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The Pure and Simple Truth

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The pure and simple truth is that the truth is rarely pure and never simple.

~Oscar Wilde

19 June, 2003

“Hey Malfoy,” Harry said, snagging Malfoy as they exited the lift on the ground floor of the Ministry. “About tonight.”

“We don’t have to,” Malfoy said quickly.

Harry frowned. “We don’t have to what?”

“Nothing. What were you going to say?”

Harry hesitated. “I . . . sort of mentioned to Hermione how we’ve been going to the pub. She said she wonders how you are, and―well, the short of it is, she’d like to come.”

“Granger wonders how I am.” Malfoy had a long aristocratic face that was not very good at all at masking his expressions, and a rather lyrical tenor that made absolutely no effort to hide his current scepticism.

Harry had started going to the pub with Malfoy after work because Malfoy had asked him, the way co-workers sometimes suggested such things, and Harry was trying to give Malfoy a second chance. That was what you did, with people who made mistakes, and Harry had never got a chance to do it for Snape. They’d started out shaky, but lately it had been okay―just drinks at the pub, every other week or so.

When Hermione asked to come along, Harry figured if Malfoy said no, it would be because Hermione was Muggle-born. That would mean Malfoy really hadn’t changed much after all, and wasn’t worth it anyway.

Harry had this strange hope that Malfoy would say yes.

Harry pushed his glasses up. “She just thought it’d be nice,” he said.

Malfoy looked at him for a while. His eyes weren’t blue. Harry thought they should have been blue. He hadn’t really noticed before, but they weren’t; they were grey. “All right,” Malfoy said. “Invite her along.”

Harry frowned. “Are you going to . . .”

Malfoy raised a brow. “Am I going to what?”

Grey wasn’t a colour at all, really, but it looked like a colour, on Malfoy. “Nothing,” said Harry. “I’ll just owl her, shall I?”

Malfoy looked startled. “Tonight?”

“Yes, tonight.” Harry paused. “Is that a problem?”

“I thought we . . .” Malfoy stood straighter, which was a bit of a trick, because he always stood straight, as it was. “It’s not. Invite her tonight. Tell her . . .”

Harry raised his brow this time. “Tell her what?”

Malfoy chewed the inside of his cheek. “She’s welcome.”

*

“Draco,” said Hermione, when she met them at the pub.

Harry and Malfoy were already sitting at their regular booth. Malfoy jumped up. Harry looked at him curiously, and Malfoy looked chagrined. “Granger,” he said, almost grudgingly, and made a strange aborted gesture toward Hermione’s coat.

“I can get it,” Hermione said, hanging it on the hook beside the table.

Blokes in BBC specials―the ones Petunia watched that had a lot of girls in dresses―stood when ladies entered a room. Blokes who wore cravats and, Harry didn’t know, watch fobs. Malfoy was trying to be polite.

It was kind of hilarious, actually.

Malfoy sat down and Hermione slid into the booth beside Harry. They were both across from Malfoy. She started unwinding her scarf. “Long time no see,” she said. “How are you liking being a hit wizard?”

“It’s . . . grand.” It was not at all the sort of thing that Malfoy said when they were alone and having it out about Robards and Shacklebolt, and all the numerous bureaucratic details and lay-about co-workers, and bad coffee in the lounge.

Harry wondered whether Malfoy was being deliberately obtuse, or whether this was his way of trying to be polite again.

“And how are you liking,” Malfoy paused, and Harry waited for the dig, “advocacy?”

“Love it,” said Hermione, cheerfully. “I’ve been working with Rackham―you know Rutger Rackham?”

Malfoy sniffed. “That old rotter.”

Harry didn’t know who Rutger Rackham was, but he was ready to defend him down to every fibre of his being, if Hermione―

“He is quite senile, isn’t he?” Hermione laughed. “But I’ve been convincing him to find a special place in his heart for my cause.”

“For house-elves?” Malfoy’s interest seemed roused, and Harry was ready to defend house-elves down to every fibre of his being (despite never having been a fan of S.P.E.W., really) if Malfoy―“How in Merlin’s name did you manage that?”

“House-elves, yes, among other things.” Hermione laughed again. “He’s not such a stodgy codger, once you get to know him.”

“Stodgy codger is putting it nicely.” Malfoy sniffed again. “Look at the trolls.”

Hermione’s smile faded. “What about the trolls?”

Harry was ready to defend trolls down to every fibre of his being if―if he didn’t know what, really. He was sort of lost. Mostly what he knew about trolls was that one had chased him around Hogwarts, and probably would’ve eaten him if it had got the chance.

“The complete lack of regulation surrounding them, of course,” Malfoy said, in his superior way.

Hermione began to frown. “I’m not sure it’s a lack of regulation that’s the problem. Rather, if they were given more freedom to begin with―”

“Oh, tosh,” said Malfoy, and then looked rather stricken. “See here, Granger.” He coughed, sounding stuffed, silly, and polite. “What I mean to say is, I don’t fully disagree, regarding your petition on magical creature rights. I―”

Hermione looked disgruntled. “My petition on magical creature rights?”

“You mentioned it in an interview?” Malfoy said.

Hermione looked really disgruntled. “You read my interview?”

Malfoy’s gruntle was going somewhere in the direction of Hermione’s. “Yes. What? Is it not allowed?”

“No, I just―”

“Think I’m a mindless bigot. I suppose that’s fair enough, considering . . . our shared history, but look, I’ve―”

“No,” said Hermione. “That’s not it at all, Malf―Draco. It’s . . . not even Harry read my interview.”

Malfoy glanced at Harry―and then it was as if he couldn’t help it, his eyes lingered. Just as he began to smile, he turned back to Hermione. “Well,” he said lightly. “I can’t help what Potter does.”

“I was going to,” Harry said.

“Yes,” Hermione soothed. “I’m sure you were. Now Draco, what was it you were saying about trolls?”

