His cloak was soaked within minutes. Three Impervius Charms, several Drying Spells and one Conjured umbrella later, even his pants were wet.
Draco tugged at his hood to pull it as low as it would go so that at least his face would be spared from the merciless rain. He half-expected the cloud to fly downward, peek beneath the hood and spew rain into his eyes. At this point, it would not have surprised him. When Draco had Conjured the umbrella on his way to the hospital wing, the cloud had engulfed his head, filling his nose and mouth with fog cold as ghost, and Draco had panicked so fiercely he had Vanished the umbrella with a mere thought.
"At least there's no thunder," Goyle said bracingly, perched on one of the empty beds that was on a safe distance away from Draco and his rain-spitting cloud.
Draco groaned. He wished Goyle hadn't said that. It had sounded more prophetic than comforting. Not to mention the cloud seemed suspiciously sentient. If Draco braved looking up at it, he would surely have seen it perk up at the word thunder. The last thing he needed was getting struck by lightning.
"Oh dear," Madam Pomfrey said when she burst into the hospital wing. "You poor thing. You'll need loads of Pepper-Up, mark my word." She rushed to Draco's side, wand in hand. "You've always been a bit delicate."
"Delicate?" Draco spluttered, outraged.
"Meteolojinx Recanto!" Pomfrey cried, then, when nothing happened, cleared her throat and tried again. "Meteolojinx Recanto!"
Draco sucked in a breath, alarmed. "Professor Flitwick already tried that," he snapped. "You were supposed to have a better idea." Pomfrey's fingers tightened around her wand and Draco quickly added, "Madam."
Pomfrey's next three spells were cast non-verbally, but Draco easily recognised Finite Incantatem, Evanesco and, to Draco's utter horror, the Impervius Charm, which meant Pomfrey had already given up on reversing the spell and instead concentrated on dealing with side-effects. When she Summoned the Pepper-Up Potion, Draco lost his patience. He leaped from the bed, splaying water everywhere. Pomfrey took a quick step back.
"I don't have a cold and I don't need Pepper-Up! I have a giant cloud above my person and I would appreciate it if you could remove it." The cloud in question rumbled threateningly. Draco thought he saw a quick, bright flash out of the corner of his eye, but he dared not look up.
Pomfrey nodded, unperturbed. "Yes, just as I expected," she said and Summoned a Calming Draught. "A spoonful of Pepper-Up every morning, and a spoonful of Calming Draught every six hours," she ordered.
Draco resisted the urge to stomp his feet. "It's a botched spell," he said through clenched teeth, "not a medical condition."
"Is that your professional opinion, Mr Malfoy?"
"It's fucking common sense!" Draco shouted. A flash of bright light was unmistakable this time. The hair on the back of Draco's neck stood out and he was sure he felt a sharp stab of electricity rush through him. Or it could have merely been panic.
Pomfrey's eyebrows rose so high they threatened to reach her hairline. "I'd recommend using a very big spoon." She sniffed and handed Draco the potions. He had little choice but to take them. It was the only remedy that was offered. "You're excused from your classes for today," she added, and Goyle whooped, hopping down from the bed. "As for you, Mr Goyle," Pomfrey said loudly, "you have completed your escorting duties and may return to your class."
Goyle looked so crestfallen Draco took pity on him.
"My delicate nature requires moral support," he proclaimed solemnly.
Draco strongly suspected Pomfrey was fighting the urge to roll her eyes. "Very well, then." She sighed. "Off you go."
Goyle still looked miserable and Draco splashed his way towards him: his shoes were filled with water, making him regret he had sat on the bed; the cloak would have protected his feet if he had remained standing.
"That means no classes for you, after all. You're my moral support," Draco said impatiently. Then he replayed his own words in his mind. They felt like a punch in the stomach when he recognised the truth of them. Goyle was his moral support. He was the only friend left to him in this wretched castle. Now there's a depressing thought.
Goyle seemed too confused to regain his earlier cheerfulness. "What do moral supports do?" he asked, heavy brow furrowed.
Draco considered the question. Goyle always asked the strangest things. "Eat chocolate and make small talk," he said at last.
Goyle grinned, looking highly relieved. "I can do that."
"Come on," Draco said, with a last irritated glance at Madam Pomfrey.
There was an unnerving look in her eyes when she said, much too kindly, "Check in first thing tomorrow morning, dear, and we'll see if the Charm will be more cooperative."
Draco nodded, frowning at her. He wondered if she had read his thoughts and felt sorry for him. I have many friends outside of this school and they're all rich and powerful, he thought at her, just in case she was secretly a Legilimens, and then he forced himself to Occlude his mind before he pulled Goyle out of the room.
It was storming outside. The wind persistently attempted to blow the rain into the tall Hogwarts windows, but they had been charmed to repel it. Draco wished that whoever had charmed them were here to help him now. It might have been Dumbledore.
"Does being your moral support mean I have to get wet, too?" Goyle asked, breathing heavily, after they had left the hospital wing and rounded the corner.
Draco quickly released Goyle, realising he'd been in such a hurry to leave, he was dragging poor Goyle at a pace he was unable to follow. Worse than that, it seemed that if he touched something or someone, the cloud would cheerfully shroud them with its heavy curtain of rain.
"Sorry," he said and took out his wand, holding it in his chilly, wet hands. He shot a Drying Spell at Goyle before Goyle thought to do it himself, which would most likely result in Goyle's robes bursting into flames. The image of Goyle bathed in flames was suddenly clear in front of Draco's eyes. Draco looked down and tucked away his wand with shaky fingers.
"There, all dry again," Draco said after a minute when he looked up.
"Thanks." Goyle stroked his robe, looking impressed by the dryness of his clothes, as though he had never seen such a thing in his life. A smile tugged at Draco's lips. It was easy to impress Goyle.
"Let's go. I need a shower. A warm shower," Draco said and turned, marching toward their common room, expecting Goyle to follow.
The common room was located in one of the taller east towers that was unfortunately also one of the narrowest. Only the common room was spacious; the dormitories were small and stuffy, each with three beds and a small wardrobe. Draco's dormitory seemed even smaller than it truly was, thanks to the fact he shared it with Goyle and Ernie Macmillan, who both snored very loudly indeed, and with Goyle's size and Ernie's ego, it was a miracle the room could contain them at all.
If we don't drown tonight, that will be another miracle, Draco thought. Ernie would be aghast once he realised Pomfrey had failed to Vanish Draco's cloud. To put it mildly, Ernie hadn't been thrilled about sharing his dormitory with the Slytherins in the first place. Every night before going to bed, Ernie would cast a dozen protective charms around his part of the room, apparently convinced that Draco and Goyle would try to murder him in his sleep. Draco had sworn no such thing would happen. "If I ever decide to kill you, Ernie," Draco had told him one night, "rest assured I will do it in a place not easily tied back to me." Ever since, Ernie took care not to go anywhere unaccompanied.
Draco still questioned the wisdom of coming back to Hogwarts. He had little choice. Mindful of the fact that students hadn't received proper education last year, Hogwarts had opened its door to every student who had failed, or chosen not to take their N.E.W.T.s. Draco thought he should have passed his N.E.W.T.s, but the examiners seemed to unanimously disagree. A particularly bitter memory was that of seeing Professor Tofty shake his head sadly when Draco had failed to produce a corporeal Patronus. "I remember your O.W.L.s, Mr Malfoy," he had said as he had scribbled Poor on the old, yellow parchment. "You can do better than this."
After that, Draco had had three choices: Durmstrang, home-schooling or Hogwarts. Durmstrang sounded cold and unappealing, home-schooling sounded doubtful and boring and Hogwarts sounded like torture. But it was also his best chance. He would have been stupid not to take it.
Draco stopped abruptly as a grim stone centaur stuck out his hand, palm outstretched, and screeched, "Halt!"
"You're very bossy for a horse," Draco grumbled.
The centaur ignored him and said, "A full list of tomorrow's homework, or you will be denied passage."
Goyle huffed. "Tomorrow's Saturday."
"Monday, then," the centaur persisted.
"An essay on Dr. Ubbly's Oblivious Unction and an essay on Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration," Draco recited.
The centaur still looked expectant.
Draco gritted his teeth. "If I leave it till later, I'm a big second-rater," he growled. A flash of lightning followed his words.
The centaur leapt to the side. "You may pass!"
Draco stomped into the empty common room. "I hate Granger. Whose bright idea was it to put her in charge of the tower's passwords?"
"McGonagall's!" Goyle exclaimed, looking proud he knew the answer. He sobered up quickly. "That was one of those rhetorical questions, wasn't it?"
"An astute observation," Draco said, staring morosely at the puddle of water beneath his feet. He shivered and remembered he had planned to take a warm shower. Not that his skin needed more water, but he didn't know how else to keep the chill at bay.
Half an hour later, he did feel a little better. The shower had warmed him somewhat, he changed out of his wet clothes and put on his dragon hide boots and the thickest cloak he owned. He drank some Pepper-Up, which made him feel instantly better, and then he took a big swallow of Calming Draught, which seemed to make no difference at all, aside from making him sleepy. The moment he felt better, the dark cloud had shrunk, turned light grey and flown up higher above Draco's head. The rain drizzled lazily, the raindrops turning soft and warm.
Draco settled in the common room, in one of the squishy brown armchairs by the fire, and spent the next two hours steadily demolishing his stash of sweets with Goyle. He took the opportunity to teach his friend how to play chess. Draco had taught Goyle chess rules several times in the past, but they seem to evaporate quickly out of Goyle's head.
By the time the rest of their classmates came pouring into the common room, Draco's cloak was beginning to leak through and the cloud above his head seemed to have swelled, spewing rain all over Draco and his armchair.
"Blimey!" Ernie cried as everyone stepped around carefully, avoiding the impressive flood that was threatening to cover the whole floor. "Didn't Pomfrey sort you out?"
"She gave him some Pepper-Up and a Calming Draught," Goyle said promptly.
Draco winced, wishing, not for the first time, Goyle would learn that just because he knew the answer, it didn't mean he had to answer the question. This newly acquired trait of Goyle’s was completely Draco's fault. He'd been tutoring Goyle the whole summer, and one of the things he had been constantly telling him was: "When you know the answer, don't hesitate to speak up." It was meant to encourage him and help him gain some confidence, but Goyle had taken that advice quite literally. Draco had not meant to imply Goyle should tell the truth at all times, but it was too late now. Goyle expected Draco to be pleased whenever he answered a question promptly and correctly. He also expected Draco to be pleased when he didn't hit, maim or hex students who had accidentally brushed up against him in the hallway. Draco had told him he must never do that unless Draco himself requested it. Goyle dutifully obeyed Draco's every word and Draco was unwilling to lose his confidence. What would Goyle do without him?
Draco smiled at Goyle and nodded.
"Calming Draught?" Granger repeated, frowning as she took out her wand and began to Vanish the water and dry the carpets as diligently as a house-elf.
"Got a bit shirty with Pomfrey, did you?" Weasley grinned and lowered himself onto the empty armchair, right between Draco and Goyle. Puddles of water beneath his trainers didn't seem to bother him.
"I think she gave it to him because the cloud grows darker whenever Draco gets angry," Goyle said.
Draco would have been impressed with Goyle's conclusion, if he hadn't been distracted by plotting ways to silence his babbling.
"Interesting." Granger tucked away her wand and squeezed herself next to Weasley. He pretended not to let her sit down beside him and they wrestled and wriggled and pushed at each other before Weasley put her arm around Granger's shoulders and kissed her.
Draco looked away. He was strongly reminded why students generally avoided the armchairs near the fireplace and left them to the Gryffindor trio. If you didn't have enough manpower to occupy all three, it was wiser to just give up and sit somewhere else, or you'd be forced to endure Weasley and Granger sharing an armchair, laughing and bickering and kissing and fighting, and doing all those things very loudly. Though, Draco was willing to suffer through it most of the time, if it meant he had stolen Potter's favourite seat and forced him to find a place on one of the sturdy chairs near the windows. Potter had never complained about it aloud, but Draco relished his dour expressions and pouting.
"So." Ernie Macmillan appeared behind Granger and Weasley. He was staring at Draco apprehensively. "Do you plan to sleep here, then?" he asked with attempted nonchalance but only managed to sound hopeful.
"Oh Ernie, darling!" Millicent's voice rang behind Draco, startling him. "You can sleep in my bed if you're scared you'll drown tonight," she purred.
Ernie looked alarmed.
"Don't mind him, Draco," Millie said sweetly. "He got struck by lighting twice today during Charms. I think he's developed a bit of a phobia."
Draco looked up at Ernie, noticing he was cross-eyed and his hair stuck out at odd angles. It suited him. He looked a bit like Potter.
"My Atmospheric Charms were perfectly executed," Ernie said with dignity. "My aim was a little off, that's all."
"Ah," Millie sighed, sounding disappointed. "You do look like someone who can't aim properly. Well, then, I take back my offer. You can't share my bed tonight. You sound a bit useless. I like boys with impeccable aiming skills."
Ernie turned beet red and mumbled something incomprehensible.
