Fic: Better Solution (Neville/Draco, NC-17) for parseltonguepen Author:florahart Recipient:parseltonguepen/serpenscript Title: Better Solution Rating: NC17 Pairing(s): Draco/Neville Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended. All characters engaging in sexual activity are 16 years or older. Summary: Draco didn't get off unscarred, at the end of the war, and if he had to get used to his new life, that didn't mean he wouldn’t take something better if it came along. Warnings: Pain and torture in the set-up (don't worry; it's not related to the smut)? Word Count: 9250 Author's Notes:parseltonguepen asked for, among many things, hurt/comfort, first-time, non-sexual use of books, potions, possible hopeful endings, bondage, and oral, which are more or less present. I'm not so sure I was as plotty as hoped, and it may wind up fluffier than desired. However, I did partially use one of the requested scenarios: someone is blind; the other person is confined to a wheelchair due to tremors rippling through their body. Unfortunately, they decided to work together on their own, without very much hating. Sorry.
Six days and six hours after Voldemort fell, the last of the Death Eaters was rounded up. It was quiet, because there were funerals every day that week and no one needed to know the illusion of safety was so fragile and incomplete; the Aurors and hit wizards, along with the assistance of colleagues from a number of other nations, employed stealth and silence as they crept quickly into every corner of Voldemort's network with careful swift vigilance that would have moved old Moody to tears, if he'd been the sort. Only when it was done, at the hundred and fiftieth hour, a nice round number on which none of them remarked, did they quietly tell the papers it was really over. That the last task, at least for today, was done.
The Prophet, in a startling show of restraint, printed the news on page twelve, a small snaking line of text running around a rather indecent notice regarding the pleasures available at an address in Knockturn Alley.
There was no renewal of the celebration. There was no discussion. There were no trials. There was only, among those few who had read the actual words, relief. And then, they returned to their mourning and rebuilding. There was still a lot to be done to fix the world.
Six days and five hours after Voldemort fell, Draco Malfoy lay on the floor of a posh hotel suite in central London, naked, quivering, every muscle clenched and cramped and tearing with overworked exhaustion, throat so much ground meat, unable to so much as whimper. And it wasn't over.
It wasn't over by a lot.
Another wave started fresh at his toes, peeling away another layer of skin--surely, surely it was peeling, wasn't it?--from the thin dry tissue over the bones of his shins, and he couldn't look, but that had to be the final layer; he had to be nothing but red raw flesh welling blood to drip into the carpet by now.
And then it stopped, and the cold began again, the needles of ice boring into him, into his shins and his groin and the tender flesh of his throat. He heard another tooth break as his jaw clenched without his permission again, and felt blood-or-a-tear, impossible to say which, slide into his ear.
It would have been a lot easier to bear--not that he would have borne it well, or not screamed his throat bloody, but relatively speaking--if he'd had any idea what the man wanted, but he didn't even know his name. He'd seen him at home once, maybe twice, in settings at which learning names was hardly the appropriate point of focus, and he'd seen him briefly in the crazed environment of the castle between flying rocks and swinging trees, and then, he'd seen him today, here. He hadn't said anything about demands or expectations, hadn't threatened anyone in particular, hadn't said anything at all. He'd just brought him here, immobilized, and stripped him bare, then started in with one curse after another. It was possible all he wanted was to hurt.
At which he was succeeding beyond imagination all over again each minute.
If Draco had had the wherewithal to think about it, he might have appreciated the precision of variation in the curses. If he'd been able, he might have considered how much Snape would have enjoyed the artistry. If he'd gone more than an instant without some new spark of impossible horror, he might have contemplated the impressive theory and control behind it.
However, all he wanted was for it to stop.
When it did, it took a long time for him to unfold his legs and look up.
Two Aurors--unfamiliar men, one of whom was speaking in heavily accented English--had the man hanging limp by the arms between them, and a third was coming toward him. Draco tried to curl in against himself to protect, but no muscle would obey. Looking up had been the only thing he could manage. He watched the third Auror--a woman, and not a very big one, and yes, magic and size weren't particularly related traits, but could they have sent someone slightly less …slight to save him? She came toward him slowly, bending down before him. "He's the last one," she said quietly. "No one else can do this to you."
"Bah'ucks," Draco croaked, hoarse and harsh. "Mini'ry. M'fam…"
"No," the woman said. She was more a girl. Really bloody young. Probably a Hufflepuff, for all the big eyes and welled-up concern. Which he deserved, yes, because he was a mess, but still, he'd have thought she'd be grilling him as to what his association with that person was, by now. She did seem to grasp his point, though; she was reassuring him that even the forces that had fallen in behind Potter weren't out to get him, and he supposed it was likely that even if they were, after this anything they might attempt would be laughable.
"Don' know 'im," he said, looking past her.
"You've met him before," she said, "but yes, we rather thought the fact he was trying to kill you one hair at a time was probably an indication you weren't friends. Can you sit up at all?"
He closed his eyes and thought about that a moment, then croaked, "No."
"We've a healer on her way," she said. "I'm to wait with you. I'd do a warming charm, but I'm not sure what he was doing, and I don't want to make anything worse."
"'s col'" He hadn't noticed until she mentioned warmth, but he was freezing. Shivering. No, shuddering, actually. He frowned as the tremors increased, and after a moment, she frowned back.
"You're not shivering," she said. "You're… that's not just a shiver. That's a spasm."