“I’ve been giving it a lot of thought,” said Malfoy, “and you know that some of the pure-bloods―like my father, very conservative, you know―”

That wasn’t all his father was, but Hermione was nodding along as though this was a very normal discussion, and Harry frowned down at his pint.

“—they’re just going to want to regulate the hell out of trolls, and that’s not without good reason. Trolls are big―”

Harry snorted, but Malfoy just ignored him.

“—and stupid―”

“Maybe you just don’t understand them,” said Hermione.

“Maybe,” said Malfoy, “but they’re dangerous. You’ve got to admit there’s a reason people don’t want them running amok.”

“Because they’re afraid,” said Hermione. “Maybe if they took time to understand trolls, they could find a way to―to live peacefully with them. Maybe even educate them. And that could be a useful relationship, and instead these narrow-minded, spineless politicians just want to hammer out all these anti-immigration laws because they’re too speciesist to look past their own noses!”

She was getting sort of flushed, and Harry noticed Malfoy was starting to frown. This really wasn’t going to end well, and Harry wondered what he had been thinking, really, putting these two in a pub together.

“They’re not all just petty fanatics,” was all that Malfoy said.

“I’m sorry,” said Hermione. “I worded that badly.”

“But you think it’s true.”

“Well . . .”

Malfoy leaned in. “I see where you’re coming from, I do. But look, they’re not all that way. I mean . . . I suppose there are some parochial fundamentalists who are going to say things like, ‘all trolls should be rounded up and killed,’ or some such rot, but that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying it’s just as problematic, in some respects, to insist on treating trolls like humans, because they’re not.”

“That doesn’t mean you treat them like cattle,” said Hermione. “And trolls are treated worse than cattle, in some of the current legislation.”

“That’s what I meant about Rackham.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said suddenly. “But who’s this Rackham?”

They both turned to look at him. Harry was pretty sure Hermione had forgotten he was sitting there. He didn’t know about Malfoy.

“He’s the Creatures Commissioner,” said Hermione.

“It’s like an ombudsman.” Malfoy was looking at him with a faint smile. It was meant to be jeering, Harry supposed, but instead it just looked amused. “You do know what an ombudsman is?”

Harry frowned. “Yes.”

He didn’t like politics. They weren’t very clear-cut or absolute, and it was difficult to get anything done using them. But just because you couldn’t Expelliarmus them, didn’t mean he didn’t understand them.

It just meant that he didn’t follow them as much as he probably should have, and that when he did, they frustrated the hell out of him.

Malfoy was still looking at him with that same smile, the same slight curve of his pink lips.

“Then you think the troll policies are outdated too?” Hermione said.

Malfoy turned his attention back to her. “Yes,” he said, “which was why I was impressed that you got him to budge on house-elves at all. Don’t mistake me, I’m fairly certain that we fundamentally disagree on that matter, but I am fully against the current policies as well. Honestly, they make me sick. They take into account absolutely no understanding of house-elf culture.”

“House-elf culture?” said Hermione, and might as well have put her chin in her hands and fluttered her eyelashes at Malfoy, given just how breathless she sounded.

“I’m going to get another pint,” said Harry.

“What?” Hermione did blink then, turning toward him. “Oh,” she said, realizing she’d have to get out to let Harry from the booth.

“Granger, would you like anything?” Malfoy said, as Harry got out.

“Hermione,” said Hermione. “Oh, fetch me anything, Harry. A Butterbeer. You really think the house-elf policies are abusive?”

“I didn’t say that,” Malfoy said, and Harry moved off.

He was right.

This had been an absolute disaster.

* * *

7 August, 2003

“Hermione’s not coming to the pub tonight,” said Harry.

“Oh.”

Harry tried not to notice that Malfoy looked disappointed. And anyway, it was understandable if Malfoy looked disappointed, because Malfoy liked talking politics with Hermione, which was okay, and Harry didn’t talk politics, so naturally, Malfoy would be disappointed.

Before Hermione started coming along, Harry and Malfoy used to go out to the pub and complain about Robards and paperwork, and―Harry didn’t get to do that, with many of his fellow Aurors. Most of the Aurors and hit wizards were a lot older, or in awe of the fact that he was the Boy Who Lived, or both. And Ron was still helping George in the shop, and might not become an Auror at all.

It wasn’t like Harry was best mates with Malfoy, or anything like that; it was just that―having established a working friendly acquaintance with Malfoy, after all they had been through―it was just sort of disappointing that Malfoy was disappointed.

“All right,” said Malfoy. “I was thinking . . .”

“We don’t have to go,” Harry said quickly. They were lingering beside the lift in the Atrium.

“That wasn’t what I was going to say.” Malfoy’s eyes widened slightly. “Unless you don’t want to go.”

“No,” said Harry, “let’s go. I could use a pint.” They headed in the direction of the Floo. “What were you . . . what were you going to say?”

Malfoy didn’t look at him. “It’s Pansy. She heard . . . well, she heard that I’ve been―about talking to Granger,” he said. “She wants to―I thought, since Granger . . .”

“Spit it out, why don’t you?”

Malfoy glared at him.

Harry smiled.

Sighing, Malfoy said, “Pansy would like to join us for a pint. Is that all right by you?”

“Pansy,” Harry said.

“Parkinson.” Malfoy frowned at him. “Potter, you do remember―”

“Of course I remember Pansy Parkinson,” said Harry. “She wanted to give me up to Lord Voldemort. How could I forget someone with such a special place for me in her heart?”

Malfoy’s mouth went tight. “If you don’t want to―”

Harry sighed. “Sure, I want to. At least we’ll have interesting things to talk about.”

“You never know,” Malfoy pointed out. “You might.”

Shrugging, Harry said, “Why don’t you ask her tonight?”

“Tonight?”

Harry shrugged again. “Hermione isn’t coming. I don’t think those two get along, so why not?”

“I thought―” Malfoy bit his lip and looked away. “All right.”

*

Pansy Parkinson was already at the pub when Harry and Malfoy got there. She was sitting at a table, legs crossed, a red drink in front of her. She had grown up pale and angular, with a narrow face and narrow chin, and a heap of shining black hair. Her nose was as puggish as ever.

