Friday, November 4 th , 1994
Harry James Potter was done. He was just… done .
It had only been four days since Halloween, and he was so beyond angry he knew that if he stayed inside for one more second he would end up cursing someone. Probably Ron and Hermione , he thought bitterly. It had hurt, when they’d both accused him of entering his name. Weren’t his friends supposed to know him? Shouldn’t they realize that more fame and fortune were the last things he wanted? Aren’t friends supposed to stick by you, no matter what?
A vague memory flashed through Harry’s mind of when he was eight. He’d been scrubbing the kitchen floor when Dudley and Piers Polkiss had gotten in a row. Harry didn’t know what it was about, hadn’t really cared beyond the fact that Polkiss had stomped out and left Dudley in a bad mood with nothing to distract him except Harry. But Harry remembered that Polkiss had come back the next afternoon, rubbing his arm in a nervous habit of his. No apologies were exchanged, that wasn’t really their style, but Polkiss had stuck out his hand and Dudley had shaken it and that had been that. It was their way of apologizing, their way of saying “friends?”
It had been a stupid fight, and they’d both realized that and gotten over it. Harry knew Ron and Hermione would get over it, too. He just wished it didn’t hurt so much that there was something to get over . They should believe him. That’s what friends did.
Harry had stomped out one of the side doors when he’d caught sight of a few Gryffindors. He didn’t pay attention, just followed the wall in a blind desire to get away. He didn’t remember it was November until he was shivering in his thin shirt. He’d forgotten his cloak. He contemplated going back in for it, but then decided it wasn’t worth facing the crowds of students.
He was so caught up with shivering, though, that he didn’t see the shadow of a body, or feel the warming charm take effect until Draco I’m-a-Ponce Malfoy was right in front of him, a cigarette hanging from his gaping mouth.
“Potter.” And wasn’t that odd. No insults, nor curses. Just blatant shock at finding themselves in this situation. Harry took a moment to look around and found that he had walked into a small nook, too small to be an actual courtyard but something to that effect, with two stone benches placed against Hogwarts’s stone walls and a small table with a bird bath that Malfoy was clearly using as an ashtray. Belatedly, Harry noticed that there was a warming charm cast over the entire area, washing away his previous shivers in a tide of toe curling warmth. The place also smelled completely of some unholy combination of what Harry recognized as sage and what he thought might be mugwort. For some reason, it wasn’t nearly as unpleasant as he thought it should be.
“What are you doing here?” He finally asked, because staring at Malfoy had never been his idea of a good time.
True to form, Malfoy’s shock was swept behind a sneer as he held his cigarette between two fingers. “I should be asking you that, Potter. Not enjoying the attention your little stunt is getting you?”
Half wanting to snarl, half wanting to curse the entire damn world, Harry chose the simplest option and just collapsed onto the stone bench opposite Malfoy. Whatever energy had filled him at seeing Malfoy vanished because he was so damn tired all of a sudden. He didn’t even care anymore.
“Well, Potter?” The self-entitled brat drawled. Harry took a deep breath, trying to find the strength within himself to get up and snarl and trade insults with his rival because that’s what they always did, what happened every time they’ve seen each other since that day on the train. Harry just found himself empty, some deep hollow feeling slowly growing and consuming everything he was. He felt his shoulders slump and, with nothing better to do, he buried his head in his hands and curled into himself, hands clenching and pulling at the unruly strands of dark hair.
“Potter?” Malfoy asked again, and Harry knew he was losing his mind because he could’ve sworn the other boy’s voice softened.
“Just…” Harry took another deep breath and forced his throat to work, to push words past the burning and tightening that made him choke. “Just let me sit here, in silence for a little while, alright? I’ll leave soon.” To his eternal shock, Malfoy listened. Harry heard the shift of fabric (no doubt of the highest quality because this was Malfoy ) and the Slytherin fully leaning back against the wall with a huff, but otherwise the area was silent.
Harry didn’t know why he stayed, instead of getting up and dredging on to find another hole to hide in. Just that it was warm here, that the scent of herbs filled the area and soothed him. All he knew was that there was no one around whispering about him or yelling invectives for his perceived misdeeds. It was, without a doubt, the calmest and most peace he’d gotten since Halloween. And wasn’t that just sad.
