Everybody Wants to Rule the World
Disclaimer: Title belongs to Tears for Fears and the characters belong to the unconquerable J.K. Rowling.
A/N: Post-war, Draco&Hermione, one-shot. Could easily be related to Nothing is Symmetrical, but this isn't the sequel or anything (sadly). Really lengthy, and has no plot whatsoever – it's just an ode to loneliness and depression and I guess just trying to find hope after all the bad stuff happens, but don't worry, it's nice in the end. Real melancholy, this is no fluffy fic. And also EXTREMELY long, so don't bother with it if you're going to go skimming through all the paragraphs. Please don't, by the way. Skim through it, I mean.
Dedicated to all those moments of poignancy and my fellow mates who feel with their heads. And to staring at the ceiling.
Draco stared at the white smoothness of the bottle. Plastic. Muggle. The paper wrapped around it with ink letters that won't smear in the rain. He watched it, like it was going to dance for him, or reveal something to him that he didn't know. Because he reckoned this was one of those times when life was supposed to come stumbling through the door in some crazy circumstance and punch him hard in the gut with something big and terrible and great – something that he didn't know. Something that he knew he wanted to know but then wouldn't want to know after he knew. Those sort of weird things. Like that kid, on the paper last Tuesday. Draco didn't even know his name, or what he looked like. All he knew was that that kid was as sad as hell. He went around seeking things out and he got killed. Draco could have told him that that wasn't such a hot idea.
He could hear a voice inside his head. Telling him that it was never going to move unless there was an external force, a law of science. Newton or somebody. It was probably his conscience. Funny how sometimes, when it was quiet enough, his conscience really argued with him, and he got confused sometimes, wondering if that was really him, or if there was somebody else inside his head that wasn't him. And that was kind of neat to think about, having some little person inside your head speaking in some minute microphone, like it was some appointed job or something. Like everybody could be robots or something. And all the little people would take breaks and have lunch together inside the cafeteria and talk, and there would always be one person in that room who would be sitting all alone at a table, or in another room. Maybe they'd pretend to read a book – some really smart book by some Russian guy – but they wouldn't be really reading. Instead they'd be trying to listen in at those other conversations, and thinking to themselves what they'd say in response to that, or hoping somebody would sit down next to them.
But nobody does. Not because people respect other people's space – that isn't it at all. It's because people are people, and sometimes they can be the worst shit-heads in the world. And, like, the best person you know, if you know anyone deserving of that, even if they're nice all the time, you know they think just like everybody at times. They just don't say it. And that's probably what makes them such a nice person. They just don't say it out loud. But they think it. People call it self-control. Draco called it Being Nice.
He really didn't know where he got this plastic thing. He just found it one day in the house, and he just knew that it wasn't his; he didn't own or even see or purchase anything like this before. He hadn't had the time. There used to be a time when all he did was stay inside his bed and sleep. Sometimes he didn't even sleep at all. But then one day he just got up and walked around the house, and he looked at everything, and he remembered that everything looked different. Brighter. Like somehow his mind had gone into black and white and grey mode, and it wasn't like a disease or anything. It was just that sometimes people forget what's out there.
Strange but people forget about color, too. Because you associate color with happiness, or things like laughter, or that Chinese girl he'd seen on Witch Weekly once that was smiling with really red lipstick on. She had a nice smile. Kind of slutty, but whatever. Draco could tell that she was one of those girls who couldn't eat brownies and pies and tarts and went to lots of parties but only drank water. High maintenance water. Not because she was really skinny – she was, but that wasn't it. It was just that she really looked as sad as hell, too. Even though she'd been smiling like a maniac. So he sort of pitied her. You could just tell with those sorts of people. It was like everybody who looked at them felt a little sick, too. The people who knew any better, anyway.
Draco knew better.
Once when he was a kid he fell into a lake. He didn't really know where his parents were, probably off talking to their friends, and he'd just gone 'round by himself. It was a great place. Beautiful. Emerald grass, with loads of frogs, and he used to try and catch them. And it wasn't like he found his reflection in the lake or anything and he was so enraptured by his good looks that he fell in. He wasn't stupid. He was young, but he wasn't as naïve and half-witted as everyone made him out to be. But he'd tried to catch one particular frog and lost his balance and fell in. Dumb to say, but he couldn't really swim. So for a minute or two he was just this tiny blond kid splashing around in the lake, trying to save himself, trying to keep his chin up above the water, waving his arms around. You'd think because he was so small some force out there in the world would somehow make him float or something, out of mercy. But he sank. He just kept sinking and sinking. Gravity, you know. Makes no exceptions for anyone, not even blond little boys.
Because he was still young, barely seven years old, it didn't really come to his mind that he was going to die. Or that there was a possibility of dying. See, when you're six years old and you're chasing frogs around lakes, death is something so far away and so out of reach that you don't even think about it. Not one single thought fluttering around in your mind. He didn't even know that he was in danger. As he sank he just kept seeing that light above the water, and he was trying to move his arms upwards, kicking his short legs, as if he was trying to run up. Strange because it'd been a gloomy morning and he didn't remember any sunlight at all. But that didn't really matter. He just kept trying, and trying. Soon he just couldn't try anymore, and he felt something deep in his lungs, something past breathing. Sort of like a muted settling. Perhaps acceptance. He was a kid, though. He didn't really know anything about it back then.
So he just felt this feeling pass over him, like the way a cloud covers the moon. A tingling in between his fingers and toes. He couldn't really remember if he died or not, but he reckoned he did, for a second. But the next thing he knew he saw light again, brightness seeping into his eyelids, and he was coughing his wits out. He remembered the feel of grass against his skin, and he felt so bizarre, as if the world underneath had spat him back out because they didn't want him. Everything seemed new then. He coughed out water, and he rolled around, trying to see who had saved him. But there was nobody there. Not even his parents. All he saw were the wooden bridges and the flowers and the frog that he'd been trying to catch leaping right past him.
