Word Count: 22,000
Summary: Romance and love were nothing but fairy tales told to small children so that they grew up and had a reason to procreate. It didn’t really exist.
Disclaimer: The lovely JKR own these characters, except for the Trueloves. I made them up and placed them in her world. Just for fun.
A/N: Thanks to my wonderful betas who made such a difference with this.
Merry Christmas sugareey. I really hope that you enjoy this. It’s unashamedly romantic. With a tiny bit of angst and some snogging and hugging as per your prompts. I really tried to get some ties and handcuffs in there, but the boys said that would have to wait until next time. They laughed at me when I tried to tell them that of course their first time having sex with each other could involve handcuffs and ties. Really.
Chittering was an eye opener.
Draco arrived at Lovely Meadows barely an hour later, to Aubrey’s wide smile and firm handshake. He was a small, round man of perhaps fifty years of age, and almost as wide as he was tall. He had one of those faces that displayed every emotion. Either that or he was a very good actor. He greeted Draco like he was a long lost relative and proudly introduced him to his wife, Ruth. Two more different people you could not hope to meet. Ruth was tall, slender and extremely elegant, and Draco thought she would have felt at home in the Manor. Her smile lit her face with an ethereal beauty, her welcome was warm and the tender way she looked at Aubrey indicated that she was very much in love with her husband.
“We are so pleased that you could come and visit us, Draco,” she said, extending her hand. “Aubrey was extremely excited when he saw your article in the collectors’ magazine.”
“It is my pleasure, I assure you. Thank you for inviting me.” Draco took her hand and bowed over it, respectfully.
“Come, Draco, I will show you to your room where you can freshen up. Then, you must brave meeting the children,” Aubrey said in all seriousness, but his eyes were laughing.
“Aubrey, don’t scare the young man off, dear, he’s only just arrived.”
Draco heard the affection in her voice and saw the loving looks that passed between them and wondered if it was all an act. He’d certainly never seen people act like this before. The only thing that came close, he remembered, was Pansy reading him passages from some rubbish Muggle romance novel.
After being shown his room, which was extremely cosy, if not the opulence he was used to at the Manor, Draco freshened up in the adjoining bathroom. His bag had been placed on his bed, but he didn’t unpack. Instead, he elected to look out of the window for a while, casting his eyes over the well kept lawns and gardens, down to a lake lined with reeds and ringed by clusters of willows trailing their branches in the water. It was a beautiful, peaceful, rural scene. Lovely Meadows, indeed.
He changed into casual robes and headed back down stairs to find Aubrey and Ruth and to meet those children. He didn’t do well around children; never had. But he supposed if he had to meet these Trueloves then he may as well be gracious about it.
When he entered the drawing room, he saw his two hosts sitting together on a couch, speaking softly to one another. He stopped in the doorway, unobserved for the moment; just studying them and the way they spoke to each other, looked at each other and listened. Luckily he was unable to hear what they were speaking about; he didn’t think being caught eavesdropping on a private conversation would give them a good impression of him but he noticed that they were holding hands, Aubrey’s large blunt fingers almost making Ruth’s small hand disappear. How comfortable with each other they looked. Was this what love was supposed to look like?
He gave a soft cough to alert them to his presence and entered the room, smiling.
Aubrey stood and greeted him. “Draco, would you like a cup of tea?”
Draco would have preferred coffee, but as it wasn’t offered, the tea would do nicely. “Thank you, that would be lovely,” he replied, as he sat opposite them.
“I hope the bedroom is to your satisfaction,” Ruth said, smiling, as Aubrey left the room. Draco assumed that he was making tea. If Aubrey was making tea, it indicated that there were no house-elves here and Draco wondered how they managed to keep up the place, especially with children running around.
“It’s charming, thank you,” nodded Draco.
“Good, I am glad,” Ruth nodded. “We both wish your stay with us to be comfortable so, if there is anything you need, please let us know.”
“I will,” he replied, looking up as Aubrey came back into the room carrying a tea tray.
Ruth sat forward to pour the tea and Draco was pleased to see that they took their tea in the traditional manner, with milk and no sugar, just as he did. He accepted his gratefully, and sipped it. “So, when do I meet these children?” he smiled at them.
“Aubrey will call them in when we are finished with tea,” Ruth replied. “They are a bit boisterous around strangers. Tell us about the ‘Lega Mio Amore’ in the meantime, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Yes, please do,” Aubrey added. “My great grandfather’s notes don’t include pictures of it.”
