Ark hill, as its name indicated, was far from being a mountain. It didn’t mean that it wasn’t hard to climb, especially with the ground being half frozen. Ron was panting and cursing Harry, who only had to go and have tea with Hagrid to discuss thestrals, leaving them the luxury of following a muddy Scottish trail in the vague hope of finding a few stem of ailsing flur. Malfoy and him were high enough already that the forest through which they had passed was half hidden in whitish fog from their point of view. It was rather beautiful, sure, but also rather exhausting as the temperature had dropped and the winds were even stronger. Ron and Malfoy were both wearing heavy woollen jumpers and spell protected cloaks. Ron’s was a shabby maroon thing that had spent quite a few winters in the attic and Malfoy, all clad in elegant black for his part, had teased him mercilessly about it.
But their efforts were rewarded when Ron finally spotted the distinct bluish leaves of the ailsing flur, the only leaves left in sight. Weirdly enough, it was growing at the junction of the trunk and a branch of an entirely different tree, a small and crooked tree that would provide a bit of shadow for the sheep during the summer.
“I’m not climbing any higher,” Ron declared, pointing at the plant with a furrowed brow. “I’ll just accio the thing and be done with it.” He began rummaging through his clothes for his wand, under the amused eyes of Malfoy.
“Oh shite! I’ve lost my wand!” Ron realised, patting himself manically, panic perceptible in his voice.
“Is this a joke?”
“Would I joke about something like that? It’s definitely not a joke!” Ron looked pallid. “It must have slipped while we were climbing a slope.”
“You are so careless sometimes,” Malfoy complained, fists on his hips, “it’s a wonder you are still alive after all you’ve been through.”
Ron tried to tap his foot, but it only squelched in the mud. “Merlin, you’re not being helpful at all!”
“Don’t moan, I’ll summon it for you,” Malfoy decided, fishing his own wand from the deep inside pocket of his cloak. He accioed the flur first, and put it delicately inside a special wooden case he had brought with him, taking all the time in the world and pretending not to see the distress fumes coming from Ron. When he was done, he tugged a bit on each of his sleeves, and, with a flourish of the wand and a smirk, summoned Ron’s wand.
They waited a long minute and nothing happened. Ron was about to make fun of Malfoy to release some stress, when a whistling sound ripped up though the silent grey and purplish landscape and they both saw Ron’s wand coming at an alarming speed toward them. Ron smiled in recognition at first but he turned to panic when the slender object didn’t seem to slow down its course. It came at Malfoy like a dagger and hit him right in the face with an awful smack. Malfoy was knocked down from the impact and let out a long wail while clutching at his face. The wand hit the floor as well and rolled into some frozen mud.
“Oh no, Malfoy, I’m so sorry!” Ron fell to the ground as well, his eyes widened by worry. He took Malfoy by the shoulders, and scanned his face inquisitively.
“Is your nose broken? Are you eyes okay?”
Malfoy only let out a grunt, still clutching at his face. He didn’t seem to be bleeding, amazingly.
Somehow reassured, Ron tugged him to his chest. He rubbed his back fretfully while the other boy let out noises of pain. They stayed like that for a few minutes, too stunned to do anything else, and Ron felt the wind bite at his ears and coldness sip through is trousers.
“Your wand doesn’t like me,” Malfoy sniffed when he could talk again. “Oh fuck, it hurts so much.”
“Shh, let me see.”
Malfoy tilted his face toward Ron. There was an angry red welt beginning above his right eye and ending on his cheek. It was already becoming swollen and ugly. Ron put his cold fingers on it to soothe the pain.
“You so owe me an afternoon tea now,” Malfoy rasped, letting himself be manhandled despite the pain visible on his features. “This whole afternoon is a disaster.”
Ron smiled, relieved to see that the brat didn’t appear to be too heavily concussed. “Let me think,” he mumbled to himself, “I’m sure mom has a spell for atrocious bruises.”
“Please, do not try anything that could make it worse,” Malfoy moaned, letting himself fall down so that he was half lying on a green slope, his hands fisting grass and dirt to manage the pain.
“I’ll ask her when we get back. I promise you’ll look as pretty as usual comes Monday morning,” Ron told him.
Malfoy managed a half crooked smile despite his rapidly swelling face. “Oh, so you think I’m pretty?”
“You wish,” Ron said, hitting Malfoy’s shoulder lightly instead of rubbing it. “Come on, it’s awfully cold and we are both sodden. We’ll catch our death if we stay here any longer.” He got up to his feet and offered his friend a hand. Malfoy rubbed his dirty palms on Ron’s trousers from his spot on the ground before taking it and letting himself be lifted up. Ron was annoyed, but he couldn’t really say anything now, could he?
