Chapter One: Chicken
Draco Malfoy looked at the small building in front of him. The day was beautiful - the sky was a milky blue with no clouds, and the sun shone down with great intensity, warming the hearts of everyone it graced. A light wind blew through the buildings and rustled the skirts of school girls on their first days away from school; squirrels darted up trees, chasing each other. The general bustle of activity could be heard further down the street, where shoppers and store owners went about their daily business.
What a shithole.
Being sprung from Azkaban nearly twenty years early by his nemesis, Harry Potter, did nothing to help his mood. And Potter's "alternative method of rehabilitation" meant this - seeing a shrink. House arrest. Frozen bank accounts. Confiscation papers signed and dated to the Ministry... for his entire bloody mansion. His mansion. "They just want to have a look around; you'll get it back once your term is up." Potter just had to be this little noble and self righteous prat. And of course, the low blow was that he didn't have a wand, and wouldn't be allowed to get one until all of the other shit was over and done with.
Throw me back in the fucking cell.
He knew that he was being an unappreciative little prick. But honestly, he was full of gratitude until he found out who his counselor was going to be.
Her. Bookworm extraordinaire. He could just see her little nostrils flaring already. Unbelievable.
That made everything turn to crap. Not having a wand was already torture, but add a year of house arrest that felt like ten now. Bail money - a generous amount - that felt like robbery. And this... this shrink thing... was a monster in itself.
He stepped up the concrete steps and entered a modernly furnished white room with comfy, worn blue couches along a wall and a counter on the opposite wall. There was a single painting of a waterfall on the far wall, creating water noises in the room for relaxation. Draco wanted to throw up already, and he wasn't even in the chair yet.
"Can I help you, Sir?" asked the secretary at the counter, a girl of about sixteen. If he wasn't in such a bad mood, he would have softened up his features and noticed how pretty she was.
No, you can't help me, he thought. "I'm Draco Malfoy - I have an appointment at ten."
She looked at her desk calendar, unable to hide her emotions. She'd definitely heard all about him. "Yes, you're the big one. She's waiting for you in her office - straight down the hall, third door on the left."
The building was a little bigger than it looked on the outside, but not by much. He guessed that only a dozen people worked here.
"Come in," Hermione said as he stepped in front of the doorway. She'd left the door open.
Ew. He hated her all over again. Hermione was sitting at her desk with a fresh notebook, manila folder, and self-inking quill, quite obviously creating a folder for him and shoving his background information into it. He was surprised that she didn't have a desktop computer next to her - even most of the wizarding world offices had them now-a-days. "Sit," she commanded, obviously trying to sound gentle.
His temper flared. What am I, a dog? He remained standing, waiting for her to notice.
If she did, she either didn't care or didn't feel like saying anything. She just kept on writing, working her way through documents, her quill scratching on the bleached company parchment.
Then, something occurred to him. "God, Granger, what are you doing here?"
She stopped and looked up. She knew exactly what he meant - she'd asked herself the same thing many times.
Having not graduated from school, even though she'd had a reputation at school for being a stellar student and quick learner, she'd still found it hard to get started with her life. Her hand in the Dark Lord's defeat had definitely gotten her the news coverage and the respect... but not the job she wanted.
Somewhere along the way, during her nights in the forest with Harry, she had decided what she wanted to do most - help people. In any way possible. Public service, as she knew, was the most noble profession to get rewarded so little. So becoming a part of the people who worked constantly and got little recognition felt incredibly good, despite the pay grade. In her own mind, she knew that she was working for the greater good. She became a counselor, a therapist, in order to help people get over the dark times of the Dark Lord and his followers, and especially the months following Lord Voldemort's death; with Death Eaters wrecking havoc still, struggling for a new leader and balance of power, and being caught left and right, people who didn't even know they were Death Eaters were thrown in Azkaban, and families were torn apart by deaths, vandalism, and hatred.
Her profession was the most important part in restoring the order. Because when a person's mind is not in its right place, nothing constructive could be done.
That is why she stayed. The long nights, the endless new arrivals, people she'd heard about, people she'd known, people she'd been disgusted with for their war crimes... and she had to keep a straight face. How did she manage it? A couple of anxiety pills and a lot of coffee. Not to mention her own ability, nourished with time, to keep her own emotions in check while doing something. Ignore the bad manners and the insults and just get them to talk. That's right, she would think as a patient would yell at her, get it all out. Release your anger. Soon there will be nothing left to fill that hole, and that's where I come in.
"So, let's begin with something simple." She was trying to divert his attention, and he knew it. And he knew that she knew he knew it.
"Harry Potter pleaded with the Wizenagamot that due to your family and the way you were brought up, you had no real control over anything in your life. He also said that you have a conscience and that you are a victim of brainwashing and the fear of constant torture if there was any noncompliance with Voldemort's demands." She looked at him squarely now. "Is this true, or is Harry giving you the benefit of the doubt?"
Draco snorted. He hated the way she spoke Potter's name, as if she wasn't best friends with him. He hated the way "Harry Potter," just his name, could just sum up every part of his legacy. "How am I supposed to answer that? You've already made up your mind."
"This isn't about me. It's about you. Well?"
He sat on her worn, blue couch and leaned forward. He stared at her, watching the emotions flow under her carefully placed features. On the contrary, it is all about you. Without you, there is no relief. Without you, I can't get the fuck out of here. How he loathed that face.
"You're such a fucking robot."
Hermione sighed and clenched her fists. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six...
"What are you doing, spacing out? Some kind of therapist you are..."
Five, four, three...
"Hello? Anyone home?"
"Really now. It's no wonder you're stuck in this place."
Hermione sighed again. "Shut up, Malfoy. And get out of my office. Same time tomorrow."
Draco Malfoy stared at her for another few seconds before getting up and walking out. But not before he heard her last, muttered breath: