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10 January 2015 @ 06:32 pm
Fic: On the Turning Away (part 1)  
So, last year, in spite of still being worked off my feet and not having finished unpacking and still feeling a bit poorly after Moving Death Plague, I thought it would be a good idea to sign up for not one, but two fests. Because I am an idiot.

I flaked on one. I've never flaked before: in the past I've pulled out of one, been late with many, but never actually flaked. The fic is actually 4500-words written and will go up some time this year when finished, dedicated to the awesome mod who was all 'Meh, you know, it's just a fic, it's not brain surgery, no-one's going to die.' Still deeply ashamed.

However, because I had tried to keep going to the end with that one, I was late starting the second, for hd_erised. Which was going to be fine: it was due mid-Novemberish, I had started it, I had an idea and an outline for most of it, I had a good opening scene, I would just write like the wind for two and a half weeks and it would be FINE.

Which is about when I broke my wrist … Sadly, this was not the worst thing to happen in November and December. There were deaths of people I cared for, there was a close relative who was very ill (I try to be kind to him even though I don't like him), and others who needed to be supported or at least listened to (especially Mum, who I love even though she's a fruitloop). I got sick again, and I didn't have time to be sick. Work was mammoth and then I helped others on days when their work was far more mammoth and vital.

And throughout it all, this fic kept being written. Partly because of the marvellous astardanced77, who, at very short notice, said, 'Of course I can beta that for you!' and then not only did so splendidly (never has the phrase all remaining mistakes are my own been truer), but also bullied me in a loving and wise way to ignore the fact that I felt like physical and emotional drek and just focus on the story.

Which was always going to be about the ways in which we heal, and which ended up being about me remembering that pain goes away, love and kindness stay.

The other thing that kept it going were weird coincidences. melusinahp had a great note on her LJ about Hanukkah, I had a notebook that contained a scene where Draco thought about converting to Judaism, because he thought a ritual of contemplation would be better for him than one of consumerism. VERY HARD not to say 'OH, HEY!'

I had Harry breaking over a dozen bones some months before the story began, there was I with a fresh one. I'd written a long list of potions I wanted Draco to be inventing, they became wish fulfillment items for me as I sat there holding my cast above my head and waiting for my arm to stop throbbing. I had Draco being eye-rolly about Wiccans (sorry, Wiccans, you're lovely and I am a terrible person), JKR was eye-rolly about Hogwarts Wiccans on Twitter (pretty sure she just meant 'well, obviously that's not how Hogwarts Magic works', which Mel again was posting about. Spooky!)

But none of that would have mattered for anything had it not been for the wonderful mods, capitu, gracerene and sassy_cissa, who were understanding, funny and kind throughout. Thank you!

In theory I was going to have another go at this story this year with two hands and some sleep under my belt and time to expand everything. In actuality, I am going to finish other things instead!

Title: On the Turning Away
Author: blamebrampton
Recipient: Squeeka, keeper_of_stars
Rating: PG
Word Count: 25,500-ish
Summary: It's one thing to be good at not making a besotted fool of yourself over a man when he's busy being the most famous wizard in the world and you're tucked away quietly in Wiltshire. It's quite another when you have to see him every morning.
Author's Notes: Dear Squeeka, your prompts were delightful and inspiring, I wish I could have incorporated them all. I hope you like the ones that made it in. An enormous thank you to astardanced77, who beta-ed under the most trying circumstances imagineable – all remaining problems are entirely my own. And great gratitude also to the mods, who were kind, supportive and understanding. No thanks at all to the fates, who conspired cruelly.
Disclaimer:All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.


On the Turning Away

It was meant as a joke.

The envelope said the card was from Blaise, though I wouldn’t have been surprised if Pansy had had a hand in things. He never could argue her out of a ‘brilliant idea’.

Maybe it was my fault. I was the one who opened it on the terrace outside Mother’s study – I was just so pleased that someone was thinking of me.

Green light burst out and upwards. It turned out to be a Christmas tree: eighty feet high and blazing with fairy lights, vivid and bright against the low winter sky. I know this because Mother told me later. At the time I was too busy cowering in horror and remembering bodies and Morsmordre and consoling myself that at least I had retained control of my bodily functions.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one. A middle-aged witch who lived between us and town saw it, thought exactly as I had, and immediately called the Aurors. I can’t say I blame her, but I hope she wet herself.

There was just time enough for Mother to come running out, take stock of the situation and calm me down before two sharp shocks of air announced the Apparation of two red-robed men.

At least I didn’t know either of them.

And they were fair. There had been a report. They would have to take me in. Yes, madam, they could see from the fading shape still visible that it was clearly not a skull, but as things stood, this being Malfoy Manor, they felt sure we understood that it would be for the best and hoped to have me back in a few hours.

She wanted to come with me. Leave Father alone. She would have done it, too, if I hadn’t told her to stay, that I wasn’t afraid.

