Angus was lying on his stomach beside Potter’s bed again the next day, scribbling for all he was worth. Even though he was the most annoying person in a cavalcade of annoying people in the current battle that was Draco’s life, Draco paid him almost no mind. He was too caught up in wondering how Potter would react to yesterday's events and pondering the information Rosaline had deigned to share the previous evening. Even before she got him into bed, which only went to prove how naïve and trusting she was.
Draco despised Rosaline too much to care about her future broken heart, as he despised most people who came to care for him. In fact, the only people he didn’t despise for their self-delusion in loving him were his parents.
His heart jumped a little. Draco didn’t like to think about his parents, as then he’d start wondering and worrying about them and where they were and how much he wanted to see them again. It was impossible, and everything Draco wanted had to be within his reach.
Draco sluiced down his hair as he approached the bed, blinking sleepy eyes. He’d made a pay-phone call to Stefano, spinning a yarn about meeting an old school friend in a pub to explain his absence. That was a few minutes before he returned to Blackweather Alley and picked up a young man who, with his trembling and brown hair, passed for Potter if Draco squinted. Of course, the fact that Draco had used Potter as a stand-in wasn’t going to make the day’s conversation any easier.
“Was it raining outside?” Potter took in Draco’s wet hair with a quick sideways glance and a choked-down shiver, which left Draco torn between irritation and a banging heart.
“Angel piss,” said Draco. To Angus’ wide eyes and Potter’s guffaw, he elaborated, “Drifting showers, you know. Gets everywhere, all the same.” He ran a finger under his collar, where dribbles of rain were even now mingling around his clavicles.
“You should dry yourself off,” suggested Angus.
“Yeah, there’s no towels around,” said Draco.
Angus’ eyes looked like to bug out of his skull. “Use a Charm!”
“Oh. I forgot.” Draco pointed his wand at himself and incanted a spell for drying cloth. He chanced a glance at Potter as he did so, but Potter was intent upon his fingernails, not displaying any avidity or jealousy at all.
“How did you forget magic?” asked Angus, sounding scornful. “It’s like forgetting to breathe!”
“Yes, because you can do so much, is it?” snapped Draco. “As a matter of fact, magic is a habit, and one that’s easy to fall out of if you hang around with Muggles for too long.”
Before Angus could retort, Potter asked with interest, “Really? Have you spent much time with them, then?”
“Months at a time.” Draco scowled at Angus. “Not to mention I’ve had several Muggle lovers and it’s technically illegal to use magic near them.”
“You can’t shock me,” proclaimed Angus. “I know where babies come from.”
Draco snorted. “But you do know that they don’t come when two men have sex?”
“I was trying to be polite about it,” said Angus. “Actually. My mother explained it to me.”
“Another authority on buggery,” sneered Draco.
“They’re called books. You can learn a lot from them.” Angus curled his lip.
“And he’s called Angus, and he is seven,” interposed Potter. His cheeks were flaming and he was sitting with his hands folded in his lap, for all the world like a Middle Eastern prince in his silk pyjamas. It didn’t help Draco in his effort to keep a straight face to see that Angus was also sucking in a laugh. “Perhaps we should get on, Michel? You haven’t got that much information in the last few days, have you?”
More than you know, thought Draco, but he said, “I am interested in getting your reaction as regards former Death Eaters.”
Potter raised his eyebrows. “Former? I didn’t hear that any of them repented.”
“By former, I mean ones surviving the death of --” Draco almost said ‘the Dark Lord,’ but that would have been a dead giveaway “-- You-Know-You.”
“Then they are still Death Eaters,” said Potter, his smile a glint of steel. “Just because the person they served can’t spread his evil any longer doesn’t mean that his followers have stopped doing it.”
“It would be kind of pointless at this stage, wouldn’t it?” Draco kept his voice on an even keel. It was a rather difficult task, given that Angus was staring at him with narrowed eyes and an expression that suggested kidney problems.
“Oh, there’s always chances to do murder and cruelty,” said Potter, with another flash of that disturbing smile. “Why do you think there’s such strong security around me? They’ll try to kill me for the rest of their lives, just to get even. That’s the kind of people they are.”
Draco sent him a long look, lips pursed. “There was a certain time in Germany when people joined a group of Muggle Death Eaters. Not because they particularly wanted to find chances for murder and cruelty but because if they didn’t, the murder and cruelty would be done to them. They were often misinformed, as well.”
Potter made an unpleasant noise. “I somehow doubt that the Death Eaters were misinformed. And if they were that worried, they could have joined the Order of the Phoenix.”