Weasley snickered. "Come on, Ernie, do you think the water will climb up your bed to drown you?"
"But look at that cloud!" Ernie said and pointed above Draco's head. "It's growing."
"Soon it will cover the whole castle and drown us all," Millie said gravely.
Granger snorted. "It's just rain, Ernie. I think you'll live through it."
"Famous last words," Ernie grumbled but looked somewhat appeased now that Granger had assured him he wouldn't die tonight. He wandered off, looking between Draco and the stormy weather outside suspiciously, as though he thought the nasty weather was Draco's fault, too.
"Oh my poor Draco," Millie cooed, "you're utterly drenched. Would you like a dry cloak?"
Draco couldn't tell if she was being nice or making fun of him. Her tone was much too sweet and simpering not to be fake.
"You need a raincoat," Granger proclaimed. "I'm sure someone has one." She looked around, as though trying to determine who was likely to have it.
"I am wearing a rain coat," Draco said, irritated. "It's Charmed to repel water. Cost quite a few extra Galleons because of it. It doesn't help much, does it?"
"I meant a Muggle raincoat. You've only tried to protect yourself with magic. You could —"
"No, I couldn’t!" Draco said quickly. "I don't need your stupid Muggle raincoats." Draco had seen little Muggle-born students with their brightly coloured and stiff coats. It would probably amuse Granger to see Draco in one of those ugly, uncomfortable things. There was a reason everyone got rid of their Muggle raincoats once they had realised they could protected themselves more elegantly with magic. Granted, magic wasn't working for Draco at the moment, but he saw no reason to believe a Muggle coat would. The clothes he wore earlier were completely ruined. Try as he might, Draco couldn’t dry them. This was not ordinary rain — it was carefully executed torture, impervious to all forms of protection. The cloud was pure evil, Draco was sure of it.
"Fine." Granger shrugged.
Weasley cleared his throat and nodded at the chessboard set on the small table in front of them.
"You're losing," he informed Goyle.
"He's aware of that!" Draco snapped.
Weasley stared at him. "So, did you drink some of that Calming Draught Pomfrey gave you? Time for a second dose, do you reckon?"
Draco scowled and looked away. A dozen insults threatened to spill out, but Draco bit them back. What was the point? There was no one here who would laugh at Weasley with him. No one who would snicker at Granger and glare at Potter, once Potter graced them with his presence. Goyle was very unhelpful. Millie and Nott had never been his friends. He didn't even know Daphne; she was a quiet little thing and had always kept to herself. Blaise had passed his N.E.W.T.s, one of the few who had managed it. He had spent the entire last year studying at night while the rest of them were busy fearing for their lives. It had always been hard to unsettle Blaise. Not even the Carrows had managed.
Pansy had come to Hogwarts with Draco but left as soon as she found out they'd be sharing a tower with the other Houses. Potter must have been her biggest concern. He hadn't said a word to her, but there were many who had glared in her direction. "The nerve of her! Showing up here after what she did," Draco had heard Finnigan whisper, and so had Pansy. Finnigan hadn't been the only one, either. The next day Pansy had packed her trunk, said, "I don't need this shit," and left.
Draco was still torn between annoyance and guilt. Annoyance, because Pansy had given up too easily. She couldn’t have expected a warm welcome. If she had only persisted, kept her head high and gritted her teeth, the nerve the Gryffindors accused her of having had a good chance of earning her some respect along the way. In the eyes of some people, if not everyone.
And guilt, because he knew what she'd say to him: "Easy for you to say." And that was true, though Draco had not expected it to be when he had first shown up at Hogwarts more than a month ago. Everyone knew Pansy had stood up in the Great Hall on the day of the Battle and urged the students to surrender Potter to the Dark Lord; no one knew Draco had tried to do the same in the Room of Requirement. No one except Potter, Granger and Weasley, of course, but for some incomprehensible reason they hadn't shared that piece of information with anyone.
Hannah Abbott had patted Draco's arm once and told him she heard Draco had hesitated to identify Potter when Greyback had shown up with him at the Malfoy Manor. Dean Thomas told him he heard that Draco's mother had lied to Voldemort and consequently saved Potter's life, and he demanded Draco to tell him whether or not that really happened. Those were the only events the Gryffindor trio seemed to have shared with the rest of the world. The picture they painted was far kinder than the truth.
His classmates still didn't like him, Draco was certain of that, and unconcerned by it — he didn't like them either — but the open hostility that had been directed at Pansy had never pointed its cruel finger at him.
Draco sneaked a peek at Granger and Weasley, laughing and kissing on the armchair beside him. They could make his days at Hogwarts a living hell with a few choice words, but they chose not to. Did they think he was miserable enough? Were they merely bidding their time? Hoping to blackmail him at some point? Or ruin him when he least expected it? Was the silence Granger's doing? Did she feel sorry for him, like she felt sorry for miserable house-elves? Or was Potter the one who had asked them not say anything, just to show Draco how much power he had over him? "You owe me everything," Potter's eyes seemed to tell him whenever he dared to look at them.
Weasley was staring at him, wide-eyed. "You need more Calming Draught. Right now."
Draco noticed it only then: the sound of rushing water was loud in his ears. The raindrops were thick and heavy, falling in rivulets. Draco glanced up quickly to see the cloud had doubled in size and darkened; it was almost black, except for the occasional flash of light within.
Draco's shirt was beginning to stick to his back. He really did need to change his cloak. He had little faith in the Calming Draught, though.
The door of the common room burst open and two cloaked and hooded figures stepped in, each floating two wooden crates beside them. A loud cheer erupted, momentarily silencing the pouring rain.
Granger sprang to her feet and scanned the cheerful faces suspiciously. "What exactly is in those crates, Harry?"
Draco craned his neck to see Potter and Longbottom pull off their hoods, both of them grinning widely. Potter's eyes found Draco and he stopped grinning at once. He blinked, opened his mouth but then quickly redirected his attention back to Granger.
"Food, drinks and . . . props," he said. "For the party tomorrow."
Granger wasn't pleased. "What sort of drinks?"
Potter lowered the crates to the floor and waved his wand, opening the biggest crate with a flourish. Draco didn't see what was inside, but Potter promptly supplied him with that information.
"Butterbeer," he said, then added, "Of course," as though the suggestion it could be something else insulted him.
"You must be joking!" Millie ran toward the crate. She scowled at its content and then treated Potter to a hateful glare.
"He's absolutely serious," said Longbottom, with an unsubtle wink in Granger's direction.
"Oh for heaven's sake." Granger crossed her arms on her chest. "It's not like I can't find out what's really in those bottles."
"Not if they're Charmed to turn to Butterbeer whenever you touch one," Potter said.
"Are they really?" Granger sounded impressed.
"No," Potter admitted. "I couldn't figure out how to do it. But I tried really hard and read a big book in the process."
Draco couldn't see Granger's face, but he suspected she was smiling.
"Harry," she said, not as angrily, "we've barely persuaded McGonagall to let us organise this party. We can't get drunk. She'll be so disappointed. She'll never trust us again."
"Hermione," Potter said, imitating her tone, "you're looking at the path to inter-house unity." He pointed at the crate. "Don't ruin it."
Several people laughed. Draco looked away and stopped listening.
The party had been Potter's idea. He and Granger had asked McGonagall for permission, claiming it was just the thing that was needed to help them feel like one house rather than four different houses stuck together by circumstances. The problem with that plan was that the latter was true and the former was not. They didn't belong to one house and no amount of alcohol would make them believe otherwise. The only thing they had in common was distrustfulness and general irritability. People had chosen their friends, formed their alliances and picked their enemies seven years ago; none of that would change now.
Granger was probably right to be worried. Sober, people could control themselves; drunk, old animosities would resurface and the party would end with hexes and tears. On the other hand, if that happened, McGonagall's fury would be directed at Potter and Granger, and that was something Draco could look forward to.
Draco tensed. Potter was standing right next to him.
Draco looked up and sneered. "You like it? Have some." Draco's hand shot up and grabbed Potter's forearm. The cloud reacted immediately: it stretched above Potter and spat copious amounts of rain at him.
Potter spluttered but, to Draco's distress, he was laughing.
"You're worse than the storm outside," Potter said and freed his arm, stepping away. He licked the raindrops off his lips, his smile fading.
Draco realised his mistake at once. He should not have let Potter taste the rain. Now he would know: the raindrops tasted salty. Less like rain, more like tears. Draco didn't know what that meant, but he didn't like the look that crept into Potter's expression. The green eyes filled with pity.
They're not my tears, Draco wanted to say, it's the cloud. But the cloud was his and so must the tears be; it had appeared above his head against his will, but Draco was the one who had Conjured it.
Potter took off his cloak. He cast several charms on it and then held it in his hands, as a servant would hold it for his lord. He was looking at Draco expectantly. "You really need a dry cloak."
No, I don't. And I have one of my own in the dormitory, Draco thought as he stood up and took off his sodden cloak. He let Potter throw his thick, warm cloak around Draco's shoulders, feeling utterly disgusted with himself. He should have at least pretended to refuse, not give in so easily. But there was something fascinating about letting Potter envelop him in his cloak. For the briefest second, it felt like a hug. It distracted Draco and he failed to react on time when Potter moved in front of him and fixed the clasp, fingers brushing against Draco's throat.
Raindrops were clinging to Potter's hair and hitting his face and hands. Draco shifted his weight uneasily and looked away. He felt exposed. It almost felt like he was crying all over Potter, covering him with his tears.
"You're welcome," Potter said, even though Draco didn't remember thanking him.
"Why on earth do we need Dungbombs?" Granger bemoaned from the other side of the room. Draco turned to see she was examining the content of the crates along with everyone else. No one was paying any attention to Potter and Draco.
Potter hurried to Granger's side. Draco was tempted to shoot a Drying Spell after him, since Potter seemed to have forgotten to cast one himself.
"Come sit over here," Goyle said and Draco accepted Goyle's armchair with gratitude. The one he had occupied previously was more of a swimming pool than a chair. Draco half-heartedly tried to dry it but it didn't work. The water clung to it and stubbornly resisted every spell.
Draco pulled on his hood and wrapped Potter's cloak more tightly around his body. It smelled like autumn and grass and fresh green apples, and Draco breathed in the scent.
"It's barely even raining now," Goyle said from the armchair Weasley and Granger had abandoned.
True enough, the cloud had shrunk again and it looked a bit brighter.
"Also," Goyle grinned and pointed at the board. His chess pieces were now in front of Draco. "You're losing."
Draco snorted and then caught Potter staring at him across the room.
"Not for long," Draco said and ordered his quivering Knight to sacrifice himself.
Something huge and silvery exploded in front of Draco's eyes. Draco blinked, looked around and concluded he had been dreaming.
It was still early. The common room was quiet except for Goyle snoring on the armchair beside him and the logs crackling in the fireplace. He could not hear the rain. Draco pulled off his hood, looked up, and then scowled at the cloud that was still there above his head. It was no longer raining, however, and though Draco's clothes were damp and uncomfortable, they weren't sopping wet.
Draco shot up, grinning, and hurried out of the common room. He almost tried to Vanish the cloud himself on his way to the hospital wing, but decided not to chance it. It was probably best to let Pomfrey handle it. He was sure that she would. The rain had stopped and the cloud was peaceful.
His hopes were premature, however. At least that was what Pomfrey had said when she had failed to vanish the cloud (after she had grumbled and pointed out it was five in the morning; even her hairnet seemed to glare at Draco). This time she was armed with spells Draco had never heard of before, but none of them worked. When he exited the hospital wing, with a new vial of Calming Draught and steam coming out of his ears thanks to another dosage of Pepper-Up, it was raining again.
It was Saturday and the castle was quiet, except for the occasional thunder that Draco was sure came from outside not from his cloud. Draco went to his dormitory and took the chance to have a long shower in peace. He changed his clothes and reluctantly set aside Potter's cloak. It was far from dry but it had brought him luck; it kept him warm through the night. And it smelled nice. Not that Draco's clothes didn't smell nice, but Potter's scent was somehow more appealing.
Draco abandoned his pointless thoughts and went to the kitchens. The house-elves were happy to serve him food and some pumpkin juice, bowing and telling him what a lovely cloud he had, and inquiring if this was the latest wizarding fashion. Three chocolate éclairs later, he felt well enough to write to his parents and ask them to send him cloaks, robes and possibly a professional to cure him, if they could find one.
He went back to the common room ("I'll be able to smirk when I've done all my work," the centaur made him say before he let him pass) and Summoned a piece of parchment, ink and Susan Bones' Quick-Quotes Quill, and then he tried to write a letter to his mother.
"I had a minor accident in class. Nothing to worry about, but I need you to send me some new clothes," he said aloud.
"Please, mother, send me a cloak; I'm filled with rage and desperation. My classmates think I'm a joke; have mercy on your own creation, and let him not dwell on his damnation," the Quick-Quotes Quill wrote.
Draco threw the parchment into the fire and gave up. He didn't feel like whinging at his mother anyway. Instead, he drank the whole vial of Calming Draught and went back to sleep.
