A/N: Thank you all so much for the reads and feedback! Your devotion and patience has been awesome, and as a reward, here is the final chapter 4 years in the friggin' making. It's been so fun writing this but now at least I can cross this fic off my unnecessarily-lengthy WIP list. Hurrah!
Draco had once heard the phrase "No man is an island" and thought about how his very existence (and ultimate goal in life) disproved that statement. After all, what was an island? A mass of land isolated in the middle of a large body of water, and – if untouched by Muggle globalization – was ideally self-sustaining and self-sufficient. An island felt no need to socialize with other islands or land masses (repulsive), felt no need to initiate nor keep a connection (overly sentimental), and felt no need to pretend or deny its very nature and essence as an island (unapologetic grace). Geographically, an island was just an island. It felt nothing.
Now that he was back in his Manor, Draco felt the need to rebuild his status as an island. It was both easy and difficult all at once, as per the usual character of life. It was easy because he was back in his place of comfort and childhood and the memories and feelings of both ingrained solitary living and familiarity brought him back to his old habits. But he still felt as if he was suffering from the hangover of having lived a different life in a different place for a while. Things happened to him there. And as much as he tried, he couldn't erase them, nor could he do so much as dilute them with indifference while they were still fresh on his mind.
"Klaus has been very loyal to Master while he has been away. Klaus has been giving the Ministry workers a very difficult time," his house-elf assured him when he returned. "Klaus is very glad they gave the Manor back to Master."
Klaus's was not the only familiar face that greeted him when he returned to his Manor. His old friend Blaise Zabini also stopped by, and they sat in his parlor smoking cigars and drinking scotch like how their fathers used to when they were young. There was a sad dull luster to it all, like seeing someone who used to be famous and was now just living off of the remains of a glamorous past life.
"They just gave me back my Manor as well," Blaise told him. "The smug bastards. Took a few things and cleared out nearly half my inheritance, but at least all that rubbish has been sorted." He breathed out, a billow of smoke snaking out of his lips. "Do you think our fathers knew this was going to happen to us?"
Draco poured himself another drink. The truth is that he was tired of thinking about his father. He doubted his father was thinking much of him right now, simply because the man was dead, and frankly he couldn't help but feel immensely relieved at that. Which was probably how the Germans felt about Hitler. He couldn't believe he was comparing his father to Hitler.
"Fuck our fathers, Zabini," he said.
Blaise nodded. "Well, at least everything's back to normal, right? We can go on with our lives like they were before. Hell, we could even pretend this never even happened."
Draco raised his glass to this albeit having worn out this argument in his head that it now sounded as convincing as it had been listening to Granger go on about not being in love with Potter. Draco, after all, had never been truly averse to faking it.
"To being an island," Draco said.
"Sure," said Blaise, shrugging. "I love islands. They smell like pineapples."
He had just returned from a trip to Diagon Alley to Klaus letting him know that he had a woman sitting in his parlor, waiting for him. He slowly removed his damp coat, staring at his house-elf.
"Klaus, I said no visitors," he said, even though his eyes flickered to the doors of his parlor and couldn't deny that his heart had started beating faster than normal.
"Klaus knows Master's wishes, but Miss said it was important. Miss said she was your friend. Klaus thought Master could do with some friends after being gone for so long."
Draco rolled his eyes. Leave it to his autonomous house-elf to ruin his progress as an island. "Next time, Klaus, do as Master says, okay? Don't let anyone in unless I say so. Got it? And," he said, firmly, "if they say they're a friend, kick them out immediately."
Klaus nodded with his large eyes and took Draco's coat before Draco, sighing, made his way over to his parlor. He decided his first words to her would be to tell her to get out. She had ruined his life enough already. What was she doing here, anyway? He'd overheard her talking about his Manor once, and how it repulsed her because it stood for everything that was despicable about the human race. He'd excused that, however, because that was just how poor people talked. Take the Palace of Versailles, for example. He was sure all the starving peasants had said something along those lines at that time.
When he opened the door, there was, of course, Granger sitting there. She stood up when she heard him come in, and they just stared at each other for a silent second. He unfazedly took in her flushed cheeks as he closed the door behind him.
"Using our supposed friendship to weasel into my Manor isn't very becoming of you, Granger," he drawled. His voice had an unmistakable edge to it – what was it? Oh yeah, the harsh intonation of bitterness. It was the only way to mask the pathetic yearning he still felt in his bones when he saw her, or even did so much as think of her. Cover up the pitiable with the negative. If he was lucky she'd still be the same Granger and his complete rudeness would drive her away.
