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10 January 2015 @ 06:51 pm
Fic: On the Turning Away (part 3)  
Part one

Part two

We did end up celebrating Christmas. Mother and I ate our delayed lunch and exchanged gifts while Father rested. Later, he roused enough to thank me for the scarf I had given him. It was last year's gift, but Mother had rewrapped it and lied for me. She was tired, but delighted. He knew where he was and who we were, which was more than I had expected.

I slept poorly, dreaming of Potter for the first time in months. As always in my dreams, he remained just out of reach. In that half-real place between dreaming and waking I remembered his hand on my arm, his look of concern. It was enough to shake me into wakefulness. And then I cursed myself for being an idiot, because I had been safer in my dreams.

It was a cold Boxing Day. A light dusting of snow was falling onto my still-dark garden. We had missed a White Christmas by a day. Typical. I remembered being very small, back when Christmas was still a time of joy, how Boxing Day had been the worst day of the year, because it was the furthest from next Christmas. Mother would sit down with a calendar and help me count the days until my birthday.

Later, Boxing Day had become the day on which I had to admit that Christmas had failed to deliver me the happy, loving family I wanted. Again.

Which made it ironic that, this year, Christmas more or less had been a day of loving family, yet I felt worse than usual.

I got out of bed and looked out the window, where the first pre-dawn glimmers were shimmering into light. A fox ran through the hole in my back fence and trotted nervously through the garden. A few minutes later I heard the bin being tipped over. My potions refuse was properly disposed of, so it was only going to find a few old meals, which it was welcome to.

I needed a plan, I realised. Because staring aimlessly out the window until I had to see Potter again wasn't going to work. And I was freezing.

Showering and dressing was a good start. It's easier to think when there is hot water running over you. I realised that my options hadn't changed. I could hide away, I could spend a lifetime wanting something I could never have, or I could get over it.

Since getting over it had come so close to working, it seemed only logical to try again. I knew where I had gone wrong: I'd overdone it. I'd been aiming for nodding acquaintance and had instead made it a way down the path to actual friend. Which was never going to work.

A polite, professional acquaintance should be my goal. He respected my work, perhaps he would invite me to look at this Auror laboratory he had mentioned. Or I could work on pain potions for the department. There were myriad ways to yet make this work, all I had to do was to get through the next week of enforced contact. We were doing astonishingly well at the not-hexing each other. Now all that remained was to make certain there were no more incidents of alcoholic beverage or emotionally fraught drama. Easy.

I turned off the taps and rested my forehead against the still-cold tile wall. Perhaps Mother was right and I needed a nice boyfriend. Blaise's friend Toshi Sakamoto was planning to spend all 2006 in England researching rare flora. He was thoroughly beautiful, intelligent and funny. Maybe I should have said yes when Blaise offered to set us up. I resolved to get in touch with Blaise early in the New Year, once he'd seen the funny side of the jumpers.

I realised I was shivering and had to turn the taps back on.

The post arrived over breakfast. A card from Luna, saying she'd stop by this week. A card from Mrs Goyle, thanking me for the gifts. The January edition of the Practical Potioneer. All lovely and normal.

I made it to the Ministry just before ten. It was raining in London, but with that strange light to the clouds that could turn to sun or snow without warning. The Atrium was even emptier than it had been on Christmas Eve. With few people to flit around, the mechanical robins were all sitting above the entrance to the cafe, trilling 'I Saw Three Ships'. There was no sign of Potter.

I made my own way to Level Two. He was out in the central aisle of his department, standing with two other Aurors, all in their uniforms, all soaked to the skin.

He looked up and saw me. 'Malfoy! Bloody hell, is that the time? Sorry, bit of an emergency.'

I smiled politely. 'So I see. It's quite all right. Can I be of any use?'

He grinned. 'Believe it or not, we've actually sorted things, just not ourselves. Can I get you to wait about half an hour for me to clean up and get the reports sorted and then we can grab a bite to eat and I can tell you all the gory details?'

I had walked in there determined to do well, and not 45 seconds later, I was about to say, 'Yes, that sounds great.'

Luckily for me, a voice boomed from the back of the room. 'He can't wait around, he's going drinking with me, and I was off shift an hour ago, not that you'd know it!' Wallace was walking towards us in dry civvies, carrying his dripping uniform at arm's length. I was so relieved to see him that I almost ran towards him.

Potter looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

'I promised Wallace I'd go on a pub crawl,' I explained. 'It was a weak moment.'

Potter looked at Wallace, then back to me. He smiled. 'Well, you may as well head out, then. Technically you've reported, and you're hardly likely to get into too much trouble with Nepeta.'

Wallace was busying himself hanging his uniform up behind his desk and performing a Dry-You-Quick charm on it. 'Exactly right, sir,' he said. 'I will be a paragon of virtue and we will imbibe only tasting volumes of their public house spirits.'

Potter looked at me, wincing.

'I'll keep him out of trouble,' I said.

'Good. See you tomorrow, then.'

Wallace walked between us, which was a relief, because I wasn't able to break eye contact.

A strong arm was clapped across my shoulders and I was turned towards the door. 'C'mon, Draco, there are overpriced bacon butties and watered down beverages awaiting us across the wilds of Wessex.'

'One of your ancestors doubtless said the same when he came riding in from Germany,' I muttered.