I lied.

They treated me well. It was a Side-along Apparition under guard, and I had to hand over my wand, but there were no restraints, no mocking, no brutality. They were polite and professional and in other circumstances I probably would have commended them to their senior officer.

For half an hour I thought it was all going to be all right. They sat me in a quiet interview room with a sign asking me to make an Auror's child happy and give them the gift of holiday parents by not breaking the law this Christmas. They took my statement, left me with a cup of tea and the unspoken knowledge that I was being watched (but nothing so gauche as a guard), then popped back in to say that they were just finalising the confirming statements and that my patience and cooperation were appreciated.

And then Potter came in.

‘You look awful,’ I said, and immediately wished I had bothered to engage my brain before speaking.

He paused, before half-smiling and replying, ‘So do you.’

While he dismissed the other Aurors, I had a few seconds to berate myself. It’s not as though either of us had been lying: he was still using a stick to walk and was skinnier than I had ever seen him. I was aware that I had gone backwards in the personal grooming stakes in recent years, but he had blue shadows and a series of fine lines under his eyes, and his hair looked as though it had been arranged by a blackbird. He was not the Harry Potter who existed in my head.

‘Mr Malfoy,’ he said. The ‘Mister’ sounded wholly unnatural.

‘Auror Potter,’ I replied, managing to keep my voice even.

‘I hear we’ve had a spot of bother…’

This is why I didn’t come to town anymore, because I am not to be trusted in public. ‘We haven’t had a spot of anything,’ I said. ‘I have stupid friends who think they’re funny but they don’t think things through – and yes I am thoroughly aware of the irony there, before you point it out. You have a job to do and I don’t begrudge that, but can we just get the wrist-slapping done so I can get home before my mother starts worrying?’

He took it well. ‘How is your mother?’

‘She’s in perfect health?’

‘And your father?’

I couldn’t think of a way to answer.

I’ll say this for Potter, he’s good at his job. The pause was barely uncomfortable before he put a piece of paper on the table and pretended to read over it. ‘The investigating Aurors say they’re satisfied that no crime has been committed. They were impressed with your cooperative attitude and have recommended you be released with no further action.’

I brightened up, then realised. ‘But you’re here.’

‘Yes.’

‘Which means it’s gone political.’

‘Yes.’

I slumped back in my chair. ‘Bugger.’

He pushed his hair back with a hand so thin and white I could see the network of blue veins moving blood through it. ‘It’s not that bad.’ He consulted the paper again. ‘One Wizengamot representative heard your name in passing and is terrified the Prophet know you’ve been brought in. Doesn’t want it getting out if we bring a Malfoy in and send them straight back home.’

‘Again,’ I reminded him.

‘You were innocent of the accusation that time, too,’ he answered seamlessly.

I snorted. ‘I bloody well was not.’

He looked up at me, and his expression was more opaque than anything I had seen on his face before. ‘The charge was that you’d killed Dumbledore. You didn’t. I was there.’

I looked down at the table. I was sure that there had been at least one low point in my life where Potter hadn’t been present, but I was finding it hard to remember what it might have been.

‘And this time there’s a suggestion you’re a Death Eater. You’re not, so again, we work through the process, which is a just and equitable one.’

‘I was a Death Eater,’ I reminded him.

‘You were an idiot,’ he said, so matter-of-factly that I rolled up my sleeve to show him the scars of the Mark that still showed faintly through the fir tree I had had tattooed over it. He glanced at it, then looked at me impassively, until I couldn’t hold his gaze any longer and had to pay an inordinate amount of attention to the process of rolling down my sleeve

‘All right,’ I muttered. ‘I was an idiot. And I have idiot friends. Fine. What happens now?’

‘Now we escort you home. And I find someone who’s happy to have you report to them over Christmas until we can have a quick chat with the Wizengamot in the New Year and get them to officially close the case.’

Going before the Wizengamot … That had nearly ended badly the last time. ‘You seem very relaxed about all of this,’ I said, trying to sound as though I could take it as lightly as he did.

He shrugged. ‘Things have changed a lot in the last eight years.’

‘Seven,’ I corrected him.

‘Seven-and-a-half,’ he compromised. ‘There’s no case. There wouldn’t even be a hearing if you weren’t who you are. It’s really an inconvenience more than anything else. Because the case has alleged Death Eater connections, we can't have you just reporting to your local MLE. It has to be an official Auror parole, which means I have to find someone who’s able to check in with you every day until January the third, when they return from holidays.’

I’ve lost track of all the advice I’ve been given over the years. My father’s turned out to be almost entirely self-serving. Professor Snape had a few useful tips: read the instructions twice before you cut anything; always have an escape route; nothing comes without hard work; if you must lose, take down as many of the enemy as you can – idiot that I was, I thought he meant house points from Gryffindor.

I try not to think about Dumbledore’s.