* * *
The long climb down had been exhausting and chilling to say the least. Malfoy had done it with only one eye opened, and Ron had to steady his elbow more than once as he lost his footing on sliding gravel. He was clutching the aisling flur box every five minute to make sure it was still in his pocket. Then of course it had started to rain.
When they arrived at Hogwarts, it had been dark outside for hours and they were ravenous but had missed dinner.
“Oh my god Weasley,” Malfoy lamented, “is this what you’ve been subjected to all those years of adventures I envied you?”
Ron gave a tired chuckle. “Pretty much, yes. Come on, we’ll get you to Pomfrey.”
“No way!” Malfoy refused right away. “It’ll look suspicious! Snape told me that he would disband us at the slightest incident.”
Ron squeezed Malfoy’s shoulder, something tugging in his chest. He had been in the castle only three minutes and felt warmer already. Then his stomach grumbled.
“I’m pretty sure Harry has saved some food for us. Let’s go upstairs and I’ll floo my mother for her spell.” He scratched behind his ear. “Now that I think of it, it was probably a cream. But anyways, you’ll be good as new in no time!”
Malfoy looked far from convinced, but he followed Ron anyway. He wasn’t particularly looking forward walking into the Slytherin common room with half his face bashed in.
* * *
“What happened to you? Did you two fight?” Hermione asked indignantly when they reached the Gryffindor common room.
“What?” Ron sounded just as indignant. “Of course not!”
Malfoy let himself drop into the nearest armchair, not caring about dirtying the carpet with his muddy shoes. The fire was blasting so hard that the room did almost feel too hot to him.
“Weasley and I only spar verbally,” he assured Hermione from the depth of the armchair. “This is only the result of me heroically salvaging his wand.”
“It this true?” the young witch asked suspiciously.
“Believe what you want,” Ron told her snappily. He bent down, then thought better of it and sat at Malfoy’s feet, and set to the task of unlacing the blond boy’s shoelaces. “Did Harry save any food for us?”
Hermione crossed her arms, tapped her fingers on her forearm and finally declared. “Yes, he did. There’s a platter right there.” She indicated a tray left on a small table by the east window. “He is in the bedroom now. I can go fetch him if you want.”
Ron took Malfoy shoes and placed them by the fireplace. “Thank you Hermione,” he said, walking toward the food. “Could you please ask him to bring down with him two of my jumpers?”
Soon enough, the two boys were eating ravenously, bundled up in a violet and a red jumper both bearing a big knitted R, retelling their dreadful, not fun at all, day and burning themselves with tea and soup. Harry was very impressed with the angry red welt that was barring Malfoy’s face. Hermione insisted that he should see Pomfrey right away. Malfoy explained why he couldn’t, and Harry smiled in appreciation. Malfoy smiled right back and playfully kicked Ron’s elbow to make him spill soup. His sock was still a bit wet.
“It’s really good that you’ve found the dream plant anyway,” Harry told them. “I’ve made progress with the thestral too, I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. You guys look like you’ll collapse any minute.”
“What thestral?” Hermione asked suspiciously, her eyes going from Ron sheepishly sitting at Malfoy’s feet to Harry who didn’t seem to find it particularly weird that his ex nemesis turned work partner had come back with a black eye. “I can’t believe you are taking so much risk for your project. The guidelines explicitly said not to!”
“There is nothing to worry about,” Harry told her soothingly, “it’s only that we are very passionate about our research.” Ron and Malfoy nodded vigorously.
“Plus I’m going to call my mom about some medicine right after desert, I promise,” Ron said, holding Malfoy’s ankle away.
“Nice to see that you have your priorities in good order,” Harry laughed at him. “But seriously Malfoy, how are you feeling?”
“I think I’ll live,” Malfoy said. “But I my father might about it.” He kicked at Ron again.
* * *
When they were no longer shivering and cramping up from anger, Ron threw a handful of floo powder on the fire. Molly of course answered with a very worried voice.
“Ron, are you all right? Why are you calling, you never call. Is your sister all right?”
Ron threw his hands out. “I’m fine mom, everyone is fine. Well, almost. My friend got hit on the face and I need your recipe for the… you know the cream that fixes bruises and stuff.”
“Is it Harry? Is Hermione alright?”
“They’re both fine and safely tucked in bed, relax. So, this cream?”
