Author: Mairi Nathaira
Category: AU, Drama, Romance, Angst, Humour, First-Time
Notes: This was written for the 2009 Harry Holidays Fest, and .com/crack_ inspired me to write this plot bunny. Thanks to D for some plot advices and my beta, Curia_Regis, for suggestions. Some canonical facts are fudged a bit for plot purposes.
Summary: A series of notable events in his seventh year messes up with Draco's sense of duty and obligation, which diverts him from what he really wants in life. But can he really go after what he desires? A three-part tale that spans over twenty years.
Pairing: Neville/Draco with hints of Harry/Teddy, James Sirius/Scorpius, Terry/Astoria
Warnings: Slash, under-aged boys (17-18) kissing, adult masturbation, and minor infidelity
Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to Warner Brothers and the wonderful JK Rowling. I do not own them, despite the fact I wish I could own SS, RL, and SB. The only thing that belongs to me is the story itself.
Feedback: All comments and criticisms are welcomed there. If it's flame then don't bother for I will put them in my trashcan or blog about it and laugh at you.
Part I: The Months of Ambiguity
Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. -- Carl Sandburg
I stared at him. More specifically, I stared at the bruises and the cuts visible on his face. I knew where they came from. Everyone did. Now that Potter and half the school disappeared, those of us left here were either on the Dark Lord's side or were there because they felt like they had to be here. Some people, like Longbottom, were here because they carried on Potter's legacy. Without anybody brave enough to defy against the Carrows and Snape, Longbottom took on that task willingly.
I ran my hands over my scars from earlier this year when Potter cast that spell on me. Mine were all pale, blending into my natural skin to the point of invisibility.
Again, my eyes drifted over the new red cuts. I looked over the week-old yellow bruises, the new dark purple bruises, and the faint scars that covered his face and neck. His injuries decorated his face like a war hero, seen for the whole school to see his purpose in life. Mine? Hidden like the Slytherin I was.
Our eyes met. I cursed myself for letting myself get caught this way. I tried to look away, but his dark brown eyes held my grey ones. At that moment, I felt something passed between us. A scream broke whatever spell that held me, and I looked up to see one of the Carrows yelling.
Luckily breakfast ended then, so we all made a run for our classes. Myself included. I ran to my first class, and the rest of the day passed in a blur. That was how my days passed since September the first. The war, hanging over our heads, had some strange effects on us. That day, though, felt different. Amidst the blur, I kept seeing Longbottom's bruised up face.
I needed to get away. Needed to get away from the Carrows. Needed to get away from Crabbe and Goyle. Those two actually enjoyed inflicting punishments on the ones who fought back -- Crabbe more so than Goyle, but still. I had to escape from their cruelty. Plus, my arm flared up in pain. Some dunderheads with the Dark Lord probably did something to upset him. I was not in great shape when I finally located the Room of Requirement.
After that long day of misery, seeing Longbottom nursing one of his fresh bruises was the last thing I wanted to see.
I almost snarled at him, but he was holding up a piece of meat. Raw meat. Up on his bruised up cheek. I was left in mid-yell with my mouth opened as I stared confoundedly at him instead.
"Catching Cornish Pixies, Malfoy?" Longbottom asked. I was surprised his voice held no contempt.
I regained my composure, and in my coldest voice, I inquired, "What are you doing with that meat?"
"Healing my injuries."
"Did all those bruises damage your brain so much that you can't even perform a simple healing spell on yourself?"
To my annoyance, he didn't rise to my bait and only shrugged. "I'm capable. I discovered that this was the best healing method to my injuries because I didn't want to build up immunity to the healing spells."
"It's a very primitive way of doing so."
He shrugged. That single movement captured my eyes as I stared at those broad shoulders. Just when did he develop those muscles?
"What are you doing here?" he asked, his deep voice waking me up from my stupor.
"Nothing," I answered neutrally. I averted my gaze to a spot on one of the walls.
I felt his eyes probing me, studying me, before he said, "You're not really enjoying this, are you?"
"Don't presume anything about me! You don't have that right!" I glared at him.
I watched Longbottom put down that disgusting raw flesh on the table. His face turned calm, but I could see a glint in his eyes. A determined kind.
"You're right. I shouldn't presume you of anything. However, the fact that you haven't run out to get the Carrows or come here with Crabbe and Goyle made me think otherwise."
"I could go get them now." It was an idle threat, and the bastard knew it.
I nearly yelled at him, but I grew distracted. My arm throbbed again, and I gritted my teeth in pain as my right hand automatically clutched at my left arm. I felt beads of sweat coming down my face and my breathing turning ragged. My eyes closed on their own accord, and it wasn't until I felt a pair of warm, gentle hands on my shoulders, guiding me to sit in a chair that wasn't there before, did I open them to stare at a concerned Longbottom.
Something was horribly wrong with this picture.
Or so my malfunctioning brain said. While my brain proceeded to turn into slush, I found myself staring into those brown eyes again. Just like that one time in the Great Hall weeks ago. Only, this time, the owner of the eyes stood in front of me, hovering over me protectively with that worried expression I desperately wanted to erase. I wanted to make it go away because . . . it was genuine. It was the first genuine expression -- the kind that wasn't a death glare like what the Dark Lord's famous for -- I remembered receiving in the longest time.
It unnerved me. Inside, I could feel something churning. Logically, I should push him and hex him. But I couldn't move.
Instead, he broke the moment. I wasn't sure how long we stared at each other, but he moved first by asking, "All right, Malfoy?"
I nodded stiffly. The pain had subsided, so I dropped my arms to my sides, my fingers brushing against the velvet material of the chair the room gave upon his request. My entire arms, hands, and fingers went numb. Good thing they were. Otherwise, I might have actually tried to trace one of those bruises or scars on his face.
Suddenly, he stepped back. I watched him brush his hands through his dark blond hair. I always thought that he had brown hair. Instead, they were dark blond. Much darker than my own.
"I'll let you be, Malfoy. We all need time to ourselves." I heard the unsaid words. Yes, we needed time for ourselves, but they were hard to come by in this time and age. Especially if you were a constant target like Longbottom.
I remained silent as he left the room. I heard the door click behind me, and I was alone. Alone like I wanted to be. Or maybe that was not my original desire in the first place. Maybe I wanted someone -- like Longbottom -- to confide with.
I choked back a sob as I realised that I must be desperate enough to go looking for company with the enemy. But that was not why I wanted to scream. I had wanted Longbottom to fucking stay.
"How were your holidays?"
I looked up from the book in my lap to see Longbottom entering the room. "Did I say you were invited here?"
He laughed out loud. That git had the nerve to laugh at me. I scowled at him.
Still chuckling, he said, "I thought you were filled with manners, Malfoy."
"Then you should know that it's rude to answer with a question." I caught the twinkle in his eyes.
"There's always an exception to the rule where I'm concerned." I set the book aside and sighed. So much for some time to myself. Then again, even five minutes proved to be a blessing. "It was all right. What about you?"
"It was all right." Longbottom sat down on the sofa next to me and looked over at me. "Let's not play this game. I'll tell the truth if you tell the truth."
I gave him a guarded look. He returned it with that peaceful look of his. Somehow, something in that gentle but bruised up face of his broke all the barriers I had shielded myself with the general public.
"It was rotten. Downright rotten. With the Dark Lord hanging around the manor, all festivities left our place," I admitted, staring at my hands. As the words came out, it surprised me how easy it was to share my thoughts and feelings with someone who was willing to listen. "I'm just glad I'm back here, away from his unnerving presence."
"Ah, brilliant. Glad to hear that, actually. My holidays were quite the same as yours, with the Carrows breathing down our backs every hour by the hour."
I cocked my head towards him. "Heard your grandmother did an excellent job of fighting off Dawlish."
Something changed in him. Something akin to hope ignited deep inside his eyes, and I saw it, and for that moment, I was mesmerised by that small display of emotion.
"She did?" A slow smile came to his face. "I'm not surprised. She's pretty tough. I can vouch for that. Where's she now?"
"I don't know. She banged Dawlish up, sent him to St. Mungo's, and disappeared."
"I see." He leaned back into the sofa and sighed. "So many people are disappearing. Gran's off somewhere. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are wherever. Dean's off on the run. And now Luna's missing as well."
Not expecting the last name, I flinched upon hearing it, and that movement didn't escape Longbottom. "You know where she is, don't you?"
I frowned at him instead of answering like I wanted to. "That's none of your business."
"Can you at least tell me if she's alive?" His eyes gave off an imploring aura. I felt myself weakening by them.
Slowly, I nodded and watched a relieved look come to his face. "Thank you."
Instead of ending the conversation right there, I found myself asking, "Why do you do it? Why do you lead that group of yours -- the DAs? -- to defy the Dark Lord's minions here?"
He gave me an unreadable expression, and I found myself unable to look away as I listened to his answer. "To survive. Just like you and everyone else. I just choose to go a different way about it. Your way. My way. It's all the same. In the end, we will live through it in one form or another."
My throat was suddenly dry; I lost all voice control. I nodded and looked down to see that his hand and my hand were situated next to each other on the sofa, side by side, touching slightly. His were larger and darker than mine. I saw dirt under his nail. They were herbologist's hands. Mine were pale, slender, and would have been stained with potion ingredients if we came right out of that class. They were so close that the contrast was apparent. So close that one of us could have moved and covered one of our hands. He might have had the same thoughts. He had to. But neither of us moved as we sat there contemplatively.
I decided to leave first, but then I turned around and said, "You've changed. You're not who you were when we were in first year."
With that, I left, but not before I heard a soft, "So did you."
I entered the room and bumped into something solid and warm. It was Longbottom's chest. Wait. Chest? Did he really grow that much taller than me? I looked up to confirm it was him, and indeed Longbottom stood there giving me another one of his calm and impassive expression.
"All right there?"
I nodded and stepped around him. I walked to the sofa and sat on it. "I assume you're leaving?"
"I can stay."
I sneered. "I don't need a guardian."
"I never said you needed one. I just offered to stay."
I lazily waved my hand and drawled, "Do whatever you please." While I did that, I studied Longbottom's new injuries. I saw him moving as if he were sore all over. Upon closer inspection, it looked like his back hurt him more than anything else. "Cruciatus?"
His entire body stiffened at my question, but he nevertheless nodded. I quickly asked the room to conjure up a floor mat of some sort, and it appeared. I pointed to the new item. "Take your robes and shirt off and lie there on your stomach."
Longbottom raised his eyebrows at me. "Why?"
"Just do it."
"Okay." He gave me a small smile. "I trust you."
"Oh, shut your trap! Don't say crap like that! I'm your enemy. We're ene--"
Even though I told him to shut up, he ended up silencing me. Like I requested, he stripped his robes and shirt off with difficulties. While I had expected him to be naked from the waist up, to actually see the bare chest and torso displayed right in front made me feel something I never wanted to feel towards another man.
Lust. And something else I wasn't able to identify.
I felt something changing in my groins as I stared at the expanse of his upper body. Like I thought, his shoulders are broad, as well as his chest. His weren't well-sculpted like Zabini's, but it was defined enough. My eyes travelled and took in the nipples, the chest hairs, and that inviting trail that started from his navel and disappeared at the edge of his trousers.
Realising my inappropriate thoughts, I forced myself back to reality, hoping he didn't notice where my eyes had wandered to. He lay down, with his face resting on his folded arms, and I pulled out a jar of some homemade relief cream from my bag. As I opened the lid, I knelt beside him, the lavender scent filling the room. I scooped some of the cold cream up onto my hand, and I rubbed it on his back. He let out a soft hitch.
"Cold?" I asked, slowly massaging the cream onto his skin.
"Yeah, but it's getting warmer."
I felt Longbottom shifting beneath my hands. "When this blasted war ends, what do you plan to do?"
"Do?" I repeated with a mirthless laugh. "If I live through it, I can see myself obtaining my mastery in potions. Then from there, find a job in that field, find a nice bird to be married to, and have the Malfoy heir I'm supposed to have."
"Is that what you really want to do?"
"It's what's expected of me. Well, not the Potions master part, but everything else is what I have to do."
By then my hands had stopped moving. I looked at his curious face while he stared back at mine. "I see. I guess, in a way, I'm in a similar state. See, I think my gran expected me to follow my father's footsteps, in becoming an Auror, especially after my fifth year, when we discovered why my magic wasn't at its true potential. Now, though, I know for sure I want to study herbology and attain my mastery in that subject. Gran won't be happy about it, but that's what I want. Only time will tell."
We stopped talking as I applied dollops of cream all over his back. I worked from the shoulders down to the small of his back. I massaged the cream in some places that were knotted tightly. I listened to Longbottom's breathing pattern, which sounded soothing to me for some unexplained reasons. Soon, I was done.
"Very. Thanks. I think I'll take a nap now."
I slipped the closed jar back into my bag and stood up. Quietly, I walked to the door, but before I opened it, I heard him say, "Happy Valentine's Day, Malfoy."
I left. I just hope he didn't hear my very soft, "You too."
Fuck! I hated him. I hated that -- that thing we called the Dark Lord!
As soon as I arrived at Hogwarts, I stormed down the corridors to reach the only place I considered a sanctuary. My entire body shook from the after-effects of the Cruciatus curse. Every step I took just about made me want to die. I forced myself to continue to my destination, and soon I entered the Room of Requirement. I almost allowed myself to collapse from the pain, but I stopped when I saw Longbottom there.
He had been lounging on a comfortable looking sofa when I entered, but he stood up as soon as he saw me and came towards me. As my body racked with pain, I leaned heavily against the closed door and watched him stop in front of me.
"Malfoy? What happened?"
A concerned look came on his face. All I could say was "Cruciatus" before I fell forward, but a strong pair of arms caught me by the waist and led me to that sofa he was on mere minutes ago. I sat hard on the sofa, and those arms that helped me didn't leave me as one remained around my shoulders as the other fed me a potion that I recognised as one that dampened the Cruciatus' effects. Immediately, my pain turned numb and that feeling of lethargy took over me. My head began to throb, so I rested it on his shoulders, and I felt his fingers on my shoulders tightened. Despite my pain, that tighter grip left me feeling better than I ever did after receiving the curse.
In a quiet voice -- he had to have known my head hurt -- he asked, "Voldemort?"
"Yeah," I sighed and then managed a smirk. "You will like what I tell you. My parents and I were subjected to gross punishment from the Dark Lord. They are under house arrest now, but because of my schooling, I was allowed to return. Thank Salazar. But guess who escaped from the Malfoy Manor last night?"
I watched the way Longbottom's face changed expressively -- the most I've seen since last year -- from his usual calm and concerned façade to something like excitement. His voice cracked when he asked, "Harry?"
I smiled sardonically. "Yes. Potter, Granger, and Weasley escaped along with Lovegood, Thomas, Ollivander, and a goblin. They were rescued by a house-elf."
He let out a relieved sigh. "They're alive! Thank Merlin!"
I nodded and closed my eyes. But they flew open when he said, "You're leaving something out."
How the hell did he see past me? Actually, when did he become so bloody perceptive? I lifted my head off from his shoulder and stared into those brown depths. "I lied. I lied to the Dark Lord. When he asked me to identify the "famous" trio, I gave him a vague confirmation."
Honestly? I wasn't sure what his reaction would be. The last thing I expected, though, was for his lips to be pressed against my forehead. I blinked in surprise as I felt contentment course through my sore body. I watched as he moved back, his cheeks stained in pink and red. Wordlessly, I reach up and traced a fresh bruise under his right eye. I let my finger take in the swollen injury and remained silent when he grabbed my hand and laced our fingers together. I felt calluses from his hands -- so different from my callus-free hand -- yet another contrast between us. They felt rough unlike my smooth ones, but at the same time, they felt so gentle.
In an even more tender voice, he leaned and whispered into my ears. "I knew it, you know? Knew you weren't really what you claimed to be all these years."
Before I could retort his trite words, I gasped and shivered when he kissed my ear. Without meaning to, I allowed a sound of pleasure to escape from my mouth and leaned closer into his solid, warm body. The touches from his hands and his lips felt so good, filled with love and affection -- something so foreign to me now but so inviting.
When he pulled me into his lap -- where I settled down comfortably -- I rested my hands on his shoulders. Under his robes, I could feel the muscles there, and they felt strong and hard. We gazed into each other's eyes, and before I knew it, he grabbed me by the back of my head and pulled me closer and closer to him. We both automatically tilted our heads, and when our lips met, I forgot all about my pain, all about the war going on around us, and even forgot about Voldemort.
At first our lips stayed still, but it wasn't long until our emotions and the stress made us kiss each other hungrily. Like starved animals, we kissed, licked, and sucked each other until we grew breathless. Breaking apart, our breathing came out unevenly, and we rested our foreheads against each other. I closed my eyes and stayed like that. He didn't move either, and we both remained in that position as long as we could.
Within such a short period of time, I realised that I had fallen for this Gryffindor, for the enemy, and I didn't bloody care that he was a man. That didn't matter one bit.
We were back in the Room of Requirement. A month had gone by since we were last together. The war was escalating around us. Many of the older students against the Dark Lord had disappeared somewhere around the castle. Those of us on the dark side didn't know where they disappeared to; I suspected this very room had something to do with their disappearances, though, and I kept my suspicions to myself. Longbottom was one of them, but he sent words out and asked me to meet him here clandestinely. Against my better judgement, I agreed and now we were together for as long as we could hide from the world. We sat on the sofa, his arms wrapped around me, and I leaned against him, feeling protected and loved.
