Part 2

Oddly, no matter how fucked up the things Granger says to him can be, he eventually finds himself eager to see her. Even as he's sitting there, unable to do anything but wait until the images decide to disappear – whether it be of a country stream or a prostitute playing fetch with her dog or an old man tending to his land – sometimes he finds himself distracted. Which has never really happened before. Before, it used to be that these images – whatever the hell they were – were his break from this miserable piece of shit life. He forgets that he's bedridden, and will continue to be bedridden forever, until they decide to pull the plug – and this is a distraction he welcomes. Obviously.

Of course he thinks it's strange that he looks forward to her stepping into his room, considering the constant verbal damnation – he was in denial for a substantial amount of time. But when you're physically retarded and pathetic like he is now, time seems a lot longer than it actually is, and another thing: as short as it is, there isn't really time for denial. After a while, he confronts it and accepts it. He figures he looks forward to her company because one: it's company, two: he misses conversation (no matter how one-sided they can possibly be), and three: it distracts him. These days, any bit of distraction is good, no matter what it is. For example: the other day a fly was trapped inside his room, and, seeing the light coming from outside the window, it had spent a good amount of time trying to find its way out. And he'd watched it. It reminded him a little of himself, really. Sad little fly, stupid as hell. When will you decide you're utterly fucked and just give up? But in the end, the fly got exhausted before he did.

It also gives him something else to think about, when they turn off the lights and he is forced to keep to his thoughts while everybody else goes home. Whenever she's there, he watches her closely. Listens to the things she says, how she says them, and tries to figure out exactly why she says them. He thinks she's lonely. She has that vibe after a while – especially with the way she talks to him. She's really quite brash and rude, with complete disregard for niceties and social decorum similar to a man's, but after a while she tends to soften up a bit. She likes the fact that he can't speak, because that would ruin it, but he knows her and she knows him, and it's a lot better than telling these things to a stranger at a bar that might judge her. At least – if he judged her, she would never know.

One day she comes in with a book. It's a holiday weekend and most of the nurses have taken off on vacation with their boyfriends. He imagines the halls are empty, and though there are visitors, they're quiet and polite, like ghosts. He's surprised to see her, but also a little excited, especially when he sees that she's carrying a book. It's worn and faded and he can't quite make out the title, but he doesn't care – it could be a damn children's book for all he cares. It's been so long since he's read a book. He misses it so much that when he sees her book he feels like his mind has turned into a circus seal, barking and clapping its hands together, eager for fulfillment. And he doesn't even have the mind to feel stupid.

Why are you here? Shouldn't you be vacationing in France with your boyfriend? Oh fuck it, it doesn't matter. I don't care. What book is it?

"I've brought you a book. It's one of my favorites – a lot of people say it's like a Hallmark card, but I like it just the same. It's The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. Have you heard of it?"


"It's. . . different. Probably different from a lot of the things you've read."

Good! Different is good. It isn't like I'm going to go out in a few months and read it myself.

She looks at him, as if a little apprehensive, before clearing her throat. She opens to page one and he feels little sparks of excitement inside his veins. If he could smile he would, and he doesn't remember having felt this way in a very long time. Childish, innocent. Here she was, reading him a book he's never heard of before, and he feels like jumping through the roof with joy.

She begins reading to him, quietly but audibly, and he closes his eyes.

- - -

Another day she brings in a stereo. She has with her several albums, and Draco feels that same feeling again, like a child on Christmas morning, and like he has been waiting all night for this, half hysterical and as if they've turned his stomach into a butterfly farm. She smiles a little, as if she can understand any bit of what he's feeling (which he can't emote) or what he's thinking (which he can't say). She keeps the albums a surprise and only tells him when she plays them. First she plays a French album – and he recognizes this. A soulful croon fills the room. This was his mother's favorite album. She would play it all the time. He can't believe he's almost forgotten about this.

"This is Edith Piaf. A French singer. She's amazing," she tells him. And that's all she tells him. The rest of the time she just sits beside him, staring out of the window, sitting completely still. Sometimes she closes her eyes. But not once does she move. Good. Neither does he. She doesn't say a word until the album ends and she gets up to put another in. Another old one, he can tell, but not as old as the last one.

"The Beach Boys," she explains. "When my parents would fight – I would put this on. As loud as I could. It was my mother's. There's something about it, loftiness, a certain. . . escape."

Isn't that the case with all music?

