Cold Comfort – by Sara's Girl
Disclaimer: It's not mine. No need to rub it in. Pass me a tissue.
AN - Please find enclosed a tiny peace offering in the hope that you will all forgive me for the delay in updating 'Turn'. The good news is, I think my head is starting to clear and Marie assures me that I am looking better, so I can set to work soon. In the meantime, please accept this wee slice of pointless fluffy!verse fun that I wrote yesterday. Utterly plotless, I assure you.
Harry frowns, sneaking covert glances across the Great Hall and stabbing his fork at his breakfast plate, lifting it whenever it connects with something promising and stuffing it into his mouth. Slowly and absently, he chews on a piece of sausage and continues to watch. His subject scowls at his own breakfast companions and reaches for a jug of pumpkin juice; he fills his glass, looks up, and with his pale hair falling across his forehead, meets Harry's eyes, and the scowl softens into something resembling a pout.
Suppressing a smile, Harry swallows without tasting and resumes his plate-stabbing. He still looks terrible. Absolutely fucking horrendous, in fact. And he has done since the start of term, which is, Harry calculates, fifteen days now. The stupid, stubborn bastard. A small part of Harry wonders if he really has room to talk when it comes to stubbornness, but he silences it quickly. Anything it has to say is completely beside the point.
Next to Harry, Ron leans and stretches across the table on one hand, barely missing Harry's plate and completely obscuring his view of the Slytherin table.
"Do you think Snape's got a girlfriend?"
Hermione sighs. "Why on earth do you care?"
"Harry," Ron mumbles, jogging his arm as he returns to his seat and gesturing with an eggy fork. "Do you think he has?"
"Hm?" Harry manages, refocusing on Draco just in time to see him sneezing violently into his handkerchief. Seconds later, he is a small, sniffling island in a sea of unoccupied table-space as his housemates shuffle pointedly away from him, shielding their plates and cups. He looks so forlorn sitting there, refined features crumpled, skin pallid, hair out of place, that compassion twinges sharply in Harry's chest and he has to force himself to look away.
"Snape. Look at his hair," Ron says, and Harry follows the line of his narrowed eyes. "It's almost... shiny. And his robes... they're... in fact," he murmurs, leaning forward again, "I don't even think they're black. That's all wrong. Got to be trying to impress some girl."
"Or some boy... er, man," Hermione puts in, somewhat reluctantly.
"Hermione, don't," Ron groans.
"Make it worse," Ron says, freckled nose wrinkling.
Harry frowns, disappointment tightening his heart. "Why is that idea worse?"
Ron snorts and stuffs a piece of bacon into his mouth. "Well, it isn't... but I hadn't actually been... you know, picturing it... him doing it. Until that point. And then I was. Which was pretty special... thanks, 'Mione."
Equal parts disturbed and relieved, Harry drops his fork and abandons his breakfast. For no reason that he can see, other than that he's a glutton for punishment, he looks over at Snape.
And he has to admit it, the greasy bugger does indeed look... well, less greasy than usual. He still looks utterly sour, as though a smile might cause his face to shatter into a million pieces, but there is something different, and honestly, he really wishes Ron hadn't noticed it. It's not as though Ron is much of a noticer, except when it comes to food and things that are disturbing, and Harry supposes that the idea of Snape tarting himself up to impress some new lover fits nicely into the second category.
And really, he supposes, it's no wonder that he managed to end up with someone as deranged as Draco; Ron's been warping his brain for years with his theories. There was that one about Madam Pomfrey and Madam Hooch and the potion bottles, the one about what might or might not reside under Dumbledore's robes, the one about the noises in the third floor boys' bathroom... and now this.
Harry sighs. "I hate to say this, Ron, because it'll probably haunt my dreams, but I think you may be right."
Ron grins and turns to Hermione, triumphant. "See?"
"Congratulations, Ronald," she says without looking up from her Ancient Runes textbook. "You've successfully crossed the line into complete perversion."
"Brilliant," Ron mumbles through a mouthful of scrambled egg. "So, do you reckon he's bought some new—"
"You'll wonder about something else if you know what's good for you," Hermione says darkly, reaching out to flip over a page.
Displaying impressive judgement for once, Ron nods, scrubs at his face and looks around the room, apparently searching for a new topic of speculation.
