The Universe is a Great and Beautiful Thing

A/N: Written for the dmhgficexchange at livejournal. OOC-warning! And it is extremely long, so bear with me.

Part One

In his dreams, he wakes up to different images and different sounds. On Thursday he wakes up to the image of bees pollinating from flower to flower and hears blurry, jingly Indian music, as if his neighbors had turned their music up so loud that it had crept through the cracks and bled through the crevices – like a leak – into his apartment. The span of time varies for how long he sees them – sometimes they come in quick flashes, like lightning in the country, or a slap a mother gives to a misbehaving boy in public. Other times they play and play, like a haunted tape that never runs out – until it finally does, and he is left in darkness.

On Thursday, he sees the bees in his head and hears the music for what seems like hours, like a television that's stuck on a damn nature show because the remote is broken. He sits there and watches the bees, and he feels so close he can almost count every miniscule hair on their furry little bodies, and sees the inflections of light through their sheer wings. On the flowers, he can see tiny eggs that insects have left behind – some hatched and withered, others budding and green. Subconsciously, he hears his own voice. Show me a damn sunrise, he says, because it's been so long since he's seen a sunrise that if he didn't know any better, he would've begun to think that they no longer existed. That's impossible, he says to himself, and it's as if he's trying to clasp his hands together, but he can't seem to find them anywhere. The worst part about this (besides the feeling like he is strapped to a TV screen that he doesn't hold the remote to) is that over time, it becomes really fucking easy to lose yourself. To be a stone. To succumb to the numbness that has enveloped your entire body. To slip into unconsciousness and, hopefully, maybe, die. And as he's watching the bees collecting their nectar from the natural fruits of nature, buzzing, living, flying, collecting, moving, and basking in the weather of reality, he can't help but think of how badly he wants to see a bee drop dead, right in front of him. Yet also – not. He wants to see its fuzzy small body fall into the golden iris of the flower, dead and still, so he can reach out and pluck off its wings. Just for a keepsake, he'll say, because he never really knows whether he will see the same image more than once.

Give me a damn sunrise, he hears himself shouting, as the bee flies over to another flower. He's watching the sky now – or the pieces of it they're allowing him to – and he feels like a riled up fan in a football arena, chanting and desperate. I want a motherfucking sunrise! Just this once! He keeps watching for the colors to change, little by little, for light to break through, but he seems to be suspended in time. Lucky him. He is stuck there, invisible to change, until somebody decides to wake up and turn off the TV.

Then – it happens. Everything turns to black, and he's aware that no pleading or ounce of concentration will make his body stir even the slightest bit. His eyes travel around the room, trying to rouse himself with a little game. See if you can remember what goes where. And he tries. The monitor, the TV, the chair, the vase with the withered flowers, the window – he always gets the window. He always knows where. He's spent too much time trying to imagine throwing himself out of it that its exact position is burned into his brain. These days they actually leave the drapes open, to let in some light. He can't tell them that all it does is entertain him of the thought of suicide. He's never been so morbid but it's different now. It's funny how really different it is now. He wonders how it would be to feel the wind in his ears, against his skin. He doesn't remember. He wonders how it would be to hear the crack of his own bones. He doesn't know. He wonders all the damn day. If he were to fall out – would he die before he knew he was dead? Would he hear himself die? Or – feel it? And if he died as suddenly as they say people do from the impact of falling – how sudden was sudden? Would he get to feel the sun on his face before he did? He was glad to have heard the phrase, "People don't die from the fall, they die from the impact." Because he doesn't remember the feeling of flying, and he assumes it will feel a bit similar (minus the control), and what he would do to fly again! At least he'll get to feel that. At least.

After a few hours, he hears the click of his door, and he sees a woman come in. She wears white, like all of them do, with her hair neatly tucked back. He thinks it's funny what you miss when you suddenly find yourself having to live without them. He misses the big things – like the sky, and the people, and the sun. But he also misses the little things, like the sound of rain against the pavement, and the moisture rings from cold drinks. He misses seeing the sun in a woman's hair, the way it looks silvery and gold, and he misses seeing Christmas lights everywhere he goes by the time the air gets cold and biting. He misses the smell of dew and grass; he misses the stickiness and noise of parties; he misses the women; he misses the sound of rolling marbles when they're spilled on a wooden floor; he misses the mews of stray cats, and the howls of dogs, on full moons. It's funny, he thinks, that it is only now that he realizes there must be a million different sounds in the world and not once had he stopped to think about them, to really hear them, to really consider them. Now they're just a part of everything else he's missing. These days he finds himself listening closely for these sounds. The flat, soft-soled shoes of the nurses against the floor. The sound of the machine wheels rotating and rolling. The scraping and sliding of metal and the quiet rustle of the window drapes. The clang of the tray. The furious scratching of pen against paper. People's voices, always soft and considerate and nervous, the way their voices always fall to nothing above a whisper when they step in, as if afraid their voices will shatter the windows and cause the building to fall down in a heap of rubble.

