He hadn't seen the fist coming, and perhaps it was the element of surprise that held the full effect of the situation. Or maybe it was the actual fist-hitting-face action that did him in.
Yes, that could be it.
It was getting to be a somewhat violent week for Draco.
He clutched his jaw, feeling the reverberations of his punch – almost like little tiny fists smacking up against his face, simultaneously. Repeatedly. It buzzed painfully, and in all honesty: yes, his eyes did water a little from the excruciating blow, and no, he would never tell a soul that his punch made his stomach careen in his body. He still had his dignity to think of, after all.
"What the fuck, Weasley?" he managed to spit, blood spotting the floor under him. He tried to lock his jaw back in place, but the pain was simply too much.
He wished significant moments of pain (such as these) came with warnings. Who would've thought that falling in love would end up causing him so much trouble? It was ridiculous. It was beyond ridiculous. In fact, he was convinced it was so ridiculous that there wasn't even a word created to grasp its full ridiculousness in the English language just yet. And there were what – more than a billion words in it alone?
Wait a minute. Here was a word: Pathetic.
There was yelling in other room – explosive yelling. And it didn't help, either, that he had a pounding headache from all the liquor he'd ingested in the past five hours, rotting away in some mangy pub, as if he was just some down-in-the-mud average joe.
He slumped into the couch, which was a great deal more comfortable from his past position lying face-down on the stone floor of a back alley – a little lumpy still, though, and stiff. This told him that it hadn't been used much. Awfully surprising for a woman who'd been living here for the past three years, unless she'd recently purchased a new couch because the other hadn't been quite up to par. Which was understandable. Sofas were sometimes terribly disappointing things. A lot of things in life were.
"What are you saying, Harry? What are you thinking – asking me if he can stay here? Are you seriously demented?"
"Hermione, he's just got evicted!"
"Oh, and let's pretend this isn't just karma finally catching up to him, hm?" He could almost hear the eyeroll behind that one. Which meant it had been a big one.
"Merlin, Hermione. Let's not be so insensitive."
"Oh, I'm being insensitive, am I? Then what about you, Harry? Why can't he stay over at your place if you're so keen on making sure he's comfortable?"
"I've got Ron, Hermione, you know that."
"Three's a crowd. And, besides, he hasn't quite gotten warmed up to him yet—"
"Your problem, not mine."
"Hermione, it'll only be for a short while – just until he gets himself all sorted out again. I'm having a bit of trouble with the bank trying to figure out exactly what's happening with his inheritance and his estate, but if you could just—"
"I still can't believe you're even asking me this! Harry, this is unacceptable. He can't stay here, do you hear me?"
Their shrieking voices pierced through like a blade drilling a hole through his skull. He groaned, digging his face into the pillow. It smelled something like a fresh mountain breeze. Then, struggling with all his might, he craned his neck up and looked around. Everything was impeccable, and in its individual place. It had a very minimalist vibe. It figured. She didn't seem like she had very much in her life to do with, in the first place. Just her alphabetically organized books charmed with some Anti-Dust charm and her lumpy, awkward old couch probably purchased from Bed, Bath and Bad Taste (on clearance).
He dug his face back into her pillow, wanting to plug his ears. He'd search for his wand but he'd probably left it on the floor somewhere. He felt like his head was being bludgeoned and he was in so much pain that he didn't even care that he should be completely and utterly offended by the conversation happening in the other room, or be quite annoyed at the fact that they didn't even bother to keep their voices down for a bit of cordiality. So what if Granger loathed him? He was still a guest here, wasn't he?
Harry Potter, who had – up until recently – never been quite smooth with the ladies, did not raise his voice like she did. He held his temper and spoke in soothing, calming tones in an effort to placate her, but it did not hold out to much use, because she was getting as much use from her vocal chords as she could. Draco winced when he tried to be reasonable with her and she got unbearably shrill. Bitch.
He thought about how calm everything would be if he was dead. No yelling, no pounding headache. Because with the terrible banging in his skull, as if there was a chimp somewhere clashing cymbals against his head, he didn't know how long he could stand it here. Though, to be honest, nowhere else seemed as comfortable as this bumpy, sickly couch was.
"I swear you won't even know he's here. You'll be at work anyway."
"So you think that's a good reason to throw him in here and let him bum around?"
Draco really wanted to say something. For one: he did not bum around. Second: Potter did not necessarily "throw" him in here… more like carried, and dragged, because he'd passed out in a back alley somewhere, like all good drunks do. But the more he tried to think, the more the glaring colors swirled around in the back of his eyelids, and the more his head ached. Opening his mouth was a challenge he felt he was not ready for just yet. So he just lay there, facedown, utterly miserable.
They kept at it, like an old couple. Funny, because that's certainly what normal folk with any sense of intelligence would assume they were: an old couple. Granger was quite old womanly, the sort that had an impending obscene purchase of lots of cats sitting on her wallet, and that sort that would put plastic covers on the furniture.
But the puzzling thing was, they weren't. No, not Potter and Granger. Any person with a good pair of eyes and a sense of right and wrong would certainly be right to assume that they were together – written in the stars, as the old saying goes – yet also wrong, because they simply weren't. Which baffled him, at least, if not the whole of the wizarding world, because he could not think of anybody more insane and infuriating for Potter than Granger, and anybody more insane and infuriating for Granger than Potter – and oddly, it worked. In concept, perhaps. But not in reality. But really, if Draco had been the Stayed-up-all-night-and-pondered-all-of-life's-mysteries sort of man, it certainly would be one of those topics that would have kept him up for weeks.
Suddenly, he heard of the slamming of the door – he flinched, groaning. Then an abrupt force had taken him by his shoulders and lifted his face from the lumpy couch, and he found himself staring up at Granger, who was red-faced and angry.
"Does he look like he's in any condition to go out like this?" he heard Potter say from behind him.