Molly sighed deeply, which sent some sparks flowing in the chimney. “I’ve packed a vial of homemade ointment in your trunk,” she said. “I do it every year, silly. But you never listen of course. You know, this is the same ointment I used when I used to kiss you booboos away. It works wonders.”
When he had cut the connection – without much ceremony - with his mom, Ron run upstairs to rummage into his trunk. When he got back down, he found Malfoy even more spread out on the comfy armchair, a hand rubbing at his belly underneath the purple jumper. Only his black eye was a sore sight.
“Can you imagine,” Ron snorted, sitting back next to him, “kissing the hurt away. That is so lame.” Both boys snickered, but they fell silent after a second.
“Maybe it works better because of the spit…” Malfoy trailed off, his eyes closed. “You never know, with this kind of silly homemade magic. What you believe is often half of it.”
“I can spit in it if you want,” Ron offered, with alarming seriousness.
“No thank you,” Malfoy replied, snatching the vial from him. He was about to dip his finger inside it when Ron snatched it back from him.
“I’m not taking any risk that this doesn’t work at its best potential,” Ron declared, looking slightly pink. “Mom would disown me.”
“You don’t have much to inherit anyways,” Malfoy said, but it was without any of his old animosity. On the contrary, he looked rather sweet despite the fact that he was quite obviously insulting Ron.
“Shut up,” Ron replied, rubbing his finger in the sticky paste. He applied a generous quantity of it on his lips; some even got over on his chin. “This tastes disgusting,” he said with a grimace, puckering his mouth and pulling his head back as if he could escape the taste. Malfoy laughed feebly, and tried to get up in his armchair, but gave up. “It smells like garlic,” he said.
Ron walked on his knees to him, and took Malfoy’s face between his hands. He took a moment to make a horrible grimace. “Oh Merlin, it smells like garlic but it tastes like rotten fish!”
Even if his nose was wrinkling at the smell, Malfoy let him do as he pleased. Ron looked at him for a few seconds to aim better. The light from the fireplace seemed to be dancing on Malfoy’s tired face. Ron began to apply his oily lips with great precision along the welt on Malfoy’s brow and on his cheek. He felt Malfoy move to accommodate his elbow on the arm of the chair. He applied some more ointment on his lips for the eyelid and the dark circle underneath it. He felt some lashes poke at his mouth.
“There you go,” he said when he was done. He cleared his throat awkwardly and rubbed at his lips and chin with his sleeve to get rid of the greasy salve. “Hopefully this will take care of the worse of the damage during the night.”
Malfoy had a weird look in his eyes and a blush fighting against his black eye. He asked for the invisibility cloak to get back to his dorms. It wasn’t even past curfew, but Ron asked Harry for it anyway.
* * *
Now that he knew about Malfoy, it’s true that Ron could see some things in his behaviour that Percy, in his well known open-mindness, would have called fruity.
He noticed, for example, how Mafoy’s voice became a bit shrill when he was excited about something. That the way he buttoned up his coat with upturned little fingers was a bit mannered; or that his handwriting was neater and prettier than even Lavender’s, who used pink ink.
Before getting to know him, Ron thought the sometime weirdness in his demeanour was an expression of his vain and conceited personality. But now he knew that it was bits and pieces of himself leaking from his self-control. Ron chest constricted when he noticed one, because he knew that Malfoy would feel shame at having been read.
“So, Hagrid has told me that he could give me some horn from the thestral hooves when he files them,” Harry was saying. “Which means…”
“We will soon have all the ingredients we need!” Malfoy completed excitedly. The red welt had receded and he looked quite happy between a jug of pumpkin juice and a teapot. The morning light was bright for the season, and one could see that his white hair had just enough gold in them to deserve the adjective blond. Ron guessed that the way they were perfectly brushed and gelled could be considered fruity too. In this case, one had to concede the adjective would have been mostly laudatory.
Harry and Ron had gone at the Slytherin table to eat their breakfast, so that Harry could update them on his talk with Hagrid. It had created a lot of hushed comments among the other students in the great hall, which had made Ron and Malfoy a bit self-conscious, but Harry had began talking without a care in the world.
“Yes,” Harry answered, “and Hagrid even said that he’d be happy to powder the horn for me, which means our work will be easier. The price market for that powder is very high, so we’ll make sure to thank him again, Ron.”
“Yes, mom,” Ron said, sticking his tongue out. It was still gluey with hot chocolate.
“We’ll also have to replant the flur,” Malfoy added, scribbling it on their to-do list. “First I’ll wean the flur in a whiskey decoction, but after that it’ll need volcanic soil again. We need a reasonable supply of it. I’m not sure Sprout has much to spare as the plants that needs it are not cultivated in the glasshouse, so I think the time has come for a trip to buy some compost in Hogsmeade.”
