Disclaimer: JK owns the 'verse, I'm just playing in it.
Author's Note: I know, I know - I should be finishing TJWF, but in my defence I got a plot bunny that wouldn't hop away - what can I say? I plan for it to be around 40K max, and somewhat similar in atmosphere and style to What He Requires. Sad, sweet, and sprinkled with angst, it's ultimately going to be a story about healing. The title belongs to a wonderful Stars song.
I hope you enjoy ^_^
۞ Part One ۞
Room 7, Janus Thickey Ward, St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries
The day is dreary grey outside, rain smattering steadily on the window panes as a thin, wan face looks out the window. Faint curiosity drifts over vague features at the sight of the street three stories below, and the bustling activity going on in it despite the dreadful weather.
Eyes the colour of the rain-drizzling sky fix on the cars whizzing through puddles and sending up sprays of muddy water, take in the sea of umbrellas bobbing along. The hurrying seethe of rain-bedraggled people without the foresight to have umbrellas. The busy, scurrying life, vibrant and brilliant in the dismal day. He doesn't care that they are only Muggles; he twinges with a weary kind of envy anyway.
Fingers tremble as a bony hand lifts unsteadily to the glass, flattening with painful difficulty against it. It is so interesting out there compared to his usual view of pale blue walls, darker blue linoleum floor, and white ceiling. Before he had taken his potions this morning and been escorted to this room, he had been only in windowless places for what he had been told was weeks. Now he has a window, and that is…good, he thinks dully, without truly feeling it.
His hand slips from the glass as it spasms and he frowns and huddles in on himself a little, unable to summon up anger at his traitorous body. He thinks he should like having a window more than he does. He thinks he should be angrier at the ways his body and mind don't work. The potions he is given make the pain go away and keep the seizures at bay, but he doesn't think he likes what they do to his mind. They unravel him to uncertain threads that blow away in a puff of air, and he loses what little he has left of himself.
This is what is left of Draco Abraxas Malfoy. A shell, a broken husk, his mind scattered and body wretched, nearly forgotten by the world after his quick and quiet post-war transfer to St Mungo's.
He blinks and the world doubles, before his vision hazes completely and clears again. And again. And again. If he could summon the will to care what has become of him, he would fling himself out the damned window headfirst, but he…can't… Draco's mind rushes and slows in meaningless blurs, his senses deaden as the potions kick in and eliminate the pain constantly sparking along his nerves. His body begins to slump awkwardly in the chair, eyes vacant as they stare at the wall opposite.
His fingers twitch.
"-shifted him this morning," Draco hears a Healer say out in the hallway, and comes back to himself with half-frightened confusion. He has no idea how much time has passed, but his body feels stiff and sore from sitting in one position too long and there is an untouched tray of food in front of him. Dinner food. And he has no recollection of lunch, no memory of the time between looking out at the rain-smeared morning, and now. It is dark outside; the streetlights twinkle fractured through the wet glass.
Anger swells up in him at the lost time, and he realises he can grasp the anger – feel it. His mind is sharper although it still feels like a sieve, and his nerves are firing with hot pain, his muscles constantly tensing and twitching. The effects of the potions have nearly worn off, then. It is a catch-22; the potions nearly eliminate the pain and spasms that are still ever-present, and lower the likelihood of larger seizures – but they also leave him drifting numbly inside his already damaged mind. It has not even been two months yet by his fuzzy count, and already Draco thinks he would rather he had died that day.
"How has he been?" A different female voice asks with genuine concern and Draco recognises the voice with a start, jerking upright in his chair and biting back a moan at the pain at the movement. It can't be her. No. No, no, no. Panic rushes through him, his breath catching and chest tightening.
"He's been recovering," the Healer says, right outside the door to Draco's room, a dismissive sort of disinterest in her tone. "And that's certainly more than we expected of him."
"Thank you for letting me see him," the other woman says earnestly. "I know visitors aren't usually allowed."
Draco presses his lips together, shuts his eyes, and makes his weak and treacherous hands clutch at the arms of his chair as hard as they will. It is her, and he wishes it wasn't so badly. Being forgotten is preferable to her seeing him like this – the damaged wretch he has been made into. Fury rushes hot and impotent through him and his hands tremble from the exertion and fall uselessly away from the chair arms.
"We wouldn't refuse you, love –" the Healer says brightly, and Draco could murder the woman. "– You're a war hero!"
