piper on the green
Hermione doesn't like it when I go off alone even in Muggle pubs. Out here I'm just another bloke looking to get out of the autumn weather with a pint in hand to keep the chill out. I like to tell her, "If I get hurt, you're welcome to kill me," but she just gives me The Glare (TM) and kicks me out of her office.
I zipped my jacket up to neck. The clouds beat its chest threateningly with thunder. It was all bark; the only drops of moisture England had seen in months were drops of sweat. Autumn was at its peak but the infamous London fog had yet to make an appearance. Even so, I was cold especially my hands. I curled and straightened my fingers, naming each tendon as it creaked.
The pub ahead cast dancing shadows on the concrete. The Piper on the Green wasn't a stranger to intrigue; a hundred years of existence precluded that. The first time I entered, my chest tightened. I couldn't breathe. For a moment, I thought someone had found me, that Hermione's paranoia proved true and I was going to have to fight.
Then I recognized the foreign sensation: safety.
Someone had locked this place down well. Nothing worse than a housefly could attack the customers in here. How the hell did Malfoy find it?
"Stumbled into it. Literally," answered Malfoy when I posted the question. He entered the pub a scant five minutes after I did. Unlike me, he first paused on the doorway like a king overlooking his kingdom. Then, irritatingly fastidious as ever; he had to dust off his chair and the table before actually deigning to take a seat. "Just a few weeks after getting out of Hogwarts, I thought I felt someone tracking me. My leg wasn't up to feats of daring so I headed for the nearest open door."
"You're lucky it was this one." I waved a server over. She acknowledged me with a dip of her chin. I knew she wasn't going to come for another fifteen minutes at least.
"Lucky for me," said Malfoy. "Not quite so lucky for the drunken fool who was lying across the threshold. I do believe I smashed his kidneys."
"You sound utterly broken about it."
"I certainly was. He vomited all over my shoes." His face twisted into what might have been disgust. I wasn't sure because it was so brief. I suppose he saved his game face for fighting. "I still can't believe I'm sitting in a pub--" he made it the word sound like the foulest epithet ever invented, "-that doesn't even have a private room talking to you about my life. Hell, that this is the fourth time I've done this."
"We aren't talking yet," I pointed out.
"Oh, but we will, Potter." He brushed an invisible crumb from the table's edge. "We'll have another emotional outpouring about love and hate then skip into the sunset hand-in-hand singing songs about springtime, tulips, and loving thy neighbour."
I snorted. "You can't sing worth a Knut."
"And you couldn't skip to save a weasel's life," he shot back.
There was a time when I would have reacted to the slightest slur against Ron or the rest of his family especially from a Malfoy. It wasn't that I didn't care anymore; I've just learned to save my energy for the fights that count. Helping Draco Malfoy vent his spleen ranked low on my list. Forgive me, Ron.
Malfoy didn't apologize and I didn't expect him to. That's not how this relationship works. Dear God, I just used the word "relationship" in reference to Malfoy. I may have to be ill.
Ah well, like it or not, he was part of my life now. Fred Weasley accused me once of trying to replace Ron with Malfoy. He couldn't be more wrong. Ron was and always will be special to me, a brother and a friend-no, better than that. Hermione told me one drunken night (my drunken night, not hers) that Ron kept the war human for her. Without him, she feared she'd become a robot: all brain and logic, no feelings. As always, she had the problem right on the dot. In this wizard's Trinity, I was the muscle, Hermione was the brain, and Ron was our heart. At times ignored but always necessary, he helped us remember that were more than war machines.
Now Hermione and I only had each other, a couple of emotional amputees hopping through this muck of a war with our arms locked around each other hoping to make up for our lack. I didn't think we'd win any races but we kept each other upright; that's got to count for something, right?
Malfoy and I are tied by something else entirely. We both hate. I don't know anyone who hates Voldemort as much as we do. Oh, the rest of the wizarding world hates him, of course, but not in the pure, personal sense that we do. They hate him in the same way they hate broken umbrellas. It's a singular, pointed moment in their day, easily forgotten. Even Hermione doesn't hate Voldemort the way we do. Then again, she's pretty much cut off all her feelings.
