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10 January 2015 @ 06:37 pm
Fic: On the Turning Away (part 2)  
Part one


These are the stages of unrequited passion: obsession, rejection, hatred, self-hatred, substitution, pining and recovery. The sheer physical relief of having finally hit recovery was enough to see me leap out of bed and greet the birds the following morning. Given it was December, there weren't that many of them, but it was the thought that counted.

I was so nervous about being late to report that I ended up arriving at the Ministry half an hour early. This wasn't the problem it would have been in years past: with bureaucrats unable to decide on how to redecorate the Atrium after the war, Shacklebolt had decreed that it would house a cafe, where members of the Wizarding Public could meet with officials informally.

My tea and toast had just reached my holly-draped table when I heard my name being called by a friendly voice. Sure enough, Wallace Nepeta sat down opposite me, takeaway coffee in hand.

'Wotcher, Draco,' he said in greeting.

'Wallace.' I raised a slice of toast in salute, preliminary to buttering it.

'Potter said you gave him a new potion yesterday.'

I paused. 'Was there any problem?'

He stole a slice of my toast. 'None at all, he said it was excellent and that we ought to think about commissioning some work from you.'

I felt a smile threatening. 'He beat me in Potions in Sixth Year, you know.'

'Yeah, he says he cheated and you were distracted. How's your mum?'

'Well,' I told him, not making any fuss over a fact I already knew – Snape had admitted as much on one of the Manor's darkest days. I admit that I may have been disproportionately pleased by the news, and not only because it was the one bright point in a dark, dark month.

'Please pass on my best wishes for the season,' Wallace said. 'Will you be spending Christmas with your family?'

'We have a lunch. It's just me and her these days.'

He grinned. 'So you're free on Boxing Day?'

'Yes?' I answered tentatively.

'Champion! You and me, Wizarding pubs of Wessex.'

I looked at him. 'I might not be welcome in some …'

He took a moment to consider that, but wasn't fazed. 'Muggle pubs it is!' he announced.

I couldn't help but laugh. Wallace's mixture of puppyish good humour and sheer physical vitality were an irresistible combination.

'Excellent. You're in. What time do you report to Potter? I’m on night shift Christmas Day, so we could meet up after that and head straight out. It's early closing for most, so we'll need to go hard and go strong.'

'Fine,' I agreed. I'm not much of a drinker, but I could keep him out of trouble if nothing else.

Another Auror passed the table and exchanged greetings with Wallace. He nodded at me politely in passing. I managed to do the same in reply.

Wallace raised an eyebrow at me. 'What was that? You looked as though you expected him to take a bite out of you.'

I glanced around to make sure we weren't being overheard. 'It's weirding me out,' I confessed.

'What?'

'You're nice to me. All you Aurors. I expect weirdness from Potter, because he has a Saviour complex a mile wide. But the rest of you …' I shook my head. 'I spent a lot of time in the Ministry after the War. People weren't nice to me back then.'

Wallace was frowning, but he nodded. 'We're not the same people,' he said. 'They were the old guard: petty point scorers before the war and scared, suspicious, battered and bruised for the most part during it. That Ministry made it through by keeping their heads down, or by going on the run and fighting. Which was fine for people like Shacklebolt, but bloody terrifying for the others who bolted.

'So they had personal reasons to … let's say "not be nice". And it wasn't all the Death Eater thing, was it? I mean, don't take this the wrong way, but your dad sounds as though he was a total prick; always coming in here and throwing his weight around. There are a lot of reasons why Malfoys might not be the most popular people with that lot.

'But most of them didn’t last long through the Reconstruction. Shacklebolt's early retirement scheme did a good job clearing out people who’d rather be somewhere else. Things have genuinely changed. Most of us here now are young. More open to new ideas. More open to the fact that thinking in black and white terms was what got us into that whole disaster. And the old ones who stayed on are the ones who wanted to see things improve and were happy to work for it.

'So you get treated well, because there's no good reason not to. Yes, you were a toerag at school, but I was a scared little muppet at school. We were kids. You get to make mistakes and fix them, that's what growing up should be about.

'And he's told us all the stories, you know …' I knew he meant Potter just from the way Wallace pronounced the pronoun. 'You refusing to give him up to your father, defending him from Crabbe and Goyle. Your mum defending him from Voldemort. You saved him, he's saved the entire Ministry at least twice and most of us Aurors more than that. We owe you a bit of goodwill.'

It was wrong to let my curiosity intrude on such a beautiful bonding moment but I couldn't resist. 'What happened that day?'

Wallace looked at me. 'Don't you know?'

'Only what was in the papers and a few other bits and pieces. Fragments of rumour, really.'

He whistled low and long. 'I thought everyone knew. The press agreed to keep quiet so not to cause a panic, but so many people talked.'

I snorted. 'Yeah, well, the only people who talk to me are a couple of charming narcissists, my mother, Neville Longbottom about herbs and occasionally Luna Lovegood when she feels she ought to check up on my family’s mental health.'

'And me,' Wallace grinned.

'So tell me.'

He finished his coffee before he began his story. 'There was a backpack. Scores of us would have walked past it that morning, if not hundreds, and none of us recognised it for what it was, not even the Muggleborns. But Potter did. He saw the boy standing near it, took one look at him and realised what he was about to do.

'Now you saw him the war, you know how good Potter is at shields. He's improved in recent years; you do in this job. There's two basic spells, the one where you put a shield between you and something, and the one where you put a shield around you and something else. You might want to stop someone flinging a hex at you, or you might want to protect a group of people against falling glass. Two spells. He's equally excellent at both. What no-one can do is cast them both at the same time.

'Except that day, he did. He contained the blast and kept himself alive within it. And when it got too hard to keep doing the impossible, he relaxed the shield in front of him, not the other.

'It was only early in the day, but there were about five hundred people already in the building then. And Merlin knows how many Muggles he saved. They were the ones who were the real targets, and not one of them hurt, only a few needing Memory charms. Including the boy, who is now safely studying social work and wondering why he suddenly changed peer groups. So whatever Potter says, we listen. He says you and your mum are all right, then you're all right.'

It was all a bit much, so I took refuge in humour. 'What are you going to do if he ever declares himself your rightful overlord?'

Wallace grinned. 'Take him on a lovely trip to Marbella until he gets over it. Unless that's code for run for Minister when Shacklebolt retires, in which case, we'll campaign vigorously.'

'I'll emigrate,' I told him. 'It will be for the best. I'll admit Potter is admirably suited to Auroring, but as Minister, he'd tank the economy within the year and I am not cut out for a one-man political protest with signs saying "The Chosen One is a Numpty" held up outside this café.'

Wallace had burst into laughter before I was halfway through my rant, which meant that I may have been speaking louder than was advisable. It was inevitable, therefore, that Potter would appear beside us, looking at me quizzically.

