Chapter 1: October 1996
Harry and Ron were seated at a table in a remote corner of the library. The atmosphere was one of doom as neither of them had yet finished the essay due the following day. It was for the Transfiguration class, which meant no deadline extension. And it was the first assignment of the semester, which would set the tone for the year. McGonagall had handed them the brief on the first day of class, sure, but only Hermione had it ready by October 1st. Everyone else considered September a prolongation of the holidays, which was quite natural since summer technically only ended the 21st.
Ron had more or less capitulated and was ready to hand the distasteful mess he had scribbled down, but Harry was more tenacious, if by tenacious one meant that he was erratically sitting up and walking to random shelves to check books in hope of a miraculous inspiration.
The subject was the uses of transfiguration in architecture, so they had settled near the Architecture division of the Heritage section, where all kind of topics were seemingly randomly archived. Ron had got Harry to stop questioning the wizarding way of classifying things a long time ago.
As Harry went exploring once again, Ron sighed with despair. The not quite silence emanating from Ravenclaws buried in their work was seriously depressing. How Hermione could spend so much time here was beyond him. An elf putting heavy tomes back in place cast a judging glance at his idleness.
Harry came back with a look of excitation that the situation really didn’t justify.
“Ron!” he said, ignoring completely the elf’s shocked face, “I found one! I found an essay!”
“What the heck do you mean?” Ron grunted. “That’s not how it works. You’re supposed to write one bit by bit and suffer hell over it, not find one.” He cast a glance at the paper that had been shoved right underneath his nose.
...when one masters the process well enough, the newly transfigured object can retain something of what it was first. For example, a marble stone transfigured out of a rabbit can hold the silky aspect of the fur. It requires quite a strong magic to make the transfiguration last through the centuries...
“This is good, isn’t it?” Harry said excitedly. He read a bit more before adding “I wonder who wrote this and why they took such poor care of their homework.”
He pointed a few more passages to Ron, and, he had to admit, it turned out to be almost...fun to read. The writing was clearer and more entertaining than Hermione's and the ideas were as almost as good.
Harry seemed really enthusiastic about what he had just read, and, claiming that a few ideas had already began to pop in his head about what he could say for his own essay, he began writing. As he was babbling to his best friend about how he would imitate the method of analysing things he would have noticed on his own and how there surely were a few things about the room of requirement to wonder about, enough to write a passable essay, Ron was moved by a less intellectual curiosity.
He looked for an indication of who the author could be and found one indeed, about ten inches down in the scroll’s margin.
“Blimey!” he exclaimed loudly.
“Muffliato” Harry was quick enough to say and avoid them a proper eviction from the library. “What is it now?”
“Draco bloody Malfoy wrote that essay!” Ron sounded offended.
Harry’s eyebrows jumped up. “What? I didn’t see any name underneath the title!”
“Look, it’s right here in the margin,” Ron said, shoving the paper and a dirty finger right back in Harry’s face. In the same black inked fine scripture as the rest of the essay, was written D.M. Slyth 6th.
It seemed impossible to him that something so good could be written by someone so bad. But as Harry scanned through the pages, he found some references to the Malfoy Manor architectural particularities, as well as to the Slytherin common room that assured them that it was indeed the twat’s work.
“Well, we'll have plenty of time to wonder about Malfoy's academics abilities later,” Harry said in disbelief. He wasn’t one to tergiversate when time was getting short. “The most urgent thing is to somehow write that damned paper!”
And so they did. It was a devastatingly painful experience, but at least now Ron felt wide-awake.
Harry insisted they had to add Malfoy's essay to the pile when McGonagall asked for their work the next day. Ron almost screamed in outrage. What in Merlin’s name had the twat ever done to deserve such kindness from them? But Harry insisted that it was the decent thing to do, that they weren’t on Malfoy’s level. So they swapped it as discreetly as they could with Malfoy's second version of the essay, which was quite visibly shorter and hadn't quite neat a handwriting as the first, clearly having been redone in a hurry.
This was by far one of the strangest good deeds Ron had ever accomplished in his life.
* * *
“I thank you for no less than six papers on Stonehenge,” McGonagall said with her usual matter of fact delivery. “I would have hoped for a little more imagination from you.”
The Slytherins and the Gryffindors that had chosen Transfiguration were packed in the classroom, nervously waiting for their mark. It was a big class to fail an assignment for.
“Thank Merlin, that’s not us,” Ron told Harry without turning his head. Hermione cast him a chastising glance. She liked to concentrate for papers feedback. Ron wondered why as she once more got an O.
Harry elbowed him when Malfoy only received an E instead of the O he was sure he would get. There was no pleased smile on Malfoy's face upon realizing that it was his first and lost essay that had been graded instead of the dashed through second one. He kept a blank face when he got his marked essay and walked back to his seat. Harry, like Ron, received an A, but being bad at writing about transfiguration didn't mean that he didn't understand it, he muttered to Ron.
Ron was about to shrug when Harry seemingly went mad and raised his hand before he could do anything about it.
“Yes, Mr Potter,” McGonagall said from her desk where she sat between a very small giraffe in a cage and a ball of thimbles, “do you have a question?”
“Why did Malfoy got an E?” Harry blurted out. Ron hid his face in his arms while simultaneously cursing Harry for his stupidity.
“Well, because he worked for it I suppose.” McGonagall answered dryly. “You could maybe get an E yourself if you didn't always wait until the last minute to do your homework Mr Potter...”
Beside him on the old wooden bench, Ron heard Hermione wince in sympathy at the cutting remark.
“No, I mean,” Harry elaborated, unable to stop in spite of Ron’s pinching, “why did he only got an E? I read his essay, and it was brilliant. Why didn't he get the same grade as Hermione?”
The stupefied gasp this remark created among his classmates didn’t stop him from adding, a supreme offence for all the students wearing red and gold ties, “His work was better.”
Ron choked on his spit and the rest of the class started to mutter openly, most people unable to believe their ears. Harry and Malfoy were known to be almost mortal enemies, only speaking to each other to throw imaginative insults in each other faces.
“Mr Potter, please sit down,” began McGonagall crisply. She re-established the silence by menacingly tapping on the edge of her desk with her wand. “Must I understand that you have become a Transfiguration expert overnight to be able to judge other people’s work better than your professor? How come your own essay wasn’t of a higher standard then?”
Harry didn’t have much to answer to that. He mumbled an apology, not daring to look McGonagall in the eye now that his moment of folly had passed. Ron tugged at his sleeve and he finally sat back down.
Ron’s only consolation to this debacle was that Malfoy looked like he had swallowed his tongue in surprise. At the other end of the class, the blond boy, with his open mouth, furrowed brow and crimson cheeks, looked like someone had just told him that Snape wore stockings under his robes.
“Merlin!” Ron exclaimed under his breath when Harry was sitting next to him again, making his quills fall from his desk in excitation. “That was absolutely, totally unexpected,” he said with eyes as wide as saucers. His cheeks must be bright pink too now that he thought of it. “Harry, have you lost it? We may be decent people, but we still hate Malfoy remember?”
Hermione seemed perplexed as well. A wrinkle was progressively deepening between her eyes. “And how come you've read his essay?” she asked Harry in a furious whisper, never loosing track of the real questions, “or mine as it is?”
“Well, that's unfair,” was all Harry muttered in answer, busying himself with note taking to avoid further conversation. He scratched his paper so hard that his quill made a drop of ink explode on the paper in a nasty rap. Ron signalled at Hermione that they would get over this later.
At the end of the class, Harry did not wait for McGonagall to call him at her desk and reprimand him further for his outburst. He almost jumped from his seat to get out. Ron knew he didn't want to be confronted with all his housemates. They were no doubt thinking that he had gone completely barmy, which, to be honest, Ron was very much afraid he had.
* * *
The noise this incident made was only beginning to die when, two days later, Malfoy finally decided to say something of his own. Harry and Ron were once again working alongside in the library - which happened far too often for Ron’s liking with the perspective of the NEWTs - trying to get some work done, when they were startled by a voice asking in mock wondering:
“What was so great about my essay? Was it really better than Granger's?”
Ron looked up from his scrapbook in outrage, a big black smear on his nose, to see Malfoy casually dragging a chair. Not only had Harry all but refused to elaborate on the Monday morning incident and Hermione decided to punish them both with the dreaded silent treatment, but now Malfoy, with his posh black clothes and his usual nasty sneer, also felt like he could casually come and sit at their table?
“You wish,” he hissed at the intruder, the movement of hand punctuating this declaration almost knocking off a pile of dusty books. But Harry didn’t side with him to offer a united front to the enemy. Instead, pushing his glasses back on his nose, he outrageously answered Malfoy’s question in a civil fashion.
“Well,” he begun trying to keep his voice detached but failing miserably, “it was quite original and clear. Bold but logic. Hermione's was very well documented and clever and everything, but yours was simply…I don’t know…brighter I guess, and much more personal. She's my friend, but the grades were unfair. I didn't imagine McGonagall as someone who would practice favouritism.”
There was a moment of stunned silence. Harry coughed a little in a desperate attempt to retain some kind of normalcy. It failed. Ron mouth just wouldn’t close down. Malfoy looked constipated.
“Well, I must say I'm quite amazed by this turn of event,” Malfoy said carefully, linking his fingers together. He was obviously aiming for composed, but there was a hint of wariness in his voice. “So it was you who gave her my essay on time. Where'd you find it?”
“You had forgotten it here, near the transfiguration section. I read the beginning out of curiosity,” Harry admitted, glancing nervously at Ron who was still dangerously silent. He swallowed before adding: “ And well…I felt compelled to go through the whole thing. I didn't copy anything though. Well...not much.”
At this Ron smiled a pinched smile at Malfoy.
“I wouldn't have dreamt of you liking my ideas,” Malfoy said, looking from one to the other, his voice full of wonder. He was hunching weirdly over the table, as if he could see in a clearer way what Harry was plotting by looking up his nostrils.
“Well…neither would I have, to be honest,” Harry answered. He hesitated a moment and then smiled tentatively. Ron made a strangled sound. Malfoy’s eyes went back to him.
“What are you working on now?” he asked next.
“Potions,” Ron said between his teeth. This whole situation was even more awkward then when his aunt Frances had asked his mother why she felt the urge to reproduce so often.
“Well, seeing as you are such big fans of my work, you can have a look at my Potions essay too” Malfoy said. Ron waited for a punch line, but Malfoy bent down, rummaged through his bag and fished a roll of parchment out of it. He handed it to Harry, a weird sneer on his face. “Both of yours must be worse than anything I would have written with my left feet. If you have even started it, that is. By the way, you have coal on your nose Weasley.”
Malfoy then stood up and left as silently as he had come, disappearing behind a shelf of English- High, Popular and Common Goblin dictionaries, leaving Harry and Ron to their bafflement. Harry didn't know if he should say thank you for the help, or say something about Malfoy's last quidditch performances to make him pay about the comment on his potion abilities. Ron did pinch his own forearm viciously.
* * *
“I must say I'm very surprised mister Potter,” said Snape dryly a few days later. “This wasn't as catastrophic as you previous works.”
They were in double potions with the Slytherins, in that dreadfully humid classroom without any windows, squeezed between dirty cauldrons.
“The rest of the class has failed miserably,” Snape continued with a thin smile, “except of course for Mr Malfoy, who seemed to be the only one in possession of something approaching a brain. Miss Granger was also passable”, he added after a blank, delighted of the look of pure despair that had taken over the face of the young witch for a few seconds.
Ron groaned miserably when he got his essay back. He should have sat on his pride and taken an inspiring look at Malfoy’s. He had been so sure it was a trap designed to make them fall accused of cheating that he had advised Harry against even reading the parchment. He was now eating his hat.
“Harry, I'm really proud of you,” Hermione said in a hushed voice, ignoring Ron completely. She was speaking so low you had to have a sound amplification spell on to be able to hear her. Which Harry and Ron both had because chatting was the only way not to die of despair during Potions. “I always knew that you could do well in potions if you really worked on it.”
“Actually...” Harry begun, but Snape was now near them, giving the instructions for the assignment that would give them their final grade for the semester.
“Maybe some of my colleagues have already told you about this, as this is a transversal assignment” Snape begun with an air of aristocratic boredom, “but you're going to have to join two subjects for this project.” How he was able to sound condescending even while giving schoolwork was beyond Ron.