"Oh! I'm sure I'm not. Really. I – I can't… Er, well, thank you anyway. I won't stay long," says the younger woman, sounding horribly uncomfortable with the Healer's heaping of praise, and Draco wishes he were anywhere but here. He cannot stomach a visit from Hermione Granger. Unfortunately, he doesn't get a choice in anything anymore.
"When you're ready to leave just tear the chit I gave you in two, and the spell will alert me to come collect you." The joys of being in a locked ward, Draco thinks, grasping each word slowly and carefully as he often does now, to make sure they are set straight in his mind. "He's coming up due his potions, so he should be lucid enough. And don't worry, love, he's weaker than the cafeteria tea right now; he won't hurt you."
There is a pause.
"I know," Hermione Granger says. "I know he wouldn't."
Her voice is steady and so damned earnest that Draco cringes bone-deep, hating her for it. He doesn't want the mudblood's understanding. Her pity. Her belief that he is not the enemy because of one…mistake. A sneer wobbles on his face. He may have lost his dignity, but he still keeps the tattered remains of his pride as best he can.
Draco stares hard out the window at the lights below - shimmering with jagged haloes in the rain - as the door to his room opens. He ignores the young woman who stands uncertainly in the doorway, the door swinging shut behind her with a hollow clang. This will not be pleasant for either of them, and he will try to make sure she doesn't come back. Because if the only person who will ever visit him is Hermione Granger, then Draco would rather rot alone.
"Hello, Malfoy." In his peripheral vision he sees Granger force a small smile as she sits down in a chair positioned at the other side of the window. His eyes flick to her, his features carefully expressionless. She clutches a bag in her lap, sitting prim and proper in casual Muggle clothing, that ridiculous hair pulled back off her face. He looks away.
She is neat, bright, and free; in full possession of her mind and her body, her faculties undimmed. He sits in his too-big hospital pyjamas marked by old stains, his body clean only by virtue of scourgify charms that leave his skin dry and raw and his hair lank. The Healers will not waste time assisting a Death Eater to bathe – Draco is not sure he would let them, anyway. His muscles tremble and twitch until he wants to scream. The pain is maddening.
And she sits there with a slightly nervous smile, and he hates her.
"Fff-fuck off, Granger," Draco gets out with stammering difficulty, and his face goes hot with frustration and embarrassment at the struggle. His voice is still rough from the damage he did to his throat with all the screaming and vicious with bitterness besides, and he keeps staring out at the Muggle street. There are no tears in his eyes, he tells himself, and blinks them back desperately.
"Well. You certainly are recovering," she says, annoyingly undaunted by his anger if her tone of voice is any indication. And then she becomes quieter, more serious. "The last time I saw you was right after the Battle of Hogwarts. The Aurors were taking you to – to Azkaban for holding, along with all the other surviving Death Eaters. You looked like you were already dead…except for the, ah, seizures." Granger pauses, and Draco clenches his jaw hard, wishing over and over that she would just leave.
"I tried to stop them, to explain to them that you'd sa-" she begins apologetically, and Draco flinches, jerking his head around so that his eyes meet hers, bloodshot and hateful.
"Don't. I w-wish I hadn't, mm…mm…mudblood." He is shaking - shaking from more than just the spell damage. There is fury too, roiling in him, drowning him beneath its rising tide. His pulse races and his breath hisses from between his teeth as he struggles to manage both his anger and his pain. Granger just looks at him, calm and full of a pity he doesn't want.
"I understand, Malfoy," she says, the lying bitch, her brown eyes soft with sympathy, and only a little hurt by the slur he'd snarled at her. Draco wants to hit her. Choke her. Make her hurt as much as he does. And the pain…Salazar, the pain is so bad. It has grown exponentially in the last few moments as the last dose of potion has worn off completely, and he needs more.
He tries to speak but his throat will not cooperate, his tongue is leaden, his lips numbed and trembling. Then everything blurs and twists as his body suddenly jerks and convulses in the chair. The minor muscle twitches that he is learning to live with become real convulsions, and the muscles spasm hard and agonisingly beneath his skin.
Some small part of Draco's brain is aware enough to register the humiliation of this complete betrayal by his body, in front of Hermione Granger no less. He hopes with a detached kind of terror that he doesn't piss himself. But the pain searing through him like liquid fire is enough to erase all real thought in seconds, to blot him out in red and screams.