“There isn’t a lot more I can tell you about it other than what was in the magazine,” Draco answered. “The box is not large, perhaps five or six inches by eight inches and about three inches deep. The raised roses on the lid are exquisite; Theophilus obviously meant it to be an incredibly beautiful piece of art as well as functional. I’ve been looking into my parent’s papers for records of the purchase and it seems my father purchased it from another collector, Hector Humphries. I’m in the process now of tracing it back from there. When I get the name of the dealer that Theophilus sold it to, I will be able to trace it from both ends,” he said smiling, the words coming easily now he was on a topic that he understood.
“And did your mother mention if the box had been used at any time?” Aubrey asked, his face lit with interest.
Draco shook his head. “No, I think by the time it made its way into my mother’s hands, its history had been lost or corrupted with rumour and, as such, no one was really prepared to test it out – just in case. My father would have coveted it for its supposed power and I’m surprised that he didn’t trace its origins himself. My mother though,” Draco’s face softened, “she would have just appreciated it for it’s beauty and was only mildly interested in its purpose.”
“She is the reason you want to know about the box, yes?” Ruth asked, kindly.
“Yes,” he said. “I don’t know why, as she was not really interested in the purpose of the box – or perhaps she was intrigued by the romance associated with it…” Draco stopped there and drank his tea, silenced by the sudden thought of his mother’s motives. He really did not want to explore those – he hadn’t finished reading her diaries yet and there seemed to be a whole side of her that he just never knew.
“It is a romantic item in its own way, yes, but including a punishment with Dark magic adds a sinister tone to it, I think,” Aubrey said. When Draco looked at him, he added. “Oh, yes, I was excited to see it surface, but will be happy to see it back where it belongs. Besides,” he said taking Ruth’s hand again, “one shouldn’t need that to find one’s true love. We didn’t, did we, love?”
“No, my dear, we did not. Now before we bore young Draco to tears, let us introduce him to the children.”
“Aeros! Demos!” Aubrey called loudly, and Draco was confused. The call was more in the form of a command than the way he’d expected a loving parent to call for their children.
He almost laughed out loud when two gigantic dogs came bounding in through the open French doors, tails wagging and tongues lolling, dripping copious amounts of drool that sprayed everywhere as they ran. The two monsters headed right for Aubrey, who held up a hand when they drew near and the two dogs stopped and sat obediently, panting, their tails still wagging.
“These are our children,” Aubrey laughed, seeing the look on Draco’s face. “This is Aeros,” he said patting an almost white dog, which nuzzled Aubrey’s hand. “He’s our eldest.”
Draco reached out tentatively to pat the dog, letting it sniff his hand and assess the danger first. “Hello, boy.” Dogs he could handle, he grinned as Aeros licked and snuffled at his hand.
He did the same with Demos when he was introduced as well. After a few more moments Aubrey waved the dogs outside again and followed after them, saying he was going to check that they had enough water. Ruth turned to him, a serene smile on her face.
“You were surprised that we regard our dogs as our children?”
“A little,” Draco replied. “No, not really, I just assumed when you said children, you meant human children, with runny noses and smelly nappies,” he said smiling at her.
Her face closed down a little then and she turned to look outside where Aubrey’s voice could now be heard growling playfully with his dogs. Draco could see him wrestling with them both on the grass. He smiled; he would have given anything as a child to have a pet like that. One that he could have treated as a friend and played with in so carefree a manner.
“We can’t have children,” Ruth’s quiet voice came from beside him.
He would have liked to ask why, but it was a private matter and Draco was still a stranger, no matter how welcome they had made him feel. So, he just nodded, but Ruth continued.
“I am unable to bear them. My mother took a potion to help with the morning sickness while she was expecting me and it affected my reproductive organs. I never ever thought that I would get married, be able to enjoy the wonder that is a close, intimate relationship with anyone. But,” she sighed happily; “Aubrey came along and loved me despite desperately wanting to continue his family line.”
Draco looked sideways at her, and she was looking with glowing pride at Aubrey playing with the dogs.
“He’s never resented me for not being able to give him an heir, rather told me that I was more important to him than a name. He gave me back a reason to live and I will love him until the end of my days.”
Ruth tilted her head and looked at Draco. “Do you have someone special in your life?”
Draco shook his head. “No, I don’t.” He refrained from telling her that he didn’t believe in love or relationships; that was personal. And he didn’t tell her about Harry, because he had no idea what that was.
“Well, you are young yet and I am sure the right girl is out there waiting for you,” she smiled at him, before turning back to watch Aubrey with softening eyes.
“Man, actually,” Draco said before he could stop himself.
Ruth angled her head in acknowledgment. “Man, then. I hope you find one as good as Aubrey.”
