Author's Notes: This is for round three, season three of the Quidditch League FanFiction Competition. I'm Chaser 2 for Puddlemere United. I am prompted to write my OTP dealing with a mental illness, so that would be Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy. My optional prompts are (setting) St. Mungo's, (narrative device) flashback, and (word) reparation. [1,317 words]
I pinky-promise that my next one will be cheerier. Here, have a piece of chocolate.
No One Asks the Soldier When She Wants the War to End
Hermione woke up feeling thick and foggy, but the mist of sleep faded quickly, leaving her more present and awake than she had felt for months. She wasn't surprised to find herself at St. Mungo's; her anxiety and insomnia had been building for some time. She rolled over and drew in a sharp breath when she saw she wasn't alone. Draco Malfoy was sprawled out asleep on a wooden armchair next to her bed. The purple shadows under his eyes matched the awkward slump of his body in a chair that was much too small and unyielding for his lanky frame. He hugged himself in sleep. Hermione found herself wondering if he was cold.
She pulled the white cotton blanket over her chest and raised her head up on her pillow to better study him. Without his sharp glare or his mouth curved into a sneer, he was handsome. Her eyes trailed over his face and settled on his mouth. She'd known him for eight years, and yet she'd not had an opportunity like this to stare without fear of a taunt. Even after they both had chosen to return to Hogwarts for extra study after the war with Hermione lauded as a hero and Draco monitored under terms of reparation, she was reluctant to let her curiosity guide her toward him. He seemed comfortable with being ignored by most everyone, keeping his head bowed over parchment, cauldron, or book. Parvati, breaker of Secret Keepers, had pulled from him his hopes to study Healing. Hermione couldn't imagine Draco sitting on the edge of a bed and listening to suffering with concern and purpose. She wondered why she even tried to imagine it.
And yet, she was aware he'd been thinking about her; there was a tiny part of her that knew the truth, that Draco Malfoy had picked up Hermione Granger as an elective course of study. This she kept to herself, tamping it down. She cringed at the thought of turning to Parvati over pudding and asking, "Do you think Draco Malfoy is plotting my death? Or does he fancy me?" She had caught his furtive looks but never acknowledged her awareness to anyone, especially to Draco. It would be torment if she were wrong. It might be worse if she were right.
But the student taught the teacher, for Hermione learned of the depth of her war trauma through his eyes. Slughorn had paired them for Potions once, and Hermione had been relieved to see the long list of ingredients to prepare. Quiet work. No need to talk. She had pulled out her sharp silver dagger and began to dice Sanguinaria, focusing on the rocking rhythm of the little blade, determined for perfection. She'd almost lost herself in the task when the root released a spray of crimson juice on her arm. Her eyes read a glint of silver, and a trickle of blood, and she was with Bellatrix again, lifted almost to her toes; she could smell the madwoman's musty robes and felt the sting of the blade on her neck. Her shaking hands dropped the knife in a pool of juice.
"Granger, rinse the dirt off these seeds for me?" Draco murmured absently, nodding his head to a dusty bowl between them as he pulled her bloody work towards him. She nodded, numbly, and he finished his work and hers, making no comment to her furious, shaky scrubbing at the soapstone lab sink.
She thought she'd been a master of disguise, swiping blush to pink her pale, sleepless cheeks, laughing off a shriek of fear at Seamus, who startled her in Transfiguration. But she began to look for Draco's eyes after each episode, and he was her tell. There was one person she wasn't fooling at all. She'd hid her thinning body with her robes and wrapped her nerves with jokes and work, but Draco was practicing something beyond Legilimency. He laid her bare, and she was afraid of what his stares showed her.
And then, yesterday unfolded. She'd thought she'd carefully avoided him for several days, using circuitous routes around the castle. She felt better, convincing herself she wasn't hungry, or tired, or scared. Racing to a staircase, her eyes captured a moment: The sun filtered through a window, somewhere above, illuminating dancing dust particles. She heard an explosion. Later, the Healer would tell her it was just a firework, a small pop leading to a detention, but Hermione was pulled away as if by Time-Turner...
Her chest burned from the smoke, from the running; her breath came in ragged gasps. "The snake, if they could just kill the snake," she thought, and the end was solidifying; she could feel a way out, a way done, and then stone blew like feathers. Her ears were ringing, and she was thrown into the air, and for a brief, giddy moment, she wondered who was apparating her and where they were going until her body slammed on the stone floor, her ribs and spine grinding against muscle, mortar and dust cutting her raw lungs. She wanted to close her eyes and let the darkness eat her, but she looked up - "Is this up?" - with dread when she heard the shuddered moans. "No - no - no..."
Hermione heard the screams, and she writhed on the floor, looking for their source. She gasped as strong arms scooped her off the stone tiles, and in that gasp for air, she realized with a lucid horror that the screams were coming from her. She closed her eyes, buried her face into the warm chest cradling her, and sobbed.
Draco had bypassed the hospital wing and carried her to McGonagall. Hermione remembered this, still carried like a rag doll, too tired to worry that their voices sounded afraid. A Floo and the bright lights of St. Mungo's pushed her deeper into a haze, and she lay limp on a gurney, unable to cover her hip bone jutting out from her baggy skirt. A Healer gently washed her face and told her she would need a potion for sleep. Sleep first.
And now, she was here, and he was here, and all of her secrets were out. As if she'd said this out loud, Draco's eyes opened, and he examined her with that piercing gaze. This time, it didn't feel like a violation. He'd seen all of her already. He smoothed his face into a cool, blank expression.
"You aren't the only one who is still fighting the war, Granger. I didn't need to be sent to Azkaban. My head is my prison."
Hermione tucked her hands under her cheek on the pillow and considered this.
"What sends you there?"
"Triggers?" Draco questioned her with his eyebrows raised.
"Yes." Hermione wasn't yet sure why she wanted to know. It wasn't schadenfreude or concern. Perhaps it was curiosity for a member of her fraternity.
Draco took a steadying breath. "There are new ones that come out to play when I least expect them. I have some regulars. Snakes, the Astronomy Tower...My whole house is a trap of smells and pictures...The drawing room. The dungeon. My bedroom."
"Yaxley. This isn't my first time at St. Mungo's."
Hermione stared at him.
Draco clenched his jaw and stared at the wood panelling of the far wall, his knee bouncing. He chewed on his bottom lip, and then blurted, "Get better and come back to school. Please."
Hermione blinked in wonder at this.
He popped up quickly from the chair, much quicker than Hermione would have thought possible after a stiff sleep.
"Granger. Just come back. I...need you to get better." He nodded, as if that was all that needed to be said, and left the room. Hermione rolled her head back on the pillow, and let the tears fall from the corners of her eyes. Her war wasn't over.