This was for the recent, 2017 hp-mhealfest on livejournal.

Author's Notes Listening to my favourite The Walking Dead, season 4 songs on repeat helped me write this; the feels, man. Tried my hand at present tense for the first time ever, so I hope you all enjoy it. (My non-usage of Draco's name, in excess, was deliberate – it felt right for the tone and POV of the fic. Sorry, if it's off-putting.)

And as usual, thanks to my beautiful beta. I'd be lost without you. Seriously. ;)

Enjoy. ^_^

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Light filters in through the high windows, and if he turns his head just right, he imagines that he can see all the way down the Muggle street outside. They are out there, chittering and making those incessant noises they're so fond of making; it's no wonder he doesn't like them.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

The clock is the only way he can tell time is passing as he waits for her. Its persistent monotony is a surprising contrast against the sound of Muggle noise outside his prison of soft beds and cranky Mediwitches. The irony of the situation is not lost on him.

If he inhales on the first chime and then exhales on the next, he imagines time will stop, or fast forward – he's fine with either outcome. It's all for naught of course, as he has no wand and never quite perfected the art of wandless magic; there were more important things keeping him awake at night.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Waiting on such a famously punctual witch isn't supposed to be this frustrating. The clock says it's not time yet, but he's disinclined to believe it. If it doesn't start telling him the truth soon, he might just have to fire it and look for a new one; money is a bit tight for him right now, given his condition, but he's confident he can secure him the funds, regardless.

He runs a finger over the windowsill, checking for dirt, grime, or dust, and sighs. It's irritating and clean. Such a long way he's fallen, he knows – after all, who hires a clock to tell them what to do? A house-elf is better, anyway, and with a smile and eagerness the clock just can't replicate.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Monotonous, fucking arse, it is. When his new Mind Healer gets here, he'll ask them the best way to murder inanimate objects.

His door opens suddenly and a stream of light dazzles him. She enters the room, the ticking of the wall mounted clock stops, and he forgets to breathe. Her silhouette stands in stark contrast to the bright light behind her, but he could never forget that bushy hair or self-righteous posture; dreams and nightmares will always remind him what she looks like.

He lets out his breath, almost gasping, when she finally says his name. What power this witch has; he's almost certain she did it on purpose.

"Draco?"

There are days when he thinks he's going insane, and the startling sound of her long-familiar voice is incentive to hold onto what little mind he has left. But she doesn't look happy to see him; her face pulls into a frown and he has to remind himself of their tumultuous past, and it's not a happy memory playing on her face. If not for her uniform, he would assume she was just here to torture him.

Mind Healer after Mind Healer, has left him behind to deal with the crumbling of his psyche alone, so why would she be any different? He blinked slowly as she sat down on the chair provided for her (the door closes with an ominous clunking sound, and he is wary of her intentions). What day is it, again?

There is no 'long time no see' tension in her body, only apprehension for how to proceed, and suddenly, he feels right at home.

"Honestly, Granger, they didn't need to send the Gryffindor Princess. I'm on the mend, I swear." His voice cracks, hoarse from lack of use, and she stares him down as though silently daring him to call her Mudblood or make fun of her still-bushy hair.

"I'll be the judge of that, Malfoy."

"Don't call me that." There is no inflection in his voice. He doesn't even sneer. Draco has not been Malfoy for a long time.

She sighs. He closes his eyes momentarily against the disappointment on her face. He has not seen her face for two years – for two dark, solitary years when his only friend was the shadow cast on the wall in his cell back at Azkaban. (There were no evil clocks over there, at least.) Now, he lives a life of luxury; his cell is cleaner this time, and he has his own thoughts again, and the ability to wank when he remembers he's a flesh and blood wizard with a libido.

It doesn't do, to remember why he has trouble remembering that.

"I…" She stammers, despite the determination on her face.

"…you're doing a bang-up job so far."

She sighs. Has he lost touch of reality? Does he think she has been his Mind Healer all along? He sees these questions as they hang in the air above her. But instead of asking the questions, she waves her wand and summons what looks like a book; it arches through the air and his Seeker reflexes are proven to be just as sharp as ever as he catches it, mid-air.

"What's this rag?"

"A Muggle book."

"What the bloody hell do you expect me to do with illegible nonsense?"

"Read it, of course."

"Why the fuck…"

She sighs and stands to leave. She's determined to make these sessions excruciatingly short, it seems.

"Humour me."

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.VI.

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"I read the Muggle book."

"And?"

"It's tripe." He lies. Of course, he lies.

