It started with a spider.
In the middle of a supposedly normal Tuesday afternoon, with nothing but studying with Ron in the Library ahead of him, Harry was making his way back to the Eighth Year dorm to grab some extra parchment and a book he knew they’d need, perfectly relaxed and happy. Of course, he wasn’t particularly looking forward to the 12-inch essay he had to write for potions, but he was happy enough. For once, all he had to worry about was his school work. But little did he know, as always, that was all about to change. Why did nothing ever happen the way it was supposed to when it involved Draco Malfoy?!
He’d just got to the dorm, finding it empty aside from Malfoy studying on his bed silently, had given him a chin-jut of acknowledgment, and stuck his head in his trunk when it happened. All at once, a terrified shout hit the air, making Harry jump so badly he banged his head against the lid of his trunk in his haste to stand, draw his wand, and defend himself from an attack.
As he readied himself for intruders, his eyes darted around the room, searching for signs of dark magic, for a dark mark, or for anything at all, finding to his surprise… Absolutely nothing; the dorm was just as empty as it had been a minute ago, the sun still streaming in through the windows, not blocked or shrouded by formidable cloaks, and no one was rushing to kill him. No, at first glance, it honestly looked like nothing had changed at all.
Until he spotted Malfoy.
For some inexplicable reason, the Slytherin was now stood on top of his pillows, stiff as a board, eyes wide and apparently focused on something that appeared to be at the foot of his bed.
“What is it?” Harry demanded, unable to relax just yet thanks to the adrenaline pumping through his veins.
But Malfoy couldn’t talk. He was completely paralysed, barely breathing, eyes transfixed in horror at… Something. Moving forward and following the Slytherin’s gaze, Harry blinked in surprise as he caught sight of a spider, more or less the size of his hand, scuttling across Malfoy’s bedsheets. A noise that sounded suspiciously like a whimper emanated from the blond.
“Oh,” he murmured, relief flooding through him as he watched the creature struggling towards the edge of the bed. Before it could get there, Harry placed his hand on the bed, ready to catch the poor thing as Malfoy squirmed in horror.
“It’s just a spider, Malfoy,” he said, scooping it up and heading towards the window. Elbowing it open, he carefully watched as the spider attached itself to the wall, waiting until he knew it was safe, before closing the window.
“There, it’s gone,” he said offhandedly as he walked back to his trunk to resume his rummaging.
But a few minutes later, when he’d finally unearthed the blasted book—how on earth had it fallen right to the very bottom of his trunk?—an uneasy feeling crept over him. It was too… Quiet… No longer could he hear the scratching of a quill, or the turning of pages from the other side of the room. In fact, he couldn’t hear any movement at all in the dorm, and at the very least Malfoy should have insulted him by now, surely! Since when was Draco Malfoy speechless?
Closing his trunk, Harry glanced over at the Slytherin’s bed, shock running through him once more at the sight before him.
Malfoy hadn’t moved. At all. Just as before he was stood on his pillows, arms clutching the curtains and himself in a protective manner, taking short, jolty breaths, eyes wide as saucers and shining a bit too much in the sunlight…
“Er… Malfoy?” Harry asked, standing slowly. But the Slytherin gave no indication that he’d heard anything.
“Malfoy,” he tried again, moving to stand at the bottom of the bed. The slightest blink of recognition passed over Malfoy’s face, but still he stared, transfixed in terror, at the end of his bed.
“Malfoy, it’s gone,” Harry said, watching as the blond continued to breathe too fast. “You can sit down. It’s not on your bed anymore. I got rid of it.”
But though the Slytherin nodded slightly, he made no effort to move. Harry stared helplessly at him.
“Er—” he began, as panic started spiking through him. He’d never been good with people when they were upset, he was one of the most awkward people in the world! How the heck was he supposed to look after Malfoy of all people? Why couldn’t it have been someone else?! But as Malfoy’s eyes glimmered all the more, and he began chewing on the inside of his lip as if trying to gnaw a hole in his face, Harry wracked his brain, knowing he couldn’t leave Malfoy in this state.
“Er, l—look, Malfoy,” he stumbled over the words, moving to the side of his bed. “Try and sit down. Come on, just let go of the curtain, yeah, that’s it, and sit down on your bed. It’s okay, the spider isn’t there anymore, you can sit down, it’s safe. That’s it, just a bit more. Great!”
As he encouraged the Slytherin, slowly, ever so slowly, the blond descended towards his pillows, just as rigid as before, eyes never leaving the spot where the spider was last. Harry swallowed.
“Um… Are... Are you okay?” he asked, knowing full well it was a stupid question but hoping it would at least make the Slytherin insult him or something. At least then he’d know the bloke wasn’t going to burst into flames or disappear altogether, which he seemed perfectly capable of doing right them.
But Malfoy simply nodded, swallowing hard, making no move to do anything else at all. Harry looked around desperately for inspiration.