Draco managed a snort through his nose. "Sod off, Potter. My mother says I'm beautiful just the way I am."
Both bickering parties ignored him. "He smells awful," Granger hissed.
"And you," Draco said, "are a great big bitch."
"Hermione," he heard Potter sigh from behind him. "Think of this as a favor. Please, Hermione. Let him stay here just for a little while until I can work everything out. Then he'll be out, I promise."
There was silence, and Draco squinted up at Granger, the room swirling all around him. He felt like a fish in a bowl that someone was moving from once place to another, with the water bouncing from side to side. His eyes were foggy but he could see her wild hair, dark and untamable. Like a beast.
She let out a loud sigh, and her tense shoulders collapsed. "Fine," she said tersely. "Fine."
Potter's grip on his shoulders loosened. Draco's head slumped back down, his eyes closing. "I knew I could count on you, Hermione. Thank you. I mean it."
"He can stay here," she said in a rigid, unflinching voice, "but on the condition that he follows my rules."
"All right, that's fair." And then he let go of him, and Draco collapsed back on the couch, facedown. He said something against the cushion, but it was intelligible. He sensed from the silence that there was hugging taking place in the room right at the moment.
Once Potter was gone, having set him up on the couch and given him a lame sort of warning ("Be nice. Put the seat up before you pee. Ask before you finish the milk"), Draco sat on the couch, nearly sober. But not really. Granger was glaring at him like an old schoolteacher that had just caught him sleeping in class. Or worse. Perhaps sneaking glances at girls' knickers every time they bent over to retrieve fallen pencils.
"Let me guess," Draco grunted. "I'm indebted to you forever."
"You're indebted to Harry forever," she corrected unpleasantly.
"Ah," he said, in a mockingly light expression. "How pleasant. Now I have something in common with the whole of the wizarding world. Perhaps I can send in for my members-only jacket now."
"You think this is funny?" she spat distastefully. "You living here – there's going to be a serious set of rules. Once you break one, you're out. On the street. I don't care if you're going to be one of those cardboard beggars sitting in your own excrement. Got it?"
"Granger, you sure do know how to break a heart that's just been mended."
"Oh, shut up."
Suddenly, he sat up, peering at her. Almost so fast that the room spun – and it did, which was why he had to take a few seconds to get the room back in focus before he could start speaking again. "Why did you agree to this?"
She pressed her lips together. Her eyes flickered down his front and then up again. "I felt sorry for you. Look at you," she said, scowling. "You're pathetic. You're drunk, and dirty, and you smell like you'd just gone and pissed all over yourself. I'm going to have to completely disinfect my couch after you've gone and draped yourself all over it. Then, perhaps – burn it."
Draco shook his head, slowly. Partly to make sure his brains were still intact. "That's not it."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," he said, "that's not why you agreed to let me live here."
Her brows nearly met in the middle of her forehead. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Just admit it, Granger," he slurred, leaning back. He tried to act like Humphrey Bogart. Or like James Dean. Maybe they were right – maybe knowledge was power. Or, at least, right now, at this moment, it certainly felt like it. "You're in love. With Potter. You're in love with the prick just like every single sodding woman that's ever picked up a Witch Weekly."
"That bloody prick," she huffed, "just saved you from sleeping on the street."
He grunted. "I don't hear you denying it."
"I am not," she said through her teeth, "in love with Harry."
"Right," he snorted. "And I'm not homeless and drunk out of my wits."
"Rule number one," she said firmly, "no remarks about my relationship with Harry. At all."
"Well, can I talk about how ugly he is?"
"No," she said. "Absolutely not."
"His god-awful body odor?"
"What about his face impediment – that stupid scar of his?"
She sent him a look that he was almost certain could have single-handedly burned witches at Salem.
"Well," he grumbled, leaning his head back again. "Obviously we've just established that living here isn't going to be very fun now, is it? Tell me, Granger, why are you so hell-bent on making the rest of us so miserable?"
She ignored him, and he wasn't surprised, because she was just amazingly good at that sometimes. "You know, I would've thought – any normal person would be grateful for what he just did for you. But you're not just 'any normal person', are you? You're the Anti-Christ, in flesh and bone."
"Negative," he replied, not bothering to look at her. His eyelids felt heavy as he faced the ceiling. The room swirled for a moment with an array of colors, like a child stirring the rainbow in a fun cup. "I believe you are talking about the malicious old Dark Lord, God rest his soul, where it is burning for all eternity in hell." He paused. "Gratitude wasn't a term born into my vocabulary," he said dryly – but honestly, too. He doubted she noticed the little silver lining of sincerity in that little statement he just made, though. He thought Granger was one of those types who rarely saw the good in people after she'd made up her mind about them – rigid, unflinching. Also, interesting fact: she had a stick ever-lodged somewhere up her bum. He could tell her he'd decided to become a shepherd and lovingly take care of little sheep and protect them from evil wolves and she wouldn't hear him, not even in the slightest bit.
She was silent. "Your heart doesn't even pump blood, does it?" she said, rather quietly, and in slight awe. "You're just iron and ore. No flesh. No bone."
"Liquor," he added on, swallowing hard. He could still taste a bit of it on his tongue. The devil's poison. "That, too."
She scoffed in disgust. "Being a drunk is nothing to be proud of."
"But it is an accomplishment, don't you agree?"
He could very well admit that having conversations with him as a person, via vernacular, wasn't a very enjoyable experience for most people. It was an acquired taste that came with excessive amounts of alcohol; the other drunks at the pub thought he was witty, and charming, and one had even confessed his undying love for him one rather blurry Thursday night. But he could see why he wasn't the type of person people talked to about the weather, or useless things like that. He was simply an infuriating person. God knows why he was made that way; it must've been all that liquor his mother consumed when he'd still been in her womb. It would certainly figure, wouldn't it, though?