Even thinking about it now he got a queer shiver inside him, right in his chest, like he wanted to be able to explain it but he just couldn't. He always went back to that moment wondering if the contrary had happened. What would have happened if he hadn't been saved? Would his parents have tried to find him? Or would his body be rotting away in the bottom of the lake right now, dissolving away into fish food?
On the ride back home he sat in between his mother and father. They never liked to sit together anymore; they always placed him right in the middle of them, like he was a barrier, or a wall. Draco'd been looking out the carriage window on his mother's side. She'd fussed all about him when he'd come back, sopping wet from head to toe, and he sort of liked those moments because it was then she forgot all about her friends and what they thought of her and really showed that she cared about him. Anyway, she'd dried him right up, but then shooed him out right after again.
"I was saved by an angel today," he remembered saying, to no one in particular, maybe just to the air. And perhaps it was a silly thing to say aloud, because nobody believes in angels. Angels were just made up things that people drew and painted because they wanted to find hope and reassurance in the world. So they made up things that were perfect and beautiful and who would always protect them from things like death and pain. But Draco was just a kid back then. And he couldn't explain it. And he just had a feeling.
He didn't even know if he believed in angels now. Maybe. He'd never thought about it since then, to tell you the truth. He didn't know what he thought.
Lucius scoffed. "Don't be silly," he said to him, and Draco looked at him. "Angels don't exist."
But Draco always doubted that. Not that angels did exist – he didn't know, remember? But Lucius had always been so uncertain of things in life. He didn't ever show it, but it was like that Chinese girl with the lipstick. Draco could read people. His father fit right in with that girl and the boy from the paper. People who pretended to be happy but were really screwed up inside. Sometimes he worried he got that gene from his father. Like maybe some cell, or a chemical imbalance.
Sometimes he'd squint his eyes closed really hard and tell himself with all of the conviction inside of him that he didn't.
Draco stared at the white bottle.
He wasn't so sure anymore.
Right now he was thinking he did.
Pansy, who'd always been his friend in one way or another because she'd always been somewhat in love with him, visited him sometimes, or tried to. He'd offer her tea but he never had any because he never got out to go to the store. But she'd try to talk to him. One time she'd made him sit outside with her somewhere around midnight and told him her life story – at least, the things that he didn't know. Like what she'd been doing lately, after the war, and all of the shit her parents had left behind that she'd been trying to auction off because there was just too much. She met some guy and was going to marry him because he's so crazy about her and he's got several vaults at Gringott's. Draco remember telling her that she was a lunatic, but then she gave him this look, like he shouldn't be talking.
And Pansy was a snarky girl. She was. A fire of a woman, and she could be so stuck-up sometimes – her snobbery was outstanding. But Draco had known her since two years before he'd almost drowned inside that lake, so she just kind of stuck with him. He remembered he used to throw dirt at her and she'd cry but then she'd kick him really hard in the shin. And people really hated Pansy, so maybe that was another thing that connected her to Draco, because they were both people everybody just hissed on and on about. They were both vain, and arrogant, and just so messed up.
But that day she said something to him. She said, "Someday, Draco, you're going to fall in love with someone who won't fall in love with you. And you're just going to have to deal with it."
He would have laughed at Pansy's face. In fact, he did, and she just sipped her bourbon and started talking about her dog, or something. But that kind of stuck with him, just like she did. That night he thought about it a lot, and tried to mull it over, how possible it was, how impossible. So far he hadn't been out of his house and hadn't even met any girls. So it was leaning towards the impossible side, more than it was possible.
He'd never even fallen in love before. It wasn't like he knew how it felt. He hadn't even heard stories.
That was a month ago.
Two weeks later Dumbledore shows up at his door, looking kind of happy, telling him that they had some things to take care of concerning his parents. So Draco went back to Hogwarts with him for the first time in a long time and it just felt weird to be back around people again, even a little awkward. But he saw all these people's faces and he really hated them still. He wasn't expecting the war to change that. But he kind of thought so. He was wrong, though. They'd made him kill his mother and father. He hated them for that, most of all. Couldn't ever forgive them for it. And maybe that was why he hid out for so long. I mean, if you knew him, he wasn't one to hide out anywhere at all; he was sodding Draco Malfoy. But maybe he was just ashamed to show his face, among other things. What kind of kid kills his own parents? Some insane kid, you figure. But Draco wasn't insane. It was just for the greater good. They kept telling him that, but over time it lost what little meaning it'd had before.
He had to wait a little in the old coot's office because apparently some fool had lost some of the paperwork that was important for him to sign. Draco sat in the oversized chair in the circular office, waiting silently. Then someone comes in from behind, and he looks behind him, and he sees Granger. You know, Potter's best friend. Once his girlfriend, maybe, he didn't remember. Funny because when he saw her he kind of stared. There was just a funny feeling inside of him because when he'd first walked out everything looked so different but she uncannily stayed the same. Nothing had changed about her. Not even her hair. Which was actually kind of a shame, because she had terrible hair.
She was startled to see him there. She had some kind of folder in her hand. "Oh," she'd said, still looking at him too. "You're here."
Draco looked away, back to the front, not saying anything to her. He remembered she had been badly hurt during the war. Almost went into a coma for a week or so. He hadn't really cared; he'd already been hiding out by then. But he remembered the last time he'd been here and she'd been in the hospital wing. Potter never went away. Neither did Weasley. It'd made him laugh in a sick way because both of them really loved this girl. And she had to choose, but she was in a coma, and it was a sad thing to witness but Draco remembered smirking at it.
Potter even had a bit of a thing with her during the war. He played the Protection card and tried to send her away and she got so angry she started yelling at him in front of everyone. He remembered seeing her cry. She was also one of the people who'd stood around and watched him kill his parents. He remembered looking up and there were tears in her eyes before she looked away. He didn't think anything of it, of course. Girls cry a lot. Something about their emotional drives and hormones.
"I'm just going to wait for Dumbledore," she said, like Draco wanted to know. Then there was more silence. "How have you been?"
