Main character: Draco (HP/DM vibes)
Card: Four of Cups
Card Interpretation: What you truly desire is available to you, but you do not see it. Discontent and uncertainty blind you to what is offered. Apathy after a long struggle. Negative attitudes strain relationships. Possible affairs. Change is needed.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to JK Rowling, Warner Bros. and others. I'm just playing with them.
Warnings: Could be epilogue-compliant ... or not.
Summary: After the war, Draco finds himself not only on the losing side, but not as impressive as he had been raised to believe. It's hard to see past that.
Author Notes: Thanks to sociofemme for a last-minute beta.
"It was not that bad," Arsenius Jigger said amiably, the gentle humor so unlike Severus Snape's acerbic wit. "Good enough to use, certainly. Not, however, good enough to sell. In all, about what I would expect of a young man just out of school."
Draco looked away. What was wrong with him? He had been brilliant at Potions in school. Now, with his fortunes so reduced that he needed an actual job, he could not make it past the first level of apprentice brewer at Slug and Jigger's apothecary. He had been certain that within a week, he would be a journeyman at the shop.
"Stick to the category four and five bases for now," Mr. Jigger said, more briskly. "I'll test you again in six months."
"Yes, sir," Draco forced out. He had to be polite. An employer was like a professor -- more powerful, even, because there were no other professors to protect you. There was Mr. Slug, of course, but he wasn't someone who could be played against Jigger, and it was Jigger, really, who favored Draco. "Shall I start on more salve base, then?"
"Later, yes," Mr. Jigger said. "First, though, the stock of bulk ingredients needs neatening. See that there's no cross-bin contamination, and then sweep when you're done. The brewing can wait until after that."
Really, Draco thought bitterly, he was only a first-level apprentice half the time. The rest of his work hours, he was really a superior sort of house elf -- one who knew the difference between Devil's Snare seeds and beetle eyes, and that mermaid scales that fell in the latter could be put back in their barrel, but that ones that had fallen into the former needed to be thrown out. He wondered why they were kept next to each other. Shouldn't the Devil's Snare seeds be over by Golden Fern seeds? Though that, he supposed, would leave mermaid scales by Kelpie Weed, a more destructive combination. He scowled. He shouldn't even have to think about this!
Why couldn't he do better? Was it the loss of his wand? Though wands, as Professor Snape had been so ready to point out, had little to do with the brewing of potions. For a moment, Draco allowed himself to think about Snape -- bolder and more selfless than he seemed, he had got Draco out of Hogwarts after his disastrous failure with Dumbledore, and then -- in the most admirably sideways manner -- spoken well of him to the Dark Lord, taking a Cruciatus for his pains, but perhaps keeping Draco and his parents from execution.
And later, when Draco had come to make amends.... Draco jerked his thoughts away from the memory. Why was he thinking of Snape, now? Ah. Wands. Snape had always said that wands didn't matter. Of course, Snape had also said he was brilliant at potions, while Mr. Jigger seemed to regard him as merely average. Professor Slughorn had as well. Draco shuddered to a stop in mid-swipe of the beetle eyes. What if it was true? What if he had just been the most intelligent student in his year of Slytherin, and thus the best way to give points to Slytherin? A few months ago, he would have considered that absurd, but now....
His eyes rose, looking out through the window, focusing on nothing. The world, however, wouldn't even let him sulk in peace. It was impossible not to notice when a short, plebian, messy-haired hero walked through his field of vision. Potter! His old nemesis looked like he hadn't a care in the world, which he probably hadn't. No one would hesitate to hire him -- if he had needed a job, which he didn't. It turned out that between being the last heir of the House of Potter and the last heir of the House of Black, Potter had almost as much money as Draco had expected to. Draco had no idea why he had spent most of school looking like a pauper. Solidarity with the Weasel, maybe.
It wasn't the Weasel with him now, though -- not even the Weaselette. The Hero of the Second Voldemort War had Hermione Granger hanging off his arm like a pretty toy, rather than the brilliant intellectual who had made Draco second-best. They were talking animatedly and smiling, lost entirely in each other.
