A/N This was begun in the Great Bloody Freeze of London 2009 (which has since paled after the What The Hell Do You Call That? Freeze of London 2010), then largely finished in a mammoth queue at Heathrow, before being completed in Sydney in perfectly clement weather. Just a short one-shot that captured the moment, dedicated to raitala, in memory of travel travails, because it's not as though it ever snows in Europe (if Heathrow and Eurostar are to be believed, at any rate).
Tidings of Comfort
When the cold finally reached down to Draco's bones, he decided it was time to seek shelter. Sensible parts of his brain told him to go home and warm up, at the very least to buy a warmer coat. He ignored them, and turned towards St Paul's instead.
People coming from the cathedral burrowed their faces down into voluminous scarves, and walked quickly towards the Tube, or dinner, or loved ones – all three, Draco surmised glumly. One woman looked at him intently, Draco cast his eyes down. He was stopped by a small hand grasping his arm.
'You look frozen, love,' the woman said in motherly tones. 'Here's a fiver, get yourself some soup and call your parents. They'll want to hear from you. Doesn't matter what you've done.'
He stammered out a thank you as she hurried off, Christian duty done. His throat felt shamefully tight, had it really been that long since he had seen an act of unprompted kindness? He didn't need the money, his thin clothes were by choice – a foolish type of penance, why should he be comfortable? – but the generosity ... His soul, if such a thing there was, had needed that. The note was tucked into a pocket, to be passed on when opportunity allowed.
The urge that took him up the stairs of the great church was an undefined one. All he knew was that sitting in the hard-backed chairs brought strange comfort. The usher recognised him, and smiled as he made his way to the row that was not quite of the service, not quite gawping tourist. The choir stood to sing as he walked in, late, the canticles ringing out.
He sat, and let the lessons of Evensong pass over him. In this Yuletide period, the lesson was well-known: it was written, a child would be born, mercy and love … If you sat over here, on the left-hand side of the congregation and looked at the lights hanging from the ceiling, Draco thought, it was impossible to make your brain believe they hung straight down: it insisted they were all at improbable angles. He could not make himself believe the scale of the building, and so his eyes conspired with his brain to lie about it, rationalising straight lines into curves, distance into changes in level and so on.
And yet even as his perception delivered falsehoods, he knew. The genius was writ large on the structure, the artistry on the stones. That such a thing could be built by Muggles, using maths and hands and drawings on paper, it was almost beyond belief.
'If you believe in him …' the Dean's voice rang out.
Draco looked on with polite inattention. He had believed in too many hims in his short days. Though he half-envied the parishioners their faith. In this place it was easy to see its beauty and appeal, with the choir filling the air, rows of the neat and the good, and the church's strong, abiding structure a world removed from Crusade and burnings. Despite the lessons of his childhood, he could not be nervous here, the last people to die in England as witches had done so years before Wren finished this work.
The usher walked quietly past his row and smiled at him in his corner seat, as she had done for several nights now. Not the smile he usually received from young women, but a gentle one of welcome and communion.
You, he told himself, are a complete fraud. And to prove it, he bowed his head in prayer and followed the forms for the remainder of the service.
He was out the door at the first opportunity, barely hearing the last word of the benediction. Though he took comfort from the congregation, it was only in the same way he took comfort from the architecture, as something lovely to observe. Were they to speak with him, exchange more than the small smiles they had begun to give after his first week of appearing at services, the peaceful edifice would crumble.
As he walked down the cathedral steps, careful of the light frost, he heard footsteps louder than those of the general pedestrian traffic. He looked right. A tall figure was running down from Paternoster, slim in his athletic clothes, with a hooded top, but bare arms.
Draco smiled to himself. At least he was dressed more warmly than someone. And in a few minutes, he would find a dark spot and Apparate home. Meanwhile, he allowed himself a few seconds to enjoy the runner, whose steady and determined steps reminded him of no-one so much as …
'Malfoy?' The runner turned about abruptly, jogging on the spot.
