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The Pure and Simple Truth

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8 January, 2004

“You really think this is a good idea?” Harry said, stepping out of the lift at the Ministry.

“Of course,” said Malfoy. “It’s my idea. Therefore it’s bloody brilliant.”

“Want to keep that modesty to a minimum?”

“You use foreign words,” Malfoy said. “Why are we stopping here?”

Harry was standing near the Fountain of the Brethren. “I don’t know,” he said. “Because what if Ron kills you?”

Malfoy smirked. “Would you be upset?”

“Yes,” said Harry, and as Malfoy preened, went on, “Ron would be a murderer, and I’m an Auror, and it would mean I’d have to take my best friend to Azkaban. So, yes, I’d be upset.”

Malfoy stopped preening. “You never know. I may kill him.”

“Then I would have to take you to Azkaban.”

Malfoy started preening again. “Would you be upset?”

Harry looked at him a little while. Malfoy didn’t have his bag―maybe he really thought Ron would murder him, and that there was no use bringing work home with him. His suit was grey and he was holding his jacket and robes; his waistcoat was―well, it wasn’t half bad, and his white sleeves were turned up at the cuffs. Harry understood why people used to dress that way.

Like, a hundred years ago.

“What?” Malfoy said. He had stopped preening.

“Nothing,” said Harry. “Let’s go.”

“No,” said Malfoy, catching up. “What?”

Harry spared him a glance. “You look like you’ve dressed for a funeral.”

“I have done.” Harry threw him another glance, and Malfoy grinned at him. “We’re meeting Weasley, aren’t we?”

“He’s not that bad,” said Harry.

Malfoy’s open grin changed into the more familiar smirk. “I’ll tell him you said so.”

“Look,” said Harry, and stopped again.

“I’m looking, Potter.”

Malfoy had this sort of . . . mood now, whenever he looked at Harry. It was more than just the polite little smile he used to have; it had broadened into an aura of vague amusement. He didn’t seem to think that Harry was hilarious, or anything like that; he just seemed to think that Harry was . . . funny. Very funny.

It annoyed Harry to no end.

“Look,” Harry said again. “Hermione likes you. And I like her, and Ron, and she likes Ron, and I like Pansy, so can you just―just not be a prat, okay?”

Malfoy suddenly stopped smiling. He was quiet for a moment, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “When have I been a prat?” he said finally, his voice quiet.

You were just now, Harry wanted to say, because of how amused Malfoy had just looked, the way he had been smiling―but Harry couldn’t put his finger on what was wrong, exactly, with smiling, so he didn’t say it.

“I mean in recent memory.” Malfoy’s voice was still quiet. “I can think of a thousand times, when we were younger. I’m sure you can think of a thousand different times. But that was then, and―and if I have been a prat to you at all since I asked you to the pub, I would like to know, so that I can―”

“You haven’t been,” Harry said quickly. “I’m just nervous. About Ron. He’s―he’s pretty sensitive, and you’re . . .”

Malfoy waited.

The light was bright enough to see little motes of dust in the air.

“I’m what?” Malfoy said at last, in that quiet way.

Harry shrugged. “You’re Malfoy.”

Malfoy’s jaw tightened. “Trust me,” he said. “I’m doing what I can to fix it.” He turned on his heel and headed toward the Floo.

Harry wanted to run after him, to tell them that it wasn’t what he had meant. It wasn’t what he had meant at all; it was just . . . it was what Ron would say, and Harry wanted Malfoy to be prepared for it. That was all.

It didn’t change the fact that Harry had said it too, which made him no better than Ron―quite a bit worse, actually, as he hadn’t actually given Ron a chance, to see what he would do.

And it made him fifty times more of a prat than Malfoy, anyway. Sighing, Harry turned and followed Malfoy out the Floo.

Pansy had been right; this certainly was going to be interesting.

*

Inviting Ron to the pub had been Malfoy’s idea, and in Malfoy’s idea, Pansy wasn’t invited.

“You’re too much,” he had told her.

Pansy had looked bored and said, “I’m more than any man can handle.”

Ron and Hermione were already at the pub when Malfoy arrived, Harry trailing a little behind. Malfoy didn’t even hesitate; he walked straight up to the table and thrust out his hand.

It was fairly aggressive, and Harry knew that it was all his fault.

Ron, because he was Ron, and thirty times the man Harry ever gave him credit for, took it and shook it.

Malfoy pulled out a chair and sat down. Then he began counting on one hand. “I’m sorry for calling Hermione names. I’m sorry you vomited slugs, even if it was your own damn fault. I’m sorry my father gave your sister that journal. I’m sorry I made fun of your friends. I’m sorry I tried to get Hagrid fired, and I’m sorry I almost got your friend’s hypogriff killed.” He started on the other hand. “I’m sorry I made light of Cedric Diggory; I’m sorry I was in the Inquisition Squad; I’m―”

“You’re going to start needing to use toes, pretty soon,” Ron said. In his Ron-ish way, he sounded vaguely alarmed.

“I haven’t even got to the good ones yet,” Malfoy said.

“I don’t know,” said Hermione gently, “your carrying on about that scratch from Buckbeak was first rate.”

“I’m sorry I was a Death Eater,” Malfoy said.

Ron looked at him curiously. “Sorry I called you ‘Amazing Bouncing Ferret’ for so long.”

“I’m sorry about William Weasley’s face,”

“Who, now?” Ron made an odd chuckling sound. “You can call him Bill.”

“I’m sorry I let Death Eaters into Hogwarts,” Malfoy said.

“Er,” said Ron. “Buy us a round, we’ll call it even, yeah?”

“I’m sorry I almost killed you.”

“Well,” said Ron, a little helplessly. “It happens.”

Hermione looked reprovingly at Harry.

What? he mouthed, because it wasn’t like she could just know. No one was that good.

“So,” said Ron, into the awkward silence. He laughed again, uncomfortably.

Malfoy was glaring down at the table.

“Hermione says you like chess.” Ron just kept at it, really. He never quit; that’s why he was Harry’s friend.

Pansy had said Malfoy was that way, too.

“Yes,” Malfoy said. Grimacing, he looked up. “I’m sorry. I just had some things I needed to get off my chest. Apparently.”

“Okay,” said Ron. “I get it. Just, you’re really gonna be sorry, if you keep apologizing. I mean . . . that’s not actually a threat. I just . . .” Ron shrugged. “Hermione says you’re all right, now. And honestly, you haven’t been a git to me in years.”

Ron’s laugh was so, so awkward, and Harry loved him. He loved him deeply, and dearly, and would never tell him that, because it was sort of gay. And even though he was gay, he didn’t feel that way for Ron. But maybe he would have done, if he had been at all attracted to him, if Hermione wasn’t in love with him, if a thousand things hadn’t happened the way they had.

