Up on the Sixth Floor, right outside the Study of Ancient Runes Classroom, Harry faces off against Crabbe and Goyle.
They rush him, lurching around the corner with wands held high. Harry isn't sure where this lot has been learning curses, or who from, or how they've learned anything at all while being so thick — but it happened. And even though Harry is quicker, disabling Goyle within moments and expertly blocking the attacks, one of Crabbe's spells flickers to life, coloured like blood.
Blood, a dark velvety red, wells out of Harry's left arm at an alarming rate. His uniform sleeve hangs open in tatters, sodden-wet.
He remembers Goyle's piggish eyes widening, as the other Slytherin boy yanked on Crabbe's arm and hollered, running. Harry remembers his vision spinning, and feeling none of that throbbing sensation in his wounded arm. Roger Malone, wearing his yellow-and-black striped tie inside-out, catches a glimpse of Harry falling over, bleeding. He runs too, finding Professor Vector.
Harry remembers very little after that. Not anything but the Hospital Wing, and Madam Pomfrey's expression tight with concern.
She grumbles about Harry's wound, poking his arm with her wand to numb it. The inflamed, discoloured-white skin doesn't heal fully. Madam Pomfrey wraps Harry's arm, cleaning it often. Harry discovers how much he hates that part. The wound-cleaning potion gets dabbed onto his cursed-wound, leaking with the purple healing liquid that makes Harry's skin smoke and sting.
Using such a powerful antiseptic, and frequently, exhausts Harry. He's in enough agony to be given a Calming Draught.
Harry drain the pearly blue fluid, cooling and tasting of a delicate, sweet chamomile, into his mouth.
Sleep overcomes him.
Madam Pomfrey allows him two guests at a time — and of course, it's Ron and Hermione first.
He hears it from Ron as a stern-eyed, but worried, Hermione heads for the lavatory. Seamus has taken revenge for Harry, but he attacked Draco Malfoy with a jinx. Ron thinks Seamus assumed it was him who send Crabbe and Goyle after Harry.
Harry doubts that. Ever since resisting Voldemort face-to-face, Malfoy has avoided Harry altogether.
According to Parvati who witnessed it after the Great Hall's supper, Malfoy was confronted by a furious Seamus unprovoked, not even reaching for his wand. Guilt floods in Harry. It would have been different if Malfoy had attacked Seamus in the beginning.
Shortly, Madam Pomfrey attends to a newest and only other occupant to the Hospital Wing.
He wouldn't call himself obsessed.
Harry just doesn't know how else to spend his time coped up in the Hospital Wing. There's plenty of essays to write. Malfoy scraps his feathered quill briskly across the parchment, his cream-pale fingers loosening occasionally. Harry's eyes cannot help but follow each muscle-clench of Malfoy's knuckles and his hand-tendons, and up towards his neck bending down.
Madam Pomfrey dealt with a fever-stricken and vomiting Malfoy on the far end of the wing, checking his temperature, keeping the blue privacy screen around him. Eventually, Malfoy's fever broke. She moved him to one of the hospital beds across Harry.
There's no word on what jinx Seamus hit Malfoy with. Harry does know whatever it is — Malfoy has been sweating like mad.
Dizziness comes and goes. Harry tries to ignore his aches, in his skull and in his wounded, swollen-up arm still leaking blood.
He thumps his head on a pillow, grimacing up at the tower's high, domed ceiling.
Ginny, along with Dean Thomas and Neville, sneak in.
They greet Harry, passing a number of sweets from Honeydukes — Pixie Puffs, Chocoballs, Sugared Butterfly Wings, Ice Mice, Jelly Slugs and Spindle's Lick'O'Rish Spiders — before ducking out when Professor McGonagall visits Harry about his lessons.
She's pleased that Harry hasn't fallen behind, cautioning him not to as he remains here.
Harry doesn't want to be here longer.