"It's in the air," he said, mysteriously.
I knew what he meant, but I feigned ignorance. "What is?"
"It won't be long until the final battle. The battle to end this war."
I waited quietly for a bit, and then I forced out my next words. "We will both do what are expected of us." I straightened up and looked into his face. "We may fight each other."
He didn't say anything for a minute. I didn't need words to know what he thought. They were clearly etched on his face. I sensed his troubled eyes looking over me. "Just be careful, Draco."
Draco. That was the first time he said my given name. To hear it roll off his tongue like that, I felt something inside me waking up from its slumber. All I could manage was a soft "Neville" before I closed all gaps between us with an unhurried kiss.
Chaos and destruction.
That was the best way to describe the hell that unleashed all over Hogwarts. Half-heartedly, I went and did what I had to do. Crabbe, Goyle, and I fought against Potter and his crew in the Room of Requirement. To my relief, I saw that Neville was nowhere in sight. I didn't want to fight him. I could fight Potter, but not him.
When Crabbe cast that stupid spell, though, I thought that I was surely going to die. I watched Goyle being saved by Ron, and with me being distracted, I didn't see who pulled me out of the inferno until I saw that it was him. We were out in one of the many corridors, and I looked at him. I wanted to thank him, but my pride prevented me. He knew, though. I could tell he knew when he squeezed my shoulder and then disappeared.
After he left, it took me several minutes to realise that I was in his debt, but I knew he wasn't going to demand anything of it from me. I only had to fulfil it when that moment came.
That moment arrived sooner than I expected. I ran outside. I made out far too many bodies on the ground, all lifeless. I nearly faltered and lost my sanity, but I looked up and observed that Neville was in trouble. He was duelling with one unknown Death Eater and then I watched him lose his footing, and he fell down to one knee. My heart lurched as I ran towards them. Without warning, I cast Petrificus Totalus and the enemy froze in the spot.
He saw me. Our eyes connected for one brief moment as he gave me a small smile. Then he ran off somewhere, and I did, too.
As I threw hexes and curses left and right, I mumbled, "He will live." I knew deep inside, some unknown instincts told me that.
It was over. The moment we all waited for -- whether the Dark Lord won or Potter won -- that moment came. I looked around all of us. We were all filthy, covered with blood and grime, and we looked exhausted but happy that the end had finally come.
My eyes flickered over to where I knew he stood. Our eyes met, and we acknowledged each other. I wanted to go over there with him, but I stayed in between my parents. I told myself that we would get the chance to meet later.
I should have known that "later" meant two weeks later.
We accidentally bumped into each other in a dark corridor that led up to where the Room of Requirement used to be.
Not knowing who I bumped into at first, I let out a loud, "Fuck!" I almost snapped at the person to watch where they were going until I realised it was him.
"Draco. I -- let's go somewhere to talk." Beneath the darkness I looked at his face. I took in the tender smile he gave me. I could see that the majority of his injuries were healed, but I could see scars that criss-crossed his face. I wanted to touch them, wanted to trace them, but I kept my hands down.
I cleared my throat, which went scratchy on me. "Is the room . . . ?"
"It's not working. I think it's no longer functional."
Damn Crabbe. While I grieved for him, I didn't grieve for the fact that he was a git. A stupid git who damaged and ruined that room and ended his own life that way. Ironic, really.
"There's an empty classroom near here. Let's go there." I led the way and heard his footsteps behind me.
Once inside, I waved my wand as I cast a silencing charm and a locking charm for privacy. I looked up at him, and suddenly I felt unsure of myself. Before I could dwell on my uncertainties, he kissed me. I found myself kissing back, his arms embracing me tightly against his firm body. We kissed until we were both breathless, and when we separated, I caught the serious expression on his face.
"I wanted to talk to you. About . . . " He paused. "Us, Draco. I wanted to ask you about--"
I held up my hand to stop him. He did. I took a deep breath. In my coldest voice, I said, "There is no us, Longbottom." He didn't say anything. I felt something inside of me sinking. "Really, now that the war is over, Longbottom, there's no us. In fact, there never really was an 'us'. This war affected all of us strangely."
I felt his penetrating gaze on me, but I couldn't look at him. I didn't dare to look. "You will do what you're required to do. I'll do what I've always known to do. I will get married to a pureblood witch, and I will continue the Malfoy line."
No! I don't want to do that! I want to stay with you. Sod my obligations! I don't care about them any more! I mentally screamed all that deep inside of me. My emotions were a mess. I had spent these last two weeks fighting myself with what I wanted to do and what I was required to do.
I forced myself to look at him. To my surprise, he didn't look upset or anything of that nature. In fact, his face took on that tranquil look he always had this past year. In fact, there was almost a calculating feel to it.
What he said next made my heart sink so low that I almost did lose my cold composure. "You're right. The war has ended. Now we'll move on and do what we all need to do."
I nearly panicked then. I hadn't envisioned this. In fact, I didn't expect this at all. I anticipated him to tell me otherwise. I thought he'd tell me to forget about my commitments and just be with him. I wanted him to do something to make me stay with him!
Before I could do anything outwardly, he reached out and patted my shoulder. "I wish you the best, Draco. Good luck." With that, he gave me a one last smile. He turned around, undid the spells I had cast, and left. I watched him leave, and it was all I could do to prevent myself from chasing after him.
Once I was sure he was long gone, I collapsed to my knees and stifled back something that was a mixture of a sob and laughter. Bitterness coursed through me as I realised that he didn't care about me. If he did, he would have stopped me. He would have shut me up and snogged me. But none of that happened. Instead, all that was left was my regret and distress as he walked out of my life.
Part II: The Decades of Remorse
Time does not change us. It just unfolds us. -- Max Frisch
It was Saint Valentine's Day. I escaped the manor and went out into Muggle London because anonymity came easier there than any wizarding places like Diagon Alley. I slipped into a club called "Ziggy". A strange name, but it was a gay club, and a place to pick up blokes; that was my goal for the night.
With a drink in my hand, I sauntered around the club, giving young and old men my usual smirk. I didn't see the point in being seductive. My looks alone -- including my smirk -- would draw in the type of bloke I preferred.
Soon, one came up behind me and whispered mundane praises and awful pick-up lines into my ear. I rolled my eyes before I turned around. I looked him over. He was tall, stocky, with dark blond hair, and brown eyes. Perfect.
I smiled at him as I talked back to him, to let him know I was interested. Eventually, he led me into one of the more private rooms tucked away in the back of the establishment. I allowed him to do whatever he wanted -- which was basically a quick shag -- nothing more and nothing less. We did snog a bit, to which I couldn't help but think it suckedcompared to his kisses.
I shoved that thought aside as the club bloke pleasured me with his mouth. A while later, he entered me, and to be honest, it hurt more than I expected, but the pain quickly transformed into pleasure, and when I came, I called out his name.
Luckily, that nameless bloke didn't hear it; he was too lost in his own throes of passion to hear anything around him.
As I left the establishment, I felt satiated and sore, but despite the physical pleasure, my thoughts were strangely barren. I wasn't sure why. Instead, I decided to repress them.
Oh, for Salazar's sake! This man really needed to shut up. Master Jurgenson was the Potions master who took me in as his apprentice. The only other Potions master I had the privilege of studying under was Professor Snape. Master Jurgenson's personality turned out to be on the other end of the spectrum from Professor Snape's.
Professor Snape was always blunt and quick to the point.
Master Jurgenson tended to go off tangent all the time and become hyperactive as that one Creevey git -- the camera crazy one. Or maybe as Aunt Bellatrix. I hadn't quite decided on the lesser of two evils.
Why did fate have to be cruel and kill off Professor Snape?
I sighed as I forced myself to follow my teacher's explanation about how aconitum had many different species -- a common one being wolfsbane. But how it was relevant to making Pepper-up was beyond me. Half of the species weren't even used as ingredients for potions!
"Now, Draco, could you go retrieve that plant from the greenhouse? It's the big blue one. Hard to miss that, lad."
Finally. From all the talking he did for three hours, I was surprised his tongue hadn't died from overuse. I quickly left before he could start on another long lecture, and I found the "big blue" plant he requested -- which, unfortunately for me, were behind these hideous looking pink flowers that always tried to bite me. With ease, I grabbed the plant and gave it to him back in the lab.
"Thank you." He handed me a parchment filled with barely legible writing. "Look over the ingredients and bring me the ones that aren't on the table yet."
"Yes, sir." I looked at the list and saw that some of the ingredients were plants that only Herbology masters knew how to cultivate and breed.
That thought made me pause in my search. Briefly, I wondered if he was studying his mastery in herbology. That thought then segued into my memory of his hands. He had those hands that looked perfect when working with the earth. I recalled those hands touching me, comforting me, and protecting me. I looked at my own and remembered how we held hands together, remembered how his were darker compared to mine.
"Draco, lad! Let's go! Hup-hup! We haven't gotten all day!" Master Jurgenson's loud voice interrupted my train of thoughts, and I breathed out in relief for the distraction.
"In a minute, sir!" I finished my errands in fear of having him lecture me for another ten hours.
For my final task in my mastery programme, I flew to Japan and visited Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Master Jurgenson insisted that I learn about potions from a different culture. He hinted me to do India, but I subtly rebelled against his wishes and chose Japan. He was disappointed at first, but eventually he changed his mind. He would never admit it outright, but he loved Japanese potions making, and so did I. The Asian potion making was a different kind of art all together. In particular, I was drawn to the way the Japanese infused most of their potions into green tea. Quite fascinating, really.
I was in the old wizarding section of Kyoto where I found some seeds of a rare native plant called Ranzania japonica, also known as Togakushisgouma. I looked at the picture of its flower. It was lilac in colour, and it looked terribly fragile.
"This plant is extremely rare and very difficult to cultivate since its natural habitats are in the high mountainous regions. But once it grows and blooms, it will remain alive for many years," the Japanese Potions master explained. Master Toriyama was an associate of Master Jurgenson and our guide during our duration here.
I stared at the picture; my eyes would not leave it. "Is it for sale?"
There was a short pause. "It's very expensive."
"Money's not an issue." I broke my gaze from the picture and faced him with a determined expression. "I know someone who'd be able to cultivate this without any problems."
A few hours later, I found myself sending off an anonymous owl -- with insurance -- a package that contained the seeds and a very detailed explanation on how to cultivate the Togakushisgouma. I even had Master Toriyama type up the instructions on one of the Muggle's contraptions -- something called a computer. I wasn't sure how the insurance worked, but I figured it had better be worth the extra money I spent!
Regardless, I knew he would cultivate it. As a lover of herbology, I knew he wouldn't turn down a challenge like this.
Fighting through the crowds, I went directly to the aisle that held magical objects. I perused the shelves until the item I came for greeted me. I grabbed the newest model of a Remembrall, which told what the user forgot along with the fact they forgot something. I wasn't sure how it actually worked, but I figured it probably picked up the user's aura and magically interpreted it.
An absolutely perfect gift for Goyle.
I purchased it and walked out of the crowded shop.
Clutching the bag to me, I recalled my first year -- more specifically our first flying lesson. I winced at that memory. I was such a prat. Taking his Remembrall, only to have Potter come chasing me after it, and Potter becoming the youngest seeker for Gryffindor was not a memory I cherished.
Ugh. Sometimes, like I said, I was a prat.
I considered buying one for him, but decided against it. Goyle needed it more.
I found out later that this brand of Remembrall hexed its user if they forgot to use it. Brilliant. Then I realised it was a good thing I didn't buy this for him. The idea of an object hexing him sounded awful. If anybody were to hex him, I wanted to be the one to do so. After all, I was still pissed at him.
My father let out a sound of displeasure during dinner.
Mother and I gave him a curious look.
"I received news from the school board about Professor Sprout's replacement." Even though he wasn't on the board any more, he still kept in contact with a few of the members.
Mother took a sip of some French wine before she asked, "What did Mr Armstrong say, dear?"
"The new replacement is none other than Professor Neville Longbottom. He will also become the new Head of Hufflepuff."
I nearly spat out my own mouthful of brandy when I heard the news. "Longbottom?" Once my initial shock passed, I concluded that he would be a great professor. He had that calm authority about him. He was an excellent choice.
Later, I decided to send a congratulatory note to him. Only, I remembered that I hadn't talked to him since the end of our seventh year. Sending it would lead to something unwanted, so I threw the unsigned note into the fire, and instead toasted to his new position with my tumbler of brandy.
This day needed to end. Aside from all those times with the Dark Lord, I never expected my own wedding day to be just as bad.
Astoria Greengrass was sweet and caring. I didn't blame her for my awful mood. In fact, there was nobody I could blame my mood for. Except for myself. This was not what I wanted, but I had to go along with it.
Astoria and I consummated our love for the first time that night at one of our summer homes in France. As I hovered above her and entered her, I desperately wished for the hard and muscular body of men -- in particular one man. I wanted to be the one lying on my back. I wanted to be the one taken.
After it was all over, I stared at the ceiling. Despite what we had just done, I still felt empty. Emptier than I had ever felt in my life.
"Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy." I looked at the sleeping bundle in my arms and gave him a smile. He was perfect -- simply perfect. I bent my head to give him a soft kiss.
"He looks just like you," Astoria said, looking up at us with a gentle smile. I could see she was still exhausted from the labour.
"Sleep, dear. I'll make sure our parents and your sister do not bother us until tomorrow."
"All right." I watched her fall into a deep sleep. As she slept, I felt the bundle in my arm squirm. He was awake.
Softly, I whispered to him, "You're now the Malfoy heir. As your father, I will make sure you grow up without any unnecessary obligations placed upon all previous heirs before you. That I promise you as your father."
I held him closely to me. It was strange. All my life, I was expected to uphold all the traditions and expectations that were mandated to me. As I stared at Scorpius, I found my resentment fading a bit. Not a lot, but a bit. I still felt empty in my life, but that emptiness shrank with my son's arrival to this world.
I stopped by the Leaky Cauldron. I had just finished brewing some potions for St. Mungo's where I currently worked as a freelancing Potions master. Instead of seeing Tom at the bar, I saw Hannah Abbott, who I assumed was with him, considering how they are always seen together in public.
I greeted her courteously, before I walked over to the table where Master Jurgenson was waiting for our dinner meeting. The entire evening passed in a haze as I tried to concentrate on Master Jurgenson's ramblings about his newest research.
Seeing his girlfriend had thrown me off for a loop. I hadn't really thought of him until just now, and I felt confusion whirl through me.
"Draco? Are you with me, lad?"
I gave him a reassuring smile. "I'm sorry. I had a long day. You were saying . . . ?"
I gave a sigh of relief when Master Jurgenson continued his theory instead of launching onto a lecture on how it was dangerous for a Potions master to space out. I already went through it with him once. Twice was not an option. Besides, the longer I stayed, the less time I had to go home and play with my son.
"Go to Daddy!" Astoria said, letting go of Scorpius' small body.
"Da-da!" Scorpius gave me a big grin as he took slow but steady steps towards me. I extended my arms a short distance away. It was amazing. Here was my son, barely two years old, and already he walked and talked. Soon, he would be running around, and next thing I knew, he'd be going to Hogwarts!
"Da-da!" He came closer to me, and I reached out and grabbed him, raising him up in the air. He squealed happily.
"Watch out, Scorpius! Daddy's a Tickle Monster!"
"No-no! No Ticko Mona!" he shrieked and laughed loudly as my fingers flew around his ticklish spots.
I stopped and sat on an armchair with him standing in my lap. I looked into his bright eyes. He was an exact copy of me, except for his eyes. Instead of inheriting my grey eyes, he gained Astoria's hazel eyes. As I looked into my son's eyes, I saw that they were more brown than usual because of his happy mood.
I froze for a second, realising what the brown colour reminded me of. It reminded me of his eyes. The eyes that reminded me of melted chocolate. The same eyes that had looked at me gently in that now destroyed room.
I hid my unsettledness from my family. I kissed Scorpius on the forehead and then took him back to Astoria, who had sat down on the sofa across from me. "Okay, Daddy's going to do some work. Play with Mummy for a while."
"Wok, Da-da?" Scorpius looked up with those eyes of his.
I ruffled his blond hair. "That's right. Later, Daddy will read you a story by Beedle the Bard."
"Beed Bad!" I left the room filled with my son's excited babbling as well as the unexpected and unwanted memories.
At least I thought they were unwanted. I wasn't so sure when that man with those brown eyes appeared in my dreams for the first time in years that night.
Loud music pulsated through the entire club donned in green. This time, the club was called the "Mercury", and it was decorated for Saint Patrick's Day. A holiday I didn't really care for since he did drive the snakes out of Ireland! And all those leprechauns and the pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow were all balderdashes. I was glad to say at least the colour green was associated with it.
I sipped at my drink as I watched all the blokes around me. My eyes caught a chap across the bar from me. I saw him leave and come over to me.
"No, I'm here with my drink." I resisted rolling my eyes.
He raised his eyebrows. "Then may I join you and your drink for some company?"
I took in his shaggy brown hair and his slate-blue eyes. He would do. I nodded and followed him to one of those rooms in the back. The door barely closed as I found myself against it with his body trapping me. He planted a hard but passionate kiss, and I lost myself into the welcomed distraction.
It had been a while since I was with another man -- my first since I had been with Astoria -- and it felt intense. I moaned into the kiss, grinding my hip against his and feeling both of our hardness. His tongue explored my mouth, and his hands disappeared inside my shirt.
