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A Glad Kindness

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“Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty's very self, has charm made wise.
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.” W. B. Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter.”

Harry blinked when the door of his train compartment slid open and Malfoy stepped through it. It wasn’t only the fact that he didn’t have Goyle with him, or his wand drawn, or the word “Mudblood” on his tongue.

It was that he had a slight flush on his cheeks, and he shoved his hands into his robe pockets and stared at the floor a second later.

“Yes, Malfoy?” Harry asked after a second. He fought to keep his tone neutral. He’d testified that Narcissa had saved his life and Draco hadn’t identified him at the Manor when the Snatchers captured him, and he’d also testified that he hadn’t seen Lucius cast a single spell in the Battle of Hogwarts. He’d received stiff thanks afterwards. As far as he was concerned, he and the Malfoys were even.

So there should be no reason for Draco to seek him out.

Malfoy cleared his throat and said, “I just wanted to apologize for being so stupid.”

Harry fully laid down the Potions book he’d been half-reading and studied Malfoy. “Okay, this is new.”

Malfoy grimaced. “I should have been intelligent from the beginning. I never thought—I wasn’t raised to think that Muggleborns were my social equals.”

“Yes, I know that very well.”

The flush on Malfoy’s cheeks deepened. “But I was raised to think for myself and have critical thought processes, or so I believed.” He glanced around the compartment, meeting Crookshanks’s curious eyes. Harry was sort of glad that Ron and Hermione were busy with prefect duties right now. “A person who thought critically would have abandoned the Dark Lord the moment he rose again.”

Harry had to shake his head. “I know why you thought you couldn’t.”

“Listen, shut up, okay? I’m trying to apologize, and this is hard enough to do without you interrupting.”

Harry raised his eyebrows, and felt a smile pulling at his lips in spite of himself. He’d had too much of fawning since the war, and it was driving him mental. At least this was different. “All right. Say what you came to say, Malfoy.”

Malfoy faced Harry and said, in a low, impassioned rush that didn’t sound at all as though he’d memorized it, “I thought the virtues of bravery and intelligence and culture and all the rest were to be found exclusively among pure-bloods. And Slytherins. But now I know that’s not true. I feel stupid that it took me so long to learn. And I don’t want excuses. I don’t want people to say that I was just a child in the war and my father was a Death Eater. That’s not the way my father portrayed himself. That’s not the way my parents raised me. I want—I want to say I’m sorry for not acknowledging a long time ago that you were right, and also that you were just as strong as a pure-blood.”

Harry studied him in silence. But Malfoy didn’t back out or laugh or declare that it was just a joke, even though the flush in his cheeks looked bad enough to burn him. Harry nodded. “Apology accepted.”

“Just—like that?” Malfoy stared at him with wide eyes now, the first time he’d looked directly at Harry since he came into the compartment.

Harry shrugged. “Maybe you don’t feel being a kid from a Death Eater family was an excuse. I do. I would have ignored you if you’d never said this, but now that you have, I accept it. You’ll have to make separate apologies to Hermione and Ron if you want them to forgive you, though.”

“I know that.” Malfoy seemed a little dazed, and blinked for a moment, putting his hand on the wall as the train swayed around a bend in the tracks.

Then he smiled.

Harry caught his breath. He knew he had never seen such a smile from Malfoy before. Sure, he had laughed when he taunted Harry, or smirked when he thought a plan was going right, or twisted his mouth around when he wasn’t really amused, but this—

“What are you doing here, Malfoy?”

Ron and Hermione had come back. Malfoy turned around and nodded to them. “I came to apologize to Potter. And I’ll apologize to you if you’ll accept it.”

Ron snorted and pushed past. Hermione was the one who narrowed her eyes and said, “Maybe in a few weeks, Malfoy, when I can see if the change is going to last.”

“Fair enough.” Malfoy looked over his shoulder and caught Harry’s eye. Harry smiled back, still wondering what the hell had brought this on. The apology, he understood well enough, but not the choice to go around being so open.

Malfoy seemed to understand the question without Harry asking it, and murmured, “I’ve always been encouraged by my parents to keep genuine emotion for the family circle only. But I don’t want to do that anymore. And another thing the war taught me is that if you wait to do something you want, you might never get to do it at all.”

