Disclaimer: Don't own Harry Potter. Not profit being made from this.
Note: Happy Valentine's Day! Thanks and a box of chocolates and long-stemmed roses to my betas, Z and Eilonwy! mwah!
Every morning, Draco Malfoy has the same dream. It is vivid, sharp; the images moving against a black background. They move quickly—too quickly—and he has to fight to remember them when he wakes up. They are all in black and white, and blurry, and he can't make out what's happening. Then the dream ends with a flash of red and he panics. He wants to remember the dream, he's certain that it's important – it has to be. Because everything is so familiar, like he's seen it before.
The flash of red and then he wakes up.
He doesn't even remember that there was something to remember, doesn't remember the dream. And it's been happening for almost three years. Two years, eleven months, exactly..
This morning is different, though. Just after the red flash, and the panic, he wakes up. Eyes still closed, he wonders why he's breathing hard.
His eyes flare open, and he sees the flash of red; then he sees himself, bundled up, and it's cold, very cold, and all black and white outside. He's walking down a deserted street, and he's really happy about something…something he just bought. Then, he senses… people—five of them. One, a woman, snarls at him, says things; he goes for his wand, but they're faster. He's hit with a red light, two different spells, and then –
Nothing. Just black and white. A white ceiling. Slowly, he sits up, confused. His bed sheets are white, he's wearing grey pants and a white shirt. And he's not sure, but he's pretty close to sure that he's not home or at Hogwarts. Or in Kansas, whatever that is.
He looks around the room, and there's more. White walls, a grey chair, a black table with a stack of black books, a grey apple, an inkwell – his head whips back to the books. One of them—he sees the spine—is Red. He stares at it hard, waiting for something—anything—to happen, but it's just a book, so it sits there.
Reluctantly, he continues to scan the room. Everything is black or white or in between. Except that book, and a picture frame next to his bed; it's Red too. He's not sure how he knows what Red is, but it's just one of those things that stinks out in his mind. He has no idea what the picture is about; it's just a big grey cat.
He doesn't think he likes cats, but he can't be sure. He also knows there's something very, very wrong with all the black and white, but he can't remember what. There should be…more, he thinks, but he can't think.
The only furniture in the room is the bed, a table, a chair, and the nightstand. He frowns, noting that the single chair means he doesn't have much company.
Then he notices a window and goes to look out. The picture before him is a sea of shades of grey, and he knows they're houses and rooftops, so he knows that he is up. Above some things, but still beneath others. But it's too much grey, and his head starts hurting as he strains to see through the monotone. He wants to see the Red book, and more things like it. They are important too, he knows, but when he tries to think, his head throbs.
He sits down on the bed, and a door he hadn't noticed opens. A tired-looking girl walks in, and he blinks in surprise. She's wearing a Red dress that falls just to her knees, underneath a white coat. Her curly black hair – but he knows that's not quite right – is tied up with a Red ribbon. He knows she's beautiful – just look at her.
And he does, with an intensity that startles her. Hermione smiles at him, and brandishes a clipboard and a quill.
"Good morning, Mr. Malfoy," she says, looking at the clipboard. "How are you feeling?"
"Don't you usually wear black?" he says, and he's not sure where it came from, but he knows it's right.
She's stunned, and her heart skips a beat. It's been the same for three years, three long years and she has a fleeting moment of both joy and panic because this is different..
He was brought to St. Mungo's one cold winter night; brought to the fourth level—long-term care ward. She'll never forget reading the diagnosis in his chart. It is forever burned into her memory.
Coma; permanent brain damage. Cause: unknown.
She took him as her patient, and every morning since that cold winter night, she has followed the same routine. She goes into his room, says hello, and asks him a series of questions. His injury was such that every morning they started over. He wouldn't remember the previous day. None of the Healers who'd been consulted had heard of such a case, and the leading theory was a spell that restarted every day. But still, there were large chunks missing from his memory. He wasn't even really himself.
The list of questions is strict and unyielding. They never change: (1) How are you feeling this morning? (2) What is the last thing you remember? (3) How much do you remember before this? (4) Do you know who you are? (5) Where are you? (6) Is there anything else you remember?
The answers were usually similar every day, some identical. (1) Fine; okay; confused; tired. (2) Pansy, at Hogwarts, his last year; she was yelling at him because he refused to help her with an assignment in Defense Against the Dark Arts because he was too busy with his own project. (3) Some things; vague images; everything. (4) No; yes. (5) I don't know. (6) His answers to this question varied, and they never amounted to anything.
Then he would become frustrated and she would leave. He was always watched, so they knew that he would become angry, and throw things, and yell, but they would bring him lunch after he calmed down. He'd eat, then read for a few hours – always the same book – and at the same time every day—four forty-seven in the afternoon—he would scratch at his left arm, now free of blemish.
Then he'd become restless and pace, finally going to the window and staring outside for awhile. Hermione would return, or Harry, who also worked on his case, though not as closely as she did, and spend a little time with him. Sometimes he asked questions, and she told him anything he wanted to know. Well, almost anything. She had tried telling him certain things, and was only hurt in return, so she didn't tell him again.
Sometimes they played a game, exploding snap or chess, and sometimes she'd stay for dinner. And then she'd go home and cry herself to sleep. Draco would read until he fell asleep. And the next day, they would do it all again, with only slight variations.
It had become too much for her, and she'd told her boss she needed a transfer. The older woman had smiled sympathetically and said okay. Today was Hermione's last day with Draco, and Ron was taking her out to dinner to celebrate. It was symbolic of she, Harry and Ron putting Draco behind them and trying to move forward. Because they'd been told, over and over again, that he would never get better.
In reality, Harry and Ron were fine; it was she who was having a hard time moving on. Ron had asked her out over a year ago and it took him asking ten times for her to say yes. And Ron had been very patient with her, but she knew he was running out of patience. Which was part of why she was going to say goodbye to Draco today. One last goodbye, that he wouldn't remember tomorrow; that he wouldn't remember should matter to him.
So his comment on her attire shakes Hermione.
"I wear black often," she says, sitting in the chair at the table, a calm, cool, and collected front.
"So, Mr. Malfoy. Tell me how you're feeling this morning."
He moves back out the window and watches the glass fog up beneath his breath. And there's a flash, and he remembers a foggy night. Just an impression, and he figures it's important. So he holds onto it, as tight as he can; but it's gone in an instant.
"Something is wrong with this room," he says.
"Is it too hot? Too cold?" she asks, not letting this new twist mean anything to her.
He shakes his head and she thinks about how soft his hair is. She tries to remember the last time she's touches it, run her fingers through it, but she can't.
"It's nothing like that," he says. Then he looks at her. "Is everything supposed to be black and white? And if so, why is that book red?" he asks, pointing to the stack. "And that picture frame?" Now pointing to the frame. "And your dress?"
Now her heart is beating furiously. This is completely new.
"What book?" she asks, unable to think what he meant by his last question.
He goes to the stack and pulls one out from the middle. He glances at the title, and there's another flash, and he hears a laugh, and someone says to give the book back, and so he does, and the flash ends. The girl is looking at him strangely, and his arm is extended, book in hand.
She takes the book and looks at it, and he sees her eyes get wet, and he doesn't know why.
"I don't know why this book is Red," she says, still looking at it.
He sits on the bed and studies her, and it's strange, because he knows he knows her, but that's about all he knows. It's all so – foggy – and it's frustrating him.
"I'd like to ask you some questions," she says, looking at her clipboard and returning the book to the table.
"Okay," he says, fidgeting with the sheet. Only, it shouldn't be white; he frowns; it should be – green?
"What is the last thing you remember?"
He frowns, because he's been trying to figure that out all morning. And things seem – layered – to him, like he's done all this before. Like he's looked out that window a hundred times or more. It's a feeling, and he can't be sure, but at the same time, he is. He knows some things, but not how or why. Or what they mean.
Like he knows she takes her tea with two lumps of sugar and no cream. And why on earth would he know that?
"What's wrong with me?" he asks, and she seems startled.
"What do you mean?"
"I feel – stuck. Like this has happened before, and I want it to stop, but it never will. I know something is wrong."
She takes a deep breath and says, "You're in hospital. You were hit with an unknown curse that has affected your memory. Every day you forget the previous day; you start over, so to speak."
"How long?" he asks, calmly, not really surprised. Like he's heard it before.
"Two years, eleven months.."
That's not new either. "Tell me something you've never told me before."
She frowns. "Well, let's see. I like bacon."
He waves dismissively. "I know that. Tell me something I don't know." Her eyes get wet again, and it sends a pang through him, of something familiar, and he gets scared. "This isn't usual, is it?" he asks, and she shakes her head. "Tell me."
Another deep breath. Then, "I was here when they brought you here."