Potter crinkled his nose. “What do you mean, ‘how?’ They fought against Voldemort and the Death Eaters! They were the good guys! ‘How,’ honestly.”
“But how would they know where to find them?” asked Draco. Before Potter could answer Angus felt the need to contribute.
“A small group of Aurors tortured Narcissa Malfoy to death,” he said. "You know, the good guys."
Both Draco and Potter turned to stare at him, Draco feeling like he was pushing his way through air made of ice.
Angus sent him a cool stare. There was nothing of compassion there, but also nothing of blame. “It took four hours. They wanted information on where her son was, you see. He was --”
“Under suspicion for the murder of Professor Dumbledore, yeah,” muttered Potter. He seemed to have lost the fire he’d spoken with earlier.
“Also once his father was put in gaol, they thought the Death Eaters would try to make him their leader.” Angus resumed colouring in a picture of a shoe with small strokes. “I read some of Mum’s notes for her book.”
“When,” tried Draco, shaking his head to get the pressing weight off it, “when was this?”
“In the weeks before the final battle,” said Potter. “I remember that. Did they ever find Malfoy, Michel?”
“I don’t know,” said Draco, “I was in France.” That’s the reason why I didn’t know my mother was dead, you see.
“Nope, they never did.” Angus was proving to be quite the fount of information. “They’ll probably have to try Severus Snape for murder without him.”
“They don’t need Malfoy for that,” spat Potter. “They can put Malfoy on trial for being a git, but Snape murdered Dumbledore and that’s all there is to it.”
“Innocent until proven guilty,” spouted Angus.
“Where’d you pick that one up from, kid?” asked Draco. “That’s a Muggle thing. If wizards even thought about it, it’d be ‘guilty until proven guilty.’ One of the benefits of Veritaserum and Pensieves.”
Angus just shrugged. “When did your mother die, Mr Michel?”
Draco swallowed back a yelp. “A -- a long time ago. Why?”
“I just wondered,” said Angus, beaming falsely at him. He was missing one of his front teeth. “Your dad must miss you, if you’re all he has now.”
“Probably,” said Draco, his voice brusque. “To be honest, I wouldn’t know. We don’t talk very often.”
Angus chewed the top of one of his pencils. “I don’t talk to my dad very much either.”
“And I’ve never talked to mine,” said Potter. “This is a very jolly conversation, isn’t it?”
“Well, what would you like to talk about?” Draco flicked back the hairs that were slithering into his eyes. “Love? Marriage? A horse and carriage?”
“I’ve never been in love,” offered Potter. Draco didn’t think that it was a statement that merited a deep blush, but obviously his and Potter’s opinions diverged on that point. “Have you?”
The question took Draco by surprise. He couldn’t count the number of times he’d said ‘I love you,’ nor how many had been paid for. It was a simple thing to say and, fortunately for him, most people didn’t associate it with the actual feelings reputed to be involved with being in love. For everyone he’d said it to, it had been the first time. That was what people liked to believe -- that before them, every feeling had been a lie.
“I might have thought I was, once or twice.” Draco winced a little as Blaise’s face sprung, unbidden, to mind. “I don’t really believe in it, anyway. It’s a pretty name for lust and being scared of dying alone.”
“That’s harsh,” laughed Potter, “especially coming from someone who claims never to have been in love.”
“The powers of observation are great indeed,” observed Draco, earning him an eye-roll from Angus’ direction. “What, then, is the hero version of love? A comely maiden, rescued from the tower or dragon of your choice, and a life based on worship and misapprehension?”
A dark look passed over Potter’s face, but it was gone before Draco could define it. “No,” he said, sounding as if the word was the product of long and deep thought. “I think love is like anything else. It has tests to prove if it’s real.”
“I don’t suppose you have an example handy? No, don’t tell me. Something to do with mattresses and peas and the unimpeachable virtue of the lady in question.”
Potter’s baffled face told Draco that the barb had missed its mark. “Why do you keep talking about women? I thought you were --”
“Gay? Yes,” Draco finished for him. “For more information, dial double three Angus.” Angus gave an insulted yelp. “But I was talking about you. And you haven’t answered the question. This is well worth publishing. How to win Harry Potter’s love, in three easy steps.”
Potter adopted an expression of exasperation that was the first to fit his age. “It’s not like that. I just thought of all the things I loved doing, like playing Quidditch and, er --”
“Defeating evil?” suggested Draco.
“Among other things,” conceded Potter. “And I thought that if I loved someone -- really loved them -- then I would be okay with giving up all the other things I loved for them, because they would be enough.”