When he pinched my nipples, a face came into my dazed mind. It was his face, and it looked at me disappointedly and with a hint of sadness. That destroyed my desires and made me crash back down to earth. I pushed the guy off of me.
"Sorry, so sorry, but I must run." Without giving him a chance to respond, I opened the door and ran out of the place. Once in the dark, deserted alleyway, I Apparated and found myself in the backyard of Malfoy Manor.
I fell to my knees and my hand gripped the grass. I felt sick to my stomach. First of all, I had nearly cheated on my wife. That guilt gnawed me. Yet what really made me feel disgusted was the fact that I felt like I almost cheated on him again. The first time I was with a man, nine years ago, I wasn't sure why I felt barren. Now I knew. Huge amounts of guilt and remorse surged through me.
Nine years ago. That meant a decade had passed since he and I first kissed. I found myself aching for that touch that I could barely remember.
I wanted to scream out all my frustrations, but I didn't. Instead, I summoned my broom, the best one in the market -- Speed Buster 100 -- and I rode the broom all night long.
I sat in my father's office. No, not my father's any longer. Now, it was mine. My father passed away last week. With his death, I became the official head of the Malfoy family.
Taking my tumbler of brandy in one hand, I fingered a plain looking card. A sympathy card. Even though I had already memorised its contents, I opened the card up to read the message.
I heard about your father's passing. I wanted to let you know that I'm sorry for your loss and that if you ever wanted to meet up and talk, just send me an owl.
I looked at his surprisingly neat handwriting. I studied the way he crossed his Ts, dotted his Is and Js, and even analysed the way he wrote my name. Seeing his handwriting bought me unforeseen comfort.
He used our given names, and that startled me as well. I thought we were back to using our surnames, but I guessed it was only one-sided on my part.
I felt a small smile on my face. I took the card, handling it like a vial of volatile potion, and put it in my desk drawer. I knew I'd make no reply, but I still intended to keep the card.
A month passed before I realised how sickening and sentimental I acted that night. I chalked it up as a brief moment of weakness due to my father's death.
I glared at the space in the card. I tapped my quill in annoyance as I tried to think of the right words. I almost wished for the quill to write by itself. Then I wouldn't have to bother trying to think of these elusive words!
Augusta Longbottom had passed away a few days ago. I wasn't sure how close the two were, but I knew they had to be fairly close since she did raise him.
Frustrated, I ran my hand through my hair and gave a huge sigh. I forced my hand to write a formal but short message.
Dear Professor Longbottom,
I have heard about your grandmother's passing. My wife and I send you our condolences. She was a well-respected witch in the wizarding world. She will be missed. We also hope you are doing well.
Astoria and Draco Malfoy
That proved to be a really difficult note to write. After I sent it off, I decided to go look for Scorpius. I needed distractions and what was better than taking my son up for a broom ride?
A few days passed before it dawned on me that he hadn't responded to my note. Then again, I never replied back to his, so it really wasn't astounding.
Drumming my fingers against the table, I stared at my notes. I was at a conference -- a big potions and herbology conference. Right now, I had difficulties concentrating on the current speaker who was none other than Professor Neville Longbottom.
I had forgotten completely that he would be one of the attendants. Bloody hell.
Nonchalantly as possible, I studied the confident professor behind the podium. Last time I saw him, we had been boys. Now, a man greeted my vision. I couldn't tell from where I sat, but it looked like he had grown taller and become broader. I took in his dark blond hair, where lighter-coloured strands sprinkled here and there -- most likely from his times spent outside. His brown eyes took on a serious look, but I could see energy and passion deep inside them. My gaze travelled and took in his upper body, wishing I could undress him there and now to see and feel his muscles I remembered from years ago.
Oh, for Merlin's sake! I mentally slapped myself to get rid of that image. I had to concentrate, not daydream about someone else's body like that!
Luckily, though, his turn ended soon, and another speaker took his spot. I focussed easier than I had in the last half hour.
For the remainder of the conference, I made sure to stay far away from him. I didn't want to face him. I had no idea what I would say to him if we were to talk, afraid that I'd blurt something stupid and regretful to him. Luck stayed with me until the last day.
I should have known that luck wouldn't stay with me entirely. It only did for Gryffindors -- never for us Slytherins!
I was returning to my room when it happened. I turned at a corner, and there he stood, with two other Herbology masters. Our eyes connected for the briefest of seconds. I watched his mouth opened -- most likely to say something -- but I beat him to it.
"Good day, Masters Longbottom, Flanagan, and Mays," I said cordially but with aloofness.
I nodded towards them and then continued down the corridor to the lift, the short walk feeling long and torturous. Once inside, I clenched my fists and stared at the ground. I began to berate myself for letting him affect me this way. I hated myself, hated my mixed up feelings towards him. It had been over a decade since I laid eyes on him, and this was all I could do?! I felt so much self-hatred that when I walked into my hotel room, I punched the pillow repeatedly until it tore.
At that time, I didn't know who I hated more. Myself or him. The answer eluded me as I forced myself to think of other things while returning home.
"Hey, Scorpius." I reached out to ruffle his hair. "Had a nice day?"
"The best! Mummy took me to Diagon Alley, and I saw the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes!" Scorpius pulled out some joke products and showed them to me.
I raised my eyebrows at Astoria and smirked. She returned the smirk, making me look upwards. While I didn't care for the WWW products, I nevertheless wanted my son to be happy, and if these products made him happy, then so be it. With certain conditions, of course.
"Now, remember, do not use these on us and your grandmother, and do not slack off from your studies. Otherwise, you will lose them."
"I understand, Daddy." I saw him put the joke items back in the bag reluctantly. He turned to look back at me and asked, "Did you figure out that wolfsbane problem, Daddy?"
I put a smile on my face. "I did. I mean, it wasn't really a problem per se, but I did make some new discovery with that new hybrid of wolfsbane."
"Congratulations, Draco! This discovery will surely put your name further up amongst the Potions masters," Astoria reached over and kissed me softly on my cheeks.
"What kind of discovery is it, Daddy?" I saw Scorpius' curious expression.
"Basically, this new wolfsbane, when made into the Wolfsbane Potion, will actually halt a werewolf's transformation entirely and allow the werewolf to keep their human minds."
"Brilliant! That means these werewolves will not hurt anyone and their change won't hurt them either!"
"That's the basic gist of it. Now, I have to figure out the right formula and test it out on willing participants. It looks like the potion might have the best results if I infuse it into green tea, a Japanese potion making technique I learned about years ago." I crouched down to my son's height. "Now, you will go practise your penmanship, and Daddy will go do his own assignment."
"Okay!" He gave me a hug and walked off to his destination.
"Don't overwork yourself to death, Draco." Astoria reached out to squeeze my hand before leaving as well.
I headed to my laboratory, and I took in its familiar scent, atmosphere, and surroundings. I went to the table and fingered the wolfsbane. What I didn't mention to my family was the person who cultivated this new plant.
"Only you could have done it. I'm sure you did this in Professor Lupin's memory."
Deciding that I didn't want his hard work to go down the drain, I set off to do what I decided was my part of the unspoken deal.
Blast it all! Damn that Gryffindor's selflessness attitude of his!
I resisted throwing a glass vial at the ground. Instead, I crumbled up the parchment that read, You do not need to credit me for your new Wolfsbane Potion. You were the one who discovered the properties of the plant, not I. Sincerely, Neville Longbottom.
I stormed out of my lab and went into my study, where I practically threw myself into the armchair by the fireplace. I glared so hard at the flames that I nearly expected them to go out. They didn't.
The new Wolfsbane Potion turned out to be a success. My theory on infusing it with the green tea worked, but it took a while to find the right formula. With the help of Masters Jurgenson and Toriyama, I published my findings and research in an article for the Prestigious Potions Publications. I credited him for the hybrid he cultivated. I had to. I mean, bloody hell, it was the right thing to do!
Instead, though, he sent me that ridiculous note and even said in an interview that he didn't deserve the credit, saying that I did it all instead of him contributing anything useful.
Useful my bloody arse! He ended up cultivating the very plant that I needed for the potions, and he claimed he didn't do anything useful?!
If there ever was another reason to hate him, it would be for this! But how could I hate him for that? And for all the other reasons? I couldn't.
That fact alone made me more perturbed.
"What are you talking about, Astoria?" I wearily brought up my hand and rested them on my forehead as my elbow remained on the armrest. My other hand remained on the other armrest where my fingers tapped the soft material. I looked at my wife sitting across from me, with her pale hands folded in her laps.
"I think we should divorce, Draco."
"Why? What's your reason to come to this drastic conclusion?" My voice came out flat.
"Draco, I . . . I know, Draco. You don't love me. I've known for a while now that your heart's taken by someone other than me." She looked at me peacefully. Her hazel eyes were clear, instead of looking emotional or like she wanted to cry. She looked as if she was telling me something mundane like Scorpius' morning events.
Still, I flinched at her words. I couldn't believe it. I never thought her as vapid or brainless, but I didn't think she'd figure out my jumbled up emotions and my inner-self that well. Now that she said it, her words proved to be true. She spoke the truth I had tried to deny and hide even from myself, but my secrets slowly came out as it became exposed.
"Astoria . . . "
"No, don't deny it. It would be best to separate. It isn't fair to me to be in this one-sided relationship. It's not fair for Scorpius. And," she paused as she reached over and grabbed my hand, the one against my face, "it isn't fair for you."
"Astoria, you've jumped to the wrong--"
She cut me off and continued. "I'm not stupid, Draco! I'm not upset with you. I come from a rich pureblood family, too. I grew up in a similar situation like yours, where we had expectations and obligations thrown upon us before we were even born. We are in the same shoes, and I understand it better than you take me for! You never loved me . . . and I never really loved you, either. You and I both came to care for each other, but we never loved each other. That's the simple truth."
I couldn't argue with her. What she said was all accurate. Instead of saying anything, I knelt on the floor in front of her, and I cupped her face in my hands. I took in her elegant beauty, stroking her pink cheeks and running my fingers over her full lips. I leant in and kissed her one last time. Like all the kisses we had exchanged, this kiss felt no different. Passion and love never existed between us. The only difference was that I sensed the finality between us in this kiss.
After we separated, it took several months for our divorce papers to go through. Unlike the Muggle world, the divorce process took less time and hassle if both parties were willing to mutually part. Even if divorces weren't common in the wizarding world compared to the Muggle world, they were still a much easier process. It just involved a lot of paperwork.
Then we had to explain to Scorpius our parting to him. Luckily, he took it well. Well, not so well in the first few weeks. He was a bit sullen and stayed away from us, but eventually he adapted to the news after we assured the divorce was not his fault and that we'd always love him. I suspected he always could sense that gap between us. He followed after his mother; he was naturally more perceptive than he led on.
Scorpius came into my custody with visitation rights to Astoria. Normally, the child in a divorced couple would be given to the mother, but with her parents living in France and her working full-time, Scorpius remained with me at the manor where my mother could still take care of him. It worked out well, surprisingly.
It wasn't until I tucked Scorpius to bed one night that I felt something inside me awaken. I sat alone in my study, taking in a nightcap before bed, and I felt liberated. It felt like a whole new world had opened up, and that realisation hit me more when I stared at my ring-free finger.
Of course, I didn't show my new emotions to anybody. No point, really. I was known as that stoic Potions master, and I intended to keep up that reputation.
After the divorce, my recent liberation went out the window. A couple of months since Astoria left the manor, I read a document Master Toriyama had sent me, a document about Traditional Chinese Medicines. In the document, there was an entire section dedicated to Chinese Herbology. More specifically, there was a list that caught my attention, a list of "Fifty Fundamental Herbs" used in TCM.
Normally, that kind of studies suited herbologists, but when I saw Gentiana loureiroi on the list, I began to read about Gentiana in general. This was a genus of flowering plants, with more than 400 species available around the world. One species caught my eye because of its rarity. Called Gentiana verna or Spring Gentian, it was a plant that used to flourish all over central and south-eastern Europe along with western Ireland. Now, it was only confined in one location at Teesdale, England. Its rarity marvelled us wizards and witches along with the Muggles.
Luckily, we didn't share the same superstitions about the Spring Gentian like the Muggles did. Muggles believed that bringing in this plant to their homes would cause a lightning to strike them. They also presumed that picking the flower will bring immediate death to the victim. These tales of warning were nothing but rubbish. The only thing we agreed on was that the plant had some healing properties that would be beneficial to both the wizarding and the non-wizarding folks.
With that fact in mind, I began my research on the plant. I went to every major library in Europe and visited botanists and herbologists who were old enough to remember when the plant was readily available. Their information proved to be helpful and interesting. However, it wasn't until I found the esteemed but reclusive Master Albach in the hidden valley of the Alps Mountain that I finally established something tangible about the plant I could work with.
Apparently, this plant had the curative effects on the nervous system, or it could at least alleviate some symptoms of mental illnesses.
My next step took me to the botanists in Teesdale. I requested some Spring Gentian seeds, but they told me there was a long waiting list.
Sighing, I asked, "How long will I have to wait?"
I didn't like their response at all. "A few years. Maybe three years? Four?"
"Is there anyone else I could go to? How about a previous customer of yours that bought these seeds?"
"That's the thing, sir, most of the customers fail in growing the plant. We haven't heard any success stories from our past customers -- unless they're holding out on us."
My teeth ground in frustration, but I gave in. After all, I could wait. In the meantime, I would work on the theory. Then I would need to have someone cultivate them and continue to do so until I had enough to work and experiment with.
"All right. Put me on the list."
Now all I had to do was wait while I researched the plant's properties and how it would affect mental illnesses, more specifically the long exposure to the Cruciatus Curse.
When Scorpius turned eleven this month, I knew this would be the last birthday I'd celebrate with him before he went off to Hogwarts next year. As his present, I asked him what he'd like to do.
He requested a trip to Italy.
I accepted his choice with no qualms. Later, I changed my mind when we arrived there.
Looking at those Roman statutes had some unexpected effects on me. The chiselled chest, the strong looking jaws, and the muscular build of the statues reminded me of the person I'd been trying to not think of in a sexual way. These statues did a fantastic job on reminding me of him. I hated it.
When Scorpius told me that coming here made him happy, I felt love towards him because I wanted my son to be happy, and if coming here made him happy, then so be it.
But I vowed never to visit to Italy again in any foreseeable future.
Astoria and I had made an appearance together at King's Cross. Both of us came to say goodbye to Scorpius, who was on his way to Hogwarts. There, at the platform, I saw the Potter and the Weasley families. I nodded curtly towards Potter when our eyes met, but then I turned my attention to my son.
"Remember, Scorpius, owl me with Pegasus if there's any trouble. Do well with your studies. And most of all, be happy."
"Yes, Dad." He and I hugged. When I let go, I stepped back to look at him. He had grown so fast. I took in the hair he inherited from me and his eyes that Astoria's genes gave him. He really did take after me, but I knew he was nothing like the brat I used to be at his age.
Soon, Astoria hugged and kissed him goodbye, and we waved farewell until the train could be seen no more.
I looked at my former wife and said, "How about dinner? You can also spend the night at the manor. Mother would be delighted for the company."
She gave me her warm, familiar smile. "That sounds lovely. I would also love to catch up with you for old time's sake."
That night, we did that. Mother, Astoria, and I had a wonderful dinner, and we drank the best wine as we talked and reminisced about our days at Hogwarts briefly before we talked about what had been going on with our lives. Now that Scorpius wasn't going to be here, Mother decided that she'd go visit relatives in France. Astoria told us about her career. She mentioned that Terry Boot had developed a crush on her, and she also found him to be quite endearing. While mother gushed about that news, I gave her a supportive smile -- though I didn't quite think Boot would have been good for her. I might have never loved her, but I still wanted her to be happy and held her best interests to my heart!
Next morning, I received a letter from Scorpius. Pegasus practically assaulted me at breakfast, before I had my first cup of coffee. I shoved the damned bird aside and opened up the letter to read its message. Astoria was at the table with me -- Mother still asleep -- and she saw my pale face paling more and my fingers gripping at the edge of the parchment.
"Draco?" I saw a concerned look on her face. "What is it? Did something happen to him?"
My voice came out hoarse -- probably from the shock. "He's . . . he's been sorted into Hufflepuff!"
Her worried looks melted into a bewildered one. "So? We have never exactly enforced him that he had to be in Slytherin. In fact, we told him that it didn't matter which house he belonged to since he'll do well in any of them."
I set the letter down and glared at Astoria. "That's not the problem. The problem lies with the person in charge of the Hufflepuff House!"
"What's wrong with Professor Long--" she cut off her own sentence, a knowing expression came onto her pretty face. "I get it. So that's who you've been yearning for all these years."
"Astoria!" I exclaimed, shocked at her frankness.
"I don't see you denying it, so I guess it's reality."
I stared at her with my mouth wide opened. I knew it wasn't an attractive look, but she had really dropped the bombshell on me. "H-how did you come to that conclusion?"
As soon as that question left my mouth, I knew it was a stupid thing to ask. She agreed by saying, "Honey? Have you lost a few knuts in your brain from all that potion fumes? Give me some credit here! I've been your wife and your live-in companion for a decade, so it's only natural I'd figure this out from that single reaction of yours."
Before I could retort with an icy remark, she walked over to me and kissed me on the cheeks. "Now, I have to run. I forgot that I need to meet an important client this early in the morning. Just do me a favour?"
"What is it, dear?"
"Be happy. Stop torturing yourself. Go after what you want to go after. Be a Gryffindor for a change."
