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A Steady Hand

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“You have a remarkably steady hand, young man.”

Dean jumps at the unexpected sound of Mr Ollivander’s still-hoarse voice. At Luna’s request, Dean had carried his emaciated body downstairs after breakfast and installed him in a rocking chair by the driftwood fire in the sitting room, but he hasn’t heard the man make a sound in more than an hour. He’d rather forgotten he was there at all.

“Er, thanks,” Dean says awkwardly.

Unfortunately, this brief exchange catches Bill Weasley’s attention. He’s been on the couch reading The Quibbler with an increasingly concerned expression for the last twenty minutes or so, and Dean’s been taking advantage of his distraction to draw him. He’s doing so rather without permission, as he couldn’t think of a tactful way of saying “those horrifically disfiguring facial scars you sustained protecting my school from a vicious Death Eater werewolf are rather fascinating from an artistic perspective -- mind if I get in some practice?” Bill glances down at Dean’s open notebook (Dean’s lying on the floor) and raises his eyebrows in surprise, but chooses not to comment. Dean feels like a bit of a tit.

“Do you mind if I have a look?” Mr Ollivander says.

Dean, in fact, minds very much: he’s always been wary of sharing his sketchbook with anyone else. At first, this reluctance was driven mainly by a lack of confidence in his skill. Later, he feared what private emotions or opinions a canny viewer might read into the people and places he captured on paper. Then, at the end of last year, Professor Flitwick called him aside after class and asked to examine the complex charmwork he’d done on the sketchbook -- to change its size, to keep so many years of sketches in one book, to lock it against intruders -- and he’d warned Dean in no uncertain terms that after years of Dean pouring himself into it, the book had gained its own sort of magic -- possibly even its own consciousness -- and he’d best be extraordinarily careful with it.

But Mr Ollivander, who has been gaunt and vacant ever since being rescued from the Malfoys’ dungeons, is regarding Dean’s incomplete sketch of Bill with rapt attention. Dean didn’t know Mr Ollivander well before, but, like so many other witches and wizards, he treasures the memory of the day he bought his wand. Ollivander’s had been the last shop he visited in Diagon Alley with his parents and Professor McGonagall. By then, they were laden with packages, Mr Thomas was regarding Dean’s new kit of potions ingredients with great suspicion, Mrs Thomas was flipping through The Standard Book of Spells, Grade One, gaping at the moving illustrations and diagrams, and Professor McGonagall was obviously growing tired of Dean loudly crying “Cool!” at each new shop window. Ollivander’s had the least cool shop window but by far the coolest wares. It took Dean nearly twenty minutes of waving wands around like an idiot before his own chose him: rowan and phoenix feather, eleven and a half inches, “a very precise wand,” Mr Ollivander had said. Dean remembers finding him intimidating.

He’s anything but intimidating now. Most days, he seems washed out, like an unsealed drawing exposed to the elements, and Dean knows intimately how this war can do that to a person. This is the first interest he’s shown in anything since his conversation with Harry, Ron, and Hermione just after their arrival at Shell Cottage. Wordlessly, Dean hands the book over, and Mr Ollivander rests it on his blanketed lap. Bill, too, has ceased concealing his interest behind The Quibbler and is now paying full attention.

Mr Ollivander, like Dean and Luna, is wandless, but when he raises his left hand to hover over the pages, the sketchbook responds -- images whip by until the book falls still at a sketch of Ted Tonks. Dean shuts his eyes and clenches his teeth. It’s mad to think he knew Ted less than a year; his loss is like a wound that keeps reopening.

He drew this particular sketch a week after he and Ted met up by chance with Dirk, Gornuk, and Griphook. They’d all been hiding out for the night in a vacant flat in a council estate in Essex, and Dean could tell that Gornuk and Griphook were uncomfortable with the number of Muggles surrounding them -- before they cast the Muffliato, they could even hear the couple next door having a row. Dean, Ted, and Dirk, however, were all Muggleborn (though Dean was the only one with recent exposure to the Muggle world and clothing that didn’t look like it was purchased in the 1940s). Ted had been able to get in touch with his wife, Andromeda, on the two way mirror he carried in a hidden pocket, and she’d told them that their daughter (who was apparently married to Professor Lupin, of all people!) was expecting their first grandchild. Ted had been elated and kept exclaiming that he wished he had his pipe, so Dean had gone down to the offy shop and magically nicked two cigars while the harried South Asian shopkeep argued with two lads of about thirteen who were attempting to purchase lager. Ted and Dirk smoked the cigars on the flat’s filthy balcony, looking out at the hideous urban landscape below; Dean drew as quickly as he could, trying to capture the unbridled joy on Ted’s face.

“Theodore Tonks,” Mr Ollivander says quietly now. “Willow and unicorn hair. Nine-and-a-half inches. Flexible. Excellent for charm work.”

Dean opens his eyes when he hears pages turning again. This time the sketchbook stops on a rare watercolor: a land-and-seascape of the view from Seamus’s front door, which overlooks a narrow cove, surrounded by hills. Dean spent hours on it the summer before sixth year; it had been raining and Seamus had been infuriatingly impatient the entire time, alternately swearing at the apparently prejudiced WWN broadcast of a lengthy Kenmare Kestrels game and demanding that Dean “quit messing around with those paints and entertain me.” Dean’s had no word from Seamus all year and he feels his absence like an illness, like something caught in his lungs that he can’t quite cough up.

“Ah, Ireland,” Mr Ollivander says. “The Beara Peninsula, if I’m not mistaken?”

“Yes,” Dean says, and his face must betray his shock, because Mr Ollivander replies, “I’ve travelled in my day, Mr Thomas.”

Once more, Mr Ollivander raises his hand and the pages dance for him. This time, they land on a dark charcoal drawing Dean made from memory just after arriving at Shell Cottage.

The thestral.

It was the first Dean had ever seen, just moments after Ted’s lifeless body hit the ground beside him. He wouldn’t even have recognized the beast if Neville hadn’t described the invisible coach-pulling creatures dozens of times to him over the years. In a surge of terror and desperation, Dean had grabbed Griphook and hauled them both onto its back, but when it lifted them from the ground with a powerful snap of its batlike wings, one of the Snatchers hit it with a curse. Dean and the goblin were thrown into the night air and knocked unconscious when they hit the ground. It wasn’t until he woke, aching, tied up, and wandless, that he realized a hair from the thestral’s slippery mane was caught in a button of his coat. Later, he magically attached the hair to the sketch.

Ollivander strokes it now as he regards Dean’s picture. “How very intriguing,” he says.

“Er, Mr Ollivander?” Dean says.

There is a silence that feels quite long, and then Mr Ollivander says, “Yes, yes, of course.” He slowly closes the book and hands it back to Dean, who wraps his sketch tools around it and ties it closed to return it to pocket-size.

“Have you ever tried wood-carving, Mr Thomas?” Mr Ollivander says.

“Er,” Dean says, confused. “Can’t say that I have, sir.”

Mr Ollivander reaches into his threadbare robes and draws out a leather roll, the same sort Dean keeps his pencils and charcoals in. His hand trembles slightly as he passes it to Dean. When Dean unfurls it, he sees a long row of what looks like antique whittling tools.

“I think you should try it,” Mr Ollivander says. “It takes a steady hand.”