“It is a group work, but you will be marked individually. So no one is advised to rest on the work of others. And you should also know that whichever subject you pick, I will be a member of your jury anyways.”
Ron folded his arms and buried his face inside them. Life was a tasteless travesty.
* * *
“Flitwick has already told us about this assignment,” Hermione said excitedly at lunch. “He said we have to find a unifying question or topic that would need two different research domains to be answered. Last year some students chose to work on the diet of banshees, joining Botany and Care of Magical Creature.”
“Can we please not speak of homework when we are eating?” Ron protested through a mouthful of nips and tatties. Seamus had already offered him to work on explosives, which needed charms and...something yet to be defined, and Dean seemed rather keen on inventing a magical version of soccer and was accepting any partners. So he really hadn’t anything to worry about yet.
Harry, however, the traitor, kept the conversation going by explaining how he was thinking about expending his culture about the wizarding world because often enough he heard other students, or even Ron and Hermione, referring to things he didn't know about, and he was finding it more and more frustrating as the years passed by. Hermione, of course, how nice of her, offered to pay a visit with Harry to the section dedicated to the wizarding humanities in the library in the afternoon after lunch. During the free period. By the time desert had come, Ron was seriously questioning his choice of friends.
Hermione recommended An History of Wizarding specificities: a culture in the making, a book by Sir Saint-Mars and that evening Harry declined a game of chess in front of the common room fire in favour of reading in bed.
“Have you slipped something in his drink?” Ron asked Hermione, as he incredulously watched his best friend go upstairs. “You should become an auror, I didn’t notice anything.”
“It wouldn’t kill you to read a book sometime,” she laughed at him. In her opinion, Ron was clearly the deranged one.
“I’ll have you know that I’ve known about this book since way longer then you,” Ron retorted, piqued.
“Yes, really. We have a copy at home, because there's a chapter, - or rather a few lines – about our family in it. Mum put the book right next to the complete work of Lockart. Which says a lot about the quality of Saint-Mars’ prose.”
“Well, you shouldn’t be surprised that Harry needs to discover these things for himself too then,” Hermione told him with an annoying smile.
When Ron went upstairs to the bedroom, Harry was indeed reading, glasses askew on his nose. He still had his socks on. Ron sat on his bed, setting himself comfortably on the quilt his mother had made for him when he started at Hogwarts.
“Interesting?” he asked Harry as a peace offering.
“Yes, very!” his friend answered excitedly. “Listen, I’ve found a passage that might make you laugh.”
“Go ahead,” Ron answered, fishing for his pyjamas underneath his pillow.
Harry thumbed through the book, opened it on the page he had marked, pushed his glasses back on his nose and cleared his voice.
“But the predominant input in the Malfoy line is undoubtedly the French one,” he read. “The Norwegian line settled in Normandy following Viking invasions of the IX century and adopted the French custom and language. The French spelling of the name, Malefoi, means “of bad faith”, or rather, who betrays his oath”.
“Fitting,” Ron snorted. “But what kind of dumbass would wear that as a name?”
Harry held up a finger. “It was given to Adalbert in 1097 by his French suzerain” he continued, “when he grew jealous and wary of the magical nature of his dear counsellor and condemned him as a diabolic sorcerer. Adalbert Malfoy decided to keep this name as a symbol of wizarding pride and a reminder of the deceitfulness of moldus.”
“I think I remember that story now,” Ron said, wriggling into his bottoms. “And before that the book explains how a Viking ancestor, before the time of the Normans, hexed his children so that they would always be blonds. This family has been deranged for a long time.”
“Yes, that would be Dagmar Malfoy,” Harry completed. “How come no one ever told me to read this book?”
“Oh, come on, I’m sure it was in Binn’s syllabus. He put it there right the year it was published.”
“1758,” Harry went to check, bursting into laughing.
“1758? That’s the third edition mate,” Ron added, with a snort that made Neville enquire about what was so funny.
* * *
Ron’s restored feeling of normalcy didn’t last very long. Just the next morning, while Harry and him were hurrying toward glasshouse 3 for their botany class (Hermione was already taking the advanced one), their breakfast of crumpets still in hand and ready to be consumed discreetly behind leafy plants, a familiar mocking voice greeted them from a corner.
“Nice trousers Weasley,” Draco Malfoy drawled, “did your mum make them for you out of one of her old dresses from the 1970’s?”
Ron turned his head so fast that Harry worried for his cervical. He went very red in the face when he spotted Malfoy.
“Did your mum make your belt with the tender skin of her aristocratic bottom?” he replied with inventiveness, his voice bouncing against the naked stone of the walls.
“Do not insult my mother,” Malfoy growled, getting closer.
“You insulted my mother first, git.”
“I beg to differ Weasel, I didn't start it: your dreadful fashion sense was the first to strike.”
“Shut up Malfoy, you are being a bore and we don’t have time for that,” Harry declared, pulling Ron by the elbow toward the glasshouses.
“Oh, I'm really hurt Potter,” Malfoy snorted, following them toward the same direction. That was yet another subject they had in common, Ron remembered. He never paid much attention in that class, it was way too early and as a prefect he often had to patrol the night previous to it.
“But I know you don’t mean it,” Malfoy bragged, falling into step with them, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Ron horrified eyes did nothing to stop him.
“Do not play coy, Potter,” Malfoy carried on, spitting the two t with as much contempt as he could muster. “I know you find me fascinating.”
“Where are you getting that from?” Ron asked with the bombastic tone of the righteous, almost deafening Harry in the process. They were outside by now and he still hadn’t tasted one bite of his breakfast.
“Well, your dear friend thinks I'm clever. Bright, I seem to recall, was his choice word.”
Harry shrugged disdainfully. “Yeah, well, it wasn't really clever of you to insult Ron.”
“Not Ron, the way he dresses...” Malfoy corrected. He smiled when he saw the books Harry was carrying underneath his left arm. “Oh but I see that you are really fascinated with me,” he added gleefully. “Saint-Mars had a strange - well no, a very natural - obsession with the great Malfoy family.”
Harry made a noise of frustration and began to walk even faster. The glasshouses were now in their sight of view. “Why does everyone seems to know about this sodding book and never bothered to tell me anything about it? ‘There you go Harry, something to bring you up to date on your new world that you don’t now the first thing about.’”
This got an amused huff from Malfoy, who seemed to be enjoying himself hugely. Of course the bastard had thought about wearing gloves, Ron noticed. He would have like to put his own hands inside his pockets, but he had food to protect. At this rate the crumpets would be horribly cold when he would finally be seated.
“Yeah, more along the lines of ‘Hi Potter! This book is a huge praise of my pure-blooded family that you hate. Here, read it, I'm sure you'll find it enjoyable’, he mimicked in a mocking tone. “I certainly couldn't foresee that you would finally see the light...”
“Oh, just shut up, we are already late enough as it is!” Ron interrupted, breaking into a sprint, his handful of pastries clutched against his heart.
* * *
The next time Malfoy talked to them was during the following Potions class.
“Today will be a new occasion to humiliate yourselves,” Snape greeted them, “as I'll use my last strengths trying to teach you how to brew the veritaserum, which is a classic of NEWTS...”
One quarter through the hour, Ron was already having great troubles keeping his concentration up. The idea of making veritaserum was appealing at first, but Snape had decided they needed a full lesson about the history and the regulations of the veritaserum before they could actually try to produce it. He took an involuntary nap when Snape begun to explain what undesirable side effects the third version of the potion, by Gregory Mulet, had, and how it had been improved.
“So, what do you say?” Malfoy asked them at the end of the lesson, waking him up. “Do we have a project group?” He had his bag flung on his shoulder, a hip resting against the wooden desk, and a face strangely devoid of sarcasm.
“A project as in working together?” Ron asked in return, disbelievingly and still half sleeping. Which was weird because he usually was wide-awake near an enemy presence.
“Yes, I'd like to work with someone who worships my intelligence because they understands it,” Malfoy explained with a mocking nod towards Harry, “and not because they don't, like Crabbe and Goyle.”
“I do not worship anything that is yours!” Harry whispered furiously, not wanting to alert Snape.
“Well you should, it could get you an O for that project,” Malfoy said casually. “And with potions as a subject what’s more. Now, that would impress McGonagall, wouldn’t it?”
“Well…” Harry was at a loss for words. Ron punched him. He couldn’t be considering this ridiculous offer now, could he? But Harry took his arm away, threw a warning glance at Ron and motioned for Malfoy to follow them outside the classroom.
“What is going on Harry?” Hermione asked when she saw that the three boys were remaining behind in the corridor.
“Don’t worry, we’ll explain later!” he reassured her, waving her away. There would definitely be no we in the explanation, Ron thought.
“Don’t hurt your brain,” Malfoy said casually once they were alone in the hallway, “I was thinking of doing something about the magical property of pureblood. It’s quite controversial and I know how you two hoodlums like to break the rules so…”
Harry’s eyebrows shot into his bangs. “What? That’s not controversial, that’s…I don’t know, Nazi! Besides, it's not as if the fact that you are from an ancient pureblooded house has any influence on your magic. You aren't better than Hermione at charms; blood doesn't give any special abilities.”
“By Merlin,” Malfoy exclaimed, genuinely surprised, “don't you know anything? No special abilities? Just read A single drop: the power hidden in pure blood, it will teach you not to say such ignorant things again. It was known by every wizard before it was banned in consequence to...the little historic incident with the Dark Lord.”
A moment of tension followed this admission. Malfoy glanced at Ron, waiting for a reaction.
“Banned,” Harry repeated. This word held a strange fascination on him. “It must be in the restricted section then, if they still have it.”
“Of course they still have it, it's not even dark magic. Just ask Snape for a note...” Malfoy advised, a confident smile back on his lips.
Harry was incredulous again. “Are you mad? Snape hates me!”
“And he despises me,” Ron chipped in helpfully.
“Oh right,” Malfoy laughed as if the thought delighted him, “he's the only member of the faculty sensible enough not to be beaming at you...”
As Ron was opening his mouth again to throw some biting repartee, Malfoy added:
“Shall I just lend you my own copy then?”
* * *
The Halloween feast was well under way, and Ron was enjoying every bite of it. Now that he was amongst the most senior students, and a prefect to boost, he exercised his right to first share on every course with a barely hidden delight. Hermione was berating him, between cheese and desert, explaining something to do with a weird muggle religious cult and the sin of gluttony when some enemy presence assaulted their table.
“Hi stupid and dumb-dumb” Malfoy greeted Harry and him. Halloween was a homely event and everybody was wearing woollen jumpers, expect for Malfoy, who was clad in stern looking black as per usual. “I've come to bring you knowledge.”
“Malfoy, what do you think you are doing here! What the hell is up with you lately!” Ron cried, staining his fingers with hollandaise sauce as he hit the tables in outrage. Malfoy remained collected, going as far as to take a seat at the end of the bench. Crabb and Goyle were a few feet behind him, looking menacing.
“Everyone has to fight ignorance in his own little way. So I brought you the infamous banned book Potter,” he said directly to Harry. “Don't you dare dirty it. Do not leave it too near Weasel and his greasy big fingers, it costs more than he can afford.”
Ron said a word and did something with his finger his mother wouldn’t have approved of.
“It's a...potion book,” Harry declared lamely going through a few pages.
“If you like Saint-Mars, I'm sure you'll find it very cool,” said Malfoy, seemingly unfazed by Harry’s lack of enthusiasm and the daggers coming from Ron’s eyes. “Don't be prejudiced Potter.”
“That's rich coming from you,” Hermione snorted, but her eyes were stuck on the book.
Malfoy didn't answer but threw an enigmatic smile, and left with Crabbe and Goyle in his tow.
“What a git,” Hermione said without an ounce of surprise in her voice.
“What the hell is up with him? Does he think he is our friend now or something?” Ron asked at the same time.
Harry did not answer right away, because he was too busy examining the book. It was black, bearing the Malfoy crest, a white and long M, with the inscription “Sanctimonia Vincet Semper”. He looked up as his friends again.
“What does that mean?” he asked, pointing the Latin sentence.
“Purity Always Conquers” Hermione answered with distaste.
Ron let his hand flail everywhere, as if to erase the disturbing situation. “Harry, what the hell is going on? First the essay, and now that book? We really have to talk about this Malfoy situation. He is being much too invasive for my sanity. We can’t seem to go anywhere without seeing his skinny face and his pointed nose nowadays! Is he mad? Is he sick? Does he have a devious plan to gain our trust and then get at us? Has he used up all his money to buy himself a new personality?”