“Do you… Do you want to talk?” he tried, desperately hoping that Malfoy would say no—it’s not like he would know what to say anyway! But he couldn’t just stand there looking like a prat…
To Harry’s relief Malfoy shook his head, gulping again as he continued working on chewing a hole in his cheek, jaw trembling slightly every time he stopped. But moments later Harry realised that meant that he had to come up with another suggestion as to how to help, causing a violent wave of panic to surge through him.
Think, Harry, think! What would Ron and Hermione do?
Suddenly a memory of his best friends talking him down after a nightmare during their seventh year sprang to mind. It had been a cold night in the tent, and the rain beating against the canvas—which was usually a soothing sound that eased him back to sleep—was doing nothing to calm his rattled nerves. But after a while of tossing, turning, and shaking, Hermione had appeared at his side, telling him to budge up. Together with a slightly bemused looking Ron, she had clambered into bed beside him, hugging him, telling him stories, making jokes, and squeezing him gently, Ron following suit, awkwardly at first, and then more naturally as the conversation flowed. Eventually, Harry had found his head too heavy to hold up, swaying onto Ron’s shoulder. He’d panicked briefly, the urge to sit up and apologise gripping him, but just as he’d gone to, his best friend’s arms had crept around him. As he’d paused, no longer certain of what to do, Hermione’s bushy hair had begun tickling his other cheek as she, too, had crept closer, reassuring him that this was allowed. Mere moments later, he’d been asleep.
Never in his life had he felt so safe as he had right then, and ever since then, whenever he had a bad night for nightmares or insomnia, or Ron wasn’t feeling well, or Hermione was super stressed about work, they all ended up piled in one bed, holding each other through it all. Now, looking at the haunted man in front of him, Harry just knew a hug was exactly what was needed. Even if it did mean hugging Malfoy...
“Er, can… Can I sit down?” he asked tentatively. Malfoy nodded slightly.
“Thanks er… Is there… Can I get you anything?” He winced as he chickened out, images of Malfoy cursing him for going anywhere near him springing to mind. But Malfoy just shook his head, blinking rapidly as another breath jolted out of him.
“Do you… Er… Malfoy?” he sucked in a deep breath, “Do you want a hug?”
Harry’s heart hammered as his stomach swirled in a sickening fashion, barely daring to look at the blond beside him. Why were sentences like that so… cringey?! But to his surprise, as he waited for a fist to collide with him, Malfoy gave the tiniest of nods, eyes still rooted to the spot where the spider had been, glistening madly.
Stunned by the Slytherin’s answer, Harry paused for a moment, staring at the man in front of him. But then Malfoy’s lip trembled again, reminding him of the state he was in and jolting him into action. With his heart pounding in his chest, Harry gently moved closer until their knees were touching, pausing as Malfoy flinched slightly at the contact. But as the Slytherin made no move to push him away, Harry took a deep breath and slowly wound his arms around Malfoy’s thin frame, pulling him closer until his head was on Harry’s shoulder, and Harry’s arms were awkwardly encircling his back.
For what seemed like a century, but could only have been a few moments, Malfoy stayed rigid against him, boney shoulders poking awkwardly and uncomfortably into him as he trembled in Harry’s arms, and Harry found himself barely daring to breathe, sure that at any moment a fist would start pummelling his stomach, or a spell would catch him off guard. But suddenly, with one forceful, shaky exhale, Malfoy relaxed, hands clutching at him as if needing something solid to hold onto just to remain upright as another noise escaped him. This time there was no denying that Malfoy had whimpered.
“It’s okay,” Harry found himself saying stupidly, as adrenaline pumped through his veins once more. How could this be okay?! Malfoy—Draco Sodding Malfoy—was clinging to him like a koala bear, shaking with panic, and sniffling into his shoulder! This wasn’t anywhere near okay! This was flat out terrifying! But as the blond shivered and gasped for breath against him, Harry had to say something, had to try and pretend that at least one of them was kind of calm.
So he kept repeating it, making sure his hold on the Slytherin was comfortable—or as comfortable as he could manage, anyway—and focused on taking deep, calm breaths, as Malfoy clung to him, shaking and gasping.
Slowly, gradually, Malfoy’s tremors became less violent, his breaths more steady, and his whimpers less frequent. As Malfoy’s breath’s evened, Harry tried to relax too, willing his heart to finally slow down. But of course, it declined, continuing to jump erratically around in his chest as thoughts reminding him of exactly how absurd this situation was swirled in his head. Still his arms remained around the Slytherin, only moving to pull back several more minutes later when Malfoy’s fingers uncurled themselves from Harry’s robes.
Harry watched as Malfoy sheepishly readjusted on his bed, certain he shouldn’t be staring but completely at a loss as to where else to look as the Slytherin began staring avidly at his knees, sniffing to himself with a deep blush painting his cheeks. The silence between them was excruciating.
“Um…“ Harry started, cursing himself as the Slytherin flinched; his voice was far too loud in the quiet room.
“Are you feeling better?” he asked, much more quietly.
