Kurama had been vaguely aware that the house next to the one he lived in with his mother had been sporting a 'for sale' sign out the front for a while, and he'd noticed when that 'for sale' sign suddenly had a great big 'sold' sticker plastered across it. He knew that his mother had wished the old neighbours well when the removers came to take all the furniture away, but somehow he'd completely missed the new neighbour moving in. His mother hadn't, Shiori was very aware of such things. She'd been right over at the door with a pot of noodles, but Kurama supposed that he'd missed the new neighbour's arrival because he'd been... preoccupied at the time (meeting Hiei, dealing with a human-eating scum-bag of a lower-class apparition, and saving the life of one of the girls from school from said scum) or he'd have been a dutiful neighbour right along with his mother, actually holding the pot of noodles for her while she rang the door-bell and introduced them.
It had shocked him to hear that the man had been able to completely settle himself in a new house in only one day. His surprise was compounded by Shiori's news that their new neighbour had come from the United Kingdom – England specifically, though apparently he'd been educated in Scotland – and was literally just out of school, having moved to Japan as soon as he'd graduated. His parents had died in a car crash when he was little, his godfather more recently by an insane cousin... and he spoke excellent Japanese – though with a slight accent and occasionally getting the order and particles of his words mixed up. A common issue between languages, especially when coming from English which had so few such nuances.
"And such an observant and kind young man too," Shiori continued as they ate their evening meal together. "Why, he noticed the scars on my arms straight away, and even offered me a salve that he said would make them positively vanish!"
Kurama's head jerked up. He still felt guilty about those scars. He had been a horribly stressful child for his mother, he knew, especially since his father died, and she'd still thrown herself between his small, falling body and the broken crockery on the floor. He hadn't understood about human emotion very well back then. Still didn't, in all honesty, but since then he'd been trying. Which was why he was still living in the human realm, three years after he could have returned to Demon World, and still masquerading as a human on top of that.
"Did you accept?" Kurama asked. He'd tried his own plant-based salves to help with the healing, but he just didn't have access to some of the plants he really wanted, so it hadn't worked that well.
Shiori smiled gently. "I know how much they bother you," she said. "So I did. Potter-san said that I can just rub it in before I go to bed every night until they're gone, or I could lather it on thickly and cover it with cling-film, and they should be gone by morning when I wash the salve off. He also said to come back if I use up the small pot he gave me and could still see the scars, and he'd give me some more."
"That is very considerate of him," Kurama agreed.
Shiori hummed and nodded her head. "I just worry about why such a sweet young man would have a salve that makes scars disappear," she commented, then shook the thought from her head and returned to the meal.
It was an astute observation though, and now Kurama couldn't help thinking about it as well. The obvious answer would be that Potter-san would have scars that he uses that salve for himself, which then begged the question of where he got his scars. An accident like his mothers? It was possible, young men often over-estimated their ability to do things, or he might have had them from the accident that killed his parents. Perhaps he got into fights? Again, it was possible, though it went against Shiori's picture of their new neighbour as a 'nice young man'. Maybe the scars had been inflicted by that same deranged relative who had killed his godfather. It was as likely as anything else.
Kurama now shook his head, dismissing his curiosity. Scars were always personal, and he doubted that their new neighbour would appreciate being interrogated as to the cause of his own. If he had them. Perhaps he had the salve because he intended to set up his own home-remedy business? No, Kurama would not ask. Not without cause beyond curiosity, anyway.
"Did Potter-san say what he would be doing, now that he's in Japan?" Kurama asked.
"Hmm?" Shiori hummed as she looked up from her food. "Oh, do? Now that I think of it, no, he didn't. My, that is curious. However could I have forgotten to ask that?" the woman wondered to herself. "Oh well. I shall ask tomorrow."
Kurama blinked. "You're going to visit him again so soon?" he asked, surprised.
Shiori smiled. "Oh yes!" she enthused. "Would you like to come as well? Potter-san doesn't really know where all the shops are yet, so I offered to show him around the area. You don't have school tomorrow, and I was hoping to introduce you to each other. You can direct him to the places that young people like much better than I could, I'm sure Shuichi."