'Rubbish,' Wallace replied. 'He would have been looking for the womenfolk. I'm off, you lot, don't call me if anyone else decides to ship a boatload of gnomes down the Thames.'

I found myself looking back at Potter, whose grin broadened. 'Hundreds of the nasty little buggers,' he confirmed. 'We had to retrieve the ones that jumped overboard, striking out for the houseboats.'

A treacherous smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. 'Where's your stick?' I asked him.

'Didn't need it, I had a broom,' he replied, looking as though he had just finished the season's best game of Quidditch.

I bit down on my smile. 'Of course you did. Just try not to do yourself a permanent damage.'

'Promise,' he replied.

'And thank you for the gift,' I said quickly, then left even more so, with Wallace trailing along behind me.

'What did he give you?' Wallace asked, catching up with me at the lift. 'Socks?'

'What?'

'You didn't seem thrilled.'

'No, it was a book. It was … Look, do you mind if we don't talk about it?'

Wallace shrugged. 'Fine by me.'

The lift arrived, empty.

Wallace waited until we were inside with the Atrium button pushed before he resumed the conversation. 'I thought you two were getting on.'

'We are.'

'Yes, clearly, you seem very enthusiastic on the topic of Potter. Did something happen? Did he say something? Do something? You gave him some new pills that he was raving about this morning, so I get the impression you're not the problem.'

Happily, my bitter laugh made my murmured self-deprecations unintelligible.

Wallace frowned at me. 'What was that?'

The lift pinged and we were in the Atrium.

Wallace didn't let it go. 'Tell me what you said, Draco.'

I closed my eyes. 'I said that I am definitely the problem and that it doesn't have a solution.' I opened my eyes again and looked at him entreatingly. 'Can we please not talk about it?'

Wallace's head was tilted in thought as he looked at me, but he pressed his lips together and mumbled 'Not saying a word' through them. Or it could have been 'Knotted sarongs are bad' for all I could make out, but I laughed at the gesture anyway.

Wallace smiled. 'Good. Laughter. That's what we want for today. I didn't get you a present, by the way.'

I hadn't even thought of it. 'Sorry, neither did I.'

'Probably just as well given how badly you react to gifts.'

'Up your bum,' I replied, maturely.

'Show me on the doll where the bad Auror touched you, Draco.'

I glared at him.

'Too soon?' he asked.

'Far too soon,' I agreed.

'Drink?'

'At least three.'

And so we left the Ministry in search of pubs, arguing over whether we should restrict our definition of Wessex to locations mentioned by Alfred and Bede. And if my shiny new plan hadn't gone as well as it could have, at least it hadn't gone pear-shaped.


————————————————————————————


Looking at Wallace Nepeta, you might think that he would be a wizard who could hold his drink. And you would be right. As it turned out, he could also hold mine, an Australian backpacker called Valerie's, and also Bevan's; Bevan being a red-faced Squaddie who had thought he was in with Valerie until we turned up and who then belligerently challenged Wallace to a drinking contest that ended with a now-convivial Bevan sliding under the table and Wallace telling each and every one of us in that pub that he loved us very much and that we were all good, good people.

Things took a turn for the better for Bevan when Valerie took him home to recover, while I had to enlist the assistance of Corporals Watt and Nevis to manhandle Wallace out onto the street to 'wait for a taxi'. They were very good about it, said it was the least they could do for someone who not only out-drank Corporal Wye, but who had sworn undying friendship to each of them not seven minutes ago.

Since that had been our eighth pub and the afternoon had moved well into evening by then, I'd waited till the coast was clear then Apparated the two of us back to my place without guilt.

I had only consumed a minute fraction of Wallace's tally, but by the time I had levitated him into a quick cold shower to sober him up enough to get some water into him and pyjamas onto him, I was absolutely knackered. I considered quickly brewing a sobering potion for Wallace and something for myself, but decided that sleep could do the trick for both of us.

This wasn't my best piece of thinking. It meant that I woke up just in time to wonder how late it actually was before there was a knocking at the front door.

'Shit!' I exclaimed, stubbing my toe on the table as I tried to run out of my workroom and make it to the front door before Potter did anything ridiculous.

'Hang on a minute,' I shouted as I raced down the stairs.

He was standing there cheerily with a cardboard box in his hand. 'Mince pies,' he said. 'Thank you gift from Hermione. She says she kept Ron away from them, and I had a few quick diagnostics done to be on the safe side, they should be fine to eat.'

I stared at him.

'Is there something I should know?' he asked. 'Only you're standing on one foot and you're wearing a Slytherin Quidditch jumper over your pyjamas.'

I gave up. 'Come in.'

At least the sitting room was close to the front door, so it was easy to get him settled while I dashed off to put the kettle on and grab some plates. I had put a fresh pair of gardening trousers in the mudroom only the day before, so I changed into them and my workboots and grabbed a barely worn top from the laundry. A few splashes of water from the kitchen tap and I was reasonably presentable.

'Coffee, tea or chocolate?' I asked as I returned with a laden tray.

'Tea, please,' he replied, taking the side plates from the tray and serving pies onto each.

I started with a large black coffee, which only began to take the edge off my fuzziness.

'I take it yesterday's outing went well?' Potter asked.

