The train ride to Hogwarts was almost disappointingly without incident. Ron Weasley wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but he sat in the compartment with Harry, Ginny and Hermione feeling as if something should happen, something drastic and dangerous, something with lots of shouting and spellcasting.
Harry sat right next to the window, elbow on the sill, hand cupping his jaw. Ron privately opined that he looked fairly ordinary for a teenage Wizarding Hero: slim, pale, messy-haired, but there was a rather distant air over him, as if he was not quite of this world.
Harry wasn't thinking anything much at that moment; he was simply admiring the flash of countryside dancing past the window, wondering whether the dragons he'd worked with over the summer with Charlie were doing well.
A faint smile touched Harry's lips as he thought of Charlie. Ron blinked at the faraway expression.
"So," he said, a bit more forcefully than warranted. Harry turned his head, looking at him with a curious expression, and they all felt the lurch of the train slowing down. "What's the plan for this year?"
"Plan?" Hermione turned a page of the book she was reading beside him. "Complete my education."
"Kick some ass in Quidditch," Ginny piped up from her corner; her legs were stretched across the padded seat, and she poked her toes under Harry's bum. Harry wriggled, still with that small smile on his face.
"Be happy," Harry said simply, and turned back to watch the countryside. Ron gave Ginny a questioning stare. Ginny's answering smile was strained, and Ron remembered the whole uncomfortable time when she and Harry had broken up... and there'd had been that thing with Charlie.
"What about you?" Harry said, his breath fogging up the glass. "Ron?"
"I just want to... hell, I don't know," Ron said and they all laughed at that. "Being with you guys is enough."
"Aww," Ginny sang out mockingly, and out of the corner of his eye Ron saw Hermione raise her book a little higher; her cheeks had gone pink.
Ron tucked in a little closer to her side, and then leaned his head on her shoulder, comfortably.
Harry watched their reflection in the window, and smiled a little more in that quiet, thoughtful way. The Express had come to a complete stop and students were exiting, milling around the station. He focused on one small knot of individuals, standing like a dark island in the midst of a happily boiling sea.
Slytherins; Draco Malfoy stood at the front of the group, one hand gripping the strap of the bag on his shoulder. Other students passed by, some glaring and others obviously throwing insults. Malfoy's air was one of complete impassivity. There was a slant about the sharp angles of his features and the cool glint in his eyes which stirred something in Harry... something reckless.
"Come on," he said, and got to his feet, smoothing the hem of his jumper over his jeans. He had no idea that there was a thread of command in his voice, a quality that urged the others to stand even if they had no intention of doing so in the first place. Without waiting to see if they would follow, he walked out into the corridor, down the short steps of an exit and into the crisp September evening.
The din in the station diminished drastically as soon as he appeared out in the open. Whispers followed him, and wide grins were thrown in his direction, some of them quite flirtatious. Harry nodded at them, ignoring the hushed squeals, and kept on walking, right in the direction of the Slytherins.
The crowd parted before him and his friends. Harry was suddenly struck with a realisation he should have had long before this: what was he planning to do?
"Harry?" Ron murmured behind him, echoing much the same sentiment echoing through Harry's brain: "What are you doing?"
A group of students who had been obviously closing in on the Slytherins now paused, staring at Harry with wide eyes. Harry walked right between them and Draco Malfoy, exchanging one quick glance with him. Malfoy's thin lips became even thinner and Harry kept on going; he hadn't anticipated that reaction from Malfoy. They'd spoken at the trials, of course, and Narcissa had thanked Harry for his help in a manner that was simultaneously effusive and restrained; Malfoy's gratitude was markedly cooler, but he'd stared at Harry as if he'd just started to figure out an intriguing detail.
If he said anything to Malfoy now, possibly the other boy would read some insult into it. Therefore, he kept his mouth shut and ambled along, hands jammed in the pockets of his jeans, hauling the attention of the crowd with him.
As they made their way to the carriages, past the firsties being herded towards the Lake, Harry felt suddenly quite glad that Malfoy was still around. There seemed to be something comforting about that, with all his confusing idiosyncrasies.
"You'd better watch yourself," he heard Ron throw at someone behind them. "Don't start anything you can't finish."
"Who's going to stop us?" a younger student challenged. "Slytherins?"
"Mind what I say," Ron rumbled, and Harry actually grinned to himself. Ron could be scary when he put his mind to it. "Get yourself on a carriage, idiot."
As they settled into their own carriage, Harry sat where he could watch Malfoy. He kept that pale head in his line of view all the way up to the school.