For the first time that day, Malfoy looked at him properly, grey eyes fixing him with a piercing gaze. Well, it was clearly supposed to be piercing; unfortunately the watery redness of Malfoy’s eyes undermined the effect somewhat…
“I’m ready to dance for joy, Potter, what do you think?” he muttered. And despite the slight thickness to his voice, the acerbic tone still rang clear. Harry almost laughed out of pure relief.
“I’m not stopping you if you want to,” he said, certain Malfoy could dance far better than he could any day. But Malfoy just rolled his eyes slightly and turned back to staring, this time at the carpet, an air of utter gloom radiating off of him. Harry cursed silently, the pressure to just do something to make Malfoy feel better crushing him from all sides. Maybe Malfoy was right, maybe there was such a thing as being too much of a Gryffindor… Who knew he’d end up both agreeing with and comforting his arch-nemesis?
“Look, Malfoy,” he began, before suddenly realising he had no idea what to say and stopping short.
“Er… You—Well… You’re probably horrified that you just, um, well, cried on me, and I get that! An—and for what it’s worth? I’m sorry. If it was embarrassing for you, I mean. I didn’t plan to be here. I’m not that cruel. But… But it’s done now, a—and,” he sighed, raking a hand through his hair, “Honestly I’m really bad at this, and I just wish I knew how to make things go back to normal. Things are weird now and I don’t like it. Is there… What can I do?” He finally finished, desperation seeping into his voice as he prayed for the ground to just swallow him whole. Slowly, the Slytherin raised an eyebrow at him.
“Great talk, Saviour, ” he scorned. “Learn how to sound like a buffoon fucking a Hippogriff at one of your precious press conferences, reassuring the world that everything’s going to be ‘ hunky dory ?” But though his tone was cutting, Malfoy’s eyes remained distinctly dull.
“Nope,” Harry smirked, unable to resist, “That was a lesson I got free from you over the years.”
The effect was instantaneous; in the blink of an eye, Malfoy was bright red, eyes alive with furious indignation as his whole body jerked towards him, practically vibrating with anger.
“How dare you?!” he screeched, drawing a snigger from Harry.
“Yeah, that’s really helping to convince me that you don’t sound like a Hippogriff, Malfoy,” Harry laughed, as somehow the flush on Slytherin’s cheeks deepened. For a moment Malfoy’s mouth worked like a codfish, opening and closing without making a sound, but before long, a string of insults were hurtling towards Harry.
“You insolent cretin! You—you—you… Disgusting Hippogriff CUNT! You’re—you’re a turd! An imbecile! A fucking biggotted TWAT! I do NOT sound like that, and you KNOW IT! ”
But for once, instead of being angered or insulted, Harry found himself shaking with laughter, full guffaws bursting from his lips as Malfoy’s tirade continued, gaining speed and momentum as Harry laughed in his face.
“You kneazle shit! You utter donkey testicle wanker!” he squawked as Harry rocked backwards and forwards, still cackling. “You’re a bastard! An utter, sodding, manky dick, Pott—WHY WON’T YOU STOP LAUGHING?!”
Try as he might—which, to be honest, wasn’t very hard—Harry couldn’t help but keep howling with laughter. If anything, with each curse thrown his way, he only laughed harder, Malfoy’s inventive insults and indignant expression a seemingly endless amusement to him. Yet as the bed continued to shake and Harry lapsed into silent giggles, clutching his stomach, little by little a spark of amusement flickered in the Slytherin’s eyes, then his mouth quirked at the edges, and then finally, he too was laughing—far more quietly of course, and still scowling petulantly at points, trying to regain some composure—but laughing all the same.
“Oh man,” Harry laughed in between gasps for breath; “That was just too perfect! I just had to say it!” And with that, he immediately dissolved into fresh gibbers.
“Shut up, Potter,” Malfoy snapped, who had failed to stop his lips from stretching into a sheepish grin despite truly valiant efforts, shoulders still shaking with the occasional silent chuckle of his own. Through a final few more hoots of laughter and pants for breath, Harry drank in the sight of the blond’s pink cheeks, the happy shimmer in his eyes, and the smile he couldn’t hide. Satisfaction spread through his chest.
“Admit it, Malfoy,” he smiled lazily as grey eyes met his gaze, “It cheered you up.” And predictably, once again, the blond scowled.
“I’ll admit nothing of the sort!” he snipped, outraged as always yet still unable to stop his lips from twitching upwards as Harry snorted again. But not a moment later, though a hint of a smile remained on the Slytherin’s face, Harry watched as Malfoy’s eyes lost their spark, recent events obviously flooding back to him. Immediately Harry’s gut twisted.
“Er, fancy something to eat?” he blurted in a desperate attempt to keep the atmosphere light. Malfoy blinked, frowning at him once more.
“Lunch doesn’t start for another hour, idiot.” Malfoy murmured, tiredness drowning his brave attempt to be scathing.
“I wasn’t talking about lunch, asshole ,” Harry fired back, earning himself a confused scowl. It was worth it though; a spark of interest ignited in Malfoy’s eyes once again.
“What then?” the blond asked. Harry merely smirked.
“You’ll just have to come with me and find out.”