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Pure as blood

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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.

“Oh, really?”

“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 Text

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 Text

 

           “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.”

“Bingo.”

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 Text

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.

“Yes?”

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 Text

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 trees 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.”

Harry snickered.

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.

Chapter Text

 

Malfoy had found no less than three books he wanted to buy in Hogsmeade’s little book shop, which at first baffled Ron, because how in the hell would you think of wasting money on books when Hogwarts library had thousands upon thousands of them? But then Malfoy showed him that they were fairly new works of fiction. Ron looked at the blurbs and saw that one of them was a forbidden love story between two Durmstrang students. He felt dizzy for a second. Malfoy hadn’t tried to hide his choice from him, he was just quietly standing by his side in front of the table display, waiting to see if it sounded interesting. Ron looked through a few pages, feeling self-conscious, and, not really knowing why, asked him if he could borrow it when he was done. Malfoy seemed a bit surprised, but told him yes, of course.

Then, they went to the animal store to look at the sleek black rats doing tricks, and Malfoy bought some treats for his owl. And after that, Ron dragged him to Honeydukes, even if they were a bit too old for the kind of pleasures it had to offer. He bought a regenerating chocolate bar that you could eat up to six times.

The streets of Hogsmeade were wet, and the cobblestone shiny, because as usual it had rained during the night, but the windows of the shop gave a welcoming atmosphere to the little town. They passed a charity shop that smelt weird and stopped to try on a few out-dated hats. It was a little far from the centre of the town, so they turned back on their tracks. They didn’t really have any more shops to visit, but neither of them wanted to go back to the castle just yet.

“Hogsmeade is explored in the blink of an eye,” Malfoy said, clutching his bag of books against his chest to protect himself against a gust of wind. In truth, they had been shopping for almost an hour and a half, going back and forth the same three or four streets.

“Oh, there are places I have never been to yet,” Ron replied. “Take Madam Puddifoot for example,” he added as they walked by the little tearoom, “it’s so lame.”

Just then, a giggling bunch of third years came out of it in a whiff of baking cake.

“Yeah,” Malfoy snorted, trying not to look longingly at the display window of cakes and coloured buntings.

Ron smirked. “Want to go in and have a cream tea anyway?” he asked with a stupid wink. “I owe you one if I recall.”

Malfoy laughed, his fingers involuntarily going to touch a place underneath his eye were the wand had hit him. “I was secretly hoping you’d say that; I was on the verge of dropping a very subtle hint about thirst and debts.”

Ron squeezed his shoulder. “I’m glad we agree then.”

He held the door open for Malfoy and the two boys entered the tearoom with a glee that they let each other see. The three-rooms shop was overwhelmingly pink and its stuffiness felt blessedly warm compared to the harsh winds outside.

“Do you prefer plain or fruit scones?” Malfoy asked in Ron’s back as the waitress was leading them to their table, sounding giddy.

“I like to have one of each,” Ron answered, drawing his chair clumsily.

Malfoy sat down and began unraveling his scarf. “Me too!”

“Cool, we can share,” Ron said, rubbing his hands greedily as he too took his place at the table. “Merlin, I’m always starving after walking in the cold.”

“I feel like living up here has only two modes,” Malfoy said while bending himself awkwardly to arrange his coat on his seat. “The harsh Outdoors extravagance and the necessary inside comfiness.”

“Yeah,” Ron agreed, looking out the window, the menu limply hanging in his hand. “But they kind of go well together.”

“Like us,” Malfoy noted, but he wasn’t brave enough to meet Ron’s eye and gauge his reaction. He busied himself in the pastry section instead.

Ron let the silent fall for a moment, and studied Malfoy’s almost translucent lashes, his bony fingers, his pointy nose and chin. It was kind of amazing thinking that this living, breathing human being liked him to the point of being embarrassed about it.

“So, tell me,”             Ron picked up, “do you also drink your first cup lightly infused, and the second stronger with milk?”

Malfoy looked up. “I’m lactose intolerant.”

“Of course you are.”

 

* * *

 

The trip back on the brooms was not as pleasant at the first one; the night had fallen and there was melted snow in the wind. Ron’s fingers were stiff with cold when they finally reached the common hall. He rubbed them together in order to warm them. He could smell dinner beginning in the Great Hall.

Malfoy took his elbow just before they entered the big bright room booming with noise. People were arriving in groups, chatting animatedly.

“Weasley, wait. I… just want to thank you.”

“For what?” Ron asked distractedly, already spotting golden roasted chicken on the table nearest the entrance.

“For being so… nice to me. When I’ve not always been the nicest to you. And when…you could easily make fun of me.”

“For what?” Ron asked again, a lot more seriously this time.

“You know for what,” Malfoy answered, his eyes downcast.

“No, I don’t.” Ron said, turning away from the food and putting his hands on Malfoy’s shoulders. The thought passed his mind that he was being very tactile with Malfoy, and that holding his shoulders was a familiar gesture by now. “Seriously. Be proud.” He looked him right in the eyes. He meant it.

Still not meeting his eyes, Malfoy took a step forward and hugged him. Really hugged him. He smelt like the wind. Ron could feel Malfoy’s arms wrapped around him and he squeezed back until he heard him make an annoyed noise.

 

* * *

 

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.”

 

“The flur, the boggart marbles, the thestral powder, your blood…we have everything we need for the potentialisator,” Harry summed up.

They were yet again in the library, which Ron kind of resented as it meant sitting for hours on very uncomfortable chairs, trying to float on a sea of books and parchments.

“We have everything we need except a protocol,” Malfoy countered. Ron shook his head at him, smiling. He sounded just like Hermione. She was sitting with them because she loved study parties as she called them. Muggleborns sure were a strange lot, but she was without any doubt the stranger of them.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked, pushing his glasses on his nose.

“Well,” Malfoy explained, pleased to showcase his superiority, “we need to know with great precision in which order we should add the ingredient, at what temperature and in which quantity. All of these parameters affect the end result a lot.”

“Right,” Harry said, slumping a bit. “I now understand why I am helpless at Potions.”

Malfoy snorted. “I asked Snape about having access to the classroom when he wasn’t teaching, but he told that people from Ravenclaw had already asked him and it wouldn’t be free until after Christmas. Now one of you has to go ask McGonagall if she can arrange something.”

“I’m sure you can find another free fire-proof classroom. All anybody is thinking about lately is the St Nicholas Ball,” Hermione chimed in. She had her hair in a bun and was writing complicated geomancy in crimson ink. “Almost everyone is busy finding a partner or trying to look nice for the party.”

“Yeah, we are the only ones dumb enough to waste our youth away,” Ron said, coming to the conclusion opposite of Hermione’s point.

“Wait a minute, what St Nicholas ball?” Harry sounded puzzled. “I didn’t know that wizard culture celebrated saints.”

“It was a way for witches and wizards to hide amongst muggles in the past,” Hermione explained. “They could disguise as religious people performing miracles in the name of God.”

“It doesn’t really work anymore nowadays,” Ron laughed, glad to at least bring something to the conversation. “But it’s nice to have an excuse to party!”

“Okay, so we’ll ask another teacher for a classroom,” Malfoy decided. “In the meantime,” he added, sliding a heavy tome toward Ron with a sadistic glint in his eye, “we can explore the theory.”

“Oh, that’s just great,” Ron groaned, not missing the knowing look Hermione and Malfoy exchanged over his misery. “Why the hex is Harry’s book not as big as mine?”

 

* * *

 

Ron felt so good each time he gave in a little to Malfoy that he really didn’t want to stop. Seeing him gain confidence, not control his laugh as much, and sometimes even dare to flirt a bit, all of those were good signs. He liked to see a light blush bloom on his cheeks every time he gave Malfoy a compliment, like “I like your handwriting”, “nice socks, Malfoy”, “you cut those fungi so well” or “you look handsome today”. After a few times, Malfoy started playing the game with him, throwing some “Wow Weasley, no holes in your clothes today,” “good choice pairing banana and cinnamon” or “I like your big hands”.

Often, Ron gave his new friend a quiet smile that was just between the two of them. It would have felt weird to share this kind of smile with Harry or Hermione. He never tried to avoid risky terrain when it came to Malfoy’s proclivities. It was who Malfoy was, and it was something he liked about him, like a gift for music, a taste for chocolate or a communicating laugh. When Malfoy had a friendly touch that lasted a bit too long, not only did Ron not say anything about it, he participated fully by leaning into Malfoy or touching back. Their thighs began finding each other when they sat together on the floor or in a couch. Malfoy was by now a familiar and comforting presence; his smell and his teasing were part of the texture of the day to Ron.

Ron was the one to draw Malfoy’s blood when they were ready, and Harry would never had thought of disputing him the task.

