When did you change your mind? Hermione asks, stirring a mug of coffee with one of Sirius' silver spoons. The kitchen is full of soft, dusty morning light, and Malfoy sits across from her, still, hands on his knees.
Because I saw the light, the errors of my ways, and an angel with terrifying hair and a scabby forehead showed me mercy.
Don't be silly, she says with an eye-roll, and I said when, not why.
I'm not being silly, there really was mercy involved. Or so I'm told, anyway.
She brings the mug up to her mouth, so the steam hits her dry lips and floats over her teeth, warming her insides. Grimmauld Place is stuffed with heat charms, but Hermione has never overcome the knowledge that December means slush on concrete and neon snowsuits, ubiquitous cold. She waits for him to continue – it's taken years, but Hermione has learned that people are driven to fill silences, to fill nothings with words. Malfoy more than most, she thinks.
Well, you always want the why; you can't blame me for that. And the when was when my father snapped Theodore Nott's neck and magicked the stain out of the carpet.
Hermione remembers Theodore Nott, the boy whose brother was found by the lake, boneless, and Draco turning away with bruising severity. Hermione remembers asking if boneless meant dead, feeling childish.
No, not childish, Hermione amends, feeling helpless.
Bad dream? He asks, and she likes him for saying dream and not nightmare, because a night-mare is a traitorous, writhing thing, like a black thestral. They have been doing this for months, talking and talking and talking into the night because neither can welcome the sleep that infuriates more than it eases them.
No, just a memory, she replies drowsily because dream and memory are never the same, even though they are equally real.
Of what? He asks, drumming his fingers on the counter, cream nails on a navy-blue marble.
Of Grimmauld Place crumpling in a wreath of orange fire, and seeing Ron's body lifted by three men and herself, and of letting shock override her mind so she babbled about girl scouts camp when she was seven, where they would chant light as a feather, stiff as a bone in the light of plastic lanterns.
It is always the same, though, never mind the blood and the magic: children lifting bodies, hoping their hands fill with the gift of weightlessness.
Why did you turn against your father?
We've been here before, you know. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing again and again, and expecting different results.
Humor me, then.
You should know – you're the buck-teethed daughter of dentists, I'm the turncoat son of a death eater.
What's your point?
Some things are our birthright, Granger, and mine is selfishness.
Malfoy is far from perfect. Hermione has never been able to immerse herself in romantic ideals, in flawless men who don't exist, so she appreciates that Malfoy has fingers that tremble like doves sometimes and scars lacing over his skin.
Hermione has always been famously observant and thought of what must be, moral absolutes, but right now Remus Lupin has locked himself into the pantry since the urn for Nymphadora Tonks was placed on the kitchen mantle, besides Hestia Jones', and Hermione feels like embracing impulse.
Hermione thinks there is something vulgar about the fact that all the urn contains is a hair and the splinters of Tonks' wand, splinters.
Malfoy brews her tea perfectly, two sugars, English breakfast, and puts the blue cup in front of her with fingers that have hypersensitive nerves and Hermione finds herself praying that his hair never makes it to the mantle.
Nineteen days into June, Hermione is standing in a red phone booth, thinking of Draco Malfoy.
The war has only gone downhill: the Order cannot recover from Dumbledore's death, are moving as if he lives, as if these battles are a grotesque rigor mortis. The meetings are scattered, and more recitals of whose tombstones are being planted into the dry soil behind Grimmauld Place, the backyard cum crowded graveyard. Panic doesn't begin to explain what this is, Hermione thinks, and while she won't admit it, but there's a part of her that i glad because she has twenty-two spell burns on her ribcage and five scars she's gotten, including a winding one that splits her eyebrow in an odd way she likes. It's petty, but having a scar is for the living, and had is for the dead.
And so Hermione stands covered with a smooth invisibility cloak, waiting for Kingsley to apparate back with the body of Tantalus Parkinson.
The first time, it is greater than anything ever in the world and Hermione thinks of Ron and Harry in the invisible car, of soaring and being hidden. The guest bedroom has a mattress that a coin would sink, and the window's barred by coal-color rods and the pungent, decaying scent of dust that sticks to her throat.
Afterwards, Malfoy coughs and says, well then, I guess we're doing something here, huh?
Hermione grins at the light blush that washes over his skin, flings her arm over his chest clumsily, and says, well when you put it like that.
July comes by and Hermione is lying on her back on the floor of the Astronomy Tower, where it is dawn and the cool winds whistle as they pass overhead, squirming around Hermione's warming charm, so she lies like a woman in her cocoon. Being at Hogwarts, which is only a safe-house now, is surreal and lovely.
July is a sluggish month, cruel and obnoxiously slow, like Draco trying to impress her with making love, and her thinking why not fucking?