"Malfoy's looking peaky," he says at last, and with relish. Once more, Harry follows his gaze, and, right on cue, Draco looses a barrage of barking coughs that shake his slender body and drive him against the edge of the table over and over.
"You could say that," Harry agrees, catching a momentary flash of defeat in the grey eyes and something in Draco's posture that makes Harry think he'd drop his head to the table if he weren't so concerned about his image.
"He looks disgusting," Ron continues with some satisfaction, and Harry doesn't have to work too hard to bite down a protest. Though he's come to fully appreciate a healthy Draco as a thing of quite dangerous beauty, he has to admit that this is not his most alluring moment.
"Mm," Harry mumbles noncommittally.
"They've all abandoned him, the horrible buggers," Ron says, eyeing the clusters of Slytherins clinging to one end of the table or the other, apparently terrified of being exposed to Draco's undignified lurgy. "Would you do that to me if I was ill?" he asks, and the blue eyes that flick to Harry's are suddenly full of quite genuine concern.
"No," Harry says, amused. "But I'd also expect you to be a grown-up about it and take some bloody Pepper-Up."
Ron's face wrinkles in confusion. "What are you on about?"
"Erm, nothing," Harry says hurriedly, scrubbing at his hair as the back of his neck begins to heat. "Just, well, he's been like that for a while, hasn't he? And there's no good reason for it. Apart from sheer bloody-mindedness, I suppose."
Ron snorts. "Idiot ferret."
Relieved, Harry smiles and picks up an abandoned toast triangle. "Exactly," he says, biting into it and wiping his sticky-crumb-buttery fingers on his trousers.
After a deeply frustrating Potions class, during which Harry neglects his Serenity Solution in order to keep an eye each on Draco—who is sniffling and barking and sneezing into his handkerchief and muttering into his cauldron—and a stern but glossy-haired Snape, Harry has had enough. He's had enough at watching the not-so-silent suffering, he's had enough of the woeful eyes across classrooms and halls and corridors, and he's had enough of sitting in the Common Room in the evenings and listening to Ron and Hermione's bickering because Draco is sitting in his room and feeling sorry for himself.
Everyone has a breaking point, a moment of 'fuck this for a game of Quidditch', and this moment, as he snatches up his bag and stomps out of the Potions classroom, this moment is Harry's. Grimly, he pushes his way through the crowds of students as they spill out into the corridors for morning break, and makes his way to the Hospital Wing.
It only takes him a couple of minutes and the application of what Draco calls his studiously sheepish smile to wheedle a flask of Pepper-Up from Madam Pomfrey, and then Harry is leaning against the nearest cold stone wall, unrolling the Map and locating the rotten, dripping bugger.
"Anyone'd think you've got no friends," Harry says softly, stepping onto the straw-covered floor of the Owlery and closing the door behind himself. Several sleeping owls rustle in protest at the sound of his voice, briefly fixing Harry with jewel-bright eyes.
Draco turns, hands gripping the edge of the wide stone window-ledge on which he is sitting, one leg dangling on either side, wrapped in a thick, black cloak and his house scarf. He scowls.
"They're all frightened of me. I have no idea why."
"Maybe because you're sick," Harry points out, leaning against the door and folding his arms across his chest. The flask is a reassuring weight against his hip, but he senses it's not quite the time to press his advantage.
"I'm dot sick," he insists, lifting his chin. "Malfoys don't get sick."
"Oh, really? Where did you get it from?"
"By father," Draco sniffs. "He's a bery geberous man."
Harry laughs, suddenly struck by the vivid image of Lucius Malfoy handing his son a wrapped gift box full of gold-plated cold bacteria. He shakes his head. "Of course he is. So, this thing... that he gave you..."
"Yes. He wasn't sick eider."
Harry sighs and rubs at his face. "You're a nightmare. A nightmare on wheels."
Draco blinks, puzzled. "Do the wheels make it better or worse?"
"You know what, Draco? I have no idea," Harry admits, inhaling deeply as he thinks, and enjoying the sweet, musty scent of owls and straw that brings back a cascade of memories. "Right," he mutters, withdrawing the flask and holding it aloft. "I've had enough now. Drink it."
Draco's eyes narrow in suspicion. "Why does everyone keep trying to drug me? I'm not unwell!"
"You're right, Draco. You look great," Harry snaps.
