How to Catch Fish

When she slammed the door, her entire flat shook along with it. Her glasses trilled, and she even heard a jingle in her silver drawer.

"Some words of wisdom, Granger," she hears him say from the other side of the door, "whenever some poor soul tells you they love you, it'd be preferable if you didn't kick them out of your house and slam the door in their face." There's a pause. "Just my two pence, that's all."

She opens her mouth, but no words come out. For a minute she thinks she'd gone mute, but even the panic that comes with the realization is submerged deep beneath what she is feeling now – which, uncannily, was an even bigger wave of panic. The kind of panic that you have nightmares about, the kind that you hope doesn't exist, and the kind that she used to have her mother check for underneath her bed and inside her closets.

Granted, now she was old enough to know that – that kind of panic doesn't hide in closets or clown dolls. No, it hides in blond childhood bullies.

"Are you honestly going to leave me out here? For God's sake – there's a draft out here. And your neighbor across the hall is blasting Cher."

"Yes," she finally blurts. "So I think it'd be best if you just went away."

"Oh, that's nice. Rejection from the other side of the door. Touché, Granger. You're the kind of heartbreaker people write songs about, possibly with the word 'bitch' somewhere in the title."

"I hope you know, your wit is being wasted on a door."

"This is unprecedented. Really, Granger," he continues on. "Usually when I tell women I love them their knees go weak and then are intent on devouring me with passion. So, my theory is, either you really are all that frigid and can only harbor love for orange, mischievous fur balls, or you're just that romantically inept."

His bitterness seeps in through the crack underneath her door.

"Please," she says, her clammy hands against the door, "go away. I mean it, Malfoy. I'll talk to you in the morning. I just need to think."

"Granger," he says dryly. "You can stop thinking I don't know you. By morning, you really mean next month, or somewhere along next month's lines."

"Could you possibly just be a normal person for once, and just go sulking off? Get friendly with a bottle of vodka, or your local prostitute."

"You mean your local prostitute. Have you forgotten I'm still here, in the hallway of your flat building, in your neighborhood, in your part of town?"

She closes her eyes and wishes on some falling star out there that he would just go away. She feels uncomfortable, confused – panicked. And she doesn't like feeling this, and doesn't like how it meshes so well with an awkward confrontation.

"You're right," she hears him mutter. "My wit is being wasted. But listen here, Granger. I'm not going to go to your rooftop and burst a lung just so you'll believe me. I'm not going to hire blimps or fancy airplanes or send you bouquets of flowers at your job. I'm not even going to write you a card. That's why I came here – and asked to watch your basic cable-only TV, drink your light beer, and tolerate your dumb cat. If you didn't see it, then you're stupid. But I don't blame you – because, apparently," he sighs, "I'm even stupider."

"This is nice, you calling me stupid," she snaps. But inside her throats are little lumps, like those dry, ancient lemon candies her grandmother used to give her every time she came over. The kind that she always had to spit out because she couldn't ever swallow them down.

"I'm talking to a door, remember?"

For a minute the thought occurs to her that maybe she should open it. The door. Maybe she should open the door and talk to him, face to face. But her face is still all too warm, like somebody's just turned her heater up in her apartment, and for some reason she feels as if she'll just turn into a bowl of jelly if she opens up the door and sees him. The door – it's her lifesaver right now. If she opens it, it'll be like willingly volunteering to be a tragic death in the ocean.

And she can't even swim.

"Open the door, Granger." His voice is serious, now. Low.

She takes a deep breath. "I would rather not."

"If you're that concerned about your looks, I'm sure you have a paper bag lying around somewhere." Then he pauses, as if he'd just caught himself – this is different, because usually the biting remarks fly out one after the other, with no ounce of remorse to slow him down. "Although, you know, you aren't bad-looking."

"I can't let you in here," she tells him.

"Why not? I was just in there a minute ago."

"But things are different now."

"Telling somebody you love them tends to do that." Then he tells her, "Just open the door, Granger. I'm not going to try anything. I won't even step inside your flat without your permission, if that's what you're so afraid of."

"Why?" she asks. Her heart is all a-flutter, like how they used to say, and it makes her even more uneasy. She knows it's a stupid question but she wants to ask it, anyway. Just to stall.

