Down the Pub
So walk with me, talk with me,
Tell me your stories
I'll do my very best to understand you
You're flesh and blood...
Harry told Ron and Hermione that yes, it was Malfoy. He had wanted to talk to him about the lake incident.
He told them nothing else.
He didn't want to lie to them, he wasn't ashamed, but he did feel - as if the whole matter was fragile. It had gone surprisingly well so far, but add Ron, the Reason Redheads Got Their Bad Name, to the mix and Draco Malfoy would be a dot on the horizon. A dot pointing Harry and Ron out and saying, 'They tried to kill me, Professor Snape!'
Harry didn't want that to happen. Harry was surprised at how much he didn't want that to happen.
It wasn't that Malfoy had been pleasant. Of course, a sweet, kind Draco Malfoy might have sent Harry running to Dumbledore gibbering about Polyjuice Potion. Malfoy had been his usual nasty, spoiled brat self, just short of hostile and well into insulting.
All the same... It had gone well.
For some reason, Harry was happy about it.
Harry didn't tell Ron and Hermione about the situation because of one more thing. For the same unintelligible reason, he felt a bit... possessive about the entire business.
It had been a long time since he'd had anything at all private, which the media didn't seize on, which Ron and Hermione didn't know everything about while keeping their own special 'couple' secrets.
He had a feeling they would be distinctly aggrieved when they found out.
He didn't tell them, just the same.
And at breakfast the next day, seeing Malfoy come in and Blaise Zabini put a hand under his elbow, encouraging him into the seat beside him, Harry felt a twinge of that same possessive feeling.
What do you think you're doing, Zabini? There's no need to be grabby.
Harry Potter, the boy who went cuckoo.
"I'm so glad you don't seem depressed lately, Harry," said Hermione.
"Depressed?" Harry replied absently, as Malfoy took the seat by Zabini. "Why would I be depressed?"
Voldemort. The war. Cedric. The shriveling pity surrounding him. The numbing guilt.
I forgot, Harry thought wonderingly. I forgot.
Hermione beamed approbation. "No reason at all. You're quite right, Harry."
I should never forget, Harry thought. But I did... and it felt good.
"C'mon, Defence Against the Dark Arts is first class," Ron said. "I wonder whether Lupin or Sirius will be taking it."
Harry got up, helping Hermione with her stuffed book bag.
Leaving the Hall, he saw Malfoy and Blaise Zabini having an animated discussion. He saw Malfoy's mouth shaping the words 'Creative Magic' and almost smiled, seeing Zabini's well-feigned interest.
Some impulse made him pause for a moment going past the Slytherin table and say:
Pansy Parkinson, Crabbe, Goyle and Zabini all shot him Die Potter Die! looks.
Malfoy, as placid as if he didn't have bloodthirsty wolves in human form all around him, reached out for a piece of toast and answered, "Good morning, Potter."
Harry felt an obscure sort of triumph about these three words, which reduced the Slytherins and Ron to helpless, choking incredulity.
Of course, after that he had to explain more fully, since Ron was on the point of announcing that Voldemort had Polyjuiced himself into Harry and had to be immediately exterminated.
"I just decided to be more friendly," he said as they went to Defence Against the Dark Arts class. "I want to know what was going on about the lake."
"Well, yes, I can understand that," agreed Hermione, compulsive seeker after knowledge. "But really, Harry, Malfoy..."
Ron was almost spitting.
"I can't understand that! It was clearly an evil Slytherin plot! You're too trusting, Harry. Those Slytherins aren't like us. They're monsters I tell you, crazed, vicious..."
He paused in his tirade to acknowledge Professor Lupin.
"Hello, Professor. I was wondering whether it would be you or Sirius. Isn't it getting a bit close to..." He mimicked howling at the moon.
"Please take your seats," said Lupin with an indulgent smile.
"Right," Ron resumed. "Where was I?"
"Telling me how Slytherins were crazed, vicious monsters," replied Harry. "But then you got sidetracked by the werewolf."