It was them, Draco thought suddenly, his throat closing. Professor Snape's praise of him hadn't been because he deserved it, or even to give Slytherin points. It had been to irritate Potter -- and to some degree, Granger. What if he really wasn't more than competent?
Second best, he thought bitterly, as a customer walked by him with a perceptible sniff. He would be thankful to be second best now, rather than average to Jigger and down in the dregs of contemptible to the average customer. People who didn't hate him for following the Dark Lord hated him for expressing regrets before the Wizengamot. What else could they expect him to do? The Dark Lord certainly hadn't stood by him! He had been a madman who had ruined his family and desecrated their home. Draco lifted his eyes again, looking out the window, but Potter, damn him, and Granger, were just disappearing around the corner.
He was lost. Six months more at his current wage! That would barely cover expenses. Taxes on the manor were paid automatically by a fund his grandfather had established for that purpose, but they had raided the surplus for repairs, so there was nothing left in there for anything else. The family, with his father unable to leave the grounds and in his cups too often to scheme a path to regaining standing, was dependent on what Draco could earn. At his current wage, that was barely enough to feed the three of them, and he had hoped for more. His mother's robes were already a year old; could she endure another two seasons of such humiliation? And that was if Draco spent nothing on himself, and if the cellars held up to his father's forays.
At the end of the day, Draco didn't want to return home, to his father's bleary withdrawal and his mother's anxious praise, but the alternative was to walk out onto the street, into a world of shops, and possibly Potter. As much as he might want a new wand, one that suited him, he didn't have the gold for that, so there would be no temptation. On the other hand, the coins in his pocket would be adequate to a cream-filled cake or a Quidditch magazine, and he knew he liked acquiring things when he was feeling down. Resolutely, he stepped into the employee Floo, and stepped out in the anteroom of Malfoy Manor.
The room showed no traces of the Dark Lord's rages and Aunt Bellatrix's madness. Draco had wanted to change everything about it, but they hadn't had the budget for new furniture. Replacing the torn and blasted wall coverings, however, had been a necessity, and his mother had agreed about change. Rather than the former green brocade, they were now a medium blue, with the trim painted in two darker blues accented by a deep golden yellow. His mother looked lovely standing in front of them, and Draco suspected that he did, as well.
She wasn't waiting for him, as she sometimes did. That meant that she was upstairs working on her hats. It had become an obsession of hers, taking apart items that were out of fashion and working them into incredible creations. She always showed them to Draco when they were complete, but he had never seen her wear one again after he gave it his approval. She hardly had invitations to appropriate venues, these days, and he supposed it was a little silly to wear elaborate hats around the house, but he wouldn't have minded if it made her feel better.
Draco walked through the open double doors into the front hall, and turned right, passing the drawing room, and then his father's study. That door was closed, as it always was, these days. His father had refused to let them do anything to the room, even though there were broken shelves on one side and charred books on the floor, so his mother simply shut the door and told their remaining House Elf, Mippy, to ignore it. Draco suspected his father wouldn't notice if he slipped in and repaired everything; certainly, he never entered the study himself. Still, it stayed there, like a sore under a plaster.
Up in his room, Draco removed his work clothes, showered fumes and dust and powdered beetle eyes off his skin, brushed his hair, and dressed for dinner. That done, he settled himself in his favorite chair and clapped his hands twice. Mippy appeared and bowed.
"Report," Draco instructed her, as he did every night.
"We is needing flour," Mippy said with a nervous nod. "Also, dinner is using the last fruit, and bacon is only meat left."
"Flour, fruit, meat," Draco repeated, as if he were memorizing potion ingredients. He summoned his wages from the last three days and held the scant coins in his hand, wondering what they would buy. Not much, he thought. "Very well," he said, passing the coins over. "We'll need lamb, and something ... oranges, perhaps. Anything else?"
"Is Master Draco wanting suggestions?" Mippy asked, and Draco's whole body twitched as he moved to strike her for impudence, but there was no thought backing the reflex, and he caught himself. Taking suggestions from a House Elf could hardly be more humiliating than budgeting for groceries.
"Go ahead," he said stonily, and Mippy, who had cringed back, uncurled, her ears not quite straightening with her spine.