Kurama nodded obediently. "Of course, Mother," he agreed. "I'll have to think of some way to thank him for the salve he gave you."
Shiori smiled. "Even if it doesn't work?" she asked gently.
"Even then," he agreed. "I must thank him for making such an offer of assistance." Then he smiled a particular, amused smile. "Of course, if it works, then I'll have to think of something better than I would if it didn't."
Shiori laughed, amused by her son's particular humour.
"Minamino-san, hello again," greeted the young man who now lived in the house next to Shiori and her son. "How are you this morning?"
"I'm very well, thank you Potter-san," Shiori answered. "Your salve did just as you said it would. I am most impressed," she added, holding up her now scar-free arms, having gone for the faster healing method at her son's insistence.
The young man smiled. "I'm glad," he said, and his words were sincere, rather than mere tokens and formalities. "Please, come in. Ah, this must be Minamino-kun, who I heard so much about yesterday?" he asked as he ushered them in through his front door.
"Yes," Shiori agreed. "This is my son, Shuichi."
"It is an honour to meet the person who was able to take away my mother's scars," Kurama said formally, bowing to the older teen in the entry-way. "Thank you very much. I don't know how to repay such a debt."
Potter blinked in surprise. "Uh... You can not bow for a start?" he suggested desperately. "I get that it's a different culture, but that's deference rather than manners and I don't deal well with –"
Shiori laughed from slightly further down the hall, putting a stop to both her son's bowing and their host's rambling quite effectively with the pretty sound.
Potter relaxed slightly as he watched her laugh, and gave an apologetic smile to Kurama. "I don't think I really need to be thanked for what I did, but!" he added quickly, seeing that the red-head was about to object. "If you really want do do something, you can help me in out the garden now and then."
"Out in," Shiori corrected with a smile. "Help out in the garden. Not in out, Potter-san."
"Thank you, Minamino-san," he said gratefully before turning to Kurama.
Kurama who was bright-eyed and smiling widely. "I would be glad to!" he declared firmly. "I'm very good with plants!"
"Now, we must take you shopping, Potter-san!" Shiori declared with a happy, but slightly devious, smile. After all, what woman doesn't like to take hapless and handsome young men out shopping now and then?
They spent several hours wandering the market district, the mall, and giving Potter a tour of the more specialist (and locally owned) shops. He almost always bought something too. Carrots from here, an oven to be delivered the next day from there (since apparently the previous owners had ruined the one that was already in the house before they left), cleaning products, a bag of untreated kelp that would apparently be used to help improve the quality of the soil in his garden... and so on.
Shiori left them at about four in the afternoon. She claimed it was to make dinner for the three of them, but both of the males noticed that it was very early for beginning such preparations and that she headed almost straight to a shop that sold women's unmentionables.
"No comment," Potter said judiciously when he noticed the younger teen shudder minutely before looking away.
"Thank you," Kurama answered, turning quickly away from the sight. He didn't want to think about his mother that way. Not at all. Yes, he knew that she was beautiful for a human female of her age, but he did not want to think about her that way.
"Tea?" Potter suggested.
"That sounds wonderful," Kurama agreed quickly. "There's a nice place this way," he added, aware that Potter wouldn't know such a thing. Thankfully, the place he was thinking of was away from the shop his mother had entered.
Once the two of them were settled down into the cushy leather-upholstered seats of the café Kurama had brought them to, steaming cups of tea before them – rose-hip tea for Kurama, Earl Grey with milk and one for Potter – Kurama broached the topic that Potter had rather skilfully been dodging all day. Shiori hadn't questioned directly, and Potter was very skilled at evasive answering.
"If I may ask, what sort of work will you be looking for while you're here in Japan?" Kurama enquired, as politely as he could for such a blunt question.
Potter smiled. "Ah Minamino-kun," he answered as he relaxed backwards, teacup cradled between his palms. "I will be attending university for a few years first."