Hermione noticed first, as was her wont. She pointed it out in the library, when Malfoy walked past their desks with his friends, and not for the first time Harry's gaze snapped up to follow his passage, almost helplessly. She put her quill down beside her book.
"Hmm?" He tucked some of his hair, now overly long and in need of a cut, behind his left ear; it was a habit he'd picked up recently. "Do you need the Hexaurus?"
"No, I... wait, I do." She took the thick book from his outstretched hand, wrinkling her nose at his faux-innocent expression. Beside her, Ron snorted in amusement as he scribbled on his parchment.
"Harry, about Malfoy," she started once more, and nodded when Harry's dark eyebrows twitched. "You're doing that watching thing again."
"Not again," Ron groaned and then straightened up. "Why, is he up to something?" He sounded very eager, and Hermione rolled her eyes.
"No." Harry ducked his head and pushed his glasses up his nose. "He's not being evil. At least, I don't think so."
"If he's up to something, we should investigate," Ron said, an unholy light of glee shining in his eyes. "I mean, he's been quiet all these weeks since the start of school, him and all those Slytherins, but that doesn't mean –"
"I don't think Harry's been watching him that way," Hermione cut in, before Ron could descend further into prospects of intrigue. "He's been watching him in another way."
A silence reigned over their table, and Ron blinked very slowly.
"He would be absolutely mad, if that's the other way I'm thinking," Ron said, turning to stare at Hermione as if she'd turned into a snake. "He knows that's Malfoy, that would be crazy. You're crazy for even thinking that, Hermione."
"I'm not. And it's Harry we're talking about," Hermione rebutted.
"Hey," Harry said mildly, "I'm right here."
Ron rounded on him. "You remember the things Malfoy did, right? I hope you do. I mean, it's one thing to be bent, I get that, I'm with you on that, we've been through too much for that to make a difference –"
"Well, thanks." Harry's tone was half-dry, half-pleased.
" –but not Malfoy. Not him." Ron squinted at him. "I forbid it."
Harry gazed at him, right at him, and Ron felt as if he would wilt under the considering weight. Harry would never comprehend how it felt to be measured under those famous eyes.
"I said I wanted to be happy," Harry finally said.
"And you think Malfoy is a good source of that?" Ron hissed, because Pince was eying them from her desk. "Harry. Come on."
Harry just kept looking at him. Ron pouted, and then banged his forehead on his book.
"Shh!" Pince warned.
"Sorry, sorry," Ron muttered in her direction, and then to Harry: "Don't think I don't understand. You died once, life is too short, take it by the horns and so on. I get it. But, really?"
"I'm glad you understand," Harry said, and his eyes sparkled with mischief. "You're a top bloke to have for a friend, honest."
"Ugh." Ron banged his head on his book twice more, and then again for good measure. "Ugh."
Hermione, who had gone back to cross-checking the Hexaurus long minutes ago, reached out and petted Ron's hair. He was such a darling, she thought, absently.
"How would you court a Malfoy?" Harry asked as they sat in an alcove atop one of the towers. "Like, how would one go about it?"
"Ugh," Ron said, and banged his head on Hermione's shoulder, for the lack of a harder surface. "Ugh. Courting."
"Ow, Ron." Hermione tried to shift away, but Ron wrapped his arms around her waist and mumbled unhappily into the curve of her neck. She smelled very nice, and felt warm and soft in his arms. He kissed her neck, just because. "Ron," she warned again, but there was a low laugh in her voice.
"Courting is the right word," Harry said, firmly. "Ginny said so. When I was with Charlie –"
"Don't want to hear it!" Ron yelled, right in Hermione's ear.
"When I was with Charlie," Harry stressed, for he was far more devious than most people gave him credit for, "and the dragons got into heat, they had their own little courtship rituals. It was cute."
"Only you and Charlie would think dragon-mating was cute," Ron told him, as Hermione asked at the same time, "What kind of courtship rituals?"
"Oh." Harry thought a little. "The male was always extra-nice to the female, I suppose. Brought her stuff for a nest and tried to groom her if she let him get close enough. Things like that."
"Interesting," Hermione said, even as Ron laughed.
"Would be right hilarious if you tried to groom Malfoy, eh?" He laughed even harder and stopped abruptly at the way Harry seemed to be taking that very seriously. Ron felt utterly dismayed. "Harry!"