'Believe it or not, it's not a hangover. Just the sheer physical exhaustion of keeping pace with Nepeta was punishing. Are all your young Aurors like that?'

Potter laughed. 'There's only a few years between them and us.'

'Feels like more.'

'You're getting old before your time, Malfoy. Soon you'll have a receding hairline and a walking stick.'

I took refuge from banter in observation. 'Where's yours?'

He shrugged. 'Didn't need it today. Those new potions of yours are good enough that I can do without it.'

'No,' I corrected him. 'They're good enough that you can feel that way. If you've been taking the pain killers they'll just be masking symptoms and you could be making things worse.'

'Relax. I only had the pills you gave me and another two six hours later as suggested on the bottle. Since then it's been tendon medications and tonic only. I'm not completely without common sense.'

I wanted to debate that point, but it would have been presuming a closeness that I couldn't afford. 'All right,' I said instead. 'Be sure to keep your Mediwizards fully informed of your progress.'

He gave me an odd look, but promised that he would. I tried one of the mince pies, they were surprisingly good. 'Did Mrs Weasley make these?' I asked Potter.

He didn't answer, he was looking over my shoulder with wide eyes and a slightly hurt expression on his face.

Wallace was standing there, looking like something the cat had dragged in and then rejected on the grounds of good taste. But he was obviously wearing my pyjamas, as evidenced by the fact they were three inches too short for him and had little dragons embroidered on the pockets.

'Morning, sir,' Wallace said blearily. 'Draco, if that's coffee, I'll be your best friend forever.'

'There's plenty, but you'll need an extra cup from the kitchen.'

He padded away silently on bare feet. I turned back to Potter.

'There is a perfectly innocent explanation,' I began, but Potter raised his hand to stop me.

'It's fine,' he said. 'Everybody knows and nobody minds.'

Whatever I'd been about to say, that derailed it. 'Everybody knows what?' I spluttered. 'And why would I care whether or not people mind?'

Potter looked embarrassed. 'You know, about you …' his sentence petered out. 'Pansy complained for years,' he said instead. 'Loudly. Indiscriminately.'

I was staring at him, and I fear it was with my mouth open, when I was rescued by a knock at the front door.

I excused myself and practically ran to it.

Luna was there. 'Hello, Draco,' she said, kissing me on the cheek. 'As promised, in the flesh, and with a large box of chocolates. How are things with you?'

I smiled wanly. 'Harry Potter is in my sitting room eating mince pies and being the most relaxed parole officer in history. He thinks I'm having an affair with one of his junior Aurors, who crashed back here last night after we went out on a pub crawl. Said junior Auror is probably still somewhat drunk and desperately needs a sobering-up potion, but at the moment I'd probably turn him into a newt if I tried to brew anything. Father is conscious, Mother believes in Christmas miracles, Blaise and Pansy got me arrested and I have rarely been so glad to see anyone in my life as I am to see you.'

She grinned. 'I'd better come in, then, hadn't I?'

Wallace had made it back to the sitting room by the time we got there and was drinking a large mug of coffee, oblivious to Potter's disapproving stare. He looked up muzzily as Luna and I walked in.

'Wallace, this is Luna Lovegood,' I said, unsure as to whether they had met before. 'She's a noted publisher and cryptozoologist. Luna, this is Wallace, junior Auror and bad influence.'

Luna put out her hand, Wallace shook it gently. 'You were at school with us, weren't you?' she asked. 'In Hufflepuff, two years below me.'

Wallace agreed that he had been.

'So why are you wearing Draco's pyjamas?' she asked, with more than a little mischief in her voice.

He looked down at himself. He looked up at me, eyebrows raised. 'Where did we put my clothes?'

Potter put his head in his hands. I ignored him.

'They're in the room you slept in, folded up on the chair, with your boots on the floor beside them,' I told him. 'The bathroom is through the white door and there's a spare toothbrush in the cupboard above the sink.'

Wallace gulped down the rest of his coffee. 'Cheers, Draco,' he said, then padded off to find everything.

'So he slept in your room last night?' Luna asked, ignoring my narrowed eyes. 'Where did you sleep?'

'On the lounge in my workroom,' I told her, also ignoring the fact that Potter's head came back up at this. 'And it was bloody freezing, but I was so knackered I'd probably have set fire to my feet if I tried a heating charm.'

Luna laughed. 'I did that once, up in the Orkneys. At least, my shoes, not my feet. Luckily for me, I only had to stick them outside my tent and the rain put them straight out.'

I smiled at her story, and at her. She had decided to visit us after the war, seen the shambles we had made of ourselves and the guilt Mother and I bore for not having helped her more, and determined that we should be one of her projects. It never bothered me to have her check up on us, she bought such generosity of spirit with her, and chocolates, too.

Potter was peering at me through his glasses. 'So you and Nepeta…'

'Is it any of your business?' I asked, doing my best to keep my voice level.

'No, of course not,' he admitted readily.

I left the two of them together and went to fetch an extra cup for Luna.

They had clearly been talking in my absence, but quietened suddenly on my return. Potter was still looking at me speculatively.

'So, it looks as though I'm intruding on a bit of a social occasion,' he said.

'I apologise, it wasn't intentional.'

'It's my fault,' Luna said. 'I didn't tell him when I was going to arrive. I didn't know myself.'