"You're stalling."

"Does it matter?"

"Not to you it doesn't. You're all warm and comfy in that little flat of yours and are, as I assume, feeling all warm and tingly from the fact that you have a great amount of power in this situation."

"It's funny," she remarks. "It's funny that with all this power you say I have now, I can't even make you leave."

"I'm laughing on the inside, Granger. Now open the door."

She thinks about it, and she feels great doubt, but her hand encloses around the cold metal doorknob, anyhow. She does this slowly, hesitantly, before she opens her door – and there he is. He doesn't look any different, but the ground underneath her feet feels like quicksand, and that if she doesn't hold onto something quick enough she just might sink.

"Thanks," he tells her, though he says this so coolly it doesn't even seem like it matters. "Now, what's the matter?"

She's a little shocked at how he can be so calm about what he'd just told her seconds before she'd kicked him out of her apartment. "You mean apart from the fact of what you just told me? Not much else, Malfoy. I was having a normal day at work, where the coffee was burnt again and somebody completely ignored the label on my sandwich and ate my lunch. My car did a lousy job of starting up and I was in the parking lot for twenty minutes in the freezing cold – not to mention there was a traffic jam on the eight."

"And that's my fault? That your car's a sodding piece of trash? Honestly, I know you're one to point the finger but I didn't think you'd be irrational."

"Would you – stop bloody interrupting me, would you?" she snaps. "I hate that. I hate that you always have to cut me off in order to make some witty or insensitive comment. Know what else I hate? I hate that you just come over any time you feel like it, and I hate that you know where everything is in my flat, and that you find my emergency key even though I always find new places to hide it – and I hate that you know exactly how I like my tea and that you lock Crookshanks out in the hallway."

"I gave him a time-out," he says defensively. "Somebody's got to be a disciplinarian around here. Your blasted cat is too sodding scratch-friendly, and you like that?"

"You make fun of the way I pick out the blueberries in my blueberry muffin, and you always make snide remarks about the way I dress. You're a slacker, but you're a perfectionist. You're a bloody paradox and utterly, completely contradictory. And – you borrow my CDs without even asking."

He's scowling at her, now. As if she'd just aired out his dirty laundry, and for once in a very long time – something is familiar. His face, there's a trace of disdain and annoyance on it, that curly little lip of his – it's familiar, and for some reason this frightens her and thrills her at the same time. She has never been so aware of change as much as she is now, and that's when she realizes that things can happen – can change – without you even knowing it. One day, you're just going to wake up, and everything's going to be different, even though they'd been different for a very long time. It's funny because she'd felt as if she'd just woken up in a completely different bed, in a completely different room – when she'd been here the entire time.

"So you hate me," he says, just as simple as that.

She stares at him, expecting her gut to suddenly come alive with agreement, but instead it is plagued by new unexpected feelings. She stands there in front of him, not knowing what to say, only that she doesn't one hundred percent agree. She doesn't even know why.

She sighs, looking down. "I don't," she says, hesitantly, "hate you."

"No, you just hate a great deal about me."


He looks at her in concentration, before that furrow finally appears in his brow. "Help me out, here, Granger," he says, "but that still doesn't answer why you kicked me out here."

"I don't know," she admits, and she feels a little stupid now – only that it was the first thing that came to her to do. To buy some time, maybe. To stall from answering him. "What do you tell somebody after they tell you that they love you?"

"Depends," he answers her. "If you love them back, you say so, unless you don't want them to know. Usually some people hold it off for dramatic purposes. But if you don't – love them, I mean – you tell them, 'Thank you.' As in, 'Jesus, what a sweet thing to say. Thank you. Want a crumpet?'" He looks at her expectedly. "So? Are you going to offer me a crumpet?"

"I don't have any. Crumpets, I mean." She tucks her hair behind her ear, and for some reason unbeknownst to her – she feels shy. When she looks at him, he doesn't look any different – but he is. She can feel it everywhere around her, that whipping gust of change, and it petrifies her to be caught in it.

So she asks him why, and she doesn't even have to explain, because he already knows.

"There are possibly very many reasons, none of which I know," he only tells her, in his typical drawl. "Would it change anything if I did know?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"Tell me, then. What did Weasley say when you asked him why he loved you?"