"Good morning, Mr. Malfoy," the nurse says to him with a polite smile. She looks tired today. As he watches her, unable to respond, he makes up stories inside his head. She had a birthday yesterday, and all of her friends had thrown her a party. There were twinkling lights and laughter and drinks. Her ex-boyfriend showed up and this made her unhappy for a little while, but so did the man she's been liking – the one her friend had introduced her to at the market. He brought her his favorite CD, a French one, and when he leaves she puts it on and falls asleep to it, thinking about him. But she has work the next morning, and so she popped a few aspirin, cleaned herself up, and went on her way.

"It's a beautiful morning," she tells him. She opens the window drapes, and he watches the sunlight pour into his room, chasing the darkness away. He sees everything much clearer now. He can see the blue, an unexplainable and smooth radiant blue, outside his window. The black outline of a bird in the distance flies by. "Are you feeling all right today?"

She watches his face, as if he will be able to answer her. I haven't had sex in seven months, he dryly tells her inside his head, and as if she really hears him, her face breaks out into a smile. "I'll be back, Mr. Malfoy."

He stares at her ass right up until it disappears from his sight.

- - -

He is convinced this is a little bit like dying – except worse. There are some people who are truly fucking desperate to see the impact they've had on people lives so they entertain the thought of faking their death, just to see who would cry their eyes out at their funeral. To hear what sorts of things they would say about them. This – this was his funeral. Except sadder. Because he wasn't dead, except he kept wishing he was, though he had no way of possibly hinting that to anyone around him. He thought about death all the time, and every time he kept imagining how it would be. A beatnik party. A sauna with a broken dial. A rodeo with monsters and whores and thieves. Or maybe – and this was his favorite one – a strange little club, almost like AA, where people are doomed to always meet and talk about their feelings and their internal afflictions and even hug. Except, maybe, instead of the neat donuts and treats there would be stale crackers and veggie platters.

Few people actually showed up to see him, one of which was his wife. In any normal instance he would not have been thrilled to see her, but contact from the outside world was now. . . rare. Which, reasonably, only made him realize just what sort of bastards he had chosen to associate himself with. Uncaring, heartless sons of bitches.

"Well, well, well." Her eyes are painted like coal, and she's wearing black – though her neck is weighed down with jewelry and so are her fingers and wrists. He's surprised she can actually still walk as well as she can. "Look at the miserable sight of you." She's frowning – but he's convinced that's how her face has always been. And as he looks at her, the ugly and perverse curl of her mouth, the harshness of her face, and the cold dullness of her eyes, he can't help but want to ask her, Why did I ever marry you? In fact, he can't help but question many of the decisions he's made in his pathetic existence, and they always managed to start with the word 'Why.'

She sits next to his bedside and then lights a cigarette.

Put that out, you bitch.

"You should see the papers. You're all over them. It's sad, really. Has anyone come to visit you yet? The Minister? Anyone?" Her face is full of pity now. "Jesus, it's no wonder why no one wants to come visit. This is fucking depressing, is what it is."

Thank you, he wants to say to her, for being a fucking ray of sunshine. I want a divorce. I want a divorce, damn it.

That's when a nurse comes in. "Miss?" The nurse sounds alarmed, and inside Draco is egging her on. Get her the fuck out of here! "Miss, you can't smoke in here. Please put that out."

- - -

Today he watches a woman cry. She is on a bench, on a street corner, and it is just about to rain. The clouds are heavy and dark with moisture, just nearly bursting, and people bustle past her, their stride quick and hurried, as if she's invisible. He watches her and the brokenness on her face, the way it distorts and twists in all different sorts of ways to convey her agony. Her face – it reminds him of silk, of how easily it is to rumple, and how one single motion will cause a ripple. He can't remember whether he knows her, but it doesn't matter – she's crying, and he finds himself vulnerable to it. For once, he wants to be anything but who he is, but knows that it is too late to change that. He's stuck in a bleak, cruel reality of stillness and solitary confinement and isolation. Things don't matter like they used to. He feels like a monster. Sometimes he can feel his insides, now still and dormant, begin to melt from warmth. Sometimes he feels them harden, like ice. And sometimes – most of the time – he can't feel them at all.

When you're alone, it's hard as hell not to think about who you are. Or were. Or could be – all of these damn tenses that relate to your being. He has no regrets but he does. There are days when he tries to pace himself, to tackle one issue at a time; he has plenty of time to think of the rest, and one thing he doesn't want to happen is to run out of things to preoccupy his brain. One day he spends trying to remember all of the Quidditch games he's ever been in. He replays them in his head as detailed as he possibly can. After that, he examines and analyzes them, pointing out the flaws and arguing with himself. Then he replays them again, but this time with the changes. When he's all done with those, he thinks about the other Quidditch games he's seen, and starts thinking up new strategies that he knows he will never be able to tell anyone.

