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With the Sound of Settling Leaves
By Potter47

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Category: Post-OotP, Alternate Universe, The Duel Challenge (2006-5)
Characters:Draco Malfoy, Draco Malfoy, Harry/Ginny, Harry/Ginny
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Romance, Tragedy
Warnings: Death, Sexual Situations, Violence
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 18
Summary: ** Winner of Best Drama in The Duel Challenge **
Autumn--that strange, unsettling time of year when your whole world can change with the sound of settling leaves.
Hitcount: Story Total: 8479



Disclaimer: Harry Potter Publishing Rights © J.K.R. Note the opinions in this story are my own and in no way represent the owners of this site. This story subject to copyright law under transformative use. No compensation is made for this work.



Author's Notes:
I apologize for any formatting errors there might be in here... for some reason this just would not show up correctly so I had to go back through and edit out a bunch of computer mumbo-jumbo that kept showing up. Edit: I think I've managed to clear all the formatting stuff up. =] Enjoy.




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With the Sound of Settling Leaves
Potter47

Th e son of sorrow's staring down forever with an aching view...
Disenchanted, "Let's go down together, with the fatal wound."
– Jon Foreman

Harry fell to the ground, and Ginny fell atop him. She smiled, burrowed her head against his chest and breathed.

"You smell so good," she said.

"I do?"

"Mmhmm," said Ginny. She lifted her head to face him. "Amazing."

He blinked. "Have I always smelt so amazing?"

"I dunno," said Ginny. "I think you've smelt particularly amazing lately, though."

"Well, I haven't done anything different..."

"Yes, you have," she said, grinning. She rolled over, pulling Harry so he was above her. "You've rolled around in leaves."

Another grin, and she reached up to kiss him.

–|–

The leaves fell to the ground, and Malfoy thought they must've changed color on the way down. All the ones left in the trees were still green and vibrant, but the grass was littered with brown. It was odd to look at.

He walked across the grounds, wondering where he was going. It was one of those coldish autumn days that he hated. It wasn't summer anymore, but winter was still so far away. Malfoy loved the winter, and he liked the summer just fine. But the fall was just an in-between.

"So where are you going?"

Malfoy looked up at the sound of the voice, turned round and saw Pansy Parkinson standing behind him.

"Just a walk."

"Why didn't you invite me along?" Pansy said, sounding irritated. Her tone swiftly swerved, however: "It would have been so... romantic...." She clasped him round the chest like he was some sort of shiny-haired pillow, and whispered in his ear: "Don't you just love the fall? It's so beautiful, isn't it?"

"Sure," said Malfoy. He was bored now–he liked walking by himself, but with company he could see the futility of it and couldn't see the point.

He wished she would leave so he could see it again.

Instead, she kissed his cheek. "I always thought the fall was the most romantic time of the year, in fact."

"Oh, yeah, of course it is," said Malfoy. He tried to sound more interested than he was, because he knew one day he would be interested so he didn't want to upset her...

Pansy eased her grip on his chest and grabbed hold of his hand, dragging him to the nearest tree. It was a great willow, whose still-green leaves ate them up quickly as she proceeded to the trunk in the center–and there, she pressed herself up against the bark and pulled Malfoy into a kiss.

He kissed her just like he always kissed her–and just like he always kissed the other girls she didn't know about–but this time he was distinctly aware of his surroundings, rather than the girl whose air he was sharing. Just going through the motions.

When Pansy laid him down on the grass and began to kiss him deeply, kiss his neck, press herself against him, he could not remove his mind from the annoying leaves beneath his back. Why couldn't it be summer, so that the grass would be clear? Or why couldn't it be winter, so that they would be warm inside the castle, a flame in an icebox?

Finally, Pansy seemed to get tired of kissing him and simply laid down on top of him. He instinctively wrapped his arms round her as she smiled at him.

"I love you, Draco."

Malfoy very nearly said, "I love you too," just to satisfy her, but instead he squeezed her in his arms–she took it as a reply, and settled into a more comfortable position. He let out a breath and wondered if she'd gained weight.

He didn't feel like lying today. What was the use?

–|–

Harry lay on the ground, and Ginny lay atop him, with her head on his chest and the rest of her spread out to the side.

"I could lay like this forever," Ginny said.

"Mmm," Harry agreed, smiling at the cloudy ceiling above them and feeling like he wasn't real, like he was in a love story because surely nothing could feel this amazing. He let his eyes close, and he was, for a brilliant moment or two, emerged in a perfect peace.

A whisper in the wind and then a scream–Ginny leaped up from his chest and Harry's eyes opened so fast that he had to close them again before they could stay open.

