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Initiate by MarauderLover7
Chapter 2 : New Names
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8

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“Magic?” Blaise’s voice drifted through the open window. “I think I’d know if I had magic.”

Next to Harry, Hermione squeaked, and above them, the window snapped shut. Harry grabbed Hermione’s arm and hauled her away before anyone came to find the source of the noise. They didn’t stop running until they’d reached the library, and found their usual corner at the back, in the quiet reading section.

Hermione was very pale, and looked a little panicked. Harry couldn’t believe she hadn’t spoken up already, with a thousand reasons that Giovanna Zabini was completely mad and couldn’t possibly be right.

She didn’t believe it, did she? Harry wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do if that was the case. Talking to Padfoot was the obvious solution, but then what? Obliviate Hermione? Tell her everything and make her swear never to say anything to anyone?

And Blaise... Blaise was a wizard. He hadn’t sounded convinced, but then, Harry himself hadn’t believed it when Padfoot first told him. That meant Blaise would be at Hogwarts. Harry would know another person... and Blaise would know someone too. September was suddenly looking even better.

“Mad, right?” Harry heard himself say.

“Mad,” Hermione agreed with a shaky laugh. “Silly, really, that a grown woman could think magic was real.” She still didn’t quite sound like herself. Harry forced a smile. “And she thinks, what, that Blaise could be some sort of witch?”

“Wizard, probably,” Harry said, with a nervous smile. Hermione gave him an odd look. “Cause, you know, Blaise is a bloke, so he’d be a wizard, not a-”

Stop talking! he told himself. He clamped his mouth shut.

“Not a witch,” Hermione finished. “Right, silly of me.” She shook her head hard enough that her hat nearly fell off. “All hypothetical, of course.”

“Yeah,” Harry said quickly. “I mean, magic’s not real.”

“No, definitely not,” Hermione said. They lapsed into silence. Harry glanced around the library, and when he was convinced they were alone, pulled his treacle tart out of his pocket and took a bite. Hermione pursed her lips, and her eyes flicked to the “No eating” sign on the wall, but she didn’t comment. She still looked nervous. “And she didn’t even look like a witch.”

“No warts,” Harry agreed, rubbing mud off his shorts.

“No toad,” Hermione said nervously.

“Nope,” Harry said. “Very muggle-ish.” She’d actually done well, he thought. Zabini’d carried herself like a pureblood – haughtily – so he doubted she spent much time in the muggle world, but she’d certainly looked the part.

“Pardon?” Hermione asked, eyes huge. Harry realised his mistake too late.

“I-” he said. Idiot! How the bloody hell am I supposed to explain that? Hermione’s a walking dictionary, and she won’t have heard the word, so she’ll start asking questions...

“Muggle,” Hermione said. “You said muggle.”

“No, Harry told her as firmly as possible, “I didn’t, I said-”

“You did too; I heard you,” Hermione said bossily. She was smiling – still rather nervously, but there was hope there too – and it was very, very, worrying.

“I didn’t,” Harry insisted. Hermione stared at him for a long moment, apparently thinking something through. She crossed her fingers. Oh, Merlin, what have I-

“What House do you think Zabini was in?” Hermione asked, her eyes fixed on Harry’s face.

“I didn’t- what?” Harry stared at Hermione, certain his ears were playing tricks on him. She watched him, her expression almost impossible to read. Harry wished he could transform; then he’d be able to smell her mood. He took a deep breath, hoping that this wasn’t going to backfire on him. If it does, they can always Obliviate her, he thought miserably. “Holly,” he said carefully. “And phoenix feather.”

“Vine,” she whispered, “and dragon heartstring.” Harry gaped at her, and she stared back, obviously stunned.

“You’re a witch?” he asked, dumbfounded.

“You’re a wizard,” she countered, and it wasn’t a question. “Hogwarts?” she asked shrewdly.

“Hogwarts,” Harry agreed. Hermione beamed. “How- how long?” Harry stammered. Hermione shifted her chair closer to his, and lowered her voice.

“Well, all my life, I imagine,” she said. Harry would have rolled his eyes if he wasn’t so shocked. “But I only found out last year, on my birthday. Professor McGonagall, she teaches-”

“Transfiguration,” Harry supplied. “Yeah, I know.”

