"There he is, Neville." Hannah nudged Neville’s arm and pointed across the street to where Harry was standing in front of Quality Quidditch Supplies, looking at the display of broomsticks in the window.
Neville glanced up from the basket of gurdyroots he’d been sorting through. "Oi, Harry!" he shouted. "Hey, Harry!"
Harry turned around and Neville caught his eye with a wave. Harry waved back, then dodged his way across the street to join them at the vegetable stall. "Hey, Neville, how are you?" He put an arm around Hannah’s shoulders and squeezed affectionately. "Hannah, you look gorgeous." He nodded at the heap of mushrooms and luridly-coloured fungi heaped upon the stall next to them. "Only one more week till the big day, you two. I hope you’re not picking out food for the reception."
Hannah laughed. "No, it’s going to be spinach cases and bacon-wrapped scallops and little sandwiches. Regular things like that."
"And chocolate," Neville chimed in. "Lots of chocolate."
"Of course," Harry agreed. "It’s not a proper wedding without lots of chocolate. Remember that thing at Seamus and Jeanne’s wedding?"
Neville’s eyes went misty with reminiscence. "A chocolate fountain," he said reverently. "Huge. I could have bathed in it."
"We’re not going quite that far," Hannah said, taking Neville’s arm with a smile. "But there will be more than enough for any normal person, I’m sure."
"Guess that means Ron’s not invited," Harry said with mock sorrow.
"Ron’s appetite still as legendary as ever?" Neville asked with a grin.
"For sure. It’s starting to catch up to him, though -- our supervisor’s already making not-so-subtle comments about certain people who could do with a bit more exercise."
"Listen, Harry, I’m glad we ran into you, " Neville said as he handed the stallkeeper a few Sickles in exchange for a lumpy sack of something squashy which he tucked into his pocket. "Wanted to ask you something. We’re just going down to the Leaky Cauldron for something to eat, can you join us?"
The three of them made their way towards the pub, through the crowds of witches and wizards doing their winter holiday shopping. Diagon Alley was done up in its holiday finest, strewn with fairy lights and greenery, blown glass decorations and heaps of snow (real and artificial, the latter identifiable by the fact that it remained pure white and never melted). Whether they thought of it as Christmas, Solstice, Yule, Saturnalia, or just a chance for a lot of food, drink and presents, everyone was in a good mood and happiness and good cheer was the order of the day.
The Leaky Cauldron was packed full but they were able to snag a table near the back, and within a few minutes steaming bowls of soup and mugs of hot cider were on the table in front of them.
Neville took a deep drink from his mug of cider, set it down with a contented sigh and glanced around the room. "I love this place. It's dark and dingy and I'm never sure what they put in the sausages, but I love it. Gran and I used to have lunch here every year when we bought my school supplies."
"I like it too, even if the windows and floors could do with a good scrubbing. And the food on offer never changes." Hannah gestured towards the words scrawled on a blackboard that hung high on the wall. "It’s always Leaky House Soup and Soup Leaky House and Soup Soup Soup. It was Leaky House Soup and Soup Leaky House and Soup Soup Soup when my mother used to come here, and her grandmother. I remember her telling me."
"The menu could do with a makeover," Neville agreed. "Apart from the sausages. We wouldn’t want to change those a bit."
"Are you sure?" Harry grinned. "Ron and I snuck into the back once, just to see what the kitchen looked like."
"And?" Hannah said. She’d never had the nerve to ask Tom if she could get behind the ancient door marked "Employeez Onlee, Awl Others Hex’d w/o Worning."
Harry shook his head. "You don't want to know." He picked up his spoon and slurped down a few bites of the Soup, which had chunks of something in it that Hannah hoped were potato. "Gosh, that's good. Wonder what they put in it."
"Leeks," Neville said promptly. "Possibly Pungous Onions. Also dill, and..." he took a judicious spoonful of his own soup and rolled it around in his mouth like a professional wine taster. "Summer savory, I think."
"There speaks the Herbology expert," Hannah said proudly. "The only reason he doesn't know what's in the sausages is because he doesn't want to know."
Harry laughed. "You know, it's really nice to see you both," he said. "I see Ron all the time of course, and Hermione when she's in town. But everyone else..."
Hannah nodded. "I know what you mean. Susan Bones and I still see each other a lot, but everyone else seems to have gone their own way. Part of growing up, I guess." She exchanged a look with Neville, then looked back at Harry. "But you'll soon have a chance to catch up with some of them."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "You mean at the wedding? Like who?"