'Malfoy, are you corrupting my young Aurors?'

It was already too late to attempt seriousness. 'You declared me respectable only yesterday,' I reminded him. 'Auror Nepeta is being overly generous at a weak joke.'

'Community policing, sir,' Nepeta said, standing up. 'Putting members of the public at their ease in unfamiliar surroundings.'

Potter looked down at the table and the empty toast plate pushed between us. At some point I appeared to have swiped Wallace's coffee in revenge: I rapidly put down the travel mug with his name on it.

'Very at ease, it seems,' Potter noted.

Wallace gathered up his mug and nodded a quick farewell. 'Must dash, Draco. Auroring, you know. See you back in the office, sir.'

Potter took the vacated seat. He seemed to be moving more freely today. He looked after Wallace with mild amusement. 'Nice to see you making friends,' he said.

'It's Nepeta's brilliant plan,' I advised him. 'He's going to make it so that it would be too mortifying to take up a life of crime, in case he'd be sent to arrest me. My mother thinks he's pleasant. Can you imagine?'

Potter mock-frowned. 'Should I ban him from Wiltshire for his own protection?'

'He'll be fine, she's never groped a single one of my friends. That's Mrs Zabini.'

Potter dropped his head into hands. 'Merlin. Malfoy, what a mental image!' He shook it away. 'You're chirpy this morning. And early.'

I admitted he was right. 'I was up before dawn,' I said.

He smiled. 'Not the accomplishment it sounds at this time of year.'

'True. But I went for a walk down by the river as the sun was coming up. Everything had a crisp coating of frost, and was surprisingly beautiful. It put me in a very good mood.'

'Fair enough. You've also put me in a good mood, that tendon potion was fine for me to use and it's already working very well. Thank you.'

I inclined my head graciously. 'You had it tested by your staff before you used it, didn't you?'

He grinned. 'Of course I did. I meant what I said about you not being a Death Eater, or indeed, criminal if we ignore the Muggle legal system, but I'm not an idiot.'

'I'd have worried about you if you hadn't,' I told him. 'There's a difference between exhibiting a persistent and fairly large degree of hope for the world and being a credulous fool.'

'I tested the tonic, too,' he added. 'Quite a nice flavour to that one.'

'Do you need more?' I asked, aware that some of the Ministry's research team weren't efficient in their samples.

'Not at the moment. I had my people do it, they're used to working with trace amounts.'

This was the first had heard of an Auror research team. I wanted to ask him about them, but I was aware that any show of interest could easily sound as though I was poking for weaknesses in their methodology. So I finished my tea, instead.

'Right,' I said. 'Good to go to your offices, if you are.'

Potter looked at my empty cup. 'I came down for a beverage, actually. Would you mind if we stayed here?'

'Can I report to you in a cafe?' I asked.

'Proudfoot's on holiday, so I'm Acting Chief Auror,' he said. 'I say you can.'

'Merlin save us all,' I sighed. 'I hope there's a department left for her when she returns. All right. You've got a gammy leg and I want more toast. Give me your order and I'll get it in for us both.'

He must have been feeling better, because he asked for hot chocolate and savoury scones, which were not the morning tea of an ailing man. The witch at the till let me pay for my own toast and fresh tea, but said she wouldn't dream of charging Potter. I was tempted to make a snide observation as to what she would dream of doing with him, but decided it wasn't the place.

He thanked me on my return. I told him not to mention it. We sat in silence until our orders arrived – I imagined that, like me, he was racking his brain looking for safe conversational topics.

I thought of one first. 'So, what does reporting actually involve?' I asked.

Potter took a few bites of his scone before answering. 'The key part of it is that you're happy to show your face to an Auror once a day,' he said. 'If you turn up, chances are you've not got any bodies hidden at your place. Especially if we've organised to come and visit you at home.'

'I thought you'd be asking all sorts of questions,' I admitted.

'Sometimes we do,' he told me. 'But generally they're not the sort of questions we'd be asking you. They're more along the lines of "Why do we have reports of you and a banned associate robbing Muggles in Swindon between 15:00 and 15:25 yesterday afternoon?"'

I frowned. 'What sort of questions would you be asking me?'

The corners of Potter's mouth twitched up. 'Have you changed so that you are any good at being a criminal? No? Champion. As you were.'

I rolled my eyes at him.

He shrugged. 'I mean it as a compliment,' he said. 'To my mind it's a definite plus.'

'Fine,' I said. 'Still not a criminal. Are we done?'

'You've barely touched your toast, eat up.'

I did, but I left my tea untouched, just to spite him.

'Did you go to one of the Solstice celebrations last night?' he asked after a minute or so.

I wasn't sure I'd heard him properly, but when I had him repeat the question, it didn't change.

'You've got a lot of the big ones out your way,' he said. 'I mean, Stonehenge is for the Muggles, but I hear there are big rites at Avebury and Silbury.'

'I was in the workshop until nine, then went to bed with a good book.'

'Oh.' He looked disappointed. 'I thought you'd be into all that traditional sort of thing.'

I snorted. 'Tradition my arse. Most of the things they call rites are airy fairy twaddle. And those fairies bloody well bite, the vicious little brutes. The only thing worse than all the New Agers looking for any excuse to get their kit off are the ones who've been doing it this way since Merlin. Half of them are there in hope of convincing some silly young witch they should take part in a "regenerative" ceremony, and I think we all know what body part will be doing the regenerating there, and the other half are nasty old buggers out to grab the actual power of the night to work some pieces of old magic that have fallen out of favour for a reason. The only upside is that they're mostly incompetent, so when Midwinter dawns they've got nothing but chilblains to show for their efforts.'

'So you've been before,' he said, straight-faced.

'My father liked them,' I admitted. 'Though, looking back, he'd always make Mother take me home early. I very much hope he was trying to do Dark Magic back then, the alternative is …' I thought for a moment. 'No. Mother would have smothered him in his sleep. It was definitely Dark Magic.'

I looked across the table. Potter was trying not to laugh.

'I'm remembering why I never liked you,' I said.

Potter grinned. 'Can I tell you something odd?' he asked, and didn't wait for me to answer. 'I don't talk about this normally, but on our first night at Hogwarts, the Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin. Do you think we'd have ended up friends?'

I blinked at him. 'Do you have no recollection of our first two meetings?'

I'd been pleasant enough when I didn't know who he was, but I remembered trying so hard on that train, and then feeling so crushed.

'But that would still have been before the Hat,' he reminded me. 'Those days would have played out just as they did. Except I'd have ended up in your dorm, sitting at your table. Do you think it could have been you and me instead of me and Ron?'