In what seemed like no time at all, Draco was woken up by an earthquake. It split the muddy Hogwarts grounds in half and the abyss opened its giant mouth, croaking, "Malfoy. Damn you, Malfoy!"
Draco frowned and opened his eyes. The abyss turned to Potter. His fingers dug into Draco's shoulders, shaking him mercilessly.
"What the hell did you do?" Potter yelled at him. He looked terrified. And sodden.
Draco tried to straighten, but his limbs were heavy and his head felt too large for his neck to bear. He looked around blearily. He was surrounded by at least twenty students, all of them in their pyjamas, dripping wet, with frowns on their faces and their eyes wide.
"I told you," Ernie said loudly. "I told you that cloud was evil. But no, you all know better. 'It won't go after us, Ernie,' 'Don't be stupid, Ernie.'"
"Shut up, Ernie," Millie said.
Potter ignored them. He stopped shaking Draco and released him abruptly. Draco noticed Potter had an empty vial in his hand.
"What is this?" Potter asked so sternly Draco was shocked into giving him a prompt reply.
"Calming Draught," he said, not a little surprised. Did Potter think Draco had tried to poison himself? Did everyone think the same? Draco looked around at his troubled classmates. "I thought it would help more quickly, that's all. Though, I suppose I should have saved some for the lot of you. You look like you need it," he added resentfully.
He looked back at Potter and distracted himself by staring at Potter's pyjama bottoms. They were white with red polka dots, too large for Potter's skinny legs and lean waist and looked about a hundred years old. The tee he wore was better fitted and seemed brand new, judging by the vibrant colours of the Swedish Short-Snout on the front. The dragon roared brilliant blue flames and looked as furious as Potter did. However, Potter had stopped looking furious for the moment and instead looked down at his sleepwear self-consciously. Draco realised he had been staring. He looked away and found Goyle in the crowd.
Unlike the rest of them, Goyle was fully dressed in yesterday's clothing and pale as parchment. He looked to be in no shape to answer questions.
"What happened?" Draco asked him anyway.
Weasley answered. "We've been trying to wake you for the last fifteen minutes. You didn't move a muscle; you were barely breathing."
"And that cloud of yours covered half the room and shot lightning bolts everywhere," Ernie added. No one corrected him so Draco assumed he hadn't been exaggerating. He wondered whether they expected him to apologise.
"The Calming Draught was supposed to help," Draco repeated stubbornly.
"In small doses . . ." Granger said in a quiet tone as though she didn't want to upset him with her knowledge. Draco knew how the Calming Draught worked, too. One was supposed to be careful with it: drink too little, it does nothing at all; drink too much, it's more likely to upset than calm. But drinking the whole vial seemed like a good idea at the time. Draco just wanted to go back to sleep. It had helped him earlier.
Draco rubbed his cheek. It felt warm and sore.
"Did someone slap me?" He glared at Potter.
"It was Neville," Potter said promptly.
"Oi!" Longbottom cried. "It was Hermione!"
Potter's lips twitched. "I was trying to be a gentleman."
Granger was apparently fascinated with her nails and was studying them with careful interest.
Of course it was her, Draco thought. Granger always did like slapping him.
Irritated, Draco tried to stand up but Potter pushed him back down.
"Bully," Draco spat.
"Careless idiot," Potter shot back.
Draco sneered. "Your concern is touching, Potter."
Potter pressed his lips so tightly together he reminded Draco of McGonagall.
Madam Pomfrey appeared then and interrupted their glaring match. She shooed everyone back to their dormitories, which was an amusing sight to behold, and then rounded on Draco, which was anything but amusing.
To say that she was upset would be like saying Hagrid was somewhat tall. She accepted no excuses and all but dragged Draco to the hospital wing at wand point.
Draco was half-relieved. The solitude of the hospital wing was more appealing than the thought of facing his classmates again. They were a loud, nosy bunch and likely to panic and form ridiculous conclusions.
He spent the rest of the day in the hospital wing, wrapped in a warm cloak and a blanket, and huddled in a comfortable chair near the fireplace. The house-elves brought him food and Pomfrey gave him a fresh blanket the moment the old one dampened.
Goyle showed up after lunch to keep him company and Draco took the opportunity to ask him what exactly had happened back at the common room.
Apparently, Goyle had woken up to a downpour. The cloud had swelled and covered several square metres. He had tried to wake up Draco and when he had failed, he had shouted for help.
"Potter was there so fast, I swear I thought he had Apparated," Goyle said. "He saw the empty vial right away and went livid. He's the one who woke up everyone else by shouting your name. He then sent Abbott to get Pomfrey and told all of us to step back. And bloody hell did we step back. He can be really scary, that one. He couldn’t wake you up, though. And he got struck by lightning twice. Then Granger slapped you and that seemed to work better. And then Potter yelled at you some more and shook you and you finally woke up. Good thing you did; I think Granger was getting ready to slap you again." Goyle paused. "Why did you drink all that Calming Draught?"
"I thought it would help," Draco said defensively.
"But you know everything there is to know about Potions, and Granger says you should have realised it could have ill effects in large —"
"Can we change the subject?" Draco didn't particularly want to know what the Gryffindors had been saying about him once Draco had left. He could imagine those discussions fairly accurately on his own.
Goyle nodded demurely. "This will help," he announced suddenly and took out a half-eaten Honeydukes chocolate. "I nicked it from one of Potter's crates. I hear the Butterbeer bottles are filled with Firewhiskey, but I couldn’t find those. Potter must have hidden them."
Draco shook his head. "It's fine. You can keep it."
Goyle grinned and happily bit off a huge chunk of chocolate. "Will you be at the party?" he asked around his chocolate mouthful.
"I doubt Pomfrey will let me go." Draco hoped that was true. He didn't feel like partying.
He was wrong, however. Millicent stopped by around seven and convinced Pomfrey to let him go.
"We'll take proper care of him," she promised. "And send him back the moment he tries to swallow something he shouldn't."
Draco considered claiming he felt unwell, but that meant Pomfrey would poke him with her wand for the next hour. Besides, his classmates had Firewhiskey.
He ended up following Millie to the Tower, hoping that Firewhiskey wasn't deemed as something he wouldn't be allowed to swallow.
The sounds of laughter and music echoed through the hallway as Millie recited next week's homework for the centaur. Draco suddenly felt truly unwell. The thought of watching everyone get drunk and having fun sounded like torture. And of course they wouldn't let him drink Firewhiskey. He wouldn't let himself drink it, if he were them. Getting drunk would be a stupid thing to do, all things considered. He might end up drowning everyone after all. At least Ernie would be happy.
"Hey! Where are you going?" Millie yelled as Draco turned to leave.
"I need some fresh air. I'll be back in a minute."
"Draco." Millie sighed.
Draco turned to look at her; the cloud's shadow swirled around him, as did the rain. "Do I look like I want to party?"
"You look like someone who shouldn't be alone." She set her jaw.
Draco huffed irritably. "You think Pomfrey kept me company in the hospital wing? Well, she didn't, in case you thought otherwise. I was very much alone and happier for it. Happier than I'd be at your stupid party. Go kiss some Hufflepuffs and leave me alone." He turned and walked away, hoping Millie wouldn't follow him. He quickened his steps, just in case she decided to hex him instead. He wouldn't put it past her.
However, Millie didn't hex him nor follow him and Draco reached a small courtyard undisturbed. The courtyard was dark and deserted. The other students were still prowling the castle, but it was raining and none of them fancied being outside in the nasty weather. The heavy rain made no difference to Draco. Having a roof over his head meant nothing when he had his own personal cloud stalking his every step.
Draco sat on one of the low stone benches and wondered if he'd die of boredom soon. He wouldn't mind reading a book, or even studying, but he had already ruined his copy of Advanced Charms this morning and wasn't about to allow the rain to damage the rest of his possessions. The courtyard was cold and gloomy, but he had no wish to return to the hospital wing yet.
He ended up practising Conjuring spells. It passed the time but proved to be a frustrating pursuit.
His wand didn't obey him as well as it normally did. Simple charms were easy, but when he tried to cast more complicated spells, his magic had a mind of its own. He felt like a child, who cried and wished the dark away, and then stared in wonder at the glowing orbs that were suddenly floating around his head. Impressive Conjuration, but not the intended result. A sign of magic gone wild.
Draco persisted and soon enough the courtyard was filled with colourful birds that couldn't fly, waddling mice with short stubby tails and a flock of buzzing fairies that flew around in panic, unable to glow. And a huge white peacock Draco hadn't even intended to Conjure; the peacock, at least, had been flawless.
"That's quite a zoo you have there."
Draco spun around and dropped a parrot he'd been trying to fix. It screeched as it fell but spread her wings right before it hit the ground. It soared and landed on the roof, then proceeded to throw nasty glares down at Draco.
With a wave of his wand, Draco Vanished birds, mice and fairies alike.
Potter was standing some two metres away with his hands in his pockets. He wasn't wearing a cloak. Draco realised that outside of his cylindrical prison, it had stopped raining.
"Party's over so soon?" Draco asked. "Or are you here to drag me there?"
"No. And no."
Then Potter must have been checking up on him. Draco wondered how Potter found him, but that had always been one of Potter's unfailing talents.
Draco spread his arms wide. "Want to search me for Calming Draughts? Go on, then."
Potter smiled, somewhat uncertainly. "If you like."
Draco lowered his arms and scowled. "Go back to your party, Potter. I'm busy."
"Uh. I can't. I need a break, actually."
Draco was pleased to hear that. "I take it the party isn't going as well as planned, then? You should have seen it coming. They're hexing each other left and right, aren't they?"
"Oh, it's much worse than that. After five bottles of Firewhiskey, they've decided to play Spin the Bottle and Truth or Dare." Potter sighed deeply. "It resulted in quite an orgy."
Draco snorted. "As if."
"Millie was dared to kiss Ernie."
"Ugh." Draco shuddered. "That must have ended with a fistfight."
"No, it really didn't. They're still snogging. They've been at it for the last half an hour."
Draco was speechless. Merlin. And he had told Millie to go kiss Hufflepuffs. He didn't think she'd actually do it. She could have at least picked Justin. He was a Muggle-born, sure, but he wasn't that bad looking and he was much cleverer than Ernie was. And he was tall, unlike Ernie, who was tiny.
Potter was smiling. It occurred to Draco he might have been joking.
"Who did you kiss?" Draco asked.
"Everyone. At least twice."
Draco rolled his eyes. Questioning Potter was useless. He was just trying to convince Draco he had missed out on loads of interesting stuff by failing to attend his precious party.
"Go bore someone else, Potter. Or find another courtyard. This one is occupied."
Potter shifted his weight and ran a hand through his hair. The tousled black locks stuck out more horridly than they did a second ago.
"You know," Potter said, hesitating, "Hermione has this theory. About you and your cloud. And . . ."
"Yes?" Draco prompted impatiently when Potter had stopped talking. If Granger had a theory, it would be stupid to ignore it.
Potter kicked the ground with his shoe. "She thinks I could help you."
"Well that's a stupid theory," Draco said, disappointed.
"It is," Potter agreed. "But . . . maybe I could try? Just in case?"
Potter looked distinctly uncomfortable; it made Draco uneasy. What on earth did Potter plan to do to him? Draco couldn’t see how Potter could help him when Pomfrey and Flitwick could not. And Pomfrey told him she had contacted some of the country's greatest Healers and they had not thought of a cure yet, either. It seemed his case was quite unprecedented. Not that no one else had never botched an Atmospheric Charm before, but normally they were easily reversed.
But if they couldn’t do it, then what made Potter think he was so special?
Potter's cloak helped you. Draco hastily pushed that thought back into his subconscious. It was a ridiculous notion, anyway. Good night's sleep had helped him. Temporarily.
"Fine, if you think you're so clever then try it," he said nonetheless, outwardly feigning indifference and inwardly stupidly hoping Potter might do something spectacular after all. He was Harry Potter. It must have counted for something. And Draco couldn’t afford to be choosy. "What's your price?" he asked.
Potter blanched. "Do I have to have one?"
"Yes," Draco said firmly. "I don't want any" — more — "favours from you."
"Right. Okay." Potter shrugged. "I'll tell you what I want in return when I think of something. And if the theory's true. Which it probably isn't."
"That's not how things are done. Name your price now."
A muscle in Draco's jaw tittered. "Then at least tell me Granger's theory."
I should hex him, Draco thought. I should hex him and send him flying out of the courtyard and back to the common room. Granger probably didn't have any useful theories and Potter was just having him on.
Curiosity was a bitch, though.
"Fine," Draco said through his teeth. "Let's see what you got."
Potter nodded, looking grim and determined. He took two steps forward. Draco took two steps back.
"Do it from over there," Draco warned.
"I can't." Potter was worrying his bottom lip. "Stay still." Then, he took of his glasses and put them in his shirt's pocket.
However odd that was, Potter walking up to him and grabbing Draco's cloak was odder still. Rain hit Potter's face, and he grimaced but didn't pull away.
Draco expected Potter to pull out his wand, but Potter just stood there. His eyes were so very green.