"Draco, for one."
"Draco?" Harry yelped, startled.
Hannah couldn't help but giggle at the expression of mingled disgust and annoyance on his face. "Sorry, Harry, that's what we wanted to ask you. Or rather tell you, so that you'd know ahead of time."
"Didn't want you to stumble across him in the loo at the reception and hex him out of habit," Neville added.
"Merlin's beard, why him of all people?"
"Actually we're inviting his girlfriend, Astoria Greengrass," Hannah said. "She's bringing Draco as her date. She and I have gotten to be pretty good friends over the past couple of years. We've been working together on some interesting Herbology problems -- our latest project is to cross-breed bubotubers with self-peeling sprouts to see if we can get them to milk themselves."
Harry made a face. "Yuck. That would certainly be an improvement, not having to touch the foul things. Maybe you can cross-breed them with something that smells better while you're at it. Who's Astoria, though? Did she go to Hogwarts? I don't remember her."
"Her sister Daphne was in our year," Neville said. "She was Pansy's roommate in Slytherin."
Hannah smacked Harry's arm lightly. "Don’t say it like that. Astoria's very sweet, and she’s a Ravenclaw. She was two years behind us so we didn't see much of her at school, and she wasn't even there during our seventh year because her parents sent her to Beauxbatons to keep her away from...well, everything. Anyway, she and Draco have been dating for a couple of years now."
Harry sighed. "All right, but don't expect me to talk to him."
"You might be surprised if you did," Hannah said, remembering some of the things Astoria had shared with her about Draco. "But it's not just Draco."
"What does that mean?" Harry said suspiciously.
"Well, you know the wedding itself is small because we put it together so quickly, but we’re going to do a combination hen/stag party the night before and invite everyone from our year."
"And by 'everyone' you mean...?"
"Well, Susan, of course, and you, and Draco. Leanne and Ernie and Justin, and Ron and Dean Thomas and Seamus." She took a deep breath. "But also Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bulstrode and Astoria's sister Daphne. Blaise Zabini. Theodore Nott. Even Greg Goyle, if he'll come."
Harry stared at them, the look on his face suggesting clearly that he thought they were both insane. "Are you nuts?"
Neville leaned forward, elbows on the table. "Hannah and I, we think it's time for all of us to start making a real effort to put the past behind us, Harry. And we think the best place to start is with the Slytherins."
Hannah felt a warm glow of gratitude at Neville's words. She'd spent a lot of time convincing him to go along with her plan ("Are you sure about this?" he'd said. "It's a wedding, you know, it doesn't have to also be a campaign for justice.") But she knew in her bones she was right and it felt good to have his support. "Listen, Harry. For most people their Hogwarts years were great. Highlight of their lives. Their House rivalries were mostly a way of knowing what dorm to go home to and what team to cheer for at Quidditch. But for us it was something much worse. More poisonous."
"That was hardly our fault!" Harry objected.
"Maybe not ours personally," Neville agreed. "But it wasn't all the fault of Slytherin House, either. Remember our first year, when Dumbledore awarded you and me and Ron and Hermione all those points, taking the House Cup away from them and handing it to Gryffindor on a platter? How fair was that?"
"Are you saying we didn't deserve it?"
"No, but he could have done it differently. Made Gryffindor come in second. Especially when half the people there didn't even know what had happened -- it looked like rank favoritism. Made them feel insulted and demeaned, right from our very first year."
"Losing the House Cup is hardly an excuse for becoming a Death Eater," Harry pointed out sourly.
"Harry, try to understand," Hannah said gently. "You didn't grow up with parents, so you've been used to thinking for yourself all your life. But most kids don't learn that until a lot later. They believe what their parents tell them, at first because they don't know any better and then later because they want to make their parents proud of them."
Neville smiled. "My gran's opinion was the most important thing in the world to me. She terrified me, but I would have died rather than disappoint her."
"And that's what it was like for most of the Slytherins," she went on. "It's time to make peace, really and truly, and we can't do that as long we go on avoiding them and treating them like they're carrying some sort of disease."
"You’re really serious about this." Harry puffed out a sigh, then nodded reluctantly. "All right. I think it's likely to end in chaos, but all right. After all, it's not the first time Neville's earned points for standing up to his friends."
Neville blushed bright red and Hannah leaned across the table and gave Harry a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you, Harry."
