Draco wakes up from his nap at 1:30 A.M., wide awake and wildly restless. He has been dreaming about time travel, about all the things he'd change. He gets out of bed and paces the floor of his room, trying to burn off some of the excess energy. He considers taking a half-dose of Sleeping Draught, as he has to be up in four hours to get ready for morning rounds, but another idea comes to him unbidden. It's crazy, but as soon as he thinks of it, he knows he has to do it. He gets dressed and takes the Floo to St Mungo's.
Like all hospital wards, most likely, the dementia ward turns out to be creepy at night. The halls are quiet, and Draco casts a Silencing Charm on his shoes to keep from causing a disturbance. There are a few guards and mediwizard's assistants stationed for the graveyard shift, but Draco knows where they are and avoids them on his way to Ms Banister's room. Luck is on his side, and no one sees him. Just as she's told him, Ms Banister is awake when he arrives, sitting up in bed and staring blankly straight ahead. Draco knocks on her door quietly. When she recognises him, she flashes him a brilliant smile through the small window and gestures for him to come in.
"Draco! You made it!" In her great excitement, she beats her arms against the blankets a few times on either side of her. "I knew you'd come and join me one of these nights."
He checks the hallway—empty—before closing the door behind him and drawing the blinds over her window. "Yeah, I'm here." He steps awkwardly up to her bedside. "How does it work?"
She studies his face, frowning. "Hang on, now. Is there something you want to talk about first?"
"You seem pretty upset. My buttercup is wilting." He glares at her, and she winks.
"I'm fine," he says, but he isn't fooling either of them. "I just want to see this time travel magic you've been bragging about all this time."
She looks at him for another moment, tilting her head, and then shrugs. "If you insist. Come here." With some difficulty, she pushes herself over to one side of the bed, then pats the empty space beside her. On a twin-size mattress, it would be a tight squeeze, and Draco has certainly never envisioned himself crawling into bed with one of his patients. He'd almost certainly get fired if he got caught doing that, no matter how many times he tried to explain his bizarre excuse.
"How about I just sit over here?" he asks, gesturing to his usual chair.
Ms Banister shakes her head vigorously. "No, no, no. It has to be the bed—I've tried the chair, and it only works in this bed. But you needn't worry, I won't try anything. Maybe a hundred and twenty years ago, like I said, but you're not my type anymore—no offense meant."
"None taken," he says. And he knows it's a terribly weird thing to do, but he's already here in the middle of the night, and he just has to know for sure if this old lady—his best friend, Ms Wisteria Banister—is an insane person. He'll still be friends with her if she is, mind. He knows he's in no position to judge, mental-health-wise. All the same, he needs to know. And so Draco gets up onto the bed and sits beside her, on top of the covers. He leans back against her pillows. She holds out her small hand, like a spirit guide, and he folds it in his. Her white skin is like cold paper, stretched over tiny bird-bones, and he takes care to apply no pressure. He is afraid he'll break her fingers, especially if the tremors begin, but for now his hand is steady.
"Now, close your eyes," she says. "And try to relax. Imagine yourself falling and falling down a long dark tunnel, but that you'll always be safe there. The tunnel just leads deeper inside yourself. And as you fall, the darkness gets deeper and warmer, and you feel safer and safer."
He does feel safe. The darkness beneath his eyelids seems to swallow all light, and he feels Ms Banister's paper skin warm up to match his body temperature. It feels like his body is sinking through her mattress and down into a protected space below the floor, where he can just sit side by side, in total comfort, with the only friend who'll never judge him or make him do something he doesn't want to do.
"Now, you get to the bottom of the tunnel, and you see a door in front of you. Do you see it?"
In his mind, Draco imagines that he sees the door. "Yes," he says.
"Describe it to me, dear. What sort of door is it?"
"It's a set of French doors," he says. The image that springs to mind first is from his family's summer home in Tuscany. "Trimmed in white, with gold handles. Through the glass, you can see blue sky."