Of course. 'Potter. Aren't you cold?'
'I could ask you the same thing. Where's your coat? And what are you doing hanging round a church?'
'I know that my redeemer lives,' Draco replied, piously. There had been a very good Messiah on the weekend.
For a moment, Potter's face was a study in bafflement, but suspicion won out. He jogged to the base of the steps as Draco descended the last of them. 'Seriously, what are you up to?'
'Going to church. And a lovely service it was.'
'Dressed like that?'
'I'm perfectly neat.'
'For September. What are you trying to do? Catch your death?'
'Hardly. It's warm inside.'
Potter sniffed his disapproval. 'So you're really just here for the church?'
'Really.' Draco managed not to glare. 'What about you? Why are you running around the city in the evening?'
'It's December. Anyway, I have to keep fit, Auror training.'
'Of course. Well, good luck with that.' Draco turned and began to walk towards the back of the cathedral, from where he usually Apparated.
'Is that it?' Potter followed him.
Draco did not look back. 'I'm not sure what you mean by "it".'
'The last time I saw you, I was convincing Kingsley that your family had largely been victims of circumstance and that ultimately you deserved clemency.'
'As I recall, I thanked you at the time.'
'Actually, you said you had no idea I knew words like clemency, but your mother thanked me,' Potter corrected him.
Draco was pleased Potter was behind him, so there was no reason to hide the smile that crossed his face.
Potter ran over to him. 'Seriously, a church?'
'I like it. Everything happens in order, as it has always happened. It fills up my mind and I don't need to think.'
'What's wrong with thinking?'
'Potter, this is going to be hard for you to understand because it involves abstract concepts, but I have done some things that I might wish not done.'
Draco managed to refrain from smiling as he watched Potter work his way through the syntax.
'Right,' he said after a minute. 'And you're looking for forgiveness.'
'No, I'm looking for peace. I don't expect forgiveness.'
'Do you find it?'
'For an hour or two.'
Potter nodded. 'That can be enough.'
Draco was too slow to stop the surprise reaching his eyes.
Potter must have been having a rare moment of observational skill. 'I find running soothing,' he said. 'And afterwards, I'm too tired for anything else for a while.'
'Including embarrassment at your get-up.' Draco didn't mean the insult, but habits were hard to shift.
'This is considered extremely stylish by Muggles,' Potter advised him seriously.
'A people who believe chicken tikka marsala to be food,' Draco reminded him.
Potter burst out laughing. 'When did you ever learn about curry?'
'It's hardly curry.'
A smile stayed on Potter's face. Draco did not think that expression had ever been turned on him. Perhaps for a minute or two, in a dressing room, many years ago. He felt as though he should give something in return.
'You look less stupid than most people would in that outfit,' he admitted.
'Cheers, Malfoy. So … church?'
'St Paul's Cathedral?'
Draco shrugged. 'Why start small?'
'Every Evensong. Eucharist on Sundays. What about your running? Every day?'
'Every day. About the same time. New route today, it's quite good. Ends up about here.'
Draco nodded slowly. 'So I'll probably see you again.'
'More than likely.'
'Perhaps even tomorrow.'
'I wouldn't be surprised.'
'Well,' said Draco. 'That's good to know.'
Potter hesitated before replying. 'I can change my route, if you'd prefer.'
'No need,' Draco said, the tiniest fraction too quickly.
The smile was back on Potter's face. 'So, probably see you tomorrow then.'
'Probably. I should be off. Things to do.'
'Yeah, same. Can't cool down too much.'
'Right. Good to see you.'
Draco pulled the five-pound note from his pocket. 'Do me a favour and toss this at the first deserving person you see.'
'Should I ask?'
'Best not to.'
'Good-o. Till tomorrow then.'
Draco made sure he turned away first, and walked to a point he could hide behind effectively before he crouched down to watch Potter's limber form run off. Tomorrow, he decided, he would wear a warmer coat. And possibly a tighter pair of trousers …