He dazedly looked at his arm.
"I wonder," he murmured to himself. "If I slit my wrists, would blood come out, or vodka?" He looked at her. "Hey, Granger, would you like to partake in a fun little experiment?"
"You can sleep in the guest bedroom," she said, sending him a look that revealed a negative response to his little proposition. "Take a bath. And absolutely no alcohol is permitted in my flat, do you hear me?"
He slumped back into the couch. "I haven't forgotten we're in No Fun Land. Believe me. In the past two minutes I've tried at least twenty times."
"I'll explain more of the rules in the morning. When you're sober," she sneered. Then she got up, leaving the room. He could hear the pitter-patter of her soft-soled slippers; they were the furry, beige kind. Then, suddenly, they stopped.
"You don't have any things to get from your pretentious little Manor?"
"Nope," he said, closing his eyes. "I'm not allowed on the premises, seeing as how the Ministry's seized it. Unless breaking and entering is your cup of tea, I think I'm the only one you can expect invading in your little quaint place here."
"You don't like syrup?"
"No, I don't like syrup, Potter. And here I thought we knew everything about each other, like what our favorite colors are, and which members of the Quidditch team we'd trade for whom." Draco sniffled. "I think I need to reassess where our relationship is going."
Granger rolled her eyes, loudly clinking her spoon on her mug.
"Really? What's my favorite color?" Potter asked quietly, curious.
"Green," Draco said, taking a bite of his waffle. "Like your eyes."
"Remind me again why he isn't living with you, Harry," Granger remarked, a bit irritated. "I've had to sit here for the past twenty minutes and watch you two make googly eyes at each other. If I'd known this was going to happen, I would have at least brought the paper."
"Hey!" Draco protested. "I thought this was an household accepting of all sorts of love."
"I think he's still drunk," Potter muttered, ducking his head down to sip his coffee.
Draco nodded. "I did consume enough liquor to keep me drunk for about two uninterrupted weeks."
"Miraculous that you're still alive," Granger scoffed, before muttering to herself, stirring her coffee. "I now know that there is a God. And that he is a cruel being."
"I can't tell whether you're being sarcastic, but yes, it is a miracle. Perhaps that 'cruel being' has decided to go through with his plan for me."
"And exactly what plan would that be?" she curiously inquired.
"It involves a Volkswagen car dealership."
Potter's eyebrows rose up his forehead. "Ambitious for a poor, homeless man."
"I prefer the title 'Formerly rich and had a mansion man,'" Draco dryly said. "And it is ambitious – can I tell you why? Because I was reading in the loo the other day, and I came across the phrase 'Reach for the moon. You just may land on a star.' It inspired me. It really did."
Granger hid her smile behind her coffee mug, which was impressive, since it was only a minute ago that she'd revealed how cruel it was that he was still alive. And had insulted God.
"Enough said," Potter said, nodding.
"Precisely. Enough said."
Potter rubbed his nose with his hand, sweeping back his black hair before he coughed. "Listen, Hermione, I won't be able to make it to our little lunch."
Draco's eyes swung over to Granger, who looked up from her waffle, her face still for a moment. Then she brought her eyes down again, clearing her throat. "Oh, that's perfectly fine. Did Andy give you those papers late again?"
"Um," Potter said, "not exactly. I met this girl, at the market, and her name's Stacy. I completely forgot about our plans for today and I sort of asked her out for lunch. For today."
Granger blinked. "But Harry, we've planned this lunch since last month, we were supposed to discuss Ron's party—"
"Exactly, see? We can just discuss it right now, while we're having breakfast. That's all right, isn't it? Now what was it Ron wanted?"
She opened her mouth, as if she was going to say something more, before she closed it again. She grabbed her spoon and scooped up another spoonful of sugar into her coffee. "A stripper," Granger said matter-of-factly, obviously a little ruffled by Potter's impromptu lunch date with someone else. "Ron wanted a stripper."
"Hermione," Potter said, stirring his coffee, "sending him to AA just to get him out of here because you aren't comfortable him being alone in your flat while you're not here isn't exactly the best choice."
"Harry, I'm not comfortable with that man—"
"Yes, you already said that."
"He is a drunk," she pointed out, quite convincingly – save for the fact that he'd been sober for ten days since he'd stepped into the entirely beige-colored section of the Martha Stewart department from home décor hell.
Draco opened the door, the Daily Prophet rolled up in his hand, and he stepped out. Potter and Granger instantly ended their conversation, staring at him. Then Granger looked down, sipping her coffee.
"What's the matter, Granger? Afraid I'll steal your tea cozies while you're gone?"
"God, Hermione. Really. You've got to get your walls thickened," Potter said. She only rolled her eyes as Draco laid the newspaper on the table, looking at the two.
"Don't get me wrong. It was a riveting conversation to listen to while on the loo." He sighed. "Well, Mummy and Daddy? Are you sending me off to the big bad institute or what?" He shrugged, but sent her a dirty look. "She is right. I am a drunk. And it is awfully boring in this place. It's like the decorating channel threw up in here. In earth tones." He gagged.
She glared at him. "Well, seeing as how you've clearly expressed your feelings on your current living arrangements, then maybe it'd be a lot better for the both of us if you'd get your grimy arse—"
"Now, now, let's not be brash," Potter intercepted. "Children," he said warningly.
"He's an ungrateful little twit," she explained. "All he does is whine and complain and insult me—"
"I don't know if you've heard, but that is just the way I am," Draco defended. He looked at Potter and nudged his shoulder. "Go on. Tell her, Potter. Tell her that's just the way I am."
"The pair of you," he said, looking weary, "are acting like idiots. And children. Idiotic children, basically. There is nothing more unattractive than a pair of idiotic children bickering."
"Well, there's B.O.," Draco muttered.