It was a really stupid conversation, if you can even call it that. Draco didn't even want to talk to her, but it felt kind of pathetic to leave her hanging. He figured that maybe talking to her would make the time go faster or something. She didn't even like him; he didn't like her – even after the war. If people told you that the things between people changed after that, they would have been lying. Nothing was different. Blood still separated people, but in a more subtle way. And, so Granger was trying to be nice to him. Probably because she heard the stories. Poor Draco Malfoy, rich kid who had to kill his parents, cooped up in his house for three months without ever leaving.
"Fine," he crisply replied, even though he didn't even understand the meaning of that word anymore.
"Good," he heard her say from behind him.
And that was all they said until Dumbledore came back with an apologetic smile on his old face and told him that he was sorry, he'd just have someone bring it over to his house to sign, because they still couldn't find it. So Draco got up from the chair and left, not even looking at Granger when he passed, and he didn't say bye to her, either. She didn't say bye to him. She just rushed ahead to Dumbledore with her little folder.
Two days later someone came by, just like his former headmaster promised. Draco expected it to be some old man with a black mustache and a really skinny face and a twitchy smile. He knew a lot of twitchy people. But when he opened the door he was surprised to see that it wasn't an old man at all. It was a girl. She didn't even have a black mustache, or a twitchy smile, but one of those smiles that were nice to look at – in a different way from that Chinese girl.
"Granger," Draco said, looking disturbed.
"Dumbledore sent me," she said, looking straight at him. To tell you the truth, she kind of unnerved him, just because there was something about her that sort of just dared people to contradict her. Maybe it was her eyes.
She held up a huge folder. "I have the papers."
"Oh. Right, the papers," Draco said. Then he turned around and walked back into his house. "Come in."
He walked over to his table while she politely closed the door behind her and followed after him, not even looking around at his house, but going straight to the table, sitting down. She laid the stack in front of him.
"I've marked all of the places you need to sign, but I've still got to go and explain everything to you so there won't be any surprises—"
"Why are you here?" asked Draco.
She blinked, looking up at him. "What?"
"I mean," he said, not looking away, "why'd Dumbledore send you?"
"I don't know," she told him. "Maybe because he knows that I won't lose it. I hate losing things."
Draco stared at her for a little while, trying to see if she was lying. Obviously, she wasn't, because he knew all about her finical nature – it was sort of legendary. But it was just strange, that was all. The only person who had been in his house was Pansy, and once she got so angry with him that she went to the loo and wrote something on the wall there in bright red lipstick. She drew a ferret. Funny how that never gets old to people.
But he tried to figure out if she was the kind of person who would go to the toilet and draw things on his walls with lipstick. Probably not. He didn't even know if she owned a tube of lipstick. Probably one of the really neutral colors, or a light pink or something. She seemed like that kind of person. Conservative.
"We should get started. There are a lot of papers, and this isn't even all of them yet. They're supposed to send in more." She took out a pen.
"Do you want tea?"
She hesitated, her eyes up at him. "No, it's all right."
"Good," said Draco. "I don't have any."
She kind of smiled a little, but then they got started on the papers. Usually it was just a whole bunch of Sign here's and Sign there and Sign here, too. But she explained everything, like how it concerned the manor and his parents and even discussed the money in their vaults. Draco felt a little strange to be sitting in front of her while she told him why he needed to sign there, why it concerned him, and what his parents had to do with it – it was sort of personal, like she knew a lot about the things he should know, but didn't. And he couldn't help but to watch her as she shuffled through the papers and talked to him, the way her lips moved. They had a pleasant shape. Not too thin or sharp around the edges but kind of soft.
It took a couple of hours. It was dark when they'd signed the last paper in her stack, but then she reminded him that there were more.
"You should think about what you want to do with all of the furniture and possessions in the manor," she told him when she tucked away her pen inside her bag.
"I don't care," said Draco. But the truth was, he did, just a little. He just didn't want to care, if that made any sense. What would he do with all of those things? "Auction it off, sell it, give it away. I don't care. Give it to poor people."
"Oh, all right. Well, still, just think about it. I'll probably be back tomorrow. Just so you know."
He didn't even lead her out. He just sat at the table, looking at the painting of his mother he took from the manor. That was the only thing he'd taken. He didn't even know why, but he reckoned that it was just because he remembered that even when he was little he really liked that painting. Couldn't ever explain why, and he didn't even want to try. It wasn't a big painting. It was a fairly small one, with a bronze frame that had all of these indentations of vines and roses.
He heard her leave, and that was when he went back to his room and laid down on his bed. He didn't sleep, but he stayed there 'til morning. He did what Granger told him to do, think about what to do with all of the Malfoy possessions, knowing that he wasn't ever going to need them anymore. Had no use for them. Somehow he'd lost taste for all of the glittery things, things that'd cost a lot, things that were old and once belonged to some tragic royal family or something useless like that. So he made up his mind.
The second day Granger came exactly the time she'd come the day before, right on the dot. Don't ask how Draco knew that, it wasn't like he was waiting for her or anything, but he just happened to glimpse at the clock right when he heard the knock on the door. Funny how he even had a clock; it'd been in here when he'd moved in, so that was lucky. Anyway, he opened the door for her even though it wasn't ever locked, and they sat down together. She looked sort of pretty today; she did something different with her hair, and she smelled nice. The only woman he'd smelled during these past months was Pansy, and she always smelled the same: like cigarette smoke, hard liquor, and spicy perfume to try and cover up the cigarette smell but only made it worse. She'd told Draco that she was trying to quit but realized that it was pointless because they were all going to die anyway.
They got right to work. He didn't offer her tea anymore, because that joke was old. She made him sign more things, talked more, and sometimes he laughed at her because she would stutter. It was so uneasy to sit right in front of her, because he'd never done that before. He didn't even say anything to her unless it was related to the papers because he just found it pointless. The last seven years of his life had been full of tormenting her, and now he was just kind of exhausted. Like that stuff quickly got old. Not that he still didn't think it; when you're raised on things like racism and all that since infancy, it isn't something you can simply clear out of your mind, just like that. Not even with the war. Sometimes it's just there, lurking in the back of your head, and like Draco said before, it was just a matter of entertaining those thoughts or being obnoxious and saying them aloud.