Kurama cocked his head to the side slightly, as he had done when he was a fox, in curiosity. "I was led to believe that attending university was an expensive undertaking," he commented.
Potter nodded absently. "Thankfully, I have inherited more than enough wealth to live and pay for my university courses," he returned. He smiled, and his eyes danced as he watched the boy watching him with intensity and curiosity, and was glad that he'd exchanged his glasses for contact lenses. "Then I shall be a fully qualified teacher," he stated.
Kurama blinked, and straightened as he considered the older teen across the small table from him.
"With the wonderful salve you provided my mother, I would have thought you might be going into medicine," Kurama commented.
Potter chuckled and shook his head. "Not at all," he quipped. "Can't stand hospitals. It's why I make my own..." he trailed off, his face scrunching up slightly as he tried to find the right word in the new language.
"Remedies?" Kurama offered.
Potter frowned a moment in further thought before he nodded. "I suppose that will do," he agreed at last, then took another sip of his tea.
"Might... You teach me how to make some of them?" Kurama asked, both hesitant and eager.
Potter raised a curious eyebrow.
"I tried to make a salve to take away my mother's scars already, you see," Kurama hastened to explain. "It... didn't work as well as I'd wanted it to."
"I understand," Potter answered. "But... the process of actually making the remedies I use... I'd be happy to supply you with whatever remedies you want or need, whenever you want or need them," he assured the red-head. "But... the raw ingredients can be gross, the preparations have to be precise, the timing has to be even more precise, and making just about any mistake along the way can cause the whole thing to blow up, literally, or if it doesn't then it'll either be completely useless or it will kill you instead."
Kurama dropped his head, a show of being dejected. He was sure that he'd be able to learn, he was nearly five-hundred years old and still learning new things at the human school he attended. Top of his class, curious mind that grasped concepts quickly, and dedicated. Part of him wondered if Potter would agree if he were a bit older.
He heard Potter sigh.
"I'll compromise," he said.
Kurama jerked his head up, surprised and hopeful.
"I'll teach you how to prepare the ingredients first. The whole dicing, mincing, chopping, shaving, grinding, powdering, slicing – the lot. Once I'm satisfied with that, I'll teach you how to cook. Not my remedies, but regular food, baked goods and the like. This will make sure that you understand about measuring by volume, or weight, or whatever, about timing to proportions, as well as being a useful life-skill in general. We'll start with the simple stuff, and work our way up to more complicated things, until you feel comfortable enough to be able to experiment with cooking and I'm satisfied with your skill. Then, if you're still interested after all that, I'll get you to help me make some remedies, and supervise you making some on your own," Potter decided, nodding when he was done, satisfied with his plan.
Kurama's eyes had been steadily getting wider, and his mouth was hanging open – just a bit – as Potter explained how he would be going about teaching Kurama to eventually make such superior remedies.
"And in exchange..." Potter said, pausing to drain his teacup.
Kurama closed his mouth and swallowed tensely, waiting to hear the price, the catch, the cost of this learning. He had already committed himself to helping this man with his garden as thanks for taking Shiori's scars away. He wasn't sure what else he could offer, or what might be asked of him.
"I want you to never lie to me," Potter finished, his voice firm as he locked his gaze with Kurama's.
Kurama's mouth fell open again in shock.
"I'm not going to ask you to tell me all your secrets, but I've had issues with people lying to me before, and keeping things from me that I needed to know. I want to have a person in my life who I can trust to be honest with me, and I'll be honest with you in turn. How does that sound?" Potter offered.
Kurama nodded slowly, thinking it over quickly. He didn't have to tell Potter that he was actually a fox, just... not tell him lies, like the ones he told his mother – the kind that actually wouldn't be needed with a next-door neighbour. He could agree to this.