“Draco, you look flushed,” was the first thing she said. Turning to Harry, she said, “And Harry Potter, fancy meeting you here.”

“You,” Harry began, and then realized she was being a git, rather. Frowning, he sat down.

“You can sit,” she said, and turned to him, blocking Draco out. “I’m sorry I said that thing about giving you up to Snakeface.”

“Er,” said Harry, “that’s okay.”

“Just so there are no hard feelings. You do realize it was a perfectly rational response?”

“Pansy,” Malfoy said.

Frowning, Parkinson sat back. “You don’t disagree,” she told Malfoy.

Malfoy looked at Harry, then back at Parkinson. “I think Lord―the Dark Lord was insane, and you and I have a lot to make up for.”

“Don’t waste time feeling sorry about it,” said Parkinson. “Life’s too short. Well, Potter, now that that’s over with, I suppose I should say something mundane and polite.” She turned with a lazy sort of grace to look back at Harry. “How have you been?”

Harry just stared at her, and then at Malfoy, who looked rather nervous. “Fine,” Harry said eventually, turning back to Parkinson. “Yourself?”

“Oh, I’m trying to summon the will to live. It’s difficult, when everything’s so mindless and dull, don’t you think so, Draco?”

Inexplicably, Malfoy’s eyes flicked toward Harry, then back to Parkinson. “Not everything is dull.”

“He’s only saying that because you’re here,” Parkinson said. “He desperately wants to make a good impression.”

Harry suddenly felt interested. “Why?”

Parkinson waved a languorous hand. “Who knows? Draco always likes to make an impression.”

Malfoy snorted. “As if you don’t.”

“Of course I do. What else is there to do, besides pretend to be interested in things that don’t matter at all? Potter,” finally, Parkinson sipped her drink, “are you enjoying your job as an Auror?”

“Yes?”

“You sound uncertain.”

“Because you said it didn’t matter at all,” Harry said.

“I didn’t mean you,” said Parkinson. “You were always rather interesting in school. Isn’t that right, Draco?”

“Pansy,” Malfoy said.

Parkinson turned to Harry again. “He doesn’t like to talk about school,” she said. “He was always making a fool of himself, and I moped around, hating the world. We thought we were so cool.”

Startled, Harry laughed.

“Is that funny?” said Parkinson.

“Yes.” Harry surprised himself into another chuckle. “It’s kind of hilarious, actually.”

“Do you remember when I dressed only in black, and positively caked my eyes in black?”

Harry stopped laughing. “Er.” Mostly what he remembered of Parkinson, besides all the instances of her being horrible and mean, was that she liked unicorns. If he had been told to guess which colour she preferred, he probably would’ve said pink. “No?”

Parkinson turned to Malfoy. “I told you he wasn’t really paying attention to us.”

Malfoy frowned. “I was confused back then. Misled. I don’t really think you have a right to make fun of―”

Parkinson turned back to Harry. “Draco had a difficult childhood.”

Harry smirked at Malfoy. “Oh really?” he asked Parkinson.

Parkinson didn’t crack a smile. In fact, she barely changed expressions at all. Harry thought she might have two, if you claimed there was really a difference between ‘bored’ and ‘blank’. “Yes,” she said, in her flat, succinct way. “Daddy issues, you know.” She sipped her drink. “What about you?”

Harry blinked. “What about me?”

“Did you have a difficult childhood?”

“Er.” Harry glanced at Malfoy. “Yes?”

“You sound uncertain again.”

“That’s because everybody read about my childhood in the papers.”

Parkinson waved a hand. “The papers are all lies. You knew that Draco wrote half those articles in fourth year, didn’t you?”

Harry frowned. “No.”

“I’ve already said I’ve done bad things,” said Malfoy. “I’m trying to make up for them. I’m doing the best I can!”

“There there,” said Parkinson. “You just go on doing them. You’re very earnest when you’re trying to do things you believe in.”

“I’m not earnest,” Malfoy said earnestly.

“I can see why you like talking to Potter,” Parkinson told him. “He brings out the best in you.”

“I’ve barely said anything,” said Harry.

“I know,” said Parkinson. “You’ve let me talk. Most people don’t. The word ‘caustic’ gets bandied about quite a bit.”

Harry decided, then and there, that he was going to try and see if he could make Pansy Parkinson form a third expression. “I had a terrible childhood,” said Harry. “My aunt and uncle locked me in a cupboard.”

“You were a very Victorian orphan, then,” Parkinson said. “Draco was raised very Victorian also. I suppose we all were.”

“Malfoy stands up when girls come to the table,” Harry said.

“That’s what you’re supposed to do.” Malfoy glowered. “And anyway, it’s not like I’d do it for Pansy.” He put his nose in the air. “She’s not a lady.”

“I hope not.” Parkinson turned back to Harry. “I had a terrible childhood too. I suppose I could tell you my story, about how I was lonely and spoiled and rich, but you would never understand, having been raised in a cupboard. It’s just like every other spoiled rich girl’s story. I suppose Draco has already told you his.”

Harry shook his head. “Malfoy almost never talks about being a spoiled rich girl.”

Malfoy made an odd coughing sound. Harry was pretty sure it had started out as a laugh.

“Doesn’t he.” Parkinson stirred her drink.

“Pansy,” Malfoy said, in a warning tone.

“We used to play together as children,” Parkinson said, and there it was, a third expression―she was smiling, slightly, at Malfoy. “Remind me to tell you about his dungarees.”

Pansy.” Malfoy put his head in his hands.

“Dungarees?” Harry said, laughing.

Parkinson turned her slight, twisted smile onto Harry, and he thought that she was rather pretty, then. “No,” she said, “this one is better. Let me tell you about the time I saved him from the giant squid.”

“You didn’t save me from the giant squid,” Malfoy said, from between his hands. “I’d have got away.”

“No, you wouldn’t have. You see, Potter, Draco can’t swim.”