Harry couldn't believe it when he found himself checking his watch.
The minutes were crawling by. And Malfoy didn't appear at lunch.
Skipping meals all the time, Harry thought. That's how you make yourself sick.
"What are you fretting about, Harry?"
"I'm not fretting!" Harry exclaimed indignantly. Hermione shrugged and took a bite of her apple.
Maybe Malfoy was sick. He certainly looked pale enough.
Madam Pomfrey should be paying more attention to this. Vitamins should be provided. Those dungeons were probably unhealthy for delicate people.
Harry brooded about this for hours until it came as rather a shock when Malfoy met him at the lake, striding over a hillock about twenty minutes late and looking the picture of health.
"Come on, Potter," he said briefly, turning away and walking back.
Harry ran to catch up, much to his own disgust.
"Hey, Malfoy. You're late. What do you think manners are for?"
Malfoy looked bored. "I think they're for other people. Come on."
"Where are we going?" Harry asked suspiciously.
"I'm not catching my death by that lake," Malfoy informed him. "Anyway, I noticed yesterday that you were having problems being coherent. So we're going down to the pub."
"The pub? That's supposed to make me more coherent?"
"Oh yes. Alcohol gives you this wonderful sense of false comfort," Malfoy assured him.
"Even though I need some comfort, being around you... Where are you going?"
"Into the school," Malfoy said promptly. "There's a secret passage that leads to Hogsmeade behind the statue..."
"Of the one-eyed witch," Harry finished slowly. "How did you know?"
Malfoy looked smug.
"I worked it out four years ago," he answered. "Weasley wasn't talking to himself on the way into Hogsmeade. He's not subtle, that boy of yours. So you must have taken a short cut through the school in your little Invisibility Cloak - and I found it."
So he does it too, Harry thought. He works to show me up. It matters to him too.
What he said was, "You know about my Cloak?"
Malfoy sneered. "No, Potter. I really thought I was hallucinating. Of course I know, and next time we go to the pub you can take it."
"Next time...? I haven't agreed to go this time!"
Harry stormed along in Malfoy's wake, feeling more and more like a dog being taken for a walk. Malfoy didn't reply until they were in the corridor leading to the statue.
Then he glanced over his shoulder, and spoke casually.
"I don't think you've fully absorbed this situation, Potter."
Harry felt a quick thump inside his ribs, as if someone had tapped sharply on his chest.
"Wh-what do you mean?"
"I haven't taken you on as a lifelong comrade, you know." Malfoy's smile was cold as unexpected snow. "I'm perfectly capable of taking you back to the shop if you don't suit."
Harry felt the beginnings of indignation.
"Do you mean that if I don't go drinking with you-"
Teeth gleamed. "Exactly."
Harry was about to tell Malfoy exactly where he could stuff this so-called friendship, and add a suggestion about following it with his wand and broomstick, when something quite unexpected happened.
Malfoy noticed he was angry, and smiled.
Charm was not something Harry had ever associated with Draco Malfoy. Nevertheless...
Harry felt the urge to blink.
For Malfoy, most acts were calculated. Smiling seemed to be an art.
It was a terribly subtle art. Light crept gradually across that pale and rather cold face, so his eyes glittered like the sun on frost.
He stood there in the empty corridor and he smiled that rich artful smile, until Harry was eventually forced to blink.
Once he opened his eyes, the smile had faded. He felt an obscure pang of disappointment.
"Come on, Potter," Malfoy coaxed. "I postponed Creative Magic homework to have a drink with you."
"Oh, I'm so honoured," Harry said, with a great deal more weakness than sarcasm.
"So you should be."
Malfoy turned and walked on, in the complete - and not ill-founded - conviction that Harry would follow.
"And then you can tell me all of your shocking secrets," he added with satisfaction. He seemed injured by Harry's sceptical look. "What? I'll tell you mine!"
"Yes," Harry said drily, "but Slytherins love to boast about their evil deeds. I'm not sure it's a fair trade."