"Apples is the cheapest fruit, this time of year, and if Mippy buys extra flour and sugar, instead of oranges, Mippy can make dumplings and tart."
"Oh." Draco supposed that made sense. "Good. Apples would be fine." Of course, it was autumn. He just wasn't in school.
Emboldened, she nodded slightly, one ear extending. "Chickens and fish is cheaper than mutton," she burst out, and then skittered back nervously.
Draco sighed. "Very well. As long as it's not every meal." He cleared his throat. He wasn't supposed to have to know these things! "Thank you, Mippy. Shop as you see fit."
Her eyes widened to the size of saucers just as he realized what he had said. Before he could decide what to do, she squealed with delight. "Master is so kind!" she exclaimed, and disappeared with a pop.
Draco rubbed his forehead. He had gone into shop boy mode with his own Elf. How humiliating! On the other hand, no one had seen, and if it inspired her to be creative, it would be worth it. He scowled, and wondered if she would serve up a diet of beans, instead.
With no further reason to tarry, Draco started down to dinner. His mother was already on the patio outside the dining room, holding a glass of white wine like a prop. Her hat, a strangely attractive creation of stiffened net, was resplendent with iridescent little feathers that wound up the shortened point in a soft spiral, its path bisected by the quill of a magnificent pheasant tail feather, which arched from gold into dark green. Tiny crystals -- which Draco suspected were scavenged from one of the destroyed chandeliers, perhaps even that one -- hung from the brim, tinkling against smaller gold circles -- from a necklace, perhaps? as his mother turned to smile at him.
"Good evening, dearest."
Draco wondered if his father resented that. "Good evening, Mother," he said politely. "The hat is lovely."
"Thank you, darling."
"You should wear it tomorrow," he said quickly, before he lost his nerve. As he had expected, she laughed.
"What a thought! Come, tell me about your day."
Scowling, he sat down, and Mippy appeared, bringing him a glass of wine to match his mother's. Draco appreciated that it was a small one. Good form was important, but there was no room for waste, now. "The same as the last three weeks," he said. "Rude shoppers, a messy workspace, and being treated as a barely worthy apprentice." Although he wanted to hide his humiliation, being asked was not to be borne, so he stumbled ahead. "Jigger evaluated my work, but says I'm not ready for more complex tasks. It was horrible, Mother! He thinks I'm average; he actually said so."
"Oh, darling, I wouldn't fret about it!" she exclaimed sympathetically. "Just consider his idea of average, spending all his time with professionals."
Draco didn't want to think about that. He had expected to impress professionals with his youthful brilliance when he deigned to dabble in such things. "Professor Snape said I excelled in my skill and understanding."
She laughed, the sound brittle in the cooling air. "As we now know, Professor Snape said many things, to many people."
Draco didn't have a reply for that. In the aftermath of Snape's defense of him, and watching Snape's contained power as Voldemort's new favorite, he had found the devious man strangely attractive. During the summer, in a fit of penance and need, he had once gone to the man's bed, though he did not think anyone else knew. Snape had seemed to regret it the next day, turning Draco away with a mutter about the follies of too much brandy. As headmaster, he had explicitly stated that further advances would not be acceptable, but had also returned to a more restrained version of the favoritism he had shown to Draco before their fights of Draco's sixth year. Draco would never know what might have happened after school, and now, of course, there was Harry Potter in the papers, proclaiming Snape a hero of the resistance, who had brought him the Sword of Gryffindor while he was in hiding. Draco wondered bitterly if there were details to Snape's visit that he did not reveal.
"You look lost, darling."
Draco certainly hoped his mother did not know.
"I just-- It was inconvenient of him to die!" he exclaimed. He had needed to say something, but hadn't expected what burst out to sound so petulant. "Now I'll never know what he meant, what he intended...."
"Indeed," his mother agreed. "If there is, in fact, an afterlife, the soul of Severus Snape will have a long queue of people waiting to question him for many decades to come." Adjusting her new hat, she turned to the balustrade and the downs beyond. The borders of Muggle fields sent green lines cascading down the gentle curves. "Now relax, darling, and watch the sunset with me. I adore this time of year, when the sinking sun turns the grove to bronze."