Pomfrey had been very suspicious when he asked her for a syringe, but he had provided her with a note from Snape. Never in his life would he have dreamt of getting a pass from bloody Snape. Pomfrey had him practice for half an hour on a dead owl (which was as disgusting as it sounded) before she let him take a syringe in a magically sealed vacuum pack.

“I hope you won’t miss, you red-haired menace,” Malfoy threatened him.

“Or what?” Ron tone’s was mocking, but his body language as he was preparing the alcohol and the syringe was nothing but caring.

Malfoy was sitting on a desk, his legs dangling. Flitwick was the one who ended up landing them his classroom. “Or I won’t give you my desert tonight,” he said in a syrupy voice.

Ron pretended to be outraged, and threw his arm away like a tragedian. “I don’t care, I’m watching my figure.”

“Guys,” Harry interrupted, shaking his head like a tired parent, “maybe you should get on with it.”

“Right,” Ron said, sobered. He rolled Malfoy shirt up to his elbow. His skin was so pale that it was very easy to see the blue veins underneath. He took his bony wrist between his fingers to extend the exposed arm, and rubbed alcohol with a cotton ball on it.

Harry had busied himself having the fire going steadily underneath their cauldron. Ron threw a glance at him, and then took a step closer to Malfoy, getting right between his legs. He opened the syringe pack, and prepared it like Pomfrey had showed him. He steadied Malfoy’s arm, and, carefully, slid the thin needle under his skin. He drew blood slowly, carefully. The bright red liquid slushed into the translucent receptacle. Ron looked at Malfoy’s face before taking the needle out, and his mouth was slightly open, looking at the blood leaving his body.

“Harry, here’s the blood,” Ron called. Harry came with gloves to take the syringe and emptied it in a venetian glass vial.

Ron put a new piece of cotton, drenched in alcohol this time, on the little exit hole, and Malfoy hissed.

“Shhh,” Ron said quietly, still pressing the cotton and rubbing his thumb on Malfoy’s skin. “I brought a nice Band-Aid for you.”

“Thanks mum,” Malfoy muttered. He had always been something of a wuss.

“You’re welcome, darling,” Ron answered with a smirk, letting go of his arm. He grabbed a box on the table behind him and fished inside for a Band-Aid. The one he chose had little trolls dancing on it.

“Why am I not surprised? You have such a terrible taste,” Malfoy asked, rolling his eyes as Ron was putting it on. But he let himself be manhandled gracefully enough.

“Guys!” Harry’s worried voice interrupted them, “I think the testral powder is melting the boggart marbles!”

“Shit!” Malfoy stood up in a panic. “I told you not to mix anything before we got the water boiling!”

 

 

* * *

 

Anyways, that’s because he was getting so close to Malfoy that Ron didn’t jump on the occasion like he would have a few months ago when Ginny told him that one of her friends had noticed him and was wondering if he was looking for a cavalier for the St Nicholas Ball.

Ginny didn’t often grace Ron with her conversation. She had spend enough time at home being surrounded with her many loud and obnoxious brothers and couldn’t be bothered to seek them out at Hogwarts where she could finally have a life of her own. Still, her friendships mattered to her, and even if she thought Fiona had an extremely questionable taste in men, it felt like her duty to relay her message. Of course, Ron had to be an ass.

“No thank you,” he said. “I don’t want to go with someone still wearing nappies.”

Ginny was upset for her friend, but even more for wasting her time.

“You’re such a looser,” she threw right back. “It was unexpected enough that someone would be interested in you and you act like you can turn down whoever!”

Ron crossed his arms on his chest and pointed at her with his chin. “I’m already going with someone, thank you very much.”

“HAHA, and who may that be?”

“Well, he hasn’t asked me yet so I don’t want to jinx it by doing something so mundane as telling you,” Ron answered with the supreme pleasure of having the last word as his sister was too surprised to be able to even close her gaping mouth. Though his own mind was probably reeling just as much as hers at what he had just said.

 

* * *

 

Now, the thing was to get Malfoy to ask him to be his cavalier. Ron didn’t really believe that Malfoy could find someone who would genuinely want to go with him with a special interest because A- almost no one new he was gay; B – even if they knew, there wasn’t a lot of people who liked Malfoy; C- even if someone knew and liked Malfoy, his father was still a very scary man; and D- Malfoy most likely wouldn’t return the interest if the person asking wasn’t Ron. Which was, admittedly, a bit dizzying to think about.

“I’m sure that if you had the guts to ask, the person you’d choose wouldn’t say no,” Ron declared once he had put the subject of the ball on the table. He hadn’t even tried to breach the subject during Potions, because Malfoy was the embodiment of concentration.

The class had drained Ron, in part because it was one of the first he hadn’t daydreamed through. They had spent the two hours testing thirteen ways they could cook up the potentialisator differently. Snape had even commented their work without insulting them, and told them to go with trial number 6 because it was the more stable version they had achieved. Apparently, it now only needed to macerate for a month before it could be used as an addendum to any potion. Malfoy seemed very happy with the good news.

Ron opened a pack of oats biscuits, put one in his mouth right away and offered Malfoy one.

Ron and Hermione often let them walk together by now. They were ahead of them, on their way to the Defence against the Dark Arts classroom. Malfoy didn’t share this class with them so Ron was walking very slowly.

“You are the great and annoying Draco Malfoy after all,” he added on when Malfoy didn’t pick up on the subject of his cavalier for the ball. “I know it’s difficult to take the plunge and all, but it’ll be worth it. You’re a catch.”

“Well,” Malfoy said pensively “you’d be the best judge of the situation.” He was trying to act aloof, but Ron could feel he was anxious.

“Hey, asshole, no need for sarcasm,” he played along, pretending to be naïve. “I know I’m not the most sought after but that doesn’t mean…”

“I was saying that because you’re the one I want to ask,” Malfoy said very quickly, almost meanly, nose toward the ground.

“Really?” Ron asked through a mouthful of biscuit. That had been a lot easier than he had anticipated. Malfoy saw with distaste a crumb fly toward him.

“Yes,” he nevertheless said. “I know you’re not interested…”

“Yes. Ok,” Ron answered easily, trying not to grin too obviously.

“ …but a lot of people chose to go with people they don’t necessarily date…wait a minute. Yes?”

“Yes,” Ron repeated, putting another piece of oats in his mouth. “I told the person you chose wouldn’t say no, didn’t I? I wouldn’t like to make myself lie.”

“You’re not saying yes only because you want to be able to say I told you so, are you?” Malfoy asked, looking less stiff already.

Ron was trying really hard not to smile with an open, very full, mouth. “Of course I am. I would go to hell and back in order to be able to say I told you so.”

“Prick,” Malfoy said mechanically. He finally took a bite of his biscuit, daintily.

“You should be nicer to your cavalier,” Ron laughed, enjoyment wrinkling his eyes. “I can’t believe it,” he added when he had swallowed. “If someone had told me three months ago that I would go to a bloody ball with you, Draco bloody Malfoy, and be bloody happy about it what’s more…”

“I’d probably have crucioed them,” Draco finished. “It’s true? You’re really happy?”

“Yes, of course.” They had now reached the ground floor, and Ron would have to leave Malfoy to take the stairs.

Malfoy hesitated. “Why?”

“Because I like you, obviously. And I want you to be happy. Plus I can’t think of someone I would want to go with more than you. I know you won’t be a bore that forces me to dance or will get crossed because I didn’t compliment your robe enough.”

“I expect a lot of compliments about my robes I’ll have you known” Malfoy laughed. He sought Ron’s eyes again. “But…you’ll go with me…as a friend, right?”

Ron rested his hand on the railing, one of his feet on the first step. Harry and Hermione were long out of sight. “Ah…Maybe we can say a very special friend? A friend that’ll pick you up at your dormitory and notice the extra care in the parting of your hair?”

Malfoy smiled. Ron was so stupid that it was impossible not to. “Okay. I won’t mention yours thought, be warned. And your clothes are always a disaster.”

 

* * *

 

When Harry came back from his individual quidditch practice, his breath still quick from all the flying and his hair stuck in strange angles on his head, Ron was stomping in front of the fire place and Hermione was gesticulating at him. He couldn’t hear what they were saying right away through the noise of the other conversations, so he tried to make his way quickly to them through the warm room to catch up. The tip of his ears still felt frozen and he began to rub them.

“Ron, you can’t possibly be serious!” Hermione was saying, flushed from animation. She had left her book face down in the armchair, which meant the situation was rather extreme. “How the hell can you platonically go to the ball with someone?”

“Well, if you and I had gone together, we would have gone platonically wouldn’t we?” Ron answered like it was the most obvious thing in the world. He must have had his tea already because there were a few crumbs on his jumper.

Hermione looked very cross. “But it’s precisely not like it’s just one of us!” she protested.