"I never asked," she admits, and suddenly she feels a flood of warm across her face. Is it shame?

His mouth changes. It's not necessarily a smile – not a frown, either, but. . . something else. "You never asked. He told you he loved you, and that was that. You accepted it. Possibly, quite possibly, you had good sappy sex right afterwards, didn't you?"

She says nothing, because he's right.

"Look, I'm going to leave now – and you're not going to move one inch. You're not going to follow after me. That's how this scenario is going to go."

If there's a drop of hurt anywhere in his body, she can't see it. But maybe that's how she wants it, and maybe that was how he planned it – so he could escape seemingly unscathed. Nevertheless, she can't ignore the sickening and violent lurch she feels in her stomach when he gives her one last look, serious and unreadable, before he begins to walk down the hall that she'd banished him to the moment he'd touched the finish line.

That's the thing, she realizes. It had been somewhat fine for him to toe the line, and maybe even when he'd crossed it – but once he'd reached her, really reached her, that was when the alarm began to sound off. When she had to push him back to where he was supposed to be, on his side. He could dance around her but he could never be with her, where she stood. And for the last few weeks, he'd been dancing around her. Coming over, pretending to wait for Harry so they could get a drink. He'd fixed her leaking sink. Read her books. He was this lurking presence, and while it had been bothersome at first – it began to feel normal. Like all of a sudden, he began to fit with the other pieces in her life. It was no longer this clash between two natures, and was instead this slipping and sliding because it just came so easily.

And she was dumbfounded, of course. Because nothing should ever be that easy – most especially not Draco Malfoy.

She can't understand nor explain the anger she feels suddenly seep into her chest as she watches him walk away, only that she begins to walk after him, annoyed.

"That isn't fair," she hisses after him. "You can't just – you can't just write this out, make my decisions for me, like you're in charge of everything. And I don't think it's exactly fair, either, that you told me what you did."

He stops and turns around to stare at her livid face. "You want to talk about what's fair?" he says, his mouth curling to form biting words. "How about the fact that you've just made it obvious that what I've told you – it isn't good enough? It isn't acceptable?"

She tries to swallow the lump that's suddenly appeared in her throat. "It isn't normal," she says.

"And what is? What is normal? You loving Weasley, having flings with Potter, drinking burnt coffee at your sodding job? Is that what's normal to you? I hate to tell you, Granger, but normal is just this pretty little illusion you've got all made up inside your little brain. Nobody else gives a flying fuck about it besides you."

"And what about you?" she nearly yells. Her lungs feel tight, and her head feels as if it's all fogged up with steam. "What did you think I was going to say, Malfoy? What did you think was going to happen – that I would be overjoyed to hear it? That I would return the favor? Well – want a crumpet, Malfoy?"

That does it. The magic words, she'd said them, and he turns back around to walk away. But what she doesn't want to do is watch him leave, so she heads back into her flat and closes the door.

- - - - -

There were several times when their conversations nearly took a profound turn. There was once, when she was making tea, and he was reading an informational magazine he'd picked up off the street. It was about fishing, with instructions and full-color pictures on how to gut a fish properly.

She'd just turned the water to a boil when he spoke up to her.

"Do you ever wonder why things don't work out?" he asked her. "I mean, poor bastards do everything they possibly can to keep things together. . . but things fall apart anyway."

She noticed a chip on one of her old teacups. It was one of her mother's, and now it had a chip on its lip.

"What you're looking for," she absentmindedly told him, concentrating more on putting her dry dishes away, "is an answer that doesn't exist."

"I don't know about that," he said, flipping through his fish magazine one more time before tossing it beside him on the couch. "I mean, maybe. For now. But someday somebody's going to cure cancer, and reverse global warming, and even repopulate the giant pandas. Sometimes, Granger," he said matter-of-factly, " there are people who have answers but we're so sodding hell-bent on thinking there are no answers that we don't exactly hear the poor bastards."

She looked at him, then. "What?"

"That's exactly what I mean," he said, smirking. "I just had an answer right then, Granger. Perhaps not the greatest one, but an answer nonetheless – and you weren't even listening."

- - - - -

"I take it," Harry says one day, dropping by to drop off some of her misdelivered mail, "that he told you."