“Did she come to meet you too?” Hermione asked. Harry shook his head. Hermione frowned at him, and then pushed on with her story. “Well, anyway, she came over with a letter – like the one Blaise got - and I didn’t believe her at first, but then a lot of things she told me made sense, and then she turned our couch into a goat, and well, how could I not believe her after that?” Hermione paused for breath. “It’s all so interesting! That there’s a whole other world hidden right under everyone’s noses, and now I can be a part of it! Mum and Dad had a bit more trouble accepting it than I did; they had all sort of plans for me for high school, but really, they just want me to be happy, and-”

“Hermione,” Harry said, “breathe.”

“Sorry!” she said breathlessly. “I just- it’s so nice to be able to tell someone. Mum and Dad are interested enough, I suppose, but they’re not home much...” She gave him an expectant look, and then sighed impatiently.

“What?” Harry asked.

“How did you find out?” she asked, looking like she might explode.

“Oh,” Harry said, blinking. “Er, well, my family was magical-”

“So you’ve always known?” Hermione asked, eyes bright with the prospect of new knowledge.

“Er... no,” Harry said. “We- Padfoot told me, when I was eight.”

“Is that normal?” Hermione asked. “Are you not allowed to know before then? Did your parents just not use magic? And Padfoot’s an odd name; are they a wizard, or-”

“Hermione,” Harry said again.

“Sorry,” she said, falling silent at once, but she remained attentive. Harry pushed his glasses up, thinking about what to say; was it a good idea to admit everything, and tell her his real name? He couldn’t see why not – Draco knew, and so did Ron and Ginny – and they weren’t in hiding anymore... it just seemed wrong, when Harry’d worked so hard to keep his real name, face and magic hidden at school. He sighed.

“I think,” he said, “that you probably know more about me than you think.” She read a lot, and knowing Hermione, she’d have tried to find as much out about the current situation in the wizarding world as possible, so she had an idea about what she’d be walking into, come September. He held his hand out. “I’m Harry,” he said. Hermione rolled her eyes, but took his hand. “Harry Potter.” Her mouth fell open.

“That’s not- but you can’t- This is a joke, right?”

“I’m serious,” Harry said, apologetically, and then grimaced. “Well, actually, I’m not, but my godfather is; Sirius Black.” Hermione looked like she might faint.

“You’re sure?” she asked. Harry just stared at her. “Not that I- You’re dead in the muggle world, did you know? They stopped looking, and everyone assumed...” She shook her head. “Of course, anyone that knows even the slightest about what’s going on in the magical world knows that’s not true, but when you’re in both worlds like we- Are you really?” Not sure how to respond to that, Harry just shrugged in a helpless sort of way.  “D-”

But whatever Hermione had been about to say was lost in the sound of the bell that signalled the end of lunch, and, for the second time ever in Harry’s year at school, he was the one that leaped out of his chair and led the way back to the classroom. Hermione assumed Harry’s normal role and shuffled along behind, looking disappointed that lunch was over.

*                      *                      *

“One word, Blaise, and I-”

The boy – Blaise – wrenched his arm out of Giovanna’s manicured grip. Narcissa, who’d opened her mouth to greet the pair, closed it again.  She’d never seen the boy – who was probably somewhere between Hydrus and Draco in age - before, but with his skin, dark eyes and height, he could only be Giovanna’s son. She remembered Giovanna had mentioned a son, once, a while ago, but she’d never met the boy, and hadn’t even realised Giovanna was in contact with him; she’d said he lived with his father. Blaise glanced over his shoulder, glowered at Giovanna and then stepped forward.

“Blaise Zabini,” he said, hesitating for the briefest moments between his names, as if he’d wanted to say something else. A charming smile spread over his face, but his shoulders were still rather stiff. “You must be Mrs Malfoy.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Narcissa said, smiling at him. She extended a hand and he shook it without hesitation. “Giovanna,” she added, looking over the boy’s shoulder.

“Narcissa,” Giovanna said coolly. She stepped past the pair of them and into the Manor without another word. Narcissa pursed her lips, and then glanced down at Blaise, who was eyeing her expression of disapproval and, oddly enough, seemed comforted by it.

“I don’t like her much either,” he said, and then, like his mother, walked right past her. She wasn’t sure whether he’d seen his mother and followed her, or just followed the noise the others were making, but he didn’t need any help finding his way to the drawing room. Narcissa followed him, curious; she didn’t think she – an adult - could walk with as much confidence into a stranger’s house as he did, and she was torn between being annoyed and impressed that he didn’t seem to appreciate the manor’s expensive interior.