“You can call me Harry,” Harry said.

Malfoy took his hands off his face and looked at him.

“I can swim, of course,” Parkinson went on. “I’ve taken swimming lessons. I also know how to use gillyweed, and can do back-flips. I was on a synchronized team.”

“There’s synchronized swimming in the wizarding world?”

“If it’s pointless and ridiculous, the wizarding world has got it,” Malfoy said. It sounded a bit like a moan. “It’s got Pansy, hasn’t it?”

“I’m not ridiculous,” Parkinson said. “And we’re all a little bit pointless.”

“The lake,” said Harry. “And the giant squid?”

“Yes. It was early spring, and Draco was trying to impress me. He looks very fit in a bathing costume, you see.”

“Does he?” Harry asked, smirking at Malfoy.

Malfoy was red in the face. “Wouldn’t you like to know,” he mumbled, and didn’t look at him.

“Well, I’m sure he does now,” Parkinson said. “Draco is very fit in general. But then, you know, he was fourteen, and you had only recently dazzled all of us by saving Weasley for the second task in your very flattering shorts―”

“Er,” said Harry, “I’m supposed to remind you about Malfoy’s dungarees.”

“You did rather awe everyone,” said Parkinson. “Or at least Draco. He had stars in his eyes for weeks.”

“Lies,” Malfoy said. “It’s all lies. You know, she edited my articles for the paper, that year.”

“Anyway,” said Parkinson, “when I look back on it, Draco was rather pasty and skinny in a bathing costume, with a completely hairless chest―”

“I was fourteen!”

“But Potter had hair on his chest, didn’t he? I remember, you talked about it.”

“I never knew you were so observant, Malfoy,” Harry said, and smiled at Malfoy again.

“I didn’t have to be observant.” Malfoy was still red and his frown was furious. “You were the one prancing around in front of everyone half-dressed, like a magnificent poof.”

“I am a poof,” said Harry. “And I wasn’t half dressed. I had to save Ron.”

“Draco’s a poof,” Parkinson supplied, helpfully, “if you didn’t already know. A rather magnificent one, at that.”

Malfoy just rolled his eyes. “As if you would know.”

“I wouldn’t,” said Parkinson. “I hated just about everything at fourteen, but I hated Draco much less, despite his being hairless. I would say I barely hated him at all. In fact, I hated him so very little that when I thought the giant squid was going to drown him, I was really very much depressed about it.”

Malfoy glared at her. “And you did a significant amount of eye-rolling before coming to save me.”

Harry raised a brow, still smiling. “So she did come save you.”

Malfoy drew himself up. “If you must know.”

“It’s okay,” Harry said. “Ron had to save me from a freezing lake.”

“Now, then.” Parkinson looked at Malfoy. “I am the Ron Weasley to your Harry Potter. How does that make you feel?”

Malfoy glowered some more. “Miserable.”

Parkinson patted Malfoy’s hand. “You look like a drowned cat.”

“Only with less hair. Hey Malfoy,” Harry said, “are you still―”

“Don’t you dare,” Malfoy said.

Harry shrugged. “You’re not so bad, Parkinson.”

“Thanks be to Merlin; he approves.” Parkinson smiled her little smile. “Call me Pansy.”

* * *

2 October, 2003

“Pansy said she might come around to the pub again tonight,” Malfoy said, as they walked out of the lift at the Ministry. “Just so you know.”

Harry stopped in his tracks. “Hermione’s coming tonight.”

Pansy had been joining them at the pub every other week or so, just never the weeks when Hermione was there.

“Oh.” Malfoy bit his lip. “That’s not . . . Pansy can be polite, you know.”

“Can she?” Harry asked.

Malfoy shook his hair out of his eyes. He wore it loose now, and the way he combed it, there was this golden lock that swept across his forehead. Sometimes a bit of it fell down in his eyes. Harry had to resist telling him sometimes to move it. “She can,” Malfoy said. “She doesn’t like to.”

“Pansy doesn’t really make small talk,” Harry said.

“It’s her parents. They always made her act like―she should have been with people who realized she had a brain.”

Harry really wanted him to move the bit of hair right now. In fact, he could easily just reach out and do it. But he didn’t.

Malfoy stood there indecisively, chewing on his lip. He had a bag on his shoulder, his files on contraband potions from the office; his hand was wrapped around the strap. “I’ll tell her not to come,” he said.

His knuckles, Harry noticed, were white. “No,” he heard himself say. It was a surprise to him as well. “She should come. I―Pansy’s all right.”

“Do you . . .” Malfoy didn’t finish whatever he was going to ask. “She’s trying to be better. I mean, a better person.”

“It’ll be okay.”

“Do you think Hermione will forgive her? I mean . . .” Malfoy looked at the ground. “Pansy was a right git to her at Hogwarts.”

Harry was surprised into laughing. “Malfoy, you were a right git to me at Hogwarts.”

“Right.” Malfoy just kept looking at the ground.

“Hey,” Harry said, suddenly feeling far less certain himself. “I can owl Hermione. She can stay behind.”

“No,” Malfoy said quickly. “I―Granger’s . . . not bad.”

Harry laughed again. “Not bad?”

“I think she’s quite brilliant actually,” Malfoy said.

He was still looking at the ground, hand still wrapped tightly around the strap. Harry couldn’t stop looking at the bit of hair, the way it caught the light.

Bringing his head up finally, Malfoy shook his hair back. “Let’s go, shall we? Pansy will be waiting.”

“I thought you said Pansy just might pop in?”

Malfoy smiled. He had a faint, distant smile for being polite, which he usually used on Harry. “That means she’s camped out a table.” He walked forward a bit, then turned back.

Harry was rooted to the spot, for some reason.

“Not frightened of a couple of girls, are you, Potter?”

“Not on your life,” said Harry, and followed him.

*

When Hermione came up to the table and saw Pansy there, what she said was, “Oh.”

“Look at that.” Pansy looked up at Malfoy, who had got to his feet. “He does stand up for ladies.”