She almost stops sorting through her mail – but she tries to make it seem as if it's nothing. "Told me what?"

"Oh, don't play daft, Hermione," Harry says. "We both know you're better than this. Look at the both of you. You're as miserable as Death at a baby shower."

That's when she looks up at him. She can't catch herself fast enough these days. "He's miserable?"

Harry pauses, scratching the nape of his neck. "Well, sort of. It's not exactly obvious, but it takes a close fellow to see the toll this is taking on him, I mean—"

She sighs, shaking her head. God, she feels like an idiot. "Sod off, Harry."

"Look, I don't know what the hell happened between you two, but let's talk about it. So the bastard told you he loved you. So bloody what? Worse things have happened concerning him. Remember that time he made your teeth all large, and you looked like a mutant beaver?"

"This is exactly what I need," she snaps at him. "For you to be taking his side."

"I'm not taking the prat's side, Hermione. I'm just being the voice of reason here. I'm just being real." He sighs. "I'm going to go out on a limb here, and it's quite possible you're going to hit me or kick me out of your flat for saying this – but I daresay I do think you're being too frigid about this whole ordeal."

Her letters almost fly out of her hand. And, well – one actually does, hitting him right on the brow.

"Fuck!" he shouts, rubbing his forehead. "That was one bloody sharp corner!"

"Frigid? You're calling me frigid now?" she yells. "Well, isn't this just the best motivational sermon I've walked into!"

"I don't know about you, but if somebody called me frigid, it'd motivate me to get up straight away and prove him wrong!"

"So that's your battle plan, then. To make me look like an idiot. For me to cave in, to make it seem as if – oh, I don't know, that love solves everything? That as long as somebody loves somebody else, everything's fine and bloody dandy? Have you ever considered, Harry James Potter, Hero of the sodding world, that maybe I don't love him? That maybe I hate him?"

He frowns at her. "You don't hate him, Hermione. You stopped hating him a long time ago, around the same time I did."

"You don't know that."

"Yes, I do. We wouldn't be having this conversation if you hated him. You would've booted my arse out of here a long time ago."

She feels something inside her then, like a sudden flourishing, and strange things start to bubble up her throat – and she tries to catch herself, but it's like sand filtering through her fingers. "Get out."

He gets up, running a hand through his unruly black hair. "Ron told me to tell you he's coming back on Monday, wants to have dinner. Didn't exactly specify whether he wanted it intimate between the two of you or not." He presses his lips together then, just looking at her. His expression is serious, but she almost sees a flicker of subdued pain.

He leans in and kisses her softly on the forehead. "You know, I loved you before, Hermione. It takes somebody's guts and entrails to put it all out on the line like that. The least you can do is give him an explanation."

"And what do I explain?" she asks quietly. Despite her restraint, her buried guilt begins to creep up again.

"I don't know. Nothing. Everything," he says, shrugging, his hands back in his pockets. "Just – imagine what sort of torture he had to go through to realize he loved somebody like you."

She feels a sting of pain, right where it already started to hurt. "Somebody like me?"

"Yeah," he says. "You know. Somebody that doesn't want to be loved. It's a strange concept, I know – because, let's face it, every damn person on this earth wants to be loved. That's what they spend their entire lives on, trying to make people love them, and trying to find somebody to love them that unconditional love. But you – you're different. Or maybe you're not. But you try so hard just to make it look like you are."

He turns around then, and starts to leave. But when he reaches the door, he picks something off of her couch. He turns around, holding up a magazine.

"Are you going fishing?"

- - - - -

There was another time when she'd felt as if something strange was going on – different. Abnormal. She'd had an accumulation of old furniture she needed to get out of her flat and into the dumpster – a difficult feat, when you're six stories up from the dumpster. So Malfoy had lent her a hand, after finishing a makeshift puzzle he'd made by tearing parts of bodies and heads from her magazines.

After a few awkward elevator rides peppered by his snide remarks about her building ("Jesus, you call this building an apartment? Looks more like a furnished crack house"), they'd had to carry her old desk to the dumpster outside. As they were lifting it up above their heads, however, her grip slipped and she found herself getting the corner of the desk right on her forehead.

She fell.