That he knew too. "No. Something I absolutely do not know." He's getting annoyed; why wouldn't she just – comply?
"Harry has a little boy."
Ah-hah! He can tell that was different. He doesn't know that. She's looking at him expectantly, and there's another red flash, and he sees her, laughing, her hair under a hat, and a scarf around her neck. Pan out, and she's bundled, and they're walking hand in hand through a park, and it's autumn, and there are colors all around – colors – and they match her, and her smile is warm and full of –
He's back now, and she's frowning at him. "So. What's his name?" he asks.
"Predictable." He looks at her, and again she's surprised.
"Tell me more," he says. "We were – friends, weren't we?"
She nods, hesitantly.
"Only, we were more. I'm right, aren't I?"
She freezes, and her eyes kind of bug out, and her lips part slightly.
"Hermione," he says, and somehow he remembers her. One moment, he hadn't, and then the next he had. It was like going to the bank. One moment you have no money in your hand, then the next you do. In an instant the money was there; it changed, and it was like that now. He didn't remember the last three years; just her, before that. And it was mostly impressions, not specific memories. He knew he loved her; that much was painfully obvious. And he still does, after all, to him it has only been moments since he last consciously knew he loved her.
She's stunned by what she sees in his eyes – exactly what she saw the last night she saw him. And it scares her! Today is her last day, but here he is, remembering things. How was this even possible? All the Healers said there was no hope, especially as more time passed. They'd tried everything they knew, and nothing broke through the walls placed around his mind by whatever spell he'd been hit with.
She's terrified. She thought she was ready to move on, to let him go, to leave him to other Healers, to let him live in this hospital room until… that part scared her even more. Would she have just left him to die there? Alone? After everything…
"I – I have to go," she says, because she can't think of anything to say, anything to do. She wants to run away, and as fast as she can. Suddenly she's having trouble breathing, and it's getting very hot in the room, and if she doesn't get some air she's going to pass out. So she practically runs out of the room, leaving him standing there, a slight smile on his face.
He knows he's right, somehow. He just does. But he also knows that she's moved on. After all, it's been almost three years to her. One day to him, though. So it hurts like nothing he's ever felt before, only it's a disconnected kind of hurt. His heart knows it should break, so it does. But he doesn't feel all of the hurt, because he only remembers impressions; feelings; emotions. Like watery images viewed through a window when it's storming outside. That's how he remembers her. And them. All he knows is that he loves her terribly, and she's gone and moved past him.
He feels a little dizzy, so he sits on the bed. An indefinite amount of time passes, and the door opens. A tall man with black hair and grey pants and a white shirt walks in. He's also wearing a white coat, like Hermione wore, and he's wearing glasses. And he has an odd scar on his forehead.
"Malfoy," he says, and Draco noticed he's carrying a tray with him. Panic leaps through him, but the man is smiling, and then Draco sees that the tray holds food. Then his stomach growls, and he realizes he's very hungry.
Draco watches the man set the tray on the little table, then turn to look at him.
"How are you feeling today?" he asks.
"She already asked that," he says, frustrated with the unnecessary repetition.
"I know. I would like for you to answer me, if that's all right."
Draco shrugs. "I'm okay. Confused, though, as to why I can only see in greyscale. I'm pretty sure that's not supposed to be that way."
The man frowns, and Draco almost remembers his name. "No, that's not normal. You've never mentioned seeing only black and white before; is this new?"
Draco scowls. "How would I know?"
The man reddens. "Oh, right. Of course. Forgive me."
Then Draco remembers. "Potter."
The man looks at him sharply, then with a hint of excitement. "Yes, that's my name. Do you remember anything else about me?"
Draco frowns and thinks as hard as he can. "No, sorry." It was like a pulse. Draco pictures a long, thin cord, and pulses are carried on the cord. Those pulses are memories, or impressions, and when they come close enough to his mind, sometimes he can grab at them.
"Well, eat your lunch. We'll talk afterwards."
Draco nods, and the man leaves him alone. He moves to the table, and examines his food. It doesn't look very good, since it's all shades of grey. But he eats anyway, and while he eats, he reads that red book. "Hogwarts: A History" is the title, and while he reads, he grabs a lot of those pulses. Memories of school, of friends, of teachers, and classes, and other books. Nothing concrete, again, just snippits, of conversations or lectures, or paragraphs. And somehow, she is in most of them, and he wonders just how much of his life has included her. A niggling feeling tells him that in truth, she hasn't been in it long, but he can't be sure of anything, really.
Just those impressions of her, surrounded by colors, when she's with him. And that he loves her.
She returns after he's been done eating for two hours. He's sitting on the bed, brow furrowed in concentration, because he's trying his best to remember more.
"How was lunch?" she asks, and he looks up at her. Some of her hair has fallen out of the ribbon and curls around her face, and he can't remember seeing anything so beautiful. But then, he can't remember a lot of things. Still, he knows it's true.
He shrugs. "Okay." Then one of those pulses slams directly into his brain. "Where are the clothes I was wearing when I was brought here?" he asks.
She cocks her head to the side a little. "In the second drawer of the nightstand."
He reaches down and opens the drawer. He finds a heavy cloak, a pair of pants, and a shirt. All black. The cloak, though. He pulls it out and for some reason, smells it; and he can still remember how she smelled the night he hugged her goodbye that night. Like milk and honey. He breathes deeply, and he smells a burned smell, too.
There's another red flash, but he's okay this time.
Then he looks at her, and gives her a little smile. He finds the secret pocket in his cloak, the one that's charmed to hold almost anything, of any size. And its contents at present were highly prized. He looks at her before muttering the password: Meissa. It was the name they both decided they wanted to name their first daughter; it was the name of a star.
He turns back to the cloak before he can see her eyes tear up. But he knows they do.
The secret pocket opens itself to him, and he reaches in to remove a small box. He smiles at the memory of selecting and purchasing the contents of the box. He holds the box in his hands and opens it, careful to make sure Hermione could not see what it was. When he sees the ring that he'd had made especially for her, his heart clenches, and he's in such pain that he fights the tears. Then he's frustrated that he can't remember it all, and he feels like he's hurting for a ghost, not something tangible, not the girl sitting in the room with him.
"What is that?" she asks, and he can't help but keep smiling. She's just as curious as she always was.
"Nothing," he says, though he knows she won't believe him.
She stands up and walks toward him; he sticks the box back in the cloak. "If it's something from the night you were injured, it might be helpful in determining what was done to you," she says, somewhat annoyed, somewhat curious, somewhat broken.
"It won't, I assure you. It is nearly completely unrelated to that night." He frowns. "I think."
"Perhaps you should let the Healers decide that," she says, and holds out her hand. There's another flash, and he sees her the night he told her he loved her. They were at a dance, and she was wearing dark blue dress robes. He didn't typically like dancing, but when she held out her hand to him, begging him with her sparkling eyes, he agreed. And while they danced, he was hit with the full force of what she meant to him, and he blurted it out right then and there. She had laughed and twirled in his arms, waiting until the song finished to tell him that she loved him too.
"No," he says, forcing the lump out of his mind that formed with that memory. "It will not be helpful."
She sighs and returns to the table. "How are you doing? Since this morning, I mean. It seems as though you're making some progress," she says, trying to sound clinical and detached, and if he didn't know her better, she would have fooled him, but he does; so she doesn't fool him.
"Third time today I've been asked that. I feel fine. Except for the fact that I can't remember much, and I know I'm supposed to, and I can't see right, and you're bloody – different."
She's hurt again, he can tell. Just then, the door opens and Harry – that's his name too – walks in. He talks quietly to Hermione, who seems at first to argue, then reluctantly nods and, with a glance at Draco, leaves the room.
"So, Draco. I would like for you to give me a complete list of everything you remember."
He looks at the other man hard. "It's hard to explain," he says, after deciding that his desire to know what was wrong with him, and fix it, was stronger than his desire to be himself and tell Potter to shove it. He smiles at the thought, though.
"I have only had a few actual flashes of memory. The rest – just sort of comes to me. It's just there, all of a sudden, where it wasn't a moment earlier. And they're mostly just impressions, or ideas. I kind of just know things, without knowing the how and the why behind it."
Potter takes a deep breath. "Like Hermione."
Draco stares at him, then nods.
"What exactly do you know about her?"
"Why should I share this with you? I'm quite certain it's between she and I."
"I'm trying to help you. The more you tell me, the more we have to use to try and figure out what happened to you."
"I fail to see what knowing the specifics of my memories will do for you, other than to satisfy your curiosity."
Harry smiles, and chuckles. "I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I have missed your contentious attitude. Since you've been here, you've been cooperative, and pleasant – not at all like yourself. And it's good to see you being difficult again."
