Chapter 1: Roses and Lavender
Draco sees Neville every Sunday in the hallways of St. Mungo's. At first he tries to ignore him, but since his mother's room is so close to the Longbottoms' eventually he starts acknowledging him. First by nodding, then a soft 'Longbottom' which gets him a smile and a 'Hi Malfoy' in return.
He visits his mother every day. It is horrifying. St Mungo's is ugly and he wants to see his mother Narcissa surrounded by beauty. He has always idealised her in that respect; whatever might have lacked in her parenting, she was always beautiful and elegant. He was proud that all of the Slytherin boys wanted her and all of the girls wanted to be like her.
All that is left of his mother now is this empty, fragile shell. When his father got Kissed it was as if they sucked out her soul too, and he wants to see its beauty preserved. Unfortunately, there are 'Rules and Regulations' at Mungo’s about absolutely everything: furniture, clothing, hygiene. Beauty is not a requirement for proper care according to the rulebook.
He brings handcream and massages it in, so she smells like roses and lavender; but she looks horrible in the hospital gowns, and there isn’t much he can do about that.
She's always happy to see him. She smiles when he enters and frowns when he leaves, but she does not speak at all. Maybe she does not have anything left to say.
After every visit he goes and sits in the garden, a tiny piece of dry grass trapped between large walls, and smokes a cigarette. 'A filthy Muggle habit.' his mother would always say. Now she does not say anything anymore, so Draco feels he's allowed to, deserves to even for putting up with all of this shit. Ahh, swearing, another bad habit his mother would chastise him for.
One Sunday Neville is in there, crying. Draco does not know how to behave. He offers a cigarette, but Neville declines. Then he remembers that he has a chocolate frog in his pocket and gives him that— anything to get the boy to stop crying. The card that comes with it has Potter on it.
Draco scoffs, 'They should have made one of you too. Potter can't always be the hero, you know.'
'They did,' Neville whispers, 'but I don't feel like a hero right now.'
There was a potion, Neville explains, that had gotten his hopes up. It was supposed to regrow the myelin around the brain cells damaged by the curse. Past efforts had failed completely. He had thought that maybe, now that Bellatrix was dead, it might work. It hadn't.
'I tell myself not to hope, but I have to. If I give up on that, I give up on them. I don't know if I could visit them then.' Neville sniffs, wiping his nose, hiding the handkerchief in his pocket.
Draco nods, because he knows exactly what Neville means.
Then he does not see Neville again and he wonders if he's ashamed and avoiding him, but it seems that the Longbottoms have moved rooms, because there are new people in room 5.22.
Three weeks later, Wispy informs him that there is someone to see him. Neville comes in with brochures of a private hospital in France. He moved his parents there. It's small, he says, personal, there's a garden and a golden retriever. Neville thinks it would be good for his mother to go there, because she was always so refined and she belongs in a refined environment. He wants to hug Neville for noticing that, but restrains himself.
When he has owled Maison Bethanie, he goes out and buys a hundred chocolate frogs. He has to eat seventy-two before he finds Neville's card. The Slayer Of Nagini brandishes his sword, then puts it down, staring embarrassedly at the floor. Draco rubs the card between his fingers. Then he goes to puke.
He gets a tour at Bethanie. It's very expensive. The patients are only in their private rooms to sleep; the rest of the day they are free to spend in the communal areas. It's open and light, some people are drawing at the table, while someone else is petting the dog. Draco at first can't see the difference between the patients and the staff, because nobody is wearing uniforms, until he notices the staff have name badges. Aurelie, who gives him the tour, takes him to the garden. It smells of roses and lavender and he agrees at once to the transfer. It's worth every galleon.
Draco places Neville's frog card on his desk, next to his quill holder and fills in the release and transfer forms.
He dresses his mother in one of her favourite green dresses and does her hair. She arrives at Bethanie in style. They've already put in the furniture that he sent them, but he takes her to the gardens first.
She seems delighted, looks up to him and whispers, 'Draco...'
Maybe he was wrong about her, maybe her soul had not gone, maybe it was all that was left. St Mungo's had not been a place for souls, but this place is. Here, at Bethanie, souls can be free.
Chapter 2: Pines and Violets
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.