"Oh my God, oh my God–"

"Oooh, LOOK WHAT I FOUND!" cried a loud, malicious voice that Harry knew at once was Malfoy's, even without seeing the malicious face attached. A crowd was starting to gather. "Potter and Weasley've been getting to know each other–"

Harry blinked, looked around, and felt a cold wind on his skin–his skin? He looked down and saw his robes were nowhere to be seen, and his shirt was gone with them. And he felt skin and fabric burrowing against his back as well–it was Ginny.

Harry's eyes widened as suddenly the odd sensations came together–Malfoy had stolen their robes and left Ginny in just her skirt and her–her–

"MALFOY!"

The crowd was laughing–Harry was dizzy. He should do something, there was a charm that covered things up, what on earth was it...? Blood was rushing to his face and he could not think clearly–all he could think of was how much he wanted to strangle Malfoy–

Before any of his thoughts reorganized themselves, he heard a shout from beside him and saw a flash and suddenly there was a thick, yet somehow transparent black bubble around the two of them.

"I'm going to kill him, I'm going to kill him–" muttered Ginny as she grabbed hold of Harry's hand and began to ran. Her bubble ran along with them, shielding them from the gazes and jeers of those outside. Ginny ran and ran and ran and Harry realized he didn't know where she was going.

After what seemed like forever they found themselves in a small courtyard far, far away from where the crowd had gathered, and Ginny whirled round and–arms wrapped around herself–threw her head against Harry's chest and began to sob.

Still in shock, Harry wrapped his arm around her and patted her back–awkward and intensely aware that his skin was touching her skin, rather than a sweater or a robe, and that there was only a bit of clothing on her top half at all.

And there was none on his, he remembered, suddenly feeling a very cold autumn wind blowing against his back from the courtyard's opening.

"I cannot believe him," spat Ginny, her voice ripe with anger yet stale with tears. "How dare he–that went so incredibly beyond any stupid thing he's ever, ever done–"

"I know," said Harry. "I'm going to strangle him–"

"Not if I get him first..." A strange, fierce growl emerged from Ginny's throat. "You have no idea how much I want to hurt him right now..."

"I know–"

"No, you don't," said Ginny. "You couldn't."

Harry felt a strange tickly feeling against his skin and realized after a minute that it was Ginny's eyelashes.

She bent her head up off his chest, looked him in the face, and he watched her face turn suddenly redder than he'd ever seen it before. Out of the moment of panic, she had realized that she should be deathly embarrassed around Harry too.

She turned around in a flash and faced away from him, arms tighter than ever around her chest.

"It's cold out here," she said, very high-pitched. "Do you know any clothes-conjuring charms? I don't really feel like walking through the Entrance Hall in a bubble..."

–|–

Nothing could keep the smirk off of Malfoy's face all afternoon–he felt better than he had in ages, more alive than he had all year. He was the hero of Slytherin House again.

It felt so savagely good to get at the Perfect Couple, Potter and the Weaslette. Their robes and shirts were hung as trophies above the fire in the Slytherin Common Room. He'd considered going for broke and stealing all their clothing but he figured he'd be more likely to get expelled that way, and he wanted nothing more than to be able to reap the benefits of his success.

Malfoy was laying with his legs up on one of the velvety couches by the fire with his head on Pansy's lap–she was stroking his hair affectionately and for once he was enjoying it completely. He was beginning to consider sneaking her up to his dorm, in a few minutes, but a gruff voice cut into his thoughts suddenly:

"Malfoy," said Professor Snape, standing above him. Malfoy opened his eyes in a flash.

"Professor?"

"Sit up, Malfoy." He did so, and the teacher continued:

"Word has reached my ears of this afternoon's incident on the grounds," said the professor. "The Gryffindors are claiming that it was your doing."

"I had nothing to do with it, I just stumbled on them, honest," said Malfoy in a rehearsed tone.

Snape quirked an eyebrow at the robes hanging above the mantelpiece, but didn't comment on them.

"It has also reached my ears," continued Snape, "that Potter is planning to challenge you to a duel, tomorrow afternoon." He smirked. "I am required by the headmaster to warn you that you are in no way to agree to taking part in this duel, as it is a direct violation of school rules."

"Of course I won't."

"However," said Snape, "I hear that your marks have not been up to snuff this year in Defense Against the Dark Arts. If you would like a bit of a... shall we say... extracurricular lesson on dueling practices this evening, I would be willing to oblige."

Malfoy grinned. "That sounds excellent."

–|–

"You can't duel him, Harry, you just can't..."

Hermione had just heard of the proposed duel–from Dean Thomas, in the library, who had heard of it from Parvati, who had heard of it from Neville, who had heard of it from Ron, who had heard of it from Harry–and rushed to the Gryffindor common room as fast as she could in an attempt to talk him out of it.

"Think of the trouble it'll get you in. Dumbledore doesn't want you dueling, why on earth are you going to go against his wishes...?"