Draco raised his eyebrows. “And you think that works for everyone? That you’re supposed to subjugate everything that makes you happy for someone else?”
“Well, yes,” said Potter.
“Why, thank you, Potter. You’ve made me absolutely and completely grateful that I have never, and most likely never will be, in love.”
“You make it sound terrible.”
“No, you make it sound terrible. Imagine giving up so much for one person!”
“The point I was trying to make was, they’d be worth it.”
Draco snorted. “I haven’t yet met anyone who’d be worth it.”
“Then you haven’t been in love.” Potter smiled beatifically. “Go on, then, what’s the thing you love most that would be such a wrench to give up?”
“Sex,” said Draco automatically, and Potter choked.
“Okay,” he coughed. “I, er, think that might actually be part of the general package, anyway.”
Draco shook his head. “By your reasoning, I’d have to commit to a life of monogamy. For this hypothetical love of my life, I’d have to give up sleeping with everyone else. How terrible is that!”
“Given that most people don’t actually sleep with everyone else in the world,” said Potter, blinking in an exaggerated manner, “really, really terrible.”
A laugh escaped Draco before he could prevent it. Shocking, to be laughing in genuine humour at something Potter had said! Yet there it was.
“Uncle Harry’s more right than you,” said Angus, “even though you know more than him.”
“Oh, cheers,” said Draco. “Someone who hasn’t even started a fulfilling relationship with his hand is presuming to lecture on love. How sweet.”
“At least my mind isn’t as clouded as yours.” Angus remained unmoved by Draco’s crudeness. For a child of seven, he was as composed as a Buddhist monk.
“You’ve cheated me out of my three steps, though, Potter.” Draco turned his back pointedly on Angus. “I’m most upset. I might forget to collect your robes because of it.”
“Did you get some made up?” Potter’s face lit up. “Wow, thanks. You’re right, it will be good to get out of pyjamas.”
“Of course I’m right,” said Draco in withering tones. “Finally you start to realise this. If only --” he cut himself off before he could finish the thought. “I got mainly dark green, dark blue and scarlet, with that new bias cut. A few linen and one wool. Not exactly evening wear, but they’ll do.”
“Er, yes,” said Potter. “I don’t care what colour they are.”
“Damn.” Draco smacked his forehead. “If I’d known that, I’d have got pink. It goes so well with your eyes. What a wasted opportunity.”
“Oh, please,” said Potter, but he was grinning. “I would have killed you if you’d brought back pink robes. I’m not a girl.”
“Death threats now, is it? Not very heroic, you know. Also, pink is the colour of victory.”
“That’s red,” Potter corrected him, but he sounded distracted. “Look, your Mum’s here!”
Draco spun around in his chair, his heart leaping into his mouth, but all he saw was Granger’s bushy head bouncing across the room. Angus, on the other hand, gave a shout and barrelled across to her.
“God, you gave me a fright,” said Draco, realising that his voice sounded genuinely weak. “I thought you were calling up the ghost of my mother.”
“If it were that easy, I’d call up my own mother.” Potter sounded sad. Draco didn’t look at him, in case his face looked anything like Draco’s felt.
My mother is dead, experimented Draco, as he watched Granger absently pat Angus on the head and adjust the baby perched on her hip. No, it didn’t work, in the sense of believing it to be true. His mother had been as good as dead for eight years. He’d got used to not seeing her. He’d even stopped missing her. If she was dead, that would all change for the worst. Better by far to imagine her in foreign gaol, on the run in South America, living under an assumed name in a Russian fief -- any one of the dozen other stories he’d told himself at night, when it was that or wake up to find his tears frozen to his face.
A look of naked longing crossed Angus’ face as Granger stuck her little finger in her baby’s mouth, seeming to have forgotten the existence of her eldest son. The look was gone as soon as it came, replaced by Angus’ customary expression of cow-like calm. It occurred to Draco that a mother didn’t have to be dead to not be there.
“Hello, Harry,” said Granger in her muted voice. She leaned across the bed to kiss Potter’s temple. “How are you today?”
“Great. Michel and I were having a debate about the nature of love.”
Granger gave a hollow bark of laughter. “How useful. Michel looks like someone who’d know a lot about it.” Her look was shrewd as she took in Stefano’s sweet lips curved in a knowing smile that belonged to Draco alone.
“Actually, no.” Potter scratched his ankle. “He’s never been in love, and neither have I, so we’re both a bit lost.”
“Never been in love?” Granger conjured up a chair and sat down awkwardly, trying not to disturb her baby, whose eyes were fluttering in a battle against slumber. “What about Ginny?”
Potter looked disconcerted. “What about her? She’s married.”
