Strangers on a Train, Part 2
Draco looked out the window as the train lurched out of the station, stilllistening to Gregory and Vincent. Once the conversation turned to tactics,he’d finally finally relaxed. He’d confessed everything and they saw thetension flow out of him. They’d lived with him for a year, knew when he wore amask.
Platform Nine and Three Quarters disappeared from view as the train rollednoisily past a wall. Draco lost sight of the wizarding oasis in rigidlyordered Muggle London. Potter called his army ‘ChaosLegion,’ but in many waysPotter strode both worlds. Muggle society abhorred chaos. Staring out thewindow, Draco saw rectangular skyscrapers that stood gleaming, looming overolder, elegant stone structures. Modern buildings dominated the horizon likedisapproving adult children towering over their parents’ shrunken frames,rolling their eyes while listening but not hearing stories of “the good olddays.”
Ignoring the stories made sense. The good old days were mythical. SomeLondoner Muggle transported back a mere century would be shocked at thesqualor, filth, and disease. Wizards lived in luxurious style even beforeHogwarts. Draco could match Merlin’s lifestyle, argue who lived better; only aMuggle blinded by Romantic lies would choose to live in the distant past.
The skyscrapers silently testified the truth. Muggles had arrived butrecently.
As the train ch-ch-clunked through London, Draco envisioned the two parallelsteel rails underneath it. Perfectly aligned, slightly rusted but no lessuseful. Well ordered, guiding him at this moment. He hadn’t noticed it lastyear. He’d blindly mocked Muggles with fellow students, laughed at theirpathetic ignorance while riding their invention. Wizards stole ideas fromMuggles, and not even their best.
Draco had researched trains after Harry’s visit. Most Muggles flew, thesedays. Why waste a full day traveling to Hogwarts when you can arrive in anhour? Trains? Muggle relics. Even the Hogwarts Express, now plodding throughthe suburbs, belonged in a museum when compared to bullet trains.
In the modern world trains carried coal, cattle, and Wizard children.
Draco stared at the skyline. All this knowledge could have been his, lastyear. He’d dismissed it with the phrase “Dumb Muggles.” Didn’t even dismissit, because that implied he’d considered it. Draco remembered other phraseshe’d used: Gryffindorks, Ravenclods. NothingPuffs. (Centuries of trial had notyet cracked the insult code for the ‘Puffs, but it had been a lazy effort. Allother Houses quietly looked down on Helga’s brood so consistently that they’dnever felt threatened enough to try hard). The Carrion sisters. Draco saw howamusing quips blinded him.
He’d never truly lost sight of his lessons. He might generalize Houses andstereotype people but he knew that groups contained subtleties: their ownintrigues and factions. His training pointed out time and again that everyoneviewed themselves the hero of the story. From true kings to the lowliestpawns, to those who never stood atop the board. So even though Draco didn’tknow or care about most people, he’d tried to remember that they existed. Hiscontempt had dulled that lesson.
Potter and his Father thought nothing odd about discussing how Muggles couldhelp Wizards, that Wizards deserved better than their unfortunate lot. Hisadventures in London demonstrated dozens of ways wizards could benefit. He’dseen innumerable ways to help individual Muggles; but nothing on a scale. Evenignoring the Statute of Secrecy, even if Draco studied healing and medicineand became Saint Malfoy The Praised to convert Muggle heathens and save theirbodies and souls, it wouldn’t matter much. He’d be just as useless giving hismoney to the beggars. They’d overwhelm him, Muggles in London.
Perhaps they’d come by train, nearly two centuries ago, when trains were newto the world.
Vincent and Gregory had been considering the news of Potter and Granger’sretirement. They’d grasped the implications accurately and thoroughly, inDraco’s opinion. Except for one point, something they couldn’t know.
“One thing, though. Potter loved being General. He loved it,” Draco said,still staring out the window as the suburbs had fallen away to a not-quite-picturebook countryside. He turned back, rejoining the discussion. “Itreminded him of a Muggle story he adores, children generals fighting mockwars. In many ways, our armies were his childhood … a chance to play and bondwith children he could consider equals, or close enough. He finally pushedhimself and wasn’t be treated like a child. He said he envied the respect weWizards had, from our parents. And he discovered camaraderie, something like …us.”
Vincent and Gregory considered this new information. They’d been aroundPotter, but Harry rarely dealt with them, preferring to deal directly withDraco.
Vincent started first. “If that’s true he’d still run an army. He could giveaway more troops or even fight against the older years. He’s not that good,Potter couldn’t personally defeat the seventh year armies. There’s a balancesomewhere.”
Gregory chimed in. “They wouldn’t mind, as long as he put up a good fight.They’d complain, but just grumbling, nothing serious. Be great to watch, too.”