Harry could have hit himself―for being the one to almost fuck this up, for not trusting it, for saying what he had to Malfoy at the Ministry―if it would have helped at all.

“I do like chess,” Malfoy said. “Hermione says you’re brilliant at it. Do you . . .” His gaze drifted in Harry’s direction, but didn’t quite make it there. His eyes snapped back on Ron’s face, and he looked him square in the eye. “Fancy a match sometime, Weasley?”

“Sure,” said Ron. “And really, if you’re going to call Bill Bill, you can call me Ron.”

“All right,” said Malfoy, brows raised. “You can call me Draco. Tell me, do you play Go, Ron?”

That name sounded really, really weird coming out of Malfoy’s mouth. Ron looked like he thought so too.

Even Malfoy looked like he thought so too, but neither of them budged.

“Er,” said Ron. “No? As I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“It’s a wizarding game,” said Malfoy. “Hermione says you excel at strategy. You’ll like it.”

Ron shrugged. “Okay. You might as well teach it to me some time.”

“Yes.” And then, just like that, all the stiffness was gone, and Malfoy was suddenly very Malfoy, which meant that he was smirking. “How about those Cannons?” he said.

“They’ll win this year,” Ron said, as though on cue.

Malfoy snorted. “Not bloody likely. Have you even looked at the stats on their newest Chaser?”

“Up and comer,” Ron said promptly.

“Tosh,” said Malfoy. “No one else wanted her.”

Ron began, “Baxter Gibson―”

“Has been carrying the entire team for three years running,” said Malfoy. “And where has he been carrying them? Straight up to the bottom. Throw me another.”

“Cassandra Clark―”

Malfoy faked a yawn. “You really are as ridiculous about this team as they say.”

Glowering, Ron turned to Hermione. “What all did you tell him?”

“About Quidditch?” Hermione said, innocent. “You know I won’t talk about Quidditch. Other than to say it’s―”

“—an unnecessary expression of violence―” Ron began.

“—not to mention dangerous―” said Harry.

“—that is to say, completely demeaning to the intellect, if you have half a brain―” said Ron.

“—not to mention a substitution for the phallic envy that dominates the workings of our oppressive patriarchy,” said Malfoy.

Ron gave a low whistle. “Oy. You’re good.”

“I have practice,” Malfoy said. When Ron looked at him inquiringly, he explained, “Pansy.”

“Parkinson, eh?” said Ron. “I knew she wasn’t half bad.”

“Half-bad?” said Hermione. “Whenever I say those things, you cover your ears and say, ‘la la la’.”

“But I like you,” said Ron. “Even when you say those things. Sometimes especially when you say those things, if you’re using really big words like ‘phallic’ and―whatsit, ‘kyriarchy’.”

“Big words always do get me hot,” Malfoy said.

“Phallic is not a big word,” Hermione said, frowning.

“Dirty,” said Malfoy, and leered.

“You’re part of the problem with the patriarchy,” said Hermione.

Malfoy turned to Ron. “I always cover my ears and say, ‘mi mi mi’ when Pansy uses foul language like this with me. You and I should form a singing group together.”

“You’re always saying, ‘you you you’,” Harry said, just to be a part of the conversation.

Malfoy barely glanced at him. “What other teams do you support, Ron?”

“Cannons are enough for me, mate.”

Malfoy shook his head sadly. “My soul weeps for you.”

“Well,” said Ron, and shifted in his chair. “Er, what about you? What teams do you support?”

“Holyhead Harpies,” Malfoy said promptly.

Ron brightened considerably. “Really? My sister plays for that team.”

Malfoy smiled. “I know. That’s one reason I support them. She’s really quite good.”

Ron puffed up at that. “She is, isn’t she?”

“Of course,” said Malfoy, “she’ll be utterly slaughtered by the Tornadoes.”

Ron frowned. “What do you mean, she’ll be―”

Hermione leaned in. “What did you say to him?”

“What?” said Harry. He didn’t know what Hermione was talking about, but Ron and Malfoy were still talking, and he wanted to hear what they were going to say―even if he had heard Malfoy argue this case a hundred time already. He knew which teams Malfoy favoured; they had talked about it a lot in those first several months, when it had just been them. They had violently disagreed.

Harry found he missed it.

“What did you say to Draco?” Hermione said again.

Abruptly, Harry’s focus snapped onto Hermione. “What do you mean?” he asked blankly.

Hermione huffed. “When he came in, he was in a strop about something.”

“He wasn’t in a strop.”

Tucking a bit of hair behind her ear, Hermione said, “I know Malfoy wanted to get this right. For our sakes.”

Harry glanced at Malfoy. He was talking to Ron easily, as though they had known each other for years―which they had, Harry supposed, but not like this. Never like this. Malfoy looked comfortable, sitting there in his stupid, three piece suit―nothing at all like the pointy, twitchy person Harry had known at Hogwarts. This person was a man―he was grown-up―he looked a little like his father, actually, but not in a bad way, just . . . his shoulders were broader, and his jaw was a little more square than it used to be, though it was still narrow.

Malfoy had expressive hands―long, capable hands, that said things in weird shapes when he talked, and his voice had this particular timbre; it reminded Harry of―

“Harry,” said Hermione. “What did you say to him?”

“What?” said Harry. “I didn’t say anything.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I know you said something.”

Harry frowned at her. “How?”

“Oh, Harry.” She looked at him rather sadly. “No one can get to Malfoy quite the way you can.”

“He wasn’t in a strop,” Harry said.

“Fine, have it your way.”

“They’re getting on, aren’t they?” Harry said, looking at Ron and Malfoy again. “That’s all that matters, isn’t it?”

Hermione huffed again. “Yes. I suppose that’s all that really does.”

* * *

15 January, 2004

“Hey, Malfoy?” Harry had headed over to SO to catch Malfoy before their usual meeting in the lift, finding him at his desk.

Malfoy was just reaching for his bag. “Hey, Potter. Headed to the pub?”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “I wanted to talk to you.”

Malfoy raised a brow.

Harry pushed his glasses up. “I’m sorry. About last week.”

Malfoy frowned. “Last week?”

“Er.” Harry’s eyes searched Malfoy’s face. “I mean, about saying you were going to muck it up with Ron. That was out of order. You’re not―it wasn’t fair. I’m sorry.”

“Oh.”

Harry stood there for a while. It wasn’t as though Malfoy had said anything about it since then. He was the potions expert for Specialist Operations, and Harry was an Auror, so Harry didn’t see all that much of him at work, except when they had a case that Harry needed potions advice on. When Harry had seen him at the Ministry, Malfoy had been nothing but polite.

“All right,” said Malfoy.

That’s it? Harry wanted to ask, but didn’t. “Okay,” he said instead.