Demos bowled Aubrey over completely then and he went down in a tangle of arms and legs, and both Ruth and Draco laughed. Draco was glad; the subject had started to trouble him.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent chatting and getting to know each other better. Aubrey ran Lovely Meadows as an herb farm. He grew many of the herbs and plants needed for medicinal potions and was experimenting with many new variations on complicated potions that would make it easier for healers like Harry. The Truelove name was already renowned and respected for its contributions, and Draco thought that Harry and Aubrey would get along like a house on fire. He made Aubrey promise to show him around his laboratory the next day, smiling when Aubrey’s face lit up in delight. He wished Harry were here.
Draco went to bed with Aubrey’s happy smile and Ruth’s quiet strength on his mind, and lay awake long into the night as he was traveling without the sleep potion. The lethargy he experienced, as an after effect, was too big a price to pay while he was visiting, as it often made him bad tempered and Aubrey and Ruth had been too nice and gracious for him to repay them with bad manners.
He was intrigued with their relationship. It was clearly, transparently evident they both adored each other. There was an open naturalness to them both in the way they connected that made Draco wistful in a way. It was something he would have liked for himself – the type of relationship he had once seen himself in - when he was a child and still believed in people.
Perhaps there was such a thing for some - he’d seen the evidence - but it wasn’t for him.
He got up, unable to sleep, and opened the window, letting the cool night air caress his face. Carried in on the breeze was the most profound sigh of such contentment that Draco was almost embarrassed to hear it, feeling like a voyeur. Obviously it had come from the Truelove’s room, so he closed the window once more and lay back down in his bed, unaccountably sad.
Morning bought with it sunshine, breakfast on the terrace, a plan for the day and much amusement as Draco watched Ruth chide her husband for feeding the dogs under the table, while Aubrey pretended to look chastened and continued, regardless.
After breakfast, Draco and Aubrey set out for the laboratory, walking in the warmth of a morning summer sun, dogs gamboling alongside them, weaving in and out of their legs and making such a nuisance of themselves that Aubrey banished them to their kennels.
As they walked through rows of herbs, Aubrey told Draco some of what they had been developing.
“Right now, these fields you see to the left of us are being cultivated as a test. We do not use magical additives to help the plants grow, or keep bugs away or keep it perpetually watered and fed with fertilisers. On the right, we’ve allowed the use of magic with the growth process,” Aubrey said, stopping for a moment to look out over his fields.
There was a difference, Draco realised as he looked at both fields. The magically enhanced ones were much bigger, stronger looking plants. He looked confused. “Why would you want to grow things without magic?”
Aubrey started walking again. “We run a range of natural products, as you might be aware. That means completely natural. We found that some magic interferes with the properties and reactions of some herbs and plants, which in turn makes a less effective potion.”
“So,” Draco said, “these smaller plants on the left are for those potions, even though they look smaller and less healthy?”
Aubrey nodded. “But don’t let the fact that they’re smaller lead you to think that they’re any less healthy, or potent. Magic can make things look good, but it won’t actually make a plant any better. We use those,” he indicated the magically assisted plants, “for potions where it doesn’t matter about magic, like furniture polish and cleaning products and such.”
Draco thought it all made sense. “But what about potions where half of the ingredients are animal or insect based? Surely they would have traces of magic also if they’re farmed?”
They’d arrived at a long wooden building, and Aubrey held the door open for Draco to enter, and followed him in. “Yes, that’s very true and just one of the reasons I run this laboratory.”
It was very orderly. Along the right wall Draco could see bunches of herbs hanging, having been dried. Along the back wall there were a number of cauldrons bubbling away over low fires, and tables where there were herbs in various stages of preparation. But along the left wall was what seemed to be a completely sterile environment. An enclosed area with rows of empty phials, pristine benches and neat rows of tools all cleaned and polished.
“One of the reasons?” Draco prompted.
“Yes. Ruth told me that she confided her little secret to you last night,” he looked at Draco, who only nodded. “The potion that her mother took for the morning sickness was a common enough one, thousands of witches all around the world took it and only a small percentage suffered any side effects. Her mother was one of them. As I was always good with Herbology at Hogwarts and had planned a career as a potions maker, it seemed to me that the first thing I could do was to find the reasons for the potion reacting to her that way. I set up this and that was the first potion we researched. It is all to do with the way magic reacts to properties in plants and animals and insects, as I was saying before. We did a lot of testing and found that we could eliminate those reactions if we used completely magic free ingredients. That’s what the sterile environment is for, but we won’t go in there today.”