Draco realised what Potter intended to do a mere second before it happened. Potter's lips touched Draco's and Draco couldn't move. He couldn’t even breathe. Potter kissed him — kissed him — slowly, deliberately, his lips soft, their pressure firm. The scent of Potter's hair filled Draco's nostrils. It was pleasantly familiar; Draco had slept with it last night, his face hidden in the hood of Potter's cloak.
Potter's tongue grazed Draco's bottom lip and then he pulled back abruptly.
Draco's lips felt hot, tingling, and pulsing together with his heart.
Potter kissed him.
I kissed everyone. At least twice.
Will he kiss me twice? Draco wondered. And then he remembered Potter had most likely been lying. And then he remembered Potter had said he meant to test a theory and cure him.
And then he noticed the rain had stopped. Even the courtyard seemed brighter and less gloomy.
Potter looked gloomy, though. Gloomy and worried, but it was hard to read his expression clearly.
Draco's senses returned to him slowly. Potter had cured him. Draco owed him. Again.
"So what do you want?" Draco's voice sounded husky; he cleared his throat in an attempt to hide it.
"Sorry?" Potter's lips moved as he spoke. Something lips always did when someone spoke, but Draco had never thought to stare at them before. To trace their shape with his gaze and remember their fullness and the way they felt against his.
Potter kissed me.
Was Potter aware that Draco was a boy? Draco knew some boys preferred to be with other boys, but he never thought Potter was one of them.
Draco blinked and tried to remember their conversation. "Er, you said you'll tell me what you want in return if it works. I guess it did. So . . ."
Potter shook his head. "It didn't work."
"What do you mean it —" Draco looked up. The cloud was still there. It was high above Draco, small and so white it almost glowed, but it was still there.
Of course it didn't work. It was never supposed to work. Realisation hit him like a Bludger.
Hermione has a theory. We were playing Truth or Dare. I kissed everyone. At least twice.
The kiss was not meant to be a cure; it was only ever meant to expose him.
And Potter, Potter looked guilty. Draco could imagine it all so very clearly: Granger had a theory. About Draco, about what might cheer him up. And Potter was dared to kiss him and prove Granger right.
Draco didn't dare to look up at the tall windows to see who might be lurking there to see if Potter had completed his dare. They'd seen Draco's cloud turn white and soar after one brief kiss.
Draco clenched his hands into fists. At least he didn't owe Potter anything. Not this time. This time Potter got what he wanted.
"Perhaps you should fuck me," he said and looked back at Potter. "I'm sure that will heal me completely."
Potter's eyes widened.
Draco felt his cheeks heat up. His own words conjured images he didn't want to have in his mind.
"No? Pity. I'd love to be able to go around and tell everyone Harry Potter fucked me to health. What a story that would be!" Draco narrowed his eyes. "I'd also love to go around and tell everyone how Harry Potter likes to sneak around at night and kiss other boys. That'd be a good story, too, don't you agree?"
"I do." Potter stepped back. His eyes were cold. "The Prophet would love it. I suggest you ask for Rita Skeeter when you contact them. You'll make her year."
Potter turned abruptly and stumbled on the steps leading up to the courtyard's entrance. Draco didn't even have the strength to laugh as Potter took out his glasses and put them on.
Potter disappeared and the courtyard darkened again. Heavy raindrops hit Draco's nose.
This time it didn't vanish so quickly. It disappeared slowly enough for Draco to realise he wasn't dreaming. It was early morning when he opened his eyes and the silvery mist was dissolving and gleaming in the darkness.
It was gone in seconds and Draco stared at the place where it had vanished.
He felt better again. He was fairly dry and he had slept in a warm bed. Pomfrey had dragged it next to the fireplace yesterday and pilled heavy blankets on top of Draco. Sleep did help him, damn them all. Drinking all that Calming Draught hadn't been that crazy. Though, Dreamless Sleep Potion might have worked even better. It would have also prevented dreams about a boy wearing white pyjamas with red polka dots, who smelled like apples and wouldn't stop kissing Draco.
Pomfrey appeared shortly and tried to Vanish the cloud again. It didn't work, so she had house-elves bring Draco some dry clothes and breakfast.
Then Draco sat by the fireplace, stared at the grandfather clock's large pendulum and felt miserable for exactly two hours and fourteen minutes. Which was when Goyle strode into the room.
Draco had completely forgotten about Goyle. It was stupid of him to forget. Goyle was at the party. He knew what went on there. He wouldn't have allowed the Gryffindors to make fun of Draco. He'd punch them all in the face. At least twice.
Unless they had confused him, which, admittedly, was rather easy to do.
Goyle dropped cheerfully into a chair beside him. "You look terrible," he said.
"Haven't you been drinking?" Draco asked. Goyle didn't appear to be suffering from a hangover.
"Drank half the crate myself." Goyle shrugged. "I felt a bit dizzy. Gryffindors, though . . ." He grinned. "Such lightweights."
Draco swallowed. "Potter, too?"
"I meant Potter. Can't remember who else used to be in Gryffindor. Well, Granger and Weasley, obviously, but she didn't drink at all and she kept Transfiguring Weasley's Firewhiskey to water."
Potter hadn't been drunk when he had shown up at the courtyard. He didn't look drunk. And Draco would have smelled the Firewhiskey; he would have tasted it. Potter didn't taste like Firewhiskey; he tasted like . . .
"Lovely weather," Goyle said.
Goyle pointed at the window. "We could go out flying."
Draco studied Goyle face. "Greg, I'll ask some questions now and I want you to tell me the absolute truth."
"I always do, mate." Goyle looked startled.
"I heard you were playing Truth or Dare, is that true?"
Goyle froze. "Oh, Draco, I'm so sorry," he moaned. "I picked Truth and the game was hexed. If I hadn't told them, I'd be full of blisters now."
Draco felt like someone punched him in the stomach. "What did you tell them?"
"It was Daphne. She asked me where I was on the night of the Battle; she didn't see me anywhere, she said. And I told them I had been in the Room of Requirement with you and Potter and Granger and Weasley and . . . Crabbe."
All thoughts of kissing left Draco's mind at once. "And then what happened?" he asked, terrified.
"Well, then they wanted to know why, but Weasley got angry and told Daphne this is a party and she should shut up about Voldemort. And then Granger showed up and told everyone there had been a horrible accident and Crabbe d-died in that room and they should be more considerate in the future and stop asking questions about that night. And then Daphne apologised and burst into tears and told us how Crabbe brought her flowers once and told her she was pretty. And she told him to piss off. And then Finnigan got up and told Daphne she really is pretty. And she told him to piss off, too. And then we laughed."
"Oh." A knot in Draco's stomach eased slowly. "What about Potter? Where was he?"
"Oh he wasn't there. Not at that point. He said he was supposed to supervise the party and he didn't drink or play with us at all. He was a right bore, I have to say. But then he went out and when he came back, he drank a bottle of Firewhiskey and then he was actually entertaining. He danced with all the girls. And Ernie. That was fun. Millie nearly pissed herself laughing."
"Oh," Draco said again. He was utterly confused. Why did Potter kiss him then if he hadn't been dared? He couldn’t have seriously believed that a kiss would cure Draco. He had said he was testing a theory. But whose? And what sort of theory was it? And why did he get drunk afterwards?
"Why the hell did he dance with Ernie?" Draco asked.
"Well, he was dancing with Millie, and Ernie didn't like that at all. So he walked right up to them and said, 'Excuse me, mind if I cut in?'" Goyle imitated Ernie's pompous tone perfectly. "And then Potter said, 'Not at all! I'd be honoured,' and he grabbed Ernie and twirled him around the room."
Draco wished he could have seen that. "So. Millie and Ernie? Really?"
"Really," Goyle said brightly.
Draco shook his head in disbelief. Millie claimed she despised Ernie at least twice a day.
"You're not angry?" Goyle asked.
"About Millie and Ernie? What do I care?"
"No, about what I said at the party. I know I'm not supposed to talk about it. I just didn't want to be hexed and sprout blisters." Goyle rubbed the backs of his hands.
"Not angry," Draco assured him. "Come on, let's go flying before Pomfrey shows up and stops me."
That cheered Goyle right up.
They went to get their brooms and headed down to the Quidditch pitch. Twenty minutes later Draco realised that had been a huge mistake.
At first, it was brilliant. If Draco flew fast enough, he could almost escape the cloud. But then the cloud had engorged and gained speed, and it didn't take long for Draco's broom handle to turn slippery. It wasn't the first time Draco had flown in the heavy rain but it had never been without proper protection. His fingers were frozen, his grip slipped and he crashed onto the ground, spinning wildly.
Pomfrey was livid when Draco had limped back to the hospital wing. She cured his cuts and bruises quickly enough, but there was no cure for Draco's misery. He couldn’t read, he couldn't perform magic properly and now he couldn't even fly. And the things he could do — like playing chess with Goyle — seemed dreadfully unappealing.
Sleep was his only comfort but he had slept too much so it didn't come easily.
He was drowsing in a chair when Granger strode into the hospital. The sounds of her footsteps woke him up.
"What was that?" she asked sharply. She was staring at the empty space between Draco and the fireplace.
"What was what?" Draco looked around groggily, seeing nothing. He was pleased to notice, however, it wasn't raining as heavily as it did before he had closed his eyes.
Granger frowned. "Nothing. Never mind. I thought I saw something there." She set a pile of something on the table next to Draco.
Draco stared at it. "And that is . . .?"
"Stupid Muggle stuff," she said archly and turned to leave.
"Wait!" Draco said before he even decided what it was he wanted to say.
Granger looked back expectantly, her bushy hair wild around her face. She looked like she didn't get much sleep. The party must have lasted well after midnight.
"I heard you were playing Truth or Dare yesterday," Draco said, trying to sound casual.
She cleared her throat. "I wasn't." Distaste was obvious in her tone.
"But I'm guessing you're the one who hexed the game so no one could cheat. That is your area of expertise."
"Well, yes. I was asked to do it."
Draco stared at the pile — of class notes? — on the table. "Goyle's hands and back were covered with blisters after the Fiendfyre. They were painful and took a long time to heal. Your hex terrified him yesterday."
Granger made a small sound of distress. "I didn't know. I'm so sorry. Is he all right?" She sounded sorry. Draco wasn't too happy about that. He would prefer it if she got defensive. They could have had a fight. He felt like shouting at someone.
"He's fine," he said. "Just thought I'd mention it. In case you ever have another party."
"I'll stick to pimples in the future," she promised. "Anything else?" she asked when Draco said nothing for a long time.
He wanted to say no. He supposed he should have said no and just let her leave. But the words spilled out and Draco couldn’t stop them.
"Why didn't you say anything? About what happened on the day of the Battle? I don't mean just yesterday, I mean ever."
There was a long pause. "Are you seriously asking me this?"
Draco looked up. Granger's expression was unreadable. "Yes?"
She sighed. "And why do you help Goyle so much?" She looked back at him. "He always says the wrong thing and needs to be told everything thrice, and I know you're not a patient person, but you don't seem to mind. He told me you've been tutoring him the whole summer."
"He's my friend."
"Is he?" Granger's gaze was sharp. "He didn't used to be. He used to be your tool. Another wand you could use. Another body you could shove in front of yourself as a shield. You never took care of him before, the way you do now."
Before, Draco thought. Before he pulled Goyle out of the fire and held on so hard he thought his fingers would break and hands fall off if he kept holding him up. He had to take care of Goyle. He was his to protect; if Draco let him go, he'd burn.
"Why pull someone out of the fire only to throw him back in again?" she asked.
Draco stared at her intelligent brown eyes, unable to look away. "Goyle needs my help."
"And you don't need ours?"
Draco shrugged. "I've dealt with worse. If you want to tell them, then tell them."
Granger's gaze turned sharp. "Should we also tell the ministry you've Imperiused Rosmerta? Nearly killed Katie Bell and Ron? Plotted to kill Dumbledore?"
Draco winced. "You have no proof."
"We have a witness. Harry was on the Astronomy Tower the day Dumbledore died. He was hexed and couldn’t move but he saw everything. He heard you confess."
Draco closed his eyes. He had suspected as much but always hoped Potter had arrived after, when Snape showed up. He'd been telling himself that if Potter had been there all along, he would have done something; he wouldn't have stayed silent and idle. But Potter had been there after all. He knew everything there was to know about Draco.
And yet he kissed me anyway.
"He . . . He said he'd kill my parents," Draco said quietly.
"I know." Granger sounded impatient. "But Wizengamot might not be as sympathetic. Would you prefer to take your chances with them?"
Draco shook his head.
"Good." She gave a small nod. "Then shut up about Voldemort and concentrate on your N.E.W.T.s. I'm sure you're aware that your future depends on them." She jerked her head toward the pile on the table. "The glue is waterproof, but don't expose it too much. That's one angry cloud you have there." With that, she turned and left. The sound of her heels echoed in the large room.
Draco examined the notes on the table curiously. They were, indeed, Granger's class notes from last week, including the classes Draco had missed and three essays due on Monday and Tuesday. Each piece of parchment was encased in transparent plastic and the edges were smeared with yellowish substance. Waterproof glue, Granger had said. It must have taken her ages to make all that without using magic.
