Chapter 1: October 1996
Harry and Ron were seated at a table in a remote corner of the library. The atmosphere was one of doom as neither of them had yet finished the essay due the following day. It was for the Transfiguration class, which meant no deadline extension. And it was the first assignment of the semester, which would set the tone for the year. McGonagall had handed them the brief on the first day of class, sure, but only Hermione had it ready by October 1st. Everyone else considered September a prolongation of the holidays, which was quite natural since summer technically only ended the 21st.
Ron had more or less capitulated and was ready to hand the distasteful mess he had scribbled down, but Harry was more tenacious, if by tenacious one meant that he was erratically sitting up and walking to random shelves to check books in hope of a miraculous inspiration.
The subject was the uses of transfiguration in architecture, so they had settled near the Architecture division of the Heritage section, where all kind of topics were seemingly randomly archived. Ron had got Harry to stop questioning the wizarding way of classifying things a long time ago.
As Harry went exploring once again, Ron sighed with despair. The not quite silence emanating from Ravenclaws buried in their work was seriously depressing. How Hermione could spend so much time here was beyond him. An elf putting heavy tomes back in place cast a judging glance at his idleness.
Harry came back with a look of excitation that the situation really didn’t justify.
“Ron!” he said, ignoring completely the elf’s shocked face, “I found one! I found an essay!”
“What the heck do you mean?” Ron grunted. “That’s not how it works. You’re supposed to write one bit by bit and suffer hell over it, not find one.” He cast a glance at the paper that had been shoved right underneath his nose.
...when one masters the process well enough, the newly transfigured object can retain something of what it was first. For example, a marble stone transfigured out of a rabbit can hold the silky aspect of the fur. It requires quite a strong magic to make the transfiguration last through the centuries...
“This is good, isn’t it?” Harry said excitedly. He read a bit more before adding “I wonder who wrote this and why they took such poor care of their homework.”
He pointed a few more passages to Ron, and, he had to admit, it turned out to be almost...fun to read. The writing was clearer and more entertaining than Hermione's and the ideas were as almost as good.
Harry seemed really enthusiastic about what he had just read, and, claiming that a few ideas had already began to pop in his head about what he could say for his own essay, he began writing. As he was babbling to his best friend about how he would imitate the method of analysing things he would have noticed on his own and how there surely were a few things about the room of requirement to wonder about, enough to write a passable essay, Ron was moved by a less intellectual curiosity.
He looked for an indication of who the author could be and found one indeed, about ten inches down in the scroll’s margin.
“Blimey!” he exclaimed loudly.
“Muffliato” Harry was quick enough to say and avoid them a proper eviction from the library. “What is it now?”
“Draco bloody Malfoy wrote that essay!” Ron sounded offended.
Harry’s eyebrows jumped up. “What? I didn’t see any name underneath the title!”
“Look, it’s right here in the margin,” Ron said, shoving the paper and a dirty finger right back in Harry’s face. In the same black inked fine scripture as the rest of the essay, was written D.M. Slyth 6th.
It seemed impossible to him that something so good could be written by someone so bad. But as Harry scanned through the pages, he found some references to the Malfoy Manor architectural particularities, as well as to the Slytherin common room that assured them that it was indeed the twat’s work.
“Well, we'll have plenty of time to wonder about Malfoy's academics abilities later,” Harry said in disbelief. He wasn’t one to tergiversate when time was getting short. “The most urgent thing is to somehow write that damned paper!”
And so they did. It was a devastatingly painful experience, but at least now Ron felt wide-awake.
Harry insisted they had to add Malfoy's essay to the pile when McGonagall asked for their work the next day. Ron almost screamed in outrage. What in Merlin’s name had the twat ever done to deserve such kindness from them? But Harry insisted that it was the decent thing to do, that they weren’t on Malfoy’s level. So they swapped it as discreetly as they could with Malfoy's second version of the essay, which was quite visibly shorter and hadn't quite neat a handwriting as the first, clearly having been redone in a hurry.
This was by far one of the strangest good deeds Ron had ever accomplished in his life.
* * *
“I thank you for no less than six papers on Stonehenge,” McGonagall said with her usual matter of fact delivery. “I would have hoped for a little more imagination from you.”
The Slytherins and the Gryffindors that had chosen Transfiguration were packed in the classroom, nervously waiting for their mark. It was a big class to fail an assignment for.
“Thank Merlin, that’s not us,” Ron told Harry without turning his head. Hermione cast him a chastising glance. She liked to concentrate for papers feedback. Ron wondered why as she once more got an O.
Harry elbowed him when Malfoy only received an E instead of the O he was sure he would get. There was no pleased smile on Malfoy's face upon realizing that it was his first and lost essay that had been graded instead of the dashed through second one. He kept a blank face when he got his marked essay and walked back to his seat. Harry, like Ron, received an A, but being bad at writing about transfiguration didn't mean that he didn't understand it, he muttered to Ron.
Ron was about to shrug when Harry seemingly went mad and raised his hand before he could do anything about it.
“Yes, Mr Potter,” McGonagall said from her desk where she sat between a very small giraffe in a cage and a ball of thimbles, “do you have a question?”
“Why did Malfoy got an E?” Harry blurted out. Ron hid his face in his arms while simultaneously cursing Harry for his stupidity.
“Well, because he worked for it I suppose.” McGonagall answered dryly. “You could maybe get an E yourself if you didn't always wait until the last minute to do your homework Mr Potter...”
Beside him on the old wooden bench, Ron heard Hermione wince in sympathy at the cutting remark.
“No, I mean,” Harry elaborated, unable to stop in spite of Ron’s pinching, “why did he only got an E? I read his essay, and it was brilliant. Why didn't he get the same grade as Hermione?”
The stupefied gasp this remark created among his classmates didn’t stop him from adding, a supreme offence for all the students wearing red and gold ties, “His work was better.”
Ron choked on his spit and the rest of the class started to mutter openly, most people unable to believe their ears. Harry and Malfoy were known to be almost mortal enemies, only speaking to each other to throw imaginative insults in each other faces.
“Mr Potter, please sit down,” began McGonagall crisply. She re-established the silence by menacingly tapping on the edge of her desk with her wand. “Must I understand that you have become a Transfiguration expert overnight to be able to judge other people’s work better than your professor? How come your own essay wasn’t of a higher standard then?”
Harry didn’t have much to answer to that. He mumbled an apology, not daring to look McGonagall in the eye now that his moment of folly had passed. Ron tugged at his sleeve and he finally sat back down.
Ron’s only consolation to this debacle was that Malfoy looked like he had swallowed his tongue in surprise. At the other end of the class, the blond boy, with his open mouth, furrowed brow and crimson cheeks, looked like someone had just told him that Snape wore stockings under his robes.
“Merlin!” Ron exclaimed under his breath when Harry was sitting next to him again, making his quills fall from his desk in excitation. “That was absolutely, totally unexpected,” he said with eyes as wide as saucers. His cheeks must be bright pink too now that he thought of it. “Harry, have you lost it? We may be decent people, but we still hate Malfoy remember?”
Hermione seemed perplexed as well. A wrinkle was progressively deepening between her eyes. “And how come you've read his essay?” she asked Harry in a furious whisper, never loosing track of the real questions, “or mine as it is?”
“Well, that's unfair,” was all Harry muttered in answer, busying himself with note taking to avoid further conversation. He scratched his paper so hard that his quill made a drop of ink explode on the paper in a nasty rap. Ron signalled at Hermione that they would get over this later.
At the end of the class, Harry did not wait for McGonagall to call him at her desk and reprimand him further for his outburst. He almost jumped from his seat to get out. Ron knew he didn't want to be confronted with all his housemates. They were no doubt thinking that he had gone completely barmy, which, to be honest, Ron was very much afraid he had.
* * *
The noise this incident made was only beginning to die when, two days later, Malfoy finally decided to say something of his own. Harry and Ron were once again working alongside in the library - which happened far too often for Ron’s liking with the perspective of the NEWTs - trying to get some work done, when they were startled by a voice asking in mock wondering:
“What was so great about my essay? Was it really better than Granger's?”
Ron looked up from his scrapbook in outrage, a big black smear on his nose, to see Malfoy casually dragging a chair. Not only had Harry all but refused to elaborate on the Monday morning incident and Hermione decided to punish them both with the dreaded silent treatment, but now Malfoy, with his posh black clothes and his usual nasty sneer, also felt like he could casually come and sit at their table?
“You wish,” he hissed at the intruder, the movement of hand punctuating this declaration almost knocking off a pile of dusty books. But Harry didn’t side with him to offer a united front to the enemy. Instead, pushing his glasses back on his nose, he outrageously answered Malfoy’s question in a civil fashion.
“Well,” he begun trying to keep his voice detached but failing miserably, “it was quite original and clear. Bold but logic. Hermione's was very well documented and clever and everything, but yours was simply…I don’t know…brighter I guess, and much more personal. She's my friend, but the grades were unfair. I didn't imagine McGonagall as someone who would practice favouritism.”
There was a moment of stunned silence. Harry coughed a little in a desperate attempt to retain some kind of normalcy. It failed. Ron mouth just wouldn’t close down. Malfoy looked constipated.
“Well, I must say I'm quite amazed by this turn of event,” Malfoy said carefully, linking his fingers together. He was obviously aiming for composed, but there was a hint of wariness in his voice. “So it was you who gave her my essay on time. Where'd you find it?”
“You had forgotten it here, near the transfiguration section. I read the beginning out of curiosity,” Harry admitted, glancing nervously at Ron who was still dangerously silent. He swallowed before adding: “ And well…I felt compelled to go through the whole thing. I didn't copy anything though. Well...not much.”
At this Ron smiled a pinched smile at Malfoy.
“I wouldn't have dreamt of you liking my ideas,” Malfoy said, looking from one to the other, his voice full of wonder. He was hunching weirdly over the table, as if he could see in a clearer way what Harry was plotting by looking up his nostrils.
“Well…neither would I have, to be honest,” Harry answered. He hesitated a moment and then smiled tentatively. Ron made a strangled sound. Malfoy’s eyes went back to him.
“What are you working on now?” he asked next.
“Potions,” Ron said between his teeth. This whole situation was even more awkward then when his aunt Frances had asked his mother why she felt the urge to reproduce so often.
“Well, seeing as you are such big fans of my work, you can have a look at my Potions essay too” Malfoy said. Ron waited for a punch line, but Malfoy bent down, rummaged through his bag and fished a roll of parchment out of it. He handed it to Harry, a weird sneer on his face. “Both of yours must be worse than anything I would have written with my left feet. If you have even started it, that is. By the way, you have coal on your nose Weasley.”
Malfoy then stood up and left as silently as he had come, disappearing behind a shelf of English- High, Popular and Common Goblin dictionaries, leaving Harry and Ron to their bafflement. Harry didn't know if he should say thank you for the help, or say something about Malfoy's last quidditch performances to make him pay about the comment on his potion abilities. Ron did pinch his own forearm viciously.
* * *
“I must say I'm very surprised mister Potter,” said Snape dryly a few days later. “This wasn't as catastrophic as you previous works.”
They were in double potions with the Slytherins, in that dreadfully humid classroom without any windows, squeezed between dirty cauldrons.
“The rest of the class has failed miserably,” Snape continued with a thin smile, “except of course for Mr Malfoy, who seemed to be the only one in possession of something approaching a brain. Miss Granger was also passable”, he added after a blank, delighted of the look of pure despair that had taken over the face of the young witch for a few seconds.
Ron groaned miserably when he got his essay back. He should have sat on his pride and taken an inspiring look at Malfoy’s. He had been so sure it was a trap designed to make them fall accused of cheating that he had advised Harry against even reading the parchment. He was now eating his hat.
“Harry, I'm really proud of you,” Hermione said in a hushed voice, ignoring Ron completely. She was speaking so low you had to have a sound amplification spell on to be able to hear her. Which Harry and Ron both had because chatting was the only way not to die of despair during Potions. “I always knew that you could do well in potions if you really worked on it.”
“Actually...” Harry begun, but Snape was now near them, giving the instructions for the assignment that would give them their final grade for the semester.
“Maybe some of my colleagues have already told you about this, as this is a transversal assignment” Snape begun with an air of aristocratic boredom, “but you're going to have to join two subjects for this project.” How he was able to sound condescending even while giving schoolwork was beyond Ron.
“It is a group work, but you will be marked individually. So no one is advised to rest on the work of others. And you should also know that whichever subject you pick, I will be a member of your jury anyways.”
Ron folded his arms and buried his face inside them. Life was a tasteless travesty.
* * *
“Flitwick has already told us about this assignment,” Hermione said excitedly at lunch. “He said we have to find a unifying question or topic that would need two different research domains to be answered. Last year some students chose to work on the diet of banshees, joining Botany and Care of Magical Creature.”
“Can we please not speak of homework when we are eating?” Ron protested through a mouthful of nips and tatties. Seamus had already offered him to work on explosives, which needed charms and...something yet to be defined, and Dean seemed rather keen on inventing a magical version of soccer and was accepting any partners. So he really hadn’t anything to worry about yet.
Harry, however, the traitor, kept the conversation going by explaining how he was thinking about expending his culture about the wizarding world because often enough he heard other students, or even Ron and Hermione, referring to things he didn't know about, and he was finding it more and more frustrating as the years passed by. Hermione, of course, how nice of her, offered to pay a visit with Harry to the section dedicated to the wizarding humanities in the library in the afternoon after lunch. During the free period. By the time desert had come, Ron was seriously questioning his choice of friends.
Hermione recommended An History of Wizarding specificities: a culture in the making, a book by Sir Saint-Mars and that evening Harry declined a game of chess in front of the common room fire in favour of reading in bed.
“Have you slipped something in his drink?” Ron asked Hermione, as he incredulously watched his best friend go upstairs. “You should become an auror, I didn’t notice anything.”
“It wouldn’t kill you to read a book sometime,” she laughed at him. In her opinion, Ron was clearly the deranged one.
“I’ll have you know that I’ve known about this book since way longer then you,” Ron retorted, piqued.
“Yes, really. We have a copy at home, because there's a chapter, - or rather a few lines – about our family in it. Mum put the book right next to the complete work of Lockart. Which says a lot about the quality of Saint-Mars’ prose.”
“Well, you shouldn’t be surprised that Harry needs to discover these things for himself too then,” Hermione told him with an annoying smile.
When Ron went upstairs to the bedroom, Harry was indeed reading, glasses askew on his nose. He still had his socks on. Ron sat on his bed, setting himself comfortably on the quilt his mother had made for him when he started at Hogwarts.
“Interesting?” he asked Harry as a peace offering.
“Yes, very!” his friend answered excitedly. “Listen, I’ve found a passage that might make you laugh.”
“Go ahead,” Ron answered, fishing for his pyjamas underneath his pillow.
Harry thumbed through the book, opened it on the page he had marked, pushed his glasses back on his nose and cleared his voice.
“But the predominant input in the Malfoy line is undoubtedly the French one,” he read. “The Norwegian line settled in Normandy following Viking invasions of the IX century and adopted the French custom and language. The French spelling of the name, Malefoi, means “of bad faith”, or rather, who betrays his oath”.
“Fitting,” Ron snorted. “But what kind of dumbass would wear that as a name?”
Harry held up a finger. “It was given to Adalbert in 1097 by his French suzerain” he continued, “when he grew jealous and wary of the magical nature of his dear counsellor and condemned him as a diabolic sorcerer. Adalbert Malfoy decided to keep this name as a symbol of wizarding pride and a reminder of the deceitfulness of moldus.”
“I think I remember that story now,” Ron said, wriggling into his bottoms. “And before that the book explains how a Viking ancestor, before the time of the Normans, hexed his children so that they would always be blonds. This family has been deranged for a long time.”
“Yes, that would be Dagmar Malfoy,” Harry completed. “How come no one ever told me to read this book?”
“Oh, come on, I’m sure it was in Binn’s syllabus. He put it there right the year it was published.”
“1758,” Harry went to check, bursting into laughing.
“1758? That’s the third edition mate,” Ron added, with a snort that made Neville enquire about what was so funny.
* * *
Ron’s restored feeling of normalcy didn’t last very long. Just the next morning, while Harry and him were hurrying toward glasshouse 3 for their botany class (Hermione was already taking the advanced one), their breakfast of crumpets still in hand and ready to be consumed discreetly behind leafy plants, a familiar mocking voice greeted them from a corner.
“Nice trousers Weasley,” Draco Malfoy drawled, “did your mum make them for you out of one of her old dresses from the 1970’s?”
Ron turned his head so fast that Harry worried for his cervical. He went very red in the face when he spotted Malfoy.
“Did your mum make your belt with the tender skin of her aristocratic bottom?” he replied with inventiveness, his voice bouncing against the naked stone of the walls.
“Do not insult my mother,” Malfoy growled, getting closer.
“You insulted my mother first, git.”
“I beg to differ Weasel, I didn't start it: your dreadful fashion sense was the first to strike.”
“Shut up Malfoy, you are being a bore and we don’t have time for that,” Harry declared, pulling Ron by the elbow toward the glasshouses.
“Oh, I'm really hurt Potter,” Malfoy snorted, following them toward the same direction. That was yet another subject they had in common, Ron remembered. He never paid much attention in that class, it was way too early and as a prefect he often had to patrol the night previous to it.
“But I know you don’t mean it,” Malfoy bragged, falling into step with them, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Ron horrified eyes did nothing to stop him.
“Do not play coy, Potter,” Malfoy carried on, spitting the two t with as much contempt as he could muster. “I know you find me fascinating.”
“Where are you getting that from?” Ron asked with the bombastic tone of the righteous, almost deafening Harry in the process. They were outside by now and he still hadn’t tasted one bite of his breakfast.
“Well, your dear friend thinks I'm clever. Bright, I seem to recall, was his choice word.”
Harry shrugged disdainfully. “Yeah, well, it wasn't really clever of you to insult Ron.”
“Not Ron, the way he dresses...” Malfoy corrected. He smiled when he saw the books Harry was carrying underneath his left arm. “Oh but I see that you are really fascinated with me,” he added gleefully. “Saint-Mars had a strange - well no, a very natural - obsession with the great Malfoy family.”
Harry made a noise of frustration and began to walk even faster. The glasshouses were now in their sight of view. “Why does everyone seems to know about this sodding book and never bothered to tell me anything about it? ‘There you go Harry, something to bring you up to date on your new world that you don’t now the first thing about.’”
This got an amused huff from Malfoy, who seemed to be enjoying himself hugely. Of course the bastard had thought about wearing gloves, Ron noticed. He would have like to put his own hands inside his pockets, but he had food to protect. At this rate the crumpets would be horribly cold when he would finally be seated.
“Yeah, more along the lines of ‘Hi Potter! This book is a huge praise of my pure-blooded family that you hate. Here, read it, I'm sure you'll find it enjoyable’, he mimicked in a mocking tone. “I certainly couldn't foresee that you would finally see the light...”
“Oh, just shut up, we are already late enough as it is!” Ron interrupted, breaking into a sprint, his handful of pastries clutched against his heart.
* * *
The next time Malfoy talked to them was during the following Potions class.
“Today will be a new occasion to humiliate yourselves,” Snape greeted them, “as I'll use my last strengths trying to teach you how to brew the veritaserum, which is a classic of NEWTS...”
One quarter through the hour, Ron was already having great troubles keeping his concentration up. The idea of making veritaserum was appealing at first, but Snape had decided they needed a full lesson about the history and the regulations of the veritaserum before they could actually try to produce it. He took an involuntary nap when Snape begun to explain what undesirable side effects the third version of the potion, by Gregory Mulet, had, and how it had been improved.
“So, what do you say?” Malfoy asked them at the end of the lesson, waking him up. “Do we have a project group?” He had his bag flung on his shoulder, a hip resting against the wooden desk, and a face strangely devoid of sarcasm.
“A project as in working together?” Ron asked in return, disbelievingly and still half sleeping. Which was weird because he usually was wide-awake near an enemy presence.
“Yes, I'd like to work with someone who worships my intelligence because they understands it,” Malfoy explained with a mocking nod towards Harry, “and not because they don't, like Crabbe and Goyle.”
“I do not worship anything that is yours!” Harry whispered furiously, not wanting to alert Snape.
“Well you should, it could get you an O for that project,” Malfoy said casually. “And with potions as a subject what’s more. Now, that would impress McGonagall, wouldn’t it?”
“Well…” Harry was at a loss for words. Ron punched him. He couldn’t be considering this ridiculous offer now, could he? But Harry took his arm away, threw a warning glance at Ron and motioned for Malfoy to follow them outside the classroom.
“What is going on Harry?” Hermione asked when she saw that the three boys were remaining behind in the corridor.
“Don’t worry, we’ll explain later!” he reassured her, waving her away. There would definitely be no we in the explanation, Ron thought.
“Don’t hurt your brain,” Malfoy said casually once they were alone in the hallway, “I was thinking of doing something about the magical property of pureblood. It’s quite controversial and I know how you two hoodlums like to break the rules so…”
Harry’s eyebrows shot into his bangs. “What? That’s not controversial, that’s…I don’t know, Nazi! Besides, it's not as if the fact that you are from an ancient pureblooded house has any influence on your magic. You aren't better than Hermione at charms; blood doesn't give any special abilities.”
“By Merlin,” Malfoy exclaimed, genuinely surprised, “don't you know anything? No special abilities? Just read A single drop: the power hidden in pure blood, it will teach you not to say such ignorant things again. It was known by every wizard before it was banned in consequence to...the little historic incident with the Dark Lord.”
A moment of tension followed this admission. Malfoy glanced at Ron, waiting for a reaction.
“Banned,” Harry repeated. This word held a strange fascination on him. “It must be in the restricted section then, if they still have it.”
“Of course they still have it, it's not even dark magic. Just ask Snape for a note...” Malfoy advised, a confident smile back on his lips.
Harry was incredulous again. “Are you mad? Snape hates me!”
“And he despises me,” Ron chipped in helpfully.
“Oh right,” Malfoy laughed as if the thought delighted him, “he's the only member of the faculty sensible enough not to be beaming at you...”
As Ron was opening his mouth again to throw some biting repartee, Malfoy added:
“Shall I just lend you my own copy then?”
* * *
The Halloween feast was well under way, and Ron was enjoying every bite of it. Now that he was amongst the most senior students, and a prefect to boost, he exercised his right to first share on every course with a barely hidden delight. Hermione was berating him, between cheese and desert, explaining something to do with a weird muggle religious cult and the sin of gluttony when some enemy presence assaulted their table.
“Hi stupid and dumb-dumb” Malfoy greeted Harry and him. Halloween was a homely event and everybody was wearing woollen jumpers, expect for Malfoy, who was clad in stern looking black as per usual. “I've come to bring you knowledge.”
“Malfoy, what do you think you are doing here! What the hell is up with you lately!” Ron cried, staining his fingers with hollandaise sauce as he hit the tables in outrage. Malfoy remained collected, going as far as to take a seat at the end of the bench. Crabb and Goyle were a few feet behind him, looking menacing.
“Everyone has to fight ignorance in his own little way. So I brought you the infamous banned book Potter,” he said directly to Harry. “Don't you dare dirty it. Do not leave it too near Weasel and his greasy big fingers, it costs more than he can afford.”
Ron said a word and did something with his finger his mother wouldn’t have approved of.
“It's a...potion book,” Harry declared lamely going through a few pages.
“If you like Saint-Mars, I'm sure you'll find it very cool,” said Malfoy, seemingly unfazed by Harry’s lack of enthusiasm and the daggers coming from Ron’s eyes. “Don't be prejudiced Potter.”
“That's rich coming from you,” Hermione snorted, but her eyes were stuck on the book.
Malfoy didn't answer but threw an enigmatic smile, and left with Crabbe and Goyle in his tow.
“What a git,” Hermione said without an ounce of surprise in her voice.
“What the hell is up with him? Does he think he is our friend now or something?” Ron asked at the same time.
Harry did not answer right away, because he was too busy examining the book. It was black, bearing the Malfoy crest, a white and long M, with the inscription “Sanctimonia Vincet Semper”. He looked up as his friends again.
“What does that mean?” he asked, pointing the Latin sentence.
“Purity Always Conquers” Hermione answered with distaste.
Ron let his hand flail everywhere, as if to erase the disturbing situation. “Harry, what the hell is going on? First the essay, and now that book? We really have to talk about this Malfoy situation. He is being much too invasive for my sanity. We can’t seem to go anywhere without seeing his skinny face and his pointed nose nowadays! Is he mad? Is he sick? Does he have a devious plan to gain our trust and then get at us? Has he used up all his money to buy himself a new personality?”
“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “But it definitely calls for an investigation. Are you in?”
“I’m going to investigate that first,” Hermione answered, taking the book from him. “You boys can handle the other part.”
Chapter 2: Beginning of November 1996
Most of the trees were completely bare by now. The wind was often harsh outside and it always rained at some point of the day, even for a few minutes. The weekends especially were a miserable affair, as they were mostly spent scooped up inside, trying to avoid tedious encounters in the common room or studying in the library. Mostly studying. But now, one couldn’t even expect them to be relatably dull.
“You again?” Ron exclaimed when Malfoy confidently drew a chair to sit at the library table he shared with Harry, and even pushed away some of their stuff to put his bag in front of him. Ron’s shout drew Mrs Pince's stern look to him. “Did someone put a glue spell on you or something? Merlin!”
“He seems to think we are working together for the project,” Harry said.
But seeing Malfoy’s disappointed expression, and realising that the boy hadn’t actually done anything but engage them in what was – for him anyway- a civil fashion, he conceded: “I mean…apparently we are.”
“What?” Ron whispered furiously. Sometimes he hated how heroic and selfless his best friend could be. With a twirl of his wrist, he cast a muffliato toward the librarian. It was one of the spells he was a natural at. There may be some truth to the saying practice makes perfect after all.
“Well,” Harry tried, rubbing his eyes tiredly, “after all, Malfoy knows a great deal of things I don't because I've been raised by muggles. It wouldn’t hurt me to be updated on things all-wizard families...”
Ron took a little time to process the information, balancing his chair on two feet. “Pureblood families you mean? How come I'm not surprised?” He tsked, throwing a dirty glance at Malfoy.
“Yes, pureblooded families, Weasley,” Malfoy interrupted with a scowl, “just like yours. Why don't you join us? You must know your own bit.”
Ron snickered. “Oh, don't think I won't Malfoy! I won't let Harry deal with you alone. If you were plotting anything, do not count on it...”
To Ron’s astonishment, Malfoy, his chin resting on his hand, laughed in his face without any real animosity.
“Okay, no need to be so angry,” he said, “It makes you look even redder. Remember to breeze, inhale, than exhale. Welcome to the team Weasley.”
Ron and Harry exchanged a long puzzled glance. They had known each other for years now and that enabled them to detect each other true motivation in not kicking Malfoy right away: ravenous curiosity. Harry looked back to Malfoy, taking his quill to occupy his hands.
“Malfoy, I’m not trying to antagonize you,” he admitted slowly, “but…why are you doing all this? I mean, acting as if working together was something that we did everyday. Not that I don’t want to, it’s just…I must admit I’m a bit confused.”
“Well…you did something nice for me; it’s all you had to do from the beginning,” Malfoy declared regally, one of his hands casually brushing his white blond air back behind his ear. “If you recall, I wanted to be your friend from the very first day. You were the one who rejected me.”
“Okay…” Harry said, not letting himself be too mystified by this over-simplification just yet.
“I seem to recall you insulted me from the very first day,” Ron interjected, his back straight with indignation.
“Well, I apologise Weasley, I was jealous of your self-confidence,” Malfoy answered good-heartedly. Ron was too busy wondering if that was sincere or the highest level of sarcasm he had ever had to withstand to stop Harry when the spectacled boy finally decided “Let’s try it then.”
* * *
“Are you quite sure? McGonagall asked for the third time. The form for the collective project group submission was before her on the desk, and her quill was nowhere near ready to sign it. “You really want to partner up with Mr Malfoy?”
“Yes, professor...” Harry sighed. “We are sure. We have discussed it at length.”
“I forewarn you that no irruption of violence, magical or physical fights shall be tolerated,” she said, looking at them with searching eyes. “This is a school project that will have a great impact on your NEWTS, not a way to express childish school rivalry...”
“Don't worry professor,” Ron said. “Try to see it as a sacrifice for science.”
* * *
“My turn then,” Malfoy said. They were in botany class together, roasting underneath a ray of sun coming through the glasshouse. They had decided to join botany and potion for their project, because it was two classes the three of them shared, as well as it being a quite obvious match. Ron had moaned about doing potions, but Malfoy had convinced him by saying that he would be the potion expert, and Ron could be the botany expert.
Malfoy took the knife and cut his hand awkwardly over his vial of growth potion. A few drops of blood fell into the potion, as it had for Harry and Ron. They had agreed to this experiment so that Malfoy would shut up already about the wonders of blood purity.
“Alright, we have three samples now. Let's pour it into our pots and see if it works,” he said.
Ron poured his vial into his flowerpot, which made it turn muddy. He waited a few seconds, but nothing happened.
“Malfoy, you're sure nothing went wrong with the potion?” Harry asked. It was a simple growth potion, but those were supposed to act fast (and produce unpalatable vegetables, Ron had scoffed).
“No, I checked twice. I've never failed a potion before,” the blond boy muttered.
“Cheer up Malfoy, nobody can succeed at everything they do,” Ron said with mock sympathy. “Except perhaps Hermione, but sometimes I doubt she is even human...”
There was then a loud pop then, as Ron's plant suddenly grew up and splattered mud all over the desk.
“Blimey, it worked!” he exclaimed happily.
“Yeah, nobody's perfect, uh?” Malfoy boasted.
“It's really cool!” Harry said, seeming very pleased. “I want to try mine.”
He poured his own vial in the pot he had prepared; it took a little more time than Ron's to emerge through the earth, and the plant was a little smaller, but the result was still good.
“Your turn Malfoy,” Ron said, dragging a pot underneath the slytherin’s nose. “I can't wait to see what kind of power a great noble man like yourself owns.”
Malfoy rolled his eyes, and poured the third version of the potion. The result was immediate: the plant sprang to life with great violence, and grew high, spreading leaves and flowers alongside with its growth. In the end, it was almost twice as big as Ron's plant.
“What? How!” Harry said with excitement. He had dirt sprayed on his glasses. Malfoy smiled contentedly.
“Wait a minute,” Ron interrupted, not subjugated at all, “why did your potion worked so much better than mine? We're both purebloods! Did you add something in it?”
“Weasel, you saw me making it, you know I didn't,” Malfoy sighed. “Accept that my blood has more magical properties than yours. Potter, help me cut some of the leaves from the plants we got, I want to see if the three of them work differently in a potion.”
“You think that’s going to carry over in potions?” Harry asked
“I don't know, that’s the point of trying,” Malfoy said with a roll of his eyes, annoyed at having to confirm something so obvious.
“I'm still not convinced,” Ron interrupted, rummaging through A single drop.
“Pity, you shall live with it.”
“I'm sure there is something different with your potion,” he continued. “If your blood was so much more powerful than ours, you'd be a greater wizard than the pathetic excuse for one you actually are.”
“Suit yourself peasant,” Malfoy answered through greeted teeth, classing the leaves in labelled boxes. “Just don't ruin the book, I like it quite a lot. What are you thinking about?” He asked Harry who had a pensive look.
Harry shook his head as if to come back to what was happening. “I was wondering,” he asked, “would Hermione blood have given any results?”
Malfoy thought about it for a few moments. “I don't really know. I doubt it, but she's a quite powerful witch, so we never know. How come blood is more or less magical? It can't be that the magic exists within the blood, or there wouldn’t be any muggleborn wizards. But there are.”
“And how would you explain that?”
“Well...maybe it isn't the blood that is magical and gives power, but the magic that gives blood power. And as my family has been magical for an extended period of time, our blood is very concentrated with magic, while Granger's is all fresh and new and not saturated with inheritance...”
“Mmmm…” Harry answered non-committedly. He wasn’t about to fall for Malfoy’s propaganda at the first try.
“Haha!” Ron erupted, waving the little black book and looking absolutely pleased with himself. “Now I understand why you wouldn’t say anything Malfoy! But no need to be so shy, you can tell Ron-Ron anything.”
Malfoy looked positively baffled, which was a victory in and of itself. “What? Have you gone mad?” he asked with contempt. Do not tell me that you're such a glutton that you've eaten one of the potion ingredients, and that it is now slowly killing your non-existent brain.”
