cloak so her back was against his front. They gazed out over the grounds, the glowing yellow windows of the castle blinking here and there.

They're definitely shagging, Zacharias thought glumly, watching them, and he wondered what it would be like to have Pansy's arse wedged up against his front, even as he accepted the obvious, that it would never happen.

He doubted Pansy even remembered the first time they had met. Over the years Zacharias had come to conclude it was probably rather normal for Pansy to trip an unfortunate classmate with a sharp pop to the conk, and squeal with vicious laughter as they went sprawling face-first into a puddle mixed with mud and Thestral shite. Further, he figured, after a while one particular face splatting into the oozing muck wasn't much different than another to Pansy Parkinson, so it was understandable that she wouldn't remember sending him sprawling on his arse those many years ago. Of course, any normal, sensible bloke would've washed his hands of such a wicked, unkind girl. However, Zacharias wasn't the norm, so this meant he had been immediately smitten. Pansy, though, didn't seem to know he existed.

Sometimes he managed to detach himself from his emotions and he would consider Draco and Pansy from a purely clinical perspective. Pansy's devotion to Malfoy was bloody obvious, and while Malfoy wasn't remotely as demonstrative as she, Zacharias was sure he returned the sentiment. In fact, after years of observing Pansy in particular, he even thought he knew the very day they had gone from Just Friends to more. When it came to Malfoy, Pansy was an open book.

Malfoy would often lean into Pansy to whisper earnestly; she would fiddle with his collar, his robes, and touch him affectionately, all while giving him her full attention. They passed each other notes constantly and they always sat across from one another at meals, chatting and smiling as they ate. Sometimes, Malfoy would doodle pictures and words with his quill onto the top of her free hand as she used the other to take down the lecture, tracing inky trails there. Zacharias had watched them together at the Yule Ball their fourth year, all the while seething with jealousy, and he'd even been tempted to follow them after the music had ended and McGonagall had shooed everyone from the Great Hall. He had been quite sure Malfoy was planning on kissing Pansy for the first time that night. In the end, Zacharias hadn't wanted to deal with it, hadn't wanted to see it, but really more than that his inner ethicist had reminded him that even Draco and Pansy deserved privacy for such an important coming-of-age milestone. Out of sight, out of mind, he bolstered himself with. In the end, he'd deflated after all, for he'd been right. The next day, observing Pansy and Draco at breakfast, Zacharias could just tell. He'd been in a dark mood for days afterward, obviously unable to tell anyone the reason why.

Zacharias was a rigid, compartmentalised person. He kept his thoughts of Pansy in a very specific place, and it was in this way he avoided allowing himself to become maudlin. He didn't lack for female attention, and logically he knew everyone at times quashed an unrequited swell inside them, so that alone was no excuse for him to give in to some kind of stupid, girly emotional state.

Yes, everyone had that spectre, he believed, everyone except maybe Malfoy and Pansy, for they never gave any indication there was anyone else in the universe alive except for the other.

How unfair, he mused, as he watched the reflection of the castle shimmering on the ripples of the blackened lake, all the while Pansy's faint, fresh scent of green tea and ginger teasing at him, haunting his senses.

---

It should surprise no one that Zacharias had taken a long time to Sort.

The hat had sat on his head longer than anyone else's in his year, and he had never told anyone it had considered him equally for Slytherin and Hufflepuff. Well? the hat had whispered into his mind at the time, Have you a preference? He'd chosen Hufflepuff -- his father's house -- and the hat hadn't objected. His mother had been a Ravenclaw at Hogwarts, but the Sorting Hat hadn't suggested Ravenclaw for Zacharias. This was fine by him, for while he had an uncanny abilities to suss numbers and logic problems (read: Arithmancy, more obscure Runes studies, etc) the last image he wanted to portray was that of a bookish wally. He was inexcusably vain, he was.

More than once he'd wondered if he'd made the correct choice, though. His Hufflepuff housemates were generally warm and friendly, and they had a trusting, open earnestness to them that Zacharias didn't relate to at all. He was innately demanding and cross, and he sometimes felt out of place in Hufflepuff -- not often, but, yeah, at times, certainly. He had a dark sense of humour, and he greatly appreciated sarcasm, and he absolutely wasn't above mocking the stupid. If it weren't for Justin, who himself possessed a rapier wit and was magnificently pretentious to boot, Zacharias would have felt very misplaced. More often than not, he restrained himself and didn't indulge his sleeping inner bully at the expense of others, but sometimes he was filled with such an inexplicable anger at his housemates, whom he considered far too cheerful most days.

As well, he found them woefully ill-prepared for the dark times that undoubtedly lay ahead and the truth of this assessment had been underscored last year when he'd participated in the DA. Zacharias was shite at visual Charms, so while the rest of the unwonted hodge-podge pranced their wispy Patronuses around the Room of Requirement like some kind of retarded animal parade, he'd hid out in a pile of poufy pillows next to the book cases, thumbing through text after text, seeking a potion or a spell other than a Patronus that could successfully ward off a dementor.

Zacharias was a pureblood and, sure, he valued his ancestry. He didn't dislike the Muggleborns per se, but he certainly didn't go out of his way to befriend them just to prove he was magnanimous. He liked who he liked and vice versa, and he didn't really give consideration to lineage in the overall scheme of things. He did feel, though, that the rich history of the purebloods was not as revered as it ought to be, and he did object to intrusions from the Muggle world. His grandfather, who was very austere separationist, fiercely purported the notion that it was only a matter of time before some overly-trusting witch or wizard would be exploited by a Muggle, and kept as a pet or somesuch, forced to perform magic at that Muggle's whim. Zacharias knew enough about Muggles to conclude they would see magic only as an easy means to their selfish ends, and he didn't much fancy the idea of conjuring money for the greedy or making thin the gluttonous, just for the Muggles' general lack of fortitude. He didn't feel it was necessary to go out of one's way to obliterate the Muggleborns, but nor did he care particularly about what happened in the Muggle world or to the Muggles themselves. He wished the two worlds could simply coexist, but ignorant of each other.

Before Cedric had been killed, Zacharias hadn't given much thought to Voldemort, although his pureblooded family had its fair share of sympathisers. While he knew he vaguely favoured separation, he definitely knew he would never sanction outright murder. Why, Cedric had been as pureblooded as he, yet he had been killed merely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This had revealed only one thing to Zacharias -- it had been a forbidden glimpse of Voldemort's carefully cultivated red herring. After Cedric's murder, he had no longer believed Voldemort and the Death Eaters' agenda had anything at all to do with the preservation of pureblooded heritage. Zacharias could be loyal to his ancestry, but he could never be loyal to Voldemort.

So, since Malfoy had come to him that day in the library, Zacharias had gone over the whole strange situation, and he yearned to somehow turn it to his advantage. He just had to put his mind to it in the right way. He also knew Malfoy was himself playing a game -- he just had yet to discern what kind exactly. That said, Zacharias enjoyed a good challenge and was willing to scrimmage, in hopes he might ultimately gain the advantage.

As he lay on his bed staring at the underside of his canopy, an owl fluttered into the room and settled upon his stomach. It held out its leg. Zacharias detached the note there and motioned the owl toward Ernie's desk. "There're treats for you there," he said, gently chucking at the bird's chest until it rose and flapped over and began pecking around amongst Ernie's things. Meanwhile, Zacharias opened the note.

Pansy's mother has sent a tin of the most excellent chocolate biscuits -- Pansy hates chocolate, though. I could just eat the biscuits myself, but there are far too many this time and I prefer my biscuits on the day they're made. Come to the dungeons around seven -- Pansy will let you in. She also asked me to have you bring your Arithmancy notes, as well.

It was unsigned.

---

And so it had begun, a bizarre friendship of sorts. The three of them were quite secretive, for none of Zacharias's housemates would understand, he thought, and neither would they approve. It helped when Professor Vector made Draco and Zacharias (whose mathematical prowess enabled him to sit in with the higher level class) partners for a long-term Arithmancy project. This way no one raised an eyebrow at the two of them sharing a table in the library, books and parchment scattered across its top, and while there was no way in hell Zacharias could ever bring Malfoy to Hufflepuff, the Slytherins were more tolerant of him making the occasional appearance in the dungeons to revise. Months went by; slowly, but surely, and eventually the Slytherins' grudging tolerance of Zacharias gave way to wary acceptance. Quite frankly, he wasn't sure if this was complimentary or instead a dire sign that he was at heart a nasty, evil git.

Malfoy was . . . well, Malfoy actually was a nasty, evil git. He was also quite clever and witty, and at times he could be engaging -- endearing even. At first it had been hard for Zacharias to find anything to like about Malfoy. The two of them connected over Quidditch and biscuits and . . . Pansy.

Zacharias took great care against cultivating any kind of open rivalry between he and Malfoy (not that he was a legitimate threat anyway). When there was a natural opening in the conversation, he chatted with Pansy about this or that, and once he brought her sweets, saying something like, "I thought I remembered you once said you liked these. Hannah's Mum sent a parcel, but she didn't want them." He was very, very careful, although he wasn't really sure why. Even if he declared his love for Pansy from atop Trelawney's barmy tower, it wouldn't have affected anything. He'd concluded his reticence was probably just a desire to save face. It was both miserable and wonderful existence for him, spending time around her. Whereas before it had been easy to keep his feelings at bay, his crush on Pansy now raged. He couldn't have her, but neither could he stay away. Even if Pansy was never around, Zacharias had to admit to himself, Malfoy was intriguing, if not overtly likeable, and in a way, Malfoy was an extension of Pansy herself. So, Zacharias stuck around.

Malfoy spouted his vile separatist rhetoric unabashedly, and he was impetuous and brash and pompous. He taught Zacharias several spells that definitely skated into dark terrain, which Zacharias didn't dare practise anywhere else. It shamed him, though, that the knowledge made him feel powerful and rebellious and a little bit dark to have these illicit bits of dangerous magic all to himself, right there in Hufflepuff.

It was because of this that Zacharias's fascination with Pansy slowly bled into a need to be connected to Malfoy, and sometimes he thought he felt Malfoy's breath at the back of his neck when the other boy went around the back of his chair for some reason, to find a new book in the stacks perhaps, and sometimes he thought he heard Malfoy's voice whispering in his ear, and inexplicable loyalty rolled through him at these moments -- inexplicable, treacherous, misplaced loyalty.

He didn't understand this at all.

---

Malfoy came to Zacharias one day in late March, asking if he would help Pansy collect woodlice for her pair of pet bowtruckles.

"It's bloody freezing out there," Zacharias objected.

"Exactly the reason I don't want to go myself," Malfoy said, after a slight pause. Something in the other boy's voice felt off to Zacharias.

"All right?" He felt compelled to enquire.

"Yes, I'm all right," Malfoy answered stiffly. The doors clanged open then, blowing Pansy in from the courtyard in a swirl of snow. Her cheeks and nose were red from the cold, and she was buried under a woolly pile of wrappings. "Pansy likes her pets, her playthings. She takes excellent care of her things -- spoils them rotten, in fact. You should probably know that about her."

Zacharias glanced at Malfoy. "Yeah, sure," he said, not really caring about this. He did not want to go out into the freak Spring storm.

"Ready, then, Draco?" Pansy asked eagerly, stomping the snow from her feet.

"Smith will take you to gather woodlice," Malfoy said. "I've something I need to attend to."

Pansy's brow furrowed, but Zacharias was merely smug she wasn't having an outright tantrum at this proposal. She seemed merely puzzled. "You're always elsewhere nowadays," she complained. "Are you all right? Do you need my help?"

"No," Malfoy said. "Crabbe and Goyle are helping me."

"Oh," she said, cupping her mittened hands together. She huffed her warm breath against them. "Well, if you've chosen them over me, it must have something to do with manual labour. It's probably best if they help you, I suppose." Pansy knew Draco was working on a special project that involved some kind of magical furniture. He'd sworn her to secrecy in the matter, and Pansy loved keeping Draco's secrets more than anything else in the world, for they were always beautifully wicked in the end. "But," she continued, lowering her voice, "Daphne's got a bottle of firewhiskey. It's Friday, so don't make any plans for tonight, all right?" There was an awkward pause. Pansy finally fixed her gaze on Zacharias. "You too, Hoofle," she said. "Ready?"

"I guess," Zacharias said, his bored tone disguising his inner elation. He glanced up at Malfoy. The other boy's face was determined and set, but his eyes were oddly murderous and . . . well, anguished even. This was so unlike what he knew of Malfoy that Zacharias once again felt compelled to ask after his well-being. He refained, as he figured it would only further serve to hack Malfoy off. He really didn't care what his problem was, truth told. He could only focus on how this might be the only chance he would ever have to spend time with Pansy alone, and hell if he wasn't going to take full advantage of it.

"Let's go now," Pansy said briskly, "before it gets dark. I don't want to be late for dinner." She was a voracious eater, Zacharias had observed. She touched the top of his hand and started from the entrance hall. "Good luck with your project, Draco," she called, and as they made their way outside Zacharias could practically feel Malfoy's gaze boring into his back.

---

"That's enough woodlice," Zacharias said, an hour later. "I'm freezing my arse off."