"Don't you think people will wonder what's happened to the famous Hufflepuff loyalty, though?" Harry teased.
Hannah stuck out her tongue at him. "Loyalty isn’t just for people you like. It’s also about being loyal to an idea. An ideal."
"And what ideal do you think is going to be served by putting a bunch of Slytherins in the same room with--"
"Friendship," she said firmly. "And a better future. That’s what."
"My apologies," he said brusquely, without turning around. Astoria had mentioned that both Neville and Hannah liked landscapes and the painting was quite good, but--
"Malfoy," the person said.
Unbelievable. Here, of all places. "Potter," Draco said, turning round. "I'd never have guessed you were an art lover. I should think Zonko's Joke Shop would be more your speed."
Harry's eyes narrowed, but he simply said, "I was looking for a wedding present for Neville and Hannah."
"Longbottom? All the more reason to shop at Zonko's." He glanced around them at the white carpeting, the expensive silk wall coverings, the heavy gold frames, the unobtrusive, black-suited attendants. "I doubt you can afford anything here anyway, unless they've substantially raised the base salary for Aurors."
"I'm surprised you can," Harry retorted. "I heard the Ministry put a big dent in the family vault."
Draco snorted. The fifty-thousand-galleon fine had been difficult to cover, but he wasn't about to admit it. To anyone, let alone The Boy Who Annoyed Him Just By Existing. "Don't worry your pretty head about my finances, Potter, they're perfectly healthy."
An awkward silence fell. "So...is that why you're here as well? For Neville and Hannah?" Harry said finally.
"Yes. If I'm going to give a gift, it might as well be a decent one. It'll look ridiculous in their flat, of course, hanging over a second-hand sofa or in between a couple of cinderblock-and-plywood bookshelves." He shrugged. "But that's not my problem."
Another awkward silence fell, this one longer. "If there’s nothing else, Potter, I do have places to go."
"Er...they told you about the party the night before, right? Are you going to be there?"
"Merlin, no. I can’t imagine a less entertaining way to spend an evening. Now, if you don't mind..." He shouldered his way past Harry and out the door, but Harry followed him out into the snowy London street.
"Seems like they're getting married at awfully short notice," Harry said conversationally, keeping pace with him. "Only a month to pull it all together. I wonder why."
Draco, hands deep in the pockets of his grey cashmere coat, raised an elegant eyebrow. "Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed."
"Hannah’s pregnant, that’s why, you silly sod."
Harry stopped dead and he stared at Draco, then blurted, "What, Neville?"
At his expression of total stupefaction Draco dropped his pose of worldly superiority and laughed outright -- a genuine belly laugh.
Harry blushed. "I didn’t mean..." He trailed off in embarrassment, then joined in. "All right, all right. It’s just weird thinking of Neville as a father."
Draco was surprised at how good it felt to laugh. There hadn't been much of that in his life until he met Astoria. And never, so far, with an enemy. Or, he supposed now, a former enemy.
"Er, look Malfoy..." Harry hesitated. "How'd you like to have a drink?"
The pub Draco chose -- Potter probably would have chosen somewhere with peanut shells on the floor and packets of prawn crisps on a little rack behind the bar -- was warm and cozy and, more importantly, its whisky list was extensive. In Draco's opinion, anyone who couldn't appreciate fine single malt was an uncivilized barbarian.
Potter, of course, ordered a pint.
"Will Neville be a good father, do you think?" Harry said thoughtfully when they were both seated.
Draco shrugged. "Better than most, I suppose."
"I'm not sure how good I'd be. It's not like I had a role model, after all."
"Fathers aren't all they're cracked up to be," Draco muttered. "Trust me on that one." The last time he'd spoken to Lucius was six months ago, and the man had been as bitter and angry as ever. He seemed to resent the fact that Draco was willing to live in the world as it was; he should, apparently, have chosen to stew and fester over how it might have been, as his father still did. "But I'm sure it's in your genes to be perfect at that too."
"Nobody’s perfect," Harry said. He took a swallow of his pint.
"What, did James Potter wipe his nose on his sleeve once? Cough without covering his mouth? Accidentally kick a puppy while saving a child from a Chizpurfle?"
Harry gazed out the window. "Actually he was...kind of an arse. At least for a while."
Merlin, the man actually looked embarrassed. "And how would you possibly know?" Draco asked, intrigued in spite of himself.