He couldn't be arsed to care
Six days, fourteen hours after Voldemort fell, the Spell Damage ward of St. Mungo's acquired a new long-term resident. He was in the blue room, which was hideous with the pastel of the walls and the deeper blue of the ceiling and some sort of dreadful bright molding that he thought might actually be four-dimensional to achieve that color. He was magically bound to the bed, because the quakes and palsied flails of his body had grown worse with each passing hour, so there was nothing he could do about the visual assault but close his eyes, and that was disorienting and a little bit nauseating because of the spasms.
He stared at the ceiling and waited, irritated by each uncontrolled flinging of an arm or twisting of a knee, watching, in his peripheral vision, as the magical bonds caught and slowed each movement, gentling it so he wouldn’t do any more damage wrenching something out of joint. He'd been assured the ward healer would be along soon, and been offered a pain potion he was certain was past the date of effectiveness, administered via a horrid flexible straw down his throat. Then, he'd been left to wait.
He wondered whether anyone had notified Mother, and whether she was, at this point, up to coming. Obviously, she'd want to, but between Bellatrix and the Metamorph halfblood niece and his own previous narrow escape from the Fiendfyre during the battle, she'd been a nervous wreck when he'd stepped out the night before--and been captured, which couldn’t have helped her state--and he wasn't sure she should see him like this.
At last, the promised healer arrived.
Draco looked with his eyes. His jaw was bound shut now--apparently he'd been slurring so badly due to a broken jaw, not that that pain had been worse than anything else--and he couldn’t do more than attempt to appear alert.
"You've had quite a day."
Fucker. Draco squinted slightly, which also hurt, but it was all he could do.
"You've six broken teeth, and then there's the jaw, of course; two ribs are broken and five more cracked. Your skin is technically intact--"
Draco raised his eyebrows a bit.
"--ah, it must have felt like you'd been flayed. I expect that was deliberate. We saw the old scars, but there's nothing new, nothing like that. But all the bones will heal, soon enough. It's the rest of your body we're concerned about."
Draco went back to squinting. This man was apparently an idiot; also, the pain was increasing again. The barely-useful potion was definitely wearing off.
"The extended curses seem to have been done in layers, so even though it was less protracted exposure than some we've seen, the layers interacted, and you've lost a great deal of muscular control. We can't repair the bones without understanding the curses, and your assailant is not, so far, cooperating."
Draco waited more. The imbecile was for some unknown reason leaving space in his monologue for Draco to answer him, or ask questions, which was impossible. He wondered whether groaning counted. Maybe the Healer had some sort of whimpering fetish.
"We're hoping he'll yet explain, but meanwhile, the bones in your body shall have to heal on their own, though we were able to speed along the facial ones; there was relatively little we didn't understand there. As to the muscle damage… Well. We'll see how you feel in the morning."
Perfect. And Draco still didn't even know what the fuck the man's agenda had been. He tried glaring, then squinting, then raising his eyebrows again, but no more information was forthcoming, and after an interminable round of prodding and measuring every possible part of his anatomy including a severely humiliating series of maneuvers designed to assess the reflexive and reactive abilities of his cock, only bearable because they'd pulled a screen around his bed at some point and because, thankfully, it did apparently still work, the healer threaded another tube into his throat and poured down a potion that tasted worse than the first one.
Fortunately, it also quickly put Draco to sleep.
"…anything more from the Aurors?" Draco blinked his eyes open at the nearby familiar voice, then winced when he immediately yawned.
Apparently his jaw was no longer bound, so that was something, though it did still hurt like a bitch. Also, it seemed to be morning; unless he'd slept longer than a day, today was the one-week anniversary of the battle. It seemed quite a long time ago.
"No." That was the healer, answering.
His mother came around the end of the screen, drawn and small, her hair inexplicably turned from silver-gold to a rather muddy beige-grey in the two days since he'd last seen her. He tried to lift his hand to wave, but it jerked and caught in the bonds, then floated back down to his side. Damn it. Mother's lower lip quivered.
"Hello," he said. He sounded gruff, his throat clearly still unimpressed with the previous day's exertions.
She hung back against the frame of the screen as though afraid to step forward, then deliberately straightened her shoulders. "Draco." She set her hand on his knee, which jerked in irritating response, and squeezed lightly.
"I heard you asking," he said. "Nothing from the Aurors?"
"Nothing more," the Healer interjected. "We know he perceived your family to have turned traitor, having witnessed something during the battle that impressed upon him your collaboration."
"Idiot." Draco's tone sounded clear to his own ears, even if his voice was a wreck, and his words were still a bit slurred.
"It was Wilcox," Mother said. "You remember, from last summer?"
"Not really. I didn't know his name." Draco frowned as his thighs and hips and shoulders continued random twitches under the cover.
"In any case, he's apparently not entirely sane," the Healer said.
"No, really? A man willing to torture the life out of me--"
"Draco. Don't say it."
"Mother. He clearly was willing, despite that he was aware of my blood, aware of my name, and didn't bother to ask one single sodding question. He just wasn't successful." Draco pressed his lips together at his mother's look, then turned to the Healer. "I don't suppose you've any tea in this place?"
The Healer nodded and vanished around the screen, leaving Draco alone with his mother. "Did he say anything?" he asked.
"Of course. He said I've broken bones they can't heal with magic, and some sort of muscle damage. I had the feeling he wasn't telling me everything."
She shook her head. "Only that they don't understand the nature of the problem, and aren't entirely sure they can repair it. At any cost; obviously money isn't the concern."
"Obviously. So they expect I'll stay weak and in pain?"
She looked away, then back, eyes shiny but chin up. "No, they expect some improvement from natural healing processes, but aren't sure how much. The damage is worst in your feet and legs, less in your arms and shoulders."