He slid the table off of her, getting down on his knees, trying to get a good look at her forehead. "Jesus, Granger," he'd said to her, his hand sliding around to cradle the nape of her neck. His voice was slightly warbled; she didn't know if she had an impending concussion or not. She tried to sit up. "No – lay back down, for God's sake. You might pass out."

She groaned, biting her lip. There she was, lying down on the filthy pavement beside their dumpster. She could smell the distinct scent of rotting, uncollected food. "How bad is it?"

"On a scale of one to ten?" he said. She could feel his cool fingertips against her head, sweeping back her hair. He made a soft sound through his teeth. "A twelve. You look bloody horrible."

She opened her eyes to look at him, trying to stand the sudden blinding headache she felt pulsing through her skull – and it was the strangest thing. His face was hovering awfully close to hers, his eyes unmoving and intently still, focused, concentrated. On her. Or, at least, on the bloody gash on her forehead. And something funny happened to her stomach, like it'd just gotten a jolt of electricity – along with her heart.

It must've been a terribly ugly thing.

"My head," she said, her throat scratchy. She felt like she was swimming. "It hurts."

"Of course it does, genius. You just took a desk to the head." He took his hand off of her head, and she suddenly felt her body getting nudged up. "That's it. I'm carrying you. God, I hope you aren't still carrying your holiday weight."

"No!" she said, suddenly very nervous. "Don't carry me – get your sodding hands off of me. I can walk. I'm fine."

He laughed at her. "You're partially concussed. You can't even walk in a straight line. Try as you might, you stubborn bint, but you'll only end up facedown on the pavement." He paused. "Actually, I could do for some entertainment at the moment."

"I'm fine." She absentmindedly touched where it stung, only lowering her hand to see the dark blood staining her fingers and palms. "Oh, fuck."

His voice sounded distant and faint. "I was supposed to warn you not to do that."

"Well, bloody good job."

She passed out.

- - -

When she finally woke up, everything was too bright. She blinked a few times; her head still felt like it had been filled up with cement.

"Did you. . . change my lightbulbs?" she managed to croak.

"Now ask me if I rearranged your bookcase," she heard him say from somewhere nearby. It hurt to move her neck, so she gave up within a second of trying. "I'd say any attempt of movement would be a bad idea, Granger. You're disoriented."

She heard footsteps, before he reappeared in front of her. He sat down on her wooden coffee table, peering at her. It took her awhile to notice what he had in his hands.

"Are you eating – that's my dessert!" she sputtered. Then she clutched her head. Apparently speaking in loud decibels wasn't such a good idea, either.

"I needed some sugar. I carried you all the way up here, you know. I deserve a little treat. Besides," he said, taking another spoonful, "I daresay I think you've had enough desserts. For the first five minutes I couldn't feel my arms!"

He continued to eat her dessert in front of her.

"You're vile," she spat.

He spoke through his frosting-filled mouth. "You're fat."

She groaned to herself, wanting the blinding headache to quickly disappear so she could shove the bowl down his throat. "God, please make him leave."

"If you really want me to leave, I think you're going to do a lot more begging and pleading to the ol' deity up there in the high heavens. And perhaps even some fasting." He set the bowl aside. She flinched when she felt his rough fingertips against her forehead. "Oops. Got some cream on you." He wiped it off, then, before wiping his own hands down on his trousers. "I bandaged you up all nice and pretty, Franken-Granger. Here," he said, handing her a pill. "Something for the piercing migraine."

She sat up, trying to ignore the way the broad flat of his palm pressed up against the small of her back. It sent shivers down her spine – or, the migraine and woozy state of things did, anyway.

When she swallowed the pill and downed the water, she looked at the half-eaten dessert beside him, which he then begrudgingly handed to her. "Fine," he said dryly. "I can share, too, you know."

She took a bite, trying to not think of the fact that his mouth had been on this spoon, too.

He took a drink out of her glass. "So. The copious amounts of furniture. What about it? Is this where sofas go when they die?"

"My parents gave me some of their furniture. They're redecorating."

"What's wrong with your old furniture? Granted, they won't exactly be featured in Martha Stewart Living, but they're not just planks of rotten wood either."

She looked up at him, his face blank yet his eyes slightly curious, and set her dessert aside. "I suppose I wanted the option."