“Who are you going with?” Harry tried. Ron ignored him superbly, taking a step closer to Hermione instead.

“Well to me he is! It’s prejudiced to think I can’t go with a gay guy platonically!”

Oh, Harry thought. Hermione simply laughed at Ron.

“Okay, but it’s not to think you can’t go platonically with a gay guy you obviously have a huge crush on!” she said with the certainty of someone making a point.

Oh oh, Harry thought. He discreetly removed Hermione’s book and sat, content to be a spectator for the moment.

Ron’s hands curled up into fists and he seemed about to say something but thought better of it. Hermione was looking expectantly at him. Ron let out a breath.

“Please, let me just feel what I feel without trying to get inside my head, okay? Just leave me alone. I’m not going to hurt him,” he declared, visibly angry and gathering his things to leave.

Hermione opened her eyes wide. “Ron, please, you know I didn’t mean…”

But he didn’t wait for her to finish and went up, scowling, to his room. He took two steps at a time in the staircase, which was very dangerous for someone wearing slippery socks.

“Ron is going to the ball with Malfoy?” Harry asked Hermione who had sat back down in the armchair in front of his. “He didn’t tell me.”

“Well,” she explained, drawing her discarded book to her and putting it on her knees, “I just asked him if we should go together as I was too busy with my studies to find a cavalier, and he told me a friend had already asked him.”

Harry looked amused. Hermione was going to start petting her book for comfort any minute now. “They really are friends, you know,” he said. “And we can go to the ball together if you want. I haven’t asked anybody yet.”

 

* * *

 

Harry was miserable. Harry was dejected and he was sad.

A fancy-ish hairdresser had come from Hogsmeade to answer the high demand for personal grooming right before the St Nicholas ball, and set up a temporary shop in a classroom.

Ron used his services, thinking why the hell not. Up to that point, only his mother had cut his hair, and he hadn’t thought anything of it. But now it seemed a lot cheaper than buying new dress robes in order to look fancy for the party. He had to wait in line for almost an hour behind Hufflepuff girls who talked about nothing other than their rubbish quidditch fantasy league, but it was worth it. In only a quarter of an hour, watching red locks falling on the ground, he acquired the first decent haircut of his life. The barber put the finishing touching with some brilliantine on his temples and the back of his head, and for the first time in his life, Ron found himself very smooth.

Harry was very vocal when Ron came back, complimenting him on how well the trim suited him. He quite naturally decided to get a hair cut too. The hairdresser made him jump the cue because he was impressed to meet the famous boy who lived. But Harry’s hair had a life of its own. The more the scissors touched it, the more the ends split, the more the locks curled crazily or simply fell down in patches. It was a disaster. Onlookers began gasping and asking if the scissors were cursed. The hairdresser was so horrified that he gave Harry a complete refund, which was a small consolation.

Now, in the chaos of a room filled with adolescent boys trying to smarten themselves for a formal event, Harry was sulking on his bed.

“My life is over,” he was moaning in his pillow instead of getting ready. It was true that he was now bald around the right ear.

“Can I get your dress robes then?” Ron asked.

“Traitor!” Harry cried. “I can’t believe something so tragic is happening to me and you’re only thinking of making the best apparition!”

Ron threw his hands up, dropping the bow tie he was trying to fix in front of the mirror. “Hey, you know I was only jocking! Besides, haven’t you told me that your hair has already grown back magically before you came to Hogwarts?”

Harry sat up brusquely, looking comically hirsute. “Well it’s not growing back now!”

“I think I might have a solution, Harry,” Neville interjected excitedly from the bathroom. He crossed the bedroom with a towel wrapped around him and went to search his cupboard. He drew a green bottle out of it. It looked vintage and claimed Raymond’s Regrowth shampoo for refined gentlemen. New youth guaranteed!

“My grandmother bought it for me by mistake,” Neville explained, water still dripping from him. “It says on the bottle that you can go from bald to a head full of hair in only one week!”

Ron thought that it was madness to try to mend fire with fire, but Harry’s jaw was twitching already. He reached for his glasses on his nightstand and put them on resolutely.

“Well…it’s double or nothing,” Harry declared as if he was going to war. “I’m going to put a drop of the potentialisator prototype #6 into that shampoo.”

Now Ron was genuinely worried. “Harry, are you sure? I mean, it’s only hair, is it really worth the risk? I don’t really want to inherit your dress robes you know.”

“We’ve tried it and tried it again. It’s as safe as it’s going to be.” Harry’s brow was set and he looked downright scary. Ron got out of his way to the bathroom without trying to argue any more. Malfoy had explained that the potentialisator main goal was not to make a potion stronger, but to make it more effective. It should correct the potion potential flaws and make it perfectly adapted to the expectation of its user. Ron could only hope for the best.

 

* * *

 

“You look…good,” Malfoy said, taking in Ron dressed up form and his fresh hair cut.

His eyes had widened when he had gotten out of his dorm and spotted Ron waiting for him, leaning against the opposing dark wall.

“Why do you sound so surprised, asshole?” Ron asked, arms akimbo.

“I don’t know, I’m usually more attuned to your dreadful jokes than to your sense of style.”

Ron detached himself from the wall and they started walking towards the music. Malfoy had insisted that he come pick him up when the party was well under way, so that no body would catch them going together. “There’s only you to balance one tiny compliment with a cascade of insults,” Ron pointed out to an innocent looking Malfoy.

Malfoy’s hair was sleeked back to perfection and his bow tie was black as ink. “What?” he said, pointy nose upturned. “The mere fact of me asking you to this so-called ball is a bigger compliment than you ever gave me.”

“Hey, don’t turn this around! I say nice things about you all the time,” Ron declared with bravado, interlacing his arm with Malfoy’s.

“Like what?” Malfoy insisted, bombing his chest with an aristocratic poise.

Ron snickered like someone who was not going to fall for such an artless trap. “Okay, now you’re just after praise.”

 

When they reached the ballroom, which was only the great hall, but redecorated, it was indeed well under way. The floor was littered, the people sweaty and – worst of all- the buffet was very crowded.

“I absolutely have to see Harry,” Malfoy declared, pulling Ron away from the path to canapés and tiny sandwiches. “My mind won’t be at peace until I know how the potentialisator worked for his hair. Or how dreadful he still looks.”

“It worked fine, I told you. He wouldn’t have come otherwise.”

Ron had caught him up about Harry’s terribly bad hair day on the way. Malfoy had been delighted at hearing Harry’s misfortune; for all their shiny new friendship, he still had a slightly sadistic side.

“I need to see how fine,” Malfoy insisted.

“Mate, can’t you hear how famished my stomach is? I haven’t eaten all afternoon, to avoid staining my robes!”

Malfoy arched an eyebrow. “Mate?” He repeated incredulously.

“It was an interjection. It felt weird to me too.” Ron grumbled. “I’ll find something else to call you.”

“I can’t wait,” was Malfoy’s sarcastic reply. He scanned the room but wasn’t able to spot Harry. Only then did he accept to follow Ron towards the food. A huge pyramid of oranges and other vivid citrus stood in the centre, decorated with fragrant white blossom. It was surrounded with plates of grilled fishes and whole hams resting on fresh vegetables, as well as creamy mashed potatoes and curry dishes. A few crystal glasses where holding ruby pomegranate grains or crimson raspberries. And, most wonderful of all, where all the platters offering puffy pastries and pretentious canapés. Those where just floating around, offering themselves to all the ball goers, their silver flashing in the candlelight.

Ron had been forcing Malfoy to sample everything he wanted to eat for a good fifteen minute when they were interrupted by a loud voice. “Good evenings boys!” Harry boomed over the ambient noise.

“Your hair looks exactly the same as yesterday. I’m disappointed,” Malfoy dead paned, looking at him from head to toe, holding a drink of sparkling litchi juice in a champagne glass.

“I know, isn’t it perfect?” Harry was very excited, sounding nothing like the man he was two hours prior in his dorm.

Malfoy wrinkled his nose, bending a bit to take a closer look at Harry’s black mop. “So the potentialisator really works and has practical applications?”

“It seems so, yes,” Harry answered, raising his glass to Malfoy’s. A fifth year who seemed awfully drunk bumped into him and he almost dropped it.

“Does that mean we’ll be able to sell it?” Ron asked between two shrimps. “Watch it, mate!” he berated the fifth year.

Malfoy threw a look at Ron, but he was finally looking like he was enjoying himself. “I’m not sure, because of the blood,” he said. “We’ll have to do some research on market regulations…” The rest of his sentence was muffled in the cries of pleasure that accompanied the beginning of a popular song. Ron was sick of it, he had heard it all summer and had to watch Fred and Georges lipsync to it again and again.

“Oh great, some more research…” he groaned, eyes already in chase of the next delicacy he was going to taste.

