Hello all…or shall I say, all who had not given up hope on TPP. I hereby dedicate this chapter to Snowe, and all those who helped in that unfortunate incident. Gumshoe rocks my socks, and is complete awesomeness. I'm the antithesis of awesomeness, I'm well aware, so let those chastising reviews flood in. I don't mind being told I'm crap for my bad timing.
Lemonade: Heehee, glad you liked it. If there was ever a doubt that Draco could not play sports, that new move proved everybody wrong. :)
Elaina: How strange that you had heard that, for I had no idea that the disgusting incident had been going around the grapevine. Huh.
Selling it or not, there is no excuse for what she did. I honestly don't give a damn that she wasn't making a profit off of my work, the work I slave over, or not. In a way, she was advertising falsely, for the stupid, childish, and greedy desire for reviews. For REVIEWS, for god's sake! How pathetic do you have to be to actually steal somebody else's hard work just so you can have a bit of an ego boost? She could have gotten a puppy if she wanted unquestioning love and adoration. She didn't have to hurt me and insult my intelligence just so that her hits statistics could go up.
The fact that she wasn't selling it (and I can't fathom how she'd do that, any way) doesn't make me feel better. It just makes me feel worse, for then she didn't have the justification of needing funds. She just did it for avarice.
And you're right, Elaina, this is just for fun, but I guess people have different definitions of "fun." I write because I love finding the perfect phrase, the perfect description, the perfect word to achieve the intended effect. That is what I find fun, even if it takes me years to get a paragraph right. Others take fanfic lightly, and maybe they should…but still, when something is clearly the product of years of hard work and meticulous planning, then it really isn't right to steal it. Steal bits of fluff, if one must steal, and improve it. It was a shame that she took my work, and simply made it worse.
But thanks for the review!
Legionnaire with a Frigidaire: Holy crap you're hilarious! If that isn't your email, you should seriously consider getting that account before somebody else snags it. And I'm all for hypocrisy, in certain cases, so woohoo!
I love laughing to the point of near-self-wetting! I love bushisms! I love it when I nearly pluck things from the mouth of JKR (though I doubt she would appreciate the theft.)
And, god, do I love Percy. I know exactly what you're talking about, when it comes to missteps and pride. Maybe that's why I sympathize with him as well. I just know that he regrets what he's done, but he feels there's no way to turn back and fix it.
Wow…never thought TPP would ever make readers think of the bible. Still, I'm glad Ron's reaction evoked such an image from you. And you're right, that's what I had been attempting to convey when I wrote that part, a "physical locking-up."
The Lawrence lines were surprisingly fun to write. I thought they'd be difficult, as I have a "what the hell can babies do to make them interesting?" attitude, so I didn't know how to make him have a role while being completely helpless. But you're right, they're difficult creatures. You try and try to make them stop crying, and then suddenly they're enthralled by an amusing crack in the wall. Honestly. Adorable, but weird.
Hey, tell your coworker that girls do not have cooties. Boys have cooties, and they're lucky girls are mature enough to overlook this flaw.
And what kind of fathers would Harry and Ron be for their daughters? In my book, yes, they'd be the rifle-polishing dads, only because they know heart breaker boys (aka Weasleys) and they know that they don't want their daughters around guys like that.
Why are ferrets illegal in your state? I find that really weird and a bit unfair for the ferrets.
"Fuckably" Yeah, Poppy and her weird words. I blame her for any confusion when it comes to that definition.
(wow, I thought I was done, and then I scroll up and find your second review!)
"my sainted aunt" reminds me greatly of Katherine Hepburn.
To be quite honest, I tend to start my stories with a specific intent in mind, and, half way through, I lose sight of it. So, perhaps, I did start out with the goal of showing fangirls that, no matter how dashing Draco Malfoy is, he does not deserve the attention he gets, but…at this moment, I don't know what will be learned by the end of TPP. Maybe I'll find my way to that goal again. Maybe I'll fail completely. I don't know, but I know that I'll try my hardest.
And, just so you know, I understand and agree with your tangents.
Nessa: Erm, yes, cliff hanger was rather evil, especially when considers that I wrote it after a terribly long hiatus. My apologies. In any case, I've updated! So, um, thank you for your dedication in reading the whole thing in three weeks and I hope you enjoy it!
Waffles: I've always suspected that I'm evil, but your review confirms it. Yes, the cliff hanger and the wait are both really bad things, and I didn't even have the decency to redeem myself with a speedy update. Forgive me, Waffles! It's been a hectic life! In any case, you find out what's on that note this chapter! Thanks for the review!
Christinaaaaaa: Gee, I hope I got all those a's in your name. Any way, yes, I like Hermione with Ron too. But there are moments, I'll admit, when I like how she is with Draco. In the end, however, it's not important whom she chooses, but rather if she's happy with the way her life turned out. Thanks for your review!
Unspeakable May: Oh criminey, don't go and praising me to the high heavens like that, or I'll die of blushing. 'Tis possible, I swear.
And, aw! That bit where you said how I write the characters realistically? Made my night! I'm glad you noticed the issues I write about, because, in the end, when you strip away everything in the Harry Potter world, that's what it all boils down to, isn't it? I've tried to emulate JKR in that sense, and I'm glad I've achieved it somewhat.
And don't worry about grammar mistakes. You've expressed yourself very well. I mean, English is my first language and I still make loads of errors, so I shouldn't reprimand you at all!
You're right, by the way, how other fanfic writers don't give Ron the credit he deserves. I hope JKR gives him more to do, though, in the last book.
I know you asked me to update before another six months had passed, but look on the bright side! At least it's not seven! Thanks for your review!
Insipidparagon: God, this is weird. I could just talk to you on lj, but, whatever, I'm all about reader-response-traditions. So yeah, onto the response.
Yes. Poppy. Wow. I never know what to do with her, and yet she stumbles into plot-importance all the same. And when I wrote Harry's role into the scene, I did it recklessly, because that's how I imagined he would handle it. Not caring half as much as Hermione does about Poppy's feelings, just wanting to get the job done. So yes, it is a bit of a miracle he did not mess it up entirely.
"But oh noes!11one! Larry and Draco and Ron, oh my! Are we going to have to wait another six months to find out what's happened there!"
OH MY GOD, you're a bloody Seer! LOL
I applaud your continuation of Percy-love. I shall continue with my Percy-love. We shall continue together.
And yes! Charlie was giving Hermione a break, and the silly witch didn't notice that at all! Honestly! Ungrateful thing! But still, I'm glad you noticed it, observant reader you. (P.S. Have I told you, how much I love it when readers point out specific things they love? It's awesome.)
"Loved loved loved the detail of Ron and Hermione's capture-the-fingers game. A game, I think, which is universally played, and made me smile both from picturing it and remembering playing it myself."
It's weird, because I only ever played it with my grandmother. And we didn't like each other very much. Huh.
Sunny June 46: Gee, I'm sorry if this is random, but I can't help but wonder at your name. At first, I thought it was a WWII reference, but then I remembered that '46 has nothing to do with '39-45…
But any way, yes, I've been a deplorable stranger. I'm Adelaide E, by the way, in case you've forgotten during the last six months. It's getting horrible, my progress. I hate to be resurrected with such large gaps of time in between, but I can't help it!
Chapter 22: I completely love Ron in this story as well. He's just so…gah, he's my angsty teddy bear I want to comfort for eternity. And, concerning the parallels between Poppy's ex and Draco…well, it was a bit coincidental. I hadn't even noticed the similarities until a few chapters back. All in all, I'm glad that it worked out that way. Otherwise, Poppy's past was just so useless to the plot.
Technically, this did not take "millions" of months, but six months can sometimes feel that way, so I'd understand if you fail to recognize me again!
The Painted Past
Chapter 23: Weak and resentful I have been
It's true I've dabbled at times with confident lines
I was half of a man nearly half of the time
Contrary to popular belief, Draco Malfoy had, in fact, been fond of his parents.
They weren't so terrible, really. So they didn't embrace him or smile at him as often as the average idiot family. That's because, Draco reflected, they were above the mundane conventions of society. They had their own ways to show their approval, ways that were not so vulgar as grandly emotional facial contortions, or embarrassingly frank words. No, no, the Malfoys were as subtle as they were pure, and so when people pitied him for being "unloved," he pitied them back for being ignorant.
But there was something more valuable than their nearly nonexistent traces of affection. Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy had connections. Connections which, if they died at an appropriate time, would have transferred to Draco seamlessly. Damn. Draco hated it when the world failed to align to his plans.
Which happened far too often. Malfoy was beginning to suspect he was going about Life the wrong way.
Take, for instance, this moment. Just a few seconds ago, Weasley had stalked past his compartment as if the heavens didn't shine out of his arse. For god's sake, his mates didn't agree with the idea of Dead Ron, and so here he was. All Draco ever wanted was power and glory, and fate didn't have the decency to give him one ally.
Currently, he was sitting in an apparently vacant compartment on the Hogwarts Express. His departure from the disgustingly sappy scene hadn't been intended as empty bravado, but, as the distance between him and his not so great nemesis grew, Draco realised that he had no set destination in mind. There was nothing quite so quelling to arrogance as ignorance. With a heavy heart, Draco snuck aboard the train—which was a difficult feat considering he was trying to keep the broom concealed beneath the cloak—and attempted to sort out his life.
He had no idea what had just occurred back there, and nor did he really want to contemplate the fact that the trio's happy life suddenly became insufferably happier. They really were a bunch of greedy rotters.
Judging by the weasel's sullen face just now, Draco guessed that Granger might have told him about the red haired baby. A baby that could not be his. There was silver lining to this crap cloud after all.
With a brighter smile, Draco shifted his mind to more relevant matters. He could not stay in the City; that was certain. Not with the Ministry scrambling to look less idiotic by promising his recapture. Draco smiled proudly as he stood. Technically, it would be something like re-recapture…
The train slowed to a stop. With only a vague idea of the area, Draco left the locomotive via open window and ridiculous good luck. Open window because the magnificent threesome just happened to be situated by the nearest exit. And good luck because he managed to pull up the Firebolt before he could slam into a massive brick wall.
If only he had his wand. He would have shown that wall who should have moved out of the way. But no. Prewett probably had the thing snapped in two by now, in a shadow box above the fire place.
He was mad. And Malfoy didn't mind madness in the administration; really, he wasn't prejudiced to that sort. He just hoped that, if there was an unsound person in charge, that person would look favourably upon escaped convicts. Draco was not oblivious to the irony of this hope. He simply chose to ignore it.
Draco flew for what seemed to be an eternity. When he finally descended, after soaring in a direction that least disturbed the invisibility nuisance, Draco had very little idea as to where he was. With a hope of concealing whatever parts of him were left uncovered by the extremely overrated cloak, he had descended in a forest. He had seen a few villages nearby, and easily wove through the dense trees in the general direction of one of the smaller ones. Whether this was bright or stupid was irrelevant. The point was, he was tired and hungry, and—although some claimed it was his second nature—very cold. Magical or not, the rag that Harry treasured so much did very little for body temperature.
As the trees gradually thinned, Draco realised that there was very little hope of traveling with a broom without drawing attention. For perhaps the first time in his life, Malfoy wanted to fit in. He wanted to be mistaken for one of these common wizards, one who couldn't trace his untainted heritage for ten generations. He almost paused when a horrifying idea occurred to him. What if there weren't any magical populations at all here? That would mean...
"Shit," Draco muttered. With a dark expression, he stopped the Firebolt and left it leaning on one fallen log to continue the journey out of the woods on foot. If there weren't any wizards at all in the area, then wandless magic was definitely out of the question. As he approached one village, Malfoy gradually decided that it was very clever of him to choose a purely Muggle population—if his disgusted observations were correct—for the Aurors would never believe he would sink so low. Indeed, Draco himself had trouble swallowing the idea of living like them.
It was well past sunset by the time Draco found a large mounted map in a cobblestone town square. Brilliant, he thought caustically, forgetting his earlier sense of self congratulation. He had landed in a nest of tourist traps, dozens of small villages of menial historical value, surrounding Canterbury. Perhaps he might have realised this fact if he had deigned to see the surrounding tour buses and wandering lost people, but Draco had been too busy concentrating on location and his hunger. His stomach growled so loudly sometimes that others, failing to see him beneath the cloak, would ask their companions if they were that hungry.
"We've got to get back to Ickham now," he heard an elderly woman say loudly across the square. Draco looked up, and saw other women of the same age take their seats in a large double-decker bus.
Ickham? He thought, moving even before he processed his actions. His mind swam swiftly through his memories, trying to pinpoint when he had heard of the place before.
Ickham, Granger had told him fondly. I'm from Ickham. But you knew that, didn't you?
Yes, Malfoy remembered. He knew that because he had made it his priority to learn everything he could about the enemy's weaknesses—before the career change, of course. It wasn't as if he actually contemplated visiting Granger's village for some martial gain. That would have been a task for a lesser person.
That must have been it, Draco decided. Irony of ironies. He had learned about it while deciding how to render her useless to Potter. Now he was going there because she was the only useful person to him.
"I hate irony," Draco muttered sullenly as he stood in the aisle of the tour bus. All around him, women who wore ostentatiously tacky t-shirts chattered loudly. The woman who sat on his right looked across the aisle, straight through him, and asked the wig-sporting harpy on his left, "What?" And, thus, Malfoy was reasonably entertained by their argument until they reached their destination.
It didn't surprise him that he knew the street name and number. It didn't surprise him that he knew the lay out of the roads. When the occasion called for it, Draco could remember any detail necessary for self advancement. He prided himself on recalling any little story to land somebody else in trouble.
But what not only surprised him, but also positively shocked him, was the fact that he knew the street. Not only the name, but the appearance of it. There had been no need to note escape plans or even admire the traditional architecture. He had already seen it.
Under normal circumstances, unexpectedly already knowing something might have pleased him. Not knowing something tended to annoy him. So, not knowing why he already knew where Hermione's hidden key was bothered him greatly.
He stumbled over the hedges in the back garden, and laid still for a moment when the neighbor's window opened slightly. He rolled his eyes as the decrepit pair quarreled as to whether the male should investigate, and boldly stood up to enter the Granger home.
Again, the familiarity of his surroundings astounded him. Only it hadn't looked quite this dusty in his mind's eye. This pitifully cramped abode had not appeared in blues and greys in his mind, with shadows covering whatever the aged dust could not. For some reason—the same unknown reason that had been plaguing him recently—he expected it to be…open. Sunny. Warm.
"Why?" he demanded heatedly, staring at a wall of pictures he had seen before. "Why, damn it all, why?"
The house was silent, and yet Draco could hear the memory of voices, too distant and mangled for his understanding. It was only when slight pain registered through the thick haze of confusion did he realise that he hand been clenching his fists so tightly that a nail actually penetrated the skin. He hadn't known that he had been breathing deeply, that he had been grinding his teeth, or that he had been absolutely furious for no specific reason at all.
Draco shook his head, and mechanically moved to sit on a sheet covered sofa. "Oh my god," he muttered, amused and cynical. "I'm going mad. Mad, just like—" He cut himself off. He refused to even think about that now.
It had to be hunger. That was it. Hunger drove men to madness, it was well known. In fact, Draco had seen that sort of torture first hand. The lack of food was the only reason he felt as if his world was both falling to pieces and closing in on him.
Resolve strengthening, Draco narrowed his eyes and walked confidently to the kitchen. How and why his feet knew the path was unimportant. He just needed some nourishment, and then he would sort out the mess.
The cupboard was empty, and full of cobwebs. Of course, sensible Hermione would not let food go to waste in an empty house.
He paused as he turned away. "Hermione?"
Yes, Hermione. Not simply Granger any more. She had encouraged that, hadn't she? It wasn't as if…as if it felt natural or anything, thinking of her that way…
In the frigo—much shorter and older than Potter's—he found a baby bottle and a small container of baby food. Draco blinked in puzzlement, but did not hesitate to reach for the liquefied nourishment. Why would Hermione return with the child? Perhaps to acquaint him with his grandparents' origins, Draco decided as he wrenched the jar open, surprised to find the smell of fruit wafting from it. He observed the label to discern the flavour, and was slightly disappointed to see it past the expiration date. His stomach contradicted his high standards, and so Malfoy decided to view it like a wine—better with age.
Now that the body had been satisfied, Draco was more at ease to learn more about his surroundings. An inky blackness hid the walls, but he knew what they looked like, vaguely.
There was no use denying it now. After he had finished his pitiful meal, Draco climbed up the stairs with his tired eyes closed, for he was confident of his footing. Moving almost mechanically, he shuffled exhaustedly to the only room he could bear to rest in. Why Hermione Granger's room held so much comfort was a mystery best left undiscovered.
He was, in short, fed up with the crap life had dealt him. Draco was not concerned with his numerous predicaments, for his present existence proved that he was very talented when it came to solving his problems. He just felt that it was somebody else's turn to deal with dilemmas and misfortune. Take the trio, for instance. Everything just made way for the weasel, Draco observed scornfully, while the truly deserving were constantly plagued with the worst.
He sighed as he settled on the bed, not bothering to slide in between the sheets. There was something disturbingly intimate about an act such as that. Granted, he and Hermione Granger might have become friends, but Draco could not remember the development of such a relationship. And until he could sort out why he could not remember in the first place, Malfoy refused to worsen matters by recalling any more memories.
She was an all right kisser. For a Mudblood. For a virgin.
Draco had put all his power in that kiss. What his lips had done to hers would have made any normal girl swoon.
She sighed a bit, and the tension in her body melted somewhat. But that meant nothing. Granger did the same when reading a spectacularly boring book. He wanted to know, damn it, wanted to see if his slag—well, his ex-slag now—had said any truth when maligning his reputation as a kisser.
Bloody stubborn witch. Granger didn't have the decency to buckle at the knees. She did know whom she was kissing, right?
At last, she made a noise, which he took to be a positive sign. It was a beautiful day, they stood by a pristine lake, and she was in Draco Malfoy's arms. If Hermione Granger didn't emit at least one whimper, she wasn't human.
She even forgot to open her eyes when he broke the kiss, which made him smirk in satisfaction.
Draco shook her, demanding an answer, despite the fact that he was very sure of the verdict. Most likely, she'd be embarrassed to have enjoyed it, and she'd summon some half arsed indignation, if only to—
"You know what Malfoy? I detested you before but…"
The review was polite, positive, and annoyingly false. Her mouth—now very red and slightly swollen—looked the way it ought, but her eyes lied to him. They flitted to the lake, to the sky, to the school—which was where she wanted to be. Back to the sheltered arms of that imbecile, whom she hated not five minutes before.
"…You kiss very well."
It wasn't worth it, to argue with her. It wasn't as if her opinion mattered all that much any way. After all, her experience was limited to one awkward Weasley; it was like asking a Muggle about broom models. There was simply no point. Useless. Futile. Utter waste of time.
And yet his eyes could not leave her form as she skipped back into the castle.
Draco's eyes flew wide open the moment slumber left him. He never understood the trouble others had with awakening after a full night's rest. Now, it was an entirely different matter when it came to recovering after a full night's activity…
Inexplicably, the lewd thought led to Hermione. Or rather, it was not so inexplicable. Draco sat up, bewildered for but an instant, in Granger's bed, in her room, and in her home. The very air was permeated with her. So it was not so surprising that she invaded his dreams.
Oh come off it, Draco, he thought with a snort as he stood and stretched. He knew very well it was not simply a dream.
At night, these memories hit him mercilessly, capturing then swallowing his mind with no transition whatsoever. One moment, he laid in bed, dully waiting for sleep to come. And in the very next instant, he found his mind's eye staring down at Hermione Granger, sometimes smiling, sometimes scowling, but always aching for her.
At first, they had been brief, barely memories at all. The feathered edges of a scene, too quick and too bright to be mistaken for genuine. The freezing flash of a sound, one that he knew he heard before, but could not tell if it was in the realms of slumber. A paralysing fragrance wafting from his own mind to the present, inviting him back to a past he could not grasp with two hands.
Draco's eyes perused the list of casualties. It was shorter than he expected, which was very disappointing. A two front attack, and that was all his father could manage? Egad, it was worse than Germany.
Gallagher, Geller, Godfrey, Gunter…
Draco blinked. He reread the list, and then sat back in puzzlement. There were two sources for his confusion.
One; why hadn't his father had dispatched of Granger before being sent to hell? Lucius Malfoy despised her especially, considering all her accomplishments contradicted every theory Death Eaters formed about bloodlines.
And B; why wasn't he more disappointed?
Most likely the desire to kill her himself, he concluded after a day of irritation. It wasn't as if he appreciated her earlier charity of sparing his feelings. There were more important things to remember.
Hermione Granger was a dangerous enemy.
Hermione Granger was a Mudblood.
Hermione Granger slapped him during their third year and she never properly apologised for it.
So, no, he was not sorry that she had survived the first battle. There were apologies to be delivered, tears to be shed, and curiosities to be satisfied before the sympathetic slag had to die.
How, he wondered as he attempted to quell his hunger with Malfoy-ish disapproval of food. How had he sunk so low as to have fancied her, at one point?
Mum had gone mad.
Was her sort of madness hereditary? Or had it been borne out of circumstance? Who would know? Who would have both the knowledge of wizard blood and the effects of war? Besides all that, who could he trust enough to ask—
Well, besides Hermione Granger.
Fuck Hermione Granger, he thought darkly. If he had been a person of lesser discipline, there would be a snide inner voice acidly reminding him that all evidence suggested that he had sincerely wished to do so. But, thankfully, the Malfoy had eliminated that sort of self doubting rubbish years ago.
He would not have touched her. Admired her from afar? Maybe after a few drinks. Admit that she was more than a creature of dirt? Perhaps after a few drinks and hours of torment. But to take action on the weakness? Impossible.
Draco did not jump at the hoot of the owl, but merely turned to the window to face the curious creature. They had been absent in London. How he had hated cowering within the walls of Number Twelve, shying from the windows like some hermit. But that was necessary; Prewett, at this point, would be thirsting for his blood. At least here, he was surrounded by Muggles, and no Muggle's opinion ever mattered. Mudbloods, on the other hand, were an entirely different matter.
Granger, Draco answered silently. Bloody Granger.
The owl was so inane, yet so matter of fact. They just wanted to know what would render Granger incapacitated, at least for a while.
It showed just how desperate the Death Eaters were. That they were asking him, that he was the best source for such intimate knowledge, proved how damaging their recent losses were. It was probably all her fault. Why couldn't she be as stupid as Potter and Weasley? Then Draco wouldn't have been burdened with such menial paperwork like this.
With a roll of his eyes, he dipped his quill into the ink and began a brief but effective reply.
The answer is so bloody obvious I shudder to think who proposed asking me. Yes, Granger is marginally clever and somewhat brave, but she is marginally clever and somewhat brave for a reason. For her loved ones. I realise that Potter is somewhat difficult to kill—
Here, Draco paused, and shook his head. After all those attempts, he was surprised that Voldemort hadn't hung himself out of embarrassment.
But surely the less important lemmings are easier to do in. Get Longbottom, at least. Even if he is only barely effective as a soldier or Granger's motivation, it's just maddening to share the same planet with that monkey.