"See that?" Granger said, jumping the gun. "I don't understand why you're doing this, Harry – he doesn't deserve it. I say, let him stay out in the street and drown himself in alcohol – it's the life he wants, and him being here just chains the rest of us down—"
"You don't think I'm drowning in all this beige?" he snapped. "It makes me want to throw up. Ever heard of color, Granger? Roy G. Biv called, asking if you'd ever gotten the memo that there's more than one color—"
She turned to Harry. "Harry, just because he saved your life doesn't mean—"
"Malfoy, Hermione," Potter said, his hands raised, mediating. "We're getting nowhere with this. Maybe, to make sure we all survive from this, one of you should be sedated. Which one should it be?"
"Granger," Draco shouted, at the same time Granger yelled "Malfoy."
Potter rolled his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. "Malfoy, I've talked to the Ministry."
Draco perked up. "You mean the heartless fiends that stole my home and therefore sent me into a drunken stupor of misery and despair?"
"Yes," he said. "No progress on them giving it back to you just yet, but I've talked to a few insiders, and they said they could try to get more information…"
"Is it money?" Draco asked. "Is that what they want? They're holding it for ransom? Not a particularly smart idea, since they've closed up my account as well, savage bastards. Some brains they've got working there at the Ministry. They'd probably give Weasley a run for his money."
"No, I believe they're holding it… just to spite you."
Confusion spread across Draco's face. His words were familiar, all right, but not in this context at all. They scrambled around his brain like Boggle. "What?"
Granger burst into laughter, nearly tipping her coffee over. Draco ignored her, looking directly at Potter.
"Apparently," he sighed, "you're not the Ministry's favorite person. Your father…"
"Oh, Christ. This is about my father? What are they, gravediggers?"
"In some aspects, yes. They have reason to believe that the Manor never belonged to him in the first place, what with all the cheating and lying he did. Apparently he hasn't paid his taxes in years."
He had to sit down for this – logically, he should've seen this coming. His father was a bad man, the kind that starts up cults and kills innocent people and kicks dying puppies. But whoever said that the sins of the father were handed down to the son really hadn't been lying. He sort of hated it – a lot, with a passion. So he just sat there in silence, trying to wrap his mind around it.
In sobriety, it was easier to think, but more painful. Everything got to be so complicated and tangled up, and sometimes painfully simple – except for a few little crevices and niches. But this was what that was; sort of like staring at a white light until it got to be painful to look at. Simple, but painful. He felt like he was grasping at straws – or rather, nothing. Nothing at all. Or maybe, while he was here, a fistful of beige.
"Sorry," Potter muttered. He looked really deeply sorry about it that Draco – truthfully – found it a little awkward and uncomfortable. For a second he thought he was going to reach out and hold his hand or something, but that didn't happen. Thank God. He didn't know what he'd do with himself if Potter had started going around holding his hand, on top with his father practically shitting all over his future. And wasn't it funny? His father was dead, long gone, maybe even quartered up and buried in the four corners of the world to prevent possible reincarnation, yet his ghost hovered over him loud and clear.
He hated how his father haunted him even now. As if he didn't already have to look in the mirror every day and convince himself he was different. Maybe not completely different, but at least a little sliver. And that was all that mattered, right? Draco was not his father. Draco was not his father.
Oh, he didn't know. He wasn't sure anymore.
Suddenly, he felt a burn in his throat – thirst.
"I need a drink," Draco said lowly.
"You can't," Granger said, though her voice didn't hold the sharp edge it had before. Which he hated, even more. On some level, there was a possibility she felt sorry for him – meaning they weren't equals. One was lower than the other. He didn't think he could stand being beneath anyone, most especially the girl that had closely resembled a beaver all throughout his childhood and had built her lonely little dam out of everything beige. Was there ever a more boring color in the history of the world? It depressed him, even more so.
"I don't allow alcohol in my flat, remember?" she said, glancing at Potter.
"Well, then, I'm going out," Draco said, standing up.
"You can't," Granger said again. "Drinking your problems away won't do any good, Malfoy. It won't make the problem disappear, like a magic trick."
"Besides," Potter said, quietly, "this was part of our deal. You have to stay sober until we get your place back."
"What a stupid deal," he hissed. "In the international rules of deal-making, I believe it doesn't count if the receiver of the deal is intoxicated." He glared at the both of them, and Potter didn't budge. "Then excuse me," he said bitterly, "while I attempt to ponder what further purpose I have on this earth with my single most beloved asset taken away by a bunch of grudge-holding, spite-spewing, authority-abusing dogs."
There was knocking at his door.
At first he didn't believe his ears, so he didn't get up. Didn't even do so much as move. For the past four days they'd left him to himself, though sometimes he saw the shadow of feet standing in front of his room from the little crevice underneath his door, probably to check if there was some rotting, pungent stench coming from his room – a clear indication he'd killed himself. But he'd locked the door, so it wasn't as if they could do anything else. They had never knocked before, though, besides their little shadow game.
He'd never been depressed before, but he reckoned it felt something like this. He'd read books about it (more like skimmed – the self-help section of the bookstore wasn't a place he liked to be seen in, much less hang around in) when his mother had been in her… state, after the war. He'd always been intrigued, knowing that people could feel as if their life was meaningless and void and that the world would be much better off without them – or rather, the opposite for extremely selfish cases: that they would be much better off without the world. He didn't know which category he belonged in yet, though. That required some more sulking and wallowing in his misery.
But after not moving (from the not believing part), it happened again. Knock. Knock. Knock. Timid, and hesitant.
"Go away," he called out. "I'm horribly depressed and seriously considering ending my life in a very dramatic, tabloid-trashy way." He caught a whiff of himself. "And I smell."
There was a moment of silence, and for a second he was confident that his last remark had scared her off. But then he heard a slight jingling, and saw his doorknob moving, and suddenly the door was open. Granger stood there, in a white t-shirt and jeans, with a key in her hand.