Malfoy gave him a quick, rather surprised glance, then laughed and shrugged.
The laugh echoed behind them as they slipped in behind the statue.
"Malfoy! That's a personal question!"
"That's a 'none,' then, is it?"
"Malfoy, you can be such a blastard."
Harry squinted at the lights in the Three Broomsticks, which were somehow much brighter than they had been when he'd come in.
Hang on, that last word hadn't sounded right...
"You're plastered, Potter." Malfoy sounded amused.
Harry concentrated on Malfoy's face. At first it was merely a golden blur, mixing with the lamp that sparked silver in his hair and eyes, but after a few minutes it resolved into a grin.
"I am not," Harry replied in a dignified manner. He found forming the words a little difficult.
"After three meads, Potter. You lightweight."
Malfoy had had at least five, and he merely seemed more relaxed. These Slytherins needed watching.
"Answer the question, Potter," demanded the imperious brat. "This delay is unmanly."
"Oh - all right... Two."
Malfoy choked on his mead. "Oh, Potter, you Gilderoy Lockhart, you."
"Shut up, Malfoy!"
"Wait, wait. Were these maiden-aunt pecks on the cheek? Was there tongue?"
"Malfoy, you cannot ask questions like that... Not with the first one."
Malfoy seemed weak with suppressed laughter. "Who was this poor unfortunate, then?"
"Cho Chang," Harry answered reluctantly. "In fifth year."
He recalled that moment very clearly. Cho Chang had taken him aside, and told him that she couldn't stand the memories - that she was transferring to Beauxbatons for her seventh year. She had added that she did not blame Harry, and as he looked bleakly into her pretty face, she had leaned in and given him a soft kiss on the mouth.
How he had wished for that moment, and then, when it happened...
He had tasted pity on her lips, charity being pressed onto his mouth. Cho Chang's kiss had expressed the same feeling as every touch and word offered to him that year.
She had stepped back, and he had looked into the face he had dreamed of once more, and wished with simple desolation never to see her again.
Draco Malfoy whistled. "Chang? Not bad, Potter... and let me see, the second. Was that rumour about Ginny Weasley true?"
"Yes," Harry answered reluctantly.
Those few awkward kisses with Ginny. He still felt guilty about that, about using Ron's little sister as something to stave off the loneliness. He had tried so hard to want her, to want something, back in sixth year...
It hadn't worked. He felt about Ginny almost as if she were his own little sister...
Reminded of the Weasleys and Malfoy's general attitude to them, Harry looked up sharply.
"Are you going to say something about the Weasleys?" he demanded.
Malfoy looked vaguely surprised. "No. I've always had a bit of a weakness for redheads. Your Weasley, of course, being a notable exception."
"Oh?" Harry was intrigued. "So now it's your turn, Malfoy. How many?"
"Er..." Malfoy blinked. "Hang on a minute."
He began to make furious calculations on his napkin.
Well, really. Snape should pay more attention to his students' morals.
"Who was your first, then?"
"Ah." Malfoy signalled for another mead. "Pansy Parkinson, third year. Remember when my young life was almost cut off by that Hippogriff? She came rushing into the infirmary and flung herself on me. I practically went into shock."
"You weren't that shocked," Harry commented, smiling. "You did go with her to the Yule Ball in fourth year."
"Well." Malfoy shrugged. "She asked me."
You couldn't help almost admiring his barefaced cheek.
"What?" Malfoy said, seeing Harry's raised eyebrow. "Malfoys always wait to be asked. Oh, and here's the number."
He handed Harry the napkin.
"Are there even that many people in the school?"
Malfoy smiled wickedly. "If you count the staff."
Malfoy burst out laughing at the look on Harry's face. Malfoy seemed to be laughing quite a bit tonight.
Of course, he must be a trifle drunk.
"There is life outside school, Potter," he added once he had calmed down
Madam Rosmerta came up to Malfoy and handed them their drinks with a twinkle in her eye.
"Are you sure you haven't had enough?"