Malfoy had no worries about the cheeky tone of his message. Chances were somebody'd read it, summarise it, and send the summary to somebody else to read and summarise, until a pleasant, succinct lie reached the evil one's ears. At this point, he no longer cared about constant diplomacy and flattery. At this point, Draco expected to be ruling the world. Or at least, England.
He was rather tired of fighting, really. He just wanted to win.
There was no official celebration when Granger's parents were killed, for that implied that the Mudblood was actually important. But the Death Eaters walked with particularly smug expressions that week, and minions were saying rubbish about a nearing victory.
And Draco felt good. He did not think of Granger, or her feelings, or how sweet it had been for her to spare his during that strange first kiss. Chances were they never thought about him, or how he felt when he learned that dad had died, and so he swallowed the small drop of guilt and smiled. Victory was not soon, oh no, he was not stupid enough to believe his own propaganda. But, perhaps, victory was more certain. And that was always a good thing, no matter who was hurt.
"Who are you exactly?"
Draco had stepped outside, into the back garden, for barely a moment before a disgusting turtle of a man popped up from behind the hedges. Technically, as Draco was not on his property, there was no real reason to answer him. But after he had taken in the wizened details of his face, Malfoy noticed something else. The hedges, presumably sitting directly upon the property line, were perfectly trimmed—but only on the neighbor's half. Meaning that this Muggle took particular care to know precisely where the boundary was and made sure not to trim a single twig that was not his. Such a creature simply had to be inspected and mocked.
"Are you interrogating me?" he demanded, swaggering more than a famished man ought to. "As if I was a criminal? Who are you, is the question?"
A bit theatrical, true. But this was an inconsequential person, and, to Draco's light headed logic, he would cause no trouble.
The man, drawing himself to his greatest height, and thereby reaching Draco's shoulder, introduced himself with a gaudily long name. He mumbled slightly, and Draco wasn't one to pay attention to one such as him, and so the name was lost from his mind as soon as it was uttered. The Muggle once more asked him who he was and why he was there.
"I'll have you know, Mr.…Smith," Draco fumbled slightly, "I'm Drac…."
Malfoy had not forgotten his own name. The hesitation was due to the belated realisation that fugitives often assumed aliases when on the run, and Draco was determined to stick to convention.
"My name's not Smith," the man harrumphed. "I never said it was."
"What? Oh," Draco shrugged, as he struggled to produce an interesting false identity. It was a difficult task, as he had always thought his own name to be rather perfect. "Close enough."
The man, whose name was Yates, was inclined to disagree, but refused to pursue the subject any further. "And you've yet to give your full name."
"Passage." Draco's endeavor of imagination had been a failed one, and therefore chose a location of one of the Malfoy floating properties.
"Drake Passage," Draco muttered, deep in thought. Good lord, now that he thought about it…where the hell had his father left that island?
The man, obviously not well educated in the world beyond his fences, accepted the name and asked Malfoy about his presence at the lately empty Granger home.
"I'm Hermione's friend," he supplied coolly. His grey eyes wandered over the man's sparsely covered head, and Malfoy focused his gaze on the kitchen beyond it. It looked like a depressing little hell hole, but that hell hole probably provided more than the Granger abode. "She said I could stay here."
If not for his desperation for nourishment, Draco would have treated this Muggle as he treated disrespectful servants; with a slap to his wrist and then certain death.
"What do you do?" the Muggle wanted to know suspiciously.
"Currently unemployed." It wasn't so much that Draco felt obligated to give the elderly man the entire truth. It was simply that the old man wasn't worth the effort it took to lie.
"Ha! A wastrel then?"
The man said "wastrel" like a sane person would say "sex fiend." And, really, Draco did not find either occupation completely horrible.
"I was engaged in the war a year ago. It sort of made desk jobs rather bland."
The beady eyes were unmoved, and only flickered up and down Draco's thin frame with the briefest glint of approval. "Fighting with the soldiers, eh?"
"I was not commanding unicorns, in any case," Draco said with a roll of his eyes. And, even if he had been given command of the stupid creatures, Malfoy would have refused. They were snotty little animals, and were vastly overrated. Much like Veelas, werewolves, and bespectacled wizards.
"If you're a friend, then why didn't I see you at the funeral?"
"Surely any upstanding Englishman would understand that a few personal sacrifices must be made for the greater security of the nation?"
The man had no answer for that, which made the growl of Malfoy's stomach even more audible in the quiet morning air.
"The house is in shambles," Draco said with a sniff. It was not much of an explanation, for, clearly, Drake Passage was not one to explain himself to anybody. But it was just the sort of meaningless complaint the displeased wealthy were fond of dropping. "I'm here to personally oversee the caretaking of it."
"I thought Hermione's solicitor had taken care of the details."
Draco made a mental point to never retire, if it made one as nosy as this little vermin.
"Not adequately, as anybody with eyes can see."
Draco knew this type—hell, his family was this type, except they had been better looking and more blessed.
But the life mantra was easy to discern: Anything different was bad. Anything to elevate his station was good.
"This solicitor of hers, you know, was absolute rubbish." He spoke with an air of confidentiality, just enough to make this Muggle feel falsely special. "Foreign, you know."
The creases eased into a mask of understand. "Ah, yes. I understand."
The conversation turned even more absurd, full of casual prejudice and insinuated influence. Draco did not know him, and nor did he wish to, but he gathered enough. He knew this man's ignorance what Hermione had sought to avoid for anybody's future.
He had always thought her bothersome. Like an annoyingly durable fundamentalist of The Church of Harry Potter. She wasn't content to leave well enough alone, couldn't imagine letting people be their flawed selves. Draco used to say it was because she was secretly unhappy with her sugary sweet life. But no, looking back…he supposed not.
For nobody on his side was "happily" evil. Nobody was "satisfied" with their constant struggle for power. Contentment was never the goal, not in the quest for more. So, perhaps, Granger had the vague right of it. What one had was—possibly, in some rare instances—greater than what one could have.
Due to oblique references to important characters and his own charmingly menacing air, Draco was invited for a decent English breakfast. And that took care of that.
The wife was unexceptional, with a name and a face Draco dismissed as soon as he encountered both. She was unhappy as well, that was certain, but immovably so. As if this sad pair, with nothing to hold onto but their misery, would rather grasp onto that than drift along in the unknown.
Yes, Draco decided as he waited for somebody or other to clear his plate and offer him seconds, there was comfort in the certainty of hurt.
It had pained him to switch sides, but he knew where that pain would lead. Just as he knew that it would pain him to break bread with Muggles. One had to survive by any means necessary, after all. Otherwise, what was the point in existing?
They had sent him to question a little loathsome Spaniard, who was fourteen years old at the most, and a former student of France. Stubborn little thing refused to speak a word of English, Spanish, French, and then a horrible combination squeaking out in a puberty-plagued voice. Late bloomer, Draco thought, mentally punning "late."
"I know you speak English," Draco told him, bored, and slightly disgusted. He understood that dungeons were traditionally dank and dirty, but surely following the cliché didn't help with efficiency? How was a man supposed to properly interrogate when he was checking for toxic mould?
But the gibberish kept coming, now with tears, and Malfoy sighed before forcing the veritaserum potion down the boy's gagging throat. Draco didn't understand why the captive cried even harder after that. Considering how long he'd gone without food, a little truth potion was surely a good thing.
"Now. Do you speak English?"
"Probably not very well," Draco said to himself. "Beauxbatons was a poor excuse of a school. Thank god it was the one of the first to go."
His words must have reminded the little bugger of better days, for an ungainly sob fell from his mouth, interrupting Malfoy's thoughts.
"Stop crying, really! What the hell will that accomplish? I mean, you'll only annoy me and make me want to kill you with as much pain as possible!"
It was not comforting and, surprisingly, worsened the sobbing.
But even the veritaserum had proved useless, for he managed to answer truthfully with very little help at all, until Draco was finally forced to deal with him physically. The Death Eater was not his father's son; he detested the mess of blood as much as Narcissa. But the boy's visions were the best in the modern world, occurring quite regularly and with stunning accuracy.
"Will we win?"
That was not why they had captured him. Draco had specific questions, a whole bloody list of them, but he did not care. All the fighting, all the planning, all the failed attempts… he just wanted to know if it was worth it. If not, he would stop right now.
The boy smiled, a ghastly expression on such a gaunt face. "You have to ask? That is a bad sign, no?"
"Answer the question."
"You did not get me for that. You did not get me if you did not know that."
"Am I on the losing side? Will those good tossers actually win?"
Draco was furious at this possibility. All his genius for a bloody defeat? That was unacceptable.
"We will see," was all the fool said.
He did not have very much patience to begin with. Just one smirk from the adolescent sent him reaching for the instruments.
In the end, the boy had lost an eye but managed to preserve the little wanker's life. Draco had even returned him into a cell with a female prisoner, so that there would be somebody to tend to his wounds. After he had deposited the helpful child in the dank, silent walls, he began his plans of transfer.
"Do you know what this is?"
The Muggle handed him a yellowed, aged parchment, handling it with utmost care. Draco didn't think that the man viewed his wife with as much affection. Draco didn't blame him; he'd have preferred ancient porn to that woman as well.
It wasn't antique smut, however, but an old advert.
"Propaganda?" Draco said, unimpressed. He tossed the folded paper back to him, and was regarded with a disgusted look.
"A call to arms, my boy, a call to arms. You see, Europe was being pestered by this annoying little shit called Hitler—"
"Eugenics. That was that Muggle's aim, wasn't it?" The old man frowned at the unknown term, but Draco felt no need to explain himself. "He was just trying to improve the world."
"And trying to take over bloody Europe while he was at it!" Hermione's neighbor said indignantly. He unfolded the paper and observed the picture and bold letters admiringly. "Couldn't do it, though. Could not do it! He was short you know, barely a man. I don't abide by short men."
"Pity you're shrinking then," Draco muttered under his breath as he observed the small library. Granger's texts had been full of annoying things, like ethics, happy endings, and clean teeth. This Muggle's selection was somewhat better. Dozens of things on war, but, annoyingly, only Muggle wars.
"Short men," the ancient one continued, "are useless leaders."
Draco paused in his search for decent literature and thought about it. Voldemort wasn't short, but there wasn't much to him, really. And Potter was a good five inches shorter than himself.
"I completely agree."
"It's not in their genes to lead."
"Yes," Draco said, selecting one book and tucking it under his arm. Strength, brutality, fearlessness. Everything a Gryffindor needed to follow the stupidest of causes, or challenge the vilest of villains.
Sometimes the poor sports would put something in his drink, leaving him vomiting for a good portion of the night. They would leave mildly threatening notes on his bed, roughly push past him in a perfectly empty hall way, and generally displayed an unfriendly attitude. He was not bothered by this, for if a "good" wizard had switched to Voldemort's camp, the turncoat in question would have been subjected to a series of tormenting "interviews" to test his mettle.
"Who could blame you, really?"
Draco did not answer Remus Lupin. He had a funny feeling that the former professor wasn't choking him to gain information.
"There's always been this nonsense about loyalty to the Dark Lord, but to stay for certain doom would be a betrayal in itself, wouldn't it? You've got emulate the bastard's love of ambition."
Draco tried to speak, but all that left his mouth was a horrific, dry wheeze. Uselessly, his hands clawed at Lupin's iron grasp, and his grey eyes begged for air. Completely disregarding an honourable gentleman's code of conduct, the hairy bastard refused to let him breathe.
"Now, I know the others have warned you about your loyalty. And I know that Harry has already warned you about this fan mail."
Even as the lines of the man's livid expression began to blur, Draco summoned enough strength to roll his eyes. He hoped he conveyed enough dismay with that action. It wasn't his bloody fault that some optimistic purebloods thought his decampment was another ruse. And where did they get off, any way, reading his letters—
Lupin, as if sensing his growing indignity, tightened his hold and dragged him farther up the wall. Now Draco kicked, feet frantically searching for the ground.
No, he thought as he fought for air. No, he panicked as his lungs burned. No, no, no, no…
"But whatever they've threatened you with," Remus said quietly, with all the sincerity a broken man could offer, "it's nothing compared to the life I now lead. You wouldn't want that, would you?"
He wouldn't dare. He was too moral. He, and Dumbledore, detested such tactics used by the "bad" wolves.
But as life and Draco began to drift apart, Malfoy could only shake his head, shaken and slowly losing consciousness. Later, after the older man had left him slumped against the wall, flailing at life, he realised that the threat Lupin had delivered couldn't have possibly been real. Hell, even the professor himself looked shaken by the memory of his heated words a few days later. But, considering how the war had turned the good to bad and the bad to worse, it was not terribly absurd to believe the horrific, false threat, just a little bit.
Granger wouldn't allow it, he thought, finding comfort in the girl's rigid morality, before passing out.
It was simply a bad night for a walk in the woods.
He awoke to an ungentle nudge to his stomach.
"My god, are you dead?" Granger's voice was oddly flat, as if she wouldn't be too dismayed to find his corpse.
"Not yet. Your friend Lupin almost murdered this valuable source of information, I'll have you know." His voice was hoarse, and it was difficult to focus on her big head against the blinding backdrop of the cloudy day. Draco could not even calculate the hour.
"In all likelihood, you deserved it." Then she smirked, and backed away slightly. "I suggest that you go to Madame Pomfrey. There are some ghastly marks on your neck."
Draco struggled to sit upright, and watched in amazement as she began to walk back to the entrance. "You're just going to leave me here?"
"Yes, Malfoy. I already did you a favour by waking you up before it rained."
That was, sadly, the nicest anybody had been to him since he arrived at Hogwarts. The fact alone kept him from sending a petty hex at her retreating back. And he didn't take her indifference personally, for the girl had been constantly cold to everybody since Weasley's death.
So he sat with her at dinner, after Potter and the youngest Weasley had gone off to row about something or other. And she didn't turn him away.
Anybody that desperate would have developed a small friendship. Really.
"This house," he shouted to the apathetic walls, "is complete crap!"
It was, it really, really was. So small he could barely breathe, so boring he could barely keep awake, so…so…Muggle! Really, it was as if the Death Eaters did the Granger parents a bloody favour by removing them from this branch of hell.
He was going mad. Draco smirked at the thought. All the years the trio attempted to thwart him, and all Granger had to do was bring him home. What did one do, any way, in Ickham? Even if he had magic, there were no wizards to duel with, and the Muggles were too unimportant to merit torture.
How did Granger manage to become a brilliant witch in such a stifling place? He wondered. Necessity, he supposed. She just adapted to the unimaginable circumstances life had placed her in, and became what she was. Highly improbable, but it happened.
If she could do it, then I can. It was a childish ambition, but Draco found comfort in it. His grey eyes scanned the living room in desperation. He thought of the rooms, unopened boxes, and the forgotten mementos. There had to be something to focus on for the time being. All one needed was one thing, one idea or object to make life bearable, and survival was guaranteed.
After a nap. He was feeling a bit light headed. Maybe that was why Muggles had such vacant looks on their stupid faces all the time. They were attempting to escape their own mundane realities.
Perhaps, Draco thought, as he fell against Hermione's pillow, sleep would bring him back to better times.
She merely tolerated his presence. Sometimes his orders amused her, and so she tolerated those too.
His "Fetch me that map" became chilly "Please fetch me that map." When she claimed to be too busy—which was a very good argument considering there was a war going on—the frosty requests became coaxing pleas, which also amused Granger, with even less success.
Hermione once said, "I've seen your silver tongue in action before, but I've never thought you'd use the skill for me."
He contemplated making a lewd joke, but decided she wasn't worth the innuendo.
At first, it was a way to pass the time, speaking with her for non-military purposes. Then it became interesting, heaven forbid, when she actually outmaneuvered him in some debates. And, one day, when she was out with the others, and Draco found himself quite alone, he realised that he enjoyed her company.
He dealt with the epiphany as well as he could have. Draco became a tad cantankerous.
"One of your Ravenclaw friends failed to return my book, Granger."
"That's because she died last night." She hadn't even looked up to answer him.
"Oh don't lie to protect the little snot, Granger. I would have known if there was an attack."
"She committed suicide, you heartless, cruel boy, and I'll get your fucking book." There was savagery in her very eyes, and her tone held knives for him.
Hermione had left the hall way in a heartbeat, and returned with an impossibly angrier expression. She threw the book at him and set it aflame without bothering to wait for him to get out of the way. From this rash behaviour, he concluded that the book thief had been a good friend, and showed his apology by handing her his handkerchief.
Draco was uncomfortable, as he stood before her crouching, sobbing form. "Do you want me to hold you or something?" he asked defensively.
"No," she hiccoughed, wiping away the endless river of tears. "You never have before, and there's no reason to start now. I'd have gone to the others if I wanted comfort."
It should have hurt, the way she said it and the choice of words, but it didn't. Draco decided that she just implied uniqueness, just then, by saying that he could offer something that the others couldn't. Besides a monogrammed handkerchief, at least.
With a bitter, gnarled expression, she looked up at him. Those brown eyes, always sharp and understanding, were churning with hate. Draco was somewhat of a connoisseur when it came to hateful glares, and so he knew that her obvious loathing as not directed at him. Not directly, at least. She hated him, herself, and the whole bloody cause. At this point, so did he.
"What would you say," she challenged with a watery but taut voice, "if I said that Harry's being an overzealous arse?"
"I'd say cheers to that," Draco responded promptly.
"What would you say if I said Dumbledore is acting like a blind optimist, focusing so much on the enemy because he assumes we aren't hurting here?"
"Considering I don't care who is hurting here or there, I'm indifferent to Dumbledore's vision."
She shook her head, expression crumpling. "But isn't it awful of me?" Granger whispered, horrified. "Isn't it terrible, to doubt McGonagall? To question Harry? To want to smack my own headmaster? Nobility's well and good to look back on, but being noble is useless now, when we want to just die to escape the pain."
His mind latched onto that "we," and he could not help but feel a mad urge to lure her away from that suicidal path of thinking.
"It's not awful to be realistic," Draco explained flatly. "And if we never questioned our heroes or authority figures, then Lockhart'd be in charge of this place by now."
"Or Umbridge," Hermione pointed out spitefully. Malfoy supposed she'd never let go of that grudge.
"Yes, or Umbridge. Besides, Dumbledore's constantly looking at the world with red and gold glasses—somebody has to knock them off once in a while."
"I like red and gold," Hermione sniffled to herself.
"And Potter—yes, well, you know how I feel about him. The point is, hate the whole bloody thing. Of course you should, because if you begin to enjoy it, there's something wrong with you."
For her sort at least. She wasn't the type to enjoy the beauty of war, the brilliant intricacies of strategy and battle. If she had been raised in a proper family, perhaps she could have appreciated the way the deadly chess match played out. But then again, she wouldn't have been Hermione Granger.
He kind of preferred her this way; sincere, bitter, and breathing. A pure blooded Granger would have died by now.
"But don't hate it so much that you'd contemplate what that Ravenclaw girl did," Malfoy said in disgust. "We can't afford to have you that weak, Granger. People depend on you." With a shake of his head, for he thought her a little bit smarter than that, Draco began to walk away, intending to get a little bit drunk before bed.
"But I don't ask for people to depend on me. I don't want to deal with that. Don't you think that she depended on me, on us, to make it all better? I can't promise so much to the younger ones, and not know if it's true—"
"Oh god, let's not mimic Harry Potter tonight, okay?" he said over his shoulder. "He spouts enough 'The world's a bloody burden' wank for all of us. Deal with it, Granger. Be the little heroine that you know you are, and just fucking deal."
And that was his good night. She was in a better mood the next morning, sat with him at breakfast and everything, and he liked to think he caused the emotional lift.
"Forty seven, forty eight, forty nine…"
Fifty. Fifty teeth related items in Hermione Granger's room. Pillows, books, a strangely shaped pencil holder…
"God," he laughed, remembering a small prank from their fourth year. That must have devastated her.
Why were they so bloody obsessed with teeth? He wondered, wandering to Granger's vanity. Curiously, he bent and smiled briefly at the mirror. They were all right, he guessed. Perhaps they hadn't always been, but magic took care of that. Magic took care of everything. That was why this life absolutely confounded him.
But he guessed it wasn't teeth, exactly. Her parents were probably like her. Logically, they strove to understand a subject of their choosing to their fullest extent. For the Grangers, it was the mouth. For Hermione, it had been magic.
For some reason, he tried to imagine how she had taken the news of her parents' death. She had probably been reading at the time, and somebody close—Potter, if the hero wasn't terribly busy—would come and say that something had happened. There was an accident. They couldn't save them.
And she was a sharp girl. Full of sense and logic. Everybody knew that she was brave enough to deal with grief and loss.
But, in total contrast to all that, Hermione had so much hope. She fought futile battles for those who did not want to be liberated. She believed redemption on those who did not want to be changed. She was so brilliantly blind.
Did she scramble for texts on the dark arts? When the others had gone to sleep, did she sneak into her beloved library for a way to bring them back? Hermione was tenacious when it came to her loved ones. She would have not let her parents go so easily.
It wasn't his fault. He didn't say the spell, he hadn't pointed the wand. They could not blame him, even if they ever did find out who had signed permission. Malfoy wished somebody would explain that concept to Prewett.
Draco felt a twinge in his temple, and sincerely hoped it was a simple migraine. Migraines were so much more enjoyable than what the small pains usually foretold. Hoping to beat the onset before it began, he undressed and fell to sleep.
Their friendship proved so enjoyable that Draco began to lament her status as a Mudblood, for she really was a decent girl. He knew by this point that blood played a very small role in terms of one's personality and talent, but Malfoy could not simply forget it. How unfortunate that somebody with Hermione's talent and quick mind was cursed with such a face and family. He almost wished he could help her, some how. Now that he knew the outcome of all their efforts, he knew that her tainted blood would not encounter any more discrimination in the post-war wizarding world. Still…surely there would be some wizards and witches who felt the way he did, and mentally belittle her for her unimpressive genealogy.
He mentioned it a few times. Not in the belligerent way of the old days, but cautiously. She was his only ally, after all, excluding the naïve young ones who believed he had "found redemption." He did not want to lose her.
"Why do you suppose random Muggles are born as wizards and witches?" he asked after she had interrupted a potential brawl between him and that irritating Irish Gryffindor.
"Seamus is only half," she said as she searched for a spare inkwell in the class room.
Hermione sighed and shook her head. Draco settled on the professor's desk, legs swinging casually. "I mean, it's strange, isn't it? It's as if there's no science to the laws of magic at all."
"There's a science to everything, Draco."
"Well, then, explain it to me."
"We just haven't had the research—or the social acceptance," she added with a pointed glance to him, "to study the why's and how's of magical inheritance. But surely there's a reason."
"Like an ancient, long forgotten pure blooded ancestor, maybe?" Draco had asked hopefully.
"I was thinking more along the lines of fate, actually."
"Fate is what the hopeless people call the events caused by their own lack of intellect. Oh no, I lost all my savings—It's fate. Oh no, my wife left me—fate. That's crap, Hermione. Fate is just an excuse to be lazy, and let life happen to you."
"Or, it's what brought you here."