"So how do you know about all this?" he'd asked her when she was looking for another paper.
She stopped. "I had to do it before, you know, for Ron. They didn't want just anybody handling this stuff. It's awfully sensitive. And I respect all this," she said. "That's why I never lose it."
Draco had forgotten that Weasley's parents had died, too. So, really, they all felt like Potter now. Parents murdered by the Dark powers. No more parents. Except Draco had killed his own parents. That was different.
"I feel really lucky," she whispered, and it wasn't until later that Draco realized that they'd had one of those "moments" with each other. You know, when you're sharing something personal and there isn't any dispute about it or anything, and you're kind of at peace even if you're sad. "I mean, you and Ron… I feel terrible that that had to be a consequence for the war."
"For the greater good, Granger," said Draco, even though he really hated that phrase. "I killed them for the greater good."
Because sometimes you don't know what to say. So you have to steal other people's words.
And then the moment was gone.
She stayed a little later this time. She looked around his house and he could tell what she was thinking; that it was practically empty, and it didn't even seem like there was any food around. It was dusty everywhere. Unlike Pansy, who'd practically given herself her own tour and went on and on about how he should get some furniture and clean up because it smelt like a rotting corpse (she'd said that he was the rotting corpse), Granger just stayed quiet. She stared at his mother's painting and said that his mother was beautiful. He said that he knew she was.
Then she left, and somehow when he walked her to the door he could still smell that flowery smell she left behind. It wasn't strong or distinct, but he could just smell it. Like it'd somehow rubbed into his clothes and stuff and he couldn't get it out. He even smelt it when he was trying to go to sleep.
The next day they finished later, and he saw that she was looking a little tired, but she'd tamed her hair again, and she had a new coat, or something. They sat there for a while, and Draco looked at her.
"Going out later? Potter and Weasley, perhaps?" he asked. She was looking kind of sad.
"Oh, no. I mean, we were supposed to, for my birthday. But they've got work."
"So you're stuck here with me."
She smiled, but it was a sad smile. "I suppose so."
Draco thought for a while. He'd never been with anyone on their birthday before. "Happy birthday, Granger."
She gave him a real smile this time. "Thanks."
"So you're twenty?"
"Feel like you're twenty?"
"I feel like I'm forty."
"Why don't you go out by yourself? To celebrate, I mean. You don't need Potter and Weasley."
She sighed, and she was looking down at the ink stains on her hands. "I don't know. It's just that whenever I go out to eat with Ron or Harry, I always see a person sitting at a table all alone, eating. I feel sorry for them. I don't want to be one of those people. I'd rather be at home alone on my birthday then being out by myself. Is that so bad? I don't know."
They were quiet for a couple of seconds.
"Wait," he said, and then he got up and went into the kitchen. He poked his head into the cupboards and the dust flew right into his face, and he sneezed a little, but he finally found what he was looking for. He went back to Granger with a bottle of rum.
"I don't have any glasses, so we're going to have to drink from this bottle. Don't worry, I wiped it off."
They went outside, and it was dark already, and they sat on his porch in the seats Pansy brought over because she was so tired of having to sit on the floor around his house. It was chilly but only a little because of the breezes. They looked out and Draco was reminded of the fact that he'd always had a fancy for late evenings. There was a serenity to them he couldn't find in the daytime. Everything was quiet.
He opened the bottle and offered her the first drink, since it was her birthday. She took it, and she made a face, because he knew well that it burned, but she took a hearty mouthful before she passed it back to him, and he drank from it.
"So why'd you move in here?" she asked him.
"First thing I saw. I couldn't stay in the manor. Not after what happened. Suddenly it was just… too big. It's massive for three people; it's even more massive for one. This house is big, too. But it's smaller. And I know nothing about it; I've got no memories in here yet. It's like strangers getting acquainted. It's exciting for a while."
"Have you been keeping in touch with anyone?"
"No. But Pansy comes over from time to time when her fiancée's out of town or they get in some fight. What about you? How's Potter and Weasley?" He passed the bottle back to her.
Frankly, he didn't give a damn about Potter and Weasley, but he figured she liked talking about them and it would make her happy. He just pitied her, is all. It was her birthday and she was drinking bad rum on a porch with Draco Malfoy, asking him about his miserable life. What a terrible birthday.
"They're fine," she said. "They're… well, they've got jobs, I reckon that's good. They have hard times sometimes. But they're okay." She passed him back the bottle.
"Both of 'em still in love with you?" Draco asked, and maybe it was an insensitive thing to ask, but it wasn't like it was a secret. Everybody knew about it. He took a long drink.
"I don't know. Maybe."
"You don't talk about it?"
"You should," Draco said, giving her the bottle. "To avoid misunderstandings. What do you think – you reckon they'll wait for you forever? My best bet's on Potter. He looks like the sort of guy who can wait for fifty years. Weasley's too impatient. Bad temper. Then again, Potter's the same."
"I don't like to think about that."
"Why not? You should. I mean, you've got two guys madly in love with you. You've got to choose somebody somehow. If you don't then you'll just rip their poor souls apart. They'll hate you because you left them hanging. The faster you choose, the faster they can move on."
While he said that she took about three gulps of rum straight. Afterwards she looked like she was going to die. Her cheeks were a little rosy now. They weren't even halfway down the bottle. It was a huge bottle.
"I can't," she forced out, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, looking a little pained, her eyes squinted. "I love them both."
"Or you don't love either of them enough. At least not in that way, right?"
She was quiet. "Why do people fall in love with people in the first place? I don't get it. Is there really a cupid prancing around shooting arrows at random people? Because I don't get it."
"I don't get it either," said Draco, taking the bottle back. "I've never been in love."
"Not even with Pansy?"
He snorted. "Hell no. She's like my sister."
"Harry and Ron are like my brothers."
"Do you think you'll ever fall in love?" she asked, looking at him.
"Yeah," he said, his voice muffled from inside the glass bottle. "With liquor."
"No, I mean with a person. A girl. A woman. Like, get married, and have children, and be happy."