Pansy inspected the charmed container holding the tiny creatures. "Usually I fill the entire thing," she said. "Jacques and Paolo like to have a little something everyday, and I don't really fancy wading through piles of snow again anytime soon."

Zacharias rolled his eyes. "Look, Professor Hagrid's always said bowtruckles are practically dormant until full Spring -- they don't need to eat everyday."

"What does that dumb oaf know? You should just see them when I bring them woodlice," Pansy gushed, smitten. "They climb to the top of the little tree I keep them in, and they whistle for treats -- it's absolutely darling!"

"Right," he said, raising an eyebrow, imagining with vague revulsion Pansy's pair of spoilt, obese bowtruckles.

"Oh, lighten up," she said, swatting at him with her glove before pulling it back onto her hand. "Doesn't anything amuse you?"

"Sure. Lots of things." Zacharias motioned to go and they started off toward the castle.

"What kind of things?" Pansy's breath hung ghost-like in the frigid air and the grounds were eerily quiet. The only sound aside from their conversation was the stiff crunch of the snow beneath their feet. She glanced at Zacharias, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "And you may not answer Quidditch, sweets, or Wizard's Chess."

Zacharias smiled. "Not fair," he said, amused that she had anticipated banal conversation on his part and had promptly forbidden it. "Clever, but not fair." They crunched along for several long minutes, struggling through the drifts. "Well, new magic interests me. You know, spells that aren't typical. Food." He threw her a triumphant look. "You only said I wasn't to say sweets -- you didn't say I couldn't reference food in general. Reading, books." He suddenly felt silly, so he shrugged. "You know, the usual stuff."

"What do you like to read?"

"Um, history. Dark Arts theory. Fiction."

"What do you want to do when you leave Hogwarts, Hoofle?"

"Stop calling me Hoofle," Zacharias snapped, walking ahead of her.

Pansy hastened to catch up. "What should I call you, then?"

"Is 'Zacharias' so hard?"

Pansy marched past him, nose in the air. "You really are no fun."

---

Five hours later Zacharias the Hoofle was pissed out of his ever-loving gourd, and he lolled drunkenly on Malfoy's bed, his lanky limbs akimbo. Nott and Zabini had pulled chairs up to the side of Malfoy's bed, and they had rested their feet on his footboards.

"Your feet reek, Nott," Malfoy slurred, waving his hand drunkenly in front of his face.

"Have a better whiff," Theodore said, shoving his socked toes against Malfoy's upper lip.

"Fucking hells! Gross!" Malfoy smacked Nott's foot away, knocking Theodore to the floor, and promptly dove after him. Zacharias rolled onto his back and let his head fall back as Malfoy and Nott scuffled on the floor. Taking advantage of the distraction, he rolled again and half-pulled, half-crawled his way up his bed. With a flop he settled comfortably into the feather pillow at its head, and he wrapped his arms around it protectively, pulling it against his cheek. His eyes drifted shut; everything lurched. Zacharias groaned, and then the bed dipped. He felt cool fingers at his temple and opened his eyes.

"All right, Zacharias, hmm?" Pansy asked, sultry from drink.

Zacharias exhaled and let his eyes close again. He tried to nod. "Mmm." Her fingers still stroked at his temple.

"Do you like this?"

"Mmm." He forced his eyes open. She was laying on her side next to him, and she was so close he could smell the sweet whiskey on her breath and through his drunken haze he saw the gentle beat of her pulse thrumming rhythmically just under her jaw. "S'good." He let her stroke him without objection. "You called me Zacharias," he observed, after several minutes.

She drew back her hand and folded it demurely under her chin as she considered him. "Don't tell me, you've a problem with that now?"

"S'better than Hoofle, I s'pose."

"What we need is special names!" Pansy said, impishly enlightened. "Just ones for us!"

"That's dumb!" Zacharias sighed again and settled back into the pillow. "Malfoy's got nice pillows. Did you know that?"

"'Course I know that," Pansy said, the corner of her mouth twitching upward. She propped her head on her hand, swaying slightly. "I am fucking him, after all."

Something ferocious swelled up inside him. He reached out and touched her face. "Don't want to hear about you and Malfoy fucking," he said seriously.

"Really?" She looked amused. "All right. Who are you fucking, then?"

"Shut up!" he protested, dropping his hand to the duvet. "Compost," he said abruptly.

"What?"

"Compost!"

"Compost?"

"Compost. That's right. You can call me Compost." He managed a lurching smile and leaned in to her. "It's a family name," he said.

Pansy thought this over. "So . . . if you're Compost," she asked slowly, "that makes me?"

"Either 'Fungus' or 'Spore'," Zacharias said. "I vote for 'Fungus'."

Pansy was giggling now. "Why's that?"

"Well, Malfoy's more the spore type, I'd say. Just a random spot of grunge. But you're more the Fungus type, 'cos you like to drape yourself all over him, all sticky and clinging and everywhere."

She snorted, but he could see she was still smiling. "I'm not sure whether that's an insult or not."

He shrugged, glad she wasn't cross. "Me neither."

Pansy laughed and scooted herself toward Zacharias and draped her arm over his neck. She rested her forehead against his own and when he felt the touch of her warm skin he startled and looked up, and his bottom lip accidentally brushed over her chin. His cock stiffened immediately, pissed as he was.

"You're not pulling with my girlfriend, are you, Smith?" Malfoy's voice shattered the moment. "Or's Pansy just trying to get you to tell her who you're shagging?" He flopped down behind Pansy, pulling her to him with an arm around her waist, and he nuzzled at her neck, whispering to her, and Zacharias's insides exploded with jealousy. He rolled onto his stomach to hide his obvious erection.

"Well, there's that," Pansy admitted, giggling again, "but, Zacharias and I have thought up new names for the three of us."

"I don't need a new name," Malfoy scoffed. "Seeing as I already have the most superlative, bang-up name ever bestowed upon any wizard, living or otherwise."

"Well, your new name is 'Spore'," Pansy proclaimed, putting up her hand before Malfoy could protest. "I'm 'Fungus' and Zacharias is 'Compost'." She positively beamed.

"That," Malfoy said, "is quite possibly the stupidest thing ever."

"Oh, be a sport, Draco!" Pansy rolled onto her back. She touched the tip of Malfoy's nose affectionately, and Zacharias wasn't sure what to do when Malfoy's slid his hand up the length of Pansy's body and his fingers wove through the hair at the nape of her neck. He peppered several kisses against her jaw until she turned her head and put her hand to the side of Malfoy's face and kissed him fully.

Okay, Zacharias thought, not bothering to feign disinterest as he ogled the pink tumble of their tongues. This is royally fucked up.

Malfoy looked up and caught him staring. The corner of his mouth turned up, but his eyes were flat. "Here goes nothing," he said, and lifted his hand just enough that Zacharias thought Malfoy was set to strike him; Malfoy's lips moved, as if he were about to say something, but no words came. Pansy lay drunk under Malfoy, the only sign of consciousness her fingers on his arm -- she drew them up and down, lightly. "Smith," Malfoy asked plainly, "do you want to fuck my girlfriend?"

Pansy laughed drunkenly, her eyes closed. "You wanna shag me, Zacharias?" Her arm fell over her face then, covering her eyes. She fell quiet.

Zacharias took great pause. Great pause. A feeling of trepidation washed through him. "No," he said, watching Malfoy carefully.

"If I wanted you to fuck Pansy, would you?"

"Uh--" Zacharias stalled for time. "Where's . . . uh . . . Nott and Zabini . . . ?"

"Why?"

"Seems we're discussing a private topic--" He didn't know how else to put it.

Malfoy looked amused. "Blaise and Theodore have gone looking for Daphne." He gave Zacharias a knowing look. "To thank her for the firewhiskey."

"Er--"

"So?" Malfoy prompted him, curious about how Zacharias regarded Pansy.

"Shouldn't we-- can Crabbe and Goyle hear--"

"They're asleep. Can't you hear the ruckus?" When Malfoy raised the point, Zacharias realised he could in fact hear a loud crescendo of snoring.

Malfoy lifted his wand and cast a silencing spell, and then he tossed his wand carelessly toward the general vicinity of his night table.

"So, do you want to fuck Pansy or not?"

"No," Zacharias said through clenched teeth, suddenly feeling very hot.

Again Malfoy lifted his hand toward him; Zacharias pulled back. "Touch her," Malfoy commanded, and his voice broke almost imperceptibly; his gaze did not waver.

Zacharias felt a strange calm wash through him. What was the harm, really? It wasn't like he would get another chance. "Where?" he asked.

"Hmm." Malfoy thought about it for a moment. "Touch Pansy's leg."

Zacharias reached out. He slid his fingers around Pansy's knee, cirling there. She did not react or move, and he was quite sure she was completely passed out, and the knowledge of this was actually a relief for him. He hated himself for giving in to his most secret compulsions and he vowed he would never drink again with Malfoy. His guard was clearly lowered, and with Pansy around that was neither wise nor safe. He looked down at her leg, ignoring Malfoy's hand, which was now lost underneath her skirt, and he cupped the slight rise of her thigh where it traveled upward from the inside of her knee, and he noticed how pale her skin was. His breath quickened -- he couldn't help himself.

Malfoy leaned in, so close Zacharias could feel the warmth of his breath. He whispered, "She loves to be touched."

"Yeah?" Zacharias squeaked, his mouth dry. His head bobbled and Malfoy's straight fringe mixed up with his own darker curls; if Malfoy had been any closer their lips would have touched when either spoke. "She's--" Zacharias worked his hand up experimentally, rubbing gentle circles. He couldn't believe this was happening! Oh, she felt so good.

"If she were awake right now," Malfoy continued, "she'd kick your teeth out. One thing you should definitely know about Pansy is that she's horribly ticklish."

"So, she can't-- she's not awake?"

"No," Malfoy whispered, shaking his head slightly. The tips of his hair itched Zacharias's nose. "Touch her knickers, Smith. Go on."

Zacharias obeyed, mesmerised. Once again he moved his hand upward, his fingers brushing over Malfoy's, and soon he felt the smooth cotton of Pansy's knickers teasing at his fingertips. Lust exploded inside him and his erection throbbed painfully, trapped against Malfoy's mattress, and he wondered vaguely if Malfoy was just as hard. He tried to breath in Pansy's scent, but all he got was Malfoy's, and this both irritated and excited him (far more than it should have on the latter). Malfoy's hand was on top of his as they both fumbled underneath Pansy's skirt, and he felt his fingertips caressing her cleft there. "Stop it," he begged. Malfoy drew his hand back and whispered something Zacharias didn't catch, and then he was filled with panic. "Shite," he said, with sudden clarity. "Shite!" The blood was pulsing through his veins and he willed his orgasm away as his cock was caught in one of the folds of his trousers, the tight fabric coaxing his full release. His groin tightened ominously. "Oh, umm-- where's the loo?" he managed to croak.

"Sick?" Malfoy enquired, sliding his hand inside Pansy's knickers; he inhaled sharply and leaned in and Zacharias felt him moving about on the bed until Malfoy's breath was hot at his ear. "Maybe I should stop." When Zacharias didn't answer, Malfoy continued, his voice a whisper. "She didn't let me shag her until just this Christmas past -- did you know that?"

"Wh-why would I know that?" Zacharias's mouth was drier than ever.

Malfoy rolled over and Zacharias could see the hard bulge of his erection. Idly, Malfoy rubbed at his cock through his trousers, musing. "Who knows what Pansy tells you when you two are alone." His voice hitched as he lost himself in the feeling.

"Pansy and I are never alone."

"You gathered woodlice alone today." Up. Down. Squeeze. Up. Down. Malfoy worked his erection like he was perfectly at ease with wanking himself with an audience. Zacharias was frozen, unable to figure out how to extricate himself from this delicate situation. Not only that, his mind was muddled by firewhiskey and his own cock still felt as if it were on fire with the need to come, and now Pansy's heady scent also filled the small space, Malfoy having long ago drawn the curtains around the bed.

"Uh, no," Zacharias said, trying to wet his parched lips. "We didn't exactly discuss when the two of you first fucked each other--"

"Well, who knows what you might deduce on your own?" Malfoy said slyly. He lurched to a sitting position, swaying precariously. Pulling at Pansy's arm, he managed to roll her over onto her stomach. "You're an observant bloke, aren't you, Smith?" Malfoy pushed Pansy's skirt up over the curve of her arse, practically growling at the sight. Then, he was leaning down, his hands searching. "She likes when I do this," he said, and then he was tugging her knickers down -- down past her knees, down to her ankles. Malfoy worked them free of her feet and tossed them aside. They landed on Zacharias's arse. "You won't mind, will you?" Zacharias could only stare at Malfoy dumbly, complete incapable of any response. Malfoy unbuttoned his trousers clumsily, pushing them down until the purplish head of his erection peeked out; he stroked at it, a blissful expression coming over him. He made his way up Pansy's body, kissing, nipping, sucking at her -- her knees, her thighs, her back, her arse -- all the while squeezing and jerking at the head of his cock. He hooked his arm under Pansy's leg, at the knee, and crooked it frog-like. Her sex was now fully exposed and just a glimpse of her delicate pink folds was enough to prompt Zacharias to shift against Malfoy's mattress, seeking relief by thrusting against the bunched up duvet and the hard mattress underneath.