She smiled at him, though barely. "How else are you supposed to reach an island, Malfoy?"
That stunned him for a few moments, almost questioning whether Granger had suddenly attained the ability to read minds, but he quickly shook that off. He glared at her. "What are you doing here? Checking to see if I'm back to my old habits, drowning my sorrows in hard liquor? Do you need to smell my breath to check if I'm drunk, right this very moment?" He scoffed at her, crossing his arms. "Did Potter tell you to come here?"
It stung even when he said it himself.
"Harry doesn't even know I'm here," she said, her voice starting to get on edge. "I just wanted to talk, Malfoy. Is that so impossible with us?"
"I don't know, Granger – is it? We don't talk. We insult, hiss, growl, curse, and fight with each other. But talking? I wouldn't even begin to know what that sounds like."
In his mind, he could hear his unremarkable inner dialogue. I hate you, please go away. I just need you to leave me alone so I can move on. Spare me the gentle letdown. If you really wanted to do me a sodding favor, you could move to Ibiza, or someplace I could never get to you. Because I hate the way you make me feel. Like for once in my life, I don't deserve the one thing I really want. And I can't handle that.
Her voice was quiet, almost sad. "That's not true, is it? We've talked. I can count the occasions on one hand, it's true, but they happened."
He looked away, clenching his jaw. "Spare me the fluff, Granger. If you aren't Potter's gopher, then why are you here?"
He tensed when she closed in on him, slowly, her eyes hardening from his frigid response. He was familiar with this look – but not all of it. There was something else in there too, the unreadable part, the part was he afraid to decipher if such a thing were even possible.
"You can't do this, Malfoy. You can't just spring something like you being in love with me out of the blue and then act all frigid and hateful. It's unfair."
"Go on, then," he said back at her. "Tell me how it's unfair. Tell me how you've spent weeks not sleeping, going over that night in fine detail. Tell me how you trace back your steps to figure out how it all happened and then, in a paralyzing mental breakthrough, realize that none of it matters anyway because it won't tell you how to sodding get rid of it, would it?"
Her eyes were doing that thing again, as they flickered across his face. That whole doe-eyed, warm cinnamon, honey in the summertime thing. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He hated it. He hated that she could still affect him this way, even in his Manor, even on his own domain, even on his own fucking terms.
"Is it really so terrible, being in love with me?" she whispered.
He just stood there, unable to move. That was what telling the truth did to him. It made him grow roots.
He let out a silent breath to try and ease the mounting pressure in his lungs. "Yes," he said. "It is all that, Granger. And more."
She stepped back from him, as if stung. "Maybe I was insane to think that I could just come here to tell you that I miss you and that I'm sorry for my reaction that night and it'd all go just fine and dandy. Maybe thinking that was like asking for a fairytale." She turned around, as if heading out to leave, but then stopped and whirled back around to face him. He watched her with his heart in his throat.
"No, I need to say this. I need to say this to your face. You think it's hard for you? Wake up, Malfoy! You're not the only person here that felt things they thought they shouldn't have. You're not the only one conflicted by this situation. You want the sodding truth? Yes, I never thought I would ever like you. I never thought I would ever miss having you around. If someone would have come up to me months ago to tell me that I would dropping by your offensively large mansion to tell you that I miss your stupid prat head hanging around my flat, and that I've spent every night since then building up the courage to come here, I would have laughed them straight into the next calendar year. Then I would have also started to prepare myself for the end of the world just in case they were right."
She took a breath, her dark glittering eyes still fixed on him.
"But I'm here, aren't I? I'm trying to talk to you and I hate it. Because it's like asking a wall to come down knowing full well it won't. So don't feel sorry for yourself, Malfoy. Feel sorry for the girl foolish enough to try." She took another step back, shaking her head. "Good luck spending the rest of your life alone, Malfoy. I hope being an island turns out to be everything you ever wanted."
And then she walked out. Out of the room, out of the Manor, and out of his life. He should have felt relieved. He should have felt the reshifting of energies, the restoration of the balance in the world. He should have felt like the old Draco at the prime of his self-centeredness and effortless disregard for the feelings of others. Happy to see her go.
But he wasn't the old Draco. He needed to come to terms with this. It tore him up to see her go, maybe even literally it felt like, but his mind was still reeling from what she had revealed to him and by the time he had definitely understood what she had come here to do, and that yes, that night at the playground she had felt it too – that it all had been fucking real – he had run through the halls of his Manor to see Klaus, his incompetent house-elf, standing in the main doorway, alone.