"They get in the way of strategy," she explained. "The more you feel, the less objective you are and the more holes pop up in the plans."
Hermione's strategies are the reason our side has lasted this long.
I don't get it. I don't want to get it.
"I do believe the service here has gotten worse," said Malfoy, trying to glower down a staff member.
"Maybe if you didn't act as if they were an especially revolting species of rat that you wanted to turn into cat kibble, they'd warm up to you," I drawled.
He turned that gimlet eye at me. "Why that was almost witty."
"And you're almost bearable."
For Malfoy and me, hating is like breathing; I don't think it's possible for us live without that emotion. The object of this twisted hate-triangle? Voldemort, of course. He hates me for existing and Malfoy for his betrayal. I hate Voldemort for existing and Malfoy for years of strife. Malfoy hates me for existing and Voldemort for betraying his ideals.
It always comes down to Voldemort, the damned egocentric attention hog.
We two display different stages of hatred though. Malfoy is still in the giddy, new-hater phase where every emotion is a fiery uproar. His emotions are consuming and nearly uncontrollable, making him vacant-eyed at times when he fantasises about different ways to commit his hatred. He pours his venom on parchment and wallows, laughing, in the poison. It keeps him awake at night, mooning. It's rather cute, really.
I like to think that my hatred has mellowed through the years to a warm pit at my stomach. Always there, always glowing and close at hand. I curl up next to it in bed. It's my comforting cup of tea, my constant, and while I don't perform outlandish displays of hatred, the emotion is no less deep. In fact, I think it's deeper. Still waters, et cetera, et cetera.
If I were honest, were I to weigh my love for Ginny against my hatred of Voldemort I doubt the scales would tip in Ginny's favour. That was a major bone of contention in our marriage. Ginny, bless her pure heart, learned to let go of her hate. I never could. I never wanted to.
So Malfoy and I get together once in a while when I have time free from the fighting and he, from the sabotaging. We sit and bicker all the while basking in the knowledge that someone out there understands the warm glow of hating and being hated.
"You're going to win tomorrow," Malfoy said, as casually as he would speak about the weather. It looks like more heat tomorrow with a slight chance of showers and the end of the war.
"I wish I could be as sure as you," I replied.
He shrugged. "Always darkest before the dawn and all that rot. It's damned dark now."
I rapped my knuckles on the table. In a time when prayers go unanswered, superstition lends a bit of comfort. At least that way, you don't have to blame yourself.
"Can't you feel it?" Malfoy leaned forward, eyes going brilliant and feverish. Oh no, he was going all mushy again. "Everything is screaming for Voldemort's blood. I think we should oblige it."
"As soon as were go over the plan-"
"We've been over the plan three billion times!"
"So we'll go over it again," I said patiently.
Malfoy's knee tattooed a march in double-time. "You're such a paranoid bastard."
"I thought you'd approve of sneakiness, being Slytherin and all."
"It is preferable to Griffindor gung-ho but eventually we actually have to go through with the plan."
"It's not as if I was going to follow it anyway."
"Yes but-" he stopped, just realising my words now. Leaning back, Malfoy folded his hands over his stomach and drawled, "Run that piece of cheekiness by me again?"
I slouched back as well. "You know."
He rolled his eyes. "Typical. Don't you ever get sick of being a martyr, Potter?"
"No more than you get sick of being a prick." I fiddled with my gloves; my hands were freezing all the way to my wrist. "Besides, after the war, I'll be a has-been. I want to go out in a blaze of glory. Like James Dean."
"Obviously a stupid Muggle reference." He pointed a ragged-nailed finger at me. "Look, you, if anyone's going to die killing the Dark Lord, it'll be me. He's expecting you to fulfill a prophecy; with me it'll be unexpected and ironic. They might even name a wing in Hogwarts after me for that."
"Bugger the wing, you can't die just yet."
A mulish expression slid over Malfoy's face. "And why not?"
"Because if you die, Malfoy, there'll be no one left to remember the hate."