On another day he may think about all of the girls he's fucked. He'll try his best to relive them all, and remember every single detail about every woman. This would be particularly torturous for him. He would think about how each one of them was different, and then how each one of them was the same. He would think about which ones believed in God, or which ones had kept their natural hair color, or which ones still think of him. Then he'd think about Pansy, his wife, and how much he despises her. He'd entertain himself with thinking about how his life could've been if he'd married any other woman, though he always came to the conclusion that he'd be happier if he'd never gotten married at all, no matter what.

Today the nurse leaves the TV on for him – and a drama is on. His eyes are focused on it, the sound coming from someplace above him. He watches it with rapt yet slightly drowsy attention. There's a couple on the screen and they're having a fight.

"How could you?" the woman, an attractive blonde, yells.

"I don't love you anymore," the man tells her. His face is angry. He looks like he's going to hit her. You, Draco thinks, as the camera pans in on his face, are a moron. "I love someone else."

"Who? Who is it? Is it – that tramp?"

After a few more scenes and yelling, he decides he can't watch it anymore. He closes his eyes and tunes out the TV. He thinks of a beach with white sand, and an ocean even bluer than the sky. Then he thinks of trees – and how flecks of light shine through when they're filtered through the leaves. He thinks about the seasons and how he can no longer keep track of them from inside this room, and then he thinks about the people he knows. He thinks it's funny how time could possibly stop still for you, as if you are in some sort of time bubble or cocoon, and the entire world moves on without missing a beat, ignorant. People these days can't really afford to give a fuck. He knows this because, hell, he'd been one of them until now, until he was forced to care. He knows that the world doesn't have a single caring nerve in its body.

I'd be happier, he can't help but think to himself, if I was dead. Dead was better than stuck. Dead was better than silent, immovable, still, and hopelessly dependent. Dead was free, liberated, and right now, living for him was his own personal prison.

- - -

On Saturday he has a visitor. He doesn't know this, of course, until the nurse walks in and there's someone else walking in behind her. It's someone he knows. Thank God. Somebody besides Pansy.

"Draco," Blaise Zabini says, sitting down beside him. He looks him up and down, as if expecting something else. Many people do this. It's either that or they can't look at him at all, and they instead settle for looking at the wall behind him, or his bedside table. He's used to it by now. Once upon a time it actually entertained him. He shouted things at them to try and make them look at him. Look! A hairy vagina! Look! A golden snitch! Look! I'm growing testicles on my face! "They didn't even bother to get you Egyptian cotton." He shrugs, trying to crack a smile. "You look good."

No, I don't. I look like shit, you miserable piece of shit liar.

He shifts around uncomfortably, his eyes scanning the room. He's silent, and Draco knows what he's thinking. He wants to get out. Look at the little bastard, he can't get out of here fast enough. Then he stops himself and takes it back, because even this weirdness is better than being alone. Just as well. Nobody likes hospitals, and he can see clearly he's itching to run out of the door. In the back of his mind, he's counting down the seconds until he leaves. These visits – these visits never take long.

Well, thinks Draco, pal, how's life?

"I'm doing okay," he suddenly says. "Pansy told me that she visited. It's all over the papers, you know. It's the strangest fucking thing."

Is it?

"Yeah, yeah," he says, rubbing his face with his hand, "yeah, it is."

As he sits there, with his clean-shaven face and his crisp clothes, Draco finds that he hates him a little bit. Then he feels the guilt. It's been a long time since he's seen Blaise because they'd had a falling out about a year ago – over a woman. Her name was Isabel and she was exotic with tan skin and dark lovely hair that always smelled like tropical fruit. Her voice was husky and had instantly reminded him of great scotch, and he remembers that each time he heard her say his name he felt a tingling in the bottom of his stomach. It didn't help, of course, that she had been Blaise's fiancé. Blaise was never the forgiving type, and Draco could never blame him – because neither was he.

He doesn't know why he's come to visit him now. He almost wishes he'd never come, because he feels the guilt festering in his throat, and he feels like choking.

"Look, I've been thinking a lot about. . ." He pauses, trying to look at him, but his eyes rest on the white wall behind Draco's head instead. His face is hard with concentration. "For a really long time, when I heard, I thought you deserved it. I thought – finally, there's some fucking justice in the world, and I couldn't even begin to care how late it'd come. For a really long time," he sighed, his voice still tight, "I thought about coming here and laughing at you. So that's why I came. I walked through that door, mentally prepared to kick you down in every way I could. To make it all worse. Because you deserve it.

"Then I saw you. And I knew I couldn't do it."

Why not? Draco wants to yell. Is it because I look worse than you thought I would? Maybe you can bring Isabel over and show her who she left you for and you can get her to marry you again. You'd keep her forever because she'd feel guilty forever. Then he feels bitterness. Well, go ahead! Kick me down! Do it! I'm fucking asking you to!