"Your face!" Harry cried, and he and Hermione collapsed into helpless laughter. Ron frowned at them, trying to be annoyed. It was hard to when they seemed so relaxed and... happy.
"You can't be nice to just him," Ron advised, grudgingly. "That's not wise, tactically-speaking. You have to be fair all across the board."
"But I honestly do want to be fair, all across the board," Harry said, the wind whipping his thick scarf behind him as they trudged towards Hagrid's hut. Hermione was back in the Tower, apparently having some kind of party which involved copious amounts of cake and giggling. Ron was vaguely put out at his current lack of cake and Hermione.
"I've noticed the Slytherins getting a bit... you know. Hassled." Harry's brow furrowed. "I don't want that happening, to anyone."
"We could change that," Ron said, mostly thinking about cake. And Hermione. "Just make sure that everyone chills out, as it were."
"Hmm." Harry stopped at Hagrid's front door, hand poised to knock. "Not a bad idea, as it were."
"Shut up, you," Ron told him, fondly, and braced himself for Fang's exuberant and sloppy greetings.
"Protecting Slytherins is hard work," Ron huffed, half-running alongside Harry as they made their way to the Great Hall. "Did you know? Buggers always seem to get themselves into trouble."
"You're protecting Slytherins now?" Hermione asked, keeping up with them quite easily. "Why?"
"Not protecting, per se," Ron amended. "But, you know. Being civil and all."
"We're being civil?" Hermione smiled at him, and put her hand in his. "That's big of you, Ron. I'm very proud. I'll join in."
"It was all my idea too," Ron said, and squeezed her hand.
"Lies," Harry said, laughing breathlessly, and then he seemed to grow sharp all over, suddenly. "There he is. There he is. What do I do?"
"Who –?" Ron looked around and barely caught a flash of pale-blond among a small crowd of students as soon as they entered the doors for the Great Hall, and then Harry got all tangled up with Malfoy himself. Ron tried to move forward, bumping into a few students himself, but Hermione held fast to his hand, keeping him back.
Harry had stepped right into Malfoy's space; he wasn't quite sure if this had been an unconsciously deliberate move on his part. Malfoy had been pulled along by Parkinson, looking absurdly calm for someone who was being dragged unceremoniously. Harry barely had time to admire how neatly his hair lay across his forehead when he was suddenly occupying much of the same physical area as the other boy.
Malfoy twisted his arm out of Parkinson's grip and grabbed Harry's shoulders. His hands were very warm and they slid down Harry's arms briefly before he pulled away. Harry felt a shiver rush through his body.
"Whoops," Malfoy said, brushing at his own robes. "Sorry," he started to say, and then he apparently noticed who had walked into him.
Harry surveyed him, soberly. Should he attempt to compliment Malfoy's hair? His robes? How he walked? Harry had been watching him persistently over the past few weeks and he could admit to himself that he really liked all these aspects, despite the fact that they were all on Malfoy; or maybe because of that, he wasn't quite sure. Conflicting expressions flickered over Malfoy's face, and he finally settled on a mix of wary expectation. Behind Harry, Ron was practically howling in whispers, and Hermione was trying to shush him.
Harry nodded, and then smiled. What did he have to lose?
Malfoy actually went tense, and then nodded stiffly. He whirled away and walked with his characteristic long stride to the Slytherin table, Parkinson scurrying behind him and hissing.
"That went well," Harry said as they made their way to the Gryffindor table, trying not to feel too disappointed. After all, they'd been through so many years of intense schoolboy rivalry and an actual War and, while Harry had given himself time and space just to be, it was quite likely that Malfoy hadn't.
"It went well?" Ron sounded doubtful as they passed the platters of breakfast foods around. "He looked like he wanted to stab you in the face."
"He just looked confused," Hermione said, buttering her toast. "I'd be confused, too."
Harry rescued some thick bacon from near Ron's elbow, eyeing the Slytherin table out of the corner of one eye. Malfoy had his head down, answering questions that his friends threw at him. Harry ate carefully, watching Malfoy poke at his food absently.
Look up, he urged, mentally. Look up, look at me.
Instead of looking up, Malfoy was urged out of his seat by Parkinson and the others, and they swept out of the Great Hall. Harry was struck by the way Malfoy was justmoved around nowadays, as if he was some bit of furniture to be lifted and placed.
He found he didn't like the thought of that... especially since he was moving Malfoy in his own way.
"I wish my days weren't spent chasing down Malfoy," Ron sighed as Harry hurried down the stone-carved steps. On the opposite staircase, Malfoy was descending with Parkinson and Zabini, shoulders hunched. "It might be easier to chase a dragon. What was that all about in Defence yesterday, though?"