"It makes sense; each new curse started at my feet. Which, I suppose, is better than my head being the worst."
"Yes. Draco, Wilcox didn't…" She trailed off, her tone questioning and strange.
Draco stared at her, puzzled. "Didn't what?"
"His usual methods, before, with Muggles were rather …graphic. And physical." She colored slightly and looked away. "He didn't do anything--"
"Oh. No. Just curses. Lucky me."
She nodded, a jerk of her chin, and stepped back. "Your father sends his regards, of course."
"His regards? Ah. Well, I'll just rub those regards on my legs and see if that makes them any better, shall I?"
"You know how he is. The hospital…"
"Of course. He can't be expected to overcome his long-held feelings for his only son, after all." Draco snorted, then winced again; just because his jaw was unbound didn't mean anything in his head felt good. "But honestly, did the Healer say when this constant motion will stop?" He glanced down his body at the shudders and flexing limbs.
"No. He said…" She paused. "He said they weren't certain it would."
She didn't answer.
Fuck. Living with weakness was one thing. Living like this, obvious to anyone looking, was something else completely. Maybe it would have been better if the Aurors had waited just a while longer.
Maybe, for him, Voldemort had won anyway.
"Does sir need--"
"No, Tilby. Sir does not need." Draco pulled himself upright from where he was sitting on the shower bench, using one of the many bars he'd installed in the south wing of the manor in the years since he'd finally recovered enough to leave the damned spell-damage ward, and waited out the predictable protesting muscles of his abdomen and thighs, which knotted and trembled at any opportunity, especially his hamstrings, where he'd been the most exposed. After the worst of it passed, he turned around, cautiously, and lowered his weight into the chair.
He and Tilby had this conversation every day, usually six or seven times, and yes, he hated the chair rather a lot, and didn't like having to maneuver himself into and out of it with so much care when she could certainly move him with a snap of her fingers, but he didn't like the kind of dependence inherent in allowing her to even more.
"There, see?" He pulled his feet up one by one onto the little platforms, and wheeled into the bedroom, avoiding the chest Father had placed at the end of the bed despite the inconvenience. He'd been going around it for two and a half years now, and was used to it. "Tilby, what have we on the schedule for the rest of today?"
Letting her maintain his schedule and make his breakfast didn't imply dependence at all. Just authority.
Tilby's ears pricked up as she popped into the space before him between the bed and the wardrobe, causing him to rub a burn on his palm in order to stop before he hit her.
He sighed and rummaged for his wand; a little thing like healing a burn, he could manage reliably enough to just do it himself. Tilby's ears drooped slightly, but she was clearly desperately excited about something, now that she'd got over her concern about the chair-maneuvering. He cast the charm and closed his fingers over the red mark; it didn't hurt any more. "Yes?" he said.
"We has a visitor! For tea!"
Draco blinked. "That isn't my parents?" They primarily lived in the east wing, and left him to himself, but for periodic--and pre-arranged--suppers from time to time; however, they were still his most frequent visitors by far.
"Is also not that Pansy!" Tilby, despite her generally eager house-elf temperament, didn't like Pansy very much, though she usually managed to contain herself well enough. And now, she was quivering with glee at the notion of getting to entertain a visitor.
"Well, who is it, then?"
"We ha1 an old schoolmate of sir."
Draco winced. It wasn't--obviously--Vince, and he and Greg were passing acquaintances, these days. And Zabini hadn't come back from the continent in a good two years. So, what, Daphne? He wrinkled his nose.
"He is to be returning in just ten minutes," Tilby announced.
"Tilby suggested a walk in the gardens. He is very interested."
Draco absently scratched his head. Nott? He'd never been much about appreciation of nature, tamed or otherwise. Maybe it was one of the younger set. Either way, if he was to play host in ten minutes, he probably ought to be presentable; ten minutes wasn't a lot of time for getting dressed, when one required help standing and had recently been in the shower cleaning up the evidence of the heavy exertion of one's miserable daily regimen to avoid further muscular failure. "Perhaps another time, a rather earlier warning might be in order, Tilby. I'm not exactly--"
"Tilby is helping!"
Draco sighed and let her snap and point robes onto him and comb his hair off his face, tying it neatly into a tail down his back.
When she finished with him and popped out to the kitchen, he pointed his wand at the robes she'd chosen, or possibly conjured out of thin air, and trimmed away the extra fabric until it wouldn't tangle as he rolled. She loved to help, but was occasionally more than a bit impractical. He wheeled himself into the sitting room--the formal one next to the dining room; his own private sitting room was further in toward the center of the house--and asked again, "Tilby, you didn't say. Who is it, then?"
"You sound well, Malfoy."
He turned and looked up at Neville Longbottom, blinking in surprise. Or, more precisely, shock. He hadn't seen or heard from the boy--man, he supposed--since some three weeks after they'd left school, when he'd received a mass-produced and impersonal card at St. Mungo's expressing regret for his pain. He'd thrown it out immediately. "I… wasn't expecting you."
"I told her not to freak you out." Longbottom shrugged and shifted his weight to lean against the deep windowsill. "I have some thoughts regarding your condition--"
"My condition is none of your bloody business, now, is it?" Draco backed his chair to the right, preparing to go back the way he'd come, then paused. "And why the fuck, if you don't mind my asking, would you be thinking about it, anyway? No one sees me; I don't go out. So it's hardly common knowledge."
Longbottom turned toward him awkwardly, as though he wasn't entirely sure which direction to face. "I've done a lot of work in the area of herbal restoratives for prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus curse."