“I know, Harry, I went to the wedding.” Granger rolled her eyes and jostled the baby closer to her breast. “I meant before that, when you were in school.”
“You mean sixth year, when I was stalking Malfoy most of the time?” snorted Potter. Draco jumped in his chair and tried to pretend he’d meant to, even as his heart raced. “Sure, I had a crush on Ginny, but it wasn’t like it had time to develop or anything.”
“You did go out,” Granger reminded him. “And I’m sure you thought about her a lot, certainly more than about Draco Malfoy.”
Potter looked unconvinced. “I don’t think I was in love with her, Hermione. At that point, I felt too much hate to love anyone.”
Granger heaved a deep sigh. “I shouldn’t worry about it if I were you. Love will come, and probably go away again, if I know anything about it.”
“How’s Maud?” asked Potter, in a clumsy attempt to change the subject.
Granger had the child-oriented mindset of any new mother and she was soon depositing the baby in Potter’s arms. Potter sent Draco a desperate look. Draco was too grateful for his own exemption to do anything meaner than smirk at him.
Potter probably didn’t notice because his attention was claimed by Maud (who was screwing up her face in preparation for either a bellow or a bowel movement). Draco, however, had an unimpeded view of the back of Granger’s neck as her hair swung forward, and also of the purpling bruise that was revealed.
“Mrs McLaggen,” said Draco, as Granger sat back, watching Potter with a proprietorial expression. “Where are your dear husband and children today?”
“Cormac’s looking after the younger ones. Did you want to ask him some questions?”
“Not particularly. Although I’ll bet his version of love would be one worth hearing. No, it was just an empty enquiry.”
“Speaking of empty enquires, Mr Rodriguez, how is your interview with Harry going?”
“It’s very interesting,” said Draco with perfect truth. “I’m sure I’ll be able to present an alternative view of the Boy Who Lived, one that few people know.”
“Are you sure that’s a good thing?” asked Granger. Maud claimed two of Potter’s fingers as booty. “Does the general public really want to know that heroes have a human side? I rather think it wants the opposite: a statue to worship. Someone they can look up to, not empathise with. That’s what victims are for.”
“And where does that leave Potter?” said Draco, with more sharpness than he’d intended. “Statues don’t have much of a social life, as far as I can see. They don’t get married or fight with their children.”
“Nor do they suffer, nor do they grow old.” Granger glanced over at Potter. Draco followed her gaze, watching with an inadvertent smile as Potter coochicooed rather helplessly and Maud’s face brewed a storm.
“And, Mr Rodriguez,” added Granger, in a low voice, “has Harry struck you so far as the sort who wants to get married, with all that it entails?”
“Hitting his future wife, you mean?” Draco stretched his lips into a crescent moon. “I couldn’t say. Was he violent in school?”
Granger’s hand had gone to her neck, but she snatched it back almost angrily. “I’m saying that if I can see it, then you should be able to write a thesis on it for your newspaper. In this day and age, I somehow doubt it will affect his eligibility, but you certainly will be instrumental in tearing down his statue.”
“I’m afraid this abstract suppositioning is rather beyond me, Mrs McLaggen.” Draco affected a practised simper. “I am but a mere reporter and hack. Mr Weasley will back me up on that one.”
“Mmm,” said Granger, bunching her lips. She lifted Maud out of Harry’s grateful arms just as she began to cry.
“Mum, look what I drew.” Angus yanked on the belt of Granger's skirt and gazed up at her with limpid eyes. In his other hand he waved a new parchment.
“Angus, shh a minute. Let me get Maud to sleep, will you?” Granger sighed with unhappy frustration.
Angus bowed his head but drew away. Draco saw that he was clutching the parchment very tightly, but he did not so much as whimper. Despite his dislike for the boy, Draco couldn’t help but admire his self-control.
Evidently, he was not the only one. As Granger stood up to walk off Maud’s temper tantrum, Potter slithered forward in the bed until he was level with Angus, whose shoulders were moving as he took deep breaths.
“Can I see?” Draco heard him ask Angus.
Draco watched Granger’s thin wrists and the red marks on them that looked like the impression of fingerprints. He'd sometimes had those himself, although never there.
He glanced at Angus’ drawing before he left. The large caption read 'Love' and it was, as far as Draco could see, an abstract composition of broomsticks, yellow snakes, a lightening bolt, a clenched fist and lots of swirly pink smoke.
Love, as Draco knew, was for the birds. Swans, judging by reputation. The sun was just setting as he left, and there was plenty left in his Butterbeer bottle. He decided to go to the place where love had at least got a negotiable value.