Giovanna had already made herself at home in the drawing room; Roderick Crabbe, Aloysius Goyle, Nishith Shafiq, Ernest Parkinson and Leopold Nott were all gathered around her, laughing, and Lucius and Marius Greengrass were a bit further away but still watching her closely.

Edith Crabbe, Clementina Goyle, and Nola Shafiq were huddled together, all looking rather displeased, but Eleanor Nott didn’t seem to mind, or even have noticed. She and Catherine – her five year old daughter – were reading a book on one of the couches, and Parmenia Greengrass was talking to Magnus and Theodosia Bulstrode.

Blaise hesitated in the doorway, looking around at – Narcissa supposed – all the people – and then squared his shoulders and strode toward the children – who were, as usual, gathered by the fireplace - as if he’d known them his entire life. She wondered absently, whether he was brave like a Gryffindor, in his own little world, like a Ravenclaw, trusting like a Hufflepuff, or bluffing like a Slytherin... one action, with so many possible motives. She shook her head and smoothed her robes. No one paid Blaise much mind at all as he crossed the room, and Narcissa wanted to be surprised but couldn’t quite manage it; it was Draco’s birthday they’d all gathered to celebrate, yet no one appeared to have noticed that Draco wasn’t even there.

*                    *                    *

“....a blue feather, a rock, a bookmark, an apple, a dragon’s claw, a piece of string, and a piece of parchment-”

“Which said what?” Severus asked, from behind his desk. Between them, rested a large tray covered in a cloth Severus had conjured.

“It was a recipe for a potion?” Draco said, squinting as he tried to remember. Severus waited. “The Wolfsbane Potion?”

“Are you guessing, or telling?”

“Telling,” Draco decided.

“And the last object?”

“Godric Gryffindor’s chocolate frog card,” Draco said. Severus watched him impassively, and then inclined his head. It wasn’t praise, but it was the closest thing to it that Severus usually gave.

“Fetch me Advanced Potions Making,” he said, “and then we’re done for the day.”

Draco turned to the bookshelf he’d rearranged that morning, trying to remember what system he’d used; last week, he’d sorted it by author, the week before that it had been by subject, and the week before that it had been by date of publication. All had their advantages, of course; it was easiest to find a book when the entire bookshelf was stored in alphabetical order, but alphabetical didn’t work quite as well if it was potions ingredients, or potions that he was sorting; it was better to sort them by species.

At the moment, the bookshelf was sorted by author’s surname, and Draco paused – Borage? he thought tentatively – and then stepped toward that part of the room. Sure enough, it was there. Severus nodded again.

“That’s it?” Draco asked, disappointed. When he’d started visiting Severus regularly – until he was about nine, he’d hadn’t seen much of his godfather – he’d hated it. He’d hated the odd, pointless tasks – like organising shelves, and playing memory games, and learning to lie, and reading expressions, and reading strange bits of wizarding literature – and Severus’ frustrating questions that had no real answer, but made him think and shook his faith in lifelong assumptions.

Now, he liked the visits, and if Severus’ teaching schedule allowed, Draco would probably spend more time there than at home. He liked Severus’ company, abrupt and sarcastic as it was, and he didn’t mind the tasks. He still didn’t see the point, but he didn’t really mind. And if he’d changed his mind about a few things, so be it... even if they had made him an oddity amongst his family and the purebloods in his social circle.

Draco absently scratched the scar on his palm, which Severus had given him when he showed him that purebloods - like Draco - and halfbloods - like Severus - had the same blood. Then he looked up, and was surprised to see Severus pulling a package out from one of his desk drawers.

It was wrapped in the same brown paper than apothecaries used to wrap things like unicorn horns, and roots... things that weren’t going to drip everywhere, but still needed covering.

“Happy birthday, Draco,” Severus said. Draco didn’t bother to hide how touched he was that Severus had bought him a birthday present; it wasn’t a very Slytherin thing to do, but Draco didn’t have to be cool and dismissive – or even try to be, because he wasn’t as good at that as he’d used to be - with Severus, which was another thing he liked about his godfather’s company.

Severus didn’t pass him the parcel, though; it was a thick, parchment letter that was pressed into Draco’s hands, one with emerald green ink on the front of it, and a very distinctive seal... the seal of the school he was sitting in currently, in fact.

“They usually owl them,” Draco said, suspiciously, eyeing his godfather.