"Wonderful," she says. "That's very beautiful, Draco." She squeezes his hand, and he feels a smile spread across his face. "Now imagine that I'm there beside you, and that we're going to take the handle and turn it, and we're going to go through the door together. And on the other side, we'll be somewhere else in Time."
"All right," he says. "I can see it. I can see us both there. We're taking the knob, and we're turning it."
And he really does see that part, in his mind, but there's nothing on the other side. Just more blue skies that fade to black. He pauses, waiting to see if magic will happen, but he knows that it will not. He has always known that nothing would happen. Really, he didn't come here because he thought something would happen. Draco opens his eyes and blinks as they adjust to the light, and he gently lets go of Ms Banister's hand.
At his side, she lets out a contented sigh and pats his arm. "Did you see it?" she asks.
He thinks of lying, briefly, but decides to be honest. "No," he says. "I'm sorry, Ms Banister. I didn't see anything past the door."
She frowns sympathetically, but she doesn't seem to be disappointed in him. "Ah, that's too bad. I was afraid that might happen."
"What do you mean?"
She smooths the blankets over her lap. "I left you behind. I guess I'm the only one who can do it, after all. I had a feeling that perhaps, out of anyone, you could. Oh, well."
He turns his head toward her. "Why me?" he demands, feeling that same old pit begin to open in his stomach. "Don't you know I can't do anything? I can't even slice up a bloody Murtlap anymore." Hot tears begin to prick at the corners of his eyes. At first he tries to hold them back, but then he reckons there's no reason to. Ms Banister has seen little boys cry before, he's certain. She's probably seen just about all there is to see.
"Oh, now," she says. With a small hiss of pain, she manages to wrap her frail arm around his shoulders, and he rests his head against the side of her neck. "You can do all sorts of things. There's no shame in not being able to travel through time—after all, I'm the only one who can. And I'd wager, if given the choice, the Murtlaps of the world would remain unsliced." He is crying in earnest now, but he laughs a little bit, too.
"No, I had to make a potion," he says, through ugly little gasps and a haze of tears. He is blubbering. "I was making a potion with this girl...this girl I've fancied since I was a kid."
"So, there is a girl," Ms Banister says, patting his back rhythmically. "I figured there had to be one somewhere."
"But she hates me," he says. "She always has."
"Why's that, love?"
"Because I deserve it. I'm always insulting her."
"If she's a smart girl—and I'm sure she is, if you like her—she'll know what that means. When I was her age, I knew."
"I acted like a spoilt brat today, all because I didn't want her to see my hands." Snot is running down Draco's face in grotesque little rivers, landing on Ms Banister's nightgown and blanket, but she doesn't seem to mind. She just holds him to her side, an old pro at this whole mothering thing.
"Your hands?" she asks. She turns her head and looks down at Draco's hands, which are shaking now and making white waves on the sheets. "What's the matter with your hands?"
"They don't work anymore. They shake like this all the time. I can't even hold my wand. I can't do anything."
"Listen up, buttercup," she says, stern but sweet. "Your hands do this thing you don't like, and I'm in a dementia ward. Right?"
She lifts his chin with two fingers, forcing him to look her in the eyes. He has more or less stopped crying by now. "I guess so," he says.
"Yes, you do guess so. It's the truth. That's how things are for the two of us. It's not what we wanted, no, and certainly we never asked for it. But we can't hide it, either. Why, my ex-husband tells everyone he meets that I'm a batty old coot, locked up in here." Draco begins to cry again, thinking of someone being so cruel to his friend. That wicked man is running around doing just the sort of thing Draco himself used to do—the kind of thing Draco keeps doing to this day. "But even though I can travel through time, I have never gone back and changed a thing. I only do it to see the sights, you see, because there is always more to see. The world is bigger than you and me, Draco."