"It's just gone too far, Hermione. This wasn't Malfoy telling McGonagall you, Ron, and me were out after hours with Hagrid. This wasn't him making fun of me on the train. This wasn't him trying to curse me in Potions Class. This was him going way, way, way too far..."

"I know... but you can't just duel him... there has to be another way..."

"Well, I'm all ears."

Hermione pursed her lips, wishing that some idea would strike her but doubting very much that it would.

–|–

It was raining the next morning, that heavy, autumn rain that beat upon the ground harder than anything. The wind was blowing, hard and harsh, and the trees were dancing to its song.

Words buzzed through the halls of the castle all through the morning: It's at noon, the duel's at noon. Everyone had been making bets on who'd win, or just arguing about it for free.

Ginny left Great Hall at breakfast with a knot of anxiety in her chest. She certainly hadn't protested the notion of a duel–and in fact had wanted very much to duel the ferret herself–but now that the hour was approaching, she couldn't help her thoughts from straying into her fears.

What if Harry lost? What if Malfoy did some dark spell that really, really hurt him?

She didn't know if she could take that... she'd likely send an Unforgivable Malfoy's way without even thinking of it.

How on earth was Malfoy still at Hogwarts, anyway? After all the trouble he'd caused, year after year, how was it that he'd never been expelled?

That was another fear of Ginny's... everyone, everyone knew that it was Harry who had suggested the duel, and duels were forbidden on school grounds. What if Harry was expelled?

Ginny was so caught up in her thoughts that she nearly walked straight into Pansy Parkinson.

"Sorry," Ginny mumbled, and Parkinson–instead of a customarily-Slytherin remark, said, "It's OK."

Ginny blinked.

"Weas–Ginny," said Pansy then, and there was an odd, distressed sound in her voice, and look upon her face, "I need to ask you something."

–|–

It was noon. The rain had let up in its berating of the ground, which only made the wind seem all the more windy. The crowd was quickly gathering in a circle again on the grounds just where they had gathered the day before, but there were far more of them this time.

Harry and Malfoy stood opposite each other with what seemed to be their entire house gathered around. Ginny was just behind Harry, and Pansy behind Draco. Both were wondering if they should say something to prompt the start of the duel, and both figured they would wait just a little while longer.

Finally, Harry felt that they might as well get it over with. He took a few steps forward, away from the crowd and towards the center of the circle. Malfoy took this as his cue and walked forward as well. They raised their wands.

–|–

"What?" asked Ginny.

"We need to stop the duel," said Pansy. "I'm dreadfully scared for Draco... he'd hate me for saying this, but I don't know if he could hold his own against Potter. He's faced the Dark Lord, after all..."

Ginny quirked an eyebrow–she found it hard to believe that Pansy Parkinson doubted Malfoy's ability one bit. It just seemed wrong...

She was going to voice such a doubt, but Pansy continued: "And if he was to hold his own..." and here she hesitated, but then ploughed on determinedly, "he would have to use Dark magic. Professor Snape gave him a dueling lesson last night, and I can only imagine what came up... If he uses Dark magic, he's bound to be expelled..."

Pansy's gaze, which had been rather unfocused, settled upon Ginny once again.

"And just think what he'd do to your Harry." Silence, for a moment, while that sunk in. "So what do you say?"

Ginny was torn. Yes, she wanted Harry to be safe–and yes, she definitely didn't want him to be expelled for the duel in the first place–but she really, really wanted to see Malfoy beaten. Harry had gone up against Voldemort and survived, so surely he could stand up against a bit of Malfoy's dark magic...?

Ginny wanted so desperately to see Harry win, and to see Malfoy suffer for all he'd done, that it shocked her. And, perhaps seeking forgiveness for the horrible direction her thoughts had taken her, she agreed to help stop the duel.

"Yeah," said Ginny. "I'll help. What do you want me to do?"

"Well, first we should tell Dumbledore about it," said Pansy. "If he can stop it then there's nothing to worry about, is there?"

"Why couldn't you just tell him on your own?"

"Don't you think he'd take it more seriously if we both did it? A Slytherin and a Gryffindor, together? And you know what Dumbledore's like–he'd probably try to pin the whole thing on Malfoy if he could. He'd believe you if you said it was just as much Harry's idea."

Ginny nodded. "OK. Let's go."

–|–

"STOP!" came a deep, angry voice from somewhere in the crowd. Harry and Malfoy both looked round to where it had come from, but saw no one. Perhaps it was just a whisper of the wind.

They turned towards each other, and were about to raise their wands again when the voice sounded once more–"STOP THIS INSTANT!"

They knew they hadn't imagined it this time, so they looked around once more–in a moment they saw Professor Dumbledore emerging from the crowd, looking frustrated that it had taken so long to get through.

"Mr. Potter, Mr. Malfoy, you both know very well that dueling is forbidden on Hogwarts grounds. Please, step away from each other or there will have to be penalties against your houses, and against yourselves..."