"Now that," he drawled, "could be used for evil. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with you having a key to be able to come in and out of my room as you very well please."
She rolled her eyes, before putting the key back in her pocket. She then proceeded to close the door behind her – but then stopped, thinking, and left the door slightly ajar.
She turned to him, taking a small step. She looked a little wary to be in his room, but put her warrior face back on.
"How much did Potter pay you?" Draco said, not looking at her.
"Nothing," she said.
"Liar. You are the worst liar I've ever seen, besides Potter. Makes sense, actually. It fits into that whole moral, Hero-message Potter radiates with: good, impeccable soul, hence lousy liar. Too pure for it." He licked his chapped lips. "You lot make me sick."
She pursed her lips, then sighed. "He's taking me out to dinner."
"The Mighty Aphrodite."
"Splendid." He paused, waiting for her to start talking again. "I believe that was the cue for you to start reciting the speech he made you memorize in exchange for that expensive, classy dinner."
"Malfoy," she said wearily, "there's no memorized speech, okay? He would've come down here himself, but he's… preoccupied at the moment."
"On a date, huh?"
He didn't have to look at her face to know how she felt about it. It was amazing how transparent she made herself out to be sometimes that even he, a third party with no interest in her well-being whatsoever, could see right through her. "Yes, but that's beside the point. It isn't healthy for you to be lying around here, wasting away, just because the Ministry—"
"If you're trying to justify something, or inspire me, you're better off buying a Hallmark card. They took my home – the only thing I ever had, and the only thing that I quite possibly cared about. Don't tell me what's healthy or not. Tell me, Granger, have you ever had your home taken away from you?"
"No," she said. "But there are worse things."
"Like what? Being parentless? Being homeless? Being universally un-liked by every single person in the world? Because I daresay, I've got a foot in every one of those categories." She was silent. "Look, Granger, you opened the door with your shiny little key. You can skip the obligation. Just scoot on back to the phone and tell Potter that you tried, don your fancy little dress, and get your fancy little dinner. It's my problem; you don't need to come in here with your valiant white steed, all right? I don't need to be rescued. And I certainly don't need you to be the one trying to rescue me."
"Is it your life's goal to be an utter arsehole?" she fumed. "You've got people here trying to help you yet you treat them like dirt. I think you've made it perfectly clear that you don't appreciate a single good thing—"
"But see, that's the thing, isn't it, Granger? You don't care. You don't care about me – you're only obligated to, because—"
"Don't say it," she said through her teeth. "Don't you dare say it, if you plan on sleeping in a bed tonight." He looked down, and he could see her fists shaking beside her. Everything looked glassy around him. "I tried. I really did. Waste away here for all I care."
And then she stormed out, slamming the door behind her. But he watched as his doorknob began to jingle around again; she was locking him in.
"Son, really, you've got to be thoughtful about these things." She was smoking. In his room. He didn't quite remember whether Granger had told him smoking was prohibited – she really only focused on the No Liquor rule. "They're only trying to help you."
"I don't need help," he said, staring at his mother as she blew a white puff out of her thin lips. She looked vibrant – dressed in emerald green robes, with her white-blond hair flowing straight down her shoulders. On her fingers were the many indications of her exact wealth – huge stones of gems and jewels, glittering in the light, and standing out from the bleak beige coloring of the room.
She snorted. "I beg to differ. You need all sorts of help, Draco." She took a sip from her drink. He wondered how it got there. "Now, this room is horrible. No taste in it whatsoever – what is this terrible color?"
He snorted. "You should see the rest of the house."
"This is a crime, what she's done to this place." She took another puff. "Now, whatever happened to that lovely Pansy Parkinson? I say, I just had tea with her mother a week ago – showed me their lovely new estate. It's large, but certainly not larger than ours. Of course, I didn't mention that to her. Didn't want to burst her pretty little bubble."
He stared at her, looking at her drink.
"Why are you looking at me that way?" she asked him.
He squinted his eyes shut, breathing hard. Then he opened them again. She was there, holding her cigarette, staring at him with a bemused expression.
"You're not here," he said. "You can't possibly."
"Of course I am," she said. "I'm right here, son." She looked around. "Going a little loony, are you? Must be all this awful coloring around here. And – you look ill. Have you been eating?"
"So he finally shows his face," Potter remarked, as he stepped out.
Draco stopped, looking at him.
"And from the loo, as well. Don't you look radiant."
Draco gave him a strange look. "Are you hitting on me, Potter? Trying to maybe boost up my self-esteem by giving me disturbing, unwanted attention? Clever concept, but it won't work. I like girls."
"Look," he said to him, "it's really not good for you to be sulking about like this, Malfoy. You being an arsehole is better than this. At least it didn't feel awkward and wrong to hate you."
"Granger told you to say that, didn't she?"
He shook his head. "She won't even say a word about you. She's angry as hell."
"But she won't kick me out."
Potter shrugged, and motioned for them to head into the kitchen. Draco followed.
"You know, she does an awful lot for you. It's scary, and frightening."
He sent him a peculiar glance. "She's my best friend. And she's a good person. It may be a foreign concept to you, Malfoy, but this is the sort of stuff good people do."
"Christ, I forget. I'm hanging with the Moral Code Club now." He popped open a soda, hearing the fizzing liquid inside. He stared inside and felt a deep longing in his gut for some hard liquor. Being sober was hard work, especially when plunged into a rotting hole of miserable consequences handed down by the father's (dead) hand. "Any news from the Ministry?"
He was hesitant. Draco knew this wasn't going to be good. "None. Your file is buried underneath all the other thousand files, so they won't get to it for quite a while. But don't give up hope – at least, not yet. I still have some leverage, so—"
"Merlin, am I honored. Harry James Potter pulling strings for me?" Draco said mockingly, taking another sip.