She smiles a small smile. "Then again, that might just be the case with all music in general. But this-this album in particular. . . makes me remember how I felt. Every time I hear it, I feel small again. Small and closed in."

As they sit there and listen he stares out the window. There's an indescribable feeling deep inside him, almost like a hollowness fused with something else, and he is crushed by a tidal wave of emotions. Unmistakable sorrow, anger, bitterness, remorse, but also relief and happiness and gratitude. It reminds him of ingredients to certain exotic dishes that when someone reads out loud, it doesn't make sense. Nor does it make sense on paper. But when you finally put it all together, it oddly does come together – even in a strange, uncoordinated and unexpected way. He finds it a little hard to swallow – just as well, there's nothing to swallow anyway, except for the perpetually bad taste in his mouth. But these days – it's always there. His mouth has been sealed shut and there is never any new air, just rotted, old, festering air. The kind of air that has collected all sorts of disgusting, horrible things. The kind of air that doesn't and never will belong to the living.

He sees things in his head as he listens to the music. Some happy, some sad. He sees his father dancing with his mother, in large and graceful swooping steps as they dominate the dance floor. He sees the golden snitch, fluttering helplessly in Potter's hand. He sees silver lightning whipping across a black, tumultuous sky, and the eerie light it flashes through the windows of his dark manor. He sees Pansy holding his son's tiny hand and a bouquet of fresh flowers she'd just picked from the garden in the other. He sees Isabel laid out in front of him, dark and tan and beautiful and as naked as can be – then he sees Isabel in a white dress holding white flowers, getting married to the man she cheated on. He sees Blaise and the white-hot anger and hate that had spread throughout his face, and sees the flash of many colors again when he punched him. He sees his son drowning in a pond of milk. He sees Weasley's dead body crumpled at the feet of the Dark Lord. He sees flowers, all different sorts of flowers, blooming like fireworks in a gray field. He sees a baby being born, wet and bloody and pure. He sees a man hitting his wife. He sees ripples in clear puddles after rain, and glazed cherries on a cake, and miles and miles of strawberry fields. He sees the faint freckles on Granger's face and dewdrops on grass and deliberate markings on the trunks of trees. He even sees his own face, detailed and clear, before it is suddenly taken away – and he is in darkness yet again, waiting and waiting.

It's too much, he hears himself say. It's too much.

His mother's voice fills his head. "When you're dying," she once told him, "you see colors you don't know the names of, and see things that don't matter to you and never have. But they will, just because you'll know this time – you'll know that you can never have them, ever again."

- - -

One day he wakes up, remembering a conversation he'd once had. It's still night and the machines are calm beside him, but one of his tubes is caught on something. He can see it, the tube wrapped around one of the metal bars on his bed. How on earth did it get there?

"You," Isabel had once told him, putting her clothes back on, "are a very strange man."

He doesn't ask her what she means. He focuses, instead, on smoothing out an odd wrinkle he's found in his suit. After they had sex, they hardly ever slept. She would go back to Blaise, and he would go to his job.

"Aren't you going to ask me what I mean?"

"No," he tells her. He knows she'll tell him anyway. He knows women like her. Women who try to read men and tell them why they are the way they are. His mother was one of them, always coming up with excuses to justify bad men.

She sighs, looking for her pantyhose around his bed. "You're strange," she says, crouching over, "because you're a stranger even to yourself. It's rare, you know, to be so detached from everything in your world that you don't even remember why you married your wife. Most people have an answer, but you don't. Even if it's a lousy one, they have it. But you don't. You don't even have a lousy one. You have nothing."

"I don't have time for self-help seminars," he tells her, a little annoyed.

"You do so little in your days that I find it so hard to believe your days are as full as you say they are," she says softly.

"I own a business. There's work to do every moment of every day. Especially when it's international. Especially when you've got lazy fucks like your fiancée sitting around in an office with a view smoking cigars and listening to records all day long."

"Like I said," she only repeats, putting on her heels and straightening herself out in the mirror. "It's hard to believe your days are as full as you say they are."

- - -

A few weeks later, Granger comes into his room and announces to him that his wife has left him. She does this while she is doing his mandatory check-up and making sure his machines are tuned up and have enough power, and after she does so, she pauses, not quite looking at him. "I don't know how I feel about women who leave their paralyzed asshole husbands."

You can say I deserve it.

"But I can say you deserve it." She gets back to work, unfazed. "Just curious – did you ever love her?"

I don't know. We've been together for so long I can't remember. I – I just don't know.