“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “But it definitely calls for an investigation. Are you in?”
“I’m going to investigate that first,” Hermione answered, taking the book from him. “You boys can handle the other part.”
Chapter 2: Beginning of November 1996
Most of the trees were completely bare by now. The wind was often harsh outside and it always rained at some point of the day, even for a few minutes. The weekends especially were a miserable affair, as they were mostly spent scooped up inside, trying to avoid tedious encounters in the common room or studying in the library. Mostly studying. But now, one couldn’t even expect them to be relatably dull.
“You again?” Ron exclaimed when Malfoy confidently drew a chair to sit at the library table he shared with Harry, and even pushed away some of their stuff to put his bag in front of him. Ron’s shout drew Mrs Pince's stern look to him. “Did someone put a glue spell on you or something? Merlin!”
“He seems to think we are working together for the project,” Harry said.
But seeing Malfoy’s disappointed expression, and realising that the boy hadn’t actually done anything but engage them in what was – for him anyway- a civil fashion, he conceded: “I mean…apparently we are.”
“What?” Ron whispered furiously. Sometimes he hated how heroic and selfless his best friend could be. With a twirl of his wrist, he cast a muffliato toward the librarian. It was one of the spells he was a natural at. There may be some truth to the saying practice makes perfect after all.
“Well,” Harry tried, rubbing his eyes tiredly, “after all, Malfoy knows a great deal of things I don't because I've been raised by muggles. It wouldn’t hurt me to be updated on things all-wizard families...”
Ron took a little time to process the information, balancing his chair on two feet. “Pureblood families you mean? How come I'm not surprised?” He tsked, throwing a dirty glance at Malfoy.
“Yes, pureblooded families, Weasley,” Malfoy interrupted with a scowl, “just like yours. Why don't you join us? You must know your own bit.”
Ron snickered. “Oh, don't think I won't Malfoy! I won't let Harry deal with you alone. If you were plotting anything, do not count on it...”
To Ron’s astonishment, Malfoy, his chin resting on his hand, laughed in his face without any real animosity.
“Okay, no need to be so angry,” he said, “It makes you look even redder. Remember to breeze, inhale, than exhale. Welcome to the team Weasley.”
Ron and Harry exchanged a long puzzled glance. They had known each other for years now and that enabled them to detect each other true motivation in not kicking Malfoy right away: ravenous curiosity. Harry looked back to Malfoy, taking his quill to occupy his hands.
“Malfoy, I’m not trying to antagonize you,” he admitted slowly, “but…why are you doing all this? I mean, acting as if working together was something that we did everyday. Not that I don’t want to, it’s just…I must admit I’m a bit confused.”
“Well…you did something nice for me; it’s all you had to do from the beginning,” Malfoy declared regally, one of his hands casually brushing his white blond air back behind his ear. “If you recall, I wanted to be your friend from the very first day. You were the one who rejected me.”
“Okay…” Harry said, not letting himself be too mystified by this over-simplification just yet.
“I seem to recall you insulted me from the very first day,” Ron interjected, his back straight with indignation.
“Well, I apologise Weasley, I was jealous of your self-confidence,” Malfoy answered good-heartedly. Ron was too busy wondering if that was sincere or the highest level of sarcasm he had ever had to withstand to stop Harry when the spectacled boy finally decided “Let’s try it then.”
* * *
“Are you quite sure? McGonagall asked for the third time. The form for the collective project group submission was before her on the desk, and her quill was nowhere near ready to sign it. “You really want to partner up with Mr Malfoy?”
“Yes, professor...” Harry sighed. “We are sure. We have discussed it at length.”
“I forewarn you that no irruption of violence, magical or physical fights shall be tolerated,” she said, looking at them with searching eyes. “This is a school project that will have a great impact on your NEWTS, not a way to express childish school rivalry...”
“Don't worry professor,” Ron said. “Try to see it as a sacrifice for science.”
* * *
“My turn then,” Malfoy said. They were in botany class together, roasting underneath a ray of sun coming through the glasshouse. They had decided to join botany and potion for their project, because it was two classes the three of them shared, as well as it being a quite obvious match. Ron had moaned about doing potions, but Malfoy had convinced him by saying that he would be the potion expert, and Ron could be the botany expert.
Malfoy took the knife and cut his hand awkwardly over his vial of growth potion. A few drops of blood fell into the potion, as it had for Harry and Ron. They had agreed to this experiment so that Malfoy would shut up already about the wonders of blood purity.
“Alright, we have three samples now. Let's pour it into our pots and see if it works,” he said.
Ron poured his vial into his flowerpot, which made it turn muddy. He waited a few seconds, but nothing happened.
“Malfoy, you're sure nothing went wrong with the potion?” Harry asked. It was a simple growth potion, but those were supposed to act fast (and produce unpalatable vegetables, Ron had scoffed).
“No, I checked twice. I've never failed a potion before,” the blond boy muttered.
“Cheer up Malfoy, nobody can succeed at everything they do,” Ron said with mock sympathy. “Except perhaps Hermione, but sometimes I doubt she is even human...”
There was then a loud pop then, as Ron's plant suddenly grew up and splattered mud all over the desk.
“Blimey, it worked!” he exclaimed happily.
“Yeah, nobody's perfect, uh?” Malfoy boasted.
“It's really cool!” Harry said, seeming very pleased. “I want to try mine.”
He poured his own vial in the pot he had prepared; it took a little more time than Ron's to emerge through the earth, and the plant was a little smaller, but the result was still good.
“Your turn Malfoy,” Ron said, dragging a pot underneath the slytherin’s nose. “I can't wait to see what kind of power a great noble man like yourself owns.”
Malfoy rolled his eyes, and poured the third version of the potion. The result was immediate: the plant sprang to life with great violence, and grew high, spreading leaves and flowers alongside with its growth. In the end, it was almost twice as big as Ron's plant.
“What? How!” Harry said with excitement. He had dirt sprayed on his glasses. Malfoy smiled contentedly.
“Wait a minute,” Ron interrupted, not subjugated at all, “why did your potion worked so much better than mine? We're both purebloods! Did you add something in it?”
“Weasel, you saw me making it, you know I didn't,” Malfoy sighed. “Accept that my blood has more magical properties than yours. Potter, help me cut some of the leaves from the plants we got, I want to see if the three of them work differently in a potion.”
“You think that’s going to carry over in potions?” Harry asked
“I don't know, that’s the point of trying,” Malfoy said with a roll of his eyes, annoyed at having to confirm something so obvious.
“I'm still not convinced,” Ron interrupted, rummaging through A single drop.
“Pity, you shall live with it.”
“I'm sure there is something different with your potion,” he continued. “If your blood was so much more powerful than ours, you'd be a greater wizard than the pathetic excuse for one you actually are.”
“Suit yourself peasant,” Malfoy answered through greeted teeth, classing the leaves in labelled boxes. “Just don't ruin the book, I like it quite a lot. What are you thinking about?” He asked Harry who had a pensive look.
Harry shook his head as if to come back to what was happening. “I was wondering,” he asked, “would Hermione blood have given any results?”
Malfoy thought about it for a few moments. “I don't really know. I doubt it, but she's a quite powerful witch, so we never know. How come blood is more or less magical? It can't be that the magic exists within the blood, or there wouldn’t be any muggleborn wizards. But there are.”
“And how would you explain that?”
“Well...maybe it isn't the blood that is magical and gives power, but the magic that gives blood power. And as my family has been magical for an extended period of time, our blood is very concentrated with magic, while Granger's is all fresh and new and not saturated with inheritance...”
“Mmmm…” Harry answered non-committedly. He wasn’t about to fall for Malfoy’s propaganda at the first try.
“Haha!” Ron erupted, waving the little black book and looking absolutely pleased with himself. “Now I understand why you wouldn’t say anything Malfoy! But no need to be so shy, you can tell Ron-Ron anything.”
Malfoy looked positively baffled, which was a victory in and of itself. “What? Have you gone mad?” he asked with contempt. Do not tell me that you're such a glutton that you've eaten one of the potion ingredients, and that it is now slowly killing your non-existent brain.”
“Oh, don't panic, it's not such a big deal, we won't tell anyone,” Ron said, tapping the book on the desk and trying not to giggle.
“The hell if I understand what you’re talking about,” Malfoy huffed, visibly annoyed at not getting anything of what Ron was saying.
“Look Harry,” Ron said with an impish smile, showing his friend a very precise chapter which was untitled “The absolute purity: the chastity of a child and the power of an adult”.
Harry blinked. He looked at Malfoy, who was now horribly red, and read the tittle again.
“Oh,” he said. “That means that you're a virgin, right? That’s why your blood worked so well.”
“Oh my god,” Malfoy said in despair, hurrying to cast a muffliato to spare his reputation from such horrendous slender.
“Of course he is!” Ron shrieked, delighted. “I should have thought of it way sooner, it's quite well known that virgin blood is very potent, that's why virgins were used in sacrifices. But I would never have thought that you were still one Malfoy!”
“Of course I am,” Malfoy spat in hushed tones. “I’m barely seventeen for Merlin’s sake! Why would you think I wasn’t one weasel?”
“Why?” Ron repeated, evidently amused. “Well, it doesn't fit with your reputation of resident prick I suppose. What about that Pansy girl? Even she didn't want you? I thought she was all over you.”
“I'm not in love with her. Could we not discuss my private life?” Malfoy asked coldly, his cool manners betrayed by his flushed cheeks. “I believe we are here to work, not to gossip.”
“Bloody hell, but this is most interesting. A very revealing afternoon I should say. Draco Malfoy, a romantic virgin soul! Who would have thought?” Ron couldn't stop laughing.
Malfoy was looking murderous.
“Ron, leave him alone,” Harry finally said, after letting his friend have all the fun it was possible to have. “I don't see what’s funny in that. It's not really that amazing that Malfoy should be a virgin, considering our age.”
“Oh why Potter, don't tell me you're a virgin too?” Malfoy drawled in a bitter voice, trying to get back on his feet and concentrating furiously on his leaves.
“Let’s be honest, everyone at this table is a bloody virgin!” Harry answered hotly.
Ron made a noise of protestation. “You’ve kissed Cho Chang! And I’ve gone out with Lavender for a month. I’m not really a virgin anymore. I’ve been touched.”
“I wouldn’t brag about it if I were you,” Malfoy sneered, still slightly pink. “And we should be working; I doubt this kind of conversation would impress Snape or Sprout very much as a school project.”
“You, on the other hand,” Ron continued, “are still a lip virgin!”
He gave Malfoy’s back three sympathetic taps and the slytherin looked horrified by the over-familiarity. Ron was consequently heard chuckling quietly to himself all afternoon. No one was able to spoil his glee.
* * *
Water spurted from Malfoy’s wand and hit Ron right in the face.
“Oops sorry, I thought there was a fire going on. Didn't realize it was just you hair,” he snorted.
The three boys had been rummaging for a peculiar mushroom that looked like an ear at the selvedge of the Forbidden forest for almost an hour now, to no effect. After the experiment with the blood, Malfoy had proposed to find a way to prevent it from evaporating when put in a vial, so that they may use it later on (although there was no rush, Ron had noted, since Malfoy would remain a virgin for many years in all likeliness.) Harry, who was still on a disturbing reading spree, had found out that the mushroom orili fungi was a very good and magically neutral conservator for liquids.
Right now, there was no space for any sort of mushrooms in Ron’s head. He had a shocked look on his face and water dripping down his noise onto his scarf.
“You're so funny, I’m going to knock your teeth out!” he shrieked with rightful wrath, lunging at Malfoy. He sent the blond boy tumbling onto the dead leaves and rubbed the wetness sliding down his face on Malfoy’s jumper as if it was a towel. It left the black garment horribly stretched, which Malfoy realised with a murderous look. With a screech of outrage of his own, he tripped Ron when he tried to get up, and almost had him face-plant on a stump.
“Guys, guys, how about we take a break?” Harry suggested, half panicked that what could still pass as playful would only take one more shove to turn into a fistfight.