“Oh, don't panic, it's not such a big deal, we won't tell anyone,” Ron said, tapping the book on the desk and trying not to giggle.
“The hell if I understand what you’re talking about,” Malfoy huffed, visibly annoyed at not getting anything of what Ron was saying.
“Look Harry,” Ron said with an impish smile, showing his friend a very precise chapter which was untitled “The absolute purity: the chastity of a child and the power of an adult”.
Harry blinked. He looked at Malfoy, who was now horribly red, and read the tittle again.
“Oh,” he said. “That means that you're a virgin, right? That’s why your blood worked so well.”
“Oh my god,” Malfoy said in despair, hurrying to cast a muffliato to spare his reputation from such horrendous slender.
“Of course he is!” Ron shrieked, delighted. “I should have thought of it way sooner, it's quite well known that virgin blood is very potent, that's why virgins were used in sacrifices. But I would never have thought that you were still one Malfoy!”
“Of course I am,” Malfoy spat in hushed tones. “I’m barely seventeen for Merlin’s sake! Why would you think I wasn’t one weasel?”
“Why?” Ron repeated, evidently amused. “Well, it doesn't fit with your reputation of resident prick I suppose. What about that Pansy girl? Even she didn't want you? I thought she was all over you.”
“I'm not in love with her. Could we not discuss my private life?” Malfoy asked coldly, his cool manners betrayed by his flushed cheeks. “I believe we are here to work, not to gossip.”
“Bloody hell, but this is most interesting. A very revealing afternoon I should say. Draco Malfoy, a romantic virgin soul! Who would have thought?” Ron couldn't stop laughing.
Malfoy was looking murderous.
“Ron, leave him alone,” Harry finally said, after letting his friend have all the fun it was possible to have. “I don't see what’s funny in that. It's not really that amazing that Malfoy should be a virgin, considering our age.”
“Oh why Potter, don't tell me you're a virgin too?” Malfoy drawled in a bitter voice, trying to get back on his feet and concentrating furiously on his leaves.
“Let’s be honest, everyone at this table is a bloody virgin!” Harry answered hotly.
Ron made a noise of protestation. “You’ve kissed Cho Chang! And I’ve gone out with Lavender for a month. I’m not really a virgin anymore. I’ve been touched.”
“I wouldn’t brag about it if I were you,” Malfoy sneered, still slightly pink. “And we should be working; I doubt this kind of conversation would impress Snape or Sprout very much as a school project.”
“You, on the other hand,” Ron continued, “are still a lip virgin!”
He gave Malfoy’s back three sympathetic taps and the slytherin looked horrified by the over-familiarity. Ron was consequently heard chuckling quietly to himself all afternoon. No one was able to spoil his glee.
* * *
Water spurted from Malfoy’s wand and hit Ron right in the face.
“Oops sorry, I thought there was a fire going on. Didn't realize it was just you hair,” he snorted.
The three boys had been rummaging for a peculiar mushroom that looked like an ear at the selvedge of the Forbidden forest for almost an hour now, to no effect. After the experiment with the blood, Malfoy had proposed to find a way to prevent it from evaporating when put in a vial, so that they may use it later on (although there was no rush, Ron had noted, since Malfoy would remain a virgin for many years in all likeliness.) Harry, who was still on a disturbing reading spree, had found out that the mushroom orili fungi was a very good and magically neutral conservator for liquids.
Right now, there was no space for any sort of mushrooms in Ron’s head. He had a shocked look on his face and water dripping down his noise onto his scarf.
“You're so funny, I’m going to knock your teeth out!” he shrieked with rightful wrath, lunging at Malfoy. He sent the blond boy tumbling onto the dead leaves and rubbed the wetness sliding down his face on Malfoy’s jumper as if it was a towel. It left the black garment horribly stretched, which Malfoy realised with a murderous look. With a screech of outrage of his own, he tripped Ron when he tried to get up, and almost had him face-plant on a stump.
“Guys, guys, how about we take a break?” Harry suggested, half panicked that what could still pass as playful would only take one more shove to turn into a fistfight.
Not paying him any attention, Ron began shoving dead leaves in Malfoy jumper, cackling madly. Malfoy took advantage of his inattention to hex his shoelace tied together, a feat considering how much he was squirming to escape the damp debris. His laugh radiated satisfaction when Ron tripped over himself while trying to reach a new fistful of leaves. Harry had to join him at the ridiculous sight of his best friend falling from all his height with a shrill cry.
“Let’s just steal this mushroom from Snape,” Ron said, laying on the ground, short of breath but happy.
“Are you crazy?” Malfoy said from a few feet beside him on the ground, “I’ll buy this damn mushroom via howl and that’ll be the end of it.”
“Good thinking,” Harry agreed, “I really wasn’t looking forward going back to the forest, I’m knackered. Now that this problem is dealt with, group meeting Saturday?”
“I can’t Saturday,” Malfoy said. “Come to my room Sunday instead. The library is too crowded on week-ends and Pince becomes a vulture.”
* * *
Harry and Ron had debated a long time about whether it was a good idea to accept Malfoy’s invitation. But when they showed up at the door of the Slytherin dorm the next Sunday, Goyle let them in and walked them to the room he shared with Malfoy. He grunted in response to Harry and Ron’s thanks, and didn’t enter after them.
Malfoy was sitting cross legged on a plump rug he had installed underneath the window, in front of a small oriental table were a china teapot was waiting.
“Hello. Would you like some tea?” he offered to his visitors once they had taken a few steps inside the room.
“Tea?” Ron repeated suspiciously, his eyes inspecting the room cautiously.
“It is a beverage widely consumed in Britain, served hot, with sugar and milk if you’d like,” Malfoy said, visibly trying to mask his uneasiness with sarcasm.
“I’d like some, thank you,” Harry said, letting his bag slide to the floor before gingerly sitting down on the rug.
Ron followed him hesitantly and they settled around the small table. Malfoy accioed some cushions from his bed, which was the one closest to this little set-up. Ron received one in his hands and looked at it without knowing what to do with it. Malfoy smirked at him. Harry set one underneath his bottom. With a flick of his wand, Malfoy brought some fine china teacups out of the mahogany chest at the bottom of his bed. When it opened with a bang, Ron got a whiff that he thought smelled like spices and fleur-de-lyse.
“I can’t believe we actually are in your bedroom,” he said, still looking around him and taking the sight in.
Malfoy shared his room with Crabb and Goyle, but there was a fourth bed in the room. The hanging and canopies were a deep green, and the light coming from the window was dancing with the reflection of moving water from the Great lake.
“I know I am a mythical creature for you Weasley, but there is a man behind the legend, and men need their sleep.”
Ron snorted at the use of the word man. The water was now bubbling in the kettle, which was suspended in mid-air. Harry turned a cup in his fingers, to look at the golden M and interlacing foliage that adorned it.
“It’s pretty,” he said.
“It is pretentious,” Ron countered.
“And that from the man wearing a big R on his chest,” Malfoy laughed in his face. Ron punched him in the arm, presenting his cup to be served at the same time.
“Crabb and Goyle should be coming in at something like 6 pm. They have a History of Magic tutoring session.”
Harry flicked a glance at Ron so that he wouldn’t make yet another joke at their expense, but Malfoy caught him doing so. He smiled pleasantly while pouring Harry’s cup.
“What,” he asked Ron, “isn’t there any subject that you would need tutoring in?”
“Well, obviously there is,” Harry answered for him, laughing nervously. “I’m sorry, it’s just that this is…kind of awkward. But nice.”
“Yes, nicely awkward,” Ron was quick to agree. “Although I must say, I quite enjoy you serving me stuff Malfoy.”
With a regal gesture, Malfoy placed a tin of biscuits on the small table. “Please accept this offering of bourbon creams and ginger nuts as a token of my good will.”
“Thanks,” Ron said heartedly, his attention instantly redirected. The process of sipping tea and melting biscuits to the right point seemed to help him finally relax.
“So, about our project,” Harry started, “I was wondering…in light of recent events – and by that I mean the horrendous take of Voldemort and his followers on blood purity, would it be ethically acceptable to submit something on this subject?”
There was a moment of silence troubled only by Ron’s jaw crunching crumbs.
“I do see your point” Malfoy said, warming his long fingers against the china. “But…wouldn’t we be fighting superstition with research?”
“Is that really what you want to do though?” Harry insisted, turning his spoon without drinking. “I had the feeling you believe in the superiority of pure blood.”
The light was diffuse in the room and it gave an eerie feeling to the serious words.
“Listen,” Ron said, dissipating the tension with the unexpected lightness of his tone, “if there is one thing I know I can bring to this academic endeavour, it’s that you can always start searching for stuff and pretend, when you find something good enough, that it was what you intended all along. So let’s just start experimenting, and we’ll bullshit protocol and motivations later on.”
Malfoy looked at Harry. Harry shrugged.
“To serendipity,” Malfoy said, bringing his cup to his lips.
The afternoon was then spent arguing, shuffling through some books, list making and even, sometimes, laughing. They ended up deciding that for the time being their project would be to create a potion accelerator or potentialisator, and that the use of magical blood was their first lead. Verbalising what they were trying to achieve was paramount, Sprout had said.
The three boys were quite surprised when they were interrupted by the return of Crabb and Goyle. Ron was sprawled on the cushions, idly flapping through an illustrated volume, while Malfoy was demonstrating a point to Harry by mean of drawing.
“That’s my seat,” Goyle protested when he took the sight in and saw Harry on Malfoy’s right, not quite understanding what was going on. Was this one of Draco’s cunning schemes to lull his enemies in a false sense of security to better play tricks on them?
“Oh, hi,” Ron said, with the most natural air in the world. “I guess it’s dinner time, isn’t?”
* * *
Chapter 3: End of November 1996
Malfoy's shameful secret comes to light in this chapter. Ron will never see him the same way.
Many thanks to all the lovely people who took the time to comment or leave kudos!
“Look at what I received with this morning mail,” Malfoy told Ron a few days later, when they met on their way to a special orientation conference. He was waving a bag full of dry and yellowish paste right underneath Ron’s nose.
“A bag of smashed potato chips? That was very thoughtful of your mom.”
“It’s the mushroom, idiot,” Malfoy replied with a semi vicious shoulder bump.
“Oh…that didn’t take too long,”
“Yes, and that means we’ll be able to test it on Friday!”
How Malfoy could look so excited about potions was beyond Ron. The blond boy smirked at him haughtily like he was an ignorant peasant. “Why aren’t Potter and Granger with you by the way?” he asked, looking around him. The hallway was full of tiny first years getting out of History of Magic with exhausted faces. There were still trying to take notes, it seemed.
“They’re already at the November Know where you’re going! meeting,” Ron answered, looking bored. “I was so cosy in my bed this morning it took me an awful time to leave it.” He yawned to illustrate his point.
Malfoy let out a small snort. Ron had associated the noise with him by now.
“Tell me about it,” he complained, walking idly next to Ron. “My room is so cold in the mornings I have to put socks inside my slippers or my toes turn blue. But we’re not late, are we?”
“Not yet, they just want to suck up to the teachers. My brothers have told me about this orientation day already, and it sounded like it’s 80% bullshit so I’m not very anxious to get there.”
Malfoy nodded. He didn’t look very eager to reach the meeting either.
“It must be nice to have older siblings to give you a bit of an idea of what’s going to happen in advance,” he said.
Ron shrugged, hands in his pockets and half of his shirt untucked from his pants. “It’s cool most of the time, but sometimes I feel a bit crowed, like I can never really discover things for myself, you know?”
“I guess,” Malfoy hummed. “My problem would be the reverse of that. No one to share with.”
Ron threw him a mocking glance. “What would you like to share?”
“I don’t know, I was just speaking generally,” Malfoy shrugged.
“Sounds to me like you have something you want to share,” Ron insisted, resisting the desire to stick out his tongue.
Malfoy sneered back. “Like how insufferable Gryffindor’s are?”
Ron laughed and let it go. Soon they reached the room where some adults had been invited by the school to explain their jobs and answer questions or give advice. There was a spot near the entrance where you could leave your name to take an orientation test.
“Would you like to do the test with me?” Malfoy asked. “I don’t really fancy listening to these old farts telling me how I would make a dreadful wand maker because I lack patience.”
“You would make a dreadful wand maker,” Ron immediately said. “You look like you’d be allergic to wood shavings.” He got up on his tiptoes, scanning the room. “Hermione and Harry are over there. They are talking with a judge or something I think.”
Malfoy acknowledged the information with a nod, looking a bit disappointed at Ron’s lack of interest in his proposition and trying to hide it by reading a pamphlet.
“Let’s go sign our name then,” Ron told him. He was too nice for his own good.
They got booked for 10.30. The witch who had registered them led them to a booth, which was nothing more than two desks hidden behind panels of whitish drapes.
“Fancy,” Malfoy said.
“Fancy as fuck,” Ron agreed, sitting down. Malfoy snorted.
The test papers where waiting for them on the desk. It was a Q/A with little squares.
“I guess I’ll do it Divination style,” Ron said, cracking his knuckles.
Malfoy hummed, scanning the scroll. “I love the third question,” he said. “What is your ideal outfit for a walk in the forest? Oddly specific.”
“If you choose a billowy burgundy cape, you’ll end up as Madam Malkin’s apprentice in no time.” Ron answered, blackening some squares haphazardly without ever reading the questions.
“By the way, do you know a god knitting spell ?” Malfoy asked, letting his scroll rest limply on the table. “I was wondering with the Weasley jumpers you wear.”
“Why, what do you want to make?” It was a checker pattern he was meticulously filling.
“Really warm socks,” Malfoy answered longingly.
Ron laughed, surprised. “Oh yeah, your floor is very cold,” he remembered. “Well, I’m not very good at it but I can ask my mom to show me the spell again if you want.”
Malfoy nodded, randomly crossing cases. “Thank you. I can’t stand the cold in the dungeons, it makes even my ankles hurt.”
They filled their tests in half the time recommended. A career specialist would see them in half an hour to help them decrypt their profiles.
As it turned out, Ronnie dear was to make a lovely butcher and poor Draco should see a mental health councillor as soon as possible. Harry and Hermione never really understood what the two of them found so hilarious about learning about the professional world.
* * *
Far away, leaning against his desk, Snape had the satisfied look of someone who would shortly be able to demonstrate their inferiority to a lot of people. He had begun the class by telling them how he had gotten a perfect O on his first go at veritaserum, and that he wasn’t being so audacious as expecting the same of them but that they should try not to make fool of themselves all the same.
Malfoy had offered to do the potion for the three of them if Harry and Ron agreed to take the risk to test adding blood to it to see if it made it stronger. Harry didn’t even have the time to try and think it over that Ron had said yes. Malfoy smirked at him and handed him midget ginger to slice up. Harry wetted his quill and began scribbling down questions they could use for a test protocol.
When the cauldron was bubbling and billowing with a reddish vapour, Malfoy filled a vial of the liquid and set it apart. Harry labelled it with a sticker that said number 1. Malfoy then added three drops of the blood and mushroom solution. Ron filled a new vial marked number 2 with this updated version of the potion.
“I’m not sure how long the powered version will keep,” Malfoy said, “so we should test it first, and keep the regular veritaserum for this week-end.”
“Right,” Harry agreed. “Now, who want to test it?” He had his question sheet ready in hand.
“Not me,” Malfoy huffed. “I’m not doing all the work.” His hair was still slightly damp from having been hunched over the steamy cauldron.
“I’ll do it,” Ron volunteered. “I have never had veritaserum before. They say it’s a test when you train to become an auror.”
Harry and Ron looked at each other, communicating silently, and Harry nodded.
“Are you sure you don’t want to do it Potter?” Malfoy asked, eyebrows furrowed. “Weasley has as much self control as a squirrel in front of a nut. Besides, he is destined to become a lovely butcher, not an auror.”
Harry, not questioning the weirdness of this last statement, pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. “Twat. Ready?”
Ron drank the enriched veritaserum in one long swallow, making a funny face at the taste. He was determined to get his first good mark ever in potion, and this was his contribution to the process.
“Okay,” Harry summed up, looking very serious despite having a bad hair day, “we will only ask you very generic questions, nothing too personal. The aim is to test the potency of our potion, so try not to answer okay?”
Malfoy pretended to be interested in the questionnaire he had whipped up and stole the sheet from Harry. He was helped by the distraction of Seamus making something explode a few rows behind them, and Snape subsequently yelling at him.
“Question one” he started with far too much amusement. “Do you pick your own nose?”
“Malfoy!” Harry exclaimed. “That’s cheating, we expressly said that…”
“Yes,” Ron said, giggling.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow.
“You didn’t even try at all to resist now, did you?”
“No,” Ron answered, his eyes vaguely unfocused. “I don’t even want to!”
“Let me ask the questions, as you can’t seem to be fair play,” Harry decided, snatching back the list from Malfoy’s hands. “Do you have a little sister?”
“Yes,” Ron beamed. Harry had never seen him look so happy in the dark settings of this classroom.
“Okay…the potion may be very potent, but at least try to fight it.”
“I can’t, I feel like I’m drunk and want to tell you all the things in the world, even what I don’t know.”
“Try that,” Malfoy suggested. “Try making him say something he doesn’t know.”
“Hum…let’s see…what is the most famous Michael Jackson album?”
Ron turned beetroot red, trying to speak very hard but not finding anything to say.
“Back to the list,” Harry decided, vaguely panicked. “What is your favourite school subject?”
“Potions!” Ron exclaimed, breathing again.
“Potions? You hate potion!”
“Did he manage to lie?” Malfoy asked with renewed interest.
“I used to hate it,” Ron explained with a happy open face, “but now it’s my favourite because I get to spend time with Malfoy.”
“Oh…” Malfoy stuttered. He threw an odd look at Harry. “That’s nice.”
“No, you’re nice,” Ron said like it was the most simple and evident thing in the world.
“I…well…thank you…you’re nice too I guess.”
“Ron, are you hungry?” Harry asked after a weird silence. Or rather, lack of communication between the three of them as there was still some hysteria from Seamus incident in the background.
“Oh yes,” Ron nodded vigorously, “I’m always more or less hungry, it’s one of my best features.”
Harry cast a glance at Malfoy, and they both laughed at the same time, the weirdness dissipating.
“Well the potion definitely works!” Malfoy concluded, enthused. But when they looked at the vial number 2, they saw that the potion had turned brown and had begun to smell. The combination of the pure blood solution and the veritaserum had seemingly worked perfectly; but it didn’t conserve well. Seeing that, they had to turn the vial number 1 for marking, which annoyed Malfoy, but didn’t really worry Harry because it still seemed textbook perfect.
* * *
“Herbology,” Malfoy said when he joined Ron at the sink to rinse their utensils after the class had ended.
“What?” Ron asked intelligently.
“We also have herbology - and transfiguration for that matter - together. That’s three subjects.”
Ron seemed to shuffle through his brain for a bit, and then light dawned in his eyes and he flushed.
“Oh,” he said. “Yes, that’s true. But we usually sit on opposite sides of the glasshouse. And you have a Crabb or a Goyle hanging by. Except for the last time when we made stuff grow with our blood. Which I guess was gross enough not to grant an audience.”
“I’ll come sit with you sometimes from now on.”
Ron seemed confused, so Malfoy added, as if he didn’t care at all and was only doing him a favour, “That is, if you want me to.”
“Yeah, I want you to,” Ron assured him hurriedly. His ears still pink, and he was rubbing a long silver spoon with unusual vigour.
“Don’t make it weird weasel.”
“I’m not making it weird, you’re making it weird,” Ron answered without a beat. Malfoy smiled at him contentedly while putting his rubber gloves on.
“I’ve helped Crabb pass Transfiguration last year, and Goyle Herbology,” he explained. “But Potions was a lost cause. They’re even worse than you.”
Ron snorted and hit him with the spoon. “Prick.”
“Oh, no need to pretend, I know you can’t live without me now.”
* * *
Over the following weekend, in a spare classroom McGonagall had allotted them, Ron was subjected once more to the veritaserum. Malfoy didn’t try to ask him embarrassing questions this time. And this time, while Ron answered the simple and straightforward questions right away, he was able to evade and give vague answers to those that were more open ended of less aimed. And he felt no elation at the effect of the potion, but a rather annoying headache.
Malfoy rubbed his hands together, looking very pleased. “Well, my conclusion is that the vial number two, the one with the blood, worked really well! It was indubitably better compared to this version of the potion. We need to make it universal. To find a way to stabilise and add it readymade to all kind of potions.” He cackled. “Then world domination will be in our grasp!”
Beside him, Ron was slumped in his chair, holding his forehead, but Harry was pacing, looking very excited. They both were wearing Gryffindor scarves because the room wasn’t heated.
“You know, the other day, as I was reading The great secrets and forgotten legends of the wizarding world, as seen by a muggleborn…” Harry began.
“Oh Merlin kill me,” Ron groaned from the depth of his slouch, “Another book? Who are you and what have you done with my best friend? Hermione, is that you making a comeback with polyjuice?”
Malfoy snorted. “Hex Weasley, wizards haven’t been as afraid of the written word as you are since the 12th century!”
“Have you two have had you fun?” Harry counteracted, tapping his foot on the floor of stone. “Can I finish now?”
“Sure, sure, sorry,” Malfoy motioned for him to continue.
“Because I believe this might be very interesting for our project,” Harry carried on. “It was about a potion so strong that it made a king give up his kingdom. An old potion that has been lost, only a rhyme remains; but the author said it was one of the best example of blood magic without a doubt.”
“Oh, a potion from the time they were still songs?” Malfoy asked excitedly. “What does the rhyme says?”
Harry unfolded a piece of paper he had brought in his pocket and read from it:
“For it to work in every way
In the brew you must lay
Something of life
Something of fright
Something of dreams
Something of death.”
“Something of life is very clearly blood, according to the author,” Harry concluded.
“Very helpful, those old ass wizards,” Ron complained right back. “Something of death? What do they mean? Dead skin?”
“You’re so dumb.” Malfoy snickered, tickling his own nose with the end of his scarf. “What about the nice by product of a wet dream for the third one?”
“The worst thing is, it might even work!” Ron agreed, smiling and holding his temple at the same time because he still felt a bit sea sick from trying to resist the serum.
“I though something from a thestral might work for death,” Harry added pensively, ignoring Malfoy salacious innuendo. “I’ll ask Hagrid.”
The three of them looked at the rhyme written on the piece of paper again. It was funny to try and decrypt even if it seemed far-fetched to think that it would truly help them.
“Well, something of fright is quite obvious anyways,” Ron declared after a while.
“Oh yes? Pray tell.” Malfoy said, rising an eyebrow at him.
“You’ll hate yourself for not having thought of it,” Ron declared with a twinkle in his eye, his chin held high. He had even renounced holding his brain and had laced his fingers together on the wooden table.
“I’ll settle for hating you,” Malfoy bantered casually but still leaning toward Ron. “So what is it?”
Ron smiled, sure of himself. “A boggart.”
From the look in Harry’s and Malfoy’s eyes, he knew his idea was brilliant.
* * *
“How in the hell did I agree to this? This didn’t even sound like a remotely good idea! No wonder you two idiots are always getting into trouble!”
“Shut and cover me Malfoy!” Harry screamed
When finding a boggart in the immensity of the castle had proven a very difficult thing to do, Ron’s marvellous idea had been to interrogate Peeves for information, and now the poltergeist was throwing toilet water bombs at them.
“I washed my hair this morning!” Malfoy cried. “This is barbarity.”
Ron was laughing on his fist while trying half-heartedly to stupefy Peeves.
“Peeves! If you tell us where we can find a boggart in the castle, I’ll just give you the best prank this school has ever seen.”
Peeves was going madly inside the abandoned toilets, like a balloon emptying itself of its air. “YoU are LYYing!!! What are you doing with the Malfoy boy? I know yoU arE LYinG!!” He screeched.
Malfoy threw his hands in the air, looking mortally aggravated.
“Listen Peeves. I’m with them because they have told me what the prank is. It is truly revolutionary. Now, if you tell us where in this castle we can find a boggart, you can take the credit for it.”
“Filch will be mad as hell. He might even choke and die,” Ron promised.
Malfoy was baffled when the ill-conceived plan came to fruition and Peeve disclosed the location of one of the castle’s boggarts. Was that really how Potter and his clique managed things all these years? The dumbest ideas ever and pure luck?
* * *
It had rained all day, a heavy black rain blown by a furious wind, and the Hufflepuff-Ravenclaw quidditch match had been cancelled as a result. It felt wet even inside Hogwarts, everywhere smelt like a cellar and some of the walls were weeping. The students were scooped inside the castle with pent up energy, and Harry decided that it would be the perfect time to go boggart hunting.
An hour approximately before curfew, the three boys met before the place Peeves had indicated.
“You have the vial?” Malfoy asked in lieu of a good evening. He was still sore from having been water bombed by Peeves.
“Yes,” Harry said. “You have the moondew?”
After some research Malfoy had found that moondew was the best conservative if for some odd reason you needed to pickle part of a boggart. Which was a good thing because it was cheap and easy to get by.
“In my room, we’ll use it later.”
“Not at lunch please.” Ron interjected. “I’m tired of having to eat in a hurry.” Malfoy threw him a mocking glance. It was annoying how he could arch his eyebrow like that, Ron thought.
It had been easy enough to find the place Peeves told them about with the marauders map. It looked like it was a ducal suite that had been half emptied and totally forgotten. It was a string of several rooms plunged in semi darkness as all the windows had broken blinds with rotten leaves stuck under them. The blinds were rattling against the windows and you could hear just how old the little diamond windowpanes were. The first room was sparsely furnished, with knocked down tables and chairs, rotten carpets and even a disembowelled bed. Every now and then it was illuminated with the white light of a bolt. Harry thought that even in this state of decay, it still looked somehow beautiful.
“I see why the accommodations would suit a boggart,” Ron whistled. “We need to find something cupboard like in this mess.”
Malfoy was right on his heels, wand at the ready and badly hiding the fact that he wasn’t very at ease in this environment.
“There must be so many parts of the castle that we have completely forgotten about,” Harry said, wonder clear in his voice, as he drew some spider webs heavy with dust to enter the following room. It was even darker then the first one, and smelt mouldy. It was almost bare, except for a rotten tapestry hanging askew on the wall, depicting a troll banquet. The three boys advanced even further, cautiously, and entered the third room. It was so dark inside that Harry whispered lumos and that Malfoy put his hand on Ron’s shoulder. Ron smirked, but had the good grace not to say anything. While the previous two rooms had been filled with nothing but the echoes of the storm and the sound of their steps, a troubling clicking sound could be heard in this one. Ron felt Malfoy’s grip getting stronger on his shoulder.
“Look, a closet,” Harry said, pointing his wand at a corner of the room. Because of the light, or because of the noise, the clicking sound seemed to intensify almost immediately.
“Sounds like a boggart to me,” Ron whispered.
Harry took a step toward it, keeping a defensive stance. Ron immediately moved to cover him, Malfoy in tow.
The closet began rattling harder and harder the more they advanced toward it. Peeves’ intel was definitely turning out to be true.
“So, are you ready to prove your skills Malfoy?” Ron taunted with the assurance of someone who has often been exposed to terrible danger, but still using a low voice.
“Like taking care of a boggart requires skills,” Malfoy said, managing a sneer of contempt. Ron was still looking at him when the closet door suddenly opened and the boggart started to spin furiously in the room, raising the thick layer of grime accumulated for decades. Riddikulus! Harry yelled, quick to react. But he was coughing, half choking on the sudden rising of dust, and nothing happened.
The boggart swished so close to Ron that it made him fell on his bottom and it then dived straight for Malfoy. It started chanting in a bellowing broken voice “stain!” “STAIN!” “YOU DIRTY STAIN!”
Malfoy’s hands went to his ears, and his eyes widened in fear, like Harry and Ron had often seen them do along the years. All that remained of his bravado had vanished in an instant. The boggart zeroed in on him, deforming itself absurdly toward the shape that would scare his victim the most. “Shame on you!” it roared, starting to split itself into black and white. “You think I cannot see what is in your depraved mind!”
Harry was still trying to cast a spell and Ron had managed to put his jumper over his mouth not to breathe in dirt, but Malfoy was standing petrified, his wand clutched uselessly in his hand.
“You’re just a waste of good blood!” Lucius Malfoy shrieked. It went back to the ceiling and plunged again toward Malfoy, ripping itself apart around his body, encircling him in dirty shadows. It reformed behind his back and screeched in an inhuman voice “you will produce an heir or be cast out!”
“No!!!” Malfoy cried, moving at last, his face red and his eyes wild. “No!” he brandished his wand, still yelling No! instead of the right spell, his nose running and his left hand cradled against him, fisting his own robes. “You disgusting child!” the boggart was yelling over him, “You perverted traitor! You do not deserve to bear the Malfoy name!”
Still stunned by the rapidity and brutality of the events, Ron moved without really thinking to put his body between Malfoy and the boggart. Harry, who had managed to put a kind of hair bubble around his head during the chaos, was finally able to enunciate the spell properly and the boggart divided into a thousand colourful marbles that rolled madly everywhere inside the room before retracting toward the closet. Ron had the presence of mind to catch a messy handful of them and put them frenziedly into the vial.
After all the shouts and screams, the room was suddenly silent. The quietness felt dense with terror and adrenaline. Malfoy’s shoulders where trembling almost imperceptibly. His eyes where cast down, his hands fisted on the fabric of his pants. He had fallen onto his knees at some point.
It was Ron who broke the silence tentatively. “Draco…you can obliviate me.”
“Yes,” Harry agreed, a few meters away. “This wasn’t for us to see.”
Malfoy turned to look at them with something wild in his face. There were tears not yet shed in his eyes. He said nothing.
Ron took one step toward him. Harry was still breathing hard, his wand clutched tightly in his hand. The boggart was once more rattling in the closet, making the door squeak. The sound seemed loud against the bare stonewalls of the room.
“Bloody stupid boggart,” cursed Malfoy, “bloody stupid plan,” and his breath hitched and he was sobbing.
Ron sprung into motion and grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling him into a fierce hug.
“It’s alright, it’s over now,” he repeated, his hand clutched in Malfoy’s white hair, not soothingly but with anger, as if he was waiting for someone to try and contradict him.
Harry stayed immobile, not knowing what to do now that the danger was passed.
Malfoy, who had stayed stiff when Ron first grabbed him, was now rubbing his runny nose against the Weasley jumper, his fingers weakly gripping Ron’s forearms. He was not making a lot of noise but his shoulders were shaking.
“How about you come to the Gryffindor common room with us, eh?” Ron was planning, more for the sake of talking and diffusing the situation than anything else. “We’ll make you a warm cup of tea, with spice and biscuits, it’ll be very nice.”
“I’m not hungry,” Malfoy said, trying his very best to stop crying. “I just want to go lie down.”
Then, he felt something nudging his elbow. He turned his head to see what it was and almost jumped in surprise when he saw the nose of a luminescent white stag, with vaporous mist rolling from its antlers. Touching it felt like touching a sunrise.
“That’s…that’s your patronus,” Malfoy said a little breathlessly, his eyes going to Harry.
“Yeah…” Harry answered with a smile.
“Come on, let’s get you out of here,” Ron said, leaving one of his arm draped around Malfoy’s shoulder while trying to get him to stand up.
“It’s the middle of the night,” Malfoy said quietly, looking at his feet as they were moving. “Filtch will catch us.”
“Not with that, he won’t,” Harry said, fishing his invisibility cloak out of his bag.
Harry went to Malfoy’s other side, and covered him in the magical material. Ron helped fasten it. Even through his grimace, Malfoy seemed to be a little amazed. He raised his arm and saw nothing expect his right leg that was left uncovered.
“Well, that explains a lot about your little gang,” Malfoy sniffed. “That’s not fair play. How did you even get it?”
“You’ll give it back tomorrow at breakfast,” Harry told him with a smile. “Try to have a good night.”
“And have some chocolate before bed,” Ron said, still fussing and not really willing to let him go just yet.
“Thank you,” Malfoy said dejectedly before disappearing entirely, “give me the vial, I need to put our extract in moondew as soon as possible.” Ron handed the vial haphazardly, and it was tugged from his hand into invisibility. Malfoy steps were then heard leaving the room. Harry let his patronus vanish.
* * *
The episode had left Ron quite shaken. Because he was in mortal danger in a yearly basis didn’t mean half learning a terrible secret about the hardships of your nemesis was something easily dismissed. He had fantasised numerous times about Malfoy being humiliated, but now that it had happened, it didn’t rest easy with him. And so he slept fitfully and didn’t have much of an appetite at breakfast.