He didn’t want to think about how the world was so inclined to shun him with no evidence, or how his friends just turned their backs and believed everyone else over him. So, he pushed those thoughts away and just concentrate on breathing in and out, pulling in the crushing weight of hopelessness that had invaded his very sense of self.
Going through breathing exercises had taken up so much attention that he startled when Malfoy abruptly tapped his arm with a cigarette.
“What?” He asked dumbly, because honestly, how else was he supposed to react.
Malfoy gave a heavy sigh of the long suffering before offering the cigarette again. “Clearly you need a smoke.”
“I don’t smoke.”
“Well, there’s a first time for everything, now isn’t there?” When Harry still didn’t move, Malfoy rolled his eyes and, in a move so utterly outrageous that Harry froze, leaned forward and placed the cigarette in Harry’s mouth before holding up his wand and murmuring a weak fire spell to light it. Harry breathed in on instinct as he leaned back because Draco Bloody Malfoy was way too close and this was not okay …
Only to start hacking in the next instant. He pulled the murder stick away and wondered, briefly, if this was how he would die. Not by Voldemort, or his sick Death Eaters, but by a cigarette.
Malfoy, the wanker, had sat back with a snort and a broad smirk. “A light smoke defeats the great Potter? How poetic.”
“Shove it…” he paused to hack some more and breath when his airway finally cleared. “These things will kill you, you know?”
Malfoy sneered, and Harry wondered what it said about him that seeing the familiar expression was a comfort. “You are such a bloody muggle sometimes. First of all,” he raised one pale finger and spoke slowly as if explaining something to a particularly dense kneazle “Herbs, even ones that are found in the muggle world, have properties that are strengthened when grown in magical environments because even the ambient magic we release is still, surprisingly, magic. For example, mullein at its weakest will help with coughing and clearing lungs. Mullein, grown by a Master Herbologist, tends to neglect the adverse effects of smoking that some other herbs tend to carry. Not to mention that these don’t have any nicotine in them. And even if all of that wasn’t well known by any sodden amateur, there’s also the fact that we live in a world with magic Healers.”
Harry had nothing to say to that that wouldn’t further make him sound like an idiot, so he chose to stay silent as he warily brought the cigarette back to his lips. He took a shallow breath and immediately expelled it when it began tickling his throat.
Malfoy, in a show of magnanimous pity, told him briskly, “When you’re first starting, take a shallow breath and hold it in your mouth for a moment. After a second, gently push the smoke back out before breathing deeply through your nose. You can breathe out through your mouth or nose, it doesn’t matter.” Malfoy did each step with master hyperbole, somehow managing to look both like a stuck up douche, and an elegant prat at the same time.
The first time Harry tried he blew the smoke too far out, but, with Malfoy watching with great amusement, he soon got the hang of it. Though, he wasn’t nearly as elegant as Malfoy. Harry felt the herbs- something smooth and slightly sweet with a bitter aftertaste- wash through him and his muscles started to relax. When Malfoy pointedly flicked his ash into the basin between them, Harry followed suit before leaning back.
They passed several minutes in silence, for once finding no need to fill the space with curses and taunts. Some distant part of Harry realized that this was possibly the strangest thing he’d ever done, but he was finally breathing easier (ironic, considering the death stick in his mouth) and wasn’t so close to losing control, so he ignored it. Inside this protective little bubble that kept the wind and cold and stares out, he thought that he could finally let go for a little while. Even if he was with a Junior Death Eater.
“The Slytherins don’t think you did it,” Malfoy said abruptly, ruining Harry’s peaceful retrospect.
“The Goblet. We don’t think you put your name in. That’s why you’re hiding outside with me, isn’t it? You’ve been ostracized.” And, because he is a ridiculous excuse for a human being, Malfoy added with a sharp smirk, “Again.”
“Wait,” Harry sat up, eyes narrowing. “Slytherins are getting as many hits in as the Hufflepuffs. What do you mean , you don’t think I did it?”