"Uh, Astoria? Have you forgotten? He's dating that Abbott woman."
"No, they're not. They are just business partners. That's all they've been for years." She hugged me.
"What?!" How could that had slipped my mind? I always thought the two were together! I just thought they didn't want to get married until he decided to quit his job as a professor or something along that line.
"Most people assume they are together, but I know the truth. I don't work at the Department of Marriage for nothing, you know." With a final smirk, she Apparated on the spot, leaving me to stare owlishly at where she stood. It wasn't until I heard a hoot from Pegasus did I regain my composure.
"Well, bugger me . . . " I summoned a blank parchment and a quill and began to write a note back to Scorpius, congratulating him on the sorting. When Pegasus flew off, I was left alone to my thoughts.
An entire school year nearly passed. Scorpius was doing well at school. His hard work ethics made him a good student, and he became best friends with Albus Severus Potter and Rose Weasley. That fact alone became ironic. A Malfoy in Hufflepuff, a Potter in Slytherin, and a Weasley in Ravenclaw. Despite being in three different houses, the three of them had become known as the "Three Musketeers", replacing Potter, Granger, and Weasley. Only difference was that they didn't get into as much trouble as the latter did. Instead, they rather fancied the idea of coming up with tricks and methods to break down the house barriers and to create a school newspaper with the help of older students.
I was pleased by Scorpius' happiness.
This month was also special. It marked the twentieth anniversary of the final battle, of many people's death, and of Lord Voldemort's death and defeat.
On a more personal level, it was the twentieth anniversary of the day I lost him due to my pride and my mixed up priorities. I regretted what I had done back then, yet I had slowly accepted the consequences of my decisions. I became the way I was now due to choices I made in my past.
I felt pangs in my heart as I sat in my favourite chair, with a brandy in my hand. I sipped the drink, allowing the flavour to seep into my mouth. I wanted to be with him. I didn't exactly want to deny that fact any more. I supposed the news of him being single boosted something in me, but I didn't know for sure. Even if I did know, could I do it? Could I go back to him? Would he accept me? How would I react? How would he react? I was sure he had changed a lot in the past two decades; I knew I did. I was no longer that boy in our seventh year and neither was he. We were now both men. I was convinced that getting together with him wouldn't be an easy task.
Of course, my incorrigible personality and pride would not make it easy to get back together.
That was the only thing I was certain about, along with the fact that only time would tell and unfold what would happen in the future.
Like I did that one time almost fifteen years ago, I made a silent toast to him and to myself. I wished us luck for another two decades.
Part III: The Year of Predestination
I don't think of the past. The only thing that matters is the everlasting present. -- W. Somerset Maugham
I received three things this month, all in the same day. First I met and picked my son up from King's Cross. He had finished his third year. After our greetings, he dragged me towards Potter and his wife and Weasley and his now ex-wife. All five of us acted curt -- the male Weasel still giving me a death glare. Nothing out of the ordinary, but I did feel something strained between Potter and Potterette.
All five of us briefly talked and arranged some dates for Scorpius, Albus Severus, and Rose to meet each other this summer. The three became closer over their second and third years. I didn't mind. It made me happy to see Scorpius getting along with his friends -- even if they were Potter's and Weasel's offspring. However, I did sense some hint of rivalry or discontentment between Scorpius and the oldest Potter child, James.
Soon, Scorpius and I left them. I shrunk his trunk, ordered Pegasus to go to the manor, and shrunk his cage as well. I took Scorpius to Diagon Alley. I had promised him a trip there when he came back. Besides, he had grown taller over the school year, and he needed some new summer robes. We walked towards The Leaky Cauldron. It was crowded in there, and I didn't think to look for Hannah or anything of that nature. We soon reached our destination.
During our mini-trip, Scorpius talked about his year. Even though he sent me posts on a regular basis, I still preferred hearing his accounts directly from him. He told me all of his adventures and his studies. He told me about how the house division turned out to be a bit better than the two previous years. He even told me about his Quidditch practices and how he and Albus Severus had a friendly rivalry as Chasers.
Throughout his tales, we accomplished our mission at Diagon Alley. We flooed home from the Leaky Cauldron, and when we arrived in the sitting room, Astoria greeted us.
"Scorpius!" She reached out and hugged him, examined him, exclaimed how much he had changed, and hugged him tightly again.
"Mum! You're suffocating me!"
We all laughed as she let him go. "Oh, Draco, there are two letters here for you." She pointed an elegant finger at two envelopes. One was a wizard post; the other was a Muggle post.
"Why don't I let you two catch up on things while I attend to some quick business?"
They agreed, and I took the envelopes into my study. I opened the Muggle one first. It was from the botanist at Teesdale. Excited, I read through the letter quickly.
Dear Mr Malfoy,
The Spring Gentian you requested will be available for you this autumn. We wanted to apologise for the long wait and thank you for being so patient. This October, we will send you another message to let you know when you can pick up the seeds.
We thank you again for your patronage.
The Teesdale Botany Organisation
Finally! After years of waiting, the seeds would finally come in my possession!
Feeling giddy and ecstatic at this unexpected message, I unsealed the other message. It was from Hogwarts. More specifically, it was from the Headmistress.
Dear Master Malfoy,
I am sending this message to you in hopes of seeing if you are interested in a proposition. I am unsure if you have heard the news, but Professor Slughorn announced his retirement at the end of this school year. Since you have risen in the ranks of being one of the most esteemed Potions masters in the British Isle, I wonder if you would be interested in taking over the teaching post.
If you are interested in this offer, please send me a message as soon as possible. Your expertise in the subject and as a former Hogwarts graduate would be an asset to the school as a whole.
By the way, your son is doing wonderfully -- just thought I'd let you know.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
I thought about this new prospect. Right now, I worked at the Ministry as one of their consultant on potions. Originally, I took this job because I thought it would give me more time to do my personal research and experiment. That desire proved to be futile. I spent more time doing paperwork and answering questions belonging to the stupid bureaucratic idiots there.
I quickly surmised my situation and compared it to the idea of becoming a Hogwarts professor. Granted, I would be replacing ministry dunderheads with those of the students, but the idea of teaching these brats something where they can think outside of the box unlike Professor Slughorn also tempted me. Scorpius informed me that Professor Slughorn taught them the basics, but the man was so old-schooled in his teaching that he really was no better than Binns.
Even though becoming a professor was never in my wildest dreams, I found myself intrigued by it. I would like to try it, at least for one year, and see how it goes. I wanted a new challenge, and I wanted to be near my son. Of course, I wouldn't stalk him or keep my eyes on him all the time, but I realised that with him gone for most of the year, I missed him and became rather lonely.
I decided to take the job. Then again, the news of the seeds had put me in an extremely joyful mood, along with Scorpius visit back home. So even if someone had said to go take care of a hippogriff with Hagrid, I would have done it with no complaint and whinging on the side.
I found a parchment and quickly jotted down a short reply to tell the headmistress that I accepted her proposal.
When I sent the note off, I walked out of the room with an uncharacteristic grin on my face. My son and my former wife received my new job with enthusiasm, and we ended the evening with one of the best dinner celebrations I ever had.
Bugger it all.
I wanted to bang my head on the High Table in the Great Hall. Three months ago, I had been deliriously happy with the seed and the job proposal -- so happy to the point that I accepted the job like an unthinking Gryffindor.
That was the first and hopefully the last time I'd act like one of the lions again!
In my delight, I suffered temporary amnesia. I had forgotten who else worked at Hogwarts. The fact that Herbology master and Professor Neville Longbottom worked there slipped my mind.
I did want to go back to him but not so soon! I wasn't prepared to face my confused feelings for him yet.
Like I said, bugger, damn, shite, bollocks, and etcetera flew inside my head.
Some sadistic deities up in heaven or down in hell hated me and wanted to torture me. Or I lacked luck.
Sighing and clenching my fists, I looked around the staff table. I saw the familiar faces of the staff who were here when I was a student. That oaf Hagrid had returned to being the groundskeeper and gamekeeper, and Filch still haunted the corridors, muttering about the good for nothing cretins. Professor Sinistra and Professor Vector still taught Astronomy and Arithmancy respectively. Professor Binns still taught History of Magic, still probably putting the students to a good snooze. Madame Pince carried a sour expression like always. Madame Pomfrey, not present, probably was puttering around in the hospital wing.
Amongst the newer staff members, Luna Lovegood-Scamander took over as the professor of Care of Magical Creatures. Theodore Nott, my old housemate, took over as the Charms professor when Flitwick retired ten years ago; he was also the Head of Slytherin -- Professor Slughorn turned it over to him five years ago -- and was the Deputy Headmaster, making him currently absent from the table. The Ancient Runes professor was replaced by Padma Patil who acted as the head of Ravenclaw. Oliver Wood, retiring from Quidditch, replaced Madame Hooch as the Flying Instructor and the Quidditch Coach for all houses. Lavender Brown succeeded over Divination, and Penelope Clearwater had been the Muggle Studies professor for at least fifteen years.
Although he'd been an assistant Transfiguration professor, Teddy Lupin finally took over this year as the actual professor and Head of Gryffindor. This didn't bother me. What bothered me was the man next to him. The new Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor, Professor Harry Potter himself.
I felt myself turning ill -- especially since he sat next to me.
My eyes left the staff table and looked at the rest of the Great Hall. I glimpsed my son at the Hufflepuff table, chattering away with his friends. Probably about some new Muggle board games he and Albus Severus recently found fascinating. Clue or something was their current obsession.
I looked over at the Ravenclaws and targeted Rose. She took after her mother to the extreme. While the rest of her housemates talked, she buried her face in a massive book. I briefly wondered if it was a seventh year text instead of a fourth year one.
My stare lingered the longest at my former house. Albus Severus' green eyes twinkled as he talked animatedly with his housemates -- probably the same thing Scorpius talked about on the other side of the hall. I had heard how Nott acted like the head, and the result could be seen just by looking at the long table filled with Slytherins. I actually saw several of them waving to their friends in other houses. Then again, maybe Scorpius, Albus Severus, and Rose's campaign of breaking down house division really did its job.
Lastly, I turned my gaze at the Gryffindor's table. I found Rose's brother, Hugo, there. It looked like he had something hidden in his lap while showing it to his friends. I had a funny feeling it was one of his uncle's joke products. Filch definitely had some work cut out for him.
I looked at the remaining two of Potter's children, James and Lily. I sensed resentment from their body language. Their face didn't betray that feeling, though. They looked happy on the surface, but on the inside, it was a different story. A couple of times, they had given a look of bitterness to the staff table. It didn't take me long to figure out that their father was the receiving end of the looks.
The golden couple, Harry and Ginevra, divorced just a couple months ago. That explained the strange interaction between them at King's Cross last year or so. Apparently, Albus Severus accepted the change, but not his brother and sister, and they both channelled their feelings towards their father.
For once, I felt a bit of sympathy towards Potter. Just a smidgen.
At that moment, Deputy Headmaster Nott came in with the first years. The hall quieted down for the sorting, and when that was over, Headmistress McGonagall tapped her glass to attract everyone's attention.
"Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It's wonderful seeing familiar and new faces. Before I announce some news that pertains to your well-being, I'd like to introduce some new staff members. Joining us finally as a full-fledged Transfigurations professor is Professor Lupin."
We all clapped as the blue-haired metamorphmagus blushed as he stood up and waved.
"Next, as many of you know, Professor Slughorn went back to his retirement. Taking his place is Professor Malfoy, the esteemed Potions master. We are quite honoured for him to come teach here."
I stood up, tall and proud, keeping my stoic expression in place. The hall clapped, even though I saw some knowing looks being passed amongst them. I ignored it and sat down.
"Finally, please welcome Professor Potter, who took over Professor Timms, as your new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor. He had retired from his Auror career and took this position."
The whole hall clapped, but I heard hushed whispers as the awestruck students stared at Potter. Taking a closer look at Potter, I saw that he had grown his wild hair out, but somehow had tamed it into a small ponytail. He still wore that horrid looking glasses, but they did fit him, somehow. His fringes partially covered his famous scar, and that reminded me of my own scar on my left arm. He gave the whole hall a shy smile as he sat back down.
Headmistress McGonagall continued on her traditional speech about the Forbidden Forest, the Whomping Willow, and the banned products and other contraband on Filch's list. Then food appeared on the table, and we all ate and conversed around us.
Professor Nott came and sat on my other side, and we talked. I asked him for an update on the student's life and their level of potions skills. He asked me about some of my research and experiments. While that went on, I avoided looking at Professor Longbottom. I wanted to avoid him all night, but once again, those deities didn't take my wishes into consideration.
The inevitable happened later that evening. I went to my office, to make some last minute lesson plan changes. Engrossed in my work, I heard a knock on the door. With my mind already elsewhere, I drawled, "Come in."
The door closed as I quickly jotted down the last item on my lesson plan. Looking up, I said, "What can I--" My sentence ended right there as my mouth froze upon seeing my guest.
"Did I come at a bad time?" He made a gesture at the door. "I can leave."
"No, no. I was just about finished." I stood up hastily, walked around my desk, and leaned against it. Unprepared, my usual biting sarcasm had left me.
"How have you been? All right, Draco?"
We were still on that first name basis? "I've been fine, Professor Longbottom. And yourself?"
A hint of a smile came on his face. "Neville, if you please. We are co-workers now. No need to be this formal around each other." He retreated from the door and came to stop a few feet away from me.
I reacted by grabbing the desk behind me with a strong grip. "I'm still upset that you declined any credits to that Wolfsbane Potion." I mentally winced at my cold words, but it was true. His refusal to receive recognition stung me, even until this day. To me, it was a form of rejection.
"Ah, yes, that." I watched the way he shoved his hands in his robe pockets. "Please, don't be upset. You were the one who brilliantly discovered its properties and made it work. I only bred the plant."
Flatly, I retorted with, "But if you hadn't bred that plant, I would have never discovered its hidden properties! Don't be so modest!"
"Well, I'm sorry if my actions upset you." He bowed his head.
He really did grow taller and broader. I actually had to tilt my head to look up and his head was already bent! That simple action, though, made some of my anger disappear. I wanted to forgive him. Holding a grudge this long really wasn't worth it. "Fine. Next time, though, theoretically speaking, if we ever do come into a similar situation, you will get credits, or I will make sure to have the Bloody Baron order Peeves to make you miserable."
He lifted his head up, and I saw the amused twinkle in his eyes. "Deal. I would hate to have Peeves bother me every day."
"I was thinking every minute."
His laughter escaped from him, and I found myself chuckling, too. My own tenor surprisingly matched his baritone ones. I tried to remember if his voice was this deep years ago when we were at the conference, where he came as one of the speakers. I couldn't really remember. I only remembered his height, his upper body, his hair -- they still carried the lighter-coloured highlights -- and his eyes. I found myself looking into them, the warmth in his eyes soothing me.
"By the way." His voice brought me out of my reverie. "I never did thank you for that note you sent me when Gran passed away."
"No worries. I didn't send you my gratitude when my father passed away. I think we're even in that aspect." I waved my hand around to emphasise my words.
I didn't expect him to grab it, and grab it he did. Without me noticing, he had stepped closer to me. He stood so near and with his hand holding mine, I felt dizzy. I stared at our joined hands -- his were much darker than I remembered. I let my eyes travel upwards, and soon they gazed at his face. I saw faint scars still littering here and there, paler than the rest of his tanned face. I recalled my desires to touch them when we were boys, and that desire grew inside of me again.
"And I'm sorry to hear about your divorce."
That broke whatever spell that held us together, and I snatched my hand out of his and replaced whatever expression on my face with my usual stoic one. "It's fine. We were just not meant to be." I stepped around him, and with my hands behind my back, I stared at the closed doors.
"What about you and Hannah Abbott?" Even though I knew the answer, I still asked the question, needing to hear the answer from him.
"Hannah?" I heard confusion in his questioning tone. I turned around to see a frown on his face. "We were just friends. I mean, yes, we did try dating, but that proved to be, er, a nightmare."
"I see." I gave him a cool look as I tried to fix my messed up emotions inside of me. Seeing him, being this close with him, and talking to him made me feel strange. I knew that deep inside of me, I still fancied him, but at the same time, I had small doubts on pursuing this. Then again, I didn't want this fragile chance to be muddled either.
He smiled at me -- looking as if he understood my predicament. Did he study Divination or was he psychic?!
"Anyway, I just stopped by to tell you welcome and that if you need help with anything, feel free to ask. I've got to go now. I have a bunch of first year Hufflepuffs to talk to and the older students as well."
"Good night and thank you," I automatically said.
He nodded, patted my shoulders in a comradely manner, and left me.
As soon as I heard the door click shut, I closed my eyes and muttered, "This is going to be a long year."
More than a month passed since my last conversation with him. I buried myself into my job, keeping my mind distracted from the issues I didn't want to face.
I discovered just how Professor Snape felt all those years as a teacher. A lot of people said he was an impatient bastard. Well, I begged to differ. Teaching dunderheads an intricate art like potions required a lot of patience, and he had a lot of it to put up with the brainless gits. I didn't know how he did it.
Sure, there were students here and there who were good at potions, but most blew theirs up like Longbottom used to. All these explosions made me wonder just how much my classroom could sustain.
Along with their failures at making a simple potion, their essays appalled me. Reading their barely legible writings made me realise that teaching Scorpius penmanship was a necessity. Not only was the handwriting generally awful, most of them didn't know how to structure an essay. Exactly how hard was it to have an introduction, the main body, and the conclusion?