"I brought myself here, idiot."
"Truly? Think of all the events, Draco, which led you to this exact moment. Now count how many were actually in your control. This mission, that circumstance…the timing of your escape from the Lair of Evil."
"Once and for all, Hermione, nobody called it the Lair of anything. Besides, even when circumstances are perfect, somebody waiting for a sign of fate would let it pass by. Instincts are key."
"I'm not saying they're not."
"Then what are you saying?" he asked in exasperation. He had become so distracted by this path of the conversation that he had forgotten his original purpose.
"I'm saying that some wizards and witches are born to purely Muggle families because their contribution to the world would be improved by such a gift."
He scoffed. "Everybody's contribution to the world would be improved by magic."
"But then it wouldn't be called 'magic' now, would it?" she asked sensibly, with just a hint of friendly condescension. "Not if everybody did it. Then it would be just as common as speaking, and your lot would have to find another trait to claim as 'superior'."
"We don't find—that is, I wasn't speaking of magic, per se. Just…the blood."
"The blood is clearly irrelevant, Draco. It's the ability that matters." She had checked underneath every desk and behind every furniture piece, and, by this time, had given up. Hermione stood and studied him intently. "Wouldn't you agree?"
He affected an indifferent shrug. "I was simply wondering how it all came to be, Hermione. I care very little for your family tree." It wasn't a lie, technically.
She smiled sheepishly as he stood and stretched. "I hadn't meant to include myself in the conversation."
"Well, it's your natural vanity that does that," he explained with a small smile. "I'm sorry to say it, but we're all rather sick of your ego. Thinking of chucking you into the lake, really."
"Thank you. Anybody should take advice about vanity and ego from you very seriously."
"Shut it, Granger."
Draco awoke to the sound of his own laughter.
Bewildered, he sat up and shook himself. He almost hadn't recognised the sound of his own chuckle.
Amazing. Dream-Hermione had made him laugh.
Dream-Hermione had been rather remarkable, Draco concluded in quiet disconcertment as he brushed his teeth, preparing to go to the Muggles' for breakfast. He glanced at the clock and sighed to himself. They didn't approve of brunch, but as they had nothing better to do in retirement, chances were they'd eat with him.
Dream-Hermione had kissed him without being impressed. Dream-Hermione had befriended him, sort of. Dream-Hermione outdebated him, complained of everybody Draco had already disliked, and made him laugh.
Dream-Hermione was a little bit fantastic.
The best part, Draco mused to himself as the wife grumbled about late risers, was that it wasn't "Dream-Hermione." If everything was true, then Draco reckoned he found himself a pretty reliable ally. Amusing too. It was as if she wasn't a virgin Mudblood at all.
"Chess game, Drake?" the Muggle suggested as he finished his eggs.
"Sure, I've five seconds to spare," Draco replied distractedly. The man took it as a good natured jibe instead of sincere arrogance, and clapped Malfoy's back with a wheezy, terrible laugh. Draco, so pleased with the information his memories had revealed, barely shuddered with revulsion at the contact.
The Muggle must have strategized the night before, for Draco found himself checked before demolishing the white king. Muggle chess was dissatisfying, Draco observed, but the defeated expression on the old man's face almost made up for the lack of violence.
"Two out of three?"
"Actually, I've got to get back to the house."
"Ah, yes, the repairs. What, exactly, are you improving? Haven't heard any reconstruction noise."
"Two out of three it is then."
Around their tenth game, Draco had a case of the sniffles.
"Are you getting ill?" His tone held more suspicion than concern, and Draco could not blame him. At that age, the Muggle should have been paranoid of raindrops.
Even before Draco reached the Granger's door, a small pain flared in his mind. It was so sharp and quick that he was left confused, wondering if it had occurred at all. Quickly darting into the house, he searched for his handkerchief. It was the poor heating, most likely, that caused this cold. Draco had been reduced to "borrowing" the Muggles' firewood, and one could not maintain a fire constantly.
The handkerchief was on Hermione's desk, and he dabbed at his nose absently as he wondered what pills to ask for when it came to headaches. They were old, her neighbors, and probably had every medicine known to man.
He froze when he spied maroon spots on the white handkerchief. Blood.
Well, that's a new symptom, he thought gloomily as pain slowly enveloped his mind once more. The comfort of Dream-Hermione's wonderfulness was once again overshadowed by the pain of remembering.
Their second kiss had startled him beyond words.
It was August when he received his first unthreatening letter of the year. It was sunny when he recognised the handwriting and smiled with uncharacteristic joy. And it was warm when he quickly set his features into an apathetic expression, and quickly left his breakfast to find a private room to read the missive from Narcissa Malfoy.
Publicly, she had denounced him. But he hadn't taken it personally. Death Eaters denounced a multitude of things on a daily basis. For example, the Dark Lord was offended by a Bulgarian count, so the skull faced lemmings ignored the entire country until said Count managed to kill that Thomas boy. Hell, they all denounced Voldemort himself at one point or another. So Draco was not surprised to receive a note from his overbearing mum. He was only a little shocked she hadn't sent the sweet cakes that made him sick but her happy.
The smile died, however. She didn't even address him by his pet name, which he loathed but always tolerated from her. It was simply a brief missive, telling him that his access to the Malfoy account had been cut off, and that their home's defense system would no longer allow him on the grounds. He had been cut out of the will, and anything in his possession rightfully belonging to the true Malfoys should be sent immediately.
"That ungrateful whore," he said, with an almost detached amusement, as he read his mother's dainty cursive words once more. Inside, he was seething. Draco had done her a favour by telling her to decamp. He had left all his friends, let them remain on the hopeless case, but he had told her, for her safety. And what did empty headed Narcissa do? Turn on her own son.
"No sense of loyalty," he laughed quietly to himself as he folded the parchment. Oddly enough, he had to clear his throat, for there was an unseemly lump growing in there. Chewing his bottom lip, he frowned and opened it once more, searching the lines for a hint of double meaning. Perhaps it was a ruse. She did not have a head for business; how would she know how to cut people out of wills or change the access of bank accounts? Perhaps it was a cover—
The door opened without warning, and Potter strode in. Malfoy threw him a cursory glance before folding the letter and sliding it into his pocket. Saint Potter was looking particularly stormy today and Draco did not want to give him a reason to cheer up.
"I understand you received a letter from a known Voldemort supporter today, Malfoy."
By this time, Draco had grown accustomed to others watching his every move, and was therefore unsurprised by the speed at which the damaging rumours spread. "I am glad to hear you can understand the simplest of facts, Potter."
"May I see it, please?"
Malfoy smiled slightly at the "please," knowing that this course of action had been discussed with Hermione, and that she had suggested a more polite tactic.
"It's private," he explained with a pitying smile. "I know you're not used to receiving any sort of acknowledgment from family, but—"
"Thank you, Malfoy," Potter interrupted coldly, turning away from him. "I've been searching for a reason to drown you in a pool of your own blood, and this treasonous behaviour is like an early Christmas for me."
"Treasonous?" the former Death Eater echoed with a mocking laugh. Despite his careless tone, however, Draco quickly stood and followed him out into the corridor. "How is a letter from one's mother a crime?"
"Haven't you heard?" Harry asked in a cutting tone, not even stopping to hear his explanation. "Being a Malfoy is a crime against humanity. Outsiders of the race tend to be rather jealously violent."
"Look, if you'll just read this," he began impatiently, shoving the hated paper into Harry's shoulder, knocking the shorter boy against the wall, "you'll see that defecting—"
"Defecting again is not an option for me," Draco finished furiously. "And, unlike some, I'm not willing to flaunt proof of my martyrdom. I'd like to keep this as private as possible—"
"Martyrs have to die to be really appreciated," Potter said maliciously.
"Then I can't wait to appreciate you," Draco shot back with a savage smile. "Read the letter."
Instead of complying, Harry roughly shoved the proffered message away. "Your questionable return was conditional. You were to supply vital information of the enemy—"
"Which I've done, you stupid little shit—"
"And cut all ties with your former allies."
"She's not a bloody ally, she's my mother. Oh, I'm sorry; I forgot whom I was speaking to. A 'mother' is—"
"Yes, that's right," Potter encouraged with a dangerous laugh, "goad me, provoke me. Aren't you afraid that I'll snap, Malfoy? Aren't you afraid that I could take care of you right now, in this empty corridor, and claim self defense?"
Malfoy opened his mouth to goad, to provoke, to put himself in an enjoyably dangerous situation—anything to forget his mother's frigid words—when somebody spoke for him.
"Harry, what are you doing?" By the tone of her voice, it was clear that Hermione knew exactly what her best mate was doing. Her brown eyes focused on Harry's hand, which was reaching for his wand in his back pocket. "What did the note say?"
"I didn't—" Harry faltered, hating to admit his mistake in front of the criminal in question. Instead, he said in a hard tone, "It's from Narcissa."
"Yes," she replied impatiently, "but what did it say?"
"Potter was letting me experience the post-war judiciary system—execute now, investigate later," Draco explained coolly, handing Hermione the note without looking at her. For some reason, it was less dismaying to let her read it instead of the bespectacled buffoon. With tension still thick in the air, he strode away, fists clenched in his pockets as he envisioned what could have happened. The altercation might have escalated, curses might have been thrown, and this new empty feeling in his chest might have gone away forever.
The plan had been to make sure that Narcissa remained safe from both Death Eaters and good wizards, and then arrange a life of retirement for her after the war ended. Draco did not care which side she chose to pretend loyalty to, as long as the charade shielded her throughout the war. He wasn't a terrible son, after all. He knew he had a duty to his mother. It was the same duty she ought to have had for him.
When Hermione found him again, Draco was in no mood to deal with anybody at all, friend or no. His state of mind had been worsened when he discovered the bottle of whisky under his bed had been stolen— presumably confiscated by that sanctimonious bugger who wouldn't die. Hermione had taken a cautious step in, only to duck when something large had been thrown her way.
"Oh Draco, really!" she exclaimed as she picked up and then dusted off her pillow. "It'll get dirty."
"So am I to be shipped off then?" he asked, slightly ashamed to have thrown a mere cushion at her. Surely he had done it because of a lack of options, and not because of some subconscious wish to see her unharmed.
"Shipped off," she repeated, puzzled. "What for?"
"For the letter, Hermione, for the bloody letter. Is there another reason I should worry about?"
"You? Worry?" she laughed quietly, sitting beside him on the neatly made bed. "I can't imagine it."
They sat in silence for a long moment, she not knowing what to say and he not giving a damn. Once or twice, Hermione cleared her throat, but any hint of conversation was brutally cut off by Draco's stubborn silence.
"Maybe…maybe you should take a walk."
"Taking a walk never clears my head, Hermione. It just makes my legs tired."
"Well…either way, I think—" She bit her lip, clearly at a loss for words. In one breath, she said, "You really should just get out."
What was it with these people? They never let well enough alone. Draco almost pitied Harry Potter, truth be told, for if anybody had any right to be miserable, it was that stupid sod. But because Potter was surrounded by people like Granger, he was never allowed to rot in his unhappiness. No—there were always suggestions of walks, and forced conversations, and maybe even a few group hugs to steal one's rightful pain.
"Because I'd like to change for bed, and I don't fancy the idea of you stealing a peek," she replied with resigned embarrassment.
"Well, that's the most bungled proposal for a shag I've ever heard…of…" Malfoy trailed off, for the first time noticing the particulars of his surroundings. The tidy bed, the piles of books…a small arrangement of rags in the corner. Well. That explained the ugly cat he had kicked out of the chamber.
"This is your room," he observed quietly.
"Yes," Hermione agreed.
"I went to your room."
He watched her through narrowed eyes, as if blaming her for his mistake. Because he appeared so expectant, she felt obliged to say comfortingly, "Apparently."
A suspicious question seemed ready to spew from his lips, but Draco visibly restrained himself. With a shrug, he stood, opened the door to leave, before turning around with a determined expression.
"There was no—no subconscious seeking on my part," he said warningly.
"I don't recall making any insinuation of the sort," Granger replied calmly.
"It was a mistake. All these bloody rooms look the same."
"All right, Draco."
He was determined to leave on a confident note, and yet nothing came to mind that would improve his foolish appearance. Hermione, soul of generosity that she was, made the belated decision to help him.
"It is lucky, however, that you just happened to come to my room…and sit for all these hours…" she added under her breath with a raised eyebrow, "because I've a problem."
"Yes, but you were born that way, and nothing can be done," he replied unsympathetically, but closed the door nonetheless and leaned against it to hear her out.
Kindly, she ignored his jibe. "Suppose I had a friend, who is so used to repressing his feelings that the pent up pressure is beginning to increase the size of his head. How does one approach the conflict?"
"Oh, very well done, Granger," Malfoy snapped, opening the door once more. "If that's the sort of subtlety you use in combat, the entire effort is lost."
Her laugh followed him out the door. "Try to lessen your ego, for your spine's sake," she teased, with just the hint of bite in her words. "I was speaking of Harry. Is there something you'd like to tell me?"
"Good night then." With the click of the lock, Hermione Granger had the last word.
He used to believe that he knew her type. The helper of the world, the global house elf to anybody in need. Normally, he would have been pleased to know that he was in a category all to himself. But not when that category had been deemed untouchable by Hermione Granger.
It really shouldn't have mattered. In fact, he was a bit embarrassed that he wasted countless seconds thinking of it. But when a girl, so stupid and so generous that she was willing to care for the lowest house elf or beggar off the street, decided he wasn't the sort worth saving, it made a bloke feel…well, just awful.
Despite their growing friendship, she still felt no need to comfort him. Good lord, was there some sort of requirement? A minimum of time and favours before she deemed him important enough for her attention? Shit, was he even worrying about such menial status?
Draco had answered himself just outside his bedroom door, and Hermione questioned his certainty a few feet behind it. He partially turned towards her, observing her with just his profile, watching as the sinking sun did little to illuminate her features. It had never been difficult to read her expressions before, but now, in the slinking darkness, it was impossible.
"I don't know," he answered truthfully, too surprised to think of any other answer. Unused as he was to the sincere route, Draco decided to proceed along the unexplored path, and say what had been plaguing his mind. "Why don't you care for me?"
She blushed, the vain little brat. Even in the slowly approaching darkness, he spied her pink discomfort. Good Lord! He was just settling into the idea that she was his equal, despite her birth—it was absolutely absurd to think of romance entering the scenario. "Draco…well. Harry did mention this might—"
"I'm not talking about that," he cut her off impatiently. "You don't care for me. I could be in a suicidal mood right now, and you just let me walk out of the room as if you didn't care."
"Of course I care, Draco, but I was going to undress. Here, you forgot your wand—"
He snatched it out of her hand ungratefully. "Well, if you really cared, you would have done anything to stave off suicide," he shot back petulantly.
"Strip?" she laughed, and those light chuckles only made his new aches sting even more. "You're not worth the sacrifice of my dignity."
"That seems to be the reigning theme of the day." He waited for some sort of comforting contradiction, and, when none was forthcoming, Draco decided he was tired of waiting. "Damn it, Hermione, why is so hard for you, with me, I mean. It's as if you were born to make other people's lives better, and yet what? Am I hopeless? Or not worth your time? What is it? What makes you laugh when I'm hurt? What makes you walk away when you should stay?"
How he wanted to look away as he demanded an answer, but that was cowardly. Hermione, however, shamed her house, and contemplated her next words while she gazed at a crumbling wall beyond him.
"I mean, you know, you must know that her letter hurt me. Surely you see that it rips at me."
But she wouldn't see, would she? Not when she was avoiding his gaze like that, not when she was moving her feet as if threatening to run away again. Draco softly stepped closer, wanting to shake her, and force her into action.
"I can't just forget her; I can't just erase her from my life. It was different with father, because it was beyond his control, but my mother, Hermione, the one who actually liked me a bit—"
"Stop it, Draco."
"And you sit there, and you let me boil. You sit there, and watch me hurt. I never cared before, because hurt was something I expected, and there had always been someone, something to strive for. But now—"
He didn't finish. They both knew what was different now.
Draco hated this. He despised every second of this moment, explaining what he felt and why he felt that way. It was so much less complicated before…before he changed priorities. On the other side of the war, there was a beautiful laziness in taking orders from the madman, and simply not thinking of the reason.
"You just want to know," Hermione said softly, with a striking note of understanding in her words, "if there's something worth surviving for."
Draco stared at her, and suddenly understood why she had kept her distance from him. He understood why she would go through the movements of being friends with the likes of Draco Malfoy, but never actually say the heartfelt words that made their relationship a true one. He knew why she never offered the comfort he so desperately needed.
"You don't know," he realised, voice quiet with horror and amusement. "You don't know if there's something worth surviving for." Draco laughed before he could help it. The cynical chuckle made her wince, and yet he stepped closer eagerly. "Hermione Granger doesn't know."
Oh god. It was the saddest sentence he had ever uttered. Even as realisation comforted the gnawing insecurity, Draco's smile slowly died.
"Oh, so what if I don't bloody know," she snapped, voice shaky. "Just because I—I'm still a bit…a bit…" Hermione swallowed, speaking thickly. "It doesn't mean you don't have a reason to live." It was so cliché that she flinched again, but neither denied her choice of words. A reason to live—yes, that was exactly what had been missing in their lives. Hermione had been lacking a piece of herself since the morning of the first battle. And a small yet vital part of Draco's world had irreparably crumbled this afternoon.
"I know what I could accomplish, Hermione. I could aim to be the Minister if I choose. But what's the point? What's the point if my own god damn mother turns her back on me?"
"There are others…or rather, there might be others, to care for, if you just tried."
"Other what, Granger, what? Tell me. Tell me how wonderful it might be if I met new people, people who accept me as a true friend and, hell, maybe even family. That's what you have, isn't it? You have family, friends, and fans, and you still can't get over Weasley."
"I love Ron! You—"
He reached out to clamp his hands on her shoulders, not caring if it hurt, enjoying the fear in her eyes. There was nothing quite like power to make one forget pain. "Finish that sentence, Hermione Granger," he invited dangerously. "Tell me how I felt for my mother, go on."
"I don't know how much you like her," she admitted brusquely, "but I do know what you'd like me to say. Stop looking for bloody excuses to act a certain way, Draco. You land yourself in these situations, you know. You deliberately provoke Harry and the others. And they think it's because you love being difficult. But I know it's because—because it feels empty inside."
He let her go then, because Hermione's voice broke, and he didn't want to hold her when she looked so sad. Draco didn't want to be one of the millions who comforted Granger when she cried.
But she didn't weep, surprisingly enough. She stepped back from his grip with clenched fists and trembling lips, but there was no danger of watery sorrow from the girl.
"And there are ways to deal with the void—you enjoy picking fights. I plan missions. There are just different ways for different people. You knew that already, however, so there was no need for me to step in."
"My god, Hermione." Draco rubbed his eyes, a disappointed smile on his lips. "It's almost been a year."
"And in a year, will you have forgotten your mother?" she asked violently.
"I'll have tried my damnedest. By then, I will have at least tried."
Draco regarded her with pity, and was slightly surprised to see her doing the same.
"When you feel the way I felt for Ron, you'll know that forgetting is the last thing you'll ever want to do."
She stepped closer. Draco stood his ground, for Hermione Granger had no right to be so condescending.
"I've no desire to be that pathetic," he told her, regaining his usual tone of dripping disdain.
She stood just before him now.
"And if I ever do feel the way you do about someone, I'll have the good sense to choose someone living."
She kissed him.
Her lips felt cool and soft against his cheek, making him wonder at the temperature of this drafty hall way, and if he ought to have made them speak inside his chamber. She pressed against him innocently, leaving a brief impression of wistfulness against his side. Draco felt her mouth linger mournfully against his skin, and silently knew that she wished that he was an entirely different person. And as Hermione pulled back, and slowly turned away, he was struck by the sad sway of her. It was as if all the drowning grief one normally experienced had spread over her as a delicate cloak, tainting every movement, every look, with the tinge of incompletion.
How lucky she was, he thought as she silently walked away. To have ever felt that strongly about someone. To be carrying the remnants of that love even now. Even after nearly a year. Even after death.
Draco Malfoy could not remember ever being so jealous in his entire life. But he could not decide what, exactly, he envied: Weasley's acceptance of such devotion, or Hermione's acceptance of such loneliness. Draco was uncertain if he was capable of either.
"Do you enjoy being my friend, Granger?" he asked her just before the darkness hid his view of her. "Or do you only tolerate me?"
She continued her journey, escaping the lights so that he could only hear a disembodied voice. "I've tolerated you for years now, Draco. But there is no responsibility of you or your well being. I enjoy that."
Hermione Granger cared for him because she believed he was her only friend that did not need caring for. Draco did not know how he felt about that.
The memories were becoming increasingly detailed and lasting much longer than he would have liked. His own mind warned him of their agonizing arrivals. At first slight sleepiness signaled the beginnings of a flashback; now persistent headaches flared to announce the resurfacing of a recollection. Only once did blood actually spill because of the strange visions, and Malfoy, to comfort himself, attributed the strange incident to the heat of the Muggle's fire.
He attempted to distract himself from his own mental deterioration by exploring the attic and the basement. He was more pleased by the fruits of his labour during his foray into the lowest level of the house, for Hermione had purchased access to the WWN. Most likely for her parents, he guessed, just in case she could not tell them the latest news during The Dark Year. The device was, of course, useless to them after they had died, and so Hermione had chucked the thing out of sight in her cold, dusty basement.
She really was a silly creature, Draco thought to himself as he fiddled with the dial. The perfectly useful device was forever abandoned because of sentiment. It was a wonder she had survived for so long.
"Oh hell," Draco muttered to himself when he heard the familiar caterwauling of Warbeck. Now there was a lady who should have been assassinated during the war. The witch was of no political use to anybody, but Malfoy had a feeling her death would have benefited both sides.
Still, because Celestina was part of the magical world Draco was famished for, he sat through the end of the program. And, even then, the latest gossip made him hate his society a little bit more.
"Ronald Weasley, The Boy Who Died, was seen with his father today outside the…"
"Prewett supposedly missed an important meeting with the Filipino ambassador due to the fact that today would have been her birthday—"
"Sales of Fred and George: A Double Edged Sword of Fiery Truth and Amazing Bravery during a Rather Damp Stay with the Voldie Bloke are still climbing. Some credit this to the reappearance of youngest son Ron Weasley—"
"We now hear even more reports of Harry Potter's unusual and supposedly rude teaching style at Hogwarts. Some parents wish he actually had been on holiday with that Muggle woman on an island, far away from their impressionable children."
"The polls are closed, and thirteen percent find Ronald Weasley's return highly suspicious. One percent believe that it was a coordinated stunt for publicity's sake. Oh that's brilliant, because we all know Potter's so fond of publicity…who the hell wrote this rubbish? And eighty six find The Boy Who Died handsomer than ever. At this point, I am so pleased to point out that the silly intern who wrote and conducted this poll has been sacked."