Draco nodded. “Potter’s giving it up because he believes he must. Not just tobe fair. He has another reason, a compelling reason.” Draco glanced out thewindow again, the landscape finally looking bucolic. “And I have no idea whatit is.”
Draco pulled down the window shade, conspiratorially. “But we’re neglectinghalf of the equation. Two thirds, actually. What do the two of you want? Whatare your goals? We’d talked about going out for Quidditch, and you should bothdo that, obviously.”
Gregory, clearly shocked, said “You aren’t trying out?”
“I’m not sure. I think my … ” he lowered his voice as a group of Hufflepuffswalked by the carriage, giggling at something Hannah Abbot said while shepointed at Gregory, ”… slate will be full. We’ll see. Besides, I’m a classicseeker build and there’s no call for that anymore. What about you, Gregory?Apart from Quidditch. I mean, you’re the best flyer we’ve got.”
Gregory mulled it over, eyes closed. “I don’t know. Doesn’t it seem, you know,premature? Do I have to declare goals right now? We’ll be doing all we can toget by. It’s not that I’m complacent, but our position isn’t stable. For now,we’re reacting more than plotting. Chaser for me.”
“I’m more of a Beater,” Vincent said, then stuck his head into the hallway togawk as a passing toad flew by. They laughed when Neville shouted “Found him!”
Draco continued. “Yes, we’re reacting. But we’ve got a lot to consider. It maytake a month or two. I spent the last few days doing little else, and I’mstill not sure.”
Vince nodded, then sprawled out across two seats. “Thanks. I appreciate it.When I was younger, I asked Dad why we do it, and he told me that I’dunderstand the rewards. I never really believed him.”
Draco stood up. “Father told me something similar. But if you’ll excuse me, Ineed to consult Potter and Granger.” He opened the door to the hallway andpaused as a gaggle of first years rushed by.
“Our lecture for first year Defence.” Grinning, Draco slid the door shutbehind hm and headed for the front of the train. The blond girl with orangeglasses lectured a Weasley girl (judging by her hair) about something called aCrumple-Horned Snorkack. He dodged past the food cart, stomach rumblingslightly although it was too early to eat, and sauntered past four olderSlytherins, nodding coldly. Two ignored him, but Randy Rookwood nodded backonly to glared at by Ethan Jugson. Draco went car after car until he foundHarry sitting with Neville and Hermione. Hermione waved him in cheerfully.
“Hello,” Draco said. “I had some questions for the Generals…” Neville startedto leave. “I didn’t mean it like that Longbottom, and anyway, ” Harry’s lipstwitched and Hermione shook her head NO, hair twisting into a tight spiral andthen unwinding slightly after her head. Draco coughed to cover his reaction.
It wouldn’t do to get infatuated with Hermione Granger.
“Thanks,” Draco said, and stood aside as Neville walked past. “You didn’t tellhim? Great, now I’m the prat.” Draco arranged himself in the seat opposite theother two. “Harry, I’m sorry I ignored you all summer. It’s just hard. And …and Mother wanted to apologize in person but you weren’t out there …”
“You told your Mother that Harry was an Occlumens?’ asked Hermione.
“No, you did Hermione,” said Draco. “as did every single adult in the room.”He let that sink in.
“Seriously Harry, you are the worst actor ever. Your parents reacted likeyou’d turned into a four-headed hydra declaiming in iambic pentameter. EvenHermione’s parents looked stunned, and I imagine they barely know you. Whatdid you do to them?”
Hermione started laughing. Harry just shook his head as she pointed at him.
“I’ve read the books,” said Hermione, smiling sweetly.
“Shut up” Harry sighed.
“Occlumency is basically acting,” tone serious, but quizzical.
“Shut.. Up. Shut. Up. Shut. Up.”
“So. how can you be any good if…”
“Shuttity- Up” he said, voice rising.
Hermione dissolved into quiet giggles. Draco wondered if they’d starteddating.
“I agree with you both. Professor Binns would have noticed. Of course Motherspotted it right away. If you had been alone, Potter, you might have gottenaway with it. In any case, she said she just looking for stuff about me.”
“With no respect for my privacy,” Harry said.
“You aren’t family.” Draco shrugged. “I had expressed … mixed feelings aboutyou. And your history. Where Father would simply threaten you …”
“… Narcissa rummages around in my mind” Harry finished.
“Basically. Anyway, she thought you would make a decent friend and apologizedto me for mucking it up.”
After I’d confirmed the truth of what she saw. Harry Potter hadn’t lied, noteven during an invasion of his privacy. But, Draco realized that Harry lookedgood in all the exposed memories. He’d plotted with Draco, allied with him,been tortured by him. And several memories showing Lucius dealing with Harry,possibly afraid of him. He’d left out the truths from a particular point ofview. _It made Draco wonder exactly how bad an actor Harry actually was. He’dask, but he could imagine Harry’s answer, “I can neither confirm nor denythat I threatened your mother by acting like a normal 12 year old.”_
“Did she read my thoughts?” asked Hermione, more ominous than Draco everremembered.