"Oh, just showing him a few tips," Harry answered, smiling at a few other students who tried to stop him for a chat but sliding past them effortlessly.
Yesterday's DADA lesson had been, in Ron's humble opinion, pretty insufferable. The new teacher treated Harry with fawning reverence which obviously made Harry uncomfortable; he and Hermione tried to bolster him on either side. Poor Harry was made to demonstrate his Patronus, which was always a cool thing to see. Ron would never get over seeing that proud beast caper about.
After Harry had conjured the ethereal stag for the new DADA teacher (Nollywap? Ron couldn't recall her name), a clear space had been created in the middle of the classroom, and Harry was pressed into going around and helping the other students. Easily, Ron and Hermione produced their own Patronuses, and started assisting their classmates nearby. Ron spotted Harry sidling up to Malfoy's group from behind. Harry's eyes had been bright, fixed on his unsuspecting target as he watched Malfoy's movements carefully.
"Come on," Hermione said, apparently noticing Harry's focus as well, and they both hurried over. Harry said something, and Malfoy spun around to face him. The look on Malfoy's face gave Ron pause. There was surprise in it, and wariness... and a quick flash of what seemed to be a pleasure so quick that it was unknown even to Malfoy himself. It was wiped out and replaced by cool indifference.
"Hey," Goyle muttered beside Ron. "Weasel... I mean, Weasley. Show me the wrist movement for this, can't quite get the hang of it."
"Your whole elbow is at the wrong angle," Ron chided, and he grasped Goyle's arm, pushing it down. It seemed surreal to be showing Goyle, of all people, how to do the Patronus charm properly, while Harry was over there, actually holding Malfoy's hand. Well, it was really his wrist, correcting the angle just like Ron was showing Goyle,but still.
Ron exchanged a quick glance with Hermione, who lifted her shoulders in reply. Malfoy tried the charm again, and this attempt was far more successful that his previous tries.
Harry said to Malfoy, "That was really good for a first try," and then winked at Malfoy before sauntering off.
Ron looked at Hermione again and she shrugged even harder. Harry was not the winking type, not at all, and it was a little weird to see. Apparently, it had bowled Malfoy for six as well, because he had stared after Harry before his friends descended on him with gleeful noises.
Now, Harry was trotting down the stairs, but he wouldn't make it in time to catch up with Malfoy. So, of course, Harry reacted with typical Gryffindor impulsiveness: Ron heard him whisper something, and his body began to fade, like the Cheshire cat.
"Oh, Merlin!" Hermione said in a very loud whisper, as Harry disappeared completely. Within a moment, Harry reappeared at the bottom landing, running into Malfoy once again. It was a revised version of Apparating that they'd been working on, more quiet and delicate since Harry said the regular way still made him feel sick to his stomach; it was nowhere perfected, and yet Harry had done it fairly well. That was Harry: he worked best if he didn't think too hard about it.
If Ron was Malfoy, he'd be pretty annoyed to keep being run over by Harry Potter. Malfoy grabbed the front of Harry's robes, mainly to steady himself.
From where he was, Ron heard him say, "Whoops, sorry," to Malfoy, who released Harry as if he were made of hot coals.
"Get off me," Malfoy said, sounding out of breath. It was a weird thing to say, since Harry wasn't technically on him, but Ron had been run over by Harry a few times before, and it was usually enough to addle one's brain.
"I just said sorry to you," Harry pointed out, sounding amused.
"Move, Potter," Malfoy said, but it was a weak demand.
"I mean," Harry continued, laughing a little, "you should be throwing a party to celebrate that apology."
"I said move," Malfoy repeated, looking down into Harry's face.
"All right." Harry stood aside, and allowed the Slytherins to pass. They looked at him suspiciously.
"What was that all about?" Hermione seemed on the verge of throttling Harry. "You do realise that if you did that Shifting Mist spell wrong, you might have ended up.... I don't know, all inside-out!"
Harry blinked. "Oh."
"You're going to let this thing with Malfoy get you into trouble," Ron scolded, and then paused. "Oh my God. We sound like crazy parents."
Harry, whose cheeks had gone red, now ducked his head. "Am I coming on too strong, do you think? I mean, do you think it's working at all?"
"I don't know." Hermione sounded annoyed and indulgent at the same time. "I've never courted a Malfoy before, so it's anyone's guess, really. Just... don't give up?"