Draco laughed, shaking his head. "I don't think that's possible," he said, passing her the bottle. "I think it'd be better if I just don't reproduce. The Malfoy line, I think, ought to be ended with me. That's how I feel. I mean, I'll have loads of sex, sure. But I won't have any kids. I'll die old and alone. I saw it in a vision once."
"I don't think you'll die alone."
"Just proves how much you know me, Granger."
"I think… I think I'll die alone, too. I mean, unmarried and all, with no kids. Just a ton of books. And cats, if I'm lucky."
"I don't think so."
"Just proves how much you know me, Malfoy."
Draco smiled at her and she smiled at him too, her widened lips visible from behind the bottle. "You've always got Potter and Weasley. You can marry one of them. Or, hell, both of them. Take turns. Potter can have you Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Weasley can have you Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for whichever one shags the best."
Hermione laughed. "Unlikely. I'd never treat them that way."
"I don't believe you. When you get desperate you will. You'll start feeling really lonely and you'll start shagging strangers on the street without even asking for their name."
"Do you do that?"
"No. I always ask for their name."
She laughed. "You're funny."
"I'm drunk." And it was true. Draco was feeling a little buzz now, and as he looked down at their bottle they were almost halfway down now. It was Granger's turn and she took a couple of sips, and Draco watched as some of her soft curls sort of flew along with the breeze, and he suddenly couldn't remember why he'd thought her hair was so terrible. For some uncanny reason, right now it was charming, and it suited her. He didn't even know why. He even kind of wanted to reach out and touch it because he wanted to know what it felt like.
When she was done he quit staring and took the bottle, and her eyes were shining brighter than before; a major sign that she was on the same path he was. He felt sort of bad because he was going to be the one responsible for getting her drunk on her birthday. He'd have tucked the rest away for himself and told her to get home and eat some ice cream and watch the telly or something, but it was kind of nice sitting out here like this with her, even without the liquor. It made him feel like there were places outside his house that weren't so terrible.
"So you don't want to get married?"
"No, not really. I don't see the point. Somebody always cheats, or stops loving the other person, or becomes a real arse, or starts drinking. And when you're married you can't just break up with that person. Because if you do then you've got to go to court and fight for your house and furniture and kids, if you've got kids. Everything just gets even more messed up in the process. It isn't worth it to me."
They talked for hours, drinking liquor, sip after sip. Soon they were so buzzed they had to fumble for the bottle and they were kind of slurring their words together. But they could hold their liquor well. They almost finished the bottle, but didn't, because for a moment they only sat next to each other, looking at each other. He couldn't even remember what they'd been talking about, and his ears were fuzzy, but he could remember her voice. He was so drunk that he couldn't even remember who kissed whom first, but all he knew was that the bottle was left rolling around on the floor while they went back into his house, kissing furiously, bumping against walls and doors. His hands were all tangled up in her hair, and her mouth was sweet and warm and tasted exactly like rum.
They were fumbling around with each other's clothes, their fingers feeling so misguided when it came to undoing buttons and the like, but they got it off somehow, everything, and they made it to his bed.
Later on, twenty minutes later, when they just lay there on his bed, Granger, who was probably still a little wired, got up and ran all the way to the loo with one of his thin sheets – to throw up, he guessed. And when she came back she told him that someone had drawn a ferret on his bathroom wall with a small word bubble telling him to get off his bum and do something with himself and he explained to her that that was exactly the reason why he could never fall in love with Pansy.
It didn't occur to him until morning that he'd had sex with Hermione Granger on her birthday. He was in a bit of a shock, really, with a pounding headache that made him feel like smashing his skull against the wall until the pain subsided, and he died. But he cleared it away with a simple spell with his wand, and when he looked up, Granger was dressed back up in her knickers, sitting up in his bed, looking at him. And he felt terrible, not because he'd taken advantage of her (hell, maybe she'd taken advantage of him) but because it'd been her birthday. Having meaningless, crazy sex on a person's birthday with some guy who couldn't even offer her tea was just a very pathetic and sad way to celebrate another year of life.
They didn't even know each other.
"Hey," he'd said to her, his voice coarse.
"Hey," she said back.
"Wild night, huh?"
She laughed lightly. "The wildest." But then she slid off his bed and started gathering her clothes that were strewn all over his floor, her hair an absolute mess, and Draco realized that he really didn't hate her hair at all. In fact, he kind of liked it. It was messy and chaotic and he liked it.
"But I've got to go now. Harry and Ron must be going mad, looking for me."
"What are you going to tell them?"
"That I was celebrating with somebody for my birthday and I fell asleep."
"You going to tell them it was with me?"
She snorted. "No." She started putting on her clothes, and Draco watched her. "I'll probably be back later with some forms. It's going to take a couple more days, but after this week it should be done with."
And then she left just like she always did without saying goodbye, and Draco was left right where he started, lying down on his bed, except this time he was nude. He tried going back to sleep again but he could smell her in his pillows and sheets and even the bed itself. So he just got up, took a shower, put on a change of clothes and went out to the porch again to look for the rum bottle. He found it underneath the chair and the rest of the rum had spilled all over the floor. And if it had been any other night before he would have said it was a damned shame to waste liquor, even bad liquor. But today he just picked it up and threw the bottle away.
Granger came back late in the afternoon, just like she'd said. She had more forms with her, and he could swear that something was literally birthing those papers; or maybe it was growing on a tree somewhere, because it was never-ending. It sort of annoyed him because it was so redundant and he just wanted to be rid of all of the stuff in the manor and the manor itself. Any of his parents' stuff, he wanted it gone. He'd told her to just get rid of it all herself, but she said that it wasn't possible without his signatures. So he was stuck with all the stupid signing. Over time it was just some incoherent scribble and they had to take breaks because his hand would cramp up.
"So what did Potter and Weasley say?" he asked during their break. He was icing down his hand.
"Nothing, really. They asked where I was and who I was with. But they aren't on a blood hunt for you, if that's what you're asking."
"Shame. I actually thought that would've been kind of fun. Just like old times." He looked at her. "Is that how you usually spend your birthday? With Potter and Weasley?"
