Chapter Sixteen: Hogsmeade

"You know, I've been playing Wizard's Chess for five years and I think I'm getting worse at the game," Harry said, scowling at the chess pieces shaking their tiny fists at him.

"You should have let me help you again," Draco commented, idly transfiguring a thread into as many objects as he could without his wand.

"That would be cheating, Malfoy."

"That would be winning, Potter."

"Professor," Harry addressed Dumbledore seated across the table. "What's your opinion?"

"It could be considered cheating by some," Dumbledore said. Harry gave Draco a smug look. Dumbledore, however, wasn't finished speaking. "But it is never wrong to ask for assistance."

Draco snickered as Harry flushed in embarrassment. Draco turned the lump of coal back into a thread and asked the Headmaster, "Would you care to have another game?"

"I would be delighted, Mr. Malfoy," Dumbledore began.

"Professor Dumbledore--."

"However, it appears that I may have pressing matters to attend to." Dumbledore turned towards Professor McGonagall as she rapidly approached the trio in the Great Hall. "Yes, Minerva?"

"If I may have a word, Professor Dumbledore," McGonagall requested, indicating for privacy.

"Certainly." Dumbledore rose, wished Draco and Harry a pleasant evening, and left the Great Hall with McGonagall.

Harry, in a quite gauche manner, climbed over the table and took Dumbledore's seat. "I'll play you?" Harry offered hopefully.

"I'll win," warned Draco.

Harry shrugged. "That's okay. Better to play and lose than to be bored out of my bloody skull again."

A corner of Draco's mouth curved up. "Ready for holidays to end, are you?"

"I hate to admit it, but yes," Harry replied. He sighed dramatically. "You've been holed up in the potions classroom most of the hols, leaving me all by myself after our lessons. I've driven the others mad trying to keep entertained and Professor Dumbledore is the only one who doesn't avoid me now."

"Poor Potter," Draco said mockingly. "Friendless and forgotten."

"Just move, Malfoy," Harry said, gesturing at the chessboard, a red tinge coloring his cheeks.

Draco directed his white pawn to move forward and the game got underway. Harry was a pretty poor player, but it was mostly because he used the game as a prop for socializing rather than lacking in skill. He must have been really lonely, because he didn't shut up through the entire game. Draco only half-listened, making appropriate noises when required.

"Oi, Draco," Harry said suddenly, changing course mid-topic, "you want to go to Hogsmeade tomorrow?"


"Yeah." Harry studied the chessboard. "I want to stock up on some sweets and ink. With O.W.L.s on the way, Hermione is going to have me and Ron revising our arms off."

"I thought Dumbledore wasn't allowing anyone to go to Hogsmeade," Draco commented.

Harry glanced up, eyes sparkling with mischief behind his glasses. "That doesn't mean we can't go anyway."

Draco put his hand to his chest with a fake gasp. "The Goody-Goody Gryffindor is suggesting we sneak off?"

Harry's response was a roguish grin. Draco returned it. "What time do we leave?"

Draco met Harry outside of the Slytherin dorm shortly after breakfast the following morning. Harry was practically bursting with excitement. "Ready?"

"I'm not wearing my winter robes to clean the dormitory."

Harry was unaffected by Draco's sarcastic tone. "Then, let's be off."

Hogwarts was still quiet on the cold morning. The other students weren't due to return from winter holidays until later in the afternoon. Outside, the snow had been partially cleared away from the paths to and from the school. The two boys headed out of the courtyard and towards the main gate, but suddenly Harry veered off the path and into the ankle-high snow.

"Aren't we talking the train?" Draco asked, a bit perturbed at the idea of getting the hem of his robe wet. He stopped at the edge of the path, looking questioningly at Harry.

"Nope." Harry didn't stop plodding through the snow. "Too out in the open. We're not supposed to leave the grounds, remember?"

"Then how do you plan to get us there?" Draco made a disgusted face at the snow and started after Harry, walking in his footprints. "Wouldn't walking be just as in the open?"

"Not the way we're going."