It wasn't a bad description. The dark and dying leaves of the grove she meant, still on their land, were gilded by the golden sun. Draco sighed.
"Yes, Mother. The sun is setting."
For just a moment, her face was sharp as she glanced at him.
"Just thinking about that man infects you with his sourness, Draco. We have the Manor, and it is once again truly ours. Do try to appreciate it."
"The Manor, yes, but--" He stopped himself. He wanted to ask how they would eat, and beyond that, if they would ever again possess the resources to entertain visitors, but it would not be worth it. His mother was happy, her light madness harmless, and he would not destroy her contentment with his own harsh realities. "It is very lovely," he agreed instead, and she patted him softly on the arm. Looking down on the gardens, he tried to find something to comment on. A few little deer emerged from the edge of the little woods and began nosing around the base of a small tree. The grass was longer than it should be.
"How are we going to maintain it all?" he burst out, dismayed. "The Ministry made us free Shrubbit."
"Did I not tell you to stop worrying?" his mother scolded. "I'm a clever witch, Draco, and there are many effective spells for that sort of thing." Draco looked up, but her smile faded as he nodded. "It would be a tad easier if your father would help," she said, sounding, at last, a tiny bit hurt.
Draco didn't know what to say about Father. If his mother's madness was harmless and bright, his father's was unpredictable and dismal. He was saved from the awkward subject by the appearance of Mippy.
"Dinner is being ready, Mistress," she said, dipping in a hurried curtsey before Narcissa.
"Very good, Mippy. Draco?" She turned up her hand, and he offered his arm, escorting her into the dining room as if his father was away, rather than simply without the decency to see to his duties as the master of the house.
Lucius, indeed, turned out to be already seated. He hadn't been so crass as to uncover the serving dishes, but his hair was undone, his overrobe rumpled, and his cravat stained by red wine. As he pushed his mother's chair in, Draco saw her wand flick out under cover of the table, cleaning and straightening the cravat. His father, apparently feeling, but not recognizing, the quiver of fabric, frowned.
"Home, are you?" he asked Draco, punctuating the query with a tip of his wineglass. "Not that I meant--" His eyes shifted away, and he took a quick swallow.
"Am I ever not home for dinner, Father?" Draco reproved, his heart hammering.
"You are a good son, Draco," his father said. "A fine son. Even...."
His vague wave conveyed nothing, but Draco knew what he meant. He was humiliated to have Draco in trade, although he would never admit it. How his mother continued to be gracious about it, Draco did not know. Years of praising Mrs. Parkinson's gowns, perhaps. His father, by contrast, could not bear to speak of the matter. Draco let it go, commenting lightly on the weather and current events, carrying on a civil conversation with his mother as if his father were not there, staring gloomily into his dark wine.
They had just finished dinner with scant servings of a surprisingly good cheese when Mippy appeared in the doorway.
"Master Draco is having a visitor!" she squeaked.
"Visitor?" Lucius growled. "I didn't feel the wards."
"We had to take most of them down, darling," Narcissa reminded him. "Don't you recall? We have only Muggle-repelling and theft-prevention charms, now."
"Deplorable lack of personal protection," Lucius muttered, and Draco rose. He would be better off meeting the visitor, whomever it might be, alone.
"Front drawing room," he whispered to Mippy as he came to the door, and she vanished with a nod.
When he got there, they were awaiting him. Mippy bowed and departed, and the guest turned from the portrait he had been examining.
Potter looked amused. "Hi, Malfoy."
Draco forced his shocked brain to resume thinking. Potter wasn't an Auror, or even in Auror training -- the papers had disapproved enough to remark on it repeatedly. Recently, with elections starting, he had spoken at a few events for the Rebuilding Britain party, which was widely seen as support for Kingsley Shacklebolt. As the Malfoys were about as likely to vote for a rabid stoat as one of Dumbledore's old cronies, he could hardly be here on political business. Draco had a momentary wistful memory of Dumbledore offering to help him, but pushed it back. He had not taken the offer, and it was far too late now.