Not paying him any attention, Ron began shoving dead leaves in Malfoy jumper, cackling madly. Malfoy took advantage of his inattention to hex his shoelace tied together, a feat considering how much he was squirming to escape the damp debris. His laugh radiated satisfaction when Ron tripped over himself while trying to reach a new fistful of leaves. Harry had to join him at the ridiculous sight of his best friend falling from all his height with a shrill cry.
“Let’s just steal this mushroom from Snape,” Ron said, laying on the ground, short of breath but happy.
“Are you crazy?” Malfoy said from a few feet beside him on the ground, “I’ll buy this damn mushroom via howl and that’ll be the end of it.”
“Good thinking,” Harry agreed, “I really wasn’t looking forward going back to the forest, I’m knackered. Now that this problem is dealt with, group meeting Saturday?”
“I can’t Saturday,” Malfoy said. “Come to my room Sunday instead. The library is too crowded on week-ends and Pince becomes a vulture.”
* * *
Harry and Ron had debated a long time about whether it was a good idea to accept Malfoy’s invitation. But when they showed up at the door of the Slytherin dorm the next Sunday, Goyle let them in and walked them to the room he shared with Malfoy. He grunted in response to Harry and Ron’s thanks, and didn’t enter after them.
Malfoy was sitting cross legged on a plump rug he had installed underneath the window, in front of a small oriental table were a china teapot was waiting.
“Hello. Would you like some tea?” he offered to his visitors once they had taken a few steps inside the room.
“Tea?” Ron repeated suspiciously, his eyes inspecting the room cautiously.
“It is a beverage widely consumed in Britain, served hot, with sugar and milk if you’d like,” Malfoy said, visibly trying to mask his uneasiness with sarcasm.
“I’d like some, thank you,” Harry said, letting his bag slide to the floor before gingerly sitting down on the rug.
Ron followed him hesitantly and they settled around the small table. Malfoy accioed some cushions from his bed, which was the one closest to this little set-up. Ron received one in his hands and looked at it without knowing what to do with it. Malfoy smirked at him. Harry set one underneath his bottom. With a flick of his wand, Malfoy brought some fine china teacups out of the mahogany chest at the bottom of his bed. When it opened with a bang, Ron got a whiff that he thought smelled like spices and fleur-de-lyse.
“I can’t believe we actually are in your bedroom,” he said, still looking around him and taking the sight in.
Malfoy shared his room with Crabb and Goyle, but there was a fourth bed in the room. The hanging and canopies were a deep green, and the light coming from the window was dancing with the reflection of moving water from the Great lake.
“I know I am a mythical creature for you Weasley, but there is a man behind the legend, and men need their sleep.”
Ron snorted at the use of the word man. The water was now bubbling in the kettle, which was suspended in mid-air. Harry turned a cup in his fingers, to look at the golden M and interlacing foliage that adorned it.
“It’s pretty,” he said.
“It is pretentious,” Ron countered.
“And that from the man wearing a big R on his chest,” Malfoy laughed in his face. Ron punched him in the arm, presenting his cup to be served at the same time.
“Crabb and Goyle should be coming in at something like 6 pm. They have a History of Magic tutoring session.”
Harry flicked a glance at Ron so that he wouldn’t make yet another joke at their expense, but Malfoy caught him doing so. He smiled pleasantly while pouring Harry’s cup.
“What,” he asked Ron, “isn’t there any subject that you would need tutoring in?”
“Well, obviously there is,” Harry answered for him, laughing nervously. “I’m sorry, it’s just that this is…kind of awkward. But nice.”
“Yes, nicely awkward,” Ron was quick to agree. “Although I must say, I quite enjoy you serving me stuff Malfoy.”
With a regal gesture, Malfoy placed a tin of biscuits on the small table. “Please accept this offering of bourbon creams and ginger nuts as a token of my good will.”
“Thanks,” Ron said heartedly, his attention instantly redirected. The process of sipping tea and melting biscuits to the right point seemed to help him finally relax.
“So, about our project,” Harry started, “I was wondering…in light of recent events – and by that I mean the horrendous take of Voldemort and his followers on blood purity, would it be ethically acceptable to submit something on this subject?”
There was a moment of silence troubled only by Ron’s jaw crunching crumbs.
“I do see your point” Malfoy said, warming his long fingers against the china. “But…wouldn’t we be fighting superstition with research?”
“Is that really what you want to do though?” Harry insisted, turning his spoon without drinking. “I had the feeling you believe in the superiority of pure blood.”
The light was diffuse in the room and it gave an eerie feeling to the serious words.
“Listen,” Ron said, dissipating the tension with the unexpected lightness of his tone, “if there is one thing I know I can bring to this academic endeavour, it’s that you can always start searching for stuff and pretend, when you find something good enough, that it was what you intended all along. So let’s just start experimenting, and we’ll bullshit protocol and motivations later on.”
Malfoy looked at Harry. Harry shrugged.
“To serendipity,” Malfoy said, bringing his cup to his lips.
The afternoon was then spent arguing, shuffling through some books, list making and even, sometimes, laughing. They ended up deciding that for the time being their project would be to create a potion accelerator or potentialisator, and that the use of magical blood was their first lead. Verbalising what they were trying to achieve was paramount, Sprout had said.
The three boys were quite surprised when they were interrupted by the return of Crabb and Goyle. Ron was sprawled on the cushions, idly flapping through an illustrated volume, while Malfoy was demonstrating a point to Harry by mean of drawing.
“That’s my seat,” Goyle protested when he took the sight in and saw Harry on Malfoy’s right, not quite understanding what was going on. Was this one of Draco’s cunning schemes to lull his enemies in a false sense of security to better play tricks on them?
“Oh, hi,” Ron said, with the most natural air in the world. “I guess it’s dinner time, isn’t?”
* * *
Chapter 3: End of November 1996
Malfoy's shameful secret comes to light in this chapter. Ron will never see him the same way.
Many thanks to all the lovely people who took the time to comment or leave kudos!
“Look at what I received with this morning mail,” Malfoy told Ron a few days later, when they met on their way to a special orientation conference. He was waving a bag full of dry and yellowish paste right underneath Ron’s nose.
“A bag of smashed potato chips? That was very thoughtful of your mom.”
“It’s the mushroom, idiot,” Malfoy replied with a semi vicious shoulder bump.
“Oh…that didn’t take too long,”
“Yes, and that means we’ll be able to test it on Friday!”
How Malfoy could look so excited about potions was beyond Ron. The blond boy smirked at him haughtily like he was an ignorant peasant. “Why aren’t Potter and Granger with you by the way?” he asked, looking around him. The hallway was full of tiny first years getting out of History of Magic with exhausted faces. There were still trying to take notes, it seemed.
“They’re already at the November Know where you’re going! meeting,” Ron answered, looking bored. “I was so cosy in my bed this morning it took me an awful time to leave it.” He yawned to illustrate his point.
Malfoy let out a small snort. Ron had associated the noise with him by now.
“Tell me about it,” he complained, walking idly next to Ron. “My room is so cold in the mornings I have to put socks inside my slippers or my toes turn blue. But we’re not late, are we?”
“Not yet, they just want to suck up to the teachers. My brothers have told me about this orientation day already, and it sounded like it’s 80% bullshit so I’m not very anxious to get there.”
Malfoy nodded. He didn’t look very eager to reach the meeting either.
“It must be nice to have older siblings to give you a bit of an idea of what’s going to happen in advance,” he said.
Ron shrugged, hands in his pockets and half of his shirt untucked from his pants. “It’s cool most of the time, but sometimes I feel a bit crowed, like I can never really discover things for myself, you know?”
“I guess,” Malfoy hummed. “My problem would be the reverse of that. No one to share with.”
Ron threw him a mocking glance. “What would you like to share?”
“I don’t know, I was just speaking generally,” Malfoy shrugged.
“Sounds to me like you have something you want to share,” Ron insisted, resisting the desire to stick out his tongue.
Malfoy sneered back. “Like how insufferable Gryffindor’s are?”
Ron laughed and let it go. Soon they reached the room where some adults had been invited by the school to explain their jobs and answer questions or give advice. There was a spot near the entrance where you could leave your name to take an orientation test.
“Would you like to do the test with me?” Malfoy asked. “I don’t really fancy listening to these old farts telling me how I would make a dreadful wand maker because I lack patience.”
“You would make a dreadful wand maker,” Ron immediately said. “You look like you’d be allergic to wood shavings.” He got up on his tiptoes, scanning the room. “Hermione and Harry are over there. They are talking with a judge or something I think.”
Malfoy acknowledged the information with a nod, looking a bit disappointed at Ron’s lack of interest in his proposition and trying to hide it by reading a pamphlet.
“Let’s go sign our name then,” Ron told him. He was too nice for his own good.
They got booked for 10.30. The witch who had registered them led them to a booth, which was nothing more than two desks hidden behind panels of whitish drapes.
“Fancy,” Malfoy said.
“Fancy as fuck,” Ron agreed, sitting down. Malfoy snorted.
The test papers where waiting for them on the desk. It was a Q/A with little squares.
“I guess I’ll do it Divination style,” Ron said, cracking his knuckles.
Malfoy hummed, scanning the scroll. “I love the third question,” he said. “What is your ideal outfit for a walk in the forest? Oddly specific.”
“If you choose a billowy burgundy cape, you’ll end up as Madam Malkin’s apprentice in no time.” Ron answered, blackening some squares haphazardly without ever reading the questions.
“By the way, do you know a god knitting spell ?” Malfoy asked, letting his scroll rest limply on the table. “I was wondering with the Weasley jumpers you wear.”
“Why, what do you want to make?” It was a checker pattern he was meticulously filling.
“Really warm socks,” Malfoy answered longingly.
Ron laughed, surprised. “Oh yeah, your floor is very cold,” he remembered. “Well, I’m not very good at it but I can ask my mom to show me the spell again if you want.”
Malfoy nodded, randomly crossing cases. “Thank you. I can’t stand the cold in the dungeons, it makes even my ankles hurt.”
They filled their tests in half the time recommended. A career specialist would see them in half an hour to help them decrypt their profiles.
As it turned out, Ronnie dear was to make a lovely butcher and poor Draco should see a mental health councillor as soon as possible. Harry and Hermione never really understood what the two of them found so hilarious about learning about the professional world.
* * *
Far away, leaning against his desk, Snape had the satisfied look of someone who would shortly be able to demonstrate their inferiority to a lot of people. He had begun the class by telling them how he had gotten a perfect O on his first go at veritaserum, and that he wasn’t being so audacious as expecting the same of them but that they should try not to make fool of themselves all the same.
Malfoy had offered to do the potion for the three of them if Harry and Ron agreed to take the risk to test adding blood to it to see if it made it stronger. Harry didn’t even have the time to try and think it over that Ron had said yes. Malfoy smirked at him and handed him midget ginger to slice up. Harry wetted his quill and began scribbling down questions they could use for a test protocol.
When the cauldron was bubbling and billowing with a reddish vapour, Malfoy filled a vial of the liquid and set it apart. Harry labelled it with a sticker that said number 1. Malfoy then added three drops of the blood and mushroom solution. Ron filled a new vial marked number 2 with this updated version of the potion.
“I’m not sure how long the powered version will keep,” Malfoy said, “so we should test it first, and keep the regular veritaserum for this week-end.”
“Right,” Harry agreed. “Now, who want to test it?” He had his question sheet ready in hand.
“Not me,” Malfoy huffed. “I’m not doing all the work.” His hair was still slightly damp from having been hunched over the steamy cauldron.
“I’ll do it,” Ron volunteered. “I have never had veritaserum before. They say it’s a test when you train to become an auror.”
Harry and Ron looked at each other, communicating silently, and Harry nodded.
“Are you sure you don’t want to do it Potter?” Malfoy asked, eyebrows furrowed. “Weasley has as much self control as a squirrel in front of a nut. Besides, he is destined to become a lovely butcher, not an auror.”
Harry, not questioning the weirdness of this last statement, pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. “Twat. Ready?”
Ron drank the enriched veritaserum in one long swallow, making a funny face at the taste. He was determined to get his first good mark ever in potion, and this was his contribution to the process.
“Okay,” Harry summed up, looking very serious despite having a bad hair day, “we will only ask you very generic questions, nothing too personal. The aim is to test the potency of our potion, so try not to answer okay?”
Malfoy pretended to be interested in the questionnaire he had whipped up and stole the sheet from Harry. He was helped by the distraction of Seamus making something explode a few rows behind them, and Snape subsequently yelling at him.