"Rosmerta!" Malfoy looked horrified. "You know me better than that. The night is young and so am I. We're going to get a whole lot drunker before we go home."
Harry was concerned that if he got a whole lot drunker walking might be beyond him.
"You're terrible, Draco Malfoy," she sighed, placing two more glasses on the table. "And you're trying to corrupt poor innocent Harry Potter. You horrify me."
"You love it!" Malfoy called after her. He turned back to Harry and gave him a rather impish grin. "Nice woman. She refused to serve me back in third year and I tried to flirt with her. She says I was the youngest who ever tried that."
"Malfoy, are you sure you're not an alcoholic?"
"I," Malfoy informed him in lofty tones, "am not the underage drinker here. I was eighteen in January."
"You weren't eighteen at the Yule Ball," Harry muttered.
"Nor were you. Anyway, stop talking back to your elders. Hmm - well, I did have another question, but since you've only kissed two people I guess that one is answered as well."
"What...? Oh." To his horror, Harry felt himself blush furiously. "Malfoy!"
Malfoy laughed and leaned back against the wall. "Poor pure little Potter..."
"Shut up! How many countless thousands have you collected, then?"
The corner of Malfoy's mouth lifted. "Countless thousands? Disabuse yourself of the idea that all Slytherins are depraved sinners. It's only... hmm... eighty-nine per cent true."
"How many, Malfoy?" To his surprise, Harry found he was actually curious.
Malfoy mused. "Hand me back that napkin."
Harry laughed, shook his head and had another drink.
Malfoy nodded approvingly.
"I knew you weren't as prudish as all that," he commented. "Honestly, you take the school rules and hit them with a big hammer and everyone acts as if you're an angel."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "And what do you think?"
"I think angels don't get pissed at Yule Balls, that's what I think. I've also seen you having completely unholy thoughts about punching my face in. No - you've got a bit of a nasty bastard streak in you." The calmly analytical expression on Malfoy's face transformed into a smirk. "That's why I decided to give you a chance."
"I'm overwhelmed," Harry said drily.
It was a certainly novel. Nobody had ever expected Harry to behave badly before.
"I'll try to come up with some suitably evil deed."
Malfoy waved this idea away. "Don't be absurd, you're a novice. Be reasonable. Do it my way."
Harry was becoming convinced that Malfoy was, indeed, rather drunk. His eyes were wild and bright, and the pale fringe of his hair was slightly disarrayed.
Harry had only limited control over his motor functions, and was out drinking with a Malfoy whose judgment was impaired.
This was quite interesting.
"I know!" Malfoy announced. "We should sing karaoke."
Harry stared at the delighted face before him.
"And it's much more fun," Malfoy assured him. He jumped to his feet with an agile grace that Harry couldn't have copied while sober, and made to drag Harry off his stool.
Which was when Hagrid appeared in the pub, and Malfoy vanished under the table.
Hagrid noticed Harry, staring in a rather bewildered fashion at his own knees, and ambled over.
"Oh no..." said Malfoy, in a tiny voice.
Harry desperately suppressed a laugh.
"Hello there Harry!" Hagrid greeted him with the same uncomfortable heartiness that all the Gryffindors did.
Just now his black eyes were surveying the slightly unsteady Harry and the table with two glasses on it.
"I was just poppin' down fer a drink," he continued. "Olympe doesn' like it much, so I was goin' ter be quick abou' it... Er, Harry..." he lowered his voice in a conspiratorial boom. "Am I interruptin' somethin'?"
Harry stared blankly for a few minutes, until light dawned on him.
A very, very soft obscenity sounded from under the table.
Harry coughed hurriedly.
Unfortunately, Hagrid took this as a sign of embarrassed assent.
"Ah... sorry, Harry... She'll be in the toilet, yeh?"
"Um," said Harry.
Hagrid elbowed him in a friendly teasing manner, which almost caused him to fall over.
"I'm glad ter hear it, Harry. It's abou' time yeh started enjoyin' yerself a bit more."