I considered it. 'Probably not,' I admitted. 'I was excited to meet you, but even back then you were a prize prat. And I was hideously jealous of all your fame.'

He shook his head. 'You picked the wrong thing to be jealous of. You should have been jealous of my superior flying skills.'

'I would have been, had you possessed any.'

We grinned at each other.

I thought it through. 'You and Ron were already friends; I'd known Crabbe and Goyle since I was a baby. But, maybe we would have ended up like me and Blaise. He's never been my best friend, but we get on. We enjoy each other's company when we catch up. There are things about him I respect, even when he drives me mental.'

'Or gets you arrested,' Potter reminded me.

'Exactly. What about you? Do you think we'd have ended up friends?'

Potter thought for a moment. 'I think that if I'd been a Slytherin, both of us would have been different.'

'You'd have been less insufferable,' I said.

'I'd have been the Slytherin Seeker,' he pointed out.

I tried to put the best light on it. 'You'd have won us loads of lovely House Points and under my Captaincy, we'd have been an invincible team.'

We grinned at each other again.

For a few minutes, we ate and drank quietly. When we had both finished and I was readying myself to go home, I paused for a moment. 'But you'd still have defeated Voldemort, right?'

He didn't hesitate. 'Absolutely.'

There was no hesitation before my reply, either. 'Good.'


————————————————————————————


I was up early again on Friday. Mother had threatened to hex me if I didn't give her a brief run-down of the previous few days' events, so I breakfasted with her. She listened to me quietly and mercifully reserved her judgement on what it all meant.

'We've grown up, Mumsy,' I told her, enjoying her mild glare at the disliked epithet. 'Much as it pains me to admit it, Potter is capable of functioning as an adult. As am I.'

'Miracles will never cease,' she said, deliberately obscuring the subject of her comment.

'And I made a new friend,' I said, refusing to acknowledge her barb.

'Oh?'

'His name's Wallace Nepeta. You met him, that Auror who came here.'

'Which one?'

'The one who came back. The nice one.'

She thought on that in silence for a few minutes. 'He was the tall and handsome one, wasn't he?'

I did not sigh out loud. 'Yes, Mother.'

She nodded. 'Well, perhaps now you've stopped obsessing over Potter, you could …'

'I'm fairly sure he likes girls,' I said before she could venture a verb. It was much too early to cope with any of the verbs she might venture.

Mother sniffed. 'He was very well dressed.'

'He was in his uniform.'

'Very fit.'

'He's an Auror, it's part of their job.'

'Very well groomed.'

'In order to attract girls.' I held up a hand. 'Mother, I think I am slightly better at spotting men who fancy men than you are.'

She didn't say a word. Though I could tell that she was thinking 'very slightly'.

I lied and told her that I would be meeting with Potter at nine rather than ten, so she let me escape with a quick kiss and hair tidy and promised to tell Father that I had dropped by to see him. I didn't like the acceptance in her voice when she said it wasn't as though he'd know the difference, even if it was true.

Rather than Apparate straight home, I aimed for a quiet spot in the Cathedral Close. The clouds had lifted for the morning and the Cathedral shone silvery in the clear winter light, beautiful above the still-verdant lawn. I shoved my hands down into my coat pockets, wishing I'd remembered gloves, and dropped my chin into my scarf. The clouds had taken the mildness of the winter with them and the day looked to be staying chill. Perhaps we would have snow for Christmas this year after all.

I hadn't lied to Mother about this. Two days of sitting down and taking tea with Harry Potter and there had not been the slightest flutter. I hadn't even needed either of us to attempt homicide. Pity was apparently a far more effective quasher of passion than any years of rational thought could be.

The Muggles were out in force between the Close and home. At first I had found it strange living amongst them, trying to pass as someone I wasn't while all the while finding those who thought themselves 'normal' to be mostly absurd and a small part frightening. And then I had had my revelation: that was how I had lived my whole life.

After that I didn't mind them so much, except at Christmas when they swarmed like panicked ants. Do your shopping in November! I wanted to yell, though I never did. I even patronised some of their shops now and then. You really couldn't tell the difference between their cakes and ours, and they had some beers and ciders that were novel even to me.

Mother had told me it was just as well Father wasn't aware of much these days when she found a shelf of Muggle ciders in my pantry. True.

I made it home in good time and had a lemon drizzle cake sliced and a pot of hot chocolate on the table before Potter arrived.

He did not look as improved as he had the day before, though he still moved with comparative ease.

He thanked me for the thoughtfulness in providing cake and hot chocolate, and then apologetically enquired if there was any possibility of coffee.

I waited until I had it made before I asked if he was all right.

He took a long drink before he answered. 'Murder,' he said. 'It'll be all over the papers later today.'

I frowned. Absurdly, it seemed unfair that after all he'd been through he still had to deal with the worst parts of our society.

'Was it bad?' I asked, knowing as I did that it was a stupid question.

He nodded. 'Bad enough. Domestic case. Muggle father, witch mother, argument over how they were raising the children. It got out of hand, he slapped her, she hexed him. She says that she just meant to push him away, but she put him through a brick wall. The kids were there. Twelve and fourteen.'

'Bloody hell …' Bereft of anything useful to say, I put a slice of cake onto a plate and pushed it across the table to him.

He ate it automatically. I retrieved his plate and passed him another.

'So,' he said after a bit, 'yesterday went rapidly downhill in the evening. I was up half the night dealing with the coronial staff and trying to find a relative who could take the kids in without traumatising them further. Apparently most of the mother's family had always said things would come to a bad end and the Muggle relatives thought the kids were weird. But there's a witch cousin who has always been kind to them, so she's taking them for Christmas and is going to see about making it permanent.'

'Anyone I'd know?'

Potter shook his head. 'I shouldn't think so. She was born a Cricklesworth, family are from Norwich.'

'No, don't know them. Is there anything I can do? Some sort of fund for the children?'

Potter finished his coffee. 'Not yet, but I'll suggest it. I imagine she's going to plead self defence, there will be tests to see how competent she was at controlling her magic, and I suspect most of their money will go on legal fees. The cousin's only thirty. I don't know much about her, only that the kids like her and the grandparents said she was reliable and trustworthy.'

He put his mug down quickly to cover a large yawn. 'Sorry. Haven't even asked how you are.'

'Good,' I assured him. 'No crimes committed or intended since we last spoke.'

He smiled at that. 'Excellent. Actually, that hot chocolate smells really good.'

I poured, and he downed most of his cup, apologising again. Apparently he had worked through till five, then slept for a few hours and come straight to Salisbury without breakfast.

'It's not a good idea for you to strain yourself,' I said, trying not to sound like a hectoring Mediwizard. 'No amount of tonic is going to take the place of sleep.'