"Why? Bad memories? Did a chair break when you were sitting in it, and now you want to show it who's boss? Though, you can't blame the poor thing, Granger. You've really let yourself go."

"Shut up about that, would you?" she snapped.

He closed his mouth. "Sorry," he muttered. "I forgot you had feelings."

"And what's that supposed to mean, you stupid bastard?"

"I just mean," he drawled, getting up with her bowl of dessert. He went to put it back in her fridge. "You've lost a lot of your fire, that's all. Since school. Or, at least, since the whole brawl with Big Bad Cosmetic Surgery Gone Wrong Exhibit A. You walk around here like you've got no soul, like you're just a ghost passing by. You don't even personalize your answering machine. You've got no pictures or paintings up. It's almost as if you want to be forgotten."

"I was dead," she said, her hands clenching into fists beside her, "for six minutes."

"And that's exactly my point. Being dead for those six minutes wasn't much fun, was it? I was in a coma for about a month, and fellows say you don't remember diddly-squat about being internally trapped, but I do. It was horrible. Like getting buried alive, only you don't know whether somebody's going to find you soon enough to let you out." He tossed her silverware in her sink, along with the pile of dishes he'd used but never washed. "If you want to be forgotten so you won't have to hurt a soul when you die, then that's fine by me. But I, quite frankly, don't understand the logic. Sounds stupid, to me. Like Crabbe and Goyle's final project for potions. It's like trying to make air disappear."

- - - - -

She had to call around. When somebody's disappeared, there's often a place they disappear off to – and usually it's not all that hard to find. You've just got to think, and remember, and look.

It's a long drive, with lots of isolated dirt roads, but she finally finds it. She walks through a clearing through some trees and there it was, the lake exactly as it was pictured on that fishing magazine. She has it rolled up in her hand for reference – not that she has to look down; she's already memorized the scene. The sunset with the glittering, gold water in the distance. In the picture there'd been some shadowed boats, but she sees none. Just the shallow pier.

She hates the poetry that comes with this. She tried to block it out on the drive here, and instead tried to immerse herself in the wheezing sound of her engine and the crunch of gravel and dirt underneath her tires. A little part of her had even hoped her car would break down, and in a way, intervene. Because that way she'd be sure it wasn't meant to be.

She leaves her car and makes her way to the pier. There are a few fishermen around, gathering up their supplies. She sees a man pass by her with a bucketful of fish, talking to his son. And then there are others patiently waiting with their rods, looking out into the distance. She stands at the edge of pier, waiting.

"You forgot your rod," a man calls out to her.

"No, I'm not" – she stops herself. Fishing. That's supposed to be her last word. But mid-sentence she realizes that she is fishing. She's come all the way here to wait, and maybe even wait some more, to see if something will bite.

While she's waiting she goes over the reasons why she's doing this, and each time she's even more petrified than the last. She's been afraid more consistently now – but not a stalwart fear, just a subtle one, lurking under the radar. Fear about nothing. Fear about everything. She isn't sure of anything anymore like she used to be, and on nights she can't sleep, she misses that. She misses the way her future was as wide and infinite as the sky, and now here she is, standing in her future. It's dull. It's everything she didn't know it would be. And it scares her a little, that the only moment she feels like herself again is when he's around her. There's that little glimmer, that possibility, that maybe she doesn't have to be stuck in this, whatever this is.

"If you're here to fish, then you're horribly under-equipped."

She turns around, and there he is. He doesn't look any different – but he is. Or at least, she is. They both are.

"So are you," she says.

"Well," he drawls, "I'm not here to fish. I'm here to contemplate the possible way I've fucked up my reputation with a good bottle of vodka." He reveals a bottle covered with a brown paper bag. "Man's best friend, you know."

"Your reputation?" she says, and suddenly there's a lump in her throat. It occurs to her – maybe she's made a mistake.

"Yeah, the tatters and bits I have left of it. I'm thinking maybe there's a way I can piece it all back together. Maybe I can bury some of it underground, water it for a few days, give it a bit of sunshine – and it'll sprout back up, good and new." He starts walking towards her, his eyes flickering out to the sky behind her. "I'm at that point in my life where I'm considering all my options."

"And what are they? Your options, I mean."