“Question one” he started with far too much amusement. “Do you pick your own nose?”
“Malfoy!” Harry exclaimed. “That’s cheating, we expressly said that…”
“Yes,” Ron said, giggling.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow.
“You didn’t even try at all to resist now, did you?”
“No,” Ron answered, his eyes vaguely unfocused. “I don’t even want to!”
“Let me ask the questions, as you can’t seem to be fair play,” Harry decided, snatching back the list from Malfoy’s hands. “Do you have a little sister?”
“Yes,” Ron beamed. Harry had never seen him look so happy in the dark settings of this classroom.
“Okay…the potion may be very potent, but at least try to fight it.”
“I can’t, I feel like I’m drunk and want to tell you all the things in the world, even what I don’t know.”
“Try that,” Malfoy suggested. “Try making him say something he doesn’t know.”
“Hum…let’s see…what is the most famous Michael Jackson album?”
Ron turned beetroot red, trying to speak very hard but not finding anything to say.
“Back to the list,” Harry decided, vaguely panicked. “What is your favourite school subject?”
“Potions!” Ron exclaimed, breathing again.
“Potions? You hate potion!”
“Did he manage to lie?” Malfoy asked with renewed interest.
“I used to hate it,” Ron explained with a happy open face, “but now it’s my favourite because I get to spend time with Malfoy.”
“Oh…” Malfoy stuttered. He threw an odd look at Harry. “That’s nice.”
“No, you’re nice,” Ron said like it was the most simple and evident thing in the world.
“I…well…thank you…you’re nice too I guess.”
“Ron, are you hungry?” Harry asked after a weird silence. Or rather, lack of communication between the three of them as there was still some hysteria from Seamus incident in the background.
“Oh yes,” Ron nodded vigorously, “I’m always more or less hungry, it’s one of my best features.”
Harry cast a glance at Malfoy, and they both laughed at the same time, the weirdness dissipating.
“Well the potion definitely works!” Malfoy concluded, enthused. But when they looked at the vial number 2, they saw that the potion had turned brown and had begun to smell. The combination of the pure blood solution and the veritaserum had seemingly worked perfectly; but it didn’t conserve well. Seeing that, they had to turn the vial number 1 for marking, which annoyed Malfoy, but didn’t really worry Harry because it still seemed textbook perfect.
* * *
“Herbology,” Malfoy said when he joined Ron at the sink to rinse their utensils after the class had ended.
“What?” Ron asked intelligently.
“We also have herbology - and transfiguration for that matter - together. That’s three subjects.”
Ron seemed to shuffle through his brain for a bit, and then light dawned in his eyes and he flushed.
“Oh,” he said. “Yes, that’s true. But we usually sit on opposite sides of the glasshouse. And you have a Crabb or a Goyle hanging by. Except for the last time when we made stuff grow with our blood. Which I guess was gross enough not to grant an audience.”
“I’ll come sit with you sometimes from now on.”
Ron seemed confused, so Malfoy added, as if he didn’t care at all and was only doing him a favour, “That is, if you want me to.”
“Yeah, I want you to,” Ron assured him hurriedly. His ears still pink, and he was rubbing a long silver spoon with unusual vigour.
“Don’t make it weird weasel.”
“I’m not making it weird, you’re making it weird,” Ron answered without a beat. Malfoy smiled at him contentedly while putting his rubber gloves on.
“I’ve helped Crabb pass Transfiguration last year, and Goyle Herbology,” he explained. “But Potions was a lost cause. They’re even worse than you.”
Ron snorted and hit him with the spoon. “Prick.”
“Oh, no need to pretend, I know you can’t live without me now.”
* * *
Over the following weekend, in a spare classroom McGonagall had allotted them, Ron was subjected once more to the veritaserum. Malfoy didn’t try to ask him embarrassing questions this time. And this time, while Ron answered the simple and straightforward questions right away, he was able to evade and give vague answers to those that were more open ended of less aimed. And he felt no elation at the effect of the potion, but a rather annoying headache.
Malfoy rubbed his hands together, looking very pleased. “Well, my conclusion is that the vial number two, the one with the blood, worked really well! It was indubitably better compared to this version of the potion. We need to make it universal. To find a way to stabilise and add it readymade to all kind of potions.” He cackled. “Then world domination will be in our grasp!”
Beside him, Ron was slumped in his chair, holding his forehead, but Harry was pacing, looking very excited. They both were wearing Gryffindor scarves because the room wasn’t heated.
“You know, the other day, as I was reading The great secrets and forgotten legends of the wizarding world, as seen by a muggleborn…” Harry began.
“Oh Merlin kill me,” Ron groaned from the depth of his slouch, “Another book? Who are you and what have you done with my best friend? Hermione, is that you making a comeback with polyjuice?”
Malfoy snorted. “Hex Weasley, wizards haven’t been as afraid of the written word as you are since the 12th century!”
“Have you two have had you fun?” Harry counteracted, tapping his foot on the floor of stone. “Can I finish now?”
“Sure, sure, sorry,” Malfoy motioned for him to continue.
“Because I believe this might be very interesting for our project,” Harry carried on. “It was about a potion so strong that it made a king give up his kingdom. An old potion that has been lost, only a rhyme remains; but the author said it was one of the best example of blood magic without a doubt.”
“Oh, a potion from the time they were still songs?” Malfoy asked excitedly. “What does the rhyme says?”
Harry unfolded a piece of paper he had brought in his pocket and read from it:
“For it to work in every way
In the brew you must lay
Something of life
Something of fright
Something of dreams
Something of death.”
“Something of life is very clearly blood, according to the author,” Harry concluded.
“Very helpful, those old ass wizards,” Ron complained right back. “Something of death? What do they mean? Dead skin?”
“You’re so dumb.” Malfoy snickered, tickling his own nose with the end of his scarf. “What about the nice by product of a wet dream for the third one?”
“The worst thing is, it might even work!” Ron agreed, smiling and holding his temple at the same time because he still felt a bit sea sick from trying to resist the serum.
“I though something from a thestral might work for death,” Harry added pensively, ignoring Malfoy salacious innuendo. “I’ll ask Hagrid.”
The three of them looked at the rhyme written on the piece of paper again. It was funny to try and decrypt even if it seemed far-fetched to think that it would truly help them.
“Well, something of fright is quite obvious anyways,” Ron declared after a while.
“Oh yes? Pray tell.” Malfoy said, rising an eyebrow at him.
“You’ll hate yourself for not having thought of it,” Ron declared with a twinkle in his eye, his chin held high. He had even renounced holding his brain and had laced his fingers together on the wooden table.
“I’ll settle for hating you,” Malfoy bantered casually but still leaning toward Ron. “So what is it?”
Ron smiled, sure of himself. “A boggart.”
From the look in Harry’s and Malfoy’s eyes, he knew his idea was brilliant.
* * *
“How in the hell did I agree to this? This didn’t even sound like a remotely good idea! No wonder you two idiots are always getting into trouble!”
“Shut and cover me Malfoy!” Harry screamed
When finding a boggart in the immensity of the castle had proven a very difficult thing to do, Ron’s marvellous idea had been to interrogate Peeves for information, and now the poltergeist was throwing toilet water bombs at them.
“I washed my hair this morning!” Malfoy cried. “This is barbarity.”
Ron was laughing on his fist while trying half-heartedly to stupefy Peeves.
“Peeves! If you tell us where we can find a boggart in the castle, I’ll just give you the best prank this school has ever seen.”
Peeves was going madly inside the abandoned toilets, like a balloon emptying itself of its air. “YoU are LYYing!!! What are you doing with the Malfoy boy? I know yoU arE LYinG!!” He screeched.
Malfoy threw his hands in the air, looking mortally aggravated.
“Listen Peeves. I’m with them because they have told me what the prank is. It is truly revolutionary. Now, if you tell us where in this castle we can find a boggart, you can take the credit for it.”
“Filch will be mad as hell. He might even choke and die,” Ron promised.
Malfoy was baffled when the ill-conceived plan came to fruition and Peeve disclosed the location of one of the castle’s boggarts. Was that really how Potter and his clique managed things all these years? The dumbest ideas ever and pure luck?
* * *
It had rained all day, a heavy black rain blown by a furious wind, and the Hufflepuff-Ravenclaw quidditch match had been cancelled as a result. It felt wet even inside Hogwarts, everywhere smelt like a cellar and some of the walls were weeping. The students were scooped inside the castle with pent up energy, and Harry decided that it would be the perfect time to go boggart hunting.
An hour approximately before curfew, the three boys met before the place Peeves had indicated.
“You have the vial?” Malfoy asked in lieu of a good evening. He was still sore from having been water bombed by Peeves.
“Yes,” Harry said. “You have the moondew?”
After some research Malfoy had found that moondew was the best conservative if for some odd reason you needed to pickle part of a boggart. Which was a good thing because it was cheap and easy to get by.
“In my room, we’ll use it later.”
“Not at lunch please.” Ron interjected. “I’m tired of having to eat in a hurry.” Malfoy threw him a mocking glance. It was annoying how he could arch his eyebrow like that, Ron thought.
It had been easy enough to find the place Peeves told them about with the marauders map. It looked like it was a ducal suite that had been half emptied and totally forgotten. It was a string of several rooms plunged in semi darkness as all the windows had broken blinds with rotten leaves stuck under them. The blinds were rattling against the windows and you could hear just how old the little diamond windowpanes were. The first room was sparsely furnished, with knocked down tables and chairs, rotten carpets and even a disembowelled bed. Every now and then it was illuminated with the white light of a bolt. Harry thought that even in this state of decay, it still looked somehow beautiful.
“I see why the accommodations would suit a boggart,” Ron whistled. “We need to find something cupboard like in this mess.”
Malfoy was right on his heels, wand at the ready and badly hiding the fact that he wasn’t very at ease in this environment.
“There must be so many parts of the castle that we have completely forgotten about,” Harry said, wonder clear in his voice, as he drew some spider webs heavy with dust to enter the following room. It was even darker then the first one, and smelt mouldy. It was almost bare, except for a rotten tapestry hanging askew on the wall, depicting a troll banquet. The three boys advanced even further, cautiously, and entered the third room. It was so dark inside that Harry whispered lumos and that Malfoy put his hand on Ron’s shoulder. Ron smirked, but had the good grace not to say anything. While the previous two rooms had been filled with nothing but the echoes of the storm and the sound of their steps, a troubling clicking sound could be heard in this one. Ron felt Malfoy’s grip getting stronger on his shoulder.
“Look, a closet,” Harry said, pointing his wand at a corner of the room. Because of the light, or because of the noise, the clicking sound seemed to intensify almost immediately.
“Sounds like a boggart to me,” Ron whispered.
Harry took a step toward it, keeping a defensive stance. Ron immediately moved to cover him, Malfoy in tow.
The closet began rattling harder and harder the more they advanced toward it. Peeves’ intel was definitely turning out to be true.
“So, are you ready to prove your skills Malfoy?” Ron taunted with the assurance of someone who has often been exposed to terrible danger, but still using a low voice.
“Like taking care of a boggart requires skills,” Malfoy said, managing a sneer of contempt. Ron was still looking at him when the closet door suddenly opened and the boggart started to spin furiously in the room, raising the thick layer of grime accumulated for decades. Riddikulus! Harry yelled, quick to react. But he was coughing, half choking on the sudden rising of dust, and nothing happened.
The boggart swished so close to Ron that it made him fell on his bottom and it then dived straight for Malfoy. It started chanting in a bellowing broken voice “stain!” “STAIN!” “YOU DIRTY STAIN!”
Malfoy’s hands went to his ears, and his eyes widened in fear, like Harry and Ron had often seen them do along the years. All that remained of his bravado had vanished in an instant. The boggart zeroed in on him, deforming itself absurdly toward the shape that would scare his victim the most. “Shame on you!” it roared, starting to split itself into black and white. “You think I cannot see what is in your depraved mind!”
Harry was still trying to cast a spell and Ron had managed to put his jumper over his mouth not to breathe in dirt, but Malfoy was standing petrified, his wand clutched uselessly in his hand.
“You’re just a waste of good blood!” Lucius Malfoy shrieked. It went back to the ceiling and plunged again toward Malfoy, ripping itself apart around his body, encircling him in dirty shadows. It reformed behind his back and screeched in an inhuman voice “you will produce an heir or be cast out!”