Potter looked rueful. 'You're right. I'm going to have a nap in the office when I get back.' He looked as though he had remembered something. 'Listen, I was going to say, tomorrow's Christmas Eve; do you mind if we meet later in the day? We've got a bit of a lunch bash going on and I need to supervise everyone in the morning. Otherwise we end up with tinsel on the cell bars and gin in the water bottles.'

I had a momentary, horrifying, image of the Auror uniform topped with a Father Christmas beard and hat. 'No, that's fine,' I said.

'Would four be all right?'

'Absolutely. Meet you in your office or the Ministry cafe?'

He smiled. 'We'll say office for now, but if you find me down in the Atrium you'll know that I've failed and that there are reindeer in the holding cells and gnomes in the filling drawers.'

'Maybe they're just trying to lighten the mood after an unexpected grimness,' I suggested.

'You may be onto something.' He levered himself up out of his chair. 'All right. Sorry for the short inspection, Mr Malfoy, I'm going to take you at your word that you continue law abiding and see you tomorrow.'

I resisted the urge to offer him a hand and instead walked him unhurriedly to the door. 'Auror Potter. I hope that the day improves.'

'It's on the up. Thanks for the cake and beverages. Definite improvement.'

'Good.' I opened the front door for him.

'Cheers, Malfoy,' he said.

'Cheers, Potter,' I replied.

And there we were. Just like normal people.


————————————————————————————


Christmas Eve dawned white, but it was fog, not snow, that blanketed the back garden when I looked out from my bedroom window. It had settled like a low-flying cloud on the city, and while some of my taller herbs and shrubs were nodding above the thickest parts of it, I could see that this was a morning for indoors rather than out.

And I had a special order for Neville to finish.

He tells people that I came to him after the war, saying that I wanted to do some serious work and could provide him with a superior set of products if he let me – which is true, though it tells you a lot about him that he said yes and directed me towards research that would be more profitable.

What he doesn't tell them is the reason I went to him. It was in the first days of Father's illness, when he was at St Mungo's more often than not. They were still convinced that a good Mind Healer would cure him, and his case was the subject of much discussion among the staff. Neville must have had his ears open, because he came down to Father's private room, looking for me. And he asked me how I was coping, as though he genuinely cared about the answer.

He could have asked me to brew nothing but diarrhoea potions for him after that and I'd have worked out the best possible one.

Today it was a cough potion, in preparation for all the students who would be coming back from holidays with one plague or another. Rows of sterilised bottles stood ready, each with a matching little jar of crystallised angelica stem to cheer the patient up: the root was used in the potion, so it created a pleasing symmetry in my mind and it made my potion more popular than the others on the market.

I set to work with my pestle, grinding the herb roots and bark, preparing a cauldron's-worth at a time. Once I had all six on steeping over a low flame, I prepared my series of knives for chopping the soft green ingredients and made my way methodically through the second part of the process. The spells were easy enough: this was one of those potions that any semi-competent wizard could brew, but it took a degree of finesse and patience to master each part of it, and a focus on results to tweak the recipe each year for better outcomes. All six cauldrons were at various stages of cooling when I stopped for lunch.

A loud rap on the doorknocker pulled me away from my soup: it was a quartet of local children, singing Christmas carols badly and collecting for 'charity'.

'What charity would that be?' I asked.

'The Foundation for Kids Whose Parents Give Them Crap Gifts,' replied the eldest and cheekiest of them.

I gave them a tenner for honesty and they went away pleased. It was a pleasant change compared to being doorknocked every May by the Wizarding Remembrance Society, who were far less polite and who expected much more.

I spent the early afternoon filtering and decanting 180 bottles of Snot-No-More – Neville had provided the name: he was right, it did find resonance in the target market. It filled the time neatly until I set off for London.

Potter was waiting for me in the Atrium, dressed in warm civvies rather than his Auror uniform. Above him, twelve mechanical robins were flying a complicated routine of synchronised aeronautics. The snow clouds had been cleared from the main part of the Atrium, but drifts were starting to bank up over near the Floos.

'Reindeer in the cells?' I asked.

'If only.' He gave me a half-smile. 'Satterthwaite had the brilliant idea of pulling out all the old Auror portraits and decorating them for the holidays. I've left the team dealing with seventy-three shouting paintings who are raging at everything from the appalling standards of modern Aurordom to the fact they wanted tinsel, not holly, on their frames.'

I pressed my lips together so as not to laugh. Potter clearly felt this was worth some sort of reward and confessed that three of them had ganged up together to interrogate him as to why a child was running the department.

'Like a fool, I mentioned that I was merely the Deputy and that Cicely Proudfoot would be back in a few weeks, after which they tried to out-do each other in outrage that a woman should be leading the department and depriving a vigorous young man such as myself from his rightful position in society.'

I gave up and laughed. 'But there have been several women Chief Aurors …'

'Since 1860, yes. I'll leave you to imagine the scene when Gertrude Bassington and Emmaline Steadfast made their way into the frame.'

'Oh dear.'

'I think they expected Elizabeth Cecil and Margaret Barbarensis to come and give moral support, but Satterthwaite had found the portrait of Mad-Eye Moody that Rufus Scrimgeour had commissioned to celebrate one of their own becoming a Hogwarts Professor. Moody had found a bottle of gin inside his false leg and was hosting an impromptu get-together with those two, while shouting that he thought it looked as though we were running a fun show these days. As I left the three of them were sneaking up behind other portraits and shrieking "constant vigilance", then stumbling away, cackling with laughter.'

'I never liked him,' I said, supportively, though I suspected I had never liked Barty Crouch. This wasn't a time to quibble. 'Should we meet in the cafe, then?'

Potter looked at the neat holly-covered tables over my shoulder. 'I think I might need something stronger,' he said. 'Pub?'

'I'm not welcome in the Leaky,' I told him plainly.

'Can you stand Muggle?'

I assured him I could and he led the way, walking carefully on the now-wet pavement once we got outside. His stick didn't slip, even when we crossed cobbles and I made a mental note to ask him about the charm he was using on it. The pub was only a short walk from the Ministry. The sign outside announced the establishment as The Flying Dragon, est. 1999. I gave him a pointed look and he muttered something about coincidences.

Inside it was sleek and contemporary, but with comfortable banquettes where people could sit and chat. We took one of them and studied the drinks list: I chose the first thing I recognised on the blackboard – cider – and Potter asked for one of the same. It took me a couple of minutes to get them in, there was a medium-sized crowd at the bar who had all clearly skived off early from the same work drinks. The girl who took my order gave me a bright smile, probably for being sober and sitting quietly in the corner with Potter.

He was looking at me oddly by the time I made it back.

'What?' I asked.

'You and Muggles,' he answered. 'It's weird.'