"Seeing as you have no life," said a quiet voice from the region of Harry's knees.
Harry resisted the urge to either laugh hysterically or kick Malfoy.
"I'll be off, then," Hagrid boomed. "Don' wan' ter embarrass you. I'll jus' have one drink. Jus' tell me one thing, Harry..." he gave him another massive nudge. "Is she pretty?"
"Er," Harry replied.
"Extremely pretty," said that bloody voice from under the table.
Hagrid meandered amiably off. As soon as he had his back to them, Malfoy emerged looking dishevelled. He seized Harry and dragged him out of the pub.
The night air came as rather a shocker for Harry, who concentrated on remaining upright.
Malfoy's eyes were still fever bright, but otherwise he looked pale and relieved.
Harry blinked. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, I'm terrified of him," Malfoy said candidly. "Have been forever. Hurling vicious animals at us and giving us bloodthirsty books. Not to mention the fact that he's appallingly huge."
Harry was stunned. Malfoy, who had always been so icily autocratic around Hagrid, who Harry knew Hagrid was secretly intimidated by.
It left him intrigued. What kind of person reacted to fear like this?
Malfoy blinked, looking thoughtful.
"Oh, dear. I don't think I would ever have admitted something like that sober." He shrugged, a gesture that looked bizarrely fluid to Harry's dim eyesight. "Oh well. I suppose there's always the risk of letting something incriminating slip."
Harry was a bit affronted. "I'm not looking for weak points to attack, Malfoy."
Malfoy tilted his head to one side, a street light making his hair a rival to the half moon. "You do in Quidditch," he observed. "Sign of a good player."
"That's different. Life's not a game."
Malfoy smiled that annoying smile again. "Isn't it?"
At this point, Harry was too busy with the important business of not falling down to answer.
"Careful, Potter. Lying in the gutter should be reserved for real alcoholics. The ones who've earned it."
"Would you help me out if I fell in the gutter?" inquired Harry, who was having distressing doubts about whether he could remain upright.
"What do you take me for! I'd laugh you to scorn."
Faced with this alternative, Harry staggered gamely onwards. He was surprised by the advent of a perfectly companionable silence.
Malfoy, damn him, had been right about the alcohol. Bloody debauched Slytherin.
"So you've taken me drinking," Harry found himself commenting. "What's on the menu tomorrow, a brothel?"
Anyone else would have been horrified by Harry suggesting such a thing.
"Honestly," he reprimanded Harry. "We have to save something for Thursday."
They made their unsteady way back to school. Harry tried very hard to walk straight. Malfoy swung around several lamp posts.
They parted in the corridor. Harry hesitated, searching for something appropriate to say.
Finally, he settled for: "Same time tomorrow?"
The next day Harry woke up with the distinct impression that it had all been a dream.
Out getting smashed with Malfoy? It was too bizarre.
Then he tried to sit up, and a hangover hit him like a Bludger.
Oh. So it was true, then.
Very, very carefully, Harry got up. Then Ron's voice sounded in his ear.
"Harry! Where were you? We were frantic!"
Harry winced. "Could you... possibly not speak so loud?"
"You look like crap," Ron observed with the refreshing honesty that made him known and loved throughout the circles of hell.
"Well, I feel like crap. I'm co-ordinated."
Harry's sarcasm was inspired by bitterness.The buttons of his pyjamas seemed to be glued in the holes.
"Harry, you look like... you look like you were up all night drinking."
"Not all night."
The freckles practically jumped off Ron's face in shock.
"What! Where were you, who were you with... oh no, Harry, tell me it wasn't Malfoy."
"It may have been, sort of, Malfoy," Harry admitted.
Ron breathed hard through his nose. The alarming puce colour of his cheeks clashed violently with his hair.
Then he seized Harry's arm.
"Hang on, I need to get dressed..." Harry protested, struggling into his robes. Ron waited with barely controlled impatience.
"Where are we going?" Harry inquired, trailing in Ron's wake and feeling distinctly fragile.