"I've gotten back together with Isabel. We're getting married in June."

He feels the lump in his throat still, but now it almost feels as if it has its very own pulse. He wants to swallow it down. It's getting painful.

"Don't worry," Blaise says quietly. "I won't tell her."

Don't do me any favors.

Then he stands up, because he has nothing to say anymore. "Goodbye, Draco." He walks across to the door, but not before turning on the TV for him. He sees that it's on a drama channel and swears under his breath, before turning it to the news. "There," he says to him, without turning around, staring up at the destruction at some far place in the world. Explosions light up on the screen, followed by a rainfall of ash. "A better window to the world."

- - -

He's been watching for hours. His eyes are heavy and dry – tired from the strain of trying to keep them open and denying rest. They begin to water and he blinks once, twice, before he looks up again at the screen. There's a war somewhere in some distant land and he watches as the newscasters deliver the news, emotionless and blank – trained and cold and empty. Their voices stay on a rigid horizontal line – never falling or rising, but focused and strict. After a while he begins to daydream about the brunette wearing the starchy suit and the pearl earrings. She's wearing brown lipstick and it makes him think of chocolate. He misses chocolate. He misses sugar. He even misses feeling the steam of the iron against his clothes, smoothing out the creases, pressing it to perfection. He misses conversation – even the little ones, the ones you go throughout the day not noticing.

The brunette newscaster – he names her Magdalene. A nice exotic name, one that melts at the tongue to say. He imagines what the rest of her body looks like. Slender with wide hips and dainty shoulders. She has supple breasts with sensitive nipples that stand out even when there is the slightest breeze. He wonders how she looks naked. He imagines she has a faint birthmark, staining her right hipbone. Her favorite color is red, because it makes her feel confident, and it makes her think of strawberries, which remind her of her summers when she was a child. She tells him about going strawberry picking, the way she would feel excitement bubbling at the soles of her feet, carrying her basket, feeling her anticipation rise as it got heavier in weight. She likes the way silver water runs over its ripe blushing color, the way there is a texture that is almost rough against her fingertips as she places it in her mouth. She likes the embedded little yellow seeds and the way she can recognize its unique pattern anywhere. Most of all, she likes the feeling as its juices explode in her mouth – the taste of her full, youthful and innocent summer. Ripe and endless and addicting.

He imagines what it would be like to fuck her. If her voice would break free of its tight binds, the unchanging hard and professional tone, and how she would sound like whispering or moaning his name. He wonders how dirty she is. When she was eighteen, she was caught by her grandmother fucking her twenty-two year old boyfriend in their basement. She told her it was her first time, and her grandmother believed her simply because she wanted nothing more but to let it go – but it wasn't her first time, and it wasn't even close. She had been sixteen and there had been a boy there, tending to the orchards. He was a year older. She remembered being in awe of the way his muscles bunched up in his arms, so strategically and methodically, like prima ballerinas at a ballet – and the tan the sun had kissed him with, and the way his dark hair was swept from sweat and the works of his laboring fingers. She'd caught him looking at her the first night she'd come, and it was the first time she felt it, at the pit of her stomach. Something deep and hidden and carnal.

His door opens then, and he hurries his daydreams to a close. He sees the machine they are rolling in and he knows he will not be able to keep his train of thought. He comes to a conclusion, then, that she is a dirty, passionate lover. Because it would be a crime if she isn't. He looks at her on the screen and sees the routine of her days, the emptiness in her eyes. The least anyone like that can have, he says dryly, is explosive sex. To keep them sane.

- - -

He wishes someone would read him a book. Apart from watching television and making up stories about strangers he sees, most days he finds it very difficult to fill the hours in his days. Sometimes he runs out of ideas. Sometimes he gets bored. And sometimes – neglectful sons of bitches – they forget to turn the TV on for him, and so he has no choice but to stare at the black, inky screen and try his hardest to project his own fantasies onto it.

When he isn't the cruel man he's become, he finds himself sinking into his adolescence, which can be seen in the imaginary pornos he would mischievously shoot in his head, starring himself and some buxom beauty. Sometimes she is a nurse, a school teacher, or a random stranger he comes by at his bookstore, or even a maid. He tries his hardest to work his imagination so that he can almost watch it from the television screen.

In his imagination, he can do anything. And he has. He has operated heart surgery, given numerous patients lobotomies, and separated Siamese twins. He has written erotic novels, mystery novels, and encyclopedias. He has been a philosopher, an international star, and a mob member. He has swum with dolphins, fed sharks with his own hands, and trained lions to bark. He has made soufflés and chocolate cakes, sawed a woman in half, and rescued innocent civilians from evil. He has discovered the secrets of the world, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and defeated the Dark Lord. He has given Harry Potter many swirlies in the toilet, punched Weasley on the nose, made Granger go bald. He has fucked Isabel (again and again), saved his son, and he has left Pansy. He has walked the line; he has been a human cannonball. He has become an international best-selling author, painted masterpieces, and has become an irresistible icon. He has walked with both Jesus and Judas, discovered the fountain of youth, and mastered rocket science. He has gone to Nirvana, Heaven, Hell, and even the lairs of numerous other Gods and Goddesses. He's even had tea with Napoleon.