"Traffic at Diagon Alley was terrible today due to the fact that the Lovegoods decided to have a public funeral for their latest late pet. There are two shocking factors about this story, my dear listeners. One is that the dead animal being mourned is an actual, solid, breathing,—well, scratch that last part—Crumple-Horned Snorkack. The other factor is that Seamus Finnigan had sat on the unbelievable creature, making it look like a common flattened toad. Most believe it to be what the Lovegoods claim, and, being an expert of death himself, Ronald Weasley sent a bouquet to the grieving family."
He listened for another hour, before deciding that he had had enough.
"The Boy Who Died," Draco repeated scornfully as he stomped up the stairs. He sat in Hermione's room, forsaking any furniture for the light before the window. He sat crossed leg on the floor, eyes narrowing at the blank wall.
"Really," he said, dismayed, "the future generations will be utterly disappointed in their forefathers. Making heroes out of the most mundane of tasks. Boy Who Lived, Boy Who Bloody Died…what about this Boy Who Survived a Fucking Freezing Forest? Boy Who Would Have Starved if not for his Superb Brilliance? What about that Boy?"
A year ago, he might have been perfectly terrified by the thought of speaking aloud to absolutely no one. But present circumstances allowed for such boredom-killing tasks. Also, with only himself to listen, it meant that his words were going to a worthy audience.
There were far too many praises for his liking. Oh, yes, a few hints of suspicion here and there, but not enough. The boy just up and gave a "Bugger you" to Death, and everybody acted as if Ron Weasley had earned the right to procrastinate dying. Malfoy suspected there was some nepotism in this.
He arranged it so that he would eat with the Muggles, when necessary, and he would stay for a while to listen and ignore some life lesson the old man insisted on giving. There had never been an invitation to him, really, and nor had Draco ever really asked for lectures. But whenever he was hungry, their door was always unlocked, and the wife didn't look surprised to see him at her table. And when the ancient Muggle prattled on and on about this battle or that war, Draco made a small effort to stay awake. It was a fair trade, he guessed.
His stomach growled idly, and Draco ignored it. Just because the opportunity was there did not mean he was willing to take it. He preferred to spend the minimum amount of time with them.
He suspected there had been a law passed, stating that every news item had to mention Harry Potter and the Potter entourage. That was the only reason any of the Weasleys received the attention they did; all because Harry Potter made them important. The bloke was perfectly willing to accept the praise and privileges given to heroes, but the second anybody peeped a negative word about his "family," Potter threw childish tantrums. Hypocrite.
But, damn him, he was a terrific wizard. Draco would never admit it, even if his life depended on it, but it must have taken a staggering amount of power to…well, do whatever Potter had done to his mind. Each image was more disturbing than the last. Each punched him with a strength that sent him reeling, as if the vision had been tethered in the unseen dark, struggling to break free. For some reason, after he had left the trying trio, the taut leashes had been brutally severed. Potter had no regard for the aftermath of his cruel actions.
The painful, enlightening aftermath.
The truth always seemed to work with her, and so it seemed sensible to tell her the truth when he arrived upon the realisation. He rather thought that he loved her, against his better judgment, and he would have been pleased if she felt the same.
She hadn't felt the same. Delicately, politely, but determinedly, Hermione had pushed his declaration away.
He had used the dreaded L word for her a few weeks prior, to no effect at all. She was the first who hadn't leapt straight into his arms and, consequently, the bed. Oh, it wasn't as if he had lied to simply gain a shagging. At the time, love seemed to be the only emotion he hadn't ever really felt. And, coincidentally, what he had felt for Hermione had been a mysterious something never before encountered. Draco suspected, however, after her ungrateful rejection, that he had confused gratitude and love, for his heart hadn't broken as he walked away, and there was no need for getting pissed afterwards.
But it hadn't been a mistake to tell her that he loved her either. Whatever he felt for her, it was nowhere near as strong as what Weasley had felt for her, or what she felt for the dead bloke. That was certain; that was unchangeable. But in comparison to the experiences of his life, Malfoy's regard for her was very significant indeed.
It had bothered him that she hadn't sought him out after that awkward declaration of love, and it bothered him now that they continued as she wished them to continue: as friends, pretending that nothing had happened. Worse yet, he was grateful for that, for any of the crumbs she threw his way. In the back of his mind, Draco knew that he had sunk to a new low, and he did not care.
Nobody could love a dead somebody for that long, Draco reasoned to himself when he accepted her affirmation. What she felt was guilt, and probably misconstrued that as love. Although Draco had never experienced it, he suspected there was always lingering regret over a past love, and such stubborn emotions were dangerous. Take Hermione, for example; her determination to stay loyal to Ron was ruining her chances with a better candidate. The silly witch was just lucky he was a patient suitor.
When Christmas came, she became even more subdued, despite the fact that this was the time of year during which everybody tried their best to put on a fake smile. There was no constancy in the student body, for, just as every year, some students chose to remain while others decided to risk it all to return to their families. Hermione had decided to remain, under the guidance of Harry and Dumbledore. Draco also wished to have the one person who tolerated him around for the holidays, but never said so. He knew confidently that she would stay, for there was no home for her to return to.
Draco suspected this Christmas was a particularly difficult time for her, for there were times when he spied her red eyes and heard her hiccupping sobs in passing. Harry or Ginny were the ones to comfort her there. If she wished for his sympathy, then he would have gladly, if not falsely, offered it.
He was not a fool. He learned why this holiday proved more trying than the others. Weasley had proposed around this time. On this date last year, she had been planning on spending the rest of her life with the dead hero.
There had been a feast, small but fulfilling, and then some half hearted gift exchanging. Many students felt there was no use in celebrating when the world was so uncertain. Hermione had not been one of those crestfallen children, and smiled more than the rest of them. It was only later, after he had finished his walk about the grounds, that he found her sitting on his bed.
"You really oughtn't do that," she said quietly, sniffling somewhat. "It's dangerous to check the perimeter by yourself."
"With Hagrid injured," Draco replied as he shook off his cloak, "there is no one else to maintain the defenses." He did not like the sound of his words, for it seemed as if he was doing the giant oaf a favour. "Even when his foot was all right, he's a bloody idiot when it comes to such spells. It's best that I take care of them."
He watched her carefully as he set his cloak on a chair, and then proceeded to not notice her at all as he untied his shoes and set them by the fire. Even with the moonlight timidly creeping through the boarded windows, and the size of the roaring flames in the grate, Hermione still appeared oddly shadowed. He strangely felt that all the light in the word could not reveal her thoughts at the moment.
Silently, he sat by her, closer than he had dared in months, and peered into her profile. Hermione was sad, but then, wasn't she always sad? If she smiled with pure joy, Draco reflected, nobody would recognise her.
He then noticed a familiar scent wafting from her, and leaned back with amusement.
"Drowning your sorrow in alcohol, Hermione?" he teased dryly with crossed arms. "It's rather trite, even for you."
"Oh, I tried," she sighed miserably with a shrug of her shoulders, "but I do hate the taste of this." She held up the bottle, and Draco noted that the contents had hardly been lessened at all.
"That's mine," he protested, but made no move to take it from her.
"Yes, I know. You're the only one I could have asked without fear of judgment."
"But you didn't ask," he pointed out. "You just took." Draco was by no means an alcoholic, and so the actual liquid meant very little to him. But a lack of discipline in his childhood nurtured his idea that, if he was not to enjoy something, then nobody else should either.
"Only a little," she replied defensively, and tossed the bottle into his lap. "And it's horrible any way. It's very much like petrol."
"It's an acquired taste," he informed her coolly, tucking the bottle under his pillow for later use. "Well? Are you adequately smashed enough to leave me alone?"
Her answer was not an answer at all. "Do you still love me?"
"I haven't thought of it," he replied sincerely, too caught off guard to say anything but the truth.
"But if you do think of it," she pushed, turning her head so that he could see her entire, desperate expression, "what would you say?"
"I'd say…I'd say that the regard I felt for you when I said those words hasn't changed," he hazarded, distrusting the words even as he spoke them. He still possessed doubts of her person and her character, some of which had been magnified tenfold since her rejection of him. At this moment, Draco supposed he maintained his affection partially for curiosity's sake.
Still, no matter how scientific his dissection became, Draco noticed that his pulse raced wildly at the encouragement in her tone.
"That's good," Hermione nodded, sounding quite unsure herself, "That's good."
"Good for what?" he asked sharply, shifting uneasily away. There wasn't much "away" however, on a bed.
"I've produced a theory," she began unsteadily, "just today. About how it hurts so much, and how, no matter what I do, it doesn't get better. That crap about time healing all wounds just doesn't apply to you and me, Draco, so I figured—I figured that—we should just help each other."
"Help each other how?" The suspicion in his voice had now moved towards outright indignation.
"Well, you said it!" she argued, becoming accusatory. "You told me that I didn't know if there was anything in our future worth all this god damned effort. And you don't know either."
"And what?" he demanded virulently. "You propose to learn together?"
"Yes—no—I meant we could just help each other. I just don't know, exactly, what that means," she mumbled uncertainly, her words trailing off as she looked down at the bed sheets. "But sometimes I feel, Draco, as if you're the only one to speak to. Harry knows what I feel, but it's impossible to make him talk like we talk—"
"So am I the second choice?"
"Yes, but, surely, you knew that."
It was a deep cut she had just dealt, but it was a compliment nonetheless. No polite verbal dancing for him, no. She thought him impenetrable, and treated him as such.
Hermione scooted closer, but with as much appeal as an approaching disaster. Despite his horror and offense, he remained where he was.
"I feel too much," she confessed in a hushed tone, eyes red and wet. "And you don't feel at all," Hermione condemned, watching yet uncaring as he winced at the accusation. "It is not so insensible to believe we could force it to work."
Force it to work, Draco repeated numbly in his mind as she closed her eyes and kissed him. God, he hated those words. He hated her expression as she leaned towards him, as if she had just decided to end her own misery. He hated his own surrender to the kiss, turning her timid endeavour into his own brutal revenge.
Draco didn't want a bloody submission. He never wished to be anybody's second best. Nobody ever grew up hoping to be the reason somebody forgot her true love. Catching the snarls of her curls, his hands rose to press her harder against him. He would show her the ugliness of "forcing it to work." Malfoy did not wish to be her future regret.
With a small, alarmed cry, she pushed him away. Before Hermione could speak, he stood, and stared down at her with broiling disdain. "Why did you do that?" Draco demanded, his entire body tense as if waiting for a brawl. "Why did you do that?"
"Because…because I love you."
Love and understanding were two different things. Draco saw that now, and was furious that she, Hermione Granger, the expert of all things, did not.
"Really?" he laughed scornfully, crossing the room to open the door. How much had she drunk, any way?
"Yes, really," was the quick—too quick—reply. "Why would I say it if I didn't meant it?"
"Because you pity me."
She pitied him and she pitied herself, but feeling sorry for any one was no reason to lie to them about love. That was crueler than no love at all.
She watched him, shame and fury playing on her features. "Get out," he ordered, flinging open the door. "Just…just get out."
Hermione meekly complied, and he would have been satisfied to spend the rest of his Christmas night brooding, if she had not softly apologised as she passed him.
He had forgiven her in that instant.
It was mad. She was proposing to use him, in a manner that was far worse than he had ever used her. And yet, even before she finished her "I'm sorry," Draco found her apology to be sincere, and silently pardoned her transgression. The swiftness of his decision was without reason. And it was in that dangerous circumstance—a total lack of rationality—in which love ambushed unsuspecting prey. Had he not been shockingly pleased by his affection for her, Malfoy would have been dismayed by his vulnerability.
Oh no, she definitely did not love him. But it was becoming alarmingly clear that he was beginning to truly need her. What he had declared in the past was an infantile infatuation compared to what he felt now. He knew her flaws and did not think less of her for them. She had spied his vulnerability and had not taken advantage of his unshielded words. They understood each other.
It was a singular feeling, being understood, and liked at the same time. Draco wanted to cling to that feeling forever.
Morning found Draco lying underneath a mountain of blankets. He was awake, but could not find the motivation to do what awake people did. He stared at the blankness of the blankets, trying to sort out the tangle in his head.
I think I'm going to be sick, he realised distantly. But that meant he'd have to get up, so he pushed away the urge to gag and retraced the latest sensational story his mind had presented.
He shouldn't have been surprised. All the events before that one showed that he was becoming increasingly fond of her. It was no secret that Harry Potter feared the developing friendship. For good reason, apparently.
Whatever he felt for Hermione Granger...it had been more than "like." And, when he thought of the memories his mind had recently decided to hurl at him, Draco was beginning to believe his affection for her had shattered past "like" and had moved frighteningly close to "love." Against all reasoning and his own upbringing, the little witch had managed to ensnare him without any effort at all. This required some analysis.
Draco didn't want to do it.
He reckoned his head would implode if he tried to figure out the disaster now. He needed to eat, to talk with somebody besides himself, and play an easy game of chess. Maybe, if he ignored it long enough, the details would shift and he'd find out that he had never liked her at all. Malfoy found the chances of this very low indeed, but cowardly ran away from the shattering revelation all the same.
"Hermione Granger…I understand she has a son, now?"
Those were the first words the wife had said to him—at least, as far as Draco could remember. Her quietness was the one trait that made her slightly more tolerable than her husband.
Draco nodded, and pushed the plate away. He wasn't full, not nearly, but Malfoy was in no mood for conversation today. At least, not with this woman.
"Out of wedlock, I assume."
Clearly, she expected his supporting disapproval, which he would normally give without hesitation. Instead, he nodded again.
"Are you not worried about being associated with such a shamed family?"
The family reputation was inconsequential amongst Muggle lines. The only time any respectable wizard had to worry about Muggle and catastrophe was if one little vermin had some how managed to climb his own family tree…
"My friend's personal business is no affair of yours," he told her crisply, quelling the alarm in his chest.
"It is, if such low class harlots are living next door," was the unexpectedly violent reply.
Draco was stunned when a surge of pure fury filled him, bringing to mind the most painful of hexes for this miserable harpy. How dare she? Didn't she know that Hermione Granger had helped save her worthless little world? It made his teeth clench to have the termagant even say anything to him, let alone about his friend—
"Oh you'd know all about harlotry, wouldn't you?" The husband had shuffled in, eyeing his spouse belligerently. He turned his suspicious eye towards Draco. "Trapped me into marriage, you know."
Draco did not know which was more unbelievable; the fact that she was willing to ensnare such a paltry prize, or the fact that he had been dragged to marriage, trap or no. Surely, any man with two legs could run away from the matrimonial sentencing, reputation be damned.
But Malfoy sent the due amount of disgust to the wife, and left the small house with a respectful nod to the man. The sneer returned to his face when he returned to the Granger residence.
Such low character. At least his parents had the decency to pretend love for one another.
He couldn't imagine a life like that. It was horrible enough that they had no magic, to make their humdrum lives somewhat better. Lucius and Narcissa were not exactly passionate for one another, but at least they had respect for each other's goals and accomplishments. Both wanted to advance themselves and their family.
Draco had always known that he'd marry somebody he'd respect, at the very least. Chances were the prospective bride would have to be somebody his parents had liked as well, so there was little danger of causing uproar. He didn't know if he'd be able to handle being chained to somebody he absolutely detested.
Was it possible to not respect somebody but still like them?
Well…yes. It was called pity.
"It's been inordinately awkward these past few days," she noticed sullenly.
"And I intend to keep it that way," he replied. "So please stop talking. Speaking about the awkwardness will only kill it, and I know how you abhor violence."
She sat underneath one window at the end of the corridor. He had just walked around the corner of the other end.
"I should hope we could remain friends. We've both spoken rashly, but that's no reason—"
"I find that a perfect reason. Now I don't want to speak to you."
"You just did."
"Well, I won't again."
"But you just did again."
"I—damn it, Hermione, shut the hell up."
By this time, he was swiftly approaching the sitting girl, and the familiarity of the situation struck him. She must have sensed it as well, for she scrambled to her feet, and left the book on the floor.
"We were never very good friends, so it's unimaginable that you should wish to keep such a friendship alive," he reasoned.
"Well, I've a much better imagination than you, Draco, so you really have no say in the matter. Friends don't just give anything up on each other, you know."
No, he wouldn't know, for his friends had given up on him, and vice versa, as casually as one discarded rubbish. So, reacting in the only way he knew how, Draco scoffed and abandoned her, treated her with as much contempt as possible, and accepted all tokens of friendship when offered. Malfoy was as bad a friend as Granger was good, and so there was an unhealthy balance between them that horrified others and amused the two in question immensely. He tried to warn her off, most likely repeating everything Potter and Weasley had already told her.
"I'm going to take advantage of our friendship, you know. I'm going to make impossible requests, and charm you into making decisions you won't like later"
"Cocky little Death Eater, aren't you?" she had laughed.
Draco was becoming increasingly aware of something cold and smooth behind his feet. His toes were freezing.
"You kissed me."
Was he awake? These…things usually only came when he slept, or at the beginnings of slumber. Flashbacks never interrupted his waking world so boldly before. Draco felt himself sway and wondered with fear if he was conscious enough to stay upright. Good god, where was he? Was the floor soft enough to cushion his fall, if the memory proved too strong to handle?
"Yes. Always a bright one, weren't you?"
"Why?" she wanted to know. Her eyes held all the innocence of a lost Hermione Granger, who never knew war and sacrifice. Draco was inexplicably happy to know that he had made her regain that blissful ignorance, if only for a little while.
In another world and a different time, Draco felt his body pitch forward, and sharp pain to his lower abdomen as something braced his fall. Blindly, his hands grasped for balance.
"A thanks, I suppose, from all those who won't give it."
It was the night of their third kiss.
Draco gripped the sides of the sink, blinking and slowly finding his way back to the present. He had come in here just after brunch to wash his hands. With a side ways glance to the window, he saw that it was nearly tea time.
They were getting out of control, these memories. Rude, uninvited crap. They gave him headaches, made him sick to his stomach, and generally fucked up his way of thinking. Really, it was annoying.
And so now what was he to do? Anybody with his symptoms would normally lie down and take a nap. But what good was a god damn nap when all that would accomplish was bring more memories? Because he felt so unsteady, Draco sat himself on Hermione's bed, but with something strongly resembling a pout. He was not going to sleep. There was no way in hell he was going to sleep. No. No. He refused.
"I've gotten rid of the house elves," he told her by way of greeting. Draco had made the decision due to the fact that he was housing and feeding them at home when they had no one to serve—lousy little leeches. Still, after turning them out, Malfoy thought that Hermione would have liked to know.
"With full pensions, I hope," she replied.
"Yes," he lied, "that too." He waited. This was the part during which she expressed her admiration for his generosity, and bestowed a kiss or two. But she only smiled approvingly and went about her business.
As a belated Christmas present, he brought her a shrubbery. Truthfully, he had forgotten that Noel had existed at all, and had pulled the stubborn plant out of the ground as he finished his rounds. Hidden creatures within the shrubbery proved rather violent, however, and the thing had to be tossed into the lake. But no worries, for she smiled any way, and that was quite enough.
He flirted because he meant it; she flirted because she needed the distraction. When Potter had returned from finally winning the war once and for all, she needed to celebrate, and he was there. When Potter ran away and Ginny had shut herself away from society for a bit, Draco was the one who accompanied Hermione back to Ickham, to take care of business.
"What's an Ickham?" he asked her absently while they ate supper.
"I'm from Ickham," she told him in a chastising tone. Hermione looked up briefly from her meal to send him a knowing stare. "But you knew that, didn't you?"
He did not answer, and, for some reason, could not meet her eyes. Later, Draco would wonder if she made the point simply to smother him with guilt, so that he could not refuse her later request of his escort to her old home.
Draco slowly opened his eyes, and found himself in the same position he had been sitting when he was refusing to fall asleep.
"Well shit," he said in a defeated tone. The room was dark and the hunger in his stomach had passed while he remembered. Now there was a dull ache in his abdomen, which was familiar and bearable.
At this rather late point, Malfoy guessed there was no use fighting them. It was an unnaturally submissive attitude for him, but, clearly, there was nothing to do to stop the flashbacks.
And why should he stop them? Draco sat up even straighter. They were rightfully his, after all. It was Potter's fault that he was enduring this pain at the moment, but, ultimately, the discomfort was necessary. He had a right to his own mind, really.
Having slept the entire day, Draco could not find rest in the night. He stood before the book shelf, eyes trained on one gaudy, metallic spine. Before he could stop himself, curiosity lifted his hand forward, and grasped the well worn book with eagerness.
Draco sat at her desk and opened it to a random page. His eyes were glued blindly to a photograph of the world's longest earthworm. Odd that the disgusting specimen should make him think even more of Hermione Granger. Well, perhaps not so odd. For even though he was disgusted by the subjects, Draco still wished to know more.
He read until night fell, and imagined her reactions to each absurd fact. Hermione Granger was nothing if not enjoyably predictable.
"Why in god's name do you have so many repugnant statues?" he asked, strolling about the room.
"They're—they were my father's."
"Well then, why did he have such horrible taste in sculpture?" he asked frankly.
Hermione looked ready to be offended, but then smiled with a shrug. "He likes films, Draco, and to have some sort of memorabilia from the films made him feel as if he had been part of it."
He gave a snort, but Hermione again quietly ignored his disrespect. Draco knew he was supposed to be helping her do something, but he was in a good mood, and refused to let domestic work dampen this rare emotion. Despite his scorn, Hermione noticed his cheer, and remarked upon it as she draped sheets over the furniture.
Draco shrugged instead of explaining, for he was, for once, reluctant to brag about something.
He wasn't like her any more. Draco had his family back, while she had nothing. They weren't quite the same, when it was their unique inability to heal properly that had forged their friendship. And now…well, now, he was fixed. Normal.
Mum hadn't exactly been talkative since he was welcomed back to their home, but that was to be expected. Stubborn little witch, and a bit proud too. Draco supposed she learned that from his father. She suddenly could not accept defeat, even if defeat meant living with her precious son once more. If the moping, crying, caterwauling existence she had perfected could be called "living."
As happy as he was to secure Narcissa once more, Draco was unsure how to break the news to Granger. It wasn't going to be like the old days, when she'd drop by without warning or invitation. And he certainly could not help her with nonsense like grieving and moving, not when his mother was ready to take a merry jump out the window at every opportunity.
He frowned at the girl's back as she cleared the mantel. Malfoy wasn't quite sure what worried him more—the doomed fate of their friendship, or his mum's health. Or the fact that his friendship with Granger actually meant more to him than his mum's health. It was a bit scary, how the Muggle born witch somehow made him care that much.
"Draco?" she called, her voice echoing a bit in the nearly empty house. Draco turned away from the fire place, and watched as she taped the box flaps shut. "You seem a bit distracted."
He said nothing, and only followed her up the stairs like a silent, sulking boy. As far as friends went, she required surprisingly little maintenance. Hell, as far as females went, she was the ideal specimen. She didn't even snap at him when he blatantly ignored her like that, and nor did she berate him when he proved to be a total lack of help. Draco supposed that her years with the two buffoons had acclimatized her to the company of useless gentlemen.
"Is it your mum?" she asked sympathetically.
No surprise registered on his face, but, inwardly, he had gasped a shamefully shocked gasp. "Beg your pardon?" he asked indifferently.