“I didn’t know.” Hermione looked from Pansy back to Harry to Pansy again.

Pansy rolled her eyes. “He’s not getting on his knees.”

“Don’t listen to her,” Malfoy said. “Please stay.”

Pansy whistled. “And he says please. Granger, what have you done?”

“Nothing,” Hermione said, and sat down.

“I’ve done nothing too,” said Pansy. “There’s nothing to do. Life is such a bore.”

“I meant, I’ve done nothing to Draco.” Hermione articulated her words carefully.

Pansy looked at her, then blinked, quite slowly, like a cat. “I’m sorry for making fun of you all those times. And for turning your hair into snakes.”

Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “That was you?”

“Yes, it was me.” Pansy’s tone still rarely changed, but it was low and rather husky, and Harry had grown to find it a bit charming, really. Though he supposed he shouldn’t find it charming that Pansy had turned Hermione’s hair to snakes. “Clever, wasn’t it?”

“You never told me your hair was turned to snakes,” Harry said.

“I was too embarrassed.” Hermione frowned at Pansy. “I cried for days.”

“Your hair wasn’t snakes for days,” Harry said. “I’m sure I would have noticed that.”

“You are such a tool, Harry,” said Pansy.

“You may not realize it,” Malfoy said, “but Pansy’s trying to make a good impression.”

“No.” Hermione turned to him. “I didn’t realize at all.”

“Pansy’s always been envious of you.” Malfoy nodded at Hermione.

Hermione smirked. “Has she?”

“I have not,” Pansy said, but for the first time, Harry saw a bit of colour in her pale cheeks. “I only said―”

“She said she wished she’d dressed like you for the Yule Ball,” Malfoy said. “Because of the way The Prophet said you looked stunning, but really, she thought you looked stunning, too. That was around when you started to wear black, wasn’t it, Pansy?”

The colour faded from Pansy’s cheeks, but Harry found it intriguing nevertheless. “It was a statement,” Pansy said.

“Against the frilly pink things you wore to the Yule Ball?” Hermione asked sweetly.

“Let’s not dredge up history,” Pansy said, sounding bored again.

“Pansy loves to dredge up history,” Harry said. “Basically that’s all we do.”

“Oh, like the time she had antlers on her head?” said Hermione. “That sort of history?”

“No.” Harry smirked at Malfoy. “Usually it’s about Malfoy. And his dungarees.”

“That’s why you like Parkinson so much?” Hermione asked Harry. “You get the dirt on Draco Malfoy?”

Harry glanced at Pansy, who didn’t seem interested in the least that Harry liked her very much, and then at Malfoy, who looked terribly interested in spite of himself. “No,” said Harry. “I think she’s funny.”

“I’m a riot,” said Pansy, examining her nails. “You’ll soon find that out, Granger.”

“How is the lobby going?” Malfoy asked.

Hermione said, “About the same. Rackham may have budged on some of the issues, but as it turns out, it was just to give himself wiggle room. He doesn’t want anyone accusing him of Death Eater sympathies.”

Rackham? Pansy mouthed to herself, and went on looking at her nails.

“Rackham’s an eighth Veela on his mother’s side,” said Malfoy, “which is how he finagled the position. Since he’s passing―”

“Passing.” Hermione snorted. “He looks like a shrivelled goat man. He’s about as far flung from a Veela as Bertram Meagre is from signing the petition on Magical Beast rights.”

Petition? Pansy mouthed.

“I know,” said Malfoy, “but he can claim the heritage, which actually makes some people think he knows what he’s on about.”

“He has no idea!”

“Did you frame it the way that I suggested?” Malfoy said. “Especially regarding the werewolf claims. Since you don’t have to be born a werewolf to become one, it’s a slightly different matter. He might be more willing to acknowledge the petition if he comes around to the notion that we could be dealing with more and more pure-bloods being turned to werewolves, with so many still on the loose. It’s not just about bloodlines.”

“No.” Hermione snorted again. “It’s about party lines. Honestly, I think Rackham would listen; it’s Meagre who’s―”

Suddenly Pansy leaned across the table. “Do they always talk this way?”

“Pretty much,” said Harry, and sipped his lager.

Hermione and Malfoy went on talking about Rackham and Meagre and the petition, about prejudice and loyalty.

“Merlin, kill me now.” Pansy sat back.

Harry shrugged. “I don’t think Merlin’s listening.”

“I hate the world,” said Pansy.

“I hate it too,” said Harry.

Pansy smiled that little smile. “You’re okay.”

“No, really,” Harry said. “It’s politics. They’re just so―”

“Boring?”

“Hopeless,” Harry said. “It makes me really angry.”

She looked at him from under her eyelashes. They were quite short, actually, but she had nice eyes. They were quick, and saw things, though she always pretended like she didn’t. “You didn’t look so angry, listening to them,” she said.

“That’s because Hermione’s going to save the world,” Harry said.

“Is she now.” Pansy looked down at her nails again. “You really love her, don’t you?”

Harry thought about telling her that it wasn’t that kind of love, but Pansy already knew that he was gay. Besides which, sometimes he wondered what kind of love it wasn’t. He could gladly spend his life with just Hermione, if the question of sex wouldn’t inevitably come into it. So, “Yes,” was all he said.

Pansy glanced at Malfoy and Hermione. “I don’t think Draco’s going to save the world,” she said, after a while. “But let me tell you.” She turned her bright black eyes back on Harry. “He sure is going to try. When that boy gets something in his head, he just doesn’t ever let it go.”

“Malfoy’s got it in his head to save the world?” Harry asked, surprised.

Pansy raised a single brow, slowly, as was her wont. “You didn’t know?”

“No,” Harry said. “I mean, he says he’s changed his mind about the things he’s done. But that’s a far piece away from saving the world.”

Pansy looked at Malfoy and Hermione again. “Draco is a self-centred little twerp.” Harry opened his mouth, and Pansy peered at him. “Are you going to contradict me?”

Harry closed his mouth, and shrugged. “You know him better than me.”