My mother, though, hers is better. ‘Life can change in an instant,’ she’s told me more than once. ‘The trick is to jump in the right direction. See the moment coming and take the chance as it presents itself.’

I have singularly failed to succeed in following her example at almost every turning point in my life. Except this one.

‘What about you?’ I asked.

He looked as surprised as Pansy had been the day I helped her back into her school robes and told her it was never going to happen. And yes, Potter had even been there for that nadir, in spirit if not in body. Her bitter commentary on homoerotic subtexts had been easier to bear than the alternative, though. Friends don’t take advantage of friends.

Potter was looking at me, one eyebrow raised. ‘Me?’ he asked. ‘I’m the Deputy Chief Auror. Everything else aside, isn’t that a little presumptuous?’

I shrugged; of course it was. But I could see he found the idea entertaining. And to look at him, he needed some entertainment. The last time I’d seen him happy and hale, he’d been stalking me through Sixth Year. Clearly, I was a healthy hobby for the man.

Merlin knew he needed something. In my head, he was still the Sixth Year Gryffindor Seeker: tall and strapping, with lean muscles under leather, linen and wool. He hadn't looked his best the year after that, but none of us had really kept up appearances during the war. But even then, his strength, his indefatigability, they had shone through on those few days that our paths had crossed.

Since the war, whenever I’d seen him he’d looked as though he had the weight of the world upon his shoulders. And now … It had stopped being a metaphor. He was even sitting a little off centre, keeping his weight on his left side … I’d read that he’d broken over a dozen bones in the explosion. And saved hundreds of lives.

‘What makes you think I’d have time?’

I shrugged again. Everyone knew that he had time. Granger and Weasley would doubtless be sharing some token celebration with him, but they had a baby in tow. Girl Weasley and Oliver Wood had been the Daily Prophet’s cover seventeen times since their relationship began in February. I could only imagine how awkward Christmas at Weasley Central would be.

‘And what on earth makes you think I’d be prepared to re-organise my holiday for you?’

I had an actual answer for that. 'I'm one of your success stories,' I reminded him. 'Not a single instance of public evil since you defeated He Who Whatsit.'

He actually smiled at that, but still shook his head. 'I'm not spending my holidays trekking out into the wilds of Wiltshire because you're mildly amusing, Malfoy.'

You're not going to visit the house where your friend was tortured, I thought. 'You won't have to,' I told him. 'I live in town now,'

Potter was surprised. 'London?'

I may have oversold things a little … 'Salisbury,' I corrected myself. 'But it's Plottable, and near the Minster Street Owlery, which is on the Floo Network, if you prefer.'

He was actually thinking about it. I was surprised, but not so much I failed to press my advantage. 'Come on, Potter, you know you've been vaguely wondering what I do with my time now I'm not trying to ruin your school life or support the overthrow of Wizarding Britain. Here's your chance. It'll do you good to get out of London, away from the high profile cases, back to where your Auroring really began. I tell my mother that I was the inspiration for your whole career, you know. Without me, you'd probably have taken to Herbology, or Astronomy.'

That made him laugh, and I knew that I had won. Which was a considerable personal triumph, because he really did look dreadful. And I knew that if I could just spend a few days associated with a drawn and wan Potter who limped like Professor Moody and was bound to lose his temper and probably hex me before Boxing Day, then I could finally, finally, get the memory of what it had felt like to have my arms around him out of my head.


————————————————————————————


In the end it took a little more than that, but not much. The forms stipulated that I would come into London every second day and Potter would come to Salisbury on the others. Apparently it was more usual for the parolee to travel to the Ministry, or for a house arrest to be in place. It wasn't until much later that I realised Potter had compromised for me from the very start.

He asked if I needed a letter for my mother, I assured him that my return would send all the message that would be required. He called in one of the Aurors who had arrested me and asked him to escort me back to the manor. Wallace Nepeta was his name, he had been the one who apologised to Mother for the necessity of taking me in. In other circumstances I probably would have liked him.

We didn't talk until we were in the tinsel-covered lift. He started it, with a friendly 'Told you there was nothing to worry about.'

I grunted agreement and should have let things rest, except I never could. 'How's Potter going as Deputy Chief Auror?' I asked.

Nepeta smiled at me. 'Good. He deserved the promotion. And it's given us an excuse to keep him quiet for a few months.'

I looked at the inside of the lift doors. 'Is he …?'

'He'll be fine,' Nepeta assured me.

'But, surely, Skelegro …'

'Best for one or two simple breaks. Your own body does the best job for anything more complex, just takes longer.'

'But with knitbone and arnica added …' I had brewed several improved versions of the potion myself and knew that some of its limitations could be overcome.

Before Nepeta could do more than shake his head, the lift pinged and we were in the Atrium, where someone had clearly indulged a lifelong passion for fake snow and robins. Happily, the latter were also fake – convincing little automata – or else the health risk would have been appalling.

