A/N: Lots of stuff explained here ;) I know some people noticed the little hints in earlier chapters, and well done to them! Sorry again for the time it took to get the last chapter to you. I'm aiming to be a little bit better from now on (famous last words...).
It was not much more than a day later when Malfoy finally woke up.
The hospital wing was darkened. The other inhabitants were asleep, and Harry himself was dozing lightly on the very edge of unconsciousness. Yet again he was slumped in his chair by the Slytherin's beside, the book he'd been reading draped open across his chest, when he was suddenly startled into wakefulness.
At first he wasn't sure what had jolted him out of sleep. His wand was in his hand instantly, the product of a year as the most hunted wizard in Britain, but he couldn't see anyone in the dimly-lit room and he gradually relaxed as he realised no one was attacking. He leant back in his chair with a sigh, a frown creasing his face.
Harry's gaze drifted to Malfoy, still lying unmoving on the hospital bed. The blonde looked... better? Maybe the Slytherin might be breathing a little more deeply now than he had before. Harry reached out to smooth a lock of blonde hair from Malfoy's face, brushing his cheek softly as he pulled away, and bit his lip; the pale skin was cold, unnaturally so. Maybe he should find him another blanket, or perhaps fetch Madam Pomfrey –
Malfoy's eyelids fluttered.
Harry froze. Had he imagined that, or was the blonde finally waking up?
His uncertainty was chased away a moment later, as Malfoy's lips twitched and he gave a small groan, soft and unobtrusive but undeniably audible.
Harry's mind was little more than a frantic swirl of questions, unable to do more than silently panic. Was something wrong? Was Malfoy in pain? Should he go fetch help? Was the blonde dying?
Then, before Harry could become completely incapacitated by the babble in his head, Malfoy's silver eyes half-opened again, his breath huffing out in discomfort, confirming it: he was coming round. He was fine, he was alive, and Harry felt weak with relief, as if he'd been holding his breath ever since the spell that had put Malfoy in this state had been cast.
A searching grey gaze travelled slowly, slightly unfocused, around the room, taking in the surroundings cautiously. The ceiling of the hospital wing; the table with the jug of water and the Slytherins' get well soon card; the bedsheets.
And then Malfoy saw him.
"Hey," Harry tried to smile, not sure why there was a lump in his throat or a prickling in his eyes. He leant forward a little, not fully believing what he was seeing, stomach a bundle of nerves.
For a second, Malfoy simply stared at him, expression completely blank. Then he blushed, the first hint of colour in his cheeks for days, and his gaze dropped. "Potter," he said quietly.
Harry shifted awkwardly. "Yeah."
It appeared as if the Slytherin were going to say something, his shoulders almost appearing squared as if for some sort of fight. Then the tension dropped, and he sighed. "I was going to ask why you're here, Gryffindork, but on second thoughts I really don't care."
"How do you feel?" Harry asked encouragingly.
"Like I've just been run over by the fucking Knight Bus," Malfoy muttered. He attempted to move, shifting into a more upright position and promptly groaning at the pain.
Harry put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "I'm not surprised."
Malfoy started at his touch, eyes flickering in surprise up to Harry's before sliding awkwardly away again. "How long was I out?"
"Three days, give or take a few hours. You did take an impressive swing at me when Madam Pomfrey was applying the Dittany the second time round, but I'm pretty sure you were unconscious," Harry told him, grimacing as the ghost of the bruise on his left cheekbone twinged at the reminder. It hadn't even been worth the time; Dittany only worked on Sectumsempra wounds if applied immediately, but Madam Pomfrey had declared imperiously that they may as well try.
The Slytherin's expression tightened at the mention of Dittany. "Scars?" he asked softly, one hand going automatically to the collar of his hospital gown.
Harry found himself biting his lip before he managed to blurt out the words. He still felt responsible; if he'd known the correct counter-curse, if he'd gotten Malfoy to the hospital wing sooner, it could have been avoided. "Three. One on your right thigh, two on your chest, here and here," he said, hearing the regret in his voice as he drew lines on himself, one on his ribcage and the other near his collarbone. "You already had one, from – from sixth year."
They both went quiet at the mention of the incident, and an uncomfortable silence descended. Harry pretended that he'd developed a sudden interest in his nail beds.
Truth be told, alluding to the hideous events back in their sixth year made Harry nervous. He didn't want Malfoy to be reminded of the strength of their enmity, not if it would eclipse the good he'd done by helping the Slytherin. For some reason it felt important, vitally important, that they managed to get on better terms.
"Potter?" Malfoy spoke hesitantly, brows knitted. Harry jumped, roused from thought, and turned to him, blinking rapidly behind his glasses.
Malfoy looked distinctly uncomfortable. "I'm..." He took a deep breath, as if summoning courage from somewhere. "Thank you. You're an idiot, but I owe you my life. Again."
