Harry walked towards Gryffindor Tower with Ron in a state of total relief. Contrary to his panicked dreads of the last half hour, Professor McGonagall had let them off easy; turning an eye that could certainly be described as more blind than those belonging to the Muggles that had reported Mr Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia. Cringing slightly, Harry remembered the fury in Mrs Weasley’s eyes when she discovered that the twins had flown the car in heavy cloud cover. He cast a nervous glance at Ron, who, it appeared, was also picturing the inevitably irate reaction she would have over their very obvious jaunt in the vehicle. As well as the fact that it was now trundling around the Forbidden Forest, which did not bode well for the chances of its return.
A sudden flash struck a chill down Harry’s spine, accompanied almost immediately by a violent clap of thunder. He instinctively stepped closer to Ron, who quickly wiped his momentary expression of unease from his face. A look of realisation dawned on Ron’s features, as though he had just remembered something.
“Harry, we’ve got that interhouse thing tonight-everyone must already be up in the common room!” Suddenly Harry remembered too. In the holidays preceding their second year, when their booklists had arrived, they were accompanied by a pamphlet about an interhouse unity focus that would be occurring at Hogwarts. Despite the students being separated by house, this project of sorts would be to encourage the building of string connections between the houses. Banishment of the rivalries, at least until the Quidditch season rolled around, when they would resurface in the form of perhaps more friendly competition.
Harry grinned nervously. Over their break, upon receiving this news, the two boys had enthusiastically discussed how they thought everything would boil down. They had eventually admitted to each other that they were quite excited to put their somewhat shaky past with the other houses behind them, especially Slytherin. When they had signed their pamphlet to confirm that they would be participating, the enchanted parchment had provided them with a list of the other registered members. Harry was especially excited by the third signature on the list, in bright emerald ink: Draco Malfoy. As much as the previous year had not brought comradery between the Gryffindors and the Slytherin, Harry could not shake his interest in the boy, and he was hardly about to reject the chance to be friends with someone who was no longer an enemy.
Ron smiled at him. “Scared, Potter?” he asked with a wink, earning a slight blush from Harry that clearly revealed were his thoughts had strayed as they often did.
They had reached the portrait hole, but before either of them could open their mouths to give the Fat Lady the password, the entrance swung open from inside, and Hermione’s bushy hair obscured the view of the common room as she grasped Harry and Ron by the arms and pulled them into both the room and an enthusiastic hug.
“You absolute idiots!” she whispered to them, but there was no mistaking the smile in her voice. They were forgiven in her books, although she had definitely spent the train ride and dinner imagining reprimanding them for being morons-Harry could tell.
After a moment they pulled away from each other, bringing the rest of the room into view. The Gryffindor common room, while still blazing with the red and gold of the house, had become notably more colourful. A huge Hufflepuff blanket was covering most of the floor, where a conglomeration of second year Hogwarts students sat.
“Hey Harry, Ron!” cried the Gryffindors, patting the ground around them, inviting them to join the circle.
Ernie Macmillan, a pompous Hufflepuff, cleared his throat and addressed the group before Ron, who had stepped forward eagerly, could sit down. “In the interests of interhouse unity and all, we really shouldn’t sit in our house groups,” he said, with a slightly hesitant lilt to his voice, in case this observation was taken badly.
Hermione chewed her lip and then smiled slightly. “Good point Ernie,” she said, moving to the other side of the circle and sitting down between Blaise Zabini and Pansy Parkinson. Pansy, to Harry’s utter surprise, smiled happily at her. Hermione grinned too, causing Harry to wonder if perhaps Hermione had been even more eager and proactive to bond with other houses than he and Ron were.
Following Hermione’s lead, the group shuffled and intermingled, Ron moving to sit with Justin Finch Fletchley and Padma Patil, while Harry approached Malfoy with a raised eyebrow, giving him the chance to object if he did not approve of this seating arrangement.
Another rumble of thunder roared overhead, and Harry hurriedly sat down, watching a slight smile play at the corner of Draco’s mouth. His hair looked more natural than usual, without any product it was less sleek, but it looked soft and neatly tousled around his face. A Slytherin scarf was wrapped around his neck, not that anyone would have any doubts of his house without it.
“So,” said Pansy loudly, calling the now chattering group to order, “who has any ideas for what we should do tonight? Our task was just to get to know each other a bit better and mend any rifts that will inhibit us from here on out”.
After a moment of silence, Draco answered her. “Well I think we’d all like a fresh start from anything that went wrong last year, any friendships that didn’t exactly work out,” his gaze flashed to Harry for a moment, and then firmly away from him, “I reckon we should play truth or dare”.
An excited murmur thrummed around the circle at his suggestion. “I’ll go first!” offered Justin enthusiastically turning to Ron, “Truth or Dare?”
Ron frowned slightly, and Harry realised that Draco was probably the only Pureblood who knew the Muggle party game. Hermione, who had also realised this, quickly ran over the rules. Ron, now looking much more intrigued, requested a dare. “Do a backflip?” suggested Seamus, Justin quickly seconded the idea and beckoned Ron to the centre of the circle. Ron leapt backwards in a ridiculous fashion, falling into the Ravenclaw quilt on the laps of the students behind him. Laughter rang around the group, and Ron got to his feet with reddened ears but a smile on his face.
“Hermione, truth or dare?” he said with a grin. With a look that suggested she was doubting her gymnastic abilities, Hermione chose truth, and then revealed with a blush that she thought Pansy was the cutest in the circle.