"What are you even saying, Hermione?" Ron said in despair, even as Harry lifted his head and his eyes fairly glowed with renewed fervour.
It was more of the same after that, and actually a little painful to watch: Harry would locate himself near Malfoy, drop an encouraging word or a sincere compliment, and Malfoy would look at him as if he'd grown two heads. Other people started to notice, especially when Harry actually Accioed Malfoy during a DADA duelling session. Ron didn't know what had been the problem that meant Harry felt he had to pull Malfoy out of danger in such a drastic fashion; he'd been a bit busy at the time, after having his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth by one of Harry's spells. He was making the most horrible faces at Harry, who was trying not to laugh too hard; then, Harry stared at a point somewhere beyond Ron's shoulder and flicked his wand commandingly.
"Accio Draco Malfoy!" Harry yelled and, wisely, Ron ducked off to one side, for Malfoy flew through the air and slammed right into Harry. The both of them tumbled to the ground.
"That keeps happening a lot," Hermione sighed.
"It does," someone else added in a thoughtful tone, and Ron turned his head to see a group of Gryffindors viewing Harry with considering expressions. The DADA teacher rushed over, more concerned about Harry than anyone else, and when she walked off, Malfoy looked about ready to tear Harry a new one.
Ron turned to Hermione, pointing to his mouth, and she obligingly cancelled Harry's jinx. He got to Harry's side just in time to hear Malfoy snap, "Are you actuallytrying to make me look like a complete idiot in front of everyone?!"
He didn't look that angry, actually, to Ron's surprise. He looked annoyed and perplexed, but Ron still felt as if it was his duty to defend his friend.
"You can look like an idiot without anyone's help," Ron said, stoutly. Harry ran a hand through his hair and looked at Ron, all big eyes and twitching dark eyebrows.
"Ron," was all he said and Ron rolled his eyes at him.
"Fine. Look, I'm just saying –"
Harry kept looking at him, a mixture of I know, I know and I don't want to hear it, and Ron internally cursed the fact that Harry was such a bloody quintessential Gryffindor, stubborn to a fault and blinded by reckless determination. Ron turned on his heel and stomped off, leaving Harry to plead his case with a rigid Malfoy.
Apparently the case was unsuccessfully pled, because Harry came back to his duelling spot with Ron, cheeks dusted pink and gaze downturned.
Ron felt an upsurge of annoyance at Malfoy; Harry was a right catch, and if Malfoy couldn't see that, then he'd find some other bloke who deserved Harry or whatnot.
Maybe Charlie was still interested.
"Huh," he told himself, and managed to catch Harry in a Jellylegs.
"We had an actual conversation," Harry said a few days after, sprinting up the stairs to the boys' bedroom, giddy as a fly. "I mean, I laughed like a loon, mostly, but wetalked. Progress, don't you think? We do better when it's just us two."
"Wha-What are you talking about," Ron mumbled, groggy after a nap on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
"Draco. Malfoy, I mean, we..." Harry walked to the window near his bed and looked out. "See, he's still out there. He's really not a bad flier, look."
"I really don't want to." Ron curled back into his bed-linen, snuffling at his pillow. "I know he's a good flier already." He lay there for a few beats and then rolled over, looking at Harry closely. "You're....really into him, aren't you?"
Harry, who'd been toeing off his trainers and unwrapping his scarf from about his neck, gave Ron a quick glance, and then shrugged. "I am," he said simply, and flopped back on his bed.
"Yep, seriously." Harry went up on one elbow, smiling uncertainly at Ron. "Does it upset you?"
"Not any more," Ron admitted. "I've got over the crazy idea you're having that Malfoy, of all people, might make you happy."
Harry's expression became complex for a few seconds, and then relaxed into calm simplicity. "Maybe it's not that. Maybe... I dunno. I suppose I'm convinced I can makehim happy."
"Just when I thought I've figured you out, mate," Ron said, throwing the covers over his head, "you go all mad on me again."
Harry spoke to Malfoy at every turn, and Ron had a bit of internal fun at the way Malfoy gained a sort of hunted expression, even when Harry bestowed a plethora of smiles at him. Malfoy must have been made of stone, Ron surmised, and shared this theory with Hermione. If he could resist Harry in such a steadfast manner, then maybe they'd underestimated the pointy prat.