"I heard about your son. It was hot gossip for a while years ago, when it happened. It was. . . unexpected, to say the least. Sad."

Then she lapses into an uncharacteristic silence, untangling his tubes and making sure there isn't any clogging from any residue. He waits for her to say something – anything – but he sees that something has changed about her now. Her face is hard, as if she's suddenly put up a shield towards something that could possibly make her the least bit vulnerable. He realizes, then, that she's sad. That talking about his dead son has made her feel sorry for him – probably more so towards his son than him – and she doesn't want to let him know.

"I had a brother once," she finally says, her voice quiet, although entirely too steady for it to be natural. Her eyes stay on her hands, unmoving. "Younger. I was supposed to be watching him one day, but I was too busy reading. I was reading – Crime and Punishment, by Dostoevsky, do you know that book? I remember exactly where I was, too. I remember it was hot, and the laminated cover was sticking to the skin on my legs, but I was too engrossed to think about anything else."

What happened to him?

"It was – our neighbor's brother in law, who had just come in for vacation. There's a turn on our street where there's an exceptionally bad glare, especially at noon, when the sun's straight ahead. He didn't see him. He was going fast because he'd been late – and my brother's body. . . it broke into too many pieces. Too many pieces, and they couldn't fix him."

For once, Draco hears silence in his head. A sort of stunned and solemn silence that he rarely hears anymore, because he's grown to be able mock his own tragedy – but he finds that he can't do the same with hers. In a way, he relishes the connection.

Now he knows why she was so sad.

"To this day," says Granger, "I still can't find that book. I never returned it to the library. It just. . . disappeared. I don't remember what I did with it."

It's funny that he sees this side of her now – something that isn't cruel or that can be made fun of – now that there is nothing he can do about it. Not that he knows what he would do, or what he would say. Probably nothing. Then he realizes that she would have never said any of this to him if he hadn't been stuck in a hospital bed, unable to walk or move or speak or even shit himself. They had been in two different worlds – one that he had created himself, this faceless and extravagant yet empty universe, and another that is completely unknown to him. He realizes now that he knows nothing about her. He knows nothing about what she had been doing until she'd stepped into his room; he knows nothing about what she does or what happens to her when she steps out. His entire universe, now, had shrunk down into a miserably bleak and lonely hospital room that rarely sees anyone else, or any happiness, but something had changed when she'd come in. He rarely notices the emptiness of it anymore, or the fact that it has more machines than a sense of humanity, or even the window that used to taunt him of the truth that he is now a prisoner of his own body.

He almost wants to laugh. He can feel it, the tickling motion, like tiny bubbles, filling up his throat. There are millions of microscopic trembles inside his body – not from pain, not even from the desire of pain, but from something he doesn't really recognize. He looks at her and the unruly and careless frizz of her hair, the subtle weight she carries on her shoulders that nobody is likely to notice unless they're truly looking, and the tiny white scar on the corner of her mouth, like leftover frosting she doesn't know is there. And, oddly, all he wants to do – is wipe it off, and keep it with him.

- - -

He can't help it. He's been stuck in a room with no visitors and no women – he can't help it. He begins to think about her differently – much differently. Now when she leaves he finds that he is plagued with thoughts of a different purpose and intention. He finds himself staring avidly at her ass, imagining how it would feel against his hands, and wondering how many hands have grabbed it. He also pays attention now to her lips and the way she says certain words, as if she is rolling marbles on her tongue – and her tongue! The pink, fleshy gift from God himself. It tortures him the way it peeks out at him from time to time, as if taunting him. He wonders endlessly how it would feel against certain parts of his body.

He finds that he can also observe her hair for hours. It looks chaotic but undisturbed and natural, and he discovers he's never really seen that in a woman before. He's never really noticed these things before, really. He can't seem to figure out whether she just doesn't care or she has embraced it fully, but the way her hair is so stubborn and defiant reminds him of her, and of many other things – but mostly her.

Every day he watches her, and at first he thinks it's a bit creepy (in its own damn right), but now it has become a compulsion. Today he watches as the white bone of her teeth clamps down on her bottom lip and swears he almost feels shivers. Her eyebrows slightly knit together when a nurse comes in to bother her, and when she stands up, he can see the way the fabric bunches up at her crotch. Her crotch – he can spend a limitless amount of days just staring at it. He wonders what it looks like. She looks like the type to not care, and that makes it even worse, because it's been so long he's seen a cunt that any cunt will do, especially hers.