Professor Snape visits Malfoy, ignoring Harry's existence as much as Draco ignores a mildly exasperated Harry this whole time. He passes Malfoy a stack of thin and elegantly written letters, nodding. Professor Snape's face turns rigid with trepidation.
When they're alone, Harry unboxes his Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, nibbling on a pumpkin bean and a honey bean.
He tosses one of the coconut beans across to Malfoy's hospital bed. It rolls on a sheet. Harry tries again, tossing a black pepper bean and reassured by Malfoy's grey-silver eyes narrowing over a letter. "Do you mind, Potter?"
"Not really," Harry answers, smiling briefly. "Couldn't be arsed, to tell you the truth."
Malfoy lowers his hands, gripping onto his letter. Blood, dark velvety red, trickles heavily under Malfoy's nose. Harry frowns. He doesn't know what to do but clutch at his fresh bandages. Malfoy notices his distress, and the wet warmth escaping him.
"What is it?"
"Nothing," Malfoy mutters, pressing a silk handkerchief to his face. He looks away. "It's usually worse than this."
Harry's stomach twists.
"… Why didn't you fight back?" he asks.
Harry doesn't expect an answer, but falters when Malfoy glares hot and bright-eyed at him.
"I've had enough of it," Malfoy whispers. "I've had enough of you and the Dark Lord and your lot of pillocks. Neither of my parents were safe under Dumbledore's watchful eye or after he passed on. They can hardly stand living together now."
A low, shuddery breath leaves Harry.
"Your mum saved my life…" he admits. Harry didn't think he ever would. Malfoy's features harden. "I dunno if she told you that… your mum lied to Voldemort about my death and tricked him. She's the reason why we won. I owe her."
Malfoy scoffs, but Harry can see the incredulous wonder there.
"I'm sure my mother would be chuffed to hear Gryffindor's Golden Boy thinks so highly of her."
"I do." Harry grins, sudden and heartfelt. Guilt eases in him. "She raised an insufferable prat like you as well."
He tosses up a Fizzing Whizzbees, half-expecting Malfoy to not be able to grab the delicious candy from the air. Not with his sickly condition. But like a true Seeker, Malfoy catches it effortlessly, but he seems appalled at the friendly gesture.
Harry's more entertained this way.
By Christmas morning, Harry lets Mr. and Mrs. Weasley by owl know… he'll be stuck at Hogwarts for another day. To his surprise, Harry learns Malfoy is staying for the holidays, recovering from his jinx for a little while longer.
He doesn't know when they set up a truce, being the only ones in the Hospital Wing, but Harry realises it's already happened. They decide to eat on their beds, keeping quiet after a loud argument about Ron and after Madam Pomfrey has them promise to behave as she files paperwork in her office. Harry chooses an array of minced pies (with cloves and nutmeg and cinnamon) and a plate of roasted turkey for his breakfast, as well Christmas pudding that has an unusually strong spice in his piece.
Harry's teeth drag painfully on a coin hidden inside. He spits it out, wincing and mopping the saliva off his chin.
Malfoy glances up from the bed next to Harry, as if faintly intrigued and bored at the same time.
"According to Pansy, finding that is supposed to mean good luck," he deadpans. "And a sign of your health improving."
"Bugger that," Harry mutters.
He palms the silver Sickle, over and over, but doesn't get rid of it.
From there, both Harry and Malfoy open their wizard crackers with each other's help. Malfoy tugs on the end of Harry's foil-gold cracker, jumping while seated as shimmering-purple but harmless fireworks explode between them.
In the tubes, after they've opened more, Harry finds a Knut and a toothpick, and an orange-and-pink paper crown. A blue-and-yellow one. A deep red one. A magically enchanted, miniature wax model of Gilderoy Lockhart that fawns over Harry, attempting to hug his thumb, much to Harry's embarrassment. Several parchment scrolls of riddles and jokes and Wizard World trivia.
WHAT DID THE WANDMAKER SAY TO HER ASSISTANT? (We should branch out.)