When something itched Ron generally scratched it, so he decided to seek out Malfoy instead of waiting for their next shared class. Malfoy hadn’t come at breakfast to give back the cloak; he hadn’t showed up at all. Harry lend Ron the marauders map and refrained from commenting. Ron consulted it during Defence against the Dark Arts, pretending to be absorbed in his course book.
Malfoy was apparently outside, not far away from the Library’s back entrance. There was a small garden there that would be deserted because of the rain that was still falling. It was a good place to wallow in self-misery Ron thought. He walked there when the class was over, black cloak billowing after him in the windy corridors. He got through the library and opened the door to the closed garden. He saw the white blond hair between two of the dark pillars of the cloister where people usually took breaks from studying. The air was damp but smelt good and green.
Ron walked up to Malfoy and sat next to him, close enough so that their shoulders were touching. He let out a small grunt when his bottom touched the cold stone. He fished out a little sachet from his pocket.
“Hey,” he begun, clearing his throat awkwardly. “Are you okay?”
He opened the paper bag to offer Malfoy chocolate. It was a constant in Ron’s life that chocolate always cheered him up. “I mean…are you feeling better after what happened yesterday night?”
“I’m going to give the cloak back,” Malfoy said defensively.
“I know,” Ron said. “It’s not mine anyways. I just came because I was worried about you. Look, I brought you food,” which sounded more or less like an order as he kept waving the pack underneath Malfoy’s nose.
Malfoy smiled a surprisingly sweet smile and took a piece of the broken chocolate Kelpie. Honeydukes had a new connection with a Loch Lomond confectioner that Ron wanted to send a love letter to, so good his delicacies were.
“It was really decent of you, offering to let me obliviate you,” Malfoy said, chewing carefully. The wind was really sharp, and his cheeks were coloured already. He had tried to cover his ears with his scarf, but the tips were very red.
“The offer still stands, if it’d make you feel any better.”
Malfoy shook his head. “I’m not very good at obliviating. And you’re dumb enough as it is.”
Ron smiled back, eyes a bit wet. “I’m really sorry that this whole thing happened. We should have been better prepared, I mean boggarts are something we saw in third year…” he trailed off.
Malfoy sniffed too, but that was probably due to the cold. “It is strange but… in a way, I’m relieved that you know,” he said, his feet toying with the gravel, eyes on the ground. “That someone knows and doesn’t care.”
“Was it …something that really happened?” Ron asked tentatively. “Or something you are scared that might happen?”
Malfoy looked away. He stopped with the gravel and started playing nervously with a bit of lint instead. “My father uses legilimency on me…he’s teaching me how to ward my mind, you know, in case we have to work for the Dark Lord again…”
Ron grimaced at that, but distaste could also be read on Malfoy’s features.
“Anyway, this is how he discovered some things about me that I would never have told anyone. Shameful things that will in all likelihood prevent me from... Well, I guess I can marry and create an heir anyways. So it’s a mix of things that have happened and things I’m afraid will happen.”
Ron scoffed, a little ill at ease. “Well, you know what Harry and I think of your father.”
“The air smells so nice here,” was what Malfoy answered after a while. But it sounded as if his cat had died. Ron felt his stomach cramp up. Maybe he had eaten too much chocolate.
“Hahaha,” he started loudly, startling Malfoy who dropped his bit of lint. “I must be mad, but please insult me. I can’t bear to see you like this.”
A corner of Malfoy’s mouth turned up slowly, as if his smile was rusted. It followed the arc of his eyebrow. “Who knew you were such a big softy Weasel,” he said, thrusting his pointy chin at Ron.
Ron laughed, showing his teeth. “That’s a really lame insult Malfoy.”
“Shut up pauper ginger. You have chocolate everywhere.”
Ron smiled, and patted Malfoy’s shoulder awkwardly. He hesitated a bit before speaking again.
“I do care, you know. Only, not in a bad way.”
* * *
Ron reported the conversation – as well as brought back the cloak - to Harry in the evening, while they were roasting their feet near the fire in the common room. They had to scare off a pair of first years to get the good seats, but Ron didn’t feel too guilty about it.
“You know what,” was Ron’s conclusion, “I think that makes him more human. I thought he was a beastly twat, but the truth is… he's only scared and insecure and tries to cover it up messily. I know this is kind of absolutely weird but... I think I might be beginning to like him only the slightest bit.”
“I like him too,” Harry smiled softly at the admission, looking down at his hands. “Especially when you tease him.”
“Who are you talking about?” Hermione asked from the back of Harry’s chair. She was wearing a hastily knotted bun, fleece lined slippers and her essay jumper. The sight alarmed Ron a bit as he couldn’t remember any essay being assigned for the time being.
“I'll give you three guesses,” Harry answered cheerfully.
“Someone it's weird you could like? Hum...professor Snape? Move your feet Ron”
“Nah,” he answered secretly annoyed to have to give up his footstool. It didn’t even occur to him to offer his chair.
“Voldemort.” Judging from her sense of humour, Hermione had certainly worked for more than five hours straight. Ron was now very worried.
“Most definitely not” Harry said, flexing his toes on the comfy pouffe. Bastard. “I wouldn't like a Ron-teased Voldemort.”
“I couldn't tease Voldemort,” said Ron eyeing him obliquely. “To busy wetting my pants I guess.”
“Then...Lockart? Ah no, of course! This is quite obvious isn’t it? The infamous Draco Malfoy.”
Hermione seemed torned between a playful smile and a sigh. She crossed her legs underneath her as best as she could on the small footstool, her back to the fire.
“Harry always had an unhealthy obsession with him, but now you too Ron? What is going on?”
“Nothing?” Ron said defensively. “I’m just growing as a person.”
* * *
He had to wait until bedtime, when he was alone with Harry again, to really say what he wanted to say. He didn’t know why, but he was reticent to talk about it in front of Hermione. He wasn’t usually so coy but something had stopped the words in his mouth. Even now he was reluctant to say it out loud.
“Harry….” he begun in the half darkness, fishing underneath his pillow for his pyjama bottoms.
“Hum…” Harry mumbled from his bed. He had dropped face first on it, not even taking his glasses out. He had gotten very deft at reparo.
“Do you think that – I mean what happened with he boggart - means that…that Malfoy is a…homosexual?”
Harry too must have thought about it after the incident, because he didn’t need to gather his thoughts for too long before answering: “Yes, I think that’s the most likely explanation for what we saw and heard.” He sighed, warily. “I wished I knew before, somehow. That explains quite a lot about him. If I had known, I would have…”
But in truth, neither Harry nor Ron did know how differently they would have acted if they had known what Malfoy had been confronted with, if they had had that light to shed on his actions. Ron let out a noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh.
“What’s funny?” Harry asked, turning his head toward Ron’s bed, where its occupant was now comfortably nested underneath two layers of quilt.
“It just occurred to me that…Well, that Malfoy could have a crush on you. Hell, he could fall in love with me!”
“Ron, I really don’t think that because he is a homosexual he’s going to be attracted to the first guy he talks to!” Harry half exclaimed through his sleepiness.
“I know that.” Ron insisted, his good humour evaporated. “It’s just…forget it.” Harry heard him turn in his bed, but it was a long while before he heard him snore.
* * *
Things slowly got back to normal, Harry and Malfoy acting like nothing unseemly had happened. Soon, that night with the boggart felt like a far away nightmare. Ron hadn’t forgotten anything, but seeing as Malfoy kept quiet, he didn’t really dare breech the subject with him again. Instead, when they met, they mostly discussed their research project. They had decided to go along with the old rhyme Harry had found, and try and complete the entire ingredient list.
One of their leads for something of dream was provided by professor Sprout. She told them about the ailsing flur, a plant that wouldn’t be too difficult for them to acquire as it usually grew on volcanic soils, which there wasn’t a lack of in Scotland. When consumed strongly infused in water, the flur could provoke vivid lucid dreams. It was worth a shot.
Chapter 4: Beginning of December 1996
Awful hikes and bullies lead Ron and Malfoy to become closer.
Ark hill, as its name indicated, was far from being a mountain. It didn’t mean that it wasn’t hard to climb, especially with the ground being half frozen. Ron was panting and cursing Harry, who only had to go and have tea with Hagrid to discuss thestrals, leaving them the luxury of following a muddy Scottish trail in the vague hope of finding a few stem of ailsing flur. Malfoy and him were high enough already that the forest through which they had passed was half hidden in whitish fog from their point of view. It was rather beautiful, sure, but also rather exhausting as the temperature had dropped and the winds were even stronger. Ron and Malfoy were both wearing heavy woollen jumpers and spell protected cloaks. Ron’s was a shabby maroon thing that had spent quite a few winters in the attic and Malfoy, all clad in elegant black for his part, had teased him mercilessly about it.
But their efforts were rewarded when Ron finally spotted the distinct bluish leaves of the ailsing flur, the only leaves left in sight. Weirdly enough, it was growing at the junction of the trunk and a branch of an entirely different tree, a small and crooked tree that would provide a bit of shadow for the sheep during the summer.
“I’m not climbing any higher,” Ron declared, pointing at the plant with a furrowed brow. “I’ll just accio the thing and be done with it.” He began rummaging through his clothes for his wand, under the amused eyes of Malfoy.
“Oh shite! I’ve lost my wand!” Ron realised, patting himself manically, panic perceptible in his voice.
“Is this a joke?”
“Would I joke about something like that? It’s definitely not a joke!” Ron looked pallid. “It must have slipped while we were climbing a slope.”
“You are so careless sometimes,” Malfoy complained, fists on his hips, “it’s a wonder you are still alive after all you’ve been through.”
Ron tried to tap his foot, but it only squelched in the mud. “Merlin, you’re not being helpful at all!”
“Don’t moan, I’ll summon it for you,” Malfoy decided, fishing his own wand from the deep inside pocket of his cloak. He accioed the flur first, and put it delicately inside a special wooden case he had brought with him, taking all the time in the world and pretending not to see the distress fumes coming from Ron. When he was done, he tugged a bit on each of his sleeves, and, with a flourish of the wand and a smirk, summoned Ron’s wand.
They waited a long minute and nothing happened. Ron was about to make fun of Malfoy to release some stress, when a whistling sound ripped up though the silent grey and purplish landscape and they both saw Ron’s wand coming at an alarming speed toward them. Ron smiled in recognition at first but he turned to panic when the slender object didn’t seem to slow down its course. It came at Malfoy like a dagger and hit him right in the face with an awful smack. Malfoy was knocked down from the impact and let out a long wail while clutching at his face. The wand hit the floor as well and rolled into some frozen mud.
“Oh no, Malfoy, I’m so sorry!” Ron fell to the ground as well, his eyes widened by worry. He took Malfoy by the shoulders, and scanned his face inquisitively.
“Is your nose broken? Are you eyes okay?”
Malfoy only let out a grunt, still clutching at his face. He didn’t seem to be bleeding, amazingly.
Somehow reassured, Ron tugged him to his chest. He rubbed his back fretfully while the other boy let out noises of pain. They stayed like that for a few minutes, too stunned to do anything else, and Ron felt the wind bite at his ears and coldness sip through is trousers.
“Your wand doesn’t like me,” Malfoy sniffed when he could talk again. “Oh fuck, it hurts so much.”
“Shh, let me see.”
Malfoy tilted his face toward Ron. There was an angry red welt beginning above his right eye and ending on his cheek. It was already becoming swollen and ugly. Ron put his cold fingers on it to soothe the pain.
“You so owe me an afternoon tea now,” Malfoy rasped, letting himself be manhandled despite the pain visible on his features. “This whole afternoon is a disaster.”
Ron smiled, relieved to see that the brat didn’t appear to be too heavily concussed. “Let me think,” he mumbled to himself, “I’m sure mom has a spell for atrocious bruises.”
“Please, do not try anything that could make it worse,” Malfoy moaned, letting himself fall down so that he was half lying on a green slope, his hands fisting grass and dirt to manage the pain.
“I’ll ask her when we get back. I promise you’ll look as pretty as usual comes Monday morning,” Ron told him.
Malfoy managed a half crooked smile despite his rapidly swelling face. “Oh, so you think I’m pretty?”
“You wish,” Ron said, hitting Malfoy’s shoulder lightly instead of rubbing it. “Come on, it’s awfully cold and we are both sodden. We’ll catch our death if we stay here any longer.” He got up to his feet and offered his friend a hand. Malfoy rubbed his dirty palms on Ron’s trousers from his spot on the ground before taking it and letting himself be lifted up. Ron was annoyed, but he couldn’t really say anything now, could he?
* * *
The long climb down had been exhausting and chilling to say the least. Malfoy had done it with only one eye opened, and Ron had to steady his elbow more than once as he lost his footing on sliding gravel. He was clutching the aisling flur box every five minute to make sure it was still in his pocket. Then of course it had started to rain.
When they arrived at Hogwarts, it had been dark outside for hours and they were ravenous but had missed dinner.
“Oh my god Weasley,” Malfoy lamented, “is this what you’ve been subjected to all those years of adventures I envied you?”
Ron gave a tired chuckle. “Pretty much, yes. Come on, we’ll get you to Pomfrey.”
“No way!” Malfoy refused right away. “It’ll look suspicious! Snape told me that he would disband us at the slightest incident.”
Ron squeezed Malfoy’s shoulder, something tugging in his chest. He had been in the castle only three minutes and felt warmer already. Then his stomach grumbled.
“I’m pretty sure Harry has saved some food for us. Let’s go upstairs and I’ll floo my mother for her spell.” He scratched behind his ear. “Now that I think of it, it was probably a cream. But anyways, you’ll be good as new in no time!”
Malfoy looked far from convinced, but he followed Ron anyway. He wasn’t particularly looking forward walking into the Slytherin common room with half his face bashed in.
* * *
“What happened to you? Did you two fight?” Hermione asked indignantly when they reached the Gryffindor common room.
“What?” Ron sounded just as indignant. “Of course not!”
Malfoy let himself drop into the nearest armchair, not caring about dirtying the carpet with his muddy shoes. The fire was blasting so hard that the room did almost feel too hot to him.
“Weasley and I only spar verbally,” he assured Hermione from the depth of the armchair. “This is only the result of me heroically salvaging his wand.”
“It this true?” the young witch asked suspiciously.
“Believe what you want,” Ron told her snappily. He bent down, then thought better of it and sat at Malfoy’s feet, and set to the task of unlacing the blond boy’s shoelaces. “Did Harry save any food for us?”
Hermione crossed her arms, tapped her fingers on her forearm and finally declared. “Yes, he did. There’s a platter right there.” She indicated a tray left on a small table by the east window. “He is in the bedroom now. I can go fetch him if you want.”
Ron took Malfoy shoes and placed them by the fireplace. “Thank you Hermione,” he said, walking toward the food. “Could you please ask him to bring down with him two of my jumpers?”
Soon enough, the two boys were eating ravenously, bundled up in a violet and a red jumper both bearing a big knitted R, retelling their dreadful, not fun at all, day and burning themselves with tea and soup. Harry was very impressed with the angry red welt that was barring Malfoy’s face. Hermione insisted that he should see Pomfrey right away. Malfoy explained why he couldn’t, and Harry smiled in appreciation. Malfoy smiled right back and playfully kicked Ron’s elbow to make him spill soup. His sock was still a bit wet.
“It’s really good that you’ve found the dream plant anyway,” Harry told them. “I’ve made progress with the thestral too, I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. You guys look like you’ll collapse any minute.”
“What thestral?” Hermione asked suspiciously, her eyes going from Ron sheepishly sitting at Malfoy’s feet to Harry who didn’t seem to find it particularly weird that his ex nemesis turned work partner had come back with a black eye. “I can’t believe you are taking so much risk for your project. The guidelines explicitly said not to!”
“There is nothing to worry about,” Harry told her soothingly, “it’s only that we are very passionate about our research.” Ron and Malfoy nodded vigorously.
“Plus I’m going to call my mom about some medicine right after desert, I promise,” Ron said, holding Malfoy’s ankle away.
“Nice to see that you have your priorities in good order,” Harry laughed at him. “But seriously Malfoy, how are you feeling?”
“I think I’ll live,” Malfoy said. “But I my father might about it.” He kicked at Ron again.
* * *
When they were no longer shivering and cramping up from anger, Ron threw a handful of floo powder on the fire. Molly of course answered with a very worried voice.
“Ron, are you all right? Why are you calling, you never call. Is your sister all right?”
Ron threw his hands out. “I’m fine mom, everyone is fine. Well, almost. My friend got hit on the face and I need your recipe for the… you know the cream that fixes bruises and stuff.”
“Is it Harry? Is Hermione alright?”
“They’re both fine and safely tucked in bed, relax. So, this cream?”
Molly sighed deeply, which sent some sparks flowing in the chimney. “I’ve packed a vial of homemade ointment in your trunk,” she said. “I do it every year, silly. But you never listen of course. You know, this is the same ointment I used when I used to kiss you booboos away. It works wonders.”
When he had cut the connection – without much ceremony - with his mom, Ron run upstairs to rummage into his trunk. When he got back down, he found Malfoy even more spread out on the comfy armchair, a hand rubbing at his belly underneath the purple jumper. Only his black eye was a sore sight.
“Can you imagine,” Ron snorted, sitting back next to him, “kissing the hurt away. That is so lame.” Both boys snickered, but they fell silent after a second.
“Maybe it works better because of the spit…” Malfoy trailed off, his eyes closed. “You never know, with this kind of silly homemade magic. What you believe is often half of it.”
“I can spit in it if you want,” Ron offered, with alarming seriousness.
“No thank you,” Malfoy replied, snatching the vial from him. He was about to dip his finger inside it when Ron snatched it back from him.
“I’m not taking any risk that this doesn’t work at its best potential,” Ron declared, looking slightly pink. “Mom would disown me.”
“You don’t have much to inherit anyways,” Malfoy said, but it was without any of his old animosity. On the contrary, he looked rather sweet despite the fact that he was quite obviously insulting Ron.
“Shut up,” Ron replied, rubbing his finger in the sticky paste. He applied a generous quantity of it on his lips; some even got over on his chin. “This tastes disgusting,” he said with a grimace, puckering his mouth and pulling his head back as if he could escape the taste. Malfoy laughed feebly, and tried to get up in his armchair, but gave up. “It smells like garlic,” he said.
Ron walked on his knees to him, and took Malfoy’s face between his hands. He took a moment to make a horrible grimace. “Oh Merlin, it smells like garlic but it tastes like rotten fish!”
Even if his nose was wrinkling at the smell, Malfoy let him do as he pleased. Ron looked at him for a few seconds to aim better. The light from the fireplace seemed to be dancing on Malfoy’s tired face. Ron began to apply his oily lips with great precision along the welt on Malfoy’s brow and on his cheek. He felt Malfoy move to accommodate his elbow on the arm of the chair. He applied some more ointment on his lips for the eyelid and the dark circle underneath it. He felt some lashes poke at his mouth.
“There you go,” he said when he was done. He cleared his throat awkwardly and rubbed at his lips and chin with his sleeve to get rid of the greasy salve. “Hopefully this will take care of the worse of the damage during the night.”
Malfoy had a weird look in his eyes and a blush fighting against his black eye. He asked for the invisibility cloak to get back to his dorms. It wasn’t even past curfew, but Ron asked Harry for it anyway.
* * *
Now that he knew about Malfoy, it’s true that Ron could see some things in his behaviour that Percy, in his well known open-mindness, would have called fruity.
He noticed, for example, how Mafoy’s voice became a bit shrill when he was excited about something. That the way he buttoned up his coat with upturned little fingers was a bit mannered; or that his handwriting was neater and prettier than even Lavender’s, who used pink ink.
Before getting to know him, Ron thought the sometime weirdness in his demeanour was an expression of his vain and conceited personality. But now he knew that it was bits and pieces of himself leaking from his self-control. Ron chest constricted when he noticed one, because he knew that Malfoy would feel shame at having been read.
“So, Hagrid has told me that he could give me some horn from the thestral hooves when he files them,” Harry was saying. “Which means…”
“We will soon have all the ingredients we need!” Malfoy completed excitedly. The red welt had receded and he looked quite happy between a jug of pumpkin juice and a teapot. The morning light was bright for the season, and one could see that his white hair had just enough gold in them to deserve the adjective blond. Ron guessed that the way they were perfectly brushed and gelled could be considered fruity too. In this case, one had to concede the adjective would have been mostly laudatory.
Harry and Ron had gone at the Slytherin table to eat their breakfast, so that Harry could update them on his talk with Hagrid. It had created a lot of hushed comments among the other students in the great hall, which had made Ron and Malfoy a bit self-conscious, but Harry had began talking without a care in the world.
“Yes,” Harry answered, “and Hagrid even said that he’d be happy to powder the horn for me, which means our work will be easier. The price market for that powder is very high, so we’ll make sure to thank him again, Ron.”
“Yes, mom,” Ron said, sticking his tongue out. It was still gluey with hot chocolate.
“We’ll also have to replant the flur,” Malfoy added, scribbling it on their to-do list. “First I’ll wean the flur in a whiskey decoction, but after that it’ll need volcanic soil again. We need a reasonable supply of it. I’m not sure Sprout has much to spare as the plants that needs it are not cultivated in the glasshouse, so I think the time has come for a trip to buy some compost in Hogsmeade.”
“It’s kind of amazing,” Ron said, licking his spoon, his eyes unfocused in wonder, “how classes have become almost exciting now that we have something interesting to do in them.”
* * *
Malfoy was comfortably sprawled in a chair by the window with his feet resting on the window seal, a plaid sprayed on his legs and a warm mug in his hands. He didn’t have any classes until eleven. It was still morning but autumn light filled the Slytherin common room, bouncing of the white stones of the fireplace. In front of him, Goyle was reciting a history lesson. It was the only method that enabled him to remember anything at all. Malfoy was listening to him distractedly, providing a date or the correct name of a goblin leader from time to time.
“Hey, Draco Fag-foy!” A rude voice interrupted them. “Make yourself useful and pass the homework.”
Malfoy tensed in his chair, throwing a glance at Goyle not to interfere. “Go fuck yourself Zabini,” he answered with as much panache as he could muster.
Zabini laughed, resting an elbow on the mantle of the fireplace. “Or what, your father will hear about it?”
Malfoy sighed in annoyance, as if it was nothing to him, but his heart was pounding loudly. His fingers tightened around the handle of the mug. With all that had been happening lately, creating or rediscovering a super potent potion, almost having an eye gouged out by an angry wand and feeling Ron Weasley’s – of all people - lips on his face, he had completely forgotten to the throw the monthly hex that made Zabini choke on his spit every time he tried to utter the word fag.
Queer he could manage, but fag really was too much. Zabini had been calling him that since 4th year. Malfoy had been very interested in Viktor Krum comings and goings that year, and Zabini had teased him relentlessly about it, no matter how much Malfoy categorically denied it being anything other than admiration for a fellow athlete. Malfoy had ended up getting in his head that Zabini was in fact jealous and wanted to have Malfoy’s attention all to himself. Of course he was horribly wrong, as a punch in his nose had clearly stated when he leaned in too close to Zabini’s mouth one day. On the bright side, since that awful experience, Malfoy had taken every precaution not to be found out.
“I’m still waiting for that homework, fag,” Zabini cried again, looking delighted at all the laughter his wit provoked among a group of his friends that was seating a few meters away. This group, comfortably settled for the show, was composed of two Slytherin girls, Iris Hansen and Gregoria Shaw, and of a guest, a Ravenclaw boy, who seemed to Malfoy to look even more of a faggot than him, but then again, Zabini couldn’t really be called a very perceptive person. Weirdly, Pansy was not hanging out with them.
Malfoy really wished Ron was there. He would tear Zabini apart with a biting repartee and turn the whole situation in a joke. He would make Malfoy laugh about being insulted. He was good like that.
“Harry Potter has it,” he told Zabini, not really knowing why. “My homework. You should ask him to give it to you once he’s done copying it.”
Zabini frowned. “Harry Potter?”
“Yes,” Iris said, sneering, “they’re chums now. He invited him and the Weasley boy to eat breakfast at our table, I saw it. With that mudblood Granger too, I’ve seen them in the library. I guess he can’t really sully himself any more anyway.”
“So what, you suck Potter’s dick now?” Zabini taunted, looking both disgusted and delighted by the idea. “Your poor father will have a heart attack.”
“I do not suck anybody’s dick,” Malfoy hissed, remaining as calm as he could. “You on the other end, suck at practically every subject, so you’d better stay on my good side if you want to pass any classes.”
There was no use trying to escalate anything with Zabini. For months Malfoy had maintained the status quo. Zabini would throw insults at him, he would deny them without loosing his temper, almost as if he found the banter funny, and people wouldn’t know what to think. Crabb had helped him a lot when he had answered a 5th year interested in the matter that, in his opinion, Zabini was the one who was queer and trying to court Malfoy in a backward way. The only thing Malfoy could do not to hurt his reputation even worse was to play along and pretend he didn’t care about Zabini’s stupid accusations. If the accusations happened to be true, that was beside the point.
“Well, let’s go find Harry Potter then,” Zabini decided. He knocked down Goyle’s History notes from Malfoy’s lap for good measure while leaving the common room under the cackles of the effeminate Ravenclaw.
* * *
“He told you what?” Harry asked, looking bewildered. Zabini had cornered him as he was leaving the Great Hall with Ron, making plans for the day.
Zabini looked really annoyed at this setback. Insulting Malfoy was good fun, but he really needed the homework now. “Come on Potter, I saw his use first,” he said in a business like tone. “Hand it over. If you haven’t copied it by now, that’s your problem, not mine.”
“I don’t have Malfoy’s homework,” Harry insisted, pushing his glasses up on his nose. “I don’t need to copy from him anyways. As you may know, I’m pretty good at Defence against the Dark Arts.”
Zabini scratched his head, looking back at Iris and Gregoria. “Why would the fag lie about something like that?”
“What did you call him?” Ron hissed, putting a step into the conversation with a loud thud.
Zabini looked at him like he was dirt. “What is it to you Weasel?” he replied, snorting.
“What is it to me?” Ron repeated, disbelieving. “You just insulted my friend, asshole.”
“Who insulted anyone?” Zabini asked with a generous spread of his hands, taking the time to throw a conniving look at the girls. “A fag is a fag, those are the facts.”
Ron clenched his jaw so hard that Harry winced. “Okay, now I get why he told you Harry had his homework.”
“Why?” Zabini asked, all swagger.
“So I could do this,” Ron replied, picking his wand up and flicking it at Zabini. He muttered a curse, his teeth grinding.
“Wow,” Zabini said, unimpressed. “You’re really good at this.”
Ron put his wand away calmly. “I am actually. One of my brothers taught me this trick. Maybe you’ve heard of him, his name is George. When you want it lifted, you come to me and we’ll talk. Now fuck off, and if you bother Malfoy again we’ll report you to both McGonagall and Snape. Don’t forget I’m a prefect.”
* * *
Zabini lasted almost a whole week, but the urinal infection Ron had cursed him with proved to be too debilitating. His pride prevented him from seeking out Ron, but when the Slytherin and Gryffindor teams had to share the locker room after practice on Friday night, he just couldn’t take it anymore. He waited until Harry was under the shower to corner Ron alone.
“Take it off Weasley, just fucking take it off!” he demanded, a towel hanging on his hips, his face still sweaty from the exercise. He smelled bad in the humid, soapy atmosphere of the room.
Ron was not intimidated. “I will when you apologise to Malfoy for insulting him.”
Zabini gripped his towel harder. “Look, I didn’t insult him; if he’s a fag, then…”
Ron turned his back. “Okay, I’ll let you meditate on that the next time you take a piss.”
“Fine!” Zabini caved in immediately.
He walked to Malfoy, who was already half dressed.
“I’m sorry I called you a fag, could you now ask your homosexual boyfriend to lift this damn curse off?”
“I can make it worse you now,” Ron interjected angrily, drawing his wand. “I want a proper apology.”
“It’s okay Weasley, you can lift it,” Malfoy said. “I think that Mr Zabini here now understands that it’s better not to piss off my friends.”
Ron reluctantly did as he was told and Zabini left to take his shower without further ado than a promising dirty glance.
When he was out of sight, Malfoy took his bag and went to seat near the bench were Ron was finishing getting ready.
“Thanks, Weasley,” he said, drying his hair in a white towel. It was quite a challenge in the wet atmosphere of the room.
“No need to thank me,” Ron shrugged. “I did it for mankind.”
Malfoy shook his head, amused, and folded his dirty clothes with a smile at the corner of his mouth.
“I do have a question though,” Ron added, unfolding a fresh pair of socks.
Ron slid closer and started whispering furiously. “How the hell does he know? I assume you haven’t confided in this prick.”
“Draco tried to snog him. At the end of the year house party in 4th year. He was drunk,” Crabb explained from behind his locker door. He was quite modest when he was getting dressed.
“Oh.” Ron said.
“Crabb! That was privet!” Malfoy hissed.
“No, it was in public,” Crabb protested. He closed the door as he did his last button. “Luckily, it was very dark and almost nobody noticed anything except the punch in Draco’s face.”
“Merlin.” Malfoy was now hiding his face in his hands. “This is so embarrassing. I can’t believe I was such a dumbass.”
“I obviously cannot compliment your terrible taste in snogging partners,” Ron said, “but that fucker Zabini is the one that has a problem. Punching someone over a kiss, Merlin!”
“Although, I wouldn’t recommend you try to kiss anyone else until you have a very clear permission,” Crabb noted, putting an arm in his jumper’s sleeve.
“Thanks Crabb, I would be lost without you,” Malfoy said sarcastically.
“You’re quite welcome Draco,” Crabb answered him.
Malfoy snickered. He couldn’t tell if Crabb was being genuine or cheeky.
“Anyways we still have Zabini to thank for ever becoming friends,” he told Ron as he zipped his bag. “He was the one to lose my potion essay back in October.”
Chapter 5: Colder in December
Ron didn’t really know by what sorcery, but Hermione seemed to have guessed what the big Secret Revelation about Malfoy was. The big secret revelation that he had kept as close to himself as he would have about something absolutely personal, and had try to prevent Zabini from spreading. How the hell did she do this? This couldn’t have been a footnote in A history of Hogwarts now, could it? Anyway, she was laughing at Pansy who had apparently boasted in the toilets that Malfoy would be her partner for the winter ball. As if. This was only ordinary conversation to her as the two of them were walking towards Hogsmeade, looking for dove quills for her part and volcanic compost for the flur for his. When Ron had complained that Harry and Malfoy were using him as their errand boy, Hermione had said she would go to the town with him because she had to pick up parchment and new quills.
“I’m almost sad for poor Pansy,” she was saying, walking besides him and not sounding sad in the least, “she is really delusional about their relationship.”
“Why would you say that?” Ron asked, a bit panicked. Had he said something and hadn’t realised it at the time? That wouldn’t be the first time.
“Oh, I think you know why,” Hermione answered unconcernedly.
“I’m not sure you should mention it so casually,” Ron hissed, looking around him, his heart beating faster. The sky was grey and hanging low, the fields barren. A few crows were flying between the edge of the forbidden forest and small valley where a few of Hogsmeade roofs could be seen.
“Well Ron, you seem awfully perturbed.” Hermione remarked with the faintly judgemental face that only her could pull off so well. “Does homosexuality bother you perhaps?”
“No, Hermione! Of course it doesn’t bother me!” Ron almost shouted, getting on his high horse. His own sound reverberating in the landscape startled him, so he buried his hands angrily in his pockets. It seemed Hermione hadn’t believed the story of the wand. Sure, it was a stupid accident and sounded like it, but she should know better than to think he would hit Malfoy for being… special when that was the last thing that had crossed his mind.
“Really?” Hermione insisted, annoyingly calm. “You do look bothered.”
“Well…not for the reasons you’d think,” he conceded after a while.
Hermione didn’t seem particularly convinced. “And whatever do you mean by that?” she pursued, arms crossed on her chest even has she kept on walking.
“Okay, this is going to sound weird…” Ron tried after a minute, furrowing his brows. He took a special pleasure in walking into the puddles and wetting his shoes. They were so worn that he was a bit embarrassed of wearing them for a day out. But well, he had to wait for Christmas for a new pair. “It’s like…I have this feeling in my chest when I see him and stop to think sometimes. I might see him writing something and suddenly I’m thinking he’s gay, Draco Malfoy’s gay, I used to hate him and now I feel like he is a friend and I get this weird emotion that I want to protect him, and like, hug him. It’s really freaking weird, it makes want to make sure he feels like he has someone.”