'Right,' he said. 'I really ought to take you Side-along under restraint, but it doesn't seem necessary to me. Do you want to Apparate all the way or should we take the Floo for the big jump? I'd rather the latter if it's all the same to you. Big night last night.'

Unless it was a veiled reference to muscular sexual exploits, he was lying. I had rarely met a wizard who looked more alert nor had whiter whites to his eyes. He was even taller than me, a perfect example of the hearty Saxon who would have looked at home with an ox. But since I felt metaphorically buggered, I was happy to go along with the idea.

We stepped out at the Salisbury Owlery, quite close to my own home. Neatly lettered signs scattered around the room requested that, except in cases of inclement weather, Disapparition take place in the courtyard provided. The temperature had plummeted in the last week, but the skies were clear and the air still, so we obediently trotted outside to Apparate back to the Manor together. I wanted Nepeta to reassure my mother.

She had caused a light luncheon to be served in my absence, though it had only just gone eleven. Some poor house elf had spent a good hour cutting the crusts off little sandwiches and jellying a salmon, but I appreciated her optimism. Nepeta looked awkward at the invitation, but courteously agreed to a small snack.

Mother had set the table in the conservatory. It was a thoughtful touch: this was one of the few parts of the house built since the war. No one had ever been tortured in this room, only plants given gentle prunings before being lavished with the best heating spells available.

Nepeta took the conversational lead, apologising to my mother, thanking me for my assistance. Several minutes passed before he ventured the subject of the parole.

Mother immediately leapt to the wrong conclusion. 'You'll stay here,' she said. 'It's a much larger house. We can't have you spending a fortnight trapped inside your … bijou establishment.' Which was a kindness on her part, she usually described my house as poky.

'No need,' Nepeta explained, somehow managing to eat a fish paste sandwich while still exuding an aura of quiet authority. 'He's not under house arrest, he just needs to check in once a day. Deputy Chief Auror Potter has already worked out a schedule with him. Aside from that, he's free to carry on as usual, just no jaunts abroad without approval.'

Mother blinked slowly. 'Potter, you say?'

I cringed pre-emptively. She must have been feeling a little Christmas charity, because she merely smiled and said, 'Well, that's nice. Thank you for taking such good care of him. I was worried.'

I muttered something about being twenty-five, but, since she ignored me, it was wasted breath. Nepeta gave a small wink of sympathy and I had a clear vision of his family life and the fact that mine was not wholly unique. Perhaps this was why he asked me to escort him back to Salisbury, even though there was no need.

Mother shook her head sharply, but I whispered that I thought it would be politic to do as the nice Auror requested. She fixed me with a long look, but didn't argue the point.

'Could I have a moment with my son before you leave?' she asked instead.

Nepeta stood politely. 'Of course, Mrs Malfoy. I'll wait in the hall. Thank you for a delightful repast.'

Mother barely blinked before she smiled and bid him a courteous farewell.

'They've certainly improved their Auror training,' she muttered once he'd shut the door.

'I think he's just a nice person,' I said, feeling contrary.

She jumped on that. 'Marvellous. We'll ask him if you can report to him instead.'

'Mother …'

'Draco …' Her tone was an uncanny impersonation of mine. 'It never ends well. Every time you and Potter …' She paused and took a breath. 'That man is not your friend.'

'No,' I agreed. 'He's not.'

'And you—'

'Are an adult,' I interrupted. 'I want to put it all behind me, Mother. We're taking about fifteen minutes a day, during which we be civil to each other and I will be able to get a grip on the reality of the man and not some trauma-induced … Merlin, I don't know what.'

I was lying again. I did know. Seven years of only picking up men with wild black hair had made it very clear, even to me.

She put her hand on my shoulder. 'It's one thing to see him as a hero, darling. Just don't let it become a hope.'

She was one to talk. I had watched the final moments of the Battle of Hogwarts from her arms, and it hadn't been me who whispered 'Yes!' when Potter had lifted his wand.

'I'm aiming for the point where we politely nod heads at each other in passing,' I reassured her.

She drew me down for a hug and held me briefly. 'All right. Just stay safe.'

I kissed her cheek. 'Does Father…?'

'Slept through it all,' she assured me. 'He's having a quiet day.' She squeezed my hand as I stepped past her, and I squeezed hers back.

Nepeta was waiting for me in the hall. 'Lovely woman, your mother,' he said.

'She is,' I agreed in fairness.

'It can be hard for them to remember we grow up, though, can't it?'

I stopped fighting and just gave in to liking the man. 'Yours too?'

'She wiped my face with a hanky the last time we were out on Diagon Alley together.'

I winced in sympathy. He grinned.

Apparating back to Salisbury was the work of a moment. I looked vaguely around the Owlery, unsure what should happen next.

'Are you meant to make sure I go home?' I asked.

'I can if you want me to,' he said, affably. 'Though I trust you to not get lost.'

