"Can't you just…?"
"You know I can't." Her voice is quiet, her hands never cease. If she'd look up at him, he'd see that her lethal, wintry tone hasn't quite reached her eyes. It never does. But instead, her eyes are fixed on the soapy dish in her hands.
She's not avoiding his eyes. She won't meet them either. Dimly she realizes that a careless, annoyed flick of his wrist has left her hands empty, the neatly cleaned and dried plates in a stack beside her. She hadn't even noticed that he had his wand in hand as he'd left the room, leaving a cold silence in his wake. His anger doesn't scare her; it hasn't for several years. The only thing that scares her is the pleading in his voice.
Her phone is ringing. Her fiancée, barely containing his glee at having an excuse to tinker with one of those "ridiculous muggle contraptions" has changed her ringtone to 'Let's Get it On.' She thinks of Arthur for a moment and then stops and mentally shakes herself. Quite aside from it being awkward to think about Arthur Weasley while 'Let's Get it On' plays, it's too painful. A quick glance at the screen and she flips it open.
"Hey, you." She inwardly thanks every star in the sky that her husband-to-be has no idea that you can set ringtones to individual callers. If he knew that Marvin Gaye preceded this particular conversation, she didn't like to think how quickly he'd demonstrate his erstwhile necessary prowess of the Unforgivable Curses.
"Hey." His voice conveys more than he intends and she ignores it. She opts instead to become very interested in her fingernails and wait for him to speak again.
"He's still mad, then?"
She chooses again to say nothing. She chews her lip, biting back a sigh.
"Of course he is, sorry." His voice is empty of bitterness, empty of any accusatory tones, empty of just about anything. It's a quiet wisp of what it once was. She'd almost prefer him to get mad and start storming at her. It was the emptiness more than anything else that made her speak.
"I'll see you again tonight."
"Really?" She can almost hear him fighting the urge to smile, can see the happiness spreading across his face. "Hermione, you're the best."
She certainly didn't feel like it.
A few hours later she's outside his door. She's vaguely aware that her memory doesn't seem to include how she got here. Her feet seem quite capable of beating the familiar path through London without her conscious effort. Apparating is quick and abrupt, not at all what she needs to convince herself that what she is doing is not only right, but necessary. She doesn't know how many times they've done this routine in the recent months and finds that the disquiet in her mind and stomach is eased slightly if she can manage to forget the exact numbers.
With a thrill of foreboding, the door opened before she could knock. He stood there smiling in jeans and a black t-shirt. She dropped her hand after a few seconds of mouth-open staring in which she realized she had a fist raised, still poised to knock on a door that was now awaiting her entrance. Some part of her brain remembered the fight he had with Ginny to get that shirt back – but she shut it off as quickly as possible. That was painful too.
She looked up at him and tried to match his smile (that was growing steadily more amused) but found that her lips couldn't quite get around her teeth. "How did you know I was here?"
"Foe glass," he answered casually, stepping aside to let her in to his flat.
"I'm in it?" She lead the way into his bedroom without invitation and stopped in front of the full-length foe glass, seeing herself reflected quite clearly. God, I look pale. From the form fitting pin-striped pants and white long sleeve shirt to the curly hair that had already begun to expand in warning of that evening's weather, her reflection was every bit the girl who had had a long day at work and was very tired.
"Everyone's in it. Mine's…sensitive." He spoke gently, now standing in the doorway of his bedroom. "Can't tell you from Greyback, though."
She sat down on the edge of his bed (which took some considerable effort to do gracefully as his bed was at least a foot higher than was convenient for her) and looked down at her shoelaces, very glad she'd changed into her trusty Chuck Taylors. He sat down beside her and she knew he was looking at her but, as was habit these days, she fixed her gaze on anything but him.
She took in his room for what felt like the millionth time, sighing almost imperceptibly as she did so. The room was warmly lit with small lamps that cast a friendly, yellow glow about the place. Just as in her home, there were vestiges of their upbringing everywhere. The curtains and bedding were all dark colors, carefully avoiding those brighter hues that reminded them of school dormitories and the life to which they belonged; dark navy blue, charcoal gray, deep forest green. It wasn't dreary by any stretch but she knew as well as he did that his closet still held the explosion of crimson and gold that their lives had once been.
Seeing the surroundings and simple décor left her smiling slightly in spite of herself. After a string of interior decorators mysteriously dismissed him after a few days in which his picky, stubborn, and indecisive nature reduced them to tears and hysterics, (one of the more curious ones was fired due to a nasty incident with a bag of Puking Pastilles) he had given in and called her for help. She didn't really have the abstract eye or heart for picking out fabric and paint but his goal was hers too and she found it remarkably easy to pick out things that he liked. The room left her washed in a feeling of familiarity that had little to do with the drapes or duvet. She couldn't help but close her eyes, remembering one of their first shopping trips on Mission Make-The-New-Apartment-Look-Less-Like-An-Insane-Asylum.