Deciding that I needed a break from these horrid experiences, I went out to the Three Broomsticks on the first Hogsmeade outing. After I made sure my son had enough galleons to spend, I watched him sprint off with his friends to Honedyukes.
I greeted Rosmerta, who still looked beautiful all these years. I ended up at a table with Nott, and we exchanged our teaching horror stories. I allowed myself to relax and have fun, but then I had to go back to do something.
I had to start on my project. It was going to be a difficult project. Last weekend, I finally picked up the Spring Gentian seeds from Teesdale. They gave me concise instructions on how to raise it, and reading over the steps made my head hurt. For once, I wished I was an expert at herbology -- magical or non-magical!
I excused myself from Nott. Patil had joined him, so I knew my presence wasn't going to be missed. Exiting, I breathed in the crisp autumn air and headed back to Hogwarts at a leisurely pace.
When I saw the greenhouses, I stopped to look if anything had changed. Because of the hectic first month, I hadn't been able to explore my old school to see any alterations.
I stepped into the first one with an open door. I glanced around, taking in the various plants that greeted me. After looking around a few minutes, I came to the conclusion that this was not the usual student greenhouses. It had to be Longbottom's personal one. I started to turn around, to leave before he came, but then something caught my eyes. Something vaguely familiar.
I moved closer to the plant. I stared at the lilac flowers and bent down to smell its scent. It was a pleasant scent. Reminded me of jasmine and lavender. I racked my head for the plant's name, and then it hit me.
"The Ranzania japonica!" I softly exclaimed. I reached out to touch a soft petal and withdrew my hand away from it. Now that I realised what it was, it mesmerised me. Actually, the whole fact that he had managed to cultivate it made me speechless. I knew he could do it. I had no doubts. But to see it in front of me, to see it many years after I sent it to him secretly, made me strangely happy.
A noise interrupted me, and I spun around with my hand on my wand. When I saw who it was, I relaxed my stance and stared at the owner of the greenhouse.
"Hello, Draco." He gave me a friendly look as he walked up to an empty table. He set down a pot of plant and turned his attention to me. "You like my greenhouse?"
I nodded. "Sorry for intruding. I didn't realise it was yours -- thought it was one of the student greenhouses."
He waved a hand, and I saw the dirt under his nails. "No need to apologise. If I really didn't want anybody in here, I could have easily locked the door."
He came up next to me and looked at the plant I was looking at.
"Oh, yes, the Ranzania japonica, also known as the Togakushisgouma." I gave him a sideway glance and saw that his smile grew wider. "This plant is my favourite. My pride and joy, really. Somebody anonymously sent it to me and told me to try raising it, telling me it was really tough to do so."
"Mm." I didn't know what else to say, especially since I was the mystery benefactor.
I nearly jumped when I felt one of his large hands on my shoulder. I looked at the hand and then my eyes went up to his face. I stared at his knowing face. "Thank you, Draco, for sending me such a rare and beautiful plant. Although, I don't know why you'd send me something so expensive."
My mouth dropped open at his words. How unappealing of me! "What? How -- you knew -- what?!"
"Ah. My hunches were correct."
A scowl came into my face. "Wait, are you saying that if I had denied this entirely, you wouldn't have known it was me?"
"Perhaps. But my instincts told me it had to be you." He leaned closer towards me, and I suppressed a shiver that nearly overcame me. I wondered if it was from the cold or from something entirely different.
Before I could do or say anything, his hand left me, stepping away from me. My body nearly betrayed me as I almost chased after that disappearing warmth. Instead, I quickly composed myself and stiffly said, "Well, I'm glad you cultivated this plant. It really is beautiful, more so than seeing an old picture."
"It was a challenge, but a very enjoyable challenge." Longbottom gestured towards a closed door. "Would you like something to drink? My office's there, and we can talk with a drink."
I hesitated. I already had plans to do the first stage of the planting, but his offer tempted me. "As much as I would like to accept your offer, Professor Longbottom, I have things to attend to."
"Ah." He stepped aside and said cheerfully, "Some other time, then?"
Nodding, I said, "Of course." I bowed my head. "I'll take my leave."
I left his sanctuary and headed towards my own office, feeling confused and distant. Once in the safety of my private space, I rested against the closed door and breathed out heavily. He made me feel like a lovesick teenager. He made me feel like a prat.
Argh! I mentally screamed out my frustration and ran a hand through my hair, messing it all up. Fuck. I don't need this. I don't need this distraction!
I stomped over to my desk, throwing my notebook open. I stared at the notes I made about the new potion I planned to develop, and I could not get past that first page.
This wasn't going to work. I felt too irritated. I felt like something inside me needed to escape.
Slamming my stuff away, I stalked to my personal quarters. Once in there, I stripped myself of my robes, drew a warm bubble bath, and stepped into the suds. Immediately, my body and mind came to a peaceful state. Sighing, I began to clean myself. I ran a wash-cloth over my arms, my chest, and my stomach.
When I grazed over one of my nipples, I gasped as I imagined his hands on me, his hands teasing and pinching one of my sensitive nubs. His thick fingers came into my head, and I remembered the dirt beneath his nails. I pretended they scraped along my sides, could feel one of the large hands clutching at my slim waist while the other went lower and lower until it touched me.
Instead of his hands, though, it was my hand that began to slowly stroke my hardness. I still visualised it to be him, wanted his hand to be the one stroking me. My lips parted as I envisioned his mouth on mine, his tongue entering in my mouth, like he did those many years ago. My strokes became faster and ragged, as well my breathing. When I came, I came hard, my voice screaming raw with emotions.
I had lost my mind.
But not entirely. I knew a great wank session when I went through one, and this ended up being one of my best masturbatory moments of my life.
Then again, perhaps I did lose my mind.
Oh, for Morgana's sake! I threw down the parchment. I received news from Master Wallis, and he wrote saying that he couldn't cultivate the Spring Gentian. He was the fifth person to tell me that. Very disappointing.
I massaged my temple as I tried to think of my other alternatives. Honestly, my first choice happened to be Professor Longbottom, but something compelled me to not ask him. I didn't know what it was. Maybe, I just didn't want to find an excuse to go see him like that. Maybe, I simply didn't want to bother him.
Whatever the case was, my situation looked pretty dismal. I was at my wit's end. I needed this plant to be planted and blooming if I want to get anywhere with this potion.
I grabbed the seeds and the instructions on how to cultivate the seeds, and I went to his office. Since it was a Friday night, many of the students weren't in the corridors. As I walked, my mind wandered to my son. He'd been acting a bit strange lately; not exactly strange per se, but more like he seemed a bit different. Withdrawn. Sure, he still obsessed over those board games with Albus Severus, but something was different about him, and I couldn't quite place my finger on what it was.
I shoved those thoughts aside as I knocked on his greenhouse. I waited outside, pulling my robes closer around me. As expected in late November, it was rather cold.
The door opened, and he looked over me, smiling. "Come in! You look chilled to the bones."
Stepping inside, I savoured the warmth before I turned towards him. "May I talk with you?"
He nodded. "Sure. I've wanted to have a chat with you, too." He led us into his office, and I sat down in the chair at the front of his desk. His very messy desk.
"Sorry about the mess." He gave me an apologetic smile as he sat down on the other side. "I've been marking the students' essays. Jolly times."
"I can imagine." I briefly wondered if he really wasn't sarcastic and enjoyed marking their essays but then remembered something. "You said you needed a word with me?"
"Not a single word, but I did need to talk with you." His eyes, those dark brown eyes, twinkled unabashedly at me.
I tried not to roll my eyes. "What's the occasion, Professor?"
I blinked. "What?"
"Call me Neville, please."
I gave him a wary look, almost expecting him to offer those awful sherbet lemons Headmaster Dumbeldore used to be fond of. "Fine. Neville, what is going on?"
He rested his elbows on the desk and laced those sturdy fingers of his together. I stared at them, nearly blushing as I remembered those nights where I would imagine them on me, pleasuring myself until I came. He began to talk, his deep voice washing over me. "I'm a bit worried about your son."
"Yes, he seems reserved around his housemates. He acts quite normally around Al and Rose, but he doesn't have this same aura about him lately."
"I kind of noticed it, too, but I'm sure you see it more since you're his house's head."
"The only other time I notice him being his usual self -- well I should say his provoked self -- is when James Potter and he argue with one another."
I frowned. Something was being insinuated there, but I wasn't sure what. "Why James Potter?"
"Despite the one year difference between them and their house affiliations, they have always been quite competitive with each other--"
"I sensed that."
"But," he paused. "Something between them has changed. Very subtly, but I can see it."
"Hm." This was news. I had better pay closer attention to my son and that oldest Potter child whenever they are together. "They aren't hurting each other, are they? Is he hurting Scorpius?"
"I don't think so." A small smirk came to his full lips. "It seems like the two of them enjoy their bantering -- more than they'd ever admit."
"Well, thank you for notifying the situation to me." While I said that, I thought about what he said and tried to think what could be the problem between the two. I wondered what had changed about Scorpius that even I could miss.
"Not a problem. I'm just doing my duty as the house's head."
I decided to think about Scorpius and Potter child number one later. Right now, I had other things to do. "Have you heard of the Spring Gentian?"
I saw a mystified and curious look on his face. "Yes, yes. I have. Though, I have never seen one since they are extremely rare."
"If you were given the opportunity to cultivate it, would you?"
"I would," he said, nodding firmly. "I would love to try to cultivate that once in my lifetime. However, the seeds are really hard to come by."
I smirked at him. "I have them. Those seeds that 'are really hard to come by'."
His eyebrows went up so high that they nearly disappeared beneath his fringes. "I must say, I'm impressed, but why this sudden interest for this particular plant?"
Briefly, I summarised my findings about the Spring Gentian after receiving those documents from Master Toriyama five years ago. I talked about how I found that the plant has a way to becoming a healing agents in potions if brewed correctly, and I talked about how those healing properties focussed on the nervous system and mental illnesses. When I mentioned mental illness, I looked at him closely to see how he would react. I strongly hoped that he wouldn't turn upset.
He didn't. He was too level-headed for his own good, as he had proven to me all those years ago in our seventh year. How he was in the same house as Potter and Weasel was beyond me.
"Mental illnesses? Like what, Draco?" He sat back in his chair, seeping his fingers together as he looked at me with interest.
I took a deep breath before answering. "I am currently trying to create a potion that will alleviate the after-effects that are seen commonly in Cruciatus victims. That's my objective, so that's why I need the Spring Gentian."
"Hmm," he hummed, taking in my plans. "And how are you going to get the test subjects for this potion? These Cruciatus victims are not in the right state of mind to give permissions to be test subjects, and trying to convince their relatives will not be easy."
"Well, I already have one test subject lined up," I said, giving him steady look, despite feeling quite the opposite inside. "Goyle's cousin is in a catatonic state from the Cruciatus, and Goyle's family has given me the permission to try the potions out on him. I haven't really gone around asking for people to be test subjects yet. I figure I'd brew the potions first before I instil false hopes to people."
"Wise move." An indecipherable look came upon his face and he unlaced his fingers and rested them on the desk. "May I make a proposal?"
"If I allow you to test that potion on my parents, will you let me cultivate the plant for free of charge?"
I looked at him quite astoundedly, not expecting a proposal like this. Yes, when I thought of this potion, I thought of his parents, but to actually test it on them? I never really thought he'd give me the permission, but here he was, giving me his consent, and surprising me of his easy acceptance. "I . . . I can't let you do this for free."
"I'm letting you test that potion on my parents. I think it's a fair trade."
I scowled as I tried to think through the logistics of this, and I had to grudgingly agree that this was probably a fair trade. A very risky fair trade, since who knew how this potion would turn out.
"There will be a lot of risks, Neville. Are you willing to accept that?"
He nodded. "Nothing else was ever done for them since they were admitted into that ward, so I am willing to try this out."
"All right." I handed him the seeds and the instructions. "I have extras back in my office, so if you need more . . . "
"I'm confident that I can cultivate it on my first try. If not, at least by the third."
Confidence. Something he lacked in our early days of Hogwarts and something he gained as we grew older. "I'm guessing you cultivated the Ranzania japonica on your first try?"
"You are indeed a great herbologist," I said softly, unaware why I was suddenly complimenting him.
"And you're an excellent Potions master. While I try to raise this plant, is there anything else you need while we wait?"
"Ah, yes," I said glad he followed that compliment up with the question, thus distracting me from flushing like a teenager. "Could I get a copy of your parents' medical records from St. Mungo's? I am trying to see if there are any correlations between them and Goyle's cousin, physiologically speaking that is.
"All right. I'll bring it to you in a day or two."
"Thank you. And thank you for telling me about Scorpius."
He waved a hand and stood up. "Do you want something to drink? I know I offered you some before, so I am asking again since you are here in my office."
I hesitated as I stared into my lap. I wanted to stay longer, wanted to stay for that drink. I felt conflicted by my emotions with him. How was it possible that I hated him but yet I lusted and desired after him? The nightly memories of where I wanked off while thinking of him ambushed me, and that flush I was able to avoid before came back, my cheeks feeling quite warm and most likely quite pink, too!
I lifted my head up at his deep voice calling me, and I saw him looking at me with a soft smile. Without warning, he walked around his desk and came to stop behind me. A whirl of emotions struggled inside of me as I stood up, and I slowly turned around to face him. If it weren't for that damned chair I was in moments ago, we probably would have been standing much closer to each other, but a large gap remained between us, and with my head tilted, I stared into his warm brown eyes.
Someone had cast a spell on me. Or the both of us. I wasn't sure if Neville felt the same as I did, but I couldn't move. It felt like some unknown force had me stuck in that spot, and all I could do was lift my hands up and rested them on his broad shoulders. His warmth emanated from his shoulders into my hands, and I felt something else of mine grew warm, which made me glad I chose to wear robes over my shirt and trousers.
Time had stopped. It had to. Nothing moved and no sounds could be heard. I heard Neville's deep breathing, and I watched as his own hand moved slowly. It came up to grasp my chin, and all I could do was watch his face come closer towards mine. Instinctively, my lips parted and when I felt his hot breath against my face, I closed my eyes.
Knock, knock, knock!
The intruding noise made me drop my hands from his shoulder. My eyes flew opened as he stepped back, letting me go, and I struggled for a second to regain my composure. When I did, I said, "I have to leave. Thank you, Professor Longbottom."
Hastily, I walked around him and made my escape, nearly running into a third year Hufflepuff outside the door.
I made it back to my private chambers in a record time, and once inside, I banged my forehead against the closed door and cursed myself at my embarrassing behaviour in his office. I really needed to stop acting like a damned hormonal teenager!
A couple of days went by as I lost myself into the hellish world of marking parchments after parchments of poor penmanship. I stayed late in my office, at my very shambolic desk looking like Peter Pan and Tinkerhell did some speed flying ballet moves on top of it. Amidst all the unruly looking piles of essays and quizzes, I easily found my tumbler of brandy and took a long drain from it. This gave my eyes a break from reading over a ten foot essay written by this generation's Hermione Granger, who unfortunately wrote really tiny texts -- whose penmanship was so tiny that only a mouse would be able to read it. As I squinted to read the horridly small words, I heard someone knocking on my door.
"Come in." The door opened and closed, but I didn't look up because I was determined to read the last paragraph of this torturous essay.
"Let me guess. You're reading -- or at least struggling to read -- Marianne Goldstein's essay?" asked a familiar voice, just as I finished deciphering the last sentence.
My head snapped up in surprise, and I saw Neville standing in front of the desk with an amused smile. "Yes, this is Miss Goldstein's essay."
"She writes well, but she's very long-winded and writes awfully small. Her essays made me invest in a magnifying glass."
I smirked. "I agree with your points, and I think I will find a magnifying glass, too, just so I don't go blind in the next two months."
He let out a soft chuckle. While he laughed, I quickly jotted down the mark at the top of the essay, and I set my quill down. Standing up, I asked professionally, "Is there something I can do for you?"
Neville revealed a rather heavy looking folder from behind him, and he handed it towards me. "My parents' medical records from St. Mungo's."
"Ah," I said, accepting them. "Thank you for remembering."
"Not a problem. I did find a rather decent Remembrall, though I disabled its hexing feature."
"I . . . I see," I said, trying to keep my voice neutral. I recalled a Remembrall I bought for Goyle that hexed its user, and I remembered how I thought about getting it for Neville. It really was a good thing I didn't get that for him. What would he do with two hexing Remembralls?
Oh, bugger. I'd drifted off with my thoughts. How embarrassing. "Sorry. You were saying?"
"I was just saying that if you needed anything else, please let me know."
"Ah, yes, I will." Setting the folder down on top of the finished piles, I remembered my manners. "Would you like a drink?"
"Sure, if you promise to have a drink in my office one day." He gave me a . . . was that a teasing smile? Well, he gave me some kind of a smile.
In a light tone, I responded, "Yes. One day."
With the brandy already on my desk, I summoned another tumbler with my wand. Handing that to him, I poured him a generous amount. Then I gestured towards the sofa against the wall on the far side of the room.
"Have a seat."
He did, and I followed and sat next to him with my own tumbler. I sat there, unsure of what to do next. Luckily, he clinked my glass with his.
"To our new partnership."
I wasn't expecting that. Sure, over the years, I had toasted my drinks to him by myself, but to be right here and next to him, toasting our unpredicted partnership, was not something I had envisioned. It felt . . . good. Being around him like this might have made me confused, but his laid back attitude calmed me in many other ways.