"I know," he says. He reminds himself that there are whole other countries out there, all full of people who don't care about him at all. In the grand scheme of things, he and his hands are so very small.
"Which isn't to say we aren't important—I'm not saying that at all. What I mean is only that there's a lot of diversity. There's people in dementia wards, people with shaky hands, people with big noses, and people with simply dreadful taste in literature—my former husband among them. Do you see what I'm saying?"
"Yes," he says, with a small smile.
"And with all those differences, there are only two kinds of people that we should pity: the ones who wouldn't know a good book if it smacked them in the face, and the ones who try to pretend they're anything other than exactly what they are. Wouldn't you agree?"
"Sure," he says. He sniffles and wipes his nose with the back of his hand. "And I do pity your ex-husband. He sounds awful, and he lost you."
Ms Banister squeezes his shoulder. "You've got a good heart, Draco. Why don't you go show that girl, and see if she still hates you?"
Draco spends the rest of the night dozing in Ms Banister's chair, then sneaks back out of her room when it's time for morning rounds—no one is the wiser. Even though he barely sleeps at all, his hands are steadier than usual all day, and he feels pretty energetic by the end of his shift. This is good, because he has made Ms Banister a promise: he will go find Hermione and explain to her why he was so rude in their tutoring session. As soon as he changes out of his scrubs and into his street clothes, the tremors begin again at the prospect of what he must do. Oh, well, he thinks. At least she won't think I'm lying.
Since Draco's days start so early, he usually gets out a few hours before Hermione would. So, he takes the Floo directly from St Mungo's to the Ministry, hoping she'll still be in her office. Hands in his pockets, he heads over to the Department of Magical Education. He asks the receptionist if he can have a brief word with Hermione Granger, and the woman goes to check. Draco waits in the lobby, looking at the magazines on the table. There's a new Witch Weekly, and he thinks about taking it for Ms Banister, but then the receptionist returns. He isn't sure whether he's relieved or disappointed when she tells him that Hermione has agreed to see him.
She leads him down the hall to Hermione's office, then motions him through the correct door with an uncomfortable smile. He realises that she must know who he is, and that she must be curious why he's attempting to visit Hermione Granger. He hasn't said anything about why he's here, but he's certain that a juicy and improbable rumour will be circulating through multiple departments by day's end.
Hermione doesn't stand up from her desk when he enters. She leans back in her chair and crosses her arms over her chest, regarding him defiantly. "Hello, Draco," she says. Her voice is professional and cold.
He walks in front of her desk and feels terribly exposed, just as he does in Dr Dormer's office, like a sad little clown on a big bright stage. Maybe that's for the best: if he imagines that he is only putting on a show, playing a role, then he can do what he needs to do. "Hi, Granger," he says. There is a long, awkward pause, and he doesn't know where to start.
Despite her posturing, Hermione can't help but show her discomfort. "Is there something you came here to say?" she asks.
"Yes," he says. He clears his throat and opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. So, at length, he takes his hands out of his pockets and holds them up in front of him. For a moment, he watches in silence as the tremors rack him from the wrists down. Then, he looks up at Hermione, and it is like her armour has been split open. Her expression is vulnerable, full of pain and surprise, and her mouth hangs slightly open. "I wanted you to know why I couldn't slice the Murtlap," he says. His own voice is vulnerable, too, as he looks into her sweet brown eyes. There is a long moment where they just look at each other, look into each other, and it is like a bridge forms between them.
"I'm sorry," she says. Not like an apology, but like expressing condolences. I'm sorry for your loss. Then she opens the top drawer of her desk and begins to rummage through it. She reaches in and takes out two small potion bottles, then sets them down in front of him. He jams his hands back into his pockets and bends to read the labels. He recognises the medications—common antidepressants—since several of his residents take them daily. Both of the doctors so far have tried to give them to Draco also, but he isn't interested.