Sitting outside a small café in London to enjoy the last sunlight of a pleasantly warm September day, she glanced at him over the rim of her coffee cup. He looked utterly bizarre, laden with bags and packages from muggle stores. He was peering furtively into them, as though doubtful that he had actually bought sheets and perhaps would find something fascinating and venomous in them if he kept checking.
"Not all cultures wear black to funerals," he spoke up suddenly, keeping his voice very quiet. With anyone else, she would have had to strain to hear him over the bustle of the traffic and shoppers but that had never been the case with them. The corners of her lips lifted slightly but only served to make her look sadder than ever. Unfortunately, she knew exactly where he was going with this.
Take the comfortable route, her inner voice advised. Tell him about something you read in a book. "In Japan, it's tradition to wear white," she answered, carefully not meeting his eyes.
"It all comes down to the same thing, doesn't it?" His purchases and coffee lay abandoned as he tore his gaze from her averted one and became very interested in the awning over their heads. "We all avoid color."
"How was St. Mungo's?" His voice was quiet, familiar. They'd done this before.
"Nothing spectacular. I'll be brewing blood replenishing potions until I'm 90 to fix what that trainee girl Lydia did today. Poor fellow came in with a nasty bite off a bewitched teapot and I could have fixed it in about 3 seconds but the brilliant girl got there before me. How she passed any NEWTs…"
Her voice was a little higher than normal and she knew she was babbling but she didn't particularly care. Anything that kept her from having to acknowledge why she was here was fine by her.
"Hmm?" She conceded. Turning to face him, her eyes locked on his brilliant green ones. She felt a large, warm hand close over her own and was suddenly seized with the almost irresistible desire to run. Almost.
"I'm glad you're here."
She wanted to scream, she wanted to cry, she wanted to rage, and she wanted to hit him across his hatefully familiar face. She'd already done all that and more in the last year and knew that it did no good. Instead, all she does is link her fingers with his. It's all she can do.
They've lost track of the time, yet again. With no lamps turned on, no candles lit, and the sun outside long since hidden behind dark, angry clouds, the room is only lit with a soft gray light. It blurs the edges and diffuses reality slightly as rain continues to pour down the windows. Thunder rumbles long and low somewhere in the distance.
"You can't see a thing without your glasses," she breathes, her voice just above a whisper.
"I don't need them. I know exactly what I'm looking at."
She doesn't argue. She doesn't resist when he pulls her closer, doesn't even react when he loses his hand in her hair.
She closes her eyes and breathes deep, her senses flooded with clean masculinity, laundry detergent and aftershave, earthiness and ivory soap. She remembers calling him a "walking dryer sheet" once but quickly stamps out that memory - it brings to mind a certain redhead who found it as funny as she did.
She realizes that he is, of course, right. With his eyes shut, he could probably paint a picture of her face exactly as it is now, failing miserably at hiding the tension that her muscles can't at such close proximity. It doesn't matter if her eyes are closed or not. She has his face memorized; the same is true of him. She can easily call to mind his bright green eyes and what his dark lashes look like against his pale cheek. She can see his oldest scar and the newer one on his forehead that extends to his cheekbone that she herself had tried so hard to erase.
She opens her eyes again and finds him still looking at her. His eyes are dark now, etched with concern. She knows they're slightly out of focus, and it's almost as though she can feel them working furiously to bring her into greater clarity.
A thunderclap, louder this time, causes her to curl against him involuntarily.
"You don't have to stay." His voice, fogged with half-sleep before, is more alert. His eyes are darker than ever now but his voice still sounds like velvet to her. It's low, quiet, and almost perfectly collected. She ignores the guilt in his voice and wills it out of her own.
"Don't be stupid. You wouldn't have called me otherwise."
She thought she saw a trace of a smile flicker over his face but it was gone as soon as it appeared. Bastard. A frown was forming on her face although she knew her stern, aggravated posture was lost slightly to the comforter under her and the arm around her. No, he was definitely smiling now. It was lopsided and lazy, matching his unfocused eyes perfectly.
He knew she needed it just as much as he did.
Some time later, the rain was still coming down as thick as ever. Great drops splattered the bedroom window and she was starting to feel the thunder before she heard it. She sighed inwardly and knew it was time to go.
She lifted his hand gently off her waist and sat up, scooting to the edge of the bed as quietly as she could. What a mess, she thought wearily as she looked down at her rumpled clothes while putting her trainers back on. I suppose they'll have to do. It wasn't the first time she'd showed up back at home looking a little worse for the wear; it wasn't likely to be the last. She was almost to the door when his voice rooted her to the spot. No longer velvety soft and half-asleep, it sounded as though he'd been awake for hours.