"Your mum. She's come back, hasn't she? Is she giving you trouble?"
She spoke so casually of what was surely a monumental obstacle to their relationship. "She does very little, to tell you the truth," he answered after a pause.
When it was apparent that the end of the war was near, Draco had been looking forward to stepping up his efforts towards Hermione Granger. He hadn't counted on his mum's returning presence, because…well…he had simply forgotten to think of her. Granger helped with that endeavour, and now, it had all backfired. And he didn't want to give either one up, for two reasons. One, Hermione Granger was less annoying than previously assumed. And B, there was no asylum that could handle his mum, not without some sort of messy homicides involved. It was out of the question to just lock Narcissa up until she got better, because Draco was certain there were rules about that…
"I'm hungry," Hermione announced, and stood, wiping the dust off her knees. "Where do you want to go?"
He frowned at her, irked that she constantly interrupted his thoughts. Never mind that he was in her home, and was at liberty to be mentally interrupted. "I planned on going home, actually."
"Cheap," Hermione remarked, leading the way down the stairs once more. "What will we be having?"
"My mum will be there," he stated.
"Well, yes, Draco, but I've never been fond of cannibalism."
"She never liked you."
"That's to be expected, as we all thought she didn't like anybody but you," Hermione replied, waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs like an impatient wife. "But it's quite all right if she glares and snipes at me, because I've endured too much to be intimidated by the likes of her." When Draco made no encouraging movements, she sighed and marched up half way. "Draco, don't be silly. The world won't explode if your friend and your mother dislike each other."
Yes, that was quite common, wasn't it? As far as he could remember, his mum never had a kind word for either of his father's parents. The sore subject of in-law relations actually proved to be quite useful as conversation starters during those awkward family dinners consisting of just the three of them.
The tightening burden of this problem suddenly loosened in his chest, and, for the first time in a few days, Draco could breathe properly. He would not lose her.
"Unless, it's you who doesn't want me to come," Hermione continued blithely, and Draco was sure she was masking the hurt, "and you're simply using your mother as a cover."
"No," he said softly, and walked briskly past her, "come, I don't care. I just don't think I have anything to eat, that's all." It used to be a foreign concept—his kitchen, completely without food. But with Hermione and the Ministry taking up most of his time, Draco sometimes utterly forgot the necessities of living. If not for the constant monitoring his mother required, he would have never returned home at all.
"I'll be sure to get something then," Hermione said as she shrugged into her coat. She paused when she felt him help her with the collar, and quickly stepped out of his grasp to hand him his wraps. To avoid his swift frown, she joked, "Why is it that I'm always stocking your pantry? Can't you take care of yourself?"
"Clearly I can't," he retorted, a hint of a smile creeping upon his sulky expression. "You might have to shack up with me, to avoid my death."
She blushed slightly, and pushed him out the door so that she could lock it properly. "You really ought to stop that, you know," Hermione told him when she was turned away from him.
"Flirting, going on. It makes people uncomfortable." He reckoned she was speaking of those Weasley wankers. There was no reason to inform him, for it always made him smile when one of the boys sent him silent, throttling motions behind Granger's back.
"I don't mind."
"Yes…well…" They heard the loud click of the lock, and she turned to him with an absurdly puffed out stance, hands in pockets, shoulders squared, face set with both softness and discomfort. "I sort of do."
"Mind. It was well and good to be each other's distraction," she said. Hermione spoke so low, as if telling him a secret. She stepped down from the steps and began to walk, and he followed. Neither knew why, as neither had walked to arrive at the Granger household. But it helped Hermione speak, clearly, and Draco was never one to hinder her. Not without good reason, any way.
"But now, there's no reason to be distracted. Now, it's just what it is—it's distracting me, us, from what we ought to be doing."
Hermione Granger, he thought then, had a complex. He wasn't sure if there was a medical name for her psychiatric condition, but, anonymous or not, she was deeply afflicted by this mad need to be doing what everybody thought she should be doing. Clearly, under their circumstances, it was impossible to do what they "ought" to do, but those with such disorders were often blind to such rationality.
"It's just a bit of flirting, Hermione." He meant to be jovial, careless, and yet his voice sounded sort of pleading when he spoke, equally low.
"I'm afraid it means a bit more to one of us," she told the pavement solemnly.
Stupid of him, oh, so incredibly daft. For one second, for one ecstatic second, Draco Malfoy misconstrued her words. He was ready to tell her that it was quite all right if she was afraid to be led on by his easy charm, for, in her case, he had meant it. In the space of a heartbeat, he was ready to shake her for her stupidity, for, clearly, he liked her back. Loved her back, if she allowed it.
For one, small, sad moment.
She looked up and sideways at him, eyes saying more than any thing her smart mouth could have produced. Hermione Granger thought she was adroit when it came to others' sensitivities. Stupid girl. When it came to other things distant from her own emotions, yes, she was a bloody diplomat. But when it came to her feelings, her safety, her god damned personal space—
"Draco," she prodded tenderly.
If she didn't want him to like her that way, then she shouldn't have spoken to him so…so temptingly! If she didn't wish to break his heart, then she shouldn't have tolerated everything he said with such warm glances! If she wasn't such a heartless tease—
"For god's sake, Granger," he hissed, stopping in his tracks. He only walked with her because he didn't trust Muggles, and God only knew what sort of degenerates would be lurking about this magicless neighborhood. "You think you do people a favour when you speak so aimlessly like that, when, truly, you just make it so bloody painful I'd have preferred a hammer to my skull. Just say it, damn it."
"I didn't mean—" she began, surprised and subdued by his vehemence.
"No, you never do, do you? You presume that I, Draco Malfoy—"
"But don't you?" she asked sharply, hurt making her volume rise.
"No! God, the ego of you! It's appalling."
"I was just making sure that neither of us became…too—too involved—" Hermione's face was beginning to redden, and it was not due to the cold air.
"No, you're just taking care of yourself, again. You always need a friend, and Potter's abandoned you, so you need to make sure that I stay—"
"I have plenty of friends," she spat, "in case you haven't noticed. I have loads. It's you I'm worried about. It's you who needs taking care of. As far as I can tell, you only have one good friendship, and that one is in serious danger if you keep exploding without reason like this."
"Without reason," he repeated, amazed. "You just—it's your fault!"
"This—this thing, the thing that you said we should avoid. It's your fault it happened!"
"Do I have to draw you a bloody picture?"
It was at that point that Draco noticed a neighbor's face in the window, beyond Granger's shoulder, and frowned darkly. Roughly grabbing her elbow, he steered her back towards her home. "Look, you're not allowed to do this," he warned her through clenched teeth. She threw him a dark look, but said nothing as she struggled to keep up with his quick pace. "I've given no pretenses as far as this 'friendship' is concerned. So it is false, unforgivably false, for you to 'suddenly' realise the negative effects of receiving my attention. If you did not want me to…" He paused, struggling for the right words that did not sound too trite. It was impossible. "If you did not want me to increase my affections for you, then you should have never let it begin."
"And I'm the only one to blame for this?" she asked skeptically. Hermione had put her petite foot down, and refused to climb up the stairs. He stood one step up, looking down at her with hard, unsympathetic eyes. Hardly the gaze of an ardent lover.
"Yes," he said, with an exaggerated sigh.
"I, alone, am the one to blame. Despite my many small, and then embarrassingly broad hints that I did not like you that way, it is entirely my fault? I'm the only person with a mouth with which to say, 'Stop, this is a bad idea?'"
"Yes, clearly," he agreed. "You're a persistent little bugger, Hermione Granger. Have you ever tried getting rid of you?"
It was a nonsensical question, and both decided to ignore it. "Besides, you can't expect me to be the one to stop it all, because I'm the one in love. Of course I'm going to welcome your attentions! As the one who is supposedly not in love, you have the responsibility to make sure things don't go farther than you intend—"
"Shut up, Draco, just for a second," she ordered, sounding both concerned and disturbed. "I thought you only liked me."
"But you just said—"
Draco reviewed what he had just rambled on about, and mentally kicked himself. "Well, it doesn't matter what I said, does it?" he asked acerbically. "You don't 'feel the same way.'"
"Stop it with the insincere emphasis, Draco." She sounded as if he was causing her a headache. "You're just being obnoxious."
"You used to like my obnoxiousness."
"You've deluded yourself into thinking I like a lot of things about you," Hermione rejoined harshly. Too harshly, she realised, for even as she finished her words, Granger's brown eyes widened.
"Well, you're an expert in delusion, aren't you Granger?" he asked bitingly. Draco watched as her mind flitted from one emotion to the next. Shock, anger, regret, embarrassment…but always back to regret. He knew, simply knew without the slightest doubt, that she was wishing to take back everything she had told him in confidence. Her secrets were now his ammunition. And when he was hurt, Draco was willing to use every weapon available.
Where was she now? Draco wondered this as he flipped through the silver book, not stopping to wonder why he was wondering. He sat on the stairs that led to the back garden, because the house was oppressive and there had been nothing better to do.
The cheerful morning sun did nothing to alleviate the gloom of his thoughts. That incident in Ickham…it was painful, to say the least. In hindsight, Draco could not fathom why he simply did not give up.
Snogging somebody red haired. Cuddling that infant. She was warm, and smiling, and for some reason the images niggled him. Happy people always bothered him, but the fact of her happiness wasn't the troubling matter. Draco was plagued with the unknown identity of who was sharing her smiles.
These memories were troubling, on several levels. It was difficult to believe that he had overcome his basic dislike of her. His opinion of her had altered, of course, but that did not change what she was. Muggle-born. Unnatural. Not even one drop of redeeming blood in her. It was sickening, gut wrenching, to know that the beliefs pounded in him all his life were wrong, but there stood the proof, embodied by one Hermione Granger.
The nuisance had proved that purer blood did not a better wizard make. She proved that the complicated social network his father had perfected and the flawless etiquette Narcissa had taught were all bollocks.
He took what had to be the sixtieth tour of the entire Granger house, and finished in ten minutes. A tour of the Malfoy abode required a day and a map, and, if you were smart, a flask of water.
It was hopelessly small. He couldn't fathom how the close walls managed to shelter her big head from the rain, let alone accommodate two other adults. And there were more books than bookshelves, a habit which her parents possessed as well. The household was neat, but gave no impression of anything—not wealth, not power, not the idea that if you broke anything, you would die a hilariously painful death. He guessed that she might have donated her parents' clothes, except for a few careworn pieces that must have had some fond memories attached to them. Logical and sentimental. Irksome little paradox.
"It's because I'm a Virgo," she had told him once, laughing yet oddly sincere in the explanation. "We're the ones to turn to in times of crisis, yet we're very in touch with our feelings."
"Rubbish," was his amused reply. "Besides, you've just described women in general, not the lucky few born in your month."
He lingered within the house for a few days, deciding that, if he was to be bombarded by sporadic fits of reliving, it was best done alone. There was nobody to witness his pain, nobody to mock his horrified confusion.
The second priority after the resurfacing of memories was a far more easier to deal with. Draco was angry as hell at Potter, even before all the memories returned to him. Bastard had gone into his head, stolen his memories, and manipulated the handicapped version to his liking. He hadn't wanted to help them with resurrecting Weasley, and that selfish piece of crap had blatantly ignored all the basic rules of humanity to turn Draco Malfoy into a mindless slave.
Well, perhaps "mindless slave" was a bit of an exaggeration, but he was definitely misinformed. Draco couldn't remember why Potter assumed bribery and blackmail wouldn't guarantee his cooperation, but there must have been a tremendously good reason why the little piece of shit went straight for dark magic. Malfoy wasn't sure what he wanted to do to Potter the moment he saw him again, and, even if he decided on the best course of retaliation, he was pitifully handicapped without his wand.
Draco knew that to mortally wound Potter would put a damper on his friendship with Hermione, but, really, it was simply badly done of the tosser. That sort of mental invasion was too risky for such a petty matter of bringing Ron Weasley back. It could have caused permanent damage. It could have driven him mad. He might have died, for god's sake. One simply didn't do that to another person, who hadn't done anything to you in return.
"So how do you plan to do it, exactly?"
Draco looked down at his bedridden former school mate, and found himself slightly annoyed. For a one-legged boy who was about to die, Blaise Zabini looked offensively fit.
Then again, Blaise Zabini knew a great deal about covering the vileness beneath a meticulous appearance.
"Beg your pardon?"
He had the nerve to smirk. Crossing his arms, Blaise explained smugly, "My guess is you weren't too happy with the owl I attempted to send Granger a few months back. I also suppose you've finally grown a pair and have decided to force her hand—persuasion, I've read, hasn't exactly been successful."
Draco did not let his surprise flicker across his gaunt face. Although Zabini was about to reach his end, Malfoy was just petty enough to want every advantage over him. But he hadn't known that the rumour mills had used his pathetic pining over Hermione Granger as fodder. Naively, he had thought the speculation had resided solely within the Weasley family and their odd little circle of friends.
"But, in order to do that, you'd like this little pesky former admirer out of the way, yeah? So, Draco Malfoy, how exactly do you plan to kill me? This is a public hospital, the nurse—she fancies me, you know—checks on me with affectionate regularity, and the press is keeping a close eye on you since your nutter of a mum's death. So, I'm curious. Just what do you plan to do?"
Too disturbed by the recent news of his unwanted publicity, Draco answered softly, "Poison."
"Poison?" Blaise Zabini scoffed. "That's all you can come up with? Good god, the Malfoys were just as overrated as mother said. Who do you think you can fool—"
"Who do you think you're fooling," Draco cut in with a cold hiss, "when everybody knows your mother did not have the time nor the desire to speak to you from the time you were born. Too busy servicing every nobleman in the country, I suspect, and a few commoners for fun. You may be a pure blood, Blaise Zabini, but you're also a bastard in every sense of the word, so I am warning you. Do not dare to patronise me."
His entire body was rigidly wound up for a fight, and Blaise thought for a moment that the depressed, colourless young man would pounce from the chair and choke him to death. But within a few moments, Malfoy forced himself to relax, and walked with effortless grace to where a tray of food sat on the bedside table. With a mechanical manner, he reached within his robes and pulled out a vial. As he spilt the clear, thick contents in the thick pea soup, Blaise spoke with a more cautious tone.
"Lucky I'm not in the mood for soup today."
"I suppose there's no harm in telling you the plan at this point. You're going to finish this meal. I'm going to leave here and look properly comforted by the only friend I have left. In a day or two, you're going to die. Painfully, and, unfortunately suddenly. In a few hours or so, your throat will close, so that you cannot say what hurts and who is probably to blame. They'll come up with some ridiculous theory, maybe a virus contracted while you hid your sorry arse during the war, and that will be that."
Slowly, he pulled out his wand, and regarded Blaise thoughtfully. "And you will finish your food, Zabini, that I'm sure of. It's apart of the deal you've set up with that nurse you love so much. Almost cute, really, the way she cares about your health in the most unprofessional manner. You finish that soup, you get all your letters delivered,—letters the Ministry would not approve of in the slightest."
Blaise, ill and less disciplined when it came to maintaining impassivity, met Draco's grey gaze with furious surprise.
"Oh yes, Zabini, you're not the only one with contacts left in the world. But don't worry your empty little head about it. You're going to forget my plan. You're going to forget that I ever came. Maybe the memory will come to you as you die, I'm not sure. You're going to go on as if this is a regular day, and by this time tomorrow, you'll no doubt be on your way to hell."
Blaise's eyes darted to his food, and then opened his mouth to scream for help. Annoyed, Draco immobilised him before he became even more troublesome.
"Look at the bright side, Zabini," Draco sighed as he moved to the foot of the bed, wand pointed steadily at the terrified boy. "Considering all of the Death Eaters killed during the war you fled, there's the odd chance of finding your father in the afterlife."
Funny. He didn't move, but he somehow radiated hot waves of pure hatred. Draco, while impressed, did not care.
He awoke with a start, and his bleary eyes read the clock. It was not even midnight. There was no reason to wake up—
Oh. Oh yes. The dream.
The memory, he corrected himself. At least it hadn't been disturbing. Draco viewed murder like others viewed garden work. Annoying, messy, but necessary.
But he couldn't understand why he had taken the risk to kill Blaise prematurely. After all, he could have waited a few months before somebody or other found reason to murder the bloke. Or, if he was feeling especially patient, he could have waited a year or two for Zabini to be brought to trial for all his secret, heinous hobbies. So why had he taken justice into his own hands, if he and Hermione were angry with one another at the time?
Pride, Draco concluded after a long moment's thought. It must have been pride. He did not wish for Blaise to continue sending his pesky little messages to Hermione about his pathetic, unrequited love, when he had emphatically told Hermione that he was keen to forget his "deluded" crush on her.
The next day, Draco thought about his and Blaise Zabini's relationship during school. He was the only one who ever equaled his status and position within the Slytherin house. Well, almost equaled. He was still a bastard.
Hermione respected him well enough. In fact, because she was completely ignorant when it came to Zabini's true nature, Draco suspected that Hermione might have actually preferred the illegitimate bloke over the other Slytherins. Blaise rarely voiced his disgust of the mixed blooded in public. He was relatively quiet, minded his own business, and achieved surprisingly decent marks. Of course Hermione had no reason to dislike him.
Draco did, however. First of all, where did the git get off, acting so lofty when he was only at Hogwarts due to the charity of a distant relative? Also, there were rumours of squibs in the Zabini family. That in itself was deplorable. Malfoys had the good sense to kill both the squibs and the rumours whenever they ever popped up.
And secondly, he was not so tight lipped nor as stately as everybody assumed. The Zabinis were an unstable lot; anybody with gossiping pure blooded relations knew that. They had odd carnal tastes, and capricious explosions of violence. And, although Blaise had been wise enough never to degrade and measure Hermione Granger in the company of others, one could see the sinister admiration in his eyes whenever the tainted witch drew near. It was an admiration that never sat well with Draco.
He wasn't sure who would fall farther. Possibly Hermione, for having been raped by the madman? Or would Blaise have suffered more, for violating somebody of such low origin? Still, he decided to save them from each other, and arranged for Blaise to lose a leg, thus shaming the unassuming lunatic into giving up the position of Head Boy. Again, the journals of Gilderoy Lockhart came in handily for the trick, and, in the end, Blaise's older brother had been punished for the accident.
From the incident, Draco learned the value of the convenience of memory erasure. It never really mattered how badly one behaved, nor how many people had been affected. As long as no one remembered it, the crime was limitless.
Now, Draco considered his circumstances, wondering just whose memory he'd have to manipulate to regain a normal life. Granger…no, he had done something to her already. Besides, he liked—loved her, evidently, and one didn't do that to somebody one loved.
Potter? Draco dismissed the possibility immediately. He was loath to admit it, but Harry Potter was a formidable wizard. He wondered if even Dumbledore could match that scarred arse's power.
Prewett, Malfoy decided. Yes, it was Prewett who wanted him recaptured. It was Prewett who wanted him dead. Or so Potter had told him.
And Draco believed him, for Prewett had every reason to hate him. Still, Draco thought the minister of magic could be a bit more mature about the past. They all made unwanted decisions during the war. Once, Draco had only had a particularly pretty witch killed because she was leaking Death Eater secrets through code in her newspaper articles. He hadn't really wanted the "neutral" witch killed, and it pained him to see such a clever, pretty girl sacrificed for the Dark Lord's cause. If she had minded her own business, none of them would be in this tangle. Draco would not have seen fit to kill her, Prewett would not have present motivation to kill him, and they would all be in relative good health.
Besides, how was he to know that Sabrina Peppercolt was the fiancée of the future minister of magic? Really, the little Spanish seer had failed to mention that. Draco Malfoy wished he could send Prewett the name of the assassin who had actually done the deed, but he had the sneaking suspicion that Harold Gerald the First had already taken care of him personally.
Draco sighed, but then chuckled. The look on Zabini's face!
She just showed up. He hadn't invited her, never gave her any indication of welcome, and yet, damn it all, the witch began her pity visits without fail.
Draco cared for her, of course, and was pleased to see her visit him despite his constant unacceptable behaviour. But he would have liked to talk to her when he was feeling less weak, and had a firmer grip over his emotions. Wouldn't want her to have the upper hand, after all.
The first time had been unbearable. The amusement of Zabini's death had faded, and all that was left was a churning coldness. He had cried—well, he assumed that was people would technically call moisture flowing from the eyes—a few days prior, and was quite certain the shameful signs were still present on his face. But Granger had been one of those awful girls who never particularly cared for his face, and nor did she give the smallest of damns for his near palpable aura of menace. She simply…
"I don't care for your scowls or your growls," she had told him in a matter of fact voice as he stood at the open door, mind boggled by the sight of her at his door step. Too many questions were tangling his thoughts to form a coherent response. Why was she there? How did she make it past the wards? Was it time to update the security system? Who was to be sacked for this lack of safety—
"And it was very rude of you to send this back." She held up an envelope, one encasing the sorts of condolence cards that made his father roll his eyes. The same type of cards his mother would send out nonetheless, if only for etiquette's sake. In their line of work, it was expected to send some sort of condolences for the death of somebody—even if one was politically responsible for that person's death—because that was what civilised people did.
Draco knew that. He narrowed his eyes at the unopened envelope, and remembered all the absolute shit advice his parents taught him. All their wisdom couldn't save them from their ends, and it certainly wouldn't help him now.
"I mean, I understand that anger is part of grieving process," Granger told him, so damn condescendingly that he contemplated gagging her with her own hair, as she daintily pushed past him and into the foyer, "but the little note you attached with it was quite rude. Considering the fact that I may be the only person who even deigned to send a fake, 'I'm sorry for your mother's death,' it was unnecessarily violent. And graphic. And I'm fairly certain that you didn't mean the part where you suggested that I—"
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, finally deciding that he would rather rot in hell—well, okay, that was already going to happen, but still—than be reprimanded by Granger in his own home. "Scratch that, I don't very much care. Get out."
"You've missed work."
"Arthur, of course, has been a kind man despite all the pain you and yours has inflicted upon his family, and is willing to overlook the unapproved leave, but—"
"There's a quicksand trap on the way out. Be sure to visit it."
"It's not that there's a hurry, but they'd just like to give the temp a time frame. It would be a shame, you know, to tell Benjamin six weeks, and then have you show up after four—"
Perhaps it was the heart gripping force in his tone. Or, maybe, the hardening of his frosty grey eyes. But the most reasonable explanation for her obedient silence was his bruising hold on her neck.
"Fuck off and die," he told her succinctly. "I don't want your pity. And concerning the Weasley and the temp, the whole lot can go to hell." With no qualms nor patience, he had forced her outside his door once more. "Chances are, I'll see you there any way."
If a physical threat wasn't enough to deter her—and such a thing never really did impact a Gryffindor's feeble mind—then he would be sure to emotionally maim, if only for a moment. Hermione was already ready to protest, a demand for his explanation on her lips.
"After all," he began slowly, knowing that she would wait for an hour for his clarification. For the first time since Narcissa Malfoy shuffled off her none-too-pleasant mortal coil, Draco was beginning to enjoy himself. "Didn't you more or less kill your fiancé?"
She didn't return that day.