Hermione hadn’t stopped walking but she had slowed down and seemed bewildered. She took a moment to compose herself.
“Wow, that’s…not what I was expecting,” she admitted, rearranging her woolly hat. “I’m sorry to have doubted you Ron, really. I thought you were being a bit of a macho…” She cleared her throat before asking “So…does that mean that you fancy him?”
Ron choked on his spit.
“What? Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know, what you’ve just said is… pretty nice and, no offence, but it takes a lot for you to express things like that.” Hermione was now wearing a deeply annoying knowledgeable smile. “Plus you said feeling and emotion.”
“Yeah, but I also said weird!” Ron objected, half shouting. “If it were like a crush, it wouldn’t feel so weird. I’d know what was going on. But I don’t.”
“So, if Malfoy asked you out, you’d say no?”
Ron suddenly felt faint. “What?” he managed to croak. “Why would he ask me on a date? Has Harry said anything? Why would you say that?”
Hermione shook her head. “That was hypothetical. To help you assess your emotional response. What would you answer him?”
Ron buried his hands deeper in his pockets. He could feel his thighs underneath the cloth of his trousers. The landscape felt oddly indifferent when his own heart was beating so hard in his chest from surprise. “Well…first I’d say that I’m touched…no, flattered…no wait that’s too cold…that I’m happy? No, that I’m glad…fuck I don’t know! Something positive. But not condescending.”
“And then?” Hermione asked, not looking him in the face so as not to spook him.
Ron snorted. “But anyway, he would never ask me.”
“That’s not the point Ron.”
“Yes, that is exactly the point! Because he is so afraid about what is going to happen with his father and to his family. He can’t bring himself to accept that about himself. Hence my desire to make him feel better.”
Hermione hummed non-committedly. She changed the subject and didn’t mention Malfoy once until they reached Hogsmeade and parted ways; Ron’s tongue was burning to bring him up again, but he didn’t dare to and had to listen about French Christmas customs he didn’t give a sod about instead. Buying compost hardly helped him take his mind of things.
* * *
“I’ve got it,” Ron told Harry when he got back in the afternoon. “Two full bags. My arms are burning.” He dropped them on the carpet, not caring if it got dirt on it, and gave the change to Harry, hiding his embarrassment at not having paid for the compost himself by looking bored.
“That’s good,” Harry answered, oblivious. He folded the Daily Prophet and threw it on the coffee table; the sport section mustn’t have been very exciting. “We should go get Malfoy right away. He was fretting that the flur was beginning to wilt this morning.”
“I’ll meet you at the glasshouse,” Ron said, scratching his head. “I need to swing by the kitchens to get a snack first, I’m starving after all this walking and carrying.”
Harry laughed as he put his cloak on to leave the warmth of the common room, not noticing anything amiss.
Ron sighed. He did want to see Malfoy, and at the same time he didn’t want to want to see him. That didn’t make much sense, and he blamed it on Hermione. Always analysing everything was tiresome. He went to the kitchen, talking to himself grumpily. He passed Goyle on his way, and felt compelled to say hello. His life was weird. Luckily, the elves had just baked ginger stems biscuits. Ron managed to obtain a good supply and made his way to the glasshouse.
* * *
Harry was panting, and his hair was in even more disarray than usual. He was sweating profusely, surrounded by clay marbles, bags of compost and various tools. The late autumn sun was shining through the roof of the glasshouse. Repoting was not as easy as it looked, and it did not look particularly easy, as Ron had put it. Next to him, wearing an apron and leather gloves, Malfoy was taking his sweet time to cut the dead roots from the aisling flur. It was, according to him, paramount to do it right if they wanted the little plant to grow back. Ron had the easiest job of all as he was studying the marauders map in order to fin a spot that would agree with the flur. Sprout had told them that if the altitude was too low, it would degenerate and loose its magical properties.
“Why do we need such a big pot?” Harry complained.
“You now why,” Malfoy answered, cutting half a millimetre of pinkish root.
Harry scoffed. “I really don’t, this flower is tiny.”
“It has to spread its roots to withstand the wind. There are no 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.”
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 6: The Saint Nicholas Ball
Draco and Ron spend an afternoon together at Madam Puddifoot but it is really not at all a date, not even a little bit.
Thank you for the kind comments on the previous chapter, it makes this story even nicer to write.
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 7: Winter break
Ron and Malfoy exchange letters during the winter holiday - which is not romantic at all.
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.
* * *
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.
PS: Do you know why did Granger laugh so much in the train? Was she laughing at me? Does she know about me?
* * *
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,
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.”
* * *
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,
* * *
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,
* * *
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,
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.
Chapter 8: January 1997
Ron has a bit of a crisis in this one, and Goyle has trouble sleeping because of it.
When Ron got back home, Ginny thought he was even more annoying then usual. He was twitchy, alternatively smiling smugly or frowning every five seconds and refused to say why. He changed his socks oftener, he hate less at the dinner table - which had their mother fussing around him, as if he needed more attention! - and he took longer in the bathroom, seemingly to brush his hair. It was absolutely not sustainable with the number of people currently living at the Burrow. And he had gone to bed at half past midnight on New Year’s Eve!
Worse of all, he was acting all mysterious when it was quite obvious that only one thing was less banal about him then usual: the stupid crush he thought he was hiding. Ginny knew that her brother had travelled by chimney a few days ago, but she didn’t know where he had gone. Harry wasn’t with him, and he insisted on telling her that he didn’t know anything. She had noticed that her brother had been receiving a lot of mail as well during the holidays, but he had always been very quick to snatch the letters away and had never opened them in public. This was very fishy.
Then Ginny remembered the funny business about the ball. Ron had turned down her perfectly lovely friend, mentioning a certain “he” he was supposedly going to the ball with. But at the ball itself, she had only seen him stuff his face at the buffet as usual and disappear early on. Who was with him that night? The memory eluded her, as if someone had put a spell on her.
The whole thing reeked of mystery. Ron’s natural reaction would have been to bore everybody to death with stories of his romantic conquest and irresistible charm; but so far he had said nothing. First the weird friendship with a bunch of Slytherin, and now this? Something was definitely going on. Ginny squinted her eyes at her brother as he declined a second service of treacle tart.
* * *
Never in his life had Ron been so anxious to get back to school. He had packed his bag two days in advance, had risen at dawn and had been the first of his family to get inside the train at the station
He found Hermione waiting in an otherwise empty carriage. “Hello Ron, Harry!” she greeted them cheerfully, a new scarf gracing her neck. “Happy new year two both of you.”
“Happy new year, Hermione,” Ron replied, before asking in a single breath if someone had seen Malfoy already. Harry, who had entered the carriage after him, put his suitcase up with an amused smile, as Hermione’s only answer was to berate Ron for his lack of politeness.
“Hello,” a familiar snobbish voice said from the aisle. Malfoy must have been as anxious as Ron was to see him, because there he was, already wearing his school cloak, looking unusually coy.
“Ah…hello,” Ron replied eloquently.
Weirdly, while it had never occurred to him before the break, it now felt almost debilitating to have an audience listen in to their conversation. “I…I err need your help to find the trolley lady,” he said, dropping his suitcase on an empty seat. “I’m starving and I don’t want to wait until the good stuff is gone.”
“Okay,” Malfoy answered, sounding almost as awkward as Ron. “See you later Potter, Granger.”
Ron was absolutely positive that Harry and Hermione started gossiping as soon as the door closed, but he had acted on the spurt of the moment and it was no use dwelling on it.
“I think I saw her around carriage 5 earlier,” Malfoy said, plastering himself against a wooden partition to let some Slytherin 7th years pass through.
“Well, the trolley lady…” Malfoy answered with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh, yes…” Ron said, distractedly and nervously at the same time. “That was only a ruse. Let’s go to the back of the wagon, yeah?”
They walked up to the door that led to a small outdoor platform between two cars. As Ron opened it a gust of wind rushed into the aisle, and a number of passengers protested noisily. He hastily closed it behind him, but the speed of the train sent Malfoy’s cloak right in his face. He heard Malfoy laugh. Ron struggled with the fabric with flailing arms, cursing, and finally managed to turn his back to the window panes. He looked out to the passing winter landscape as he was catching his breath.
“You’re acting weirdly,” Malfoy remarked, rolling his green and white scarf around his neck. The cold was biting and it was completely stupid to be outside in this weather. “Well, more so than usual.”
“I wanted to see you alone first, after, you know…” Ron let the sentence die, not really knowing how to finish it. The train was quite noisy and it was easy for words to get lost.
A pained expression suddenly wrinkled Malfoy’s face. “So… Are you telling me that you have changed your mind now that we’re going back to Hogwarts?” His tone was calm but his hands were gripped to the railing.
“What? No! Of course not, stupid idiot,” Ron answered with a punch to Malfoy’s right arm. It had to hurt since he scowled at him, his white hair flying madly in the wind,. Ron took a step closer to him. “I was afraid I would give myself right away,” he explained. “You know, by acting awfully flustered. Which I did anyway.”
Malfoy snorted and then smiled. “I missed you,” he said loudly over the metallic noises of the train. The scowl had faded away from his pointed face, and he had a tender look in his eyes that made Ron panic a bit.
Ron threw a look through the window. People seemed to have mostly settled in for the journey. Then he looked back at Malfoy, not knowing what to say. He had missed him too, of course, he had counted the days until they would see each other again. And yet, he was now acting like a mess. His nose felt numb from the cold already.
“Weasley,” Malfoy said softly, getting closer to him. His cheeks were an ugly shade of red. “It’s only me. I know it’s scary, believe me. But nothing will happen that you don’t want to happen, okay? We are friends first and foremost. And anyways, it all has to stay an absolute secret.”
“Shit,” Ron whispered, throwing his hand reflexively and grabbing Malfoy’s sleeve. “I didn’t realise this… romantic business was so distressing.”
Ron had said the word ‘romantic’ as if it was hard for him to pronounce it in a context where it was not to make fun of something or someone. He probably couldn’t have said it at all if there wasn’t so much goddam noise to muffle it.
Malfoy laughed at him. “You’re telling me,” he half yelled in relief, “I feel nauseous when I see you.”
“Twat!” Ron exclaimed, betrayed. “If you think it’s pleasing for me to…”
But Malfoy was leaning closer and closer to Ron, his hair still swept madly by the wind, the countryside scrolling with mad speed behind him. Ron didn’t move, fascinated by Malfoy half closed eyes, his white lashes, the sipping underneath his alabaster skin.
Malfoy pressed his cold lips and his warm breath on Ron’s cheek, terribly near his mouth, and Ron felt the speed of the train throb in his heart.
* * *
The rest of the back to school experience was quite thrilling as well. Monday morning, 8 o’clock, and they were already sitting for double Transfiguration in a dark classroom. McGonagall walked up to her desk. She dropped her books and a stack of parchments on it. She took her time to look at the faces of all her students.
She cleared her voice. “Before we begin, I present to all of you my wishes of success for the New Year. I hope you had a restful holiday. This coming semester is going to be very demanding as you’ll prepare to enter your last year with us at Hogwarts. It is going to be a determining time for all of your lives.”
Ron threw a glance at Hermione and she was smiling like it was Christmas again.
“You’ll be glad to know,” McGonagall added, “that your juries for the trans-subjects project have been formed. You’ll find their composition described at the top of the research proposal you had to submit back in December. In some cases, I urge you to consult with the members of your jury to avoid the catastrophe you are clearly heading towards.”
Hermione tried to contain her excitation when she received her graded proposal. She obviously got an O, which she was graceful enough not to mention, but she shared her delight at discovering the names Flitwick, McGonagall, and Vector just underneath the mark.
“Well, I’ve got Binns,” Seamus complained, looking utterly depressed. “They are trying to bury my project.”
“Ron, look!” Harry whispered agitatedly, completely ignoring Seamus. “We got an O!”
Ron’s mouth dropped. “What? Let me see!” He all but snatched the paper away from Harry. There it was. A perfect, round, full O, floating just above the title spelled out in Malfoy’s pointy penmanship.
“Oi Malfoy!” Ron yelled as discreetly as he could, throwing a paper pellet at him. Malfoy turned back, looking at them expectantly with his usual raised eyebrow. He was sitting at the front of the class, between Crabb and Goyle and almost knocked out Neville’s inkwell when he put his elbow on the desk behind him.
“Come here!” Ron gestured excitedly. “We got the proposal back!”
Malfoy got up slowly, pretending to be moved by an aristocratic detachment. “I expect we got the O I told you we would,” he said when he was a few feet from their desk.
“We did!” Ron beamed at him, squeezing his arm enthusiastically to share is delight. He shoved the paper underneath his nose. Malfoy gave him an indulgent smile, letting himself be manhandled, before looking down at the grade. He nodded at Harry. “Congratulations to us,” he said, looking smug now.
The three boys stayed silent for a few second, not quite believing what they had managed to achieve together. The class was buzzing around them, students exchanging their grade or the composition of their jury with relief or consternation. Malfoy had his hands in his pockets but Ron could feel his thigh leaning against his shoulder.
“The jury is a bit intimidating though,” Harry noted, pointing at the list inked on the parchment with his chin.
“Snape, McGonagall, Sprout, that’s what I was expecting,” Malfoy replied.
Ron laughed weakly. “I guess only Sprout will maybe smile at us encouragingly.”
“You see, Mr Potter,” McGonagall interjected, startling the three of them, “I do value a work well done.” She was a row to their left still handing papers back. Never before had Ron had the occasion to experience her trademark imperceptible smile aimed at him. It gave him chills.
“By the way,” McGonagall added, “be kind to stay behind for a bit after class. I have some information to share with you three.”
* * *
“Dumbledore?” Malfoy repeated for the umpteenth time with the exact same amount of disbelief as the first. McGonagall had smiled at first but had ended up dismissing them tiredly. “Dumbledore is going to be on our jury? Merlin!” He almost knocked down a scrawny third year passing him in the hall way with his flailing arms.
“He’s not going to grade us…” Harry reminded him. He had been a lot less impressed by the news. “He is only an honorary member of the panel.”
Malfoy gestured at him as no words could express how dumb Harry’s remark was. He sneered silently for a few second, before letting a “Dumbledore!” burst out. “Ha! My dad is going to hear about this!”
Harry laughed, pausing at the stairs. “Yes. He is pretty nice you know. I’m more worried about Snape.”
“Tell me about it,” Ron agreed, tapping Harry’s shoulder. The thing Ron was still reeling from was that he got an O with a gigantic coefficient. He was a pragmatic man.
Harry shrugged his bag back up on his shoulders. “Well, see you later guys, I am meeting with Luna.”
“You mean Lovegood from Ravenclaw?” Malfoy asked, sounding surprised. “I didn’t know you were friends with her.”
“Do follow up, Malfoy” Ron mocked him. His tie was completely askew but he still managed a contemptuous air. “Is it a date?” he probed Harry, wiggling his eyebrows.
“No,” Harry replied, climbing down the stairs. “As you well know, Ron, I can meet with a girl without it being a date.”
“Okay,” Ron said magnanimously, waving him away from the banister. He resumed walking when Harry was halfay down the stairs, Malfoy in tow.
“I’ve never even talked to Dumbledore before!” Malfoy cried when Harry was out of his sight, refocusing all his attention on Ron.
“There is a first for everything,” Ron shrugged dismissively. He resumed walking - he had to get to another staircase to go back to Gryffindor tower. It was his turn to look detached, even if he was horribly excited himself. No teacher had ever distinguished him before and now the bloody headmaster was interested in his project!
“Still,” Malfoy went on, a little bit more seriously, “I don’t think I would have had this opportunity if I hadn’t been in a group with Harry and you.”
“With Harry you mean,” Ron tsked, still playing aloof. “I doubt I interest our headmaster much.”
Malfoy sobered up in an instant. “Yes. I guess you are right, it’s obviously Harry he wants to hear, I don’t know why I got so excited.”
Seeing his pointy noise toward the ground, Ron sighed. “Honestly, Dumbledore doesn’t coddle Harry that much. I doubt he would have appointed himself a member of his jury if you weren’t part of the group. He must be curious of what is going on. So be happy in knowing that the only replaceable member is me.”
“You’re not replaceable to me,” Malfoy immediately replied, still looking at the ground, holding his books to his chest.
“Err… thank you,” Ron said. He had a weird feeling, as if he had just missed a step.
When they reached the next staircase, Ron had to go up and Malfoy down.
They stopped and smiled silently at each other for a few stiff seconds. Malfoy buttoned his black corduroy cloak up to his neck and cleared his throat.
“Well, bye Weasley,” he said awkwardly. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow in Potions, if I don’t catch you at dinner tonight.”
“Yeah, sure. Goodbye Malfoy,” Ron replied as awkwardly.
They hovered next to each other for a moment, not daring to do or say anything more.
Then Ron smiled weirdly, turned his back and began climbing the stairs with his eyes screwed shut in embarrassment at himself. He was mortified at the obvious lack of natural of his reply. Good thing he knew the path by heart or he would have bumped in a wall and fallen on his head.
The situation was complicated. Despite what had happened at Malfoy manor during the winter break, and later on the train, when they were in public, nothing had really changed outwardly between Ron and Malfoy. For one, Ron was still calling Malfoy “Malfoy”. “Draco” sounded too weird. And the few times they had spoken, it had been mostly to bicker or to tease each other in front of an audience. And yet. Ron felt like everything had changed.
Ron had heard stories. Stories about how a girl in a house neighbouring the Burrow, once she had been cajoled by her fiancé to loose her virginity to him was then casted away without any remorse. Stories of a Hufflepuff boy who, three days after he had made a beautiful public declaration of love, had been dumped and laughed at and ridiculed for months by all his beloved’s noisy girl friends. He would never do such a thing to Malfoy. It physically hurt him to think about it.
But Ron couldn’t think of Malfoy as his “boyfriend”. That would be too bloody weird! Yes, he liked to spend time with him, and he didn’t mind touching him. One could even say that he liked it. But necking with him like he had done with Lavender Brown… It seemed weird, if he was honest. Not disgusting or absolutely unimaginable, just weird. Like brushing your teeth with your left hand, or eating fish at breakfast. Something he hadn’t been wired to think about. Even if, at the same time, it was something that (just as weirdly) he liked to think about. It was a lancinant, tantalizing thought. He imagined himself pleasing Malfoy by asking him on a date, saying sweet things to him, feeling him grew weak because he was being touched. Making Malfoy happy, be there for him… That was something Ron liked to think about, even if it was a bit perturbing. That’s why he didn’t feel dishonest when he had said he was willing to try and be more than a friend to Malfoy, even if it didn’t come to him naturally.
When Ron reached the common room, he had to sit down to catch his breath. He was just as exhausted as he might have been after a Quidditch practice.
* * *
“How did it go with Luna?” Ron asked at dinner, wiggling his eyebrows. The great hall was warm with floating candlelight, friendly banter and the aroma of delicious food.
“We had a nice time. How did it go with Malfoy?” Harry threw back, passing the salt to Neville.
“Oh, we parted ways just after you left us,” Ron said with great detachment, helping himself to some more mashed potatoes. “I took a nice nap, and then I did some homework for Defence against the Dark Arts. I read four whole chapters!” he said at Hermione, pointing his fork at her. “I might be catching the reading disease. Then I beat Seamus at exploding snaps twice in a row.”
When no one commented on genius, Ron picked another conversation topic.
“How about you, Hermione,” he asked with a civility that sounded ironic, “any progress with that Todrick person?”
Hermione looked like she was interrupter in her daydreaming. She always carried a small notebook with her these days, and she tucked a finger in it so not too loose her page.
“No,” she answered, being drawn back into the noisy world. “He didn’t have much depth. Besides, I’d rather concentrate on my studies.”
“You went out with Todrick Hammer?” Neville asked disbelievingly, moving a jug of water to have a better view of her face.
She threw her hair back contemptuously. “Not really. It was that night with that dreadful pineapple butterbeer…”
“Oh,” Neville replied. He nodded to his plate. Nothing more needed to be added.
“Speaking of studies,” Harry seemed to suddenly remember, eager to avoid talking about his drunken state of that night, “Dumbledore will be an honorary member of our jury for the project!”
“What?” Hermione exclaimed.
“I know right? McGonagall told us earlier,” Ron added excitedly, brandishing a piece of chicken on his fork. “That’s crazy!”
Hermione didn’t look so enthused “So what, you do a little blood magic with Malfoy” she summed up with pursed lips, “and the headmaster notices your research?”
“Well…yes?” Harry answered with fast receding enthusiasm, throwing a worried glance at Ron.
“Oh, I’m very happy for you,” Hermione said, viciously cutting into her chicken breast. “It’s really wonderful.”
After that, Ron did not try to pick the conversation up again.
* * *
“Hermione is mad at us about the Dumbledore thing,” Ron told Malfoy once they were seated in Potions the next day, whispering theatrically. This time of year, in the half darkness of the dungeons, his hair was almost as dark as the red Gryffindor stripes of his tie.
“I hope I’m not included in the us,” Malfoy replied, getting his quills and parchment out of his bag.
“I’m not sure but…I think she was jealous,” Ron added, his voice getting lower still. In more than five years of friendship, Hermione had never been jealous of anything Ron had or did. It was weird.
“She was definitely jealous,” Harry agreed from Ron’s left.
Malfoy snorted haughtily. “Of course she’s jealous! She hadn’t been noticed like we have.”
“Try not to sound too happy about it,” Ron scolded him. He could smell a pungent whiff from the reserve cabinet some students had already opened, but was in no hurry to fetch any ingredients himself.
“Sorry,” Malfoy said, not sounding the slightest bit sorry.
“She doesn’t realise that we’ve worked just as hard as her on this project yet,” Harry said, “but she’ll come around. As we all know, she’s quite intelligent. By the way Malfoy, why didn’t you come by at dessert yesterday?”
“Oh, I didn’t…” Malfoy began, but the sinister face of Snape appeared at their table and he stopped in his tracks.
Snape folded his hand together in an agonisingly deliberate fashion, thus forming an absurd caricature of patience. “Mr Potter,” he enunciated slowly, “are you such a genius that your project is finished four months early?” He shook his head painfully, letting a long greasy lock fall on his eyelid. “I should think not. I remind you that you are here to work, and not to chitchat about trickle tart, as relaxing as the subject might be to feeble minds.”
“But of course, Professor,” Malfoy was prompt to answer affably. “We were only waiting for Weasley to get his research out of his bag so that we could begin.”
Snape had a good look at him, before returning his stare to poor Harry. “One word that does not concern your project, and you will find yourselves facing detention,” he warned icily. “All three of you. The central chimney is in dire need of maintenance.”
“Yes, professor,” Malfoy said, but his voice was not dripping as much honey this time. “We shall get to work right away.”
Ron kicked him underneath the table as soon as Snape was back at his desk. “That’s for throwing my name at Snape like that!” he hissed.
“I was only trying to placate him!” Malfoy replied, wincing. “It worked, didn’t it? No extra essay or detention, so show a little gratitude.”
Harry and Ron shared a look. Ron pursed his lips with disdain.
“Anyways…” Malfoy resumed sheepishly. “What potion should we use to demonstrate the potentialisator?”
Something caught on fire on their left.
“Err, that’s a very good question,” Ron deflected, eyes fixed to the flames. Snape had lost his terrifying calm in a half second and was yelling at Seamus and Neville with exasperation.
Malfoy let out a noise of contempt and turned an inquisitive look towards Harry.
Harry thought for a few seconds, forcing his attention back on their table, before saying “I guess…it has to be something the members of the jury can test themselves on the spot without any risk.”
“Yes,” Ron agreed, relieved that he apparently didn’t have to come up with a specific potion name on the spot. The fireproof spell that protected the classroom had been triggered right over the faulty cauldron’s spot, and both Seamus and Neville were drenched in water.
He looked at Malfoy again, who was waiting, pale and quiet. He shook his head. “They have to see for themselves that it makes the potion react differently according to what each person consuming it wished or hopes for.”
Malfoy also throw a look at the disaster on their left. Who in their 6th year at Hogwarts still made mistakes that stupid? He sighed wearily, dramatically raising his fingers to his brow.
“Why do you two look so pleased with yourselves?” He asked Ron and Harry, getting back on track. “I would have thought that this was obvious. What isn’t is the kind of potion that would achieve that.”
“What about a euphoria potion?” Ron suggested animatedly. “That would make them want to give us a perfect O, wouldn’t it?”
Malfoy shook his head. “Disregarding the fact that we should aim for a good grade in acknowledgment of the quality of our work and of our demonstration and not for a good grade as its own end, I doubt they’d agree to ingest it – for that very reason.”
“But we can do something similar,” Harry countered on. “Maybe a wellness potion? Something to relieve daily little pains. They are all old, they are bound to have sore feet or some kind of back pain.”
“Harry, that’s pure genius!” Ron exclaimed. “Does such a wellness potion ring any bells, Malfoy?”
“Well,” Malfoy said “I’ve never used one myself but I’m sure that we can find something like that in a simple Healer Manual or even a Household Helper”. His frown had vanished. Seamus was now mopping the ground manually under the supervision of Snape.
Ron looked less enthused. “Oh that’s just great,” he grunted, “more books!”
“You’ll find it Ron,” Malfoy decreed. “You’ve not been very successful with the bibliographical part of out project yet, you have to have something to say if one of the examiners ask what you contributed in that area.” He smiled sweetly after that.
Ron didn’t know if he was being thoughtful or punishing him for something.
* * *
“Would you like to go to Hogsmeade this week-end?” Malfoy asked Ron discreetly when the class was over. The hallway was as noisy as ever as the pupils were spilling out of Snape’s class in relief, or in mortification in the case of Seamus and Neville.
“I am dropping Potions this semester!” Neville declared, his voice vibrating with the feeling of unfairness. “I don’t care if I have to pick up advanced Divination!”
Ron felt his stomach drop. Not that he cared about Neville academic future. Suddenly the idea of being alone with Malfoy for several hours was overwhelmingly intimidating.
He floundered. “Err, I can’t. Because of the research. You know. For the spell. Err, I mean, the potion. You said yourself I needed to work on that.”
Malfoy's face fell. As usual, he looked very pale and conceited – except that now Ron could read his expressions. “But I thought…”
“Ask Harry,” Ron cut him right away, running the few meters that separated him from his best friend to grab his shoulder, “he may be free!”
“Free for what?” Harry asked, with an oblivious smile.
“Malfoy would like to go to Hogsmeade this weekend. I can’t because of the research.”
Harry looked suspiciously between Ron and Malfoy. “Wouldn’t you rather come fly with me?” he finally asked Malfoy. “I was planning on practising some dives.”
“Perfect,” Malfoy declared. “That’s a lot better than what I had planned anyways.” He threw a look at Ron while saying that, and left him behind in favour of walking with Harry to discuss their plan.
Now Ron felt utterly stupid. He could have spent a weekend playing on his broom and eating pastries and Merlin knows why he had condemned himself to hours of reclusion in the library. Why had he panicked like that? He had spent a perfectly lovely afternoon the last time he had been to Hogsmeade with Malfoy. Merlin, he had even visited his home and lied on his bed! And now Harry and Malfoy were discussing Quidditch animatedly without him and he had no one to blame but himself.
* * *
The next Sunday, Ron at least managed to find without too much trouble a potion that seemingly would do, in the Memoirs of the founder of the Geriatrics department at Saint Mungoes – a little known tome that Mrs Pince pointed out to him. She seemed to have tested and approved a lot of the remedies it described herself. He had to withstand half an hour of her talking about her osteoarthritis, but the potion seemed promising enough. It was called Sanior.
When he got out of the library, he spotted a familiar fiery colour. Ginny was standing in the hallway, a few meters a way, her bright long hair the only thing to stand out from the depressing grayness of the indoor scenery.
But that was not what had arrested Ron’s attention. No. What had arrested his attention was that Zabini, insufferable Zabini, was leaning against a wall, his arm hanging above his little sister’s head. Ginny was holding books, but she was definitely listening indulgently to his sweet-talking. There was no mistake to be made about what was happening here. Ron wanted nothing more than to wipe the self satisfied smile from Zabini’s stupid face. In three strides, he cut violently in on the discussion.
“Stay away from my sister if you know what’s good for you,” he warned Zabini, kicking behind the knee of his supporting leg. Zabini squatted down a few centimetres, his equilibrium broken. Ron grabbed Ginny’s wrist and began to drag her away; both completely taken by surprise, Zabini didn’t try to hold her back and Ginny only began to resist when Ron and her were alone in an other hallway.
“What is this about, Ron!” she protested, regaining her senses. She wrenched her wrist free from his grip.
“You shouldn’t let Zabini even talk to you,” Ron said between gritted teeth, his nose wrinkling with distaste.
Ginny folded her arms and tapped her foot on the stone floor. “Are you trying the obnoxious big brother thing now? Quit it, it’s pathetic. I can do anything I damn well please.”
“I’m not trying anything, but Zabini is an asshole,” Ron insisted, crowding her again. “I know it first hand.”
Ginny flipped her hair above her shoulder like she did when she was supremely annoyed. “What are you even talking about?”
“He is a bully, and a homophobic prick!” Ron exclaimed helplessly. “I had to throw Fred and Georges’ piss curse on him to keep him in line last semester.”
“What?” The unexpected information shut Ginny up for a few second. She looked at her brother from head to toe and back. She was thinking. She crossed her arms and asked calmly:
“Ron…are you gay?”
Ron, who was about to insult bloody Zabini some more, was startled and stuttered. “What? Why do you say that?”
“How do you now Blaise is homophobic?” Ginny asked, eyebrows knitted in suspicion. “And while I’m at it, who did you go to the ball with? Who did you write letters to during the holidays?”
“Blaise?” Ron yelled, “That’s how you call this prick?
Ginny uncrossed her arms and pointed a finger underneath her brother’s nose. “Ron, do not change the subject!” It was frightening how much she looked like their mother like that.
“I am not!” He hissed. He threw a look around him to see if Zabini, or anyone else, was still around.
Ginny got her wand from her sleeve, and cast a muffliato with a nice flick of her wrist. “There you go. Speak now.”
“I will,” Ron replied. “Zabini is a disgusting bully. He extorted homework from someone by harassing them with awful slurs, isolating them form their housemates and menacing to out them to their parents!”
“Really?” Ginny asked, now sounding concerned.
“Yes, really!” Ron insisted. “This bastard is only as mean as he is stupid and you should really stay away from him.”
Ginny thought for a few second. Her brother seemed honest, and he usually was a terrible liar.
“Alright. I’ll thrust you on this one. But in return, you should thrust me to tell me who you went to the ball with. And who sent you all these letters.”
Ron shook his head sadly. “I can’t, I promised it would stay a secret.”
Ginny huffed, beginning to turn on her heels. “Well then, thank you for the warning, but I suppose the best thing for me after all is to make my own opinion about "Blaise"…”
“Fine!” Ron caved in. “I’ll tell you. But only if you pinky swear to keep it absolutely to yourself.”
Ginny held up her finger and Ron, after a second of hesitation, hooked up his own to it. His finger was almost twice as big as his sister’s.
“So?” Ginny asked expectantly.
“You have to say you swear not to say anything on Mom’s head first!” Ron insisted.
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Okay, I swear! You know I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you anyway. So. Was it really a boy?”
“Yeah,” Ron admitted reluctantly, his finger still clinging to his sister’s. “It’s Draco Malfoy. He fancies me.”
Ginny laughed in disbelief.
* * *
“I caught fucking Zabini trying to flirt with my sister. Put an end to it right away,” Ron told Malfoy Monday morning.
Weirdly, having told Ginny about what was happening between Malfoy and him had relieved him of something. Hearing someone else’s disbelief had eased his own, or something.
He had realised, explaining to her what had happened, how they had become close, that he was scared. Now that he couldn’t pretend that he didn’t know what Malfoy felt or how what happened between them could be interpreted, it wasn’t a game where he could do whatever he pleased anymore and expect Malfoy not to read anything into it. Now, the time had passed when he could do something and have it mean nothing because Malfoy wouldn’t dare interpret it out loud anyway. Now, Malfoy had told him how much he meant to him and he wasn’t the master of the game anymore. He couldn’t be, because he had been moved, and had seen Malfoy’s heart. And while it was pretty scary, he couldn’t deny that it was also dauntingly thrilling. Plus, he couldn’t find Zabini stupid and mean to bully someone because of their taste, and be afraid to have these tastes himself. He was above that.