The sun swing upward and pink light spills over the school, ugly against grey stone, and the quietness soothes Hermione until the last day, when she sniffles from that cold Lavender gave her, and Draco says sorry, I know it's Potter's birthday, I know you've been dreading this.
And Hermione thinks: well, I didn't know.
The moon hangs high and throws hard, shuddering light through the Astronomy Tower windows, and Hermione hates it because somewhere out there an old man costumed in dark fur and the disease of being a pariah is sitting at his desk, waiting for his skin to rip. This didn't use to bother Hermione, but she saw the Potion-less Change in August and so now the full moon feels like glass, useless and fragile and agonizing, and she doesn't like to see it.
Once a month, even with the red curtains drawn around her four-poster, like Lupin's blood on the walls, Hermione goes to sleep with her face buried in her pillow.
One humid August day, Hermione is drinking onion soup right out of the bowl, and drinking it at midnight, so no one sees her.
She's starved, or perhaps it's because eating means she is doing something other than wringing her hands together.
Yes, now her hands are on the sides of a porcelain bowl with a rooster pattern. Much better, really.
But then the smoke floating out from the broth is like a stream of mist and voices bursting from orbs in the Department of Mysteries, and the words neither can live while the other survives flood the room, and Hermione wonders, why weren't we told?
For the first time in her life, Hermione feels fear of Albus Dumbledore, even though he is buried, because all she thinks is what else don't we know?
Hermione dreams of marionettes made of bones, and thinks that she is too tired to imagine good symbols.
The sky fell, Harry says, for the third time, sounding only mildly awed, like a toddler and a soaring paper airplane.
Yes it did, Draco agrees, wincing as a bandage crinkles over his right calf – magic beyond magical repair is irritating, he thinks. Magic should be reversible, always, elastic.
The sky fell, Harry repeats, like he's just learning to say it, like it's fun to feel the words in his mouth because, really, how often does the sky fall?
Draco mind's eye goes back two hours, when the chalk-and-navy sky that McGonagall placed on the ceiling of the Great Hall poured down over them in a roar of crashing history and dust, so that all that was left was broken milky-colored marble and wood splinters and dark little shards of the sky, and says: The sky fell on us, Potter.
It doesn't matter where they've brought her, because Hermione can't see.
She runs her thumb over her eye, because things that feel open should be open. Being a prisoner is never fun, she knows, but being a blind prisoner is always better. The world is angry hexes and filthy tiles and air that tastes like pepper for a month. Being blind after fifteen years of sight is like sleepwalking, and Hermione has always enjoyed the thought of sleepwalking because her mother used to tell her dreams are never real, what you see when you sleep is never real, and do you see any monsters?
Things unseen are not real, and Hermione won't admit it, but she likes that, even while she is punching righteous fury on her guards.
Then Draco comes in one day (she can feel his presence, there is less air in the room and the quiet tightens around him) and takes her palm, and her body goes limp under a whispered hex.
When she is awake again, the hospital sheets are as clean as the fluorescent lights, and it will be months before Hermione stops wishing for blindness again, because now the words have mouths and the floors fall out beneath her and the air tastes like rust, like rotting despair.
Look over there, he says, not pointing. She arcs her neck, waiting because she's a bright girl, she knows that there was no shooting star that drew the night around it when she looks skyward. She waits, while her mind's eyes move ahead twenty-three seconds, when Draco will hold gold – pure she thinks, will always matter – pale and breathing weariness, shadowed and casting shadow against the starless night, like a dying candle in the window.
The table is mahogany, sleek and new, and Hermione isn't the kind of girl who humors men like this, but she waits and watches Draco's palm move to grip his thigh again before she says Oh, wow
Pureblood weddings are obscure and there's something breathtakingly ironic about the whole ceremony – Hermione's gown pinches her ribcage inward, until she's sure her shadow's vanished, and the whole thing is a pile of dark lace and tulle and yellow ribbons in knots and bulky braids. The manor lawn has been properly arranged, high blue tents full of calla lily bouquets and bone china table settings. There are no clouds today, so light pours over the cream brick of the manor.
There are spells that zip into the air in a flurry of silver sparks and there is a tradition involving a pitcher of pear juice and a basilisk scale that Hermione knows better than to ask about, because curiosity kills the cat and satisfaction is no exorcist.
Draco takes her hands, and his are always warm. There's a young part of Hermione that's always surprised by this: cold man, cold hands, she expects, but that's absurd, so she just takes his calloused hands into hers with a smile that is as thin and unyielding as glass.
Before his sixth Embleberry Wine tumbler has him clutching the barstool, Fred asks are you really happy with him?
I love him, Hermione tells him, scooping Fred's freckled body into her arms. When his eyes shut a moment later, his smile is bright and numb all at once and like nothing she's seen in years.
It's December again, and Hermione is building a snowball, squinting against the bare afternoon sun. She's wearing gloves that are like frosting, pressed and childishly feminine.