Every day he comes up with scenarios. He imagines himself, the way he used to be, and watches as he would take her out somewhere – somewhere with twinkling lights and the ocean and modest food. He's spent enough time listening to her know that he knows what she'll appreciate. He'll talk to her, the way he does now in his head, and she'll tell him all about herself, even the eccentric little details, like how she'd accidentally killed her first hamster and cried for weeks. In fact, he finds that he gets hungry for it now – the little things she'll say that serve as tiny windows into her life, whether it be past or present. One day she'll tell him about how her father proposed to her mother, and why her mother had first told him No. Another day she'll tell him about what her favorite book is, and how she uses her least favorite book as a coaster. And maybe another day she might tell him about her sleepwalking neighbor who had gone missing one night, or about how her cat had died a few years ago from eating a dead mouse that had been killed with poison.

It's a strange feeling, and he's never had it before – actually wanting to hear what someone has to say, and not even so you can come back with some witty retort. Every other weekend she comes in with another album, or a book. One day she brings in a comic strip. Another day she brings in a letter she'd just gotten from Viktor Krum. Every time it's something that fills the pieces of the puzzle he has of her inside his head, and no matter how many times he tries to go back, to time-travel back to the time he actually knew her – something is always different. He remembers more than he thinks he should, especially the bad things. It makes him realize how he's evolved from a little asshole to an even bigger one. But he doesn't like to dwell on this because it tends to put a damper on his daydreams.

Today is Christmas so there is very little staff. He hadn't known today was Christmas until one of the few nurses that had stayed behind, the mousy redhead named Carrie, had popped her head in and greeted him a Happy Christmas. A Happy what? "Happy Christmas, Mr. Malfoy." She then hung two stockings from the window and lugged in a miniature tree, decorated it with a few pieces of tinsel, before bustling off to decorate the other patients' rooms to boost their poor Christmas spirit. It's when she leaves, however, that he notices that there are names on the stockings. Draco, and. . . Hermione. The nurse must have figured, since she spent most of her time around here anyway. For some odd reason, it gives him a warm feeling inside, and as much as he hates and/or doesn't give a rat's ass about Christmas, it's starting to look like it might not be so bad.

He's in the middle of one of his daydreams when she comes in – a rather raunchy one, for the sake of Christmas spirit. He had just been right in the act of fucking her, with her legs tossed up beside his ears – before he's forced to abruptly end it. She comes in with a bag and wearing a tight black dress. Her hair is pulled back and she's wearing a gold necklace. She looks pretty – or maybe that isn't the word. It isn't. He's just shocked, that's all – before he realizes with a trickling disappointment that she looks this stunning because she has somewhere else to go.

"Merry Christmas, Malfoy," she says to him. "I can't stay very long, I have a function – no, not a function, a party. I have a Christmas party. Usually I can't stand them, but I figured to give it a try this year, maybe something's changed."

You're wrong. It'll be horrible. People will get drunk and end up kissing people who aren't their spouse. You'll only be grossly disappointed. I've been to those – every single fucking year. They never change, Granger. It's always the same people, getting drunk, and then going home to have meaningless sex with someone they won't even remember the name of in the morning. It's a great injustice to the baby Jesus if you think of it – and weren't you the one parading around talking about your newfound belief in God?

"I've brought you something. Something to watch. I have a friend who knows all of these complicated things to do with movies, so I had him do me a favor and put these three movies back to back. I don't think you've seen them, so I'll just let them be a surprise."

She walks over to the TV and changes it from the live broadcast of the Christmas Day parade. He sees a blue screen before a blur of words come up, but he's not paying attention to those anymore because she's taken her bag and she's leaving.

Don't go! Stay! Stay, dammit!

"It's okay if you hate them." She smiles, and he knows she really means it. Sometimes he really hates how she doesn't have a clue what he's thinking, and how he can't do any-damn-thing about it. "But it's something better to do on Christmas day."

- - -

The screen has gone blue. It's a vivid blue that's all too bright – it almost blinds him from where he's at – and it casts an eerie glow on the room around him. Everything's dark now, and quiet, and still. He looks out at the window and he can't tell if it's snowing. It probably is. He misses snow. He used to hate it – he hated the cold – but now he misses it, only because it's been so long and he's sure he'll never be able to feel it again. He even misses the carolers, with their voices in unison holding up the night, cheery and joyful. He misses the lights, and the mistletoe they hang from windows and doorways, and even that damn Christmas music. He misses the ribbons, the satin, and the white streets. But he doesn't know if he misses the parties, the kind that have nothing to do with Christmas, and really have nothing to do with much of anything at all.