"Precisely the Cruciatus, no, it wasn't, but the principles are probably the same, and Healer Dalton thought you might like to give my approach a chance."
"Dalton ought not to be discussing my case with anyone." Draco rolled forward again a bit.
"He's not; I work with him on certain projects, as circumstances allow." Longbottom kept talking to the space Draco had just left.
"When we've a crossing of interests, though these days we require a chemist as well. I'm no better at Potions than I ever was; or rather, I assume I'm not, though losing my eyesight did cure me of making any more attempts, so perhaps I've improved."
Draco couldn't help gasping. "You're b--"
"What, don't you read the papers?"
"Not the parts about you."
"Ah. Well, then. I had a bit of an accident about… it's May, right?"
Draco nodded, then rolled his eyes at himself. "Yes."
"Right. Three years ago last month, then. I see some light, not well. Enough to tell which side of me the sun is on, on a bright day."
"Oh." Draco frowned, mentally riffling through all the asinine things people had said to him when it had become apparent Wilcox's attack had left permanent damage, in an effort to work out something non-asinine to say now, and developing a new appreciation for the problem. "Er, so, you've had time to get used to it, I suppose, but I'm still sorry for your pain."
"I have, not that it doesn't still suck, and I suppose now we're even for offering lame expressions of support, then. In any case, since the healers couldn’t figure out what the fuck I exploded and how to undo it, since then I've been doing some freelance work--here and there, you know, depending on needs that I can help with--and meanwhile, doing some research of my own. Obviously, my motives for working in this particular area are personal, but…" Longbottom paused.
"Personal? How is my situation related to your blindness?"
"Oh." Draco wasn't sure what to say next, and was relieved when Tilby appeared with the tea. She prepared a cup for Longbottom and managed somehow to silently convey to him where she was holding it out, then prepared a second for Draco, and vanished.
"The personal interest is because of my parents," Longbottom said.
"Oh. Right. They lost their…"
"Minds, perhaps, though I do try to maintain some hope that with treatment at some point they'll at least become aware that I survived and Harry won and all that. And what I was going to say before was, so I do try to maintain that hope, but I also know that they're lousy test subjects, simply because the damage is so extensive it will be difficult to observe improvement. Or rather, it will be difficult to be certain that a lack of observed improvement is a failure, rather than just something profoundly irreparable."
"And so you thought of me."
"I did. I thought we might collaborate, as I have some interesting new lines of study."
Draco thought for a moment. "No offense, Longbottom, but as I recall, you need to write down your own name to remember it. How do you manage research without notes?"
Longbottom chuckled, which was a little startling, but then, Draco hadn't actually interacted with him in years. And somewhere in there he'd lost the self-consciousness and stammer he'd had at school. It wasn't surprising in concept; Draco liked to think there had been a few changes in how he interacted with the world as well. However, he'd never really thought about what a confident Longbottom would be like.
"None taken," he said. "A couple of things. First off, it turns out I can remember all sorts of things, when the need exists. And second, Hermione's been working with Penny--d'you remember her? Ravenclaw, few years ahead of us? Anyway. They've been working on ways to improve on Pensieves, including separating out threads of information. It's kind of fascinating, though if you decide you'd like to know more, for the love of Merlin don't talk to them both together; they'll get so caught up in theory you'll find yourself listening to a forty-minute disagreement as to the nature of the theta leg of the Calteris diagram and whether Schrodinger's cat's status is relevant to this year's orange harvest in Spain."
"Which has what to do with your research?"
"Oh, so I can pull and re-listen to sound-only, which is way less involved in a lot of ways, and doesn't require falling into the memory. It's kind of cool. So, I store a lot that way, and I remember a lot, and I have assistants sometimes. Pomona still lets me play in one of her greenhouses, and sends along a willing upper-form kid to help out when she can."
Draco caught himself nodding again. "And you need me to try out your concoctions, then."
"If that's all you're willing to do, but actually I was thinking I need someone who's decent with potions, which I'm still not, someone who can see color and consistency and whatnot. That is, I'm good enough at theory, generally speaking, and I can usually prepare ingredients all right by feel, but I couldn't make a bloody first-year potion reliably the last time I tried, and I certainly can't judge the properties by looking. Which, the added benefit for you would be you'd know what was in the concoction."
"You don't think I'd just trust you to smear unknown poultices on my belly?"
"You could. I've no reason to harm you, and every reason to want actual progress. But, I just figured you wouldn’t." Longbottom sipped at his tea. "Your elf has interesting notions about sugar quantities."
"Draco Malfoy has a sweet tooth?"
"Shut it." Draco had been, seconds earlier, prepared to reject this proposal out of hand. It was ridiculous to think Neville Longbottom could help him, and aside from that, it was a terrible idea to go letting himself get hopeful about things like walking normally at this point. But somehow, the moment of gentle harassment, mind-boggling though it was coming from Longbottom, gave him pause. It wouldn’t be hope; it would just be something to do, and maybe even something interesting. He sipped at his tea a bit more, then said, "And you wouldn’t touch the potions."
"Not without your very direct say-so."
"And you'd trust that I was doing what you said."
"Why wouldn’t you?"
"Yes, miraculously, I do recall that. Still, that means ambition, not nastiness. That other part was surely just terrible coincidence. Which lasted for several generations and was house-wide."
Neville grinned broadly. "What, it's true. But anyway, you'd have no reason to go your own way, or if you did, it'd be a line of reasoning we hadn't tried, which you'd probably want to check with me on anyway because I'd know and you wouldn’t. That ambition thing would make you want to succeed, right?"