WHAT IS A BANSHEE'S FAVOURITE SWEET? (Shrieking Sherbet.)
Malfoy sweeps his fingers unconsciously into his ungelled, white hair as he reads his crackers' parchment scrolls out loud. Harry loses track of which of them Malfoy is on about, his gaze landing on Malfoy's bare wrist. The spiderweb-veins of pale blue.
MNEMONE RADFORD BECAME THE FIRST BRITISH MINISTRY OF MAGIC OBLIVIATOR.
REDBACK SPIDERS ARE VULNERABLE TO THE FIRE-MAKING SPELL, BUT NOT THE KNOCKBACK JINX.
IN 1967, THE NIMBUS RACING BROOM COMPANY WAS FOUNDED.
KEVIN HOPWOOD IS THE CURRENT GOBSTONES WORLD CHAMPION.
Harry's arm has less bandages wrapped to him than before, the bleeding finally slow. He maneuvers it gently up. Whatever it takes to be able to spend the rest of his Christmas holidays with the Weasleys — Harry needs to do.
WHAT DISAPPEARS AS SOON AS YOU SAY IT'S NAME?
"Silence," Malfoy blurts out, sneering. "It's silence. How is that difficult?"
HOW MANY LETTERS ARE IN THE ALPHABET?
"Not the answer," Harry declares, squinting through his glasses down at the riddle. "There's eleven letters in the alphabet."
"Are you mad, Potter?"
Harry smirks. "T-H-E-A-L-P-H-A-B-E-T," he recites each letter as if Malfoy is hard of hearing. "Eleven letters."
"That is ridiculous," Malfoy grumbles, but accepts the loss.
Shoving aside the glittery scarf and Chocolate Frog card, Harry reaches for another parchment scroll, rolling it.
"This," Harry starts reading, placing the deep red crown on top of his head, and then his expression falls, "belongs to you…" with Malfoy's pale eyebrows going up as Harry concludes, seeming flustered, "but everyone else uses it…"
He crumples it up.
"Let me see that," Malfoy says doubtfully, leaning over to take the parchment. "Your name."
Harry's cheeks burn. "You're right. This is stupid."
He climbs onto his feet unsteadily, holding his bandaged arm, making for the toilet and leaving Malfoy — Draco — nonplussed.
Madam Pomfrey inspects Harry's wound, discovering no infections.
She hums in approval, magicking his belongings from the Gryffindor Boys' Dormitory to appear. They hover in the air beside Harry. He mumbles a "thank you" sheepishly as Madam Pomfrey bestows him with an encouraging look.
Draco waves her off as another nosebleed dizzies him. Draco — blimey, what is he doing, Harry scolds himself.
"Happy Christmas… and all of that rubbish…" he says awkwardly, patting off his uniform-trousers.
"Try to not get yourself killed over the holidays, Potter."
Draco's voice muffles behind his handkerchief. Harry smiles, relaxing.
"Saving me for yourself then?" Harry asks, oblivious to the hint of cheek, and immediately realises what he's said. Said without saying. A flushing colour glares on Harry's face and he grimaces. "I didn't… I didn't mean…"
A smile spreads on Draco's mouth. Not a haughty, prattish smirk.
"Better leave before Pomfrey thinks you've changed your mind, Potter."
"Right," Harry says quickly, marching out with his belongings trailing behind him. He reaches into his trouser-pocket for his wand, and feels a slip of dried, crumpled parchment. Harry doesn't remember putting one of the wizard cracker riddles there.
THIS BELONGS TO YOU, BUT EVERYONE ELSE USES IT.
Harry's fingers smooth the edges.
He rolls his eyes with a laugh, peering over his shoulder to the Hospital Wing's entrance. The last time Draco passed him a note, it was an enchanted scribble of Harry playing Quiddich and getting struck by lightning. It's certainly an improvement.
Ron and Hermione wave to him on the staircase.
He thinks about how soon Draco will find Harry's silver Sickle under Draco's pillow. After all, maybe Draco needs the luck.