It took a full year for Kurama to satisfy Potter's standards for ingredient preparation, and some of the ingredients were, well, odd would be putting it very nicely. The plants varied from normal to something he might have expected to find in Demon World, and then there were things like juicing slugs, filleting different types of aquatic and amphibious fauna, and grinding bones – bones! Like in that fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, he was grinding bones. He powdered dried plants, vicious looking claws and teeth, and drained the blood of a live mouse into a vial for one of Potter's mixtures – and had to keep the mouse alive throughout and make sure it was still alive when he was done. Not easy. He even learned how to safely milk venom from snakes and spiders under Potter's watchful instruction.
So, he was fourteen before Potter let him into the kitchen, having previously held their lessons in what qualified more for the title of 'laboratory', with all the jars of ingredients lining the shelves, the heavy work-bench, ventilation shaft, and the tank that had held the snake, spider or mouse he was siphoning venom or blood from if that was the lesson. They never hung around for more than a week before Potter sent them back to wherever they'd come from.
The lessons progressed from soups to fish to poultry to red meats to baked goods to delicate confectionery – and all that went much faster than learning to prepare ingredients to Potter's satisfaction, likely helped by cooking lessons being part of Kurama's middle school curriculum. His teachers at school were all very impressed with his skill, and he was getting consistently top marks in that class, just as he had in all his other subjects.
Also in this time, Potter became a sort of babysitter for Kurama, much as the title did not sit well with the ancient fox. His mother had started dating her boss, so while they were out on dates Kurama would stay with Potter, helping in the garden or working towards proving himself worthy to learn how to make the remedies that Potter created.
"Come in Minamino-kun," Potter greeted.
Kurama bowed his head in gratitude and toed his shoes off. Slipping into the house shoes that Potter kept for him, the red-head then started towards the kitchen, ready for his next cooking lesson to begin.
"No," Potter called softly. "In here please," he instructed, gesturing towards the lounge room, where a chess set was waiting for them. "You're ready to start learning how to make the remedies I think, but before that, I believe I should explain something to you. Please," he said, gesturing for Kurama to take a seat behind the 'white' side of the marble chessboard. The white pieces all had little black veins running through them, just as the black pieces all had thin white veins. "Nothing is all black or all white," Potter explained when he noticed Kurama studying the chess set. "You have first move."
Kurama picked up the queen-side knight and set it down in front of the bishop's pawn with a soft click.
Potter did nothing, but rather the king's pawn marched itself forward two squares.
Kurama's eyes nearly popped out of his head they went so wide.
Potter chuckled. "I'm terrible at chess," he said. "This set is... a reminder of someone I once thought was a friend. I've been getting better though, I think."
"You have!" agreed all of the pieces.
"You're just not good yet," added the black queen.
Potter chuckled again at the frank words of the chess set. "This, Minamino-kun, is a wizards chess set. Enchanted to move on their own, give advice, object to the moves your making if your making a bad move, destroy opposing pieces and then repair magically when the checkmate is called. I am a wizard," he explained. "That is my big secret. The remedies I make work like magic because they are. I thought it might be prudent to explain this before I helped you make your first potion."
Kurama nodded slowly. "I see," he said, and absently moved one of his pawns forward a step. "I am a four-hundred year old demon fox. My name was Yoko Kurama. Shiori... doesn't know."
Potter nodded his silent acceptance of this, but otherwise didn't react, and another pawn stepped out from its place. "You don't want her to either, do you?"
"No," Kurama agreed, as he made a move. "I was just going to leave four years ago, but..."
Potter chuckled darkly as another of the black pieces moved itself. "Having people who care for you has a way of getting under your skin, doesn't it?" he asked. It was rhetorical, but Kurama answered anyway.
"Yes. It was because of me that she had those scars on her arms, and even after I'd been treating her like she was a lesser creature," Kurama admitted softly, clicking another piece down on another square.
"And what will you do when she begins to die?" Potter asked. "Humans do that you know. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes far too soon for the happiness of those around them." Another piece moved.
"I..." Kurama nearly choked as he looked up from the game to consider Potter with large eyes. "I'd do my best to save her, even if it meant doing something terrible," Kurama declared, resolve as strong as steel in his voice.
"Hmm," was Potter's answer. "And if she is alright with dying?" he asked. "What then?"