I grinned then. 'You should come over some time when you're not working. We could have a cider and complain about loving but smothering maternal units.'

He grinned back at me. 'Potter keeps going on about learning Community Policing from the Muggles; I am absolutely his champion employee. Arrest a man at nine, get an invite to hang out before twelve.'

'It's a bit boring out here,' I admitted. 'You leap at the chance of a good conversation.'

'I'm from Leominster, I know what you mean. Loads of Muggles, practically none of us.'

He hesitated for a moment, then spoke quickly: 'You don't remember, but we were at school together.'

I looked at him blankly. I would have sworn his was a face I had seen a few times, but never regularly. But then, to judge from his age, we would indeed have been at Hogwarts at roughly the same time.

'I was three years behind you, in Hufflepuff,' he explained. 'I was one of the quiet ones who got to school and was terrified by stories about Basilisks, Dementors and the return of Voldemort.'

'Ah …' I still couldn't remember him, but I did have a clear recollection of wide-eyed children staring in horror whenever anything disastrous was unfolding.

'And the thing is, I remember that in a weird way you were good for him.'

'Voldemort?'

'No, you muppet, Potter. You distracted him and gave him focus. After Cedric died, we were all gutted, but it did something to him. He wasn't the same after that. When I was in Second Year, he was a bit mental, which was fair enough, because Umbridge was pants. But I was good friends with Dennis Creevey and he told me later about Dumbledore's Army, and the things that happened in the Ministry that got your father arrested. And then you went all Evil is Not My Forte when you were in Sixth Year and he was all Mr Junior Auror. And that snapped him out of it in a way. Because the thing that occurred to me was that he was mostly trying to stop you doing something horrible, not catch you after you did it. That's why I decided to be an Auror, you know, to prevent bad things happening.'

I must have been staring by then, because he stopped and smiled. 'Sorry, I'm rambling. The thing is, he's been very quiet since the attack. Weasley says that it's because he thinks about what would have happened if he hadn't spotted it in time. Proudfoot told all us young 'uns that a big injury makes you go within yourself for a bit. So I think it's good he's going to be your Parole Officer. You really annoy him, but you're not that bad, so it will perk him up a bit having to look out for you.'

A terrible thought occurred to me. 'You weren't at the Battle of Hogwarts, were you?'

He frowned. 'They sent us home. Said we were too little. I was in the D.A. by then, though. Neville had us waging merry hell against the Carrows.'

'I'm sorry.' He shouldn't have had to go through that. Nor Dennis Creevey. Nor Colin …

'You didn't fight in the Battle of Hogwarts,' he reminded me. 'As Neville tells it, you even saved Potter's life at one point.'

'It was about a three on the saving scale,' I admitted. 'Both times. He pulled out an eleven, flying me out of certain flaming doom.'

'That would be him,' Nepeta agreed equably. 'But the point is that I think you're all right. And Potter … he needs a distraction.'

'So you're asking me to be distracting?'

He smiled. 'Without breaking the law or causing a breakdown in public order, yes.'

'As a favour to you?'

His smile broadened. 'I was thinking of it more as a public service. Neville says you've been going in for quiet productive deeds in recent years.'

'That's Longbottom code for I help him out with some potion ingredients and rare herb fertilisers,' I told him. 'But if you're asking that I play nice with Potter and offer him a cider, too, then I could do that.'

'Cheers, Draco.'

'You're welcome, Auror Nepeta.'

'Wallace, mate. Now, listen, I know Potter's told you about your restrictions and the Location spells. Don't let them upset you, we have very good privacy legislation; Granger drafted it. There is more flexibility than it sounds, you just have to let us know in advance. OK?'

'OK,' I agreed.

'Good. Right, I'd better be off then. Mind if I stop in between Christmas and the New Year? Take you up on that drink?'

'I'd like that.'

He grinned, said goodbye and headed in to the Floo chimneys. I headed home to tidy up before Potter arrived at ten the following morning.


————————————————————————————


My house is a fraction the size of my family home. Tucked between an art supplies shop and pleasant little pub on High Street, it fits me, my research, my laboratory and a bit of recreational space all very nicely, if not particularly neatly.

By the time Potter knocked on the door, exactly at the appointed hour, I had at least dusted and cleaned to a standard that wouldn't have appalled my mother.

I opened the door on the second knock, and was surprised to see a taxi pulling away.

Potter noticed me noticing. 'Leg's playing up,' he said in brief explanation. 'Shall I come in?'

I opened the door fully and stood back to let him pass. 'Auror Potter,' I said.

'Mr Malfoy,' he replied.

'Second door on the right,' I told him, locking the front door. There's not a lot of crime in Salisbury, but having chosen to live in a Plottable house, I take precautions.

He was just making his way into the sitting room when I caught up. I had arranged my most comfortable chairs neatly around the coffee table, making sure to choose the ones with arms so he could lever himself in and out easily. 'I made tea,' I said, realising as I did so that it probably seemed ridiculous. He looked at me quizzically.