He now mostly felt sorry that he had been avoiding Malfoy for the last few days and had been pretty cold to him without any explanation at all.
And indeed, Malfoy looked up in surprise from his breakfast. “What are you doing here?” he asked, his tone neutral but his features showing genuine astonishment.
“I haven’t seen you much since we got back from the winter holiday,” Goyle added, munching on some bacon. Ron felt like a proper asshole.
“I’m having breakfast with you, since we have double Transformation together after that,” he said, trying to sit down next to Malfoy naturally. Malfoy didn’t move over so the first thing Ron felt when he was seated was their thighs snug together and Malfoy’s bergamot cologne. A plate appeared in front of him and he was able to concentrate on food and overlook all of it.
Malfoy poured him a glass of pumpkin juice while he helped himself to a generous service of scrambled eggs.
“So what was that about Zabini?” Malfoy asked in a detached tone.
“Did you throw a piss curse on him again?” Goyle asked with interest.
“Now, I only warned my sister against him,” Ron said, trying to keep his elbows to himself while using his fork. He could feel Malfoy’s warmth against him. He hadn’t realised he had missed it. “She agreed not to listen to him.”
“We should warn all the girls in school about him,” Malfoy remarked.
“There is one thing though,” Ron added sheepishly, looking at the space of wood between his plate and his glass. “I’ve had to tell her about you.”
When Malfoy replied nothing, he tried to lighten the atmosphere. “She said you have shit taste.”
“I agree,” Goyle said. “I haven’t been able to sleep because of you. Draco kept going to the bathroom every hour to do Merlin’s knows what…”
“I have very sensitive eyes! You didn’t close the door properly!”
Malfoy looked mortified.
“Anyways, he was depressed,” Goyle concluded.
“I’m sorry,” Ron said, his eyes slowly meeting Malfoy’s face. “I am sorry. I said I wouldn’t do that and I did it anyway.” A heavy silence fell between them, inhabited by the clicks of cutlery, morning greetings, last minute revising and the noise of the howls dropping mail.
On his left, Malfoy looked on the verge of tears, clearly mistaking Ron’s intentions. “Don’t do it,” he choked on his porridge. “It can’t be over before it even started.”
Ron threw his hands up in a panic. “It is not! It really is not! And I am not doing anything. Other than apologizing, I mean.”
Malfoy looked into his porridge with anguish, nodding to himself. He sniffed and said nothing.
Goyle frowned at Ron.
“So…Can I sit next to you in Transfiguration?” Ron asked in despair.
* * *
Ron felt something soft rubbing the side of his little finger. Startled, he got up from his parchment, where he was taking an uncomfortable nap. McGonagall was still at her desk, talking crisply as usual. His neck was a bit sore, but all he could feel was his finger. Being caressed by Malfoy’s thumb. He looked down at the table where his hand was resting, at Malfoy’s neat nail passing over the same freckles over and over. He forgot to breathe for a while.
“What are you doing?” he asked Malfoy, not looking at this face.
Malfoy’s thumb stopped. It seemed to wait for a panicked second and drew back.
“I’m sorry,” came the blank answer. Malfoy’s voice took a strange nasal tone when he was upset.
“Be careful, someone could see,” Ron chastised, his heart beating fast, looking straight at the complex schematics McGonagall was drawing on the black board using her wand.
He took Malfoy’s hand in his own and drew it carefully underneath the table. He rested it on the wood bench, and let his own half cover it.
Malfoy said nothing; all Ron could hear was his breathing.
After a while, the rubbing resumed tentatively. Merlin only knew what McGonagall was talking about. Ron fished a toffee wrapped in a silver paper in his pencil case, which took a little time since he could only use one hand, and put it on Malfoy’s parchment.
He kind of regretted it because he couldn’t find another one for himself after that. But well. It was the least he could do.
Chapter 9: February 1997
Ron has a couple of eye-opening conversations in this one.
Ron was flying idly, watching Harry and Malfoy going madly after the snitch. They had promised to throw some quaffles at him afterwards, to help him practise as well. It was the beginning of February and to their delight the sky had cleared up after a worrying morning of mist and dark clouds. But it was still atrociously cold and Ron was beginning to shiver underneath the warming spell and the jumpers.
“Guys,” he yelled with gusto, “should we make it a bit more interesting?”
“What do you mean?” Harry yelled back.
“Should I bat the bludger at you while your chasing the snitch?”
“Good idea!” Harry said. “Absolutely not,” Malfoy replied. “Do you even know how to beat a Bludger?”
“Of course,” Ron boasted. “The Weasleys are legendary at Quidditch.”
As it turned out, Ron was pretty good indeed when he didn’t miss the bludger by ten inches. After the number of times Fred or George had knocked him out with one, he wasn’t afraid of the vicious ball at all. His swings were powerful and redirected its mad energy with purpose. He was hitting the ball so hard that he almost dismounted Harry from his broom; fortunately Malfoy caught his wrist at the last second and helped him regain his equilibrium.
“You are a public danger,” he told Ron in a heartfelt shout.
“Thanks,” Ron beamed. “Maybe I should try out as a beater next year. I wasn’t this strong when I first joined the team.”
“You definitely should,” Harry agreed, rearranging his glasses and looking a bit green. “As captain I can tell you that your spot is booked already. Maybe you could even start this year.”
“I admire your magnanimity Potter,” Malfoy commented, his sneer torn in surprise.
“That would be awesome!” Ron exclaimed, flying an enthusiastic loop toward Harry. “I don’t feel as much pressure beating in a good old bludger as when I guard these damn hoops.”
Malfoy hummed, his hands still on his broom. Like Harry, he was flushed and looked well worked out. “You should train with Greg and Vincent then. I expect they can teach you a few things after being strong enough to be beaters for such a long time…”
Harry laughed at Ron’s annoyed expression. Neither of them seemed to have enough energy to pick up practice again. They slowly went back down, the temperature getting warmer the closer they got to the ground.
“I hope I can be team captain next year,” Malfoy admitted as they took their first wobbly steps on the ground. “Montague is leaving, bless Merlin. But I am afraid my father won’t help me by being a sponsor this time.”
“That would make it even better to beat Slytherin!” Ron said, which earned him a nasty punch to the shoulder.
“I am sure you’ll get it,” Harry reassured Malfoy, broom in hand. “You are the best player of the team after all. The best opponent I’ve ever had.”
Malfoy smiled a beautiful smile at Harry with his pointy white teeth, his pointy nose, his pink cheeks and his white eyebrows, and Ron – he realised with horror - Ron felt a bit jealous.
* * *
“When are we going on another date?” Ron resolutely asked Malfoy on their way back to the castle.
Harry must have caught him looking at Malfoy, because he had weirdly declared that he was expected for tea at Hagrid’s and had left in a hurry after their shower in the locker room, leaving them alone. Maybe it was his idea of being a good friend; anyways, Ron had other problems for now.
Malfoy looked surprised, his left eyebrow rising in an inquisitive ark. “Another?” he asked, moving his broom to his right shoulder.
“Well yes,” Ron explained, ignoring his nervousness, “we had a date in Hogsmeade and a date in your room, didn’t we?”
Malfoy couldn’t repress a smile that was both smug and shy. He looked at his shoes while answering. “I didn’t know Hogsmeade was a date.”
Ron cleared his throat. “It was. Retrospectively.”
“Okay,” Malfoy conceded easily, nodding. “And which one of my rooms were you talking about? The one at Hogwarts or the one at the Manor?”
A big gust of wind came to punctuate the question. Ron thought about the green poster bed and the pretty blue room with the shiny toys on the shelves. One memory felt warm, the other feverish.
“Err…Both I guess?” he had to admit, scratching the back of his head. He could let Malfoy have that he supposed.
Malfoy huffed, looking as pleased as expected. “And what about the ball then?” he continued, getting cheeky.
Ron bumped his shoulder in retaliation. “Mmf,” he threw back, feigning disgust. “Too many people around.”
“I would count it too,” Malfoy objected, his voice taking a soft undertone. “I really loved it.”
“Okay,” Ron said, touched. Even if their banter was as enjoyable as ever, he liked that Malfoy could be so honest now instead of sneering.
“Merlin!” he exclaimed after a few seconds. “We have been dating for way longer than I realised, haven’t we?”
Malfoy smiled. He looked happy, with the dark forest behind him as they kept walking toward the castle. Ron too changed his broom to his right shoulder to free his hand. The night was beginning to fall already, but the muted grey landscape was soothing more than unnerving. He took a step closer to Malfoy, and, giving him a silent smile, took his hand in his own. Malfoy was still wearing his Quidditch gloves, but Ron had big hands.
* * *
“Should we draw a board for our presentation? Schematics or something. That way I’ll have something to look at other than Snape while talking,” Harry suggested.
If Saturday had been fun, Sunday was to be wasted in the library again.
“He’ll see right through your ruse and take points away for it,” Ron objected. He was sprawled on the table, lying on his right arm. The library, and especially the few tables around the Potions, brews, filter and decoction section were quite deserted since it was still early in the semester. But, if he was being absolutely honest, Ron wasn’t too unhappy to be here on a weekend day. He was sleepy still, but he had smuggled biscuits inside, and was wearing atrocious but extremely confortable old maroon corduroy trousers.
“True, but a visual is still a good idea,” Malfoy replied sensibly, scribbling down Harry’s idea in his notebook with a pheasant quill. He was seating right next to Ron, with kinks in his hair. It was kind of endearing that he had been too distracted to think of slicking them down as per usual, Ron thought.
“That way we can go quickly over the potion making process and concentrate on research and test protocol description.” Malfoy carried on. “You two will be more comfortable with that.”
“Great idea!” Ron agreed, seating back up and squeezing Malfoy’s thigh in approval under the table. Any suggestion that he might be spared further research sounded deeply attractive to him. Malfoy scoffed at him knowingly.
“I’ll write down everything that needs to figure on the board and you two can draw the illustrations,” he told Harry and Ron.
“I really can’t draw,” Ron admitted. “But I can try to animate the pictures. My uncle showed me various charms to do it once when we were fixing the family tree.”
“Really?” Harry asked excitedly. “Will you show me how it works?”
“Sure, I mean, I’m not an expert or anything…”
“Well, I’ll leave you two gentlemen to it,” Malfoy declared, pushing his chair away from the table. “I have an arithmancy study cession coming up, I need to pick up some coffee on the way if I’m going to make it.”
Ron and Harry shared a glance. So far, the only ones not to have failed this class were Hermione, Malfoy and the Ravenclaw twins Ted and Jorna Banks, who also took astrophysics classes in the summer when they were back in their muggle family. The four of them had decided to meet regularly during the semester to study together. All the other students were currently retaking the first semester.
“Good luck to you, good sir,” Harry told him - as much a goodbye as a word of condolences.
Malfoy flipped him off as he left for another room in the library, and Ron went up to get rid of all the heavy tomes about merfolks history and cultures that were taking up too much space on their table.
He walked light heartedly to the right section, shaking his head to himself at the realisation that he only hung out with complete nerds. Most of the books on these shelves had blue spines: ultramarine blue, turquoise blue, sky blue, greenish bleu. He quite liked it.
“If you’re done with Subaquatic Gymnastics, could I take it from you?” A voice asked from behind his shoulder, making him jump.
“Did I startle you?” A young witch with honey blond hair asked him, laughing pleasantly. She was from Hufflepuff, as her over the knee socks indicated. He searched his memory but couldn’t remember her from classes shared in the past. She must be from another year, he thought. She bit her lips teasingly at him, which was kind of cute.
“Err…yeah, sorry. There you go,” Ron told her while offering her the book on top of the pile he was carrying. “I would try the pages around 300, the rest is deadly boring from what I saw.”
“I’ll remember the advice,” she promised with a smile. “You’re name is Ron, right?”
She knew his name? Ron smiled beatifically. “Yes, and you are?” he asked smoothly.
“I am Fiona Barnes, a friend of Ginny’s. Maybe she mentioned me? Ah gee, this book is too big for my bag!” She was struggling with the heavy folio, and Ron, leaving the other books on a random shelf nearby, held her bag open for her so she could slide it inside without too much trouble.
“Thanks!” she said with a heartfelt smile when they finally managed it. “Well, I’ll see you around, Ron.”
“Sure. Bye, Fiona,” Ron waived dumbly.
He waited until she was out of sight to put the books, who were starting to protest rather loudly, in their correct spot. He got a finger bitten by a dictionary for not properly respecting the alphabetical order.
He saw Harry wiggle his eyebrows at him from twenty feet away, but he sat back at the table pretending not to have noticed. Of course, Harry didn’t let him off that easily.
“Hey Ron, I saw Fiona Barnes flirting with you back there,” he said, elbowing Ron. “Good for you mate.”
“You know her?” Ron asked his friend, sounding surprised.
“Come on Ron, she hangs with your sister all the time,” Harry protested. “Seamus is always ogling them at breakfast. And at diner. At every meal, as a matter of fact.”
“She’s pretty, isn’t she?” Ron asked, a bit flushed, letting himself slouch down on his History of magic parchments.
Harry smiled at him conniving. “I would say so. What did she want?” he asked, throwing a bookmark in his textbook before shutting it close.
“Apparently her and her research group are working on a mood changing hair dye,” Ron lied on the spot, not knowing why. “She said she’s interested in using my shade of red for the dye colour palette.”
Harry looked puzzled for a second. “Ah… Interesting. Not the hair dye, but the fact that she asked you instead of Ginny.”
Ron rubbed his nose. Why the hell had he lied? It made no sense even to him. “Ginny’s hair is a lighter shade than me,” he pretexted.
“Uh uh,” Harry answered, smiling knowingly. “Still weird since she’s in 5th year and I am pretty sure they do not have to do a group project.”
Unexpectedly, Ron collapsed and put his head in his hands. “I don’t want Fiona Barnes to flirt with me,” he said, letting some panic be heard in his voice. “I don’t want to flirt with her.”
“Why not?” Harry asked, baffled by Ron’s sudden change in attitude.
Ron was aware that he always complaining that nobody noticed him, and now that someone quite popular maybe had, he was acting all weird about it.
“Because…because it feels like cheating,” he explained, deflating like a balloon. “I mean, I liked that she knew my name and talked and smiled to me, I really liked it but…”
Harry hummed again, his arms crossed on his chest. “But what?” he coaxed. “I really don’t see what’s the problem.”
Ron looked at his hands, feeling a bit dizzy.
“It felt like cheating,” he admitted. “And I don’t want to do that. I’m not like that.”
Harry looked puzzled. “Ron, what the hell are you talking about?”
“Malfoy, I’m talking about Malfoy,” Ron whispered furiously, getting closer to Harry. “You were right, okay? I’m fucking attached to this bastard.”
Harry’s eyes rounded comically. “Ah! So are you finally going to tell me what happened at Malfoy Manor during the winter break? I honestly thought you chickened out, since nothing has changed since we got back.”
Ron threw a worried glance around him. The little people that were here were reading or scribbling down notes, halfway sleeping or chatting in small groups. He went back to Harry, who was looking at him expectantly, his hands patiently resting on top of a leather-bound book.
“You promise not to tell, right?” he asked anxiously.
Harry’s face grew serious. “As if that was ever in doubt.”
“Right. Well…So during the break, when I went to the manor…” Harry nodded encouragingly at him, and Ron carried on. “I told him what you said, about me acting like more than a friend to him.”
“Okay,” Harry said. “And what did he think of that?”
“He… He told me he hoped it was true because he was… he is in love with me.” Ron whispered furiously, with as much awe as disbelief. “Draco Malfoy is fucking in love with me!”
“I knew it!” Harry exclaimed, on the edge of his chair. “And?? What did you say?”
“Calm down!” Ron hushed him, looking around again. “People might hear, and you know that anything of the sort has to stay a secret from Lucius Malfoy.”
“Sorry, sorry. But we’re under a muffliato anyway, remember? So, what did you say?” Harry asked again. Ron could see that he had entered his obsessive mode.
“I said…I told him that I… cared about him too, because that’s true. I do.”
Harry nodded again, fighting to stay quiet and biting his lips to control his smile.
“And,” Ron added, encouraged by the positive reaction, “that I’d like to try… a bloody romance with him or something.”
“Wow!” Harry let out, grabbing both sides of the table to look Ron square in the face. “Really? Wow. I guess he was very happy? Really? But I haven’t noticed much change?”
“He didn’t really believe me at first, but…yes, I think he’s happy.” Ron looked down at the table shyly. “And I taking it slow because I am…terrified. But in a good way?” he added.
Harry let go of the table, and grabbed the chair underneath his bottom to take a few encumbered steps and sit on the other side of the table, right next to Ron. He took to whispering, which he hadn’t done until that point.
“Have you kissed?” he asked, sounding like a conspirator.
“We have not!” Ron replied indignantly, his rule to be quiet forgotten.
Harry grinned. “But you might one day! Merlin, it’s too funny! To think that you two were always throwing rocks and nasty things at each other!”
“Don’t laugh”, Ron pouted.
“I’m not,” Harry assured him, putting his arm around Ron’s neck. “It’s great.”
Ron didn’t get up from his chair, but he still managed to half hug Harry from the side.
“Thanks, mate,” he said, his cheek crushed against Harry’s coarse hair. He sniffed. “Oh, and don’t let Malfoy know you know. I promised not to say anything. The fool thinks he’s become my first confidant.”
“What a goose,” Harry replied, trying to straighten his glasses from underneath Ron’s arm.
* * *
On Monday afternoon, Ron was doodling silly broom’s designs in the margins of his textbook to pass the time. Divination was one of the most boring subjects and everyone who could had fled this class. Harry - that traitor! - had bailed for the semester as he had good enough grades to take advanced Defence against the Dark Arts instead, and even Neville had abandoned this bullshit class for Medicinal Herbology. For average students who weren’t selected for one of these elite classes, the general curriculum was unavoidable.
Even if he had always done all right in Divination without doing any work, Ron was a bit bitter that he hadn’t got any special talent and was among the people who mostly got As. Hermione was a bloody genius, Harry was Quidditch captain and worldly famous, Malfoy was a dashing rich heir. And Ron? Well Ron had an unremarkable academic record, a noisy bunch of brothers, lame clothes and more freckles than he cared for.
As he was scratching out the drawing of a double-handled broom that would probably crash under ten minutes, he heard some crunching coming from his left.
Seated on a comfy purple pouf, looking with absent eyes through the draped window, Gregory Goyle was munching on some chocolate biscuits.
“Hey!” Ron whispered at him. “Goyle!”
Goyle emerged slowly from his daydreaming, and looked around in the semi-dark classroom to see who had called him. Trelawney was speaking with a vibrato and ample hand movements, which created a few gasp here and there among her die-hard fans seating at the tables nearest her dais.
“Goyle! On your left, it’s me!” Ron repeated. “Can I sit with you?”
Goyle, seemingly unfazed, moved his bag over in agreement. Trelawney didn’t notice anything happening after the third row anyways, so bad was her sight.
“How are you Weasley?” Goyle asked when Ron had slithered discreetly to his table.
“I am almost dying with boredom, but apart from that I’m fine. What does this do?”
A quill was dancing on a piece of parchment in front of Goyle, but it wasn’t only taking notes; it was crossing out most sentences.
“Oh that. Well, Draco enchanted it when he was still taking Divination so that it only keeps the relevant information. He gave it to me last year.”
“That’s clever,” Ron approved. “There mustn’t be much left at the end.”
“No,” Goyle laughed.
“Didn’t Crabb have to take Divination as well?” Ron asked, eager to keep the conversation going. A regular table partner meant that the semester would be bearable at least.
“Vince’s taking muggle studies. But why are you taking Divination? I thought that being mates with Granger and going out with Draco, you’d take advanced whatnot instead of sticking to this loser’s class.”
Ron had a self-depreciating laugh. “By your reasoning you shouldn’t be here either since you’ve been friends with Malfoy since even before Hogwart.”
“You still call him Malfoy?” Goyle asked, sounding surprised.
“I…” Ron was at a loss. This wasn’t how he thought things were going to go. He could feel himself starting to blush. “Yes? He calls me Weasley.”
“Does he? That’s odd. He usually calls you Ron when he talks about you.”
“He talks about me?” Ron asked, a bit strangled. He had tried not to sound surprised that Goyle knew explicitly about Malfoy and him, but that was getting a bit far!
“Of course,” Goyle replied, looking puzzled. “Don’t you talk about him with your friends too?”
“I… I guess I do,” Ron admitted. “What does he say about me?”
Goyle put another chocolate biscuit in his mouth, but he managed to stay quite articulate when he relayed that he wasn’t sure that Draco would like him to repeat what he had said in public.
“But it’s about me!” Ron objected.
Goyle seemed to think about it for a few seconds while he was munching and swallowing. Some tables away, Parvati was apparently trying to analyse the shards of a broken mirror for the class. “Well…” he started. “He is mostly repeating things you said that he found funny, or keeping us up to date on what he did with you and Potter. He told us that you wanted to become a beater by the way. Little nothings of everyday I guess. He was very happy when you asked him to the ball.”
Weirdly, Ron felt his nose tickle and his eyes getting a bit wet hearing all this.
“Are you alright?” Goyle asked, looking a bit worried. There was an uncalculating kindness in his round face that Ron had never noticed before.
“I hadn’t realised you were such close friends,” he evaded, sniffing like he merely needed to blow his nose. “It’s nice.”
“We have known each other for more than ten years,” Goyle deadpanned, looking unimpressed. “From before Hogwarts. We’ve said from the first day of first year that we would see each other through it. Draco has helped us pass more classes than I can remember, and we’ve kept people in check for him.”
Ron nodded gravely.
“I know he thrusts you,” Goyle carried on. “I hope you deserve it. It’s not going to be so easy for Draco after Hogwarts.”
Ron curiosity was piqued. “Because of his dad?”
“Yes. I don’t know what it going to happen when Draco comes of age in June. Even if he never said anything about it, Mr Malfoy kind of knows that Draco is not interested in women. I’ve known him for too long to see that he is queer in his demeanour I guess, but Vince tells me it’s noticeable.”
Ron gulped. To be honest, he hadn’t seen anything before the night of the boggart. Malfoy’s mannerism could easily pass for disdain or snobbery, and his sneer sure was a good decoy. But afterwards, when the scales had fallen from his eyes, it had kind of excited him that it was indeed noticeable in little things.
“I guess it is…” he agreed.
“Mr Malfoy probably thinks that he can still control his son’s future, but if he finds out that Draco likes a Weasley…”
“Young lads!” Trelawney screeched. “What are you talking about? I hope it’s Divination!”
Not having expected an intrusion at all, Goyle panicked, crunching the last of his chocolate biscuit in his meaty fist in order to hide them.
But Ron, who had been trained for this over his years with Harry, was able to demonstrate some quick thinking.
“Yes professor, of course,” he replied most sombrely, frowning in dismay. “We were discussing the dark shadows of the future.”
“Ah,” said Trelawney, charmed.
* * *
The next morning during breakfast, Ron munched distractedly on a croissant, waiting for Malfoy to enter the Great Hall. After speaking about him so much, he wanted to see him, to see how he was in his everyday life, how he was dressed, how he walked, how he picked his food, who he smiled to. Ron’s heart felt kind of heavy. He guessed it was with longing.
“This year had been very quiet for you so far, hasn’t it?” Neville was saying to Harry.
“That’s good! That’s tremendous! I hope it stays like this, Merlin!” Harry exclaimed, hitting the table with his palm to emphasise the exclamation.
Ron huffed in approbation. But, even if You Know Who hadn’t appeared out of a hat or the new DADA teacher hadn’t died tragically yet, he didn’t feel the year had been particularly quiet for him.
He almost missed Malfoy’s entrance because he was watching the flow of pumpkin juice filling his glass. He noticed the white blond hair first of course. Everybody did. Other blonds looked dark-haired compared to him. Goyle was walking next to him, using his hands to explain something. Malfoy nodded on their way to the Slytherin table. He was wearing a black turtleneck and an anthracite blazer that looked expensive even from far away. They sat next to Crabb who was already eating, and Ron had to move a little on the bench to have a clear view of them.
He saw Malfoy pouring himself a cup of tea delicately, sneering at something Montague said, and then looking for something in his bag with a pensive air.
Then Malfoy caught him watching, and a smile slowly dawned on his face. Colour came to warm his icy face. He made a small, almost unnoticeable wave with his hand, still smiling. Ron waved back, not so discreetly. I love him, he thought. I love him.
So Ron, swallowing his pumpkin juice fiercely, decided he had to get Malfoy to be confidant enough to kiss him before Saint Valentine’s day. That was a little less then ten days away.
Chapter 10: Valentine's day is just another day
Poor Ron tries and tries to get kissed in this very long chapter 10.
Pupils at Hogwarts were trying their best to make do with the harsh weather. The sun was setting a few minutes later everyday, but it wasn’t very noticeable yet at this point. People were sick of the afternoons being dark and cold and wet, and they mostly stayed inside to roast their feet by the fire. Luna Lovegood had started a drama club that Neville told Ron was brilliant and liberating. They would produce a play at the end of the school year. Hermione organised a poster campaign for S.P.E.W. It featured the portrait of an elf, against a drawing of Hogwarts busy kitchens or haberdashery as a background that said things such as “Ever wondered who bakes the delicious cakes you enjoy at desert? Meet Chauwnie.” or “No, your socks do not mend themselves. Meet Droner.” She apparently had had an inspiring exchange of letters with Remus Lupin on how to use a softer and more efficient approach to make mentalities evolve. Hannah Abbott started a Muggle Board Games appreciation society, meeting in the great hall every Wednesday at teatime – Ron utterly detested Monopoly. Malfoy read a lot, mostly novels he ordered by owl. A lot of people played the piano or started awful sounding bands. Parvati Patil started an illegal tattoo workshop in Moaning Mirttle old toilets.
But Ron, in the great Weasley tradition, had learned to take advantage of what surrounded him and pleasure in things how they were. Being one of the few that still went outdoors for pleasure, he had found a pond near the shrieking shack that was small enough to have frozen over completely. One could skate on it safely, unlike the great lake which had parts only thinly iced and thus dangerous. Because yes, Ron had the brilliant idea to ask Malfoy to come ice-skating with him. What could be more romantic than that?
Malfoy had hesitated a bit before agreeing to meet him Thursday right after lunch as they had a big break between classes.
“To be honest, I almost said no,” Malfoy told him as they were dismounting their brooms and stepping on the icy grounds. “I had to borrow this pair of ice skates from Ted Banks, I don’t own any. I never go skating.”
“Why?” Ron asked, surprised. “Don’t you skate at the manor?” He took big steps in the snow towards the shack were they could stash their brooms.
“I used to as a child, yes,” Malfoy replied, following him as best as he could in the long coat that hindered his legs, “but my father forbade it when I started at Hogwarts. He said it was unmanly, and to focus on Quidditch instead. So, I rather tell you now, I’m not going to be brilliant.”
“Your father is a proper tosser!” Ron exclaimed, his cheeks and hair fiery red in the white landscape. “How the hell is skating unmanly? Why isn’t he more worried about his ponytail if he resents anything feminine so much?”
“Are you sure it’s safe?” Malfoy asked instead of answering. Ron had opened the door of the shrieking shack with a vigorous pull, and was entering it, but Malfoy had stopped at the entrance, peering fearfully into the shadows of the old abandoned house.
“Oh yes, quite sure. There is no one here now, I’ve had a little adventure here in third year that made me sure of it.”
“Okay,” Malfoy said, taking a few steps inside but still looking with mistrust at the half rotten beams and spider webs of the ceiling.
“Don’t be a wimp,” Ron laughed. He took Malfoy’s broom and put it next to his own by the fireplace. He then drew a wooden chair from the rickety three-legged table and sat down to put his skates on. His good humour finally had reason of Malfoy’s hesitation. He sat gingerly on a damp chair next to Ron and began to unlace his balmoral boots. They were beautiful shoes, shiny and sleek, making his ankles look graceful and dainty.
“The thinks I do for you, Ron Weasley,” Malfoy said, shaking his head.
“Come on,’ Ron said excitedly, opening the door again and letting the beautiful white light in, “I’m sure you’ll love it!”
Malfoy was rusty indeed, and his first slides on the ice were very wobbly. He let out a few shrill cries as he almost fell. Ron skated and skated around him, laughing with mirth and happiness, his hair making him look like a red devil. The sky was white grey as usual but there were no clouds and it was a beautiful afternoon for February. He finally offered Malfoy the support of his hand so that he could have some pleasure at sliding on the frozen surface. Little by little, the memory of old movements awoke in Malfoy’s muscles and he began to look less comical and a bit more composed.
“Take both my hands this time,” Ron told him, “I’ll let you taste some speed!”
“Are you sure?” Malfoy asked worriedly, gripping harder at Ron.
“You know you can trust me,” Ron said, taking Malfoy’s other hand solidly in his own. He began skating backward, using one of his legs to go quicker and quicker and the other to stay upright. When he was sure of Ron’s skills, Malfoy began to skate too and soon they were a lovely thing made of swiftness and balance, drawing big circles on the ice and in the wind. His fingers were probably crunching Ron’s, but the tension didn’t stop the enjoyment from lighting his face.
“Fancy seeing you here Ron!” a feminine voice shouted happily.
Ron turned his head so quickly toward the intrusive noise that Malfoy yelled again in surprise and slipped, sending them both tumbling down. Ron found himself on his ass with a big whoop that resonated through his bones. Luckily, Malfoy fell half on top of him and didn’t seem to hurt himself too badly, his ego excepted.
“Is that your sister?” Malfoy asked, trying to stand back up with as much grace as possible from being on all four.
“It’s not her voice,” Ron said, putting a hand at Malfoy’s hip to help him stay upright. His trousers were all wet now. But he saw two figures approaching the pound. One had long red hair indeed, and the other was honey blond.
“Hello boys,” said Fiona Barnes again when the two girls were close enough to have a conversation without yelling. “Ginny, you didn’t tell me that your brother would be here as well!”
“I didn’t know, obviously,” came Ginny’s annoyed reply. Her features were set in an imperturbable façade.
“Hi,” Ron said suspiciously, getting up in a practiced fashion, his bottoms still smarting. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, the same as you, we are going skating!” Fiona said with enthusiasm. “Hello, Draco,” she said gracefully towards Malfoy who was finally respectably upright again.
“Do we know each other?” he asked with disdain.
“No, but I love watching you fly. I never miss a Slytherin match! I’m sorry that we don’t have a better catcher in our team. I’m Fiona Barnes, Hufflepuff 5th year,” she said, offering her hand.
Malfoy threw a look that definitely meant she’s weird and I don’t like it at Ron. He nevertheless shook the offered hand civilly enough.
“Well, let’s get to it, yeah?” Ginny said. She was wearing her Quidditch gear. “It will get dark soon.”
“Riiiight,” Ron agreed. “We were leaving as it happens. You girls have fun with the pond all to yourselves.” He managed to sound approximately friendly but was cursing his sister inwardly for having the bloody exact same idea as him and utterly ruining his plans.
“Oh but please stay!” Fiona cried. “It would be so lovely to all skate together.”
“We still have some classes to attend to,” Malfoy said politely, advancing prudently towards the snowy banks of the pond. “But it was lovely meeting you ladies. Have a nice afternoon.”
“You too,” Ginny replied, grabbing Fiona’s arm so that she would not insist. “Don’t fall asleep in class, Ron.”
“See you later,” Ron added, waving. Merlin bless his sister for keeping her friend in line.
He walked after Malfoy toward the shack, neither of them commenting on the incident. The intrusion on their intimacy had been quite unpleasant for both of them, but Ron realised that Malfoy was especially troubled when they sat back down on the damp chair to put their shoes back and that he stayed silent.
“Are you alright?” Ron asked him when they were done and that Malfoy didn’t seem to be getting up.
“It’s just…When you see two people holding hands, you go your way, don’t you?” Malfoy sighed, contemplating his now perfectly laced shoes. “I hope this friend of your sister’s isn’t a tell-tale.”
“I’ll talk to Ginny,” Ron reassured him, trying to keep a light tone. “I’m sorry, I really didn’t think people were going to go out on a day like this. I thought it would be just the two of us.”
Malfoy finally smiled a little smile again, but it was sad. “It’s not your fault, what you had planned was lovely.”
Ron paced the room as it went silent again.
“I wish you were as free with me as you were before,” he found himself saying without meaning to. “When we were only friends. Or even before that, when we weren’t even friends yet.”