Now and again, however, when Harry engaged Malfoy in a semblance of conversation, Ron would observe the way Malfoy stared at Harry; Ron figured that no one really looked at Harry the way Malfoy did. He seemed to consider the totality of Harry, adding him up and weighing him piece by piece. On the very rare instances that he smiled, surprised by one of Harry's weird jokes, he became even more intense afterwards, as if Harry was an interesting potion, and he had to study every bubble and stir.
The more Harry engaged Malfoy in conversation, the more Malfoy just looked at him. Really looked. When Malfoy started to respond, albeit in a stilted fashion, Harry's pleased expression knew no bounds.
At Halloween, however, Harry pulled his most daring stunt yet. McGonagall had turned all the House tables in line with the head-table, and then told everyone to interact as much as possible. With much grumbling and dragging of feet, students shifted around. Hermione felt someone grab her wrist, and she was being tugged across the room in Harry's wake. He was dragging her to where Malfoy and his friends were sitting right in front of the professors.
She said, "Is this a good idea, you think?"
"I vote no," Ron said from where he was trailing them. "But my votes hardly count here."
"Quiet, you two," Harry said, and then slid into the seat right beside Malfoy, casting a friendly greeting out into the sea of bemused Slytherin faces. For his part, Malfoy spun around so fast that he nearly fell out of his seat, blinking at Harry. Hermione could relate to their discomfort; it was one thing to see them in the halls and be quietly civil, but to sit together for dinner was going a bit too far.
"What are you doing here?" Malfoy asked, tone crisp. Hermione sat on the opposite side of Harry, who was digging into a plate of chicken as if he hadn't a care in the world.
"I'm sitting here," he pointed out as he lifted a forkful of chicken to his lips. "Do you think they'll serve some treacle tart here? Maybe this is the Gryffindor table."
"Sitting at the Gryffindor table," Parkinson drawled out. "Imagine that."
Malfoy looked at her. Hermione was a bit surprised; he glanced at Parkinson with what appeared to be irritation, but he couldn't have been annoyed at her, surely. He must have been transmitting his general state of displeasure.
Harry simply laughed, and shrugged. "I suppose we have a lot of foods that are similar. The Ravenclaw table has foie gras, though, did you know?"
"What are you doing here?" Malfoy asked again, but this time he sounded a bit more inquisitive... if a Malfoy could be genuinely curious, that was. Hermione privately thought they were curious in the way cats were curious: kind of all murderous about it.
Harry sighed. "What does it look like I'm doing?" he asked, very quietly. Malfoy actually tilted close to him, as if he needed to catch Harry's words and then sat back, frowning.
"Granger," he snapped. "What are you all doing here?"
Hermione pursed her lips. "It's like he said," she answered. "We're just sitting here with you lot."
Draco let out a long, slow exhale and then got to his feet. "If you're sitting here, we'll find somewhere else. If you'll excu–"
Quick as anything, Harry grabbed onto his arm and actually tugged. He looked very resigned as he said. "Alright, don't leave. I mean, if we're bothering you, we'll go."
"You're bothering me," Malfoy said quickly, even though he wasn't actually ripping his arm out of Harry's grasp. Harry's expression of resignation turned into the kind of face a long-suffering parent would pull when faced with a stubborn child.
"Oh come on. Are we really bothering you? Honestly, we've just sat here and talked to you."
"When you talk, it bothers me," Malfoy answered, a gleam in his pale eyes. Hermione rolled her own eyes. Boys and their weird ways of flirting.
"That was rude," Ron said, and ducked his head when Malfoy turned on him, thin lips curled into a sneer.
"I honestly do not care –" Malfoy cut off suddenly and made a funny, undignified kind of sound, something like an uck! He hunched over a bit, took a deep breath and then glared at Zabini, who casually put his wand on the surface of the table. If Malfoy's stares were daggers, Zabini would have been full of holes.
"What?!" Malfoy snapped. Zabini leaned forward, elbows on the table, hands interlaced and tucked under his unfairly pretty chin. Quickly, Harry and Hermione turned to Ron to scold him on his eating habits.
Ron, who was actually neatly eating some soup, didn't quite appreciate that tactic at all.
"They were not much of a bother," Zabini said, and Hermione had always known that he was the most reasonable of Slytherins. More like a Ravenclaw, actually. "And... Draco, if he sits with us, it'll be good for our image, don't you think?"
Malfoy looked torn between throwing a plate at Zabini's head and throwing a goblet at Zabini's head. "What?"
"Draco," Hermione heard Parkinson say in her nasal way. "This might be best for us, you know. Image-wise, if you get what I'm saying here."