'And Wallace was in no fit state to make it home yesterday,' I added.

'No, it's quite all right,' Potter said politely. 'I was only going to say that I don't really need to be here, so I should leave you all to it.'

'Don't be ridiculous, Harry,' said Luna. 'You're part of the occasion. Isn't he, Draco?'

'Yes, absolutely.'

'Now tell us what ridiculous thing has kept you busy at work lately, and how did you end up Draco's parole officer?'

Potter told the latter story first, and was then well into recounting how a group of anti-European Union wizards had rounded up a boatload of the meanest gnomes East Anglia and the Midlands had to offer, then made an abortive attempt at shipping them to Brussels.

'Unfortunately, one of the hexes aimed at the captain of the vessel went wide and knocked the corner off one of the crates,' he explained. 'The minute some of the gnomes were free, they released the inhabitants of the next crate, then discovered they were from Warwickshire, and started fighting with them. So we had half the team busy trying to constrain all the criminals, with the other half either being bitten by gnomes or fishing them out of the river.'

'By the end we were all on fishing duty,' added Wallace who had arrived at the door some time during the narrative. 'Both the night shift and the morning shift were back in the office dripping and laughing. We left MLE to see about returning the gnomes, no reason they shouldn't have their holidays bitten into, as it were.'

Luna moved over and patted the sofa beside her, he came in and sat down. Potter made a show of looking at his watch.

'All right, on that note, I really do have to go,' he said.

I saw him to the door. 'Be sure to check with your Mediwizards,' I said in farewell.

'Malfoy, I—'

'It's fine,' I interrupted him. 'I'll see you tomorrow. Only six more days and then you'll be free of me.'

He opened his mouth to speak, looked at my face and closed it again, his shoulders falling a little. 'See you tomorrow,' he said. I had closed the door behind him before he finished turning away.

I turned around and Wallace and Luna were observing me from the sitting room doorway.

'What on earth was that?' Wallace asked.

'Ooh, I know,' Luna said. 'Do you want me to explain it to you?'

I glared at her, but she ignored me, so I told them they could meet me up in my workroom when they'd finished gossiping. It took them thirty minutes, and I wasn't sure I cared for the knowing expressions they exchanged when they saw me.


————————————————————————————


Wednesday was a success by my standards. Luna had made a brilliant suggestion: if Potter wanted to talk with me, have him talk about work.

Despite the fact it was even colder than the night before, I spent the evening in my workroom, preparing the bases for potions that could keep Aurors going through emergencies. The pain relief side of the product was going to be tricky, so I started with the invigorating part, rationalising that once we found one that had a decent lifespan and no hard come-down, we could work on the rest of the mix. At least I remembered to cast heating charms early enough to stop the house cooling with the weather.

When I woke up just after eight, I could see the paw prints in the frost where my fox had made another bin raid. I had cooked two extra chops for her, just in case.

I arrived on time at the Ministry with my well-padded box and found Potter waiting for me in the Atrium, where the snow had now ceased and the robins were sleeping in a huddle above the main door.

'Malfoy,' he greeted me with a smile. 'I thought we could sit in the cafe again.'

'Wherever you prefer,' I replied. 'I've been working on that emergency pain tonic we were discussing the other day.'

He was instantly interested. While he drank tea and ate scones, I outlined my work so far. Eight sample bottles of the base preparations, all ready for testing by his department if he wanted, or I would pay some subjects myself if he preferred. I had prepared a series of parchments outlining ingredients, preparation conditions and spells used, with suggestions for future refinements and a series of data points that would need to be gathered from the test subjects, from heartbeat to hours spent awake, length of subsequent sleep to how they felt in the morning.

'It's very preliminary,' I told him. 'There will be weeks, if not months of work remaining after we sort this out.'

'But it's a start,' he said, smiling. 'We've been after St Mungo's to work on the problem for years and they haven't touched it.'

I remembered the busy wards and overworked staff from Father's time there. 'I think they have a lot on their plates,' I reminded him. 'I'm a gentleman of leisure who likes an intellectual challenge and doesn't have a more pressing case of dragonpox to deal with.'

'True,' Potter agreed. 'Do you have time to explain this to some of my research team?'

'In your lab?'

Potter looked down. 'Ah … Best not to go to the lab this week.'

'Because I'm on parole?'

He looked up, apologetically.

I waved his apology away. 'It's quite all right. A perfectly logical decision. If you can bring them down here I'll happily discuss my work with them.'

He reached into his pockets for parchment and a quill and sent a memo flying off. Less than five minutes later we were joined by two bright young witches and I saw out the rest of our meeting talking potions.

As I made a polite departure from the three of them, I reminded myself to send Luna flowers.


————————————————————————————


It was more difficult the next morning. I didn't have a second brilliant new potion to divert him with and there was no chance of him being distracted by other Ministry staff. So I took refuge in the resources I had to hand.

I met him at the door with a walking stick.

He looked at it. 'I'm actually moving rather well without one,' he said.

'Then you can use it to threaten teenagers,' I told him. 'We're going for a walk.'

I shut the door behind me and he had no choice but to follow. It was a quick jaunt up to New Street and then across the river. The day was cold enough for the frost to still lay thick on the grass, so we stuck to the paths as I led him through Queen Elizabeth Gardens and down towards the Town Path and water meadows.