I put his drink in front of him and sat and looked at my own. 'It's not that weird. I shop at Muggle shops sometimes. They have good cakes. Their currency is easier to use than ours. It's a lot less weird than me on Diagon Alley, where half the faces are hating me and the other half are pitying me.'

'That's not true,' he said, far too glibly.

I looked up and raised a sceptical eyebrow.

'Some of them have no idea who you are,' he went on.

I pulled a face, but I think he could tell I was amused.

He lifted his glass. 'Cheers,' he said.

I lifted mine in reply.

'So, still no criminal tendencies,' he asked.

'I sent Blaise and Pansy matching Christmas jumpers so awful a Weasley would shudder at the sight of them, but that's only a crime against good taste.'

He nodded. 'Restrained. You could have gone at least another two revenge levels up and no-one would have blamed you.'

'No, I don't have enough friends left to start upsetting anyone.'

'There's always Nepeta,' he reminded me.

I raised my glass. 'To Wallace!'

We both drank.

I bought little plates of food with the second round, and we managed to share some cheesy toast fingers, chips with mayonnaise and tiny fishcakes without any sort of incident.

'So you just co-exist with the Muggles now,' Potter asked, not letting it go.

It wasn't really worth the line of questioning. I had changed very little; it wasn't as though I was going to marry one of them. 'I nod pleasantly at my neighbours, I frequent a few shops, I'll step into a pub occasionally if I need to be alone in a crowd.'

He looked up at my choice of words. 'You do that, too?'

'Most people do, don't they?' Mother had her days away from Father when she surrounded herself with practically everyone so she wouldn't have to think a single thought.

He shook his head. 'If they do, they don't acknowledge it to themselves.'

'Ah.' I smiled at him. 'Well, we've both had more time to think than most, haven't we?'

He smiled back and, like mine, his was a touch rueful.

'So, where do Pansy and Blaise live?'

'Northern Italy. They come back in August and September for the weather. They're doing well.'

'Do you see anyone else from school?'

'Milly now a few times a year, Neville fairly regularly, Luna pops by every six weeks or so to check I'm still sane. There are a handful of others. Mostly they're busy with their own lives. It's not like it was at school, when we were all such huge parts of each other's lives. I saw my enemies then more often than I see my friends now.'

He nodded. 'I know what that's like. I see the people I work with more often than anyone else.'

I kept silent. I sometimes went whole days without seeing anyone. Maybe that was what had happened to Father? Maybe he had been unprepared for what he would encounter when he had to spend time with himself?

I missed what Potter had said and had to ask him to repeat it.

'Are you lonelier now?' he asked.

'Now?' I was surprised by the question and answered before I had time to censor myself. 'I was entirely alone in Sixth Year, why would it be worse now?'

Surprise and guilt followed each other across his face. I felt a pang, I hadn't meant him to think of that – I almost never did. 'Not… you know … I don't care about that, it was fine, barely a scratch after Snape …' I said, stammering over an explanation. 'It was a bad time,' I settled on, 'when we were all asked to do things no child should and I was very much alone.'

He leaned forward and spoke softly. 'No you weren't,' he corrected me. 'You had Snape and Dumbledore looking out for your every move.'

After a moment, he added, 'We both did.'

I nodded. They had been there beside us for years in reality, but it was in my memories that I had come closest to understanding our teachers. 'I think,' I said, 'that later on, I could do those few things I got right because of them. Because I had seen what courage looked like and I could play-act it when I really had to.'

Potter didn't sit back. 'I was there for a lot of those moments, Malfoy, you weren't play-acting. It took genuine courage to make those choices.'

I brought my face to within a foot of his and lowered my voice to his volume. 'I wasn't brave, Potter, I was desperate.'

He shook his head. 'Time and again, I saw you choose against options that would kill.'

My breath left me as though he had struck a blow to my solar plexus. When I had a chance to catch it again, I said, 'And what good did that do Charity Burbage? She wasn't my professor, but I knew her. I knew she had done nothing to deserve what happened to her. But I just sat there and did nothing.'

Potter shook his head again, gently this time. 'You couldn't have done anything, you'd've died, too.'

'Yes. But I said nothing. That's tacit agreement, isn't it?' I still remembered the explosion of No! trapped in my chest, held there only by the greater horror of what would happen if I spoke.

Potter set his chin in that stubborn bloody way he had always had. 'I could have gone after Voldemort before we destroyed all the Horcruxes,' he said. 'Ultimately, it wouldn't have achieved anything, but I could have done it. That probably would have saved Professor Burbage. I could have actually made a difference for her, but I didn't.

'No, because you would have died and Voldemort would have won.'

'Exactly.'

I met his gaze and didn't look down even when I wanted to. 'It is so not the same,' I told him.

He shrugged. 'Maybe not. But if I don't want to go through my life defined by things that happened to me as a child, I am very much convinced that you shouldn't have to, either.'

He sat back then, and so did I, unable to argue because he made such perfect sense and because there was no way to convince a genuine hero that the rest of us can occasionally take a spirited stand while still remaining abject cowards at heart.

'I feel as though we should have been much drunker before having this conversation,' I told him after a few minutes had passed.

He grinned at me. 'If anyone ever hears of it, we'll tell them it was twelve ciders apiece.'

'Possibly thirteen,' I agreed.

His grin began to fade. 'Just, thinking about that murder yesterday, we let such stupid things govern the course of our lives. I think she really loved her husband and he might have loved her, but they just let their anger take over everything. Whereas, if we look for the best, we can find it, in ourselves and in others.'

I stared at him.

'I just said "whereas", didn't I?' he asked.

'You did.'

'Am I not meant to be mixing alcohol with those potions of yours?'

I shrugged. 'It's not a known side-effect, but everyone's metabolism is a little bit different.'

'Will you be mortally offended if I use it as an excuse?'

I grinned.

He looked around for a clock. It had gone five according to the one above the bar. 'I should be heading home,' he said. 'Need an early night after Thursday. I'm up and down the country tomorrow trying to catch up with everyone.'

I wondered if I should offer to forego my parole check-in, but was moderately sure that wouldn't be legal.

'Will ten be all right for me to stop by?' he asked.

'Usual time, usual tea,' I said. 'Unless you are worried you'll be all tead out …'

'No, yours is good, and you always have little treats, too.'

I waited while he put his coat and scarf back on and held the door open so he didn't have to negotiate it with his stick. The rain had come and gone again, and nightfall had brought a chill to the air.

'I don't think it's going to get cold enough to snow tomorrow,' he said, looking at the evening sky.

'Maybe before New Year.' I looked at him, one hand stuffed into his coat pocket, the other turning faintly blue under the electric lights. 'Where are your gloves?'

'Left them back in the office, I was too busy fleeing.'