Draco scowls. "On with it, Potter."
Harry nods. "I suppose you're right. I do not need to know what exactly you remember."
"I know I – I loved her. That's about it, right now. The rest is just muddy details, or really, the lack of details. Muddy impressions of her, and of us."
Harry scribbles something on his clipboard.
"I don't want her to know this," Draco says, warningly.
"Okay. I won't tell her."
"You mean it?"
"I mean it."
Draco nods. "Good. Was there anything else?"
"Not really. Unless there's something else you wish to tell me."
"Nothing. Only – I think she's moved on," he says, hoping for confirmation of his fears, hoping for denial, too. At this point, he doesn't really know what he wants.
Harry avoids looking at him. "That's something between you and she, I think." He stands. "You have the remainder of the afternoon to yourself. Hermione will come back later to say goodbye. It's her last day, today."
And then there's a sharp pain in his head, and he's forced to understand exactly what Harry is saying. She's truly moving on. Leaving him behind. He nods to Harry, who shuts the door behind him. It sounds so final. He's stuck in a hospital room, while life has moved past him for almost three years. It's barely noticed that he wasn't around for it.
She comes back at the end of her shift, just before Ron is supposed to pick her up for their dinner date. She's hesitant, because she's afraid of what he's remembered since she last saw him, and she's afraid that maybe he forgot it all.
He's sitting in a chair, looking out the window when he hears the door open. He turns, and refuses to display any kind of emotion when his eyes meet hers.
She walks to his bed and doesn't sit down, even though it's the only place left to sit. She's wringing her hands, and Draco sees worry in her eyes. Strange, he thinks.
"I wanted to tell you – it's my last day, today. Harry will be taking over your case."
He just looks at her, and she's unnerved by the clarity she sees in his eyes. It's like he's reading her, like that book that's opened to page three hundred forty-seven on the table.
Draco stands and walks toward her, and she seems to shrink, and it hurts him, because he doesn't know why. So he stops, and frowns.
"What is it? You aren't afraid of me, are you?" he asks.
"What? No, oh no. It's – it's nothing. I'm sorry," she says, hastily.
"Harry told me it was your last day. There was no need for you to tell me as well. So. Why are you here?"
She looks down at her feet and shifts her weight. "I wanted to see if you've made any progress," she says, peeking up at him.
"And?" he says, because he knows her, and she's there for more than that.
"And," she says, now hurriedly. "If my deepest fear is realized tomorrow morning, and you don't remember today, then I need to tell you, tell you, about me. The person who's been in this room for the last three years has not been you. And I think that today, you really are you. So, while you're you, I need to talk to you."
He nods and crosses his arms.
"I was working the day they brought you in. You remember I was a Healer then?" He shook his head. "Oh. Well, I was. And I was working that day. You were in a coma for two months, and then you woke up, and you can't even imagine how happy I was. But you didn't remember me. You didn't remember much of anything. And that was so hard. I dedicated all of my time to trying to find out what had happened to you, what was wrong with you. I – "
He holds up a hand to stop her, then speaks. "You spent all of your time here, morning til evening. You slept here, sometimes. You researched my condition, you tried to find those who had done this to me. You wasted away, and finally, after about three months, you had a breakdown. Your friends told you to take a break; actually, they probably told you to let another Healer take my case. You conceded to the break, but returned just as determined.
"Only this time, you were more discreet, and a little more wise. It took nearly nine months for your second breakdown. It was because you weren't eating, weren't sleeping. You were solely focused on fixing me, and it nearly killed you a few times. Your friends convinced you to take a longer break, and you realized they were right, and you couldn't keep working at such a pace. So you agreed. And then, when you returned, you paced yourself, and forced yourself to keep normal hours, and to eat, and to sleep. Slowly, you fell into that routine, and slowly, you felt yourself moving on. I was just another patient."
"No," she interrupts. "You were never just another patient." She's hurting so much, because he was completely right about everything else. He knows her so well, inside and out. And seeing him, really him, is wonderful and horrible all at once. Because he might be gone tomorrow.
"Hermione," he says, looking deep into her eyes, coming to stand mere inches from her. "I want you to always know that I loved you." He can't bring himself to say he still does; of course, he still does. Besides, she should know that. "More than anything. Never be in doubt of that."
She has tears in her eyes again, and she lets them fall. It looks like she's been crying a lot today, actually. He reaches up out of habit and brushes them away. She looks down. "I loved you too, Draco. Just as much."
He wants to kiss her. More than anything he's wanted in a long time. More than food, more than water, more than breathing. But he doesn't; she has moved on. One kiss won't change what happened over the last three years.
Then, in one of those instances he's become accustomed to, she's got her arms wrapped around his neck and her face buried in his chest, crying. He feels torn. He wants to comfort her, to take away her pain, but he's in pain too. He needs comforting too. Hesitantly, he puts his arms around her and holds her. His head knows that he doesn't remember the passed time, but his body knows it hasn't held her in nearly three years, and that instinct takes over. He pulls her close – very close – and one hand is in her hair, and he's drinking in the feel of her, the smell – still milk and honey – the small weight of her, wrapped around him.
Then the doors opens.
"Hermione, are you – hey! What's going on?"
Draco feels Hermione being ripped away from him, and turns a scowling glare onto the culprit. Weasley. She doesn't look at him, just cries into her hands. Ron hugs her and glares back at Draco.
"What are you doing, Malfoy?"
He doesn't respond, he doesn't acknowledge the redhead. He's looking at Hermione, who finally looks up at him through her watery eyes and from behind Ron.
He quirks an eyebrow, and he knows she knows that he said, "Him?" silently, and a fresh stream of tears fall and she looks away, toward the wall.
"Get out of my room, Weasley," he spits, and turns to walk back to the window.
He doesn't see Ron's eyes widen, doesn't see him look between himself and Hermione, doesn't see his eyes narrow at the back of his head. He feels that, though, and ignores it. Suddenly the cars and people walking by on the ground below are the most interesting thing Draco's ever seen.
He hears them leave, and the room is full of silence. His heart can't take much more of this, he thinks. Weasley. She's with Weasley. It's almost like betrayal, even though a part of him can understand why she would move on. But with him? That was the thing. He knows Weasley isn't nearly good enough for her, never has been, never will be. He's always known it, thought she knew it too.
He moves to sit on his bed, and pulls the ring out of his robe. He stares at it, watching the light reflected in the gem – all different colors of light –
And there is a green flash – green, this time. Then, in a tidal wave, images crashed through his mind. Images of pain, of death, of, screaming, of torture, of hideous masks, and black robes, and cruel laughs and –
He pulls himself onto the bed and three hours later, Harry finds him in the fetal position, eyes staring straight ahead, unblinking, unseeing, glassy. Draco's left hand is almost white from the strain of clenching around an object for hours. He tries to shake Draco to wake him, but nothing seems to get through to him.
Harry is pacing the room, moments after finding him, trying to decide what to do. What to do! He doesn't even know what had happened, much less where to start. Harry goes to Draco again, and tries to pry the thing from his hand. It's no use; it is almost as if Draco were dead, and rigor has set in. But he's breathing, Harry can see that, shallow though it is.
Just then, the door opens, and Harry looks up. Ron and Hermione come in, she with wet, tear-stained cheeks (fresh tears, he determines), and he with an angry scowl on his face. With one glance, Hermione notices that Draco isn't okay, and rushes to the bed.
"Harry, what happened?" she asks.
"I don't know. I just came to check on him, and found him like this. I have no idea how long he's been like this."
"His eyes," she says, her voice cracking.
"Hermione, go home. There's nothing you can do. I don't think there's anything that can be done for him. We just have to wait and see."
"Yeah, Hermione," says Ron, with a fresh scowl. "You know he'll just be back to normal tomorrow. There is no point in staying. Harry will take care of him from now on."
Harry scowls at Ron, but no one notices.
"Do you really want to spend the rest of your life, waiting for him? Waiting for him to wake up and maybe remember you for a day? I'm here, Hermione. I have always been here. Waiting for you. You've got to decide. Me, or him. Me; someone who loves you, who will always love, who will treat you better than he ever did, like you deserve. Someone who you can laugh with, and make memories with. Or him," he says, malice in his voice. "Who can only ever hurt you, Hermione. Which is it?" he demands, arms crossed, a fierce look in his eyes.
She's crying again, and she looks at Harry, who tries to tell her that it's up to her, that she does need to decide what she's going to do about Draco, but that Ron maybe isn't the best one to help walk her through the process. Only she can't see all that in a single look, so she turns to Ron, then looks at Draco, with eyes are still glassy and unfocused, and back to Ron. Then she storms out of the room, and Ron runs after her, leaving Harry alone with Draco.