"Usually. But we've got jobs now, and agendas, and we've got to accept that. What about you? What do you do on your birthday?"
"I don't care for birthdays."
She looked startled. "Really?"
"Yeah. If you would have asked me right now how old I was I wouldn't be able to answer you. It'd take a minute, at least, if I even bothered answering. I think it's strange and bizarre. Like an anniversary, but for yourself. It's a selfish holiday. An excuse to force people to be nice to you for one day."
"No it isn't," said Hermione, looking at him with furrowed brows. "You are one cynical person, aren't you? You think everything's so terrible and awful. Sometimes I'd really like to know what it is that's in your mind, Malfoy. If… if it's just filled with sad things and you only think about the bad things in life and you base your perception on that. I don't think it's quite fair."
He only looked at her. "You really think so? Is that why you kissed me last night? Because you thought it'd give me an odd thrill?"
She scoffed, shaking her head. "No. No, that wasn't it. I kissed you because I wanted to, and because I was drunk, and because it was my birthday and I wasn't with my friends. I kissed you because we were talking about all the things I hated talking about and I barely even know you. I kissed you because I was lonely. And because you were right."
"About which part?"
She hesitated. "Everything, I reckon."
"You often kiss former bullies?"
"So far there's only been you." There was something dark in her eyes that made Draco want to lean in closer to her. Her tone quieted. "I don't want it to interfere with my duties. I shouldn't have… engaged in that sort of activity with you, it was totally out of line. It was just… I can't say. Sometimes don't you just get these impulses and you can see yourself doing them, and you sort of feel like you're standing in front of the telly, and you're telling yourself to stop but you just can't? But you can hear it, in your head. But you don't stop. And I don't know why I didn't."
He tried to concentrate on what she said. "Are you all right, Granger?" he asked her quietly. And it was a first for Draco Malfoy to ever ask anyone if they were all right and really meaning it. Because he was one of those people you hear about from everybody else, that mean, selfish cad that everybody wished would just die – only because he served the world with malicious purpose and nothing else. The sort of person who never thought about everyone else out of sincerity or worry. So it was an odd feeling for him to feel, but he felt it, a warm fuzzy thing inside his chest, like he'd inhaled something funny. But it was just weird for him to be hearing this stuff from Granger – even though he didn't know her – but the truth was that he knew her a little. Just a little bit. He figured that was enough.
"Yeah," she said. "I am."
But Draco knew a liar when he saw one.
They got the forms done and they didn't talk about last night anymore because he could tell it made her uneasy. They both silently agreed that it was nothing, just a product of a massive bottle of rum shared between a woman and man gone a little too enthusiastic. He just wished she could have had a better birthday, though.
She stayed late again, and he realized when they were sitting down on his porch that she was avoiding Potter and Weasley. Probably because they were in love with her. Sort of sad how she kind of just blew them off, though – but Draco knew that she was just scared and that she was one of those people who ran away from their problems really well. He wanted to talk to her about it but he couldn't really bring himself to.
"Can I ask you something?" she said that one night, when they were silent. It felt a lot different without the bottle of rum getting passed back and forth. A little more tense. Her face looked like it was searching for something. "You ever feel like there's supposed to be more than this? Like something deeper, or bigger?"
"Yeah, in life. I mean, like you kind of lose that motivation to keep living. You go into this sort of routine and soon you don't even think about what you're doing anymore. You just do it. And when you realize it, that you're not in tune with your life anymore, that something else has taken a hold of it and it's not you, you feel… like there's something missing."
Draco took a long time thinking about this question.
"Yeah. Yeah, I do."
"Do you think…it'll ever go away?"
"No, I don't think so."
But then he got to thinking that maybe Granger's just as screwed up as he is, that maybe she's even worse. Because when he looked at her it just looked like she was having a difficult time with things, and it was hard to accept because one would think that since it was after the war and the Dark Lord was gone and there was peace again, she'd be having the time of her life. But instead he found himself looking at a person who was in the same place he was; a person who had been plunged right into a similar pool of desolateness and odd misery, if not the same. Maybe they'd been swimming right beside each other this entire time but they'd just never looked up.
On Friday she came over, and she'd left something behind.
This was where he was at, right now. Staring at the white bottle. Muggle. The paper wrapped around it with ink letters that won't smear in the rain. He watched it, like it was going to dance for him, or reveal something to him that he didn't know. Because he reckoned this was one of those times when life was supposed to come stumbling through the door in some crazy circumstance and punch him hard in the gut with something big and terrible and great – something that he didn't know. Something that he knew he wanted to know but then wouldn't want to know after he knew.
He'd owled Pansy and given her the name that was on the bottle and she'd owled him right back. She knew more about Muggle pills more than he did. She told him that it was a type of antidepressants and asked him why – had he been prescribed some? Because that would be a really good idea. He didn't answer her, of course, and instead he'd been staring at the bottle for the past hour, trying to figure out what he was supposed to do with it.
Strange because he'd only known Granger for a week and he already felt like he had some sort of obligation to her – not exactly an obligation, but as if he cared about her. It was really aberrant, but it was just one of those things when you immediately click with people and you feel like you'd do anything for them, even if you were still kind of complete strangers. Maybe it was because everything she'd said he'd felt before, and he felt like it was the first time in a long time he wasn't so alone anymore.
He waited for her for three days. During that time he went out and actually bought some glasses and tea and food. He even bought curtains – not any nice ones, just the first ones he'd seen, some dark green ones. And during all that he'd left the plastic bottle right on the table and he tried not to look at it. Then on the fourth day she came, and he would have offered her some tea because he actually had some, but he had a feeling she'd say no. She just came in and stared at the bottle without a particular expression.
"You left it in the loo," he told her, and he sat down, staring at her, waiting. Her eyes flickered to him, and she looked skinner than when he'd last seen her. She sat down right across from him.
"I know what they are. Antidepressants. I don't understand, though, why you didn't come to get them right after you left. Surely you must have realized you left it. But you waited three days."