Draco pushed all his troubling thoughts away and spent the rest of the day studying.
In his desperate attempt to keep his mind busy, he memorised everything that was written on Granger's plastic notes. He knew more about Dr. Ubbly's Oblivious Unction and Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration than he ever wanted to know. And he learned a great deal about Atmospheric Charms — from the Charms essay due on Tuesday — none of which, unfortunately, helped him get any new ideas on how to cure his condition.
By nine, his head was throbbing and his vision was blurry, and he had no choice but to abandon his studying. Which was unfortunate because he had been trying hard not to think about things he didn't want to think about.
He couldn’t decide if Granger's words made him feel better or worse. He couldn't even decide if finding out that Potter didn't kiss him because he had been dared to do it made him feel better or worse.
He assumed it should have made him feel better, but it was so much easier to be angry with Potter. That was familiar and comforting. He was always angry with Potter. That was something he knew how to do and was sure he could do it well.
His thoughts turned tiresome and repetitive and yet he could not turn off his mind. He did reach a decision, however, right before Pomfrey appeared to make his bed (a complicated process because of all the protective charms she’d cast on it; they did not help much, but they did help). He decided to attend his classes tomorrow. He wasn't looking forward to seeing Potter, not after Potter had turned Draco's cloud white with a kiss, but the thought of spending another day alone with his thoughts seemed unbearable.
Draco's resolve solidified in the morning as he stared at the shapeless, silvery mist dissolving in front of his eyes.
The cloud was almost peaceful, as it always was when Draco first woke up, but Draco didn't feel much better. The constant moisture seemed to have seeped through his clothes and skin and into his very bones. Every part of his body ached. He feared that if this continued, he'd eventually melt away.
After an early breakfast, he acquired Madam Pomfrey's permission to leave (she had agreed he should attend his classes if he felt up to it, but ordered him to return the moment he felt unwell) and then he went up to the Tower to have a shower and fetch fresh clothes. The house-elves always brought him wrong things to wear.
He was careful to arrive at the Tower while the rest of his classmates were at the Great Hall, having breakfast. Though he’d had quite enough of solitude, he didn't particularly look forward to seeing anyone.
"If I've dotted the i's and crossed the t's, then I may do whatever I please," he told the centaur. "Though, I'm unlikely to cross my t's at the moment, am I?" he added when the centaur stepped away to let him through.
"Then you won't be pleased!" the centaur shouted after him.
True enough, Draco wasn't pleased. The moment he stepped into the common room, he came face to face with a huge white peacock.
It stared at him.
Draco stood frozen for several long moments and then firmly told himself that there were no peacocks in this room, and he couldn’t see one and therefore was not going insane. Then he ran upstairs to his dormitory, expelling all thoughts of peacocks from his mind.
He had a quick shower, changed into dry clothes and then paused next to his bed. Potter's cloak was still there. When Draco picked it up, he noticed it was dry and it no longer smelled like Potter. The house-elves must have taken care of it and returned it to the wrong place. He was tempted to put it on. But as he watched the raindrops fall onto the fine black fabric, he slowly formed a different plan.
He went back to the common room and was dismayed to see the peacock was still there. It had fanned its magnificent tail and strutted around the room as though he owned the place. Draco could have sworn it had smugly glanced at his reflection in the window as he passed next to it.
Hadn't he Conjured a peacock on Saturday? Was it the same one? It looked the same.
Draco took out his wand and cried, "Evanesco!"
Unharmed, the peacock turned to glare at him. It seemed Draco had hurt his feelings.
"Oh, fuck this," Draco grumbled and exited the common room.
He headed towards the dungeons and waited in a small alcove for Potter to show up. They had double Potions right after breakfast and Potter was bound to pass this way. Draco waited impatiently, clutching Potter's cloak in his hands. Potter, Granger and Weasley were often last to leave the Great Hall, always lingering after everyone else, and Draco hoped they hadn't decided to change their ways today.
A small First-year passed through, most likely lost. He screamed at the sight of Draco and ran off in fright.
Draco smiled ruefully. He must have been a frightening sight. A dark figure, hooded and cloaked, with a dark grey cloud above his head and angry rain swirling around him. He almost regretted not having breakfast in the Great Hall, if only to see how many First-years he could terrify with his appearance.
Finally, Draco heard Weasley's laughter, and he stepped out of the alcove.
Potter, Granger and Weasley unanimously took a startled step back. They all had their wands out in seconds; it was as impressive as it was ridiculous. They tucked their wands away quickly, looking abashed.
"Merlin, Malfoy," Weasley said. "I thought you were a Dementor."
"So did I." Granger studied Draco curiously.
Draco ignored them and focused on Potter.
Potter was deathly pale, dishevelled, and his hair was messier than ever. Draco suspected he still hadn't recovered from his night of drinking.
"Can I have a word? In private?" Draco asked.
"Er . . ." Potter looked to the cloak Draco held in his hands. He seemed uncertain, but he nodded. "All right."
Granger and Weasley exchanged a look. "Don't be late," Granger told Potter.
"Don't get struck by lightning," Weasley added.
They left, somewhat reluctantly.
"Is that mine?" Potter asked, nodding at the cloak. "You can keep it if you need it." Potter said it in a tone that suggested there was no need for Draco to ambush him just to return a stupid cloak.
It would have been so easy to snap back at him, tell him he didn't need the cloak and walk away. But then Draco couldn’t ask what he wanted to ask.
"I'm sorry about what I said in the courtyard," he said instead. "I never meant to go to the Prophet and tell them anything."
Surprisingly, Potter groaned. "You don't have to do this, Malfoy. Hermione told be about your conversation yesterday. Look, I made my decision and I don't plan to run to the Ministry now. So don't worry; I won't suddenly change my mind because you made some vague threats. I didn't take you seriously in the courtyard, anyway. You were upset, I get that."
"That's not why I'm apologising," Draco said, surprised. Trust Potter to think Draco had an ulterior motive for saying he was sorry. But then Draco remembered he did indeed have an ulterior motive. There was no need to tell Potter that, though. "I just . . . I thought you kissed me because someone dared you. You said you were playing that stupid game and I thought it was a joke."
"Oh." Potter blinked. "I didn't play that game."
"I know. Goyle told me."
"I was just . . . er, drunk."
He wasn't. Draco knew that. But he didn't want to press the issue. He wasn't sure he wanted to know why exactly Potter decided to kiss him. And how he had guessed what sort of effect it would have on Draco. He couldn’t bear thinking about it.
Draco clutched Potter's cloak tightly in his hands. "You know, I'm getting really sick of this." He waved at the cloud. "And the hospital wing is depressing. And I'm sodden all the time and . . ." Draco forced himself to stop whinging. "If I could have some time without rain . . . that'd be brilliant." He dared to look at Potter.
Potter was nodding, looking sympathetic.
Draco cursed inwardly. Did Potter want Draco to draw him a picture?
"I thought maybe you could help?" he said. "You can't cure me, obviously, but . . . a reprieve is the next best thing."
Realisation seemed to widen Potter's eyes into saucers. "You want me to kiss you again," he breathed.
Draco bristled. "I want you to help me. It's what you do, isn't it? You seem to repel Dark magic. Or something." Oh. That was a good explanation for Draco's cloud turning white near Potter. Draco was proud of himself to have thought of it. It should have occurred to him sooner.
Potter slowly recovered. His cheeks looked flushed, but his grin was sly when he said, "What's in it for me? I need a reward. That's how things are done."
Draco was unwilling to be dragged into this ridiculous discussion again. "Your only reward will be the fulfilment that comes with the knowledge you've helped a fellow classmate attend his lessons. I'm sure that's enough to satisfy you."
Potter grinned. "I sound rather nice."
You are. Draco bit his lip. For fuck's sake. This was Potter. The self-righteous prick who had always been able to make Draco feel like nothing with a single glance. "We should hurry if we don't want to be late." Draco hated himself for sounding so eager.
"Oh. All right." Potter closed the distance between them with two long strides and in the next second his lips pressed against Draco's.
It happened too soon and ended too fast: warm pressure, lips sliding against lips and Potter was already moving away.
"It worked," Potter said, staring above Draco's head. "Wait. It didn't."
Draco looked up. The cloud had brightened and flown toward the ceiling, but it was rapidly darkening.
"How long did it last before?" Potter asked.
Seconds. Draco shrugged. "I'm not sure. An hour maybe." But it was a longer kiss, he almost added. He stopped himself on time: it would have sounded like begging.
"Hmm." Potter's expression filled with determination. Draco stopped breathing and waited.
Potter pulled off Draco's hood, leaned closer and kissed him again. And this time Draco kissed him back. Potter froze for a moment but then his hand cupped the back of Draco's head and he deepened the kiss.
When Potter pulled away, they were both breathless.
Potter looked up at the cloud. It must have been glowing again because Potter seemed pleased. Then he stepped away and cleared his throat. "Right. We should go."
Draco's nod was reluctant.
They headed to the classroom, Draco trailing after Potter. Two steps later, he realised he was sulking; two more steps and a raindrop hit his cheeks.
"Er." Shut up, he told himself. But it was too late: Potter was already turning around. He stared at the cloud, looking as though someone just told him he had failed his Defence Against the Dark Arts exam.
"Oh for heaven's sake," Potter said. And then he was right there in front of Draco and Draco's back hit the stone wall. Then Potter kissed him and Draco realised Potter hadn't really kissed him before. Not like this. This was different.
One of Potter's hands clutched Draco's hip, the other held Draco's head firmly in place. The weight of Potter's body kept him trapped against the wall and undoubtedly helped him remain upright when Potter's tongue pushed past Draco's lips and wrapped sinuously around Draco's.
Draco had no idea how long the kiss lasted, but he was lightheaded by the time Potter pulled away. Potter's glasses were as crooked as his smile, his breath hot against Draco's lips.
"That should keep your dry for a few hours," Potter said.
And he was right.
They were ten minutes late for Potions. The students eyed Draco's cloud suspiciously when he entered; Draco hadn't looked up at it, but he suspected it must have been as white as snow and hovering near the high ceiling.
Weasley and Granger whispered furiously to each other a couple benches away from the back of the room where Draco had found Goyle and sat down.
"Where's your cloak, mate?" Draco heard Weasley ask.
"Er . . ." Potter said, but he was spared of further interrogation by Slughorn, who yelled, "Settle down now!"
Draco had no idea where Potter's cloak was; he must have dropped it at some point. He grinned and fetched his Potion supplies from the storage room.
He brewed a perfect Dr. Ubbly's Oblivious Unction that day and not one drop of rain showed up to ruin his potion.
"Goyle?" Draco said from his squishy armchair. It was late and they were playing chess in the hospital wing. The rain was drizzling all around Draco, but it was bearable. He could have gone back to the Tower, but avoiding his classmates — and Potter — seemed like a better idea. He suspected the cloud was likely to react to Potter's presence in a way that would make his classmates overly suspicious. The mere memory of Potter's kiss softened the rain.
"Yes?" Goyle looked up from the chessboard.
"Did you —" Draco cleared his throat. He wasn't completely sure he wanted to ask this question, but he had to know whether he was going crazy or not. "Have you ever seen a white peacock in the Hogwarts castle?"
Coyle cocked his head. "You mean Grumpy?"
"Grumpy," Goyle repeated impatiently. "Ernie's peacock." He frowned. "Oh right. You've been here the whole time. I forgot. Ernie found it wandering around the castle yesterday morning. He brought it back to the common room and he and Millie had been cooing at it ever since." Goyle grimaced. Draco joined him. It must have been the same peacock Draco had accidentally Conjured. Poor thing, captured by a Hufflepuff.
"Potter's not happy about it," Goyle went on. "It keeps climbing onto his favourite armchair and pecks him till Potter sits somewhere else."
Definitely the same peacock.
"Am I winning?" Goyle asked hopefully.
Draco looked at the board sadly. He had been trying to let Goyle win, just to keep him interested, but that proved to be harder than expected. He shook his head.
Goyle sighed. "I have to go anyway."
"Yes, you do, Mr Goyle." Madam Pomfrey strode into the hospital wing. "It's well past curfew."
Goyle yawned and stood up. "See you at Transfiguration tomorrow?"
Draco nodded. He planned to attend his classes, though he thought he might skip History of Magic just because he could. He wondered if he would need Potter to kiss him again. If the cloud remained relatively peaceful, there would be no need to ask him.
"No, no more visitors!" Pomfrey said, still standing by the door. "It's much too late, Mr Potter."
Draco sprang to his feet at once. "But Potter brought me . . . homework!" He could see Potter standing outside in the hallway. There was nothing in his hands and he hadn't brought his bag with him. "I mean, he came to tell me what's for homework." Draco's excuse was doubtful and Pomfrey's expression confirmed it. "It's very important," Draco insisted. He saw Potter nod earnestly at Pomfrey.
"Oh very well." Pomfrey sighed. "I need you out of the way so I can make your bed. You have five minutes."
Draco all but ran outside. Goyle followed and then stopped to stare at Potter curiously. Fortunately, he left without asking anything when Draco said, "Good night, Greg."
