Strangers on a Train

Draco strolled onto Platform 9 and three-quarters while adjusting the robeshe’d just put on over his charcoal suit with a quiet purple tie and silvercufflinks. Before crossing he’d attracted minimal attention. On a normal dayhe’d stand out, but the steady trickle of wizards and witches made Draco asafe eccentric. Just a rich brat, not some delusional redheaded homeless clanwho wore blankets and pushed a shopping cart loaded with birds. Commutersglanced past Draco and stared at the freaks. They might remember him and lookback, but they never could spot him. An accountant offered investmentservices, Draco nodded dismissively and walked past him. One middle-aged womanstage-whispered “Why can’t Andrew dress that well?” Draco silently agreed withher after glancing at Andrew. Muggle style existed, he was proof. Draco had noidea why most choose to ignore it.

Draco got some glances. Mother attracted no attention, a shockingaccomplishment given her beauty. Draco had sold the elegant black dress,Narcissa’s concession to Muggle fashion, by pointing out that wearing robesstood out and invited a conversation. Mother’s dread of interaction defeatedher rejection of her Muggle past. Draco feared she’d change back to robes oncehe departed, Muggle curiosity be damned. Then he’d see exactly how muchleverage he had with Li.

As Draco crossed the threshold to Platform Nine and Three Quarters memories oflast year washed over him. It felt like ages ago. Last year he’d gawkednervously at the sights and experience, until Father coughed slightly,reminding Draco his place. Now he glanced around the station. Pansy Parkinsonsat in one car of the train, staring down at the platform through a window.Gregory stood next to the news-stand, beside Vincent, carefully counting outKnuts to the vendor, candy in hand. Gregory waved to Draco and said somethingto Vincent. Draco shook his head and motioned towards the train.

He’d meet them later. He had to get out of the suit and adjust his robes.

An oomph behind him and Draco’s trunk bumped into his leg before backing awayto a fight for position against the interloper. He saw Neville rubbing hisshin and Draco realized he’d stopped right at the entrance. Thankfully nobodyhad bolted through full tilt, as nervous first years sometimes did.

“My fault, Neville.” Draco moved away, trunk padding quietly after him. Draconodded to Augusta Longbottom as she appeared at the entrance. He realized -amused - that her purple flowing dress and wide brimmed hat sporting yellowroses looked equally outlandish on either side of the crossing, too improbableto be accidental.

Prefects from three Houses helped stow first years’ trunks, older girlsscreamed greetings and ran into hugs. Shyer students boarded the HogwartsExpress quickly, loud students mingled on the platform gossiping. A largeclock showed 10:45. A new girl, hair almost as blonde as Draco’s but shoulder-length, examined the train’s steam through outlandishly large orange glasses.With rainbow lenses. Judging from her expression she’d invented some secret ofthe universe, hidden in the cloud. Cho Chang’s hands demonstrated maneuversshe’d seen at Puddlemere United’s latest match to the rest of the Ravenclawteam. Lavender Brown and Hannah Abbott stood comparing modified uniforms andgiggling. Draco took this all in a quick glance.

Dozens of students, but not Harry. No Hermione, either.

“I’ll go. I don’t want to embarrass you, Draco.” Draco turned around andhugged Narcissa tightly.

“I’ll have time to be embarrassed later, Mother,” he said, eyes closed, andheld the hug. Draco didn’t want to see people watching. He might blush. Hewasn’t embarrassed, not yet, but if he thought about it that could change. Hereleased Mother and stepped back. “I’ll see you at Christmas,” he said in anormal tone. Tears rolled down her cheeks and Draco wondered if he saw Mother,or if his own mask had been as effective.

Ignoring several slack-jawed stares, Draco boarded the Hogwarts Express behindsixth year Gryffindors, following smoothly in their wake as they scatteredyounger students. He stopped in the lavatory to fix his attire, and then wentto the car he’d seen Vincent board.

“Vincent. Gregory” he said, standing at the entrance. “Hi. Can I come in? I’llleave. If you want.”

Vincent let out his breath. “Come in. Greg and I talked about it. I mean,we’re all in the same boat. Dad said you’d have secrets, even from us. He toldme once most of the time that meant you were either protecting us, or afraid.Of losing us.”

Gregory said “Maybe it was a mistake, trusting Lucius advice. My dad worried,time to time, especially when they decided to throw in with You-Know-Who. Theyunderstood the risks. Who could have seen that coming? They were close, ourparents. Maybe we saw that more than you did Draco. We spent every Boxing Daytogether. But you weren’t invited until last year.”

Draco closed the door behind him. “So … we’re on again for Boxing Day?”

“Christmas with Family. Friends for Boxing Day. That’s what we do.”