"What do you want?" he demanded, and Potter had the effrontery to roll his eyes.
"Just returning something," he said, and pulled out a wand.
Jumping back, Draco drew his own. A dive would put him behind the sofa.... Potter, though, was flipping the wand in his hand, extending it hilt first.
"Calm down, will you? It's yours."
It was. Now that the moment to fight had passed, he could feel it. Slowly, Draco stepped forward and reached out his hand. The hawthorn was not as warm as he remembered, but it slid comfortably into his hold.
"Took you long enough."
Potter snorted. "Honestly! I haven't been hoarding it, Malfoy, it was just a while before I dealt with the things I was carrying that day."
"Because my wand isn't important?" Draco snapped.
"I didn't even remember it was there! I rolled everything into a bundle and sent it off to Grimmauld place with Kreacher. I didn't go back until Remus's memorial service, last week." He shrugged. "I didn't want to think about it."
Draco didn't see why Potter wouldn't want to think about that day; he had won, hadn't he? He turned the smooth wood in his hand, wondering if it was just his imagination, or if the wand was ignoring him.
"Good job redecorating, by the way," Potter remarked nonsensically, and Draco looked around at the room. Like the entrance hall, it had been repainted, but the furnishings were scavenged from other parts of the house. Draco's father had destroyed the bloodied sofa rather than cleaning it, and Draco had replaced it with the loveseat and chair from a guest suite. The wood didn't match the side table.
"I do what I can with limited resources," he said coldly.
"Oh, Mr. Potter!"
It was his mother, her voice sparkling like a dusting of sugar. Her fantastical new hat was held in her hand, and Draco knew he would never see her wear it again.
"How good to see you!" To Draco's dismay, she inclined her head as if Potter was her equal. "I am delighted to have you in my home under happier circumstances."
Potter brightened. Draco hadn't realize how stiffly he had been standing until the tension faded away.
"Good to see you too, Mrs. Malfoy," he said. He gestured around him. "I'm glad it doesn't all look like it did, actually."
"We felt much the same," she confided, briefly taking his hand. It was disgusting, Draco decided. Perhaps it was just as well she stayed in.
"Draco, darling," she warbled, "I'm sorry to interrupt. I'm sure you had much more to say to your visit--"
"No," he clipped out. "We were done." He turned on his heel. "Mippy will show you out, Potter."
He sent Mippy in to do that, but she returned pulling her ears and saying that Mistress Narcissa was still speaking to the guest. Snarling, he rescinded the order. They had only one House Elf -- it was no good to have her disabling herself over contradictory commands.
His mother caught him as he was leaving breakfast in the morning. Father, he knew, would be in bed for hours yet, but Mother made an effort join him for at least one cup of tea every morning.
"Draco, darling? I really must speak to you about your conduct last night."
"Conduct?" he questioned incredulously.
Draco sputtered. "Mother! That's Potter! Harry Potter, the bullheaded prat who felled the Dark Lord?"
"Precisely," she answered coolly. "And when someone in a position of power does you an unwarranted favor, it is good practice to express gratitude."
"Favor-- what? Returning my wand? It's mine, and he kept it for months!"
"You know quite well it is not yours once you lose it in combat. He was under no obligation to return it at all. Furthermore, by your own account, he saved your life from your friend's stupidity. Have you ever acknowledged that?"
Draco looked away, his jaw tightening. He had tried to write a note, but the whole thing had been far too humiliating. Also, it made him remember the whole experience -- not just his terror and loss, but the sickening thrill of pressing tight against Potter's adversity-hardened body while they flew through the inferno at breakneck speed.
His mother made the little tongue click that signaled she was losing patience. "I will take that as a no," she said sharply. "When you return from work tonight, you will write him a letter, thanking him for the return of your wand, and also for saving your life. I will not have you rebuff such a magnanimous gesture."
Draco's teeth hurt. He forced his jaw open. "Yes, Mother."
"Good. Now run along, darling, and do your best to have a pleasant day."