"I'm sorry, too," he says. He straightens up, keeping his hands tucked away, even though the tremors have more or less steadied out following his admission. "Don't these potions make you feel... I don't know, dead inside?"
She laughs darkly. "No, that's how I felt already. These help, I think. Stops most of the crying."
He is amazed at her frankness. Just because his malady is so visible doesn't mean she has to reveal hers as well. He is grateful for her generosity. "They want me to take them, too. Dr Dormer says it might help with my hands."
"It might," she says. "But it's up to you if you want to do it. I know other people who don't feel comfortable taking the meds, and that's their choice to make."
He looks up suddenly. "What do you mean?"
She raises her eyebrows, as though she didn't expect him to be so surprised. "Draco," she says, "you know everybody's got this, right? In one form or another?"
"Got what?" He is leaning forward, searching her wide eyes, desperate to hear that she means what he thinks she means.
"The nightmares," she says. "The panic and the crying jags and all of it. Even the tremors—I remember George Weasley had major problems with those, right after the War. He took the potions, though, and it went away—I suppose I shouldn't be telling you this." She looks away, cringing. He can tell she feels badly for saying too much, but he is so glad that she did.
"I won't spread it around," he says. It feels like that yawning pit inside him has been sewn shut. It feels like he can breathe. He's overcome by a wave of exhaustion, and he realises that he hasn't slept in days, but that he finally feels like he could. Like he could lay down right now and stretch out like a cat in the sun, dreamlessly, and wake up feeling like he's actually gotten some rest. He looks up at Hermione, feeling stupid and sluggish, almost drunk. It gives him something akin to courage. "Can I have another chance?" he asks.
"Yes, I think that would be possible." She gathers her potion bottles and returns them to her drawer. "We can return to our previous arrangement this Wednesday."
"Thanks," he says. The two of them nod to one another, and he feels strangely comfortable in her presence, now that this mutual understanding has been built between them. He leaves her office feeling both powerful and calm.
Next, Draco has one more bit of damage control. He needs to talk to Dr Dormer: she's been good to him, and he doesn't want them to assign him to another new counselor. Last week, when he was ignoring her owl, the situation had seemed hopeless, but it's strange how easily one's perspective can shift. Now, he is thinking back to all the times she's shown him kindness, and he has little doubt that she will forgive him for missing an appointment. This is a new thing for Draco, trusting people to be nice, but for the moment it comes easily.
He takes the lift to her office, and he doesn't need to wait long before she's able to speak with him. As soon as she sees him, her face lights up, and he knows that he was right about her.
"Draco," she says. "You're back!"
"I'm back," he agrees. He tries to meet her eyes, but it is too hard. Maybe next time. "I'm sorry about last week."
"That's fine," she says. "It's just that I was worried about you. We can make up that session, but the next time you can't make it, can you try to send me an owl and let me know what's going on?"
"Okay," he says.
"Great. So, I'll see you at your regular time this Wednesday?"
"Yes," he says, "I'll be there."
Later that week, Draco brings Ms Banister a lime jelly cup. It is the color of glow worms and probably doesn't taste much better. When she sees it, she frowns. "Out of blue raspberry, then?"
"Sorry," he says. "Just lime or cherry today." He holds up the two jellies, and she points to the green one.
"Ah, well," she says. "When life hands you lime gelatin..." She trails off and then laughs, but Draco doesn't get the joke. He figures it's an old-person thing.
"I talked to that girl," he says. He's surprised how fragile his own voice sounds, saying this.
"Oh?" Ms Banister leans forward, looking excited. "What did she say?"
"She said it's all right. She'll give me another chance." His hands are shaking as he thinks about it, making the red jelly wobble on his spoon.
"That's wonderful news!" Her eyes are sparkling with joy for him, and he can't help but smile in return. "Well, now you have to tell me all about her." Draco tries to laugh it off, but she hushes him—she's quite serious, it turns out. "What's her name?"
"Hermione," he says, too quietly for this ward.
