Chapter Ten

A younger man's clothes



Once Harry seemed to napping again, which I assumed was the best thing for him, I sifted through the old clothes and robes that were neatly folded in the bureau to find something more suitable to wear. Despite the preserving charms and such that had been placed on the clothes, everything smelled a bit musty. Of course, I had not worn any of those robes in years. I felt rather fortunate that I had not thrown them out the last time I had elected to conduct a 'spring cleaning' ... whenever that may have been.

It required some minutes of rummaging for me to find something that would fit properly. I had lost more than three stone during my ten months in captivity. I had gained back nearly a half stone of that, but I was still much thinner than I had been when I wore those clothes. My search ended when I located a set of dark purple robes at the bottom of one of the drawers.

I unfolded them and sighed softly. They had been an unexpected birthday present for Anastasio. He had told me that I needed at least a hint of color in my wardrobe. I think I wore the robes once. I held the robes to my nose for a moment and closed my eyes, trying to remember the dance held in honor of Albus Dumbledore's tenth year as headmaster of Hogwarts.

But the memory does not always take us where we want to go ...

~


When I opened my eyes, I was no longer lying injured in the hospital wing. I was lying on a couch that had been inexpertly transfigured into a bed. Inexpertly because it still very much resembled a couch and was rather lumpy. It was mid-morning by my estimation, and I could heard birds chirping through the open window in front of which Professor Sinistra ... Anastasio was sitting, looking out at the sky through an odd sort of eyepiece while scribbling on a large sheet of parchment. There was a look of intense concentration on his young face. I frowned as I tried to figure out what he was doing. Then I remembered that he was the Astronomy professor. He could probably see the stars through that eyepiece even in daylight.

I started to sit up, but felt a wave of dizziness that convinced me to do otherwise. I attributed the dizziness, and a mild lingering feeling of disorientation, to the potions I had very probably been given. I was almost certain that I was not in danger, so lying down was probably for the best. I glanced at my bandaged hand and drew a deep breath. It was still numb and oddly heavy. Nothing had changed except for the dressing. My throat felt tight for a moment as the thought that it might not ever heal properly occurred to me.

"Alastor? You are awake?" Anastasio questioned.

The sound of his chair scraping against the stone floor as he stood caused me to turn and look at him again. He looked slightly anxious, but he was smiling as he removed the instrument from his eye and set it on the desk before striding toward the makeshift bed. As he cautiously took a seat next to me on the couch-bed, I noticed that he had ink stains on his hands. He had obviously been very busy that morning.

"I'm awake," I managed, though I could not return his smile.

"Good," he said, scrutinizing me carefully. I wasn't certain what he was looking at or for. Or perhaps it had something to do with the eyepiece.

"Where am I?"

"You are in my quarters. Poppy gave me permission. I knew that you did not like the hospital wing, so it only seemed logical to bring you here," he informed me.

"Thank you."

"Think nothing of it," said Anastasio lightly. "How do you feel this morning? Is your hand feeling better?" he questioned.

I swallowed hard and closed my eyes for a moment before answering, "I can't feel my hand at all."

"I saw it when Poppy changed the bandages. It looks very good, almost as though nothing happened," Anastasio assured me, reaching to pat my uninjured hand.

"But I can't use it."

"Yet, you cannot use it yet, Alastor, but Poppy expects you to make a full recovery. The bandages are only a formality ... to help reduce the risk of infection. The numbing agent will probably wear off in three hours, possibly four."

"Really?"

"Yes, Alastor," he said with a patient smile.

My shoulders shook as relief washed over me. I was not a trusting man, but I did not doubt his words. Everything was going to be just fine. I could believe that coming from him, though I didn't know why. There were a lot of things I didn't know. Like why a stranger, like Anastasio, should want to help someone like me.

Anastasio patted my shoulder and said, "You should take it easy and rest or you may become very ill." Anastasio's words were cautious and came with a serious look in his eyes.

I nodded that I understood, but I could find no words for what I wanted to say to him. At least not at that particular moment.


