If Harry Potter could have risked admitting to one overriding regret since he'd come to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (and admitting to regrets was something you didn't do if you were a Slytherin), it was that he'd shaken Draco Malfoy's hand on the Hogwarts Express that first day. Had he known then what it would lead to ....
Well, it certainly hadn't led to undying friendship with Malfoy, but Harry had ended up spending the rest of the journey in his company anyway, as Ron Weasley – outraged that Harry could shake the blond boy's hand after the things he'd said about the Weasley family – had stormed out of the compartment and spent the rest of the journey with his brothers further down the train.
It had been an innocent mistake made out of simple politeness, but like other such mistakes in Harry's life, it had far-reaching consequences.
They hadn't spoken – really spoken – since. It had been five years.
He had been fed up with Malfoy's company by the time they arrived at the school. An attempt to speak to Ron while they waited to file into the Great Hall had been rudely snubbed in front of all the other first years and, angry at Ron's overreaction and the sniggers of the others, which had reminded him so acutely of his treatment at his Muggle primary school, Harry had been simmering with resentment by the time Professor McGonagall put the Sorting Hat onto his head. Having been told by Ron on the train that the Weasleys were almost always Gryffindors, he very stupidly told the Hat that he didn't want to be in any House that contained a Weasley. For that one moment of temper, he was to pay for the rest of his school life.
He was sorted into Slytherin.
As a result, it had taken the better part of six months for him to repair the damage to his friendship with Hagrid, and even now he had to watch his step. The adults around him seemed to expect certain things of Slytherins, which seemed at once grossly unfair to Harry, and then again, when he met most of his new Housemates, perhaps understandable. And once again he found he had no friends of his own age. Slytherins didn't make friends; they formed alliances and changed them whenever it seemed advantageous to do so. Harry had never dreamed that he would have to put all the survival skills he had learned against Cousin Dudley's gang to use here as well. As The Boy Who Lived he had his own cachet but this was limited compared to the power Malfoy could wield as a scion of one of the oldest, wealthiest pureblood families in the wizard world. Pure blood was everything in Slytherin; those with less than pure wizard ancestry – and Harry was among them on account of his mother – had an uphill struggle to survive. Slytherins were only slightly less vicious towards their own House than they were towards Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw.
There were some good things in life, of course. Quidditch was Harry's major compensation for having to watch his back every minute of the day and night. He had tested out successfully as Seeker in his first year and the Slytherin team – and consequently the whole House – had benefited from his prowess. Much to Draco Malfoy's impotent fury; not even his father's attempt to buy the position for him in their second year had been successful. The team captain, Marcus Flint, and their Head of House, Professor Snape, were in total accord over this: They wanted to win, and with Harry as Seeker they did win. Malfoy had been forced to be content with the lesser Chaser's position, although Harry had been made to suffer for that as well. Sharing a dorm with Malfoy and his thugs, Crabbe and Goyle, was one of the many disadvantages of being a Slytherin.
Harry also had a certain skill in Charms and Defence Against the Dark Arts, which he was quietly very proud of. Others might whisper that his being sorted into Slytherin and then showing a facility with the Dark Arts was a very bad sign, but Harry was honestly grateful to be good at some things for once. The rest of the time he kept himself to himself.
But he always regretted the loss of Ron Weasley's friendship.
Once, briefly in the third year, he had thought he might get a second chance. A notorious criminal called Sirius Black had escaped from Azkaban and Harry had been astonished to discover that the man was his godfather, a fact that Draco Malfoy had sardonically congratulated him on. It was only after Black had broken into Hogwarts and trapped another man called Pettigrew who, even more astonishingly, had been hiding in Animagus form as a rat – as Ron's pet rat Scabbers no less – that the truth had come out and Black had been exonerated.
As school years went, Harry tended to view the third year as a pretty bad one. After Sirius's successful retrial, they had been introduced. Although initially successful, things had inevitably become a little stiff and difficult when his godfather discovered that Harry was a Slytherin. Harry himself had not felt up to explaining what had happened; indeed, a part inside him that had inevitably been hardened by life in Slytherin House had not allowed him to unbend that far. Consequently, although Harry's relationship with Sirius was reasonable, he couldn't shake the feeling that his godfather was a little wary of him and that was all it took to make Harry wary of him, which made life even more difficult as Sirius was also his legal guardian.
And despite his hopes, he had not been able to rewind the clock and start his friendship with Ron Weasley again. He had made a point of seeking the boy out after Sirius's trial to try to talk to him about Pettigrew and thank him for his unwitting part in freeing his godfather. It had been a bad move. Ron had been highly sensitive about the part his pet had played in the whole business and, worse, he thought Harry was mocking him about it. The encounter had ended in a painful scene.
Harry had not tried again.
This was their sixth year now and Harry was sixteen. In a couple of weeks it would be Ron's seventeenth birthday – he knew this because he shared Divination classes with the Gryffindor boy and he had seen his horoscope. Ron had been born on March 1st; he was a Pisces, which seemed odd for someone so fiery tempered and who obviously lived so much in the here-and-now. Harry had been giving a lot of thought to these things lately; he was acutely aware that his long-held desire for friendship with Ron had deepened into something a great deal more serious over the last year or so.
He wasn't going to get many more chances to try and repair things, and he'd racked his brains to think of a gesture he could make that Ron wouldn't misinterpret again. Then, watching the Gryffindor table one morning, it had come to him.
The Weasleys were very poor and Ron had no owl of his own like the rest of his classmates. In fact, since the loss of Scabbers the rat, Ron had been without a pet altogether. Even Neville Longbottom had a toad of his own. And some things Harry had overheard once suggested that in spite of the rat turning out to be a mass murderer, Ron rather missed Scabbers. He made light of these things, but ....
Which gave Harry an idea. It wasn't easy, but he did have money – Sirius never questioned his withdrawals from Gringotts or set limits – and he had a contact, Hagrid, who as teacher of Care of Magical Creatures was uniquely capable of helping him find the ideal present.
On the morning of the 1st March, Harry was up unusually early. No one saw him enter the Great Hall and carefully place his gift on the Gryffindor table at the spot where Ron usually sat. His only concerns were that the occupant of the basket might move and wriggle it off the table, or that someone else might get nosy and open it first. He didn't want the surprise to be spoilt.
Mind you, Harry had an idea that Hagrid might already have guessed at the reason for this particular gift. He had talked to him quite a lot over the years – he had to talk to someone or he would have gone mad – and although he hadn't actually said that this was for Ron, there had been a look in the half-giant's eyes when he asked for his help that suggested he knew and knew why. But he hadn't said anything, for which Harry was grateful.
Having settled the basket with great care and made sure that his card was somewhere Ron would only find it after he had opened the basket and seen what was inside, Harry retreated to chew on his nails and wait for everyone else to arrive for breakfast. It was all in the lap of the gods now and if it all went wrong anyway ... well, he didn't know what he'd do. He could only wait.
He just hoped that Ron didn't turn out to be allergic to Kneazle fur.
End Part 1/7