“What do you mean?” Malfoy asked seriously, looking up at Ron.
Ron kicked at piece of half rotten wood. “I feel like you’re not telling me what you think. I can feel your silence. I don’t like it.”
“Oh, I…yes, I guess I’m not being very talkative.” Malfoy smiled strangely. “Happiness makes me uneasy,” he said. “Let’s get back to the castle, shall we? We still have classes, after all.”
From the evasive look in his eyes and the slightly dejected stance of his shoulders, Ron understood that what he was looking at was shame, shame at having been seen by strangers in a vulnerable moment, where his affections were plain to interpret, the shame that Malfoy had lived with all his life. It was like a slithering beast, always repent in the shadows of the mind, easily forgotten in a moment of joy, but always quick to bite and poison things.
* * *
“I honestly put so much care in this that I’m pretty sure Dumbledore would be impressed even without the potentialisator,” Malfoy declared, holding a flask of wellness potion to the light of the candles.
“Humble as ever,” Ron snickered.
But Harry whistled, impressed. “You made a lot of it!”
They were at their usual table in Potions, not doing much outside of slicing and grinding ingredients since Malfoy preferred to work out of class, in rooms where he had space and better lightning.
“Well, we still have to test it,” Malfoy explained, “and I’m not looking forward to making another batch. There is some sort of fish eyes in this that really stink. And garlic. Merlin, garlic! I’ve still got the sent on my fingers!”
The look that Ron and Harry exchanged agreed that Malfoy’s sneer of disgust was pretty funny.
“Boys!” Hermione called them, twisting on her stool to frown at them. “Professor Snape is going to explain something.”
“Miss Granger, 5 points from Gryffindor for futile chatting,” Snape declared sombrely from his desk. He cleared his throat and linked his fingers. “I require your feeble attentions for a moment. Our Headmaster had decided,” he said very slowly, as if it hurt him to relay the information, “that it would be helpful for you to gain some experience in the exercise of presentation itself. There thus will be a project fair at the end of March, where each research group will prepare a booth to present its work and discuss it with the visitors. It will give you an idea of what has to be improved for your final jury presentation in June – that is if you have indeed started working on them.”
Snape threw a long accusative look on all the students. You couldn’t help but feel guilty, even if you had done your best. Ron gulped, tried to stay still.
“It is up to you what you do in these booths,” Snape said taciturnly, his piercing gaze calmly going everywhere. “However, any crude jokes, dangerous displays or obvious lack of personal investment in this presentation will be sanctioned and it will affect your final grade severely. You have to take this seriously. Did I make myself clear?”
“Yes, professor,” Malfoy answered candidly and Ron couldn’t help a snigger.
* * *
“Draco Malfoy, you are a far cry from a gentleman,” Hermione declared when the class was over. She looked indignant, with her big brown eyes wide open and her hair still amassed in a messy bun on her head. “You let Snape take points from Gryffindor even if you were the one talking loudly.”
Although he looked annoyed, Malfoy stayed polite. “I was talking about my research project, which is permitted.”
“Still, for someone so proud of his lineage, you demonstrated an obvious lack of chivalry,” Hermione mocked him. She was not easily defeated. Harry couldn’t help but snort heartedly at Malfoy’s piqued face.
“Well, maybe next time you’ll let the teacher do the discipline in class instead of taking it into your own hands,” Malfoy retorted, standing closer to Ron.
From banter that could still be laughed off the situation grew strained, no one daring to add anything for fear of starting a real dispute.
“I have to go,” Malfoy declared after a tense moment, throwing a look that was hard to read at Ron. “Vincent and Greg are waiting for me.”
“See you later,” Ron replied, but he needed to cough and the words stayed stupidly muted in his throat.
Malfoy departed hastily, not looking back. His black silhouette got lost into the noisy crowd and soon they couldn’t see him anymore.
“What was that all about, Hermione?” he asked his friend. “We haven’t cared about house points since forever!”
“Of course you would take his side!” Hermione exclaimed.
“I’m not taking anyone’s side! I haven’t said anything,” Ron protested, feeling oddly hurt.
“Well, maybe you should have, don’t you think?” Hermione insisted. She shook her head, letting her disappointment show. “I don’t know what’s gone into you this year,” she said.
“We should all calm down,” Harry tried, putting a hand on each of their shoulder. “I agree that Malfoy could have said something, but we all know that’s not really how he is…”
“I know that!” Hermione cut him. “What I find strange is that, knowing that he’s been quite awful in the past and is still not the nicest person, Ron picks his side instead of mine, his friend of many years.”
For once in his life, Ron was speechless.
* * *
As Goyle had predicted, Malfoy was reading, lying languidly on one of the stone benches running underneath one of the fifth level landing’s windows. Hardly anyone ever ventured that high in the floors of the castle, and for a Slytherin, leaving so low in the building, it seems almost unimaginable to climb all these steps for fun.
Ron smiled when he saw that the stone of the bench wasn’t bare. Malfoy had put some kind of quilt on it, and there was a cushion behind his neck. One of his feet was resting on the floor, the other was on the bench, his bent knee contrasting darkly against the grey light coming from the little diamond panes of the window. The top of the book he was reading was resting against his thigh, held in place by long fingers. It was very small compared to the heavy tomes Ron usually had to use for school.
“Oi, is it a dirty book?” he asked, climbing the last few steps with his hands in his pockets. “Why have you covered it up?”
“Oh,” Malfoy said, craning his neck toward him. “I hadn’t heard you.”
“Hermione gets like that too,” Ron offered. “So lost in another world that she doesn’t hear when we call her.” He went to sit at the other end of the stone bench. “Not that I want to talk about her. She made a scene after you left the other day because I hadn’t picked her side. It’s ridiculous.”
Malfoy looked interested. “Did you get into a fight with her?”
Ron rubbed his eyes. “I don’t know. I guess? I mean, I feel we haven’t been very close this year. Maybe that’s were this ridiculous quarrel is coming from. But I’m fed up with the way she talks to me like she has to explain things and I have to listen.”
When Malfoy nodded silently in encouragement, he went on. “Honestly, she annoys me with her idea that everything should be known and announced, categorized like in a bloody atlas or an encyclopedia of botany. This is not how reality bloody works. Definitions… they are only a tool to help grasp things, not an end in itself, aren’t they? Yes, definitions are for words, not for people.”
Malfoy looked impressed. He extended an arm to tentatively put his fingers on Ron’s knee.
“Maybe you should tell her that,” he reflected, caressing the corduroy with his thumb. “Have a good talk with her. She’s clever, she’ll understand.” He hesitated. “You can tell her about us if you need to. Or even… if you want to. If you think it’s safe.”
Ron big hand covered Malfoy’s fingers. He squeezed them lightly. “I’ll think about it. Thank you, Crumpet.”
Malfoy smiled, entangling the tip of their fingers together. That smile was still alien and utterly wonderful to Ron. It made much more sense of Malfoy’s fairness and the smoothness of his skin than his trademark sneer; although, when it wasn’t directed at him, Ron quite enjoyed the sharp meanness of the sneer as well.
“So, what is it?” Ron changed the subject, his chin jutting at Malfoy’s book. “Is it any better than that Durmstrang romance crap?”
Malfoy’s gaze left his face to fall back on the novel resting in his lap. “It’s…it’s a muggle novel actually,” he admitted like it was a sin. “From 1927. Very good. It’s called Dusty answer. That’s why I didn’t want to read it in the common room. There are always assholes who feel free to make comments. I only read French or Latin books there, otherwise I come here. I like the quiet.”
“Hum hum,” Ron replied knowingly. “Is it queer?”
“Probably as queer as you…” Malfoy teased lightly.
“What do you mean?” Ron asked, frowning.
“I’m only at the beginning, but I heard that the heroin has a passionate friendship with another girl when she goes to Cambridge – that’s a kind of muggle Hogwarts from what I gathered, although the students seem to be older…”
“Do you think our friendship is not passionate enough?” Ron interrupted him, pressing Malfoy’s hand as he spoke.
Malfoy shook his head on his cushion and smiled again. “No, I sincerely think it’s perfect.”
“But you don’t think I’m very queer either, do you?” Ron insisted, his tone oscillating between light and serious. He was surprised to find that the idea hurt him a bit. Maybe Malfoy thought just like Hermione after all. Maybe everyone thought like that. That he was too butch and too unrefined to possibly want something out of the accepted norm.
But Malfoy stayed aloof and relaxed, like it didn’t really matter to him at all how straight or queer Ron might be. “I don’t know,” he deflected, “what do you think?”
“I think I must be pretty queer to be in love with you,” Ron replied solemnly.
Malfoy’s face looked kind of shocked at hearing that. His thumb stopped caressing Ron’s skin. For a second, Ron honestly thought he was going to sit up, drop his book and kiss him passionately. But the only thing that moved was Malfoy’s Adam apple as he was swallowing slowly.
A long minute passed. They were so far away from any classroom or lavatory that it was unnervingly silent, except maybe for the faint noise of the wind outside.
Ron cleared his throat. “You’re not saying anything, I feel weird know”
Malfoy sat back up. His grey eyes looked liquid as rain. “That’s…that’s what I always dreamed of,” he said softly, almost in a whisper. He brought Ron’s hand to his chest, cradling it to him. “I always thought… because of what I’ve read in books, which has always been my only source of information to know anything about what I’ve gone through…I always thought that at the best someone would grope me messily in the dark and be cold and resentful afterwards.”
“That’s bloody awful!” Ron exclaimed.
Malfoy shook is head. “That was the kind of… thrills I should say I was looking forward to. I had dreamed, oh yes, but I had never ever believed that the first person I fell for would love me back - so openly and with such sweetness.” He paused, letting Ron’s hand feel the beating in his chest. “You,” he said. “You are everything. I don’t know how you can be so free and natural all the time. I admire you.”
Ron got a shiver from the intensity of feeling pouring from Malfoy, from his preparedness to be hurt and deal with pain.
“I… I got scared when we went back from Christmas holyday,” he objected, trying to grasp at something to answer quickly so that he didn’t get swallowed in emotion.
Malfoy batted the idea away with his hand, almost laughing at it. “It lasted a week. A week! I’ve been afraid for what? a decade!”
“Still, I made you suffer. Goyle said…”
“You make me happy,” Malfoy cut him. He spoke decisively. “So much so that all I thought and feared before feels completely unreal now. All the mean jokes, all the nasty insults, the snide looks, the secret concupiscence, the shameful wanks… It’s all gone and meaningless. You’ve taught me something about life: it is better to feel like this even if I have nothing, than have everything and feel like I felt.”
Ron sniffed. He couldn’t help it, he really couldn’t. He had felts his eyes get wet as Malfoy was speaking and had tried to unfocus them to make it go away, but it hadn’t worked. He looked at the ceiling in a desperate attempt to make it stop, but he really couldn’t fight it for long: a tear formed in his eye. It was stupid, he didn’t remember the last time he had cried. Now, if he tried to crush it with his finger, it would be even more obvious.
He felt Malfoy sit even closer to him, wrapping and arm around him and rub his shoulders. “Crumpet. Don’t cry,” Malfoy told him. “It’s all good. I told you, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, and it’s thanks to you. You have to be happy too.”
“I am,” Ron said between two deep breaths, caving in and rubbing his eyes on the back of his hand. “It’s just that…my life is all poetic now,” he explained with a vague hand gesture. “You stole the nickname I found for you,” he sniffed.
“Sorry,” Malfoy said. He blushed. “It’s just that it’s… cute. I want to say it too.”
Ron sniffed again and pressed his mouth on Malfoy’s skin. He probably rubbed some snot on his cheek. It was disgusting but Malfoy didn’t seem to mind as he felt fingers close down hard in surprise on his shoulder. Malfoy turned his chest towards him, resting his forehead lightly against Ron’s. That close, Ron could hear his breathing and feel its warm dampness coming and receding on his face, tickling him. They found each other’s eyes and they looked without saying anything anymore, searching, on the verge of something.
But suddenly, abruptly, Malfoy jumped and put a good few feet between him and Ron. Laughter could be heard distantly.
Ron, still stunned and unable to make sense of what had just happened, asked dumbly “What is it?”
“Someone is coming,” Malfoy said, shuddering like he was suddenly cold. “They could have seen us.”
“Oh.” And then Ron realised he had almost been kissing Draco Malfoy.
* * *
Saint Valentine day came and went, and still Ron remained unkissed. Of course, he was a bit disappointed, but these things weren’t to be rushed after all.
On the 14th, he had finally given Malfoy the jumper he had made for him during the winter break. He had never gotten around to doing it, because even if the jumper had been really well done – which it wasn’t since it was Ron’s first try – it wasn’t really an elegant or well tailored piece of clothing and he was afraid Malfoy would accept it politely and never wear it. But apparently, if Goyle’s report were to be trusted, he had taken to wearing it over his pyjamas when he was in their room, instead of his dressing gown. The image Ron created in his head became even more endearing when he thought of how awfully the homemade jumper with its asymmetrical M must clash with Malfoy’s beautiful velvet slippers.
Malfoy had gotten Ron a beautiful Quidditch bat made of hawthorn, the same wood as his own wand. Ron first impulse was to refuse the gift, because it was obviously fairly expensive, but it was so nice and Malfoy looked so pleased to give it to him that he just couldn’t.
Like every year, people got detention for trying to use love filters and whatnot, and other ended up in the infirmary because they had fallen victim to loneliness and chocolate indigestion. Others were on the demonstrative side. Lavender Brown for one could be seen at every corner kissing a red hair from Hufflepuff. Apparently, she had a type.
Once the excitement of Valentine’s day had passed, people had returned to their usual winter apathy. But Ron kept thinking of nice things he could do for Malfoy so that he would like him more and more and so that they would grow so close that a kiss wouldn’t be scary at all anymore, only exciting and delicious. Well, maybe he wasn’t doing it for Malfoy alone.
He had decided to prepare a cosy picnic for him in the glasshouse where all the Frangipani trees were being housed for the winter. They smelled delicious.
Ron had inspected the place beforehands and found that the ground didn’t look very inviting. So he had found an old Persian rug in the attic of Gryffindor tower, on which they could sit. He had done his best to dust with a classic household spell. His mother had been very happy that he finally took an interest in housekeeping instead of getting served by a house elf every day. Hermione had of course joined the conversation at the fireplace to try and enrol Molly in being a spokesperson for S.P.E.W. So really, a lot more effort had gotten into securing that rug than it looked.
Speaking of elves, Ron had also brought a straw basket with fruits and pastries that he had made as per his mum’s instruction, in a hoven that Dobby had let him use under the fretful supervision of the kitchen staff. He had sampled three to make sure they were palatable. The finishing touch was a chess set, and a few cushions.
When Malfoy arrived a the place of rendezvous, holding his Turkish sound box against his chest as Ron had instructed him, he was speechless for a moment.
“Sometimes, I can’t believe that you really do like me,” Malfoy admitted, wonder clear in his voice.
“Well, the feeling is mutual if you must know,” Ron laughed. “Have a seat. And a scone. They are ugly because I’ve made them myself, but they are quite good. I’m a natural it would seem.”
Malfoy sat down crossed legged on the Persian carpet and helped himself, looking very pleased.
“Thank you very much,” he said, putting the scone on a little plate. “This is really nice, Ron.”
Ron’s heart skipped a beat at hearing Malfoy use his first name for the first time. He busied himself with the music box to hide his blushing face. Damn his pale ginger complexion.
The Turkish sound box started playing a mellow tune when he opened it. Soon the smell of the mandarins they ate while playing chess mixed with the music. Ron won both the game and the rematch, which put him in a very good mood.
“Hum, it’s really hot in here, don’t you think?” he said when they had spend almost an hour basking in the warmth of the greenhouse effect, undoing a few buttons of his shirt.
Malfoy said nothing. He was still sitting on the rug, his legs bent to the right, a hand on his ankle. He looked sweet and flushed. This is going to be harder than I expected, Ron thought.
Ron pushed away the plate of fruit so he could lie down on his side. He stretched lazily.
“Don’t be all shy,” he told Malfoy, poking at his knee. “This is nice, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Malfoy agreed. “It’s like you. Simple, warm and exactly what I needed.” He gave Ron a little smirk.
“Your sweet talking is always kind of insulting,” Ron laughed, looking around at the patched old rug, the bent straw basket, the homemade cookies with weird shapes, the mismatching crockery. Only the Turkish sound box, shining gently among the oranges and the reds, looked luxurious.
“It’s because it is perfectly tailored to you,” Malfoy replied.
“When did you first know you fancied me?” Ron asked with a twinkle in his eye. That ought to make him less cheeky. And it was so delicious to have Malfoy tell him how much he loved him again and again. Ron thought he would never tire of it, of the novelty of it and the unique pleasure it brought him.
Malfoy face became quite plainly embarrassed even if by now it was nothing new to Ron that he was deeply infatuated with him. “That terrible night with the boggart,” he answered, not having to think too long about it. “I was feeling awful, naked, ashamed…thinking you’d laugh at me, that everyone would know. But…it took you five seconds to give me what I needed.”
Ron’s curiosity was tickled. “What, the obliviate?”
“No. The concern in your voice. The need to make me understand right away that I was safe, that you wouldn’t use it against me or torment me. The acceptance. You didn’t recoil from me, you went straight to hold me. I had never felt that before. From anyone.”
Ron squeezed Malfoy’s knee from his reclined position, creasing his black pants. Malfoy looked awfully embarrassed. He only threw a quick glance at Ron before looking away at the frangipani foliage.
“What about you?” he asked Ron, softly.
“Hmm,” Ron began, resting his cheek in his hand. “Weirdly, now that you say it, I think it was that night too for me. I couldn’t sleep afterwards. My mind was reeling with what it meant. I thought it was kind of wonderful that you were gay. That it was a very exciting, very important piece of news. Though I didn’t really now why.”
Malfoy snorted but didn’t quip back. His heart was beating too hard for him to think straight. He could feel it pumping away in his throat and in his temples. With a shaky gesture, he reached his hand to Ron’s flank. A sliver of skin was visible in his current dishevelled state. Here we go, Ron thought, feeling suddenly feverish. He nodded once in assent, and dropped his eyes so that he hadn’t to look at Malfoy’s face anymore, fixing his gaze back to his angular knees and to the jacquard of his socks. Then he felt Malfoy’s fingertips brush against his side, and slowly slide toward his back, leaving a hot trail behind them. The gesture held enough reverence in its tentativeness that Ron didn’t feel self-conscious about his belly showing a little as Malfoy’s wrist made his shirt to ride up a bit.
“Get on your stomach for me,” Malfoy told him quietly.
Ron did, using his discarded jumper as a makeshift pillow in which to half bury his face. He kept an eye open, looking at Malfoy’s face again, smiling.
Malfoy, his eyebrows softly drown in concentration, began to scratch his back with languid movements. Ron purred in delight. When was the last time someone had done this for him? It must be years and years. Malfoy, trailing his nails from his shoulders to the small of his back, laughed when Ron let out yet another noise of enjoyment.
“I’m in heaven,” Ron declared, eyes now closed and muscles fully relaxed. “That’s perfection Crumpet.”
“My mom used to do this for me when I had nightmares,” Malfoy said, moving a little closer to Ron so that he could better reach him. He scratched in circle at the shoulders. “But my father told her to stop when I was ten. It’s one of my favourite things from my childhood.”
“Hum, mine is chocolate and hazelnut spread on warm bread for dinner,” Ron said, arching his feet in delight, “but this might be better.”
“I like touching you,” Malfoy said, a bit breathless. Strands of soft white hair were falling in his eyes.
Ron, who was already very flushed and very hot, felt his heart rate spike again.
“You’re so sexy,” he said to Malfoy, half turning toward him, his shirt now completely untucked and his voice strangled.
Malfoy pupils got very wide, almost eating out the grey, and Ron really thought that it was finally going to happen, that Malfoy was going to bend down and kiss him, but a really weird smell made him regain partial control of his senses. In less than a minute it grew very strong and the stench was impossible to ignore
“What is it?” he asked, sitting back up and pinching his nose.
Malfoy looked around, half of his face hidden in his sleeve, and quickly located the source of the terrible smell. It was a small potted tree with brownish leaves that looked innocuous enough.
“Those are Hera bushes,” he said, sounding embarrassed. “They respond quite aggressively to pheromones. Sprout must have placed a few in the glasshouse so that no one would come and get laid here.”
“Oh,” Ron said. He looked down at his dishevelled state and laughed.
* * *
The Arithmancy class had once more been head-splittingly intense. Hermione looked properly exhausted, and was nodding feebly at something Jorna Banks was telling her.
“Well, I guess we’ll sew each other to go over that a bit slower on our next study session,” her brother Ted laughed. The classroom looked very empty with only the four of them as students.
“Oh yes, I’m afraid we shall have to,” Malfoy replied. “This Chaldean method is the most obscure thing I’ve ever encountered.”
Hermione threw a glance at Malfoy, and seemed to hesitate for a second before answering “I’ll be there as well.” Nothing could get between her and her studies.
Ted and Jorna bade them goodbye, and left, their steps easily falling in accord. Hermione put the last of her parchments in her bag and stood up to leave as well.
“Granger, wait please,” Malfoy stopped her, pleading.
“What do you want?” Hermione asked him, turning back to face him.
Malfoy stood up and flung his bag on his shoulder.
“Listen, I care about Ron and I know you’re important to him, even if you’ve been a bit at odds because of me lately. I know I have been horrid to you in the past.”
Hermione’s face was still impassive, so Malfoy carried on as best as he could. “But the hand that Harry and Ron have extended to me this year has really made me change. It would mean a lot if you came with us to Hogsmeade this Saturday to have a couple of butter beers at the pub and test the Sanior. I would love to have your opinion.”
He smiled lamely, which he had never done in his life, bracing for the possible rebuke to come.
“Fine,” Hermione said. “I’ll come.”
* * *
That is how Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy all found themselves seating around a table at The three broomsticks the next Saturday. They were making a motley crew as Ron was slouching in a ratty jumper, and Harry looked kind of engulfed in Duddley’s oversized hand me down shirt while Hermione had tastefully braided her hair and put on a nice dress and Malfoy was his usual polished self in an alpaca coat and some double buckled shoes.
“Fancy seeing you here in such good company, Mr. Malfoy,” Madame Rosmerta said with good humour when she saw their little party. “Aren’t Mr. Goyle and Mr. Crabb here as well today?”
“It nice to see you too,” Malfoy replied politely. “I’m afraid Gregory and Vincent were otherwise engaged. By the way, everything is on me this afternoon.”
“Well, be a nice boy, come and order by the bar as usual,” she replied with a wink.
“You don’t have to,” Ron mumbled at Malfoy, kicking his foot underneath the table. “We know you’re rich.”
“I’ll have a cider and a slice of cherry pie, please,” Hermione said, ignoring Ron completely.
“Very nice,” Malfoy approved, “I’ll have the same.”
“A beer and some of that Eaton mess for me,” Harry decided, flattening the menu on the table.
“What about you Crumpet?” Malfoy asked Ron, without even realising he had used the endearment in public. It was too weird for him to call Ron “Weasley” when it was not to tease him by now.
“I guess I’ll have some apple pie,” Ron said reluctantly. “And a ginger beer.”
“Fitting,” Malfoy laughed. “Is that all? All right, I’ll go see dear old Rosmerta”
Ron watched him slide at one of the corner of the table to get out, and find his way among the patrons of the pub. Maybe he should have asked for a cherry pie too instead of an apple one. Was there still time to run after Malfoy?
“Ron, this is getting ridiculous!” he heard a voice in his close vicinity say, bringing him back at the table.
“What?” he asked dumbly.
Hermione was looking at him with her infuriating know it all look.
“What about my flirting?” he asked, all puffed-up. He hadn’t flirted at all now, had he?
“I don’t think it is healthy for you to continue like that with Malfoy,” Hermione whispered with concern. “It is a good thing that you and Harry have become friends with him, but if you carry on leading him on like that, it will end badly. It would be such a pity to make a mess of things! He is really trying hard to make amends. Even if I’m not going to let him off that easily.”
“Where is this even coming from?” Ron protested, putting his hands up. “I didn’t do anything!”
Harry made a weird bubbly noise and abruptly hid his face in his sleeve. Hermione and Ron exchanged a look. Soon Harry’s shoulders were shaking with laughter and some snorts escaped him even if he was really trying his best to hold it in. Ron rolled his eyes, but Hermione was getting more and more puzzled.
“I see that a lot seems to have happened in the three minutes I’ve been away,” Malfoy commented letting the drinks that were levitating down on the table with a flick of his wand.
As soon as he had sat back down, Harry abandoned his sleeve in favour of Malfoy’s shoulder as a hideout, his laughter being harder and harder to keep a hold off. He even had to take his glasses off to wipe his eyes.
“Potter, what is it?” Malfoy asked him, half concerned and half disgusted by the display. Harry shook his head, gesturing with his hands to explain that he really couldn’t speak, so hard was his urge to roar with laughter. Ron took to holding his brow in two fingers.
“What has gotten into him?” Malfoy asked Hermione. “Into them rather?”
“I don’t know,” Hermione replied, obviously annoyed. “I hope you three are not all laughing at me because I prefer to go right away if that’s the case.”
“Not at all!” Malfoy exclaimed fearfully. “Look, I don’t know what has gotten into Potter,” he said, viciously pinching his friend underneath the table, which earned him a yelp, “or why Weasley is suddenly sulking, but I for one I’m glad that you are here.”
As Hermione still looked suspicious, Malfoy drew the flask of wellness potion out of his pocket and shook it gently.
“Look, Rosmerta is bringing the cakes. We can all put a drop of this on our first bite, and all our worries will melt away for an hour or so.”
He placed their drink in front of everybody, and, when the plates where on the table, let a single golden drop of sanior fall on top of each desert.
“Only one drop?” Hermione asked, taking her fork and peering at the bright red cherries underneath the crust.
“Oh yes,” Malfoy said, looking proud. “There is a dose of our potentialisator in that flask. Too much and you could really have an endorphin overdose.”
“Is that really a thing?” Ron asked. “When I found the recipe for this potion, it didn’t mention anything of the sort.”
Harry’s curiosity seemed to get the better of his uncontrollable fit of laughter. “Yeah,” he said, a bit breathless, “but the potentialisator will really it take far beyond what it is initially designed for, won’t it?”
“Your prototype is really that advanced?” Hermione asked. She seemed a bit impressed.
“We didn’t get an O for nothing,” Ron boasted. “You wouldn’t believe all that we have put in this mean little fucker.” He clinked his drink against Harry’s and drank a long self-congratulatory swallow.
“If it works fine,” Malfoy explained Hermione, setting his own pie in front of him, “you’ll feel physically so confortable, so good, that it will seem to your body that you’re high. Our hormones should turn us into a band of flower loving hippies.”
“Right,” Hermione said. “Well, let’s see if you’re really that good boys.”
By common consent, they all started eating. They munched and swallowed silently, scrutinizing each other to see if any effect was physically visible after.
But soon, after a few mouthfuls of pie and creamy meringue, they all began to relax almost imperceptibly. It was only little things at first. The blister on your toe didn’t burn anymore. Itchy spots on your scalp or on your skin disappeared completely. Sore muscles from Quidditch practices mended themselves. Your lips weren’t chapped any longer but smooth and soft. The vague headache that you were ignoring turned into wellbeing. You felt full of energy and ready to laugh and take delight in anything.
“Is it working?” Harry asked, curious and bright. “I think it is working, I feel tremendous!”
“Oh, it’s definitely working,” Hermione confirmed with a dreamy smile. “Well done, Malfoy. And that pie! That pie really is delicious.”
“Hermione, could I have a taste of you cider?” Ron asked angelically.
“Of course, here, have as much as you want,” Hermione told him, sliding her tall glass across to him in the friendliest manner.
“It is so nice seeing you two get on so beautifully,” Harry said, beaming. “It’s the nicest sight in the world”
“I’m so happy we’re all together and that I could become friends with you,” Malfoy said, sighing with contentment and with emotion. “It’s like a beautiful dream.”
Harry let out a giggle. “It is, isn’t? Let’s all say something nice about each other. I want to tell each of you how wonderful you are.”
By now, although you were still sitting at a booth in a noisy pub, you felt like you had just settled into a delicious hot bath, just the right temperature to send a shiver of pleasure down your spine.
“You start mate,” Ron told Harry with a hazy smile “You always have the best ideas.”
“Ron,” Harry started with a heartfelt voice, “you are the kindest person I’ve ever met. I can’t imagine my life without you. I haven’t really been able to broach the subject yet, but I would like you to come live with me at Grimmauld place after Hogwarts. For a few years at least.”
“Oh.” Ron felt so warm and so comfortable, like he was in bed drinking hot cocoa and getting a foot rub. He smiled and felt like the muscles of his face melted in pleasure. “That’s so nice and generous Harry. Of course I would like to.”
“Hermione,” Harry carried on, “I love you. I always try harder because of you. You always show us how to be the best we can be.”
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione exclaimed tenderly.
“The truth is I’ve always been jealous of you,” Malfoy added in the emotional silence, looking Hermione in the eyes. “You came here knowing nothing of the wizard world, and you became the best of us in just a few months. I think you’d do much better in the career my father wants for me at the Ministry than I ever would.”
“I thought you despised me because I am muggleborn,” Hermione said, but she didn’t sound upset at all by the idea. She took a swallow of her cider with an air of appreciation.
“I have never despised you, I was afraid of you!” Malfoy giggled as if all that silly business was behind him.
“You are very beautiful Malfoy,” Harry declared abruptly. “I used to hate your face, but now that we are friends and that I know who you are and associate it with good memories, I think the pointiness is delicate and pretty. It suits you.”
“It’s true,” Ron said. “I think you look better each time I see you. Isn’t he handsome, Hermione?” he asked, grabbing her arm excitedly.
“I suppose so,” Hermione said good-naturedly, patting his hand. “Will you tell me what is going on between you two at last? I like it when I understand things.”
“Oh, I have wanted him to just kiss me for days and days but it doesn’t seem to happen!” Ron cried, half laughing. Hermione laughed with him as if it was the most amusing thing in the world.
“Well come here then,” Malfoy said, suddenly looking sharp with intent and absolutely free. All shame had been swept by the sanior like an unwanted toothache.
Hermione let out a chuckle as he drew Ron by the waist, until they were flushed together. Ron searched Malfoy’s face, pupils blown. Nothing else mattered now, not the people in the pub, not the noises, not any thought of the future, just that delicious and wonderful feeling between them.
“I have wanted to kiss you for months and months,” Malfoy whispered fiercely, his gaze plunging inside Ron. There was no hesitation in his eyes either now, even if he looked a bit drunk. Ron yielded and opened his mouth with a whimper. Malfoy was going to kiss him. Ron wondered if it was going to be like eating something delicious and or being eaten yourself.
But as he closed his eyes, Ron felt something meaty and sticky with cream covering his mouth and stifle him.
“Mate, I really don’t think that is a very sensible thing to do right in here with so many people around,” Harry said with bonhomie. He had put his hand on Ron’s mouth to bodily stop him from kissing Malfoy. “What if someone recognised you, Draco?”
“I think,” Hermione said with a cheer that was hard to muster, “that we should take the antidote for that potion now. It’s really much too strong!”
Chapter 11: Ron Weasley's Seventeenth Birthday
Some trouble, some kisses, and a weird noise.
I've been very busy lately, so it's a relief to be able to update at last! It's been a blast reading your comments, they really keep me motivated. And I'm very glad to see that they are people interested in an odd (but in a good way) ship like Ron/Draco.
With that said, enjoy.
That night, after the long walk back to the castle in the darkness and the slow receding of the wellness potion, Ron waited for everyone to be done with their ablutions before going to the bathroom. He had a slight headache, his right armpit was scratchy and his toes very cold. It wasn’t exactly like a hangover, but it wasn’t very pleasant all the same.
He stayed a long time underneath the hot water to warm his bones, but mostly to take his mind out of things. He wasn’t ashamed of having been so open about his feelings under the influence of the Sanior, but he must admit that he hadn’t felt in control at all, which was a bit perturbing.
When he was done, he took a long time looking at himself in the mirror after his shower. This face is my face, he thought. This mouth is my mouth. This late into winter, he was so pale that all the blemishes and imperfections on his skin were quite visible. Because he was a redhead, this paleness had a reddish hue to it. He didn’t look particularly tired, but the underneath of his eyes was purplish.