"Miss is gone, Master," Klaus said.
And the funny thing was that she was. She really fucking was.
"She was never supposed to make it inside in the first place," he said under his breath.
One of the perks of being back at the Manor was being able to fly again. He went for daily rides around his estate and sometimes wouldn't be back for hours. He'd done this ever since he'd gotten his first broom when he needed room to think, because even his vast Manor could be stifling sometimes. That was the thing, wasn't it? Gargantuan as it was, it still had walls, and walls had the tendency of adapting the illusion that they were closing in on you. What he needed in those moments was open air, not a single wall in sight. Just him and the sky.
While he flew he tried not to think about the incident in the Quidditch match against Viktor and his teammates, when Granger had been the first one to come to his aid. He tried not to think of it – which meant, of course, that he thought about it constantly. He even relived it sometimes in his head, trying to remember how it felt to be close to her again without worrying about its implications. Because that's what ruins things, doesn't it? Implications that punctuated every moment that might mean something. Maybe even the fear alone that some moments could, indeed, mean something – or could even mean everything. That a few mere seconds could change your whole life.
He entered the Manor, his skin still tingling from his morning ride, when he saw Klaus standing there, as if waiting for him. Draco had walked right past him, but then slowed down and backtracked when he saw Potter sitting in his living room.
"Fucking hell" was the first amongst many in the string of curse words he iterated.
"Don't get angry at your house-elf, Malfoy," Potter said, leisurely sipping from a glass like the great big ponce he was. "I insisted being let in. Plus, I'm Harry Potter. I'm famous and universally loved. The poor thing couldn't help it."
"Not here," Draco said, glaring at Klaus, who now only had the decency to look ashamed, bowing his head in shame. "How is it that the out of all the house-elves that belonged to my family, the Ministry chose to leave me with the single most incompetent one of them all?"
"Don't listen to him, Klaus," Potter said to his house-elf. "He has a tendency to say things he doesn't mean when he's cranky. Which, I imagine, has been a continuous thing lately. I apologize on his behalf."
Draco glared at Potter and commanded Klaus to leave, which he did so with another mumbled apology and a snap of his fingers, leaving the two of them alone.
"Malfoy, I think you know why I'm here," Potter said. "Hermione told me she stopped by. Well, not really told me, verbally, but I saw it all over her face. That's the thing about Hermione, mate. She's as transparent as a wet t-shirt sometimes. I can tell from a mile away when she's had a run-in with you."
"Don't tell me," he said dryly. "She wears the expression of one who has just lost all faith in humanity."
"Listen, mock her all you want, all right, Malfoy? I know you don't mean it. At least not anymore," Potter said. "The night after your party Ron let me in on your little secret. And maybe I was daft not to have seen it firsthand for myself, but when he told me, it made all the sense in the world. The punch, the tension, the eviction. Bloody hell! The thing is, I knew Hermione would come after you sooner or later once she'd gotten her head all sorted out. She's a good person that way. And I was hoping you'd prove us wrong for a change, and show her she had good reason to show up here. That it could be worth it, putting yourself out there sometimes, even for someone like you. Hell," he snorted, "for someone precisely like you."
"I should have known you would have come here to lecture me on my behavior," Draco scoffed. "Like you're the sodding Head Boy of the fucking universe. I'm surprised Weasley isn't here, pulling out my intestines and using it as a feather boa as we speak. I'm rather disappointed, actually. He really made me think I had it coming."
Potter shook his head. "So that's how it's going to be, is it? You finally get your stupid Manor back and you pretend like nothing ever happened? Is it really that easy for you?" He said this in a way that clearly let Draco know he knew that it wasn't, which irritated him even more so.
"What am I supposed to do, Potter?" he snapped. "Gab about it to my girlfriends? Well? Go ahead, tell me what I'm supposed to do like you've proved you're so keen on doing." He sharply inhaled, running one hand through his wind-beaten hair. "Look, I think about it. A lot, okay? I can't help it. It's torture. I can't sleep, I've barely eaten, can't even do so much as a take sip of scotch without her sodding voice in my head – and I hate her. I do."
Potter looked a mix of both relief and resignation. "You don't hate her," he said. "You love her."
"Right now I can't really see the difference," Draco said bitterly.
"She's miserable without you. It's painful to watch, really. Who would have thought, right?" Potter chuckled ironically. "That you two would make each other the most miserable by being apart?"