'It's not poisoned,' I told him. 'It's just tea. I want some even if you don't.'

'Tea would be good,' he said. 'Black and one.'

I poured while he sat down, even more awkwardly than the day before. He thanked me when I passed him a cup and declined a biscuit. So I had two.

'Nice house. Good central location,' Potter complimented.

'Thank you. There's a small wizarding community in town, about fifty of us, plus a few more living regionally. Enough to have the Owlery and a shop out back of it that doubles as a pub. They have live music on Thursday and Friday.'

Potter nodded. 'Do you go?'

I snorted. 'Of course not. I'm tolerated just enough for necessities and a few drinks over the course of the month.'

He started to frown.

'Don't look like that, my family has been bullying their families for centuries. It's not personal.'

That brought the ghost of a smile. He finished his tea. 'So,' he said. 'First order of business is that I am to inspect your place of residence and satisfy myself that no laws are being broken.'

I put down my own cup. 'Wizarding or Muggle?' I asked.

He hesitated for a moment. 'You ask because …?'

'There may have been a few unauthorised alterations to the house.'

'Wizarding,' he said firmly. 'Let's start here.' He glanced around the room. 'All in order, though I have to confess it's nothing like what I thought your house would be.'

I looked at the tidy bookshelves and clean mantel. I suppose it was a little impersonal. 'I don't spend much time in this room,' I said, though I didn't owe him any explanation. And then, because I was nervous, I added, 'All the How to Be Evil paraphernalia is in the study.'

He gave my remark the eyeroll it deserved. 'Which will be room number six if you come this way…' I said, leading us out as quickly as possible. He was professional and swift as he looked at each room, but he didn't seem overly concerned about being thorough. In the kitchen I asked if he would like me to open out the drawers and cabinets.

'Are you offering?' he asked.

I was, and pulled open the pantry door. He stopped me before I could go any further.

'If you're not trying to hide anything in here, there's probably no point me looking, is there?'

His logic was flawed, but he was right.

We took the kitchen stairs up to the first floor. In the study, he made a show of checking the roll-top desk for How to Be Evil paraphernalia, but made it clear that he was almost entirely joking. 'I did suspect badges, Malfoy,' he said. 'You know, "Goodness Stinks", "Evil is our King", that sort of thing.'

I was startled that he remembered; I hadn't thought of them in years. 'Blaise borrowed all my badge making equipment,' I said lightly to cover up my confusion. 'He's made ones for all his house elves that say "Blaise is the prettiest". Pansy's furious.'

He smiled. A proper smile, which threw me. There were definite lines around his eyes and I could see the muscles in his cheeks as they pulled his lips up. I wondered if he'd take it wrongly if I offered to cook him a steak. Almost certainly.

He stopped in the doorway of my bedroom and gave me an odd look. 'How long have you lived here, Malfoy?' he asked.

'Three years,' I answered, a little defensively. Bookshelves lined two of the walls, but the well-thumbed tomes and the paper and quill on the bedside table were the only sign that someone used the room. I regretted making my bed so well.

'I spend most of my time in the workshop,' I said. 'Come on, it's next.'

He was tired by the time we climbed the last stairs. It was almost distressing to see him without that vigour I had thought integral and inexhaustible. Two steps behind, I watched as his thin right hand gripped the banister to help haul him up each step, while his left did duty with his stick. All the fantasies I had had of being held in his strong arms faded, withering against the reality of a man who had to concentrate on each step.

Nepeta had assured me that Potter was expected to make a full recovery, but looking at him, I was moved to pity.

He was moved to my work-chair, with its comfortable leather seat and backrest. He didn't say 'Oof' when he sat down, but I had the impression that that was an effort of will.

'This is more like it,' he said, when he had had a moment to recover and look around.

I tried to see the room through his eyes. The main table and workbenches down the long sides of the room held either experiments or apparatus. Boxes of ingredients were piled on the shelves: there was an order to them, but it was probably only apparent to me. My notebooks were scattered over the end of the table, three different colours of ink nearby and an assortment of quills. Unlike the rest of my house, this was a room that spoke of living and being. Even the dilapidated sofa at the other end of the room added to the effect. I had tidied the pillows and blankets I used when I needed to stay up here beside a brew all night, but they were still there.

'Neville told me you'd really taken to potion making,' he said. He looked at the bench where I kept my commercial potions, bottled but not yet packed. 'I recognise some of those from St Mungo's.’

'They buy a few things from me,' I admitted. 'Not that they know they come from me. Longbottom took pity on me after I'd been selling to him for a couple of years: he buys in bulk and they sell some of them on from Hogwarts.'

Potter nodded. 'He said as much. I recognise this one,' he lifted up a blue salve jar, 'it's for bedsores. Good stuff: the witch in the room next to mine had been immobilised for four months and she swore by it.'