Malfoy stretched against her back, rubbing the tip of his erection up and down her slit, pressing, pushing, until he finally managed to ease his cock into her. He fucked Pansy from behind, his hands never resting, his fingers seeking to brush away the hair that had fallen across her sleeping face, and he whispered soft, private words to her. Zacharias watched the fine muscles in Malfoy's arse clench and tense, over and again, and once again he dragged his tongue around his parched mouth, trying to relieve the dryness.

"Mmm-- oh!" Malfoy whispered, closing his eyes. With a grunt he bit down hard on her shoulder and his movements increased frantically. Zacharias watched, still frozen. "Fuck, she's still so tight . . ." Pissed as Zacharias was, he just couldn't let this go -- he thought of sneaking his hand down the front of his trousers. He thought of squeezing and kneading the tip of his hard cock until he coated his own hand with the warm spurts coiling rapidly inside him, but then Malfoy sounded off and jerked free from Pansy's cunt. He buried his cock within the crack of her arse and came in a hot, messy pool against the small of her back.

As Malfoy slumped over her, panting, Zacharias could hear the distant tick-tocking of Malfoy's bedside clock through the subsiding rush of blood at his temples.

It was wrong, Zacharias realised. This was wrong! This was wrong and it was disrespectful and it was an inexcusable breach of Pansy's privacy and . . . .

. . . and it was the hottest fucking thing Zacharias had ever seen. Holy shite, he boggled, still mesmerised by the shiny trail of Malfoy's come that was inching its way down the curve of Pansy's arsecheek. Malfoy was on his knees by now, his breath shallow. He touched his cock lightly, finishing up, and squeezed himself dry from his base, drawing his fist up its length one last time, forcing his last drops onto her back.

"So, still need the loo, then?"

"No," Zacharias lied gruffly, a shiver of cold reality seeping through him. "No, I just -- well, where is it?"

Malfoy was silent for a moment. He stuffed his slightly turgid, sticky erection back into his shorts and zipped up his trousers. "It's this way. Come on." When he spoke he sounded perfectly normal.

---

They wound through the dungeons, passing dormitory rooms, the common room, and then the storage area. "Hells," Zacharias said, breaking the silence. "You lot must have fucking bladders of steel, what with your bathrooms so far from your rooms."

"It's just here," Malfoy said, pushing at a door. It squeaked loudly.

Zacharias peeked around the door and noticed the lights took several tries to come to life. He spotted the urinal and stepped around Malfoy, fiddling with his trousers. He took his place, feet spread slightly, and swayed . . . and nothing. His cock was still hard and he could never take a piss in that condition. He he stood, holding his dick, which only exacerbated the problem because, being fifteen, God only knew that just looking at his own cock made him randy -- forget about touching it! Although, at this particular moment he didn't know what he felt aside from anxious. He hadn't even begun to wrap his brain around what he had just witnessed with Malfoy and Pansy. He groaned as he accidentally brushed his fingers over the soft cotton of his shorts, for it reminded him of her, and although he was thoroughly gobsmacked at his behavior, he couldn't help but feel a bit regretful that he hadn't pressed down just a tiny bit harder when his hand was up Pansy's skirt, for it would have been really sublime to have actually touched her clit, even like that. "Fucking shite," he whispered desperately. He wasn't going to be able to pee. He was too drunk, too mentally disoriented. He leaned against the cold porcelain side of the urinal and stuffed himself back into his shorts and trousers, and, upon doing so, promptly lost his balance and stumbled sideways. He hit the floor with a rude, flumping slap. "Oof!" It took a moment to catch his breath.

"Smooth move." Malfoy mocked him from the bathroom door. Zacharias could hear his footsteps as Malfoy came closer, each step echoing slightly. "Here."

Zacharias felt a hand at his elbow, digging in hard, and he managed to lumber to his feet. "Thanks, I guess. Get me out of here? I should go home."

"Home?"

"Back to my house, yeah."

"Your house being Hufflepuff," Malfoy observed, rocking back on his heels, watching.

Zacharias rolled his eyes. "Yes. My house being Hufflepuff. As we've previously established."

Malfoy stepped up to him and butterflies vortexed in Zacharias's stomach. "There is a reason I brought you here, to this bathroom," Malfoy said, his eyes unwavering and determined. "No one ever comes in here, really. Well, people come in here if they want to shag in the shower or if they want to smoke that smelly Muggle herb." He lifted an eyebrow knowingly. "But no one will bother--"

"What the fuck is this?" Zacharias burst out. He felt hunted. "What the bloody hell was that all about in your room just now? Why'd'you want me to-- how could you do that to Pansy?!" A cold feeling of remorse was washing through him and his forehead broke out in perspiration.

"Even Pansy has her kinks," Malfoy said. "She'll wake up tomorrow and find I've been there, and she'll be thoroughly pleased." His eyes bore into Zacharias's. "It's really you who should be answering to me. Touching my girlfriend like you did. Touching her knickers, touching her . . . . " His voice trailed off ominously, his unsaid words surrounding them silently.

"What the-- you told me to!" Zacharias protested angrily.

"Do you always do everything anyone tells you to?"

"Oh, you're a fine one to talk!" Zacharias yelled, totally outraged. "Daddy's little sycophant--GAH!" Malfoy's hand was around his throat in a flash, his fingers digging into the soft flesh there, his breathing ragged and angry. Zacharias began to see stars.

"You," Malfoy hissed, "know nothing about that, so fuck off." He took several deep breaths, trying to regulate his anger.

"I know enough," Zacharias spat back, stepping backwards until his back was against cool marble. Malfoy did not let go. "What's this all about, Malfoy?"

"It's about Pansy," Malfoy said coldly. "I know you fancy her. Frankly, I don't really care -- Pansy is loyal to me in the ways that really count. Fucking is just fucking, if you get what I mean." He fell silent then, and Zacharias had the distinct impression the other boy was thinking long and hard, searching for the right words. "But, I worry about her. I worry for her."

Zacharias clasped Malfoy's wrist in his fist, but made no attempt to pull Malfoy's hand from his throat. "Worry? Why? About what?"

"Pansy . . . means a lot to me," Malfoy said slowly, stepping closer. He still held Zacharias's gaze.

"Okay . . . ?"

"There are things about Pansy that you should know."

"That I specifically should know?" Zacharias asked, confused. "Or people in general?"

"I don't really care about people in general."

"So how come I'm the lucky fucking duck?"

"I've already told you."

"Malfoy, would it kill you to make a definitive statement for once, and skip the vague insinuations?" Zacharias snapped, irritated. He tugged at Malfoy's hand, which was the wrong move. Malfoy tightened his grip again, squeezing Zacharias's breath upward, as if pushing his lifeforce out through his mouth.

"I said there are things about Pansy you should know -- haven't I been showing you?" Malfoy seemed a bit frantic now, his cold control abating into . . . Zacharias didn't even know what.

"What are you playing at, Malfoy?" Zacharias asked, tired of the head games. "If you want something or need something, just ask! I mean, we're--" Friends?

"I don't need anything from you. It's you who needs from me." He continued before Zacharias could interrupt, his grip becoming more absentminded than predatory. Malfoy was moving his fingernail sideways, back and forth, right under Zacharias's left ear. "What did you learn about Pansy today?"

"Um, that she's a nosy twat?" Her voice echoed in his mind: Who are you fucking?

"Besides that."

"That . . . she likes firewhiskey?"

"Mmm." Malfoy sounded noncommital.

"She . . . spoils her pets?" He thought of Jacques and Paolo, the corpulent bowtruckles.

Malfoy said nothing. He loosened his grip and took Zacharias's right hand in his left and stepped forward, pressing against Zacharias, and he brought both their hands up until Zacharias could smell Malfoy and girl and sex, and Zacharias realised with a start that he was smelling Pansy. Her traces had been left on both their fingertips. He sucked in his breath sharply, for his heart was suddenly pounding, and then Malfoy said matter-of-factly, "Pansy likes to be kissed like this--" And he kissed Zacharias.

Zacharias recoiled instantly. "What are you doing?!"

Malfoy's lip brushed his cheek. "I'm showing you how Pansy likes to be kissed," he said, and did it again.

Apparently, Zacharias thought, shocked, Pansy liked to be kissed slowly and gently, and she liked it when Malfoy licked into the corner of her mouth, and she liked it when he tugged at her bottom lip with his teeth and sucked on it with a little nip. When Malfoy eased up, Zacharias's breathing was more ragged than he could ever remember and once again his groin exploded. Malfoy's breath was hot and damp against his cheek. Zacharias could feel Malfoy's gaze boring into him, and he was too mortified to look him in the eye, and when he felt Malfoy take a step closer, and then the firm, hot plane of his body against his own, panic rose like bile in his throat. He turned his head away, squirming. "Don't," he said severely, squirming uselessly, trying to manoeuvre his way out. "Just don--mmpff--"

Malfoy's mouth was hot over his again, and he trailed his hand up to firmly cup the side of Zacharias's neck as he kissed him. "Pay attention," he muttered into Zacarias's mouth, breathing deeply and pulling him closer, and Zacharias felt Malfoy's warm, curious tongue delving between his lips, and he opened up to him reflexively and he tasted firewhiskey at the precise moment he realised This is the tongue Pansy sucks on, and this is the tongue that sucks on Pansy. Zacharias was suddenly enthralled and drunk and, of course, hard as a rock. He filled with a blistering, white hot anger all at once. "I said don't!" He pushed at Malfoy's chest, but Malfoy didn't budge.

"Smith?" Malfoy asked seriously, lifting his hand smoothly; Zacharias felt a chill pass through him. "Fucking relax." Malfoy looked at him intently. "You need to know this."

"Like hell I do!"

"Yes," Malfoy said. "You do." Zacharias fell silent as Malfoy kissed him again.

It was as if a mental barrier inside him shifted, and Zacharias let Malfoy show him. Even though he was pissed out of his mind, he did understand one thing: Malfoy was genuinely showing him something, in a calculated, instructive manner. The knowledge was unsettling and, well, frightening. Zacharias pulled back, but Malfoy wouldn't relent, and they grappled half-heartedly against the bathroom wall until Zacharias noticed Malfoy's breath had quickened and that his hands were shaking slightly and that their kiss was not particularly clinical anymore. Zacharias was kissing Malfoy back now, and he lifted his hand to Malfoy's side, making him jump. Roughly, Malfoy pushed against Zacharias, knocking his head backward into the cold marble. The spell was broken.

"That's enough," Malfoy said sharply, wiping the back of his hand across his lips, watching Zacharias with an unreadable expression.

"Er--"

"It's time for you to go," Malfoy said slowly, rocking back on his heels.

"Right."

"I'll show you the way."

---

He stumbled into Hufflepuff far past curfew.

"Zacharias Smith!" Megan Jones was revising alone in the common room into the hours past midnight, as was her custom. She laid her books aside and rose. "Where've you been?! We had rounds tonight, you know, and I looked everywhere for you, but couldn't find you -- I had to get Ernie to pull a double in a pinch--" She pulled up in front of him, her brow puckering. She sniffed the air cautiously. "Are you drunk?! Oh, Zacharias, God! You know I'll have to speak to Professor Sprout about--"

Sod it, he'd forgotten his rounds! Zacharias had his arm around Megan's waist in a second. He pulled her to him and nuzzled at her ear until she drew in her breath sharply. "Lucky for you I'm pissed through and through," he whispered silkily, the surreal frustrations of the night pouring directly back into his crotch. He kissed his way down the line of her jaw, letting one hand squeeze her arse. He knew Megan fancied him, knew she would do what he asked her to -- she had before. She was a nice enough girl, and not bad looking at all, but she had that sweet, trusting, wide-eyed Hufflepuffian compunction that he just couldn't bring himself to prefer as much as he tried. But she fancied him something awful, and Zacharias certainly knew that this was a malleable weakness, easily overcome.

He whispered what she wanted to hear and slid a hand up her jumper and took her wrist and placed her hand to the front of his trousers. He plied her tongue with his own until she pulled him behind the massive fireplace, into a crevice there, and slid down his front, unbuttoning his trousers. When her hot, pretty lips engulfed his cock, Zacharias pushed his hand into the rear pocket of his trousers, where he'd stuffed Pansy's discarded knickers in a moment of drunken impulsiveness when Malfoy's back had been turned. He squeezed them, his thumb caressing the smooth material, and immediately filled Megan Jones's warm, wet throat with a cry as flashes of Pansy's pink, glistening flesh and pearlescent trails played at his memory, and Malfoy's taste haunted his mouth.

---

On Sunday, Zacharias and Malfoy revised in the library.

"Let me use your Charms book," Malfoy commanded, not looking up from his scroll of parchment.

"What charm are you stuck on?"

Malfoy glanced up, trailing the feather of his quill along his bottom lip thoughtfully. "Mortus Nuntio."

"That's a morbid one," Zacharias noted. "Anyway, I don't have a sixth year book."

"Bollocks." Malfoy stood. "I'll go and search the stacks, then."

"Just search the Charms section, mate." Zacharias thought Malfoy's dramatic tendencies were really very silly. "You don't need to search the entire library."