"I wanted to stop taking them," she told him, but her eyes were on the bottle. "But then I started to get these pains. In my stomach, and in my head."
He looked steadily at her, and there was no mistake now that he and Granger weren't strangers. Not even a little bit. Four days ago, maybe. An hour ago, maybe. But right now they weren't. He just watched her, and wondered how in so few a days he started to have feelings for her when he could have been certain that a month ago he didn't even spare a single thought about her. And right now – right now, this second – was the worst. Because she had a problem, and she was admitting it to him, and it was now he realized that he could see himself sort of loving her. Not because she was vulnerable. And he just – couldn't say, all right? Couldn't say exactly why he felt that way.
"Is that why you came back?"
"Yeah," she said quietly. "I figured I still needed to take them." And she looked really hurt when she said this, like she was ashamed that she was so codependent on something she really didn't want to be so reliant on. He could see that. He could see that she thought she could get better again without their help, because that was anyone's biggest hope, really – to be happy without anybody else's help. People just failed to say it was also the hardest thing in the world to do. Somehow that manages to slip their mind.
"Do Potter and Weasley know?"
"No." She sighed heavily. "I don't want them to know. They're…this is not their problem. This is mine."
"I think they'd want to know that you're depressed."
"I'll get better. It's not like I want to be, you know. It's after the war, I should be so damned glad right now that I'm not tormented by you Purebloods anymore and that Voldemort isn't chasing my friends. And for a while I was. And then… I don't know what happened. I thought it was just a phase." And then she cracked a smile, like it was supposed to lighten the mood.
They went back out to the porch, the eighth time since their first night. It'd become a comfortable spot since then. It was really dark but it was nice that way. Draco was really worried about her, even though he didn't doubt what she said – that she was going to get better. She told him that it wasn't serious at all; it was just to help her. And that she did get happy, even when she was with him. They started talking about other things, like how the manor was sold, and how the money for the furniture and antique things went to charity. The charity thing had been her idea. She'd been so over the moon about it and Draco didn't really care, so he'd agreed.
But then later on, they found themselves in that silent, cozy moment again – when their faces had suddenly come too close and their bodies had gotten so warm just from the rapid beating of their hearts. He was looking right at her, into those doleful eyes of hers, and he could see something in them that made him stop breathing for a second, before she closed her eyelids and closed the space between them. He then felt her lips against his, and it wasn't long before he found himself responding. He couldn't deny how much he liked kissing her; sometimes he was convinced it was all he lived for these days, even though this was the first time they'd kissed since they'd slept together on her birthday. It didn't mean he stopped thinking about it, though.
They kissed for a long time, and he could feel their bodies pressing against each other's, and his blood was pounding in his ears. But then they started to get really close, and he pulled away.
"What is it?" she asked him, her cheeks pink, looking a little hurt. He felt her breaths on his face.
He couldn't look at her. "You've got a reputation, Granger. You've got your best mates still madly in love with you. I can't fall in line behind them."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," he said, starting to get a little frustrated, "I can't do this. You're sick, you need help. Snogging me isn't going to make things better. It isn't going to make things go away. You just—" He ran a hand through his hair. "You can't just come to me whenever you're lonely."
She looked down at her lap. "I'm sorry."
Draco clenched his jaw, trying to calm the beating of his heart.
"I really do like you, you know," he heard her say softly. "I mean, I am lonely… but I don't come here because of that. I didn't kiss you because I was lonely. It isn't like before. But I'm sorry if I gave you that implication."
"You didn't. I'm just… confused, is all."
"About you. You and your sickness. You and your pills. You and your late night visits. You and what you say. How this – this could have happened within the span of a few days. It just… doesn't seem possible. I feel like I'm in a dream where all of the things I never thought would happen, happens."
"Do you remember what I told you? About that hole?"
"I feel like this is it. Like maybe being with you stops that and cures it for a little while." She started to smile. "I don't feel it when I'm around here."
And that made Draco smile a little. A real smile. One that he could feel in his soul – which was new, because he couldn't remember that ever happening before.
They stayed out in the porch the rest of the night until morning, and they didn't kiss again, not once, until when she was going to leave – and that was when they found themselves face to face to each other again, trying to decide whether to do something or just let it go. Somehow, for some reason, Draco felt like everything was fading away, and even as he looked at her in that moment her color seemed to be dulling away. So he just told her to get better. And she told him that she would, and that he shouldn't worry. She'd visit him again, and not only because she was lonely.
She left, and Draco sat there for a while, thinking to himself. Then he got up and went to bed.
The next day he went to the Dervish and Banges, and it was practically empty because there was some Quidditch star next door and everybody was over there instead. Draco didn't mind. He was looking around for some books because he'd always liked reading, and it'd been a while since he bought some. He regretted not keeping some of the books in the Malfoy library, but he didn't dwell on that too long. But just as he was looking at one particular book, he caught something from the corner of his eye. He looked up, and he saw Potter just a few feet from him, over at the Hogwarts: A History shelf. Draco could see the sign hovering above him, talking about the new edition that had just come out this morning. He could see Potter holding one.
Draco went to the cashier without talking to him, paid for his things, and then went on home. That night, Granger came over again, and they sat out on his porch. She made tea, so they drank tea. He didn't tell her that he saw Potter at the bookstore, but she did tell him about how Harry surprised her with the newest edition of Hogwarts: A History. She was happy about it.
"Do you ever think that your friendship's ever going to go back to normal?" Draco asked. "I mean, they're both just waiting around for you. You come here to avoid them. What are they going to do when you get into a relationship?"
She sighed. "I don't know." But then she looked at her wristwatch and she sipped her tea quickly. "But I've got to go now. Harry's invited me to this wedding and it's all the way on the other side of town. I have to get up early. I wanted to tell you that I'm not going to be here tomorrow."
Draco looked at her. "A wedding? With Potter?"
"Yeah, one of his friends. Our friends, actually."