Malfoy looked at him curiously. “Pansy asked whether she should come tonight.”

“Why shouldn’t she?”

Shrugging, Malfoy looked away. “It’s not like our respective friends have a very good history together.”

Harry frowned. “Is this because of what I said?”

“I wouldn’t want anyone to be made uncomfortable.”

“I’m not uncomfortable,” Harry said. “We’re not uncomfortable.” For bloody sake, Harry wanted to say, I’m a Gryffindor.

But it was he who had acted uncomfortable last time.

Malfoy just shrugged again. “All right,” he said. “I’ll owl her.”

*

When Harry and Malfoy got to the pub, Ron and Hermione were sitting side by side at a table, so Harry and Malfoy ordered drinks and sat across from them. A little while later, Pansy arrived. “Don’t get up on my account,” she said.

Malfoy made a face, and Ron looked confused, possibly because no one was standing.

“Hullo Weasley,” Pansy said, and sat down at the head of the table, next to Malfoy and Hermione.

Ron said, “Uh. Hi, Parkinson.”

“I’m sorry about the song,” Pansy said.

Ron scratched the back of his neck. “Song?”

“Weasley Is Our King,” said Pansy. “Shall I jog your memory by singing a few bars?”

“Pansy.” Malfoy’s tone was sharp.

“No, no,” Ron said, though Harry thought his bluster sounded false. “Go right on ahead.”

“Pansy,” Malfoy said again.

Pansy didn’t sing. Harry couldn’t really imagine Pansy singing. Instead, she spoke in a sing-song voice, the way you do with nursery rhymes. Harry wondered if she had said it over and over to cheer people up, the way you do with nursery rhymes.

The Weasley budget is but a string,
That’s why he can’t buy an-y-thing,
That’s why the Sly-ther-ins all sing,
Weasley is our King.

Harry was impressed, actually. He thought Pansy may have achieved several other pitches besides her usual monotone.

“Please don’t be upset, Ron,” Malfoy said. “Pansy’s not going to be in our singing group.”

“You should be upset, if I’m not to be in your singing group,” said Pansy. “Malfoy gave up lyrics writing when he couldn’t rhyme with ‘ugly’. I’m much better with rhymes; I kept at it. There are ninety-seven verses, by the way.”

“See?” Hermione nudged Ron. “I told you you would like her.” She turned to Pansy innocently. “Pansy, do you remember when you accidentally ate those puking pustules in fifth year?”

“Ha ha,” said Pansy.

“I’ve always wondered what to call the exact shade of colour your face turned,” Hermione said. “At first I thought olive, but then Parvati suggested chartreuse.”

“Is this your way of implying you put pustules in my salad?” Pansy said.

“No,” Hermione said proudly. “It was Ron!”

Ron looked from Pansy to Hermione, then back to Pansy. “Sorry about that,” he told her.

“No hard feelings,” said Pansy. “I was a complete cow at Hogwarts.”

“Er.” Ron scratched the back of his neck again. “You’re not going to list off all the mistakes you made, are you? Because it could take a while.”

“The only mistake in Weasley Is Our King is that ‘porcine’ doesn’t rhyme with ‘phlegmatic’ at all,” said Pansy.

Ron stared at her, then looked across at Malfoy. “I see what you mean,” he said, “about the vocabulary.”

“Malfoy doesn’t have a problem with it,” Pansy said.

Malfoy smirked. “Ron doesn’t either.”

“Doesn’t he, now.” Pansy looked at Ron, interest evident in her slowly raising brow.

Frowning, Hermione said, “The obvious rhyme for ‘porcine’ is ‘asinine’.”

“Thanks, sweetie,” said Ron.

Hermione frowned some more. “Well, it is.”

“Pansy did say she was sorry she wanted to give me over to Voldemort,” Harry said.

“I only said it to get on his good side,” said Pansy.

“What are you going to do now you’re on my good side?” Harry said.

“I don’t know yet,” said Pansy. “I consider it an investment in my future. Sort of like giving you up to Snakeface would have b―”

“Don’t,” Malfoy said.

Pansy looked at Malfoy, whose jaw was clenched. Both her brows went up, which actually seemed a bit energetic of her, considering that it was Pansy. “Draco,” she said. “You know I don’t think―”

“Just don’t,” Malfoy said.

Pansy shut her mouth.

Malfoy frowned down at his drink.

The pub was called The Round Table. The tables weren’t round; they were large and dark, made of heavy wood, with knots in them. The air was warm and the beer was good, and the food rather sophisticated, for a pub, but hearty; there was usually music of the sort you’d have found in Irish taverns maybe three hundred years ago, in the Muggle world.

Harry liked it. It was just the sort of place to go with friends to have a pint, but he’d never been there before Draco Malfoy took him there. Malfoy had looked pleased with himself when Harry had said that he had never been. He’d looked even more pleased a week after they had been the first time, when Harry had stopped him outside the lift and asked him if he’d care to go again. Harry was fairly certain Malfoy wasn’t happy just because Harry liked the pub.

“I think it’s safe to say we’ve all done things we regret,” said Harry, his voice quieter than he actually meant it to be.

Malfoy turned toward him slightly, but stopped when Ron said, “I sort of regret not hearing the other ninety-five verses of Weasley Is Our King.”

“I would sing them all,” said Pansy, “but I can’t in mixed company. Some of them are dirty.”

“Dirty?” Ron choked on air, a bit.

“Yes,” said Pansy. “Your shoulders didn’t depress me, at Hogwarts. Everything else depressed me. Your biceps depress me even less, now.”

“’Malign’,” said Hermione. “’Blood line’. ‘Has no spine’. See, there are plenty of things that rhyme with porcine. Or ‘bovine’. You could have even just used ‘swine’.”

Pansy looked at her. “I couldn’t use ‘has no spine’.”

“Why not?” said Hermione. “It’s a perfectly valid rhyme.”

Pansy rolled her eyes. “We’re talking about Weasley. Not Percival, obviously.”

“You can call me Ron,” said Ron. “Percy’s got a spine.”

“Oh,” said Pansy. “Where does he keep it?”

Ron smiled. “In a drawer, I think. But I’ve seen it once or twice.”

“Don’t even get me started on phlegmatic,” said Hermione. “Static, erratic, fanatic. I can go on.”

“I’m going to get us a drink.” Standing up, Pansy headed for the bar.

Ron watched her go. “She’s something else.”

“A better word for phlegmatic would have been hebetudinous,” Hermione said.

“Very nice,” said Malfoy.

Hermione brightened. “Thanks.”

Ron put his arm around Hermione and squeezed. “Want to tell Malfoy your big news, honey?”

“Oh!” Hermione brightened further still. “I got Rackham to sign it!”