I smiled and raised my glass. "To our new partnership."
We both took a sip, and for the next hour or so, we talked about the different theories about how this plant and the potion will affect Cruciatus victims. Our discussion led me to mentally note many different angles and theories that were heavily based on the herbology aspects. We both brought each other's strengths and weaknesses out, and I found myself really energised by our discussion. It had been a while since I found someone to have intellectual conversations about potions or herbology.
Eventually, we came upon a lull in our discussion, and that was when I saw that our glasses were empty.
"Do you want more?" While I asked that, I reached over to grab his empty tumbler, but before my hand reached it, his other hand grabbed me by the wrist. He set his tumbler down on the table, and then he gently took my empty glass and set it next to his. With our hands free of the tumblers, he laced those two hands together, his other one still holding onto my wrist. Softly, his fingers rubbed my thin wrist in a circular motion, and he tugged me closer to him. Without thinking, I moved nearer to him, our legs meeting each other. I stared at him through half-lidded eyes, and I saw his face coming closer towards me, much like that time in his office. I parted my lips and felt my body tingle in anticipation. I fully closed my eyes when our lips finally touched each other, and I thought, So this is what coming back home feels like.
Fucking hell. My nickname should be "Twat", "Prick", or "Idiot". Why? Why did I push him away that night?! When we kissed, wasn't that what I wanted? Wasn't that exactly what I've been aching for these past months? No, years?
After I had shoved him away, I had ducked my head down, unable to see whatever expression that came on his face. He had sighed, a very heavy sigh, and quietly said, "I'll let you know the progress of the plant." Then he had left, and I was alone with my muddled emotions and his lingering warmth on my lips, hand, wrist, and legs.
I had spent an hour in the shower after he left -- a very cold shower.
A couple of weeks passed, and I found myself brooding like some angst-driven teenager over this incident. I tried to distract myself with my job and my research, but it proved to be naught as his image kept coming into my mind.
I needed someone to talk to about this, but to whom? Goyle? He wouldn't understand anything except why I had given up a gorgeous "bird" like Astoria. Astoria would be a good choice since she always listened well and always provided advice that was straight to the point. However, even I knew better than to go talk to my ex-wife about the man I'd been longing for all these years. I didn't fancy myself to be that heartless.
Nott would have been an option, but I didn't feel comfortable to discuss this with him. Patil, Brown, and Potter? Sure we were all in the same year, but I'd rather gorge my eyes out than to talk to them, especially Potter!
I looked up over my tea to see Luna walking into the staff lounge. Since I started working here, Luna and I slowly became friends. I found out that she wasn't really that "loony" as rumours made her to be. She was quite intelligent and well-versed in obscure information, even in potions. The more I talked with her, the more I found her inputs to be rather unconventional, but they were welcomed. I was glad there was someone in this castle I could talk to about potions instead of receiving a blank expression from most of its inhabitants.
Taking a sip of my lukewarm tea, I debated on whether I should try to get some advice from her. I wanted to tell her that a "friend" was having issues. I didn't really want her to know that the "friend" was me, of course! But before I could say anything, she came over and sat next to me on the sofa.
"Hello, Draco," she said, in her usual absent-minded style. "How are things?"
"Mm. It could be better. How about you?"
"I'm fine, but I'm trying to figure out what might be bothering Neville."
Just as she said that, I had been taking a sip of my tea, and her saying "Neville" made me choke. I coughed, feeling the tears coming into my eyes.
"And I noticed you've been unhappy about something, too."
When I didn't respond, she looked at me with huge questioning eyes. "I'm right, yes?"
"You spoke the truth. About me that is."
"I see." She shifted on her seat, crossing her legs and resting her pale hands on her lap. "You know, I do remember something."
"What?" I finally recovered from my coughing fit, and I gave her a questioning look.
"My father told me to always chew gum before sleeping. Said it's the best way to prevent morning breath when you wake up."
"Excuse me?" As always, Luna's randomness threw me off for a loop.
She continued, looking as if she never heard my outburst. "When Headmistress McGonagall announced the new teaching staff, I recalled Neville looking really happy when she said your name. Normally he never really cared about the new staff joining us, but this time he showed keen interest."
I didn't say anything as I studied my tea, not wanting to look at her knowing expression.
"And you started to look miserable about the same time he did. That's why I'm asking if perhaps something is happening to the men around here I am not aware of."
Her statement made me ask, "What do you mean 'something is happening to the men'?"
"Let's see. Theodore is pining after Padma, Harry and Teddy are pining for each other, Oliver is going through a male PMS session, Hagrid is forgetful, Filch suffers from existential angst, and Binns is a ghost, so he doesn't necessarily counts," Luna listed out, pausing as she looked closely at me. "Then there are you and Neville, who are acting quite like Harry and Teddy -- if not more ridiculously so. My father always said Cupid shoots his arrows at wizards than anyone else."
As my mouth dropped opened, she fingered one of her gaudy bracelets. Her eyes sparkled as she asked, "Have you ran into Cupid's arrows?"
Shaking my head, I closed my mouth and laughed at how surreal this conversation was. "I'm not sure if you're astute or you're blessed with divination skills that are better than Brown's and Trelawney's."
"Well, I do think divination has its usage, but I don't really believe in it. Therefore, I must be astute as you said."
"Mixed with unusual information." Sighing, I turned serious and explained to her briefly as I could about my mixed up feelings towards Neville. I didn't give too much details about what happened in my seventh year, but I did give her a condensed version, and I told her about that kiss from that night. Throughout my explanation, she didn't say anything, only listened intently to what I said. When I was done, she didn't respond immediately. Instead, she sat there and looked at me with a thoughtful expression.
"Sounds like you really do like him and care for him. Since your seventh year, from what I gather."
"And it also sounds like you're running away from what you really want."
Bristling at that comment, I snapped, "I am not running away."
"It's okay to keep running! The Earth is a sphere, after all. There's no dead end on the other side of the plane. But really, why are you under the impression that this is wrong? Is it because these are not expected of you? You have to run your own life, Draco. Trying to fulfil other's impressions of you will never make you happy. Do what makes you happy. Don't let other people run your life.
"One last thing. It also sounds like you're rather upset at Neville for his 'casual' acceptance of your choice in your seventh year. Are you?"
I didn't say anything for a while. What she said was true. I was upset at how he didn't contradict me back then. I was upset because I had felt like he hadn't really cared about us to stop me from that choice. I sighed and looked at her with a tired expression. "You're spot on, Luna. Well done."
She gave me a serene smile and stood up. With one last pat on my shoulder, she said, "Remember, crups are very affectionate like us wizards and witches." Then she left me with my own thoughts -- wondering how crups related to this situation.
I can't believe I'm doing this. "This" was me leaving the warm surroundings of Hogwarts and me heading towards the greenhouses. A week had passed since my conversation with Luna. A long week that had left me to think about everything that had happened and to determine what I needed to do. I finally came to a decision, and I decided to seek him out, making the initiative this time.
Shivering, I pulled my robes tightly around me, wondering why I was stupid and forgot my outer cloak. Apparently stress and nervousness combined had some strange effects on my cognitive skills.
Arriving at his personal greenhouse, I stood outside the door, trying to find some of that blasted Gryffindor courage that didn't quite exist in me. As I mentally tried to get my hand to open the door, I suddenly thought that maybe this was a stupid move, a move I shouldn't be making. I decided to leave quietly, but my body betrayed me as I let out a loud sneeze.
"Hello? Who's there?"
My mouth grew dry upon hearing his voice, and I froze when the door opened. With that barrier gone, I saw his surprised face blinking back at me.
"Oh, hello. I didn't realise it was you standing out here."
Inwardly, I flinched at how formal and professional his voice sounded. Not wanting to let him get the best of me, I raised my head up, and in my haughtiest voice, I said, "May I have a word with you?"
"Of course." He stepped aside. Glad to get away from the cold, I walked into the well-heated greenhouse.
"Shall we go to my office?" Again, he spoke in that distant tone.
Silently, we went into his private office. With the door closed, we sat down -- he at his spot and me across from him. He waved his hand and two steaming cups of tea appeared on his clean desk.
"Have some. You look rather frozen."
"Thanks." I gladly accepted the hot cup and ook a sip, sighing as the warm liquid took effect on me.
"I've been meaning to find you one of these days, so it's a good thing you came."
"Oh?" I raised my eyebrows at him.
"I need more seeds. The first batch didn't go so well." I saw him shift, looking remorseful at me.
I waved a hand at him. "Don't worry. I'll send you more."
A long pause came between us. Discreetly, I studied his appearance. That relaxed stature of his from our previous meetings wasn't there. Instead, it was replaced with a very stiff looking posture. I saw his dark under-eye circles, and his brown eyes were dull, not warm and inviting. Knowing that this was all caused by me, I felt guilty and -- strangely enough -- powerful at the same time.
Clearing my throat, I looked straight at him and said, "I'm sorry."
He frowned. "For what?"
"For . . . " I trailed off. I had planned a speech for this, and my brain refused to function at the most crucial moment. Sod the speech. "For pushing you away that night."
He quickly shook his head. "No. I should be the one apologising. I shouldn't have done that. Not when you didn't want it."
"I don't know what overcame me that night. I apologise to you for pressuring you into that situation."
"I overstepped the boundaries of our professional relationship--"
"Professor Longbottom! Will you shut up and let me speak?!" Right then I knew I was projecting Professor Snape, and I knew he could see and feel it, too. Nodding with wide eyes, he clamped up.
Finally. I never did peg him as the babbling type, but I guess he was buckling under his own "self-inflicted" guilt.
Sighing in exasperation, I looked straight at him and said, "I like you, okay? I've always liked you. I just couldn't get over the whole Malfoy image I needed to put up, and for the longest time, I was angry at you for not stopping me when I declared that we needed to separate. I felt that way because I thought you didn't care about our relationship. However, I was wrong. The person I should have been upset at the most was myself. I should . . . I should have been more honest with who I am and what I really wanted."
Well, bugger me. I did remember the speech -- though I hadn't planned on saying the entire thing in one breath. I quickly inhaled some oxygen into my lungs, deciding that fainting from oxygen deprivation would have been the most mortifying thing at the moment, and I waited for his reaction.
A slow smile appeared and the corners of his eyes crinkled. Small dimples showed in his cheeks, and I was reminded of that time Neville had nursed his facial injuries with that raw meat. I felt my own lips turn up into a smirk as I recalled that memory with fondness.
"Draco? I . . . I've been waiting for you to say something like this for a long time."
I gaped at him, looking very much like an idiot, no doubt. "You have?"
Nodding, he reached out to cup my cheek in his large hands, and I found myself leaning into that gentle touch. "Yes, I have. When you told me that we should forget about 'us' and go back to our lives like nothing happened, I didn't really want that. I knew you didn't want it, too, but . . . "
"But . . . ?"
He sighed before answering. "I didn't want to force you into something you might have regretted in the future. However, you misinterpreted my actions into thinking I didn't care for you, which was far from the case."
"And you still . . . ?"
"Yes, I do. I still want you. I've wanted only you all these years, Draco. You don't know how much I've held back over the years and these last few weeks."
Once again, I looked like an idiot. This time a silly grin replaced my smirk. In a teasing voice, I said, "Then show me. Show me how much you've been holding back all these time."
The hand against my cheek moved to the back of my head while he leaned over his desk and kissed me fully on the lips. I accepted the kiss with no remorse and hesitance, and I returned the kiss back, my hands burying into his hair and his robes. His tongue traced my lips, and I parted them willingly, allowing his tongue to meet mine, and I tasted him. It felt familiar and comforting as I tasted the sweet flavour of his tea and of himself. The kiss grew more passionate, and I wasn't sure how long we kissed, but I found myself panting and out of breath when we broke apart.
I gazed at him through lidded eyes. His eyes were dark, no longer dull from before, and I saw many emotions in them. I studied the flushed cheeks and the swollen lips. I licked my own lips before I said, "I think you've proven it . . . "
"And I'll prove more soon. I don't want to rush this," he said with an uncertain expression.
My own heart jumped at that declaration. That simple statement showed me just how much he cared for me, for us. He didn't want to rush this, and I agreed. I wanted to savour this new beginning. I'd been granted this new opportunity, and I didn't want to ruin it. He didn't either, and all I could do was to kiss him again, showing my gratitude and affection through actions instead of words.
When he wrapped his arms around me, I knew that he understood my unspoken emotions.
"Are you done with your Christmas shopping?" Astoria asked, looking at me over her tea cup.
"Almost. I have yours, a two-week trip to a resort in Jamaica with Terry--"
"Which I thank you once more!"
"A new Monopoly game for Scorpius along with a bunch of new books and broom he requested, some Japanese pottery for Mother, a yearly subscription to The Strangest Wizarding Mysteries for Luna, and some gourmet coffee mix for Goyle."
"Mm." She gave me a knowing look. "And what about Professor Longbottom?"
My face darkened in embarrassment. "That's where I'm in a bit of a dilemma."
"Darling? It's two days before Christmas. It's unlike you to be a procrastinator. I'm surprised at you!"
I scowled at her and grumbled, "Well, I want to get him something special, and I am out of good ideas."
"He has a lot of those considering his area of expertise and occupation."
"He's not a bibliophile like that Granger woman."
She made a face at me. "So negative."
"I try to be."
"I still don't see why you can't get him a plant."
"Because he already has a lot of those."
"Then give him something that would have a deep meaning between the two of you."
"Like . . . ?"
"Draco, you know him better than I do! Don't ask me. Ask your obviously failing brain."
"You love to insult me, don't you?"
"Of course. If I don't, who will?" She smiled prettily and kissed my cheeks. "Thank you again for the gift."
"And I will enjoy yours, too," I said dryly, pointing at the book titled The Joy of Safe Gay Sex and Kama Sutra for Wizards. "I can't believe you gave me that."
"At least it will be useful. Much like the trip to Jamaica."
I briefly pondered on exactly how that analogy worked in my ex-wife's mind before deciding it was probably a dangerous area to tread. Just as I was about to retort back a witty response, she said, "Scorpius will be down here any minute now. I'd hide the book if I were you."
Hearing Scorpius coming down the stairs, I quickly concealed the book. Scorpius would spend the day with Astoria, and I would be left alone to my dilemma. They left, and I sat back in my seat, struggling to come up with a gift.
It was the morning of Christmas Eve. Scorpius was with Albus and Rose -- the three of them hanging out at the Burrows. Scorpius would come back in the evening, and we'd spend Christmas morning with Astoria and my mother. Where was I? I was at Hogwarts, standing in front of Neville's private chambers, clutching a bag that contained his gift, and I was staring at a blank portrait. Apparently Garth the Great had decided to go visit one of his friends elsewhere in the castle.
And yes, I was nervous, but I would never admit that thought out aloud!
I took a deep breath and knocked on the empty portrait. Within second, the door flew opened, and Neville stood there with a smile on his face.
"Hello, Draco. I wasn't expecting you."
I held up the bag and said, "Christmas gift."
"You must have read my mind. I have a gift for you, too, but I wasn't sure when I'd give it to you. Come in."
I stepped inside a warm and cosy looking room. I had imagined the room to be adorned in Gryffindor colours. Instead, the room spoke of earthly colours of browns and dark greens, very fitting for someone like Neville. I sat down on a very comfortable sofa in the deepest shade of evergreen. Neville sat next to me, and he handed me a wrapped box.
"Happy Christmas, Draco."
I accepted the gift and handed him the bag. "Happy Christmas, Neville."
We stared at each other before he gestured me to open the gift first. I obliged him, and I unwrapped the gift. I opened the box, only to stare at him with a look of disbelief. "Where did you get this?"
I couldn't believe it. In my hands was an extremely rare book, The Subtle Art of Brewing. Only five of these books were ever published in the early 1900s, and it was something I had always dreamed of having.
"I found it when I was going through some belongings at the Longbottom estate. Apparently, I had a great-uncle who was a potions fanatic, but he had no talent of a Potions master to brew them properly. I figured someone like you deserved this rather than let it collect dust."
"I . . . I can't believe I'm holding an actual copy."
Neville grinned at me. "Use it well, Draco."
I nodded, covered the box back up, and set it down on the table like it was something very fragile. Then I remembered that Neville hadn't opened his gift yet, and suddenly I was seized with panic. My gift to him was nothing special like what he gave me. What if he found it silly? Would he really like it?
I displayed nothing on my expressionless face as I watched him take out a large wrapped jar. He took the wrappings off, and he looked at its content. Before he could ask what it was, I told him.
"It's lavender-scented relief cream. It should last you for a while."
A quizzical expression came on his face before realisation dawned on him. "You remember."
I couldn't keep the blush from contaminating my face as I barked out, "Of course, I remember! It was my idea that day!" Not to mention it was the first time I'd felt love and lust towards him.
Without warning, he set the jar down on the table, and he grabbed me into a fierce hug. "Thank you, Draco."
I had stiffened at the unexpected hug, but eventually I found myself relaxing in his embrace, wrapping my arms around him. A question floated in my mind as I finally whispered it to him. "Would you like a massage now?"
Honestly, I didn't think he'd hear me, but he did and I heard him say "yes".
We let go of each other. Instead of requesting a mat like all those years ago, we decided the sofa would be sufficient. I opened the jar, and I watched him strip his upper body. I felt my groin stir to life as I took in Neville's form, which was larger than what I'd seen before, with its same nipples, the same trail of hair that tantalised me still. When he lay on his stomach on the sofa, I straddled his hips instead of kneeling next to him. I coated his shoulder and back with the cream. Like before, he hissed at its initial coldness, but he relaxed under my hands' warmth. The familiar scent filled the room as I massaged his back.