It is during his concoction of this list, however, that he finds himself distracted by voices in the hallway and then a sudden figure walking into his room. She's wearing white, just like the rest of them, but she's different. He knows her. And as she turns and looks at him, it is perfectly obvious that she still remembers him, as well. As he watches her flip through his information with another nurse standing beside her, talking about him and his condition, he can't help but groan inside his head. Oh, fuck me with a fish sideways.

"He's legendary," the nurse is saying, while she is skimming his charts. Her lips are pursed and her eyebrows are drawn downwards in a V. Then she looks up at him, and he realizes she looks exactly the same. A little taller, maybe, and her face has gotten longer, but he is honestly a little shaken by how much she hasn't changed, physically.

Where are your books?

"I know this man," she says to the nurse. "We used to go to school together."

"Oh?" The nurse looks at him then, a little apprehensive. Draco finds himself wanting to roll his eyes. Oh, like you haven't already heard I was an asshole. The empty visitor sign-in sheet was already a large indicator of that; hot talk around the medical water cooler. There's nothing sadder than a hospital patient without any real friends.

A few minutes later, she sends the nurse away, and Draco feels himself stiffen with wariness. She looks straight at him, unflinching, and he realizes that she is the first one to actually do that, to look at him – her gaze is smooth and cool, not pitying or nervous. He doesn't know how to feel about this. No, he doesn't. Stop it. Stop looking at me like that.

"It's funny," she says. "I always thought that smirk of yours would be plastered on your face forever."

He hears his own harsh laugh inside his head. Very funny.

"I think this'll be nice," she says then, after mockingly 'waiting' for his response. "Just swell. When I think about never hearing your voice again, I get goosebumps." She scrunches up her sleeve and shows him. "See? Goosebumps." He sees them, tiny peaks across her pale skin. But he also sees old scars from a war he remembers never seeing, and when she realizes she's exposed to him more than she's intended to she quickly pulls her sleeve back down. "I'll be checking you today."

She rolls out the machines, one at a time. Filters his fluids. As she does these he watches her, wondering whether she's a nurse or a doctor. She isn't wearing the plain nurse's dress, but she's not wearing the white coat either. She has on a name tag and a stethoscope, but she's wearing a white suit. His eyes scan over the suit. No wrinkles or stains. He watches as the fabric bunches up across her chest a little, and finds that he can almost hear her soft breath when she leans over to untangle tubes behind him, her chest just inches from his face. He realizes this is the closest he's been to a woman in months, and can't help but groan desperately inside his head, wanting to hold onto the rough sheets. Oh, fuck.

"I've read all about you in the paper," she says as she watches the lines and takes down his stats. "Or papers, I should say. I'm not impressed. I don't think there's a single soul out there that feels the least bit of pity or sorrow about what's happened to you." She looks up at him. "How does that make you feel?"

Like little bits of sunshine sprinkled in chicken soup.

"I'd expect you must feel like shit. Then again, I bet it never occurred to you to make friends, not when you're cheating on your wife every night and ruining people's lives in order to make your money, without a care in the world. That's the thing. I've been doing this for a long time. I know which kinds of people are really appreciated by who visits them when they're stuck to a bed that isn't theirs." She puts her pen inside her breast pocket. He watches as she slips it in, and finds himself almost envying the position the pen is in. "Obviously, you aren't one of them."

He thinks of the flowers his secretary sent him last week. He spots them on a table near the window, an eclectic collection gathered by a woman who obviously knows nothing about flowers, and sees that they are quickly withering. There are brown, brittle petals scattered across the desk. There was also a card attached to it that the nurse had read aloud to him when it came. Get well soon. What a dumb bitch.

"I can tell you that there are many people who get up every day of their miserable lives to see this – justice. There isn't enough of it. But you – do you know why I transferred over here? You. Specifically you. Go ahead, you can feel special for a minute." She pauses for effect. Well, would you look at that. She thinks she's cute. "Because when I heard about what happened to you, it gave me hope. Finally, some God out there has heard something, at least. A little late, but who's complaining? Not anyone I know."

Great. This is exactly what he needs. To be stuck in a hospital bed, unable to do anything – unable to even breathe or piss himself without the help of a damn machine and a tube – and to get his fucking balls busted by his new doctor, or whatever the hell she is. He feels his eyes grow hot. He wonders if she can see him glaring at her. He feels his muscles tense in his arms, wanting to grab onto something and squeeze the life out of it – but he knows it's all in his imagination. After all, the papers weren't lying. He'd barely made out the headlines when one of the nurses had left it on a chair in his room, who had then come back a few minutes later when she'd realized what she'd done. They were all the same, plus or minus a few details: Draco Malfoy is twenty-seven years old, and he no longer has any ounce of control over his body.