“Really?” Malfoy looked surprised, then smiled. “Good work. I would have thought he’d never come around. Honestly, Hermione, that was well done.”

Hermione was basically a Lumos at this point. “I think it was the point you made about werewolves, and I’ve been talking to him about the trolls. And the house-elves. I really appreciate your perspective on those things, Draco. It really helps.”

“Oh.” Malfoy looked down at his pint. Harry didn’t even have to look at him to know that his cheeks were pink. “I―you’re welcome.”

“Now all she’s got to do is run for Minister,” Ron said, and squeezed her again.

“Really, Ron,” Hermione said, looking very pleased. “You’ve got to have tons of experience for that. I don’t work for government, remember?”

“Why is that, exactly?” Malfoy asked.

“They think she’s too radical,” said Harry. “I think you would be a great Minister, Hermione.”

Malfoy turned toward him again, just slightly. “I didn’t know you paid attention, Potter.”

“I pay attention,” Harry said. “I just don’t like what I see.”

Hermione said, “That’s why―”

“She’s going to say that that’s why I should get involved,” Harry said, turning towards Malfoy in order to explain. “But it’s exactly why I shouldn’t. When I get involved, I get angry. And no one wants to see me angry.”

Malfoy studied him a moment. “Some people might.”

“Sometimes I wish I could just tell everyone to shut up and listen to each other,” said Harry.

“If everyone shuts up, no one’s talking,” Malfoy pointed out.

“Yeah.” Harry turned back to the table and took a sip of his lager. “Except me. You see how it’s a problem.”

Malfoy was looking at him, not with his usual smile, but he was looking at him, and he hadn’t quite done that since Harry had said what he had said last week.

When Harry thought about how Malfoy had acted around him before last week―the aura of amusement with which Malfoy had regarded him―Harry realized Malfoy hadn’t been laughing at him at all. Malfoy had been―Malfoy had been playful. It had been something approaching fondness.

And Harry had gone and fucked it up.

He took another gulp of lager. He didn’t know when it had begun to register at all, whether he had Draco Malfoy’s approval.

“Harry’s got control issues,” Ron said.

“Thanks,” Harry said.

Ron grinned. “No problem, mate.”

“Hermione can do politics,” Harry said. “She’d be a good politician. She’s not going to hex anyone’s bollocks off.”

“Probably,” Ron said.

Malfoy raised a brow. “Speaking from personal experience, Weasley?”

Hermione leaned in, smirking. “Would you like to find out, Malfoy?”

Malfoy smirked as well. “Not on your life. I would like to know, though, what you plan to do about Meagre.”

Hermione started talking about Bertram Meagre. Meagre was a member of the Wizengamot, and influential with some of the other members, and it was they who had cut down the last legislation regarding rights for fairies―which were treated basically like insects by wizarding laws. Even if fairies were annoying, Harry thought it should have been pretty clean-cut, but of course, some of the pure-blood old guard were pulling up ancient instances of fairies stealing children, and the like. Though Hermione had read the histories, it wasn’t the same at all as being close to a family who had had incidents with changelings, because some of those families were still recovering, Malfoy claimed, even if it had been ten generations back.

“But what about the changelings themselves?” Hermione said. “Does anyone even care about them?”

“Er,” said Malfoy. “Well, generally changelings suck the life out of the human child’s mother, so . . .”

“So no one cares about them? That’s horrific,” said Hermione. “Those children were abandoned by their parents, just given to people who have no way of understanding what they are. How are changelings to know how to behave in this world?”

“I . . .” Malfoy glanced at Harry. “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” he said.

“Think of how lonely those fairy children must have been,” said Hermione, “how different than us they are, and how little they understood.”

Malfoy’s gaze started to slide in Harry’s direction again, and Harry wasn’t thinking about why, just that Malfoy was going to look at him. But Malfoy refocused on Hermione instead, and said, “Yes, I understand. Our worlds are very different. But there aren’t any―there aren’t any changelings these days, and fairies have lost a lot of the power they held, so―”

“So we should just take everything away from them?”

Malfoy sneered. “That’s not what I’m saying at all, Hermione, and you know it.”

“No need to get excited mate,” Ron said, in a perfectly easy way.

Hermione bit her lip, and Malfoy looked absolutely devastated. “I’m sorry―”

“No,” Hermione said. “I’m sorry, I just get so―”

“Let me.” Malfoy leaned in. “I don’t mean to be a prat. I just want you to understand―the fey are a people who were very, very powerful. They had a world that was basically their own, plenty of land, and no one questioned them because they were just there. They did whatever they wanted; they took whatever they wanted. They hurt whoever they wanted, and they didn’t give a toss for anyone else.

“And then the world changed, didn’t it, and they woke up one day and discovered they didn’t have the run of fields and forests any more. Their first instinct wasn’t to accept it, to work together with the humans and the Mug―the humans and make a better world. Their first instinct was to fight it, and they were crushed. And then they didn’t have anything, and what was more, they were being punished for being what they were―who they were―the horrible, dreadful things they were, even though they had been those things another lifetime ago. You think I can’t identify with that? You think I can’t understand?”

Malfoy put his arm out on the table, and Harry wished he wouldn’t do it. He wished he didn’t have to see, but Malfoy was folding back his pressed white sleeve, slowly, one cuff’s length at a time.

“Oh, Draco.” Hermione’s eyes were wet.

The Dark Mark was twisted and ugly, and Malfoy’s arm was strong and pale beneath it.

Hermione covered it with her hand.

“Now you tell me your side of the war,” Malfoy said, “and you’ll see how Meagre and those other gits in the Wizengamot feel.”

“I see Draco is flashing his tattoo around again. He always does that when he wants to be sexy.” Pansy had sauntered up with her drink. Plunking it down on Ron and Harry’s end of the table, she drew up a chair. She had been at the other end before. “I don’t want to sit with the adults,” she said. “They look like they’re having a moment.”

“Oh, that’s nothing,” said Ron. “I have plenty of scars. Do you want to see?”

Pansy looked at him. “Will I get to feel up your arm, too?”

Hermione gave a choked little laugh, and took her hand away. “Okay,” she said. “I’m sorry. I get it now.”

Malfoy quickly started rolling down his sleeve. “Don’t apologize,” was all he said.

Hermione laughed again, a little less choked, this time. “Anyway, you’re right,” she said. “This is a problem. How do we make them see that―that fairies have changed?

“I haven’t a clue.” Turning his wrist, Malfoy neatly buttoned up the cuff. “But I think you’re on the right track, when it comes to Rackham. With Meagre, I feel like we’re―don’t get me wrong―I just mean, he doesn’t feel like you have an understanding of where he’s coming from. Someone like that . . .” Malfoy shook his head.