“It’s kind of amazing,” Ron said, licking his spoon, his eyes unfocused in wonder, “how classes have become almost exciting now that we have something interesting to do in them.”
* * *
Malfoy was comfortably sprawled in a chair by the window with his feet resting on the window seal, a plaid sprayed on his legs and a warm mug in his hands. He didn’t have any classes until eleven. It was still morning but autumn light filled the Slytherin common room, bouncing of the white stones of the fireplace. In front of him, Goyle was reciting a history lesson. It was the only method that enabled him to remember anything at all. Malfoy was listening to him distractedly, providing a date or the correct name of a goblin leader from time to time.
“Hey, Draco Fag-foy!” A rude voice interrupted them. “Make yourself useful and pass the homework.”
Malfoy tensed in his chair, throwing a glance at Goyle not to interfere. “Go fuck yourself Zabini,” he answered with as much panache as he could muster.
Zabini laughed, resting an elbow on the mantle of the fireplace. “Or what, your father will hear about it?”
Malfoy sighed in annoyance, as if it was nothing to him, but his heart was pounding loudly. His fingers tightened around the handle of the mug. With all that had been happening lately, creating or rediscovering a super potent potion, almost having an eye gouged out by an angry wand and feeling Ron Weasley’s – of all people - lips on his face, he had completely forgotten to the throw the monthly hex that made Zabini choke on his spit every time he tried to utter the word fag.
Queer he could manage, but fag really was too much. Zabini had been calling him that since 4th year. Malfoy had been very interested in Viktor Krum comings and goings that year, and Zabini had teased him relentlessly about it, no matter how much Malfoy categorically denied it being anything other than admiration for a fellow athlete. Malfoy had ended up getting in his head that Zabini was in fact jealous and wanted to have Malfoy’s attention all to himself. Of course he was horribly wrong, as a punch in his nose had clearly stated when he leaned in too close to Zabini’s mouth one day. On the bright side, since that awful experience, Malfoy had taken every precaution not to be found out.
“I’m still waiting for that homework, fag,” Zabini cried again, looking delighted at all the laughter his wit provoked among a group of his friends that was seating a few meters away. This group, comfortably settled for the show, was composed of two Slytherin girls, Iris Hansen and Gregoria Shaw, and of a guest, a Ravenclaw boy, who seemed to Malfoy to look even more of a faggot than him, but then again, Zabini couldn’t really be called a very perceptive person. Weirdly, Pansy was not hanging out with them.
Malfoy really wished Ron was there. He would tear Zabini apart with a biting repartee and turn the whole situation in a joke. He would make Malfoy laugh about being insulted. He was good like that.
“Harry Potter has it,” he told Zabini, not really knowing why. “My homework. You should ask him to give it to you once he’s done copying it.”
Zabini frowned. “Harry Potter?”
“Yes,” Iris said, sneering, “they’re chums now. He invited him and the Weasley boy to eat breakfast at our table, I saw it. With that mudblood Granger too, I’ve seen them in the library. I guess he can’t really sully himself any more anyway.”
“So what, you suck Potter’s dick now?” Zabini taunted, looking both disgusted and delighted by the idea. “Your poor father will have a heart attack.”
“I do not suck anybody’s dick,” Malfoy hissed, remaining as calm as he could. “You on the other end, suck at practically every subject, so you’d better stay on my good side if you want to pass any classes.”
There was no use trying to escalate anything with Zabini. For months Malfoy had maintained the status quo. Zabini would throw insults at him, he would deny them without loosing his temper, almost as if he found the banter funny, and people wouldn’t know what to think. Crabb had helped him a lot when he had answered a 5th year interested in the matter that, in his opinion, Zabini was the one who was queer and trying to court Malfoy in a backward way. The only thing Malfoy could do not to hurt his reputation even worse was to play along and pretend he didn’t care about Zabini’s stupid accusations. If the accusations happened to be true, that was beside the point.
“Well, let’s go find Harry Potter then,” Zabini decided. He knocked down Goyle’s History notes from Malfoy’s lap for good measure while leaving the common room under the cackles of the effeminate Ravenclaw.
* * *
“He told you what?” Harry asked, looking bewildered. Zabini had cornered him as he was leaving the Great Hall with Ron, making plans for the day.
Zabini looked really annoyed at this setback. Insulting Malfoy was good fun, but he really needed the homework now. “Come on Potter, I saw his use first,” he said in a business like tone. “Hand it over. If you haven’t copied it by now, that’s your problem, not mine.”