It's stupid, she tells herself, to get so upset about a hand, because it shouldn't matter if her left thumb feels like clay held in paper, but it bother her all the same, because Hermione dreams of Antonin Dolohov tumbling over the Albanian cliffs without flailing, arms out like in a deadman's float and saying you will never escape this war, little girl.
Draco knows, even though she won't say it, and he buys her the most expensive gloves a girl could have, so there is a drawer stuffed with buttery silk and worn suede and stark leather.
She packs the glowing snowball and watches it soak the palm of her hand, and doesn't feel the cold until a snowflake falls onto her wrist.
Draco doesn't complain except when they board, and he comments: ships are so very plebian, Granger. He's whining silently through the weekend, Hermione can tell, but as she levitates her suitcase into the closet, it doesn't matter much. She likes her name from his mouth, and he has tried calling her Hermione but she hates that because this is not that kind of story and the past is not something meant to be erased, because she is made of the past.
The cruise is an anniversary gift from Pansy and Ernie, who are both so completely off-kilter that Hermione carries suspicion in her good hand. The agreement to endure it was easy, because there is nothing better to do, and a ship that looks like it has a hull made of pearls is better than a city that is made of ash. The ministry can't – won't, Draco says – fix Diagon Alley, and magical London is more empty than anything; magic clears but doesn't fix.
Hermione finds Draco spitting into the ocean in the morning, when the blue-green waters flow into the dull horizon and the world feels much too big, and thinks there is no changing us.
When Hermione was younger, she imagined herself with a house full of children, adoring and clever, the old lady who lived in a shoe.
Now, there is no talk of children. The mansion – or maison, because everything is smoother in French, Hermione's mother said – is sometimes quiet, but not often: Ron and Parvati visit, Harry and Adele – whose flood of fiery hair makes everyone think she is a stand-in for the missing Ginny Weasley – come with their twins, everyone pops in and out. When there are no visitors, Hermione pulls her father's old phonograph out from the breakfast room closet, and the Malfoy library, which goes five floors up and is a gathering of rare manuscripts, always can keep her busy.
Malfoy himself is home every night, every weekend, civil and kind. Together, they are fumbling through the weeks, but somehow he's managed to recover in a way she has not. Hermione has always been thoroughly forgiving, full of hope, but now she feels like war has stained her skin, her eyelids, her thoughts.
She's not being fair to the others, she knows; even Harry manages genuine happiness now, unless Ginny is mentioned, and Draco is at peace. Draco, though, Hermione thinks, never had a proper childhood, a youth to be destroye. Draco has nothing that he can't piece back together, except her.
Just tell me what is wrong with you, Draco shouts, slamming his fist into the stucco wall of the dining room, so that little dots of blood spring up on the back of his hand. It's just a gesture of frustration – this is no black-and-blue woman story – but shame lines Hermione' throat all the same. Draco has endured far more, been forced to make choices far more agonizing than her, and yet -
I don't know, Hermione murmurs, in that wobbly, tragedienne way that she loathes, I'm so sorry, really.
What's stopping you from being happy, then? He asks, staring upwards, a mirthless smile on his mouth, a galleon for your thoughts.
Figures you'd skip knuts and go straight to a galleon, she teases.
I'm a wealthy man, he says, waving his wand over his hand. Basic healing spells are in every survivor's repertoire.
You were suppose to say something like 'your mind is worth a million galleons to me, Hermione dearest'.
And before she knows it, laughter swells in her chest, and she's got her face pressed into his robe, laughing with him, and he never needs to ask what's wrong again.
The years go by – Hermione becomes an Unspeakable – unspeakably annoying, is Ron's joke – and Draco becomes the famed leader of the MLEs, and the grief falls away quietly, subtly, so lightly that neither of them realizes it.
Draco is gone. He has been dead for two weeks, and Hermione is full of a soft, luminous sort of grief, and the knowledge that her own end has come as well. She's always loved controlling her schedule, being aware of starts and finishes, and so, Hermione, with the blessings of Ron, of Adele, of the last survivors, arrives at the sea where she and Draco once saw helplessness. I am not pushing on the ocean anymore, she had vowed, then, and now she is making good on that promise.
The sea moves like hot iron, and today it is just shooting foam. Hermione lies down so that her hipbones sting with the cold of the October tide, and her ribs are pushed upon by warm white sand. The edges of the waves are sticky and bright, and they creep up her body, running over her flesh, making a bed and lying in it.
Hermione lets the sea fill her, finally surrounded, suspended, (the glass is empty, but I am full Draco would say when she asked about optimism at the dinner table) and smiles, opening her mouth.
"They were dying slowly - it was very clear.
They were not enemies, they were not criminals,
they were nothing earthly now -
nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation,
lying confusedly in the greenish gloom."
-Joseph Conrad, 'Heart of Darkness'