When I had finished, I felt him shift to lie on his back, me still straddling him. Instead of feeling his hard bum, now I felt his hard cock, which made mine respond as well. The air between us was thick, filled with such intimacy. He pulled me down, and our lips met as our bodies aligned with each other. We moved against each other -- each movement sending much pleasure through my body.
So this is how it feels to spend Christmas with someone you truly love, I thought to myself after the massage, lying and cuddling in his loving arms.
"You look rather frustrated this evening. You can't be suffering from sexual withdrawal, are you?"
"Luna!" I exclaimed, throwing down the medical records I'd been pouring over for what felt like hours. I looked at the time and saw that it was past dinnertime -- meaning I'd been in the staff lounge for a while now. "Why are you saying something like that?"
"Well, I just saw Neville, and he looked content and well. Then I walk in here and you look like you're ready to pounce on something or someone. Therefore, I wondered if you were feeling something that's only one-sided." She took a seat next to me and took one of the chocolate pockys. She had become rather fond of these treats from Japan. I, too, had succumbed to these sinfully delicious snacks, requesting Master Toriyama to send these to me often.
"While we assume things of others, I may as well say that you have a rather perverted mind to think of me in this manner."
She gave me one of her serene looks. "Of course. Rolf likes the way I think."
"Too much information!"
"Anyway," she continued, picking up one of the medical records on the table. "What are these?"
"Medical records belonging to Goyle's cousin and Neville's parents."
"Ah, yes, that experiment you're planning on doing. Running into some obstacles?"
I exhaled noisily. "Neville hasn't cultivated the plant yet, saying 'it's very stubborn', but that's not the problem. Right now, I am comparing and contrasting Goyle's cousin and Neville's parents for any medical similarities I could work on. Aside from them being in a catatonic state and them being exposed to long-term Cruciatus, I don't know what else to look at."
"Hm. Have you considered looking at this problem from a physical point of view?"
I blinked. "I can list their symptoms, which are very physical."
"Well, what I mean is to go beyond what you can see and look at things you can't see."
"I had a lovely discussion with Hermione a few times about Muggle anatomy and physiology, a field she's been studying ever since she started dating that Muggle doctor. They don't have magic like us, so they look at the world through a different perspective. You remember that story about the wizard who decided to travel the world in eighty days? He rode that Muggle hot air balloon instead of riding a broom. I think what he did was amazing. My father wishes that wizard was alive when he started The Quibbler. He talks about how he wanted to interview him."
"You're smart, Draco. You'll figure it out."
I remembered talking about the central nervous system with Master Toriyama, who was more integrated into the Muggle world, but I never really paid heed to it since I never really thought I'd need to know about Muggle's sciences. I knew about the brain, how it was in two halves and how it was connected to the spinal cord. He also mentioned something about the nerve endings.
"The nerve endings."
"Hm?" She blinked at me confusedly.
"I could look into that."
"See! You have a new angle. See how easy that was?"
"If it was that easy, then why didn't the staff at St. Mungo's do anything about it?"
"Well, it does fall under Muggle sciences more than anything, and St. Mungo's isn't really a research facility, is it?"
I shook my head. "You're right. It isn't, and it's filled with bumbling idiots who cannot do their jobs."
A far away expression showed up on her face. "Well said. You project Professor Snape well when you say something like that. I remember being told that men with big noses have very useful skills, and I think sarcasm is one they inherit naturally."
An unwanted image of Professor Snape in compromising position came into my mind when Luna voiced the big nose association, which made me feel very peculiar. I quickly recomposed myself and gave her a mocking bow. "Why thank you, darling. I appreciate the compliment."
"Who said it was a compliment?" With that, she took the last of my pockys and ran out of the staff lounge.
Shaking my head at her antics, I began brainstorming about the nerve endings.
"I did it! The plant's finally cultivated, Draco!"
Neville rushed into my private office, and I greeted him with an excited smile. "You did? That's stupendous news!"
"It took longer than I would have liked, but I finally figured out the right procedures."
"Well, now, we wouldn't want a plant to be more intelligent than you, do we?" I teased, wrapping my arms around him. I had only intended to hug him, but he captured my lips into a deep kiss. I felt myself melting into the kiss, loving the way he kissed. When we separated, I wanted to protest, but he continued on before I could say anything.
"I will never let a plant beat me. I like to think I can dominate them." He gave me an intense stare.
Breathlessly, I asked, "Anything else?"
"I'd like to think I could dominate you, but you wouldn't want that and neither would I. I like us being equal."
"So do I. Though, I wouldn't mind you being dominating at times." I smirked and nipped at his lips. "Today would be a great day to show me, too."
"Don't tell me you forgot what today is," I said, looking at him with a bewildered expression and dropping my arms to my sides. "It's Valentine's Day."
"Oh, right. That holiday. It's today?" He said it so seriously, that I almost snapped at him, but then I saw the mischievous glint in his eyes, and I knew what game he was playing. Well, two can play the game!
"Yes, and it seems like you have other plans while I look into this research some more."
"That's right. I did plan something. And if it pleases you, I would very much like you to join me."
"And exactly what have you planned, Professor Longbottom?"
"I have two requests for you, Professor Malfoy. One, forget about the research for today. Two, join me for some dinner in my private chambers."
My heart began to beat wildly as I understood the implication of his words. Until now, we had only kissed and touched each other. We hadn't had sex yet, both of us wanting to take things slow. But the time had finally come, and I anticipated the events that were to happen later.
When I spoke up, I was glad my voice came out steady. "I'll be glad to fulfil those requests."
Side by side, we walked out of my office and walked through the dark corridors. He leaned closed to me and whispered into my ears. "I'm only sorry Valentine's Day fell on a Sunday this year. I wished it had fallen on a Friday or a Saturday, so I could have the whole weekend to make love to you."
I was relieved the corridors were dark. Really relieved. I didn't want Neville to see just how red my face had gone! "Really, Neville, you don't need to say such rubbish!"
"You love it, though."
"Oh, piss off--" I cut off my own words as I sensed something odd about the empty classroom we just passed. Well, it should be empty, but my instincts said otherwise. I motioned at Neville to stay silent, and wordlessly I waved my hand to cast a see-through spell on the door.
Oh. Fuck. Somebody pinch me awake.
The image that greeted me made me regret casting that spell. I quickly ended the spell and began a very quick stroll towards Neville's chambers. Once inside there, I turned to look at my lover.
"Did I just see my son with James Potter of all people cuddling in that classroom?!"
"Bloody hell." I sank into the sofa as I tried to think through this without going into a hysteric. "So then that time when you were telling me something was off about my son . . . it was because he was -- wait! Did you know about this?"
I knew that I shouldn't be upset at him, but I glared at him, and he unflinchingly looked back at me. "I have suspected, but until just now, I had no concrete evidence to confront him or tell you about it."
Once again, I said, "Bloody hell."
He sat next to me and wrapped a comforting arm around my shoulders. Automatically, I leaned against him. "Are you that upset about this revelation regarding Scorpius?"
I didn't say anything at first. I had to gather my thoughts because I didn't want to say anything I might regret. "When Scorpius was born, I promised I wouldn't put him into any of the situations that I was put into. I didn't want him to grow up with any obligations placed on him. Before he went to Hogwarts, Astoria and I told him that we'd love him the same if he ended up in a different house from Slytherin. I just want him to be happy. The idea of him being gay like me never really occurred to me, but who am I to judge or tell him what to do? I do admit that I am shocked, but I think I am more shocked by his choice of lover. Not to mention, I wonder why I didn't see this coming in the first place."
"I think what you're feeling as a father is quite natural. You are a good father, though. You and Astoria have raised him well."
"Still," I shuddered. "My son's with a Potter."
"When Harry finds out, I'm sure he'll think the same way -- except he'll think 'My son's with a Malfoy'."
I rolled my eyes at that. "Well, he better be thankful that a Malfoy is even looking at a Potter like that! He should realise what an honour that is."
Neville's laugh was warm and soothing. "Sometimes I think the Malfoy ego will overfill even the largest hat in the world."
"Shut up." I poked him in his side, knowing that was a ticklish spot for him. "It's Valentine's Day. I really don't want to think about my son with anybody right now. Let's eat that dinner and help me forget what I saw."
"Your wish is my command."
He kissed me, and I welcomed the much needed distraction. Dinner was pretty much forgotten as we moved our activities to the bedroom. We explored each other in ways we hadn't before. I memorised his body, found his weak spots, and took advantage of it. He did the same, which soon made me beg and plead for more of his sweet touches. When he entered me, he left me wanting more as I grew addicted to everything about him. We came together, both of us crying each other's names out in bliss, and I had never felt more complete than I had that night.
It wasn't until the next morning I realised that I would have to confront my son about this new chain of events. Bugger. Normally I wasn't the procrastinating type, but this time I decided to wait on the inevitable confrontation.
"So what's the good news, Mum?" Scorpius asked, slipping in a piece of chicken in his mouth.
It was a Saturday evening. Scorpius and I had left Hogwarts and went to the manor for the occasional dinner with Mother and Astoria. This time, though, Astoria wanted us together with Boot because she wanted to tell us some news. Some good news. I had my suspicions on what the news might be, but I decided to humour my ex-wife.
"I wanted to tell you all, in person, a life-altering news," she said calmly, dabbing her lips with the cloth napkin.
"Spare me the suspense, Astoria. Do tell us what it is," said my mother.
She smiled and held up her left hand while her other hand embraced Boot. "Terry and I decided to become engaged! We plan on marrying this autumn."
"Astoria, darling! Congratulations!" my mother exclaimed. "I am truly happy for you. He's a good man." She gave Boot a smile, a smile that held some threatening undertone. I had to cough into my napkin to disguise a laugh. I knew my mother. Once loyal, she knew how to stay loyal. If Boot did anything, Mother would probably poison the poor sod.
So would Scorpius. Though, I think he'd punch the man to a pulp than resorting to poison. Still, I saw him reach out to shake Boot's hands in a congratulatory manner, and he walked around the table to hug his mother. "I agree, Mum. This is great news! Congratulations Mr Boot."
"You can call me Terry and thank you." Boot -- er, Terry -- gave Scorpius a beaming smile.
Astoria looked over at me. A strange feeling had overcome me, and I tried to figure out what this meant. I was happy for Astoria. She deserved someone wonderful as Terry. However, it was odd hearing from an ex-wife on her new engagement. I'd better say something, though. Otherwise, her shrewdness would think something was wrong.
"Astoria. Terry. You have my heartfelt congratulations and best wishes."
Now Astoria beamed at me, and I walked over to her, kissed her cheek, and shook Boot's hands as well.
We all took our seats again, and Mother started to chatter on about wedding plans, jotting them down on a parchment; her actions reminded me of Granger's anal note-taking skills. I tuned her voice out, not wanting to be reminded of the horrors of my own wedding preparations. Terry and Scorpius talked about those infernal board games. Astoria turned her attentions to me.
"How are things going with your partner?"
That question quieted everyone else down, and they turned to look at me. "It's . . . "
I hadn't told Mother or Scorpius -- and I definitely didn't tell Terry -- about my relationship with Neville. I had talked with Astoria about it briefly, and she kept telling me to tell Mother and Scorpius, but I hadn't done so. I knew this was her way of forcing me out in the open. Sometimes I wondered if female Slytherins were craftier and more dangerous than anyone else. It made me wonder how the war would have turned out if Voldemort had been a female. I shuddered at that mental image and brought myself back to reality.
Scorpius looked at me warily. "I didn't know you were seeing someone, too, Dad."
"Who is it? Do tell, Draco. I don't want to be in any more suspense than necessary. Once is enough!" Mother put down her parchment, giving me an enquiring look.
I kept my face neutral and said, "Neville Longbottom."
Terry stayed silent, knowing this wasn't any of his business to get in to.
Mother simply nodded. "I see. Well, I do hope he treats you well and keeps you happy. Otherwise, he will know how dangerous a mother's wrath is."
Astoria gave me a knowing look that said, "Now was that hard?"
I returned a look that said, "Our son has yet to respond to this!"
We all turned to look at Scorpius, and I saw him unmoving. "Scorpius?"
The ice broke, and he became a fish incapable of closing its mouth. "You're with the head of my house?"
"But . . . you two are men!"
It took every ounce of my will to not turn into an owl at that contradictory and hypocritical statement. I unclenched my teeth to respond. "Considering who you're seeing, I don't see why our sexual orientation should matter."
I wished I had a camera. The look on his face and the deep blush that came all over his face and neck would have been a priceless image. Luckily that was now ingrained in my memory for as long as I lived.
"Scorpius is seeing someone?" Mother asked. "Who?"
Astoria already knew about this impending confrontation because I told her about my unexpected encounter of Scorpius and that Potter boy. However, she decided to wait until Scorpius told us himself before talking to him. Well, now she had a chance after this situation cleared up.
"Someone." Of course he'd be vague.
"A boy? Well, it must be since your father hinted at it." Mother looked at Astoria and me. "It's a good thing Lucius isn't around. I don't think he'd have taken these two news very well."
That was an understatement of the year. My father was probably turning, kicking, and screaming in whatever afterlife existed at the moment.
"Wait, you mean you knew all these times, Dad?!" Scorpius looked very flustered, and while I felt sympathy towards him, I couldn't help but tease him a bit longer.
"Next time, Scorpius, remember that there are something called see-through spells in our magic repertoire. I saw you two in an empty classroom last month."
"Then why didn't you say anything?"
"I was waiting for you to tell me when you were ready."
"Then," Scorpius paused and quickly asked, "you approve?"
I didn't care for his choice, but I didn't really want to tell him that either. Last thing I wanted to do was to crush his feelings, and if a Potter made him happy, then so be it. I had a month to get over the initial shock, anyway.
"As long as that boy makes you happy, that's all I care for. Just . . . go about this in a safe route."
"Dad!" Scorpius looked mortified at my indirect "do safe sex" talk.
Mother and Astoria both let out a giggle, which they disguised by clearing their throats, and Terry looked at us like we had lost our minds.
Mother recovered to interrogate again. "But who is the boy you're seeing Scorpius?"
A long moment of silence passed before Scorpius sighed in defeat. "James Potter."
"Oh? You're seeing him? Well, fancy that. And here I was thinking of the wrong Potter."
She blinked innocently. "Yes? I thought you were going to say Albus Severus Potter."
"He's only a friend!" Scorpius quickly finished the rest of his dessert. "May I please be excused now?"
"Yes, you may," Mother said.
Scorpius made a very hasty escape. Once he was out of earshot, all of us burst out laughing. My mother definitely knew how to be devious. I could only hope that my son wasn't traumatised by tonight's dinner.
Mother calmed down first, and she wore an expectant expression. When that look came in my direction, I knew I was in trouble.
"I want you to invite Professor Longbottom for dinner one day, Draco. Understand?"
Bugger. Now I felt only five centimetres tall. I wondered if this was my just punishment for teasing Scorpius earlier.
Dinner came to an end. Scorpius stayed in his room, I talked with Terry about wizarding business and politics, and Mother and Astoria talked about wedding plans. I couldn't wait until Scorpius and I went back to Hogwarts. I hoped Neville would still be awake when I went back. I needed to transfer my discomfort to him as I tried to forget about the impending dinner with Mother!
"I think I've got it!" I exclaimed, stirring the potion one more time.
Neville glanced up from his huge pile of notes. "Excellent! I knew that if anybody could do it, you would."
I gave him a smug smile. "Of course I figured it out! I'm a Potions master, after all." I bottled the finished potion and placed it in a cool, safe place. "Healer Finnigan will come the day after to check this out."
"All right. I'm sure Seamus will give his approval soon,"
It was Saturday, and we were in my classroom. After weeks of wrong combinations and potions that came out as failure, with Healer Finnigan's input, I had finally come up with the right mixture of the healing potion to use on the nerve endings. All that was left was to administer the potions to the patients, but that would have to wait a bit.
Healer Finnigan needed to look over a few more things. A mind healer, he had also studied Muggle's neurology, combining that and wizarding neurology and psychology. Through St. Mungo's, he had started his job as a mind healer, but eventually he grew tired of the bureaucratic rubbish and started his own private practice. Over the years, he had made a name for himself, which quite surprised me. When I recalled him from our school days, I never thought of Finnigan as a healer type of person, but in a way, his talkative -- and charming -- nature had its usages, including him being a good listener aside from flapping his mouth.
Well, he came highly recommended, and he became interested in our project. He came to us and offered his services, and he'd help us oversee and note any signs that might turn into problems.
I started to clean and organise my classroom up, and while cleaning, I sighed and grimaced. "And we have a dinner promise to keep."
Neville came over and embraced me from behind. "It'll be fine."
I leaned back into his broad chest and grumbled, "You don't know my mother."
"Is she the type to chop me up into pieces and turn me into a stew?"
Making a face at that gruesome descriptions, I said, "Well, no, but she might metaphorically."
Neville chuckled deeply. "How about this. If she approves of me and nothing goes wrong, you can get me that new magical fertiliser in the market."
I twisted in his arms to face him. "Gambling now, are we? Funny. You never struck me as that type."
He grinned at me. "I only gamble when I know for sure I'll win."
"Cocky, aren't you?"
"I won't deny that, especially to you."