Draco couldn’t express the profound relief he felt. He’d confessed almosteverything in his letter. Revealing plots, even his Patronus, felt easy,even cleansing. More difficult was admitting rage at Father, at Father’smistakes, at the emptiness between him and Mother. It felt like opening awound and handing out salt. Gregory and Vince had reasons to hate LuciusMalfoy and Draco. He’d feared giving out more, showing weakness about hisinner conflicts.

It seemed he still had friends, which meant Draco must complete hisconfession.

“I know it’s been hard, even before Voldemort”- they didn’t flinch - “killedour Fathers. I know you disapproved last year my helping Granger, or suspectedsome deep plan. But it was just like it appeared.”

“Why?” asked Crabbe.

“Why not? At first I was polite because Potter expected it. Useful. And whereis it written we have to be jerks, even to Muggles? Random rudeness makes usall look terrible. I was … I’m still trying to save our House. And I realized,hating Muggles it’s not just wrong, it’s a sign of weakness, even if it’spolitically useful.”

Draco sighed. “Yet another time Father was wrong. Even last summer at myhouse, I feared admitting the truth to you after it drove a wedge between meand mother. ”

Vincent frowned, and Draco saw them exchange glances as he sat down heavily.

“If she lived with Muggles for a decade and still hates them, doesn’t thatmean there’s something to it,” asked Gregory.

“Mother hates them because her life was on hold. She blames them, that’seasier than blaming Father. Or maybe herself. I spent a lot of the summerinvestigating. At first I was trying to find a reason to hate them. And thereare reasons, but no different from why I’d hate anybody.”

“And this hatred is one reason Slytherin is dying. At some point I’m going toreveal this, to challenge the others’ beliefs. If Father were around, I couldconvince him and it would just be a matter of time, but without him, I mightbecome a pariah.”

Vincent and Gregory waited, and Draco made his final confession.

“I could lose. Even winning will cost me friends and support.. ‘The boy whotried to have it both ways, who hated Muggles when Voldemort lived andchampioned them after he fell.’ I don’t want to drag you down with me. Ourarrangement was made by our Fathers.”

“And they’re gone,” said Gregory, “but you know we had a choice.”

“Why would I want out now?” said Vince. “Voldemort murdered our families andeveryone thinks we’re the bad guys?”

“Our fathers bowed to him,” said Gregory sharply. “Of course they think we’rethe bad guys.”

“Voldemort championed hatred. Obviously we’d reconsider once he killedeveryone. A backlash, starting by victims. In any case I didn’t care one wayor another. I’m not sure father did. Even if he did really hate them, thatwasn’t us. We didn’t join as Death Eaters,” said Vince.

“We might have,” said Draco softly. “If he hadn’t killed everyone. If he’dreturned quietly and kept hidden. It would have been tough not to.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Vincent bit his lower lip. “Voldemort made it easy to hatehim.”

“I don’t know,” said Gregory. “I hate him,too, but I don’t know if this willwork. Maybe. As long as you don’t reveal you were pro-Muggle last year”

“Don’t decide now. We can keep being friends without being allies.”

Vincent gazed at the ceiling as the train’s piercing whistle hurriedstragglers on board . “Our year is fine, mostly. Nott and Potter are close,the witches are neutralish, but listen to Hermione, Zabini doesn’t like you…”

Gregory said “That’s envy. He feels overshadowed.”

“He can join the club” said Draco, more bitterly than intended. “Potter andGranger in the same year? In any case he can be General this year, that willcool him off.” Draco saw their look. “Potter and Granger resigned. So there’sno upside for me as General. If I beat up on rookies everyone shrugs, becauseI’ve had a year’s experience. And if I don’t. Well. Anyway Greengrass is in,too.”

Gregory interrupted “How are they deciding replacements?”

“Depends. Some classes are keeping the same generals. It’s still up in the airfor our year, but Longbottom gets it if he wants. The class gets some say butthe Professors do, too. ”

“Professors?” they both said. Gregory continued without pause “So, it’s acommittee thing?”

“Yeah,” said Draco with a smile.

Gregory ignored the bait, tacked back to the earlier conversation. “I worryabout the older students. Thoughts?”

Draco leaned forward conspiratorially. “I can’t tell about the Jugsons. TheCarrows lost both parents and hated me to begin with. They’ll view this as apersonal insult.”

“They weren’t stable anyway.” said Vince. “Most upperclassmen want to bullysomeone. They’d prefer to pick on Gryffindorks but don’t care much” The trainlurched once and the platform appeared to be rolling back. Draco saw HarryPotter hurriedly walk by and wondered if he’d just boarded, but snapped hisattention back to Vince who was saying “Yeah, we’ll be targets.”

Gregory shrugged. “We can take them.”

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