“I don’t know if we’ll profit from it economically, but we’ll sure profit from it academically!” Harry yelled over the music, enthused. “But you’ll have to excuse me as Hermione is waiting to teach me how to dance the rock.”

Malfoy snorted, the muggle dance form obviously deserving nothing more than his contempt. Harry got lost in the crowd and Ron and Malfoy where alone again. They retreated to a corner of the room were they communicated mostly by nodding and grimacing, so loud was the noise at this point of the party.

“What did you say?” Malfoy yelled in Ron’s ear when he saw him gesture and grimace at the crowd, the food dangling dangerously in the plate he had taken with him.

“I said that I’m disgusted that everybody is so well-dressed,” Ron yelled back. “I look like a tramp with these frilly robes from the sixties.”

Malfoy drew his wand out and tapped at his throat, and then at Ron’s, before replying:

“You know what, I don’t think you really need a whole new wardrobe. With that neat haircut and well tucked in shirts, you could aim for antiquarian chic.”

Ron laughed between two bites. “Geez, thanks Malfoy. Consider me deeply flattered.”

Malfoy tapped his shoulder pleasantly. “I’m not even joking,” he replied. “Just add a little moustache and you’ll be magnificent.”

“Oh, shut up,” Ron told him, trying to stuff Malfoy’s mouth with some chou à la crème so he would stop teasing him.

“What?” Malfoy laughed, trying to evade the pastry. Ron managed to crush a piece of it at the corner of his mouth. “You’re well-built and have an arresting colouring,” Malfoy said, heart beating fast as he licked at the cream.

Ron, the flattened chou forgotten in the air, seemed torn between being flattered and disbelieving. Overtaken by a weird confidence and the cover of the heavy music, Malfoy took a risk.

“You know that I’m attracted to you right?” he said earnestly. “You just look a bit shabby right now, but you have the potential to be a dashing young man.”

After the summer hit, an even more dreadful music started playing. It sounded like the musical equivalent of trickle tart. People suddenly stopped jumping everywhere with hectic limb movements and started forming pairs to slow dance. Ron said nothing back to the admission, and Malfoy felt a sense of dread rise in his mind with every second that passed. Dejectedly, his hands fidgeting nervously at his bowtie, he looked at the couples dancing together.

“What is it?” Ron managed to let out through the chou he had finally decided to dispose off in his stomach, with the help of exaggerated facial expression. “You looked happy a minute ago.”

A minute ago we were flirting, Malfoy thought.

“It’s just…” Malfoy explained, leaning his back against the wall, “I don’t know, I guess it’s a kind of nostalgia for the things I’ll never be able to do.”

Ron caught some cream on his thumb with a flick of his tongue. “What, dancing? Do you have two left feet?”

Malfoy snorted. “No, dumbass, you know perfectly well what I mean…”

Ron furrowed his brow and put his plate down on the nearest table. He whipped his hands on his dress robes without as much as a second of hesitation. “Dance with me,” he decided.

Malfoy’s hopes flared up brutally. “What?” he said, pretending to be shocked for decorum. “No way, people will see us!”

“Oh, so you are ashamed of me and my ‘shabby’ attire after all, that’s what it’s really all about,” Ron taunted, licking his lips.

Malfoy looked around him worriedly. “Nonsense! No, I’m afraid someone will call me, you know, a fag and tattle to my dad.”

“Easy-peasy! Let’s just throw a bunch of confundio,” Ron said, whipping his wand out. He made it sound like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Malfoy drew his own wand worriedly, but let himself be entrained when Ron tugged at his sleeve to get him closer to the music. He cast some spells distractedly on their way. Malfoy dragged his feet on the floor. He would have preferred to find an even more remote space if they were really going to stand together so close.

“I don’t see the point in going together to the ball if we don’t have at least one dance,” Ron argued to mellow him out.

He smiled at Malfoy and cheesily offered his hand. Malfoy looked at it for a moment, and took it tentatively. Ron’s hand was a bit clammy and sticky with food, but it still felt wonderful.

“It’s not that I don’t want to…” He trailed off, awkwardly putting his other hand at Ron’s side. They began kind of waltzing without trying too hard. After a minute, Malfoy still looked a bit stiff and shy.

Ron squeezed his shoulder and searched his eyes. “You have nothing to be ashamed of,” he told his friend. “Well, I mean, you have plenty of things to be ashamed of. Like you dark past, or your dreadful manners toward me. But certainly not preferring to dance with other boys.”

“Well, if you say so. You seem to be the one to prefer to dance with boys,” Malfoy teased him, relaxing at last.

“Oh no, I wouldn’t want to dance with any other boy than you,” Ron quipped back.

They swayed to the syrupy music during the few minutes that the song lasted, and nothing catastrophic happened, only some awkwardness.

“This is so lame,” Malfoy whispered in Ron’s ear. “I don’t understand why people are so excited to go to these stupid dances.”

“I suspect they want to snog and get drunk,” Ron whispered back, although such a precaution was totally useless.

Malfoy snorted disdainfully. “I prefer drinking tea and making you realise what a tremendous wizard I am.”

With a giggle, Ron made an attempt at swiping Malfoy off his feet, which failed miserably and made both of them let out a ridiculous cry as they lost their equilibrium. Arms flailing, Malfoy ripped off a piece of fabric that was adorning a stone pillar in order to break their fall. Even through the confundio, ripples of worry spread through the other dancers.

Malacus!” a voice said behind them, and instead of hard stone, the floor they fell on felt like a mattress.

“It’s good to be young and in love, but you should be a bit cautious too,” Dumbledore told them with a twinkle in his eye. He then finished his glass of sherry with a nod in their direction. “Now, I heard that the pineapple juice really is butterbeer.” Dumbledore nodded pleasantly at them and moved on to the next group of pupils.

“Merlin!” Malfoy exclaimed through his teeth, cheeks flaming. Even his skull looked crimson underneath his pale hair. “I think I’m going to grab myself a drink of that.” Ron followed him, neither of them commenting on Dumbledore’s misconstruction on the nature of their relationship.

When they reached the buffet, they found Harry again, who was waiting idly by the cheese platters and chatting pleasantly with a Hufflepuff, not looking very right on his feet. He had a glass of what looked like pineapple juice in his hand.

“Harry, why didn’t you tell me this was beer?” Ron accused.

“It is?” Harry giggled. “I hadn’t noticed.”

It was true that it tasted like pineapple, but the tang off alcohol was unmistakable underneath the sweetness. Ron finished his glass in three swallows and poured himself another. Malfoy sipped at his more daintily.

“You’re a tool, Potter,” he told Harry, throwing a wary look at the Hufflepuff girl. “Where is Hermione? Shouldn’t you be dancing with her?”

“Oh yeah we did, but she ditched me for Rodrick…Todrick.” Harry tried to laugh but it was cut in half by a hic up. “I don’t remember his name but I don’t like him very much. I was bored and I couldn’t see you guys so I drank this pineapple juice with Seamus. Ginny came by to say you are a looser Ron, and that she knew you’d never find a date. Also, I think Goyle has a pink tie.”

“Oh yeah,” Malfoy confirmed with disgust. “I saw this monstrosity but he wasn’t parting with it anytime soon. I think his uncle send it to him saying that there was a special perfume that attracted girls sprayed on it.”

“I saw no girls,” Harry giggled. Then he burped. “Sorry,” he said.

 

* * *

 

A few giggles echoed against the cold walls, and the fat lady’s portrait was closing up on the entrance of the Gryffindor common room. There were crumpled paper party favours littering the ground. It had been a mess bringing Harry back to the Gryffindor dorms and it was very late when they managed to put him in bed, but Ron had insisted to walk Malfoy back nevertheless.

“Ginny is a little cockroach,” he was fuming as they walked toward the Slytherin dorms. His sister had mocked him for going to the ball with an invisible ghost. “My date is heaps better than hers! Have you seen that awful Montgomerry’s teeth? – who names their child Montgomerry anyways? Not to say anything of his spots or his I’m so much better than you attitude. You on the other hand, were absolutely dashing.”

Malfoy smiled. His teeth too were quite pointy, Ron realised. “Really?” Malfoy asked, bumping his shoulder into Ron’s.

“Yes, really. A ghost! That’s not even funny!” Ron told him agitatedly. “She can stuff it. You were the most handsome of all the boys. Well…Present company excluded.”

A smile blossomed again on Malfoy’s face. He had had quite a lot off that illegal butterbeer in the end. “Are you trying to charm me?”

“Ah! I’ve charmed you ages ago,” Ron declared with bravado.

Malfoy laughed a bit, but his smile was too content for him to be overly playful. They walked as quickly as they could in their inebriated state, because it was very cold in the hallways at this time of night. As you went down toward the dungeons, you could feel the dampness hanging to the dark stones.