“They do,” Severus said curtly, and offered no more explanation; instead, he passed Draco the package.

“A book?” he asked wryly, unwrapping it. One part of his head instantly went to where he’d sort it and came up with several possibilities, while the other focused on the title. “Songs of Innocence and Experience?” he read. He’d never heard of the author, and when he flicked through, he was surprised to find that the book didn’t contain potions instructions, or the history of the founders, or anything else of the kind... it contained poems. “Poetry?” he asked, doubtfully, trying his best not to come across as ungrateful.

“Muggle poetry,” Severus agreed. Draco just stared at him, and was about to ask why when the fireplace flared and Mother stepped out, wearing a pair of startlingly red dress robes. In her arms was a stack of folded green fabric.

“Draco,” she said, her eyes sweeping around the office. Draco saw them land on the covered tray, and at the book in Draco’s hand. “Severus.”

*                     *                      *

“Everyone has arrived,” Narcissa told Draco, whose expression flickered and then went neutral, in the way that Severus’ often did. Severus watched that with sad pride. “I brought your robes.” She offered him the pile in her arms, and he set down his book and letter –which was tucked into the cover - so that he could take it.

“Is there-”

“The bathroom,” Severus said. Narcissa’s eyes tracked him across the room and then flicked to Severus. There was a moment of silence between them – the sort of silence where two people weigh each other, and reassess their standing – and then Narcissa took a step forward.

“A bold choice,” he said, nodding at her robes. He’d seen her wear them before, so he wasn’t shocked... just surprised by her timing; her home, would, no doubt, be swarming with generations of Slytherin and Ravenclaw purebloods and she was wearing Gryffindor red..

“Why?” Narcissa asked, arching a thin eyebrow. Severus stared at her, wondering if she genuinely didn’t understand, and then inclined his head; it was, no doubt, the response she’d have given to everyone else that had asked. Narcissa was no fool, but people seemed to assume she was vague and entirely subservient to her husband like a good pureblood wife. Narcissa, in turn, knew exactly how to use that to her advantage.

“Well played,” he said quietly, and she graced him with a small, cool smile.

“What’s this?” she asked, tracing the cover of the books Severus had given Draco.

“A book,” Severus said. Narcissa’s eyes narrowed. “Poetry.”

“Poetry?” Narcissa asked. This time, she wasn’t acting; she didn’t understand.

“Yes, Narcissa, poetry,” he said. He cast a silent Muffliato at the bathroom door. “You asked me to teach him-”

“I did,” she agreed warily.

“And that is the intent. What is poetry?”

“Words,” she said dismissively, and then, “Severus, it’s been nearly two years since I first approached you, and you’re still playing memory games, and-”

“And Draco is progressing well,” he said. “His memory is exceptional, and his organisational skills are among the best I’ve ever seen. Once he is thirteen and can begin Occlumency, he will take to it like a broom to air-”

“I expected you to have moved on to spells,” she said, “not- not poetry!”

“What’s more dangerous, though? The wand, or the word?”

“Words make the wand work,” Narcissa said, without hesitating, and Severus was grudgingly impressed. “But spells are going to keep him alive! Poems-”

“Things aren’t ever what they seem,” he drawled. “A poem could be about one person or thing on the surface, but be, in actuality, about something entirely different. Learning to look past face value so that he can interpret what lies beneath will serve him far better than knowing how to Stun something-” His lip curled. “I assure you, and that is why I chose the book I did.”

Narcissa didn’t seem to have anything to say to that, nor did she have the chance; Draco emerged from the bathroom, struggling with his waistcoat. He collected his anthology from the desk, and smiled at Severus, who smiled faintly back. Comfortable as he was with Draco, he had an image to maintain, and Narcissa was still in the room.

Narcissa gave him a shrewd look, nodded at him, and then guided Draco toward the Floo.

*                       *                      *

Draco and Mother arrived at the Manor just as dinner was being served; Draco almost knocked into Dobby, who was dashing through the corridor with a plate loaded with steaming slices of bread in his skinny hands. Draco stole a piece, and Mother arched an eyebrow at him.

“What?” he asked.

“Take that upstairs,” she said, nodding to the book. “And then come and greet everyone.”

“Yes, Mother.”

When Draco entered the dining room a few minutes later, he wasn’t surprised or disappointed that no one paid him much attention. He just smiled at Dobby – whose stressed expression vanished for a few seconds so that he could smile back – and sat down in the empty seat between Theodore Nott and Vivienne Greengrass.