"How come Vector skipped you a year?" Malfoy asked abruptly.

"Technically, he's not supposed to skip any student. He lets me participate, but I still have to take fifth year Arithmancy." Zacharias shrugged. "Anyway, what's that to do with Charms?"

Malfoy went off in search of a spare Charms text. Zacharias took a break, squeezing his temples between the balls of his hands; he was still a touch hungover from Friday night. Bored, he reached over and drew Malfoy's parchment across the table, turning it so he could read. It was immediately clear this wasn't a class assignment. Malfoy had sectioned off the parchment, and different notes and illustrations covered it. He spent several minutes studying a series of elaborate drawings of furniture -- wardrobes -- penned across the top. Series of notes were jotted around its margin: --disruption of the necessary linear connection--; --in order to re-balance the magic for a portal, one must cast a series of repairing charms from Point A to Point B, and then back again from Point B to Point A--; portal magic is difficult and complex, and no portal shall remain useable at all times. A convergence of time, necessity, and intent must convene at exactly the precise moment in order for a portal to work correctly-- Columns of numbers were neatly written all over the page -- Arithmancy? Zacharias wondered. None that I've seen before. He read a hastily-scribbled checklist now: C & G -- Polyjuice; Lacewings -- Snape's stores; Room of Requirement; Hairs from Tilda and Fay -- no animal hair; Scale and Weights--

Polyjuice! The sixth years were doing Polyjuice! Zacharias felt a rush of excitement at this. He liked Potions, and Polyjuice was one of the standard potions of study that of course intrigued the students below the sixth year.

He felt the parchment being pulled from his fingers then, and the slapping thud of a book hitting the table's top. "Don't muck up my homework, Smith," Malfoy said, his hard gaze belying his easy tone. "Last thing I need is your tatty prints all over my parchment."

"You're studying Polyjuice, then?" Zacharias enquired, interested.

"All sixth years study Polyjuice."

"I know that. Just think it's interesting, is all."

"You have no idea," Malfoy said, retaking his seat. He flipped idly through the Charms text he'd brought before looking back at Zacharias. "Why, want to try it?"

"Seriously?" Zacharias jumped at the chance. "Bloody hell, yes!"

The corner of Malfoy's mouth twitched. "All right," he said. "There's something else I've been meaning to show you as well, which is along those lines. You know where the Room of Requirement is?"

Zacharias nodded, the faint spectre of Dumbledore's Army going unacknowledged by either boy. "Why there, though?" he asked. "Snape lets you brew Polyjuice out of the dungeons?"

A shadow passed over Malfoy's face. "Never mind that. Meet me there after dinner. Don't say anything to anyone."

"Will Pansy be th--"

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "You wish."

---

Zacharias stared in horror at the greyish, lumpy sludge steaming in the glass mug Malfoy had just handed him. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea."

"Shut up," Malfoy laughed, shaking his head. "Don't be such a ninny. Go on, drink up!"

"Aren't you supposed to put a hair from another person in it?"

Malfoy held up a tiny glass phial. "Here you go."

"Whose is it?" Zacharias asked suspiciously, his eyes narrowing.

"No one offensive," Malfoy said, trying to look innocent.

"Your idea of offensive is different than mine."

"Not this time." Malfoy unstoppered the phial and tapped the hair into Zacharias's mug. It sizzled and frothed. "Do it now, Smith! You have to drink it now!" He watched closely as Zacharias lifted the mug to his lips with a grimace, and then met his eyes over its rim.

"If I turn into Severus-fucking-Snape," Zacharias warned, his teeth clinking against the thin glass, "I will fucking kill you."

"You won't turn into Snape," Malfoy said impatiently, gesturing at him. "Go on!"

The sludge went down like a mouthful of pins and Zacharias felt as if a thousand knives had sliced into his guts at once. He doubled over reflexively, dropping the glass. "Uck," he moaned spasmodically; his skin was bubbling and writhing under his fingers, and he suddenly feared he had had been duped and that Malfoy had just managed to poison him! He was going to die! He was going to die cased in the body of God-Only-Knew, and how would his housemates ever begin to make sense of it all? He would die a stinking, rotten Slytherin! He would become a caricature of himself once legend took hold. He was disgraced! Zacharias was going to die right there in the Room of Requirement, and bloody Draco Malfoy was probably planning to tart him up in crotchless knickers and stockings and lay him out to be discovered by Filch! "Nooo," he whinged, feeling like a swarm of bees was currently migrating through his body. "No, no, no--"

"Would you shut up and stand?" Malfoy said. He clutched Zacharias's elbow, helping him upright.

Zacharias stretched tentatively to a standing position. His trousers fell down and pooled around his ankles; frantically, he clutched at his shorts as he felt cool air against his backside, and he kept them from creeping down as well. Glancing down, he saw the cuffs of his buttondown hanging uselessly over his hands. He'd shrunk! Goddamnit! he thought, hating Malfoy thoroughly for his tricks. It was a shrinking potion! How could I have been so stup--

Malfoy wheeled him around and pushed him toward a full-length mirror that hadn't been there when they'd arrived. Zacharias's jaw dropped and in his surprise he relaxed his hands. His shorts plunged to his ankles, joining his trousers there. Slowly, he lifted his arm, lifted it until the cuff slid back, and he thought I know this arm as its slender length emerged. I know this arm . . . Elegant. Curving. Fine, like an archer's bow . . . He lifted his eyes back to the mirror where Malfoy was watching him. Zacharias closed his eyes, his pulse quickening, and then he felt fingers at the back of his neck, brushing long, dark hair aside -- a kiss.

"I need to show you what else Pansy likes," Malfoy said simply.

Zacharias opened his mouth to object, but no sound came forth. The wheels turning in his mind were on overdrive. What was it like to be a girl? He logically knew there was no way in hell he was alone in his curiosity -- wouldn't anyone want to know what it was like to be the opposite sex, even if only for an hour? Technically, he was female at that moment, so techically he wasn't being, well, gay or whatever . . . but then he wondered if poofs still would still fancy blokes even if they were in the body of a female, and if they did, did that make them straight for an hour? Well, if so, that would make Zacharias gay for an hour, and he really didn't want to go there, even if he had revisited Malfoy's taste (among other things) in the privacy of his own mind for the past two days. Fucking is fucking, if you know what I mean . . . Malfoy's words echoed faintly in his mind.

He turned and looked at Malfoy, saying nothing. He let Malfoy put a finger under his chin and when Malfoy tilted his face upward, Zacharias closed his eyes to be kissed, just as a proper girl would.

---

"For sod's sake, Malfoy," Zacharias complained, rolling his eyes. "This is bloody awful! Fucking finish up already." He hadn't said a word to this point, but enough was enough. He never wanted to be a girl again, not on his life. His back hurt, his nipples stung, and Malfoy's cock was currently wedged tightly up inside him. It was all going too fast, which was rather unfathomable to Zacharias's inner teenage boy, and he found himself unable to keep track of everything going on. He figured the Polyjuice must have taken to his system improperly or something, for right now his body felt weird and foreign, and it was filled with a strange and restless longing sensation, as if he were riding a carousel and oh-so-hopefully trying for the brass ring, yet unable to catch it. Malfoy wasn't even being a git; he was just doing everything wrong.

"What're you talking about?" Malfoy objected, slowing his movements. His hipbone dug painfully into Zacharias's thigh. "Pansy likes this."

"Well, I don't," Zacharias grumped, squirming uncomfortably underneath Malfoy's weight. "It's probably just the potion. Look, just--" He didn't know how to end this -- what on earth would the protocol be? Let's finish later? No. Let's do this another time? Not bloodly likely. Let me get you off a different way? Zacharias wasn't in the mood. "Geroff!" he said finally, pushing at Malfoy's chest.

---

It took two weeks for the bruise inside Zacharias's thigh to disappear.

---

Spring reared its head lazily from the sleeping earth, slowly dotting the world in fresh greenery. The air smelled clean and fruity, coaxing the students from the castle's dungeons and towers. Malfoy had grown increasingly withdrawn over the past month, spending more and more time revising in the library. In fact, Zacharias observed, Malfoy was rarely spotted nowadays without an armful of books, rolls of parchment sticking this way and that from the top of his rucksack.

It was even rarer these days that Pansy could manage to wheedle Malfoy from the castle for a spot of fun. Sometimes the two of them went alone, but there were also occasions when Malfoy insisted Zacharias accompany them.

The three of them took walks, Pansy always scampering ahead of the two boys, chattering non-stop about this or that. Sometimes they played Quidditch, transfiguring the Quaffles into various foreign objects -- it was in this way Zacharias learnt what it felt like to get beaned in the head with an overly ripe cantaloupe. Sometimes Malfoy's pale, grey face would relax, and he would laugh or smile. He'd always catch himself, thought, the worry and stress dropping over his features like a theatre curtain, and he'd shake his head as if disciplining himself within the confines of his mind. His eyes grew distant, distracted, lines once again etching into his face.

Once they took a basket of food to the orchards far behind the castle for a picnic, and it was here that Zacharias crept silently to Malfoy's side. Malfoy and Pansy had fallen asleep thanks to a sleeping draught Zacharias had added to their tea, and she lay cuddled against his side, clutching at him protectively. Malfoy was sleeping on his back, his right arm flung over his eyes, his left relaxed upon the woolly blanket. Zacharias stealthily unbuttoned Malfoy's cuff and inched it upward, his stomach tightening with sick anticipation.

He didn't need to lift it very far.

A gust of wind rose and whistled icily then, and soft pink petals from the tree blossoms rained down to kiss their youthful faces. Several caught up in Zacharias's hair, clinging there as he gently touched a finger to the twisting brand scorched into the finely corded plain of Malfoy's inner arm. It didn't bite.

The wind shook through the branches again, until Pansy shivered and drew closer to Malfoy. Zacharias sat for a very long time, feeling rather numb. Finally, he sighed and did up Malfoy's sleeve.

The apple boughs bent and wept.

---

Pansy came to Zacharias a week later, not bothering to hide their acquaintance from the rest of the school. She seated herself next to him during dinner, right there at the Hufflepuff table. A shocked silence moved down the table in a wave, enumerous forks freezing in mid-bite.

Pansy ignored this. "Might I have a word, Zacharias?" she asked, formally.

"A word?" he asked, keeping his tone haughty and distant. Ernie Macmillan was boggling suspiciously at him from across the table, his mouthful of half-chewed green peas very evident. Zacharias did his best not to flush. "Whatever for?"

Pansy scowled. "Privately?" she asked, through clenched teeth.

"Privately, eh?" Zacharias smirked, acting like a total dickhead. He winked at her suggestively. "I'll check my schedule, love."

"Excuse me?"

Zacharias really had no choice -- his housemates simply couldn't know. He didn't look at her. "Sod off, Parkinson," he said gruffly. "I'm eating." He winced as Pansy smacked the back of his neck as hard as she could.

"Fucking arsehole," she whispered hotly, climbing back over the bench. Zacharias felt like he'd failed her, and his heart protested indignantly. Goddamn her!

"What was that all about?" Justin snerked, pulling a face.

"Dunno," Zacharias said gruffly, avoiding his gaze.

"Does Parkinson fancy you or something?"

"Or something." He played this card very carefully. "Why not?" he continued, smirking haughtily. "Sucks to be me, yeah?" He resisted glancing across the table at Megan Jones when he heard her tsk.

Ernie leaned in. "Watch it with that one, mate," he whispered earnestly, looking about. "She's Malfoy's girlfriend, and Malfoy's--" Ernie dropped his tone so low they all had to huddle up to hear. "--I've heard Malfoy's a Death Eater."

"Malfoy's only sixteen," Zacharias scoffed.

"So?" Ernie said, turning up his hands and shrugging. "Reckon You-Know-Who wouldn't care about age as long as he's got his followers!"

"What good's a sixteen-year-old, unqualified wizard to sodding Volde-- You-Know-Who?" Zacharias challenged him. "C'mon, Ernie! Be logical."

"Why're you defending Malfoy?" Ernie countered, pursing his lips.

"Jesus, I'm not! I'm just saying!" Zacharias motioned them even closer; the group wedged together, shoulder to shoulder, like reunited sections of grapefruit. He had to be very, very careful. "I know what you've heard -- I've heard the same thing, but--" He struggled to find the right words. "But, it just seems like whatever's coming, whatever it is, it wouldn't be so damn obvious." Several of his housemates nodded, agreeing. "It's settled, then," he said. "Ernie, you're good to be vigilant, but see it before you believe it, yeah?"

"I think Zacharias is right," Susan said, nodding vigourously. He appreciated her support, especially after what had happened to her auntie earlier in the year.

He finished his meal without further comment, his mind far away.

---

"I'm sorry," Zacharias said for the umpteenth time. "But, really! What were you thinking?"

Pansy sniffed and folded her arms over her chest. "Admit it! You're ashamed of me!"

"What are you talking about?" He didn't have time for this shite! "We're not dating or whatever, so spare me the guilt trip!"

"You wouldn't date me even if I weren't with Draco," she said dramatically, sneaking a sideways glance at him, curious as to his reaction.