“No!!!” Malfoy cried, moving at last, his face red and his eyes wild. “No!” he brandished his wand, still yelling No! instead of the right spell, his nose running and his left hand cradled against him, fisting his own robes. “You disgusting child!” the boggart was yelling over him, “You perverted traitor! You do not deserve to bear the Malfoy name!”
Still stunned by the rapidity and brutality of the events, Ron moved without really thinking to put his body between Malfoy and the boggart. Harry, who had managed to put a kind of hair bubble around his head during the chaos, was finally able to enunciate the spell properly and the boggart divided into a thousand colourful marbles that rolled madly everywhere inside the room before retracting toward the closet. Ron had the presence of mind to catch a messy handful of them and put them frenziedly into the vial.
After all the shouts and screams, the room was suddenly silent. The quietness felt dense with terror and adrenaline. Malfoy’s shoulders where trembling almost imperceptibly. His eyes where cast down, his hands fisted on the fabric of his pants. He had fallen onto his knees at some point.
It was Ron who broke the silence tentatively. “Draco…you can obliviate me.”
“Yes,” Harry agreed, a few meters away. “This wasn’t for us to see.”
Malfoy turned to look at them with something wild in his face. There were tears not yet shed in his eyes. He said nothing.
Ron took one step toward him. Harry was still breathing hard, his wand clutched tightly in his hand. The boggart was once more rattling in the closet, making the door squeak. The sound seemed loud against the bare stonewalls of the room.
“Bloody stupid boggart,” cursed Malfoy, “bloody stupid plan,” and his breath hitched and he was sobbing.
Ron sprung into motion and grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling him into a fierce hug.
“It’s alright, it’s over now,” he repeated, his hand clutched in Malfoy’s white hair, not soothingly but with anger, as if he was waiting for someone to try and contradict him.
Harry stayed immobile, not knowing what to do now that the danger was passed.
Malfoy, who had stayed stiff when Ron first grabbed him, was now rubbing his runny nose against the Weasley jumper, his fingers weakly gripping Ron’s forearms. He was not making a lot of noise but his shoulders were shaking.
“How about you come to the Gryffindor common room with us, eh?” Ron was planning, more for the sake of talking and diffusing the situation than anything else. “We’ll make you a warm cup of tea, with spice and biscuits, it’ll be very nice.”
“I’m not hungry,” Malfoy said, trying his very best to stop crying. “I just want to go lie down.”
Then, he felt something nudging his elbow. He turned his head to see what it was and almost jumped in surprise when he saw the nose of a luminescent white stag, with vaporous mist rolling from its antlers. Touching it felt like touching a sunrise.
“That’s…that’s your patronus,” Malfoy said a little breathlessly, his eyes going to Harry.
“Yeah…” Harry answered with a smile.
“Come on, let’s get you out of here,” Ron said, leaving one of his arm draped around Malfoy’s shoulder while trying to get him to stand up.
“It’s the middle of the night,” Malfoy said quietly, looking at his feet as they were moving. “Filtch will catch us.”
“Not with that, he won’t,” Harry said, fishing his invisibility cloak out of his bag.
Harry went to Malfoy’s other side, and covered him in the magical material. Ron helped fasten it. Even through his grimace, Malfoy seemed to be a little amazed. He raised his arm and saw nothing expect his right leg that was left uncovered.
“Well, that explains a lot about your little gang,” Malfoy sniffed. “That’s not fair play. How did you even get it?”
“You’ll give it back tomorrow at breakfast,” Harry told him with a smile. “Try to have a good night.”
“And have some chocolate before bed,” Ron said, still fussing and not really willing to let him go just yet.
“Thank you,” Malfoy said dejectedly before disappearing entirely, “give me the vial, I need to put our extract in moondew as soon as possible.” Ron handed the vial haphazardly, and it was tugged from his hand into invisibility. Malfoy steps were then heard leaving the room. Harry let his patronus vanish.
* * *
The episode had left Ron quite shaken. Because he was in mortal danger in a yearly basis didn’t mean half learning a terrible secret about the hardships of your nemesis was something easily dismissed. He had fantasised numerous times about Malfoy being humiliated, but now that it had happened, it didn’t rest easy with him. And so he slept fitfully and didn’t have much of an appetite at breakfast.
When something itched Ron generally scratched it, so he decided to seek out Malfoy instead of waiting for their next shared class. Malfoy hadn’t come at breakfast to give back the cloak; he hadn’t showed up at all. Harry lend Ron the marauders map and refrained from commenting. Ron consulted it during Defence against the Dark Arts, pretending to be absorbed in his course book.
Malfoy was apparently outside, not far away from the Library’s back entrance. There was a small garden there that would be deserted because of the rain that was still falling. It was a good place to wallow in self-misery Ron thought. He walked there when the class was over, black cloak billowing after him in the windy corridors. He got through the library and opened the door to the closed garden. He saw the white blond hair between two of the dark pillars of the cloister where people usually took breaks from studying. The air was damp but smelt good and green.
Ron walked up to Malfoy and sat next to him, close enough so that their shoulders were touching. He let out a small grunt when his bottom touched the cold stone. He fished out a little sachet from his pocket.
“Hey,” he begun, clearing his throat awkwardly. “Are you okay?”
He opened the paper bag to offer Malfoy chocolate. It was a constant in Ron’s life that chocolate always cheered him up. “I mean…are you feeling better after what happened yesterday night?”
“I’m going to give the cloak back,” Malfoy said defensively.
“I know,” Ron said. “It’s not mine anyways. I just came because I was worried about you. Look, I brought you food,” which sounded more or less like an order as he kept waving the pack underneath Malfoy’s nose.
Malfoy smiled a surprisingly sweet smile and took a piece of the broken chocolate Kelpie. Honeydukes had a new connection with a Loch Lomond confectioner that Ron wanted to send a love letter to, so good his delicacies were.
“It was really decent of you, offering to let me obliviate you,” Malfoy said, chewing carefully. The wind was really sharp, and his cheeks were coloured already. He had tried to cover his ears with his scarf, but the tips were very red.
“The offer still stands, if it’d make you feel any better.”
Malfoy shook his head. “I’m not very good at obliviating. And you’re dumb enough as it is.”
Ron smiled back, eyes a bit wet. “I’m really sorry that this whole thing happened. We should have been better prepared, I mean boggarts are something we saw in third year…” he trailed off.
Malfoy sniffed too, but that was probably due to the cold. “It is strange but… in a way, I’m relieved that you know,” he said, his feet toying with the gravel, eyes on the ground. “That someone knows and doesn’t care.”
“Was it …something that really happened?” Ron asked tentatively. “Or something you are scared that might happen?”
Malfoy looked away. He stopped with the gravel and started playing nervously with a bit of lint instead. “My father uses legilimency on me…he’s teaching me how to ward my mind, you know, in case we have to work for the Dark Lord again…”
Ron grimaced at that, but distaste could also be read on Malfoy’s features.
“Anyway, this is how he discovered some things about me that I would never have told anyone. Shameful things that will in all likelihood prevent me from... Well, I guess I can marry and create an heir anyways. So it’s a mix of things that have happened and things I’m afraid will happen.”
Ron scoffed, a little ill at ease. “Well, you know what Harry and I think of your father.”
“The air smells so nice here,” was what Malfoy answered after a while. But it sounded as if his cat had died. Ron felt his stomach cramp up. Maybe he had eaten too much chocolate.
“Hahaha,” he started loudly, startling Malfoy who dropped his bit of lint. “I must be mad, but please insult me. I can’t bear to see you like this.”
A corner of Malfoy’s mouth turned up slowly, as if his smile was rusted. It followed the arc of his eyebrow. “Who knew you were such a big softy Weasel,” he said, thrusting his pointy chin at Ron.
Ron laughed, showing his teeth. “That’s a really lame insult Malfoy.”
“Shut up pauper ginger. You have chocolate everywhere.”
Ron smiled, and patted Malfoy’s shoulder awkwardly. He hesitated a bit before speaking again.
“I do care, you know. Only, not in a bad way.”
* * *
Ron reported the conversation – as well as brought back the cloak - to Harry in the evening, while they were roasting their feet near the fire in the common room. They had to scare off a pair of first years to get the good seats, but Ron didn’t feel too guilty about it.
“You know what,” was Ron’s conclusion, “I think that makes him more human. I thought he was a beastly twat, but the truth is… he's only scared and insecure and tries to cover it up messily. I know this is kind of absolutely weird but... I think I might be beginning to like him only the slightest bit.”
“I like him too,” Harry smiled softly at the admission, looking down at his hands. “Especially when you tease him.”
“Who are you talking about?” Hermione asked from the back of Harry’s chair. She was wearing a hastily knotted bun, fleece lined slippers and her essay jumper. The sight alarmed Ron a bit as he couldn’t remember any essay being assigned for the time being.
“I'll give you three guesses,” Harry answered cheerfully.
“Someone it's weird you could like? Hum...professor Snape? Move your feet Ron”
“Nah,” he answered secretly annoyed to have to give up his footstool. It didn’t even occur to him to offer his chair.
“Voldemort.” Judging from her sense of humour, Hermione had certainly worked for more than five hours straight. Ron was now very worried.
“Most definitely not” Harry said, flexing his toes on the comfy pouffe. Bastard. “I wouldn't like a Ron-teased Voldemort.”
“I couldn't tease Voldemort,” said Ron eyeing him obliquely. “To busy wetting my pants I guess.”
“Then...Lockart? Ah no, of course! This is quite obvious isn’t it? The infamous Draco Malfoy.”
Hermione seemed torned between a playful smile and a sigh. She crossed her legs underneath her as best as she could on the small footstool, her back to the fire.
“Harry always had an unhealthy obsession with him, but now you too Ron? What is going on?”
“Nothing?” Ron said defensively. “I’m just growing as a person.”
* * *
He had to wait until bedtime, when he was alone with Harry again, to really say what he wanted to say. He didn’t know why, but he was reticent to talk about it in front of Hermione. He wasn’t usually so coy but something had stopped the words in his mouth. Even now he was reluctant to say it out loud.
“Harry….” he begun in the half darkness, fishing underneath his pillow for his pyjama bottoms.
“Hum…” Harry mumbled from his bed. He had dropped face first on it, not even taking his glasses out. He had gotten very deft at reparo.
“Do you think that – I mean what happened with he boggart - means that…that Malfoy is a…homosexual?”
Harry too must have thought about it after the incident, because he didn’t need to gather his thoughts for too long before answering: “Yes, I think that’s the most likely explanation for what we saw and heard.” He sighed, warily. “I wished I knew before, somehow. That explains quite a lot about him. If I had known, I would have…”
But in truth, neither Harry nor Ron did know how differently they would have acted if they had known what Malfoy had been confronted with, if they had had that light to shed on his actions. Ron let out a noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh.
“What’s funny?” Harry asked, turning his head toward Ron’s bed, where its occupant was now comfortably nested underneath two layers of quilt.
“It just occurred to me that…Well, that Malfoy could have a crush on you. Hell, he could fall in love with me!”
“Ron, I really don’t think that because he is a homosexual he’s going to be attracted to the first guy he talks to!” Harry half exclaimed through his sleepiness.
“I know that.” Ron insisted, his good humour evaporated. “It’s just…forget it.” Harry heard him turn in his bed, but it was a long while before he heard him snore.
* * *
Things slowly got back to normal, Harry and Malfoy acting like nothing unseemly had happened. Soon, that night with the boggart felt like a far away nightmare. Ron hadn’t forgotten anything, but seeing as Malfoy kept quiet, he didn’t really dare breech the subject with him again. Instead, when they met, they mostly discussed their research project. They had decided to go along with the old rhyme Harry had found, and try and complete the entire ingredient list.
One of their leads for something of dream was provided by professor Sprout. She told them about the ailsing flur, a plant that wouldn’t be too difficult for them to acquire as it usually grew on volcanic soils, which there wasn’t a lack of in Scotland. When consumed strongly infused in water, the flur could provoke vivid lucid dreams. It was worth a shot.
Chapter 4: Beginning of December 1996
Awful hikes and bullies lead Ron and Malfoy to become closer.
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.”