"O'Reilly?" Ms Banister shouts, brows furrowed.
"Hermione?" She's still shouting.
"Yes," he says, snappish now, as he checks to make sure the door is fully closed. He's afraid someone will hear who they're talking about.
"Hermione," she says again, this time in her indoor voice. "I like that. An unusual name for an unusual girl. Hermione what?"
This time, Draco leans closer and makes sure to enunciate. "Granger."
"Granger?" she repeats, and he nods. He can tell by her tone that she's confused for a different reason this time. "I don't know that name."
In Ms Banister's generational parlance, that is the polite way of asking if someone is Muggle-born. "Right," he says, looking away. "You wouldn't know it." He's spent years trying not to think about this particular aspect of this particular girl, but it's always there when he thinks about her, lurking in the background. It's the reason he never told anyone how he felt about her, and the reason he made sure she'd never like him. He used to hate himself for wanting her. Now he hates himself for thinking that way, and he doesn't really know what he wants.
"Well, I'll be darned," Ms Banister says approvingly. "A Malfoy fancies a Muggle girl. Even in all my travels, I never thought I'd see the day. What do your parents have to say about it?"
"I haven't told them." He tries not to think about this most of all.
Ms Banister reaches over and taps his knee with two fingers, which she likes to do when she's about to say something important. "Don't let them put you off it," she says. "If my parents had listened to talk like that, I wouldn't be here. And things were much worse back then for mixed couples."
"Your mum was Muggle?" He can't keep the surprise out of his voice. Banister is an old bloodline, although a few generations of daughters have made it a rare name to hear.
"My dad was, actually, but they gave me and my sister her surname. It helped, but of course everybody knew anyway. Made things tough at school, sometimes."
It is possible, likely even, that one of Draco's very own ancestors—on the Malfoy or the Black side, take your pick—were the ones making it hard on her, just like he had done himself to Hermione. "I'm sorry to hear that," he says.
"Is that why you never courted her at Hogwarts?" Ms Banister asks, looking sad now. She doesn't wait for an answer, because she already knows she's right. "My, that is a shame. Imagine all the young love those blood purity gits have managed to tamp down over the years," she says, shaking her head. "Thank goodness you've still got time."
He thinks of his godfather then, surely the most tragic victim of that circumstance, and remembers what a sad shell of a man it turned him into. "Yeah," he says. "I suppose I do."
On Wednesday, Draco enters the conference room to find the same scene as last Wednesday, with everything laid out and ready. But this time, all of the ingredients are pre-sliced in small bowls. That's nice of her, he thinks. He doesn't really know what to do with thoughts like that. He doesn't know what to do when he looks at her, either. She is even prettier than she was back then. His hands are sweating and shaking, but he keeps them out, by his sides. Maybe there is strength in not hiding.
"Hi, Draco," she says. The warmth in her voice takes him by surprise.
"Hi, Granger," he says, though his own voice sounds dry and rather small.
"I hope you don't mind, but I did some research into the N.E.W.T. test-taking policies." She seems nervous to tell him this, but he isn't sure what she's getting at. "I mean, I didn't tell them I was asking for you or anything."
"Okay?" he says.
"It turns out that if you aren't physically able to do certain tasks during the test, they will set up appropriate accommodations. So, someone would slice your ingredients, and so forth."
"Oh," he says. It was thoughtful of her to go to the trouble of finding that out, and he doesn't understand why she's done it. Last week, she was acting like she didn't have any free time, but now she's spending it owling people up to ask questions on his behalf. "That's good. Thanks."
She shrugs. "No problem. I reckoned there wasn't much use in completing the lesson if we couldn't replicate the conditions of the test."
"That makes sense," he says, but it still seems like she's gone out of her way. Cautiously, so as not to get his hopes up, he begins to wonder if he might someday have a chance with her.