"So, we're in agreement. Do you want to come back to Slytherin and look after be?"
"Why do you need to be looked after if you're not ill?"
"I'm... " Draco pauses, seemingly to think, and then breaks into an impressive coughing fit which echoes around the stone walls of the Owlery and causes several of the birds to flap and hoot in irritation. "Well... I'm in a bad humour."
Harry bites down on his smile as hard as he can, but a small snort escapes; Draco glares, and he lets go, allowing his laughter to fill the cold space. There's something in the stubborn prick's expression—his stubborn prick's expression—that floods him with a wonderful, familiar, exasperated warmth.
"Just drink it."
"I'm not. I refuse to acknowledge the common cold. It can... it can bite me," Draco says fiercely, dipping his head into the folds of his scarf so that only his eyes are visible above the folds of silver and green wool.
"Well then..." Harry begins, taking a small step toward the window and letting loose a cautious smile. "How about doing it for another reason?"
Those eyes are curious, there's no denying that. Harry holds out the flask. "Because... no one likes a sickie?"
Draco lifts an eyebrow but otherwise does not move an inch.
"Because you look so awful that even Ron has started to notice?" he attempts.
Draco groans into his scarf.
Harry sighs, heart quickening just a little. "Because I'm worried about you?" he almost whispers.
For a moment, there is silence, and then Draco rises out of his coil of scarf like a cautious snake. His eyes flicker. "No, you aren't."
"If you're allowed to know that you're not sick, I think I'm allowed to know whether or not I'm worried about you," Harry offers.
Draco stares. The corner of his mouth twitches, just for a moment, but Harry sees it and it lifts him. Carefully, Draco swings around so that both legs dangle on the inside of the window.
Harry grins. "Not a chance."
"Where did you leard to be so cruel?" Draco asks stuffily.
"From you, probably." Harry draws his wand and levitates the potion flask, directing it toward Draco. "Anyway, I'm not being cruel, I'm just exercising self preservation—hey, look, another thing you're always trying to teach me!" He grins.
"You're dot funny, Potter," Draco retorts. Sneezes.
"I'm hilarious. Are you going to drink it?"
"I don't know, are you going to come here?"
Harry bites his lip. "I'll make you a deal," he says, and takes a step closer.
Draco plucks the bottle from the air and removes the stopper. Looks at Harry. "I'm still not sick."
"Course not," Harry assures, taking another step toward Draco. "Humour me."
Three days later, Harry is still watching the Slytherin table at mealtimes, but what he sees there is infinitely more satisfying than before. Draco, still a little too pale but generally looking much healthier, is at the centre of a tight group of seventh-year Slytherins, all of whom are drinking coffee and listening to some kind of salacious story being told by Blaise Zabini, who is smirking and making a bewildering array of illustrative hand gestures.
Draco clears his plate and rises from the table, a satisfied expression on his face, and Harry chews his toast contentedly.
"Something's cheered him up," Ron observes, reaching across the table for the bacon platter.
"Yeah," Harry says softly.
"Or someone," Hermione suggests, dark eyes meeting his for a fraction of a second as she slides onto the bench beside him.
"Who would go near that?" Ron wants to know, shaking his head and spooning cooked tomatoes onto his plate.
Harry sneezes. "Well..." he begins, looking for a distraction, and then he sneezes again.
Hermione smiles at her cereal, apparently amused, and then looks up, eyes fixed on the staff table.
Ron stares at him, mouth gaping. "You..."
"Look at Snape," Hermione says suddenly, cutting Ron off, and, delighted for the diversion, Harry follows her eyes just in time to see the newly-shiny Snape sneeze once, twice, three times into a monogrammed handkerchief before sniffing and looking absolutely murderous.
"Snape's sick... and Malfoy... and you?" Ron mumbles, horrified. So horrified, in fact, that he has stopped eating altogether.
Draco, halfway to the doors, has also paused and turned to look at Snape, and the dawning horror on his face works its way into Harry's consciousness with disconcerting speed.
"From by father. He's a bery geberous man."
"Isn't he just?" Harry whispers, rubbing at his face and deciding not to look at Draco for the moment. No one should have to think about their father doing... well, that.
"Harry?" Hermione prods, voice caught between concern and curiosity.
Harry shakes his head, and it hurts. "You don't want to know."