"You read the whole thing?"

He nods, slowly. What else is he supposed to do in this room, alone, for hours on end? Yes, he dug into a Muggle book about hope and taking control of one's own destiny, because it is obviously a deliberate choice on her part. Typical, Gryffindor optimism.

He read it several times.

"Well, what did you think of the main character?"

"He was… fine."

Truthfully, he finds the memory of reading the book almost as exhilarating as imagining what colour knickers Healer Granger is wearing. It is surprisingly evoking, to forget the protagonist, Arthur Lisle, is as Muggle as his creator. Pretending he isn't inferior in every way, is strangely liberating.

"Anthony Hope was such a talented author." She brightens considerably, and her face takes on a slightly pink tinge as she harps on about the Muggle and his story. Apparently, it was a favourite of hers, growing up.

"Know-it-all is not an attractive state of mind, Granger."

She rolls her eyes. "I have another book for you, at any rate."

"Of course, you do."

Their fingers touch briefly as she hands him her own copy of The Art of Happiness. The warmth of her skin is pleasant and travels through him, settling in his abdomen; his body is more alive in that instant than it has been in years.

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.IX.

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"Harry got your release pushed up."

The-Boy-Who-Can't-Die is his knight in shining armour, again, and it burns him up. Again. Directly after the war, the children of the Death Eaters were carted off to Azkaban without a trial. The bespectacled one and his Muggle-born best friend are his benefactors. He is out of that wretched place because of former enemies. The irony of the situation is not lost on him.

"You'll be a free man when our sessions are over. Isn't that great?"

He shrugs. The happiness swelling inside of him is surprisingly easy to hide. He is not looking forward to being told to go back to a home he doesn't have anymore, but Granger's enthusiasm makes him want to be happy about it. She's the only healer who wants anything to do with him, after all.

He can't have her thinking he's taking this seriously. It hurts too much. "Muggles call Healers, doctors, right?"

"Yes."

"And they get undressed for their Healers?"

She eyes him, carefully. "Sometimes, if the situation calls for it. Their medical practice is more invasive than ours, since they can't simply wave a wand and diagnose their patients magically."

He reaches out a hand, watching her face as she lets him touch the hem of her uniform and tug it gently. If he didn't know better, he'd think she is mesmerised.

"Would you prefer to examine me undressed, Healer Granger?"

She blushes, even if she is used to his sexual innuendos; it has only been nine days, but she knows him better than any other Mind Healer ever did. There is a pull between them that he is eager to explore – until he remembers that she is just his Mind Healer and when their time is over, she will never want to speak with him again.

This is why he lashes out and makes a comment about her past relationship with the Weasel. It is a sensitive topic he didn't have all the details on, but she glares at him like he knows why she's angry. No more words are exchanged and he struggles not to apologise. She is planning on leaving him when he's released, and he will once again be plunged into the icy depths of loneliness and darkness that being alone inevitably brings.

The lie turns to ashes in his mouth as he chokes on the thought of her leaving with him.

So, he has no reason to be nice to a temporary light in the dark, no matter how much losing that light will kill him. He looks away from her as the anger rolls off of her in waves; looking up at the window of his personal cell, he can't bring himself to acknowledge the hurt. It burns, it feels hollow, and it eats away at him; the contradiction doesn't show on his face and she stands up harshly.

"Go fuck yourself, Malfoy."

Hardly professional. He told her not to call him that derogatory name. But she is gone before he can respond.

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.XI.

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Tick. Tick. Tick.

It's the sound of an incessant bug and he only hears it when she's not in the room. He's been hearing it for almost forty-eight hours straight, now. It's kept him awake and he considers apologising to her so that her luminescent presence will drown out the sound once more.

He is losing his mind without her, returning to the dark; already, he's forgotten the sound of her laugh, the crinkle of her smile, and the way her soft skin looks when she blushes. The room is smaller, the lights are dimmer, and the aggravating noises of Muggles outside the sterile building follow him into sleep. Even the threat of Voldemort never made him feel this helpless.

And in that moment, he hates Hermione Granger almost as much as he hates himself, for making him need her. For making him care.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

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.XIV.

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It's like she was never angry in the first place. She doesn't apologise for being unprofessional. He doesn't apologise for being an arse. It doesn't matter. She's back.

He has learnt to talk to her like she's just another person, and not important to him at all – she seems to respond to that better. If she knows he harbours feelings for her, she doesn't let on; luckily, he can pull his legs up and hide his hard-on from her piercing gaze. He's mostly sure she doesn't know what she does to him.