Then he stood up to leave, giving him a serious look. "Listen. She came here to tell you that she missed you. She was brave enough to enter your scary Manor to tell you this, to tell you her personal truth on your terms. And then you let her walk out. It's simple as fucking day, Draco: if you didn't barricade that door with your own flesh to try to keep her from walking out, then you don't deserve her."
He paused to punctuate his monologue, ensuring Draco adequate time to absorb this, which Draco thought was a little much but this was Potter, who could pretty much do whatever he fucking wanted.
"Luckily I still have faith in you, despite the numerous ways you have disappointed me and the rest of mankind. We're holding a party for Hermione this weekend for her birthday, at her flat. Eight o'clock. Stay here in your depressing little hole or show up and possibly put an end to your misery. But do what you want. Settle this, and be sure about it."
Then Potter came around, heading towards the door. "I'll show myself out. By the way, this Manor would be great for parties. With some proper lighting it might not look like a sad yet ornately decorated Turkish prison."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Don't you have some poor girl to shag and poison with false hopes of becoming your girlfriend?"
Potter held up his hands. "I'm going, I'm going, you wanker. I know how incredibly possessive you are of your pretentious little house. Though it wouldn't kill you to seem a little grateful, you know. A man could go mad without a bit of social interaction every now and then. That is," he said, "assuming you are a man. Ron thinks you're the illegitimate child of Grendel and Hitler."
And as Potter left, he couldn't help but think of what his ancestors would have to say about this – A Muggleborn (that he was in love with, no less) and Potter having dropped by his house all in the span of a week. They would be horrified, of course, and would condemn him for tainting the family property. As if Lucius hadn't done that enough already, allowing the Manor to fall into the Ministry's hands and letting his only son be evicted to live with people who probably cried tears of joy sometime in their lives and hugged whenever they felt like it. The horrors Draco'd had to live through under their roof. They were simply indescribable.
But that was the good thing about the dead. They could no longer tell him how to live his life. As long as he didn't walk down that part of the Manor, anyway.
Draco Lucius Malfoy was ten years old when he flew for the first time. He still remembered the day with startling clarity – it had been sunny with rare clear blue skies, with his father expectantly standing with him on the grass. Even then Draco had known the height of his father's expectations for him, and when he tried to clutch the broom firmly in his hands his palms had been moist with the eager desperation to please him and his stomach had been tied into uneasy knots with the fear of what would happen if he didn't. When he looked down at the ground and when he looked up at the endless sky all he could see were the consequences that awaited him, whether he were to fail or succeed.
He finally got a good grip on his broom and concentrated with every living cell in his body, begging to be airborne. Then he opened his eyes to see that he was. His father was growing smaller and smaller in his view, being swallowed up by the immense green of their lawn until he was a mere speck on the earth and for a good second he remembered thinking how nice it was to see his father this way, so small and insignificant and so ordinary, and could hardly remember why he had been so afraid of him in the first place.
He felt the warm sun on his skin and felt the crisp breeze in his air and even though he still felt the fear of making one small mistake and plunging down to his death, he wished he could stay there forever. Far away from everything, with the sun on his face. And yet even in the pure undeniable beauty of that moment, he looked down at his father, this almost unrecognizable figure on the ground, and instead of feeling the scrambling panic for validation, he felt security. He knew that if he were to pick up his hands and allow himself to free-fall from so high up in the sky, his father would not let him touch the ground. He knew it at that moment and knew it for the moments after that. That Lucius Malfoy may have been a wayward, terrible person and a manipulative, glory-whipped father, but that he wasn't all bad. Somewhere deep inside there was still something that connected him to the rest of humanity. And that it was small but it was still enough.
As Draco knocked on Granger's flat door and waited there impatiently for her to answer, he realized that this moment was a lot like him learning how to fly for the first time. He felt the fear and recognized the rarity of this moment and physically felt all of his senses racing. And in his mind he could almost make out her metaphorical figure underneath him, waiting to catch him if he fell – that is, if he wasn't too late. Timing, he knew, was everything. But she had done it once before and that had been no accident.
Realizing that there was nobody home to answer, he stood there for a second, thinking, before it clicked. He took the stairs to the top floor, went down to the end the hallway, through another door, and saw that the door to the rooftop was still unlocked by his former design. Taking a breath, he pushed the door open and stepped out.
And there she was, all right. Sitting on one of the lawn chairs, gazing out at the night scenery, a glass of wine set down on the floor by her right foot. He took a deep breath.
He took the seat next to her. She didn't even do as much as glance at him as she took a sip from her wineglass. Behind the glass, however, he thought he could make out the most miniscule smile.