That, Draco thought gloomily, as he stared at the clutter of ingredients and supplies in the shop lab, was beyond possible. He had three hours until Brand went to lunch, which was twice as much time as he needed to make salve base. If he organized the central shelves first, surely that would improve his efficiency? Perhaps that was why his brewing was off! The drab, disorganized environment was distracting him at critical moments. Carefully, he began to move all of the items from the shelves to the workbench, taking care which he put in proximity.
An hour later, he had two central shelved cleared, cleaned, and restocked in the same order Professor Snape had used, and all that was left on the workbench were a few stray things that had been pushed to the back of the shelves but did not belong there (including, disgustingly, what had once been a cup of tea) and a small, empty wide-mouth jar from a crate he had that he had found when fetching more Murtlap essence from the storeroom. A gleam of blue, just visible through the slats, had caught his eye, and he had pulled out a jar and brought it back to wash. The grime of many years had rubbed away to reveal beautiful cobalt-blue glass.
At the sound of footsteps lumbering down the wooden stairs, Draco hurriedly cleared the work surface and pulled out a cauldron. He was industriously chopping waxweed when Mr. Jigger came into the room.
Draco was dreading being asked why he was behind, and hoping for some admiring words on the gleaming, orderly shelves just above the workbench. Instead, Jigger, without seeming to notice either circumstance, plopped down a cauldron in the small amount of empty space, making the gelatinous mass inside quiver.
"Bottle this," he said. "One ounce glass jars, label 'eyelid gel.'"
Draco frowned at the substance. It shimmered, suggesting it might be pretty in brighter light. "What does it do?"
"Clears up tenderness and bruising in the eye area," he said proudly. "My own formula -- I've been working on it for months! I'd like it out before the lunch rush comes."
Draco bit his lip, but nodded. If he skipped his break and worked on the packaging while his solution was simmering, he might be able to get both tasks done.
"Right away, sir," he said, with all the enthusiasm he could feign, and Jigger gave him an approving nod before leaving the room.
While Draco was preparing the ingredients for salve base, working as rapidly as he dared, he found his attention darting to the polished blue jar, now sitting at the front of the shelf. It looked as if it would hold about an ounce. The pretty glass would attract attention, especially if the substance inside shimmered tantalizingly. He resolved that if the measurement wasn't too far off, he would use the blue jars. Judging by the grime, they weren't needed for anything else.
When his potion was simmering, he tested the size. The blue jar held only three quarters of an ounce, but he decided that was close enough. Any larger and people would think it was no good. Draco thought about that for a moment. He didn't actually know that it was. Conjuring a mirror, he looked at his own eyes and to his disgust, realized that after a night of fuming about Potter, he could test the substance on himself. His eyes weren't extreme, by any means, but there was visible shadow under the left one. Carefully, he smoothed a dab of the gel on and let out an involuntary sigh. It felt lovely! Not only that, but when he looked again, there was no trace of shadow.
He found some unfolding labels and turned them a delicate pink. In his brewing log, he tried out samples of text. When he had settled on one, he wrote it out on a label using his finest script. After three attempts, he finally had a perfect specimen.
The next best thing to a good night's sleep!
Soothe away dark circles and puffy lids with a single stroke
Once satisfied, he magically reproduced the text onto the other labels. He was half-done with packaging the lot when the timer for his salve base went off. Gasping, he cut the heat below his cauldrons. Working frantically, he rushed to stabilize the solution before it over-processed the Murtlap essence. It was touch and go for a few minutes, but he was able to save all of it.
Just as he was setting the last cauldron aside, Jigger returned.
"Nearly time to head up front, Malfoy! Is the eyelid gel ready?"
Trying to look confident, Draco held out one of the jars. "Half of it."
Jigger didn't even look at the elegant label. "This isn't an ounce! I said an ounce!"
"But the elegance--"
"Who cares about elegance!"
Draco lost it. "People who buy cosmetics!" he snapped out. "This will sell far more than if I put it out in the usual brown jars."
Jigger sneered, crossing his arms over his chest. "Oh you think so, do you?"
His heart hammering, Draco raised his head. "I am quite certain."
"Very well. Half done, you say? Package the other half the way I told you to, and set them both out, at the same price. We'll see which sells better."