"I don't know. I'm still working on it. They're playing hide and seek with me right now, but I figure – with a bit of a drink, the buggers will slither right on out." He looks at her, and she can't help it – she feels shivers. There's just something about it that she can't explain, even if she tried, and even if she knew all of the words in the English language. She feels a little silly now, even, because she feels a big moment coming on and she's never been one for those.

"I saw your car," he said. "Pathetic piece of scrap metal. Belongs in a junkyard, you know. It's ancient. Or maybe not a junkyard – maybe a museum for prehistoric tools, along with the wheel and the stick." He sighs. "All right, enough dawdling. I've given you enough time to plan out what it is you're going to say. Why are you here, Granger?"

"I'm sorry," she tells him.

"For what? Offering me a crumpet?"

"Because of the things I said," she explains. "And yes, the crumpet bit."

His lips press down in an unconvincing smile. "You mean that messy ordeal? Water under the bridge, Granger. Dare I say, we're better people because of it. And I bet your neighbors got a good show, too."

She swallows hard. He's being too nice, and she knows this – and for once, she wants him to be anything but. "Why, Malfoy?"

"I already answered this question, Granger. Try another. Maybe there's a prize hiding underneath."

"You didn't answer it," she says, coming closer towards him, her voice suddenly becoming constricted. "You gave me a non-answer, Malfoy. You skipped right over it, give me some pathetic excuse. Now I want the truth. The real truth. Not some stupid shell of the truth."

He laughs this time, and it comes out derisive and coarse. "I get it. Special treatment. You still don't believe me. Well, you crave validation, Granger? Go scream at a post. Because I'm not going to give you any. I'm not Weasley – I'm not going to shower you with words and get you all riled up so you get to feel important for one pathetic, sodding minute. And I'm not Potter, either, and tell you how much you mean to me." His face is just inches away from hers, lit up with rage. "Guess who I am?" he hisses.

She doesn't flinch. "You're the fish."

His scowl is shattered by confusion. "What?"

"You're the fish, and the fisherman – and so am I."

He stares at her, confused. Then his serious mask falls away, and he's laughing. He runs one hand through his long blond hair. "God, you're strange. The strangest fucking woman I've ever met."

"You wanted to catch, and be caught. Both, at the same time. You just needed someone to do the same. To be there."

He shoves the bottle into her hands, wrapping his own hands around hers, making sure she's got a good grip. "I think you need this more than I do," he says to her, smirking, as if he finds comfort in her insanity. "You think too much, Granger. It's a lot simpler than that."

He's close, and her heart knows it. It's trying to be as near to him as possible. "But am I wrong?"

"No, but there's a less confusing way to put it. And usually that wins the majority vote." Then he says, his breath warm against her cheek, "If I wanted complicated words, I would've gone for a lawyer. Now why are you really here, Granger? Fishy business aside, and I mean it."

She takes a quivering, silent breath. Then she hands him the rolled up magazine she's been clutching this entire time. He takes it from her, giving her a curious look.

"Christmas already? I thought we agreed not to give each other presents this year, as to not fall into that horrible, hip capital consumerism."

But as he unrolls it, and flips towards the middle – he freezes. An unreluctant smile slings across his mouth as he looks up, taking it and holding it up between their faces.

"Either this shiny little bugger is to your flat, or you have a chastity belt you haven't told me about."

She feels a warm glow inside her. It's his reaction – it's just right. "It's the emergency key, so you won't have to go around looking for it anymore."

"If you didn't want me to keep finding it, you could've just told your blasted narcoleptic furball to swallow it." But then he tucks the key away in his pocket, smirking up at her. "Too late. Can't change your mind now. I am rather disappointed about that chastity belt, though. I would've felt special."

He winds his fingers through hers, awkwardly stumbling into her fingers. He is unrepentant about this, though, just like he's unrepentant about a lot of things.

"So. Am I still a soul-less ghost?" she asks him.

"As of the moment, no. You feel all warm and solid, like a soul-having human should. And – I'm sorry about the fat jokes. I just do it to get a rise out of you, you know that. It makes me feel all tingly inside when you call me a foul bastard. Now that this is all behind us, I think we should go treat ourselves to a fresh, hot crumpet."

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