"Shut up," he shot back. "You wouldn't date me, so knock it off! I told you before, I don't want to talk about you or Malfoy, or you and Malfoy together, or you and Malfoy shagging or pulling or dating or anything of the sort--" She burst into tears. Zacharias rolled his eyes. "Oh, for fuck's sake, Pansy! God, would you put a cork in it? What's wrong with you?"

"I thought we were friends!" she spat, her face ugly and scrunched up.

"We . . . are," he said, navigating her emotional hoops. "We're friends." They were friends!

"Friends don't treat friends how you treated me just now!"

Etiquette commentary was so absurd coming from Pansy Parkinson, of all people, that Zacharias almost laughed. His anger melted away. Awkwardly, he patted her shoulder. "Pansy, what's really wrong?"

She bawled even louder. Zacharias just stood there. "It's Draco," she said finally, in a small voice. "I think he's sick!"

"Sick? How so?"

"He never sleeps," she said, sniffling. "He's lost weight. Nothing interests him anymore -- nothing." She trained her dark gaze on him, her eyes sad and confused. "He's stopped going to Quidditch practise. He doesn't care about playing anymore! All he does is revise and-- and he's gotten himself a notebook that he won't let me look through. He's never hidden anything from me before, Zach. He's never done that before." She wept anew. "I don't think he fancies me anymore . . . . "

"Oh, well . . . " Zacharias didn't quite know how to respond, for what she was saying was indisputibly true. Anyone with eyes could see that something was very wrong with Malfoy -- he was preoccupied, careworn. "I'm sure . . . he still fancies you." He patted her again, feeling inept and stupid. "I mean . . . you're you and he's . . . him . . . and, well, it's only natural you two would be able to stand one another--" This was going very poorly indeed. "What I mean to say--"

"OH, JUST LEAVE OFF, HOOFLE!" She cut him off mid-sentence. "What could I have possibly done? Haven't I always cared for him?"

She was hacking him off now -- what the hell did he know? He was just trying to help here! "Maybe it's not about you," he said darkly, "as hard as that may be for you to imagine. Jesus, Pansy, maybe it's about him!"

Her face unscrewed, rearranging itself into a resemblance of normalcy as she contemplated this suggestion, and it was clear to Zacharias that she honestly had not considered this possibility before. "Do-- Do you think he's all right?" she asked slowly, salty trails drying on her cheeks.

Was she daft? "Obviously not," he said, knocking lightly on her forehead. "I mean, hello?!"

She sniffed at him. "Nice," she snipped, but she knew he was right. Pansy smoothed her palms down the front of her skirt, taking a deep breath, and then she surprised Zacharias by throwing her arms tightly around his neck and pulling him close. "Thank you, Zach," she whispered, after a moment. "You're a good friend."

"Brilliant," he said flatly, wondering which was more painful: being Pansy's good friend, or her being oblivious to his existence at all. "That's just excellent." At least when she'd not known he was alive he had been better able to wrangle and contain his feelings for her. Getting to know her, though, had served only to deepen his feelings; their every interaction was like a paper-cut to his soul.

Pansy released him and stepped back, flushing. She turned on her heel, putting her back to him. "He won't even hug me anymore," she said bleakly. "I guess you won't either."

Zacharias didn't answer.

---

"Malfoy?"

"Hmm?"

Again, they were revising in the library.

"All right?"

"Never been better." Malfoy didn't look up from the book he was reading.

"I'm serious." Zacharias had been planning this conversation for days; it was just everytime he opened his mouth to broach the subject, he'd faltered. Maybe it was Malfoy's obvious fear and worry that had stopped him. Perhaps it was the calculating, selfish part of him that didn't want to do anything to facilitate strengthening Malfoy and Pansy's tenuous relationship. Or maybe it was the fact that Zacharias knew Malfoy was in over his head and drowning, and what had started out for Zacharias as an impulsive, hedonistic foray into the unknown had grown into a complex, untameable situation. Yes, he appreciated a good thrill, but if he were to be honest with himself he couldn't deny that he had always known about Malfoy. He had always suspected what he now knew to be true, and he was caught up in something untenable, and now he didn't want to take responsibility for compromising his own morals. It was far easier to blame his corruption on Malfoy's sordid influence rather than on his own prurient weaknesses.

Malfoy said nothing for quite a long time. "Just . . . leave off, okay?" he finally answered, the weight of the world evident in his voice. He looked at Zacharias then, and Zacharias knew Malfoy wanted to tell him, wanted to share his burden. But Malfoy did not continue.

"What about Pansy?" Zacharias tried again.

"What about her?"

"She thinks you don't fancy her anymore."

"Pansy's self-centered," Malfoy said, averting his gaze.

"Is she, then?" Zacharias shifted in his seat, peering at Malfoy.

"Bloody right she is."

"You," Zacharias said darkly, standing and gathering his things, "are a complete and utter arsehole."

"Fuck you," Malfoy sneered. "What, cross because she won't shag you yet?"

"I've never-- I wouldn't ever ask her to do that, you fucking prig," Zacharias retorted hotly, barely able to keep from having a go at him.

"Because you know she never would." Malfoy's words cut through Zacharias like a knife.

He flushed, despite himself. "Maybe she wouldn't. But, at least I'd have the decency to ask her first." Zacharias stormed from the library, sorry he'd ever decided to express his concern.

---

Malfoy watched Zacharias stalk through the stacks, and it was all he could do to keep from putting his wand to his head and incanting the death curse. He was drowning; time was racing, the hourglass of his life was draining faster and faster, every single thing he did a meaningless, invisible speck of effort swallowed cruelly by the cold and vast detrius of wasted ambition.

He wasn't quite sure when he'd come to fully realise he was merely a pawn, and that the Dark Lord expected him to fail at his task. Ideally, he would have mustered his gumption and shown Voldemort a thing or two, but such things happened only in storybooks as far as Draco was concerned. It wasn't within his nature to ask for assistance -- ever. Nor would it ever occur to him to arrange a contingency for anyone other than himself.

Except for Pansy.

Foremost, Pansy was his friend -- she was his best friend, his first love, once his playmate. She liked him exactly the way he was, and she never harped on him to change his attitude or to try and be more agreeable. He liked her sharp wit, her way with words. He liked how she did everything with abandon and cheek. He liked how she would let him sneak into her bed for comfort, how she had always allowed this, even when they were eleven, and how when he did this she would simply budge over and let him stay, their backs pressed warmly together, rising and falling in unison while they slept.

How could he not try and have her back in return?

Bragging to his friends on the Hogwarts Express about his secret mission now seemed aeons ago. At that time, it had only been two days since he'd received his formal orders from Voldemort -- there had been plenty of time to work through it, plenty of time to bask in the glory of having been personally selected by the Dark Lord, for hadn't it meant Voldemort had faith in him? Had faith in his cleverness, his abilities, his skills? At first, Draco had written to Voldemort religiously, updating him as to his progress, but as he found himself less and less successful and more stymied, his correspondence had tapered off, and now time was rearing impatient head. In his mind, time rose and unfurled like the black, deadly hood of a cobra once it had cornered its prey, and as fast as Draco ran, he couldn't elude inevitability. He didn't know which had been more frightening to him over the past nine months: running forward blindly, or falling prey himself to the green shadow of death as it advanced, faster and faster, until it had become the terrifying wraith now fixing him within its sight.

Draco had always thought he would see seventeen. He had thought he would earn his Apparation license. He had thought he would become, despite his previous bluff, a fully qualified wizard. He had thought he would someday see every country in the world, and he thought of the box of postcards he kept under his bed, sent to him by his parents over the years, the visions of strange and curious cultures playing and replaying ad infinitum. He had thought he would live long enough to see lines grow at the corners of his eyes. He had thought he might actually have a job -- a career even. He had assumed he would marry, have children. He had assumed he would bury his parents one day and had never dreamt it might be vice versa. He had thought he would live long enough to legally pull up a stool at the Hog's Head. He had thought he would live long enough to see the contents of his pockets change to include fancy quills, galleons, and business cards, rather than packages of Droobles and hastily-drawn caricatures penned upon torn scraps of parchment, or a fluttering golden snitch. He had thought his prefect badge actually meant something, had thought it was an indicator of great things to come for him. He had bought into life and now everything was moot.

He sat there for quite a long time, chewing on his bottom lip, and while he was very good at quashing his emotions, eventually his throat clenched and his eyes swam. He gathered his things, stuffing them without care into his bag, and stalked from the library just as Smith had moments ago. He strode down the corridors, pushing through people without impunity, and he smacked the door of the bathroom on the fifth floor open with both hands. The cool porcelain of the sink soothed his stinging palms, but try as hard as he could he was unable to see himself in the mirror hanging above it. Everything was a watery blur. Myrtle fussed over him, but all he could do was wonder what kind of a ghost he would make when his turn came, for he didn't want to go -- he didn't want to go. Draco swiped at his eyes and when he looked in the mirror again he saw Harry Potter standing in the reflection there, and rage exploded within him, for why should that little motherfucker get nine lives when Draco couldn't even get one?

He snarled, and, whirling, he had his wand drawn in a flash.

---

Later, in the hospital wing, Pansy stroked his forehead lovingly.

He turned his head on the pillow, considering her. She managed a small smile. "I need you to do something for me," he said.

"Anything," she said, her eyes shining. "Anything at all."

"I need to talk to Smith."

"Right now?"

He nodded. "Right now."

She looked down at him for quite a long time and he felt her fingertips tracing gentle patterns on his face. "There might be scarring, Snape said."

"It won't matter," Draco said gruffly, turned away from her in bed. "Go get Smith."

---

And fetch Zacharias Pansy did. She lurked in a crevice just off the kitchens until she heard a familiar whistling. As far as she was concerned, Ernie Macmillan may as well have worn a bell around his neck, so poor was he at subtlety. Ernie had the annoying habit of whistling the same broken bars of music over and again -- Pansy didn't think it was even a real song. It sounded like a musical representation of a very awkward interlude, a little bit of nothing meant to fill in the cracks and lulls in conversation or boredom. But one really couldn't bluff boredom, so Pansy hated Ernie's whistling for its stale disingenuousness. She stepped from the shadows as he passed by and caught him by the back of his necktie, twisting her fist brutally until Ernie gagged, his eyes bulging. She slid the tip of her wand around to the back of his ear.

"Whistling past the graveyard, Macmillan?" she whispered, jerking his tie again to silence his cry of surprise. "Well, aren't we all?" She pulled until Ernie's head was actually resting on the top of her shoulder. When she looked down into his face she was satisfied to see he was properly terrified. "I need to speak with Zacharias Smith. Immediately. And you're going to take me to him."

---

Malfoy was the only patient in hospital right then. Zacharias sat next to his bed, squinting through the shadows of dusk, listening to Malfoy speak to him in a flat monotone.

"If something should happen to me, you will be the first to know," Malfoy said. "Well, aside from my mother."

"What do you mean?" He didn't like the direction of this conversation already.

"I've made arrangements, is what I'm saying. You'll know."

Zacharias was confused. "Okay . . . ?"

"Do you remember that night in the bathroom?"

How could Zacharias forget? "Yes."

"Remember when I said that Pansy means a lot to me?"

"Yes . . . ?"

"As long as I'm not here," Malfoy said, unable to put it any other way, "I want you to look after Pansy."

"Pansy doesn't need looking after," Zacharias said.

"I know she doesn't. She can handle the basics. But, I'm not talking about that." He looked at Zacharias for a long moment, continuing when he realised Zacharias was remaining silent. "I've known for years that you fancy her."

Zacharias sighed, running his hand through his hair, a self-conscious gesture. He supposed there was no point in denying it anymore. "How could you tell?"

"Because everyone knows everything about that which they covet, and they know how everything else in the world relates to that particular thing. Also? Those who covet separately the same thing are bound to cross paths. It's human nature." Something about the way Malfoy was speaking tugged at Zacharias; perhaps it was relief in not having to hide anymore. Malfoy looked at Zacharias slyly then, the corner of his mouth twitching. "Phineas Nigellus once told me that."

Zacharias laced his fingers and leaned forward in his chair, resting his forearms on the top of his knees. "I kind of sussed it was a slightly advanced sentiment for you," he said.

Malfoy shrugged and stretched into a sitting position at the side of his bed until he was facing Zacharias. "So," he said, finally. "Will you look after her?"

"I--" What else could he possibly say? "Yeah."

An awkward pause ensued.

"Thank you," Malfoy said, once it was too dark for Zacharias to see him. Zacharias felt him shift and then heard the rustle of paper. Malfoy pushed a letter into his hand. "I've ten days."

---

And so they went to work.

They met every night in the Room of Requirement. It was interesting for Zacharias to see the room in a different context than the DA had provided. Gone were the plethora of Defence books, the open, airy practise space, the specially charmed floor to soften the blows that came with learning to take the hit of a spell. He tried to shut his mind against those days, for his present endeavour was traitorous, at least as far as the DA would be concerned.

He'd overheard Luna Lovegood or Neville Longbottom reminiscing about their former defence club, and the way they pined for it had always made Zacharias feel uncomfortable, mostly because they were so bloody dorky in their pining for . . . well, whatever it was those two fancied so much about the DA. It was so weird they weren't even worth bothering to tease -- it would have been like kicking a puppy or something, and while Zacharias was in fact an arse, unlike Malfoy, he wasn't quite at that level of brutality.