"Ah." Harry shifted uncomfortably under the weight of Malfoy's grudging thanks, Zabini's words coming back to him. More grateful than either of you know. "You're welcome."
Malfoy nodded minutely, then relaxed into the mattress and sighed, as if grateful that the difficult part was over. "Since I'm sure you're dying to tell me, Potter... What happened?"
Harry didn't need to ask to know what the Slytherin was referring to. "Dolohov's dead, but they questioned Carrow. She eventually told them everything. Lestrange went straight to the Dementors."
A light shudder rippled through the blonde's frame and Harry felt a twinge of regret at the bluntness of his words; Bellatrix had still been, despite everything, Malfoy's aunt. But then the pale lips curled up into a sneer of derision. "Good."
Harry offered him a wan smile, and was surprised when the expression was returned with enthusiasm. There was a molten warmth in the grey eyes that was both fierce and encouraging.
"How did they get into the castle? With all the Aurors?"
"Polyjuice. Apparently the three of them were hiding out in the Forbidden Forest for most of the year – they knew about spots that the anti-Apparition wards didn't cover – and they've been stealing ingredients. Carrow said that they had an Auror under the Imperius; she let them in."
"How? There's an anti-Unforgiveable ward on Hogwarts grounds."
Harry grimaced. "If the Imperius is cast outside of the wards, then the spell works inside them. It's only casting that's nullified."
Malfoy cursed under his breath. "Wonderful. Some fucking wards."
Harry just pursed his lips in agreement. "Unfortunately, the wards don't block Tracking spells, either. Madam Pomfrey found one attached to you, cast by Lestrange, she thinks. She was able to remove it."
The blonde rolled his eyes and dropped his head back against the pillow, his manner almost weary. "Equally fantastic."
Harry nodded absently and turned to gaze at the card on the bedside table. For a Get Well Soon card, it was fairly sombre; he supposed it was just Slytherin tendencies. It probably wasn't helped by the fact that it stood there alone – one single, solitary card, from Malfoy's two friends. Presumably, his only real friends. Nothing even from his mother...
Harry suddenly felt a rush of pity and comradeship for Malfoy. It wasn't fair, he knew, for someone to have nearly died, and for no one to have cared. Maybe in the past, Malfoy had fucked up. Maybe he'd been on the wrong team, watched and participated in some horrific things. But he'd lowered the wand that he'd pointed at Dumbledore. He hadn't given Harry away, back at the Manor in Wiltshire during their year on the run. He'd come back to Hogwarts for his eighth year, perhaps not with his head held high as he once would have done, but not exactly with his tail between his legs. He'd just quietly continued with his education, as peacefully as possible.
No, Harry realised. The Slytherin had acted, and was acting, surprisingly and admirably Gryffindor.
Not that he would appreciate the sentiment, of course.
"Zabini and Parkinson visited you," Harry said suddenly, overwhelmed with a need for Malfoy to know that someone cared.
The blonde raised a haughty eyebrow at him. "Were you here, or did you just poke your Gryffindor nose into my business and read the card?"
Rolling his eyes, Harry replied dryly. "I was fortunate enough to be here."
Malfoy smirked. "I'm disappointed I slept through the meeting."
"Actually, they were civil," Harry told him matter-of-factly. "More so than you seem capable of being."
The Slytherin frowned. "In that case, I need to have a word with them. They were supposed to hex your scrawny little arse into next week."
The corner of Harry's lip quirked despite himself. Somehow, words that just a few years ago would have been biting and malicious just didn't hold the same weight they used to.
"You had better not be laughing at me, you Golden Prat," Malfoy said snarkily, but there was a faint undercurrent of amusement in his voice that told Harry he was joking. "I am an invalid here."
"Anyone who can be sarcastic is not an invalid."
"I'm a Malfoy," the blonde replied pompously. "And we retain a natural talent for sarcasm, no matter the situation. Just because you're completely useless, does not mean that I am too."
Harry tried to frown, but his smile was taking over. "Be careful, or I'll regret having saved you."
"You would have missed me, Potter," Malfoy told him archly.
So suddenly it felt like a rug being pulled out from underneath him, all the light-heartedness of the conversation dissipated. Harry felt a soft smile devoid of humour tugging at his lips, and a wave of gentle sadness swept over him. "Yeah," he agreed, his whisper almost inaudible.
He would never quite understand why he did what he did next. Eyelids fluttering closed for a brief second, following an impulse that won out against logic and common sense, Harry leaned forward and pressed a brief kiss to Malfoy's cheek.
There was a second of complete silence and stillness, grey eyes on green, wide and shocked.
And then, with his face burning and his heart pounding, Harry all but ran out of the hospital wing.