"You're late," was all she said. "The party ended four hours ago. It was lovely, you know. Harry did a great job at organizing it. It went so perfectly it was almost surprising. I suppose that's what happens when there isn't someone there who's always looking for a fight."
"If I went to your party, Granger, I'd actually have to talk to all those dreaded people," he told her. "I would've spent all night pretending to be interested in their stories, all the while silently scanning the crowd for you, waiting to steal you away when you weren't being smothered by all of your sappy friends so that I could drag you outside to be alone. And then just when I had finally started to say what I really needed to say, Potter or Weasley in all of their protective glory would come barreling through the door to brutally sever any mere semblance of alone time we might have had. So I figured I'd be smart and come afterwards, when they were all far, far away."
By this, what he really meant was, I didn't want to waste any of my time with any of those sods. I came here tonight because all I really care about is you. As he waited silently he watched her face to see if she had caught on to it at all.
Finally, she looked at him. She delicately set her glass down on the cement and when she looked up she took his breath away, honestly. Both poetically and literally. She had dressed up for this occasion, wearing a red dress and impressive heels that were now discarded in a heap beside her chair, showing him the soft pink undersides of her feet, ankles tucked one behind the other. Her hair had been loosely pinned up but a few strands of cinnamon brown hair had fallen, hovering beside her chin. It struck him how long it had taken for him to realize how naturally impressive she was, something that he had unfortunately mistaken for plainness before. She was stunning in a way that comforted him and made him nervous, all at the same time.
"So are you going to tell me why you're here? Or do I have to ask?" she said, quietly.
"I came because I have a gift for you," he said, smirking at her as he dug into his pocket. He held out a flat, palm-sized box. "Happy birthday, Granger."
She took it, giving him a curious look, before lifting up the cover. It was a key. Rusted and large and unlike any key she'd seen in her life. Her look of confusion only deepened, and it occurred to him that she might be expecting this to be a joke.
"It's to your stupid little Muggle playground, near your house," he explained. "You told me that when you were younger you always felt like it was yours. Now it is. Officially. You can swing on those blasted things like a demented woman-child for the rest of your life if you wanted."
She couldn't help but smile at him, then. Even Granger, in her predisposition to hate him after his shitty treatment of her the last time they'd been face to face, could not deny the niceness of his gesture. Because that was what this was, wasn't it? A gesture. A big fucking gesture. Something that said, I'm here, I want you, and this is how I can show it without having to butcher the English language. And he could tell, just from looking at her, that she got it. She understood. Did he ever have any doubt, though? This was Hermione fucking Granger here. The smartest witch that had ever graced the halls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and sodding Wizardry. Even now he had a feeling that she might have known this would happen even before he did.
"Draco," she said, being very serious, "is this what you really want? Because you have to tell me now. I'm done playing games. If you're in, you're in until it becomes unbearably horrid and even then there is the vague possibility that you're going to have to gnaw yourself out to escape alive."
He wanted to laugh. He wanted to laugh because it was so fucking true, what she said. About how they both knew without a doubt that these feelings were not for the fainthearted, that if they were to really let this happen, it would probably consume them completely and that to get out alive they would have to do so painfully and lose bits and parts of them in the process. And he had this feeling that he should be afraid – more afraid than he actually was – at the concept of this all-or-nothing kind of endeavor – of which was certainly unprecedented in his life – but it was hard to be when she was looking at him that way. Like it almost hurt her to hope so much. He wanted to laugh at that too because he knew the feeling. God help him if he didn't know that feeling like it was the palm of his hand, if it hadn't hovered him like a raincloud, if it hadn't kept him company on sleepless nights. He knew that feeling, all right. And he knew it intimately.
"Granger," he drawled, wanting to grab her and shake her to her senses. "Did I just give you the sodding key to your favorite Muggle playground or didn't I?"
She stared at him for a second before she finally laughed. And it was a sort of glorious sound, one that subdued softly and slowly when he reached up and traced his hand against the curve of her jaw. She didn't flinch or edge away but actually leaned into him, and suddenly he had this bizarre feeling that things were falling into place in just the right way. Something calming and quiet fell over his soul like a fresh dusting of snow. He just had that feeling.
"This," she said, softly. "It sort of feels like a dream, doesn't it? Unreal."
And as he finally kissed her he mumbled to her that yes, it felt exactly like that, but better. Because this was real.
And it was. It just really fucking was.
Thank you for reading! Don't be afraid to holler and let me know what you thought!