Harry tries once more to pry the thing from Draco's grasp but has no luck. He decides to sit in the room and wait.
After an hour, Harry looks at Draco and sees that his eyes are closed. He comes to the bed to examine him, and his breathing is more regular. Harry starts to leave, but he's stopped.
"Potter," Draco says, heavily. Like he's been drugged.
Harry turns around, and Draco is looking at him, though still curled in a ball.
"What is it?" Harry asks, relieved because at least Draco remembers him.
Draco watches Harry, until Harry moves back to the chair, and then pulls the chair next to the bed.
"What kind of – person – am I? Was I?"
Harry frowns. "What do you mean?"
"I mean – I had a flashflood of images run through my head. I hurt people. I – killed people." He's thinking, how could a girl like Hermione ever like him?
Harry looks at Draco kindly. "Well, Draco, at one time you were a Death Eater. Do you remember what that is?" Draco shakes his head no. "Well, a Death Eater was a follower of Lord Voldemort, a very evil wizard."
"I remember that name," Draco says, clutching his fist tighter around the object.
Harry nods. "You – you did hurt, and kill people. But you turned good. You joined the Light, you fought with us, and you betrayed Voldemort. You were instrumental in freeing the world of his evil tyranny."
Draco processes the information. "So, I was bad, then I was good." Harry nods. "Was it because of her?"
"No. It was because you saw what Voldemort really wanted, what his ultimate goal was, and you did not want it to happen. So you came to us – me, actually – and offered to be a spy. Like I said, you were very helpful. Without you, countless lives would've been lost because it would've taken much longer to kill him."
Draco nods, then lessens his grip on the box. He slowly sits up. "All I can see are the bad images. The horrible things I did."
"I can't even imagine what that was like."
"They just hit me, like a stray Bludger."
Harry smiles. "What's in your hand?"
Draco looks at him, then tosses the box to Harry. "I remember we were friends," he says.
Harry catches the box, nods to Draco, then opens it. It's a ring, a silver ring, with a dark red garnet between two small pearls. It's not huge, it's not small; it's perfect for the witch for whom it was intended.
"Wow, Malfoy. I had no idea."
Draco shrugs, and motions Harry to return the box. He does, and Draco looks at it once more. "It was specially made for her. Lots of special charms put into it. The band is a unique pattern, crafted for just this ring. My name, and all that it carries, was put into this ring. Magic can do that, infuse an essence into an object. I was going to ask her the day after I was attacked. Valentine's Day."
He looks up at Harry. "I know what you're probably thinking. Very atypical of me, and oh, so cliché. But in truth, it just happened to be that day. Just like I decided I loved her and told her that same moment, I decided I wanted to marry her and placed the order for the ring that same hour. The old man owled me when it was ready, and I went to pick it up that night." He looks at the ring again, sighs, and puts it in the nightstand.
"Malfoy, we didn't know you were going to ask her to marry you."
Draco smirks. "Isn't that the idea? A surprise?"
"Well, yes, but – she had no idea, either."
Draco shrugs. "I have been spontaneous only a few times in my life. That I can remember." He chuckles. "But I'm pretty sure this was one of those times. I did not tell her a thing. Didn't talk about it – nothing. I wanted it to be a complete surprise."
Harry looks at Draco with sad eyes.
"It's okay, Harry. Life isn't fair. Believe me, I know."
"So, you remember?"
"No. Just more and more of her, and now – all of that." He scrubbed at his left arm. "I can almost see it, trying to burn through my skin," he says. "I'm scared, Harry. What if – what if I don't remember? Tomorrow. I could wake up completely oblivious."
Harry stands. "I know. We're all worried about that."
"We?" Draco says and laughs. "We. Right."
"Just try and rest. Okay? I'll see you first thing tomorrow."
Draco nods, and a wave of exhaustion hits him. Harry leaves. Draco crawls under the covers, and shivers, not because he's cold, but because he's scared to go to sleep; scared to wake up.
He has the same dream he's had every single night.
He smiles as he leaves the jeweler, the ring safely tucked in his robes. He takes four steps after turning left, and he's surrounded. Five people in all, black hoods up and wands drawn, pointing at his heart.
He stops, the smile frozen, then gone.
He knows these people. He'd sent them to their deaths, but these had survived. Vainly, he reaches for his wand.
With a cackle, the closest person – a witch – his Aunt – disarms him.
"Stupid little nephew," she says, drawing back her hood. The others did the same. Three were unknown to him; the fifth was Rabastan, Bella's brother-in-law.
"Did you honestly think we wouldn't come for you? That we wouldn't find you? That you were safe? You betrayed us all. I lost my entire family – your family – because of you." She circled him now; he stood staring straight ahead.
When she was facing him again, she sneered, then jabbed her wand at his throat. "We found you, Draco. And we're going to have some fun with you, before we kill you." She cackled again, and Rabastan does too.
They hurl curses at him, hit him, beat him, but heal the external signs of trauma. Finally, through a concussed headache, Draco tried to Disapparate. Just before he does, Bellatrix and Rabastan hit him with two curses at once, both Red. There's a flash of Red.
He wakes with a start, and sits straight up in bed. He looks around, and he notices everything is in color, and he finds it odd. Then he realizes that it's strange to take note of the presence of color, and then he further realizes that it's something new for him to know it wasn't like this yesterday.
He lunges for the nightstand and pulls open the drawer. Grabs at the front left corner, puts his hands around the small black box. He pulls it out, opens it, and sees the ring.
And this morning, he remembers everything. Except the three years he was in the hospital; but before that. Everything.
Why he left the Dark Lord. How Hermione first caught his attention; when she'd kissed him the first time to get him to shut up, and how they'd kissed for a good ten minutes before they knew what had happened.
Their first date; what she wore; the first time they'd held hands. Everything.
Harry. Ron. Ginny. The Order. His parents. His award from the Ministry for valiant service—an award he gave to Hermione.
The night he kissed her goodnight and went to pick up a ring. And everything in between.
The realization almost makes him physically sick. It was just – there – and he knows that it wasn't always there, so easily accessible.
Then, something whispers in the back of his mind, and he looks at the picture by his bed. It's Crookshanks; but what's odd is that the frame is blue, not Red. He stands and goes to the stack of books. Hogwarts: A History, is actually brown. He frowns.
The door opens, and Harry walks in. "Good morning, Mr. Malfoy. How – "
"What color was Hermione wearing yesterday?" Draco interrupts impatiently.
Harry frowns. "Red."
"You're sure. It was Red."
"Yes. A Red dress. Draco— "
"What color is this book?" he asks, holding up the old that was Red only hours before.
Draco crosses to the nightstand. "This frame?"
"Blue. Draco, what is this about?"
Draco looks at Harry. "Yesterday, they were Red."
"You remember yesterday?"
He nods again.
"Then, surely you remember that it's a big deal for you to remember yesterday."
And then Draco falls onto the bed, staring at the wall in front him. "Yes," he says, nodding. Then he puts his head in his hands. "It's all true, isn't it? It's been almost three years."
Harry nods, and Draco's reeling. Hermione was really with Ron. It hadn't been a terrible nightmare. All of it —
"I'd like to ask you some questions, Draco."
"Who did I give half of Voldemort's wand to?"
Harry nods. "And what did Molly say to me when I returned from the fight?"
"She said, 'Harry Potter, put on a sweater, you're going to catch cold.' But she was grinning and hugging you and crying at the same time."
"What did Ron plan to do for Luna on the Valentine's Day you, uh, missed?"
Draco whips his head up to meet Harry's gaze. And he's really angry. "Why would you ask me that?"
"Because you are one of only three people who know the answer."
Draco glares at Harry. "He was going to take her to the park, to ride around in a horse-drawn carriage. Which, I'm guessing, never happened."
"Uh, no. We were all here that day."
Draco sighs and runs a hand through his hair. There's a constant, dull, ache in his heart and his gut.
Harry smiles at him warmly. "Here's your wand," he says, handing it to Draco. He takes it, and a little of the pain and unease dissipate.
"I'm going to ask you to perform a series of spells." Draco scoffs. "Just to make sure. Please bear with me."
"Levitation spell… Summoning charm… Disillusionment… Patronus…"
Draco performs each one easily, and he's bored.
"Good," says Harry. "If you think you're ready, you can gather your things and follow me to my office."
Draco blinks. "You want me to leave this room?"
"Yes. I'm going to discharge you."
He's going home. Then he panics. Home. There's no telling what state home is in. No, wait. He knows about home. It is his house he isn't sure about. No, home is gone. So Draco complies, and collects his belongings. He doesn't have much, just the ring, and the clothes he wore in, which he puts on, to wear out.
Once in Harry's office, Draco relaxes. But Harry notices that he's a bit green-tinged.
