If the corridors of Hogwarts were interesting during the day, they were nothing short of breathtaking at night. The very walls shimmered faintly with the ethereal glow of residual magic. The shadows themselves seemed to hold things that just could not be there in the light, tricking the senses with hints that something was hiding in their darkest corners. Tonight, that just happened to be true.
Draco Malfoy cared nothing for the splendid scenery of Hogwarts at night. He had left the dungeons behind for a long-awaited mission, and the promise of sweet revenge. Earlier that day, at the end of potions class, he had managed to slip Potter's potions assignment out of the other boy's bag. The assignment was due the next day, and if Potter wanted any chance of passing the class, he would have to go looking for it. When he did, Draco would be waiting for him. It was so simple. So simple, yet so masterfully executed. Now, all he had to do was to wait.
He squinted through the shadows, searching for any sign of motion from the large portrait hanging serenely on the wall, dividing Gryffindor tower from the rest of Hogwarts. Straining his hearing, he could just make out the rhythm of the Fat Lady snoring softly in her frame. Other than that the only sound to be heard was the subdued thrumming of his own pulse in his ears.
Carefully balancing on his toes, steadying himself with one hand, Draco was fully alert. He had never been so thoroughly prepared for anything in his life. The potion he had administered to himself had negated his need for sleep; he could wait all night if necessary, and never falter. Being Snape's favorite student had its advantages, his favourite benefit being access to all the potions supplies. Hidden under his shirt was an unusual pendant his father had insisted he wear for this mission. It rendered all sorts of tracking charms completely useless, and should keep him completely hidden from magical detection until he and Potter were far from Hogwarts. In addition, his own skills and stealth should keep him hidden from any other means of detection. He reached down slowly and brushed his hand against the hilt of the small dagger tucked into the sheath on his belt, carefully concealed under his robes. The blade had been laced with a Freezing Potion of his own design. That brew had earned him top marks for his O.W.L.'s. Now, it would earn him Potter.
A sudden scraping noise caused him to blink, but otherwise elicited no further reaction. The portrait frame swung gently back and away from the wall with a high-pitched creak, causing the Fat lady to stir, but not wake. Slowly, the painting settled back into its place against the wall, even though it would appear to a casual onlooker that nobody had emerged.
Draco's smile became a little wider. So, Potter had his invisibility cloak. It made no difference to Draco; it helped him in fact. Potter would be feeling more confident, concealed as he was, and would naturally be less cautious. Careless prey is always easier to catch.
He heard the scuffling of shoes on the stone floor and the soft swishing of fabric in the still air. A good predator knows exactly when and where to strike. It's evolution; survival of the fittest. Knowing when to wait, when to frighten, when to run, and when to make the fatal blow. He would follow Potter to just the right place, and then strike he would. Potter was about to find himself falling to the bottom of the food chain.
Harry meanwhile, was running through a silent string of curses in his head. Finding himself short by a fair few, he ran through the choicest selections from the list again. He couldn't believe he had done it. Of all the stupid things, how could he have managed to lose his potions assignment? Of all the subjects, and of all the times, why did it have to be Potions the day before it was due in? Even worse, this was only the first assignment of the year!
He would swear to anyone that he had put it in his bag at the end of class, but that evening, when he and Ron had dumped their books out in front of the fireplace to begin their homework, the parchment had been gone. It had taken him all week to write just those fourteen inches of script, and there was no way he could have rewritten it in one night. Hermione might have helped him with it, but instead she insisted that it would teach him to be responsible for his belongings if he were to deal with the situation for himself. So now, here he was. Hunting for bloody thing.
Harry turned at the end of the corridor to descend the staircases, nearly tripping over the edge of the first one. He added a few new choice words to his growing collection of curses.
Darkness had never bothered Harry. After spending most of his youth locked into a cramped cupboard without so much as a light bulb, he'd adapted to it. The shadows of the Hogwarts corridors at night were familiar territory to him, and he generally moved through them with the surety of a man on his own ground. However, frustration over his potions assignment and irritation at having to be away from the warmth of his own bed had left him a bit edgy. Tonight, he had the peculiar sense that something new was concealed in the dark corners. Almost as if something was breathing too close to him; eating into his territory, violating his space.
Stop that, Harry, he told himself. You're going to become paranoid if you keep on like that. The Marauder's Map didn't show anyone in the corridor. There's nobody here. Just get to the dungeons, find the bloody parchment, and get back to bed.
Thoroughly focused on his mission and finding yet another curse to add to his growing mental tirade, he made his way down flights of stairs, through long corridors, and towards the dungeons. There was no sign of Filch or Mrs. Norris, Peeves or the Bloody Baron. Harry welcomed the silence, but then, so did Draco. The invisible man and his shadow.
Draco had followed Harry at a comfortable distance of thirty feet or so, carefully noting the exact location of each of Harry's footsteps; the even sound of his breathing. He stalked with trained precision, stepping toe-to-heel.