Somehow, Draco got this unsettling feeling in his stomach, and he let her leave without even saying goodbye. He thought about her going to that wedding all night, with Potter, all dressed up, partying in the atmosphere of love. What if she actually did fall in love with Potter? What if something does happen between them after the wedding – what if they sleep together? Granger had, after all, slept with Draco. What was to keep her from sleeping with Harry Potter, a man who was clearly madly in love with her? A wedding was the worst place for lonely people. And she'd told him herself that she was one of those people. And that sometimes she did things on impulse, and that even when she knows it's wrong she can't stop herself.
So what would happen?
Draco paced all around his house all day. He didn't sleep. He was overcome with jealousy, and he couldn't understand the feeling because he couldn't remember ever being jealous before, especially when it concerned a girl. But he just kept seeing it in his head. Granger and Potter at the wedding. And the more that happened the more he felt like somebody kept punching him in the gut.
She was right; she didn't come that night. He found himself lying down on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, wanting to go to sleep, but knowing very well that he probably wasn't going to be able to. He thought about what she was doing right now, and what he would say to her tomorrow night. Would he tell her that he was in love with her? Would she laugh at him – or start avoiding him too, like what she'd started to do with Potter and Weasley? In all of these things he felt as if he'd been placed in a carousel that spun around and around, faster and faster. He tried to think about what Pansy would say, because even if she was a psychotic girl, she had some clever things to say sometimes. But he couldn't think of it.
But he did remember what she'd told him before.
"Someday, Draco, you're going to fall in love with someone who won't fall in love with you. And you're just going to have to deal with it."
He couldn't understand why he'd fallen in love with Granger, if it was just some sick twist of fate, because if he'd had to choose anybody to fall in love with it most certainly would have not been Granger. Because… because she was too special. Over time she'd evolved into something bigger that. Like he couldn't fall in love with her, because he was just too messed up, and he was afraid he'd make her ill, or something. Because she had problems, too. It would have been nice for her to be with someone who didn't have the same problems and who could offer her some nice things to say. About hope, and happy things like gumdrops and lollipops. Or something.
And she'd said she liked him. But why? What made him better than Potter and Weasley, who were righteous and noble and nice? Or maybe it wasn't the case of being better. Maybe it was just the case of being different.
But then, as he lie there, thinking, he heard a voice.
"The door wasn't locked."
He lifted up his head, and he found himself looking at Granger in the doorway of his bedroom in a pretty dress. She was smiling at him.
"Hey," he said, and she made her way over to him, taking off her shoes, and lying down beside him, looking straight up at the ceiling. He could smell her. It was the only thing he smelt these days. "I thought you weren't coming."
"I wasn't. We just got back. But I wanted to."
"How was it? The wedding."
"Horrible," she said, but he could hear a smile in her voice. "Awful and terrible. It'll be the last wedding I'll go to for a while. The dancing was nice, though, and everybody looked beautiful. But it was dreadful."
He was quiet for a little bit, wondering whether it would be out of line if he asked if anything happened between her and Potter. He kept telling himself that nothing did, otherwise she wouldn't have come over.
She spoke first.
"You ever wonder why people cry at weddings?"
"I was thinking about that today. Are they crying because they're happy? Or sad? I can never figure that out. Most people say it's out of happiness, but I don't believe them."
"Why would people be sad at weddings?"
"I don't know. Because they're lonely."
He turned his face towards her beside him. "Did you cry?"
She started to smile, and then she turned her face towards him, too. "No. No, I didn't cry. Because then I got to thinking, when I looked around and saw people crying. I thought about before. Then I thought about you. And then I didn't feel like crying." She was smiling at him, and she looked so damned happy, and Draco just wanted to kiss her so bad. He didn't know why, but maybe because he was happy she was happy, too.
"You… look nice," he told her, instead, and he was worried about what he might do, because they were still looking at each other and she was still giving him that look, like it didn't matter what he might do. But it did, to him. Because he couldn't just treat her like that, you know? She couldn't be one of those girls he slept with night after night. It just made him feel sad to think of her that way. Even though being this near to her, on his bed, made his body shiver. But they just looked up at the ceiling together, and there was nothing there, just this blankness that Draco had memorized ever since he'd moved in here. But there was something nice about it. Like it was a blankness that wasn't really blank, if that made any sense. It just felt nice to be here with her. More than nice. Like he could stay here and never want to get out for anything at all.
But he didn't tell her that. Someday she was going to know without him telling her so. She was smart like that.
"I'm glad you came," he told her quietly.
"Yeah," she whispered, and it looked like she really meant it. "Me too."
Then they lapsed into silence again, and he could have sworn he'd felt something soft against his fingers, but he couldn't be sure anymore. He could feel the steady beat of his heart in his chest, the feel of his cool sheets against him. Not once did he blink. He just stared at the ceiling.
"I was thinking about that question I asked you a few days ago," she then said, her voice still really soft, like he could catch it in a jar or something, like those fireflies during the summer. "About why people fall in love. I mean, I really thought about it, during the wedding, during their vows. They made their own. It was nice. But they just kept talking about how they know they're meant to be together and everything. And I just wanted to ask how – did they know it because they felt it, or did they know it because they wanted to feel it?
"So I asked Harry the same question I asked you. And he said that he thinks it's because every person is meant to have somebody. Look at Adam and Eve. He got lonely, so God made Eve so he could be with somebody."
"Yeah, but she ruined him."
"That's true." Then she started to smile, like it was funny. "But he wasn't alone for the rest of his life, was he?"
She ended up staying the night that day. They didn't sleep together; their clothes were perfectly in tact. She stayed in her pretty dress. They talked like they always did about things that always seemed so random, yet were connected by some invisible tangent. But she kept smiling at him. Like everything was going to be okay. And he didn't know why, maybe because some part of him just wanted to, but he believed her.
Post-A/N: I don't think I need to say anything else about this, really. I think you'll all point it out to me in your reviews. (Grins) But I just want to say that writing this fic was really important to me, no matter how unrealistic it may be, only because I believe that some of the things in here just needed to be said. Or maybe I just needed to hear them for myself – and maybe not all of you can relate and will hate this, which is totally fine. But a special thanks to Zoe, who apparently has The All Seeing Eye. Thanks for everything.