Friend Number Three
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any related characters or ideas.
Summary: How do you deal with the pure-blood aristocracy, a corrupt Ministry, Muggle culture invasions, Doing the Right Thing, and constant questions about your love life - all while juggling more than two friends and not being a total jerk? Don't ask Draco: he doesn't know.
A/N: It's a Draco-centric, romantic-comedy epic. It's light and fun and even silly from time to time (except the serious parts!), so don't go in expecting something dark and scary like my other stories. However, if you ever wanted to know what a grown-up Draco's opinion might be on, say, everything from Joan Jett to cookie dough ice cream - this is the story for you.
Chapter One: Offspring
Draco Malfoy was a lonely guy, and nobody cared. In fact, he'd been so lonely for so long that his heart had shrunk and hardened into a little, brittle, black and pointy rock. He didn't have anything better to do, so he made a mental list of all the friends he had in the world, and it didn't take very long. There were only two people on it: Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini. It had been almost nine years since the end of the War, and it seemed that everyone had adjusted and gotten over the past except Draco. He annotated his friend list with a few details, because he had some spare time.
Pansy wasn't married, either, and she'd had enough money to retire at the age of eighteen without ever having a job. After a few years of failed relationships, she'd decided there wasn't any reason to get married and have babies. Unlike Draco, she seemed to thrive on her own, relentlessly pursuing her latest creative or magical whim for several months until she moved onto her next passion. She told him that she didn't like feeling trapped or caring about someone else's feelings as much as her own. Pansy wasn't a very nice person, but at least she understood her selfishness: she just wanted to be free to think she was the greatest and do whatever she wanted all the time, and Draco found it oddly respectable.
Blaise was married to Daphne Greengrass, whoever that was. Oh, right - she was in Draco's year at Hogwarts. Anyway, Blaise and Daphne had a daughter five years ago, Amarantha, and they'd thrown many fancy parties at their mansion. At one such party four years ago, Draco had laid eyes on Daphne's little sister, Astoria. The Greengrass girls had a lot going for them, some of which begins with "t" and "a." They were also well-mannered and rich, and when Draco caught the little blonde watching him conspicuously from across the room, his budding loneliness had pricked at the inside of his chest. He'd asked her out, and so had begun his last relationship, which had lasted two years.
Now, Draco wasn't lonely because people judged him for his past or because he was shy and misunderstood or something. It was because he was unpleasant. In addition to telling cruel jokes that only Blaise and Pansy thought were funny, he was also brutally honest. For example, if someone hypothetically had unmanageable frizzy hair and big sticky-out beaver teeth, he would be inclined to let them know, so they could fix the problem and quit bringing down the worldwide attractiveness average. There had hardly been anything to criticize about Astoria's appearance, but the same couldn't really be said for her mind. She was only average in the brains department and a bit shallow, and she didn't like to read books, and he'd never hesitated to remind her of these facts. At one party, Draco made a joke right in front of her about how it was safe for Astoria to drink because she didn't have any brain cells to kill off. When Pansy pointed out his girlfriend's presence, Draco assured her that Astoria wouldn't get the joke anyway. She broke up with him right then and there, in front of everyone, which would've been embarrassing if anybody remembered it a week later.
There's a rather interesting story behind that. When Voldemort was on his way back during his daughter Daphne's first year at Hogwarts, old What's-his-name Greengrass decided that this time he was unwilling to part with a single Galleon. He'd learned during the First War that it was forgivable for a high-society, pure-blood male to refuse the Mark, but such a wizard was expected to prove his loyalty with a series of donations. After all, someone had to finance the Ministry bribes and provide the fairy wine and caviar for the Death Eater cocktail parties.
The avaricious Mr. Greengrass had been using Forgetfulness Potions on his business associates for some time in order to make them forget he hadn't paid them. It was during one such business deal that he came up with his clever idea: he would modify the recipe to create a Forgetability Potion, which he would then administer to himself and his family. In theory, it would make the Greengrass family only seem relevant when they were physically present; otherwise, everyone would basically forget they existed.
Unfortunately, overestimating one's talent in Potions has been a common folly among Slytherins since Salazar's time, because the traditionally Slytherin craft has always been taught with significant House bias in terms of marks. Greengrass committed this error when he completed his Forgetability Potion - he made it much too strong. According to Astoria, her father would wake up most mornings unable to recall his own name, and nobody else could remember it long enough to tell him.