“Happy birthday,” Theodore said in his usual, quiet manner, and his sister Catherine gave Draco a shy, dimpled smile. Vivienne was deep in conversation with her twin, Astoria – who, interestingly, had her back very pointedly turned toward her other sister, Daphne – and acknowledged him with a polite, sideways nod, but nothing more. Others – Pansy Parkinson, Millicent Bulstrode and Nadia Shafiq, who had been talking – glanced at him and then away again, and Gregory Goyle, Vincent Crabbe and Daphne Greengrass, who’d been laughing, all fell silent.

Next to Hydrus, someone spoke, however, startling Draco.

“You must be Draco,” the unknown boy said, offering his hand across the table. Draco shook it, nodding. “I’m Blaise Zabini.” Pansy whispered something to Nadia, and then pair of them started to giggle. Draco rolled his eyes at them and then turned his attention back onto Blaise.

“Nice to meet you.” Draco eyed the newcomer, who seemed quite comfortable.

“So everyone here’s off to Hogwarts?” Blaise asked. “Eventually,” he added, eyeing the Greengrass twins who were a year younger than the rest, and also Catherine, who was only five.

“Well,” Hydrus drawled, “Father considered Durmstr-”

“Mother wouldn’t hear of it,” Draco said, cutting Hydrus off. Hydrus shot him an angry look, but Draco ignored it. “We were always going to Hogwarts.” Everyone stared at him. “What?” he said. “It’s true.” Hydrus sighed in a long-suffering sort of way.

“What House are you hoping to be in, Blaise?”

“Slytherin,” Blaise said at once.

Lie, Draco’s head told him, before his eyes really even registered it. Hydrus – and everyone else at the table for that matter – seemed satisfied with the answer, and Blaise seemed satisfied with their satisfaction. Draco stared fixedly at him, re-evaluating; he’d taken Blaise to be another pureblood, cut from the same fancy fabric as every other person gathered, as himself, but now, he wasn’t sure.

He was silent as Dobby put a bowl in front of him, and picked up his spoon out of habit, rather than interest; his attention was directed elsewhere. He watched as Blaise picked his spoon up – the wrong spoon – with complete confidence. Pansy cleared her throat, and the others exchanged confused looks.

“What?” Blaise asked.

“Wrong spoon,” Millicent told him, since no one but Draco would if she didn’t. If Draco hadn’t been looking for it, he wouldn’t have noticed Blaise’s expression spasm into panic. The worry was gone almost immediately, though,, replaced by an arrogant smirk.

“So?” Blaise drawled. “Slytherins do what they want. And I want to eat with this spoon.” And he proceeded to do so, not seeming to care at all what any of the others thought.

“Brilliant,” Pansy – ever the follower – exclaimed, and swapped her spoon too. Daphne followed suit.

“Yeah!” Crabbe guffawed. “We Slytherins do what we want!” He promptly picked up his fork and started trying to eat soup with that. His brother, Cyril, who was Catherine’s age, mimicked him. None of the others had changed their silverware, but they weren’t looking at Blaise like he was mad, either; they all seemed impressed. Draco just watched.

“So, how’s out favourite Hufflepuff?” Daphne asked, flicking a berry at Draco, while everyone else ate dessert. Blaise had managed to use the right spoon this time, but lowered it when he saw the berry fly past. Everyone else had stopped too, to watch Draco, who did his best to ignore it. “Aww,” she cooed, “are you not feeling friendly today-”

“Interesting,” Astoria said, just loud enough that the others looked at her instead of her older sister.

“What is?” Daphne asked, her voice no longer high and mocking; it was sharp, and cool, and Draco wasn’t sure about whether to be relieved that she was distracted, or insulted that she obviously thought that tiny Astoria was a bigger threat than he was.

“Well, just that it was very friendly of you to ask how Draco was-”

“I was teasing him, you-”

“If you have to explain that it was teasing, you haven’t done a very good job,” Astoria said primly. Daphne’s face turned a nasty red. “And it’s Draco.” It wasn’t scorn in Astoria’s voice, but it was close. Hydrus snickered. “You’re paying attention to the person here that’s most starved of it...” She trailed off and smiled in a dazzling way, and Draco couldn’t work out whether she was standing up for him, or just adding further insults. Daphne just stared at her. Astoria sighed, and gave Daphne a condescending look. “I just think it’s interesting. Very considerate, and compassionate for a person that’s supposed to want Slytherin...”