Chapter 5: Colder in December
Ron didn’t really know by what sorcery, but Hermione seemed to have guessed what the big Secret Revelation about Malfoy was. The big secret revelation that he had kept as close to himself as he would have about something absolutely personal, and had try to prevent Zabini from spreading. How the hell did she do this? This couldn’t have been a footnote in A history of Hogwarts now, could it? Anyway, she was laughing at Pansy who had apparently boasted in the toilets that Malfoy would be her partner for the winter ball. As if. This was only ordinary conversation to her as the two of them were walking towards Hogsmeade, looking for dove quills for her part and volcanic compost for the flur for his. When Ron had complained that Harry and Malfoy were using him as their errand boy, Hermione had said she would go to the town with him because she had to pick up parchment and new quills.
“I’m almost sad for poor Pansy,” she was saying, walking besides him and not sounding sad in the least, “she is really delusional about their relationship.”
“Why would you say that?” Ron asked, a bit panicked. Had he said something and hadn’t realised it at the time? That wouldn’t be the first time.
“Oh, I think you know why,” Hermione answered unconcernedly.
“I’m not sure you should mention it so casually,” Ron hissed, looking around him, his heart beating faster. The sky was grey and hanging low, the fields barren. A few crows were flying between the edge of the forbidden forest and small valley where a few of Hogsmeade roofs could be seen.
“Well Ron, you seem awfully perturbed.” Hermione remarked with the faintly judgemental face that only her could pull off so well. “Does homosexuality bother you perhaps?”
“No, Hermione! Of course it doesn’t bother me!” Ron almost shouted, getting on his high horse. His own sound reverberating in the landscape startled him, so he buried his hands angrily in his pockets. It seemed Hermione hadn’t believed the story of the wand. Sure, it was a stupid accident and sounded like it, but she should know better than to think he would hit Malfoy for being… special when that was the last thing that had crossed his mind.
“Really?” Hermione insisted, annoyingly calm. “You do look bothered.”
“Well…not for the reasons you’d think,” he conceded after a while.
Hermione didn’t seem particularly convinced. “And whatever do you mean by that?” she pursued, arms crossed on her chest even has she kept on walking.
“Okay, this is going to sound weird…” Ron tried after a minute, furrowing his brows. He took a special pleasure in walking into the puddles and wetting his shoes. They were so worn that he was a bit embarrassed of wearing them for a day out. But well, he had to wait for Christmas for a new pair. “It’s like…I have this feeling in my chest when I see him and stop to think sometimes. I might see him writing something and suddenly I’m thinking he’s gay, Draco Malfoy’s gay, I used to hate him and now I feel like he is a friend and I get this weird emotion that I want to protect him, and like, hug him. It’s really freaking weird, it makes want to make sure he feels like he has someone.”
Hermione hadn’t stopped walking but she had slowed down and seemed bewildered. She took a moment to compose herself.
“Wow, that’s…not what I was expecting,” she admitted, rearranging her woolly hat. “I’m sorry to have doubted you Ron, really. I thought you were being a bit of a macho…” She cleared her throat before asking “So…does that mean that you fancy him?”
Ron choked on his spit.
“What? Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know, what you’ve just said is… pretty nice and, no offence, but it takes a lot for you to express things like that.” Hermione was now wearing a deeply annoying knowledgeable smile. “Plus you said feeling and emotion.”
“Yeah, but I also said weird!” Ron objected, half shouting. “If it were like a crush, it wouldn’t feel so weird. I’d know what was going on. But I don’t.”
“So, if Malfoy asked you out, you’d say no?”
Ron suddenly felt faint. “What?” he managed to croak. “Why would he ask me on a date? Has Harry said anything? Why would you say that?”
Hermione shook her head. “That was hypothetical. To help you assess your emotional response. What would you answer him?”
Ron buried his hands deeper in his pockets. He could feel his thighs underneath the cloth of his trousers. The landscape felt oddly indifferent when his own heart was beating so hard in his chest from surprise. “Well…first I’d say that I’m touched…no, flattered…no wait that’s too cold…that I’m happy? No, that I’m glad…fuck I don’t know! Something positive. But not condescending.”
“And then?” Hermione asked, not looking him in the face so as not to spook him.
Ron snorted. “But anyway, he would never ask me.”
“That’s not the point Ron.”
“Yes, that is exactly the point! Because he is so afraid about what is going to happen with his father and to his family. He can’t bring himself to accept that about himself. Hence my desire to make him feel better.”
Hermione hummed non-committedly. She changed the subject and didn’t mention Malfoy once until they reached Hogsmeade and parted ways; Ron’s tongue was burning to bring him up again, but he didn’t dare to and had to listen about French Christmas customs he didn’t give a sod about instead. Buying compost hardly helped him take his mind of things.
* * *
“I’ve got it,” Ron told Harry when he got back in the afternoon. “Two full bags. My arms are burning.” He dropped them on the carpet, not caring if it got dirt on it, and gave the change to Harry, hiding his embarrassment at not having paid for the compost himself by looking bored.
“That’s good,” Harry answered, oblivious. He folded the Daily Prophet and threw it on the coffee table; the sport section mustn’t have been very exciting. “We should go get Malfoy right away. He was fretting that the flur was beginning to wilt this morning.”
“I’ll meet you at the glasshouse,” Ron said, scratching his head. “I need to swing by the kitchens to get a snack first, I’m starving after all this walking and carrying.”
Harry laughed as he put his cloak on to leave the warmth of the common room, not noticing anything amiss.
Ron sighed. He did want to see Malfoy, and at the same time he didn’t want to want to see him. That didn’t make much sense, and he blamed it on Hermione. Always analysing everything was tiresome. He went to the kitchen, talking to himself grumpily. He passed Goyle on his way, and felt compelled to say hello. His life was weird. Luckily, the elves had just baked ginger stems biscuits. Ron managed to obtain a good supply and made his way to the glasshouse.
* * *
Harry was panting, and his hair was in even more disarray than usual. He was sweating profusely, surrounded by clay marbles, bags of compost and various tools. The late autumn sun was shining through the roof of the glasshouse. Repoting was not as easy as it looked, and it did not look particularly easy, as Ron had put it. Next to him, wearing an apron and leather gloves, Malfoy was taking his sweet time to cut the dead roots from the aisling flur. It was, according to him, paramount to do it right if they wanted the little plant to grow back. Ron had the easiest job of all as he was studying the marauders map in order to fin a spot that would agree with the flur. Sprout had told them that if the altitude was too low, it would degenerate and loose its magical properties.
“Why do we need such a big pot?” Harry complained.
“You now why,” Malfoy answered, cutting half a millimetre of pinkish root.
Harry scoffed. “I really don’t, this flower is tiny.”
“It has to spread its roots to withstand the wind. There are no threes up there.”
“Anyways, you have nothing to complain about,” Ron chipped in with a blasé tone. “You are only replanting the thing. We had to go climb a mountain to get it.”
Harry wiped his forehead with his naked arm. “It was hardly a mountain. More like a hill.” The temperature felt stifling in the glasshouse, and Harry had started to overheat in mere minutes. Which was strange, as outside autumn was well under way, wet, slippery and cold.
“I’d love to see you climb that hill, mate.” Ron retorted with the gusto of an old adventurer. “I think I found a nice spot. Far away from the howls.”
Malfoy got up from his stool to look at the map over his shoulder, handing on his way the flur to Harry who only grunted and got to work.
“I’ve never been in that tower,” Malfoy told Ron.
“It looks like it was a vantage point, so there is an open area…”
“… which is good for the flur! Good thinking, Weasley! I’m almost shocked.”
“Guys, when you are done congratulating yourselves, would you please come help me?” Harry was rubbing his face with dirty hands, his tools discarded. “I’m not feeling very well…”
He looked pasty indeed and Ron hurried towards him, the map forgotten. He caught him at the waist while Harry stumbled down.
“What is it, Harry?” he asked, helping him to the ground gently. “Are you too hot? Here, drink some water,” he offered, grabbing the bottle that had been sitting on the nearest table.
Harry feebly batted it away. “It’s not that…it’s the smell.”
Malfoy, who had picked up the small shovel and was finishing covering the flur roots with compost, tugged at the neck of his shirt. “It true that it’s beginning to smell weird,” he said. He was suddenly looking very red too.
Ron looked feverishly around him. On top of the table Malfoy was seating at a minute ago, the tiny pieces of flur roots were now purple and had indeed turned foetid. He thought of burning them with a spell, but he wasn’t seeing very clearly anymore. In a blur, he saw that Harry had slid to the ground, and that Malfoy was slumped against big bag of dirt, clutching at his throat. He made one step towards him and felt the urgent need to sit right down, so much his head was spinning.
“Oh, Merlin, I really hope someone visits the glasshouse today,” he had the time to think before falling into a strange and sickly sweet kind of sleep.
* * *
Ron could feel he was still alive, but his mind didn’t really feel his own. It was like he couldn’t move his own thoughts. But the strangest thing was, he could feel Harry’s thoughts and feelings palpitating a few feet away: the memory of hardships, loss and grief, a sense of belonging and gratefulness and some of the delight he felt when he discovered something new about magic.
Hey. Ron tried without really trying.
Ron, is that you?
Harry felt surprised, but not so surprised. The surprise of someone used to being surprised.
Yes. Ron answered without knowing how. This is weird.
I am dead? Are we dead? Harry asked.
No dummy, another voice said, we are most likely dream hallucinating.
Ron got a whiff of an impossible mixture of shame and conceit, with and undercurrent of cowardice, sharpness of mind, and whirls of curiosity and refinement. He felt Malfoy’s heart beating as if it were in his own chest, aching.
Ron wanted to ask how long it would last but he couldn’t. He couldn’t because he didn’t really want to. It felt kind of good being inside the blood of another person like that.
How do I feel like? Ron wondered.
He felt Harry’s smile like a kaleidoscope in his mind. Like family, Harry thought. Like shelter and peace.
Ron felt his soul get warmer. Then he felt Malfoy’s thoughts traveling from his toes up to his cheeks, swimming against his skin, making his nose tickle.
I can see jealousy and stinginess, but they are only shadows in you. You feel like a Sunday afternoon, at the end of summer. Like a good childhood memory. He could feel nostalgia from Malfoy, and the spirit of tears and pleasure floating between them.
I don’t have any good childhood memories, Harry thought.
Take one of mine, Ron offered. I have a lot.
For some incomputable moments, he felt Harry fly or swim about in the memories oozing from him, of loud read-haired boys, of an old house cracking at every corner with old age and magic, mixing with Malfoy’s mother beautiful dresses at garden parties and shiny birthday toys.
But like a glass cracking, the euphoria degenerated from almost nothing. Ron felt a hard spike try to get in his head through his eye. Harry’s anguish was hurting him but Ron couldn’t see him clearly.
Harry, what’s happening?
Ron could only feels pangs of black noise now, and it was like a well that was pulling at him, trying to suck him in. What had happened? He felt like he was paralysed and could do nothing but endure this torment without being able to relieve it in anyway. He was so powerless that it was abject, and at the same time he was so numb he almost didn’t care. It was weird and he felt blind and just wanted to go to sleep.
* * *
“Oh my god,” Ron heard a voice exclaimed, high above him, and he felt Hermione life energy through his headache, but it was blurry and disconnected. “I thought something was wrong! What have you done? Don’t you know you can never leave a cut aisling flur root in open air? Wait until Pomfrey hears what fools you boys have been!”
* * *
“How did you think to look for us anyway?”
Hermione, Ron and Malfoy were sitting side by side in the infirmary, waiting for Harry to be released. He had been the most affected by the flur’s volatile particles, as his pores were wide open to let out perspiration.
“We had planned to have tea together at five o’clock remember? You never showed up. I would have thought the three of you were dead lying like that on the floor, expect that you kept moaning weirdly, Ron.”
Malfoy snickered weakly at that, but Ron barely smiled and kept nervously tapping his foot on the stone floor.
“He’s going to be fine Ron,” Hermione told him, in a gentler voice this time, steadying his leg with a hand. Malfoy looked at the bracelet on her wrist. He frowned.
“It’s just a bad trip,” Hermione said soothingly.
“I know,” Ron sighed, shoulders slumped, “it’s just…it’s stupid to say, given all we’ve lived through, but…I didn’t know that he was repressing so much anxiety.”
Hermione looked at him with her big serious eyes, nodding quietly. “The flur heightened everything, you know,” she said after a pause. Her hand was still on Ron’s leg and Malfoy began scratching at his knee even if it wasn’t scratchy at all. “It’s part of what Harry feels, but not all he feels.”