Whilst working within the confines of a tatty old cabinet, Malfoy talked to Zacharias.

He talked about his life with Pansy as if he were making a formal presentation. Pansy likes this. Pansy doesn't like that. One thing you really need to know about Pansy is this. You should never talk about that with Pansy. Pansy hates so-and-so. Pansy likes so-and-so, although she'd never admit it. Etcetera.

"Need a hand with that cabinet, Malfoy?" Zacharias asked hopefully, cutting off Malfoy's dissertation on All Things Pansy.

The sound of Malfoy's tinkering inside the cabinet ceased. He poked his head out, giving Zacharias a bemused look. "Would ickle Zacharias like to hand Daddy the hammer? What a helpful boy." He disappeared back inside again. "No, Smith. You don't want your hands in this." A loud explosion sounded and a billowing plume of purple smoke errupted from the cabinet's interior, belching Malfoy out onto the floor. "Fucking hells!" he roared, and Zacharias blinked.

"You sure you don't need--"

"Go get me some lacewings!" Malfoy spat, swatting at the cloud of smoke.

"Lacewings? What f--"

"JUST GET ME THE FUCKING LACEWINGS!" Malfoy's fair hair was now an odd shade of lavender, the dusty smoke from his explosion settling there. Zacharias remained silent until Malfoy's shoulders slumped slightly. He shifted, leaning against the cabinet, and buried his face in his arm. "Look--" No way in hell would Draco Malfoy ever apologise. "--it's just that it's time for you to try the Polyjuice again. If I sprinkle it with a few lacewings, it'll be done within the hour."

This was news to Zacharias. He raised an eyebrow.

"I just need to--"

"Show me something?" Zacharias interrupted him.

"Maybe."

"I don't have lacewings in my stores. Those are sixth year supplies. Don't you have any?"

"No," Malfoy said simply. "I've used all mine up. But, you can get some from Snape's stores."

"Should I tell him you've sent me?"

Malfoy glanced at him. "No," he said, rolling his eyes. "You're going to nick the lacewings and if Snape has even the slightest inkling you've been there? I'll kick your arse myself."

"Shite, with an offer like that how can I refuse?"

Malfoy didn't answer, but rather just glared at Zacharias from beneath his purple fringe.

"All right." Zacharias sighed, exasperatedly. "Fine. I'll get the sodding lacewings."

---

He was scared as all get out to take the Polyjuice again, but damned if he was going to show it. He swallowed the cupful of lumpy, hot sludge and breathed rhythmically, inhaling and then exhaling with concentrated force. He managed not to cry out as the needling feeling pierced his guts.

The sensation passed and he stood. "So," he asked, in a silly falsetto, "how do I look?" He batted his eyes.

Malfoy's mouth lifted momentarily, but then fell back into its usual sour pout. "Like a bloody poof."

"Is that how you like me?" Zacharias countered, surprising himself. Maybe it was easier to put forth his suspicious when he was wearing someone else's face.

Malfoy snorted. "I don't like you like that."

"'Spose it's quite a lot easier when I'm all tarted up," Zacharias said. "Never mind that I'm dressed like a bloke."

Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Are you now?"

He felt a chill then, and was swept up in the feeling of being wrapped, and when Zacharias looked down he was wearing the standard Hogwarts uniform skirt for girls and a white buttondown. Its tails lay untucked, hanging over the pleats of the skirt, the first three buttons undone. A Slytherin tie hung between his breasts, loose and undone. He looked up at Malfoy, nonplused.

"How'd you--" The words died on his lips. Oh, yeah. Room of Requirement.

"The room gives me what I need," Malfoy said.

"There's two of us in this room," Zacharias pointed out.

"And yet its letting us both stay." Malfoy touched the end of Zacharias's tie, thumbing its silky point. "I'm not the only one who needs, apparently, for I was here first, and everything I need is here. Anything I don't need isn't."

"Pansy's not here."

A shadow passed over his face. "She is in a way."

"No," Zacharias said. "You're far more clever than that that." Malfoy remained silent, so he continued. "I get it. I know what you're doing with her." Still Malfoy said nothing, so Zacharias clarified. "For her, rather."

"I need to wash this shite off of me." Malfoy ran his fingers through his hair and held them out to Zacharias. "See the purple?"

"Yeah," Zacharias said, watching over Malfoy's shoulder as a gleaming snow-white tub and shower appeared. The soft hiss of its spray thrummed invitingly against the plastic curtain. "You'll want to take care of that."

Malfoy leaned forward then. As his lips touched Zacharias's he shivered, and Zacharias felt a tugging sensation in his groin. Malfoy's lips were warm.

Zacharias lowered himself to the ground and sat watching as Malfoy emerged from his purple-stained clothing, dropping his outfit into a heap. "I'll just be a few minutes," Malfoy said, stepping into the shower.

---

Malfoy's definition of 'a few minutes' was quite different than Zacharias's.

Twenty-five minutes later Zacharias was prowling the room, restless and bored, and when he peeked into the steam-filed shower, he discovered Malfoy was sitting in the bottom of the tub letting the water beat down on him. The skin on his back was blotchy and red. "What're you doing?" he asked.

"Sod off, Smith," Malfoy said, water streaming in a point from his hair, as his head was bowed. "I said I'd have a quick shower! You're just making it longer by bothering me."

"Fine," Zacharias huffed, tossing Pansy's hair just like she herself would have. He swayed across the room, Pansy's hips giving a new style to his walk. He moved from thing to thing, picking up random objects, inspecting them. He found the skeleton of a Quintaped at the bottom of a gilded cast iron cage, half a magic carpet, and an old, dog-earred copy of Advanced Potion-Making. He flipped through it half-heartedly -- cryptic notes dotted the book's margins. Golpalott's Third Law . . . Bezoars . . . Sectumsempra -- for enemies . . . Zacharias closed the book and set it back down. He stepped over to the cabinet Malfoy was slaving over. Gingerly, he reached out and touched it. Its wood felt smooth and cool. Tentatively, he pulled it open. A chilly breeze rushed over him, giving the impression the cabinet was more cavernous than Zacharias thought phycially possible.

He shut the cabinet's door and turned away. The mirror he remembered from his previous Polyjuice encounter with Malfoy was back and Zacharias gave a start as Pansy's reflection gazed back at him. He came up to the mirror, pressing his palms against its cold surface. He examined the sloping rise of Pansy's nose, her wide brown eyes. He brushed the tips of her fringe with his finger, evening them out. Even so, he noticed they weren't exactly even. He fussed with his fringe for a minute, finally giving up in frustration. How girls could stand to willingly spend so much time standing in front of a mirror was beyond him -- just a couple minutes of half-hearted primping had proven to be the most boring thing ever!

He ran his hands down his sides as if smoothing his blouse, and he found it strange when his hands met the curve at his waist. A thought occurred to him, and he hesitated. Should I? His eyes traveled downward and he slowly lifted the front of his buttondown until a pale slice of skin was revealed, and then Pansy's navel. A warm rushing sensation flooded his crotch. He was touching Pansy. He was finally touching Pansy!

He'd dreamt of it before, of course, and woken many a morning with his pyjama bottoms sticky in front. Those days were the hardest for him to ignore his attraction to her, and he'd go out of his way to catch a glimpse of her in Charms or at lunch, and then he'd have to visit the loo twice or three times for a quick wank to extinguish the white hot heat these dreams ignited. So, it was really very understandable that Zacharias felt obligated to unbutton his blouse.

When he pushed the garment open, the soft silk of his Slytherin tie brushing against his sternum, he wondered if Pansy didn't wear a bra usually, or if it was merely due this time to Malfoy's 'need.' He thought probably it was the latter. Watching himself in the mirror, he eagerly cupped his breast in his palm and his fingers closed around the nipple there.

"Oww." His nipple stung, although he hadn't meant to pinch, really. He stood there, idly brushing his fingertips across its pink peak, and the nipple stiffened under the lighter touch. "Huh." Zacharias was puzzled. Were all girls this sensitive, or was it just Pansy?

He needed to know, he realised. He needed to know.

Without thinking he stepped back and sat, an enormous red, poufy chair materialising underneath his arse as he did so. Zacharias snuggled down into its soft cushions, draping his leg casually over one of the curved, squishy arms, a thrill of excitement coursing through him at the brief flash of white knickers he inadvertently treated himself to as he settled in. He wasn't used to having to think of how his clothes covered him, how they lay over his body. As a male, Zacharias was free to drape himself across the furniture in any manner he pleased without fear of showing his bits to the world at large.

Pansy's breasts were smallish, but they fit into the palms of her hands just fine. Zacharias kneaded them thoroughly, focusing especially on the nipple, yet he found himself surprised when his efforts elicited only a vague arousal. He thought maybe he wasn't doing it correctly -- all the Playwizard magazines featured pouty witches grasping and tugging at their breasts, oooing and ahhing their sheer delight to the reader from their silent, slick pages. He tried a fierce tug, but that was painful!

He trailed his fingers down his stomach. Pansy didn't have much of a belly, only the slightest buckle of skin just below her waist. He poked his finger into her navel, swirling it, and felt the same strange longing sensation tug deep in his groin as he did when he fiddled with his own. He noted there was no lint there, which certainly spoke to Pansy's personal hygiene.

Zacharias hesitated, but then drew up the hem of his skirt, flipping it up over his belly, and let his hands wander downward. Throwing a glance Malfoy's way, he could see the other boy was still occupied with showering, having at some point stood. Malfoy's silhouette was visible through the opaque curtain; he seemed to be scrubbing at his hair.

Zacharias plunged his hand into his knickers, all the while watching himself in the mirror.

His cunt was warm, but only slightly moist to the touch. Straight away he fingered his clit, going right for that brass ring. He instantly discovered his insistant rubbing and stroking was resulting only in an uncomfortable burning sensation there, as if he had sat on his bits funnily and put them to sleep. Eventually, weak pangs of desire played at his senses but the stinging pins-and-needles still competed with any relaxing sensations. He eased up and dragged his fingers downward, wincing as a fingernail got caught up on the delicate skin just inside.

Zacharias wasn't stupid. He ceased his bumbling ministrations immediately, withdrawing his hand. He pondered, frustrated, until he felt cool metal within his grasp. He opened his fist.

Nail clippers.

He got the hint. Carefully he trimmed away his nails, taking the time to ensure there were no residual hangnails, and that the corners were trimmed down below the tips of his fingers. When he finished the clippers disappeared, and Zacharias wiggled about in the big red chair, searching again for his comfortable spot. He found it and settled back, his fingers once again sneaking under the elastic waist of his knickers.

He peered into the depths of the mirror positioned in front of his chair, but this time he felt silly and inept, so he leaned his head back and closed his eyes, and although he couldn't see it happening, the mirror faded away. This time, Zacharias went about touching himself without an agenda, and just let his fingers explore, stroking and probing curiously, gently, eager to discover what he could about the female body.

The minutes passed, and Zacharias was learning quite a few things.

He found that it was nice to stroke the outer folds and twirl his fingers through the dark curls there, and he found that when he ran his finger teasingly up and down his slit, stroking gently there, a small fire ignited within his belly and visions of watching Malfoy fuck Pansy from behind flooded his brain, making his cunt twitch in anticipation. He discovered the softest petal-like skin he'd ever felt on anyone, just where the lips of her sex met, inches above the puckered pink ring of her arse, and it occurred to him that he'd had no idea that girls had such hidden silken treasures stashed about their bodies like that. He stayed there with his thumb, mesmerised by the sensation, his index finger unconsciously inching downward to stroke that forbidden pink ring, and he felt genuine relaxation. He continued to touch himself for a good ten minutes. He was pleasantly surprised when suddenly there came a wicked, aching sensation deep within. His fingers were now sliding through the unmistakeable hot wetness of a very randy girl.

"Fuck . . . " The word escaped from him like a sigh, and he urgently drew his fingers upward to rub the slickness over his clit. Now it felt good -- really good -- but Zacharias still had to be careful with how he touched himself. Too hard, and the pins-and-needles sensation twinged in warning. Too soft, and a longing, frustrated irritation flooded him. He stroked and fingered himself, the sensation of his impending orgasm feeling very much the same as a girl as it did when he was his usual male self. His breath quickened and felt his cheeks flush with heat. His heart hammered in his chest. Taking a deep breath he forced himself to still his fingers, not wanting it to be over just yet.

"Keep going."

Zacharias's eyes flew open.

Malfoy stood over him watching, fascinated, his eyes serious and keen. He wore only a towel around his waist; his obvious erection tented its terry fabric.

Zacharias didn't know how to respond. Honestly, what could one possibly say in such a situation?

"I like it when you do that," Malfoy said, as if speaking directly to Pansy, and Zacharias could hear a hint of desire lurking in his voice. Malfoy palmed his cock through his towel, once again drawing his fingers lazily up and down its length just like he had that one night many weeks ago. Zacharias experienced another warm, wet surge of heat between his legs at the sight of Malfoy touching himself, and although a million clever quips sprang to mind, and the desire to slough this experience off as as merely circumstantial, Zacharias did nothing to break the spell. Instead, he slowly began circling his fingers against his clit, the excitement again welling inside him.