"Draco? You okay?" he asks, handing him a glass of water.
"Yes. It's just – this happened yesterday too. My head, my brain, knows that I can't remember the last few years. But there's a deep down part of me that knows I've been in that room for that long. And that part starts to panic. I'll be fine, I'm sure. Once I get used to this – " He stops, because he doesn't know what to call it. New life? New state of being? New world? He's not sure.
Harry frowns. "Maybe you should talk to someone."
"What, like a head Healer? No thanks, Potter. I can handle this."
Harry gives him a knowing smile. "Thought you'd say something like that." Then he sorts through some papers on his desk. "These are you discharge papers. I – had them prepared last night, just in case. Sign wherever there's an 'X'. I've returned your wand, and you have your other things. Your properties and financial holdings have been in Hermione's hands. They will be returned to you, effective immediately."
Draco frowns. "Hermione?"
Harry looks concerned. "Yes. You – remember her, don't you?"
"Yes, of course," he says. "But why her?"
Harry shrugs. "She wanted to, and she petitioned the Ministry. They agreed, so long as they received a small handling fee."
Draco tuts. "Right. Small."
"I'm sure she'll be happy to give you a report on what your company has been doing lately." Their eyes meet, and Harry looks away first.
"I'm sure," Draco says, not at all wanting to hear a report on his company from Hermione.
"Is there anything else you need?" Harry asks quietly, once all the papers are signed.
"No," Draco replies, frowning. There's everything he needs, though. His whole life back, for starters. "I had a dream last night, only I don't think it was just a dream. It was of the night all this happened."
Harry perks up. "Oh? What did you see?"
"The whole thing, exactly as I remember it."
"Who – who did it?"
Draco smiles a bitter smile. "Aunt Bella. And four other Death Eaters. Said it was only a matter of time before they found me and gave me my due for betraying them. Rabastan was with her, and both of them hit me with different curses, just as I managed to Disapparate. The next thing I remember was waking up yesterday and seeing in black and white."
"You arrived here."
"That was my goal. I knew I was injured, and badly. They wanted to beat into me the proper feelings of remorse for my actions. Before they killed me, of course."
"Of course," Harry says, grimly. "Bellatrix is the only remaining Death Eater still at large. The other four, including Rabastan, have been apprehended." He pauses and looks at Draco. "Malfoy, I – I'm sorry that all of this happened."
He sighs. "Me too."
There's a moment of silence, then Harry says, "So what are you going to do now?"
"Try to get my life in order. Then I will hunt down Aunt Bella. If the others were still free, I would hunt them too. But just Bella, then. I'm not really sure what I'll do once I find her. And Harry, rest assured, I will find her."
"If anyone can, Malfoy, it's you. I want you to come back in a few weeks for a follow-up. Nothing big, just to make sure you're doing okay," Harry says. "And of course, come back if something happens before then, too."
Draco mumbles his assent, and Harry writes a date on a slip of parchment.
"Malfoy, it – it's good to have you back."
It's clear that Harry really means it and Draco tries really hard to smile, but his heart isn't in it. It's a cross between a smile and a frown and a twist of pain. But Harry gets it and nods.
"And Draco, if you need anything, don't hesitate. Don't be a stranger. Come by and see James."
Draco hesitates, then nods and stands, ready to quit the hospital. "Right. Send me an owl about it."
"And I won't invite Hermione and Ron."
Draco stiffens and a wave of anger flashes through him. "That would be wise, I suppose, if you wish for me to visit. Tell Ginny hello for me, will you?"
"Thank you, Harry, for all you've done for me. And – if you see Hermione, please extend my thanks to her as well," he says, a sad expression on his face.
Harry nods, then says, "Don't be so glum, Malfoy. Home is right where you left it."
Draco stops with his hand on the doorknob and says, very quietly, "My house is where I left it. Home is not." Then he turns the knob and leaves the room.
One hour later, Hermione arrives at St. Mungo's. She makes her way to Draco's room, and when she arrives, she pushes open the door. Only to find someone cleaning the room, changing the bed, and fluffing the pillows.
"What are you doing?" she asks, slight panic creeping into her voice.
"Cleaning the room," says the woman.
"The patient is gone."
The panic increases ten-fold. The last time she saw Draco, he was catatonic, curled into a ball. Surely he wasn't – dead; he couldn't be. Life wouldn't do that to her, would it?
"What happened?" she asks, frantically.
The woman shrugs. "You'll have to ask the Healer. I just clean rooms."
Hermione runs from the room and runs to Harry's office. She knocks six times before she hears him tell her to enter.
"Where is he?" she asks, only half-way in the room.
Hermione glares at him. "No. The patient in room 200. Of course, Malfoy!" She's practically screaming. "Is he okay?"
"Hermione, please calm down. Yes, he's fine. Have a seat, have a lemon drop," Harry says, motioning to the seat opposite his and the bowl of yellow candies.
She sits, but does not take a sweet. "Where is he?" she asks, quietly now, as if all her energy was spent waiting to hear that he was okay.
"By now, he's probably at home. I let him go."
Her eyes bug out. "You let him go?"
"Yes. He woke up this morning with his entire memory intact. Except for the time he spent here, of course. I saw no reason to hold him. I asked him questions, performed since minor tests; and let him go."
She seemed to sink even lower in the chair. "I didn't even get to say goodbye."
Harry looks at her sharply. "I thought you said goodbye yesterday."
"I did, but…" she trails off, with nothing really to say.
"Hermione. You know that I love you. And I know this has been a whirlwind couple of days. But you need to give him time to adjust to things now. His entire world has been pulled out from beneath him, and the last thing he remembers is saying goodnight to you one cold winter night and then getting attacked by Death Eaters."
She gasps. "He remembers what happened to him?"
Harry nods. "Yes. His aunt, and a few others."
"Oh, poor Draco. Is he okay?"
"He's strong. He will be. Like I said; he needs time, Hermione. Especially to digest the news about – you."
"What about me?" she asks, angry.
"You and Ron."
"Oh, bugger that. Ron and I had a huge row last night."
"Of course. But what does he expect? Draco was by far the most important thing in my life, and now he's okay."
"I think the question is, what is the most important thing in your life now? Is it Ron? Is there anything at all? Do you want it to be Draco?"
She stutters, not ready to deal with these questions. "I – I don't know, Harry."
"I think you need to figure it out, Hermione."
It's the night before Valentine's Day, three years since Draco had his memory stolen from him. He hasn't dealt well with what happened to him; he's mostly angry and somewhat resigned. He gets an owl from St. Mungo's with a reminder notice of his follow-up appointment, and it's tomorrow.
Draco actually smiles when he realizes Harry had made the appointment for Valentine's Day. Probably just to make sure he didn't do anything stupid, or stay in bed all day, or drink his brain cells into mush. Like a good friend would do. When he's done smiling, he throws his glass of firewhiskey into the fireplace.
Night falls, and he decides to visit the old man who'd made the ring. The ring, which he keeps tucked in his secret pocket, secured with a most precious password. He waits until closing time, hoping to avoid… people, in general.
When he thinks the time is right, Draco bundles up for the cold walk he's about to take. It's almost half-past ten, and he hopes that maybe, just maybe, the old man got a last-minute request from some other hapless bloke and would be hunched over his workbench, making magic. He will surely be asked how the young lady liked his handiwork, and he realizes he dreads the answer to that question.
With one last check, he makes sure he has everything – wand, ring, cloak, hat – and Disapparates –
Arrives in Diagon Alley. He walks to the ring shop and finds to his dismay that it's now a coffee shop. The old man must have finally died, he thinks. He stares in the window, trying to replace the bookshelves with glass counters, the cozy environment with a dusty workshop. He can almost see the ghost of the old man, working behind the counter, bent over. Draco had arrived a little early, and the ring was not quite finished.
They had sat and chatted while the old man worked, and the man told him about how he met his wife. They had a similar story to Draco and Hermione's, though not as stark. They were in rival houses at Hogwarts, and thoroughly hated each other until in their final year they were paired in Potions for the final project. Their fighting and animosity quickly turned into flirting and stolen glances, and they never looked back. The witch in the discussion then entered the work room, bringing Draco and her husband tea, which she shared with them.
She told Draco stories of their famous fights, which sometimes resulted in broken walls, broken pictures, and broken chairs. Among other things. Then she asked about the girl for whom the ring was intended.
Draco told the old couple his story, and of course they knew about him, and his family, and their affiliation with all things Dark. They also knew that he'd been involved in the defeat of the Dark Lord. He told them that he and Hermione were a lot like they were; in rival houses, constantly bickering, or at least, whenever he felt like starting it. They truly hated each other, and that continued all through school, and after. When Draco made the decision to defect, they picked up right where they left off, only now their fights were mean, and vicious.