'It's a beautiful park,' Potter said, limping only slightly.

He was right. Even with most branches bare and the willows drooping forlornly into the water, it was still lovely. I would sometimes come here to walk and sit in the warmer weather, amused by small children and dogs that had slipped their leads and were making a bold bid for the nearest muddy puddle.

'We're lucky it hasn't rained as much as it threatened,' I told him. 'All of this section goes under water and you can't get across to Harnham at all.'

He stopped at his first sight of the channels stretching out to either side of the path, black between the frosted meadows with their traces of remnant snow.

'What is it?' he asked me.

I felt such relief as I launched into my local spiel. 'Irrigation. The meadows were divided up by the channels and hatches controlled the amount of water coming through them. Sheep would be grazed on a particular patch, chewing up weeds and grass and leaving behind dung, then they would give it a light flooding to soak all the goodness into the soil. After that, they’d come along and cultivate it and plant crops. Whenever the crops needed a good watering, they'd open up the hatches and give it a light flooding again.'

He looked out over the channels stretching away from us. 'How did they build so many?'

'We're on chalk,' I reminded him. 'It's easy to cut through, to reshape the land as you need it. Apparently they're a national treasure now. I rather like the idea of dungy old meadows being a treasure, there's a pleasant sense of authenticity about it.'

Potter smiled and agreed.

'They still graze on here,' I told him. 'Though I have no idea what they do with the sheep in weather like this.'

'Probably tucked up in a barn,' he said. 'With little sheepy blankets and hot water bottles.'

I nearly laughed, but caught myself in time.

'Sometimes this is all flooded for over a week at a time. Then the Muggles have to drive if they want to get to Harnham.'

'Is there anything good there?' Potter asked.

'No,' I lied. 'We should go back, you'll be expected at the Ministry soon.'

He looked around instead. 'It's funny how systems exist in such fine tension. When this works, it must have been a thing of wonder to the farmers. But if you tip a part of the system out of balance, it becomes a liability, even a danger.' He looked at me. 'Balance can be such a fragile thing.'

I swallowed. 'We should be getting back. It's cold and damp, that can't be good for you.'

'My Mediwizards say I'm fine,' he told me. 'In fact, I gained two pounds this week.'

'All the baked goods,' I said, starting to walk back.

'And having an appetite,' he replied. 'Which I put down to your tonic.'

I glanced at him. He did look less likely to faint at any moment. 'Come on, before half the Auror Corps shows up wondering what's happened to you.'

I kept the pace a little brisker on the way back. He was able to manage it, but not to converse at the same time. I took us straight to the Owlery rather than risk stopping at my house. He formally handed me back the walking stick, thanking me for the use of it.

'Listen,' he said, 'tomorrow is the first day of my rostered holiday, and I'd rather not go into the office. I was wondering if we could meet on Diagon Alley?'

I racked my brain, looking for an excuse that didn't sound pathetic.

'Luna is in town, she wanted to see you again. She asked if you could bring your mother, but if she can't leave your father, I fully understand and the three of us could just meet up, have a nice cup of tea and head off again.'

I trusted Luna, so I said yes, and promised that I would ask Mother. He smiled brightly, and I looked away.

'Malfoy,' he had his hand on my arm again, 'I'm sorry about—'

'It's fine,' I cut him off. 'It really is fine. Back to work. See you tomorrow.'


————————————————————————————


Mother agreed to come, which I took as another sign that though she might love me dearly, the Fates clearly didn't. She asked me to pick her up from the Manor and didn't even mention that I had hardly been there since Christmas.

I should have guessed that meant she had a surprise in wait.

Father was sitting up in his study, a blanket tucked around his knees and an open book on the table beside him. He recognised me and motioned me to come closer. Then he hugged me, weakly but determinedly.

'It's good to see you, Draco,' he said. He smelled like a normal human being again, not like soap and fermentation anymore.

'It's good to see you, too, Father,' I replied.

He let me go. 'Your mother tells me you're taking her out for morning tea.'

'Yes.'

He looked at me conspiratorially. 'Make sure she has hot chocolate. She orders tea because she thinks it's more mature, but she vastly prefers chocolate.'

I hadn't been expecting that. More, I had never known that. 'I will,' I promised. 'Thanks for letting me know.'

He smiled at me. 'There are a lot of things I should tell you,' he said. 'Useful things. Not the rubbish I told you in the past. But not now. Go, before you're late.'

Mother held my arm tightly as we walked outside to Apparate.

'He's looking well,' I answered her unspoken question.

'He is, isn't he?' she agreed. 'I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but I'm failing.'

I patted her hand and opened the back door. 'Come one, I'll take us Side-along. And not a single glass will be rattled from out here.'

She laughed – a sound I had not heard in a long time – and I managed the step to London with ease.

It had been snowing in Wiltshire. Here it was a cold sleet, and the shopkeepers had set a sheltering spell above the alley, so that the water stopped above the rooftops.

'Grey and grim,' Mother said, and I think she meant the weather rather than the looks a few people threw at us. But then Jane Hunniset, one of the Auror research witches, walked past, recognised me and stopped to tell me how much she was enjoying working with my research.

'We found sixteen volunteers and have a protocol for the first trial already in place. I can't wait to see what you make of it all,' she said.