“All right,” said Hermione. “So what we’ve got to do―”

Pansy leaned in, her long, lean fingers wrapping around Harry’s elbow. “What did you do to Draco?” she said, her voice lower than usual.

Harry frowned. “What? I didn’t do anything to―”

Pansy rolled her eyes. “He’s been in high dudgeon all week.”

“That’s not my―”

“How often do you think he goes about flashing that great ugly scar?”

Harry glanced at Malfoy, who was listening to Hermione in his intensely focused way. The thing was that Malfoy looked like he was really listening, when he was having a conversation like this, and it was visible. It was as though he was making a really conscious effort to hear what the other person had to say.

Harry turned back to Pansy. “You said he does it whenever he wants to be sexy.”

“Never,” Pansy said. “He never does it. You just watch your back, Potter. If you ruin this . . . little idea of friendship he’s got, I will be seriously displeased.”

Startled, Harry said, “What little―”

But Pansy sat back, and Malfoy was talking, and he just sounded so horribly sincere. He had never used to sound that way before, except when he was saying he’d make Harry pay, and then his voice had been laced with venom. Now it was suffused with something much like―like graciousness, and it didn’t sound like Malfoy at all, except that it did. Harry thought he’d probably recognize his voice anywhere, the way he would Ron’s, or Hermione’s, and wasn’t that just strange. He thought that he would know Pansy’s too, and that was downright bizarre.

“You’ve got to convince him it’s in his best interests,” Malfoy was saying. “You can’t take the moral high ground with him, because he’s just going to shake his finger and quote instances of kidnappings and terrorism, and there isn’t any argument you can make against that that he’ll listen to. And you can’t threaten him, because he’ll just come down that much harder on all the Beasts and Beings you’re trying to protect.”

Hermione twirled her hair around her finger. “Okay, that makes sense. But what if we got him to see it in the light you just put it?”

Malfoy shook his head. “Meagre wasn’t a Death Eater.”

“No.” Hermione twirled her hair some more. “But he does have sympathies, doesn’t he? And fairies are―well, they’re very pure in a way. They’re pure magic. And they did once have very powerful magic.”

Malfoy chewed the inside of his cheek. “That’s an interesting point. If―”

Pansy turned to Ron. “What do you when you see a fairy, Ronald?”

Malfoy went on talking, Hermione listening, sometimes nodding, tucking her hair behind her ear. Her drink was mostly forgotten, elbows on the table, and Malfoy was probably going to start in on her pint too, because he just did that, sometimes.

“It’s Ron,” said Ron. “Find a fly swatter. How about you?”

“I keep them in jars,” said Pansy. “They make a very good night-light.”

“We swing gnomes around our heads,” Ron said. “Then we chuck them as far as we can.”

“You’re all right,” Pansy said, as though she had just decided.

Harry put his head in his hands. Malfoy and Hermione were still talking about things like understanding fellow men, and the principles of being human. “Great,” Harry said. “I could have lived without the realization that degnoming is cruel.”

“You can still do it,” Pansy said.

“No,” Harry said. “I can’t.”

“Why not?” Pansy seemed interested.

“Because it isn’t right,” Harry said.

“This disappoints you,” Pansy said.

Harry nodded miserably. “Degnoming is fun.”

“You’re all right too.” Patting his hand awkwardly, Pansy turned back to Ron. “Our gardener thwacked our gnomes with shovels.”

“How come we never thought of that?” asked Ron.

“Because your mum doesn’t kill people,” said Harry.

Ron just looked at him.

Realizing his mistake, Harry open his mouth. Shut it. Looking down at the table, he tried to think of something to say.

“This is awkward,” Pansy said.

Ron looked at her a little disbelievingly. “Are you ever appropriate?”

“No,” said Pansy. “No one liked Draco’s aunt anyway. She was absolutely mental.”

That didn’t make it right, Harry wanted to say, and didn’t, because of Ron. It wasn’t that Harry thought it was wrong, exactly. Harry didn’t know what to think, and that was the main reason he didn’t get involved in politics, because politicians didn’t talk the way that Hermione did―or like Malfoy did, come to think of it. Everyone just said that they were right and everyone else was wrong, and Voldemort obviously had been wrong, but Harry had no idea whether Molly Weasley was right for killing Bellatrix.

He had no idea if he would ever know.

“She was at that,” was all Ron said. He sipped his ale and smacked his lips. “Anyway,” he said, “mum kills doxies.”

“Does she now.” Pansy looked interested again.

“We did too,” Ron said.

“Doxies aren’t,” Harry began. “Oh, no. They are, aren’t they?”

“Sentient? Self-aware?” Ron shrugged. “Hermione thinks they’ve got about the intelligence of Kneazles. But you wouldn’t swat a Kneazle, now, would you?”

“Kneazles are cute and fluffy,” Pansy said. “I would swat them instantly.”

“Do you still kill doxies?” Harry asked Ron, horrified.

Ron shrugged. “Hermione’d have my head.”

“You’re like a puppy,” said Pansy. “Trained and everything.”

Smirking, Ron said, “Are you going to swat me?”

“I might.” Pansy’s mouth twisted into her little smirk. “If you ask nicely.”

“I feel like everyone I know is really corrupt,” Harry said. “Or―” He glanced at Malfoy, who was deep in an earnest conversation with Hermione. “Or really not corrupt. What I mean is, it’s confusing.”

“It’s all right,” Pansy said. “You were locked in a cupboard. I was neglected and objectified.” She turned to Ron. “What’s your excuse?”

Ron shrugged. “I don’t know. Born this way?”

“Come, come,” Pansy said. “Didn’t you have a terrible childhood too?”

“Oh, that.” Ron glanced at Harry. “Well, no. Harry’s aunt and uncle, now―”

“I didn’t ask about Harry.” Pansy was just talking in the same voice she always used, but somehow it sounded quieter. “I was asking about you.”

“Er.” Ron looked slightly uncomfortable. “Well, you know.”

Pansy’s perfectly tweezed black brow went up again in its lazy, mocking way. “No, I don’t know. If you want me to tell you the things I’ve imagined about your family, I can, but I doubt that you’ll be pleased.”

Ron laughed. “Go ahead. I can take it.”

For a moment, Pansy just looked at him. She seemed as though she were about to speak, and then she didn’t.

“Ron,” Harry said, “you can talk about it. It’s not as though I’m going to think you hate your mum, or anything, if―if―I mean if, you were ever unhappy.” He frowned. Of course Ron must have been unhappy, from time to time. Everyone was, and just because Harry couldn’t imagine growing up as a Weasley being other than perfect, probably he wouldn’t feel that way if he’d actually got to do it.

“I doubt that’s what he’s worried about,” said Pansy.