What does it mean, being myself? he thought. It was hard to tell. The foundation of his being didn’t seem very rooted, right at this moment. A few hours ago, he had been as happy as he could possibly be, his blood sparkling with physical desire, without any restrains or feelings of inadequacy. And now?
He let his palm drag from his chest to his belly, looking quietly at himself in the mirror. He smiled and his teeth were sharp and hungry, a bit crooked. His skin was soft and warm. It would feel nice underneath Malfoy’s fingers. The thought sent a shiver down his spine.
I’m queer, he told himself, both stunned and strangely satisfied. Weirdly, that old, quaint word suddenly sounded very modern and daring.
* * *
Ron had always believed – it was ancient knowledge at Hogwarts – that the year you really had to work for was the 7th year, the final one. Hermione told him she had worked equally hard every year, but she obviously was to be discounted as a statistical oddness. Harry didn’t really have an opinion as he had been more worried about not getting killed by one of You Know Who’s plots or having to get back to the Dursley’s for the summer. That declaration, with its matter of fact quality, made something clench painfully inside Ron’s chest. But Malfoy was saying that for good students, the 6th year was the hardest. In 7th year, you had to concentrate on passing your N.EW.T.s. The 6th year was the last one to cram in as extra subjects as possible.
“This year is,” he was saying, waving his fork around, “the last year you can really think before you have to swot stupidly.”
“Well, I suppose you’re right,” Hermione agreed. “But I’m already prepared for most of the N.EW.T.s. so I’ll still be able to have some fun next year.” Ron rolled his eyes.
“I had never noticed you were so smart all these years you were acting like a total idiot,” Harry laughed, slapping Malfoy in the back.
They were finishing up desert in the great hall. Malfoy had left the Slytherin table when they were done with the main course - lamb and green peas – and had come to sit with them like he often did nowadays.
Harry had asked him if he got his arithmancy test back because Hermione had been lamenting her A for the whole lunch. It turned out that Malfoy hadn’t fared any better. That’s how they started talking about which one of the seven years at Hogwarts was the hardest, all the while warming themselves with delicious roasted apples, sprinkled in cinnamon.
Malfoy looked a bit grey on the edges after the months spent indoors hunched over books, pages and pages of botched arithmancy equations or fuming cauldrons. He had also regularly drawn his own blood so that he would have a good supply of it at hands. The golden spark in his hair was dull. His Quidditch form wouldn’t be at its best for the spring season, Ron thought.
“Ron Weasley, what are you dreaming of?” Malfoy asked him, smiling. He had caught his wandering eyes.
Ron smiled back, looking to his right to see if people were paying attention to him. He hunched forward a bit. “I’m just…thinking about life in general a lot, lately. About how one thought things were going to be and how they actually turn out to be.”
“Yes,” Malfoy said, as if he understood exactly what Ron meant. “Me too.”
“How things fall into place,” Ron carried on. “How they make sense in the end. And how strange they still are.”
Malfoy nodded quietly.
“Do you want to take a walk?” Ron asked abruptly. “We can go see the loch.”
“Okay,” Malfoy agreed. He didn’t seem very surprised by the proposition, even if it was very windy that day and that no one would willingly go outside for leisure in this weather. Ron was never one to be deterred by harsh outdoors.
They got up as discreetly as possible, which was not very discreetly since Ron was so tall and hadn’t even indulged in a second serving of desert, and since Malfoy was the only one at the table wearing Slytherin colours.
“Hey, Malfoy,” Harry called as they were leaving, and Ron stopped nervously in his tracks. “Don’t forget we have a study meeting in the library tomorrow. I don’t care about arithmancy, the emergency cram session doesn’t take precedence over the potentialisator!”
“Don’t worry darling, I won’t let you down,” Malfoy assured him with a sneer and a wave.
Next to Harry, Hermione was frowning. She had been wanting to go over that failed test.
* * *
They walked silently, both nervous and elated to be alone together, without any kind of justification other then their desire to be. Crows were flying toward the forest, their dissonant cries piercing the cold air. Even now that they were well out of sight, Ron had not taken Malfoy’s hand in his own, so focused he was on what he wanted to do.
They had been walking aimlessly, following dumbly the wet tracks until the lack of conversation became almost oppressive. Ron stomach was clenched in apprehension, his lunch a long forgotten story. Next to him, Malfoy shivered, and without making any comment on the oddness of their impromptu stroll, put his hands deep inside the pockets of his long coat.
Okay, Ron thought anxiously, watching his hunched form, this it then.
He stopped walking, and when Malfoy turned after a few steps to see what was going on, he went to him intently. It only took two steps and they were chest to chest. They looked at each other for a few seconds, so close that they almost went crossed eyes, and when Malfoy opened his mouth to say something, Ron kissed him.
A noise of surprise escaped Malfoy. Ron screw his eyes shut and tried another kiss. This time Malfoy moaned faintly in relief and kissed him back, mouth open and yielding. Ron felt him fumbled to get his hands out of his pockets. It felt good when he put them on Ron. Yes, kissing Malfoy felt huge, but it felt mostly good. Ron’s heart was beating violently and he could hear the blood pulsing against his eardrums. At the same time, touching Malfoy like that felt like the most natural thing in the world. His mouth was wet and soft and alive. Ron closed his eyes and let blood flush his face deliciously. In spite of the wind, he felt warmth spread up the very top of his ears, and creep alongside his neck. The more he pressed his mouth to Malfoy’s, the more he wanted to kiss his lips again and again, to suck them into his mouth, first the plump bottom one, than the thinner upper one, and feel the sharpness of his teeth with his tongue. Malfoy whimpered again when he realised that Ron wasn’t letting him go, and Ron felt himself getting lightheaded too. His thoughts felt feverish behind his closed eyes. They kissed for a long time, clinging to each other, until their wet lips began to hurt in the cold. Then, with his hands on Malfoy’s shoulders, Ron stopped him when he tried to follow his mouth blindly.
Malfoy opened his eyes and blinked confusedly. So close to him still, Ron could see that there were black flakes in his irises.
“What is it?” Malfoy asked in a whisper.
“I…” Ron said, his mouth tingling. “Aren’t you cold?”
“No,” Malfoy said. He looked calm, but his eyes were searching Ron’s face. Even after this, there was still some part of him that was unsure he was really wanted.
“I really wanted to do that,” Ron told him, even if it was obvious.
Malfoy nodded gravely. “Yes.”
Ron let out a little laugh at the exclusive use of monosyllables. What the hell were they doing outside when it was so wet and cold, barely able to talk to each other? It was ridiculous. It wasn’t such a big deal to kiss someone, after all.
“Are you okay?” he asked, tugging Malfoy back against him.
“Hum hum,” Malfoy nodded again, a little smile beginning on his lips. “You asked me outside to kiss me,” he said, as if he had just understood. “You knew that’s what you were going to do.”
Ron smiled, getting in his face again. “I did,” he said, and his breath felt hot against Malfoy’s skin.
* * *
“What are you doodling?” Ron asked the next day with a smug smile, dropping his bag on the chair next to Malfoy’s. Malfoy was waiting at their usual table in the library, surrounded by stacks of books, but apparently not really in the mood for studying as he was doodling something with a lead pencil.
“Nothing, it’s stupid,” Malfoy answered, hiding his drawings with his forearm. The faint blush on his cheeks showed that he had been caught in a reverie.
Ron smiled at him. He had been smiling since Neville’s alarm clock had rung. He usually didn’t hear that alarm at all, but for once he had spread out of bed. “Come on, show me,” he insisted.
“No,” Malfoy refused, folding the paper in four hastily, “you’ll laugh at me!”
Ron sat down, waggling his eyebrows. “Oh, is it a heart with a big R inside it?”
“Shut up, I need to concentrate for our debrief,” Malfoy evaded. “Look, Harry is coming.”
Harry was wearing his Quidditch clothes, and Ron suddenly remembered they were supposed to go train together after their meeting in the library.
“Hello, Malfoy,” Harry began, drawing a third chair and dropping his leather gloves on the carpet.
“Good morning, Potter,” Malfoy replied, looking a bit ill at ease.
“Well, let’s get to it,” Harry said. “I think it’s obvious what needs to be discussed.”
Ron was startled. He somehow got the impression that Harry wanted to discuss his attitude during The Three Broomsticks debacle and what he had been up to a good part of the previous afternoon. But Malfoy, bless him, understood what Harry was saying right away.
“Yes, the potentialisator,” he said sombrely. “It was a failure.”
“Really?” Ron asked, surprised. “I thought it worked so well! I honestly hadn’t felt that good in ages. Or never, even.”
“No, it was too much,” Harry said, shaking his head. “The potion was so potent that it made it debilitating. Imagine I was fighting Voldemort and took it to mend a broken bone or something. I would get too dumb and happy from it to think properly!”
“And you’d most likely get yourself killed,” Malfoy added helpfully.
“Alright, but what if we give it to someone who has cancer or something?” Ron countered. “The intensity might be useful in this case.”
It was Malfoy’s turn to shake his head. “The potentialisator isn’t supposed to make something intense, it is supposed to make it perfect. We need something that will let the imagination of the user take over. So that the potentialisator makes the potion exactly what we need it to be in the precise case we use it.”
“You know, the more I think of it…” Harry said, searching inwardly, “The delirium we experienced at The Three Broomsticks felt a bit like the coma we went under because of the flur.”
“Right,” Malfoy said, taking notes. “I’m afraid you’re perfectly right. We should bring its dosage down, find something else to replace it.”
“Preferably something we could buy,” Harry said. “The problem with growing our own ingredients is that we can’t really control how volatile they are…”
“You know what though,” Ron interrupted him. “The veritaserum I tested this autumn felt like that too. The one with your blood,” he said, pointing his chin at Malfoy. “And at that point, we hadn’t used the flur yet. Remember how I was all happy and demonstrative?”
“That’s true…” Harry mused.
Malfoy groaned and put his face in his hands. It was the first time he was showing any sign of impatience. “I guess we’ll have to explore the two possibilities,” he said. “I’ll prepare a new batch of Potentialisator and we’ll try your blood Potter. Maybe Granger’s as well if she agrees. And you two will try to find something to replace the flur. ”
“Bloody hell,” Ron grunted. “All of this on top of preparing for that bloody Project Fair. This means so much more work than what we had planned…”
The smile had suddenly slipped from his face. Harry sighed.
“Well, I’ll get one hour of Quidditch in and come back to read,” he said. “It is supposed to rain later on, according to Neville’s toad.”
“I’m not coming mate,” Ron told him, looking sorry. “I’ll never be able to come back to study after flying, I do not have this kind of self control. I’ll do some sit ups later.”
Harry laughed weakly. He had been looking forward to practice some of those mid-air remountings Madam Hooch had shown them, as it could be a crucial skill to master during matches. It would be a lot less fun without Ron
When Harry was gone, Malfoy got a little blue bottle out of his bag. He poured three drops of its contents into the bottle of water he had brought with him.
“What is it?” Ron asked.
“Oh, just a little potion to help with concentration that I made,” Malfoy said with practiced detachment.
“I didn’t know you had trouble concentrating.”
“I don’t usually but you’re right there.”
“Oh,” Ron said, a little flattered.
Not commenting further, Malfoy drank half of his water bottle and started scribbling things down on a parchment and drawing weird diagrams that were meant to help him recalibrate the potentialisator. Ron reluctantly drew a book to him and read the whole introduction to the Aboriginal Dreamtime Complete Manual before thinking to himself that dreams were not the best way to be in control of a situation.
After almost an hour of writing and scratching half of what he had written, Malfoy seemed to have completely forgotten about the doodle, and didn’t protect the folded piece of parchment when he left the table to fetch yet another book. Ron was very bored and had not forgotten for his part. As soon as Malfoy was far enough, he unfolded the parchment to sneak a peek. He thought he could have a good laugh at Malfoy’s expense and not be bored to death for a minute, but the reality was far more embarrassing than what he had imagined. He found doodles of two interlaced letters, a white M and a red W, repeated at several point of the margin, with some design variation. Ron felt himself blush.
“I told you not to look!” Malfoy cried, snatching the paper away. He looked mortified. Mrs Pince hushed viciously at them.
“I’m sorry,” Ron whispered, already aching from the fact that Malfoy had raised his voice at him. He tried not to frown but could feel the corner of his mouth tugging downward.
Malfoy settled back to work, not saying anything and obstinately avoiding Ron’s eyes.
After a few minutes, the silence became unbearable.
“I liked the third one better,” Ron whispered with a cheerfulness he didn’t feel, his voice sounding pathetic to his own ears. “The one with the serif.”
That got Malfoy to look at him at last, with the usual arched eyebrow to boot.
“What?” Ron carried on, emboldened by this small success. “I should have a say since the letter of my name is half of it. The white and red is a very good idea. Maybe we should add a little fox.”
“It’s a monogram. You can’t have drawings on a monogram,” Malfoy said. “It simply isn’t proper.”
Ron smiled at him, hoping he was forgiven. It wasn’t a real smile, but a pleading one.
“Sorry,” Malfoy added after a bit, his face mellowing and his pointer finger pocking at Ron’s knee underneath the library table. “I am sorry I snapped at you. I still expect you to make fun of me sometimes. Or realise how ridiculously fruity I am.”
Ron pocked his knee back. “You’re aware that I’m just as stupidly in love with you as you are with me, right?” He swallowed slowly, his throat feeling a bit constricted.
Malfoy finally relaxed, settling back into his wooden chair. He shook his head, smiling to himself. “Sometimes, I don’t think that’s possible. You’re not the one doodling stupid Mr Weasley-Malfoy on your parchments. I am.”
Ron laughed. “You’re so daft for thinking I would take offense now, after all we’ve become to each other. You had your tongue in my mouth just yesterday!”
Malfoy managed to look coy and smug at the same time.
“Speaking of which. Let’s take a snog break, yeah?” Ron suggested, already halfway up. The bloody potentialisator could wait as far as he was concerned. It could wait until the ends of time.
* * *
This was almost stranger than their first kiss, because this time Ron knew what Malfoy was going to taste like, and how he was going to feel against his body. It was becoming a thing he did in his life. But he dived in enthusiastically all the same. He grabbed Malfoy’s hips and pushed him against the wall, crowding him until they were chest to chest. They had found refuge in a small and deserted hallway inside the library itself. Malfoy was breathing hard already. Ron could feel his ribcage moving.
“Fuck,” he said, looking at his lips, at the whole wanton expression on his pale face.
Malfoy looked right back at him. He hesitated a second before crushing their mouths together without any finesse, whimpering.
Blood rushed inside Ron’s body, leaving him dizzy and too hot. But Malfoy’s mouth was warm and good and he couldn’t stop trying to go deeper and deeper inside him. He could feel pleasure at doing this now, whereas the first time in the wind, he had mostly felt elation.
They kissed for ages, like two teenagers who are too young to know what else to do, or how to stop. At one point, Ron tugged Malfoy closer to him to feel his back underneath his hands, and realised the other boy was hard. It sent an electric shock through him. He was sure his hands were clammy, but it didn’t seem to bother Malfoy when he got one under his shirt, on the skin of his lower back.
“You really … like this,” Malfoy managed to say between two kisses, breathless. He looked ravished and surprised.
Ron drew Malfoy possessively to him and looked him straight in the eyes in defiance.
“You think I would do any of this if I didn’t want to?”
“I…” Malfoy trailed off, getting distracted by their proximity, his mouth drawn to Ron’s again.
“I want you,” Ron said. “Okay? I’m figuring things along as I go, but I’m definitely into it.”
“Okay,” Malfoy said, linking his hands behind Ron’s neck.
Ron pecked at his lips, living soft little kisses alongside the corner of his mouth, his cheek and the angle of his jaw. Then, he grinded his hips against Malfoy’s and the grey eyes went very big.
When they finally went back to their table, they found a note from Harry:
What the hell guys! We were supposed to work, remember?
* * *
Harry was very cranky when Ron got back to Gryffindor tower. He was sitting by the fire, frowning. He had showered but a wet towel was still hanging from his neck, as if forgotten there.
“We found your note,” Ron told him, falling in the armchair in front of him. “Look, I’m really sorry mate. I just…lost track of time. But I promise we worked…”
“Something happened to me on the Quidditch pitch!” Harry interrupted him, looking serious. “Something weird.”
“What is it?” Ron asked right away, hunching towards his friends in expectation.
Harry searched his words for a few seconds, looking at the red and gold beams of the ceiling.
“I heard this… this noise,” he said finally. “This odd, unremitting low sound. It muted my own voice to me when I tried to speak over it. It was scary. I couldn’t even hear the wind anymore, when I was diving.”
Ron gulped anxiously. He had learned that nothing happened to Harry by accident. “Do you still hear it?”
Harry shook his head. “No. Not anymore. It stopped when I got on the ground again. I would have tried to fly again and see if it came back, but I was alone on the pitch, so…”
“I’m sorry,” Ron said sincerely, gripping the arms of the chair. “I should have been with you.”
Harry looked pensive. “You were with Malfoy?”
“Yes,” Ron admitted, blushing. His eyes fell to the wrinkled and discoloured leather of his shoes.
Harry put a hand on Ron’s knee. “It’s fine. I think it’s great you are spending time together. But we need something to communicate. In case of an emergency.”
“Sure!” Ron agreed. “We’ll look into it. I’ll…I’ll start tonight.”
When Harry reclined in the armchair again, visibly perturbed, Ron added: “You should go to see Pomfrey, just in case.”
“I already did. I’m fine.”
“Oh.” Now Ron was fidgeting with some wool unravelling from his jumper. “What do you think that meant? That noise? Did it hurt your scar?”
Harry closed his eyes, looking tired. “No. It gave me a headache, but not the usual pain. It was meaningless. That’s what made it so perturbing.”
* * *
The solution for finding a good communication system came from Mr Weasley. He sent Harry a whole box of magically modified pagers he had nicked at the Ministry.
No one will miss it, Mr Weasley wrote in the letter that accompanied the parcel, and it would reassure us to know that you can send word out whenever you need.
I’ve written a rapport on how to use these clever muggle gadgets; you’ll find a copy of it enclosed as well. You can give one to each of your friends, and send one back to us once you’ve enchanted it properly. As always, do not hesitate to rely on us for anything, dear Harry.
“It’s really nice of your dad!” Hermione told Ron, grabbing one of the boxy black pagers from the package (Mrs Weasley had also put some homemade ginger nuts in it). “But why would we have to enchant those pagers? The alphanumeric technology works fine by itself.”
“I’ve never used one myself,” Harry said. “But Dudley asked for one for his ninth birthday.”
They had gathered in an empty classroom to agree on how they could use the muggle artefact as a way to always be reachable if need be. Hermione had been just as spooked as Ron by what Harry told her about the ominous noise from nowhere.
Malfoy didn’t seem convinced at all by the weird things Mr Weasley had sent. He gingerly took a pager between two fingers and peered at it suspiciously.
“What does this ugly box do? What material is even that?” he asked with disgust.
“That is plastic, idiot,” Ron told him, looking smug. “Muggles use it for everything, have you never seen any?”
Harry laughed, throwing a glance at Hermione. “I guess we have to enchant those because pure blood wizards are completely refractory to technology.”
The charm needed to enhance the pagers was simple enough. There was a first spell to link all the pagers together. Then you had to start the little device by tapping it three times with your wand while whispering Brevis oratio penetrat coelos, which meant Short prayers reach heaven as Hermione explained. Then you could select a name on a small luminescent rectangle by pressing various buttons, and record a message of ten syllables at the most. The pager transformed it into a line of text and sent the message to the recipient of your choice.
“It seems easy enough,” Harry said, crossing his legs underneath him. He was not sitting on a chair, but on a desk. “I’ll try it right away.” He cleared his throat and spoke to his pager. “Hello, Hermione!” he said brightly.
Hermione’s pager chimed in her palm, and she grinned when the message Hello HERMIONE!! appeared on the small screen. She passed it around so everyone could see.
“What kind of ink is this?” Malfoy asked, very puzzled. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“Never mind, try it!” Ron ordered him excitedly, squeezing his knee. “Send me a message!”
“The one who reads this is an idiot,” Malfoy enunciated very clearly into the pager, his brow furrowed in concentration.
“Oh, twat!” Ron protested, while Harry and Hermione erupted in laughter.
They stayed bent over the pagers, trying different kind of jokes until they grew serious and devised a code. Roses are red meant “I could use some help”, and The jam jar is broken was to be a signal of absolute urgency. They tested what happened if two messages were sent at the same time, and read up the manual on what range the devices could be expected to work. Apparently, it was thirty miles without the enchantment, but with it, you could write to a pen pal in China if you fancied it.
“These muggles are pretty crafty,” Malfoy concluded reluctantly.
* * *
“Happy birthday, Ron!” Harry yelled the next morning, yanking the red drapes of Ron’s bed open. Ron hid his face under his pillow and grunted. With all that had happened lately, he had completely forgotten it was his birthday already.
“Come on,” Harry insisted excitedly, dragging the covers away from Ron. “I’ve asked Dobby to prepare special pancakes for you!”
“It is March already?” Neville asked sleepily from the other side of the room.
“Go away,” Ron groaned.
But Harry threw Ron’s clothes at his face. It was yesterday’s cloths and the socks didn’t smell very fresh. “Mate, you are seventeen!” he yelled happily. “You’ll be allowed to do a whole bunch of things now!”
“I want to be allowed to sleep!” Ron cried, gripping his bedding with passion.
Harry got a small box out of his pocket and shook it playfully. “Malfoy told me to give you this,” he said. “You have thirty seconds to get out of bed and grab it before I open it myself!”
“Traitor,” Ron yelled, pushing the covers back with a superhuman effort. “Give it to me!”
Harry cackled and ran to the bathroom. Ron stubbed his toe in the heavy wood of the chest at the foot of his bed and went wailing after him.
“Merlin!” Seamus said, at the door of the room. “What the hell is happening?”
“It’s Ron’s birthday,” Neville replied.
“Ah. That would explain it.”
* * *
Ron locked himself in the toilets once he managed to get a hold of the little box. He shut the lid down and sat on it. He used to be able to let his legs dangle and get his naked soles away from the cold ground when he was younger, but he was too big now. No note accompanied the little box, but Ron found it didn’t need one when he opened it. Inside, he found a round gold pendant. Enamelled on it, were a laced white M and red W. The two letters looked like the reflection of each other, perfectly equal. Ron left it on his palm, his poor toe forgotten, and stared at it. All the noise he could still ear from the adjacent dormitories bled away.
“Draco Malfoy, you’re a madman,” he muttered.
Then he noticed that there was a very thin gold chain in the box as well. With big clumsy fingers, he put the medallion on it. He regretted not to have taken his wand with him because it took him a good five minutes to manage to clasp the thing around his neck. But then, it was against his skin, warm for having been touched so much already, underneath his pyjamas. The chain was long enough that he could tug and look at it if he wanted. He stared at it again, still sitting on the toilets.
It was weird to know that someone loved you, really loved you. Well, Ron supposed he knew his mom loved him, but it was hardly the same. His mom yelled at him more often then she told him nice things, and she loved all his brothers and Ginny just the same. Harry certainly loved him, but he didn’t really think about it, just like Ron didn’t pounder too much about their friendship. But with Malfoy, it felt different. To Ron, it was like they were choosing each other everyday, in spite of all that could put them apart: their houses, their education and background, their gender, and the crushing weight of social expectations.
He could see just by looking at him that Malfoy was in love with him, and helpless to hide it. It was visible in a blush, a secret smile, a glance too slowly diverted, a laugh too easily earned, and in this very medallion. Maybe Ron was just as easily read, but he hoped not because it was almost like being naked.
* * *
“Draco! Your muggle thingy bipped again!” Crabb shouted, annoyed. He was already late and hadn’t managed to fix his tie yet.
Malfoy got out of the bathroom, still brushing his teeth. He grabbed the pager on his nightstand and squinted at it.
W really needs to kiss M right now, it read.
* * *
The affair with the monogram was revealing about a much vaster transformation in Malfoy’s behaviour. Happiness had mellowed him visibly. Little by little, it was melting his snobbish and constricted demeanour. He was more patient with Crabb and Goyle, and courteous toward strangers. He was also becoming less guarded against his own mannerisms and used more of his hands while talking. He began using some fancy tuberose perfume he had always liked but had never dared putting on his clothes. Instead of always snorting haughtily, he sometimes let out shrill cries of delight at a repartee particularly well timed. Instead of wearing a scowl as his default expression, he was often caught daydreaming or smiling. Of course, he still was wont to drop a mean imitation or casually mention the great wealth his family possessed. But he was undeniably changing a little everyday, becoming more confortable with himself and less contemptuous of the world – or rather less defensive. And he put way less effort into hiding his queerness than he had up to that point.
All in all, Crabb and Goyle were pleasantly surprised, Harry laughed even more to his jokes, Hermione told him he smelt nice, and Ron was growing more and more attached to him.
But some other people began whispering about Malfoy looking like a ponce and speaking like one. At first it was mostly people who had a reason not to like him, but it spread out and it became a popular display of wit to allude to Malfoy’s presumed proclivities. Obviously, this delighted Blaise Zabini when it reached his ears.
* * *
March was a very busy month for Ron, what with the increase in Quidditch training – he trained for speed with Harry and sometimes Malfoy, and practiced bludger drills with Crabb and Goyle almost as regularly – the never ending research for the potentialisator, all the planning for their presentation at the project fair, and now their investigation of the weird noise Harry had heard when he was all alone. He heard it every time he left Hogwarts grounds, or flew too high above it, which wasn’t reassuring at all. They had tested it numerous times, with different people accompanying him. But so far, no one else could hear anything, and nothing had happened. Harry had written to Mad-Eye Moody to ask him if something like that had ever happened to him.
Ron had been so busy in fact, with all this plus the delicious kissing he was indulging in whenever he could find the time and the freedom to, that he didn’t realise how fast this new rumour about Malfoy was spreading. Until Ginny decided to have a word with him.
“Ron, you’ll never guess what people are saying about your friend,” she began, catching them in the common room one night. This was odd in itself, as Ginny normally avoided her brother like the plague even if they were in the same house.
Ron looked up from his chessboard. He would vanquish Dean in five moves. “Is someone calling Neville a retard again?” he asked, looking murderous.
“Not him, Malfoy,” Ginny replied. She was wearing horrendous pyjamas that had once belonged to Bill and that had been magically shrunken to fit her, but she somehow managed to look serious. “You were so right about Zabini.”
“What? What happened?” Ron abruptly sat up. Seamus looked pretty puzzled, but before he could ask any question, Ron had put a hand on Ginny’s shoulder and led her away in a corner of the room.
“I heard a bunch of people in my year saying that Draco Malfoy is a ‘poofter’,” she explained once they were near a window. “And Zabini was saying when we left the great hall tonight that half the girls in Slytherin are going to kill themselves over it now that there is no hope of snatching the galleons and the manor. He is calling him some very rude names, saying that he offered his virginity to Snape for good grades, and since a lot of people don’t like Malfoy, they are laughing at his jokes. And he said Malfoy can’t hold his fairiness in anymore and that everyone should have been listening to him long ago.”
“That fucking bastard,” Ron let out furiously, looking through the window at the black night, not knowing what to do. Ginny cast a muffliato as some curious heads turned their way. “That fucking bastard,” he repeated.
“Yeah,” Ginny sighed. “I thought you should know.”
Chapter 12: The end of March and the coming of spring
Surprise, a new chapter! This one earns this story its Mature rating ;)
“Come on Ronnie! Give it a big swing! Yeah that’s right, show that fucker who’s boss!” Crabb was yelling enthusiastically from the top of his lung. Half of it was lost to the wind and the general clamour of the pitch, but it didn’t stop him from trying.
“Oh come on, don’t be afraid to knock them down!” Goyle exclaimed even louder next to him as Ron’s bludger missed an opposing player by a few inches.
This year’s Quidditch tournament had opened with Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff, and Crabb and Goyle were the only ones in the Slytherin stands to cheer for the red and gold team. Well, Malfoy was too, but he was being discreet about it.
Ron was officially playing as a beater for the first time, and he was having a great time. He was swinging his new and shiny Valentine bat with no hesitation, deviating the courses of bludgers powerfully. He had knocked down an adversary beater already and almost dismounted the lead chaser twice, saving Gryffindor precious points. He had also been hit more than an experience beater would have been, but he didn’t seem too dettered about it.
“Fucking hell, that’s cheating!” Crabb was now berating, holding his punch up at the referee. One of the Hufflepuff beater had used a bludger to deviate the course of the Quaffle. The whole Gryffindor stand was yelling and whistling as well.
“You’d have done exactly the same thing if you had the opportunity,” Goyle burst out in laugher.
Even if he liked watching Ron, Malfoy’s eyes were tracking Harry. He was to be his main opponent after all. And he was being graceful and fearless as always. The hufflepuff seeker was no match for him, and Harry ended up catching the snitch and winning the game in less than an hour. The rest of the Gryffindor team had been doing fine on its own, so that was a lot of points in the bank. Crabb and Goyle should have been worried about that, but instead they were chatting animatedly, arguing who had influenced Ron’s technique the most.
* * *
“Well done Ronnie,” Goyle said with a lung rattling accolade. He and Goyle had waited especially at the entrance of the locker room. They were the only dots of green in a sea of red.
“Yeah, well done!” Crabb said, giving his own congratulatory whack.
“Hey, I learned from the best,” Ron smirked back. “Can’t wait to play against you guys.”
He was still holding his broom on his shoulder as it needed some maintenance after one or two bludger had grazed it. Malfoy smiled to himself, happy to see that his friends had somehow bounded. Well, his friends and his love, if he was being honest with himself.
“Great game, Potter,” he said, giving Harry a handshake when he got out.
“Thank you for taking notice,” Harry teased him in response. His hair was absolutely wild on his head and he still had red circles around his eyes were his flying goggles had been, but he looked alive and radiant with victory.
Malfoy smiled, putting his hands back in the pockets of his black coat. “It will be all the more pleasing when I beat you,” he quipped back, jutting his chin at Harry.
“I’d like to see you try, Malfoy,” Harry laughed, sure of himself. Some teammates hollered at him as they made their way out and he waved at them, carefree and happy.
“You weren’t bothered by that weird noise, then?” Malfoy asked, more serious.
Harry shook his head. “No, and it’s strange. I almost always hear it on the pitch. But I heard nothing this afternoon. Maybe there was too many people cheering and yelling.”
“Well, that’s good then,” Malfoy said, nodding reflexively. “Maybe that means whatever is after you won’t hurt you if you are not alone.”
Harry flung his arm around his pointy shoulders, half startling him, and yelled at the mass of people still outside “Who wants to come to Gryffindor’s for some good old fashioned victory party?”
“It’s only the first match!” Malfoy sneered. “Don’t lose your head too quickly Potter.”
Neither of them saw Zabini watching them from afar, hidden in his chatty group of friends.
* * *
The whole Great Hall was dedicated to Hogwarts’ First Annual Research Fair. There were big banners floating in the air to announce the different pavilions, such as Magical Artefacts, Sport & Entertainment, Muggle relations, Creative Spelling, and many more. People seemed to mostly have taken this fair very seriously : there were a lot of coloured stands, animated conversations and demonstrations saluted by clapping. Some volunteer 5th years were acting as hosts and hostesses, handing out programs and maps.
Ron, Harry and Malfoy’s stand was in the Healing, Potions and Botany pavilion, which was draped in a soothing light green fabric. Their stand was pretty simple in comparison to what some groups had come up with. There was a panel explaining the big lines of Blood Magic history that served as a contextual introduction – Snape always insisted on it – but they had prepared small vials of a very diluted version of the Sanior so that visitors could have an idea of what their research had led them to and they had also put up diagrams explaining the interactions of the ingredients. Contrary to what Ron had imagined, Malfoy was playing along happily enough, greeting people and offering potions samples with a smile. He had figured that he could used this as an opportunity to try and collect blood from willing donors. So far, he had convinced Luna Lovegood to give a test tube of it. She seemed enchanted with their idea.
“You should come to see the stands in the magical creatures pavilion when you have some time!” she invited them, rolling her sleeve down when she was done. Harry handed her a cookie. “I helped install it. They have some lovely wildlife pictures. I suggested to my housemate Marlow to stake out around the lake because I thought I had spotted some afancs. And he managed to take some beautiful shots! They are so cute and scary at the same time.” She sighed happily. “Magizoology is so rewarding.”
“That sounds…fascinating,” Malfoy answered politely.