He looked at me. I tried to hide just how gratified I was by turning to the nearest bottle. 'This one's a general tonic. Most of the other ones on the market contain some form of euphoria spell, but my theory is that sick people ought to remember they're sick. This just gives them a bit more energy and endurance, at the same time as strengthening their natural healing systems. It's not going to have you leaping out of bed, but it will get you well faster, or at least stop you declining until they can work out what's wrong with you.'

'It sounds good. I turned down half the drugs they offered me in hospital because I didn't like the mood-altering effects. We feel pain for a reason.'

'Exactly.'

'Though it's good to have something when…'

'You need a few levels, don't you?' I agreed, caught up in the discussion. 'Something to take the edge off, something to let you keep going when it's an emergency, and something for the serious cases when they don't need anything except to feel at peace.'

He leaned forward, interested. 'Is there a way of improving that second type? All the ones we have now either mask injuries too effectively, so Aurors can damage themselves more, or else they have a heavy come-down and leave you knackered for days afterwards.'

'Too much Pick-You-Up,' I told him. 'Everyone's using it now instead of the old Vim-You-Need, but it's a really indiscriminate potion – makes your whole system go faster. It's also overkill for everyone who's not studying for OWLs or the like. Most people don't need eight to twelve hours of extra go.'

'And the ones who do need to be able to keep going afterwards, not crash like a stone.'

'Yes! I've been thinking about it and … and …' I remembered who I was talking to. 'I'm going to experiment more.' I looked down at the tonic bottle still in my hand. 'Do you want this? Neville knows the recipe, so you can check it out with him.'

Potter was surprised, but took the proffered bottle. 'Thank you,' he said, simply, which defused the oddness of the moment. He indicated the brown bottle behind me. 'That one's a mind-reviving elixir, isn't it?'

I nodded.

'And the one in the clear bottle by the cauldron?'

I should have put that away. Only I had thought that he would be searching, and that it would just make it worse.

'I'll tell you,' I said, 'but you'll probably want to arrest me again.'

He raised an eyebrow.

'I call it Sleep,' I said.

He nodded slowly. 'But I'm guessing it's not a soporific.'

'No. Well, not only. It lets you slip away, quietly, without pain. It's almost done, I've been working with the local vet to test it. Some animals woke up again, afterwards, so we're still …'

He looked at me and did not speak.

'I invented it for my father …' I don't know why I told him that. There was no need. I could just as easily blathered on about dying with dignity and my commitment to euthanasia reform.

He nodded. Understandingly this time.

I waited at least a minute. 'So, are you going to arrest me?'

He limped over to the workbench stool, sat down and picked up the bottle. 'I was in St Mungo's for a long time,' he said. 'And it really hurt like hell for most of it. But I got through it reasonably easily because I knew that it was all temporary. That it would pass and I would be better.' He grinned wryly and put the bottle back down. 'Obviously that's taking longer than I'd hoped, but still, every day is a better day. And if I had lost a leg or an arm, or ended up unable to walk, or blind, then I would have learned how to live with a body that was different and could do different things. It wouldn't have been the end of the world.'

He took a breath. 'But if I had had to stay in that first explosion of pain… If I had had to spend my life knowing that would be with me every day and that there was no respite …

'I went with Neville to visit his parents just before I got out. They are never going to be any better, and yet they're not actually in any pain now. Just the memory of it … So the day I was released, I sat down with my lawyer and wrote a living will.'

He looked at me meaningly. 'I hope you never have to use this, but I also hope that you perfect it.'

I was startled into honesty. 'Father's not in pain,’ I said. ‘Not that we can tell. He's just … not there any more. Every day he slips further away. If he stops taking nourishment … I won't have him starve.'

Potter nodded. 'Call me if you need to use it. We have Auror mediwizards. There's a certain … pragmatism in the Corps. No need to involve anyone who might think that suffering necessarily equals nobility.'

I nodded dumbly.

He pushed himself off from the stool and steadied himself with his stick. 'Right. Well, is that everything?'

'There's an outside laundry and the garden.'

'Are you hiding anything illegal in them?'

'No.' I thought a moment then corrected myself. 'Some hemp and some overly pure opium poppies, but they're for potions. I've got that part of the garden hidden from Muggles by spells.'

Potter's lips twitched. 'Safest if I don't take a look then, don't you think?'

I had to double check. 'You're trusting me?'

'I have no reason to suspect you given your behaviour over the last seven-and-a-half years,' he reminded me.

'Right …'

He started to walk towards the door.

'Potter…'

He paused and looked back at me.

'This is going to sound weird, but the pain in your leg, is it a deep numb ache or is it a sharper tearing sort of pain?'

He turned and looked at me, frowning. 'Both,' he said. 'More tearing, this week.'