The situation is crazier than he is.

He no longer carries a wand – it would defeat the purpose of his criminal status – but he imagines he is able to read her mind. He imagines finding images of them writhing, naked, and in love, in her mind. She would fantasize about him taking her hard or slow. She would fantasize about them getting married, planning to have children, and picking out constellations to name them after.

A salacious comment slips out of his mouth before he can stop it, and she pinches the bridge of her nose, sighing heavily. But he doesn't miss the pink tinge along her cheeks. It makes his pride rise… not to mention other things. She is pretty in pink.

"Stop talking about having sex with me, Draco."

She has finally adopted his real name instead of the derogatory one, for which he is grateful. Only when she's annoyed does the 'M' word ever slip out.

"I can't help it, Granger, it's always been my defence mechanism."

"Against what?"

"Touchy, feely things."

"What, having sex?"

"No, talking about having sex."

He is too fucked up and unwanted to be having sex with anyone but himself, anyway. It's always been like that, and his inexperience isn't something he wants to talk about, even with her; he sees the cogs turning in her head, even without the ability to cast Legilimency. He's not stupid and she's not blind; she knows he's a virgin.

His Hogwarts memories are filled with snogging sessions and getting off; there are no memories of nakedness and him rolling around with the witch of his choice. During the war was out of the question too, as he'd been watched closely, and then immediately after it, he was chucked unceremoniously into a dark hole, with the rest of his friends.

Healer Granger clears her throat, appearing nervous. "I think that's enough for today."

He realises with startling clarity, as she rushes out of the room, that she is well versed in Legilimency, too.

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.XIX.

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They settle into a new routine. She comes and talks about his happiness, giving him a new book to remind him he still has a future, and he tosses out a few innuendos and pretends to not want anything to do with the book that he intends to read repeatedly before her next visit. It works well enough.

He's still picturing her naked or in various colours of lingerie. She's still blushing like a school girl caught reading her professor's mind. He wonders if she's doing it on purpose, but Healer Granger is still a professional, going through all the steps outlined in the company manual.

He just wishes she would wear something short and revealing instead of the standard issue, low hanging uniform. He needs more wanking material.

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.XXIII

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"I have a surprise for you."

"You're wearing emerald studded underwear and I have to guess how many studs?"

She makes an unimpressed, clucking sound at him. She's getting better at hiding her blush. He smirks as she unconsciously crosses her legs. The fog in his brain has been clearing with every appointment and instead of folding into his own thoughts, he listens and talks with her. Like he's normal. Like he's a person. He knew she was planning something – her tell is that sly smirk which accompanies a gleam in her eye.

She's more excited than him, about this. Whatever it is.

"No. You have a visitor."

His eyes widen and he scoffs. The expectant look on her face makes him smirk, however. But who, other than her, would ever want to visit him?

"It wasn't easy," she was saying. "I had to cut through so much red tape, and Harry's been badgering the Wizengamot, but she's finally here."

She?

His mother.

She is supposed to still be in France, as a part of her probation; five years away from Great Britain in return for not losing her wand, since she escaped by saving the Chosen One.

He cries. The emotion builds up in his chest and explodes; shock, coupled with relief at seeing the only woman who has ever truly loved him alive and well breaks him to pieces. Granger is hurrying to his side as he falls to the floor and his mother hovers over him, worry etching her face. He isn't breathing. For a few seconds, he can't seem to suck in the air that he needs.

This is too much, and thank-fully, Granger realises it. Narcissa Malfoy steps back as his Mind Healer comforts him, and he is closing off to the world; black meets his grey eyes and he passes out.

He is not as cut off from his emotions as he thinks. But he's just as broken as he fears.

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.XXVIII.

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Twenty-eight days is a slow, bitch of a ride when you simultaneously anticipate and dread the ending. Papers are signed, doors are opened, and the sun blinds him, but he is fighting a smile all the way. He still has a long way to go, but now the Ministry is no longer obligated to help him along. That's okay with him – he has a personal, private Mind Healer, now.

She greets him with a smile, hug, and whispered promises.

Life goes on.

He isn't convinced that applies to him, but her warm hand in his brings him hope, her smile makes him smile, her kisses leave him wanting more of this thing called happiness, and whispers of erotic promises leave him dizzy and panting for more.

Hermione Granger grips him firmly, her free hand squeezing his bum as she concentrates, spins them, and Apparates them home.

Home…

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A/N: *waves wand* And... review. :)