“I do,” said Pansy. “And he thinks he’s the centre of the world. He blames himself, that most of Slytherin sided with the Dark Lord’s allies.”

“You’re right,” Harry said. “That’s . . . really self-centred,”

“You’re catching on.” Pansy glanced at Malfoy again. His cheeks were tinged faintly pink, either from the pint in front of him, or from talking to Hermione, Harry never could tell.

Malfoy always looked really happy here, at the pub.

“Now that he’s gone and changed his mind,” Pansy said, “he thinks it’s his responsibility to make amends. Not just for himself, but for . . . our kind.”

Peeling his eyes off Malfoy a little bit reluctantly, Harry turned back to Pansy. “Your kind?”

“Pure-bloods, Death Eaters, Slytherins, whinging spoiled brats, you name it,” Pansy said, “Draco’s going to drag them kicking and screaming onto the side of light, whether they like it there or not.”

“The side of light?”

Pansy waved a hazy hand. “Oh, you know. The light where we don’t perpetrate wars upon each other and all hold hands together, singing. It’s where all the fist-pumping radicals live these days.”

“You don’t think that might be a good idea?”

“Me?” Pansy shrugged. “I don’t care. I’ll likely follow wherever Draco leads. He can be convincing.”

Harry wanted to ask her how Malfoy was convincing, but he felt deep down that he would be asking for all the wrong reasons, and so didn’t ask it. “Don’t you care at all?” he said.

“About politics? No.”

“It’s more than just politics,” Harry said.

“Now you’re going to go off like Draco,” Pansy said. “I can tell. You two are peas in a pod.”

Harry blinked. “I’m not in a pod with Malfoy.”

“Aren’t you? Weren’t you going to say that it’s more than politics, Pansy, it’s the way we live? That it’s the shape of our world, and we’re the ones who’ve got to shape it? Trust me, I’ve heard it all before.”

“Er,” said Harry. “You have?”

Pansy just looked at him a while in her flat, unmoving way. “Draco was conflicted all through sixth and seventh year. There were dozens of times he almost did something different, and yet every time, he did the exact thing that his father wanted―that his father had bred him to do. He never did stand up and get to say, ‘I’m my own person, and I’m going to do this my own way’. Don’t you see that he regrets it? He’s going to spend the rest of his life looking for an opportunity to say just that, because he never did it when he feels he should have. Why do you think he started asking you to have drinks with him? He wanted to prove to himself that he could do it.”

Harry looked at Malfoy again. His cheeks were still pink, his eyes bright. His hair caught the light, and he moved his hands a lot when he talked. He frequently got rather excited, Harry realized, whenever they talked about anything―whether it was work or Quidditch or the office coffee. Harry had never really made the connection that it meant Malfoy was passionate.

“You better watch out,” Pansy said. “Your face will give you away.”

Harry didn’t know what his face was giving away, but he stopped looking at Malfoy abruptly. “Oh,” he said. “You mean, like yours?”

“Do you think I was born without any facial expressions?” Pansy said expressionlessly. “I used to practice in the mirror for hours.”

“Why?”

“So no one would know when they had hurt my feelings, of course. It worked for a while, but now it’s got to the point that when I want to make an expression, I can barely do it.”

“You’re doing it now,” Harry said.

“Am I?” she said, and smiled.

It wasn’t her little smirking smile. It was a real one.

“Potter,” Malfoy said suddenly. “You’ve done something to Pansy’s face.”

“It was only a temporary affliction,” Pansy said, but she was still smirking, just a little.

“What did you say?” Malfoy looked at Harry curiously.

“Er.” Harry licked his lips.

“We were talking about the time we heard a noise in that field beside my house, do you remember? You ran screaming like a girl.” Pansy turned back to Harry. “It turned out to be a goose.”

“Malfoy ran screaming from the forest when we were in first year,” Harry said. “But that actually turned out to be one of our professors possessed by Voldemort, so really Malfoy, it’s okay.”

Malfoy glowered. “Am I all you ever talk about?”

“Why, darling, are there other subjects?” Pansy asked, her flat voice almost pleasant.

“I suppose there are,” said Malfoy, “but few are more interesting.”

“He’s very charming,” Hermione said, “when he wants to be.”

Harry licked his lips again. “Actually, we were talking about politics.”

“You hate politics,” Malfoy told Pansy.

“Yes,” said Pansy. “We were talking about how I hate them.”

“You hate everything,” Malfoy said.

“See?” Pansy told Hermione. “I can be charming, too.”

* * *

18 December, 2003

“You go on ahead, Potter,” Malfoy said, just as Harry was stepping out of the lift. “I’ve just remembered; I’ve got to deliver these files.”

Harry put his hand on the lift door, and stepped back inside. “I’ll go with you.”

Malfoy put his hand where Harry’s had been to stop the door closing. “I’ve just got to pop down to Level Ten,” he said. “I’ll only be a few.”

“I’ll go with you,” Harry said.

Malfoy stepped out of the lift, still on the ground floor. Harry followed him.

Malfoy was looking at him in a strange sort of way, head tilted. He did this sometimes, looked at Harry as if he was one of Hermione’s Beings, a species Malfoy did not quite have figured out, and yet was interested in. Malfoy shook himself, and the look went away. “It’s not your case,” he said.

“Oh,” Harry said. “You mean it’s secret?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “It’s Sengupta’s testimony on the use of the Muggle Artefact’s Department’s funds. I can hardly think of anything less secret. I just meant, the girls are waiting.”

“Oh,” Harry said again. He hadn’t thought of that. “You said you’d just be a few.”

“Gilmore will most likely snag me and demand to have a chat.” Malfoy was beginning to smile, his slight, polite smile. His hand was on his strap again, but it was loose. “You don’t need to escort me everywhere I go, Potter.” He shook his hair out of his eyes. “I’m not a woman. I can get there myself.”

Harry frowned. “I don’t escort women,” he said. “They can get where they need to go whenever they need to.”