Draco started to make a rude gesture, then shook his head; there was no point. He chewed on his lip. "And you really think you've got something it makes sense to work with? Something new that Dalton hasn't ever tried?"
"He says he hasn't, and there's pretty much nothing along this entire line in any of the libraries. So, you agree?"
"I'll think about it. You know, you could sit down. I do have chairs despite not using them myself."
"Are we having a visit, then? I didn't ask your elf for the layout of the room because I fully expected you to throw me out."
Draco shrugged. "I don't get many visitors. We might as well break in the couch."
Longbottom got an odd expression on his face, perhaps suppressing a smile, then stood upright away from the window sill. "Then I suppose I'll have to offer you a demonstration of trust--relevant to the discussion anyway. Where, relative to me?"
Draco thought for a fraction of a second about sending him crashing over the coffee table, then directed him around it. He was intrigued.
Draco shook his head in frustration as Neville explained what he had in mind for the next attempt. "That's crap. There's no way that can work, and besides, you can't combine the two parts without risking your hands. How can you know all about my sodding shakes and cramps in detail, but you don't know about the reaction between--"
"What? Oh, right. The--"
"But then, hm. I do see your point about the restorative function of the infusion." Draco frowned and started a list. "Maybe a different solvent? Or something to decrease the volatility? Oh, I'm starting a list." "I can hear your quill. What d'you think, replacing the dandelion?"
"Maybe not." Draco tapped his quill against his nose. "Can you grab the Chandler book? Uh, second bookcase, third shelf, enormous, green." He jotted down notes and tried to remember which species of berry were related most closely.
Neville stood and turned around, moving easily to the shelves now; this was hardly the first time Draco had had him fetch something. "There are two enormous books on the third shelf, Draco. Which hand?"
"It's the gr… shit. Left hand."
Neville tapped his wand on the spine of the book, raising some marks as he had each time Draco had asked for one that seemed a likely reference work. "What's the other one?" he asked as he handed over the botany text.
"Gray's Anatomy, Wizarding edition. Not much use for the potion."
"Ah." Neville came back to the table and swung a long leg over the seat of the chair he'd turned around, sitting back down. "I don't know, maybe there is. Maybe we ought to try to work out whether different kinds of muscles or nerves have more trauma or something. We could make some kind of a map of where, exactly, you shake the worst."
"What, you want to feel my legs twitch?" Draco scowled. "No, thank you."
"I was just saying, it could be relevant. But that's for once we have something to work with. How's your list?"
"Short, since you keep talking."
Neville laughed. "Sorry."
Tilby appeared at the end of the table, popping into place audibly so Neville would hear her; she'd decided it was rude not to, and even though he didn't seem particularly bothered, she persisted. She set a large tray on the table and waited for Draco to look up. "Sirs must eat."
"Tilby, I'm hardly starving." Draco looked at the tray. "What on earth--?"
"Tilby is seeing Neville's elf, and asking for which vegetables he is preferring."
"It smells good," Neville said.
Draco shook his head. "My own elf, making roasted cruciferous vegetables for a Longbottom."
"Not your favorite?"
"Sorry. Til, no need to cook anything special for me. I'm fine with Draco's beloved asparagus."
"No, it's all right," Draco said. "We can take turns. I've learned to appreciate a lot of things over the last few years; maybe broccoli is better than I thought." He pulled a plate toward himself and set his half-done list to one side.
"What's it doing?" Neville was uncomfortably close on Draco's left side, leaning in as though he'd be able to see when the color turned, and Draco sighed and blew his sweaty fringe up off his forehead.
"It's bubbling slowly, just as it should. And you're in the way."
"Is it turning green yet?"
"No, Neville. I'll tell you. I give you my word. Again." They'd been through a number of drafts and at least thirty trips into the main house library, but actually making the potions was still new. They'd discussed every step repeatedly, because if it did everything they thought it would, then they'd try it, and the thing was, medical potions had the potential to go dreadfully wrong if there was anything bad in the theory, because they were designed specifically to act on the body's building blocks, usually in permanent ways. Both of them were more than a bit keyed up.
"Sorry." Neville leaned away. "It's just this is the most promising recipe yet, and so far it's done exactly what it should."
"I know; I'm the one that wrote the recipe, and I was there when we realized how to mitigate the volatility. And it's gone brown now, so just another minute." Draco stirred three more times clockwise, then paused to the count of ten and repeated. "It's going to need swirling in a second," he said. "I don't know how well I can grip the handle or reliably lift the weight."
Neville stood and put out his hand. "I can grip and lift and stuff, just you'll have to sort of direct--"
"Yes, I expected." Draco put the metal ring in place around the cauldron just under the lip and tightened it down, then took Neville's hand. It was rough, the palm actually hard, which startled him.
"You went all still."
"Sorry." Draco directed Neville's hand to the grip and let go. "Uh, it's a small cauldron, so it won't take all that much, probably. Ready?"
"Does it matter which way?"
"Anti-clockwise. Start with a little bit and I'll tell you when it's good." Draco stood up out of his chair and leaned on his hands on the table to watch.
Neville shifted his weight and moved his hand in little circles. "Like this?"
"Lift up a little more, and circle bigger. Just a little. We want it coming up to the top and cooling before we boil it again. There, that's good, and…" Draco watched the thickening potion cool and change color as it lifted and hit the cooler air, the muddy brown goo brightening through yellow and into green and sliding back down into the body of the cauldron, where the overall color changed gradually into the color of new growth on an evergreen in the spring.
"Is it working?"