“Oh, honestly, Malfoy, get out of here,” Ron muttered as he flopped down on the bench under Crookshanks.

Hermione said nothing, but she turned to Harry when Malfoy had slipped out of the compartment and asked, “And was his apology sincere?”

“As far as I can tell. He said he should have realized a long time ago that pure-bloods weren’t the only sort of people in Britain who were smart or brave.”

Hermione blinked. “Then maybe he’ll make a sincere apology to me after all.” She stared thoughtfully at the door. “I assumed that he’d been stripped of his badge when I didn’t see him among the prefects, but maybe he gave it up out of a sense of shame.”

“Can we discuss something other than Malfoy?” Ron asked loudly. “For example, how many Chocolate Frogs are we going to buy when the trolley comes by?”

*

“Do you think you might accept that apology now, Granger?”

Harry turned around, shifting his books in his arms. They’d been back at Hogwarts for three weeks, and this was the second time Malfoy had approached them asking if Hermione wanted to hear the apology. She’d sent him away last week, saying she needed more time.

Now, when they were outside the Potions classroom, she turned and regarded Malfoy thoughtfully. Malfoy didn’t have a smile on his face this time, but he looked grave and respectful, attentive.

Open, in a way Harry had never seen him before the war.

Harry studied Malfoy’s face, trying to understand the difference for himself. Was it just that he showed more emotion in general? Or was there some wall down behind those grey eyes, making them more likely to echo the smiles?

Malfoy caught Harry’s gaze and flushed the way he had on the train, but didn’t look down or away. He even gave a defiant tilt of his head. Harry smiled back, which made Malfoy’s jaw drop a little, but Hermione spoke and interrupted whatever either of them might have said.

“Yes, all right, Malfoy. Bear in mind that I retain the right to reject it if you’re the least bit sarcastic.”

“I’m sorry for calling you a Mudblood, Granger,” Malfoy said at once. A Ravenclaw passing them ducked his shoulders and hissed, but Malfoy paid no attention to him. “The reason I did it is the same thing I said in my apology to Potter, that I never thought anyone could be smarter or better than me. And then you said things that infuriated me, and I lashed out. I shouldn’t have allowed myself to succumb to fury if I was really as superior as I thought. And you shouldn’t have been as intelligent as you were if my beliefs were true. By that point, I’d known they weren’t true for a year, but I still couldn’t admit it.”

Hermione blinked and shifted her books to her other arm. Harry could tell she was taken aback by how thorough the apology was, if nothing else.

“I—see,” she murmured after a long moment. “Thanks for telling me that, Malfoy.” She glanced between him and Harry, and for some reason, smiled at Harry before she said, “I accept.”

Malfoy sighed out a little. “Thanks. Do you think you could talk to Weasley—”

“Ron will make the decision on his own, and it probably won’t be soon,” Hermione interrupted him. “In the meantime, Harry has something he wants to say to you.”

And she slipped down the corridor, while Harry glared at her back and Malfoy frowned as though he thought this might be a joke. “What did she mean?”

Traitor, Harry thought after Hermione. He faced Malfoy. “Only that I’m glad you’ve changed so much.”

There was a long pause. Harry recalled that he did need to get to Charms, and began to walk down the corridor. Malfoy easily kept pace, while eyeing him. “Because you wanted the apology.”

“More than that. You act as though you have a sense of humor now.”

“I did before, too.”

Harry let his eyebrows go all the way up, and didn’t bother concealing the amusement in his voice. “Really? ‘Potter Stinks’ and all that?”

Malfoy blushed the way he tended to do lately. “Yes, well, the charm was complex. I couldn’t make them flash more than two words before they would turn back to talking about Diggory.”

He frowned and looked away again suddenly, although Harry didn’t know why until he heard the soft words. “I’m sorry, again. Hearing about Diggory can’t be easy.”

Harry didn’t want to say that the losses of the past three years had buried Cedric pretty thoroughly. He shook his head. “If I stopped talking every time someone reminded me of a death, I wouldn’t be able to talk at all,” he said, and won a reluctant smile from Malfoy. “And it’s other things, besides the sense of humor. I mean that I can actually see you laugh, now, and almost see into your soul through your eyes. What changed?”