“Oh,” Harry said. “Is it―I mean, was it me?” He knew that that was sometimes a problem too, and it wasn’t his fault, but sometimes Harry still felt guilty. And he knew he shouldn’t feel guilty, mainly because it made Ron feel even guiltier, for being jealous of―of the attention and the fame and people sending him Valentine’s, and the thousand things that Harry didn’t want, but Ron did. “Because Ron,” he said, “if it was me, I’m not going to―”

“Not everything is about you, actually,” said Pansy, and Harry shut up.

Ron shook his head. “It’s not that. I didn’t have a terrible childhood.”

“Fine,” Pansy said. “Don’t join our club.”

“I didn’t.” Ron frowned down at his drink. “I really didn’t. It was Fred and George who were always getting into trouble. And Ginny who always argued with Mum. And it was Percy who was always unhappy, and . . .”

“And William made the best marks, and was the best looking, and Charles the kindest, and the most talented, ” said Pansy, sounding bored.

Ron shrugged. “That’s all, really.”

“Yes,” said Pansy, as though she had made a point. “That’s all.”

Harry wanted to say he was sorry, without quite knowing why.

“As for you,” Pansy said, “you had plenty to make you special. After all, you had one best friend who was a genius, and your other best friend saved the wizarding world. How could you possibly want more?”

He’s good at chess, Harry wanted to say, but didn’t. He had decided to work on how not to be a tool. “Ron saved the wizarding world too,” he said.

“The lot of you look miserable,” Malfoy said suddenly, the low murmur of his conversation with Hermione abruptly ending. “Pansy, what did you do to them?”

Pansy turned her head to look at him in her eerie, feline way. “Ronald said he would show me his scars.”

“Did you?” Hermione said curiously. “Did you show her the one on your―”

“It’s Ron,” Ron told Pansy. “I didn’t show her any,” he told Hermione.

“None that you can see.” Pansy’s lip curled.

Malfoy glared at her balefully. “You’re more trouble than you’re worth.”

Pansy flapped a lazy hand. “Practically everything is more trouble than it’s worth.”

“Not everything,” Harry heard himself say.

He didn’t look at Malfoy, but he could feel him, sitting beside him.

* * *

17 June, 2004

“Hullo, Potter,” Malfoy said, before even glancing his way. He was putting papers in his bag, getting ready to go.

“Hullo,” said Harry. He met Malfoy at his desk in SO every once in a while; Specialist Ops was further down than the Aurors Division, so there wasn't much point in going down before coming back up. Malfoy could have come up and stopped at Harry's desk, but he almost never did.

It had been about five months since Ron started joining them at the pub, and they all had drinks almost every Thursday―Pansy, Malfoy, Ron, Hermione, and Harry, sometimes in varying combinations. Malfoy hadn’t ever really―well, it wasn’t like he held a grudge, but he never quite seemed as . . . open as he had, before Harry had said what he had, about Ron.

It was such a little, stupid thing, and Harry wished he’d never said it. He also wished Malfoy wouldn’t be a ponce, except that he wasn’t being a ponce. Harry wasn’t sure Malfoy even remembered it, or even realized why he acted . . . careful, around Harry. He was just a little more distant than he was with Hermione, or even Ron, as though he were well aware that Harry hadn’t forgiven him for being Draco Malfoy―which Harry had, a thousand times over, in his heart. Malfoy acted as though Harry could still hurt him, and the reason Harry didn’t correct him was because he could.

He knew he could. He was very good at it.

Leaning against the edge of Malfoy’s cubicle wall, Harry watched Malfoy close up his bag and get his coat. Malfoy didn’t always wear a three piece suit, but he usually did. Harry had ceased to find it funny. He didn’t find it funny at all. In fact, it was rather galling, the fact that Malfoy had grown up to be easy on the eyes.

“Are you ready?” Malfoy said.

Harry realized Malfoy had gathered his things and was standing there just looking at him. “Yeah,” he said, and pushed himself off the wall.

Malfoy glanced at him as they walked. “Are you all right?” he said.

“Yeah.” Harry put his hands in his pockets. He’d forgotten his robes, which was typical.

Malfoy paused, shaking the hair out of his eyes. “Are you sure? You’ve seemed . . . distracted, lately.”

Harry looked at his shoes, and said, “It’s nothing.” Then he looked around. Most of the people from the office were gone or headed home.

Malfoy tilted his head. “Would you like to go back to my desk?”

As Harry stood there, frowning, Malfoy turned and walked back in the direction of his cubicle. Harry followed him, watching as Malfoy neatly laid his robes and coat over the back of his chair, putting his bag back on the desk. He sat on the edge of the desk, just leaning there with his hands on either side. He looked very casual. His eyes looked very kind. “What is it?” he said.

Sighing, Harry said, “It’s Ron and Hermione.”

Malfoy raised his brows. They were gold, just like the rest of him.

“They’re fighting,” Harry said.

Malfoy studied him a moment. “I don’t mean to be a git, but―”

“I know they’re always fighting,” Harry said, already knowing what Malfoy was going to say. “Just because they fight a lot, doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.”

Malfoy smiled faintly. “I believe you’ve met my mother and father.”

“They didn’t―”

Malfoy just gave him a look.

“Oh,” Harry said. He looked at his shoes some more. “Did it . . . did it ever feel like they were breaking up?”

Tilting his head, Malfoy looked at him in a such a way that Harry began to get uncomfortable, thinking he had said too much, rather, about the way he felt. Just when he was about to tell Malfoy to forget it, Malfoy stood up. Picking up his robes and coat, he put them on the hook, then pulled out the desk chair. “Sit down, Potter,” he said. His voice was rather low.

Harry looked at him, looked at the chair, and sat down.

Malfoy leaned his hip against the desk again. “Sometimes I felt like they were breaking up,” he said. “Sometimes I felt like it was my fault.”

“I doubt it,” Harry said, because if he knew anything at all, he knew two things.

One was that his mother had loved him.

The other was that Lucius and Narcissa loved Malfoy.

“I don’t know,” Malfoy said. “Usually when they fought, it was about me.”

“What,” Harry began, and then realized it would be nosy to ask.

Malfoy waved a hand. “Oh, everything. Where I should go to school, whether I was receiving a proper education, whether I was allowed to prefer men. Whether I should be allowed to wear plaid. Whether I should be allowed to become a Death Eater. The usual things.”

Harry swallowed. “Did you?”

“What?”

“Wear plaid?”

Malfoy smiled at him. “In your dreams, Potter.” He put his hands in his pockets. “Don’t tell Pansy about the plaid.”

Harry looked at his hands. “I don’t know what they’re arguing about. Hermione won’t talk to me. Usually she talks to me.”

“I thought that something was not quite right.”

“Has she . . .” Harry looked up. “Has she talked to you?”