Shaking my head, I searched through my pockets. 'Here,' I said, pulling a paper bag from one of them. 'I bought these earlier. There were going to be for the boy who brings my woodland herbs, but I've got a bottle of whisky he can have instead.'

He opened the bag and found a pair of cream mittens with a brown snowflake motif knitted into the cuffs. He grinned and put them on.

'Thanks, Malfoy,' he said. 'They're terrific. And very warm.'

'Scottish sheep, I think,' I said. 'The label's in the bag if you're interested in that sort of thing. Anyway, stop trying to make yourself sick, you're already too pale and you're never going to be interesting.'

'And a very Merry Christmas to you,' he said. 'See you in the morning.'

I watched him walk away, to make sure he didn't slip on any of the treacherous pavement, then went and found myself a quiet, dark spot to Apparate from.


————————————————————————————


At 9.45 Christmas morning, it all went wrong. I had just set out a small Christmas cake and some marzipan fruits and animals when a streak of silver bounded in and stopped in front of me.

Mother's Patronus sat there, flicking its ears anxiously. 'Draco, hurry!' it said in her voice.

I considered writing a note, but there was no time, and I was breaching the conditions of my parole without securing an agreement for change from Potter: note or no note. Instead, I Apparated straight to the manor. I knew where she would be: first floor, southeast corner.

Father was on the floor of his bedroom, thrashing violently. At some point one of his limbs had connected with Mother's face and she had a bruise blooming down the side of her jaw. She was holding his head, trying to stop him from banging it against anything.

I ran in and pulled the pillows and quilt from the bed, pushing them between his body and the heavy pieces of furniture that surrounded him. Once he was well padded, I went into his bathroom and found the valerian tincture I had prepared in case of just such an incident.

It took us time to calm him to the point where I judged it safe to administer the drug. Making him choke, or, worse, allowing him to breathe the fluid in would have made things much worse, but he finally reached a stage of biddability and I encouraged him to swallow two capfuls. In less than five minutes he was pliant in Mother's arms and well on his way to sleep.

I shifted my attention to her, then. 'Your face…'

'It's nothing,' she insisted.

I tried to restrain my anger at the lie.

'Did he break the skin?' she asked, reaching up tentatively.

I smiled weakly. It's a thing that we have in common; our vanity will always win in a competition with our pride. 'No,' I assured her. 'But you should have let the house elves help you.'

She shook her head. 'I don't let them see him when he's like this. They go too far. He'd have been sedated for a week.'

'Well, they're going to be furious when they take a look at you.' She had always been their favourite.

'Arnica and make-up,' she said. 'They need never know.'

I didn't hear the brisk, uneven clip of boots until it was outside Father's room. No time to sort the scene and come up with a composed excuse. Potter opened the door without knocking and came straight in, wand half-visible in his right cuff. I took a second to admire the accuracy of his location spell, and had to admit that, even limping and in a Weasley jumper, he had the finest Auror scowl I had ever seen.

It didn't last, though. He looked at my mother, and then my father, and I realised that I still had the open bottle in my hand. 'Valerian,' I said, in case he was leaping to the wrong conclusion. 'He was having a seizure, this helps to stop it and to let him rest calmly.'

He nodded, and muttered a polite 'Mrs Malfoy' before kneeling down beside me. 'Should we get him back into bed?' he asked.

I was startled at his calm common sense. From the speed of his entry, I had expected terseness at least. 'Thank you. Can you put the pillows back on the bed while I sit him up?'

He moved with concise economy and arranged the pillows in a neat hospital recline pattern. Then he came and took my father's left side, while I took the right, and together we lifted him into place. I arranged him comfortably while Potter retrieved the quilt.

Mother murmured vague thanks, but she was keeping her face turned away. Potter was kind enough to pretend he hadn't noticed.

I had nearly finished when Father's eyes snapped open. He looked at me without expression, but when he turned his head, it seemed that everything came into focus. 'You!' he whispered in a hoarse voice, lifting a finger off his covers and pointing it at Potter. 'You! Get out of my house!'

I looked at Mother. She was trembling. 'Lucius?' she whispered.

He turned his gaze to her.

'Oh, Lucius!' she exclaimed and flung herself on the sheets beside him. I caught a glimpse of her face, alive with hope. It felt as though I had intruded on something secret and sacred.

Potter tapped me on the arm. 'I'm going outside,' he said.

I looked at my parents for a moment. He was patting her gently, but seemed unsure why she was so upset, whispering that she should stop crying. 'I am, too,' I replied.

I closed the door behind us, and we walked a little way down the hall before Potter spoke. 'I'm sorry, I was just trying to help.'

'No, you did nothing wrong,' I assured him, distracted in my astonishment. 'Quite the contrary. That's the first complete sentence he's spoken in nearly three years.'

Potter looked surprised, but I told him it was the truth. 'So it's quite the Christmas miracle, really. Shame you're going to have to arrest me for violating my conditions. That's going to put a crimp in Mother's day.'

Potter rolled his eyes. 'It says I have to check on you in your home, it doesn't say which home.'

'You came in like an angry hippogriff,' I reminded him. 'Surely you planned to arrest someone.'

He muttered something.

'What?'

He rolled his eyes. 'I was worried,' he said. 'I knew there had to be a good excuse for why you weren't home and when the tracker spell showed you were here, I thought something might have gone wrong. Which it had.'

'You were worried about me,' I realised.

He looked uncomfortable. 'You're my legal responsibility,' he said.

And there it was. That old thump in my chest. I squashed it down in a panic. The last few days had been good. We could talk, almost like colleagues. I couldn't go back to that desperate wanting. That had been a fantasy. This was something real.

I reached for a distraction. 'Where's your stick?' I asked, noticing its absence.

Potter looked down at his hand as though expecting it to appear. 'I think I left it at your house,' he said.

'Oh, for Merlin's sake … Fine. There's nothing we can do here right now, We'll go back to Salisbury and just start the morning over.'

He frowned. 'Shouldn't you stay? Be with your father? Won't he need medical care?'

I hadn't realised that Neville had kept quiet. 'I thought Longbottom told you,' I said.

'Told me what?'

I hesitated for a moment, unsure about sharing more than I had to. But what was the point in keeping secrets from him? 'There's nothing technically wrong with him. He just decided to die and has been going about it the slow way ever since.'

Potter's frown deepened. 'But what about you? And your mother? Why would he do that to you?'

I looked away. 'Anyway. He's conscious and you have a rather good fruit cake waiting back at mine. Hope you like marzipan.'

'Malfoy …' He reached out a hand and grasped my forearm, turning me around to face him.

I'm not sure how he read the anguish on my face. Most likely he ascribed it to my family. But he had a strong core of kindness and he let go of both my arm and the topic.

'Cake sounds good,' he said. 'I think we could even go as far as hot chocolate. Maybe even with whisky in it.'