Draco let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. "Agreed, sir."
Jigger, who had been leaving, turned at the base of the stairs. "If it's yours, I won't dock you a day's pay."
That was a real threat, but Draco pushed it to the back of his mind, telling himself he was confident in his theory. Furthermore, Jigger hadn't said the two displays needed equal placement. He put the brown jars on a shelf near other skin creams, and the arranged the blue jars in a pyramid on a table across from the door, so that they caught the light from the windows.
The door jangled, signaling the arrival of a customer. Draco turned, eager to see if his display garnered interest. "May I --" emerged from his lips, stalling there as he saw who it was, and hope fled.
"Help?" Potter suggested. "I hope so. What can I get in multiple doses of Pepper-Up?"
He certainly looked like he needed multiple doses, Draco thought. Mustering some scorn, he wondered if possibly a case of Hangover Remedy would be more appropriate.
"Something more specific may be more efficacious," he said smoothly. "What is the nature of the problem?"
Draco gathered his patience. To his dismay, he heard himself make the same little tongue-click that his mother did. To cover it, he quickly began speaking. "Pepper-Up is a general tonic for enhancing energy," he explained. "So you can use it for lack of sleep, or for when you are well-rested but staying up late, or to help stave off an encroaching illness, or to counter over-indulgence in substances with a sedative after-effect. However, all of these things have more specific treatments."
"Ah," Potter said, brightening slightly. "Lack of sleep, then."
"Chronic, or project-driven?"
Potter's eyebrows came up. "Nosy on your home turf, aren't you? Chronic. From nightmares more than anything, so don't suggest changes to my bedtime."
"Nightmares!" Draco was too startled to be offended. "What would give you nightmares?"
Potter laughed joylessly. "Oh, I don't know. A lifetime of being stalked by a homicidal Dark wizard? Watching people I loved die, just because they were near me? Being tortured by Cruciatus? Take your pick, Malfoy." He turned away, absently running a hand over the rounded tops of the blue glass jars. "The Battle of Hogwarts didn't help, certainly, but it's been bad for years, on and off."
"Oh." Draco stepped forward. Except for the two of them, the shop was empty. "I still dream of Vince sometimes," he said, offering the revelation as an apology. "And the fire."
Potter, to his credit, didn't say that Vince had started it, just gave a tired nod. "That one too."
"Since we're on the subject," Draco said, steeling himself to continue, "Thank you. For saving me and Greg." He bit his lip shut against saying more, and hoped that Potter wouldn't try to draw out this victory. Instead, Potter shrugged, which was almost more offensive than gloating.
"Wasn't going to leave you there," he muttered, and then made a face. "So," he prompted. "The right potion?"
And that, Draco thought, put him firmly in his place -- the shop boy. "In your case," he said, delaying to conceal his dismay, "it seems Dreamless Sleep would be inadvisable."
"Yeah. Not interested in acquiring an addiction, thanks."
"Do you take a daily nutritive potion?"
Potter looked puzzled. "Like vitamins?"
"Something to enhance your diet and your body's processing of it," Draco explained. He wasn't going to ask what 'vitamins' was, or were. "That will help to some degree." He stepped over to a shelf and pulled off a narrow-mouthed jar, then moved on to the next one. "Also, a mild calming potion for just before bed. It won't prevent dreams, but it should lessen the frequency of traumatic ones."
"Right, but I need--"
"To stay awake," Draco interrupted, "a spritz of Alertness Elixir." He scooped up the larger bottle and handed it to Harry. "I suggest the spritz because the effect is short-lived. You may need to use it multiple times, but when you do stop repeating it and go to bed, you won't be kept awake by residual substances."
"Great," Potter said. "Um--"
"Also," Draco added, picking up one of the blue jars, "a cream for the bruising under your eyes."
Predictably, Potter scowled. "I'm not worried about my looks, Malfoy."
Draco sniffed. "I'm not suggesting you enter a beauty contest, Potter. But everyone knows that you're campaigning for Shacklebolt's Rebuilding Britain party, and if you look haggard, it raises speculation that he's in trouble."