Astoria had taken a smaller dose of the potion, and this was a constant source of annoyance for Draco when they were an item. Some of Draco's acquaintances had been convinced that he'd made her up, even after meeting her several times.
It was doomed from the start, Draco thought at the time. Who wants a girlfriend you can't brag about?
Of course, it wasn't entirely Draco's fault that he was so unpleasant. That's how he was raised - if he wasn't smart or talented enough, his father would tell him so. If he didn't look as attractive as possible, his mother would break the news. That's how Draco Malfoy became the clever, well-dressed, lonely arsehole that he was today.
He was feeling lonelier than ever on this particular day. Blaise had just Floo-called him to say that if he made Amarantha cry one more time, even by accident, he would not be allowed to see her anymore. Pansy had left that morning for a two-week trip to Colombia to learn how they made coffee. He didn't have any other friends, and to top it all off he'd stumbled upon a photo he'd taken of Astoria at the bottom of his dresser drawer.
In the photo, she first smiled at the camera and then scowled and looked away, eyes on the floor. Draco remembered that day, just a week before she dumped him. He'd told her to look pretty for the picture because that was the only thing she was good at. He stared at the photo for a long time, studying her defeated posture and the pain in her eyes, and he began to wonder about some things. Did he really have to be so mean all the time? Did it really make him feel better about himself? Did other people appreciate some good, hard honesty as much as he did? No, Draco thought. No, no, no.
He thought hard, thought back to the all the nice things he'd ever said and done, and he realised that most of them were only "nice" by his own warped standards. For example, he remembered the time he ate the rest of Amarantha's ice cream while nobody was looking so she wouldn't get chubby. He remembered the time he accidentally-on-purpose spilled a full goblet of wine on Pansy's ugly new dress robes, so she'd have to change into something nicer before the other party guests arrived. He even remembered all the way back to the time he made an obscene crack about Hermione Granger's knickers in the process of warning her that Death Eaters were coming after her. He still didn't know why he'd done that last one. In retrospect, none of those things seemed very nice at all.
Maybe it was too late to get a new personality, but he made a resolution that day: even if he still thought mean thoughts for the rest of his life, he would try to say less than half of them out loud. Less than one-third, even. Maybe someday even hardly any. Instead of just never speaking again, he resolved to come up with better things to say. He decided he'd test it out first on Blaise and Pansy, and then he'd go out into the world and try it on everyone he met until he managed to make a third friend. First things first, he called Blaise back.
He was relieved to note that Blaise was alone in his living room, but he was already off to a poor start. He hadn't said a word yet, and Blaise was already rolling his eyes so hard Draco was afraid he'd pull a muscle.
"Look, mate," Blaise said, "I wish I didn't have to be so hard on you, but I just can't make excuses for you anymore."
"Actually, that's what I wanted to talk to you about." He thought for a moment, trying to come up with something about which he could compliment Blaise. "I see where you're coming from with Amarantha… you're not a bad dad, you know."
Blaise's jaw dropped open and hung there briefly. "What did you say?"
"You heard it the first time."
"No, I'm certain I heard wrong," Blaise challenged.
"I don't need you to make this any harder than it already is." Draco had meant to cut himself off there, but once he'd started talking, he didn't want to stop anymore. Years of confusion and carefully-disguised self-doubt gurgled up into the back of his throat, and he felt word vomit coming on for the first time ever. After a lifetime of being unable to understand why other people couldn't just shut up and keep their feelings to themselves, he was surprised to note that the words in his mouth were almost as difficult to hold in as actual vomit. He gave up and let them fall out. "I wanted to try something out on you because you're one of my friends - my two friends. Do you realise I've only got two of you? And one is gone, and you're upset with me! And of course, you realise that - I know you both pity me. Poor, pathetic Draco, doesn't know what to do now that mummy and daddy can't buy him friends anymore. But no, not poor Draco, because I'm such a prick that you can't even feel sorry for me. I can't even stand talking to myself anymore. I've decided to stop being so horrible to everyone."
He'd never before said so many true things in a row while sober. There was an awkward moment before either of them spoke, and Blaise used the time to work out the perfect facial expression. He went from shocked to derisive before looking as though he were about to show Draco some real vomit, and then he finally settled for the combination platter.