"Everyone gets what you're saying," Malfoy said, but he took his seat with ill-grace. "You talk to them, then. I just want to eat."
He poked his fork into the pile of mashed potatoes; Hermione noticed how he kept his gaze down, and for a person who had claimed that they just wanted to eat, he seemed to be consuming very little. Parkinson and Zabini made hilariously awkward conversational attempts. They were still rather uncomfortable, obviously, but at least they tried.
Harry kept glancing at Malfoy and, because he couldn't leave well enough alone, he said, "Malfoy?"
Malfoy, engrossed fully in what seemed to be a scale-model rendering of the Quidditch Pitch on his plate, did not seem to hear him.
Harry tried again: "Malfoy?"
Malfoy added a few mashed-potato trees.
"Draco," Harry said, even more quietly than before, simply tasting the name on his lips, and Malfoy's head snapped up, his eyes wide.
"What?" he said sharply. Harry tilted up his chin.
"I was just looking at the way you eat," he said, smiling. Malfoy gripped his fork tightly and, for a moment, Ron thought wands would be out shortly. Zabini and Parkinson shifted into resignation.
"Thank you for your kind observation of my table-manners," Malfoy said with all the hauteur he could gather at a moment's notice, which was apparently quite a lot. "Now, if you'll allow me to eat in peace?"
"I wasn't... hey." Harry's hand, the one closest to Malfoy, twitched helplessly. "Malfoy, I really wasn't laughing at you or anything. It's just that you're so neat. And, you know. Dignified."
"Yes." Malfoy dragged his way through that single syllable with much confusion. "Right. Well." He turned back to his plate and frowned at it.
Harry smiled at the side of his head. "I should pick up a few good habits from you, I think. It'd be great not to go through ten napkins for dinner. Although I'm not as bad as Ron –"
"Hey," Ron said, his mouth full. Hermione rolled her eyes. Much to her surprise, Parkinson and Zabini laughed at that one. Malfoy, however, turned on Harry with a baleful fire in his eyes, brow thunderous.
"Potter, what is it you want?" he asked, and Harry blinked at him.
"What? What are you talking about?"
"What. Do. You. Want." Malfoy enunciated very carefully and slowly, but his hands were gripping handfuls of the tablecloth as if he was ready to tear it to pieces.
"I... nothing," Harry said, looking so stung that Hermione wanted to drag him out of there and tuck him somewhere safe. "Just talking –"
"Right, 'just talking'," Malfoy said, and his voice rose enough for some teachers to look down at them, curiously. "You've been 'just talking' at me nearly every day for..." he frowned in sudden concentration, of the mathematical variety, "for weeks! You never spoke to me before that. You're putting it on," he said with a curl of his lip. "You... you don't really care."
"That's not true," Harry said, determined and calm. "You know that's not true, either."
"Shush," Hermione advised out of one side of her mouth, jerking her chin towards the teachers' table. "You're attracting attention."
Malfoy leaned forward so he could pass a skewering glare directly to her, but Harry stood up and took him by the arm. "Come on. Let's go somewhere to talk."
"'Let's'?" Malfoy tried to pull out of his grip. "What the hell do you mean by 'let's?!"
"Well, if you want to know what I want, you can come with me. Unless you're scared?" Harry was attempting to bodily drag Malfoy to his feet. The rest of the table ignored their struggle quite wilfully. Indeed, the rest of the dining-hall seemed abnormally loud. Ron glanced at Hermione and they both shook their heads.
Malfoy finally freed himself from Harry's grasp and got to his feet under his own power, tugging at his sleeves and collar with crisp, sharp motions. "Hardly, Potter. Very well, but you'd better not take too long. I'd like to actually finish my dinner this evening."
Smiling, Harry walked out, Malfoy following with his chin tilted up. As soon as they passed out the door, the conversational buzz grew so loud with speculation that McGonagall had to tap her goblet with her spoon.
"Try the mashed potatoes, they're brilliant," was all Ron had to shout over the din. "I bet they're much better than the foie gras."
Harry turned, smiling internally at the way Malfoy stared at him with grave suspicion. Malfoy arched a pale eyebrow at him, and suddenly Harry felt a quivering in the base of his stomach. He'd only really had that when he was close to Charlie; interesting.
Malfoy folded his arms. "When you're quite ready," he said.
"Oh, what I want." Harry let his smile spill out onto his face and Malfoy's glance flickered to his mouth, oh-so briefly, but Harry wanted to crow in sudden triumph. "I don't really want anything from you, I don't think. It's just that... I just tend to..."