"It’s a long story," Harry said reluctantly. "Someone gave me their memories of him."
Harry waved the question away. "It doesn’t matter. The point is, they were actual memories so I saw it myself. And he was cruel, at least sometimes. He made fun of...other students. He bullied them, him and his friends."
"Your mother must have liked him," Draco pointed out.
"My mum called him an arrogant bullying toe-rag."
"Well, she must have got over it or he improved with age, because you’re here, aren’t you?"
"True," Harry admitted thoughtfully. "It would have been a lot of worse to have a father who stayed an arrogant bullying toe-rag. Sorry," he said hastily at Draco’s expression. "I didn’t mean--"
Draco waved away his apology. "Don’t worry about it, Potter. Father and I aren’t what you’d call close these days. To be honest, I just want to get on with my life."
Harry swirled the last of the beer in his glass. "Is it--" he began, then stopped.
"Is what what?" Draco asked.
Harry puffed out a breath. "Getting on with it. What’s it like? For you, I mean?"
"What’s it like?" Draco said incredulously. "Well, let me see. Lonely? Yes. Boring? Often. Difficult? More than you’ll ever know." He gave a sharp, humorless laugh. "You’re a big damn hero. You have no idea what it’s like to be a villain. The son of a villain. The friend of villains."
"It’s like when they look at you, they don’t see you," Harry murmured. "Just a symbol of something else."
Draco glanced at him, startled, but Harry was looking out across the bar, his eyes distant. "Yes," he said slowly. "That’s exactly what it’s like. Like you’re a stand-in for everything that happened, so you get all the contempt."
"All the attention."
"All the insults they couldn’t utter."
"All the praise for what was, mostly, dumb luck."
"All the anger they bottled up for years."
"All the credit that should have gone to other people."
Draco realized suddenly that he and Harry were looking squarely at each other. "It’s not much of a life, being a lightning rod for other people’s emotions, is it?" he said quietly.
Harry shook his head, and in his eyes Draco read the same weariness he himself so often felt. "No. Not in the least."
Despite her confidence that this gathering was a step in the right direction, Hannah wasn’t taking any chances.
"I’m glad you came, Draco," she said, leaning over his shoulder and kissing him on the cheek. "Astoria said you weren’t going to. What changed your mind?"
Harry, further down the table between Astoria and Neville, lifted his head at this and met Draco’s eyes for a moment. "Well, I couldn’t take a chance Blaise would end up without any support at all from fellow Slytherins, could I?" Draco drawled, clinking his glass against that of Blaise Zabini who sat across from him, and he saw Harry turn back to Astoria and Neville with a small smile.
Hannah glanced around the rest of the table and was pleased at what she saw. Daphne and Millicent had arrived together, Daphne with her nose in the air and an arrogant tilt to her head and Millicent with her shoulders hunched as if she expected a beating, but Susan Bones, sitting between them, had somehow managed to relax the one and encourage the other. All three girls seemed engrossed in their conversation about Ministry politics. "Look, I know the DRCMC still technically has goblins under their jurisdiction, but that dates from the middle ages," she heard Millicent saying. "It’s insulting to still have them there."
Ron, Theo Nott and Dean Thomas were bonding over Quidditch; from the swooping movements of Ron’s hands he was describing a spectacular -- and probably impossible -- save. Leanne and Hermione were out of town and Seamus and his wife were visiting her family in France, but all of them had sent their best wishes (the note from Seamus had included a postscript suggesting that she make everyone surrender their wands at the door).
Hannah squeezed in next to Draco to sit down beside him. "Draco, did you talk to Pansy? She’s the only one who refused outright." Pansy’s reply, written on peacock-blue paper in exquisitely beautiful handwriting, had been couched in exquisitely venomous language.
"No," Draco said shortly. "Pansy and I are...not on good terms."
"That’s an understatement," Blaise said. "She doesn’t even like to hear your name, mate."
"I’m not surprised. She’s been angry with me for a long time." He didn’t like thinking about Pansy; her bitterness reminded him too much of his father. "At least she’s still got you as a friend. What did she say when you told her you were coming tonight?"
Blaise chewed his lip. "I may have neglected to mention it to her."
"Wise choice," Draco said.
Hannah looked back and forth between the two men, puzzled. "Why is she angry with you?"
Draco sighed. "Oh, lots of reasons. Because our side lost. Because I didn’t die in the war. Or maybe because she didn’t."