"You make fun of it, but you're grateful," Potter said.
"According to Granger, I'm not grateful for anything."
Potter looked at him, long and hard. "You ought to be nicer to her, you know. This is an awful lot she's doing—"
"For you," Draco interrupted. "There's no possible way she's doing this for me, or for the sake of being righteous. She hates me. No person in their right mind would set up house with someone they absolutely hated down to their festering, maggot-filled core."
"Can you blame her for hating you? You're an arsehole."
"Now tell me," Draco said dryly, "how you really feel."
"Just trying to put things in perspective, that's all. All I'm saying is, maybe try doing something nice for her."
"Gee, see, I'd try retrieving that large wooden stick up her—"
Potter slapped his hand against Draco's mouth, firmly latching it there. Draco's eyes bulged, trying to jerk away. "No," Potter said, seriously and gravely. "No."
"Listen, Draco, son," she said. She was combing her hair now, her cigarette still smoking on the ashtray. "You ought to make of this the best you can, do you know what I mean? I've seen the girl, and though she is horrid plain, she looks like a good person. Uptight, and prudish, and should be jailed for such horrible furnishings, but nevertheless… I say, what is that awful smell?"
He was just passing by, and she'd just happened to leave her door open. So he snuck a peek. It was the same – boring, with a set of white daisies and sunflowers in a vase near her bed. Painted beige. Books, books, more books. Everything was neatly folded and pressed. Then, by her mirror, was a framed picture of her and Potter. How curious that it wasn't the three of them – Weasley, Potter, and Granger, as the story goes – but only her and Potter.
Jesus, could she be any more obvious? It was absolutely fucking pitiful.
It was raining outside. The water pounded on the windows and he could barely see anything outside of the glass – just gray. Not that there was much of a sight to see in the first place, but the water had washed everything out.
He kept notches on his bedpost for how many days he'd been here. Today marked thirty-six. Little more than a month. He felt this sickening lurch in his stomach about the Ministry business and about exactly how long he'd have to stay here, with no booze, and no girls, and no fun whatsoever. He'd started talking to Granger again, and at first she'd been as cold as stone, but then she'd started to relax a bit – courtesy of Potter, he reckoned. If he wasn't so scared of being homeless, he'd have made a remark about how Granger seemed to obey Potter like a little dog by now.
He was reading the Daily Prophet when he heard the door open, and the quiet swishing of her umbrella. He was reading about the new cemetery site where a few of his friends had been buried (the Parkinsons, for example) when she came in, her hair drizzled with a few drops of rain. Her nose was pink and so were her cheeks.
"Another unproductive day, I see?" she said to him, as she removed her coat. He spotted she was wearing a crisp white blouse, with black trousers. No emblems or anything. Just plain. Just like her personality.
"I'd hardly call it that."
She rolled her eyes and went over to the cupboard – to make herself some hot tea, he presumed. He heard the creak of the hinge, and then silence.
"My cups and bowls are all…" she faltered.
"I took the duty of organizing your cupboards. I was bored. Listen, can I ask you something?"
She was appalled. "Why on earth did you organize all of my cupboards? I had a system!"
"Well, to be honest with you, Granger, your system was terrible." He put down the paper, looking at her, as she vocally searched for her cups. "For Christ's sake, Granger, your cups are to your right, lower shelf. Now, my question."
"No," she said, grabbing her cup, and inspecting it, as if he'd smeared rat poison all over it. "You can't ask me a question."
"And why the hell not?"
"Because a question that needs a question introducing the question cannot possibly be a question I would want to answer."
He ignored her. "Why don't you ever have men over? You know, to pal around. Or whatever they call it. Hit skins."
She sent him a dirty look. "I don't believe that's a question deserving of an answer."
"I think Potter's the only man I've seen come over. Weasley – well, I know all about that. Potter's told him I'm staying here and I'm not Weasley's favorite blond, so there's that. Really, Granger, you've got to get out there."
"Says the man who'd caged himself up in his room sulking in depression for a week."
"I'm over that now. See, why don't we go out? Go to a bar, or something. I can teach you how to reel in the opposite sex at least long enough for you to lead them back to your apartment – and then, well, throw a blindfold over them, because I'm quite positive all of this beige will scare them off right away."
Her eyes narrowed at him, as she fetched the teapot. "I know what you're trying to do, Malfoy – I'm not stupid. Another one of your ploys to get a drink. Did you really believe I'd fall for that one? It's insulting, really. I was Head Girl our seventh year. You could give me a bit of credit."
"If you were feeling nice, then maybe, yes." Then he looked at her, at her starchy shirt. No wrinkles in her outfit whatsoever, just impeccable. A stray curl hovered beside her eye as she set up her teapot on the stove, her eyes focused on her concoction, her cheeks still flushed from the cold. "Granger, I've never seen you have any fun."
She snorted. "My definition of fun is much more different than—"
"The rest of the world's?" Draco finished off for her. "Now, see, I don't believe that. I believe you find joy in at least some of the things we find joy in, but you just don't indulge in them, because you feel they're below you. Simpleton-like behavior. Am I right or am I right?"
"Neither. You're wrong," she said, appearing amused. "I'm busy. I don't have time to get all dolled up in an obscenely short miniskirt and smear on pounds of make-up in hopes of attracting some slob at a club. I apologize if I've got a little bit more integrity for that."
"Then exactly how do you intend on meeting the man of your dreams?" Draco asked, curious. "Do you think he'll just somehow end up at your doorstep? Fall from the sky, maybe? Or maybe it's simply that you're not looking, because you think you've already found him."