She hated him for being the cause, as she saw it, of Dumbledore's death, and nothing would ever change that. Until he did something completely out-of-character in her mind. Something for her.
Her birthday was approaching, but no one seemed to remember. The War was raging, and no one said anything about it. He could see that it was going to go completely forgotten—that he seemed to be the only one who remembered it. So, for some reason unknown to him, he didn't want to see her as hurt as she knew she would be at her friends' memory lapse. After all she'd done for her friends—for the Order— and after all the sacrifices she'd made, she deserved this one day to feel special.
He simply reminded Harry that her birthday was only three days away. Harry had turned bright red, and started stuttering, and fell all over himself thanking Draco for reminding him. He told Ron, and the rest of the Weasleys, and Hermione had an absolutely huge surprise party waiting for her when she returned with Ron from a mission. Draco thought they went a bit overboard, actually, probably out of the guilt they all felt at nearly missing her birthday completely. He stayed back, sticking around for the festivities long enough to see her open a few presents, and not even the one he gave her.
Then he returned to his duties as spy, but the next time he saw the Order, they all looked at him differently, and it freaked him out at first. He thought they suspected him of betraying them, which was absurd, but people can be convinced of many things. Then Hermione was nice to him and handed him the butter when he asked, and he only asked once. A flashing beacon went off over his head, and he realized Harry or Ron must have told her what he did, or at least led her to believe that he wasn't the hard, cold, shell he wanted them to think.
From there, things tumbled, and spiraled, and they were together not long after. It surprised him, honestly, to find that he shivered whenever she was near him. He always thought it had to do with the radiant hate between them, but when that subsided, the shivering remained. When one day their hands had brushed and he felt it down to the tips of his hair, that was it for him. She, of course, took longer to convince, but then she'd kissed him, ostensibly to shut him up, but after that, she was a believer too.
The old man finished the ring, and Draco paid for it, smiling broadly, more on air than ever before. He tucked the ring in his cloak, sealed the magic pocket with a treasured password, and said goodnight to the couple.
Standing outside the shop, forcing his mind to remember every detail, every image, from that night, makes him forget that it was February and below freezing. When the images fade, the bookshop returns, and Draco's nose is nearly numb. He rubs it with a gloved hand and turns around to walk the sidewalks.
It's a very cold night, and it's quiet, the quiet of being on a snow-covered street with not a sound except the crunch of snow beneath his shoes as he walks. He takes one step to the left and his heart is pounding. Two steps, and his hands are sweaty and he's gripping his wand so tightly that his knuckles are white and his fingernails are drawing blood from his palms. Three, and it's hard to breathe. Four, and his eyes are darting everywhere, and he's very nearly frozen with fear.
Then five steps, and he feels his lungs contract and a wave of cold air hits them as he gulps in air. Six, and he lessens his grip on his wand, seven and he's breathing normally. Eight steps, and he turns around to look at the spot where his life had changed.
It looks like every other spot on the street – snow-dusted and cold. There isn't a single sign shouting 'this is it!', nothing to tell anyone who passes that here, Draco Malfoy was robbed of his life. Only a memory in his head as he glares at shadows of the Death Eaters in his mind.
He stares, breathing out puffs of air. A few streetlamps and the silver moon make the snow look silver too. It's late now, time had passed while he stood outside the coffee shop, and all the shops are closed. This night, no one is about.
It starts snowing, and the lights illuminate the flakes as they flutter toward the ground, drawing his gaze from the spot. He can only see a few feet of the snow in front of him, but it's beautiful, and his breath hitches, and he wishes he weren't alone to witness this miracle of nature. It's so quiet, he can almost hear each snowflake hit the ground. He stands still, letting the snow fall on him, breathing the cold air, and he can't feel his nose at all now.
He listens to his shoes crunch in the snow, and leaves a track as he walks toward the Leaky Cauldron.
The next day, he wakes with a strange feeling of dread and peace all at once. It's Valentine's Day, three years since the one on which he'd intended to propose to Hermione. And instead of waking next to her, he is alone.
He hasn't seen her since the day he was in the hospital, and he has mixed feelings about it. He is sad and angry because she was supposed to be his. But he's also relieved, because she is not his, and he wasn't sure he could get through a pleasant conversation with her if he tried. He was still angry with his situation, with what happened to him.
He slowly gets ready for his appointment. He woke at eight and the appointment is at ten, but he's still rushing around last minute so as not to be late. He Apparates a few blocks from the hospital and walks the rest of the way. He's wearing all black, no robes, as he's not sure what exactly he's going to do. Sunglasses even, in the middle of February. That way he won't have to look when people look at him.
He's across the street, staring at the run-down department store that serves as the front for the hospital. He just stands there and stares, and he doesn't know for how long. He imagines that everywhere he looks, he sees her. Every witch or wizard who glances around them before darting under the cover of magic is Hermione.
She is the hospital. She worked there before, she works there now. She worked there all the time he was there. It hadn't occurred to him until now that he might see her inside while at his appointment with Harry. Even though he knows he's not her patient, he had been for three years, and he knows she'd want to know how he was doing.
And so he can't. He can't go in. He just stares. Hundreds of people pass him but not one of them touches him. He feels like a rock in a river.
Finally he stops staring and turns his shoulders upstream. It's true it's barely passed lunch, but a drink sounds like a really good idea to him. What better way to spend this, most horrible of days, than with an unyielding glass in one hand and a tall, promising bottle in the other?
Only he was just here last night, and old Tom recognizes him and acts worried. Worried that maybe he's drinking too much. But Draco flashes his smile and more importantly, his moneybag, and Tom just grumbles that it's 'not his business, not his business' and gives Draco the requested nectar.
After three glasses, Draco feels almost sick. He hasn't eaten anything all day, and it's nearly two in the afternoon. He wants to eat, but he thinks he will be sick for sure if he does. So he tucks the bottle in a pocket and heads back into the street. He's not sure where he's less likely to see her, Diagon Alley or London, but he thinks she's probably working, so he chooses London.
He walks to the park, frozen and covered in a blanket of snow. He hates how he feels. Bitter, empty, and angry. In what had seemed to him like only a month before, he'd been happy. Deliriously so. Only, it had been three years, really. He couldn't always wrap his mind around it. He'd gone to bed one night and woken up the next day with nothing. That mattered. Stripped away like old, peeling paint.
There are some kids running around and he think how he still wants a family. A real one, where the parents love each other and play in frozen parks with their kids. He wonders if he'll have to make some kind of deal with Hermione for who gets to keep the kids' names.
Draco scolds himself harshly for thinking about her again. But as he trudges… onward, not paying any mind for where he's going, he can't help but think that he has the right to think about her. All he wants! And to sometimes want her to knock on his door and just start talking – about anything. The weather, or the budget committee meeting she'd just left, or the price of lacewings.
Only he's angry too. At life, at the world, at the system of the universe. He knows he's done awful things, but who hasn't? Why him? But he also thinks, why not him? Why should he get to have everything he ever wanted? Still. She was all he wanted. To the world, she was just a girl, but to him, she was everything.
And he's angry at her; he hates that too.
When he finally looks up, he's nowhere he recognizes, which isn't really all that surprising considering it's Muggle London. And he's on a bench next to the river, staring at the water as it meanders by him toward the sea.
He decides it's time to stop being so bloody self-absorbed. Time to stop thinking about her so much. She's moved on. He should too. He's given himself some time, and it's time to let it go. To try and start the process of letting her go. He sighs and leans back against the bench, hands thrust in his pockets and no longer needing the sunglasses because the sun is nearing the end of its circuit.
Something catches his attention, and he looks beside him to find a small boy, with dark brown hair. The boy looks up at him and gives him a smile full of missing teeth. Draco smiles back, for the first time not feeling in the least bit bitter about it.
Then the boy stands up and hands him a piece of bread. Draco accepts it with a curious look, but the boy has walked toward the edge of the river and he's throwing pieces of the bread into the water. Draco approaches the boy, stopping beside him and looking down at the water. Ducks are gathering below them, attacking the pieces of floating bread. The boy looks up at Draco again, smiles, and resumes his activity.
Draco joins him, and silently they toss stale chunks of bread into a dirty river. And Draco thinks again how he wants a family. Right now this boy is his family.
"Know what my mum says when she comes home from work and she's too tired to do anything but crash in front of the telly with a bottle of something that smells like grampa's aftershave?" the boy asks.
Draco is surprised, and manages only a weak, "what?"
"This too shall pass."
Draco nods; he gets it. He finishes with his pieces of bread and watches as the ducks fight over the big one. Shoving his hands back in his pockets, he waits until the boy is finished. Then he smirks and ruffles the kid's hair. "Thanks, mate."