'Excellent,' I told her. 'I can't wait to see how you go. Jane, this is my mother, Narcissa Malfoy. Mother, this is Jane Hunniset, she works with Potter.'

They exchanged quick how-do-you-do's, then Jane tried to grill me on my favourite types of comfrey before I managed to escape by telling her Potter was waiting on us.

Mother gave me an amused look. 'It's a shame you don't like girls,' she told me.

'She only loves my mind, Mother,' I replied, leading her on at a brisker pace so she wouldn't spot any other glares.

The tea shop was chintzier than I had been expecting, and also fuller. Granger and Weasley were there with their baby. I stopped in the doorway, looking at Mother, who seemed stricken. She hadn't said a word to Granger since Father's trial, where she had made a stiff, but sincere, apology for her sister's barbarity.

Luna stood up and came over to us. 'Hermione wanted you to meet the baby,' she told Mother.

I very much doubted that was true, but if Granger wanted to ask me some probing questions about why I was suddenly supplying Aurors with unauthorised medications, she was more than welcome to. Luna sat Mother down between herself and Granger, which left me on the opposite side, next to Potter. At least he was between me and Weasley.

I gave a general 'Good morning' to everyone, which was lost in the cooing over the baby. Granger was holding her up so that everyone could take a good look. She was a fetching child, intelligent eyes under a shock of reddish-brown hair.

Mother was telling Hermione that Rose had much better hair than I had at her age. 'He was bald as a button until he was nine months old,' she said.

Granger went up in my estimation when she merely smiled and replied that many babies were.

'And how are you feeling?' Mother asked her. 'Tired? Are you getting enough help around the house?' She looked pointedly at Ron.

'Very tired,' Granger admitted. 'You wouldn't believe the volume such a little pair of lungs can generate! But I'm lucky, my mum stayed with us for the first fortnight, and Ron is good around the house and his mother has just been marvellous.'

My mother was on her best behaviour. 'Molly Weasley was always a tremendously efficient woman,' she said. 'Very capable in a number of fields. I'm glad to see you have a useful husband. Mine had a gift for disappearing when it came to dirty nappies and crying.'

'Please kill me,' I whispered across the table to Luna.

'Sorry,' she whispered back. 'Harry would arrest me.'

'I would,' he agreed.

'And how's she going with feeding?' Mother asked, forgetting everything else in this one fundamental kinship.

'Good for the most part, but she gets a little colicky sometimes and she can projectile vomit like a champion.'

'Oh, Millicent had the same problem with Pansy. Have you tried different feeding positions?'

They disappeared into a conversation inaccessible to the rest of us. Weasley, who had clearly had some practice, turned the conversation to the weather. 'They say it's going to stay wet and cold into the New Year. Indoors weather, I think. Which is just as well, because by the time we dress the baby for going outdoors, two hours have gone by and we're usually late. I only managed this morning by putting everything out last night, ready to go. By the time she goes off to Hogwarts, I think I'll really have a handle on this parenting thing.'

I smiled. He had changed dramatically in the months since I had last seen him. He seemed happy. For once, he had beaten Potter to something, and this something was clearly one he valued deeply.

'I hear you're doing potions work for Neville and Harry,' he said, changing topic again. He had recently left the Auror Corps to work with his brother, but it was common knowledge that he maintained an active interest.

The question was unexpected, but the answer was simple. 'Yes. Neville's been ordering from me for a few years now, and I've recently started supplying Potter with a few things I've developed. His team are working on an idea of mine at the moment.'

Weasley looked interested. 'I hope you've retained all your intellectual property on it,' he said.

I shrugged. 'I was thinking that we'd develop it together.'

He shook his head. 'No, that's a certain path to being frozen out of the profits. The Ministry has deep pockets, Malfoy, get your family lawyer in to write up some contracts early in the piece before it all gets blurred and no-one can demarcate whose work is whose.'

I found myself smiling. 'That's good business sense,' I admitted. 'But I don't really care about the money.'

'Then donate it to charity. It's the principle of the thing. The Ministry takes our taxes and charges for non-essential services. If you were developing a vaccine in a crisis, then that would be different, but don't go making them think they shouldn't have to pay for expertise. Just because you can afford to do it for free doesn't mean the next person can.'

'That's a good point,' I agreed. 'I hadn't thought of that.'

'There you go.'

'There goes my budget,' Potter muttered.

'Draco can donate his fees to the Auror Bereft Partners and Children Fund,' Luna suggested. 'That way you're just moving the money around rather than spending extra.'

'Works for me,' I agreed.

'How's your father?' Luna asked quietly.

I checked to see that Mother wasn't listening. 'I think he might be getting better.'

'That's brilliant.' She smiled warmly at me.

Weasley shrugged. 'If it makes your mother happy, I suppose …'

I didn't blame him.

'So what changed?' Luna asked.

'Potter irritated him into recovery,' I said, honesty over-riding my instinct to keep the conversation out of dangerous waters.

Weasley started to laugh quietly. Luna's eyes widened. 'How?'

'By existing,' Potter said, with a sigh.

'Well, yeah, that would totally do it,' Weasley said.

'Shut up, Ron.'

'Though he hasn't mentioned it since. I think he might believe it was all an hallucination.'

Potter shrugged. 'That makes sense. I'd struggle my way out of a coma if I started to hallucinate your father.' He put his hand on my shoulder. 'Anyway, it's good to hear that he's doing well, for your sake if not his.'