At this, Ron looked at Malfoy. His usually brushed back hair was ruffled, and some white blond strands of hair were hanging limply on his forehead. Even the collar of his shirt was askew, and Ron didn’t really like seeing him like that. He had experienced it as it own, if only in a dream, the shame that was the undercurrent of everything Malfoy was feeling. How draining it was to feel worthless. And in a way, he had known already. That Malfoy was mean because he felt dejected. Because he thought, deep down, that he was a fraud and wasn’t worth much anyway. That he could be as horrible as possible to people, because in the end they would hate him anyway. It was surprising to Ron how well he had managed to imagine what Malfoy felt. Maybe it was because it happened to him quite often to feel not good enough.
Hermione’s voice brought him back to hearth. “You two should get some rest,” she said. “You look absolutely terrible. I’ll wait for Harry. Don’t worry.”
Ron reluctantly nodded, but he did not try to protest too much. He was fighting to keep his eyes open. “Give him a hug for me,” he said, squeezing Hermione’s shoulder before leaving.
* * *
“Are you hungry?” Malfoy asked him as they went down the steps to leave the infirmary. “Dinner must have been over for ever.”
Ron thought of all the ginger biscuits he had eaten earlier and shook his head. “No, I’m nauseous more like. This tiny flower is a real bastard. Our potion will be an absolute killer. Maybe literally.”
“Yes, we’ll need to be very, very cautious.” Malfoy sounded exhausted too. “I didn’t think research would ask so much of us.” Ron snorted.
Malfoy was silent for a long stretch of the corridor, before adding, not looking Ron in the eye and his voice cracking a bit. “I understand why you’re Harry’s best friend.”
That earned him another snort.
“Because I make a good comedic relief side quick?” Ron answered, mimicking carefreeness by ruffling his mated red hair. His eyes were still very puffy from the brutally induced sleep.
“No imbecile, because you’re a beautiful person.” Malfoy took a shaky breath. “Honestly, it felt so weird being conscious of you like that…And Harry! It’s like, he’s been deprived of sweets his whole life and you’re like this big pot of honey for him.” Ron could hear in his voice that Malfoy was embarrassed to say any of that, but that he was taking a leap of faith.
“Thank you for unlocking my potential for lame declarations by the way,” Malfoy added with an artificial snort. It was the first time that he had sounded so awkward.
Through the embarrassment and the lethargy, Ron smiled at him, without reserve. It crinkled his eyes and moved his freckles.
“I love you too,” he answered, his earlier unease suddenly resolved.
Malfoy angled his chest wildly toward him, eyes tracking Ron’s face for a sign of mockery, body language closing up to protect himself against a possible betrayal. But Ron put his big hand on Malfoy shoulder, still smiling at him.
One of his cuffs was starting to unravel, Malfoy noticed. He swallowed his spit, feeling his cheeks getting warmer. “Are you…I mean would you…” He tried to start again. Ron could feel him tense underneath his hand. His voice got down to a whisper. “You know that I am…a homosexual, right?”
“Yeah, I more or less gathered that,” Ron answered good-humouredly. Seeing Malfoy so flustered and at a loss for words was a bit painful, but also quite funny.
“Doesn’t it bother you? Or…are you…too?” As soon as he asked that question, walking with his head down, Malfoy looked like he wanted to slap himself. That was so dumb. What would Ron say now? Even if he was interested, it was so badly formulated that…
“No, it really doesn’t bother me.” Ron said, still smiling. But he took his hand away from Malfoy’s shoulder after a few steps. “You should know that by now. But I said that I love you without meaning it in a romantic way. It was more a post out of body experience kind of thing. Which is still a pretty big declaration considering our history, thank you very much.”
“Oh.” Malfoy could hear the blood beating against his eardrums. He didn’t feel relieved in the least.
“Are you disappointed?” Ron asked with a cheeky smile.
“A bit.” Malfoy gave him a weird smile to make light of the admission, but it had that now familiar feeling of glumness.
Ron’s heart skipped a beat and it felt like waking up suddenly.
“Wow, really?” The eagerness in his own voice surprised him. “I mean, you would want …with me?”
Malfoy turned beetroot red. “Do not presume to tease me, Weasel,” he said, managing to sound contemptuous.
They stayed silent until their path separated, Malfoy cursing himself for being so stupid and reckless, Ron repeating to himself what had just happened over and over.
* * *
Harry was snoring peacefully in his bed, safe again now that the flower had been flushed out of his system by Pomfrey ultra hot chili decoction. He had told Ron that he couldn’t feel his mouth anymore, but apart from that felt okay. He didn’t seem too shaken by what had happened, claiming not to remember it. Ron didn’t believe him, but let him sleep for now.
It was certainly very self-absorbed, but he had personal things to think about in the intimacy of his own bed.
With me? With me? He was repeating to himself. And replaying the flush on Malfoy’s face, answering him more eloquently than words could. With me. Mostly, inexplicably, he felt insanely proud that Malfoy had chosen him and not Harry. Poor Harry, I’m a monster.
The truth is, Ron would have been pissed if Malfoy had chosen Harry. Not because he, himself, was interested, of course, but because Harry already had all the adventures. Ron wanted to be the hero for once, not the boy that eternally tagged along. So really, this was why he was kind of glad instead of embarrassed. Malfoy is in love with me. Although nothing would come of it, there was no denying that it was a bit thrilling. He had though about it, imagined it, but never really believed it would be true. People never chose him. But Malfoy did.
Ron didn’t know why the news felt so wonderful to him, but as soon as he was able to calm down a bit, he began to worry for Malfoy. What about him? He would be disappointed. He had dared to hint at his tastes and his feelings, and nothing would come of it.
It was Ron’s fault for making him like him. He was such a bad friend. But no, Malfoy liked him because he was one of the only boys who had been nice to him knowing he was gay. As soon as someone else showed interest, he would forget all about good old Ron. Ron felt an odd little pinch in his chest. He was such an egoist.
* * *
Malfoy acted a bit guardedly towards Ron the next time their little party met. He did not sit next to him at lunch and he did not laugh out loud at Ron’s tomfoolery.
On the bright side, Harry was feeling perfectly all right again. Fred and Georges had floo-called him just the previous night to ask questions about his first high, under the disapproving eye of Hermione. He had been declared fully healthy by Pomfrey and had asked Ron and Malfoy to join him at their usual table at the Library to discuss the necessary arrangements for their potion.
Harry cast a muffliato, cleared his throat and joined his fingers together. “So, what’s the order of the day?”
“Sprout said the flur is alright,” Ron told him, “but we seriously need to rework its incorporation into the potentialisator.”
“Or rather, I should do it since the both of you are so helpless at Potions,” Malfoy corrected coldly. Ron opened his mouth to say something but stayed silent.
“Okay…” Harry said, settling back in his chair, away from the tension. “What do you suggest we do?”
“I’ll create a dampener solution that we can put the flur in,” Malfoy explained, business like. “We’ll introduce the dampener into the potion instead of the raw flur, and we should be all right. The problem is to find ingredients for the dampener that won’t interact with the other ingredients we have already selected. Which mean a lot more testing than we thought.”
“Great,” Ron said, his head falling into his folded arms. “Why the hell did we choose Potions again?”
“Because you don’t actually do much of the work?” Malfoy scoffed.
A weird silence descended among them as Ron got up from the cushion of his arms to look at Malfoy, speechless for the second time in as many minutes.
“Did you two fight?” Harry asked disbelievingly.
“No,” Malfoy said defensively.
“Absolutely not,” Ron said.
“Really?” Harry probed, looking from freckles to pointy nose and back, doubtful.
Ron looked at Malfoy’s blank face. He had to do something or soon it would begin sneering at him again. He didn’t know why, but the thought didn’t rest with him easily.
He bumped his chest comically. “Really,” he told Harry. “It’s quite the opposite actually. We have some difficulties navigating the fact that we have become such good friends.”
At Ron’s relief, Malfoy seemed to pick up on the game. “We’re shocked even,” Malfoy assured Harry when his inquisitive stare turned to him, his hand bending weirdly at the wrist. “Flabbergasted.”
“Sometimes, I realise that I’m looking forward to seeing Malfoy and I get a little sick in my mouth,” Ron developed, taking a chance. His palms were clammy and he hoped it would work.
Malfoy’s eyes met him and he felt his throat constrict in apprehension.
“Sometimes, I think that Weasley is funny and a part of my soul dies,” Malfoy countered.
Ron smiled at him, his shoulders relaxing. None of them saw Harry rolling his eyes.
“Sometimes, I want to ask Malfoy for advice and I think I need to be admitted to St Mungo,” he said, getting more dramatic this time.
Malfoy snorted. “Sometimes, I entertain the notion that orange isn’t such a bad colour for hair and I think someone needs to throw acid in my eyes.”
“Okay, okay, I get it!” Harry exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. “You guys are crazy about each other and it had made you even more obnoxious than you already were.”
Ron snickered, feeling good now. “I mean…I guess we are?”
* * *
For all their worries, the graft had turned beautifully. Professor Sprout had ended up helping them a lot because she was enthusiastic about their project – and wanted to smoke high quality dream flower, Malfoy had maliciously implied. They now had five little stems in the pot growing up on the tower, which was more than enough for the potion. The Herbology class, one of the last classes before the weekend was thus spent idly, peacefully going once more over the project and its various stages. Malfoy had an array of possible dampeners for the flur left to test.
“I think we’re on good tracks,” Harry said, mechanically caressing a leaf between his forefinger and his thumb. “What worries me the most is this damn Charms test coming up wednesday. I can never get the spell perfectly right when I have to do it on the spot, in front of an audience.”
“That’s weird, you never seemed to have any problems doing just that in Defence against the Dark Arts,” Malfoy countered. He was discreetly levitating daisies to ornate Ron’s hair with, with the complicity of Harry whose ability to keep a straight face was almost scary.
“Well, that’s my one and only strong subject,” Harry answered petulantly.
“At least you have one,” Ron sighed.
“Oh don’t say that,” Malfoy reassured him with a smirk, “I hear you’re an ace at Divination.”
Ron bowed, making all the flowers fell from his hair. “I’m a master bullshiter. I should work for the Ministry of Magic’s Public relations. Or the Daily Prophet.”
The rest of the hour passed in a kind of drowse, as it usually did. Neville did a presentation on the ecosystem of the oasis, which Ron found really good even if he didn’t have the energy to take any notes. Hermione was the only one generous enough to ask a few questions at the end. Then the bell rang, and half the pupils in attendance had to stretch and yawn before getting up.
“See you tomorrow at the library?” Malfoy asked Ron as they were leaving the glasshouse. Ron slowed down to answer him, and they were passed by a handful of students suddenly energised and eager to be freed for the week-end.
“No,” Ron answered, deliberately enunciating. “I don’t want to meet at the library.”
Malfoy said nothing in return, but Ron could see in the pinch of his mouth that he was a bit hurt. He had gotten pretty good at reading his face. It was weird to think that Malfoy was disappointed at the idea that he couldn’t spend time with him. Once more, Ron felt almost faint from the power he had over him, to be kind or to be cruel, to torment him or to care for him.
“I just want to take a break,” he explained with a hand gesture. “A day away from any studying and worrying about my future. A quiet day to do things I like.”
Malfoy nodded, thoughtful.
Ron put his hand on the other boy’s shoulder, flinging his bag back on his left shoulder. “I would of course like to have you with me,” he added.
“Just the two of us?” Malfoy asked softly. Harry was waiting for them a little ahead on the path leading back to the castle, chatting with Hermione. Ron had initially thought, or not even thought, it was more instinctive than that, he had envisioned that Harry would be a member of the outing. But this assumption from Malfoy felt oddly thrilling.
“Yeah,” he answered like it had been his plan all along, not really questioning it. “I don’t need bloody dream flowers or potion trials to spend time with you. I feel like we’re past needing an excuse to see each other, don’t you?”
He was pleased by his decision when he saw that Malfoy was trying to school his feature into a front of indifference but had difficulties keeping his mouth straight.
“What do you want to do then?” Malfoy asked him.
“I don’t know, take the brooms, hang in Hogsmeade?”
Malfoy started nodding like it was a genius idea. “Great. Okay. Let’s do that.”
It was kind of touching to see how the façade of his cold demeanour was starting to slip. Ron was about to settle the thing by saying “it’s a date”, but caught himself just in time.