He takes to imagining himself with her, at the party. He imagines himself happy – which is something he's never done – because he thinks he would be, in all honesty. As he thinks about her surrounded by men in suave suits and bitter, burning drinks in their hands, brushing their palms against her shoulder and whispering things in her ear, he feels fresh knots of anger begin to bundle in his stomach. He feels helpless and frustrated and jealous of anyone privileged strapped with free will. He urges his body to get up – just get up – and to start walking, to start moving, to start anything. But nothing happens. He tries and he tries, but nothing happens.

Then he feels foolish. Like a fucking idiot. Something burns in his chest and he tightly shuts his eyes. You want her. But you can't have her. He doesn't ever remember being in this predicament, or ever having such a dire and desperate need. He blames himself. He blames his mother, and his father. He blames Pansy. He blames Isabel. He blames everyone he knows – he even blames his damn secretary. But he blames Granger, most of all. How was he supposed to know? How was he supposed to know that when he finally wants something – as it is, for everything it is, for eternity and forever and even something else beyond it – it was going to hurt this badly? That he would be helpless and even voiceless and motionless?

I refuse to believe in a God that would fuck me over like this.

- - -

He doesn't know what to call it. He has never felt this way before, and so he doesn't know what to call it. All he can have as reference is the sad little nurse that comes by every now and then, humming happy songs to herself, with pink cheeks. Every so often he would hear her talk to another nurse as they're unclogging his machines. I've never felt this way before, she once said. Almost like the world is brighter and everything seems so. . . simple. Sometimes he thinks about that nurse, and wants to grab her arm and ask her, "How does it end? Does it ever go away? Do you feel like this forever?" He tries to think of whatever answer she might possibly have, but he just doesn't know. He's never felt this way before, and so he just doesn't know.

One day Granger asks him what he thinks his life's purpose is.

Well, how in the hell am I supposed to know?

"I don't exactly know how the hell you're supposed to know that kind of thing," she says, "but I hear people talking about it all the time. I'm just as likely to say that we don't have a purpose in life – but I think that's a little depressing." Well, it's not like you work in a hospital and talk to a paralyzed asshole who can't talk back. "But if you were to guess, what do you think it'd be? Or at least – what would you want it to be?"

I don't know. I've never thought about it. I don't think I even fully understand what the hell it is.

"I've been thinking about this," she says. "And I think. . . I don't know, but I think we all have this general purpose to do the best we can with what we're given, and what we're good at. But every time I say it out loud it just comes out sounding like a bunch of shit."

A lot of things come out sounding like a bunch of shit, Granger.

"But maybe it's just one of those things you only really get a chance to know when you're – well, fucked. When you're fucked. Maybe it's too early in the game to tell, you know? Maybe I shouldn't think about it until I'm dying. Maybe I'll have a real answer then."

He wants to tell her that he doesn't want to think of her dying.

"I think it'll be different, because then things won't be as hectic – I'll be at peace, maybe. Hopefully. And I'll be older and wiser. I could look back and know exactly what I did." She looks at him. "Do you ever do that? I think you'd be crazy not to, lying there all day. You could retrace your steps and relive your life and try to distinguish the bad choices from the good ones – and in the end, you come to find out that it doesn't really matter. Because you end up where you end up, and it's hard to imagine anything else."

- - -

One morning a parade of his nurses and doctors walk into his room, with smiles and grins on their faces. What the hell is all this about? Then he sees the cake they are holding in their hands, one with multicolored candles and blue frosting. One nurse is carrying balloons. They begin to sing to him, mostly in tune but there are some that sing the words too late – and he thinks this is strange. He watches this all from where he is lying, and he thinks this is strange. He doesn't remember being sung to on his birthday since he was seven years old, and while on any other normal day he thinks this might be juvenile and really fucking stupid, he has never seen this many people in his room. And he hopes, direly, that they might do him a big favor and turn the damn TV on.

Somebody else blows out the candles for him, and he sees Granger in the back, smiling a small smile. The nurse ties his balloons to the bars on his bed, and another nurse comes to kiss him on the head. They all spend a few minutes in his room, eating his cake, chatting with each other – and this is okay, he doesn't hate it, because he can hear their conversations and remember what it's like to be able to have them. One pair of doctors are talking about their ski vacation in France last year, and another group is discussing the new prime minister. However, after about twenty minutes, the doctors throw out their trash, wish him happy birthday, and head on to their jobs. The nurses leave one by one, until there is only Granger and two other nurses left, cleaning up.