They walked along the rows of tables where in some places knives were chopping herbs and pushing them into big baskets, or mortar and pestles were being used to crush seeds. Aubrey continued; Draco too impressed to make any comment. “Then we found that we could replace and rework some potions to be just as effective without using any animal products at all. In potions where it matters about magic levels, using animals makes it unstable as we can never be sure that the animal hasn’t been exposed to magic at least once.”
“I never knew…” Draco said, awed. “Never even thought of all that. And you did this, dedicated your life to this because of what happened to Ruth?”
Aubrey looked at him, surprised. “Of course. She is my world and I would do anything for her.” He smiled at Draco. “Besides, it has bought me great satisfaction. Not only am I making sure that other witches don’t suffer the heartache that my Ruth did, but I am also able to earn an extremely comfortable living.”
Draco looked around him. “It must be nice to be so secure,” he said softly, almost inaudibly.
Aubrey looked at him. “You don’t look as if you want for anything.”
“I don’t. Money isn’t what I meant, anyway,” he smiled and walked back outside the building, having seen, and been impressed by, enough.
They took a leisurely walk back to the house, Draco apologising for taking him away from his work. Aubrey, of course, waved him off, saying that he took time off regularly to be with Ruth anyway. Family was always more important than work.
“Does it make you sad that you won’t be able to have an heir,” Draco asked, tentatively. To aristocratic families, such as the Malfoys, an heir was all important, and producing one the main reason for marrying. He’d reconciled himself to the fact that he would be the last in the Malfoy line; had made the decision that he’d prefer not to give any child the legacy that came with his name.
“Of course it makes me sad that we won’t have children of our own. We have a large group of friends that we treat as an extended family. They’re important to us and we look upon them as family. They don’t need to have our name, nor our blood for that. Because what is a name but set of conditions and rules by which you are supposed to live your life in order to be a part of a family? We prefer to choose our family by what sort of person they are. Strip away someone’s name and if they are not a decent person without it, then they will never be a decent person with it.”
There was an ache in Draco’s chest now, and he regretted asking the question. For so many years he would have scoffed at Aubrey’s philosophy on family, but now he wondered if his family had been like that, where would they have all been now. Possibly both of his parents might have been alive, his mother might have been alive, and Draco might not rattle around in the huge Manor alone.
But he could wish for circumstances to be different as much as he wanted, it wasn’t going to change a thing. His family hadn’t been like Aubrey’s. They had died, ripping away what little foundation he had and Draco was on his own.
He was normally quite happy about that.
Today, he wasn’t quite so sure.
Inspecting the documentation for the ‘Lega Mio Amore’ was almost an anticlimax after the time Draco had spent with Aubrey and Ruth. It was all in order, as he’d expected, showing the commission Theophilus had made of Master silversmith, Jonas Bellsmythe, along with the inclusion of powerful Dark magic spells. The description of the box was included and matched Draco’s.
There were parchments documenting what the box was for, how Theophilus and his eventual bride Agneus had used it and, finally, the sale to a dealer in Knockturn Alley. Borgin and Burkes. He should have known.
It was everything he needed to be able to continue the search and he smiled at Aubrey as they sat in the man’s study.
“As soon as I can complete the history of the piece, we can arrange for a sale,” Draco said.
“Good, good,” Aubrey smiled back. “And mind you set a fair price for it,” he added.
“I will. I imagine we can settle on a fair price.”
Draco sat back in his chair, feeling quite pleased with himself.
The next afternoon, after spending the rest of his time either walking around the estate or sitting and chatting with either or both of the Trueloves, Draco was ready to leave for home.
Ruth pressed a phial into his hands and said with a smile, “Take this, Draco dear, it will help you to sleep. It’s one of our new products. Has no side effects,” she finished, winking at him.
He stood there, mouth open. How had they known that he barely slept?
Aubrey smiled at him. “And completely natural. We discovered that it’s the animal products in the normal potion that give you the lethargy the next day, and so we replaced it with other things.”
“Thank you, both so much. For this, for your hospitality. It’s been enlightening,” Draco smiled.
Draco reflected that he seemed to have been smiling a lot while he was here; the Trueloves seemed to make him want to smile. They were just nice people; unpretentious and warm and suddenly the unexpected voyeurism of the previous night didn’t make him feel like an intruder any more, it made him feel included.
“You are more than welcome. Aubrey and I have enjoyed your visit and we hope that one day soon, you will return and visit us again.”
“I’d like that,” he said and wasn’t even surprised when he found that he actually would.
Aubrey shook his hand and Ruth gave him a hug goodbye, that whilst it was not as shattering as Harry’s, made him feel warm inside.
He left them promising to notify them when he had more information about the box and issuing an invitation to visit Malfoy Manor when they could spare the time to get away.
* CONTINUED IN PART 3/3 *