Harry was sure of it now, there was something going on between those two. He had always considered Hermione’s feelings towards Pansy to mirror his own towards Draco. But even thinking about that made him wonder about how he really felt about it. In fact, following that train of thought led him very close to the conclusion that perhaps Draco was a bit cute…especially tonight, he seemed relaxed. Perhaps he felt Harry’s stare on him, because he turned to him with a slightly curious look. The resentment that seemed to have been carved heavily into his face over the past year appeared to have dissipated. Locking eyes, Harry thought he noticed something in Draco’s gaze. “Your turn, P- Harry” he challenged, breaking eye contact to cast a slightly triumphant glance around the circle, resting temporarily on Pansy, who was now practically in Hermione’s lap, having her slick black bob braided.
It seemed that Harry had been distracted for a few rounds, slightly flushed faces and smirks outlined the circle, and the atmosphere in the room had lost any remaining dregs of tension. “Truth,” he replied carefully, trying to hide the dozens of secrets that suddenly flooded his mind as he thought of all the things he COULDN’T be asked.
“What’s your greatest irrational fear?” Draco questioned. His voice didn’t hold any hint of judgement or nastiness, he sounded genuinely interested, and somehow trustworthy. This was not ideal timing, thought Harry, who up to now had been trying to ignore he frequent lightning strikes, pounding rain and tremoring claps of thunder.
“Storms,” he muttered, then glanced around. To his immense relief, this was met with no judgement, in fact, he could see several people nodding around the circle. Hannah Abbot grabbed a small Hufflepuff blanket beside her, it and threw it over to Harry, who wrapped it around himself gratefully.
Harry turned his attention to Neville, and directed him to complete the dare of miming the moment he discovered that he was a wizard, much to the amusement of the group. After several more rounds, yawns began to punctuate the speech of the second years; however, no one seemed inclined to leave. It was unlikely that Snape would appreciate a party-games excuse when he enquired about students sleeping during his class, he would likely threaten to make their unconscious condition permanent. As this thought occurred to Harry, he shared it, evoking a chorus of laughter, and a unanimous agreement that it was about time to turn in for the night.
But still, no one moved. Hermione, now casually stroking Pansy’s head (the latter had already fallen asleep, curled like a cat in her lap), grinned and took charge of the gathering. “We should just have a sleepover,” she said, “anyways, the Hufflepuffs already brought plenty of blankets, and the other grades won’t be back until tomorrow”.
The Gryffindors who weren’t occupied by cute girls in their laps (so all but the very pleased looking Hermione), jumped into action, dragging the mattresses from their four poster beds down to the common room. The plentiful Hufflepuff blankets had been magically enhanced when Harry returned from lugging his mattress down the dormitory stairs, and he grabbed one to pull over his makeshift bed for the night. Parvati and Lavender, who had fetched Hermione’s mattress and pillows for her to share with Pansy, were cuddled together under a Gryffindor blanket, sharing one of the puffier armchairs by the hearth. Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws had accosted their mattresses, and were in the process of building a very comfortable fort with structural integrity. Dean and Seamus, who routinely shared one or another’s beds anyway, had covered themselves in a silvery green beanie that had been expanded to the size of a small tent. The Slytherins, par Draco and Pansy, seemed to opt for the armchairs as well, so Harry, Neville and Ron pushed their mattresses together in the middle of the room, for everyone who had not yet sorted themselves sleeping arrangements.
Several minutes later, when the lamps were extinguished and the fire burnt out, Harry found himself between Ron and Draco, listening to familiar snores on one side and uneven breathing from the other. Not to mention the rain splattering against the window pane. Harry knew that many people loved the rain, especially as a sound to drift off to, but he found no comfort in it, too dreary and reminiscent of storms.
As though nature was responding to his thoughts, the loudest roll of thunder they had heard that night echoed overhead. Harry flinched and wished that Ron was awake. He supposed it didn’t really matter now that everyone knew about him and storms, but in the past Ron had been a source of comfort whenever the lightning got too bright or the thunder too loud. Harry reminded himself that even though last time Ron had stayed awake until Harry had drifted off, they were still next to each to each other and safe, rather than in separate beds.
But suddenly Harry’s focus was drawn to someone very different from Ron. Draco had rolled over and was now looking him in the eyes. “You okay?” he mouthed, concern and care in his expression. Then Harry noticed it again.
“Your eyes,” he whispered, “they’re different?” Draco smiled slightly at that, almost humouring him.
“Well spotted. They’re heterochromatic…so different colours, but mine are very subtle”. As Draco said this, he winked one eye at a time and then opened them both, Harry leaned closer to see the difference between the piercing grey and the icy blue. They really were very similar, but Harry was surprised he hadn’t noticed it before.
A fork of lightning illuminated the room momentarily, and in the sudden light, Harry saw a snap of fear in both of Draco’s eyes. Without thinking, Harry grabbed his hand.
Just as he realised what he’d done, he felt the soft fingers interlock with his own. Draco shuffled over on the mattress, and Harry could feel the warmth of their bodies against each other. He rested his head against Draco’s shoulder, and suddenly felt even more comforted.
“Scared Potter?” whispered a soft voice in his ear.
“You wish,” he replied, knowing that tonight for once they’d both sleep through the storm. That when morning came, everything would be okay, for the united Hogwarts students.