I smiled my thanks. We paused long enough for me to ask the house elves to come up with a plan in case Christmas lunch didn't happen. They were arguing over whether to par-boil the vegetables as we left the manor.

The journey back to Salisbury was quick and quiet. We Apparated to the Owlery: I could have taken Potter Side-along to my garden or sitting room, but touching him would have been dooming my fragile composure. Instead we took advantage of the break in the morning's drizzle and walked carefully down noisy pavements, filled with children trying out new bikes and shouting news of their hauls to each other. Two dashing boys nearly toppled him with a stray football, but he just laughed. I glared at them and they ignored me completely.

Potter disapproved of my crossness. 'It's nice,' he said. 'Christmas is for kids, really. It should be good for them.'

I looked at him. There was something behind his words, but I could only guess at it. I took a punt: 'Do you miss your mum and dad?'

He looked up from the pavement for a moment to share a small smile with me. 'Yes and no. I miss the idea of them. The life we could have had. My childhood was less pleasant than it might have been before I went to Hogwarts. I used to pretend that it had all been a horrible mistake and that they were going to come and rescue me one day.'

I'm too honest when I don't pause to think. 'That's awful.'

Potter laughed. 'It was, a bit. But at least I always knew that they had loved me. Inside, I still had those memories of being treasured. It made a difference. Kept me going until I could grow up and make my own family out of people I care about. It's a lot more than some kids get.'

On cue, a woman bawled at Charlene to come in here and tidy away her crap right now or all these presents were going to be burned. A small girl who had been skipping around merrily outside her front door stopped, exchanged a tired eye-roll with the two of us, and headed inside.

We walked a little further. 'Would it be unethical of me to hex Charlene's mum?' I asked.

'What with?' Potter asked back.

'Boils?'

He bargained it down. 'Laryngitis. And you might need to do the father, too.'

'What if she really is just a lazy child?' I wondered.

'She looked about six. Surely it's fine for six year olds to be lazy on Christmas morning?'

'Agreed.'

We walked a little more. 'I'll leave it till tomorrow so your tacit approval won't be noted,' I said.

'Appreciate it. Proudfoot would throw the book at me.'

We reached my house without further incident. For some odd reason I had expected to find Potter's walking stick outside my front door, but, of course, it was dumped in the hallway with his coat. However he had got into the house it had been neat: the lock was entirely undamaged.

I picked up his possessions and returned them to him.

'Sorry,' he said. 'I thought there could have been an emergency.'

'Visions of me trapped under a recalcitrant bookshelf?'

'Something like that.'

I led him to the sitting room, where the cake was still waiting, and cut him a slice so I wouldn't have to watch as he lowered himself painfully into his chair.

'Onto the hot chocolate?' I asked. 'Or would you like some tea instead?'

He thought for a moment. 'Both, it's Christmas.'

I excused myself and stopped by the kitchen long enough to spell the tea on to brew and start the chocolate stirring over a low flame. Then I ran quietly upstairs.

He had been here. The door to my workshop had been shut before I left. Now it stood open and I could see where he had grabbed at the table to steady himself. 'Idiot Auror,' I muttered. 'Should have used your locator spell before running all over the place and hurting yourself.'

I quickly found the jars I wanted and made it back to the kitchen before the chocolate had even started to bubble.

A few minutes later I was back in the sitting room with a laden tray and full pockets.

'Tea first,' said Potter.

'You went up to my workroom,' I said, once we had both downed a restorative amount of brew.

He began to apologise, but I interrupted him.

'It's three flights of stairs, Potter. You had a perfectly good spell that would have told you I wasn't there. Can you just remember your physical limitations for a few months?'

He looked uncomfortable. 'The spell takes a while. I thought, what if there was an accident? And there was gas and you were unconscious?'

I rolled my eyes. 'What if I was just late getting back from the shops and there was a shoe on one of the stairs and I came back and found you in a crumpled heap at the bottom of them?'

He started to laugh.

'Oh yes,' I said, 'you can laugh. I'd have Wallace shaking his head in disappointment as the Wizengamot sentenced me to life in Azkaban and Father would be sitting in the court, cheered into perfect health and shouting, "Well done, Son, I didn't think you had it in you!"'

I waited a minute, then passed him a handkerchief to mop up the tears that were rolling down his face. After another minute the guffaws subsided to a point where conversation could be resumed.

'Well, I'm glad you're enjoying yourself,' I said.

'I haven't laughed this much in ages,' he replied. 'You're a tonic, Malfoy.'

I gave him a look and pulled the contents from my pockets. 'No,' I said. 'This is a tonic and it should be enough to see you through to New Year with what's left in your other bottle. And this is more of your tendon potion, and this is a salve that I find reduces pain in joints. And this, which you are to take now, is a pain reliever. You can choose either the Pain-No-More, which you will note is an unopened, tamper-proof bottle or this one, which I make and which is much better but I promise you I won't be offended if you take the shop version.'

He took my bottle and removed two of the cachets, swallowing them down with a mouthful of tea. 'Thanks,' he said, as though his faith wasn't enough for me.

'So,' he said after a moment. 'Your father. Is he going to be all right?'

I shrugged. I really didn't know.

Potter frowned. It looked as though he was trying to think. 'Did Voldemort do something?'

I snorted. 'Nothing. Aside from lose. My father is suffering from exactly the same malady that affects a great many other wizards, and Muggles too, from what I hear. He was told that he was born to rule, and then it turned out that he wasn't. The only difference is that he wasn't satisfied with sulking or writing patronising letters to the Daily Prophet, he decided to outdo his contemporaries and die of frustration instead.'

Potter looked at me thoughtfully. 'You sound more irritated than upset.'

I shrugged again. I had worked through upset some time ago. Also enraged, bereft, determined … 'All I can do is keep him comfortable,' I said. 'If he decides he doesn't want to live, I can't change his mind.'

And Potter looked at me with those great green eyes of his behind his still-stupid glasses and I couldn't look at him anymore, so I poured the hot chocolate and went over to the drinks cabinet to find an open bottle of whisky to splash into it.

'This'll do,' I decided. 'McRinnalch's Seriously Scottish. Nice peaty undertones that work with dark chocolate.'

Potter took a deep drink. 'Worth the morning's dramas,' he declared.

Drinking and eating occupied us for a while. He was a comfortable companion when he wasn't talking. I could see the pain pills having an effect, he held himself less tightly and his face lost its drawn expression.

'Why don't you have any Christmas decorations up?' he asked.

'Oh, for Merlin's sake, I was just thinking that you were pleasant company!'

'Sorry. Forget I asked.' His eyes danced above his tightly shut lips.