"So. You're twenty-eight, how do you feel?" she asks him.

Tired. And hungry. He's never been a cake person, but he suddenly realizes that he misses it. It's funny what you miss when you're no longer able to have them. You miss even the things you know you should hate.

The nurse at the other side of the room, tying up the trash bag, is humming to herself. She is in a completely different world. Granger glances at her before taking something out of her bag.

"I brought you something." She brings out a small glass box, and inside he sees butterflies. Three of them. There is a small green plant inside, as well as a few tiny flowers. "There are air holes at the top," she says, pointing them out. "I know you might think it's ridiculous, but I figure not having been able to step a foot outside in nine months gets to a person."

It isn't ridiculous. He stares at the butterflies – there's a blue one, an orange one, and a small white one. They flutter around the box and it is almost as if it isn't there at all; not once do they bump against the top or crash against the sides. He can see their large iridescent eyes and their furry bodies, as well as the intricate detail in their wings. It occurs to him that he's never really looked at them before. He's seen them, sure – they were all over his garden. But he's never really seen them.

"The orange one is a Julia butterfly," she explains. "The blue is a Karner Blue, and the white one is a common white butterfly. My aunt likes to tend butterfly farms, so I managed to sneak a few out. I don't expect they'll live too long, so after a few days I'll be coming by to set them free. Nothing deserves to be cooped up like that for so long."

He hears his own voice inside his head, looking at the butterflies inside the glass box. Except me.

Her voice gets quiet. "Not even you. You – maybe you're all right, you know? Maybe you've learned a thing or two. Of course, I don't know what you're thinking. But I'm thinking this sort of thing – it has to change a person." Her eyes have gotten soft. He's noticed this. She lapses into silence, and he doesn't know what she's thinking – all he knows is: he'd actually kill to know. And it isn't as if he can just ask her and force him to tell her; all he can do, really, is just lie there and wait and hope that she'll say what she's thinking about. But after about a minute, she blinks and gets up. She sets the butterflies on the table by his side. "Happy birthday."

- - -

There are times he thinks about what she hasn't told him – what she's yet to tell him, and what she never will. It's easy to judge a person by what you know about them – what they're willing to tell you – and it's easy to say that he's never judged someone by what he doesn't know. But there are questions he is itching to ask – little ones, big ones, detailed ones, vague ones. He wants to know about Viktor Krum. He wants to know what her parents fought about. He wants to know about her first kiss, how she lost her virginity, and who the lucky bastard was so he knows who to envy. He wants to know what she did after Weasley died. He wants to know where the hell Potter went. He wants to know how she ended up here, and why she really came. He wants to know what she thinks when she sees him. He wants to know if she wishes she could just pull the plug. He wants to know if she thinks she's going to be there when he dies – if she wants to be. He wants to know if she can finally see him as somebody human.

Once upon a time, they had been in different realms. They had been on different sides and dimensions. He spends hours in his days both trying to remember them and trying not to. He counts the times he's called her foul words. Words that he, uncannily, can't imagine saying now – because he's just realized how valuable every word is. Sometimes, he realizes, it is worth saving them up, all of those terrible things, just to be able to say something you mean more. Just one thing you mean more. And the other half of his day he spends trying to uncover what exactly that is.

One day Granger comes in, and there's something different about her. She fumbles with his tubes and checks his machines but there's a furrow in her brow. He studies it.

"Your vitals are going down," she finally tells him. He can tell she tries to say this with the straightest face possible. He imagines raising his hand and smoothing out that furrow with his own finger. "They've been steadily decreasing. . . and sometimes it's common for it to take a sudden plunge after a few days. But other times, it just keeps going down at an even pace."

So either way, I'm going to die. It's just a matter of how long it takes.

"In a few days. . . we don't know what's going to happen." She takes a pause. "You're dying."

Well, aren't I in just about a shock!

Then she asks just about the worst question you can ask someone who's dying: "How do you feel?"

It's funny, now that she mentions it, finding out that you're dying even though you're better off dead than what you are now. All this time, he remembers begging at Death's feet to take him sooner. But now he doesn't know what to feel. His head is a little dizzy, even though he hasn't lifted it in about a year. He feels overwhelmed. Like his head has just been plunged underwater and he doesn't know if he's ever going to come back up for air. For a very long time, he can't look at her. Then the anger seeps in.