Each morning, Draco would awaken with a growing portfolio of memories, with a growing fear to what those memories indicated.
He "loved" Hermione Granger, from what he could see. And the emotion, painfully created and even more painfully endured unrequited, had been enough to make him act outside the boundaries of reason. In hindsight, Draco could understand how it happened. Loneliness did not make him very selective in terms of friends, he supposed. And, considering the amount of trouble he had caused her, Hermione proved herself a nice girl to accept him as she did.
There was a difference between gradually falling in love with someone, and suddenly being informed that he had fallen—and still ought to be—in love with someone he had previously merely tolerated. Now that he was more aware of himself—or less aware, technically—Draco could see what in-love Draco could not.
She was not a suitable match. Mentally, and spiritually, yes, she was perfect. But what of the Malfoy line? What of the future children, whose character and social standing would be based on his and her blood? Those who didn't care about Draco Malfoy II's blood probably weren't worth his time.
Perhaps the Weasleys didn't care if their purity met an untimely end, but Draco was considerate. His father, his father's father, and so on, had spent a great deal of time making sure that the Malfoys maintained a certain pedigree. A number of them probably sacrificed their true loves along the way. It was damned reckless and selfish of him to obliterate precedence simply because he experienced an unpleasantly fuzzy feeling when it came to the subject of Hermione Granger.
Malfoy resolved to forget about her, and crossed the hall into the library to stare hard at the globe. Closing his eyes, he spun the sphere and let his finger stop it randomly. Reluctantly, he peered closer to see his future permanent home.
"The Channel?" he exclaimed in disgust, pushing the globe away. "Stupid Muggle globe."
Truthfully, it was difficult to choose a new homeland, as quite a few of them possessed citizens who hated him. His former Death Eater friends had already chosen the best hideaways, selfish bastards, and he suspected that none were too keen on the idea of sharing a tropical island with him. Of course, the Malfoys had a small number of their own islands, but those were likely confiscated by now.
What did it matter? Even he didn't care if he landed in Siberia. And there was little chance of anybody else caring either. Apparently, the only one who viewed him with a friendly eye had moved on, now taking care of two red haired babies—one newly born and one newly resurrected. Draco had no ties to cut once he chose that lucky country.
"None that I know of, any way," he muttered as he settled into a chair, picking up a book of poetry. Draco liked to spend most of his time in stable and safe positions. The sporadic and forceful natures of the flashbacks had modified his already inactive behaviour.
She brought a book with her today. Hermione had frolicked in, seated herself without invitation, and began to read.
But before all this offensive behaviour began, Draco had reluctantly left his bed, prepared for the day, and then sat in his library to write responses to the condolences.
In order to do that, however, one had to receive the condolences first. The past few days had been filled with unending boredom, quill at the ready for the briefest of missives. It was pathetic that Lucius Malfoy's death had rendered more condolences than his mother's. In Draco's private opinion, Lucius had been a bit of an ass. It was all well and good to make friends and enemies, but the imbecile had forgotten to feign friendships with his enemies, leaving him no ally at the very end.
Narcissa had at least been nice. In his entire life time, Draco could remember maybe one or two instances during which she raised her voice at him. And she was polite to everybody she met, for the most part. Not like those Weasleys, who fell over themselves to let others know how happy or upset they were. Narcissa had some self respect, and respect for others, for she had written to their remaining living relatives when their spouses happened to keel over.
"I hope they all rot in hell," he muttered darkly, staring down at the blank parchment.
"A simple hello would suffice."
He stiffened, and pivoted in his seat to find Hermione Granger in a chair at the chess table. That was where his father used to sit and trounce him soundly. When he was younger, he used to scheme to sit in that pretentious furniture, for surely that was the only reason Lucius won so quickly each time.
Draco faltered on his "What are you doing here?" and hesitated vocalizing his "How did you get in?" Those questions proved to be utterly beyond the comprehension of this Muggle born witch, and, frankly, he had stopped caring.
There was a long moment during which Draco looked, nonplussed, at Hermione, and Hermione contentedly looked at her book. Upon finding that his eyes were having no affect on her, he moved his gaze to her book. He knew before reading the title that it was the awful kind, the sort that his parents forbade him from buying. She held a flimsy, paperback thing, one that obviously contained a tale too sordid for a proper hard cover.
"We have books here," he heard a young man whinge. When Hermione lifted her amused eyes to him, Draco realised with horror that it had been him speaking so petulantly.
"Yes, Draco, I gathered—"
"I meant," he cut in, turning back to face his writing desk, "that it's rude to show up, uninvited, in another's library, only to snub his books by bringing one of your own crap literature."
"World records are not crap literature!" Hermione protested immediately, pointedly ignoring his main complaint.
She held up the gaudy, metallic coloured book, and waved it impatiently. "The Guinness Book of World Records. There's a new one every year."
"Why must this book be revised every year? It sounds like rather faulty journalism if you ask me."
"Because world records are broken every year," she explained calmly, taking up the statistics once more. "You know…one year a man will eat five hundred kidney pies in one sitting and the next a woman will eat five hundred and one. That sort of thing."
He stared, speechless. "I take it these are Muggle endeavors," he said when he found his voice.
It had been intended as an insult, but Hermione refused to find offense. "Well, of course. Wizards would cheat, no doubt."
"That is a rude generalization—" he began, and remembered that he was arguing about kidney pie eating contests. "Never mind."
The more attention he paid to her, the more she took to the idea that she was safe from his ire. It was the same attitude his parents warned him about when interacting with the prisoners in the dungeons.
Just so he would not appear the total fool before her, Draco picked up his quill and soon the sound of furious scribbling began to fill the silence.
Dear underbred rotter who had not sent your commiseration for my mother's death,
Thank you so much, you little tosser. No doubt your life had been improved by the acquaintance with Narcissa Malfoy, and this is how you repay the good deed? Arse. I don't give a damn if she went mad towards the end there; she was still a lady of good breeding and family. Bugger. With such ill blood, I have no doubt that the art of letter writing has faded from your life. Ponce. Still, it does not take much exhausting mental exercise to show up to a god damned funeral, now, does it? Coc
"Oh that's terrible!"
His hand paused, which was all for the better, for his literary fury had been making his fingers ache. Draco stood and turned towards her, ready to release a verbal lashing for daring to read his private letter, when he realised that, unless she had amazing eyesight, Granger had not been peeking over his shoulder.
From where she sat, she held up the open book towards him, pointing to a small picture. Clearly, she expected him to come closer or simply look from his distance. He grudgingly stood and took a few steps forward, but stopped half way, just to let her know she had no authority over him whatsoever.
"Twenty nine children! In thirty years! I'd never allow that."
He scowled, and returned to his desk. That wasn't worth getting up for. Hell, that wasn't worth reading. Irritated, he reached for a new piece of parchment, for the sake of appearing busy and important.
Dear Sir or madam or both or neither, considering that anybody who did not have the common decency to send a condolence letter must be a perfect freak of nature—
"I mean, they must have been falling out while she was barefoot and pregnant, chained to the kitchen stove—"
I am stuck in my library with a woman who does not know how to heed "No Trespassing" signs
Draco knew that no such signs were explicitly put around the Malfoy property, but really, the sheer appearance of the place was enough to imply the warning. Any idiot gazing at the foreboding pile of stones would understand the silent message: "Do not come here unless you have received an invitation to do so… and even then, mate, weigh the pros and cons."
And nor does she realise that her presence is not easing my mourning period. In fact, her presence is forcing me to reconsider my No More Murders Policy, suggested by the wankers at the Ministry, none of whom bothered to spout an "I'm sorry" about my mum. No doubt that Tonks trollop verily pushed Narcissa off the cliff, for my mother never even liked Dover. Come to think of it, my mother didn't like most places where many Muggles were, so to say that she had traveled there of her own mad free will is absurd. There's a conspiracy in this, no doubt, to drive me mad
"The most I'd allow is two. Or three. Four is definitely pushing it—"
"What do you mean, you'd allow?" he demanded, turning in his seat again. This question destroyed his earlier silent vow of never speaking to the big haired loon again, but the certainty in her voice irked him.
"I mean that I'd place a limit after a while."
"It's not your decision," he exclaimed scornfully.
"Considering that it will be my body housing a foreign creature for nine months, I beg to differ."
"Beg all you want," Draco scoffed. "The father does have some say in the matter, you know." His own father had only wanted one, so there would be no quarreling about inheritances. None of that "heir and a spare" business, for Malfoy males were supposedly very hardy. "Besides, it's selfish. Suppose the best number for a family is five children? You're not willing to accommodate that number because of your own selfish comfort?"
"Give me one example in which five children is good for the family," she laughed in surprise.
He shrugged. Draco knew he found the castle crowded with one or two house elves present, so he knew nothing about the loneliness of childhood. "It happens."
"Amongst the peasants, you mean?" she asked dryly.
"You would be more familiar with their habits," he stated coolly. She was treating the debate as a joke; he was genuinely annoyed. Condescending witch.
That made her furrow her brow, and Draco returned to the task at hand. When he felt her eyes remain on his hunched figure, he attempted to ignore the drilling feeling. It proved impossible, however, after a few minutes, and he abandoned the quill.
"I don't understand why you look at me so," he said, addressing the wall before him instead of turning around to face her. "I didn't invite you, and surely even you aren't stupid enough to expect good treatment in my home, and in these times. If your feelings are hurt, then it is your own fault."
"We were friends once, Draco."
"Not any more."
"Don't be obtuse. You know why not."
He had been rather sick of it all by this point. Malfoy had even lost count of the days. Life had lately consisted of vowing to never return to the hateful Muggles' house, starving to the brink of loud abdominal noises, eating at the Muggles' house, and then reinforcing his vow to never return.
Every once in a while, however, the monotony was interrupted by Hermione. Not the person, physically, but the remaining hints of her existence in the closed, cramped house. It still shocked him beyond words that he could traverse the length of the house in the time it took to pick some stubborn lint off his sleeve, but he had grown relatively used to it. The less annoying Muggle had been willing to see to the plumbing and other necessities when Draco allowed him to haul off a piece of god awful sculpture of a bird. It truly was a hideous creation ever carved, a massive waste of a tree, and Malfoy had no idea why Hermione had ever let it cross the threshold.
He did have some idea, though, that it was worth more than the Muggle hinted, for the next time he conveniently forgot The Vow of No Return, it had been placed under a glass case on the fireplace mantel. Muggles, Draco had thought with a roll of his eyes. No accounting for taste.
The boredom of waiting and plotting his next move—which was surprisingly difficult without magic, money, or motivation—had been eased by the Grangers' literature. Hermione's room had been full of things that made him laugh, until they actually started to make sense. Then he had thrown the books on equality, integrity, and anti-crystallization down in a huff. Her parents' room held boxes of books about the mouth, which happened to be one of Draco's favourite features on a girl. The list of disgusting things that was carried or caused by a neglectful person made Draco abandon that attempt. He also spent a few moments wondering about the girls he had known, and if they had the good sense to brush before anything important was done.
The universe must have been feeling a bit dreadful for its poor treatment of the last Malfoy on earth, for after some exploration in the attic, Draco found Hermione's diaries. It was raining, providing a constant, pleasant hum on the roof above him as he opened one small book.
She was a loquacious one, that was certain. Draco had been bored to tears by the long entries about her latest devoured book, her latest easy exam, her latest dentist appointment. It was as if she had been born to kill any sort of fun a child could possibly have. She was the anti-child, Draco decided as he perused a particularly long entry about an insect, which nine year old Hermione had found fascinating. This insect had been discovered as she walked back from the park, where she had read.
"Who reads in a park?" he wanted to know in annoyance. Draco had never personally visited a public park, but he knew what children did there. Ran around like drunken little monkeys, shouting as if their ape-ears had stopped working, and generally making jovial nuisances of themselves. No child went there to read a book.
Still, he supposed as he continued to leaf through the yellowed pages, one needed other little monkeys to disturb the peace. It didn't appear as if little Hermione had many child hood friends. There was a boy named William who had unaccountably had a fetish for smelling her hair, which, in turn, made Draco inexplicably wish to cut the boy's nose off. Technically, that didn't count as a friend either.
Hermione had labeled the spines of the plain books, arrogant creature that she was, with the flawed idea that somebody would need such guidance to read them. As if anybody would be desperate enough to read about the mundane life of one little Muggle born witch. Draco rolled his eyes at his friend's audacity as he picked up the next volume.
And immediately regretted it. Whole paragraphs, pages, even chapters devoted to those two "delightful" yet "wayward" boys named Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. Although she had impressed the entire school with her intelligence in her very first year, Draco discovered that she was a veritable moron. She had spent an appalling amount of time wavering between childish and ill-conceived affections for Harry or Ron. Of all the boys in the school, she chose those two to be her oblivious objects of affection? Really. There was a hint, however, that she was doing so because that was what a girl her age ought to have done, and not because she truly liked either. It really was a good thing that, by the end of the year, she had decided neither of them would really be fitting as her future husband, as Lockhart was proving to be more worthy.
Every once in a while, his name would appear in the neatly penned lines. She never wrote anything flattering of him, Draco noticed. In fact, unmentionable words started replacing his name whenever an altercation was recorded. Hermione also wished that the twins had done him some sort of permanent bodily harm. Any description pertaining to him and his lot was never fit for civilised eyes, causing Draco to wonder why she hadn't been placed in a less noble house.
No guilt pinched at him as he idly leafed through the pages. Clearly, his amusement at her expense had never caused long lasting damage, and Granger had more important things to think about her second and third year. Draco was a bit miffed that one of his most humiliating experiences in his life time had only been written as, "I slapped Draco Malfoy the other day," followed by an obscenely large smiley face, but other than that, he did not care.
As he read through his friend's most private thoughts and wonderings, Draco mused that perhaps, London was not such a dangerous place to stay. Not if she was as loyal to her companions as she claimed. Even when the evidence against Harry proved nearly undeniable, and even when Ron's cutting words nearly drew blood, Hermione never wavered in her friendship. So…if one old friend needed shelter from the government, perhaps she wouldn't adhere to the laws…
The diaries stopped after her sixth year summer, and he was not especially interested in that information any way. Weasley had managed to decrease his blindness somewhat, and had finally taken some initiative when it came to romancing Hermione Granger. Draco knew that meals were hard to come by these days; he wasn't about to risk throwing one up.
He couldn't help but smirk at the thought of the idiotic Ministry searching for him, while he sat under the protection of one of their favourite heroines.
The last time Draco checked, the search for him had been concentrated in Eastern European countries, and so the idea of returning to town was even more supported. There was always a chance it was a ruse to lure him back to London, but, considering the torture of the past few days, Malfoy was willing to take that chance.
Satisfied by finally making a decision, Draco stood and ambled down stairs to take a nap in Hermione's bed. There was no hurry. What was the danger of letting her wait a while longer?
"Why do you wait? Is the halo undeserved then? Are you so petty about my childish pranks that you want to see me suffer? Is that it, Granger, is that why you come every single day, waiting for me to break?"
"Then why, damn it, why is it so important for you to be here when I fall?"
"Because…" He had never imagined she could appear so belatedly delicate, reminding him of when mother used to handle the sad remnants of broken heirlooms…
"Because," she said again with a hopeless laugh, shrugging her shoulders. "There wasn't anybody there for me, Draco. And look, just look. A year, and my wound's still bleeding. A year, and I still wake up expecting him to be there."
"Did not want to speak of it." Her brow furrowed, remembering the frosty memories. "Not with the same cruelty you use now…just… It was how he dealt with it, but it was not the way for me. I couldn't leave the castle, I had no other close friends to speak of… I needed to spill my hurt to some one, Draco, and I had nothing."
"Ginny might have—"
"Yes, she might have helped. But I didn't want to find out, because, oh god, pity is worse than apathy. I did what you're doing, what Harry did. But it's not safe, Draco, it's not safe to let it eat you up inside—at least, not alone. Every night since the war's ended, I've cried and cried and nothing eases the pain. I've made a habit of being unhappy, and I can't kill it. I've tried and it's horrible because it just gets tighter and I can't breathe, Draco. I'm angry at him for ever causing this hurt and then I'm angry at myself for thinking such thoughts—"
He kissed her.
Not because she was particularly attractive with salty rivers flowing from her eyes. And not because her palpable pain had stirred a renewed sense of compassion within him. He kissed her because that anguishing fire she was describing frightened him. Draco was terrified by the exact descriptions of his own bewildering agony, and he had to stop her. He could have struck her—should have struck her—but that would only add to their pain and he didn't want to increase it, he just wanted ...
"Make it stop," he begged against her mouth, wondering when and how the tears fell from his own eyes. "Make it stop."
Heartless, useless family. They gave him everything except qualities, taught him everything except wisdom. How could they? How could they prepare him for everything except for their deaths? Their ends were the only certain things in life, and yet they hadn't told him, hadn't told him where the food was in the kitchen or how to build a bloody fire when he was cold, or what to do when he sat there at the table, eating alone for the first time in his life.
And yes, his father was a conniving bastard, but Lucius was the only type of father Draco had ever known, and god damn it he missed him. Maybe it was sick to miss that prick who constantly criticised him, but it was that criticism that made him the man he was today. And it was Lucius' cold soul that had provided for everything in his life, so where the hell was his capable iciness when he needed it?
Draco couldn't possibly emulate it. No, Lucius had achieved such Machiavellian skills over time. The son had barely left school when he became the head of the hollow household.
Hermione might have fought the kiss, but Draco's mind never registered any resistance. For some reason, while his spirit bled rivers of pain, it was comforting to know somebody else was inwardly dying as well. He had to press against her, had to bruise her lips, if only make sure she stayed in this hell with him. Malfoy hated these falsely light conversations of hers, and welcomed this crying, furious girl.
She was right. There was nobody else who could understand what they were feeling. For while the others had others, Draco only had his blood and Hermione only had Ron Weasley. How could one move on in the world if that world was gone?
And Narcissa Malfoy was a stupid, painted whore, but at least she cared. Draco could not deduce any specific benefit she might have gained from tending his wounds when a servant could have, and from kissing him when Lucius disdainfully disapproved. It must have been affection, for she hadn't risked Lucius' anger for anything else than her son's well being. It must have been something more than raising an heir.
He was never deprived as a child, which made stark deprivation so cutting now.
"Stop it Draco."
She might have said the words, but she was kissing him back. Desperately, as if searching for something just beyond her reach. In his heart, he knew she'd never find whatever gentleness Ron Weasley might have held, but Draco did not care to discourage her, cupping her face roughly as he deepened the kiss.
Oh god, it was hell being alone. Hermione Granger had made it look so easy these past few months that he had assumed it was a capability to be learned over time. Draco relished the fact that, all the while he suffered silently, she had to suffer with a cheerful mask on.
The castle was too large, but the library was small enough when she was in it.
Only when he stared down at her through tear blurred eyes did he realise he had been slapped.
Granger looked at him ferociously, cheeks red with both the force of his grasp and her own embarrassment.
"You're not kissing me," she stated furiously.
He only shook his head, not knowing if he could form a sentence, let alone a witty rejoinder.
"You're kissing the idea of me. Somebody who makes you feel. Somebody who made you realise what an emotional cripple you've been."
"Somebody's who's a bitch?" he asked cavalierly. He felt quite drunk. Light headed and ready to laugh or cry in a few moments. Draco suspected this new feeling was due to his recent epiphany.
"Somebody who's a friend. We were friends, Draco, and we will be again. But you can't kiss friends."
And that was it. That was the epiphany. Draco didn't want to be her friend. Oh, he had always known that. But—
Draco lay in bed a long while after the memory had let him escape slumber. He stared at Hermione's ceiling. It was poor quality, compared to what he had grown up with, and chipping. He had fallen in love with a girl who was raised in this ugly house.
For that was the moment. It was in that memory that Draco was lost. Replaying each detail in his mind, Malfoy laid in bed and honed in on the very second at which Draco Malfoy became Hermione Granger's forever.
And all it had taken was one kiss.
At first it had been friendship, mistaken for love for lack of experience. Then it turned into infatuation, something his pride was unwilling to recognise for anything other than the determination to win. To prove a point.
And then…Draco shook his head, rubbing his eyes in frustration. And then she just became so necessary. Without having noticed it, Hermione made herself absolutely indispensable. All the time when he naively believed that he had been doing her favours by keeping her company and hearing her frustrations and maintaining witty conversation…she had been saving him.
God damn it.
He wanted to move, but wasn't sure what he would do after he did get up.
"My god," he muttered, a migraine knocking in his temples. "In love."
And to think! He had barely grasped the idea of becoming good friends with her. This was…it had never occurred to him…Hermione Granger. She was Hermione Granger. That was reason enough to avoid any sort of dangerous emotions…like friendship…loyalty…lo—
"It's not as if she's a bad person," he reasoned to the empty air. "It's just that—she's—"
Hermione Granger. While she had the right qualities one wanted in a friend, she was simply not appropriate as a wife, nor as a mistress. He could not have her for a wife, for obvious reasons he had previously reviewed. And nor could she be a mistress, for Hermione would never accept the proposal, and it was always best policy to be emotionally detached from one's mistress; otherwise, it was ever such a tangle.
"Tangle," he muttered under his breath. "Definition…this situation right now."
Maybe that was why it was dangerous to fall in love with Mudbloods. They were addictive. They were sweet, in their stupid, blissful way. And they had big hair and buck teeth, and what irresponsible man passed those traits onto unsuspecting future children?
Crap. Life was hard enough if one was the orphaned son of two terrible parents. Out of the dozens of girls out of the world worthy of a Malfoy, you just had to fall in love with the wrong one, didn't you? Draco reprimanded himself sternly.
He sprang to his feet, pacing the pitiful length of the room. Something must have happened, for she was quite happy without him. Had they quarreled? Did she reject him once more? Or was the last memory, her forceful refusal of him, the one that ended their possible romance? She had sent him such wistful looks sometimes, during the last time they were confined at Number Twelve. But why? Pity, for his unrequited love, or pity for hers?
For the first time since they began plaguing him, Draco wished for more flashbacks. He had to know what had caused their rift. He had to know how they had dealt with the awkwardness after every single attempt at flawed romance. At some point or other, Harry must have interfered, for Draco could sense he did not wish to leave them alone for very long.
And Potter's past interference had been erased by his latest interference. And whatever Potter had forced him to forget, it would have motivated Draco to keep Ron Weasley dead forever and ever.
Well, aside from falling in love with Hermione. But, really, if that had been settled long before the possibility of Weasley's return—and it had to have been settled, for Hermione had given birth to a red haired man's son—then it shouldn't have made a difference to Draco if the Weasleys regained one more brat. So why…?
In short, Draco was confused.
Apparently, he had been the worst sort of suitor, insistent and unsubtle. Even more apparently, she had been the worst sort of rejecters, consistent and gentle. It felt like complete crap to be yelling at somebody who didn't want to hurt you at all. He wished she had been unreasonably cruel, to make his snappish mood seem a little justified.
But that did not explain their relationship now. If it simply consisted the broken hearted and heart breaker, there would not be such a wistful, jagged tension between them since they last spoke. Hermione would sometimes look so frustrated that she wanted to kill him. Other times, she was bewilderingly patient with his memory lapses, almost…almost empathetic really.