“I already told you, Potter. The war. Yes, I can keep other people out if I want, but I saw where that led to.”

“Where?” Without thinking about it, Harry matched the volume of his tone to Malfoy’s as they walked down the corridor.

Malfoy didn’t reply for long moments, but when he did, his voice shook slightly. “With no friends to help me. With no one other than Mother and Father to care if I lived or died.”

“I would have cared.”

Malfoy didn’t look at him. “You say that now, because you’re thinking that you know me now, but before—”

“I would have cared then, too.” Harry reached out and put a hand on Malfoy’s arm, stopping him just as they were about to exit the stairs from the dungeons. “You weren’t a great person, but you were still an innocent compared to a lot of other people. And you never would have had the chance to change your mind or be better if you’d died in the war.”

Malfoy looked at him in round-eyed wonder. Harry smiled a little. He’d seen that look before. He supposed it only seemed unusual now because he was getting it from Malfoy, instead of a first-year Gryffindor or the like.

“So is this,” Malfoy said, and glanced back and forth from Harry’s hand on his arm to his face, “an offer of friendship?”

“Yes, if you want it to be.” Harry scratched the back of his neck. “If you don’t feel too pressured to accept it.”

“You’re worried about me feeling pressured?”

“I know what my reputation is.” Harry grimaced. The Daily Prophet had actually had a contest to come up with a new epithet for him after “Boy-Who-Lived” seemed inappropriate because of how old he was now, and then had liked so many of the results that they’d been using a different one every week. Currently it was “Green Eyes of Death.” “There are a lot of people who would think they should accept just because of who I am. I don’t want you to do that.”

Malfoy blinked some more. Then he sent Harry yet another new expression: a smile that made him look as if he was plotting pranks. Harry felt a tug at his heart. It resembled Sirius’s grin more than he’d thought.

“I do accept,” Malfoy said. “I was the one who thought you’d want nothing to do with me after the apology. But yeah, I think so.” He stuck out his hand.

It took Harry only a second to realize what he wanted, and he was glad he knew before Malfoy could decide that it was unwelcome and pull back. He shook his hand happily enough, and then they went on their way to Charms.

*

“Hermione told me the git actually apologized to her.”

“What git would that be, Ron?”

Ron rolled his eyes and sat down next to Harry on the overstuffed red couch that Harry had unofficially claimed when he wanted to study. “Fine, Malfoy. I never thought he’d do that.”

“Why not? He apologized to me.”

“Right, but you had that reputation since the war. I thought he was doing it to get in your good graces, or just because it’s not politically smart to be your enemy anymore. But Hermione isn’t widely-known yet. Why did he apologize to her?”

“Because he meant it. Because he really has changed.”

Ron was quiet for a few seconds, which meant Harry could go back to his book. NEWT Potions was unexpectedly fascinating even when he didn’t have the Prince’s book, but Harry had to agree with the Prince. There were way too many fussy directions in this book, and surely lots of ways they could be improved.

Maybe Slughorn would even let him experiment if Harry asked him nicely. The man still thought of Harry as a Potions genius.

“Do you think I ought to take his apology?”

Harry peered over the top of the book. “You’re the only one who can decide that. Your dad hated his dad for some reason, so I reckon it’s been going on a lot longer for you.”

“He hated his dad because Mr. Malfoy was a Death Eater.

Harry shrugged. “And now he’s paying the fines and he can’t have a wand again. I suppose you could say he’s still a Death Eater, but he can’t really do anything about it.” He turned another page and frowned at the drawing of a cauldron. It looked wrong. He turned the book around to peer at it.

“And you think—Malfoy’s really changed his mind?”

“Which one?”

“The one in the school who’s going around offering apologies.”

Harry grinned at the page, making sure to hide it from Ron, and nodded. “Yeah. He’s said that he wants to be my friend, and I can’t imagine him saying that until he had changed his mind.”

“Does that mean that he’s going to want to spend time with us?”

Harry gave in to the pressure in the back of his throat, and laughed.