"Wake up, Alastor. It is time to take your potion," said an accented voice that was quickly becoming quite familiar.

A hand shook me by the shoulder, causing me to open my eyes. Anastasio was seated beside me again. I wondered if he had ever left. He smiled warmly as he reached for a glass of murky blue-green liquid that sat on a small table nearby.

"What is that?" I asked hesitantly as I sat up ... very slowly this time.

"Poppy did not say precisely. Only that it would help your hand to heal more quickly, strengthen the bones, and dull any pain that you might be experiencing," he explained, holding the glass up the light for a moment.

I was nervous. I had been trained not to trust anything offered to me to eat, drink, or even smell. There were Dark Wizards and their agents everywhere. I had internalized that training, made it a part of me. Drinking that potion went very against what I had been taught.

"Anastasio ..." I hesitated as he started to put the glass to my lips.

"Yes?" he questioned curiously.

"Who prepared the potion?"

"Ah, I believe that Poppy prepared it herself," he answered.

"Are you certain that it's safe?" I asked, feeling ever-so-slightly foolish.

"Perfectly," he smiled. There was a spark of humor in his eyes. That afternoon, I found that humor oddly comforting. Innocent, perhaps.

"Very well," I consented before drinking the evil tasting concoction.

"You are a very cautious man. Caution is an admirable trait," he said, setting the glass aside.

"Not nearly cautious enough," I muttered, shivering slightly and reclining again.

Anastasio furrowed his brow and felt my forehead. His hand was like ice. I shivered again.

"I believe you have a fever," said Anastasio with a somber and serious look. "So much for those potions," he sighed in defeat.

It was useless to deny it. The room with its open window felt extremely hot. I, on the hand, was experiencing slight chills, and not because of the room-temperature potion I had just ingested. Anastasio was correct. Most likely, I had a bit of fever.

"Alastor," he said, tucking the linens closer around me, "I am going to see Poppy for a few minutes. I will come back as quickly as I can. Will you be all right?" he asked, placing the back of his hand to my forehead again.

"Of course," I said with a slight scowl. I was afflicted with a mild fever, not with a severe head injury or an Age-reducing charm as Anastasio suddenly seemed to believe.


I must have nodded off again while Anastasio was gone, because the next thing I knew, he was shaking me by the shoulder and holding a small cup to my lips. I refused to drink without questioning him first.

"What is that?" I asked as he got the message and set the container aside for a moment.

"For your fever ... from Madam Pomfrey. I am not sure what it is, but I saw her prepare it myself," he assured me.

"Fine," I consented reluctantly.

"You are not only cautious, but you are also a very suspicious man," he observed as I drank the ghastly concoction, acting in direct violation of both my instincts and training.

Of course, if he had wanted to harm me, he had had more than enough opportunities to do so. He could have just left me on the grounds. That would probably have done me in.

"I am an Auror," I reminded him.

As he set the empty cup down and smoothed the linens with a cryptic little chuckle, I tried to formulate a question in my mind, the one that had bothered me so much before. Why was he doing this for me? What, if anything, did he have to gain? I still couldn't answer those questions, and I still didn't know quite how to ask them either.

"Yes, that much I know," he said. "But are all Aurors like you?"

"The best ones are," I said, perhaps a bit too defensively.

"I apologize if I have given you cause for offense," he said, although he didn't look very apologetic. He looked ... a little like an early wizarding painting I had seen from before moving images were perfected. Anastasio had the secretive smile of La Gioconda.

"Not at all," I replied.

"It may require some time for that potion to take effect, but perhaps I know a way to help it along a bit," he said, drawing his wand. I stiffened for a moment, causing him to raise an eyebrow. "With your permission, of course," he added.

I had no idea what he intended to do, but I knew that he was asking for my trust. Why? Perhaps only to see if I would give it to him.

"All right," I answered, trying not to shiver too much.

"Lie on your stomach please," he requested.

I looked at him a bit oddly, but did as he requested, feeling a bit dizzy at the sudden movement and being very careful of my injured hand. Anastasio adjusted the pillow for me before raising his wand and casting a Cooling Charm ... on his own hand. He flexed his fingers and smiled as I watched him with an expression of disbelief on my face.