Once there had also been a crucial debate: Should they just kill him or let him live on a very miserable, pathetic life? Most of the arguments made for keeping his horrible existence in the world had been made by old lady conservatives with cats – ladies that had never met him, but argued for the sake of arguing and making it in the paper.

"Do you believe in God?" she then asks him.

He has spent a good amount of his time going over this topic in the past seven months. Obviously, after he'd discovered his physical being was now useless, he'd had a lot of questions and anger stored up for a certain deity. Or perhaps pinning them all on one God wasn't fair. Perhaps Sheba or Buddha had something to do with it, too – or hell, even that lady with the cooking show with the crying ladies. Which also brought him into another argument: was the fact that he was now hating and cursing God on a daily basis mean that he did believe He existed? So he stopped. Basically because he'd rather not.

No. No, I don't. Because He, obviously, doesn't believe in me.

He refused to believe in a God that would fuck him over like this.

"I think I do. It's a strange feeling. I only started a few weeks ago." She gets out her pen again, scribbling something in his information. "I think it's happened for many different reasons. One of them is because I've tried attributing justice to nature, to spontaneity, or fate, but it doesn't quite work. The thing is, I don't know who or what to thank for what's happened to you, and it feels rather wrong to go on not thanking anybody."

Well, fan-fucking-tastic. Now why don't you run off and join the convent? I hear they have lovely meatloaf on Mondays.

"But – obviously – there are still a few kinks I need to iron out." Her voice is quieter, but still cohesive. He wonders if she's nuts and no longer remembers who she's talking to. "The other day I almost bought a Bible. I found myself in the section and skimmed through it. It's. . . different. Full of stories – have you ever heard of any of them? There's one about a man named Samson and a woman named Delilah. She cut off all of his hair and he died. And there's another about a man who tried to hide from God and got eaten up by a whale."

He doesn't know what the hell she's talking about, and he's starting to think she's crossed off into a different plane – and, honestly, he's a little shocked by this. Shit he knows about men getting eaten up by whales from God's wrath, but he looks at her and remembers who she was and knows that this is very unlike her – the bookish, coldly intelligent kind to get so involved and intrigued in God and religion. The last time he'd seen her – in school – she had been all about cold, hard fact and logic.

And, he thinks snarkily, fondling Harry Potter's dick like everyone else.

"Religion – that's different," she says then, as an afterthought. She stabs a needle into his arm. He watches her do this and knows that, damn, if he was able to feel anything he would've surely felt that. "I don't give a rat's ass for religion."

By the end of her I-hate-you-let's-talk-about-God chat, she's done with all of her recording. She slips his papers back into their envelope, checks his pulse one last time, before leaving. That's funny, he thinks, as he watches her walk away. Not one word. Maybe she's saving them all up for later. He looks back up at the blank television screen. Without the glare he can barely make out his reflection, hooked up to all of these beeping machines (that oddly do more to keep him living than he himself does) by miles and miles of wires and tubes. He can't see his face. From far away he thinks he still looks the same, but then he remembers that he hasn't seen his own face in months – all he has is a quickly fading picture of himself, like a photograph hung out in the harsh sun, bleaching it of its color until all it is are indistinguishable blurbs and stains. Sooner or later, he knows when he tries to remember how he looks like in his head; he will just see a stain. A very handsome, irresistible stain – but a stain nonetheless.

- - -

Today he sees a glass of milk. There is a marvelous feast in front of him, full of desserts and luxurious delicacies that he can barely remember the tastes of, but all he sees is the glass of milk. Staring at it, his mouth fills with sour bile. It just stands there, unmoving, not too full but just right. He remembers this. A cold glass of milk has always been his guilty pleasure before he'd ever gotten into his father's liquor cabinet and before he'd discovered his penchant for women and before he'd felt the thrilling danger of gambling. And, as if he actually holds the remote this time, he sees himself. He's small and young, about five years old, scrambling over the tall table to grab the glass of milk. He looks at the outfits his mother had forced him to wear – dark velvet with some frills – and groans. Oh, God. He remembers his mother had always wanted a girl, and after he was born, after discovering that he was just as pretty as a girl, she'd decided to let her inhibitions loose. You're lucky, mother, that I turned out okay.

His mother had gotten pregnant again when he was around six. He remembers this vividly because one day she'd come by and scooped him up in his arms – something she rarely does for fear of wrinkling his clothes – and had danced with him, like the way he sees her dance with his father sometimes at their business parties. He remembers being confused but soothed by the smooth sashaying, by her grace, by the firm hold she had on him and knowing that sure, she dressed him up to look ridiculous, but he was young, he didn't know to give a fuck just yet – and at least she would never let go.