“She says she didn’t.”
“And why not?” Hermione’s threat level jumped from hippogriff to troll.
“Harry’d already been revealed as an Occlumens. She probably didn’t darerisk it. He doesn’t go attacking Azkaban. Or maybe some female courtesy. I’mnot sure how Mother thinks, really.”
“Maybe she doesn’t consider me your friend?” Hermione continued.
“Are you? You weren’t last year,” Draco said.
“I’d be delighted, Draco!” she said. The room seemed to brighten slightly andDraco thought get control of yourself. _Don’t fall for Granger! _Hermionesmiled sweetly. “But tell your mother that I will absolutely destroy her - ina nice way befitting of Sunshine Regiment of course - if she ever tries thatwith me.”
“Of course.” Draco decided to go get lunch. “By the way … about Slytherin.Harry, if there’s anything you think I should know…” Just then somethingchimed from Harry’s belt.
“Excuse me. Muffliato.” Harry put down his wand and spoke into a mirror,like they’d all had last spring. Draco only heard buzzing.
“You know, Draco, we aren’t going to share many classes. Harry and I gottutored over the summer. Harry always did that before Hogwarts and I suspectyou did too, but its surprisingly …. efficient.”
“So you’re in third year?” Draco asked.
“Er, I think you could be tutored and move ahead too. You know we’re all …”Hermione couldn’t bring herself to say gifted.
Draco thought about it as Harry put his mirror away and canceled his spell.“It would isolate me even more. I can’t afford that now. Although I mayrequest tutoring from Professor … Asimov?”
Hermione raised her eyebrows. “Muggle studies?”
Harry interrupted. “That was Peverell Hospital. Another failed break in. Noreal problem.”
Draco, who had started to get up yet again, fell back into his seat as thetrain lurched sharply. “And you are providing security.” It wasn’t a question,more a statement.
“I’m consulting” said Harry steadily. “You must admit I have a talent forthose kind of things.”
“I do.” Draco paused. “Actually, it makes me feel better. That’s why you gottutoring.”
“Tell me, Draco. What would you do for security?”
“Apart from the fact that you faked the Chalice, I have no idea.”
“What?” said Hermione.
Harry looked smug. “Now who can’t act?”
Hermione glared at both of them briefly. “What gave it away?”
“I was just fishing,” Draco mimed casting a line towards Hermione, “Actually afew things over the summer. The timing seemed too convenient. To suddenly findthe Chalice right after all this other stuff. It reeks of you, Potter. Thenthe Chalice is better than legend? How often does that happen? I’d beenconfused while reading the stories in the Prophet and I noticed. And youconsulted on security so naturally nothing can be easy.”
During all of this Harry kept his gaze steady, some unreadable emotion playingacross his face, and Hermione nodded sadly.
“Most of the security is by Mad-Eye Moody, really. I don’t suppose you’veheard of Security by Obscurity, Draco?”
“Well, you can have security by not telling people how things work. That’s OK.It can be pretty good. But if you can show someone exactly how things areprotected and that person can’t break into it, then you’ve got real security.To break into Slytherin’s Dungeons - oh don’t look at me like that Ravenclawis worse - you just need to know a password. A small bribe, a bit of spyingdoes it. But if I laid out the exact floor plan of Gringotts you’d still havea hard time getting in.”
“So you tell your security to everyone?”
“Some Muggles do, but they use amazingly complicated Arithmancy and do it toprove their security is unbreakable. For them, if you don’t describe yoursecurity everyone thinks something is wrong with it. But I do share thesecurity with a select group, and they try to break it.”
Draco listened to this lecture with fingers steepled together, right handdrumming a slight pattern onto the left hand. He’d given Harry his fullattention, of course, but he was thinking.
“Mad Eye tells me his security, I try to break in. When I find a new way ofsneaking in, he figures out a way to stop me. So do you want to try and breakin?”
Draco jumped slightly. That sounded fun, actually. “I doubt I could findsomething you’ve missed, especially with your head start all summer. But Icould use a distraction. Are there real ways to break in?”
“Nothing’s perfect. We have to use the … ” he glanced at Hermione and made airquotes “Chalice to heal people, so it can’t be locked away in a vault. Would-be thieves hopefully don’t know all the precautions. We’ve had a lot ofattempts over the last month; they’ve all been arrested. The next set ofthieves should be smaller and smarter. They’ll plan. Rumour is that GermanDark Wizards have formed an alliance…”
Draco forgot about lunch.
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