"To Hermione," Ron said. "She can do the stern maternal speech much better than I can."
"You know, Ron, he's really not all that-"
Ron whirled on him, holding up a finger.
"Not until we find Hermione!"
"-can't believe you were so irresponsible, Harry, on a school night! How are you going to pay attention in class? Tell me you at least did your homework, Harry..."
"Who cares about homework!" Ron howled. "What about Malfoy?"
This had been going on for quite some time. At first the Great Hall had been empty, but now quite a few Gryffindors were eavesdropping with varying degrees of subtlety.
Harry had sunk in his seat and was eye-level with his breakfast.
"Oh yes. Malfoy." Hermione looked disapproving. "Did he do his homework first?"
Ron made a noise like a kettle about to explode.
Hermione sighed. "And Harry, I know you're curious about this whole Triwizard Tournament affair. But that's no reason to skip your homework to spend time with a nasty little twit like Malfoy. We can always look it up in the library. Still, of course you're a free agent and you can do whatever you want."
Harry and Ron both stared at her incredulously.
"Look on the bright side, Ron," Hermione said pragmatically. "If Harry hangs around that idiot for any amount of time, he'll completely lose his rag and attack him. Then you can collect on your bets."
Harry sat up sharply, ignoring the sick pain it sent through his head.
"Bets? What bets?"
"Well, you remember that last Slytherin/Gryffindor Quidditch match."
Quidditch had not been cancelled this year because of the urgent pleading of all four houses.
"You and Malfoy looked as if you were about to leap on each other," Hermione continued placidly, buttering her toast. "Ron started to lay heavy bets that you would win. Got quite good odds, too, since Malfoy has a reputation for fighting dirty."
Harry was mildly insulted.
"Ron was awfully disappointed," Hermione informed him in serene tones. "But that just goes to show, doesn't it? I mean, you're never violent towards anyone else. You can't stand the boy. You won't be able to put up with him long."
Harry had to admit she might have a point, but nevertheless felt very contrary.
"Nobody could," Hermione assured him, patting his arm. "Malfoy is insufferable, as I keep telling Lavender. He doesn't fool me with those pretty-boy airs."
"Pretty!" Ron spluttered.
Harry remembered Hagrid's unwitting comment and smiled. Ron was apoplectic.
"Come on," said Hermione. "We'd better go to class."
They were going out the door when Malfoy came sauntering in, not a blond hair out of place and looking as if he had slept innocently all night long.
Ron, who was forging ahead, bumped into him.
"Watch it!" snapped Ron, who was in no mood to let Malfoy cheek him by deliberately existing.
"You don't need to hurry quite so desperately, Weasley," Malfoy drawled. "The phrase 'time is money' isn't literal, you know."
"Malfoy!" Harry exclaimed.
Hermione's eyes were narrowed with dislike.
Malfoy swept on regardless.
"I'd reconsider this whole friendship idea of yours, Harry," Ron said with barely controlled wrath. "In fact, I'd reconsider the whole 'murder is wrong' idea in his case."
Harry bit his lip.
He was upset that he was surprised, when he knew precisely what Malfoy was like. Malfoy had just been acting as Malfoy always did... and Harry was upset that he had let himself forget, and almost like the bastard.
Harry was exhausted.
He had been defending Malfoy all day to Hermione and Ron, which was problematic since he basically agreed that Malfoy's behaviour was indefensible. He also wanted to have a few severe words with Malfoy on the subject of Ron.
Nevertheless, he had absolutely no intention of giving up on this... strange form of friendship. He was even wondering, with a kind of half-ashamed anticipation, what Malfoy had planned for tonight.
Yesterday had been... interesting.
And there wasn't much that was interesting these days.
Harry scanned the grey landscape for a blond head, that weird anticipation sparking within him.
Malfoy was not in sight.
And, over the next three quarters of an hour, it became very clear that he was not coming.
It was cold by the lake.
Harry's growing anger kept him warm.