Astoria, having said what she wanted to, went back to her dessert. Daphne glared at her, and promptly turned to Nadia and Pansy, who both seemed upset on her behalf. Draco distinctly heard the words ‘out of line’, before the rest were lost in furious whispers. Millicent, though, was eyeing Astoria with a very contemplative expression.

“It’s not very Slytherin of you to protect him, Astoria,” Daphne said, pulling away from the other girls; it seemed they’d finally come up with something. Draco just kept his head down.

“I wasn’t protecting him,” Astoria said, sounding bored. She hadn’t even looked up from her spoon, which she was loading with cream and a strawberry. “I was protecting our family, Daphne, because stupid things tend to come out when you open your mouth, and I’m rather trying to make sure you don’t do too much damage.” Daphne, rather unsurprisingly, had nothing to say to that.

The rest of dessert was tense, and Draco was thoroughly relieved when Dobby cleared the table and they could all escape to the drawing room. There, at least, they would have a chance to spread out. He found himself walking there, next to Astoria.

“Thank you,” he said, even though that wasn’t really what he was supposed to do. Aspiring Slytherins didn’t say thank you; they just waited for a chance to return the favour and get themselves out of debt. Still, Draco hadn’t been a conventional Slytherin for a long time.

“I didn’t do it for you,” Astoria said, without looking at him. Her pointy little nose remained firmly in the air, and her tone was lofty.

“I know that,” he said snippily. He knew he didn’t have any friends, or even any allies in the group, other than maybe Theodore, but he didn’t particularly like to be reminded. Astoria said nothing. “You did it to spite your sister.” That was only a suspicion of Draco’s, but there’d been tension between the two – Vivienne seemed removed from it – for the past few months. Astoria pressed her lips together and gave him an irritated look. “But it helped me anyway, so I’m thanking you.”

Now, she just looked puzzled. It was a look Draco had directed at him frequently, by all sorts of people; his family, his social circle, and even Potter, though Potter always looked bewildered, so Draco wasn’t sure that that counted. “Now’s the time where you say ‘you’re welcome’,” Draco prompted.

“You’re welcome,” she said, flatly, and stalked into the drawing room. Vivienne was sitting with Theodore and Catherine, and Astoria went to join them. Hydrus had received his rat, Feta, and she was doing tricks to entertain everyone else. Draco’s heart sank – his rat had been killed by a monster that got onto the Manor grounds last year – and unlike when Bosworth, Hydrus’ first rat had vanished, Draco hadn’t been given a replacement. He sat down in an armchair, and wondered if he’d be able to talk Mother and Father into buying him another rat, or even an owl when they went to Diagon Alley tomorrow, to get his wand and school things.

“Anyone using that?” Draco glanced up and saw Blaise, who’d broken away from the main group to hover beside the arm chair next to Draco’s.

“I thought Slytherins did what they wanted,” Draco said, arching an eyebrow.

“Sod off, kid,” Blaise said, and sat down with a swish of robes and a roll of his eyes.

“I’m hardly a kid,” Draco scoffed.

“It’s your birthday,” Blaise said. “That means you’re younger than me, and that makes you a kid.” Draco wasn’t sure he liked Blaise all that much. Blaise said nothing, and then, “So this is it, huh?” Draco stared at him, wondering what sort of man Mr Zabini was, to have raised Blaise to speak so casually; he’d only met Giovanna Zabini a few times but he still knew she was very proper.

“This?” Draco asked.

“This,” Blaise said, gesturing around. Most of the adults had retired to Father’s office, but Mother and a few others were over on the couches, talking. “It’s just a big game of politics, where everyone tries to be better than the next person.”

“More or less,” Draco sighed. Blaise gave him a curious look.

“And you lot find this fun?”

“I don’t really speak for the majority,” Draco said.

“I’d noticed,” Blaise said wryly. “You just keep your head down... try to survive.” Draco grunted. “We’re not so different.” Draco glanced over and saw, for the first time that night, an earnest expression on the other boy’s face. He sort of believed him, but also sort of thought that this might be Hydrus, Pansy or Daphne’s idea of a joke.

“Right,” he said. His lip curled. “Except you don’t really keep your head down.”

“Different approach, same intended outcome, kid,” Blaise said sagely, and then sighed, his mouth turning down at the corners.

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