Harry hadn't realized quite what it looked like from the outside - when people were avoiding him. He noticed it now, with the seats beside Ron and Malfoy being the hardest to fill, in class after class. He'd only really noticed Ron because he was often late - and Hermione had the tendency to sit beside Neville in Herbology. Her grade was more important to her than socializing in class.
Malfoy, however, was unmistakable. He sat there with that unmistakeable Malfoy arrogance (some might call it charm, ridiculously enough), arms crossed, and didn't bother looking at whatever unlucky person sat beside him.
The classes themselves went just fine - as if by sitting beside either of the two outcasts, the person decided, on the split second, that they could trust Studies First as a motto. Harry Potter knew he'd trust Hermione with that, except if the situation was truly dire. Malfoy... well, he wasn't the one sitting next to him, now was he?
But it was interesting, Harry found, to look at it from the outside. He hadn't realized how much effort, on the part of so many people, it took to avoid someone.
Nor how little it took to not avoid the person.
Harry arrived first to training that night, awaiting Ron and Malfoy and Hermione. Hermione buzzed in first, summoning the books they'd smuggled out of the library with a thought. Malfoy arrived moments later, as Hermione frowned, looking over at him, "Didn't I just see you surrounded by a horde of fourth years, mugging for all of them?"
"Appearances can be deceiving..." Malfoy said.
Hermione grit her teeth, stalking over to him and growling, "of course they can." She grabbed his left arm, and rolled up his sleeve. Neither Harry nor Hermione was surprised to see the expanse of smooth skin.
Harry was, however, surprised with what she did next. She glared at the arm, and... the glamour melted. Harry couldn't have managed that without at least thinking of the spell... but he sensed that Hermione had done it out of sheer force of will - and the need to verify that the pointy git was actually him.
Hermione gave an impulsive grin, said, "Magically delicious!" and flounced back to her books, curling up there to start reading.
Malfoy and Potter exchanged rather dubious looks, and Harry began his normal stretching, bouncing up and down on his toes as he stretched.
Malfoy, on the other hand, seated himself just a hair behind Hermione and off to the side, drawling, "Stop hoarding the books like they're dragon's gold. You know if you let other people look at them, you won't need to steal other people's turns to teach."
Hermione looked up at him, her angry eyes bright - for only a moment, before she realized that he did have a point. "Here," she said, passing him two books on wicked charms, "You do better at charms than transfiguration, anyway."
Malfoy blinked, taking the books almost absentmindedly, "You noticed..." Harry knew Malfoy was always hard to read, but that sounded suspiciously sentimental.
"I notice a lot of things," Hermione said dismissively.
Ron bounced in the door, and Harry got to work shielding and firing curses. It took about twenty minutes before Hermione and Draco joined in, but when they did, it turned into a fourway that had all of them bound in ropes and immobilized at some point. Everyone was laughing by the end of it, seeming to push away most of what they'd seen earlier.
Hermione broached the subject with the bluntness Gryffindors are known for. "How is it that you two are remotely getting along, anyway?"
Ron took a deep breath, It's never a good sign when even Ron is trying to pick and choose his words, so it was actually Draco Malfoy who spoke up first. "All of that... I'd never heard about it, not really. You know - as a kid, you hear things. And Slytherins have sharp ears." Harry knew. "But... I'd heard disparaging and cruel comments about the Weasleys, along with an undercurrent of we're better than them." Draco softly shuddered, "Not... not that."
Ron took up the words, "Me too. And I'm glad I didn't hear about it. It was bad enough now. Can you imagine, as a kid?"
Ron, Harry and Draco laughed, though it really wasn't funny.
"Nightmares for a week!" Ron roared, in his characteristic understated way.
Ron said, "I heard all about Malfoy's father, the slippery bastard that he was, and how he'd manage to bribe his way out of jail."
Draco Malfoy inclined his head, "Thank you." he said dryly.
"It wasn't a compliment." Ron responded, the grin taking the sting out of the words, "Just accurate."
Hermione, still with that look of "Please Explain This", said, "So what changed? You two used to fight like cats and dogs!"
Ron and Malfoy exchanged uneasy looks, both seemingly unwilling to explain...
Ron spoke up first, "I met Tonks. And, you know," Ron paused, and then said, a bit chagrined, "Actually, you don't. Everyone says that the Blacks are mental. Like, not just crazy, but scary crazy."
Harry asked, hesitantly, "Like Bellatrix Black?"
Draco Malfoy smiled a cold cruel smile, "Just like that. That's the rep." Harry nodded, understanding - if everyone in the neighborhood thought he was a criminal... How much worse would it have been to be thought of like that?
Ron said, "Well, you know, she's normal. Like friendly, even."
"Well, she was in Hufflepuff," Hermione said.
"What does the younger Potions Teacher have to do with anything?" Draco Malfoy asked, looking like he didn't want to ask, but couldn't quite stop himself from revealing his ignorance.
"She's your cousin, your mother's sister's kid." Ron said, then, assessing the confusion, grinned broadly, "Didn't you know?"
Draco Malfoy stared into thin air, blinking, before saying quietly, "No..."
Harry piped up, "Her mother got disinherited for marrying a Muggleborn," he said helpfully.
"oh..." Draco Malfoy said, sounding more lost than Harry had ever seen him.
Ron turned to Hermione, "Anyway, I got to thinking - if she was so normal, then I shouldn't be so quick to judge."
Draco Malfoy nodded, raising his eyebrows slightly. Impressed with Ron Weasley? "I am not my father, no."
Hermione turned to Malfoy, and said, "So, we know what changed in Ron. How about you?"
Draco Malfoy said, "A number of things, really," stalling for time... Malfoy's eyes flicked down... to his left arm. Or not. "But really? I grew up. It's one thing to be a bastard to the next kid, when the best you can do is spit slugs. It's another to knowingly cross people when the cards are down. The stakes are higher now."
Harry nodded, "And one thing about games - you can never tell who'll win."
[a/n: Up next: Draco gets Harry alone - finally.
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