Ron elbowed him. “Are those the creatures that look both like beavers and dwarfs?” he asked, sounding interested.
“Yes!” Luna said enthusiastically. She was eating the cookie with her front teeth, dropping crumbs on her blouse in a manner that was oddly pretty. “They were rumoured to live in Whales only, but we proved that’s not true.”
“Hagrid must be so excited,” Harry remarked, laughing.
Luna nodded, making the little bells she had tied in her plait tinkle. “Oh, he was!” she said. “He is helping with the stand actually.”
Harry’s eyes rounded comically. “Really? Okay, I’m going right now!” He indeed turned to the rack they had hidden behind a drape to get his cloak.
“Go on Weasley, go look at the pictures too,” Malfoy encouraged Ron kindly enough, poking his backside with gusto where no one could see. “I’ll go have a look around the fair when you come back.” Everybody knew that Hagrid didn’t like Malfoy much, and honestly, one could hardly blame him.
“Okay, Crumpet,” Ron agreed, carefree enough and ready to leave Malfoy to man the stand alone for a while, when he spotted Zabini coming toward them with his usual swagger and cronies in tow.
“Well, well, well. Look what we have here,” Zabini began, already making Iris, Gregoria and whatisface from Ravenclaw laugh even if he hadn’t said anything remotely funny. “Sanior? What is this shit Potter? Is your saviour complex pushing you to try and cure cancer now?”
“Fuck off Zabini,” Ron answered right away, his voice hard and his jaw set. “Go bore someone else to death.”
Zabini ignored him entirely and picked up a vial from the table, making a show of studying it.
“Whose blood is in that?” he asked suspiciously, tossing the sample of sanior to Gregoria Shaw.
“Go away Blaise, you’re not welcome here” Harry told him, in the same serious tone Ron had used.
“Is it that villein Weasley’s blood?” Zabini asked, which made his three stooges burst out in mirth, taping their knees and holding their sides.
Luna looked very puzzled at the scene, frowning and ready to step in if need be.
“What did you call me?” Ron asked, anger bubbling underneath is skin. He had noticed that Zabini was now wearing a protective charm against his neck, probably against curses like the burning piss one he had given him the last time. That’s why the asshole thought he could come and insult them with impunity again.
“The blood is mine, as you have well guessed,” Malfoy said calmly, interposing himself.
Zabini’s face turned into a grimace of pure disgust. That, he wasn’t feigning. “Throw that thing away, Gregoria.” His nostrils widened as he glared at Malfoy. “You should be ashamed to try and serve your contaminated pervert blood to innocents,” he spat.
Ron made a move to throttle Zabini, but Malfoy stopped him with two fingers on his wrist.
“My family is a good thousand years older than yours,” Malfoy answered icily, standing so straight that he seemed to tower over Zabini. “You can trace it back as far as you can trace written records of the History of magic. My fathers have made and murdered kings. I have uncles and cousins that rule all over Europe. Your muggle ancestors, however, were working on looms in Manchester not a century ago. I won’t let a measly bug like you anywhere near my blood.”
Zabini’s forehead was now looking purplish with bulging veins and his cronies were only laughing feebly, a bit discountenanced by the turn the events were taking. Harry felt the imminent fight that was threatening, and drew his wand discreetly.
“You fucking fag think you can…” Zabini began, sending spittle in Malfoy’s face, but the words died in his throat as Harry calmly enounced petrificus totalus, waving his wand at him. Zabini fell like a big log on the ground.
Ron, Harry, Malfoy and Luna bended to look at Zabini furious petrified face. Even if he couldn’t switch a muscle, his eyes were still sending murderous bolts of hatred.
“You can’t do that!” Iris Hansen exclaimed, kneeling next to Zabini protectively. The Ravenclaw boy made a show of getting is wand out, but he obviously had not intention of using it.
“He’s killed the Dark Lord as a baby,” Malfoy spat with contempt, putting his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “He can do whatever he pleases. You should be grateful it wasn’t a Stupefix .”
* * *
There were bits of paper everywhere : torn up posters, fallen banners, crumpled quiz sheets, greasy napkins, and even an exploded pinata. Everybody was exhausted and doing their best to clean up the stands. Harry was cautiously putting the few vials of blood that had been donated by visitors in a wooden box coated in cushion spells, and Ron was mopping the ground dispassionately, his wand limp in his hand. Hogwarts’ elves were going to put everything back in place by next morning, but students had been asked to clean up after themselves. Malfoy had rolled his eyes when Hermione said that it was a win for S.P.E.W. He was currently reversing transfiguration spells and all the furniture they had used was turning back into pencils, spectacle cases, and a music box that had made a very nice table for a few hours. He was acting as if everything was fine and he was just tired from a long day of standing up and repeating the same thing over and over, but Ron could tell that he was still upset.
“I’ll see you later guys,” Harry told them, flinging his bag on his shoulder. “I’m going to grab one of the sandwiches they are handing out in the kitchens and go eat it in the Ravenclaw common room. I’ve never seen it and Luna invited me.”
Ron mustered the strength to wiggle his eyebrows, but he was too empty to tease Harry verbally. Which was a pity since it was a very good occasion. Harry waved them goodbye.
“I think I’ll skip dinner,” Malfoy said as Harry was going through the doors of the Great Hall. “All I truly want is a warm bath. With bubbles.”
There was only a couple of people still hanging about, working very slowly and too tired to know what they wanted to do after that very long day.
“You have a prefect bathroom, don’t you?” Ron asked Malfoy.
“Yes,” Malfoy answered dreamily. “I’ll draw the water so hot I’ll turn pink like a shrimp.”
Ron pocketed his wand and put the pencils and the music box in a bag. “Can I come with you?” he asked lightly.
Malfoy’s eyes widened. “You want to...come to the bathroom with me?”
Ron grinned. “I want to take a bath with you. I mean, if you wanted to. It sounded nice.”
Malfoy looked like he couldn’t believe what he had just heard. “You want to take a bath with me?” he asked again, incredulous.
His lack of enthusiasm didn’t seem to deter Ron. “Yeah,” he said easily. “You could scrub my back and I’ll give you a shampoo.”
“You realise how that sounds, right?”
“I do, yes. Don’t you want to?” Ron flung the bag on his shoulder and dragged Malfoy with him, away from the darkening Great Hall.
“ Of course I want to,” Malfoy answered, lowering his voice in case they crossed path with someone in the hallway. “But…”
““But what?” Ron asked, leading the way toward the staircase going down to Slytherin assuredly.”
Malfoy blushed and stuttered. “I’m afraid I’ll think about what Zabini said. If we…”
“What do you mean?” Ron was frowning now. “We don’t give a shit what that turd Zabini says.””
Malfoy took a moment before answering. He only stopped fidgeting with his blaser to grab the handrail.“It’s just that...If I do that…” he tried again. “I will be absolutely, unremittingly queer.”
“What does that even mean?” Ron objected, his voice booming. The dark the corridor were desert, but Malfoy still took his hand anxiously so that he wouldn’t be so loud.
“You are queer,” Ron said in a quieter voice. “This won’t change anything. I can feel you get hard when we kiss.”
Malfoy let go of his hand and began to apologize, but Ron took it again and gave a little tap on it to express his displeasure.
“It’s a good thing about you that you are queer, okay? Why can’t you see it as a quality? It brought us together, didn’t it?”
They passed the entrance to the Slytherin dormitories and turned left. Ron had seen that it was were the prefect bathroom was on the marauder map. Yes, he might have thought of places to be left alone with Malfoy already...
But Malfoy seemed a bit lost. “I...I guess,” he said, not really believing it. “But to call it a quality… No...no, I...”
They had reached the door to the bathroom, and he was shaking his head, looking tired and stressed.
“Open it,” Ron said. “We can talk in peace inside. Nothing more if you don’t want to, okay?”
Malfoy drew his wand and muttered something. The door opened for them. The bathroom was covered in a striking dark green marble, veined with white strips. There was a square bassin in the middle of the room, big enough to swim a few strokes in. The bassin itself was made of a white marble that seemed very bright compared to the darkness of the room. The taps were golden, like the ones in the Gryffindor prefect bathroom. But those were snakes, slithering in and out of the bath.
Ron whistled at the sight. “Oh, so that ’s what you wanted to keep to yourself.”
Malfoy elbowed him, smiling a bit. “You know it’s not that,” he said.
Ron dropped his bag and went to sit on the edge of the bassin. He tapped the smooth cold stone with his palm so that Malfoy would come sit near him.
“Okay, stop thinking about yourself for a moment,” he prompted Malfoy, looking him in the eyes when he had sat down next to him. “What do you think about the fact that I am attracted to you?”
“Oh,” Malfoy stumbled, “I think it’s wonderful.” His voice echoed strangely against the walls. “I’m very lucky.”
“Alright,” Ron said, speaking slowly as if to a child, “so why is it wonderful for me to be queer but not for you? It makes no sense.”
Malfoy had the audacity to look surprised. “You’re queer?” he asked, his voice croaking.
Ron grabbed his knee in frustration. “Oh Malfoy, please! I’ve just suggested we take a bath together! I gave you your first kiss. I’m wearing your initial interlaced with mine around my neck. How dense can you be?”
“No, I mean, I know that.” Malfoy said. He put his hand on top of Ron’s, but his gaze stuck to his shoes. “But… you chose this, didn’t you? You are not like me, you didn’t think about being attracted to men when you were ten. It’s just me you happened to like. You don’t sound like me, or have to be careful about your hands like me. You are not obligated to have it be for your whole life.”
Ron shook his head, looking sure of himself. “You are just afraid of what people might say or think, when I don’t give a fuck,” he replied. “That it the only difference between us.”
“That is easy to say,” Malfoy sniffed. “You are not the one being called a fag and being laughed at.”
“I will be if you let me.” The intensity in Ron’s eyes startled Malfoy.
Malfoy frowned in confusion.“What do you mean? Why would you even want that?”
“You don’t have to do this alone. I’m with you. I want everyone to know it.”
Malfoy looked at Ron, at his fire red hair, at the thousands of freckles on his pale skin. He looked at his wide mouth, at the way the skin wrinkled in concentration between his two eyebrows. He thought about how much this boy had come to mean to him, about how much better he had made his life.
“You say that now but what if… you realise you are not into having sex with a man? What if you realise that we cannot really be a couple because you’re simply not wired this way?” he asked, trying to keep anguish low in his voice. “Maybe it’s too soon. I’d rather spend time with you, hold your hand and have your kisses for a year then have sex with you tonight and lose everything.”
Ron slid closer to him still on the smooth marble. He smiled. His smile was kind, like always.
“There is something very wrong with your line of thought,” Ron said. “I have no doubt whatsoever that I want you. I wank thinking of you, okay?”
Malfoy blushed deeply at that again, his stern looking face reddening helplessly.
“Besides,” Ron carried on animatedly, “I dated Lavender Brown for a few months and I didn’t even really get on that well with her as a person. I have an extensive knowledge of her tongue. I was really into it, and that’s all it was. A tongue. I love you for Merlin’s sake. It’s going to be a million times better.”
“Well… Okay then,” Malfoy whispered.
Ron smiled and went to kiss him but before he could, Malfoy stood up and walked to the golden taps in the shape of snakes. He squatted down and turned them open, letting the noise of falling water fill the room. All the other little snakes began spitting water too. He then touched a smaller silver snake, and liquid soap fell from it, frothing white when it hit the water. After just a few minutes, steam was billowing from the pool, smelling of orange blossom.
“It’s becoming quite hot in here, isn’t it?” Ron asked, undoing his necktie with a smirk. Malfoy copied him, looking less at ease. They got rid of their shoes, socks and belts, and unbuttoned their shirts from their own side of the bath, looking at each other silently. Then Malfoy quickly took his trousers and underwear off with nervous hands and jumped right in the water. The shock from the temperature contrast made him scream and he sent water to drench all the clothes Ron had left on the floor.
“Hey! You’ll pay for that, fiend!” Ron yelled, jumping after him in a great splash. He too cried as the water boiled his toes and his buttocks. Malfoy dived underwater when he tried to reach him, laughing at last.
They swam into the hot water, limbs becoming heavy with the temperature, taking their time. The water cleaned tiredness from their faces. It felt good to close your eyes and move in water as warm as your blood, to feel weightless and unrestrained like that.
Ron put his hand underneath the tap that dispensed soap and opened it again. It smelt like Malfoy’s hair usually smelt he realised. A soft, flowery scent that smelt a bit like a cake. It made him smile. He walked slowly to Malfoy, holding his hand up, slowed down by the water. “Turn around,” he said. Malfoy obeyed, offering his slender neck and his bony shoulders.
Ron began massaging his scalp with the shampoo and Malfoy went boneless underneath his hands, his shoulders slouching forward in complete relaxation. His skull felt small and yet hard. Ron worked a good lather on his hair, playing with it. He made it stand up on Malfoy’s head, and it felt back on his forehead.
“Careful, you’ll get some in my eyes,” Malfoy said, turning around.
“Sorry, Crumpet,” Ron said quietly. With all the bubbles, he couldn’t really see Malfoy’s body, but he could feel him. His arms went back underwater and he put his hands on Malfoy’s hips. He heard his breath hitch in surprise. He drew him to his body until they were pressed together, completely naked. Ron could feel Malfoy’s dick against his thigh, moving with the water, not hard yet but not completely soft either. He pressed his mouth to Malfoy’s. It tasted wet from the bath, like you could drink droplets of water while kissing. The bath was so hot that Malfoy’s tongue almost seemed cool in comparison. Ron sucked it eagerly, and he felt Malfoy grow hard against him. He bent his knees a little, so that he could slide his hands along Malfoy’s thighs until he reached the back of his knees. Malfoy let out a startled noise as he felt Ron pick him up, but he was quick to cross his legs around Ron’s waist and let his arms hang from his shoulders.
The water made it very easy to carry him and Ron walked a bit in the pool, laughing and kissing what he could reach, his chest, his neck, a bit of his arm.
Malfoy was laughing like he was five, which might have seemed weird considering the situation but really wasn’t. Ron was looking at him like he was so in love that it made Malfoy’s heart rest easy in his chest even if excitement was burning his body.
Ron kissed him and kissed him, and peted him too, his hand wet, their bodies warm. He could touch all of Malfoy. He was allowed! He laughed in the middle of a kiss and Malfoy laughed too. It sounded like relief. Ron’s hands cupped everything they could reach, splashing water carelessly. He cupped and stroked Malfoy’s buttocks, his shoulders, his calves, his heels, his cheeks, his flat chest, the tender flesh of his buttocks again. Malfoy let him explore. He was making shy noises at first, but soon he was blushing and breezing deeper. Then Ron cupped his genitals, looking him in the eyes. Malfoy was very hard now, and Ron closed his fist around him.
“Merlin,” Malfoy let out in a whisper, his eyes closing at the sensation.
Ron seemed to change his mind then. He carried Malfoy out of the water, tearing their bodies from the cascading and steaming water. The room was very hot by now, whitish with fog. He laid Malfoy on the tepid marble, the ground feeling slippery underneath their dripping bodies. Neither of them cared. Malfoy was so tense that his own heartbeat was deafening him. Ron took Malfoy’s knees in each of his large hands to open his legs, and stared at his lap. The flush from the heat on Malfoy’s chest, cheeks and throat looked particularly red on the whiteness of his skin. Ron took his time to look at him, letting his eyes drink in every tiny detail. Malfoy’s body really was exceptionally pale, except for his nipples and his engorged cock. Those were a frank, unmistakable pink. Even his testicles looked like rose Turkish delight powdered with sugar.
“What?” Malfoy asked, anxious now that he was slowly cooling down and beginning to feel self conscious.
“Your dick,” Ron said. “It’s so pretty. I kind of had the idea that all penises were supposed to look ugly. But look at you…”
Malfoy was crimson. “You are crazy,” he said, writhing underneath Ron, not daring to look up now.
“Don’t be coy know,” Ron said with a smirk. “Look at what you do to me,” he said, his eyes going to his own cock which was jutting out of his body, veiny and almost purplish at the head.
Malfoy looked and his eyes widened. Ron’s pubes were just as red as his hair. He almost felt pain coursing through his dick so arousing was the sight.
“There is something else I want to see,” Ron said, putting more weight in his hands to push his legs a little more. It flattened Malfoy on the floor even more but he let himself be manhandled until his knees touched his chest and his ass completely exposed. He was so excited that his cock was dripping precum on his stomach.
“Wow,” Ron said from above him.
His look was so intense that Malfoy could feel his hole twitching and had to shut his eyes in shame. The the gaze was replaced with a careful finger. It caressed him lightly, in small circle. Malfoy gasped and opened his eyes again. Ron face was one of utter fascination.
“Can I?” he asked.
The water and the sweat had made his skin slick enough so Malfoy nodded, biting his lips because he was not thrusting himself to speak. Ron’s finger pointed at the entrance and his cock twitched. He had done this to himself more times than he could count, but it had never, ever, felt like this. Like his whole body was going to burst out, like he needed to be penetrated or he would die.
Ron pushed his finger slowly, got it half out, pushed again. Then the muscle was like a ring around his finger and he let out a small noise of surprise. Malfoy moaned right back, finally daring to meet his eyes.
“Is this what you were so afraid of?” Ron asked, moving his finger very gently. It was obviously hard to speak for him too. His motions felt jerky and feverish with desire.
Malfoy moaned again like he was dying, but wasn’t able to say anything else. Ron kissed him passionately, bending his neck backwards to almost swallow his tongue. He let his finger burrow deeper inside Malfoy. It was only a finger but he could feel everything : the tight ring of muscle clenching around him, the heat of the mucous membrane, the pleasure that made Malfoy’s body rattle, the testicles that were resting in his palm, the hard cock that was rutting against his other hand. He was having sex with Draco Malfoy. He was fingering him. Ron had never been so hard in his life and he wasn’t even touching himself.
With his mind half blown, barely knowing what he was doing but acting on instinct, he changed their position and carried Malfoy so that he was sitting in his lap. He kissed Malfoy chest as he was searching the entrance again. This time his finger went easily in, and he crooked it towards Malfoy’s belly. When that earned him a cry of pleasure, he rubbed and rubbed against the same spot, until Malfoy was writing like a madman and he had to physically restrain him against his chest so that he wouldn’t fall back. His own dick grazed Malfoy’s ass every time he moved, which was absolutely maddening. But for Malfoy, who was now literally crushed against him and panting like a wounded animal, there was enough friction for his trapped cocked and, when Ron tried to give him a second finger, semen exploded between their stomachs.
“Oh Merlin, oh Merlin,” Malfoy gasped, eyes glazed over, tremors still running along his body.
Ron waited until he calmed down, his fingers still inside him, unmoving.
“That’s very good Crumpet,” Ron whispered in his ear. Blood was swimming in his head as if he had just fainted. He was so hard that he didn’t even feel it anymore, just like when you have pins and needles somewhere, and his heart hurt, hurt from so much intimacy.
Then pleasure engulfed him. Malfoy had closed his hand around him and was strocking him, letting Ron’s cock brush against his own softening crotch.d his cock and was stroking it tentatively. Ron tried to tell him that he could squeeze it harder, that it would make him feel so good, but words escapes him. Malfoy smiled at him, and bent his neck, his mouth half opened. When Ron the the pink tongue darting out and felt the warm breath so close to the head of his cock, when he realised what Malfoy wanted to do, he grunted and came too. Malfoy’s mouth had never even closed around him, but there was some come on his chin. They both laughed feebly, worn out and empty.
“I love you,” Malfoy said. His face looked peaceful and happy.
“I love you too,” Ron replied, smiling up at him.
“Shall we go back in the water?” Malfoy asked, wiping at his chin with his fingers.
Ron followed him back into the pool. It was almost as warm as it had been. He swam two or three strokes and reached Malfoy again. He stood in the bassin and slicked his wet hair back.
“One more thing,” he said, locking his arms behind Malfoy’s neck. “I want this to be clear. I’m not going to regret this. Not for one second. And I am not going to leave you tomorrow, or in a year, or ever. Understood?”
Malfoy took a deep breath. There were droplets of water like dew on his eyelashes. “How can you know that?” he asked urgently. He let the question sink in, searching Ron’s eye, not even trying to school his face from looking openly emotional.
“My parents met when they got into Hogwarts,” Ron replied, touching his forehead to Malfoy’s. “They fell in love when they were third years. They started dating in 5th year. They got married the summer after graduation. They have seven children together. Me, my brothers and my sister. They’ll probably die together. That’s the kind of role models I have. That’s what family means to me.”
Malfoy looked shocked. No matter how much he looked for rejection, Ron seemed adamant not to allow him to feel even an ounce of it.
* * *
Malfoy had been putting the same soldier in his egg yolk for the last five minutes without eating it. Crabb had said hello to him thrice before seeing that he likely wouldn’t get an answer that morning.
Malfoy had shivers that started from his skull and went down to the tip of his fingers every time he let himself remember the previous night in any detail. He didn’t know that his body was physically capable of feeling such happiness. He was thinking only of Ron. Ron’s fingers, Ron’s words, Ron’s kindness, Ron’s pleasure. It wasn’t strange to think of him as Ron anymore. Not after last night. He could never feel alone again. Not after he had been full like that. Not after Ron had told him he would love him forever, and made him believe it.
He was startled from his daydreaming by a harsh voice and its accompanying spittle.
“I challenge you to a duel,” Zabini declared putting his hands on the table heavily.
It made the golden tea tremble dangerously in its cup. Malfoy looked up at him with drunken eyes, the real world rushing back in but not making much sense yet. Zabini looked determined and very, very angry - and not petrified anymore.
“Tonight, midnight at the Quidditch pitch. We’ll see who’s the better man then,” Zabini said.
Goyle put his cutlery down menacingly, but Malfoy allowed himself the time to get a grip on himself by having a sip of tea before replying. When he looked up from the cup and saw Zabini’s face again, it somehow looked meaningless. Like it had lost all its power to make him feel worthless. He swallowed and felt the hot liquid soothe his throat.
“Fine,” he replied haughtily. “But it has to be a proper duel. With witnesses.”
“No one else but us can have their wand!” Zabini whispered furiously. “You can’t have your boyfriend Potter fight your fight for you.”
“That really won’t be a problem,” Goyle said, clenching his fists. “Draco doesn’t need Potter or even a wand to have his back covered.”
Zabini glanced down at the meaty hands and the bulging beater forearms nervously.
Duels were strictly forbidden at Hogwarts of course. It had been a cause for expulsion in the past. But a Malfoy never backed down from a challenge to a duel. It simply wasn’t heard of.
“I’ll see you at midnight, then,” Malfoy said. “Until then, get lost.”
* * *
Ron and Harry’s pagers pinged at the same time while they were on their way to DADA class. They pinged again when they were trying to get them out of their pocket. And then again.
“What is it?” Hermione asked, peering at the plastic devices.
“Zabini challenged me a a duel tonight./ Midnight, Q pitch/ Need witnesses,” Ron read out loud for her.
“That Blaise Zabini is a bloody public menace,” Harry said, shaking his head.
“Serves him well if he wants a duel!” Ron said vehemently. “He’ll get his ass handed to him in a fair fight. Maybe he’ll leave us alone at last after that! Nothing like a good humiliation to shut someone up.” His agitation caused his shirt to be even less tucked in his trousers than it had been.
Harry nodded vigorously. “Exactly, he’ll…”
But Hermione cut him right away. “Tell me you’re not thinking of going! Duels are strictly forbidden!" she hissed. She had stopped abruptly a few meter away from the last turn they had to make before reaching the classroom. "You are old enough to know better, aren't you now?"
“You don’t know what horrible things he’s been saying about Draco!” Ron objected. “He can’t just sit still and take it forever. A duel is a good way to claim back his honour.”
“Do you hear yourself talking?” Hermione said, arms akimbo. “What century are we in? It’s 1997 for Merlin’s sake, not 1597! And the pitch? Harry, it's not safe with that noise you've been hearing. It could be a perfect spot to attack you in the middle of the night!”
Harry seemed to think about it for a few seconds. Ron to shake some sense in him when he opened his mouth.
“Malfoy called us for help,” Harry declared calmly, pushing his glasses back on his nose. “Hermione, you haven't seen how Zabini treats him. What he did just yesterday at the Fair. Malfoy needs his friends to come and show that he is not alone. That we won’t stand this any longer.” Just as Hermione was opening her mouth to protest again, he added. “You can come too if you're worried.”
* * *
There was no clouds that night, and the sky was exceptionally stary in this lost part of Scotland. You could see millions upon million of brilliant white dots sprayed on a background of black and heavy blue, streaked with deep purple. For once, there was no bantering whatsoever. They were all walking silently toward the pitch, Ron and Harry at Malfoy’s left, Crabb and Goyle at his right. Hermione was walking in tow, having to babysit a bunch of boys about to do something dangerous. They were getting closer and closer to the menacing shape of the four upright stands.
On the sand of the pitch, Blaise Zabini and his usual gang were already waiting. Iris let out a snort when she saw Malfoy coming. But there were also a few other people from slytherin, waiting a few feet further away, who seemed to be neutral enough. Pansy Parkinson was among them.
“You came,” Zabini said, sardonic and full of himself.
“I came,” Malfoy said. Ron had stopped right behind him, as did the rest of their party. “I came because this has to stop. I can’t let you live another day thinking you are clever and witty when you are nothing but a pathetic excuse for a wizard.”
“Ah,” Zabini exclaimed, his features distorting into mirth, opening his arms wide. “Is that why you have brought more Gryffindors than Slytherins with you? Because I am pathetic and you are well loved among your peers?”
People laughed but Malfoy remained ramrod straight. He was all clad in black, as per usual, and his hair shone like the moon in the darkness. “Yes,” he said politely. “That is exactly the conclusion this duel will establish.”
Crabb cracked his neck in approbation.
Zabini laughed again. “I’m not afraid of your faggot spells. I’ll give you the beating your daddy should have given you years ago.”
“Ready when you are,” Malfoy replied soberly.
He half turned, and with a nod indicated to his friends that they could go line on the side as the duel was about to begin.
Ron gripped his shoulder, only for a moment, but it was enough for Malfoy to know what it meant.
Malfoy and Zabini both bowed, keeping their gaze locked. Then they walked ten paces in opposite directions, and turned to face again. Pansy dramatically blew a whistle to indicate that the fight was beginning.
“Puron glossa!” Malfoy yelled right away. As the greek words echoed into the night, tongues of fire sprang from his wand, lightening his face and warming the whole scene in an orange glow. They flew at Zabini, ever moving and crackling like a bonfire. The spell licked his left arm and leg, burning him badly and making him yelp with pain before he could react.
“Inundatio!” Zabini managed, casting the spell at himself. Water squirted everywhere and stifled the fire. He was still fuming that there was already a puddle at his feet.
“Was this a good enough faggot spell for you?” Malfoy asked, loud and clear. He rolled his sleeves up and readied his wand again. Drenched his water and half burnt, Zabini walked toward him with mad eyes.
“Serpensortia” Malfoy said urgently. A giant snake sprang forward and slithered towards Zabini. Ron remembered that spell from Second year when Malfoy used it against Harry. Apparently it was one of his specialties, because Zabini didn’t look surprised at all. He didn’t even try to use a counterspell but instead drew from his belt a dagger that glinted in the moon and kept walking toward Malfoy. When the snake rose on his way, showing its needle thin fangs, he simply buried the blade in its throat with a feral cry.
“That’s not a spell!” Hermione yelled. “That’s not fair fighting.”
“Fuck fair fighting!” Zabini exclaimed, beginning to laugh as he saw that Malfoy was holding his throat, as if the dagger had hurt him as well.
“Experlli…” Malfoy tried, but the word lost against a coughing bout.
“Gumnos!” Zabini yelled with a mean delight, laughing with all his teeth. He may not have been the brightest spellcaster at Hogwarts, but there was such intent behind the casting of that particular spell that Malfoy had virtually no time to deflect it. In mere seconds, his clothes uncoiled from his body with a resonant crack and vanished into dust. He found himself utterly naked in the cold night air, unable to cover his body from the gaze of all the gathered witnesses if he wanted to maintain a combative position.
“Céili!” Zabini roared again, and Malfoy’s naked limbs were forced to dance absurdly on their own.
He was jumping and kicking all around, making weird circles with his arms, trying to hold on to his wand with all his might. The only music he had to dance to were the mean laughters of Zabini and his cronies.
Ron’s heart was in a vice and he was squeezing Harry’s hand so hard that it hurt. Draco’s shrivelled balls and cock, made tiny by the cold, were for all to see, dangling as he danced madly. Ron was enraged that other people could see him like that, when his vulnerability had been such a precious gift. No one had the right to see him like that. To make him look stupid. Zabini had an horrendous soul.
“I’ll fucking kill you!” Ron screamed at Zabini, his eyes filling up with tears. Harry held him against his side, trying to calm him down. But Ron could see it now more clearly than ever. Zabini was atrocious for hating Malfoy for something so simple and beautiful as the feeling they had for each other. He was reveling in the humiliation he was imposing. He deserved to suffer. Ron wished all his ugliness could be visible on his face, right there for everyone to see. He should be even more naked than he had made Malfoy. But he hadn’t taken his wand with him. Nobody had, except the two duellists.
It didn’t matter. He still had his fists and a handful of friends right behind him.
Ron began to walk toward Zabini, who had paid no mind to his threat, delighted as he was to watch Malfoy’s pale body contorsionate absurdly, but Goyle helped Harry stop him. He was about to protest when Malfoy finally managed to cast a Finite at himself and found his bearings again.
Malfoy took a combative stance again, not forfeiting even with goosebumps all over his skin.
“You liked that, didn’t you little pervert?” Zabini taunted him, ready to start another round despite the rapidly swelling burn on his hand.
“I’ll show you what I like,” Malfoy replied through gritted teeth, refusing to break down.
“This need to stop!” Hermione said. “This is a parody of a duel. This isn’t worth it.”
Pansy and some other Slytherin students were beginning to nod in agreement when, inexplicably, all of Zabini's hair began to fell off. Whole patches of it simply detached themselves from his skull and fell onto the wet grass. Iris and Gregoria gasped.
“What’s this ?” Zabini cried in horror, touching at his scalp. “What did you do?” He almost choked on something when he said that, and had to cough up a tooth. He stared at his bloody palm and this time a front tooth fell from his open mouth. Hair was still falling from his head like autumn leaves. No one had ever seen anything like this. It was utterly grotesque. New hair grew in an instant on the bald patches and fell again by the fistful. His beard too grew out all at once and begun to fall like rain. Even his eyebrows were being blown by the wind and replaced at an alarming rate. Everybody was looking, fascinated, when Zabini, who was now crying and gurgling, had to spit extra teeth out again.
“Merlin,” Iris was chanting gently, “Merlin, Merlin, what is this spell?” Malfoy had all but forgotten his naked state as he was transfixed by the awful outpouring of hairs and teeth that Zabini’s face had become.
“What is the meaning of all this nonsense?” a booming voice asked from the sky. It was Mrs Hooch, mounted on her broom and looking absolutely furious even in the ambient darkness. Harry swore he could have died from a heart attack, so little was he expecting something to top the surprise of what they were seeing. Acting on reflex, he put his hand deep into the pocket of his cloak, searching for another thrusted cloak.
Everybody began to scatter at once, yelling and trying to hide their faces so that the teacher couldn’t recognize them.
Zabini’s eyes widened in fear even more if that was possible, and he tried to crawl toward the nearby Ravenclaw stand to take cover, leaving a trail of organic matter behind him.
“You are in so much trouble young people!” Hooch said, flying around and throwing mobili corpi all around. “You all know perfectly well duels are absolutely forbidden at Hogwarts!”
Ron was beginning to panic as well, even if he wanted Zabini to hurt even more. Harry and Hermione had disappeared, most likely hiding underneath the invisibility cloak. Crabb was running dumbly and Goyle was already rigid on the ground, a fallen victim of Hooch.
Ron gulped. There was utter chaos all around him. But, while trying to find a safe path to take or a good place to hide, he noticed that Malfoy wasn’t moving at all - even if he had a lot more to cover up than anyone else. He was looking at Mrs Hooch and at all the running students perfectly calmly. Ron removed his cloak and jogged back to him.
“You told Mrs Hooch, didn’t you ?” he asked while covering Malfoy’s shoulders with the cloth. “It was you who told her to come.”
She was still flying in circle and jinxing students with dexterity.
“I’m a Slytherin, not a hot-headed Gryffindor,” Malfoy replied with a little smile.