He remembers the day she miscarried just as vividly as he remembers dancing with her that day – the sudden stillness that had overcome her, like a statue, and the blood. Rivers of it. Pools of it. Staining the Persian handmade rug his father had just gotten imported. He remembers the confusion – again – but it was a different kind of confusion, the kind fused with horror and fear and desperation, the kind that amplified sound yet muted it all at the same time, and the kind that paralyzed him but filled up his throat with a painful scream that came out with no sound. The maids had rushed over to her as fast they could, but what was dead was dead. He didn't get it then, but he gets it now.

He knows he doesn't think about it as much as he should. That's what Pansy had told him, too. He had put some emotional block on it so he busied himself with whatever he could find – women, work, liquor, more women. While she stayed in mourning he fucked everything that moved. He doesn't know if she's right, but right now he's thinking she looks more right than he has ever been in his twenty-seven years of living. He remembers exactly what he had been doing when it had happened: pouring himself another glass of scotch, and playing Bach. He'd turned it up loud, so loud that he looked at the glass to see if it would shatter, so loud he could feel it thudding in his bones and Bach's fingers in his veins, so loud that he couldn't even hear himself think – or the screams of his son, when he fell into the pond. He'd fallen into that pond himself once, but it was different, because his son was a lot smaller, and he couldn't swim. And it was different – because a maid had heard the splash and had come running out to save him. It was an hour later he went out to look for his son, with Bach still playing in his ears. And it was Bach he heard when he found his small body, dead and still and wet, in the pond. And it was Bach he played again to tune out Pansy's wails over the next few months, until he left to live in France with Madeleine, whom he had met at one of his wife's social parties.

It's then that he realizes that the small boy isn't him. He catches a glimpse of the boy's face in the reflection of the glass and sees the similarity – but it isn't him. He's different – because he's a lot smaller, and he doesn't know how to swim. He reaches out his short arm out and manages to move the glass, but it tips over and spills all over the top of his head. And the milk keeps spilling. It keeps spilling and spilling, and it never ends, and before he knows it, he has drowned all over again.

Without knowing it, Pansy's voice fills his head.

"You didn't love him – you never did. You don't even know what love is." Her voice is hoarse and her face looks like a wreck. He's never seen her like this, so uncomposed, so void of vanity. "There you were, drinking your damn scotch and playing Bach – he was cold, Draco! His body was nearly frozen when you found him!" Her body starts to tremble, her pale and thin hands grasping at something that is no longer there. "How could you let this happen?"

What do you want me to do? he remembers yelling at her. Bring him back to life? Teach him how to swim before he even knows what the difference is between day and night?

"I want," she screams, "for you to care! I want for even just a single tiny cell in your body to hurt! To be sorry! To hate yourself!" She flies at him then, slapping him, punching him, but all of her strength has left her. It doesn't faze him. Now he wishes it does. Now, as he watches this all over again, his vision blurs. He feels something in his chest, large and obtrusive, like some part of him doesn't belong.

I can't, he says, change anything.

"Tell me you're sorry. Tell me you're hurting. Tell me – tell me you'll never forgive yourself."

He stops himself then. He presses pause on the remote, and then stops it. The image is then replaced with the color blue before it fades into black, and he is left in darkness. He feels moisture somewhere around him; he's prone to sweating in his sleep. Sometimes, when it's cold enough at night, he gives himself a fever so the nurses do their best to change his sheets as fast as they can. He hears himself wheezing, and for the first time in a long time he hears his heart, like booming drumbeats on an exhausting trail to war, to death, to the unknown. He hears Bach, too, but it is canceled out by his heart. It transcends above everything else, even the rapid beeping on the machine. He hears his heart, loud and clear, like he should have when he was running to the pond, looking for his son. And it is this that convinces him that maybe he still does have a heart, and if he's had it all along, it has just finally woken up from a twenty-seven-year-long stupor.

- - -

In the morning he wakes up to see a man dressed in black beside him. He's holding a book, humming to himself, and staring out at the window. Who the fuck are you? Oh, Christ. He's wearing a dress.

Before he can feign sleep again, the man has caught his eyes open and stops his humming. "Mr. Malfoy! I'm Father Glen, and I've been sent over here to pray for you by the many that care for you."

Spare me the lies, Father. Just tell me you're here to exorcize me. He wonders if it'll hurt, or if it'll be kind of like a massage, or a bad case of diarrhea.

"I'd ask you to confess of your sins," says the Father, "but I'll just leave that up to you to do in your mind. God knows what you've done and He is a merciful God. He is waiting to welcome you back into His Kingdom with open arms."

What a load of bullshit. First I don't get to eat the jello, and then this.

"Are you ready?"

No. Get out. Nurse! Nurse!

"Good, then. All I ask of you is to just open your heart to Him, to feel vulnerable, to allow yourself to be embraced and cradled."

Now, why on earth do all religious fanatics make God sound like a pervert?