“Bloody Hell Potter, do you ever think ?” Highly offended, but wanting answers nonetheless, Harry stayed silent as Malfoy went on. “The Goblet of Fire is almost as old as Hogwarts, so there was no way you could’ve programed it to accept you as a fourth champion. Not to mention , someone with as abysmal skills as you couldn’t hope to get pass an age line made by Dumbledore. The man may be a coot, but he’s still a powerful wizard.”
“Dumbledore is not a coot!” Harry snapped back. Malfoy’s lips pulled back but he remained silent for once, letting Harry stew until he begrudgingly asked, “If you all don’t think I did it, why are you taking part in the ‘socially torture Harry Potter’ party?”
“Because we have plenty to get you back for. This is just a convenient excuse that the teachers can’t pin on us alone when the rest of the Houses are doing the same.” Harry scowled at his blasé tone, taking a longer drag from his quickly shortening cigarette.
“What did I ever do to you?”
Malfoy stared incredulously for a moment while he sputtered. “’What did-‘ What did you do?! ” He sat up straighter and glared while he pointed a perfectly manicured nail at him sharply. “How about hating all of us on principle just because we wear green? How about breaking into our common room ? How about representing everyone that hates us just because we have different values?”
“Of course, I hate you! You’re a prat!” Harry forgot why he’d been sitting calmly as rage swept through him. How dare he? “You insult my friends just because they weren’t born in the same social class as you. You were happy when there was a bloody basilisk on the loose . The Slytherins were the ones that killed my parents! You’re bloody evil, of course I hate you!” Sometime during his rant, they’d both surged to their feet, panting heavily. Malfoy’s aristocratic features were twisted into an ugly expression of anger and disgust. For some reason, he appeared much more upset then he usually did. Difficult, considering he always appeared like he’d just watched someone skin his kneazle every time Harry was within a meter of him.
“ We are not evil! ” Malfoy ground his cigarette butt into the basin and stabbed Harry in the chest with his finger. “Just because we prefer ambition and self-preservation over running head long into danger doesn’t make us less then you. Just because we don’t want to see our ancient traditions and the Olde Ways whipped out by outsiders doesn’t make us evil.”
“Most Death Eaters were Slytherins,” Harry spat, shoving him off and grinding his own cigarette butt. Distantly, he wondered when he’d finished it.
Malfoy snarled. “Barty Crouch Jr., Ravenclaw, Denia Mulciber, Ravenclaw, Drew Rosier, Hufflepuff, Sirius Black, Gryffindor .” Harry choked back words because if he spoke he would start defending Sirius. He was honestly just a few words away from throwing a punch, much like Hermione had done so he took a deep breath.
“You can’t deny that a lot of the Death Eaters were Slytherins,” he finally spat.
“The Dark Lord offered to protect our culture, of course traditionalists joined!”
“So, you admit it! Traditionalists are Dark!”
“ Dark doesn’t make evil! ” Malfoy screamed, face so close to Harry’s that he could taste the mugwort on his breath. “How about you stop being such a Circe-damned puppet, and actually try learning a thing or two before throwing around judgements like a self-righteous, ignorant plebeian?!” Malfoy turned sharply on his heel, stalking out with the last line, “You disgrace the title of Heir, and the name Potter.”
Face no doubt flushed at the argument, and gut churning at everything that was said, Harry collapsed once more to rub his face. Vaguely, he noticed that the calm that the cigarette had gifted him was long gone and wished for another one.
Realizing what he’d been thinking, Harry grimaced to himself and pushed that thought down. What had taken over him, to accept something like a cigarette from Malfoy of all people? Clearly, the strain from the Tournament- which hadn’t even started yet- was getting to him.
Harry took a few more minutes to calm himself and ensure he looked at least halfway presentable. No reason to add fuel to the raging inferno that was Hogwarts’s rumor mill. He memorized the location of this little hidey-hole- it really was a great spot to come escape from others, Malfoy notwithstanding- before he finally made his way back to class.
As he walked, he ignored the whispers and the stares, all which sounded an awful lot like Malfoy’s educated drawl.
“You disgrace the title of Heir, and the name Potter.”