"Pity that I can't perform the charm on both hands," he said with a muted chuckle. "There must be a way to do that, but I do not know it."

"You need a mirror and an appreciation for geometry," I told him.

"All that?" said Anastasio with another small laugh as he peeled the linens back and gently lifted the back of my nightshirt.

I frowned for a moment as I realized for the first time that I wasn't dressed in uncomfortable hospital robes anymore. I was wearing one of my own nightshirts and the matching pants. Had Anastasio found the clothes for me? I couldn't remember.

Then his magically cooled hand touch my back, and I sighed as I felt some of the unnatural, unhealthy warmth of the fever leave my skin.

The word that I had been struggling with for so long finally found its way to my lips.

"Why?" I asked him, feeling my eyelids growing heavier. Accursed potions. They always seemed to induce sleep!

"I do not understand the question," said Anastasio.

"Why are you doing so much for me?"

He chuckled again and said, "I have my reasons."

"Which are?" I questioned.

"You are an Auror. I respect the work that you do," he said in a serious tone.

I opened my eyes to make certain that he was not joking. No, his expression was a somber, but kind one.

"That's only one reason," I said.

"Yes, but you are also a fellow Slytherin," said Anastasio.

I didn't believe him when he said that. It was it reason enough to escort me to the hospital wing, but hardly reasonable grounds for doing anything more. A calculating way to look at the situation perhaps, but if we Slytherins were nothing else we were certainly that. So house loyalty would hardly be sufficient reason to take on the burden of caring for someone who was practically a stranger.

"Have you ever decided to do something because it simply seemed like the proper thing to do?" he asked me, reading the expression on my face only too well as he rested his hand between my shoulder blades.

I looked away from him for a moment and nodded. A thousand times as a young Auror in France during the war ... I had done things just because they seemed right and because no one was looking over my shoulder. Illicitly and covertly conjuring food or water for starving villagers, wizarding and muggle. Using magic to repair things when I knew no one was the wiser. Against, the rules and regulations? Certainly, not to mention that those actions exceeded our mandates, which was to fight the servants of Grindelwald, but everyone did it. Slytherin or Gryffindor, young or old, we could hardly help ourselves. Sometimes we just had to do things for the suffering people in those war torn areas where we did our work.

"Then I suppose you understand," said Anastasio, removing his hand and replacing the linens.

"Yes," I told him, wanting very much to question him further, but the dratted fever potion was making me very drowsy. It just wasn't fair ...

~


I shook my head hard to clear it and silently berated myself for allowing the memories of those long passed days to overwhelm me again. It was all so silly, so childish. Dwelling on the past ... so useless and futile. Anastasio and I had both changed so much since that spring, that painful, but wonderful spring in midst of a terrible war. We had changed and grown very much apart. I looked at the robes that were grasped tightly in my hands. It was difficult to believe that I still had them after Anastasio and I had gone our separate ways.

"Why not wear them? It's been years since you were slim enough to, and they are very nice robes. Anastasio had such excellent taste," I told myself, silently arguing. "They must have been so expensive," I thought with a muted, guilty sigh. "But he was so insistent that I should have something nice for my birthday." I shook my head and murmured, "I wish Krohn had never told him."

But what could I do? The robes would fit without going through the trouble of shrinking them. I folded them up and retreated to the bath to change, after which I fully intended to catch up on that reading and rest quietly in my comfortable chair.


A/N: The title comes from Piano Man by Billy Joel. I don't know when I will be able to update again. I'm working on a lot of other stories (and schoolwork).

I want to thank Molly Morrison, silversea, Michelle (Harry's done enough already, becoming an Auror would be a bit cliche), ER, redrose2310, NS (I don't know), Finwitch1, Wren Truesong (I don't think the Penseive was biased, but to each their own; thank you for your helpful comments), Marz1 (Harry does seem young, you're right), and a reader for reviewing the previous chapter. Thank you all!