Then he begins to pray. Draco looks desperately around the room. The man puts his hand on his head, and it smells like rusty coins. He wonders if Granger did this – if her new fervor for God had sent her to a holy man to pray for him, but then he corrects himself. She hates you. The last thing she wants is for you to be saved. He feels the warmth against the man's hand, the roughness of his calloused palms, and hears him muttering under his breath, his sentences long and ongoing, running into each other. O Holy Father, please heal this man. . .

A few minutes later, the man is done. He lifts his hands from him and Draco, who has never been prayed for before nor has ever been the subject for a plead for healing and salvation to God, feels relief. It feels weird, and not a good sort of weird, but as in he's-never-been-touched-by-a-grown-man-this-way-and-never-wants-it-to-happen-again weird.

"Do you feel it?" asks the Father, who means every word. "Do you feel. . . lighter? Do you feel God's love?"

That's when Granger comes in, and he almost feels relieved to see her. "I think that's enough, Father. I've got to run some tests now."

"Oh. Very well, then." He stands up, taking his book with him, nodding at Draco and then nodding at Granger as well, who gives him a very professional smile. She's wearing a light blue shirt today, with beige slacks. Her name tag is on the other side and her stethoscope is still hanging from her neck.

"I'm still a little shaky on the God front," she tells him, before dryly adding: "But I doubt he'd be able to save someone like you. But that's beside the point." She takes her light and shines it into his eye. He knows the cue to follow it. "It's been roughly eight months you've been stuck in this hospital bed, Malfoy. What do you think about? Obviously it would be the only escape from complete and utter boredom."

I imagine shaving you completely bald, and it fills my fun capacity for the day. Sometimes, when I have extra energy, I throw the shavings on the floor and make snow angels.

"Nobody comes to visit you – you've only had two visitors in the past eight months. They rarely remember to leave the TV on for you, and don't even care to change the channel every few days."

This is sort of rich, having my shitty life explained to me. Now what does my shit taste like?

"I'd expect, of course, that you'd want us to pull the plug. But your records here say that you checked the other box – the one saying that you wouldn't want us to pull the plug, if something like this were to happen."

I was probably half-drunk when I signed that, he thought bitterly. That, or in a hurry to get home and fuck.

"I daresay, whether it was from negligence or just a case of an eager hand, you signed your entrance into your own personal hell. The doctors have been discussing when they're going to decide what to do with you. It all depends on whether your wife decides to pull the funds. Of course, with the generous amounts you've donated to this hospital, it could be at least a year before they muster up the nerve to kill you."

Worst mistake of my life.

She turns off the light, her face peering closely into his. He's never seen her so close up. He can almost count the fading freckles she has on the bridge of her nose – there are only a few. One, two, three, four, five, six. There are six. And he can clearly look into her eyes, too. They're brown. A dull brown. But when she turns, and the window is open, it catches the light and it glows, as if there are many levels to it and it looks like glass – it reminds him of scotch, to think of it. Scotch by the fire. She has a tiny white scar on the side of her mouth, and she has a mark on her front tooth where it was chipped. Her ears aren't pierced, her eyelashes are too short, and her pores are medium-sized.

"I think about what it's like to be you, right now."

And why the hell would you do that? It's as bad as it looks.

"Lying there all day. Not being to move, or make a sound. You see everything and everyone around you and they all just pass you by, don't they?" She pauses, then, looking into his eyes. "I bet you never even saw it coming, did you? That's why you checked that box, and signed your name. That's why you never bothered to make any friends. That's why your wife hates you. Shit happens, and sometimes it's all really as fucked up as it can possibly be, but you never see it happening to you. Which makes it worse. Because you weren't prepared." She checks his pulse. "How long did you imagine yourself living?"

Forever. Until I drank myself to death.

"And what do you think happens after all of this – after you die?"

I've thought about this, and I think – I think it's like a crowded party in someone's smelly bathroom. Hundreds of us, crammed in there, with a clogged toilet that's spilling over, and there's no window.

"I used to think that nothing happens after you die. I've looked up all the theories and none of them are exactly what you can call believable, but then again, what about the afterlife is? Even the thought of death, of not living, of just disappearing into a place that nobody knows – that's pretty unbelievable, don't you think? For all I know, death could look like Santa Claus coming down my chimney and kidnapping me in his knapsack."

It's different, he wants to tell her, angrily. Your theories don't mean shit. Because you aren't dying. For all you know, you could die tomorrow. But, also – for all you know, you could die when you're eighty. He hates that, by the way. Sure, he himself could die tomorrow (at this thought he mentally crosses his fingers), but there was certainly no fucking way he was going to die when he was eighty.

"But I know it's probably different." She adjusts the knobs on the machine. "I know everything looks different when you're dying. Thinking about death when you're still alive and healthy – it's different. It'll always be. One of the greatest surprises in life is finding out how you're going to die, and the fact that nobody can ever spoil it for you."