Well, fuck you! he yells at her. His inner, invisible self is thrashing inside, wrestling to get out of this useless hunk of flesh he calls his body. Fuck you! Isn't this what you wanted? Didn't you come here to see me die? Wasn't that what you said to me, the minute you stepped in here? So stop it with that. Stop looking at me like that. Stop looking at me like that, damn it.

Just looking at her makes him feel worse. Nobody has ever looked at him like that before.

"Contrary to belief," she says then, "I didn't come here to see you die. At least. . . not anymore. I just needed something to believe in. Justice. I needed justice. I needed to see it for myself, to be in its presence, to be able to touch it and hear it and know that it's out there. I needed to know that it was real."

Mission accomplished. Get out.

"But this," she says quietly, sighing. "I don't know what this is. It's something else now. Something else completely different, and I don't know what it is."

And neither does he.

- - -

By this time, he's forgotten what his own voice sounds like. He hears his thoughts but he can't hear them in his own voice anymore – as if someone's taken over, and he's not allowed to remember these sorts of things anymore.

He's getting worse. He should have known this would happen. It's a common fact of life – you get better, and then you get worse. Sometimes you die. And sometimes, you get to see a sunrise again, and maybe even a sunset. Those are for the lucky ones. He feels a little unsettled by this, by the increasingly loud fuss that he often wakes up to find around his bed, and the concerned faces. But in the sea of worried faces he always sees at least one that is relieved. He immediately knows, then, something about that person, although he's never met them or ever really heard their name: they can't stand to see people suffer. Even bad ones that deserve it.

His brain knows it too. The images become more vivid, as if it is trying to use up whatever it can before time runs out. He relives his memories – some in slow motion, and some in fast. But he also tries to cling onto his daydreams, pretending it would be his future if he ever got to have one. He sees Granger in blue dresses and flowers in her hair. He thinks about his houses, all four of them, and who they're going to be sold to. If they're going to be lived in for a change. If someone was going to wipe off the dust that's been collecting and put in a vase of fresh flowers and take down the vintage draperies. He realizes that in the past he'd made it a point to buy the best view possible yet never actually opened up the curtains to see it. Is that how his entire life has been?

He remembers how Pansy would stand in the middle of their garden, just stand there. The way she would look at all of the things she'd planted and tended to. . . happy, proud, accomplished. And then his son was born. She would take him out there, in broad daylight, and teach him about things he couldn't possibly understand. "The best thing about flowers," she'd once told him, taking a flower petal and brushing it against his small palm and fingers, "is that it's a testament to life. How colorful and different it can be." She'd once heard from a painter that the sole purpose of flowers was to inspire mankind. She'd told him that, too.

I'm sorry, he finally says. He sees the crumpled daisy in his son's tiny fist. I'm sorry I couldn't save him.

Today Granger comes in and apologizes. "I have to set them free," she says, holding the box delicately in her hands. The butterflies have started to slowly die. He knows they weren't made to be cooped up and kept by a patient's side. Go ahead. Let them go.

- - -

Today he sees a grand piano in an empty, dark room. Everything is dusty and the piano is untouched. But there is a window in the corner with a drape that's blowing from a breeze he can't feel. Then – it changes. Next he's looking at a blue sky with a white balloon floating high, higher, and highest. There's not a cloud in sight and there's nothing weighing it down – not gravity, not nature, not any law of physics. The balloon gets smaller and smaller until he can no longer make it out. Instead he is swallowed by the big sky of blue, an infinite and endless horizon of blue. Next he sees a little girl with curly brown hair and no shoes, dancing in dirty puddles and laughing. The dark water flies up and splashes but it doesn't faze her – as she dances and jumps she is still dry.

When he wakes up he instantly feels the pressure in his chest. It's painful and disturbing and he feels as if his body is being torn apart. His vision is clouded and dark and he immediately knows there's something wrong. There's something wrong, and he can feel it everywhere in his body. He hears a rapid beeping somewhere around him, and he can feel motion – many bodies, not just one. He feels hands fussing over him, the tubes tugging, the frantic clicks of the dials. There are voices above him, warbled and indistinguishable. He tries to yell but it gets bottled up in his throat and it never makes it out; he's forgotten his mouth is sealed up. He tries to move his hands and his legs, but the message gets lost in the bundles of dead nerves and muscles in his body. He's drowning and drifting out at the same time, and everything seems so distant, as if he is already getting lifted – to where, he doesn't know.