"I don't know," Kurama answered quietly, finally making his move. "Probably save her anyway. I'm a selfish creature by nature really... but I feel guilty, like one of those animals that eats its mother when it's born."
"We all do sometimes," Potter told him. "That's just the nature of being more aware than the common animal. The animals that do eat their parents certainly feel no guilt over it, just as their mothers – and ours – feel no pain as they give of themselves for our benefit."
"Potter-san?" Kurama asked, curious.
"Let me tell you my story, from the terrible beginning," Potter said, as pieces started to move themselves around the board without any input from either of the males, aware that they had forgotten about the game completely. "There was a prophecy..."
It was quite the impressive story actually, full of pain, betrayal, secrets, and Potter constantly hiding his ability to keep from either tipping his hand or offending people. Killing monsters, killing psychotic terrorists, surviving several attempts on his life – even a few that were actually successful – and then having to dodge women trying to marry him for his fame and money after all that... Definitely one heck of a story, and much more impressive than Kurama would have been able to guess on his own. Then, when it was over (despite it feeling like there were things that had been left out), Potter waved for Kurama to follow him down to the potions lab.
It was nice to have it confirmed as a lab, actually.
It wasn't so nice to have to deal with Shiori falling ill not long after Shuichi's fifteenth birthday. Not just a cold or a cough either, but dying type ill. Unfortunately, Harry had no magic potion to cure this illness, as no witch or wizard had ever suffered from cancer, and so they had never seen a need to create a cure for it as the muggles sought to. On top of that, Kurama had to continue attending school while he worried for the woman who had taught him so much.
"Minamino-san," Potter said gently as he sat by the woman's side as she lay in her hospital bed, keeping her company while Kurama was at school. "The doctor says you might not see the end of the month."
"Yes," she agreed weakly. "I know."
"Have you made preparations yet?" he asked softly. The therapies that would be used to deal with cancer in its early stages had been tried, but weren't any help – it seemed that the disease had advanced too quickly and been caught too late.
"Not exactly," she admitted sadly. "I made a will when my husband died. I didn't want anything to happen to Shuichi, but... I haven't really looked at it since then, and a lot of things have changed. My lawyer will be coming by tomorrow to review it with me. Potter-san, would... you be Shuichi's guardian, if the worst happens?" she asked, her voice weak but desperate. "It was my sister, but the last I heard of her was from an American lawyer, apologising that a fire had taken her life and the government had taken most everything else to help pay for her funeral on my behalf," Shiori said with a weak smile. "That was nearly four years ago. Please Potter-san? Shuichi already knows you, and you get along so well. I don't want him to be forced to live with strangers."
Potter took one of Shiori's hands between both of his. "I would be honoured," he said firmly and sincerely. "Now you rest," he insisted gently, releasing her hand to fluff her pillow for her. "And remember to do everything the doctors and nurses tell you, even if it means swallowing things you don't think you have the stomach for."
Shiori laughed weakly, but lay back into her pillow with a smile on her face. "Oh, Potter-san, how is your university course going?"
Potter chuckled. "My teaching degree only takes two years to complete when done slowly, and I have been taking extra courses during the summer and winter breaks as well. I graduated at the end of the last semester, Minamino-san."
"You didn't invite us to your graduation ceremony!" she cried, saddened.
"I didn't go myself," he admitted with a smile. "I am not very fond of robes, you see. They sent my certificate in the mail."
"I'm sure you would have looked handsome in your graduating gown," Shiori said quietly as she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Potter smiled slightly at the sentiment, and left the woman to sleep. Besides, her boyfriend had just arrived to take over the visitor's chair. He arrived back at the Minamino residence in time to see two blurs disappear over the tree-tops. One black, the other mauve – the colour of Kurama's school uniform – and topped by red.
"Well, he said he'd do anything to save her," Potter muttered to himself, then shook his head before heading in through his own front door. He knew that Kurama would be back by breakfast at the very latest, so he would be able to ask him what he as up to then.