I rolled my eyes and planted a soft kiss. "Let's go, then."
Hours later, as we cuddled on the bed together, I realised that I had lost the bet. Damn. Now I owed him that bloody fertiliser.
Oh well. At least he had Mother's approval.
For the umpteenth time in the last few weeks, I found myself in Mr and Mrs Longbottom's room, located in Healer Finnigan's -- no, Seamus', as he insisted on being called -- private practice, with Goyle's cousin in the room right next door. With St. Mungo's permissions, we had them moved over here for more privacy and for Healer Finnigan to have easier access checking on their conditions. Two weeks had passed since we began administering the potions to them. With the use of a wizarding biopsy detecting machine -- some fancy "microscope" or whatever it was called -- we slowly saw progress in the healing of their nerve endings. At first Neville and I were a bit wary of that results, both of us thinking the nerve endings would heal faster, but Seamus assured us that the speed of the healing was normal.
"When they went through Cruciatus, their nerves took quite a beating. When it comes to the brain and spinal cord, these are difficult to heal, but with nerves, they are regenerative if repaired quickly. For your parents and Goyle's cousin, there was a huge gap of when they were inflicted and of their present healing process. So please, do not expect any sudden changes. The nerve endings are healing nicely, and I predict that things will start looking up soon."
Seamus' explanation made sense, but it still didn't put me at ease. I was sure Neville was even more nervous about this procedure, but he didn't let his discomfort show. I admired that about him, so I tried to maintain a calm presence, helping Seamus monitor for any signs, adjusting the dosages when needed.
A couple of more weeks passed, and by then, Seamus declared that the biopsy showed most of the nerves being healed, but the three patients didn't change from their mental state.
By then, even Seamus displayed signs of concern, and that didn't put me at ease at all. Neville only said, "We'll figure it out. I keep my hopes."
"You're so optimistic," I commented.
He gave me a soft smile and said, "Well, between the two of us, someone needs to be the more optimistic one."
I quipped, "Then I'll keep being pessimistic for the both of us."
"I wouldn't expect anything different."
I was in a bad mood. A foolish student had nearly blown up my classroom, Peeves had messed up the pile of papers I needed to mark on my desk, making me sic the Bloody Baron on him, and I had run out of my favourite tea. Plus, Neville's parents and Goyle's cousin conditions had remained the same. We were at a dead end, and I was miserable about that. I felt like I had failed Neville and Goyle, and it made me even more upset when Neville continued to be optimistic about this experiment.
It was evening, after dinnertime. Neville had to monitor a detention. Scorpius and James were studying in the library with Albus Severus, Lysander, Rose, and Hugo. I found myself alone and bored, so I wandered over to the lake. There, unexpectedly, I ran into Luna.
"Hello. What are you doing?" Luna gave me her customary wide-eyed stare, brushing her fringes out of her face.
"Walking, thinking, and passing time. How about you?"
"I thought I saw a new species of hamster running around here -- they have wings! -- and I cannot find them any more."
A flying hamster? I mentally shrugged and said, "Well, if you find it again, do show it to me."
"Of course!" She stared off dreamily and continued to speak, not looking at me. "Is the experiment not going well?"
"The nerve endings are healed, but they are still in their catatonic state."
"I'm sorry to hear that." She looked at me when she said that.
"At least I know this potion heals nerve endings, though, especially those that have remained damaged for years."
She patted my shoulder. "Yes, and you and Neville can publish this new potion and the new usage of the Spring Gentian. The publication will surely bring interested individuals to cultivate it more, making it not so rare any longer."
I nodded, not really listening to her. I racked my brains of new and untried solutions to try to break that stubborn state the three were trapped in.
"Though, I am much more interested in the Muggles' superstitions of the plant . . . " Luna continued, ". . . the lightning one interests me."
Her words, quite literally, zapped me out of my thoughts. "Lightning?"
"Yes. You told me that the Muggles believed that if they brought the plant in their homes, lightning will strike them."
"Well, yes . . . " I trailed off into a pause. Her words, even if they were paraphrases of what I already knew, were trying to tell me something. "Maybe that's what we need to do. Maybe we need to give them a shock to their system . . . "
Right then, I heard Neville's frantic voice calling me. "Draco! We have to go to Seamus' clinic! A lightning struck that place!"
Luna and I looked at each other for a brief moment before she started shoving me towards the direction of Neville's voice. "Perhaps there is a grain of truth to that superstition. Go, Draco."
With a nod, I dashed off, and I met Neville by crashing into him. Luckily, he kept his balance and kept us upright. Quickly, I recovered and asked, "A lightning struck the clinic?"
In a rushed voice, Neville explained, "Yes. Well, no. Seamus' words were more of a 'Come quick! Lightning struck the three of them and put them into coma-like state!', so--"
"Let's go! Let's go to Hogsmeade and Apparate!" I cut him off, and we both ran towards our destination.
Seamus greeted us at the entrance of the clinic. I spoke up first. "Are you kidding me? A lightning struck them?!" Neville stood behind me, his hand on my back in a comforting manner.
"Let's go to them," Seamus said, leading the way. "It was rather surprising. The lightning just . . . came out of the blue. I was in your parents' room, Neville. Your parents were in their beds, but they were awake. I looked up, and I saw thunderclouds above them, and within seconds, two lightning bolts struck them. The same thing happened to Goyle's cousin, only my assistant saw it happening. Both incidents happened at the same time."
"Are they okay? Are they hurt in anyway?" Neville asked. I heard the anxiousness in his voice, and I sought out his hand and grabbed them, giving him comfort this time.
"They didn't suffer from any injuries, but like I said earlier, they are now in a coma."
That didn't make me feel reassured at all. A coma? I wasn't sure what was worse. That or being catatonic.
Seamus continued. "We are monitoring them 24/7 -- my staff volunteered to work over-time." We came to Neville's parent's room. "We'll let you know immediately of any changes." He knocked on the door, and we all trooped in, and I saw a member of his staff there, keeping watch. True to Seamus' words, Neville's parents were in a coma. They looked as if they were sleeping, but who knew when they'd wake up now.
Then I remembered my discussion with Luna. "You know, I was just thinking that maybe their systems needed a shock, but I'd never imagined a real lightning to appear and . . . strike them."
Neville, Seamus, and the assistant looked at me in surprise.
Briefly, I told them my new theory, and they all looked thoughtful as they processed it.
Seamus muttered, "That might do something, but we'll have to wait and see. I'm going to go check up on Goyle's cousin, and then go look up some information about electric shocks on the nervous system." He looked at his assistant. "Alert me of any changes. Even the tiniest thing!"
He left, and I stifled a sigh. Neville sat down at his mother's side, and he took her hand into his. Still standing myself, I rested my own hands on his shoulders and massaged them soothingly.
"It will be okay," I heard Neville say softly, and all I could do was hug him from behind, my head on his shoulder. In order to do that, I had to kneel to the ground, dirtying my robes up in the process, but I didn't care. I'd rather have dirt on my robes than to have Neville be unhappy.
A week had passed. One long, agonising week. Neville and I had no choice but to return back to Hogwarts. Finals were approaching, and we needed to do our jobs. We did them, but both of us constantly thought of his parents. All week, there were no changes. The three of them remained in their coma, and the more time passed, the more it made all of us uneasy.
I had just released my last class of the day when Neville walked in, looking steady. "Ready to go to Seamus' clinic?"
I nodded. "Let's floo there."
Silently, we walked towards my private chambers. There we flooed to Seamus' clinic. We greeted the staff there, and we headed directly to Mr and Mrs Longbottom's room. I passed by Goyle, who had stepped out of his cousin's room, and we both nodded in greetings. Once in the room, we said hello to the assistant, who left to go on a bathroom break. We sat next to their bedsides, and we looked for any signs of them waking up.
There were none, and I felt discouraged. "I wished there were something we could do."
"Me too," Neville gave me a smile. How could he still smile during a situation like this? How could he be so . . . positive?
I looked down at Neville's mother, stared at how her grey hair were sprawled out on the pillow. My gaze moved over to his father, and I studied his peaceful looking face. Asleep, for who knew how long, I wished for them to wake up -- if only to give Neville some peace.
I stilled and held my breath. Something moved. I watched closely, and I saw one of Mrs Longbottom's hands moving. "Neville."
"I know," he said, in hushed tones.
Now I searched for any signs of movement from his father. I saw a twitch, a very slight twitch of his head. "Alert Seamus!"
I heard the buzzer go off, and Seamus came running inside. "What's going--"
Right at that moment, Neville's mother's eyes opened. We all froze in our spot as we watched Mrs Longbottom slowly moved her head towards Neville. I looked into her deep brown eyes, the same eyes that Neville inherited, and I saw something different about them. They held coherency. They also held tears. In a very soft, raspy voice, she said, "Neville?"
"M-mum?" His voice, so filled with emotion, wavered, and I didn't blame him.
Just then, I saw that his father had regained consciousness, and he, too, slowly moved his head to greet his son. His voice sounded rough, but it all sounded music to my ears. "Hello. Butterbeer?"
"Dad?" Neville's father looked confused. "I . . . "
"It's me, Dad. It's me Neville!"
Neville's mother responded this time. "Neville? You have . . . " A frown came on her face. "You has . . . grew up. My son . . . grew up. You I give Drooble's gum?"
"Y-yes. Yes, you did," Neville choked out the words.
The next several minutes turned chaotic. Neville actually started to sob. Seamus' assistant ran inside, alerting Seamus about Goyle's cousin waking up, too. Other assistants rushed in, and Seamus began to instruct them excitedly. I stood in shock for a few minutes before I finally moved to hug Neville. I repeated, "It's all right, it's all right."
As I eased Neville to calm down, I smiled widely. Neville was right. He kept up the positive attitude, always declaring things would turn out well, and he was correct.
Things were really looking up now.
A month passed, and a lot had happened. I survived my first year of being a Hogwarts professor, and I had decided to renew my contract for another year. This teaching jig really wasn't that bad, except for the idiots I ran into in the classroom, but that cannot be helped.
Now that I was on holiday, I spent time with Scorpius, grudgingly helped Astoria with the wedding preparations, and edited the article I had written on the Spring Gentian potion, so I could eventually submit it for publication. Amidst all that, I spent my time with Neville, and we helped his parents go through their recovery. Seamus counselled them as their personal psychologist, and they went to other therapy sessions that would help them try to fit back into the life they'd missed out all these decades. They were both making good progress, with some hurdles here and there, which were to be expected. But Neville took good care of them, and I helped him whenever I could.
Cautiously, Neville and Seamus updated them about all that had happened until now. They knew how they got into this situation, but Neville and Seamus both agreed not to really talk about it with them since mentioning the Lestranges would have some negative impact on them. Neville told them how his grandmother raised him, told them about his years in Hogwarts. He briefly mentioned his seventh year and about the Second Battle of Hogwarts, but he didn't go fully into detail about all the tortures and hell he went through that year.
July passed with no problems.
One of the things Neville did want to tell them upfront was about our relationship. He and I had a bit of a disagreement -- okay, okay, a yelling match -- about this. I adamantly argued that we should wait a bit on it, that we shouldn't rush into telling them about this. He opposed my logic, saying that he didn't want to hide something like this from them too long.
"Neville, I don't think you should tell them that their only son is gay."
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, Draco, why not?"
I scowled at him. "They might be homophobic for all we know."
"What if they aren't? I know some of their friends from back in the days were homosexuals, so I'm sure they were pretty open-minded."
"But I don't think they should be told so soon!"
"But it would be a lie if I didn't tell them, either!"
Our discussion grew rather loud, and when we realised that his parents had actually walked into the room, we both winced and knew that they had heard everything.
Neville straightened himself up before saying, "Mum. Dad. Please don't get upset."
I held my breath as I watched the two sat down on the sofa in the sitting room. I looked at their stoic and blank faces. Neville and I both sat down in separate chairs, and Neville again prompted them, "Mum? Dad?"
"Neville, it okay," Neville's mother finally said, her speech coming out haltingly. "We still love. Always will. You too, Drake. Just treat happy Neville."
I exhaled in relief. "I will."
Neville smiled at his mother. "Thank you, Mum." He then looked at his father. "Dad?"
Neville's dad wordlessly stood up, and with a walker, he slowly stepped his way over to Neville, his legs still very weak. Once within arm's reach of Neville, he stopped and spread his arms wide opened. Understanding the significance of this, Neville stood up and hugged his father.
So they accepted us, and most importantly, they accepted Neville unconditionally.
Apparently, I really should stop misjudging and miscalculating situations like that. Then again, I think Neville was the variable which always made these equations tricky, so whenever I tried to think like a Slytherin with him, it never quite worked out well! I was glad my prediction proved to be incorrect. I wouldn't have wanted his parents and him to be upset over all this!
Right now, though, his parents were resting upstairs. We were at the Longbottom estate, and we were having dinner with Astoria, Terry, Seamus, Luna, Rolf, and Hermione. Unfortunately, Potter and Lupin were there as well, but Neville invited them, and I put up with it just for him. I did tell him that if I saw them being lovey-dovey, I would kick them out. Neville only laughed and said that they wouldn't be displaying their affections that blatantly.
"So that plant, when used in a magical way, really does trigger thunderclouds to appear and strike lightning on those who consumes the potion?" Hermione asked, with pure interest. "I must say, I am not fond of superstitions in general, but I guess some of these have a basis of truth."
I nodded. "After the nerve endings are healed, the patient will go into a coma, and then the lightning incident occurs eventually. We've tried it on several more patients, and the results were all consistently the same."
"You will publish this, right?" Hermione continued, always interrogating until she receives all the answers.
I resisted from rolling my eyes. "Yes, and in fact, I was wondering if you could look it over."
"I'd love to!"
I quickly turned towards Luna before Hermione could ask me anything else more. Luckily, she began to talk to Potter, asking how the three Potterlings were doing. I heard something about James and Lily finally accepting the divorce, and that they were all probably playing Quidditch at the Malfoy manor. Mother and I had allowed Scorpius to invite his friends over for a week at the manor, and I couldn't wait until that week ended. My manor was overrun by teenagers. Along with my son and the three Potterlings, there were Rose and Hugo Weasley and Lysander and Lorcan Scamander. Being around all those teenagers drove me crazy. Mother, feeling pity for me most likely, volunteered to keep an eye on them for today, and I was eternally grateful to her.
Speaking of Scamander, I remembered my question for Luna. "Luna? I'd like to publish the article in The Quibbler first if you don't mind."
Her demeanour became as bright as the sun. "My father would be delighted! This will be the best article ever!"
"Really, Draco and Neville. This is a wonderful discovery that will help more people out there." Astoria raised her wine glass. "I call a cheer for Neville's great green thumbs for cultivating this plant, and I cheer Draco for relentlessly creating the potions."
Everyone cheered to that, and we all enjoyed this jovial gathering.
Neville and I shared a look, and I saw love and gratitude shining in his eyes, and I knew mine were about the same. Under the table, we held hands, and I knew then that we were going to be doing our own special things that night.
My prediction came true. In his bedroom upstairs, we cast silencing charms. The last time we made love in his home, we forgot the spell, and when we had breakfast the next morning, his father had said, "Please, cast the spell. The silencing spell." Since then, needlessly to say, Neville and I made sure the spell was always enforced.
After the spell was cast, we slowly undressed each other, and we kissed and licked each new area we bared like we were two new lovers exploring each other all over again. All night long, we pleasured each other, opting the slower route instead of the faster paced sexual activities we only had time to sneak in through our busy schedules. I didn't care. I liked this better. It reminded me of all the times I could have had with him had I not been stubborn, and I wanted to always savour our love-making, as I grew to crave and want his touches, his smells, and his tastes.
Life couldn't have been better.
This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mother and I shared a knowing look. We had decided to hold a Christmas dinner gathering here at the manor, and the long dining room table was packed with people. Potter and his children, Lupin and Aunt Andromeda, Astoria and Terry, Hermione and her children, Luna and her family, and Neville and his parents were here with us. This was the most we had over since after the war, and she and I were not used to the crowds. Well, I was a bit more used to it since I worked at Hogwarts, but I knew Mother was probably overwhelmed by this gathering.
Otherwise, though, it was quite an experience. I watched the children all chattering away, watched how happy Scorpius looked with James. I saw Rolf and Luna talking about some new creature they were hunting down. A flying pig, I believe, was their new objective. Potter and Lupin were talking about going to India for a week. Astoria, Terry, and Hermione were in some deep discussion about the politics at the Ministry. Lastly, Mr and Mrs Longbottom were quietly eating. They didn't speak much, but I saw their eyes shining in happiness.
They still attended therapy. Mr Longbottom would always have a limp when he walked. Mrs Longbottom still had trouble with her speech, but she could make herself be understood with determination. In fact, both persevered, and they improved little by little every day.
I looked over at my lover. Over two decades had passed before we finally reunited with each other. All those years, I had been regretting what I did with my relationship to Neville, but now? I no longer had to regret anything. I decided I no longer needed to live in the past. The only thing left now was the present and the future.
Neville turned to meet my gaze, and he leaned close to me. In a soft voice, he whispered, "I love you, Draco."
I smiled and I whispered, "I love you, too, Neville."
Thus, dinner came to end as all of us wished each other a warm, safe, and loving Happy Christmases.
The following are links to websites I used as resources for this fic:
- Ranzania pictures -- Link
- Chinese Herbology -- Link
- Gentian -- Link
- Gentiana verna -- Link
- Information about peripheral nerves -- Link
Completed November 11, 2009