Tilting his head, Malfoy looked at him a little while. “You’re off your nut,” he said at last, quietly, “if you think that Hermione would confide in me before she would you.”

“You don’t always confide in the people closest to you, Malfoy.”

“Case in point,” Malfoy said, and looked away. He chewed the inside of his cheek. “Do you think . . . shall I talk to her?” He still didn’t look at Harry.

Harry looked up at him, and realized that was what he’d meant to ask all along. “Could you?” he said.

Malfoy nodded.

“Thanks,” Harry said.

“Not a problem. Well, then.” Standing up, Malfoy took his coat off the hook. “Would you care to go get intoxicated with me?”

“Absolutely,” said Harry.

*

Harry didn’t know whether Malfoy had planned on talking to Hermione that evening, but if he had, he wouldn’t have been able to. Hermione wasn’t there. When Harry and Malfoy arrived, just Pansy was there. When Ron joined them, he was alone.

“Where’s your better half?” Pansy said.

“Volunteering at the sanctuary.” Ron sat down, not looking very happy about it.

“The sanctuary?” said Pansy.

Ron rolled his eyes. “Do you listen to anyone but yourself?”

Pansy looked bored. “Sorry. It’s déclassé to eavesdrop on the pointless jabbering of the hoi polloi.”

“And talk in bloody English for once, why don’t you.”

Pansy looked even more bored. “I said fuck you.”

“That’s the problem,” Ron mumbled.

“Excuse me.” Pansy scraped her chair across the floor. “While Ronald mopes about his wife’s ice fortress of a snatch, I’m going to treat myself to a Chardonnay.”

“It’s Ron,” Ron called out after her. “And she’s not my wife!”

Pansy walked over to the bar.

“What’s your problem?” Harry asked.

“My problem?” Ron snorted. “Did you hear what she just said about Hermione’s―”

“You were a git to her,” Harry said.

“If she wasn’t so . . .” But Ron didn’t finish. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Ron,” Harry began, and stopped, because Malfoy was touching him.

His hand was on Harry’s elbow, and when Harry looked at him, Malfoy inclined his head slightly.

Harry was going to tell him to fuck off, because Ron was his friend, and he knew how to handle him, and he wanted to know what was happening, dammit, but Malfoy took his hand away, and then Harry didn’t say anything.

When Malfoy started talking to Ron, his voice was very light and cool. “I assume you’re in a strop because Flanders trounced Australia.”

“Bloody World Cup,” said Ron, and looked happier already. “Bloody Hastings. He hasn’t been able to hold onto a Quaffle since bloody 1994. Why is he even still on the team?”

“There, there,” said Malfoy. “The Harpies still may win the League Cup.”

Ron snorted again. “Not if you talk to Ginny.”

Malfoy turned to Harry. “Well, Potter? Have you?”

“What?” Harry hadn’t really been thinking about Quidditch at all. Mostly he’d been thinking about what Malfoy had said about his parents fighting, and whether he had ever―

“Talked to Ginerva Weasley,” Malfoy said.

“Oh,” said Harry. “Well, she says the Magpies are going to utterly thrash them.”

“Campbell couldn’t find the Snitch if his life depended on it,” Malfoy said.

Ron looked sadly at his drink. “It’s always Puddlemere United, in the end.”

“I hear that’s an excellent dessert, Puddlemere,” Pansy said, sliding back into her seat at the table.

Malfoy frowned at her. “Where’s your Chardonnay?”

Pansy looked at him blankly. “I’ve ordered a round shots.”

“It’s not a dessert.” Ron sounded morose. “It’s Quidditch.”

Malfoy was still frowning at Pansy. “Why did you do that?”

Pansy was still being blank at Malfoy. “I felt that it was necessary.”

“And Gudgeon is never going to catch a Snitch, not ever.” Ron was still morose at everyone, and if things were going to continue this way, Harry was glad that Pansy had ordered shots.

“Oh, Quidditch,” said Pansy. “The sport?”

“Did you see that interception, though?” Ron said. “Karoonda is bloody amazing.”

“She should have been watching the Snitch,” Malfoy said.

Ron just sighed. “She would have done, if it weren’t for bloody Hastings.”

“It wasn’t just Hastings, Ron, admit it,” Harry said. “Did you see Nuhaka on that final score? Fumbled it completely.”

“I approve of Quidditch,” Pansy announced.

“Pansy, you hate Quidditch,” Malfoy said. “And Karoonda may be good, but Beaumont is in another league altogether.”

Ron rolled his eyes. “Karoonda could take Beaumont any time.”

“Er,” Harry said. “Ron, mate, Karoonda missed the Snitch by at least a metre.”

“All I’m saying is―”

“It’s a brutal, boorish game,” said Pansy. “So much blood and gore. That’s why I approve.”

“You don’t, though,” said Malfoy. “And then there’s the offence.”

Ron looked aghast. “Flanders' offence is terrible!”

“Ron,” Harry said. “Kick-It Kelly is not the second coming.”

“Kick-It Kelly,” Ron began.

“When you think about it,” Pansy said, “it’s like a ritualistic, generational pattern of dick waving. A codified expression of the primal masculine aggression of more tribalist―”

“Girls play Quidditch, Parkinson,” Ron said.

“It’s Pansy,” said Pansy. “And make no mistake, Ronald, it has nothing to do with penis envy.”

“Uh,” said Harry. “I think girls play Quidditch because they like it.”

Pansy turned her empty gaze on him. “Women play Quidditch because we don’t need vast stores of testosterone in order to utterly and completely emasculate their opponents. It is, in fact, a symbolic kind of castration―”

“No,” Harry said. “I’m pretty sure they play because they like it. Or because they want to win, yeah, but not in order to prove they don’t need, er,” Harry said, “cock.”

“This is interesting.” Pansy looked at him disinterestedly. “In Hermione’s absence, I thought that Draco would prove to be the default feminist.”

Harry frowned. “I’m not a default feminist.”

“Potter’s doing all right,” Malfoy said.

“Cheer up,” said Pansy. “Feminist isn’t a dirty word.” She looked at Ron in an apathetic kind of way. It was pretty much as close as she came to leering. “Unless you want it to be.”

“Remember when we were talking about Quidditch?” Harry said sadly.

“It’s okay to talk about castration.” Ron leered at Pansy, a real leer. “I don’t mind it.”

“I thought there was a reason you liked her,” Pansy said, and smirked.

The leer fell off and Ron immediately looked depressed.

Then the shots came, and everyone took one, and Ron ordered another round right away. All of them drank, and Malfoy threw back his exactly the same way anyone does a shot, only Harry had never imagined Malfoy doing things that were . . . well, normal and collegiate like shots, which was probably why Malfoy’s Adam’s apple distracted him.