He was watching her closely. She'd frozen in place, the muscles in her shoulders tensed underneath her wrinkle-free cotton shirt. He could see her face in the reflection from the glass window – both their reflections, actually. His taunting expression with his impish-like smirk hovering behind her blank, surprised one. And he watched as it turned into something else – the lines on her face became sharp and guarded, and she began to move again. Slowly, at first, and then with forced casualty.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course you do, Granger. It's perfectly obvious you're utterly in love with Hero Boy. Isn't that another reason why Weasley never comes around here anymore? Took me a while, but all that sitting, caged up in my room wasn't all spent pondering on the uselessness of my being, you know."
She shook her head. "Your head must be so far up your own arsehole if you feel like you can just come in here and start talking about my friendships with such authority."
"Look, I don't mean any trouble." What a strange sentence for him to say. So strange, in fact, that it left a peculiar taste in his mouth. "I just wanted to know if you wanted to talk about it, you know, like… a friend," he said, muttering the last part.
He didn't mention that he saw the look on her face whenever Potter talked about some new girl he'd met, or some date he'd gone on. Sometimes he'd be sitting on the sofa while they talked to each other in the kitchen, and he'd glance over. He didn't understand how Potter could be so blind to the utter suffering in front of him. It was a joy to watch, really. The tension, the forced nonchalance, the desperately-hidden yearning. It was also utterly sickening.
"Or, you know, not."
"How about not?" she said, her voice frigid.
"But we were bonding," he pointed out. "Bonding is good."
She sent him a withering look, before going to her room with her hot cocoa. He stared after her, hearing the slam of her door.
He'd gone to Dervish and Banges. It was not his fault that he'd happened to meet a girl there, and that something happened. They hit it off, like they say – perhaps it had to do with the fact that he wasn't smelly anymore, and he cleaned up quite well. He'd gone to Dervish and Banges to get a few books, since it didn't look like he was going to be doing anything in Granger's Palace of Boredom, and he'd always liked reading books to some extent. Of course, he had to put it on his tab. Nevermind that the Ministry had confiscated all of his funds – he'd pay them back later, when he'd had all of his things back and after he'd gone after each of those bureaucratic bastards in a way that made their testicles shrivel back into their bodies.
It was the loud bang that did it. It'd woken them straight up, and she'd even almost fallen off his bed.
He looked in the doorway and there she was. Granger. And she didn't look very happy about his good lay, either. She took one look at the two of them and then she started to yell.
"What in the bloody hell do you think you're doing, Malfoy?"
"Well, as you can see in front of you, Granger—" he began, gesturing to the woman next to him.
"What the hell is this sock doing on the doorknob?" she shouted, her face flushed red with anger. He began to feel an inching dread inside of him, like watching the dark rain clouds rolling in for a storm. But he kept his cool. It was the only thing he could do.
"It's code, Granger," he explained dryly. "It means—"
"Well, I know what the bloody hell it means, Malfoy! What I'm asking is how on earth did you get the idea in your daft head that you're allowed to do this in my flat?"
"Look, I should probably go," the woman next to him said, gathering up her clothes and making a dash for it. She ducked around Hermione, and Draco got a good last glimpse of her bum. He smirked. Granger flung the sock at him, and it landed straight on his forehead.
"Are you upset because I didn't introduce you? Because I was going to, at breakfast. Her name's Trisha. She's a healer. At least, I think that's what she said. I can't remember. But I know it starts with an H."
"What – makes – you – think – you – can – bring – girls – in – here," she seethed.
"I just thought that, as long as we didn't make too much noise and eat your food without reimbursing you, that it'd be all right."
"All right?" she repeated, in disbelief. "You think bringing girls into a flat you don't even co-own, let alone pay for, is all right?"
"Well, when you put it that way—"
"What goes on in that little skull of yours, Malfoy?" she said incredulously, her arms waving about, frustrated. "I'm utterlyamazed at how much damage you could possibly do to the people around you. God, if Harry hadn't"— It was then she did something rather frightening. She let out this loud shriek, and he jumped in his bed, scared for his life. Then she stormed out, slamming his door.
"God, I want to kill you!" he heard her yell outside.
He'd snuck out for some supper when he was sure she wasn't there. He'd just been looking around when he found a note in the rubbish bin – not like he dug in the trash or anything of the sort, but he'd noticed it was Potter's stationery from his office.
He never said he was a gentleman, so he read it. He figured it was from yesterday.
Dropped by to see if you were home yet. It's 6pm. Wanted to tell you that I can't make dinner tonight. I met this girl, her name's Abby, from the market. Sorry.
P.S. Also, tried to ring you, but your temp is incompetent. Fire her immediately.
It explained a few things. Such as why she blew such an explosive fuse. Rejected and scorned, she took her anger out on him. And Trisha. It was all Potter's fault.
That woman-shagging pretentious sod.
"Hermione told me what happened," Potter said, arranging some things on his desk. He looked up at him, incredulously. "Tell me she was joking. You seriously brought a girl in?"
"You make it seem as if getting a lay once in a while is a crime," Draco muttered, sitting down on the armchair in front of him. "It's not my fault I'm irresistible even if I am homeless."
"Oh, it's not," he said, "but doing it in a flat you don't even pay for…"
"If it makes you feel any better, I fully intend on paying her back for any traumatic experiences she may have experienced during my stay once they release my account back to me. I'll even pay for her therapy or psychiatric treatment for however long she needs it." He tried to smooth a crease out in his trousers. "I'm surprised you aren't paying for it. It's clear to me that she's been in need of it for quite a long time."
"I know this might be a far-fetched idea for someone as socially-inconsiderate as you," Potter said, but have you tried telling her that you're sorry?"
Draco gave him a dry look, to which he nodded and said, "Right. How stupid for me to even bring it up."
Draco stared at him. Just stared.
"What?" Potter asked, after a few seconds of silence. "You've stopped blinking. It's scary."
"It's this lighting," Draco replied. "It makes your hair look a little brown. It's fascinating."