He returns to the Manor, to his overlarge and unbearably empty house, and meanders through the gardens, imagining a three-year-old with curly blond hair running before him, until he reaches her favorite spot. Then he imagines the brown-haired boy, maybe a little older than the girl, running after her. It's a nice thought, and he stays in the garden until he can't feel his nose.
A few hours later, after respectable visiting hours have been long passed, there's a knock on the door. The head house-elf alerts him, and he forces himself to get up.
"Who is it?" he asks.
The house-elf informs him that she did not open the door, due to the late hour, and merely informed her Master of the caller. Draco nods and excuses the house-elf, then stands and throws on a house robe. He arrives at the front door, and hears a small knock.
He opens it;
And she's there, standing on his front porch, obviously cold, and looking nervous and hopeful.
He can't speak at first, so he just stares.
"Hey," she says, teeth chattering.
After he blinks a few times, he responds, "Hi."
They stare at each other for a moment or two, then she blurts, "Do you have anything to eat?"
He almost laughs; almost. "Of course. Uh, come in."
She does, rubbing her arms to warm herself. He's surprised that she's only wearing a light coat, long-sleeved shirt and jeans, and a hat. No scarf, no gloves, and no warming charms.
Once in the foyer of the massive front hall, they look at each other. Draco feels anger, like bile, rising in his gut. But she looks so small, that he forces himself not to rail on her right there.
"The kitchen is this way," he says, and starts walking.
She catches up to him, though he's walking quickly, and falls into stride beside him. It takes them a few minutes to get to the kitchen, which they pass in strange silence.
Once there, Hermione immediately starts rummaging through his cabinets, through his drawers, looking for food. He's a little surprised she is so familiar with everything, but then remembers that she probably visited his home a lot during his… absence. And she's eating as though she hasn't eaten in weeks.
He starts to speak, opens his mouth and everything, but he's not sure what to call her. Hermione seems too personal, but Granger too harsh, even considering how angry he feels. He swore he'd never think of her like that again, like just a name, and that meant he hadn't called her "Granger" in a very long time. He finally decides just to skip the address altogether.
"When is the last time you ate?" he asks.
She looks at him. "A few days ago. Have you eaten dinner?" She's holding a box of crackers in her hand and she shakes it.
He quirks an eyebrow. "It's nearly midnight; yes, I've had dinner." He didn't bother to mention that dinner had been those very crackers.
"Oh," she says. Then she goes to the fridge and rummages through it for something to drink. And he just can't allow her to drink from the carton, so he grabs the juice from her hand and returns it. She looks at him questioningly.
"Sit. I will make you something to eat. I won't have you eating like a Weasley in my kitchen."
She lowers her eyes, but sits in a chair that is next to a large island. Draco busies himself with preparing a simple but delicious meal – he has standards, after all – and Hermione pointedly looks anywhere but at him.
He's actually quite quick about it, and sets a sandwich in front of her after only a few minutes. She looks at it, then at him, then back at the sandwich.
"Why are you here?" he asks more roughly than he'd intended, but he doesn't care.
She looks at him before taking a bite. When she's halfway done, she looks back at him, and says, "You missed your appointment."
He laughs and mutters to himself, "of course."
"I – we – were worried. It's very important for you to keep appointments."
"How terribly inconsiderate of me. To cause you worry," he says, his fears of being unable to be civil to her coming true.
She looks hurt, but quickly masks it. "Would you let me examine you? Then you won't have to bother with making another appointment."
"Harry was looking forward to seeing you."
"Are all these formalities really necessary?" His tone was curt.
Again, she says nothing. She finishes her sandwich and then gets out a quill and parchment. "So. How is your memory?"
"Great," he mutters, sitting down across from her.
"Have you had any relapses? Flashes? Moments where you've forgotten anything?"
"Do you remember any of your time in the hospital?"
"Hmm," she says, biting her lip and looking at her parchment curiosly. "I have this theory," she starts, and before he can tell her he couldn't care less about her theory, she continues. "That you'll never remember your time at the hospital. That it will always be as if those years never happened."
"Well, isn't that too bad? I won't have three years' worth of pointless days mulling around inside my head."
She looks at him, half out of concern and half curious. "Have you experienced any abnormalities? Unpleasant side effects? Anything at all?"
He glares at her. "Nothing that isn't to be expected."
She squirms in her seat and he can tell he's hit home. She's still the same, he can still press all the right buttons to get a reaction, and somehow, this is comforting. "Okay. I just need you to answer a few simple questions. Who did Harry give half of Voldemort's wand to?"
He signs loudly, impatiently. "Remus."
"And what is Harry's son's name?"
"Finally, what did you plan to do with me on this date, three years ago?"
He scowls. "That's low, Granger. And off-limits."
She sighs and puts away her quill. His heart constricts painfully because it means she's done and he's not sure he's ready for her to leave. He's not sure he wants her to stay, either. She takes a long time in adjusting her bag and finally gives up the pretense that she's leaving.
Instead, she asks, "How are you?"
He almost laughs. "Is this a professional inquiry? Or are you really interested?"
She looks at him, on the verge of being upset, but she doesn't explode. "I'm really interested."
"Well, I'm terrible, thank you for asking."
Her eyes widen. "What?"
He waves her off. "But enough about me. How are you?" he asks, though it's hard to keep the bitter edge out of his tone.
"I'm… okay," she says.
Since he finds he's longer able to keep himself from asking, he says, "What are you really doing here? Potter could have come by himself to ask that list of questions, no need to involve you."
She finishes her glass of juice before answering. "I wanted to see how you were."
"I repeat: it's nearly midnight."
"I stopped by earlier, but you haven't been home."
"Ah. Yes. I had a full day."
She frowns. "What's wrong, Draco? You sound – very angry."
Now he laughs. "Me? What in the world would I have to be angry about?"
"Stop. Please, just tell me how you've been since you left the hospital. Harry said you have yet to accept an invitation for dinner."
"I keep very busy."
Her features turn from concerned to angry in an instant. "Look, Draco. I get that you're upset with me, and I can accept that. So, I accept it. Now can we move on? I want to hear how – "
"I'm doing. Yes, yes, fine. I told you already: terrible. I've been spending all of my time going over everything that I've missed." He sounds so bitter, even to his own ears, that he flinches. "News, my company, friends, everything." He pauses and looks at her. "I must say, though, that you handled my family's business even better than I imagined. You not only kept it running smoothly, but you actually made money. For that, I must thank you." He smirks. "I can't tell you how many meetings I've sat through where everyone is thrilled beyond belief that I'm back, and then they tell me I should hire you, that you did such a wonderful job in my stead and I would be so lucky to have you on my team."
Then he returns to angry. "Oh, but then there's also the part about dealing with losing you. That's been a lot of fun."
"Draco – " she starts.
"No, you asked. And now you get to hear the answer." He stares at her, his mind whirling with what to say next, but he deflates a little when he sees how small she looks. "Actually, I'm done. Now. Your turn."
She takes deep breath and stands up to put a kettle of water on the stove. She lights a fire and pulls out his box of teabags. "How do you think? Would you like to hear about the last month? Or the last three years?"
He shrugs. "Surprise me," he says, like he doesn't care.
"Okay, then. You were largely right when you guessed how I passed my first year after your attack. Harry and Ron convinced me to slow down a bit, and I did. Ron had to ask me out ten times before I said yes—"
He holds up a hand, fire running through his eyes. "We are not at a point in – us – where I wish to hear about you and Weasley. Is that clear?"
She glares at him. "Oh, grow up, Malfoy. I finally said yes, but then I backed out – "
Now he's livid. "Grow UP? Grow UP? Are you serious? Did you just say that to me?" And he's yelling.
Only, she's yelling too. " – and then, after two more tries, I actually went out with him, and it was awful! I was crying the entire time – "
"Good! You should have been! Your boyfriend was on the nut-floor of the hospital where you worked, and you were off dating someone else!"
" – I felt awful, because it felt like I was cheating on you – "
" – and Ron was really understanding – "
He growls. "What did I say? I don't want to hear about – "
"You asked, and now you get to hear the answer!"
"I was just being polite! I don't really care!" Only they both knew that wasn't true, and she stops yelling, and he sees her eyes water, and that part of him that is still madly in love with her clenches, and tries to force him bodily nearer to her to comfort her.
He's very glad that the other part of him, the angry part, is currently much stronger than that part.
He refuses to acknowledge her tears, and she continues quietly. "I came here to talk to you about – everything. The least you can do is listen."
He doesn't say anything, so she continues.
"Ron is – my friend. And I think he was trying to help me move on – "
"Lovely. How kind of him, how very altruistic!" he spits.