Draco looked past Harry. Ahead of them was the Whomping Willow and the Forbidden Forest. "Potter, tell me we're not going through the Forbidden Forest."

"We're not going through the Forbidden Forest," parroted Harry. He shot a grin over his shoulder at Draco. "We're going under it."

"Under it?" Draco said skeptically. The cold must have damaged Harry's brain.

The Whomping Willow stirred, sensing their presence. Draco eyed the tree with trepidation as Harry continued towards it.

"Yes, under it," Harry said. "Are you having trouble hearing today or something?"

Draco scowled at the back of Harry's head. "If you would explain yourself better, I wouldn't have to keep questioning you."

The Whomping Willow began swiping its branches at them as they got closer. Undaunted, Harry headed right for the stout tree.

Draco stopped walking. "Potter, unless you know a spell that I don't, you're going to be flattened."

"No. No spell." Harry turned to face Draco, ignoring the violent tree behind him. "Do you trust me, Draco?"

"Yes." The reply was immediate and, Draco realized with a blink of surprise, completely true. If Harry told him to go give the magic tree a hug right now, Draco would do it without further question. At the same time, he would also be worrying about Harry's reaction to Draco's death.

Harry smiled wickedly, and the tattoo spider crawling across his eye was not reassuring in any way. "You're mad, Malfoy. Don't you know how dangerous it is to trust me? People have gotten hurt or died, you know, by doing so."

Draco walked up to Harry, invading his personal space, and looked him squarely in the eyes. "Then, I supposed Diggory and I will be bragging to my father about how we both beat you at Quidditch."

Harry stared at Draco a moment, eyes misting behind his glasses. He finally responded gruffly, "I don't know whether to punch you or kiss you."

Draco removed his left glove and cupped Harry's cold-reddened cheek. "Harry--," he began tenderly, as the tattoo spider crawled from Harry onto Draco's hand. Harry dipped his head slightly, looking intently at Draco as he continued. "--if you try either of them, it'll be you saying hello to Diggory."

Harry sputtered in laughter as Draco lightly slapped his cheek. "Come on, Potter-pouf. I'd like to get to Hogsmeade before I become an icicle."

Before Draco could step back, Harry caught him in a hard embrace. Harry pressed a loud, smacking kiss to the crown of Draco's head, similar to the ones he gave Ron and Hermione months ago.

"Argh! Gerroff!" Draco protested, squirming to get away.

Laughing again, Harry released Draco, turned, and ducked under the flailing branches of the Whomping Willow. Draco smoothed his hair, put his glove back on, and watched with an irritated scowl as Harry picked up a long broken branch lying on the ground beside the massive roots of the tree. Using the branch, Harry poked at a knot on the dark, knobby trunk. The tree went still.

Harry deposited the broken branch back from where he got it, waved at Draco, and disappeared inside the tree. Draco shook his head, disbelieving how sly Harry could be, for a Gryffindor.

Draco ventured closer, warily watching the willow. It didn't move, and Draco ducked into a hidden tunnel. Harry stood waiting for Draco, holding his wand aloft, a lumos spell providing light.

"This tunnel will take us right to the Shrieking Shack in Hogsmeade," Harry told Draco, before they got underway. "There's another secret passage that goes from the castle to Honeydukes, but Filch was cleaning that hallway."

"The Shrieking Shack? But that place is haunted," Draco said.

"Actually, it's not and never has been," Harry said. "Do you remember Professor Lupin?"

"The werewolf?"

"Yeah. Lupin used to go to school at Hogwarts." Harry went on to explain the arrangements made for Lupin's safety during the full moon. "Snape's wolfsbane potion now controls Lupin's change, so the shack is pretty much abandoned."

"You know, I should make a derogatory comment about associating with werewolves, but who am I to talk? I'm associating with you," Draco said with a smirk.

"You're quite a riot, Draco," Harry said dryly, leading the way into the Shrieking Shack from the passage. "I'm laughing so much, I can hardly breathe."