"To what?" Malfoy asked, obviously impatient that Harry just left the sentence hanging in such a manner.
"Hermione says I just do whatever comes to my mind first. Like this." Taking a deep breath, he stepped right into Malfoy's space and pressed his mouth to Malfoy's. It wasn't a particularly good kiss, because he'd caught Malfoy in an odd head-tilt, and their lips were a bit out of alignment. He hoped that Malfoy didn't hex him or punch him in the stomach, but his heart sank a little when Malfoy didn't kiss him back.
Then, hesitantly, Malfoy began to respond. Harry closed his eyes, enjoying the slightly dry press of Malfoy's mouth against his, the surprisingly plump pillow of his lower lip. Harry licked the seam of his mouth, asking to be let in. Malfoy's lips curled against his in amusement, and his hands were on Harry's hips, large and warm, pulling Harry a bit closer. Malfoy suddenly pulled away, and Harry kept his eyes closed, lips parted expectantly.
He allowed himself to be pushed out of the way of the main entry and into a small alcove, and Malfoy's mouth was on his again. Harry sighed in pleasure, and Malfoy's mouth finally opened up. Harry snuck his tongue right in, licking at Malfoy's.
At that touch, Malfoy pounced away from him as if Harry had burst into flames. His lips were red, eyes wide, and he stared around wildly before giving Harry an incredulous stare.
Harry tried to catch his breath. "Wow," was all he managed.
"You kissed me," Malfoy said, but he sounded just as breathless as Harry felt.
"You kissed back," Harry pointed out. Malfoy ran a hand through his hair and, enviously, Harry watched the fine strands fall into place.
"You kissed me first," Malfoy tried.
Harry folded his arms this time. "And you kissed me second. Are we going to go around this all day?"
"Potter," Malfoy said, obviously aiming for condescending and landing squarely in waspish. "A couple of points to note, here: you're with the Weaselette. You're not.... not gay, and neither am I."
"Points noted," Harry said. "I'm not with Ginny, that's her name by the way, although I can't say the same about you and Parkinson. And sure, I'm not gay, which isexactly why I just snogged one of the hottest blokes in school."
Malfoy's eyes went wide, gaze intent. "We're... I'm not with Pansy. Blaise has a thing for her, although I can't imagine why," he said, but his tone was very distant for a moment, before sharpening: "You think I'm hot?"
"I wear glasses, but I'm not blind," Harry said, and poked the nose-bridge of said glasses. "And even if I couldn't see you, I could tell you're hot just from the sound of your voice."
Malfoy appeared absolutely staggered at that. Harry could feel the heat in his own cheeks, but he wouldn't take it back; he really meant it. Harry ducked his head, still smiling.
"I think I've wanted to do that for a long time," he said, half to himself. "But our friends were always around us, and I really didn't want to humiliate you." He laughed a little. "Not that I was particularly successful at not humiliating you, but I really tried."
"Tried to what?" Malfoy scrunched up his nose. "Trying to be my friend?"
Harry laughed, tickled. "Oh, no. Court you."
Malfoy actually leaned against the nearest wall. "What?"
Harry rambled on: "Flirting with you is hard! Especially when we always have people around us, and I really really didn't want to embarrass you –"
"You didn't want to embarrass me." Malfoy shook his head. "Really, really."
"Really, Draco," Harry said, wanting to reach out and touch him, and restraining himself. For now. "I didn't."
Malfoy straightened up from off the wall, and Harry chanced a glance. Malfoy didn't look angry or upset; as a matter of fact, there was a focused shine to his eyes that caused a shiver to run down Harry's spine.
"Well," Malfoy said, "I suppose it worked."
Harry grinned so hard his cheeks hurt. "You think so? Oh, that's good. I wondered, you know, why you kissed me back, if maybe I got you to like me all by myself –"
"Not by yourself," Malfoy said, and then smiled wryly as Harry chuckled. "Look, are we going to start with the kissing again, soon?"
Harry was so pleased, but he had to make sure. "Are your friends okay with this? Us, I mean? My friends are, but –"
Malfoy waved one hand in the air. "They'll be fine." Without warning, he took hold of Harry roughly and pulled him close. Harry pressed against him, wantonly.
"I didn't do so badly!" He smiled up in Malfoy's face. "I mean, you want to kiss me and you're willing to use force –"
"Do shut up, Potter," Malfoy said and leaned in for a deep kiss. Happily, oh so happily, Harry kissed him back.