"Yes. It's nearly there. Give it three more times around and then set it--oh! Wait, here." Neville had drifted off to the left of the burner, and Draco leaned right to pick up his left hand and pull Neville's wrist toward him just in time to set it in place. The fluid bubbled up again immediately as Neville let go, the green deepening to something like fresh moss in a shady spot in the forest, and Draco counted to six and covered the flame before sitting back in his chair.
Which he half-missed, having failed to count on the extent to which he'd moved aside in guiding Neville and further failed to remember--stupid!--that he'd been up for a few minutes and this tended to leave his legs uncooperative.
He hit the armrest as he went to fall into the chair, missing the other one with his hand and sending the chair rolling back away from him. And there was just no way he could catch himself effectively; the reflexes in his legs were beyond slow, and there was nothing else except Neville to grab for.
He hit the floor hard, landing on his tailbone with a thump despite breaking the fall somewhat with his left hand, now flat on the floor and stinging.
"Draco?" Neville had turned and pulled his wand, but stayed where he was; Draco could see why he'd wait for more information before trying to move; there was at least one unexpected object on the floor.
"Down here," he said. "I… stumbled." Close enough. "Chair's behind me, ahead of you and to your right. Two o'clock. Potion needs to cool for a good three hours before decanting, but other than that, there's no crisis."
"So you can stop pointing your wand at me."
"I'm not. I'm holding my wand, and turned toward you."
"Effectively the same. But what I was wondering is, can I use you to get up? I'd rather not use the table, with the burner and cauldron on it, and I'd rather not try to get in the chair from down here." Just as he finished speaking, his right leg cramped badly, the spasm traveling from his thigh up past his hip, and he winced. "In a minute; my leg's giving me a spot of trouble."
Neville put away his wand and dropped to his knees, reaching for Draco. "Here?"
"No. Neville, honestly, I just want to get back in the chair. I don't need--ouch!" Neville's hands had found the source of the cramp and pressed along the muscle fiber, which hurt quite a lot but also eased the tension enough to notice.
"Sorry. Really, you can get yourself up with your legs like this?"
"Like what? They cramp every day."
"Like this, so… I haven't touched your legs before, Draco. They're really weak. Thin."
"Hence the chair," Draco said, exasperated. "I don't sit in it for entertainment. And I was slender before; it's not new."
"No, I know. I just. Here." Neville gave another good stroke along the muscle that was relaxing enough to stop hurting, then ran his hand up Draco's hip and across his back before he gathered himself and stood, lifting him.
"Put me down."
"Okay. Where's the chair, exactly?"
"On the floor. I don't want--"
"Yes, I know, but there's a difference between accepting help in a situation and being helpless, you know. I don't actually want to ask for directions ever, but the other choice is worse."
Draco sighed. "Fine." He looked over his shoulder and helped Neville navigate to the chair and put him in it.
"See? Not so bad."
Draco didn't answer, merely wheeling over to look at the cooling potion. "This looks right," he said. "It needs to cool."
"You said. What should we do, meanwhile?" Neville was standing behind him, one hand on the handles to push the chair.
"I'd suggest Exploding Snap to pass the time…"
"Are you going to hurt, from falling? You've said you do from other things." They'd talked a fair amount about Draco's limitations because they'd talked about Neville's, and as much as he wasn't fond of explaining his weaknesses, it was only fair, he supposed. Plus, as he'd said the first day, he didn't get out much, and neither his mother nor Pansy was tolerably able to discuss anything related to his condition without becoming all emotional or concerned or otherwise uncomfortable--for him, not them; they'd natter on about ways in which they could coddle him for days. And Father ignored the topic, literally refusing to acknowledge Draco had a wheelchair at all, so that left Neville.
Who was, it turned out, remarkably pragmatic about many things, without being brusque.
God, he needed to get out more; he was woolgathering about the virtues of Neville Longbottom's pragmatism. What had the question been? Oh, right. Would he be sore. "I expect I will," he said. "But, maybe your amazing new potion will--"
"Our amazing new potion; if it works it's obviously going into the textbooks as created cooperatively. Also…" Neville trailed off, biting his lip.
"I know--you've said, and not only just now--that you feel weird about taking too much help and all, but I was thinking there are things besides potions. To relax painful muscles."
"Hot baths. Massage. I was just thinking, it would be better if we tried the stuff out on you in your usual state, you know?" Neville's face had gone a bit pink, but he added, "so I was thinking I could work on making you less stiff while the stuff cools."
"You want to rub my emaciated legs?" Draco gave Neville a Look, not because Neville could see it, but because it made him feel better. "You just objected to their wastedness five minutes ago."
"No, I mean, yes, I did, but only because I can't believe you do all the shit you do with them so--either way, that's hardly the point. And no, I'm not trying to sound like your mother, going on about her poor crippled son."
"Just as well, since I'd hate to have to end this endeavor by killing you."
"What, for sounding like your mother?"
"And for using that word, which I hate quite a lot. No, I know, Mother does use it. I hate it anyway."
"Right. Well, in any case, I'm going to rub the potion on you soon enough, unless you planned to have Tilby do it, so I don't see how it's any different."
Draco raised his hand to his face, pinching the bridge of his nose. His lower back was already beginning to ache an extra measure, and that would only get worse, it was true. And he wasn't about to take anything for pain that might interfere with the potion they'd been working on so hard.
Though it was odd it hadn't quite occurred to him that Neville would apply the stuff to him by hand.
He shrugged, finally. "Right, well, you do have a point. Come on."
"Back into my bedroom. If I'm stripping, I'd rather do it in a room where my mother knocks before entering."