*

“I’m sorry for talking about your family’s poverty, Weasley. If I’d thought about it, I would have realized that that prejudice wasn’t rational. Why would it matter if you were poor or not? My father taught me that we should judge people by their virtues and how useful they could be to us—”

Ron wrinkled his nose. Malfoy paused for a second and then continued. His voice was a little more clipped than it had been when he spoke to Harry and Hermione. Harry watched in interest. He had thought the apology to Hermione would be the hardest, because Malfoy had seen her as inferior for so long, but what he’d thought about Ron was pretty repellent.

“And then I realized that my father spoke differently of your family and your father.” Malfoy sighed and looked at the wall. “It would have been one thing if he’d had some different reason for that, but he never did. He was just wrong.”

Ron blinked, and his ears turned red. “Never thought I’d hear the day when you admitted your father was wrong, Malfoy.”

“Yes, well.” Malfoy turned back, and he wasn’t smiling, but his face had that attentive look it seemed to have most of the time. “I can do that now.”

“Yeah, I suppose you can.” Ron was watching Malfoy the way he might have watched a chess piece that was making a wrong move, and Harry tensed instinctively. But Ron only waved his hand a minute later and said, “Fine. Apology accepted. Can we get on to the Great Hall for breakfast now?”

Harry grinned at Ron’s back as he walked on. Once again, Hermione glanced over her shoulder and then hurried to catch up with Ron.

“Thanks for doing that,” Harry told Malfoy softly. “I—are you all right? That seemed harder for you.”

“It was wrong of me to make fun of him and his family for being poor, but I still don’t like him.”

“Why?”

“Because he has all the freedom that I never did,” Malfoy whispered. “And he’s had good friends for years, and his family encouraged him to be as free with his emotions as possible, and…he treats it like it’s nothing.”

“I think he values it more than he used to,” Harry said. Malfoy shot him a skeptical glance, and Harry abandoned the attempt to convince him that Ron had changed. It didn’t matter much, as long as they could interact peacefully. “But I’ll tell you something that I haven’t told anyone else, if you won’t tell Ron.”

“I’m still good at keeping secrets.” Malfoy’s eyes were deepening in that way Harry liked again, as if they had light rising in the back of them. “What is it?”

“There have been times when I envied Ron, too. Because he had a huge family I would have given anything to have, and sometimes he acted like he would have pushed them all away to have more money.”

Malfoy hesitated for the first time. “But you had a family. I mean, your parents are famous. More famous, now,” he added.

Harry nodded impatiently. It was true that he’d been giving interviews to the papers since the war that emphasized the role his mother’s love had played in defeating Voldemort, and how she always should have been honored for it. “Yes, but my Muggle relatives and I didn’t get along. Family is the thing I want most. Ron’s always had an overabundance of siblings, so all he wanted was to stand free of their shadow. It’s—kind of stupid, really, all of us being so sure that the other ones had everything we’d want.”

Malfoy paused for a long time. Harry wondered if he simply didn’t have anything to say, or if he was feeling embarrassed about the depth of the revelation Harry had dumped on him.

That’s probably it. Harry cleared his throat in his own embarrassment and started to move away.

Malfoy put a hand on his shoulder, and Harry paused and waited. Malfoy’s voice was slow and thoughtful as he said, “Friends tell each other secrets, right?”

“Yeah, but we’ve already exchanged them. You don’t have to tell me something else just because I told you something you didn’t count on, Malfoy.”

Malfoy gave him a troubled smile, eyes as bright as the sea. “I didn’t mean that. I mean that—I’ve said I want to be your friend, we’re sort of acting like them, and yet we’re still calling each other by our last names.”

Harry blinked. He would have assumed Malfoy still wanted the distance of last names, to keep one link to the past now that everything else was different.

But no, he saw as Malfoy looked at him, and stood there, and Harry felt a fine tremor racing up Malfoy’s arm. Maybe everything really was changing.

The way everything had changed for him when Harry woke in the middle of the night and realized that Voldemort was dead, gone, forever, and no one could make Harry into a hero again.

“Yes, all right,” Harry said, unable to keep the smile from his face. “Draco.” He clapped Draco’s shoulder in return. “And my name is Harry.”

“I know,” Draco muttered, with a trace of the old tone, but the expression on his face made up for it. He was staring as intently at Harry as if they’d just been introduced, and with far more insight than the eleven-year-old on the train had ever had.

Harry nodded to him, and they walked into the Great Hall side-by-side.