Draco does not feel his fall to the floor where his back arches like a bowstring and his teeth grind together, his hands claw at the linoleum and his heels drum hard against it. He is unaware of Hermione's frantic calls of his name, the chit the Healer gave her fluttering to the floor torn in two as she hovers helplessly beside him. He is eaten by the pain as Hermione summons up awkward reassurances to stumble out while she waits anxiously for the Healer.
The first thing Draco knows is the horrible bind of petrificus totalus as a Healer bends over him, dripping the familiar aniseed flavoured potion too-fast between his lips. He chokes and tries to thrash, to speak, but the spell prevents it. Tears of reaction spring to his eyes, and his throat bobs automatically around the potion as the Healer lightly massages it.
He is utterly helpless.
His eyes dart about and fall on Granger, standing with her back to the window, one arm hugged around her waist protectively. Her other hand wipes roughly at her cheeks, which are wet and blotchy. Her eyes are red-rimmed, and she pulls in a hitching breath and presses her fingers to her lips for a moment, composing herself.
"How – how often does this happen?" Granger asks the Healer shakily, as Draco rages silently against the spell that holds him pinned like a beetle to the floor. The Healer's doughy features change from badly-hidden contempt to admiration as she looks from Draco to Granger. She drip-drips the medicine steadily, not allowing Draco's body a chance to draw a proper breath, and he knows she's doing it deliberately.
"Every two or three days," the Healer tells Granger, who blanches further and hugs both arms tighter around her middle.
"That often?" She sounds shaken and disbelieving, and her gaze finally meets Draco's. He is panicky with the lack of air now, and his eyes are starkly pleading. He needs to take a proper breath, he needs the petrificus lifted, he's fucking panicking and can't even show it, can't even beg for help. He stares at Granger desperately, trying to communicate with his eyes alone and hating that he is driven to it.
"The seizures were much more frequent initially – several times a day when he first arrived here. But the regimen of potions he's been placed on has reduced them greatly," the Healer says calmly, still drip-feeding Draco the potion while his body silently screams for oxygen.
"I – I think you can lift the petrificus," Granger says with a little worry, flicking her eyes from Draco to the Healer. Hope surges up in Draco.
"Oh, I find it best to keep him bound until he's had the full dose and time to absorb it," the Healer says persuasively, seeming puzzled and annoyed by Granger's attitude toward the once-Death Eater. Draco curses the bitch, wishing he had his magic and the ability to use it wandlessly. This particular Healer relishes her chances to treat him less than well – generally only when he's lucid enough to care, but occasionally while he is drifting half-catatonic as well.
"No. He looks upset," Granger insists, taking a step forward, her voice rising. "Let him go, please! I can see that the seizures have stopped; he's conscious – look at his eyes. Please, just let him go!"
The Healer tips the last dregs of the potion into Draco's mouth without warning, and pushes herself to her feet. "Of course, Miss Granger," she says stiffly as Draco's lungs burn for air, his vision dims and sparkles, and he tries to swallow and can't. Everything starts to fade out and his body frantically tries to breathe, sucking the potion down the wrong way in its bid for air.
"Finite incantatum," the Healer says then as if from very far away, and Draco jerks weakly on the floor. He coughs and chokes, spitting out the potion and scrabbling over onto his stomach. For a moment he lies there and just gasps into the lino between coughing fits, throat and lungs sore as hell now, along with the rest of him.
"Merlin! Malfoy, are you all right?"
He tries to shove himself up with his hands but his left arm goes out from under him, and he drops – Granger catches him just before his face hits the ground. She is surprisingly strong, helping him up into an awkward sitting position without too much effort. Or perhaps he is just that pathetically thin now – and from the surprised hiss she makes as her hands clasp over the knobbly bones of his shoulders, it's probably that.
"God, Malfoy," she mutters worried as she kneels beside Draco and conjures up a handkerchief for him to wipe the potion and saliva from around his mouth. "I'm so sorry. I had no idea…" Granger is distraught and babbling, and his hand shakes violently as he tries to scrub the handkerchief over his mouth and chin. He ignores her.
"I didn't think…going through…this bad…because you – you saved me." That jerks him out of the dazed state he is drifting in, and he narrows his eyes on her, fingers jittering around the handkerchief. "And I never even thanked you." Granger's eyes shine wet. "I'm so sorry Malfoy."