"Right," she says. It's a bit awkward, though, now that they know all these personal things about one another. Neither of them knows what to say. There is too much silence in all the wrong places. "Anyway, I think you know how to make this potion."
"Yes," he says. "I do."
He guides her through all the steps, beginning with the frozen Ashwinder egg, and this time he remembers to cover the cauldron in time. He ought to: he's gone over this potion so many times it's been showing up in his dreams. As they move through the recipe, his hands begin to steady out, and he is able to do things on his own. By the time they reach the final incantation, he has taken over all the stirring, and he's feeling pretty good.
Hermione inspects his potion before the last step, but she doesn't need to look for long. She's seen him do everything right.
"This looks great," she says. "Next it would need to brew for six months, of course, stirring daily, but you'll only need to complete it to this point and demonstrate the incantation for the test."
"That's no fun," he says. It's almost like the potion's vapours are prematurely taking effect—he feels good enough to try making a joke. "Can't you picture it? All the students and the test proctor having to move in together for six months and stare at their cauldrons. I'd pay to see it."
She laughs, eyes dancing, and he feels even better. "It's funny you should say so, because Muggles have a thing like that." She studies his expression as she says this, no doubt searching for some trace of disgust or dismissal. Really, though, he is intrigued. He doesn't know much about Muggles.
"Like what, a six-month-long test?"
"No, just the moving in together bit." She pauses and frowns, like she's not quite sure how to explain it. "They pay people to go and share a house with strangers, and anyone who wants to can watch what happens from special screens in their homes."
"Wait," he says. No part of this seems logical, but he doesn't want to badmouth Muggles in front of her. "Why?"
She smiles at his incredulous tone. "It's funny to watch, I guess. The people fight a lot."
"I'm sure they do," he says, once he thinks about it. "I imagine the ones who're willing to do it aren't the calm and quiet sort." She laughs again—he's on a roll.
"Exactly, that's how it works. An offer like that attracts some strange volunteers."
"That's pretty wild, Granger. You'll have to show it to me sometime."
She shakes her head. "No, there's much better Muggle stuff than that. It's kind of a lowest-common-denominator sort of entertainment, like the gossip section of the Prophet or something."
Now he's curious what else they've got, and he's about to ask her more about it—truthfully, he's never put much thought into how Muggles entertain themselves without magic—but then a knock at the door makes them both jump. Dr Dormer opens it part-way and pokes her head in.
"Oh!" Hermione looks at her watch in disbelief. "I'm sorry, Leona. We were just finishing up."
"No problem," Dr Dormer says. She looks between them and smiles like she's keeping a secret. "I just wondered if you two were still here."
By the time he turns back around, Hermione has already started whirling around the room and packing stuff away. He sees that she is blushing, and now he thinks for sure: he's got a chance. "You go on ahead," she says, without looking up. "I'll finish cleaning up here. See you next week!"
Draco follows Dr Dormer to her office, where they sit in their usual places. Without even thinking about it, he has allowed his hands to lay open in his lap, and they're only shaking a little bit. The motion is visible, but he could hold a wand if he needed to. He sits up straight in the chair, in the sunny room, and meets those frighteningly wide eyes. As he does, he feels overcome, but not the way he did when he started panicking at their last appointment. It's almost a good feeling, or at least a welcome one. It's something he's been wanting to feel for a while: alive.
"I don't want to be hypnotised," he blurts out, before she can even start their usual set of questions.
"All right," she says, taken aback. "We don't have to try that."
"Sorry," he says. He doesn't mean to make her feel bad; certainly, it isn't her fault.
"Not at all." Her presence is calm as ever, and he feels some of the tension in his shoulders abate. "We won't do anything you're not comfortable with."
"Thanks," he says. He is relieved, but also energised. "I just mean—I feel like I've been hypnotised this whole time. I think I want to wake up."
Dr Dormer smiles then, and Draco smiles back for once. It isn't so hard after all. "I think that's wonderful," she says. "Let's work on that."