“I had a great time, all things considered,” Malfoy said, his bowtie a bit askew. “Thank you for going with me to this party of little taste, really.”

“Well, the pleasure was absolutely mutual if you must know, ” Ron beamed. The party had tasted really good in his opinion. “I mean it,” he added more seriously when the Slytherin dorms entrance was within view. “I’m really glad I have gotten to know you. I want you to know…I know it’s not going to be easy with your family and the bloodline inheritance thing, you liking boys and all that, but we’ll figure it out. I promise. Look at me, I’m a pauper and I’m not stressing too much about the future. You’ll be just fine.”

Malfoy crooked his fingers into Ron’s inner elbow “I…I really want to kiss you right now,” he said, taking the plunge in spite of himself.

Ron felt heat tingling his cheeks and the floor swirl underneath his feet. No one had told him that butterbeer was so potent.

He coughed awkwardly, almost wanting to cry. “We shouldn’t spoil…all the loveliness between us. I mean, I think I would kiss you back right now, but I’ve never been so drunk and I don’t want to freak out tomorrow and… leave you alone by being a bastard, you know?”

Ron could hear the pleading in his own voice, and he didn’t like it. Maybe Hermione had been right after all. It wasn’t kind to expect Malfoy not to want anything more than what he wanted to give.

“Okay,” Malfoy agreed, looking toward the door.

Scared that he would go away like that, Ron caught the hand that was still on his elbow. “I mean, it’s not like it’s a definite No! do not ever suggest it again, I just want to be really sure if I do that, okay?”

Malfoy eyes met his and he gave a curt nod. “Yes, you’re right,” he said, squeezing Ron’s hand. “Of course you’re right. What we have…it means a lot to me.”

Relief flooded Ron. He shook Malfoy’s hand before letting go of it.

“Goodnight, Draco,” he said with a fuzzy smile

Malfoy looked back up. A small smile stretched his lips again. “Thank you. Goodnight, Ron.”

Chapter Text

On Sunday after the ball, it rained all day. Ron woke up with a headache, but it was nothing compared to Harry’s if one had to guess from the groans he made before even waking up.

Ron rested his forehead against the cold window. Outside, everything was drenched in water. The edge of the forbidden forest was barely visible. Even inside, if you were not within fifty feet of a fire, your clothes felt wet. Ron was worried about the flur, but Hermione told him he was silly. If it were still on top of that hill, like it was meant to be, it would be snow falling on it.

Ginny was pissed because, unlike everyone else, she had done her homework Saturday to be able to fly all afternoon on Sunday, and now she was stuck inside, picking fights with whoever crossed her path in the common room.

Ron bickered with her for a bit, throwing a bunch of imaginative descriptions about the lameness of her date at her, but quickly grew bored. He was restless, and the truth was, he wanted to see Malfoy again. He felt uneasy and wanted to make it clear that not accepting a kiss very early that morning was nothing like a rejection. And he wanted to spend time with him beyond any kind of agenda.

He was reluctant to ask Harry for the marauder map and have to explain why he needed it, so he walked toward the Slytherin common room, hoping for the best.

When he reached the entrance, he realised he should have asked Malfoy to tell him his dorm’s password. It was horribly chilly this close to the lake and he waited for ten minutes, hoping someone would come out. But no one seemed to want to leave their bedroom, which wasn’t surprising considering the dreadful weather. Ron was starting to feel disappointed, imagining himself going back to his boredom, when the door finally creaked. Pansy Parkinson appeared in the doorway. She looked slightly green, like the previous night of partying hadn’t agreed with her all that much either.

Ron went to her immediately. “Hum, hello, can you tell Malfoy I’m here?

“I’m not your servant, Weasel,” Pansy answered spitefully, shoving him away with her bag and not even slowing down to look at him.

“Wonderful manners, Patsy!” Ron spat back. He didn’t even wait until she was out of sight to sneak inside the Slytherin common room while the door was still open.

Malfoy was not in the common room. People looked at him suspiciously, but no one dared to say anything as he was often seen with Malfoy at the Slytherin table lately.

Ron walked toward Malfoy’s room, hoping he was there. He would have come fetch him if he had gone to the library, wouldn’t he?

He pushed the door, impressed by his own boldness, his heart beating a little faster than usual. He took a few silent steps into the room.

Malfoy was lying on his bed, reading. He was facing the grey light coming from the window, his head resting on his hand, his elbow dipping the mattress. The room was very noisy with the sound of the heavy rain falling on the surface of the lake. Ron looked around, but Crabb and Goyle were nowhere to be found. He looked at the green tapestry, at the abandoned shoes, at the little table underneath the window where they had first worked together, and then back at the bed. Malfoy had funny socks on, the warm kind you cannot put in shoes, and while he was wearing his usual white shirt and black pullover, he was still in his pyjama bottoms.

“Surprise,” Ron said rather awkwardly. He had to clear his throat afterwards.

Startled, Malfoy dropped his book and looked around with wild eyes. Then he saw Ron’s goofy smile and ratty jumper. “Oh,” he said. It was hard to read his face.

“I missed you, so I thought I would come and see you.”

Malfoy sat up on the edge of his bed. His hair was a bit tousled where his hand had been holding his head. He looked a bit dazed but he still scooted over so that Ron could sit next to him on the bed.

“What are you reading that’s so interesting?” Ron asked while Malfoy was bending to grab the book that had fallen off. “One of the books you bought in Hogsmeade?”

“Hmm, yes. It’s the one set in Durmstrang.”

Malfoy showed Ron the cover, keeping his thumb inside the book not to loose his page. He was still at the very beginning. The cover had two dark silhouettes walking in the snow, as Ron remembered it, with a title in black gothic letters: Ad eternam. It looked ominous.

“Can I follow it with you? “ Ron asked anyways. “I’m sure you have one of those… what do you call it? Lecoris or something. They were all the rage two years ago.”

‘They’re called LectORIS,” Malfoy corrected him. “And why would you assume I’ve got a pair of them?”

“Well, have you got one?” Ron insisted, looking sure of himself.

“Hmm…Yes,” Malfoy agreed reluctantly.

Ron laughed and pointed a finger at Malfoy.

“See, I was so sure you bugged your daddy until he bought you a pair.”

“Dick,” Malfoy said, getting up. He spend the next three minutes rummaging in the chest at the foot of his bed. Only his white hair was visible, he was halfway inside the thing.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Ron answered easily, getting comfortable on the bed. “Mister Dick. First name: Suck my.”

Malfoy snickered. “You’re so immature, there really is no need to mock you. You do it yourself very well.” He threw two little wooden cones on the bed.

Those lectORIS had first been developed to read partitions and enable wizards and witches to listen to music anywhere they liked, but they were also able to detect and read aloud any kind of text. Ron put the right piece into his ear, and Malfoy took the left one.

“It’s usually a bit rubbish for the first few pages,” he said, “but it gets better as it goes along. It needs to get a sense of the story.”

“Okay,” Ron nodded. “I’ve never tried one of these before. Tough my dad brought home the muggle version of this once. It had these little strings attached to a box…”

“Are you sure you want to listen to this book?” Malfoy cut him nervously.

“Well, yes, it seems interesting enough. Why? Weren’t the first few pages any good?

Malfoy made a dismissive gesture. “It’s not that, it’s just…the theme might not interest you a lot.”

“Why not?” Ron countered. “I can like gay things. I like you.”

Malfoy swallowed visibly. “You realise how that sounds right?”

Ron smiled. “It sounds exactly how I feel.” Then he grew all serious. “Unless…you were talking about you being a thing, in which case I apologise.”

Malfoy smiled too, shaking his head. “You’re so dumb,” he said fondly. He tapped the book with his wand, muttering lectoris. Ron heard something crackle in his ear and then a disembodied voice named the title and the author and began to read. It sounded a bit stiff and inflectionless at first, but after a while, when the device got a sense of the narrator and the characters, different voices began to emerge, along with little sounds to accompany the make up of a background. After a few moments, Malfoy tapped his wand on the book again to make the reading a bit faster.

The story began with the terribly sad life of Pim, a Durmstrang pupil who was constantly mocked and humiliated by his peers for being weak and sensitive. One day Hektor, one of the hotshots of the school, stands up for him.

When the two boys started being secret friends, away from the mocking of the other pupils, Malfoy got up and rummaged in his apparently bottomless chest to fetch some old colour books and coloured pencils. One the first page of the one he handed to Ron, one could read in black ink Property of Draco Malfoy, future first year at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry. They settled around the small table underneath the window, still listening to the novel. Malfoy lit a few candles to give them more light.