" – because he wanted what was best for me. He – "
"What was best for you? No, he wanted you. He always has. And you fell for his little act."
She clears her throat and glares at him. "He was understanding and considerate at a time when I felt all alone. You have no idea what it was like, to see you every day, and know that you had no idea who I was. I have never felt so small—so helpless—in all my life. You would look at me with blank eyes, and answer my questions, and all the while I wanted to scream at you to remember, to kiss you, to make you remember me! But I couldn't; my colleagues told me that was the worst thing I could do—to try to force you into something your mind wasn't ready for. So I waited, and hurt, and cried."
She looks at him, expecting him to interrupt, but he's only staring at her with a cold expression and fiery eyes.
Trembling, she fixes herself a cup of tea, trying to keep herself from crying. It's almost over, now. "It took nearly three years, but Harry and Ron convinced me to just leave, to let you go as a patient. And – "
"You let me go, in a whole lot of ways, didn't you? After all, you were perfectly happy with him." She opens her mouth, but he stops her. "I don't get it, Hermione." Her name feels like sawdust in his mouth, and he wishes he hadn't said it. "You told me that you never, ever, had any feelings for him. That he was the last person on earth you would – " He can't finish, because it's too much.
She looks at her hands, folded in her lap. "He was – comforting – when there was so much in my life that was upended. He was familiar, and it was nice. He was always afraid you would snap out of it, though."
"He knew I'd beat the red out of his hair."
"Yes, something like that," she says, with a tiny smile. And that makes him falter a little. She looks at him, the smile gone. "I missed you every single day, every single moment. So many times I thought I would die because surely it couldn't be possible to be in such pain and still live through it. But I did, and slowly the pain ebbed. And I believed I was ready to move on with my life." Now she can only whisper. "I never thought you'd get better. I gave up hope, Draco. For that, I am sorry."
"Shame on you. How could you do that?" he says, anger dancing on the edges of his words. "I would have waited for you. I never would have thought for one second that things wouldn't turn out okay. I would have waited for you."
She lets a tear fall, and says, in a pained whisper, "I know that. I know that now, and I know that's what I should have done."
He loses the bitter edge, and it's replaced with regret and longing, and sadness. "Of all the things I had—money, fame, my name—all of it, I could have lost all of those things, so long as I still had you. And I wouldn't think twice about them. But instead, now, I keep everything else, but I lose you." He shakes his head and turns away from her, putting the dishes in the sink. Something normal feels really good to him right now.
Silence stretches as he washes the plate and fork, and he tries to make it take a long time, but it's one of those things that just can't take forever.
He looks at her, and she's thinking, he can tell.
"What did you do today?" she asks.
He shrugs. "Nothing really." Then he decides there's no harm in telling her the truth. "I went to the hospital, but I couldn't go in. Then I went to The Leaky Cauldron and got to know the bottom of a glass personally. Next I wandered around London, ending up by the river." He thinks he feels the ring shift in his pocket and he's so conflicted he wants to scream. "Why?"
She shrugs. "Just curious. If you thought about… well, us, at all."
He chuckles sadly. "Did I think about us, you ask? Merlin, honestly, what do you think? How could I not think about us? Considering…" His voice trails off and he regrets even that one word. He knows she won't let it lie.
She whips her head up to meet his eyes. "What? Considering what?"
He shrugs. "What?"
"What did you mean by that?"
He struggles with whether he should tell her. If he does, what will happen? Will it hurt her? Will she care? He shakes his head; of course she'll care. He wants to put it all behind him, and maybe telling her is the way to do it. "Considering what I'd planned for us on this date three years ago."
"For Valentine's Day?" she asks, incredulous, and he half smiles.
"But I hated Valentine's Day."
"I know that. It just happened to fall on that day, is all. You know about my spontaneous streak."
Fresh tears fill her eyes. "I hate this holiday. I was never fond of it before, but after you were hurt, it was the day they told me you were in a coma, with brain damage. Every year, I cry myself out on this day. I wanted to see you today to try and alleviate some of that. This whole month… since you woke up, I've been torn in every way possible. I've wanted to see you, but I wanted to let you heal, let you find your place, too.
"And there was the matter of figuring out what was going on in my own head, which took some time – too long, really, no question, but you know me, I have to be sure. Then this day arrives, and the pain is still fresh, and raw, and I dread February for this day, and I dread the sun rising on this day, because it's like salt, rubbed into my heart, reminding me that the world keeps going, even though it stopped for me this day, years ago."
He doesn't know why, but he wants to tell her. Everything. Now. "Would you like to know what it was like for me?" he asks, not sure if wants to hurt her more or just tell her, because she knows him, and she's always got him. "I know that you know that it was only a month ago for me." She nods. "One month isn't a very long time, especially compared to three years." He pauses again and she sets her teacup down, holding his gaze. He nods. "Follow me. And bring your coat." And he turns and leaves the room. She has to rush to catch and keep up with him as he strides through the house, and out the back door, into the garden.
He leads her to the place where he had planned to ask her. He stands, staring at a bush, his mother's favorite.
"What?" she asks, her eyes darting around.
Draco looks at her and decides, finally, that he has to, she has to know what she'd meant to him, all she'd meant. If he moves on, he moves on. If not… he will eventually. He reaches for the pocket, and says the word, and her eyes get big as saucers. Still keeping his eyes locked on hers, he pulls the box from its stronghold and, after giving it a light squeeze, he holds it out to her. She takes it, gingerly, never breaking contact with his eyes.
"That was one month ago for me. One. That – that's what I felt like today. For this whole month since I woke up."
She opens the box, and lets the tears fall. Then she ends up on the ground, crying, holding the box, and not even shivering. He notices she hadn't put on her coat, so he puts his cloak around her as she sits on the ground and cries.
She stops crying, and can't stop looking at the ring. "Draco, it's – it's – lovely."
"Do you really like it?" he asks, kindly now.
She nods, and she wants to put it on, because it still feels like yesterday to her.
"I hoped you would. I thought you would, because you're not the traditional kind of girl, but sometimes you surprised me, and you were the traditional kind of girl, so I wasn't sure."
"I – really like it." She wants to say she loves it, but that particular L-work feels awkward right now. "Draco, I'm not with Ron." She isn't sure why she says that, and right then, but it is the main thing she's come to tell him.
It's his turn to feel sucker-punched. He thinks his heart is going to pump right through his chest, it's beating so hard, but it's also so light, and the combination can't be good; but in a good way.
"I wanted to tell you, but I didn't know how to. It happened the night you got better, and it's the best thing that could have happened. And it was inevitable anyway, because you were right; he wasn't being my friend all the time. He just wanted me to forget you. I realized that weeks before you got better, but I was still so raw that I put off doing anything about it. And it was supposed to be we and Harry that went out to dinner, but Ron had coerced Harry into not coming, and then you were better, and Harry had to stay, and – "
Draco hushes her with a finger to her lips. His whole body remembers what it's like to kiss her, and he has to suppress the urge to do just that, because it isn't the right time for that, and maybe she wasn't done telling him things she had to tell him.
"Hermione," he says, and now it feels like honey. "I understand." She nods, and he crouches next to her, and he thinks he might float away at the way she's looking at him.
"Remember how you said all that stuff about losing me?" He nods. "About your money, and your name, and your everything else, but then me?" He nods again. "Draco, you haven't lost me. You never did. I just – got confused, and things got so distorted, and – I'm sorry."
He hushes her, and wipes the tears from her cheeks. "You know where I am, don't you?" She nods. "It's been only a month, and I wanted to marry you. You must know I'm still in love with you. But it's been three years for you; there's no way you can feel the same way you once did."
"Pretty close," she says, with a little smile. "But you're right, things are different now. I'm probably different. You might find you don't care so much for me anymore."
"Impossible," he says, full of conviction. He takes the ring box from her. "I'm going to just hold this, and keep it safe." He tucks it back into his robes and secures it with his daughter's name.
She nods. "It really is perfect, Draco, for me. I love it," she says, looking into his eyes, hoping he understands that she means she loves him too. His eyes flash, and she thinks he got it.
"Well, I'm not going to ask you to marry me tonight," he says, standing and holding out a hand to help her stand as well. "But would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow?"
She throws her arms around him and shouts, "Yes!" into the garden, and somewhere a flock of birds take wing, annoyed at being disturbed in their slumber.
Then he kisses her because he can't wait any longer, and she kisses him back and his world is righted. If only three years late.
A/N: Let's see, who or what to credit… This story was inspired in some way by Alias, the TV show (which if you've read my multi-chaptered fic you've heard me talk about), "Memento", the movie (with the whole memory injury – although that is a real condition, where people can't make new memories). And oh, "My Best Friend's Wedding."