Hannah frowned. "I don’t understand."
"You don’t know what it was like," Daphne broke in. "Right after the Dark-- Right after Voldemort’s defeat. It was bad for all of us, but it was worse for Pansy. After all," she glanced apologetically at Harry, "she was the one who actually tried to turn Harry over to Snape that night and--"
"And if all of my fellow Slytherins hadn’t been such gutless cowards, I would have succeeded."
Draco closed his eyes. Blaise flushed guiltily. Neville, Hannah saw, had his hand on Harry’s arm and she hoped that would be enough to restrain him. The rest of the table sat in frozen silence.
Hannah rose and, keeping her voice calm with an effort, said, "Hello, Pansy. I’m glad you came after all."
Pansy had been a pretty girl even when they were in school; now, at twenty-three, she had grown into a striking young woman. Tall, slender, with hair halfway down her back in a black waterfall and large, dark eyes, she would have been beautiful had there been the slightest bit of warmth about her. Black ice, Hannah thought. The kind that you don’t see the danger of until it’s too late.
Pansy surveyed the table. "Well, isn’t this sweet." Her voice was low but dripped acid. "Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors." Her gaze passed over Millicent, Daphne, and Theodore Nott, stopping on Blaise. "And some other house I don’t recognize. There’s something vaguely snakelike about them, but they can’t possibly be Slytherins. Don’t worry, I’ll invent a new house for you. How about Wormcastings, known for their ability to crawl on their bellies?"
"Pans--" Blaise began.
"Don’t," she snapped, narrowing her eyes. "Don’t say one word to me, you traitor. Not you. Not while you sit there sharing a nice little evening with the very people who took everything away from us, from me."
"We all lost someone," Ron said.
"I lost my entire family," Susan Bones said with quiet dignity. "All of them. If I can get past that, so can you."
Pansy stared at the two of them with contempt. "You don’t get it, do you? I didn’t have any family to lose. Slytherin was my family. They were all I had. That, and our dream of a world where purebloods were given the honor and status they deserve and Muggles were kept in their place. Well, I don’t see any Slytherins here -- even Snape turned out to be a traitor to the Dark Lord in the end -- and the dream is dead. You may have lost a family. I lost my entire world."
"Pansy, don't," Draco said tiredly. "Let it go. Please."
"Let it go? Let it go??" she hissed, eyes bright with fury. "How can I let it go? How can you? Your father is in Azkaban because of them -- because of him." She pointed at Harry. "He's the one who brought your family down!"
Memories flickered through Draco’s mind: the night Harry was brought to Malfoy Manor by the Snatchers: bound, jinxed, helpless. Voldemort breaking his father's wand, humiliating him, treating him like dirt. Lucius’ pride and ambition which had led him to sacrifice his only son to a madman’s obsession. "My father's in Azkaban because of his own choices, Pansy. Harry had nothing to do with it."
"Pansy, it doesn’t have to be this way," Harry said urgently. "You can choose to--"
"To what?" Pansy said scornfully. "Accept the world as it is? No, thank you. It’s been made abundantly clear that there's no place for me in your nice little world. Even if there were, I won’t pay the price for entry. I don’t want your forgiveness. I don’t want your friendship. Most of all, I don’t want your pity."
She looked around the table once more then, with a toss of her head, turned around and walked out.
Hannah sat down abruptly and discovered she was shaking. Neville got up and came around the table to kneel in front of her and take her hands. "Are you all right, love?" he said softly.
Hannah took a deep breath. "Yes, I’m all right." She looked around. "Well, at least we tried."
"Thank you for that," Draco said. "It was a good effort. But I’m not sure anything can help her."
Blaise stood up. "I’d better go after her."
"You don't have to go, Blaise," Neville said. "You know you're welcome here."
"I know. But she doesn't have anyone else. Like Daphne said, you don't know what it was like afterwards, for us. For her especially. Besides," he added awkwardly, "she needs me, and I...well, you know."
"The things we do for love, eh?" Draco said with a crooked smile. "Just be careful, Blaise. There's something really broken there."
He nodded and they watched him make his way through the crowd and out the door.
For a long moment, no one spoke.
"It’s not like I thought it would be," Harry said finally.
"What isn’t?" Draco said.
"It’s not what I expected either," said Millicent. She looked around at all of them, then added shyly, "It’s better."
And after a moment they all began to talk again.
Finis / Commencé