I stood up quickly. 'I'm just going to take a better look at the baby. Weasley, when exactly was she born?'

They moved my chair down that end of the table after a few minutes. I was lucky that Rose was a genuinely engaging child, so I could talk about her attention span, her strong grip and her actual cuteness with enthusiasm. In my efforts not to bond with Potter, I may have accidentally found my way onto Weasley's good side.

Luna called an end to the morning after two pots of hot chocolate and a round of cakes. 'It's been lovely seeing you all, but I'm going to take Ron and Hermione home and watch over Rose while they get a few hours' sleep. We have to go now, because they have to be back up by six. I have a date with an eligible young bachelor.'

Granger laughed. 'First I've heard of this. Who's the lucky man?'

Luna shook her head. 'I can't tell you, Harry is tremendously protective of his virtue.'

I laughed. 'You're going out with Wallace?'

She grinned at me. 'Why not? Have you not noticed his arms?'

I snorted. 'Try carrying him.'

Mother was gracious enough to nod her concession that I may have been right about Auror Nepeta's personal preferences. Potter was frowning and looking between me and Luna to see if he could decipher a non-extant subtext. I went round to her side of the table, kissed her cheek and whispered that she was a genius. She whispered back that she knew.

Granger actually hugged my mother goodbye, and Weasley looked as though he was considering a handshake, but we settled on manly nods at each other.

'I'll see you tomorrow at ten,' Potter said, giving up on trying to understand things. 'Should I wear walking boots?'

I hadn't planned that far ahead. 'Wouldn't hurt,' I said. 'Or we could spend the time going over other potions requirements for your department.'

He looked at me oddly. 'Let's decide tomorrow.'

And because I wasn't looking for subtexts, I didn't hear the one that existed there.


————————————————————————————


The last morning of the year dawned white in Wiltshire. I had left a bowl of scraps out for the fox, regardless of what the council people would say. Come spring I would cover the hole in the fence and give my garden hedgehogs a fighting chance, but next winter, I knew I would uncover it again.

I had thought of a plan. We would walk to the Cathedral and then take whatever tour was available. There was always someone willing to blather on at length about the centuries of building and the height of the spires. I would even listen to a discourse on flying buttresses if necessary.

Potter turned up with snow dusting his coat, carrying a bag of pastries and two cups of takeaway hot chocolate. 'I'm coming inside,' he announced.

He wasn't carrying a walking stick.

I stepped aside and let him through. There was no way of stopping him short of physical violence and, even in his sub-optimal state, I didn't rate my chances highly.

He went straight to the sitting room and took his preferred seat. He put a cup on the coffee table in front of my usual seat and tore open the pastry bag, using it as a makeshift plate.

'Dig in,' he said, picking up a croissant and tearing a piece off.

I sat opposite him and sipped on my chocolate. It was surprisingly good. I waited for whatever it was he was going to say.

After demolishing half his croissant, he was ready. 'So, where I think I went wrong was in jumping to conclusions about you and Nepeta. It was insensitive and I apologise.'

'It's fine,' I said.

'It's clearly not fine,' he argued. 'Look at you, you're all tense and cross. We were getting on before that. You were laughing and we were telling each other things that actually mattered. I can’t talk to most people about any of that stuff, but I can with you. I thought we’d turned a corner and I liked it.'

I focussed on the pastries and chose a little apple galette.

'Oh, come on, Malfoy. It could be your New Year's resolution: be nice to Potter.'

I sniffed. 'I don't believe in New Year's resolutions.'

'And you don't believe in Christmas,' he said.

'No.'

'What do you believe in?'

I tore a piece from the galette, keeping my attention on it. 'Hard work. Atonement. Research. Being kind to animals. Forgiveness.'

He ducked into my line of sight and caught my eye. 'Then you can forgive me,' he said.

I looked up at him. Still thin, but less gaunt than he had been ten days ago. There were fewer signs of physical pain, but there was an anxiety that hadn't been there before. I realised with a shock that it was over me. 'There's genuinely nothing to forgive,' I assured him. 'You haven't done anything wrong.'

'Then why?' he insisted.

'Because you keep acting as though we could be friends,' I said, then cursed myself.

He sat back. 'And you think we can't be?'

I ate for a minute, though the apples tasted like cardboard to me. I needed time to compose my thoughts. 'I think that we could work together productively and treat each other with respect,' I said at last.

'And that's what you want?'

'That's what I want,' I agreed.

Potter sipped on his chocolate meditatively. He looked at me, frowning and so intent that I had to look away. 'What if it's not what I want?' he asked after a while.

I put down the remainder of my galette, afraid I would choke. On it or on the words I was holding in my throat, refusing to let out.

'What do you really believe in, Malfoy?' he asked, quietly.

I decided to let the axe fall. 'You,' I answered, simply.

He didn't laugh, or look away. He nodded thoughtfully. Then he stood up and took my hands, drawing me to my feet. I was surprised by the strength of his grip. He pushed his glasses back up his nose, so that he wasn't looking half over them. Then he reached out and sank a hand into my hair and drew me closer.