Neville followed along, hand on the back of Draco's chair, out of the dining room they'd repurposed into a lab and through the sitting room into Draco's private space.
"You could just see if Tilby can bring it, if you don't want to get up," Neville said.
Draco remained on his belly, wondering how he'd never had any idea what magic hands Neville Longbottom had, afraid to move. "I don't want her to. She's a magical being, and it might influence the outcome. We can't know for sure until we really know how it behaves," he said. "I'll get up and fetch it in a minute."
He knew it wouldn't matter if he rolled over and got himself into his chair; Neville wouldn't see that he was hard as a rock from his massage, from having the bare skin of his thighs and arse and lower back, and then even his forearms and hands, kneaded and pushed and stretched until he was so much putty, except for the erection. But that wasn't the problem. The problem was, he was honestly afraid that the movement of getting up, the slight rub against the blanket on which he was lying face-down, would send him over the edge, and he had no idea how to move on. He'd lain here thinking of McGonagall's knickers and Lavender Brown's alarmingly large and practically sentient breasts and the time sixth-year that Millicent had got drunk and humped his limp dick until she came, leaving him sticky-wet and uncertainly disgusted, and yet, he was still hard, still struggling not to rub against the blanket and be done.
Which was odd; he got himself off from time to time, sure, but most of the time it was difficult, even though everything worked right. Most of the time the amount of work required just wasn't worth it, and the cramps after were a bit of a buzz kill. Most of the time he didn't have hard rough palms touching him exactly so, cautious and precise and yet, not treating him as though he was fragile.
He should have told him to stop. Should have said it hurt or something. Should have excused himself to the toilet and dealt with the problem. Anything. Anything but lie there being hard while Neville touched him and unable to do a damn thing about it.
He lay there a few more minutes, considering flobberworms and hippogriff dung until finally he felt he could move without embarrassing himself, then rolled onto his back.
He didn't bother putting on his robe; he was only going to come back and--best not to think about that. He settled into his chair carefully before glancing at Neville. "Be right back. You might as well stay here."
Neville nodded, and Draco wheeled back through, thinking about childbirth and cunnilingus and his parents having sex, because else he was never going to be able to usefully test the potion, and theoretically, it really ought to help.
The fluid had cooled into a slick mass the consistency of melted chocolate, smooth and bright with a slight sheen and a scent that reminded him of thorns. He poured it carefully into three jars, sealing up two and putting a stopper more loosely in the third, then headed back for his bed, doing his best to ignore his body's continuing response to thoughts of Neville waiting for him there.
God. When had he developed a case of need involving a blind Gryffindor who worked with his sodding hands?
It was a little pathetic. Of course, he was a little pathetic, and he supposed if he were to look on the bright side, at least the blind Gryffindor was a pure-blood. And Father would probably die of apoplexy at the notion, sparing Draco the need to continue tolerating his tolerance. So that was something; he'd concluded, over time, that small happinesses were worth enjoying.
He came to the door and paused, looking at Neville waiting there in the dim light on the edge of his bed, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "Um. I'm back."
Neville lifted his chin and turned his face toward the door. "Maybe you should do what you can for yourself," he said. "See how it goes."
"Well, you can reach most of your body, right? So you don't actually need me for this part."
Draco pressed his lips together, then agreed. "True. I don't need you."
"But two seconds ago you didn't find touching me so horrible--"
"Not horrible, no."
"So why the change?"
Neville shrugged. "No change, actually, but you might really rather I didn't say."
Draco sighed. "Longbottom, My arse is still tender from falling, I don't want to sit in this chair, and in case you don't know, I've been pampered all my life. And we've been working on this damned potion for weeks, and there's no reason we shouldn't both participate in the first test. Unless you think it's going to poison me. Poison whoever it touches. Is that it?"
"Then what?" Draco raised the lights a bit and wheeled forward, then stopped short as the change in angle brought him into a position for directly in front of Neville. "Oh."
Neville didn't say anything, and after a moment, Draco blew his fringe out of his eyes and decided there was no time like the present; it was about bloody time, really, that he got to be the one to act while a Gryffindor hung back.
"Well, then," he said, "we can just be miserable together, but meanwhile, we are damn well going to try this potion, and it's ridiculous for you not to be part of the trial, since it's your bloody formula."
"What about being miserable?" Neville shifted uncomfortably.
"Well, I assume you'd rather not sit there in that condition, which, by the way, is totally visible because I lit more candles when I came back in."
"Fuck. Sorry, and it's not like--"
"Yeah, I know, and fuck sounds like a suggestion rather than a curse, though I don't know if I could anyway, but meanwhile, honestly, we've been working on this for ages, and I don't know about you, but I really would rather not keep waiting to see--I mean, you do know I've been tolerating this situation for years, right? And that it's a bitch? And that I'm not accustomed to pain, or rather, I wasn't before all this business."
Neville raised a brow and grinned. "Which situation is that, uncomfortable erection, or--"
Draco snorted. "No, not so much. In any case, I'm getting back on the bed now, and you're taking this and rubbing it on me where it hurts the worst, which is, unfortunately, both the area I hit on the floor, and the area that you touching me gets me hard, and we're going to see whether it helps." He held the jar where his fingers just brushed Neville's hand until Neville took it, then let go and pushed his way up out of the chair. Neville was in the way of the bar he ought to have reached to pull his weight, so he wasn't surprised by the re-emergent cramp, but he simply fell forward onto the bed, dragging himself fully onto and groaning.
A moment later, Neville's hand was on his back warm and hard there, touching lightly. "Bad again?"