She wondered wildly for a moment whether he had silently jinxed her into immobility but knew that his wand was on a table some four feet to the left of his arm. She turned around to face him, smoothing her shirt as she did so. He was sitting up on top of the covers, still as fully dressed as she. She bit her tongue and said nothing.
"Mione. It's like…crack thirty."
She crossed her arms, glaring silently.
"You'll get sick out in that rain. Do you really have to go?"
She knew as well as he did that he was just talking to stall for time. Not to make her mad, never to make her mad. Just to keep her there a bit longer. He knew she wouldn't stay the whole night just like he knew she'd come if he called. Just like she knew that she could almost forget everything that had happened in the last few years if she climbed into the arms of her best friend and fell asleep. Neither of them could block out the world forever. It didn't seem to stop them from trying.
He stood now and headed over to the bureau to fumble around with the drawers (he had neglected to put his glasses back on) and pull out some pajama pants so he could fall asleep properly. He sat down on the edge of the bed and looked to the doorway, catching her amber gaze one last time.
"Thank you," he said softly.
"Anytime," she breathed. She turned stiffly and, leaving nothing but a still-warm indent in the covers beside Harry, was gone.
"Give my love to Draco," he added quietly, speaking to the empty room.
The crack of her apparition was drowned out in a rumble of thunder and she skidded a little on the stone steps of the path that wound through the garden up to the front door of her house. The cold water was soaking through her clothes and she would have laughed ruefully at the fact that her hair was now thoroughly beaten into submission by the offending water had she not, at that moment, walked into something tall and very solid. With a startled cry that was lost to the wind, she felt her mutinous balance leave as her feet slipped out from underneath her. She saw the muddy pathway rushing towards her, braced herself for the impact –
A pale hand caught her wrist and pulled her up and to him in one swift movement. Momentarily stunned, she looked up and her warm eyes met his of molten silver. Whatever she saw in them, whatever she had expected upon returning home, she ignored in the thrill of seeing something else entirely there.
Draco Malfoy looked worried.
She could have whooped for joy. Instinctively she threw her arms around him and buried her face in the crook of his neck. She didn't know why he was as wet as she was. She didn't know how mad he was and if he even wanted her to touch him at that moment. She didn't even allow herself the impossible thought that he might have been waiting out here for her all night, terrified that this would be the time she didn't return. All she was aware of was that even through the rain, his smell was unmistakable; expensive, spicy, and unique.
"I'm glad you're here," he mumbled into her hair, his hands reluctantly finding her waist out of force of habit. Fighting an irresistible tug of déjà vu, her hand found his and she led him into the house.
She sipped her tea thoughtfully, sitting on the edge of their bed, now clad in pajamas as her hair air dried. He stood with his back to her and his hands clasped behind him, staring into the fire. Even in just a white t-shirt and pajama pants, his impressive silhouette was not lost on her. The dam that had been holding back the young Gryffindor who couldn't shut up all day seemed to break and her silent façade broke with it.
"Is this about trust? Because you know I-"
He didn't bother to turn around. She felt, more than anything else, the roll of the eyes that answered her question. Nope. Guess again.
"You're sure, are you? It doesn't bother you that I disappear to his flat a few nights a week and –"
He turned his head slightly towards her, arms still behind his back though his hands were now balled into fists. His eyes were full of warning, daring her to continue. But she had never needed his warning less – it was as though his very magic was pulsing with it and she fell silent. She stood and crossed the room to stand beside him, willing him to look at her.
"Draco, please." She whispered softly.
His face was smoothly inscrutable but she thought she saw – or perhaps felt – something soft and understanding pass between them.
"He lost Ginny."
He said nothing and returned his gaze to the fire, knowing better than to look at her while she said what he inevitably knew was coming. He was already fighting a losing battle with some dim part of his brain that was telling him to take her into his arms and make her never need words again.
"I…that is to say, he…we lost R– "
"Don't say it." He had turned to face her suddenly, his voice harsh and biting. "Don't you dare act like you're the only one who lost someone." As though the golden duo, as they were, could be the only ones who had suffered for their cause. Loathsome as he had once found them, 'duo' left a very unpleasant taste in his mouth indeed. More so even than acknowledging that they, as a trio, had been any kind of force to be reckoned with. With a pang that had hardly deadened with time, he was reminded that she didn't know what it was like to be an orphan. The only person with whom he shared that particular experience was -
"Don't say it," he said again, softer this time. Pleading.
It was his pleading that would be her undoing.
She raised her arms slightly and without a flicker of hesitation, he had her tightly wrapped in his own. She rested her cheek against his chest, willing herself not to cry. It had been a very long day.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Don't," he implored hoarsely. "Just…be here." Mercurial eyes, dark as a storm tossed sea, searched her own. Here with me. Not with Potter. His unspoken words hung between them as clearly as though he had said them, as though he had shouted them.
It was an easy to oblige. She smiled as she wound her fingers through his soft, golden hair, bringing his lips down to hers.
Long day, indeed.