Potter blinked, and then straightened. "That has nothing to do with it!"
"And you and I know that. Probably most of your friends do, as well. But the public at large doesn't, and perception matters. Eventually, if it looks like he's in trouble, he will be."
"Ah." Gingerly, Harry took the jar. He tilted it, squinted at the label, and sighed. "All right, then. Chuck it in with the others." His eyebrows lifted. "Do you work on commission?"
Draco snorted. "No. Perhaps I should suggest it."
Potter followed him to the counter and watched him tally the potions. He hadn't actually asked what any of them cost and Draco was tempted to overcharge him and pocket the difference, but he knew that the risk wouldn't be worth the reward. If he was caught cheating Harry Potter, he would lose this job and not find another.
Any decent person would have taken their potions and left, but Potter continued to lean on the counter after putting the bundle in his sack.
"How well did you know Snape?" he asked suddenly, and Draco felt every muscle in his body stiffen in alarm. What did Potter suspect?
"Not at all, apparently." Bitterness overwhelmed the dry humor he had tried for, and Potter sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Right. It would be even worse for you, I suppose. For me ... There's so much I want to ask, and I can't."
"Join the club."
A little too loudly, Potter laughed. "Imagine that. You and I have something in common."
Draco glared across the counter at him. Was he trying to be insulting? "You're enjoying this, aren't you? Hanging around to gloat over my change in fortunes? You're just waiting for someone to walk in here, so you can put me in my place."
Potter frowned. "Of course not! I'd thought I was being friendly."
"We were never friendly."
"Yes, but...." Potter took a deep breath. "It's over, right?"
Draco glared. Never one to take a hint, Potter babbled on. "And you're actually talking to me, now that you don't have Voldemort and your daddy and your goons to threaten me wi--"
Draco's breath hissed in loudly, and Potter's eyes widened.
"I'm sorry," he blurted out. "That was rude."
Draco actually glanced back, for a moment thinking that Snape must be standing behind him. He wasn't, of course. Even if he had lived, he wouldn't be Potter's professor anymore, and even as his professor, he more frequently inspired Potter to defiance rather than panic.
"Yes," he said coldly. "It was," and at the look of dismay on Potter's face suddenly understood that the idiot regretted offending him. Why? he wondered. What could Potter possibly want from him that it mattered? He must have something of value that had escaped his notice. Perhaps Potter needed untraceable potions ingredients? He wasn't sure he could manage that, as close as Slug's accounting was, but perhaps he could string him along for a little while -- long enough to get some benefit.
It's just--" Potter stopped and took a long breath. "You were annoying," he said defensively, ducking his head and smiling up at Draco. It was an irritatingly charming look on him.
"And you still are," Draco snapped.
"Oh, see here, Malfoy!" Potter exclaimed. "Relax a bit! I said I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted," Draco said stiffly, glaring at him before stepping out from behind the counter and beginning to rearrange some Hangover Remedy that he had put out earlier. Obstinately, Potter moved into his peripheral vision.
"I'll make it up to you," he coaxed.
The statement was not only outrageous, but so light as to sound flirtatious. Draco twitched, knocking a bottle from the shelf. Potter, the bastard, caught it in mid-air and put it back without seeming to notice what he'd done. Draco turned. "How?" he asked suspiciously.
"Beers at the Leaky Cauldron?" Potter suggested uncertainly.
"What would I want with beer at the Leaky Cauldron?" Draco sneered.
"Well, with me," Potter returned, smiling again. "Because, you know, perception matters. If you're so concerned about not looking important, that is."
Draco blinked. Offensive as the circumstance might be, it would improve his reputation to be seen with the greatest hero of the Second Voldemort War. He would rather someplace classier than the Leaky Cauldron, but, as much as it rankled, he couldn't afford anything better. What was in it for Potter, though?
"All right," he said hesitantly. "After work? I get out at five."
Harry's dimming smile brightened to an all-out grin. "Excellent. Good for you, too, because it will be busy. I'll meet you there!" And with that, and a cheery wave, he was off and out the door. The bell jangled behind him. Draco felt like he'd just been hit by a Bludger.
Go to part 2