“I don’t have Malfoy’s homework,” Harry insisted, pushing his glasses up on his nose. “I don’t need to copy from him anyways. As you may know, I’m pretty good at Defence against the Dark Arts.”
Zabini scratched his head, looking back at Iris and Gregoria. “Why would the fag lie about something like that?”
“What did you call him?” Ron hissed, putting a step into the conversation with a loud thud.
Zabini looked at him like he was dirt. “What is it to you Weasel?” he replied, snorting.
“What is it to me?” Ron repeated, disbelieving. “You just insulted my friend, asshole.”
“Who insulted anyone?” Zabini asked with a generous spread of his hands, taking the time to throw a conniving look at the girls. “A fag is a fag, those are the facts.”
Ron clenched his jaw so hard that Harry winced. “Okay, now I get why he told you Harry had his homework.”
“Why?” Zabini asked, all swagger.
“So I could do this,” Ron replied, picking his wand up and flicking it at Zabini. He muttered a curse, his teeth grinding.
“Wow,” Zabini said, unimpressed. “You’re really good at this.”
Ron put his wand away calmly. “I am actually. One of my brothers taught me this trick. Maybe you’ve heard of him, his name is George. When you want it lifted, you come to me and we’ll talk. Now fuck off, and if you bother Malfoy again we’ll report you to both McGonagall and Snape. Don’t forget I’m a prefect.”
* * *
Zabini lasted almost a whole week, but the urinal infection Ron had cursed him with proved to be too debilitating. His pride prevented him from seeking out Ron, but when the Slytherin and Gryffindor teams had to share the locker room after practice on Friday night, he just couldn’t take it anymore. He waited until Harry was under the shower to corner Ron alone.
“Take it off Weasley, just fucking take it off!” he demanded, a towel hanging on his hips, his face still sweaty from the exercise. He smelled bad in the humid, soapy atmosphere of the room.
Ron was not intimidated. “I will when you apologise to Malfoy for insulting him.”
Zabini gripped his towel harder. “Look, I didn’t insult him; if he’s a fag, then…”
Ron turned his back. “Okay, I’ll let you meditate on that the next time you take a piss.”
“Fine!” Zabini caved in immediately.
He walked to Malfoy, who was already half dressed.
“I’m sorry I called you a fag, could you now ask your homosexual boyfriend to lift this damn curse off?”
“I can make it worse you now,” Ron interjected angrily, drawing his wand. “I want a proper apology.”
“It’s okay Weasley, you can lift it,” Malfoy said. “I think that Mr Zabini here now understands that it’s better not to piss off my friends.”
Ron reluctantly did as he was told and Zabini left to take his shower without further ado than a promising dirty glance.
When he was out of sight, Malfoy took his bag and went to seat near the bench were Ron was finishing getting ready.
“Thanks, Weasley,” he said, drying his hair in a white towel. It was quite a challenge in the wet atmosphere of the room.
“No need to thank me,” Ron shrugged. “I did it for mankind.”
Malfoy shook his head, amused, and folded his dirty clothes with a smile at the corner of his mouth.
“I do have a question though,” Ron added, unfolding a fresh pair of socks.
Ron slid closer and started whispering furiously. “How the hell does he know? I assume you haven’t confided in this prick.”
“Draco tried to snog him. At the end of the year house party in 4th year. He was drunk,” Crabb explained from behind his locker door. He was quite modest when he was getting dressed.
“Oh.” Ron said.
“Crabb! That was privet!” Malfoy hissed.
“No, it was in public,” Crabb protested. He closed the door as he did his last button. “Luckily, it was very dark and almost nobody noticed anything except the punch in Draco’s face.”
“Merlin.” Malfoy was now hiding his face in his hands. “This is so embarrassing. I can’t believe I was such a dumbass.”
“I obviously cannot compliment your terrible taste in snogging partners,” Ron said, “but that fucker Zabini is the one that has a problem. Punching someone over a kiss, Merlin!”
“Although, I wouldn’t recommend you try to kiss anyone else until you have a very clear permission,” Crabb noted, putting an arm in his jumper’s sleeve.
“Thanks Crabb, I would be lost without you,” Malfoy said sarcastically.
“You’re quite welcome Draco,” Crabb answered him.
Malfoy snickered. He couldn’t tell if Crabb was being genuine or cheeky.
“Anyways we still have Zabini to thank for ever becoming friends,” he told Ron as he zipped his bag. “He was the one to lose my potion essay back in October.”