They did not step away from each other, however. At first, Malfoy just looked at Harry... and then Harry looked at Malfoy. Their eyes connected, perhaps alighting on a shared thought, and without another thought–without any thinking at all, most likely, just a great deal of built-up anger–Malfoy began to run as fast as he could away from Dumbledore, and Harry began to follow. If they couldn't duel here, they would settle it somewhere else.

–|–

"Wait," said Pansy, as Ginny began walking–before we do that I should tell you about my other plan."

"Other plan?"

"Well, yeah... just in case that one doesn't work."

"Of course it'll work–it's Dumbledore, don't you think he'd be able to stop a duel?"

"Maybe," said Pansy. "But I'm not too sure about him these days. And besides, Draco's been waiting for a chance like this for years, he's not going to give up easily."

That was probably true–and Harry had been more than determined to get a stranglehold on Malfoy after what happened yesterday, he probably wouldn't stop the fight without a fight either...

Pansy continued: "Well... if Dumbledore can't stop it, then I figure we'll have to break it up ourselves."

–|–

Harry ran and ran and ran, wondering where Malfoy was leading them. This was probably reckless, but he didn't care anymore. He wanted to hurt Malfoy, he wanted to get back at him, once and for all, for all the times he'd gotten in the way, all the times he'd done something awful, every time he'd done anything...

So he ran, always cautious that Malfoy might stop short and start the duel then and there. But Malfoy never did–he just kept on running. They were just inside the Forest now, where it was still safe but invisible from the grounds, and the trees were rocking back and forth like giants were shaking them. Grawp didn't venture this close to the school, did he...?

As yet another thunderous rumble of leaves faded into nothingness, Harry heard what sounded like footfalls about a hundred feet behind him. He assured himself he was just imagining them, that they were just his own steps echoing, but still could barely resist the urge to turn around and see if anyone–or anything–was following him.

The sound continued for what seemed like ages and ages, as Malfoy kept on running ahead of him, farther and farther away. He must be heading for the Hogsmeade border, Harry figured. Then they would be off the school grounds and they couldn't be expelled for the duel. Why hadn't they just planned the duel for Hogsmeade in the first place? They could have snuck out and avoided the crowd...

Suddenly, Malfoy stopped, turned round, and faced Harry, who raised his wand instinctively. Malfoy just stood, however, waiting.

"Are you ready, Potter?" he called against the wind.

Harry stopped, within dueling distance, caught his breath and assumed the proper stance.

"Are YOU ready, Ferret-Face?" he called back.

Malfoy grinned, and even from afar Harry could see a desperate, wicked look upon his features–so desperate, in fact, that he was frightening.

"You know it," he said, and raised his wand as well.

–|–

Pansy spoke proudly of her plan: "What we do is, just as they're about to duel, we get in between them. You in front of Harry, me in front of Draco."

"Pansy–"

"It's desperate, I know, but you know it'll work."

"But you're saying we should jump in the middle of wand-fire–"

"Ginny, would Harry ever fire a spell at you?"

"Of course not. But–"

"Well, that's the point. People don't throw curses at people they love. That'd break it up for sure."

–|–

Ginny ran the last few steps faster than she'd ever run in her life–probably faster than she'd ever flown–and suddenly Harry's wand was just in front of her face. His mouth was in the middle of forming some curse when his eyes flew wider than she'd ever seen them and he dropped his wand on the ground.

Such an amazing feeling of relief flooded through Ginny that she nearly fell over. In a moment, a million thoughts coursed through her mind: They'd done it, they'd stopped the duel, Harry was going to be OK, nobody was getting expelled, Pansy had been right–

But before that tiny moment could even end, Harry's eyes–on which Ginny's gaze had remained affixed–widened even further, against all logic.

A bright green flash illuminated the woods, reflecting in Harry's glasses like his eyes were on fire. Ginny turned around as fast as she could (and she would swear that everything from her jumping in front of Harry up till right then had to have only taken a second) and saw the leaves on the ground fly into the air like a great orange cloud.

Pansy fell to the ground, and those leaves began to fall back down atop her. Malfoy still stood with his arm outstretched, his face as white as snow. Ginny would never forget the look on his face, nor would she ever be able to describe it.

The world seemed to stand still for ages. They were statues, frozen among the trees, and all the motion among them belonged to the leaves, continuing their descent slowly, slowly, slowly...

And then Malfoy blinked. Ginny could see it clearly from where she was standing. He blinked again, and suddenly they were all alive again–except for Pansy–and Malfoy turned tail and began to run.

Ginny raised her wand to Malfoy's retreating form and fired off every curse that she could name.

He fell to the ground–just as Pansy had, albeit breathing–and the world was silent, but for the sound of settling leaves.

Finis

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