"Yeah . . . " Malfoy said, his voice catching. He moved closer to Zacharias until Zacharias's slender, smooth knee was trapped between Malfoy's legs, and Zacharias could smell soap on Malfoy and the faint scent of chlorine lingering within the folds of his towel, and at that moment Zacharias had the distinct desire to see Malfoy's cock.

"Lose the towel," he ordered, his breath coming in staccato puffs.

"Lose the knickers," Malfoy countered, stroking, stroking.

"Take them off me yourself."

Malfoy knelt. Reaching up, he tugged Zacharias's knickers down, practically ripping them as they tangled around Zacharias's knees. When he stood again, his towel just fell away and his rigid cock slapped lightly against his belly as he rose from a crouching position. He gave Zacharias the once over. "God, you're incredibly wet," he observed, as if this was unexpected. "What'd you do to yourself?"

"Shut up, Malfoy," Zacharias said, annoyed. He wasn't feeling chatty at all. "Go on, then," he urged Malfoy with a jerk of his chin, unable to outright ask Malfoy to wank himself off even if he was technically a girl. Fortunately, Malfoy was happy to oblige.

Malfoy's dusky cock jutted sharply from the golden triangular thatch at the juncture of his thighs. The head was swollen and almost purplish in colour, and Malfoy blanched white fingerprints into it as he kneaded his erection with a series of quick, jerking tugs. Zacharias watched Malfoy's face. His eyes were closed -- he looked relaxed, even. Zacharias was struck by how young Malfoy looked then, and in turn he wondered if he himself carried that same look, the look of a youthful rube waiting desperately at the sidelines, far too eager to jump into the fray of adult games.

Malfoy, Zacharias realised, was not innocent -- but he once had been. He couldn't help but wonder exactly when it had been that Malfoy had taken the reigns of his own culpability, rather than being simply an ineffectual boiler plate for his father's politics. As Malfoy stood over Zacharias stroking himself, it occurred to Zacharias that he had never seen anything quite as sad as the face of youth marred by the unfortunate adoration of a fool. The thought unleashed a torrent of fear inside him. Frantically, he set out to push it back. He sat up abruptly, trapping his eager fingers between his thighs. He leaned forward, grasping the back of Malfoy's thigh with his free hand and pulled him forward until he had buried his face in the joist of Malfoy's leg, his forehead brushing over the pointed angle of Malfoy's hipbone.

Malfoy sucked in his breath sharply. His hand dropped and he cupped the swell of his balls languidly. Zacharias figured since he was a girl . . . He wasn't exactly sure what to do, so he dragged the tip of his nose across the plane of Malfoy's groin in a semi-affectionate manner, nuzzling there until his mouth fell over Mafoy's cupped hand. He huffed, sending his warm breath through Malfoy's fingers, over his balls. Malfoy groaned and Zacharias felt Malfoy's hand at the back of his neck.

"Put me in your mouth." It was hardly audible.

Zacharias allowed Malfoy to push his erection into his mouth, and even though Malfoy had just had a shower and was extremely clean, his cock tasted strange anyway. Malfoy rocked against him, his hand still at the back of Zacharias's head, and he winced when Zacharias's teeth accidentally scraped him. The angle was weird and Malfoy was pushing the blunt head of his cock rather ineffectually against the roof of Zacharias's mouth, but Zacharias knew from experience that he was attending to the part of Malfoy's cock that was the most sensitive. His fingers curled into Malfoy's thigh and he tried to swirl and lave his tongue as best he could. Malfoy emitted a string of utterances, unable to keep from thrusting. "Mmm . . . " he breathed, his jaw slackening. "I'm-- oh!" Zacharias slid his hand up the inside of Malfoy's leg, stroking and rubbing, and Malfoy caught up his wrist in a tight grip and abruptly pulled free. Zacharias watched the tiny muscles on the underside of Malfoy's cock twitch spasmodically as Malfoy fought to retain control.

And then Malfoy was kneeling again and he reached for Zacharias, his fingers still warm and slightly pruney from his extended shower, and Zacharias hissed as Malfoy pushed his legs open, freeing Zacharias's trapped hand, and he pushed Zacharias's fingers aside, replacing them with his own. "Not so hard," Zacharias said, just as Malfoy captured his mouth.

This time they kissed each other as hard as they could, their tongues practically dueling. Malfoy sucked his way down Zacharias's throat, leaving dark, angry lovebites there, and Zacharias ground up against his hard cock, rejoicing inwardly when its thick head began gliding over his clit, over and over.

The pink tip of Malfoy's tongue appeared on his bottom lip, and soon he was groaning. "I can't wait anymore," he said, dropping his hand between their bodies. They were in a weird position, so Malfoy dug his knee into the deep cushion of the chair for leverage. He let out a strangled moan as he eased into Zacharias.

This time was far better than their first Polyjuice tryst, and the feeling of Malfoy's cock inside him, moving and stroking and thrusting, was both fantastic and infuriating. Zacharias wanted to come, but now it was eluding him. He shifted positions, trying to get a better angle, and while it was still good, why wasn't it fast like it was when he was a boy? "Malfoy, maybe you could--"

"I'm coming," Malfoy said raggedly, drawing himself up and readjusting his position. The statement seared through Zacharias, coaxing his own orgasm foward. He reached down frantically to rub his clit, frantic for release, but the dreaded pins-and-needles sensation was assaulting him again, more intensely this time than when he'd touched himself before. Shifting positions didn't help at all. In fact, the tingling only got worse.

"Don't come yet!" Zacharias urged Malfoy, unfulfilled. Then, the sharp feeling was suddenly gone. A tight binding sensation pulled at his waist, and suddenly it felt as if Malfoy had disappeared altogether. He sought out Malfoy, looking upward, but all he saw was the ceiling of the Room of Requirement. He jerked his gaze downward slightly, and found Malfoy gazing up at him in agony.

"Fucking hells."

The potion had run its course. Zacharias was male again.

He was still wearing the girl's uniform, which was far too tight and small. He was actually a touch taller than Malfoy, so he had to look down to see him. Malfoy was still wedged between Zacharias's legs, and Zacharias instantly realised that Pansy's hot, tight little cunt was gone, and his own rock-hard cock was now smashed against Malfoy's erection. His pulse quickened and he looked down at Malfoy shakily.

"FUCK!" Malfoy cursed desperately, and he reached up and grasped Zacharias's face and pulled it until their foreheads knocked, and Zacharias felt him trembling. He scrabbled at Malfoy's hands, pushing at him until he could see his face. He sucked in a breath sharply.

Malfoy's face was haggard and drawn, and his mouth was frozen in some kind of primal, silent scream, and as he clutched at Zacharias, Zacharias understood immediately, as his palms grew wet with Malfoy's tears, that whatever burden had been coiling within Malfoy over the past year was now bearing down on him without mercy, and was coming to a head right now, right at this moment.

Malfoy was dying.

"I just--" Malfoy sobbed with a tight bark. "I just need a little bit of light . . . "

Zacharias touched his mouth to Malfoy's, which was wet and sloppy from his burst of emotion. "Okay, okay," he said, panicking, shushing him like he might a girl. "Come on." He kissed Malfoy through his tears, his spit, his hitching breaths. Malfoy finally responded, and voraciously at that. Even as young as he was, he recognised the desperate gorging of an unfortunate's last supper. He kissed Malfoy, devoured him back, for there really were nothing to say.

Malfoy wrapped his hand in Zacharias's tie, holding tight, and Zacharias kissed him deeply, sweeping his tongue around Malfoy's hot mouth, both their tongues tangling ferociously. Zacharias bit and sucked at Malfoy's mouth, seeking every last bittersweet taste of him, and he wrapped his arms around Malfoy's back and pulled him tight to him. They ground against each other, their cocks throbbing and searching and eager to come. There was no need to bother with any feminine niceties and Zacharias appreciated the raw maleness of their tryst.

He came first, spilling himself with a cry as his cock throbbed wildly with the residual intensity. Malfoy paused, dragging his lips from Zacharias's mouth to whisper against Zacharias's ear, "I'm going to mi--" The rush overtook him and he arched, and came in a hot gush over Zacharias's belly and into the folds of his skirt.

When they opened their eyes the Room of Requirement was dark, except for a single lit candle, which sat upon some random piece of junk. It danced and jumped silently, casting no shadows.

A little bit of light.

Malfoy rested his head. "Smith?"

"Mmm?"

It was several moments before Malfoy continued. "In a different life? I think I might like to have known you better."

His candle flickered, and then went out.

---

As it turned out, Draco lived to be seventeen plus twenty days.

---

"It's over!" Snape shouted, as he neared the predesignated corner. "Time to go!" As he rounded it, richocheting spells seared at the hem of his billowing robes. He shoved Malfoy, urging him to run, and it was all he could do to not box the boy's ears when instead he lurched sideways, tripping over his own feet. "Get up!" he hissed, kicking his charge in the arse as Malfoy stumbled, reeling, to his feet. "Get out of here, Draco! Make for the outer gates!"

"Aren't you coming with me?" Draco pleaded, terrified.

"I will catch up with you, yes. Now go!"

"But, Professor--"

"GO NOW, YOU STUPID BOY!"

Draco practically cartwheeled down the corridor, his flight fueled purely by adrenaline, and as he neared the stairs he heard an unknown voice enquire, "Well, Severus?"

"The contingency plan we've held in abeyance--" Snape seemed unable to continue.

"You were forced to employ it?"

"Yes," Snape said, hissing again.

"I am sorry to hear it." Whoever the voice belonged to actually sounded remorseful. "I shall meet you outside the grounds." There was a pause. "Good luck." And then Draco was too far away to hear anything else.

---

How they made it from the castle without being killed was a mystery Draco would never solve, but suddenly there they were, bursting through the main entrance and out onto the grounds. Draco was running as fast as he could, and he was unable to stop the sharp, whimpering noises that seemed to ride every one of his exhales. He could hear angry, shouting voices behind him, the sharp cracking from the shower of spells each group was firing filling his ears as they blasted against the ancient castle walls.

When the cold night air washed over his face, Draco was desperately relieved, for could anything be more useful at this moment than the cover of darkness? Then, his ear exploded in pain, hit by a flying curse. "Ahhh!" he cried, slapping his hand over the wounded outer shell, and once again he felt Snape's hand between his shoulders, shoving him.

"Run, Draco!"

Draco ran.

---

When he reached the outer gates of the school, he vaulted them like a cockroach scurrying up a kitchen wall. He fell to the ground with a flump, cracking the side of his head on the hard earth. Scrabbling helplessly, he managed to half roll, half pull himself behind a massive oak tree just off the gates. He scrunched down behind it, drawing his knees to his chest. He rocked front to back, trying to distract himself from the pain searing his ear. He put his hand to the injury, and when he pulled it away his fingers were wet with blood. His lungs burned in his chest and he could practically feel the goose egg on the side of his head as it rose steadily, like a magma dome. It was while he sat there, taking inventory of his injuries, that the hair on the back of his neck stirred, and Draco jerked his head upward, cocking it to listen. He drew his wand.

"Who's there?" he whispered harshly, feigning bravado. "Don't come any closer unless you're ready for the green light . . . " He heard the rustling of leaves, a twig snapping, and then two gleaming red eyes were suddenly blinking at him through the dark. Once again, relief flooded him. "Greyback! It's you."

Again the sound of something moving through the vegetation came. The creature stepped forward, the silhouette of a werewolf etching itself from the dark.

"Greyback?" Draco listened carefully for any response, but none was forthcoming. He began to fill with dread again. "Greyback? It's me -- Malfoy!" When the silence continued, he clarified. "Draco Malfoy . . . "

The creature stepped from the shadows and Draco knew instantly that it wasn't Fenrir Greyback. Panic exploded inside him. With trembling fingers he practically ripped his sleeve open; he thrust it toward the werewolf. "Look," he said in a high voice. "It's His mark! We're on the same side . . . "

The werewolf advanced until it was so close Draco could smell its sour breath. Several times it circled him, growling long and deep, until it finally prodded Draco's left arm with its cold, wet nose. With a bark, the werewolf suddenly caught up Draco's left forearm in its mouth, clamping down firmly -- it was enough pressure to cause pain, but Draco's skin was left intact, unbroken. Flicking its red eyes upward to hold Draco's gaze, the werewolf's lips curled upward forcing its nose into an sharper point, and it released a deep, threatening snarl.

Draco's bladder failed. He let out a shameful sob and braced himself for the inevitable, but then his arm fell back and a soft, familiar voice spoke.

"Make no mistake, Draco, we are not on the same side," Remus Lupin said, looking down at the pathetic mess of a boy cowering at his feet. "Not yet." He paused, toeing at the ground next to Draco's feet. "I see you've pissed yourself. Not an entirely undeserved come-uppance, I'd say."

"Where's the werewolf?" Draco sputtered stupidly, beyond caring that he'd just wet himself like a baby. When he realised who he was speaking to, he held up a hand. "Never mind. I get it."

"Lupin!" Snape's voice gave them both cause to jump. "Are you here?"