Then they started to talk about Quidditch again, and when Pansy grew impatient, Malfoy ordered another round and Pansy made Ron talk to her about music, because they liked the same bands. Harry didn’t know any, because he liked Celestina Warbuck, and Petunia’s favourite music had been mostly Doris Day, with some Bing Crosby, and she’d played it on the radio all day long. Malfoy liked classical wizarding things, and sometimes Hermione talked to him about things like Strauss and The Beatles, and Malfoy listened intently and asked thoughtful questions that made Hermione beam.

“The Pixie Sisters are amazing,” Ron was telling Pansy in a slightly inebriated way. “Bloody amazing. You really should give them a try.”

Pansy got more smirky when she was drunk, which Harry suspected she sort of was. “Are they actually pixies?”

“I don’t like The Beatles,” Malfoy said.

“What?” Harry turned to him.

“The Beatles,” Malfoy said, louder. “I tried them and I―I don’t.”

He looked so utterly crushed that Harry was tempted to pat his shoulder, but he didn’t. “I’m sure that’s okay,” he said instead.

Malfoy shook his head sadly. “It’s not. It’s not; I’ve failed utterly at understanding Muggles.”

“I think you can understand Muggles without liking The Beatles,” Harry tried to point out, but Malfoy just kept shaking his head, more sadly still.

“You can’t understand Muggles if you don’t like The Beatles,” he said. “Hermione says.”

“Malfoy,” Harry said. “I was raised Muggle too. Dudley didn’t even know what The Beatles are.”

Malfoy leaned toward him. “Who’s Dudley?”

“My cousin.”

Malfoy leaned further still. “You have a cousin?”

It was taking Harry a while, for some reason, to realize that Malfoy was drunk, too. “I have a cousin,” he said.

Malfoy looked sadly at his drink. “I had a cousin. But she died.”

“Sorry.” Harry had to resist trying to prop Malfoy up.

“You knew her, though,” said Malfoy, who was starting to lean again. “You knew her quite well. You were . . . pals.”

“Tonks?” Harry looked at Malfoy curiously. “Yeah. She was . . . she was pretty amazing.”

“I regret it.” Malfoy hiccoughed. “I regret not knowing her.” His hair was in his eyes again, and honestly, Harry couldn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t reach out and―

“Potter,” said Pansy. “Shots. Your turn. Now.”

“What happened to that big vocabulary?” Ron said, and leered some more. He was leaning too.

“I sometimes have the urge to express myself in a primal way,” said Pansy.

Do you,” Ron said, and leaned more.

“Wouldn’t you like to―”

Malfoy leaned again. “They’re going to do something they regret,” he said.

“Like what?” Harry asked him.

“I can’t explain it to you.” Malfoy stared sadly at his empty shot glass again. “I might do something I regret, too.”

“Malfoy,” Harry said.

“Pansy’s right,” Malfoy said. “Get us more shots.”

So Harry went and got more shots.

This had never really happened before. For one thing, Ron had never come without Hermione before. Sometimes Hermione came without Ron; Harry thought that it was because Hermione was closer to Malfoy than Ron was to Malfoy or Pansy. He had been surprised that Ron would come alone, but then again, Hermione was waist-high in her work on the sanctuary.

After getting Rackham to sign her petition, Hermione had become something to reckon with politically, and all the sudden the press were paying attention to her various projects, one of which was The Magical Beast Sanctuary. Bertram Meagre called it the “petting zoo,” but it certainly wasn’t a zoo, and was much more than a safe haven. The sanctuary was a place where Beasts not considered Beings by the Ministry could not only live, but learn, in tutorials led by volunteers. Some of them, like the trolls, fairies, and gnomes, were learning life skills in order to begin to form self-sustaining societies.

Hermione’s dream was that the various Beasts could form their own―city-states was the word she used, and that there could be regulations regarding things like commerce between the wizarding and Beasts world. She also dreamed of house-elves founding a town for free elves to live and work in on their own, but right now she was pretty busy trying to prevent the trolls from eating the volunteers.

Harry doubted the sanctuary or Hermione’s non-profit work was the root of whatever problem she was having with Ron. There were lots of things they argued about―marriage, children, jobs, keeping sock drawers organized. Laundry. Trash. Crookshanks. Harry had heard just about everything, which was why he was concerned now, because Hermione wasn’t actually talking to him. He knew that lately, Ron had been having a problem with how much she worked. Still, Hermione usually had enough time to come around to the pub almost weekly, and Harry knew they saw other friends.

He knew, for instance, that Malfoy sometimes went for dinner.

Sometimes they even just saw Pansy―at least, Harry had heard as much. A couple weeks ago, Pansy had a Portkey to go see The Cashmere Labyrinth perform in Wales, and she had invited Ron, saying that Ron was the only one she knew who even knew who The Cashmere Labyrinth was. “Seeing as how Draco and Millicent are completely uncultured, Blaise is too cultured, and let’s not even discuss Gregory. So, how about it, Ronald?”

“It’s Ron,” Ron had said. “That sounds great, actually. I’ll ask Hermione to come with us.”

Ron had told Harry, once, that he’d been terrified that if he went on being pig-headed about people like Draco Malfoy, Hermione would leave him. It was initially why he’d been so nice to Malfoy. Later, he said it was because if Hermione could forgive Malfoy, so could he.

Still later, it was because Ron just really liked wizarding Go. They met and played it sometimes even when Hermione wasn’t around.

Harry had thought asking Malfoy to teach him wizarding Go, but he knew that Malfoy would look at him strangely. Harry had completely given up on strategy games, because he usually lost them, and Harry liked to win.

As Harry stood there waiting to order the shots, he thought maybe he wouldn’t mind losing to Malfoy.

When Harry got back to the table, Pansy was saying,

Weasley’s arms are quite first rate
Muscle-bound, robust, obs-tin-ate
That’s why we all com-men-tate,
Weasley is our potentate!

Weasley’s cock will make you sore
They say he’ll fuck you like a whore
That’s why Slytherins all roar
Weasley is our emp-er-or!

Weasley’s balls―

“I told her not to,” Malfoy whispered, leaning in. “She can’t stop, when she gets excited.”

“Maybe she shouldn’t use the word whore that way,” Harry said.

Malfoy smiled at him. “Were you a feminist at Hogwarts?”

“I don’t know that I’m a feminist now.”

“Sure you are. You and Hermione are bestest―best friends.”

“Okay,” said Harry.

“I like it.” Malfoy put his head on Harry’s shoulder. “I think I’ll go to sleep.”

Harry didn’t move. After a while of that, he thought Malfoy really might be asleep, and looked down. “You like that I’m a feminist?”

“God,” Malfoy said, “yes.” His lips were moving against Harry’s neck. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“No,” Harry said.

He really didn’t mind it at all.

* * *