Potter looked up at Draco's cloud. "You seem to be getting better." He sounded smug.
"It'll get worse soon," Draco lied shamelessly. "The cloud goes positively mad whenever I fall asleep."
"Oh." Potter looked worried. "I remember."
Draco quenched his guilt. Potter now thought the cloud tried to drown Draco every night the way it had on Saturday morning when Draco had drunk a vial of Calming Draught.
"Do you think I should . . .?" Potter's gaze fell on Draco's lips. The look in his eyes finished the question for him.
Draco's mouth went dry. "If you don't mind," he said curtly.
Potter didn't seem to mind at all and soon their tongues were intertwined, and Draco's fingers clutched Potter's hair. Potter felt so warm and solid, Draco dizzily wondered if Pomfrey would let him use Potter as a protective blanket instead. He was sure Potter would prove to be much more helpful.
They split apart in an instant.
Potter coughed, not looking at Pomfrey who had appeared at the hospital wing's entrance.
"And that's how Hengist of Upper Barnton was defeated," Potter said. "We have to read up on those events for our History of Magic class tomorrow." Potter nodded to emphasise his point, still not looking at Pomfrey. "Well, good night, Malfoy. Madam Pomfrey." He fled.
Embarrassed though he was, Draco couldn't stop smiling. Potter was ridiculous. And, unlike Draco, he wasn't even in the History of Magic N.E.W.T. class.
Cheeks burning, Draco glanced at Pomfrey.
The corner of her mouth twitched. "I confess, I don't remember Gifford Ollerton using that particular tactic when he slew the giant. I rather thought he used an axe."
Draco bit his lip and looked away. Pomfrey took pity on him and made no further comments, though she did study Draco's white cloud with a frown on her face.
The next day started well. The house-elves served Draco breakfast and as he ate a slice of chocolate gateau, he contemplated the familiar wisp of silvery mist he had glimpsed this morning when he had woken up. He was sure he knew what it was and who had been sending it every night; he was almost positive he had spotted a pair of regal antlers as the mist dissolved.
"You seem cheerful this morning, Draco."
Draco realised he had been smiling to himself. He looked up at Pomfrey, abashed, but then frowned. She had called him Draco. She never did that before. He greeted her, waiting apprehensively. She had some bad news to impart; he was sure.
Pomfrey sat on the chair opposite Draco, the one Goyle usually occupied. "I think it's time to face the truth, Draco. I can't cure you."
Draco stared at her. "You're giving up?"
"I didn't say you can't be cured; I said that I can't do it. You'll have to do it yourself."
"Myself?" The air around Draco turned chilly. Heavy drops of rain hit his cloak.
"The cloud is not the source of your troubles. It's merely a side-effect."
Draco took a deep breath. "I realise it's reflecting my moods, but it's not like it disappears when I feel better. So how exactly can I help myself? What are you suggesting? Should I try to be happy all the time and accept a giant cloud will forever follow me around?"
Pomfrey looked sympathetic. "Once your mood stabilises, so will your condition. It might not happen quickly, but it will. With a little effort on your part, it might happen sooner than you think." She reached over to pat his knee. Draco glared at her. The cloud threatened to cover her as well, but she promptly moved her hand. "First of all, I think it's time for you to return to your dormitory. I don't think isolation is doing you any good; you should be with your friends."
"My friends? I have only one." Draco temporarily forgot he didn't really want people to know that.
Pomfrey's eyes widened. "And which one would that be? I'm afraid I can't tell whom you're referring to. Mr Goyle, who spends all his free time keeping you company? Miss Granger, who brings you special notes so you can study? Mr Potter, who . . . brings you very special notes, too, apparently. Or Miss Bulstrode, who likes to ambush me the moment I leave the hospital wing and demands to know when will I cure you? She hasn't been the only one to ask. You gave your classmates quite a fright when you took that Calming Draught. They are worried about you."
"Worried about themselves, you mean," Draco said, even though he was surprised to hear his classmates had been asking about him. "They're afraid my condition is contagious."
Pomfrey smiled a little. "In some ways it is. But I think they're more likely to have a positive influence on you, than you having a negative influence on them."
Draco looked at her, miserable. "You're really evicting me? But look at this!" He waved his hands, pointing at the rain swirling all around him.
Pomfrey stood up and shook her head. "I'm sorry, Draco. But I wouldn't do this if I didn't think it's for the best. You've been discharged. Please return to your common room and do not attempt to skip your classes, or fail to write your homework."
Pomfrey raised her hand. "If the rain won't let you write it, find someone to assist you." She turned as though to leave but then added, "I believe you've already found someone to help you with your History of Magic homework."
Draco glared at her back as she left. He considered ignoring her completely and forcing her to bodily throw him out of the hospital wing, but he abandoned that foolish plan the moment he thought of it. He checked the time and concluded everyone would soon go down to the Great Hall to have breakfast. That meant he could at least avoid them for a bit longer.
Of course, he should have known that wouldn't be so easy. Nothing ever went as planned.
"I'll do it today, or later I'll pay," Draco swore to the centaur and stormed into the common room. Stormed quite literally, since the cloud had gone wild, spitting rain and rumbling threateningly.
"Argh!" cried Ernie when he saw him. Corn flew everywhere and Draco nearly slipped and fell, but he regained his balance on time.
"What the hell are you doing with corn?" Draco asked but then spotted the peacock and realised Ernie had been feeding it. Both Ernie and the peacock glared at Draco. Millie, however, smiled at him. The three of them — Ernie, Millie and Grumpy — were sitting on the floor in the otherwise empty common room. "Are you all eating corn?" Draco asked. "I hear there's actual food in the Great Hall."
"We have to feed Grumpy first," Millie said. "Or he'll get grumpier."
Ernie gathered the corn with a spell and offered it to Grumpy. The peacock turned its head and refused to eat it. Draco felt vaguely proud.
"I charmed it clean. It's fine," Ernie said, but the peacock remained unimpressed.
"I don't think that peacock likes you very much, Ernie," Draco said smugly.
To his surprise, Ernie smiled. "Oh, yes, he does. He's just stubborn. But clever, too. I confess, he didn't like me at first. He gave me quite a fright when I first found him; he ran at me like a bull. But he had merely been scared and had sensed weakness. He's really quite a cuddly creature when he's content."
"He's probably not hungry anymore," Ernie concluded and stood up. "I'll go fetch my school supplies," he told Millie and leaned down to kiss her. The peacock made a pathetic sound and Millie and Ernie split up, laughing. "I love you, too, Grumpy." Ernie patted the peacock's head and then must have realised what he had just said because his cheeks coloured. He mumbled something incomprehensible and ran upstairs.
Millie shook her head, still laughing.
"That peacock's Conjured, you know that, right?" Draco told her. "It comes with an expiration date."
Millie shrugged. "What doesn't?"
Draco stared at her smiling face. "I can't believe you actually like him."
"Grumpy or Ernie?"
Millie eyed the peacock and then looked back at Draco. "You know, they're very much alike."
"How so?" Draco asked, affronted.
"They're both pompous arses," she said and grinned. "But quite cuddly when they're content."
Ernie bounded down the stairs. "Coming with us?" he asked Draco, eyeing the cloud warily. "I hear there's actual food at the Great Hall," he added snottily.
"I ate," Draco said.
Millie paused next to him on her way out. "I thought you were getting better," she said, looking worried.
"I am," Draco insisted. "The cloud merely has a negative reaction to Ernie's presence."
Ernie scowled. "I'm flattered. Truly, I am. Though . . ." His mouth twitched. "I presume Harry is even more flattered. I must say, the cloud has a very curious reaction to his presence."
Ernie and Millie fled — both of them giggling — before Draco could say something clever or at least hex them. Annoyed, he turned around only to see the peacock had settled itself comfortably onto Potter's chair. It did look quite cuddly.
Draco stomped off to his dormitory.
Draco spent the rest of the day in an odd mood. A warm shower and dry clothes seemed to have appeased the cloud and though it was still dark and large, it rarely rained. It rained just enough to make sure Draco was not comfortable, but not enough to be so intolerable he'd have to go to Potter and ask him for a kiss.
Potter looked Draco's way a few times, examining the cloud, smiling when he saw Draco looking back. Draco suspected that Potter's looks and lips and smiles were to be blamed for the cloud's quiescence. The mere sight of them invoked memories that had the magical ability to stop the rain from falling.
The downpour finally began right before History of Magic. Draco wasn't sure what caused it, but History of Magic was likely to sour his mood on good days. He did know he now had a valid excuse to seek out Potter. He considered asking Granger where Potter spent his free periods, but as he trailed behind everyone on his way to the History of Magic classroom, he saw a flash of orange out of the corner of his eye. He looked outside through a window. Weasley was flying low, looping around the castle and then soaring back toward the Quidditch pitch. He wasn't alone: several students were out on the grounds, chasing a Quaffle. Draco suspected that everyone who wasn't taking History was out there; Potter, as well, even though Draco could not spot him.
He did see Goyle, though, playing Quidditch with the others.
My friends, Draco thought, staring out the window. He could join them, just like Goyle had. They'd welcome him with smiles and an occasional jab and they could all pretend together that Draco hadn't been on the wrong side during the war, the losing side, the one that chose to follow a madman. He could be one of them; it would have been so easy. All he had to do was keep his head down and pretend. That was what he did when the Dark Lord was in his house and he did it well.
It was like spending years wearing a pointy wizard's hat because everyone else did and then one day someone showed up and claimed they're outdated and no one should ever wear them again. Draco could simply take it off and never put it back on. What did it matter? It was only a hat. But if he did that, if he just accepted it and did what was expected of him again, how would he ever know whether or not he liked wearing hats?
But how will you know you don't like to wear them if you don't take it off? a traitorous voice in his head asked. How do you know you don't want to be out there, playing a friendly game of Quidditch with your classmates, if you don't try it? You didn't know you liked kissing boys before you kissed Potter.
Draco scowled at his thoughts. He didn't like kissing boys; he just liked kissing Potter.
That thought sounded even worse and Draco pushed it away. Potter was nowhere to be seen and Draco couldn't go out flying, anyway. The last time he had tried, he’d had quite a tumble.
He considered braving History of Magic, but decided against it. No matter what Pomfrey had said, Draco was sure she'd write him a note if he told her it was raining so loudly he couldn't write down or hear anything Binns said.
A shower and dry clothes seemed more appealing and Draco headed back to the common room. It had been a wise decision, he concluded when he stepped inside and saw Potter sitting in his favourite armchair by the fire. Grumpy was sleeping a little farther away, a huge, peaceful lump of white feathers.
Potter sat up straighter, his eyes scanning Draco. "I thought you were at class."
"I thought you were out flying," Draco countered.
Potter shrugged. "Didn't feel like it."
Draco considered Potter's answer. Perhaps Pomfrey was right and Draco did have to try to stabilise his mood. Sometimes a person just didn't feel like flying; it didn't mean he had to stare through the window and reflect on his life's decisions as Draco had moments ago. Though, then again, it seemed Potter was doing just that alone in the common room, and Draco couldn't help wondering what it was Potter regretted. Kissing Draco? Not kissing Draco? Or something else entirely?
"I didn't feel like listening to Binns," Draco said. He considered claiming it was raining too hard, but the rain had stopped abruptly. Seeing Potter was all it took.
Potter's expression was sympathetic.
"I came to have a shower," Draco said, just to say something.
Potter nodded and leaned back; he must have guessed their conversation was over. Draco hesitated, but then he moved toward the winding stairs that led to the dormitories.
His foot was already on the first step when he paused. So what if I don't have an excuse? he thought. Perhaps, sometimes, a person just had to grit their teeth and be a Gryffindor. He turned around and walked up to Potter. He stood right in front of him.
Potter stared up at Draco in confusion. "Yes?"
Draco unclasped his cloak and let it fall to the floor and then, carefully, deliberately, he climbed onto Potter's lap, straddling his thighs.
Potter didn't try to push him away; he didn't move at all. He seemed much too surprised to react. He did look up at Draco's cloud.
"Oh, forget about the stupid cloud," Draco said impatiently and leaned down to kiss him.
If Potter tried to resist, Draco didn't notice, and soon it didn't matter. Potter's grip was tight on Draco's hips and his mouth opened to let Draco's tongue slide between his lips. Draco never felt so daring in his life: Potter could have refused him, pushed him away and look at him as though he had done something wrong. Or someone could have burst into the common room and see Draco sitting on Potter's lap. And yet the former didn't happen and the latter didn't even seem to matter. He wondered if courage always felt like this. No wonder Potter was addicted.
They kissed for a long time. At least that was what Draco suspected. It felt like no time at all, but when Draco pulled back, Potter's lips were swollen and red and his eyes were dark. I did this, Draco thought as he stared down at Potter's dazed expression. It made him want to do more. To see Potter melt under his touch. To see him look at Draco as though he was the only person alive who could ever make him come undone.
Draco edged backwards and tried to slip off Potter's lap, but Potter's grip was tight around his waist; he wasn't letting him go.
Grinning, Draco reached back to pry Potter's fingers apart. "Let go."