Ron shuffled through the colour book. A jolly Merlin and a unicorn had already been coloured, but the rest of the book was still white. He chose to fill Nessie. He felt horribly moved by Malfoy’s gesture of giving him something from his childhood, he didn’t know why. In front of him, Malfoy was pencilling a Spanish Castle. With this weird set up, Ron thought after a while, it was a perfect Sunday afternoon.

At one point the skies began thundering and lightening bolts gave a second of brightness to the dark room and it really felt like you where even farther north than Hogwarts, there in the black Scandinavian winter of Durmstrang. Malfoy grabbed a tartan plaid that was on his bed and they tried to warm themselves by placing it on their laps. He made tea as Pim and Hektor, the characters started getting closer and closer, and they sipped it while their – always in secret of course - courtship unfolded.

Ron waited until a not very interesting passage of description to speak. “There are needles in my leg. Let’s go lie on the bed.”

Malfoy looked at him for long seconds before nodding quietly. He threw a glance at Ron’s shoes, and went to draw the green curtain that was toward the door. He let the side of his bed that was facing the window open. Then he crawled on top of it lazily and took his pillow to put it at the foot of the bed, nearest the window. He wanted to keep looking at the thunderbolts. When he had gotten rid of his shoes, Ron came to lie down next to him. Feeling the mattress dip underneath his weight, he settled quietly near Malfoy, in the ominous shadow of the green curtain.

When the story unfolded to Pim and Hektor sharing their first kiss, Malfoy turned on his side toward Ron, tucking his knee to his chest. He looked like he was taking a nap, but there was something painful in the lines of his brow. Ron could feel the warmth coming from his body.

Then the two boys in the story were caught exchanging an intimate letter, which unleashed a terrible scandal. It ended up with the headmaster throwing a curse at Hektor to make him impotent for as long as he cared for Pim. Ron thought it was perfectly ridiculous. The headmaster didn’t even bother with Pim who, according to him, had always been, and would always be a disgrace.

Listening to the story unfold, feeling both self-conscious and perfectly at ease, Ron stretched, letting his knee touch Malfoy’s. Malfoy didn’t move. His eyes were still closed. Ron looked at Malfoy’s white lashes, at the thin bone of his nose. It was kind of nice to look at him without being seen.

When yet another sad episode in the novel made Malfoy sniffle, Ron touched his socked feet to his. Malfoy felt warm and nice next to him on the fluffy quilt, and it was kind of enjoyable to want to cry about the story when you were feeling so comfortable yourself.

“You’re not drunk anymore, are you?” Malfoy whispered, and Ron had to let his brain make sense of the sentence belatedly because the lectoris was still speaking in his hear.

“No, I’m not. I feel good,” he replied, stretching out his leg idly and rubbing Malfoy’s feet in the process.

“Okay,” Malfoy said. “No loveliness spoilt then?”

“No… none whatsoever,” Ron answered.

Then Ron felt his hand being squizzed. It was repeated a second time and he realised that Malfoy had just grabbed his hand. Tenderly. Lovingly. Ron stayed still on the mattress, looking at the ceiling, his heart beating wildly. He knew it was bound to happen, and still. Malfoy liking him would never not be astonishing.

 

* * *

 

“Harry,” Malfoy declared, solemnly standing on Hogsmeade’s train station platform 1, “I am in love with your best friend.” Ron and Hermione had gone to fetch some hot cocoa before the train arrived. It was already waiting at the platform, but there was no rush to find a compartment as not everybody was going back home for the holidays.

“You’re my best friend.” Harry said with good humour. He was sitting on his suitcase, his legs drawn out in front of him. Hedwig was waiting next to him inside her cage.

Malfoy deflated. “Please, I’m trying to be serious Potter.”

“I’m serious too.” Harry answered. “You’ve become one of my best friends. But I know what you mean.”

A group of students passed by, and Malfoy waited a bit before returning to the conversation. “You’re not angry?” He asked. “I have very disturbing dreams about him.”

Harry shook his head, burying his nose in his red and gold scarf. “I had kind of guessed already. Well, more like seen. You two are annoying. But in a good way.”

“Am I that obvious?” Malfoy was the picture of seriousness with his shiny black shoes and his neat suitcase. He would have had the same face if he were inquiring whether the booster charm secondary effects didn’t make it inappropriate to use on one’s self in Flitwick class.

“Yes,” Harry answered without hesitation. Malfoy winced. “But he looks just as smitten if you want my opinion.”

“Hey Harry! Malfoy! What are you waiting for? The doors have opened, hurry up and get us a carriage,” Ron shouted from the other end of the platform, holding steaming cups in his arms. He walked awkwardly among the crowd to reach them, taking little steps not to drop his precious cargo. Someone bumped into him and he sneered at them, his scarf dangling from his neck and menacing to fall down.

“I can’t believe that it’s him for me,” Malfoy said. “What a dork.”

“He’s the best choice you could have made,” Harry said, nudging Malfoy with his elbow. “I know what I’m talking about, he basically adopted me.”

“I know he is,” Malfoy said.

Ron was a few steps away from them and he was laughing with Hermione who had caught up with him. She had a foam moustache from the hot cocoa.

“There you go, crumpet,” Ron told Malfoy, holding out a cup for him.

Harry threw an amused look at Malfoy, whose cheeks, already red from the cold, had darkened a shade at hearing the new endearment. “It’s vegetal milk, don’t worry!” Ron added, mistaking Malfoy’s embarrassment for a lack of enthusiasm.

“Thanks,” Malfoy mumbled, taking the cup in his gloved hand. He took his suitcase to enter the train

“Harrykins, I asked for a shot a treacle syrup in yours,” Ron said, giving the other cup to Harry. Hermione followed them, holding her suitcase in the air in front of her with her wand instead of carrying it dumbly like the boys.

“My parents would faint if they saw the amount of sugar that goes into that,” Hermione said, taking a seat near the window. Malfoy put his luggage up next to hers.

“So, you guys are going to spend Christmas together?” Malfoy asked once the train had gained speed and they had settled down for the journey.

“Harry is going to the Weasley’s, and I’m going to spend Christmas with my parents in France,” Hermione told him.

Malfoy looked appreciative. “Oh, nice, où ça?”

Hermione crossed her legs smartly. “Dans les Alpes.”

“Oh Merlin, you bunch of snobs,” Ron complained. “I don’t know how I didn’t notice you two shared that trait before.”

“Are you doing anything special Malfoy?” Harry asked.

“This time of year, it’s always pretty busy at the manor. Important guests to entertain and all…Usually I am required to make an appearance at the beginning of the evening, but the rest of the day, I’m pretty free. I can read and fly as much as I want.”

The journey was pleasant enough, spent chit chatting and beginning the Christmas festivities early as Harry and Malfoy tried to outdo each other buying candy from the trolley for everybody. Crabb visited them to take his share because it was apparently something of a custom with Malfoy. When asked why his acolyte was not with him, he revealed to a very surprised audience that Goyle was currently occupied with his girlfriend.

“The pink tie!” Harry yelled excitedly, dropping a few Bertie Botts beans on his seat and the floor, “the pink tie worked!”

“Merlin! Maybe I’ll buy one,” Malfoy laughed, throwing a look at Ron.

“I’m not sure you want a bunch of girl throwing themselves at you, Draco,” Crabb said.

Hermione snorted at that and then couldn’t stop laughing intermittently for the rest of the journey. Every time it looked like she had it under control, she would start giggling again, harder then before. She then let out tired breath, as if so much laughing had taken all her energy.

Malfoy looked vexed and confused at that, but Ron went to sit next to him and settled his shoulder alongside him to show support until they entered the station.

“Don’t forget to write!” he told Malfoy as a goodbye for the holidays, as Harry was waiving in the background.

 

* * *

 

“Weasley,

 

Hello dear boy. First of all, thanks for the cocoa. I didn’t dare thank you as if we had been alone when you gave it to me, but it was very sweet that you remembered about the milk.

Winter is well installed here at Malfoy’s Manor. There is snow on the box threes and on the roofs. It’s quite beautiful and I wish you could see it one day.

Otherwise, father is sulking because his lobby at the ministry hasn’t come to fruition yet. I don’t know what he was lobbying for, but I admit I didn’t try very hard to make sense of his ranting. And mother is stressing out because she plans to have friends over for the 31st and wants everything to be perfect – and by that I mean she wants to make everyone jealous. I think only the house elf was genuinely happy to see me. He likes that I give very precise instructions on how things in my room should be dusted.

I hope everything is all right with you. Have a good holiday.

 

Yours,

DM

 

PS: Do you know why did Granger laugh so much in the train? Was she laughing at me? Does she know about me?

 

* * *

 

“Malfoy,

 

I hope you are well my darling crumpet. Thank you for you letter, it was a very nice surprise.