“Tell that to Hermione.” Malfoy smirked.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Maybe I will. I’ll tell her you said she needed an assistant.”

Malfoy just smiled. His hand tugged on his strap. “I’ll―I’ll see you at the pub, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Harry said.

Malfoy went back to the lift, and Harry turned away.

*

When Harry got to the pub, Pansy was by herself.

“Where’s Draco?” Hermione said, when she arrived.

“He had to stay late,” Pansy said. “Harry’s been crying into his cups.”

Hermione looked at Harry curiously, unwinding her scarf. “Have you, then?”

“What?” said Harry. “No.”

“It’s true,” Pansy said, “I lie. He’s just been telling me about the time you were a cat.”

Frowning, Hermione sat down next to Harry.

Harry slid her pint over to her. “Er,” he said. “Pansy said that Malfoy told her that Goyle and Crabbe―that Goyle said they followed a trail of sweets in second year, when the Chamber of Secrets was being opened, you remember.”

“Draco figured it out, did he?” Hermione said, not sounding very concerned. “I suppose he would. He’s clever.”

“Vince and Greg woke up stripped and tied down,” Pansy finished. “You were kinky bastards. So, Granger.” She put her chin on her hand. “Were you going to strip me and leave me in a cupboard, too?”

“I suppose you would like that,” Hermione said. “Where did you say Draco was?”

“He had to deliver some files,” Harry said. “He said it would only be a moment.”

“He keeps saying that,” Pansy said. “I think he misses him.”

“It’s not that,” said Harry.

“What is it, then?”

“It’s that you keep tricking me into telling you things about Hogwarts,” Harry said.

Pansy blinked. “Is there something wrong with a little honesty?”

“Anyway,” said Hermione, “I intended to be Millicent Bulstrode, not you.”

“So you like them curvy,” Pansy said. “I never would have guessed. Don’t worry. I think you would be very pretty as a kitty.”

Hermione looked at Harry. “What else have you told her?”

“Worried about blackmail?” Pansy said.

“Er,” said Harry. “The fight you and Ron were having third year.”

“And fourth year,” said Pansy.

Hermione shrugged. “It was all of Hogwarts, really.”

Pansy raised a slow brow. “Letting bygones by, are we?”

“Sure.” Hermione shrugged again. “Why not? Draco and I have.”

“Yes,” said Pansy. “Draco.”

Hermione put her hair over her shoulder. “You know, I’m not really as interested as Harry in Draco’s dungarees.”

“That’s a pity.” Pansy stirred her drink.

There was quite a long silence.

“Your hair looks very nice,” Pansy said eventually, looking up at Hermione.

Hermione looked startled. “I . . . thanks.”

Pansy went on stirring her drink. “What are you using on it? I know it frizzes.”

“Er,” said Hermione. She was probably looking for the insult in that statement.

Harry knew he was.

“Vladimir’s Elixir,” Hermione said finally. Her voice was very careful.

“Yes, I suppose that makes sense.” Pansy stirred her drink some more. “Well, that covers hair. Would you like to talk about cosmetics, now?”

“Er,” Hermione said again, “I’m not actually all that interested in hair and make-up.”

“Thank Merlin.” Pansy just kept stirring. “I suppose we should talk about men, then?”

Hermione looked at Harry. “Harry’s sitting right here.”

“Excellent,” said Pansy. “Men bore me. Let’s talk about objective morality, for a while.”

“Objective morality?” Hermione’s brow furrowed.

“Perhaps you’ve heard of it? People like Draco and your boyfriend here are obsessed with it.”

Hermione’s brow furrowed further. “Harry’s not my boyfriend.”

“Details.” Pansy stirred. “If we’re going to do it, we better do it quick. We can’t do it while Draco’s around.”

Hermione’s brow would be ripe for harvest, if she wasn’t careful. “Why not?”

“We don’t talk about morality.” Pansy took her straw out of her drink, and laid it on the table. “He’d disown me.”

“He wouldn’t,” Hermione began.

“He would,” Pansy said. “I have no moral centre. It upsets him. He tries to be accepting, but really, he just keeps trying to make me see things, over and over again, and I’m not going to. Quite honestly, I don’t care to.”

“What’s he trying to make you see?” Harry asked, interested.

“That we have to work together to build a better world,” said Pansy. “That his dad was . . . totally misguided. That Volde―Old Snakeface was a crazy insane psychotic serial killer, and that we can’t let that happen again, and we’re the only ones who can make sure it doesn’t, that sort of thing; take your pick.”

“I,” said Harry. “Draco says those things?”

Pansy’s lip curled a little. “Not in mixed company.”

“I believe it,” said Hermione. “He really wants to make things better, Harry.”

“I believe that,” Harry said, mostly because it wasn’t like he hadn’t been sitting there for all those weeks with Hermione and Malfoy arguing about politics. Though Malfoy had mostly been arguing about how Hermione should see the pure-blood side of things, he didn’t seem to be doing so to change Hermione’s mind―rather to adjust her arguments and make them even stronger. But Harry had never heard Malfoy say what Pansy had said about wishing he had stood up and acted on his own during the war, and he certainly never heard him say his dad was misguided.

“And you won’t,” Pansy said, because Harry had said the last bit aloud. “I said that he’s self-righteous; I never said he wasn’t tetchy.”

“Good to know,” said Harry.

Hermione was looking with curiosity at Pansy. “I assume you don’t agree with him.”

Pansy shrugged. “It’s not that I don’t agree. I just don’t care.”

Hermione frowned. “You care about the world, don’t you? And the future?”

“Not really, no.” Pansy leaned in. Her hair was done up in these loops beside her ears that twisted around toward the back, and Harry thought it was strange, that someone could care about their hair that much, but not about the world. “Look,” said Pansy. “I care about a very limited number of things. One of them is Draco Malfoy. Another is my brother. Another is Millicent Bulstrode. Other than that, mostly I care that I am well-dressed and well-fed and comfortable, and warm when I want to be warm, and cool when I would like to be cool, and that there is a breeze coming in from the parlour when I wish it, and that I only ever have to deal with Mother when I choose to.”