The first brush of his lips against mine was fleeting, like the fall of a silk shirt. When I didn't pull away, he drew me closer still, and this kiss was determined, parting my lips and sending a surge of heat through my veins. He Apparated us a few feet to the left, so the coffee table was no longer in our way and there was no space between us anymore. That kiss left me forgetting how to breathe, but not how to think.

I pushed him away, but didn't let go of his arms. 'Wait,' I said. 'Why?'

'Because you're beautiful and ridiculous,' he said, smiling.

I made a face, he laughed at it.

'All right, because you're kind to animals. Because you worked hard to change your life in ways that made a difference. Because you get me, even when you have no idea why. Because you believe in me as much as I believe in you.'

I frowned and began to formulate a rebuttal. He out-manoeuvred me with another kiss.

'Malfoy, stop,' he said. 'You don't know my mind better than I do. Can you just shut up and let me try, and try with me?'

I looked at him. Real, and in my arms, eyes honest and hopeful.

I could.


————————————————————————————


The first day of the New Year began with Harry Potter.

So did the rest.





End note:
The title is from a Pink Floyd song that started playing in my head early in the writing of this and then wouldn't go away. There is a good chord chart for it here if you have a guitar or ukulele handy, and a mammoth stadium version of it by the band here if you don't.
 
 
 
playing_perfectplaying_perfect on January 10th, 2015 08:03 am (UTC)
I loved the characterisations of everyone in this and the fabulous interactions between them, Lucius recovering because of his encounter with 'Potter', Narcissa making her peace with talk about babies, all the Ministry stuff, Draco feeding the fox ( I have a very soft spot for foxes), god so much to love here. Once again I'm very glad you managed this fic despite all the horrible obstacles in your way. Just fabulous, thank you. I hope 2015 has far less distress and a lot more writing time for you :-).

And coming back to add - because how could I have forgotten that I meant to between one page and the next - the explosion! - I loved how you got Harry to be involved in an explosion before the story even started :-).

Edited at 2015-01-10 08:11 am (UTC)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 10th, 2015 08:20 am (UTC)
That's surely how you knew it was me, wasn't it ;-)?

Thank you, I really don't see how 2015 can fail to be better than 2014, so I'm going to definitely aim for more writing, less crap.

And foxes are just lovely.
playing_perfectplaying_perfect on January 10th, 2015 08:29 am (UTC)
It wasn't that alone :-), but it did make me laugh with how you'd managed to get one in right at the start, a really huge one.

I'm looking for a much better 2015 too, and thoroughly applaud your aim for less crap more writing.

I have foxes visit my garden all year. Mating season can be a little unsettling with the terrible screams and strange barking - always good to terrify unsuspecting guests - but they are indeed lovely. I loved that Draco fed his (as I've done in very hard winters).
Azure Jane Lunaticazurelunatic on January 11th, 2015 12:34 am (UTC)
*waves hands about happily*

BABIES AND WALLACE AND LUNA AND HERMIONE AND RON AND NARCISSA AND YAY!!
Loyaulte Me Lieshocolate on January 11th, 2015 09:13 pm (UTC)
What an absolutely fabulous Luna!

And a Harry thatlimps, rathe than bestrides.

Merry new year.
ashindkashindk on January 11th, 2015 10:49 pm (UTC)
Yes! This was perfect!
You have such a way with dialogue, I am always smiling my way through your stories, even when I'm aching with sympathy for your characters. And I love that you manage to write something so intense, without slipping into anything explicit.
Luce Redissen4 on January 12th, 2015 05:15 am (UTC)
I really like your characterisations of Draco and Harry, and also your take on the post-Voldemort world: things aren't perfect, but there is a genuine difference for the better.
valkyrie17valkyrie17 on January 12th, 2015 07:39 am (UTC)
Another delightfully entertaining story…despite all obstacles in your personal life. Love Draco thinking he is over his obsession and being so sweet and helpful in his own way.
mama_pyjamamama_pyjama on January 12th, 2015 09:54 am (UTC)
Thank you for this - it is a little gem of a work and it was a pleasure to read.

Lucius is such a fraud, he seems to have sulked his way into catatonia.

Lovely ending - pitch perfect.

They have all grown up up so nicely in your world, so sensible, and mature, and caring, and witty, and go! Luna and Auror Catnip!

The gnomes made me laugh, especially them being shipped off to Brussels. Is there a Magical commissioner in Brussels? Peter Mandelson turns out to be a wizard...?

The whole thing was delicious, and I would really like someone to bring me pastries and chocolate now. I am bookmarking this to re-read on a grey day.

Happy New Year to you, and may 2015 have far fewer broken bits and struggles for you.



goddessrissgoddessriss on January 25th, 2015 11:23 pm (UTC)
I've had this story open since you posted it and today I finally managed to grab enough time to myself so I could read it! It was definitely worth the wait. It's late, I'm tired and I have to get up at stupid o'clock to take number one son to swimming before school, so - what they all said *points upwards* and I loved it too. You little star. *hugs you tight*
quiet dear I'm blooming withinturnonmyheels on February 17th, 2015 03:18 pm (UTC)
I've been saving this for a time when I could read it all in one go, so glad that I did. There's a peaceful calmness to this fic that I really love.
illereynillereyn on February 23rd, 2015 03:30 am (UTC)
What a lively story! Lived the characterisation, and how it dealt with healing (physical, mental, emotional) and building bridges again