He turns his face away from her distressed sincerity, something bitter and wounded twisting in his gut.
"And n-now you have th-thanked me. For all the good it does me. So ff-fuck off, mudblood," Draco tells her roughly, as if he is wrenching the words out with physical effort, shivering all over as though he's feverish. Granger stands and takes a sliding step back, shoes whispering on the lino. She looks crumpled and teary as she stares down at him, and Draco approves of that.
"You want me to go, Malfoy?"
He wants to dig at her with some wittily nasty comeback, but instead he just manages a ragged but emphatic: "Yes."
Granger stares at him an uncertain moment, shifting her bag over her shoulder, hands wrapped white-knuckled around the bag strap. Her breath sighs out and her features are carved with weary lines.
"I came here to try to do three things - to thank you, to tell you how sorry I am, and to see if I could…help you –"
"I'm not a fucking house elf," he snarls as he flails out at the nearby chair and catches the leg of it, pulling it closer and using it to painfully drag himself up to his feet.
"I know, I just…it's my fault she –" Granger looks down at her feet, and the next words are quieter, small. "– Tortured you." She meets Draco's eyes again as he manages to stand at last, unsteady and in pain, but upright. "I feel like I owe it to you to try to help you, if I can."
"I don't w-ww-want your help, mudblood," he gets out, breathing hard and clinging to the chair, determined to stay standing.
Hermione Granger's face shifts; frustration and confusion shaping her and tipping over into directionless anger. "Then why did you save me?" she demands at nearly a yell, her body vibrating with tension. "Why did you save me if you hate me so damn much?"
The Healer is smiling a faint, unpleasant smile as she watches silently, no doubt happy that Granger's sympathy toward Draco has faded. He hates the woman. His legs nearly give out as a spasm runs through them and he wobbles dangerously for a moment before he answers.
"It – wwwas a mistake." He speaks low and vehement, every word carefully enunciated, resentment and hate boiling, seething furiously. "It was a mm-mistake. It wasn't like I wanted to save you, Granger, I just wasn't th-thinking."
Granger is very pale, and her fingers twist restlessly in her bag strap. "Well…regardless of that, thank you anyway, Malfoy. And I really am so sorry that…" She drifts off uncomfortably, before sighing and looking up at him again. Her mouth curves into a faint, sad kind of smile. "Two out of three isn't bad, I suppose." She takes another step back, eyes turning to the Healer, who looks caught between displeasure and schadenfreude at Draco's expense. "Healer Dawes, will you see me out?"
Granger says goodbye to him very calmly and he stays silent, lips pressed hard together, small spasms seizing different muscles every few seconds. As soon as the door swings shut Draco collapses heavily into the chair, panting and pained. The pale pink handkerchief Granger had conjured sits crumpled and damp in his hand as it falls limply open in his lap.
The potion begins to take effect, shrouding Draco in a haze of dull numbness. His thoughts crowd and shift unsettlingly and incoherently, until one floats to the top. No, he hadn't been thinking when he had saved Granger…but perversely, Draco doesn't know that he entirely regrets it, either.
Vue Cinema, Islington, London
Hermione's mind wanders for a moment, falling into the count that she keeps slipping back to in her weaker moments. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes it hurts. Usually it hurts, but she can't seem to stop.
It has been three days since Hermione's disastrous visit to see Malfoy in the Janus Thickey Ward at St Mungo's. She is still deeply unsettled by it, in too many complicated, blurring ways to hope to untangle her feelings right now.
It's been eleven long, sleepless nights since the still-disorganised Auror department regretfully informed her with a cool dispassion that her parents had been found and murdered by Death Eaters. All her precautions had been for nothing.
Twenty-two days have dragged by since Harry fled Britain alone, for what he called a 'retreat' at a magic-friendly monastery in Nepal. Hermione bitterly calls it 'running away' when she is feeling abandoned and lonely, although she realises that Harry needed to escape for a while or risk breaking. He, of all of them, carried the greatest burden for the longest. But she misses him so much.
Twenty-three days ago, Hogwarts had reopened, and Ginny had gone back – her head held high and eyes dry despite her grief. Merlin, there was so much grief; it swamped the wizarding world and no one was completely untouched by it.
Thirty days ago, Hermione had started taking Muggle anti-anxiety pills; the only way she could function without falling apart constantly. She thought she might be becoming dependent.
