He sees Neville twice a week now, on Sundays when they are visiting and at the family talks on Wednesday night. The patients' families get together with a staff member and can talk and ask questions. Sometimes the evenings are more practical. Can there be more fish on the menu or can they take their daughter on an outing to the sea? Sometimes they are emotional, the guilt, the fear or the anger that one might feel when a family member is mentally ill gets expressed. Draco nods a lot and feels a certain comfort in these talks, but he never shares anything himself.
'Your mother's doing well here,' Neville says one night as they are leaving, 'She seems to become much more interested in what's happening around her.'
'Hmm...' says Draco noncommittally. 'I had hoped that she would start to speak again, but she only says my name.'
Neville stares at him, then nods. 'I suppose that for your mother Draco must be the most beautiful word in existence.'
Draco feels himself starting to blush and moves to the apparition point, then turns back. 'I haven't properly thanked you, Neville, so... Thanks. For recommending this place.'
'I could not have left you two there, at that place with no hope. When I got here I knew right away that Bethanie would be good for your mother and you. It's just that...' Neville pauses here, like he is unsure whether he should go on or not. 'I think you should talk sometimes, on these family nights.'
Draco shakes his head, 'They're still strangers, I can't just tell people... Besides, they are all very polite here in France, but they know about... my family's allegiance. I really couldn't.'
The next Sunday Neville asks him out to dinner. 'There's a good restaurant down the road here. It is Muggle, but it is proper French cuisine. I need you to come with me, because your French pronunciation is much better than mine. You can save me from making a ridiculous fool out of myself.'
Draco agrees, in spite of, or maybe exactly because of the fact that the whole thing is a ruse so Draco feels like he is doing Neville a favour. Neville’s pronunciation is just fine. The Quenelles de Veau taste amazing. Neville tricks him into talking by focusing on the things they have in common: feeling like you can never live up to your family's expectations, nightmares about Aunt Bellatrix, handling the finances and responsibilities as a pureblood heir, and, of course, living in Harry's shadow.
When he gets home he gently lifts the collectible card. The Slayer Of Nagini smiles at him, he smiles back and puts the card in his pocket.
It becomes a tradition now: visit, then go for dinner and talk. When the talks become too emotional, they change it to lunch on Saturdays and a walk afterwards. Draco learns that it is okay to cry when you feel like it. He apologises for his aunt Bellatrix one time. Neville tells him that no, he is not responsible for others, just for himself. So Draco apologises for every horrible thing he can remember doing to Neville. Neville hugs Draco and tells him he's forgiven. Neville smells like pines.
He looks at Neville's card multiple times a day now, even though the picture has started mocking him, making model poses and kissy faces. He glares at it, trying to scare it into submission, but mini-Neville sticks out his tongue.
'Draco!', his mother greets him and walks him to the table where she has been arranging flowers, working on a beautiful centrepiece for Bethanie's dining table. He smiles, happy that she is becoming creative again. It is getting easier to accept that she does not speak; really, what would she say anyway. He himself finds it hard to express their relationship in words.
Suddenly Neville is at their table, carrying a box of pine branches.
'Neville!' his mother says, as she starts picking out the pieces most suitable for her arrangement.
Draco can't believe it. Incredulous, he looks for answers in Neville's face, but Neville just smiles and looks mischievously back at Draco with his hazel eyes.
He turns to his mother, 'Mother, did you just say Neville?'
She looks up from her work. 'Neville.' she says again, shrugging her shoulders as if she does not understand what he is fussed about.
He stares at her. She sighs and slowly says, 'Neville, Draco.' Then turns back to her work, signalling with parental authority that this discussion is now over.
On Wednesday evening at the meeting it is decided that Neville will plant some night octarines in the garden. Neville asks Draco to help prepare them for transport. When he complains that Malfoys do not dirty themselves, Neville insists that his mother will really like these flowers. Draco agrees, pretending to be reluctant. He wonders if Neville sees right through his protestations. Privately, he is thrilled to help Neville and make his mother happy.
When he arrives in the greenhouse, he casts a dubious look at the flowers they are transporting.
'These are just common violets!' he scoffs.
Neville explains that they are in fact by day, but at night they glow in a sort of orange-greenish purple. They bend and carefully dig out the octarines, placing them in trays.
Draco sees Neville pick something up from the ground. Neville laughs and holds it out to him. It's the collectible card. Damn, it must have fallen out of his pocket. Mini-Neville excitedly jumps all over the frame pointing at his real life counterpart. Draco blushes and takes hold of the card, but Neville won't let go.
'Why are you carrying this around?' he demands.
Draco sighs and does not dare to look at Neville, it does not help that card-Neville is mocking him by making kissy faces again.
'Well, maybe you don't always feel like a hero, Neville. But I suppose you are to me.'
Neville lets go of the card and embraces him, and this time he smells like violets.
'You know, I think Draco is the most beautiful word in existence too' Neville whispers in his ear, just before they kiss.