“Then you don’t care about your parents?” Harry asked.

“Define ‘care’. Would I save them in a fire? Probably not.” Pansy sipped her Bloody Fairy. “Oh, don’t look at me that way. I’d save them if it were at no risk to myself, of course, but would I Apparate into a burning building at the risk of my own death to save them? No. Lots of people wouldn’t; I’m just more honest than the rest of them.”

“But,” said Harry, “they’re your parents.”

“More importantly,” said Hermione, “they’re people.”

Harry looked at Hermione then. He wasn’t sure what she meant by that.

“The way you’re looking at me now,” said Pansy, “is why I never discuss these things with Draco. That boy would Apparate into a burning building just to make his daddy proud.”

“But not any more,” Harry said.

Pansy raised a brow.

Harry began, “You said―”

“Oh.” Pansy waved a hand. “If Lucius says jump, Draco still says, ‘How high?’ He’s never not going to. It’s just, his next question is always, ‘Is it an evil jump?’ or ‘Is it a Death Eater jump?’ And then if he decides the answer is yes, he doesn’t do it. Sometimes he doesn’t do it just to be a brat. But trust me―Draco will always want to jump.”

Harry thought of Malfoy, the sun in his hair, the absent little smile he always gave to Harry. He thought of Malfoy’s hand on the strap of his bag, the way that Pansy said that Malfoy was trying so hard, the way that Malfoy looked so pink and excited whenever he talked to Hermione.

Harry thought of Malfoy first asking him to the pub, realizing now that Malfoy had been plenty nervous, and for some reason it made him feel so, so sad.

“But you don’t agree with Lucius,” Hermione said abruptly.

Pansy blinked. “Goodness, no.”

“You’re not touting the Death Eater party line.”

“Of course not,” Pansy said. “The Death Eaters were a bunch of fanatics, anyway. Draco’s right about that. You can’t really call them a party, can you? Just a bunch of wacko fundamentalists gone completely mental.”

Hermione frowned. “So, you’re moderate.”

“No.” Pansy slipped her straw back into her drink. “I’m a reformist, just like Draco.”

“Malfoy’s a reformist?” Harry asked.

Pansy spared him a baleful glance. “Haven’t you been listening?”

“I’m confused,” said Hermione.

“I don’t believe in Draco’s cause,” said Pansy. “I could care less. But I care for Draco, and I care for those other things I mentioned, and it seems like right now the best way to protect those things is to toe the line with bleeding hearts, just like yourself. It’s really the only option that makes sense.”

Harry felt oddly stricken. “That’s why you come out to the pub with us?” he said.

“Don’t be such an utter imbecile,” said Pansy. “I come out to the pub with you because I find you entertaining. You’re very similar to Draco, you know.”

Harry began, “But you just said―”

Pansy turned to Hermione. “As for you, Draco says you’ve got a brilliant mind, and I think he might be right.”

Hermione blushed. “Draco―he says that?”

“Don’t wet your knickers,” said Pansy. “I just mean, you may be able to understand what I’ve said. Draco never can. Merlin knows I don’t understand him.”

Frowning, Hermione picked up her drink, put it back down. “I think I do understand,” she said finally. “I don’t know. It’s interesting. I’ve never really thought about it that way before.” She paused thoughtfully. “When you think about it, I suppose there are probably many people who are just like you. Only they don’t think about it that way either.”

“I suppose not.” Pansy knocked back the rest of her drink. “Granger, you’re all right.”

“It’s Hermione,” said Hermione, still looking thoughtful.

“Well, hello,” said Pansy. “I’m Pansy.”

Malfoy arrived several minutes later. “They’re talking about hair products,” Harry said, as he pulled out his chair. “What took you so long?”

“Gilmore, didn’t I tell you?” Malfoy looked amused. “I was just twenty minutes.” Reaching out, he took a sip from a pint.

Harry wondered if he noticed that the pint belonged to Hermione, who was talking to Pansy about hair products with an enthusiasm that had been completely absent before.

“Did you miss me?”

“What?” Harry said, looking up from the pint to Malfoy’s face.

“Anyway, hair?” Malfoy still looked amused. “I’m surprised. That’s so . . .”

“Girly?” Harry said. “It’s true, they had to warm up to it.”

“Did they now?”

“They had to talk about meta-ethics and the philosophy of moral universalism first,” said Harry.

Malfoy’s eyes went much larger, and then in the next second, his gaze grew heavy-lidded, lazy. “Those are big words, Potter.” His voice was a low murmur.

Harry smirked. “I recently learned them.”

Malfoy’s gaze drifted up the length of Harry’s face. “We could talk about your hair,” he drawled.

Harry tugged his fringe self-consciously. “It’s not―”

“We could,” Pansy said suddenly. “We could talk about your hair all evening, Harry. Don’t think we don’t already, sometimes.”

“Do we?” Malfoy looked at her in that lazy way, smirking.

“Well,” said Pansy, “you do.”

“Do you?” Harry said, in a pretty good imitation of Malfoy’s drawl. He smirked at Malfoy.

“A little of Hermione’s elixir would probably go a long way,” Malfoy said, looking back at Harry’s hair.

Harry pushed up his glasses. “How did you know Hermione wears elixir anyway?”

Malfoy shrugged. “I thought it obvious.”

“Also, I told him,” Hermione said, a little piqued.

Harry frowned. He didn’t remember them talking about hair at all, any of the times they’d had drinks at the pub. “When?”

“We met for lunch last week,” Hermione said.

“I,” Harry said. “Oh.”

Malfoy looked surprised. “Do you have to ask before meeting me for lunch?” he asked Hermione.

“No.” Hermione sighed. “It’s just, it’s Ron. He’ll be jealous.”

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Weasley.”

Harry wasn’t sure why he felt so confused, all of the sudden. “You’re not going to tell Ron?” was the best reason he could think of.

“This is going to be interesting,” Pansy said.

* * *

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