There was a second a silence. Two. Three. Malfoy let out a breath. "You've finally gone 'round the bend. What the fuck are you talking about, Potter?"
I straightened out of my slouch, my elbows on the table. I didn't have to catch Malfoy's eye to get my point across; he met mine. "Once this is all over, people will get complacent. They'll have a grand party and exchange kisses. They'll vow never to let such a thing happen again and write a bunch of useless laws. And when the furor dies down and the last drunken half-wit manages to down a hangover potion, they'll forget everything important. It's happened before."
"And you want me to stay around as a reminder of all that is evil in our world," Malfoy sneered. "How magnanimous of you."
I shrugged. "I'd've thought you'd be glad to be useful for once."
His lips thinned and that fiery hatred flashed through his pale face but his voice was even as he replied. "I just know you're saying that because you want the wing at Hogwarts to be named after you."
I grinned. "Yeah, that too. You could always be the rich donor. They might make a painting of you and hang it in the Great Hall."
"Oh, yes, I've always wanted to preside over generation upon generation of cake-fed, know-it-all brats who insist on making every hour of their life a daytime serial."
"Face it, Malfoy, you'll love it. You'll probably ask to get hung over the Griffindor table and throw spitwads into their porridge."
We laughed. It was rusty, creaking, more like a chronic bronchitis patient breathing really. The only amusing jokes left were the morbid ones but I wanted to pretend that I could still laugh at normal quips. No such luck. Ah, well.
"You're such a prat, Potter." Again with that nonchalant voice. The man never ran luke-warm, only ice and lava but he never warned which was coming out when. Malfoy fished out an ice cube and flicked it under the table behind me to the left. "Granger won't appreciate the extra attention, I'm sure. What in Merln's name is everyone supposed to do after you kamikaze?"
"At the rate that people have been dying, I hope everyone gets as promiscuous as hell," I answered. "As for Hermione, you haven't been able to hurt her feelings since we graduated."
"God, you leave me absolutely nothing!"
We laughed again. It was easier this time. That is to say, it was easier to swallow thistles the second time 'round because your nerves were already damaged from the first mouthful.
Our beers finally arrived. The server leaned a little lower than necessary when serving Malfoy but he didn't look away from those generous breasts. I knew someone who was going to a warm bed tonight. Having no interest in masturbating myself on someone, I kept to my stout as they exchanged information.
"Do you ever wonder," I said when Malfoy finished, "how all of this would have turned out if we became friends in first year?"
"Never would have happened," he replied quickly. "I was too Slytherin and you were too Gryffindor. It's like asking fire to exist in water."
"Remind me to tell you about napalm."
"Besides, I wouldn't want this any other way." He clicked his mug against mine then threw it back in one long drought that was decidedly un-Malfoy-like. "It's been a pip, Potter, but I have to go back out and strangle babes in the womb or pull out flies' wings. Let me know when you're done planning."
I nodded. "You know what you'll have to do in my plan, right?"
He stared at the water condensing on his now empty mug. Looking up, he said, "Of course I do."
"Good." I held my hand out. I don't know why; it felt awkward hanging there between us but I couldn't draw it back now. Strangely enough, he took it, gripped it firmly.
"Good-bye, Harry Potter."
"Good-bye, Draco Malfoy."
He swept away, making his coat look like a cape. The crowd parted before him-muttered about his snottiness but parted nevertheless. At the last moment, just as I was taking my last sip, he turned around and stalked back. His face was pinched but determined; anyone who had to take Pomfrey's tonic had that expression.
When he reached me, he pressed his hands on the tabletop and leaned forward close enough that I could barely hear his whisper. "Actually, I changed my mind."
I raised my brows but said nothing.
"I'd've pushed you off the highest window and let you drown in the moat. Then I'd've jumped myself. Maybe then I wouldn't have this nineteen year-old headache."
He pushed off again. This time, the crowd was wise enough to let him through without any comment, that blasted coat of his billowing in a nonexistent breeze and his hair catching the light and his fists clenched in fury, generally looking like the angel of death.
He just had to make an exit, didn't he?
I rolled the empty mug between my hands. Damned plonker. That made two things that we had in common.