Thirty-seven days ago Mrs Weasley had come to see Hermione at 12 Grimmauld Place, and had made her get out of bed, and shower for the first time in days. The older witch had held Hermione tightly and cried with her, and then told her with loving brusqueness that she had to snap out of it. That she had to try to live.
Hermione tried, so hard.
But fifty-two days ago the Battle of Hogwarts – as it is already being called – took place, and the world had changed fundamentally. Hermione's world had changed.
Fifty-two days ago Voldemort had been destroyed, and Tonks, Remus, Fred, Lavender, and so, so many more had all fallen bravely in the fight.
Fifty-two days ago Draco Malfoy had inexplicably saved Hermione from being murdered at Bellatrix Lestrange's hands, and been tortured nearly to death for his betrayal.
Fifty-two days ago, Ron had...
Hermione sucks in a sharp, rough breath, fighting the sudden tears that sting hotly at her eyes. Ron… She snatches her bag up from between her feet in the dark, and Neville nudges her with an elbow from his seat beside hers.
"You all right?" he whispers, eyes darting from the Muggle movie to Hermione, and she nods hastily in the bluish light as she digs through her handbag for her pills. She doesn't trust her voice.
But she can't find the pill bottle and the panic and grief is bubbling up too quickly. Her breath is dragging frantic and she's freaking out, scrabbling desperately through her bag.
Ron, Ron, Ron – his name is a litany in her head, growing louder and louder.
Hermione gasps out the prelude to a sob, swearing breathlessly at her bag and feeling like an idiot. But she can't accio the pills, because they're in Muggle London so her wand is stuffed in her bag too, and she can't concentrate enough for a wandless charm to summon either it or the pills.
People around them begin to shush Hermione with annoyed whispers, and the tears finally spill over in a rush. Then Neville is grabbing her wrists and still her frantic movements, his face concerned in the flickering light of the screen.
"Hermione, it's all right. Hermione – Hermione, it's all right," he says softly, his face close to hers in the dark and his tone trying so hard to be soothing. But he's lying – it's not all right, and it never will be again.
Neville pulls Hermione gently but firmly up to her feet and she has enough sense left to her to follow his lead. So Hermione holds tightly onto her handbag and tries to apologise through her tears to the other moviegoers they disturb, as Neville guides her swiftly out of the crowded cinema.
They stand in the hallway alone as the door swings shut with a squeak behind them, the air smelling of popcorn, faint electronic beeps and trills coming from the cinema's Time Out zone. Neville holds her as she cries into his shirt.
"It's not fair, Neville – none of it's fair. Poor Teddy without his parents, and Fred, and – and, oh god, Ron…"
"I know it's not fair, I know..." He pats her back with an awkward, gentle affection, hushing her softly.
"We never even got the chance to find out if we could've been – been more," she sobs, her fingers curling in the back of Neville's unbuttoned cardigan. "God. We wasted so much time."
"Ron was your best friend and you loved him – and he knew that, Hermione. That's…well, that's something. Something pretty important, really," Neville tries to comfort her, and it works, a small amount at least. Her tears dry up with a little effort and deep breathing, and Hermione ends up huffing damp laughter as she steps back from Neville, and sees the wet splotches of tears on his shirt.
"I'm sorry." She brushes at the wet marks with light, apologetic fingers, and smiles shakily up at Neville. He pats her shoulder and tells her it's fine. It's easier for him, and he's happy to be a shoulder to cry on – or so he'd insisted the first time Hermione did just that not long after Harry left. His parents were already mad, he'd said in a way that spoke of old, deep pain, and his grandmother had survived the battle. He has still lost friends, but he is certainly coping much better than Hermione.
"And I'm sorry I made you miss the rest of the movie," Hermione adds, sweeping her fingers over her cheeks to wipe away the tears. Her expression is rueful, and embarrassment at her meltdown rears its ugly head. Neville shakes his head and shrugs a shoulder with casual dismissal.
"It's fine, Hermione." His grin is toothy and lopsided. "It wasn't that good anyway."
They decide by unanimous vote to go have dinner instead of watching another movie. A fragile kind of happiness shapes between them, and they preserve it carefully, watching what they say. They get takeaways from the local chippy in the end, and eat it out of the greasy paper at Grimmauld; sitting on the stairs together and throwing chips at the irate portrait of Mrs Black.
Author's Note: I hope you liked it so far! Please leave a comment and let me know what you think; reviews are good food for the muse :3