Here at the burrow, it’s what you could describe as utter chaos. My brothers Fred and George tease me mercilessly, calling me a deserteater - not because we went to the ball together (nobody here knows except Harry) - but because my mom thought I might be becoming an extremist hanging with you so much. Apparently I talk about you all the time. I guess it’s true, but we did do most things together this semester, so that’s only to be expected. It’s not like I could edit you out. I got cross with her and it’s only when Harry explained how we were friends now that she dropped it. I’m trying to give her the silent treatment, but it’s next to impossible in this house where everyone is yelling all the time.

Otherwise, we have fun playing outside with so many quidditch players in the house. I wish you were here, maybe I wouldn’t have to keep losing to my little sister. It’s getting embarrassing.

 

With all my affection,

Ron

 

PS: Yes, she knows. Not from me though. She’s clever that way. And I think she was more laughing at what she thought was Crabb’s cluelessness. Joke’s on her.”

 

* * *

 

“Carrot cake,

 

I’m sorry to hear you got in trouble with your mother because of me. Maybe you can tell her that if I like you (and I do like you an awful lot) I cannot possibly be evil?

My father had a special red cloak made in order to go hunting with his friends so that we would have wild meat for the Christmas feast. He spent two whole days harassing himself in the forest two catch two skinny rabbits, so I was able to spend some time alone with my mother. It was nice. She made me taste different champagnes for her party so I could help her choose which one to serve her guests. For Christmas, I asked for a Turkish sound box. Do you know what it is? If not, I’ll show you. We can use it together when we get back to class.

I finished the story about Pim and Hektor (sorry for not waiting). Pim commits suicide and Hektor gets married to some heiress. I’m utterly disgusted. To think we wasted hours listening to that garbage!

I am counting the days until I can see you again.

 

A very Merry Christmas to you,

DM”

 

* * *

 

“White Fox,

 

Merry Christmas to you too!

I can’t say that I know what a Turkish sound box is. You’ll get a present –albeit not as fancy I think – from me too. Mum tested me by giving me a knitting lesson to see if I really considered you a friend. I think she was flummoxed by how determined I was. I learned pretty fast. That shut her up for a good five minutes, which is nothing short of a miracle. So now you’ll have your very own, butt ugly, Weasley jumper! You’re welcome. It’s black by the way, don’t worry.

I’m shocked about Pim and that absolute bastard Hektor. How could he do that after his soul mate killed himself?? Not sure if I want to read the end of that disgusting book!!

I really wish we could do something together on the 31st, that is, if your mother isn’t keeping you at her party too late. My brothers Fred and George, plus Harry and I are going to check some clubs in Diagon alley (Mum doesn’t know). What do you say?

 

Your friend in need,

RW”

 

* * *

 

“Red Fox,

 

I’m not sure about the 31st. I’m expected to be at home and introduce myself to the beau monde. I’m really not excited at all about it. My father is always expecting me to flirt with the snotty daughter of one or the other of his respectable friends and it depresses me.

But the good news is, my parents are away visiting relatives in Venice the 28th. Would you and Harry like to come visit me then? I have a foolproof command for the house-elf so he won’t tattle to my parents that you were here. I would love to show you around and see you in my house. Please say yes.

 

Waiting for you,

DM

 

PS: ask for Malfoy manor, right wing, blue drawing room. The chimney is bigger than the one in my room.

 

PSS: I’m sickly exited for that Weasley jumper. I’m sure it’ll be a monstrosity but I knew our friendship would bring its crosses to bear.”

 

* * *

 

“I think you should go alone,” Harry told Ron as the redhead was looking frantically for some floo powder. It was proving hard to find in the clutter of the Burrow’s living room and Ron could not risk an accio for fear of breaking one of his mother’s ugly – but of a apparently priceless sentimental value - vases.

“I’m sure I’m getting close,” Ron exclaimed, throwing some cushions aside, “just give me a second.”

“I’m not trying to rush you, I’m only saying that I’m not going with you,” Harry explained patiently from his spot in Mr Weasley comfy rocking chair.

Ron turned around and attacked the pile of newspapers on the coffee table. “What? Why? Malfoy says his parents will be away in Italy or something, it’s safe!”

Harry shook his head. “This is not why I’m not coming…I think you should take this time to have a good conversation with him.”

Ron stopped his frantic searching, an old daily mirror hanging limply from his hand. “What do you mean?” He asked suspiciously. “I always have good conversations with him.”

Harry sighed. “Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean.”

“Did Hermione put you up to this?” Ron countered heatedly, waving his newspaper at Harry. “It really wasn’t very sensitive of her, laughing so much in the train.”

“No, Hermione didn’t put me up to anything,” Harry replied, annoyed. “But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a point. Sure it was nice of you to go with Malfoy to the ball, but spending all this time alone with him and rushing to answer to what I am sure are basically love letters… Maybe you don’t realise it, but you’re kind of leading him on, which is not something a real friend would do…”

“I am not leading him on!” Ron replied, kicking at a sewing box. “Merlin! If I was a girl, would speak to me like that? Would you call me a tease because I’m nice to him but maybe won’t put up?”

Harry had sat back up in his chair, but he didn’t look impressed. “Ron please, you’re not nice to him.”

Ron looked genuinely dumbfounded. “What? Of course I’m nice to him.”

Harry shook his head. “No. Be honest. You flirt with him.”

“Oh Merlin,” Ron buried his face in his hands. He shook his head. “I don’t get why is everybody trying to interfere? I just…genuinely like him, and I’m happy that he likes me too. Why does it have to be so complicated?”

He sat down, shoulders slouching. He winced as something hard poke at his bum and fished a wooden case from underneath a cushion. This was where the Weasley kept their floo powder. Ron had seen it a thousand times but he still studied it like it was a fascinating object.

Harry moved his seat closer to Ron, dragging it by the arms clumsily. “I understand…but, well, all I know is that he is head over hills for you and that he is going to get hurt if you don’t draw a line. At this rate, he is only going to grow more and more attached to you.”

Ron made a noise of frustration. “I don’t have to treat him like some fragile thing.” He knitted his brow very hard, looking at the floo powder box intently. “And, anyways, how do you know I’m not falling in love with him too? Hum? That would make your whole line of thought null and void, wouldn’t it?”

The room felt very quiet, as Harry didn’t find anything clever to answer right away. Only some faint brouhaha was coming from the kitchen, some muffled laughs and pots clinging. Probably Fred and George cooking up some abomination.

“Are you?” Harry finally asked.

 

* * *

 

“Hello,” Ron managed to say. He then coughed for a good thirty seconds.

“Sorry, this chimney hasn’t been used in a long time,” Malfoy apologized, hitting him between the shoulder blades. “I didn’t want my father to be suspicious and start asking question if he didn’t see the main one in perfect order.”

“I understand,” Ron finally managed, tears pooling against his cornea. “I’ll be fine after a drink of water.”

“Of course, come with me,” Malfoy tugged urgently at Ron’s sleeve and led him to the nearest bathroom.

Ron gulped down the glass in seconds, with an intense look of concentration on his face.

“That’s better,” he declared, whipping his mouth with the back of his hand. He washed them when he saw they were dark with soot. Malfoy smiled awkwardly at him when he dried his hands on a fluffy pink towel, and Ron felt a bit dizzy remembering that he was now a guest in the actual Malfoy Manor, a place he’d never have imagined he would one day visit. This bathroom was huge, all covered in white marble, with a window ajar on a snowy Italian garden.

“Show me your room,” he told Malfoy to break the weird moment.

The walls of the drawing room had been a pale blue, but in Malfoy’s room, they were navy dark. One of them was lined with shelves on all its lengths. A whole world of bric-a-brac sat on them, new books, old books, strange objects, moving pictures, still pictures, lit and unlit candles, framed quotes, bottles of perfume, bottles of potion ingredients, fine china tea cups, even some plants. On the desk, a tiny silver cauldron was fuming, and on a little table set on a thick Persian rug among colourful cushions, a tray for teatime awaited. Ron inspected all those objects and Malfoy commented some pieces for him, just like a guide in a museum.

“What’s that?” Ron asked, picking up a beautiful bulky golden square adorned with engravings.

“The Turkish box I told you about in my letter.”

“Oh, it’s lovely, what does it do?”

“It creates music from the mood of the people in the room,” Malfoy explained.

“Can I try it?”

“I don’t see why not,” Malfoy agreed, looking pleased, but Ron had already opened the delicate lid with his thick fingers.

As they sat down at the coffee table, the suave and bewitching sounds of the Turkish box started mixing with the smell of the frangipani candles.

“Your room is just as snobbish and full of surprises as you are,” Ron declared playfully while Malfoy was busy getting the tea brewing. The platter of winter fruit right next to the teapot was very tempting.

“I don’t see how my bedroom is snobbish,” Malfoy protested.