"I'd rather not," Potter said, his voice hoarse. Draco's thighs gripped Potter tighter; his cock pulsed together with his heartbeats. Potter rose up and then captured Draco's bottom lip with his teeth. His tongue slid over it and Draco shivered, almost distracted enough to forget what he wanted to do.
"I mean it," Draco whispered.
Potter pulled back, frowning. This time Draco managed to free himself and stand up. He pushed Potter's knees apart and knelt down, palms spread on Potter's thighs. He didn't dare to look up as his hand edged toward Potter's crotch, but then he remembered courage had its rewards, and he fixed his eyes to Potter's as he cupped him firmly through his jeans. Potter was hard and felt so very hot against Draco's palm. His green gaze was heated, too. Draco thought Potter looked vulnerable in a way Draco hadn't seen him look in years. Not even when Draco had him captured and frozen him on the Hogwarts train two years ago; back then, Potter was all defiance and hatred.
Draco blinked the unwanted image away and smiled faintly as he freed Potter's cock and gripped it in his hand. Potter's eyes fluttered closed and he clutched the armrests so hard his knuckles turned white.
Potter's cock felt heavy and thick in Draco's hand. And warm, and strange; for a second, Draco didn't know what to do with it. His hand knew better and moved instinctively, stroking like Draco would stroke himself in the shower. It was different, though, more awkward, and he wondered if Potter thought so, too. If he was tempted to just do it himself, properly, the way he liked it best. But Potter didn't move. His eyes were shut tight and his breathing was heavy.
Draco bit his lip, thinking, then pushed the foreskin down and leaned in. He let the head slip between his lips, his tongue licking tentatively. He heard Potter suck in a sharp breath; his quiet, surprised Oh! sent a shiver through Draco's body. Not even the bitterness on his tongue could dissuade Draco then. He licked Potter more firmly and tried to take him deeper into his mouth. It was harder than he thought it would be. He tried to be mindful of his teeth and suck and lick, and do everything at once, but all he managed was to give the head a few firm licks, and then Potter's hand was gripping his hair, pulling. "Draco, I'll—"
Draco didn't have to guess how that sentence would end. Potter's semen hit his throat and Draco pulled back, coughing and sputtering, more surprised than he had any right to be. It didn't even taste bad, but it had tickled his throat and filled his mouth, and Draco reacted without a thought. Potter didn't seem to mind, though. He slumped in his chair, his head thrown back, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he gasped for breath.
Draco stared at him: at his exposed neck, his cock, still hard between his legs, protruding from the mass of black curls. Draco's hand was between his own thighs, palming his cock through his trousers. Before he realised what he was doing, he was already coming. He bit down on his lip, careful to be quiet as his body convulsed and relaxed.
"Wow," Potter said as he lifted his head.
Draco stood up quickly, unwilling to be seen kneeling on the floor, staring at Potter, and coming into his pants. He rose up too quickly, however, and the room spun around him.
Potter stared up at him. His cheeks were red and his forehead sweaty, his black hair sticking out all over the place.
"Want me to . . ." Potter's hand came to rest on the top of Draco's thigh.
Draco took a quick step back. Potter retracted his hand in surprise and Draco cursed inwardly. If he hadn't so stupidly decided to wank a minute ago, Potter might have returned the favour. Draco blushed at the thought of seeing Potter's lips wrapped around Draco's cock.
It would have to happen some other time, however, when Draco's pants weren't so sticky and wet.
"It's fine," he said, not looking at Potter. "I owed you anyway."
Draco frowned. "For . . . helping me. I know you said you don't want a reward but you've certainly earned one." Draco grinned; Potter did not smile back.
"Oh. Right," Potter said and stood up. His tone was flat. "You were paying me back." He fumbled with the button of his jeans. "I guess we're even now," he said angrily.
"Hardly!" Draco said. He didn't like Potter's sudden coolness at all. Draco tried to sound flirtatious when he added, "I still owe you. I owe you loads. For the Patronus, too."
Potter looked up. He failed to button up his jeans. "What Patronus?"
Draco sighed impatiently. "The one you've been sending my way every night."
Potter shook his head. He truly looked surprised, but Draco was not convinced.
"I've seen it, Potter. I know what it looks like. I'm not likely to ever forget it." Draco vividly remembered when the giant stag flew at him on the Quidditch pitch back in their third year, looking regal and angry. "You've sent it, and it's been helping me sleep and keeping me dry."
Potter's eyes narrowed. "I thought you said nighttimes are the worst."
"They would be," Draco said, defensive. "If not for your stag."
"I . . ." Potter frowned at him. "If I had been Conjuring Patronuses every night, I'm pretty sure I'd remember it."
"But I've seen it," Draco insisted. Hadn’t he? He thought he had seen antlers, but perhaps that was merely wishful thinking. The Patronus hadn't exactly been corporeal. "If you don't remember it, then maybe you Conjured it in your sleep."
Potter laughed. "Wandlessly? Unconsciously? You have too much faith in my abilities." Potter studied him. "Are you sure it was a stag?"
Draco looked away. "No," he confessed. Now he felt stupid for being so quick to assume. "It disappears when I wake up. It's mostly just . . . mist."
"Well, then . . . considering you're the one who has no control over his magic right now, and if it disappears when you wake up, doesn't it make more sense to think you've Conjured it unknowingly?"
When Potter put it like that, it did make more sense. "I've never been able to cast it," Draco argued nonetheless. "It almost worked once. It looked a bit like . . ." Draco eyed Grumpy, still sleeping by the window. "Like that."
Potter looked around and smiled. "That doesn't surprise me."
"It would have been a gorgeous Patronus," Draco bristled.
"It would." Potter was still smiling. "Have you told —?"
The common room's heavy door burst open.
"Have you changed your mind yet, Har — argh!" Weasley fell silent and froze.
Ridiculously, Potter's instinctive reaction was to quickly button up his jeans. All that had accomplished was to draw attention to it. Not that their appearance wasn't enough of a clue. Draco glanced at Potter — glasses askew, cheeks flushed, hair a mess, tie undone (Draco didn't even remember doing that) a purple bruise on his neck (Draco didn't remember doing that, either). He suspected he looked much the same. Even Goyle would have figured out what had been going on here. Well, perhaps not Goyle, but Weasley did appear to have more sense.
"I have!" Potter said suddenly and much too loudly. "Flying sounds like an excellent idea. Want to come with us, Malfoy?"
Weasley laughed, somewhat hysterically. "Yes, do come, Malfoy."
Potter's face turned crimson.
"Later perhaps. I'm quite satisfied at the moment," Draco blurted.
Potter all but ran toward the door. "We should go, then," he told Weasley.
Weasley lingered. His blue eyes narrowed at Draco. "If you plan to keep this up, you should use some protection."
Draco stared at him.
Weasley pointed above Draco's head. "You need Sunblock Charms." He grimaced and left.
Draco looked up. The cloud floated high above his head, small and so white it glowed like a miniature sun.
"Soon I'll send you back to the sky where you belong," Draco promised.
He couldn’t decide whether Weasley showing up bothered him or not. Somehow, it made him feel more excited than embarrassed. He wanted everyone to know what Draco could do to Potter. The sight of Potter with his kiss-swollen lips and dazed green eyes was still clear in his mind. He wondered if that thought would finally help him Conjure a Patronus. He’d always wanted to cast that spell, ever since he had found out Potter could cast it, but no matter how hard he had tried, it had never worked. A wisp of white smoke, a mass of white feathers was all he had ever managed to Conjure.
Draco glared at the peacock sleeping a little father away. He had Conjured Grumpy; perhaps he could Conjure it again in the form of a Patronus.
Nervous, Draco took out his wand and closed his eyes. He thought of Potter sitting down on the armchair and staring up at Draco, waiting for another kiss.
"Expecto Patronum!" he cried.
He shut his eyes more tightly and then slowly opened them. He suspected a part of him knew what he would see, but he didn't dare to even imagine it. There was no denying it now.
A magnificent silver stag stared at Draco across the room. Fully corporeal and enormous, with regal antlers and penetrating eyes, it kept its head high and stomped his hooves upon the floor restlessly.
Draco lowered his wand and stared.
When Draco entered the dormitory that night, he was greeted by ominous silence. Goyle was changing into his pyjamas and Ernie was sitting on his bed, staring blankly ahead.
Draco frowned at Goyle and mouthed, "Broke up with Millie?"
Goyle shook his head. "Grumpy," he mouthed back and then said aloud, "POOF!"
Ernie winced so hard his bed shook.
"Oh," Draco said, biting the inside of his cheek.
"I bet you're happy," Ernie said darkly.
"No, no I'm not," Draco said, proud of himself. He didn't laugh once.
Ernie scowled at him nonetheless.
Draco sighed and went to sit on his bed. The candlelight illuminated Ernie's face; Draco could see tear tracks on his cheeks.
For fuck's sake. "What happened exactly?"
Ernie was silent for so long Draco thought he wouldn't answer.
"He looked fine when I saw him last," Draco added. "He seemed quite peaceful." Slept like a baby while I was sucking off Harry Potter, Draco thought. His cheeks were on fire immediately, but Ernie was unlikely to notice.
"Everything was fine when I came back from supper," Ernie said haltingly. "I thought he looked a bit pale but . . . I meant to fetch some corn and I turned around, just for a second and - and . . ." Ernie gave a shuddering sigh. "There was nothing left. Not one feather. He was just gone."
Draco hesitated. "You did know it was Conjured, right?" He considered telling Ernie Draco had Conjured it; Ernie would like it less then, surely. But perhaps that was the last thing Ernie wanted to hear.
"Millie said so." Ernie shrugged. "But I thought . . . I thought he was just special."
"That he was," Draco agreed solemnly.
"Want me to go get Millie?"
"No!" Ernie looked at him in horror. "She can't see me like this. I told her I was fine." He glared at Draco. "And I am. Or will be. Soon enough. After I had some time to mourn."
"Right." Draco looked at Goyle, who shrugged. "Well, Grumpy will be remembered. I don't think any one of us will ever be able to look at corn again, without thinking of Grumpy and how he used to peck at it. He might be gone but he will forever live in our hearts."
"Sod off," Ernie said.
Draco snorted and went to have a shower. Ernie bemoaning the loss of a Conjured bird he’d only found three days before was getting on his nerves.
When Draco returned, refreshed and warmed, he found Ernie in the exact same position, staring blankly at the covers. Goyle was already sleeping.
Draco rummaged in his trunk for a clean pair of pyjamas. He was running out of dry clothes; not even the house-elves could dry them as fast as Draco's cloud could drench them. He hoped things would change for the better soon.
He found a pair of old pyjamas at the bottom of his trunk. When he pulled them out, something fell onto the floor with a clunk. It was an old badge Draco had Charmed four years ago. He remembered being so proud of it. He picked it up, grinning. "Support Cedric Diggory," it said. Draco stroked it with his thumb and it flashed and proclaimed: "Potter Stinks."
He smells quite nice, actually, Draco thought. Doesn’t taste bad, either. Draco bit his lip, remembering how it felt to have Potter's prick in his mouth. Merlin. To think a thought like that could make him smile like an idiot.
"Potter Stinks," the badge insisted.
Draco frowned at it. Then he took out his wand and cast a couple of complicated Charms. He grinned at the finished product. His magic didn't fail him once; the badge was perfect.
Still grinning, Draco stood up and walked to Ernie's bed. "Here," he said and bent down to pin the badge on Ernie's shirt.
Ernie was too surprised to resist. He looked down at the badge, frowning. "Impressive."
Draco thought so, too. The badge's front was a perfect rendering of Grumpy the peacock.
"Grumpy did not die in vain," Draco proclaimed with a flourish. "His legacy lives on. I hereby name him the mascot of our house. Henceforth we shall be known as the Grumpy House. Our colours are white, we reside in the Grumpy East Tower and are guarded by a grumpy centaur. All who are grumpy can join our ranks. We used to be Slytherins, Gryffindors, Ravenclaws and even Hufflepuffs, but now? Now we're just Grumpy."
The badge flashed and declared: "House of the Grumpy. May grumpiness unite us all."
Ernie's mouth twitched. He snorted and soon he was laughing. "You are utterly ridiculous, Malfoy," he said. Shaking his head, he lay down and disappeared beneath the covers. Draco noticed he did not take off the badge.
"Can I have a badge?" Goyle asked sleepily.
"I'll Charm one for you tomorrow," Draco promised, and then, smiling to himself, went to bed.
He lay awake for a long time, waiting for Ernie to start snoring. When he finally did, Draco whispered an incantation and the curtains around Ernie's and Goyle's beds fluttered closed.
Draco closed his eyes and thought of Potter. "Expecto Patronum," he said as quietly as he could.
A great, silver stag burst into existence and Draco sucked in a breath. He thought it wouldn't work this time. He had almost convinced himself it had been a fluke, a strange quirk of magic unlikely to happen ever again. But the stag was there, as real as Draco; the heat it radiated warmed Draco right down to his toes.
Moments later, the stag settled down on the floor next to Draco's bed, glowing brightly. Draco lay on his side, so he could look at it. He felt giddy, as though he had broken the rules and got away with it, as though he had stolen Potter's Patronus right under his nose. He had no idea how he had done it, or what it meant exactly, but having the stag beside him was almost like having Potter. And Draco could Conjure it whenever he pleased.