Things had been awkward since the visit to Ickham, and they hadn't been very much improved by her unwelcome visits to his home after Narcissa's Loveless Leap from Life.
Draco had decided to name it that, because Hermione said that, sometimes, people dealt with grief through humour. She had been appalled by his endeavour, however, and so he only used the alliteration for his mother's suicide when he wished to distract her from his mistakes. And when she was being so damn generous despite his rotten behaviour and ability to make her feel incredibly uncomfortable, Draco made plenty of mistakes.
Like kissing her, for example. Not even an "Oops, it was slippery right there and I accidentally fell on your lips," sort of kiss. It was not a dare, not an experiment, and not a small token between friends. It was more of a wonderful disaster, one that made him smile but sent her into a fury.
And so he asked her when she came again, asked outright and without any fear. "Do you suppose you'll ever love me, somewhere down the road?" If any other fool had said it, it might have sounded pathetic. But it was Draco Malfoy who issued the question, and so Hermione regarded it like a regal inquiry. They stood at the threshold of his home, for he hadn't bothered with pleasantries. He never had before, not when it came to her. And she had made it quite clear the other day that she did not care very much for his feelings either.
"No," she had said truthfully, with as much regret as he felt.
It was the question that the world would be asking soon, or later, when she was still alone and all her friends had found happiness after The Dark Year. Why did she refuse to move on, when that was not what Ron Weasley would have wanted for her?
And she told him a secret, one that she had told him during the war, when whispered secrets were the only thing to drown out the crying of the others. It was the same secret that they idly spoke of over brunch in the strange, detached joy after Potter's victory and disappearance. The strange, hopeful half truth that he had thrown in her face when they were supposed to be cleaning up the Granger house. It had been terribly hypocritical of her to call him delusional when she was incapable of fully grasping reality.
"I still…feel him, Draco. He's not living, I know that. But…he's not dead either. And so it makes it feel so utterly wrong to even try something else—"
"You're mad!" he exclaimed, disgusted and disheartened. Draco's hands clenched, for they were itching to grab her and shake her. To push her out of his home and his sight forever. To hold her and never let her go.
"My god, Granger, just let the bloody boy go! No, wait, you know what? I wish you were mad, because that would be easier! For months you've been telling me this, and I'm starting believe that you think it's actually true. At first I thought it was an underlying fear of venturing back into romance, thus the convenient excuse of the lack of closure—but god damn it, you're impossible! He's dead."
"He's not," she roared back, tears in her eyes. At the end of every serious conversation they had, Draco reflected, she always had tears. Not a good sign. "And, you know what, Draco? Even if he was, I could not love you. You're selfish, and spoiled, totally incapable of compromise. If by some miracle, you did change your ways, it would only be to gain something you want. You're not even grieving your mother, but only the loss of benefits from her existence!"
She had paused to catch her breath, and the beat of silence somehow echoed the words back to her. When Hermione finally did have enough air to continue her tirade, she chose to say simply, "I'm sorry. That was unkind."
"Truthful," he corrected despondently.
She did not contradict him. "True or not, it was not nice to say it like that." She glanced about the empty hall unsteadily, and finally offered him a hand. "Good bye, Draco Malfoy."
"Why do you say it like that?" he asked suspiciously, even as he reciprocated her firm grip. "As if it's forever?"
"Because it is forever." There was heart broken note in her laugh, and he suspected it was supposed to comfort herself rather than him. "It's so…interesting, Draco, having you as a friend—but I can't, not any more."
He tightened his grip, refusing to let her go as she gently attempted to withdraw. "Because of one row?" he asked, with a desperately persuasive smile. "A tad dramatic, aren't we, Granger?"
"Because of this row," she agreed earnestly, "and the past rows, and the all the ones that will take place as long at two things remain constant: I will always feel for Ron the way that you will always feel for me. You refuse to change that, don't you?"
He dropped her hand. Hermione, without her anchor, was free to go. But she lingered, the contrary bitch, she lingered to make sure he didn't commit a Loveless Leap himself.
"I'll still be cordial, Draco," she assured him pleadingly as he turned away from her. On the small table by the door sat a letter to a person who hadn't written him a condolence letter, just as unfinished as it had been since her first visit. "I won't be cold, whenever we happen to meet. It's just that it's no use trying to come here and comfort you when all I do is manage to—"
"Good bye, Hermione," he interrupted over his shoulder, taking up the envelope. "I'll see you later." It was more of a command than a good bye, and so she said nothing as she left the impressive, empty home. He hadn't really expected her to go back on her word any way, and yet he set tea for two the next day, just in case. It was after the third day that he decided to change one of the two constant factors.
And so, a few days later, Draco found himself hiding like a petty criminal, waiting for her to fly by. There was so much at stake here, all for her. If Draco could step back from the situation, he would have realised the futility of this grand, mad gesture. And he would still risk it.
He hadn't counted on the youngest Weasley tagging along. He hadn't expected the length of her unconscious condition. He hadn't tested the stolen magic, he had no idea if he could accomplish it without harming her or him, and it was hell doing all of this just to get her to simply like him.
It might have crossed his mind that this was slightly wrong. Tiny flickers here and there about how forced love was not love at all and all that rubbish. But, mostly, Draco had already rationalised his decision too solidly to pay those brushes of conscience any attention.
So when he drew her blood, it was for the best. When he winced at the pain of spilling his own, he told himself some sacrifices had to be made for the greater good. And when she had first opened her eyes, completely lost and disoriented but able to love him…it made it all worthwhile.
It was a sound of surprise. Shock and dismay seized him, leaving him chilled and still. He opened his eyes and frowned.
It was a sound of protest. Draco did not believe it. He couldn't have done that, couldn't have committed such a thing—
"It doesn't make any sense," he told his reflection in her mirror desperately. "I mean…no way."
It must have been a dream. A person was still allowed to have dreams while being pestered with flashbacks. He must have been thinking of what Potter had done to him, and that heinous act influenced and twisted his memory. That was all.
That is not all, an insidious whisper echoed in his mind.
Those wistful glances were composed by his hand, then. Those smiles, more than friendship but less than love, were his creation.
But that wasn't right. Draco frowned, picking at the lint on Mr. Granger's sweater. Had anybody been able to see him, they would have found his face to be one of childish concentration, focusing on anything than the important matters.
It wasn't right because he had respected her before the events of that memory. And he wouldn't have done that to somebody he respected. He wouldn't have twisted and ripped at a mind he loved so much—
He couldn't have done that to Hermione. Besides the stupidity of the idea, it was also damned heartless of him. If he had done that what Potter had probably done to him…
It meant that she was right about him. He was selfish. He was spoiled. And he was totally, insanely incapable of compromise.
"I couldn't—I wouldn't. Ever," he told himself.
Oh god, to have hurt her! For his sake? To have her weep and bleed for his agenda?
"It wasn't me," he said in a small voice.
It was a grieving Draco who made those cruel decisions. A Draco who was beyond the boundaries of logic and affection. He wasn't himself then. He had lost his mother, and then his heart all in such a short period of time…of course he wasn't himself, of course he would ignore all reason…
And she doubted herself, mistrusted her own mind, because I did that, I made her forget herself—
Now this was the irony of ironies. Harry Potter must have had a grand old time relishing the fair play of turnabout. He was a sanctimonious prat, judging who should be punished and in what manner. If not for the dreaded feeling that this retribution was richly deserved, Draco would have hated him even more.
"I swear," he said emptily, "I wouldn't do it again." Draco closed his eyes, unable to look at the broken, pale man in the mirror.
I never meant to hurt her.
How often had Hermione said those words, "never meant to?" Each time she apologised for accidentally doing this and unintentionally doing that, Draco had scoffed. For nobody could break hearts so effectively and be unaware of it. Nobody could cause so much pain and think that she was doing it for the best.
He had never understood until now. In romance, Hermione had been clumsy. In the same field, Draco was recklessly dangerous.
I just wanted to—to have her.
And he did have her, in small episodes of short lived bliss. He had her, and it was never satisfying, for it never lasted. More importantly, it was never real. It had been like starving for days on end, only to receive sugary nothings when relief finally came.
I have to fix this.
But the problem was quite fixed. Miraculously, Hermione had pulled her life together, without him. A life without Draco Malfoy—that was the thing she needed the most.
Draco knew this, without a doubt. It would do no good for him to return. If any thing, it would cause her more grief.
And then he reflected that it was a good thing he was leaving Ickham, for the environment was causing his own mind to turn on him. One only had to look next door to discover the long term effects of staying in the small town.
Was it selfish, to go to her and disrupt her life once more? Undoubtedly. Was it mad, to expect a welcome after what he had—what he might have done to her? Yes, arrogantly so.
But would it have been worth it, to somehow win her respect genuinely, and to hold her for the rest of their lives?
Without question. Draco would not have bothered at all if not for his firm belief that Hermione felt some sincere affection for him. True, Ronald Weasley was back. But they were not together, and that meant something. All those silly reports and idle rumours he had heard on the network never mentioned anything of them doing activities together. Malfoy knew that Hermione must have been feeling some hesitation, caused by her wonderings of the madly devoted one who had kidnapped her for months on end.
"You're going?" the old man asked with just a tinge of regret when Draco finally told him.
"Back to Hermione." He could have said London, could have given the man a lie just in case the Aurors somehow caught wind of his stay and decided to interrogate the natives. But the truth slipped out and Draco felt no need to correct himself. He was going back to Hermione, whether she was in the City or in the country. He had to find her, to keep the madness away.
"I thought you were going to improve the house?"
They stood by the hedges, the top of which were evenly trimmed, on both sides of the property line. Malfoy was pleased by this, as he hadn't even asked the Muggle man to take care of the landscaping. He supposed it was a token of friendship.
Draco turned and observed the small, shabby thing against the dark grey sky. "What's the point?" he asked him, so dismally he feared the words would be lost to the winds. And he did so hate to repeat himself.
"Yes," the other agreed, uncharacteristically understanding. "For who would live there again?"
"Who could," Draco corrected. There was difference between the will and the ability. And considering the painful memories the house held, Malfoy doubted Hermione had either.
"When do you leave?"
The old creature actually sounded a bit pensive. Oddly enough, Draco was not disgusted by the Muggle's attachment. It was not surprising, really, that anybody should miss him after making his acquaintance. But he had seen this man's life and understood what a new thing, a new anything, meant to such a dreary existence.
"In an hour." He had actually meant to leave tomorrow, after a few good meals. But, by the looks of things, it appeared that the sooner he began, the better.
"Do you have transportation?"
Draco thought of the metal antique sitting in the neighbor's garage, and decided it would be a pity to be literally caught dead in it. "I'll get my own way."
This was getting ridiculous. Draco stepped away from the hedges, feeling a bit awkward. It wasn't as if they really liked each other.
"Look old man," Draco sighed, offering his hand. "I don't remember your name, but I appreciate your usefulness these past few weeks."
He looked slightly offended, but shook his hand in any case. It was a good decision, for Draco did not take kindly to being snubbed by any one, let alone a Muggle.
"If you're ever back in town—" Yates called as Draco strode back into the house, intending to retrieve Potter's cloak.
"I'll try to avoid your wife," Draco finished without remorse, and smirked to hear the ancient laughing.
Draco left the way he came. Underneath a cloak he was seriously beginning to loathe, he walked to a more populated part of town, and caught a tour bus to Canterbury. Once there, he began the ridiculously long trek back to the forest, which he now knew to be The Blean. Although it was cold, wet, and just as miserable as it had been the night he arrived, Draco did not mind the journey so much. Physical discomfort paled in comparison to the painful confusion in his mind.
He thought of Hermione as he searched for the broom. It was surprisingly difficult to find a tied bunch of flying brown sticks in the middle of the woods. He only brought one thing with him from the house, and, now that he thought about it, it might have been wiser to bring something edible. Malfoy smiled. What would Hermione say if he brought her World Records book, half chewed?
"I have plenty of friends, in case you haven't noticed. I have loads. It's you I'm worried about."
Well, she wouldn't say that in response, because she had already said it, according to his distorted mind. And, really, that hurt. She didn't have to say it so violently, and so arrogantly. He knew she was loved. There was no need to emphasize how unnecessary he was.
Besides, she was the one who told him that their friendship was special. She was the one who sought him out, convinced him that they needed each other if they were going to stay sane. It was exceedingly unfair to give him such status, and then tell him that he was to treat her as if she was nothing but just another friend. Spiteful little strumpet, he thought now, with affection. If somebody had done everything Hermione had done to him, but deliberately, he would have admired the cunning. But Hermione had accomplished everything by instinct and then caution, and so he could not blame her. He could only love her, a little bit.
Draco tripped, and her book fell out of his hand and into the mud. He was ready to break the offending stick over his knee when he noticed it was Potter's broom. Malfoy considered breaking it out of sheer spite instead of revenge, but thought better of it. The ride would air out the pages.
He thought of Harry as he flew in, what he hoped to be, the general direction of London.
He could have taken his hand. Life would have been very different if Harry Potter had simply taken his hand. Potter really had no idea what sort of monumental effort Draco had just made when he offered his friendship when they were young. For somebody who summoned immense effort to answer his mum's "Good morning," striking up a friendship with an unknown wizard with questionable blood nearly meant causing a hernia. But, no. Harry Potter had been ignorantly unappreciative of his exertion. Bastard.
But… Draco sighed against the wind. He could do with Potter's friendship now. As much as he loved—if that was the right word, considering how much he had mistreated her—Hermione, she was not as influential as Potter. The tosser could have disappeared for ten years and still come back with more sway than his sidekicks. There were benefits like that when one saved the world.
It was too cold to ride through the night, and he landed atop a flat building just after the night clouds swallowed the sun. In such temperature, it wasn't wise to sleep, but he had the nagging feeling the universe wouldn't so merciful as to let him die in peace.
There was another reason he wanted to avoid drifting off, besides the obvious death-by-hypothermia scenario. Lately, sleep had provided no rest.
"I almost don't believe it."
He looked up, and knew. He simply knew.
"One would think that you're too proud for this. That you're above this."
Oh how her voice broke! It hadn't broken like that since they were young, back when war was fun.
"But then I remember—Draco, why do I always forget this?"
It was cowardice to look away from the ice in her eyes. But it had been cowardice all along to look in them, hadn't it? To meet her gaze when he had artificially designed it?
"How is it that everybody but me remembers that to get what he wants, Draco Malfoy will sink to the lowest of the low? And you know this. You know that I'll overlook this. Do you know why?"
There was a blade in her words. It sliced him even now, even before she revealed the weapon. The only reason she aimed to cut him now was because she knew what was to come.
Because no matter how much she berated him, mocked him, forced him to self hatred…he was simply going to subdue her or wait for her to tire. And then simply start over again.
"Because I pity you. It's always been pity."
She didn't mean that. She just…didn't know it. He had to show her. He had to.
Draco's eyes slowly opened. He sat, crouched against the roof's wall, and simply stared unseeingly at the opposite point. Vaguely, he felt bile rise in his throat, but he swallowed it hastily. It wouldn't do. It wouldn't do to be sick now, not when he had a goal.
It was worse than he imagined, for it hadn't been just once. Previously, Draco believed that he might have abducted her, might have tricked her, and might have manipulated just once, before seeing the colossal error of his mad methods.
But it was beyond madness, and beyond cruelty to see her pain and yet continue. He had violated her, mind and body, time and time again. He was numbed by the thought. Immobilised, he explored what that small glimpse meant, exactly. It meant she had every right to kill him, after a bit of torture. It meant that it was a miracle Potter and the Weasleys hadn't murdered him on the spot. It meant—
Draco scratched his head, and stretched his legs before him in slow shock. Oh god. His head was starting to hurt something terrible…
"Why did you do it?"
Draco fought it. He kicked at the roof top, squeezing his eyes shut as if forcing the memories away. His hands grabbed fistfuls of hair as the pounding strengthened, and he let out a guttural snarl of anguish. Something was dripping into his mouth, something familiar and vital—blood…
Hermione was asking him a question, pulling him back to that dark world where he foolishly thought exploitation was chivalry.
"Why did you do it?" she wanted to know when she remembered after his first attempt.
"You know why," he told her slowly, shocked by the suspicious look in her eyes.
"I've some ideas, yes. Is it some sort of last hurrah for your lot? Look at what Draco Malfoy did. Fooled Hermione Granger, fooled her and broke her and laughed all the while—"
"Or is it a new trend? A proof of your new status, to take up a Mudblood companion?"
"The shock factor," she pushed, tears dropping furiously from her eyes. "The sheer joy of seeing the others' faces when I, so blindly, so stupidly, kiss you. Is that why you did it Draco? Tell me why you did it."
"Because I love you!"
"Do not confuse this pain with love," she roared. "Do not mistake your sick, twisted mission of winning with love. It's not love if you let me cry. It's not love if you do it again."
The pain ebbed, and Draco's vision eventually cleared of the tortuous haze. Blood covered his mouth and chin, and his hands were clenched in white fists.
He must not have loved her, Draco reflected as he wiped the blood from his nose. For he had done it again. He knew it. The details were unknown, but Malfoy did know the kind of person he had been at the time. One who would not give up, despite his love's reasonable protests. Yes, he must have tried again.
Unapologetically, he used a handful of the cloak to staunch the blood. Draco sat, contemplating breakfast and his past. Had Hermione bled like this, because of his selfish experiments on her? Poor horrified thing. She hated messes.
It was miracle, he realised as the blood trickled to nothing, that she was still so friendly to him. Clearly, she had moved on, what with regaining Potter, starting a family, et cetera… And yet, despite her return to society, she hadn't thrown an Unforgivable his way the moment she discovered him in the upstairs spare room at Number Twelve. Perhaps the universe liked him, just a bit.
He rose unsteadily, and flew to the nearest open window—well, okay, the nearest breakable window with no apparent occupants. Quietly, he found food and drink, and returned to his roof top.
He wasn't sure if it was a good idea to return to Hermione. Clearly, he had done more harm than help when it came to the girl. By this time, Ron Weasley would have been informed of the recent events as well. Even if she forgave him, the most violent moron of the litter probably wasn't too keen on the idea of helping him.
Still, where was he to go? It would have been simply a matter of time before they thought of searching Ickham.
He could ask for some help. One last, undeserved favour. And, for any assistance, he would promise to leave her alone.
Draco frowned slightly. It rather sounded like begging.
He frowned even more. Begging was all he had left. Here he was, in borrowed clothes, on a borrowed broom, racing borrowed time. He was beginning to contemplate the very possible idea that he had died recently, and had dropped into hell. It was a comforting thought actually; the theory that none of this had ever happened. Maybe a few people even cried at the funeral.
"Stop your wishful thinking, Draco Malfoy," he sneered at himself. "Life wouldn't be kind enough to kill you."
At least it was sunny, at the moment. Things seemed better, somehow, when it was sunny.
Oh god, she was crying. He had braced himself for shouting, for violence, like the first time she discovered his deception…
But she sat in the bed, sobbing quietly. Hermione didn't even shake off his tremulous hand on her shoulder. She just…didn't care.
"Hermione, please," he said softly, drawing the covers awkwardly around her shoulders. "Just stop crying."
But she wouldn't. If anything, her weeping increased, filling the empty room with her soul shaking whispers.
"Oh god," she gasped quietly, as if soft words and near silent tears could erase what had happened. "Why did you do it? Oh, Draco, why did you do it?"
The room was awash in orange and black, the warmth of the fire and candlelight casting her with an ill fitting glow.
"I'm so sorry, love," he told her thickly, unable to answer her question. "I'll make it better."
"You can't," she cried, bowing her head, pulling her hands away. "There's no way."
But there was a way, one that meant more tears and more blood. Draco resolved for less mistakes next time. It pained him beyond words to have her remember, and then cry.
There was that theory, produced by some heathen or other, which stated that if one thought of pain in a certain way, that which was painful became nothing like pain at all. Or something like that. Draco couldn't quite remember. He only knew that it didn't work.
His stomach hurt, from lack of food. His arms hurt, from holding this over rated aero-cleaning instrument for hours on end. His arse was positively numb, and, while that didn't hurt, surely it wasn't safe to have a numb arse? Oh yes, and he had a constant headache.
But he attempted to convince himself that he was full, relaxed, and on his way to certain safety. He only succeeded to worsen his headache.
An hour or so ago, he remembered a brief conversation between himself and Potter. It had taken place in stale, grey room, and Potter had been tremendously angry, rushed, and…scar-less. That must have been the first time that he saw the change, for he had remarked casually that the lack of lightning bolt made his head appear even larger, and Harry had threatened to hit him.
"How do you feel about Ron Weasley?"
"Glad he's dead," Draco replied without hesitation.
He thought about it. "I wish he were alive," he added, "so that I could have killed him."
"You hate him then?"
"God, Potter, if you had to come here and bloody ask, you've less social instincts than I thought. Now go away, for the trial has given me a fair share of arseholes in undeserved positions."
But Harry Potter hadn't gone away. He stayed for more than an hour, and, seeing that Draco hadn't stalked off in a fit of boredom, the present day Malfoy assumed that he had been required to stay there, while the other wizard was free to go.
His heart had felt heavy—there, in that memory. Almost like a solid weight had settled in his rib cage. Potter had been a welcome distraction, but no matter how many quips were flicked at his insignificant face, the ache would not lighten. It simply worsened, drowning him from the inside.
As he soared effortlessly and steadily in the air, Draco knew that any discomfort he might remember was deserved.
"Are you even sorry?" Potter had asked, just before he left.
Only a little, he thought silently now.At the time, he had replied carelessly, "For what, exactly?" if only to send Potter away, foaming at the mouth.
Somebody had written something a few years back. A theory or a treatise—one of those long pieces people wrote when they were miserable and tried to cover the fact with intelligence. Basically, it stated that a spell muttered by one person was always slightly different than the same exact bit of magic performed by a different person. It didn't matter if the end result was the identical—the magic, motivation, and thought had a vastly different pattern for each witch or wizard.
He was absolutely certain that the spell he had used on Hermione was not the same spell Potter had used on him. For one thing, Draco's manipulation had been trial and error—an admittedly stupid way of doing things, but ultimately effective. That last time was perfect, if not for the Aurors…and bloody Longbottom…
Potter had been more precise, sleek and cruel with his spell. The fallen hero had broken him with ambition, and a smattering of vengeance. When Harry cut him, Draco knew that he must have bit back a smile. There was malice in the good and the bad—the bad were just slightly less ashamed of the fact.
The Weasley twins, for example, were bad eggs. No way around it. They were cruel, but they were charming, and ultimately, people decided to overlook the former because of the latter. They were unapologetic when it came to their thoughtless pranks. They were violent when it came to their misguided sense of duty. Had they been born into a different family with different goals, they might have been rather decent villains.
Draco recalled a memory that had come to him during the unholy hours of morning. It had taken place after his escape from the Ministry, but before the resurrection of Ronald Weasley. One of the twins and Potter had tricked him, luring him back to England with a false note concerning Hermione's health. The owl had been on its way to Number Twelve before Draco's own owl had intercepted it, so naturally, he had assumed Hermione had relocated there after the birth of her—their son.