Ron looked around him again. It was easier than looking Malfoy in the eyes. “It’s so pretty…even the clutter is artfully arranged,” he said.

Malfoy kept his nose up. “Well, then, you should say it’s pretty instead of snobbish.”

“I guess,” Ron answered, accepting a beautiful teacup and saucer, “but they are also things that seem a bit too much honestly, like the silver cauldron, or the peacock feathers as bookmarks. Or this very teacup. Look at how fine the china is. I can almost see the tea through it.”

But Malfoy didn’t seem to be in the mood to engage in a teasing competition. “Now you just sound like my father…” he said, his voice flat. “Draco, this is not a boudoir! Your mother indulges you too much. So much vanity doesn’t become a man.”

Ron suddenly felt his stomach fell from the height of his stupidity. “Oh crumpet,” he cried, spilling some tea, “I’m sorry! You know I was only teasing you, right? I really love your room, I’m a bit jealous to tell the truth. You’re not mad at me, are you?”

Malfoy looked him square in the eye. “Do you think I’m too effeminate?”

Ron put all the food back on the table. “What? No! And even if you wanted to be more effeminate, that would be just fine. I love feminine things.” He gulped. “And anyways, it doesn’t matter what I like or don’t. It kind of breaks my heart to have to admit that, but… I don’t think you could ever look ridiculous.”

Malfoy didn’t seem to see the compliment that was hidden in that sentence, so Ron moved around the table to sit right next to him, and elbowed him playfully until he retaliated.

“Forgive me for being dumb?” he asked when Malfoy finally raised an annoyed eyebrow at him.

“That’s you major character trait, so…I guess I have to,” Malfoy declared haughtily.

After this reassurance, Ron finally relaxed enough to able bend over the table to get his cup of tea back. The cushions were very comfortable and this spot was perfect with the bed just behind them to serve as a backrest. Malfoy’s room was very cosy and interesting, even more so when he thought of the spare cluster and the shrivelled up quidditch posters in his own.

“By the way - not that I’m not very happy to have you for myself- but why didn’t Harry come?” Malfoy asked after a while, peeling a litchi.

“Ah…well…how should I put it?” Ron took a nervous gulp of water. After the banter gone wrong about the room, he was panicking again, which was very bad for his stomach. “He said we should have some time alone to talk.”

Chewing slowly, Malfoy said nothing but his eyebrow arched inquisitively.

“I’m not embarrassed by the idea, but…well, everybody seems to think that…which is quite reductive of them if you want my opinion…”

“Weasley, I think you left half of that sentence in your head,” Malfoy snorted.

Ron smiled at that. “Okay, no need to be evasive, I understand. The thing is, people – who I thought were my friends- are pressuring me either to stop being so close to you or basically to declare we are a couple or something. Which sounds a little too black and white to me.”

Malfoy put the shiny pit on the plate and whipped his fingers on a napkin.

“Why would they think that…you are interested in me?”

“Because I flirt with you? Apparently I do. Which…I don’t know, maybe it’s sounds like that, but to me it’s just like…I love talking and bantering with you, getting as good as I give. I like that we couldn’t stand each other and now we’ve discovered how well we get along, and it’s a really good feeling.” Ron paused for a moment, fidgeting with the pit on Malfoy’s plate. “Do I flirt with you a lot?” he asked uncertainly.

Malfoy reclined against his bed and let his shoulder settle against Ron’s.

“Sometimes, I feel like you indulge me a bit too much, yes,” he said quietly, his white blond hair spilling against the quilt. “You took me to the ball, which, okay, someone really nice, like you, might have done in a friendly way, but…You didn’t dance with any girl, you barely even looked at one. You were there with only me, in your weird, informal way, and I was so, so…moved.” Malfoy’s voice dropped to a whisper. “That is why I thought that maybe you would want to kiss me. When you walked me to my dorms.”

He heard Ron swallow beside him, and turned his head to look at him. There were red stripes on his cheeks, stretching to his hears.

“Even now…” Malfoy carried on, “we are not an inch apart and I can see the dots of blood in your blush, and that your pupils are a bit wide. It’s not me fantasising, I don’t think.”

Ron turned redder at that and Malfoy had a weird expression on his face.

“So,” he resumed, speaking very low now, “I understand that you are struggling with people interfering and telling you what to do but… but I’m going to be selfish, because it’s something that concerns me as well after all, and say that I would really, really enjoy it if you wanted us to… try and be maybe more than friends?”

“Wh…” Ron tried, but Malfoy silenced him manually by putting a finger on his lips. He did it with the arm closest to Ron, so the posture was a bit awkward.

“I was really happy to become friends with you,” Malfoy carried on. “But…Well, I guess I see what you say everybody is seeing too. When I’m with you…”

Malfoy seemed to loose some of his courage along the way, and as his blood too was creeping along his throat and invading his face, he began playing with a button on Ron’s shirt. But he carried on talking.

“You have a terrible sense of fashion, you’re not that good looking, you’re poor as fuck and you’re Harry’s sidekick. But I… I long for you. I long to be with you. I like how silly and kind you are. It is a constant happiness in my life how well we get on.”

He tried to sniff back the unwanted tears that were pooling on his cornea, but his earnestness made his voice vibrate a bit. “You make me feel like I matter, like I’ll never feel alone again,” he said.

Ron mouth was wide open and he looked as dumbfounded as if a pile of brick had hit him on the head. Malfoy laughed a bit when he looked up and saw his stupid face.

“I love you,” he said, shaking his head, using the last of his strength. “I’m sorry but I just…I can’t keep it to myself anymore. I’d drink polyjuice and turn into a girl everyday if it’d make you be with me.”

Ron, still gaping, tugged at his hair for something to do. He didn’t try to get away from Malfoy or to bat the hand that was hanging limply from his button. “Wow,” was the only thing he managed to get out. “Wow.”

Malfoy was horribly red and seemed to realise as the seconds passed just how creepy what he had just admitted was. “Wow,” Ron said a third time, his mouth hanging open.

“Ah sorry,” Malfoy back-pedaled, getting up from his slouch. “I think I’ll take this obliviate pass now.”

“Not a bloody chance,” Ron cried, brutally shaken out of his spell of immobility, whipping out his wand from nowhere. “I’ll expeliarmus you!”

Malfoy threw his hands up. “Hey, I was jocking!”

“You’d better be,” Ron said, still gripping his wand a bit hysterically. “That was beautiful.”

Malfoy swallowed. “I…”

“Except that silly polyjuice bit,” Ron cut him, his voice sounding more assured. “And the part about how I’m a sidekick. And how I’m not good looking? Are you blind? Forget it, your speech was disgusting.”

Malfoy smiled despite himself. “What about you?” he asked Ron shyly. “Do you maybe like me a bit, or do I really cross out all hope of my head once and for all?”

Ron took Malfoy’s hand, the one that was playing with his shirt just a minute ago. His eyes were a bit red too. “You know very well how I feel about you.”

Malfoy shook his head. “No, I don’t. I know you like me, and I know I would love for you to like me the way I like you, but we don’t … have the same tastes.”

Ron cleared his throat awkwardly. “Well…The truth is, it’s enough for me to be your friend. I am your friend anyways. But, if you want more, I can try it.” He paused for a second, squeezing Malfoy’s hand. “I want to.”

Malfoy squeezed back, but his voice sounded regretful and an involuntary sneer began to creep up his face. “That’s not how it works, Weasley. You can’t decide to be attracted to someone.”

Ron looked offended. “Yes it is. You think I’d let genitals stop me? I’ve faced you know who!”

Malfoy’s features were very confused at what they were supposed to do. He was very anxious, but Ron was utterly stupid.

“You see, that’s just why I like you,” he said a bit tragically. “Not even why I want you to be my boyfriend or anything. Just why I love you without really expecting anything of it. You are so generous, and kind, and open and…”

Ron silenced him effectively by putting a hand on his cheek. “But you do want me?” he asked seriously.

Malfoy looked like a deer in headlights. “More than anything.”

Ron was only a few inches from his face now. “Let’s try it then, yeah?”

Malfoy nodded, eyes wet and feelings spilling everywhere. Ron had never seen him like this since the night of the boggart. “Yeah, okay. Yes. Thank you,” Malfoy said.

“It’s not a favour crumpet. Give me a hug.”

Ron brutally got his arms full of Malfoy. He fisted his hands in the other boy’s shirt and breathed him in deeply. He felt Malfoy laugh and tugged him to his chest even more. He smelled of expensive perfume.

Still hugging Malfoy, who was maybe crying a bit, Ron looked around the room again, the blue walls, the busy shelves, Malfoy’s clothes. Malfoy’s bed. This felts so surreal. Elation mixed with the beginning of a headache.

“Shit”, Ron thought. He now had the most annoying I told you so ever from Hermione to look forward to.