"It will pass. You mind?"
Neville pressed down for a moment, the rolled to lie next to him, still fully clothed but warm through the fabric. He propped his head on his hand and set the jar against Draco's other side, and then after a bit of fumbling, scooped some out and let it drip onto Draco's back and arse. It felt cool and electric, and though his ears didn't pick up any sound, it felt as thought it were humming against his skin.
And then Neville put down his hand to rub it in, and that was something else entirely. The hum intensified and split into a weird cacophonic resonance as the hand moved down over his arse and onto his legs, and then merged again as the hand came back up.
"D'you hear it?" Draco asked, wondering whether he was imagining the feeling.
"Was just about to see what it does higher up, where you're basically good." Neville's hand traveled up over Draco's shoulder blades, fingers caressing the nape of his neck. The hum remained, a single pure note. "Huh," Neville said.
"It's obnoxious where you're weak, and pleasant where you're sound."
"Which I think means it's at the very least acting on the injury. It might not be working," Neville added quickly, "but it's doing something."
Draco didn't answer, enjoying the sensation and sound--even the irritating sound--as Neville rubbed, up and down, over and over until eventually the hum dissipated as the potion was all absorbed. He lay there a moment longer, then caught the potion jar in his hand and started the process of turning over. It was difficult, both because he couldn't simply roll, and because it was always difficult to move himself, but he'd not got very far when Neville's hand traveled down his arm to take the jar, and then he was being assisted until he was flat on his back, re-hardened cock bobbing against his belly. He whimpered as Neville's wrist brushed against it.
"Didn't we already talk about this?"
"Sort of. But that doesn't mean you really want me groping you while you're testing the--"
"Right, first off, if that was a grope, it was a weak one. Second, I thought you were supposed to be the bold one, here."
"You sure?" Neville asked.
"No, but since one way or another we are putting that on me, and also one way or another you are going to bloody well be here while it works on me, the choices are you rub it on, or I do. If I do, I'm definitely using it as lube. So, what, you want to watch?"
"Yeah, I know. Fine. You want to listen? I can try to moan really loud or something."
Neville chuckled. "No, I think I'd rather participate, if that's what we're doing. However…" He rolled away again, setting the jar back down with a click on the table, and then he was back with his wand, lifting Draco's hands overhead and conjuring flimsy bonds to keep them there. "What with you being in such a hurry, I think I'll participate on my own schedule."
Draco blinked, then gasped as Neville was back faster than he'd expected, rubbing the potion into his thighs and belly and everywhere except his cock until he quivered, and then--and Draco wasn't sure why it was so unexpected, but it was--he arranged himself on his belly between Draco's legs and nuzzled, feeling every inch of him with his nose and lips, holding his hips in place so even if he tried to thrust and find friction, he couldn't move fast enough or far enough to hurt.
And then, having apparently memorized him with his mouth, Neville lifted his head and lunged forward, taking Draco's cock deep in his wet mouth, sucking gently, still holding him in place as he pulled away, tugging, and slid back down, lips tight, tongue pressing and releasing until Draco couldn't stand another moment and couldn’t manage a word of warning. He came, looking down over his belly at Neville Longbottom sucking him down greedily, and waited for his legs to object.
Which they did, but nothing like he was braced for.
"That wasn't bad. Er, I mean. It didn't hurt much."
Neville blinked. "Does it usually hurt? You might have said, if you didn't want--"
"Idiot. Of course I wanted; it's just it usually hurts; you may have noticed, you use your arse and leg muscles for this sort of thing, right?"
"Of course I've noticed. I just meant…" Neville frowned. "Uh. Draco?"
"Did you just light more candles?"
"With what, my cock? My hands are tied, and even if they weren't, I don't have my wand."
"I didn't think so. But it just got a bit brighter in here."
"Longbottom, you can't see candle-light."
"So no, it didn't just get brighter in here."
"Right, but I'm telling you…"
Draco frowned. "Unless my come is magical--"
"No, but I imagine I ingested…" Neville frowned. "No, I'm probably just imagining it."
Draco considered a moment. "Well, I suppose we could test how ingestion works. Though I didn't really plan on that use."
"It shouldn't work at all."
"True; on the other hand, they never did figure out how you blinded yourself in the first place. If it acts on nerve fibers… well, I suppose we'll find out soon enough. But still, we could test more ingestion; there's no reason it should actually hurt you. Or, you could let my hands free and we could see what that stuff does for my grip strength."
Neville lifted up onto his hands and knees, carefully moving to find his wand and undo the bonds, then rolled off to one side and waited.
Draco carefully unfastened his trousers, slowly enough he knew it had to be making Neville crazy, then coated his hands in the potion and began.
If nothing else, the trial phase was going to be fun.
Six years and six days after Voldemort fell, Alice Longbottom looked her son's new friend in the eye and smiled. It was quiet, because it was early yet on the ward Draco had decided wasn't so bad, if you weren't in the blue room, and because Alice had nothing to say; however, that was certainly temporary. Draco had already been in touch with a number of trade journals that would soon be publishing some of their work (less certain trials regarding ingestion) and he fully expected that by next Thursday, the Prophet would be knocking at their door.
Neville didn't know that part yet; he was focused on his parents and on continuing to expand the work they'd done to make Draco's chair an infrequent necessary means of traveling a long way, rather than a vital daily means of movement within his own home.
But Draco figured someone needed to see to making them famous for what they'd accomplished; the Longbottoms weren't the only ones to benefit from the potion. Voldemort hadn't won, and it was no fair for Potter to get all the credit for fixing the world.