'I don't like Christmas,' I said. 'I haven't for years. It's a time that we tell all children to hope, and that joy is coming into the world, which is fine if you have a nice, normal family. But it shows you what you don't have if your family is broken. And poor kids who deserve nice things get crap and entitled little shits get everything, but even some of them would exchange all of that for love, or peace, or safety …' I trailed off, aware that I had said far too much.

'Your mother loves you,' he reminded me.

I breathed out. 'She does.'

I poured more chocolate and whisky.

'Anyway, I'm thinking of converting. Wollheim used to convince Goldstein to come over to the Slytherin common room whenever Hanukkah was early. I quite liked the sound of a religious holiday that involved conscious contemplation. Choose spirituality over crass commercialism, I say!'

Potter grinned. 'I'll be sure to tell Anthony the next time I see him.'

'Oh good god no, he'll come round to discuss theology and he's the most boring man I ever met. Send Wollheim if you must. He may be young, but he's good value.'

'I'll tell him if I see him,' Potter promised. 'Which reminds me—' He picked up his coat and rummaged around in the pockets, withdrawing a box wrapped in brown paper. 'Happy Christmas. Or Hanukkah. Or December 25th.'

I looked at it, embarrassed. 'I didn't get you anything.'

'Malfoy, you muppet. Point one, it's a time for giving, not receiving. Point two, you've given me a pair of mittens and an entire pharmacopeia.'

I'd completely forgotten about the mittens. Chastened, I took the gift. 'Should I open it now?'

Potter shook his head. 'Do it later. And in case you're worried about crass commercialism, I didn't pay a cent.'

I knew what it was, then, and was glad he didn't want me to open the box.

'So, where to next in your Festival of Christmasses?' I asked instead.

'Ron and Hermione's. I got Rose a safe-flying broom, I suspect Hermione is going to smack me, but Ron dropped about three dozen hints.'

I nodded. 'I had one of them when I was little. I rode it till the bristles fell off.'

Potter grinned and refrained from suggesting that it had done me no good in later years.

'If there's any way of working it into conversation, tell Weasley and Granger congratulations on the baby,' I said.

'Hermione knows I'm your supervising Auror, so I feel certain she'll bring it up.

I looked around for something to send with my words. Potter had been right, this room was too bare. The drinks cabinet was the only option. 'Here,' I said, grabbing a bottle of whisky and handing it to him. 'Give them this to toast their daughter's health.'

Potter looked at the bottle. 'But what about your herb boy?'

I looked at him, appalled. 'That's 25-year-old single malt, he wasn't getting that one.'

'You're giving it to Ron?'

He had a point. 'I'm giving it to Granger. She did all the work. Weasley can have some if she lets him.'

'I'll let them know. After that, I'm going to see Andromeda and Teddy. Do you want me to send them a message, too?'

I winced. We had tried, after the war, but once Father fell ill the fragile connection we had built had collapsed into birthday and Christmas cards and stopping for a brief chat if we crossed paths in the street.

'I'll tell them you'd like to catch up early next year, shall I?' he asked.

'Will you be there?'

'Of course.'

'All right, then.'

He smiled. 'Excellent. All right, I'd better head off. You going to be OK?'

'I think so. Are you feeling better?'

'Much.'

I walked him to the door. 'Good. Don't do it again.'

He turned and the expression on his face was more inscrutable than I had expected. 'Of course I'd do it again,' he said. 'Merry Christmas, Malfoy.'

'Merry Christmas, Potter,' I replied.

I watched him walk away, steadier now he had his stick. He waved without turning around, and I saw that he had the mittens on.

Laughing, I went back inside. I felt able to open his gift, now. It was going to be my wand and there would be no big discussion about allegiances and lore, it would just be a gift and I could keep it in a drawer if I wanted to.

I was smiling as I picked it up, aware of the size of the hex I had dodged. So he was going to do insanely heroic things. He was Potter. That was his talent. I would learn to react to them calmly and just become another one of the little planets that happily swam in his gravity, warmed by his light.

I peeled the paper back. It wasn't a box. It was a faded blue book with battered cover on which the inked cauldron had started to wear off. I traced the title with a shaking finger, then opened the back cover. There was the name, just as Snape had described it.

I don't know why I cried. Maybe it was because I missed Snape. Maybe it was because I missed being a schoolboy who had one real talent and who was yet to see how horrible the world could be. Maybe it was because no-one had ever given me anything so perfectly right before.

Maybe it was because I wasn't in recovery any more. Because I wanted to hold him and say yes, and that I knew he understood, and that I could, too, if only he would let me.


————————————————————————————
Part three
 
 
 
playing_perfectplaying_perfect on January 10th, 2015 07:56 am (UTC)
You had me at the title, loved it. And then the unusually physically decrepit Harry, I loved that take on him, and that Draco could save him (from suffering at the least) with his potions this time. God I'd love those potions and I'm guessing you would too :-). The humour, the fabulous humour, Nepata, both the fabulous character and the brilliant name, catnip ftw! The interactions between everyone, and I've just seen there's another part so I shall make final comments on the next (last?) part.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 10th, 2015 08:17 am (UTC)
There were odd stories behind all of these. The idea of a slightly broken Harry just came to me when I got my assignment. I think it was a weird personal thing: I was mangled by a taxi two months before meeting Mr Brammers and while my bones all healed well (still a bit iffy on nouns and 1994-5), it left me in a place where I could actually see the virtues of slowing down a bit and listening more to other people. So when I asked myself 'what changes each of them?' this worked.

Wallace's first name came from Alfred Russel Wallace, and my catnip has been going wild this summer. Looking in the garden, thinking about science history was enough to see him pop up, and then I think that his name just drove everything else about him, including his easy-goingness. 'Oh, yeah, Darwin, it's totally cool if you want the credit for evolution, we're good.' I suspect that he privately kicked himself at least once, but I also think he was the Victorian scientist you'd most likely enjoy taking on Wessex pub crawl.
playing_perfectplaying_perfect on January 10th, 2015 08:37 am (UTC)
Yes that whole broken/mangled thing is something I know a little too well, and there's no doubt it creates change and the knowledge that slowing down isn't actually a terrible thing.

The wind is howling like a banshee here and it's the depths of winter, I'm trying to imagine sprawling catnip running amok in a summer garden. I suspect if they could read my cats would be imagining it too and booking flight tickets.

Here's to you having a fab year!
Azure Jane Lunaticazurelunatic on January 11th, 2015 12:09 am (UTC)
Oh, hooray for Lucius! And the BOOK!
mama_pyjamamama_pyjama on January 11th, 2015 11:08 pm (UTC)
I adore that Draco's gaydar is only slightly better than his mum's.

What rather lovely grown-ups they've turned out to be.

Spiffing dialogue, I can really hear them: Draco a bit far back, Nepeta with a bit of a burr.