"Oh, hell, Malfoy. Did you deliberately wait until Pansy was gone before starting this ridiculous quest? You know I've gone soft since Amarantha was born, and I just can't beat some sense into you like she could, but I'll try. Yes, we do think you're pathetic, and we're sick of having to keep you company all the time so you don't up and kill yourself one day. But if it makes you feel better, Pansy's a giant bitch. I think she might be worse than you, only she doesn't care if anybody likes her. Point being, we still like you, even though you're a prick. We are officially the only two people in the entire world who think you're funny and have thick enough skin to take your barbs. So, in other words, this was the worst possible place to start. "
As harsh as that was, Draco reckoned that the man was right, especially about Pansy: hearing it from her would've been way worse. Her tongue was literally made of needles. All right, Draco was exaggerating. Her tongue was figuratively made of needles.
"But if you're serious about this, then I'll take you seriously. I know you think it will be easier to make yourself feel better if you don't leave your comfort zone, but it would work better for you to try this thing with strangers. They don't know you've been an arsehole for twenty-six years running. But first, you'll have to leave your house."
Draco thought about that. He didn't work, and he didn't have anywhere to go except his friends' homes. He rarely dined out or even went shopping - he had house-elves to take care of errands. Glancing down at the practically iridescent skin of his hands, he realised he hadn't actually been outdoors in an embarrassingly long time. He'd been honest enough for one day, though, so he kept his mouth shut and waited for Blaise to continue.
"You won't be able to do this alone, either. You've got to find somebody who's already a good person to give you pointers, or you'll never get it right, and we don't know anybody like that. I had Daphne to help me, but she hates your guts. So, I'm going to help you the only way I know how: pressure and ultimatums that will also benefit me." He paused for dramatic effect. "If you have me to hang onto, you won't have enough motivation. Therefore, I refuse to see you until you have come up with a third friend who actually likes you," he concluded with a charming grin.
"That's not helpful! That is the opposite of helping me!" Draco whined, pathetically. "I've just come to this essential realization, and your big answer is to ditch me? What kind of friend are you? I'll have to go looking for a second friend first, because clearly I only have one!"
"I'm a bad friend, just like you, and I could use some time off from Malfoy babysitting duty. Hell, I'll even throw you one more - you could get a job."
If this was the kind of friendly advice that nice people received, Draco didn't want to be one anymore. He curled his lip in distaste.
"See?" Blaise continued, undeterred. "That's exactly why people hate you so much. Do you realise everybody else except us has to work, even if they don't want to?"
Draco did know that, but he didn't like to think about it. "How about I just realise that and stop making fun of people for working?"
Blaise snorted. "No," he said. "Now that I've thought of it, maybe I'll add that, too. I won't see you until you make another friend and you get a job. Oh, and don't call your dad for help, either! No, you should get the worst crap job you can find. There's a little coffee shop I visit sometimes in Diagon Alley - the Raven. As of yesterday, they're hiring." He laughed out loud at the idea of Draco Malfoy in an apron, serving coffee with a scowl and spoiling everyone's morning.
"But that's all the hot tips I've got for you today," he continued. "Daphne's going to be home from the shops any minute now, and I don't want her to see your face and get herself into a bad mood the second she walks in the door."
"Oh, come on. Can't I stay a couple minutes and say hello? I can be nice, I promise," he said. This was to be his last friendly communication for at least two weeks, when Pansy returned, so that's why he was stalling.
"Really, Malfoy? What would you two talk about, the weather? I doubt you even know what season it is. Maybe you could talk about Astoria, to remind Daphne of the reason she'll probably never forgive you. Oh, I know - you could talk about my daughter, who you also treat like crap. You know what? Come in for dinner, because this sounds awful pleasant."
"I don't treat Amarantha like crap."
"Didn't we just get through talking about this a few hours ago? You tell her terrifying lies until she can't sleep at night, you tell her she's dim, and at five years old you're already trying to give her a prepubescent eating disorder." At Draco's guilty look, he added: "You think I haven't seen you nicking sweets from her plate? You'd better cut that right out before Daphne catches you. She'd hate you even more, if that were possible."
"All right, point taken. I'm a miserable bastard and I haven't got a hope of fixing the damage I've caused. Guess I'll just off myself and get it over with," he said.
At the tragic look on Draco's face, Blaise relented.
"Fine. If you're so determined to become a nice person, then I'll treat you like one for a moment. I'm a father, so I can say things like this: if you can manage to get a job and make a friend, I think I can find it in my heart to be proud of you. Has anybody been proud of you before?"
"No," he said, without having to think about it.
"Well, it feels nice. Now, get out of here before the girls come home and get their day ruined."