There hadn't been any bed ridden girl awaiting him, however, but two rather angry wizards. The twin—to be honest, Draco did not know to this day which was which—had hauled him through the window even before Draco could realise the ruse. And then, without preamble, he punched him.
And punched him again.
And then switched hands, and punched him again.
And what had Harry Potter been doing while the Weasley took his frustration out on the poor, defenseless, new father? Leaning against the wall, arms crossed, being utterly bored. Every once in a while, he muttered an insincere, "No, stop, don't hurt him," but, mostly, Potter waited until Weasley tired himself out before making sure he was alive.
It was a demeaning way to be caught. Draco ranked it was one of the lowest three moments of his life. It would have been all right if Potter tried to beat the shit out of him; he almost certainly struck like a girl. The Weasley was vulgarly bulky, and had some repressed war matters.
Still, what the twin did to him was nothing compared to the pain Harry Potter caused.
"What are we doing here?"
They stood in the attic of Grimmauld Place, Number Twelve. It was a silent hour of the night, shivering with dangerous potential, and the others slept in the rooms below. Draco felt the familiar stirrings of fear, but they were stale and worn. Consequently, when Harry Potter asked to see him in the attic, he did not hesitate to follow. He swaggered, if only to keep a bit of his own, but still he followed. For some reason, the tale of Prometheus and that pesky bird came to mind, but Draco shoved the thought away in fear of showing cowardice.
Potter had just finished a silencing spell, and Draco was ready to exclaim that, he knew it, nobody believed it, but he knew that the hero secretly fancied him—
"Watch out now," Harry warned, with a tone of cheerful menace, "this may sting."
And then Draco felt massive pain that felt nothing like a sting, but quite like a knife to his heart.
He stumbled—or tried to, but Potter caught a majority of his weight. He didn't catch him quickly enough, however, and Draco felt the strange sensation of his own body lengthening the jagged gash, as if Potter's dagger was being pulled upward.
But, no, Harry Potter had no time for such games. With an irksome air of distaste, Potter clumsily set him against a set of neglected furniture, creating a disturbance so forceful that they both heard the wood creak. Shocked beyond anything except his basic senses, Draco watched silently and wide eyed as a cloak of dust was lifted from a cradle he had disturbed. God, he thought, wanting to laugh gloomily, that's almost pretty.
The wizard was efficient. Without explaining, he took a plate—a plate!—and held it beneath the flowing wound.
"Oh no," Draco loftily corrected, his voice and indignation dimmer than he expected. "My blood's not meant for that."
"For being spilt?" Harry asked, grimacing at the sight of Draco's torn chest. "I disagree."
The gall of the boy! Draco watched, frowning, as Harry then cut himself with the same dagger—though he couldn't help but notice there was no heart-kabob action—and let his own blood drip into a separate inkwell. What really peeved Draco—besides this murdering business—was the fact that Harry healed himself, healed a sodding nick to his forearm, before taking care of Malfoy's mortal injury.
"I was the one who was stabbed, you arse!" Draco snarled as soon as he regained enough life. "Bugger your damn paper cut! I was dying!"
"Stop reminding me of happier times," Potter requested absently, "I'm busy." Not too busy to handicap the livid victim with a leg lock, however. Draco landed as a graceless heap to the dusty floor, and Harry did not care to catch him once more.
There was more of Draco's blood retrieved than Harry's, and, had he not been trapped in such a bizarre situation, Malfoy might have been complimented by the fact.
"I've been doing this every night since you've returned. You don't remember, because I've wanted it that way. But, I'm going to let you keep your memories from tonight. And this is the last time I'll do it, so, for the next week or so, you're going to regain everything I've taken away. I used to enjoy how I've hurt you, but, if you're half the man Hermione seems to think you are, remembering ought to be more punishment than I could ever produce."
Draco was dumbfounded to silence.
Potter had gone nutters. The boy was insane and was taking people's blood without so much as a by your leave. He was, literally, a mad scientist. Malfoy knew it would eventually happen, what with the bad blood and all, but he never expected to be punished for Harry Potter's unfortunate lineage. That was just so unfair!
"Do you know what will happen? Because I do. I know exactly how everything will play out. You're going to forget, just as I've always made you forget, these spells and all the memories connected to your…attachment to Hermione. You're going to feel some strange, pestering emotions, because while I'm a good wizard, I'm not perfect—"
"Hear, hear," Draco muttered sullenly.
"But, mostly, you'll continue being the snide arse you are until we bring Ron back tomorrow. And then, after I've washed my hands of you, the memories will come back. And I hope they hurt, Draco Malfoy, I hope they break you down. No doubt there'll be some acrobatic justification, because you're so bloody good at that, but, if you truly love her, then it'll hurt so bloody much to realise what you had done that you won't come back to London. If you have an ounce of the honour the Malfoys have been pretending to have for all these centuries, then you'll stay away. Lawrence may be yours—oh yes, it's funny to tell you this every time."
Draco stared hard at him, unable to utter a word as loathing blurred his vision. This was entertainment for the jackass.
"Every time you try to not show a reaction, but you're shocked, Draco, I know you are." Potter shook his head, cruelly amused. "Possibly horrified. But, no matter who fathered Larry, Hermione will find a proper husband in Ron. If you care for her at all, you'd stay away and let her repair the bloody disaster you've caused.
"Because if you do come back, Malfoy, and I find out before she does—I'll kill you. I promise."
And good little boys keep their promises.
He watched fatalistically as Harry stood, brushed the dust off his knees, and walked back to the table. With the swiftness of one accustomed to it, Harry idly let the parchment soak in Draco's candle lit blood before dipping his quill in his own, tainted blood.
"What are you writing?"
"Fake memories. Well, no, not so much as fake memories, because I don't care that much if you're confused by huge gaps in the past. Just things to gloss over the genuine memories that matter."
"That matter to me, about Hermione."
"So I don't refuse to help with Ron Weasley's resurrection. Because I love Hermione."
"Wow, Malfoy, you're not half as dumb as you look. Alert the media."
"That…that can't be true."
"That you're not half as dumb as you look? I know. The mind boggles."
"That I love her. I don't. There's no reason—"
"You think there's no reason because I took away all the reasons, you moron. Good god, just when I thought you were marginally intelligent—"
"I do not love her! I cannot love her! She's—" Draco paused, for he had belatedly spied the growing look of anticipation on Potter's face, one that thirsted for violence.
"What?" he asked softly.
Harry scoffed, and resumed his task. Draco refused to give Potter any more ammunition in his anti-Malfoy campaign. No doubt the little prat saved anything he said just to tell Hermione later, to try and make her hate him as much as she had before…
Draco caught himself. Even if he did not love her, his present thoughts indicated that he must care for her, a bit.
Harry had no time for conversation, for he was now muttering Latin. Familiar Latin.
"Hey, plagiarist!" Draco spat indignantly. "That's my spell! I came up with that! You can't use that against me—"
Draco had been immobilised once or twice before, but he couldn't recall the sensation being quite so painful. Perhaps the excess hurt was due to the fact that Potter had sent the hex his way with tangible malice and annoyance.
"Now look. I have to start over. I swear, if the blood is too dry, I'm stabbing you again with no healing spells."
Draco couldn't protest if he wanted to.
"Falsum etiam est verum. Qui tabellis crederes." Moving only his eyes, Draco could spy pages and pages of blood soaked lies being held to the candle. Potter didn't even flinch as flames swiftly devoured the glowing words, sparks licking his fingers.
"Modo ei non possum meminisse… Res itast"
Silently, Malfoy took comfort in the fact that Potter's accent was shit.
"Didicere flere… in mendacium… Res itast"
It seemed to be a never ending amount of memories going up in smoke, and Draco was plagued with a constricting, grasping force surrounding his body.
"Vanescitque absens et res itast."
He tried to swear, but failed. He tried to move, but, naturally, failed. Then he tried to breathe, and Draco was alarmed to find that impossible as well.
"Nemini dixeris, Impedimentum memoriae, et res itast."
Harry Potter seemed to be immersed in the spell, but a quick darting of his eyes showed everything Draco had already suspected. He knew, somehow, that Draco was being suffocated by the magic. He knew it, and enjoyed it.
"Falsum etiam est verum. Qui tabellis crederes."
Green, eager eyes met grey, panicked ones from across the dusty attic floor. Harry smiled. Draco wondered how one could pass out if one could not blink.
"Tempus mentiar nuncine et res itast. Et clavo fixum est."
The smoke of the burnt blood and parchment thickened, angry broiling clouds filling the room in a matter of moments. Oddly enough, Potter stood untouched by the grey roils of dark magic. Instead, all the dangerous fumes wafted insolently to him. They smothered him, invading his vision, his lungs, and his mind with a burning determination. It was a pain beyond anything Draco could have ever imagined.
And yet he did not remember it the next day.
That was the last memory he had forgotten. Now everything was complete. Now, he was whole.
Draco Malfoy did not feel better in the slightest.
For, just as Potter had foreseen, Draco did take a stab at acrobatic justification. But it was not so easy now. Before, it had been easy to say that he was saving Hermione Granger from herself. By forcing her into a new situation, he had rescued her from a deluded, lonely life. But, of course, he had been wrong, and she had been right.
Astonishingly, Ron hadn't been dead. Rudely, Weasley had come back to life. And, humiliatingly, Draco had proved that, even if the weasel had been dead and Hermione ought to have found a way to move on, he certainly was not the right man for Hermione.
Logically speaking, any way.
And Draco had abandoned logic long ago when it came to Hermione Granger. For if there was any modicum of sense in him, Draco knew that he should have taken the Firebolt, stolen some money, and flown to Siberia. Instead, he was currently wandering London, without a dependable source of shelter or food. No, logic definitely had no place in his life style.
It was surprisingly easy to be a homeless wastrel in Muggle London. Then again, Draco relied heavily on wandless magic and the Invisibility Cloak. The latter was utilised more often, as he did not want any mysteries of invisible magic being reported to the Ministry. While it was impossible to gain important time with a few unsavoury characters of Knockturn Alley when under a sodding invisible sheet, it did help when it came to spying on his friends.
For the past few days, Draco had taken up espionage once more, though his quarry was easier to track this time around. It would have been unfeasible to follow Hermione's activities, for she was alarmingly active for a single mother, and had the benefits of magic to whisk her to and fro. Draco sorely wished for a moment with her. He needed her help, and she was the only one with the sentimental weakness who would aid him…
Also, he missed her. Very much. He forgot, until he saw her small, fair face from across a busy street, how necessary it was to smile at least once a week. Hermione Granger had taught him that lesson. Actually, her words had been "You can't ponder the gloominess of life for all eternity, Draco, or you'll waste away. Or worse. You'll become a poet."
He needed her. He wanted to grasp her tightly to him. She was the only warm thing in his life, the only thing worth striving for.
No, wait. Hermione wouldn't have liked that, to be the one and only anything of anybody's life. While most girls found that status flattering, she would have found it a bit pitiful and greatly frustrating. Although she was not present to chastise him, Draco mentally corrected himself.
She was the only one who could help him find other things worth striving for.
Without her, everything was so hopelessly cold. The resolution of giving her one last plea for help had dissolved almost as soon as he saw her for the first time. While it would have been honourable to abandon her to her better life, Draco selfishly decided against it. It was impossible.
And it was absolutely maddening, to see her but stay silent beneath the cloak. Also, it was damn irritating to see Potter come and go at Number Twelve, without dropping something large and murderous on the boy's large and murderous head.
That little fantasy was usually impractical to accomplish, however, as, most of the time, Harry Potter was in the company of one Lawrence Malfoy. Much as he detested Potter, he wasn't about to damage his only heir for a bit of petty revenge. There would be time for that later. Perhaps by the time Lawrence was a bit older, so that he could help his dear old dad.
The only one who did not flutter about with magically enhanced speed and who also did not want to be anywhere near Lawrence Malfoy was…
Against his will, Draco found himself monitoring the boy's habits with unstoppable fascination. He was not at all himself—not that Draco knew his true nature to begin with. But still, Weasley made it very easy, practically begging to be stalked.
He did not use magic. For anything, apparently. Whether it was walking a mile from Number Twelve for a moment alone in the park, or fixing a cup of tea. Ron did it all by himself, with his hands and his feet and a Muggle-ish sort of determination. If he had not been distracted by the cold, his constant hunger, and the sheer wretchedness of things, Draco reckoned he would have been impressed.
It was easy enough to live without magic, as Draco's current situation showed. All one had to do was steal food when no one was looking, sleep in flats that were waiting for the next renters, and avoid the magical population in general. Really. It wasn't so hard.
Malfoy could not fathom, however, what made Ron decide to live the unholy life. Self punishment, perhaps? The good people did have an odd sense of duty when it came to loved ones.
He wondered why the others had not picked up on it. Why they hadn't noticed that Ron only used magical devices—the Floo network, for instance—but not magic itself? Granted, he had no wand, but that did not stop him from using wandless magic, even for the little things, such as food or warmth. They did not badger him to renew his Apparating license, or to replace all his magical necessities. The lot was simply allowing him to wallow in his own self pity. That was a perk, Draco guessed, of being a resurrected freak of nature.
Ron liked to stay at Number Twelve, which made things vastly easier for Draco, who did not like to walk far at all. Sometimes he would walk to the park. Other times, he ventured to the attic. If he ever traveled, to the Weasley home, Draco guessed, Weasley did so with the assistance of others, or through the fireplace.
Draco, although in possession of the Firebolt, did not follow the others when they left. There was something in Weasley's eyes that Malfoy did not like, besides his obvious love for Hermione. He was so guarded, so secretive…perhaps Draco was being paranoid, but there was a hard glint in his eyes whenever he happened to be in the company of Lawrence.
And Weasley was never in the company of Lawrence unless absolutely forced into it. Draco, although he only recently discovered his connection to the infant, found that highly suspicious. Except for the atrocious hair colour, Lawrence was a pretty attractive baby. And Malfoy had no doubt of Lawrence's exemplary behaviour, for he was the product of Hermione and himself. There was no reason for Weasley to regard the child with such ill concealed dislike.
Draco ignored the fact that, until the memories revealed his direct link to the boy, he had previously thought Lawrence a big headed triviality who cried more often than a normal baby should.
It was after a few days of observing Number Twelve that something happened. Something monumental, something that made him forget the necessary secrecy in just a heart beat.
Draco had watched Hermione arrive a little later than Weasley at Number Twelve. They were meeting Harry the Memory-Stealing Arse Potter for lunch. Lately, there had been nothing to watch, as Weasley had started to spend more time with his dozens of siblings, and Hermione was off with a new project. It sort of wounded him, how easily she filled her time with other things. Everything was patched up in her life now. The trio had mended, and the only remnant of her appalling ordeal with him was Lawrence, a child who would grow up healthy, without the influences of his father. Heedless of the danger, he crossed the street and stood outside the window, watching as they joked with each other over a disgusting amount of food.
She did not need him as much as he needed her. It had always been the case, Draco knew that. He just wished…if only…
He just thought that, even if it had been forced, even if it all had been falsehoods and trickery…she loved him back. Enough to remember him, at least.
But the stab of self pity was brief, for Hermione, in his distraction, had found a reason to leave. In fact, she was downright panicked, flurrying here and there until, finally, deciding to leave the baby with the boys. Then, without warning, she disappeared.
Ron and Harry were obviously bewildered by her sudden exit. They spoke with uncertain urgency, with Potter pacing about the table and Weasley twisting and turning to speak to him. They looked as if they wished to solve Hermione's unknown problem, and, when one considered their combined intelligence, it was clear that they would be thinking for quite some time.
Draco could only hear muffled noises, and only when either of them spoke especially loudly. He heard a noise emitted from the baby carriage well enough, and was momentarily pleased with the child's lungs. Quickly, he observed the pair's reaction.
Harry Potter immediately forgot the present predicament and rushed to where Lawrence lay. Grudgingly, Draco admitted that he was an attentive, if not asinine, godfather. Later, when they had a chance to speak, Malfoy planned on giving Hermione a long lecture about Potter as the choice, but, at the moment, Draco had no complaints.
Ron Weasley, however, was less than concerned. With a wooden expression, he watched as Harry scooped up the child, embracing it with more care than Draco ever thought possible. Then, without a hint of immaturity or disgust, Potter checked Lawrence's tiny nappy.
Malfoy made a face, hoping he would not be required to check for such things, when the time came. Thankfully, Lawrence did not need changing, and so Potter rocked his son back to sleep, all the while tossing instructions at Weasley.
They really were an idiotic pair. Apparently, the pram converted into something better. They just had trouble figuring out what.
Potter knew, but could not assemble it because of the baby. And Weasley, because he was immature and hateful, refused to take the burden off his hands.
Then, to Draco's flabbergasted horror, Ron Weasley reached for Harry Potter's crotch.
Oh… no, he was just reaching for his pocket. Still, that sort of intimacy shouldn't have been conducted around his son.
To his credit, Ron Weasley looked just as repulsed by the contact as Draco felt, for he quickly darted his hand in and then pulled it out as if on fire. Then, under Harry's instructions, pressed a button on the little gadget and held it to Potter's ear.
The wizard's face went from concerned to murderous. After only a few seconds of conversation, he thrust Lawrence into Weasley's arms, muttered some terse words, and then left as well.
Left Weasley. Alone. With Lawrence.
Draco was furious. He was utterly livid that the boy's godfather would be so irresponsible. For god's sake, the boy had just returned from the dead. He probably couldn't relieve himself without great concentration. What the bloody hell did he know about looking after a baby?
Not much, judging by Weasley's terrified expression. As soon as he gathered his wits, he lowered Lawrence back into the pram. Draco's hands itched to open the window, for he wanted to order the maggot's hands off his child. The unnatural, undead boy had no business touching a Malfoy heir.
Unable to concentrate on food, and clearly unable to help the other two, Ron Weasley did not stay in the kitchen long. The boy wandered out of the room before remembering himself, and coming back for the baby. Draco moved to a different window for a better view, which showed the weasel confusedly regarding the stairs and the stroller for quite a while. With a grimace, Ron fearfully held Lawrence while he ascended, and Draco was forced to retrieve the Firebolt from the last vacant flat to conduct his vigilance from a second story window.
He had placed Lawrence in an ancient looking cradle, placed in Hermione's old room. Then, to Draco's fury, the boy actually left the child for a quick trip to the attic. Weasley had run back as fast as possible, but still. It was beyond comprehension. That was his son. That was a thing that had been newly introduced to the world. One did not leave such a helpless, vulnerable being alone in the bloody Black house!
Worriedly, Weasley leaned over the boy, and was satisfied with what he saw. Try as he might, Draco could not share the same view, and could only hope that Ron Weasley knew what a healthy, breathing baby looked like.
Like a big dumb idiot, Weasley sat on Hermione's bed and began opening envelopes. Draco sneered at the amount of time it took Weasley to read just one letter, and then rolled his eyes when he saw that the freak actually meant to answer it. Fan mail, Draco concluded, looking at the stuffed bag Ron had dragged down from the attic. How pathetic.
Time passed too swiftly for Draco. How long had it been, exactly, since Lawrence last made a sound? Or, worse yet, what if he had emitted a noise, and Ron Weasley simply did not care? His fear amounting into something like panic, Draco swiftly flew from one window to the other, hoping to catch a glimpse of the boy.
Hermione would be devastated if something happened to Lawrence. Draco did not wish to cause her more pain.
Then, just when he felt he would explode with tension, Draco tapped on the window nearest to the cradle, and swiftly switched to the other. It was enough of a disturbance to make Ron pause. Nervously, the boy stood, and walked to the dusty cradle.
"Lawrence?" Draco could read on his lips. Imbecile. What did he expect? A reply?
But Weasley kept repeating his son's name like a hopeless moron. Draco watched in bewilderment as he began to yell at the resting baby. Terror seized the boy, for he looked around the room as if crazed, searching amongst the papers and books with clear desperation.
It was too much. Draco could not have his son around the dangerous lunatic. He moved to open the window when Weasley's face shuttered with decision. He grabbed the small bundle from the cradle, and ran out of sight.
He was stunned. Ron Weasley had a temper, everybody knew that. And he loved Hermione; that was also common knowledge. But he had no idea…for god's sake, Lawrence was just a baby.
Snapping from his own shock, Draco swooped to the lower level windows, catching a glimpse of Ron just before he ducked into the fire place. "Weasley!" he roared as he soared to the front steps. Irritated by the cloak, he struggled to shed it as he banged against the locked door. From inside, he could hear the boy yell out "St. Mungo's," in a desperate, fearful voice.
"Damn it, Weasley," Draco yelled again, knowing but ignoring the futility of his cries. Automatically, Draco reached for his wand, and swore filthily when he remembered it had been confiscated. He hadn't practised wandless magic for so long that he doubted he could summon the skill in time to reach the mad man who had just taken his son. With a frustrated snarl, he concentrated and watched the locks explode and crumble before he kicked the door open.
As he skidded to a halt before the fire place, Draco noted the jagged pieces of pottery on the floor, littering the messy piles of floo powder seeping through the cracks in the floorboards. That calculating bastard! Malfoy originally believed that Weasley hadn't heard him when he had called out, but he must have, to ensure that nobody could follow.
He paused for just a moment, before making a painful decision. With narrowed eyes, he looked at the empty fire place, before racing up the stairs and seizing Harry's owl, which had been sitting on a perch in the window sill.
Quickly, he scribbled a note:
Ron's gone mad and taken Lawrence. Help me get him—I have no wand. Draco
"You get this to Hermione or so help me you will be nothing but a pillow," he threatened the animal before launching the bird out the window. He was physically shaking with anger, more furious that Weasley should take rightful Malfoy property than actually concerned with Lawrence's well being. Gritting his teeth, Draco shook off his distracting anger and Apparated.
Many people screamed when Draco Malfoy, known fugitive and possible mass murderer, popped into view at the fountain of St. Mungo's Hospital.
There was a large desk close to the entrance, and a knowledgeable looking woman sitting behind it. At first, Draco had ignored it and, despite her calls, tried to find Weasley himself. But there were too many hall ways and numerous amount of rooms to explore, and all were crowded with injured or ill people. All around him, there were gasps of surprise and yelps of his name. Ron could have darted into any of them, or taken one of the lifts…With a frustrated growl, Draco stalked back to the desk.
"The dead Weasley just came in here," he told her in between breaths. "With a baby, where is he?"
She was caught off guard by, not only his appearance, but also his forceful demands. "Draco Malfoy?"
"He has my son, where is he?"
The woman wished to answer, apparently frightened by his growing agitation, when her aged eyes focused on something over his shoulder. Furious that anything else should capture her attention, Draco turned as well…
Only to be struck by one enraged Harry Potter, who put all his pitiful strength into the blow.
Harry punched him once more, landing a hard one to his temple. Draco caught the familiar scent of the one who started the whole bloody mess, but then lost consciousness at Hermione Granger's feet.
In an innocent way, I thought it could stay with us both on the ground
With us fooling around
Let's just stay on the ground
Let's stay fooling around on the ground
Elevator, by Hot Hot Heat