I nodded and turned to my table. It took me a little shuffling, but I found the blue bottle I was looking for. 'I think that's your tendons yelling at you,' I told him. 'People forget about them when they break something, but they often have tears in the same accident, or else they stiffen or shorten while you're recuperating. This will help them recover, and it will ease any pain from them.'

He looked at the bottle in my hand, them reached out and took it. 'What if it's not?' he asked.

'No harm, you'll just have really healthy tendons. Dosage is on the bottle.'

'Should I tell my doctors at St Mungo's?'

I scrawled the short ingredient list down. 'If you're taking other potions, then yes, in case this interacts with anything. They can Owl me if they need details.'

'Why haven't they thought about this?'

I smiled. 'Because they don't have anything half as good. Anyway, Nepeta told me you were insistent on natural healing for your bones.'

'I let the Mediwizards set them nicely,' he corrected me. 'But Skelegro can do strange things in complex cases. I'd rather take it slowly and be sure.'

'Fine. Well, this will do nothing to your bones and the only systemic effect it has is a mild pain killer.'

He nodded and slipped it into his pocket. 'Thanks, Malfoy.'

'I probably owe you one,' I mumbled.

He was turning back to the door, so I mostly missed his muttered reply, but I think it was chuckled, and I think the word was 'One?'

He was a bit steadier going down the stairs than up, but still tentative. I offered to Apparate him to the Owlery, but he assured me that he would be fine to walk to New St and find a cab. Our goodbyes were courteous, we even shook hands. His was mostly bones, but his grip was still firm.

I watched him walk away for a moment before shutting the door, impressed by his determination and professionalism. Maybe even by his kindness. It was a novel feeling, but for the first time, I could feel an uncomplicated admiration for Potter. And I didn't fancy him at all.


————————————————————————————
Part two

 
 
 
playing_perfectplaying_perfect on January 10th, 2015 07:48 am (UTC)
I loved this, I totally fail at commenting when I should, but within a few lines of reading it on erised, I knew it was you. That and the PG rating :-). Actually you were the only person I guessed right this erised, not that I embarrassed myself by trying to officially guess anyone else, but I felt happy that at least I managed to get yours.

I'm sorry you had so many events conspiring against you this year and so glad that they didn't stop you finishing this. I sat down with tea and happiness to read it and devoured it in an all too brief sitting and then saved it on my Kindle to read again later, sure enough that it was you that I named you then and there. Sorry, very sorry, that I didn't leave a comment at the time.

I have a vague resolution - again - that I'll be a better commenter/interacter on lj this year, you are my first try out of that! If only work and real life didn't keep interrupting so forcefully…

Now I shall go and leave a comment on part two about what I loved about it.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 10th, 2015 08:07 am (UTC)
Oh, I cannot TELL you how awful I am at commenting. I did reasonably well at commenting on fics (though less well at reading half the ones I really want to, that's for the rest of this month), but there are so many art pieces from the fest that I did see and still haven't found the words to express why I loved them. I am going to blame no brain: the few days that saw me with any remaining neurons also saw super-hot humid weather. Damn real life!

Your comment resolution is off to a brilliant start as I am smiling and heart-warmed :-)

vicki_rae: ZZZ - No one writes love songs about thevicki_rae on January 10th, 2015 07:58 am (UTC)
This is lovely and one of my favorites.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 10th, 2015 08:08 am (UTC)
Thank you! There were so many great fics this year, I've got at least three more recs and at least another five queued to read that I am convinced I am going to love!
astardanced77astardanced77 on January 10th, 2015 11:58 am (UTC)
It was my very great pleasure to beta this for you and I'd love to do it for you again some time. Hopefully some time when I don't have to feel guilty about making you type :-)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 10th, 2015 02:01 pm (UTC)
HA! Oh, I felt so awful at making the nagging a necessary thing, and yet you did it so splendidly :-)

Well, I have a bag of orange chocolate to get to you one weekend soon. SOMEONE who shall remain nameless decided he was working over the holidays and so we could not head south. He did not go to work. Nor did he do the mowing or the mopping. When he is smothered in his sleep by a cat … I may need an alibi ;-)
welcome to villa cariño!capitu on January 10th, 2015 03:25 pm (UTC)
This is absolutely brilliant. I loved reading it the first time and the second and now again. :D

So happy you were part of erised. SO HAPPY. <3
Azure Jane Lunaticazurelunatic on January 10th, 2015 11:30 pm (UTC)
*delights*
anna_wing on January 12th, 2015 04:37 am (UTC)
I do like this. Everyone is being so sensible and grown-up and nice!
Nenne: Good luck - firkløvernenne on January 13th, 2015 12:43 pm (UTC)
That sounds very complicated and stressful. *pets you* I hope you'll get a lot of writing done in 2015 and that you will stay injury free and healthy and sane all year around. :)
l.m.incandescent on January 19th, 2015 08:34 pm (UTC)
This is so brilliant and lovely and charming. I love it! Beautiful work, as always. I would never have known that you have a difficult time writing this year.