Down in the dungeons, Potter was out of his element, and Draco was in his most familiar territory. Draco knew each stone on the floor, every shadow, every doorway. In silent company, Harry and Draco passed the turn that would take them to the Slytherin dormitories, and continued in a straight path to the potions classrooms. There was little to nothing of any academic significance beyond Snape's dungeons. Those corridors had been abandoned years ago, but Draco had felt it wise to explore them. His explorations had led him to an old passageway, dusty with disuse. At the time, his ventures had seemed little more than an amusing pastime. Now this knowledge was going to prove its value.
The soft shuffle-scraping sounds of Potter's footsteps stopped in front of the door to Snape's classroom. Draco heard the cloak rustle and the heavy click of a locked handle as Potter tried the door of the room. Of course it's going to be locked, you fool. Potter's intelligence dropped a few points further in Draco's estimation.
However, the delay was all the cue Draco needed. He slunk along the wall opposite the door until he was directly behind Potter. So this is how a serpent feels when it sniffs out its prey, preparing to strike. His father would be so pleased if he could see him now. Finally, acting as more than a thorn in the lion's paw, he was about to score a much deeper blow. Draco would be accepted with honour into the ranks of the Death Eaters. Hardly daring to breathe lest he quell his chance, he drew up behind Potter.
Harry reached up and grasped the handle of the classroom door and gave it a pull. It didn't budge. He rattled it again, even though it was obviously locked. Pausing for a moment in annoyance, he fumbled through his robes for his wand. Harry heard a faint rustle behind him only a split second before something grabbed his cloak and whipped it from his body. He spun around in shock, instinctively bringing his arms up to shield himself.
"Malfoy!" he hissed.
Draco sneered at him. "Shouldn't be wandering around the corridors at night, Potter. You could get caught."
"And you have any more right to be here than me?" Harry snapped back. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Just a little Potions homework." Draco reached into a pocket, extracting a rumpled piece of parchment. "Look familiar?"
Through the dim glow of the corridor, Harry could make out his own haphazard script.
His mouth opened and closed a few times noiselessly, shocked and surprised, before he finally sputtered, "What are you doing with that? Don't you have other people you could waste your time bothering?"
Malfoy took a step in towards the smaller boy, pulling himself up to his most menacing stance. Harry could feel Malfoy's warm breath on his cheek. He tried to back away, suddenly feeling even more uncomfortable than he usually did around the Slytherin, but the wall was directly behind him. It suddenly occurred he was trapped, pinned between Malfoy and the wall. Malfoy smiled, and Harry decided then that it was the most unpleasant smile he had ever seen, save perhaps for Voldemort.
"Am I wasting my time, Potter?" he asked, a strange glint in his eye. "Really? I suppose I had best not waste any more, then."
Even if Harry had the space to duck away, he wouldn't have had time. Draco moved at lightning speed. Harry saw the flash of metal in Malfoy's hand only an instant before he felt the blade plunging into his shoulder.
The shock of it left him unable to cry out, but he gasped sharply. The steel felt like pure ice burrowed in his flesh. Grinning maliciously, Malfoy twisted the dagger before pulling it away, but the freezing sensation didn't disappear. In fact, it was spreading, fast.
The ice flooded through Harry's veins, down his arms, across his chest. "What did you…?" The ice had reached his neck, freezing the last words half-formed in his throat. He sagged to the floor as his legs went numb.
Malfoy stood over him, triumph written clearly across his face. "It's a special brew of my own, Potter. A fair bit beyond your skill. Too bad you never paid much attention in Potions. And oh, your assignment was terrible by the way."
He leaned down so that his face was inches from Harry's. His voice was deceptively soft. "Don't worry Potter. It won't kill you. The Dark Lord would be most displeased if I were to take that pleasure from him. I told you I was going to make you pay."
Harry tried to yell, but everything was becoming hazy. His heartbeats slowed, and sounds echoed hollowly in his ears. He could barely force his chest to rise to take in the next breath. The ice gripped his heart and wrenched it sharply. With a last strangled gasp, Harry watched as the deep shadows of the corridor drew in tightly around him, smothering him, then fading completely to black.
Draco picked up Potter's limp arm and felt for a pulse. The beats were faint and nearly a whole ten seconds apart, but it was enough. With a nod of satisfaction, he slid the dagger back into its sheath and stuffed Potter's potions assignment into a pocket. He reached his hands under Potter's arms and pulled him towards the entrance to his secret passage. Draco found himself somewhat surprised at how light the boy was. Perhaps he wouldn't do Potter the favour of levitating him down the tunnel. He could drag the diminutive Gryffindor easily enough, and leaving pretty little Potter with a few minor bruises would be properly satisfying.
Draco had already told his father about his plan, and Lucius Malfoy would be waiting to meet him at the exit. If Draco had failed, there would have been punishment, but the risk had been worth it. His father would greet him with praise, and the Dark Lord himself would honour his success. He had accomplished a task which was the envy of all Voldemort's senior Death Eaters.
He, Draco Malfoy, had caught Harry Potter.