Draco reached out to touch one impressive antler, but his fingers went right through it and the antler turned to mist. A warm rush of memories flashed through his mind: the heat of Potter's kisses, his firm touch on Draco's hip, gentle fingers in Draco's hair, the solid warmth of Potter's waist as Draco wrapped his arms around it and they soared, escaping the flames. Draco pulled his hand back and the antler recaptured its form.
The stag stared at Draco with his dark eyes. Draco wished they were green.
He was tempted to touch it again, but resisted the urge. These memories were old; he looked forward to the new ones more. And they seemed imminent. Draco had reflected on the events in the common room, once blood had rushed back to his brain and his mind had cleared. Potter was upset when Draco told him he had only done what he did in order to pay his debt. He could still clearly hear the disappointment in Potter's tone. Which meant Potter expected something else, not a game of favours and debts.
Draco's father told him once that's what life is; that's how one interacts with people: pay and collect, receive and reimburse. But maybe that was just an old, pointy wizard's hat. Maybe Draco was ready to take it off. Or at least ready to try. He thought he might like it.
It was a rainy day. The sun had hidden behind the clouds early in the morning and refused to come out ever since. It seemed it would sooner flee into the west than peek through the greyness and show its face.
The Hogwarts grounds were abandoned when Draco made his way to the broom shed. He had charmed his cloak, pulled on a pair of gloves and looked forward to cheating the rain and not let it get him wet. His own cloud floated above his head, looking small and insignificant compared to its siblings high in the sky. It hadn't rained once that day. Draco had been in such high spirits, he would have been shocked if it had.
From the moment Draco went down to have breakfast in the Great Hall, his classmates accosted him at random, demanding he made a Grumpy House badge for them. Draco wasn't sure if they merely wanted to cheer up Ernie, thought they were sufficiently irritable to belong to such a house, or simply didn't have anything better to do and laugh at. In the end, Draco decided they were simply charmed by Draco's Charmed badges. Most of them had been in the past.
They all had a good laugh when Daphne and Finnigan charmed the Tower's centaur and he refused to grant Granger passage before she answered his question ("How are you today?") with "I'm grumpy." She looked it, too, after she had argued with the centaur for good ten minutes.
The Gryffindor trio had missed most of the Grumpy House affair. They had been suspiciously absent during free periods and meals. Draco had only seen them in class. Potter glanced his way, but Granger and Weasley did not. Nonetheless, Draco wondered if they were busy discussing him, or rather the scene Weasley had stumbled on yesterday in the common room. The thought would have troubled Draco, but neither Granger nor Weasley had hexed him or glared in his general direction, so he hoped that meant they weren't planning his demise for daring to put his hands (and mouth) on Harry Potter.
Potter did seem to be in a sour mood, however. Draco needed to speak with him, but he wasn't sure how Granger and Weasley would react if he just came up to them and requested to speak to Potter alone. He ended up sending Potter an owl and asked him to meet Draco at the Quidditch pitch before supper.
Potter's Firebolt was still in the shed and Draco gloomily picked up his own broom. Then he looked up at the cloud, worried it would react to his distress, but it remained peaceful.
Draco needn't have worried at all: when he rose into the air and flew in the direction of the pitch, he spotted a lone figure sitting on the topmost bench in the southeast corner of the stands. Potter's dark head was unmistakable.
Draco looped around the pitch once and then bent low, gripping the handle tightly. He directed his broom towards Potter and then flew at him at top speed. He could see Potter grinning from afar. He didn't move or even twitch as Draco approached.
Draco took a sharp left turn at the last possible moment to avoid collision. He flew back a little and landed neatly next to Potter.
"You could have at least pretended to think I'd run you down," Draco said as he set his broom aside and sat down on the bench.
"I thought you wanted to pull me up and take me for a ride."
Draco snorted. He looked sideways at Potter, trying to determine Potter's mood without any luck. "Where's your broom?" he asked. "Did you walk up here?"
Potter shook his head. "I Apparated."
Draco stared. "You can't have!" he gasped. "That's impossible. How did you —"
Potter burst out laughing.
Draco groaned. "Idiot."
"I can't believe you thought I was serious."
"Neither can I," Draco grumbled.
"I thought you would be the last person to believe I could do something extraordinary."
That was before you kissed me, Draco thought then quickly looked away, fearing Potter could somehow see the thought written on Draco's face.
"You've been here long?" Draco asked, trying to change the subject.
Draco waggled his eyebrows and grinned. "Eager to see me, were you?"
"I wanted to have a moment to think," Potter said. Draco thought he sounded a bit defensive.
"Ah!" Draco exclaimed. "So you only think during very specific, carefully planned moments? That explains a lot."
Draco expected Potter to snort and return the jab, but Potter's expression was grim when he said, "I suppose it does."
Draco was worried for the first time since he had Conjured the Patronus yesterday. Did Potter regret kissing him? Was it the moment of thoughtlessness that was making him miserable?
"Was Weasley upset about yesterday?" Draco asked. Perhaps Granger and Weasley convinced Potter he had made a terrible mistake and should stay away from Draco in the future.
"No. Well, yes." Potter smiled a little. "But Ron, he . . . he's never upset for very long." He ran a hand through his hair; Draco wished he could do it for him. "It's just . . ." Potter sighed. "This year was supposed to be a holiday. I was looking forward to it. It was meant to be peaceful and uncomplicated. And then I go and complicate everything."
Draco considered him for a moment. "But peaceful would bore you to death. You need some excitement in your life."
Potter shrugged; he didn't look convinced. "Maybe."
There was a long pause and then Draco said, "I wanted to tell you —" just as Potter said, "I spoke to —" and they both fell silent.
"Go on." Draco grinned.
"No, you're the one who asked me to come here. You should go first."
"It can wait." Though, really, it couldn't. Draco mostly just wanted to kiss Potter and he loathed every second that went by and postponed the moment. "Who did you speak to?"
"Madam Pomfrey. I told her about your Patronus."
Draco tensed. For one crazy moment, he thought Potter discovered Draco had stolen his Patronus and would now demand to have it back.
"How it was helping you sleep," Potter continued and Draco dared to breathe again. "Hermione said the other day that you seemed to have Conjured your own personal little Dementor. And we were actually discussing whether or not chocolate and the Patronus Charm could help you. Pomfrey agrees, to an extent. She thinks things like that could give you some temporary relief, but she believes that the cure is in your hands. She said that if you were to Conjure a Patronus yourself, it would help you more than anything ever could."
"Oh. I see."
"I was thinking . . ." Potter hesitated. "Maybe I could help you. I've helped some of my classmates back in our fifth year with that spell. It is a tricky one and in your condition even more so, I imagine, so it wouldn't happen right away, but if we try . . . I'm sure it will. Until it does, maybe my Patronus could help you out." Potter reached into his robe pocket and took out his wand. "If you ever need the rain to stop, then maybe you won't need me to . . ." Potter didn't meet Draco's eyes. "Perhaps . . ." Potter waved his wand and an enormous silver stag erupted from the tip of his wand.
Draco stared at it, his stomach in knots. It was so familiar, it was almost strange to see Potter Conjure it, as strange as it had been when Draco had done it yesterday.
"It does work." Potter beamed, staring above Draco's head. Draco looked up at the small white cloud and Potter added, "If you learn how to cast it —"
"I already have," Draco said, quietly, reluctantly. Potter would ask him to show it and Draco had no idea how he would react when Draco Conjured a stag. "I did it yesterday after you and Weasley left."
"Oh." Potter blinked in surprise. "That's brilliant." He looked at Draco expectantly. "Can I see it? Is it a peacock?" he asked when Draco offered no further information. "Don't let Ernie see it, in that case."
"Not a peacock."
"A different bird? You said it had feathers."
"It did. But . . ." Merlin. "I should just show you."
Potter nodded encouragingly and waited. At first patiently and then not so patiently as Draco slowly took out his wand, gripped it in his hand and twirled it between his fingers.
"I'm sure it'll work again," Potter urged him. "After you do it once, it gets easier."
"Right," Draco said, not completely sure he wanted it to work again. Nonetheless, he raised his wand, stared at Potter's Patronus and cried, "Expecto Patronum!"
Another stag burst forward, a mirror image of the one in front of them. They were so alike, even their large antlers looked the same. They faced each other and stared, as though shocked themselves, wondering if they were looking in a mirror.
"Um," Potter said.
Draco's gaze snapped at him. Potter looked positively shell-shocked. He seemed unable to speak, occasional um's notwithstanding.
"It used to be a peacock," Draco said, defensive. "But yesterday, it was just . . . It was this. I didn't mean for it to happen. I didn't even know they could change. I thought they are what they are. Unchangeable like Animagus forms."
Potter seemed to recover slightly. "They can change," he said. "When . . . er . . ." He gave Draco a quick, furtive look. "Sometimes," Potter finished firmly as though he had given Draco an actual explanation. Draco didn't think he needed one. He knew what a Patronus was: a projection of hope, happiness . . . and another thing too frightening to contemplate.
Potter stared at the stag for a long time and then finally tore his gaze away to look at Draco. "I suppose it will be a bit funny if you ever Conjure it in public."
Draco shrugged. "Everyone had witnessed my misery; they might as well see my . . . stag." Draco tried to guess Potter's thoughts to no avail. "Unless you would mind?"
"Oh, you know me. I like it when things get complicated."
"In theory. A minute ago you were brooding about complications and moments of thoughtlessness."
Potter's eyes bore into Draco's. "I was just . . . It doesn't matter anymore. Forget I brooded earlier. I was having a moment, that's all. I thought you . . . That you'd never . . ." Potter glanced at the stag again. His gaze was full of wonder.
"You're babbling." Draco grinned.
"Sorry," Potter smiled back, abashed. "I've been rendered speeches. Obviously." He cleared his throat. "You wanted to tell me something earlier. What was it?"
Draco shrugged modestly. "I just wanted to show you my stag."
"It's a lovely stag."
"Thank you." Draco laughed. He stared at Potter's smiling lips. "I do have one question, though. That night in the courtyard . . . why did you kiss me?"
"Because I felt like it," Potter said promptly. His green eyes twinkled with amusement. "I told you a bunch of nonsense just so you would let me."
"And they say the Slytherins are devious," Draco said, without resentment. "You seemed a bit worried afterward. Felt guilty for shamelessly taking advantage of me?"
"No, I just didn't expect to like kissing you so much."
Draco wondered if it was possible to Conjure two Patronuses at once. In that moment, he felt like he could Conjure a hundred. "Well, that was a bit silly of you," Draco said. "I am me. Who wouldn't like kissing me?"
Potter grinned but didn't argue with Draco's logic. "So," he said and arched an eyebrow. "Do you want to talk some more?"
"No, I'm done," Draco said quickly, twined his fingers into Potter's hair and kissed him. Potter pulled him closer, arms around Draco's waist, one hand sliding slowly upwards against his back to cradle the back Draco's head.
A sudden brightness in front of Draco's eyes made him pull away. He laughed.
Potter frowned at him, but he was quickly distracted by Draco's lips. He could not stop nibbling Draco's bottom lip, pulling it between his teeth to lick it. "What?" Potter asked between kisses.
"Nothing." Draco gasped for breath. "You just can't help being special, can you? One cloud isn't enough for you, oh no, you have to claim them all."
Potter pulled back, staring at Draco in confusion.
Draco grinned and looked up at the sky. The clouds had parted to let the sun seep through.
Potter followed Draco's gaze and snorted. "You just want to convince me you can control the weather with your exceptional snogging talents."
"Exceptional, are they?" Draco kissed Potter again, making sure the kiss was as exceptional as he could make it. He must have succeeded, judging by Potter's heated response.
Draco's hand reached lower to grasp Potter's thigh. It edged upwards, squeezing lightly. When Draco's knuckles grazed against Potter's crotch, Potter pulled away. He removed Draco's hand from his thigh and had the audacity to tsk at him.
"None of that now," Potter said seriously and escaped Draco's embrace in a flash. "Not before supper."
Draco stared at him, hardly able to believe that Potter had just moved away. He even stood up and took a step back.
"You're joking," Draco said.
"I'm afraid not." Potter shook his head and then looked behind Draco, his eyes widening in surprise. "Merlin's beard! The stags are making out!"
Draco turned around, but the stags had vanished.
"That was a joke," Potter informed him helpfully.
Draco groaned. "Can't you just come back here and sit still?"
"I could." Potter threw Draco a playful look. "But I need some excitement in my life, remember? If there's something you want to do to me, you're just going to have to catch me."
"Oh, that I can do," Draco promised.
"Good luck." Potter grinned as his Firebolt came whooshing through the air toward him. He caught it in his hand, quirked an eyebrow at Draco, mounted, and was off, racing toward the Forbidden Forest.
Draco stared after him, smiling so hard his cheeks hurt. Then he grabbed his broom and rocketed skyward, intent on catching Potter.
He flew so fast he left his cloud behind. It did not follow him.