"We're both here, Severus," Lupin replied. "Where did Dumbledore want the boy taken?"

Draco inferred Lupin was speaking of him. "Take me where?"

"Grimmauld, for now. We shall reassess the situation as soon as possible."

"Grimmauld?" Draco demanded, standing shakily. He ignored his cold, soggy trousers. "What's Grimmauld?" The panic was licking at him again and he swallowed hard, trying to stave off its advance.

Snape and Lupin continued their conversation as if Draco weren't even there.

"Kingsley and Moody should be alerted by now," Snape said, in a low voice. "I sent a Patronus once I cleared the gates. I set off a charm that would fool anyone within hearing range into believing I've Apparated away from here." He gestured at Draco. "Presumably taking Mr. Malfoy with me, of course."

"Will you be taking me to Vol--" Draco took a deep breath. "To the Dark Lord?"

Snape considered him a long moment. "No."

"But, why not? He said if Dumbledore dies then I'd be rewar--"

"Enough!" Snape took Draco up by neck, glaring down into his face. "You're going with Lupin. Arrangements have been made for your protection."

"I'm not going anywhere with a bloody half-breed werewo--" Draco choked audibly as Snape's fingers dug into his windpipe. "Sir, I can't--"

"You shall make no more talk of half-breeds tonight," Snape commanded him, sotto voce. Draco could feel Snape's hand trembling around his neck. "You will do exactly as you're told, and you will accompany Lupin." For several long moments nothing but their ragged breathing could be heard. Snape finally continued. "You are being afforded an exceptional opportunity. It is not many people who are granted the luxury of being reborn with the added benefit of hindsight. Mind you don't squander the chance." And then Snape was gone with a crack!, the last warm traces of his grip fading quickly from around Draco's throat. Draco stood there dumbly, a fragment of his last conversation with Dumbledore creeping into his mind: We can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine . . . .

"Can you Apparate?" Lupin enquired.

Draco nodded, dazed. "I haven't got a license, though."

"Come along, then. Take hold of me."

He did so, gingerly. He heard the great cracking noise again and a tumbling sensation washed through him, and upon the arm of Remus Lupin, Draco Malfoy ceased to be.

---

After Snape killed Dumbledore, the entire school turned out of their houses, yet they found themselves unsure of where to go. They milled helplessly about the corridors, most of the girls openly weeping with grief, and it wasn't until the Slytherin students climbed from the dungeons (just as clueless as anyone else, mind) that an open mutiny erupted. A crowd of angry students pelted the Slytherins with every and any kind of jinx or hex imaginable, hurling vile insults and threats. A group of Slytherins actually fought back, although the majority scurried back down the stairs to the safety of their dungeons, and a near riot ensued in the entrance hall. Finally, Slughorn and McGonagall swooped down from the higher floors to break up the mêlée.

It was during the pinnacle of this fine fiasco that Pansy emerged from the dungeons, gripped in a full-blown panic. She'd gone madly from student to student, grabbing them up by their fronts, demanding information about Draco. "Where's Draco?! Have you seen him?! Has anyone seen Draco?!" Her classmates backed away as they saw her advancing, which enraged her. "DON'T YOU STUPID LOT EVEN CARE?!" she screeched, bursting into desperate, frightened tears, and she launched herself at poor Hannah Abbott, shaking her violently until Hannah's head clunked backward against the cold marble wall. As the Hufflepuffs prepared to counterattack, Zacharias took a deep breath and cut through the crowd.

He stalked over to where Pansy and Hannah were scuffling and caught Pansy by the collar, yanking her backward. "All right, Hannah?" he asked, glad that she appeared mostly unharmed.

"You BITCH! Why won't you tell me where Draco is?! Why won't anyone tell me where Draco is?!" Pansy was hysterical, and Zacharias was having a hard time holding onto her.

Hannah rubbed at the back of her head, trying to be brave. "I'll be all right." Her lip quivered and then she burst into tears. "Oh, Zacharias," she cried. "What will happen to us all now?"

"I don't know," he answered breathlessly, still wrangling Pansy. "Hannah, let Ernie take you to Madam Pomfrey. You've likely got a bad lump coming. Ow!" Pansy had kicked him straight in the shin. He glanced at Hannah apologetically. "I'm sorry, Hannah. Someone needs to put the rubbish out." And with that, he shoved Pansy, forcing her to walk in front of him. When she fell limp to the floor in an outrageous show of defiance, he cast Levicorpus, managing to get it right on the first attempt.

Zacharias directed Pansy's floating body down the staircase that led to the kitchens. Once they reached the entrance to Hufflepuff, Zacharias hid her within a shadowy enclave, wisely adding a silencing charm to her prone body. He scanned the common room for his housemates -- it was totally empty. He sprinted up the stairs to his dormitory, checking for his roommates. Hufflepuff was empty now, but it might not be for long. He raced back to Pansy and quite simply snuck her into his dormitory.

Once they were secreted behing the heavy black canopies of his bed, and Zacharias had cast several silencing charms, he released the binding spells on Pansy, bracing himself for a possible assault, but once she was freed up, she crawled into his arms.

He held her as she wept with great, wracking sobs, and when she managed to choke out, "Why, Zacharias? Why?" his own throat burned. He shook his head, unable to speak. Instead, he pulled Pansy tighter to him, clutching her head against his chest protectively.

In the end, this was a damn good move on his part, for as she sobbed bitterly, soaking the front of his jumper, the room darkened, as if someone had let off a handful of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder. Zacharias's heart plummeted into his stomach and he was seized by fear. From the inky darkness a spectre materialised, right there within the confines of Zacharias's bed! He tightened his grip on Pansy, unable to stop from gasping.

"What is it?" Pansy mumbled, nearly spent. He clapped a hand to the side of her head, holding her in place, for even though he had never seen one before, Zacharias had a strong suspicion as to what had appeared.

"Don't look!" he snapped.

"Wha-- why not?"

Don't fucking look, I said!" The ghostly apparition had taken on its full form. Zacharias stared, unable to move, and if he didn't know better he would have thought the thing a dementor.

Rather, he finally realised, it was a reaper.

Mortus Nuntio. The death notification.

The magnitude of this moment hit him full on and sadness rose in him like gorge. "No!" he whispered hoarsely. "No . . . " Pansy was still trying to turn her head, trying to see. "Don't!" he ordered, giving her a shake.

The reaper floated there for several long moments, its midnight cloaks billowing silently. It extended its skeletonized hand, its fingers unfurling, and it dropped a heavy envelope onto Zacharias's bed. Done, it peeled back its cavernous hood with the point of its scythe, and Zacharias found himself staring into the face of Draco Malfoy. The Slytherin looked as young and radiant and untroubled as Zacharias had ever seen him. Spent, the spectre shimmered, and then dissipated through the covered canopy of Zacharias's bed in a silent, wispy plume of smoke.

A sense of calm washed through him, for reasons he wouldn't know for many years to come.

"Is it gone?" Pansy asked dully.

"Yes." It was too poignant for words. He felt like his heart might burst. "It's . . . gone."

---

Zacharias knew his time was limited.

He had finally persuaded Pansy to take a generous dose of the sleeping draught he kept in his night table. Even still, it had taken her quite a long while to nod off, and he himself slept fitfully. Once she was asleep, Zacharias had laid down on his back, making sure there was plenty of space in between his hip and her behind (she was sleeping on her side). Primly, he crossed his arms over his chest and his feet at the ankles, not wanting to insinuate even the vaguest suggestion of impropriety; however, as he succumbed to the twilight in his mind, Pansy made a noise and rolled onto her back. Zacharias startled awake.

He felt her hand at his.

"Can I--?" she asked hesitantly. She groped blindly, finally locating his left arm. She rolled back onto her side, pulling Zacharias along with her, his arm encircling her as if she were pulling the corner of a blanket over a chilled shoulder. "Do you mind?" she asked, so very sadly.

"No," he said gruffly, readjusting. He slid his right arm under her pillow, laying against her. He kept his left arm around her waist and settled his chin upon the top of her head. Idly, he stroked the smooth skin of her inner right arm, which was laying prone upon the mattress top. He had no doubt her tears were once again staining his pillow. He kissed her tenderly, just under her ear. "I promise everything will be all right, Pansy."

"How could you possibly promise me that?" she whispered, her voice bitter.

"I'm not sure," he said, feeling nothing but protective toward her at that moment. "But, I know I'm right."

---

Zacharias's father arrived the very next day. Despite his vehement protestations, his father was insisting he was to pack his things, for he was returning home immediately.

"I'll not be having my son at any school where the headmaster cannot keep his own self alive. What of his charges, then?"

"Dad, I think Dumbledore was killed for-- well, I don't know exactly why he was killed," Zacharias said, directing the contents of his bookshelf into his trunk with his wand. "But I have a feeling it had to do with Harry Potter."

"Nevertheless!" Mr. Smith blustered, mopping his brow with his handkerchief. He crossed over to where Zacharias was packing and waited until the trail of books floating through the air had settled into his son's trunk before putting a hand to his shoulder. "I love you, boy," he said. "If I knowingly allowed you to stay in harm's way? If your mother and I lost you--"

It took Zacharias a moment to realise his father was wrought up. He died of embarrassment. "Dad," he hissed, ducking out from under his hand. "Someone might see!"

His father drew himself up to his full height. "Let them see."

---

He read the contents of the Mortus Nuntio envelope alone, having to lock himself away in the loo to find a moment of privacy. It was a very long letter from Malfoy, directing Zacharias to a plain, brown box hidden away in the Room of Requirement. He barely managed to retrieve it unseen. It was obvious Malfoy had taken great care in compiling the letter and packing the box, and the different colours of ink scattered throughout indicated he had written it in stages, making sure he adequately addressed everything he wished to impart.

The letter was, again, mostly about Pansy, and it struck Zacharias how strongly Malfoy had cared for her. There was a smaller box with a lid, and when Zacharias opened it he found it contained rows and rows of stoppered phials, a note laid upon them which read For Pansy. Zacharias drew a phial from the box and pulled at the stopper, dropping it with a cry as a tremendous shock shot through his fingers. The letters on the note seemed to glow, emphasising the fact that he was snooping. For Pansy, the scrap of parchment winked at him. He hauled everything back to his room, secreting them away within the safe confines of his trunk. He would go over everything with a fine-toothed comb once he was home.

---

Zacharias sat with his Hufflepuff housemates for Dumbledore's funeral.

----

He managed to get a surreptitious word to Pansy. She met him in an abandoned corridor, deep within the bowels of the dungeons.

"Please don't go!" she cried, flinging her arms around his neck. "Please don't leave me, too!"

"Shh, shh!" He tried to soothe her by patting her back. "I'm not --" This was so bizarre. "I'm not, er, leaving you--"

"I can't bear it, Zacharias! This is all too much! Oh, what will I do?" Probably if anyone else were putting on this kind of a show, Zacharias would've rolled his eyes and told them to leave off with their dramatics and go get stuffed. As it was, though, with her, he merely saw such histrionics as proof that Pansy was unpractised at revealing her vulnerabilities.

He caught her by her upper arms. "You'll be fine," he said. "We'll both be fine." A thought occurred to him. "Pansy, where do you live?"

"London."

"London's brilliant," Zacharias said. "Is your house on the Floo network?"

"Of course!"

"Then we can see each other everyday if you'd like."

"Really?" She seemed to take hope. "Are you in London, too?"

"Cornwall."

"Out in the country, then?"

"Bodmin, yeah. Land of the Cornish Pixie."

"I hate Cornish Pixies! One of Lockhart's took a shite on my head my second year."

Zacharias laughed. "Well, getting shite on the head seems a rather fitting theme for this year, yeah?"

She managed a weak smile. "True, that."

"When are your parents getting here?"

"They're already here," Pansy said miserably. "They're-- they're packing my things--" Her lip quivered again, and before she could give into her tears again, Zacharias took her face in his hands and kissed her cheek carefully.

"When shall we meet, then?" he asked, trying to distract her from her misery. "Name it."

"Tomorrow?"

"London?"

She hesitated. "Well--"

"Would you rather come to Cornwall?"

She nodded, pressing her fingertips against her red, swollen eyes. "It's just that-- well, it would seem very strange to have any boy over than Draco just now," she explained apologetically. Zacharias put up a hand.

"I get it," he said, trying not to feel slighted. "Anyhow, tomorrow, then. Lunch?"

She nodded again. "Lunch." She peered at him as if she wanted to be mischievous, but couldn't quite muster it. "No chocolate."

"Right. No chocolate." He rummaged in his pocket and found a bit of scrap parchment. He wrote on it with a broken bit of coloured sealing wax. "Here's Floo directions." He handed her the slip, which had Hepzibah Smith House -- Bodmin, Cornwall written upon it. "It's a family name," he explained, quirking an eyebrow at her.

"Damn those family names," she said, with a sobbing laugh. She looked at him strangely then, and they hugged awkwardly. "Goodbye, Zacharias," she whispered.

"It's not goodbye. I'll see you tomorrow," he said, and then she was gone and Zacharias was left alone in the dim light of the rarely-used-corridor, the haunting, faint scent of green tea and ginger slowly fading.

- Finite -