Hogsmeade was bustling. Robed wizards and witches hurried between shops that lined the streets. The shops themselves looked warm and inviting on the cold winter day. The boys' feet carried them directly to Honeydukes to stock up on sweets.

"School supplies next or Zonko's?" Harry asked when they emerged from Honeydukes. He popped an ice-mice into his mouth as they started up the street.

"School supplies, while we still have galleons," Draco replied with a half-grin. "I also need to stop at the potions supply shop. I used up Snape's birch powder and need to replace it. Plus, Martin's been eyeing my lizards' toenails, so I might as well get him a jar before he nicks mine."

"You and Martin still getting on well, then?" Harry inquired.

Draco scowled. "Is it so surprising?"

"Draco, you're a right pain in the arse ninety-percent of the time. Only a saint can put up with you," Harry teased. "Or a martyr."

"Too funny, Potter," Draco said flatly.

"Do you thi--oof." Harry ran smack into a wizard coming out of McGinn's Robe Shoppe, dropping his bag from Honeydukes and spilling its contents.

"Oh, dear me, my apologies," the grey-haired wizard said, crouching to help Harry gather up the candy. Draco stood and watched uninterestedly.

"Thanks," Harry said to the wizard. "I'm sorry, too."

"No worries, son," he said. He handed Harry the re-packed sack when they straightened. The wizard seemed briefly surprised when he looked at Harry, eyes flicking to Harry's forehead, before his expression settled into a jovial mask. "Have a pleasant day."

Draco's eyes narrowed as he followed the wizard's retreat, until the older man disappeared into the crowd. Draco turned to Harry. "He knew who you were."

"Most do, Draco," Harry said, as they continued on their way. He pushed his hair off his forehead, fully revealing his lightning bolt scar. "This sort of gives me away."

"Yeah, but don't they usually fawn over you?"

"Not really, anymore," Harry dug into his sweets sack, "thanks to Rita Skeeter and, coincidentally, you."

"Ah. Those articles from last year," Draco said, understanding. He grinned maliciously. "That was great fun."

Harry snorted. "For you, perhaps."

"Of course, for me," Draco said matter-of-fact. They entered the bookshop, the soft bell above the shop door tinkling, announcing their presence. Separating, they browsed in their own preferred book sections, skimming through new titles and selecting books to purchase.

Draco met up with Harry in the aisle with the Quidditch books. Harry was sitting casually on the floor, absorbed in what he was reading. A short pile of books was on the floor in front of him, with two bottles of ink perched on top.

"Ready, mate?" Draco asked, walking up to him.

Harry glanced up, closed the book he was reading, and added to his pile. "Yeah, I'm set." He stood, picked up his selection, and the two boys headed to the counter to pay.

"A Quidditch fan, I see," the shopkeeper behind the counter commented as he wrapped Harry's books. "Hoping to become a professional player?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't know. Perhaps."

Draco, paid purchases in hand, looked questioningly at Harry. "I thought for sure that was your dream profession, Harry."

"You spoiled me, Malfoy," Harry said, taking his wrapped purchases. He gave Draco a lopsided grin. "Playing against anyone else pales in comparison to playing midnight Quidditch with you."

Draco felt his cheeks heat, as Harry started for the door, blushing even more at the amused smile the shopkeeper wore. Draco ducked his chin and hurried after Harry.

"Potions shop next?" questioned Harry when they got outside.

"Yes," Draco replied, refusing to acknowledge that Harry had embarrassed him... or that he was pleased by the compliment.

"You'll have to lead," Harry said. "I've never been--"

"Mr. Potter." The wizard Harry had literally run into earlier came up to them, smiling widely. "I was hoping I'd see you again."

"How can I help you?" Harry asked politely. He tensed when the wizard laid a hand on Harry's shoulder.

The wizard's smile turned malevolent. "You already have."

Draco saw a small object in the wizard's other hand at the same time that Harry latched on to Draco's arm. Draco felt a strong pull behind his navel. A portkey!

The three disappeared with a pop.

Chapter 17