He rolled his eyes. "Listen, you've got to make it up to her, all right? It doesn't have to be sorry. I'm sure even uttering those words would somehow cause you to foam from the mouth. But something that at least lets her know you're. . . sorry. That you have a soul. Or part of one. A really tiny part."
"Potter. I am not going to shag Granger, no matter how much you pay me."
"Please shut up before I rethink everything I'm doing for you. I'm going to be honest with you, Malfoy: I'm not entirely sure just how long this Ministry business is going to take. So I suggest you be smart for once and not make any enemies – especially if you're going to be living under her roof. Got it?"
"I hate," Draco said, "all of you. Both individually and collectively. From all angles."
Potter only smiled at him, not fazed the least bit. He figured sentiments such as these from a currently evicted and broke childhood bully were measly and trivial after having faced the Dark Lord in in the battle to end all battles. "You," he only said, "are very welcome, Draco."
It took him quite a while to think up something to "make her happy," especially considering his financial cramp. It also took him quite a while to swallow down his pride to even consider doing something like this for her. But Potter was right. Tense living situations (as if it hadn't already been tense before) were horrible, horrible things. He slept with one eye open, thinking she'd come in with her shiny little key and stab him to death with a stiletto heel. Being enemies with Granger was a lot more fun when he wasn't indebted to her. Or living in her house.
"Take her on a picnic," his mother told him one night. "Women love picnics. Just make certain there aren't any big bugs around. There's nothing more unattractive than swatting flies around your face all day long."
So that's exactly what he did. He bit back his pride, and he packed up a little picnic for them. And he met her at work, which clearly disturbed her a little, and he understood why. But he dropped by for lunch with his little picnic basket and they had lunch on the lawn outside her office, because people had been giving them strange looks and whispering amongst themselves and Draco thought that it was hardly an environment to have a picnic lunch in. Negative vibes could ruin everything.
"Harry told you to do this," she said, taking a bite of her sandwich. She looked skeptical, but at least she wasn't ready to bite off his head anymore. Was his mother secretly a genius?
"He didn't give me a step-by-step manual, if that's what you're saying," Draco said smugly. "He said I had to make it up to you, so that you won't kill me in my sleep. I came up with the picnic idea myself. And I made the sandwiches, too."
She nodded, chewing. "Impressive. Peanut butter and jelly. With the crust even cut off. You're quite the homemaker."
See, peculiar thing. When she smiled (and she hardly ever smiled around him, so this was rather new) he realized she didn't have her protruding little beaver teeth anymore. In fact, nothing about her was very beaver-like anymore – not even her hair. Sure, it got to be frizzy when it was humid and when it rained, but it wasn't beastly. At least, not anymore.
Draco stared at her as she ate, dressed in her suit. She'd taken off her blazer to sit on it in the grass (typical woman – afraid of grass stains), her hair half pulled back, and he realized how much she'd changed since they'd been in school. She hadn't been this way – at least, not completely. Not the executive type that dressed in boring things and pined after oblivious overglorified idiots with awful facial scarring. No, in fact, her type had been temperamental, freckly idiot redheads. It was mind-boggling. In fact, it made him think about how much he'd changed since they'd been in school.
Well, he no longer had a home (for the time being). They'd frozen his account at Gringott's, so he was also currently broke. He was living with Potter's puppy with the help of Potter. His father wasn't lording over him anymore (at least, in flesh and blood). The Dark Lord was dead. And he was a "good person" now, at least, when he wasn't shagging girls in a flat he didn't own, or even co-own.
In his mind, that was enough to very well indicate how much things had changed since then.
"That look you have on your face is starting to get awfully creepy, Malfoy. Knock it off."
"Say, Granger. If you had to say, who do you think has changed the most since Hogwarts?"
Her eyebrows slowly inched up her forehead, taking a sip of her coffee. "Out of everyone?"
"Yes. Everyone." Then he thought about it. "No, I lied. Between you, me, Weasley, and Potter. Everyone else is completely unimportant."
She laughed, before she bit her lip, thinking. "Well, let's think, shall we? You've got no home, no job, no money, no Crabbe and Goyle following your every order – need I go on? You're the winner, no contest. Congratulations."
"Is that a good thing?"
She shrugged. "Depends on how you look at it."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "How do you look at it? As a bad thing or a good thing?"
She blinked, looking at him. It was obvious she was certainly pondering the question, and strange how their eyes never left each other's. But he wished he could see into her brain sometimes, just to see how she saw things. Not because she was a woman, but because she was… her. Her mind was like a Thinking Dome, 24-7. It was fascinating. Then again, most of the time he was glad he didn't have such a power. He shuddered to think what went on in there. She probably had a little corner reserved for Potter, like a shrine. And that would disturb him, even though now he was sure little teenage girls everywhere had posters of him taped up in their bedroom walls.
"Considering you aren't going around terrorizing innocent people in hallways and are instead drowning your miserable existence in liquor… it's close, but for the world's sake? A good thing." She seemed a little hesitant to disclose this information, as if she was silently agreeing that yes, perhaps he was a "good guy" now (the phrase was used cautiously), but she managed a tiny smile after she said what she said. Which – he would never tell a soul – but made him feel a little warm inside. Was this how it felt to do nice things for people? Merlin, was it permanent?
He shook it off.
She took another sip from the cup. "But don't be mistaken – I still hate your guts."
Draco leaned back on the grass, feeling it tickle his wrists and arms. Spots of sunshine filtered through the shade of the tree above them, and one of the spots shone right on the peak of her left breast.
He smirked, before taking a good swig of his own drink. "Don't worry your frizzy little head, Granger. I'd hate to think of a world where you actually didn't."
"Unfathomable," she agreed. "Wanker."
"Perfectly unreal," he said. "Bitch."
They sat there and enjoyed their picnic until they were finished, and he packed everything up and went back to the flat, feeling slight contentment at the fact that he had somehow restored order to the world.