He sees colors he doesn't know the names of, and instantly – a flicker of vivid images flash by in a flurry of seconds: spilled milk, Christmas lights, a bright blue screen, Granger's crotch, a church, a field of flowers, fireworks, his mother and father dancing, rivers and rivers of blood, Pansy picking flowers in their garden, the soft round head of his son, the brunette newscaster and her pearl earrings, his old suits, his new suits, the hospital window, the trapped fly, pert pink nipples, furry little bodies of bees going from flower to flower, a crying woman on a bench, the two stockings, Blaise's smooth shaven face, his father's Persian rug. Thousands of images he's both seen and never seen, reeling by. A sunset, Aurora Borealis, a field of giant sunflowers, hot air balloons, a magnificent thunderstorm, a butterfly farm. He knows – he knows – he'll miss them all. And Granger is right. He does not have the time or the energy to think about the good choices or the bad choices – because he's ending up where he's ending up, and he can't imagine anything else. He wishes he can tell her. He opens his eyes, and the world looks soft and forgiving but increasingly distant, and he sees her face, concerned and worried, looking down at him. I wish I could tell you that you're right. Even though he knows she already knows it anyway.

He hears music in his head – many different types of music. French music. The Beach Boys. Bach. Jingly Indian music. He sees himself running out the door to find his son. He sees himself jumping into the pond and swimming to grab his small body and scrambling to find a pulse, to find his heartbeat, to feel his breath. He remembers how light his body had felt, even with his clothes soaked through. How he'd looked back into the pond as if trying to find his son – his real son – and as the vigorous ripples stilled he saw only himself – his face, staring back at him, blank with hollow eyes, and found that he couldn't recognize himself the least bit, or who he'd become.

Through his heavy lids he feels something wet on his face. He sees Granger, her muddled hair plastered all over her face, her hands working frantically over him. His body has given up, and she should know this. She should be happy. But instead all he can vaguely make out are the tears glossing over her eyes, her mouth tightly pursed into a determined yet anguished frown. It dimly occurs to him that he has yet to see a sunrise, but as he feels her hands pump against his chest in desperation and his consciousness starting to slip away, he knows that it doesn't matter. It never actually has.

- - -

He doesn't know where they are, but he can't care less. He feels time clawing at his heels and it's bound to find him soon enough. There are many things he hasn't done, and it's this last minute desperation that has him acting this way, as if the world is about to end – and it is, in a sense, for him. His universe has been tipped over – it couldn't hold its own weight any longer – and now everything is falling apart and getting sucked into the dark abyss. His memories are getting pulled out, one by one. He is becoming unraveled. The glass box has been shattered and all of the butterflies are flying out towards somewhere, somewhere he can't see and somewhere he can't even begin to know. He's afraid but there's nothing he can do but do what he knows he needs to.

"You have to listen to me," he says to her then, clutching her face in between his hands. "You have to listen to me, and try really hard, because, dammit, I know how you are and it would be so easy to get this all lost in translation." He swallows hard, and he feels his chest caving in. His limbs are giving way, numb and disconnected, and the ground is going to open up underneath him any time now. And that's when he tells her, at first fumbling over his words, but soon he finds it – the strange run-on of things he has always wanted to say. The things he has been saving up for her, all of them, as rapidly as he can, and he doesn't worry that she won't get it because he sees it all inside her eyes. They're glazed over with clarity.

"Whoever gets to have you, I envy the damn bastard," he says, and he can't remember meaning anything more than he means this in his entire life. "Because he'll never know how damn lucky he is – because he isn't me. He won't be like me, Granger. He won't already be a dying man when he meets you. And – isn't it funny? Isn't it just the damn most hilarious thing you've ever heard in your life? Dying is the best thing that's ever happened to me, because it brought me to you. I'd never say it if I didn't mean it. And I'd never say it unless I knew it would do absolutely no good for you to know. . . you don't need to know it. You don't have to know it. And that's why I'm telling you."

And then he kisses her.

"Your book," he then tells her, out of breath for more reasons than one. A harsh, loud wind is picking up around them and he feels himself quickly . . . fading. "Crime and Punishment, it's under the board under your bathroom sink."

She'd hidden it there after her brother died, and had been so keen to forget it ever happened, so she did.

- - -

Somewhere out there, there is a bee collecting his dues, flying from flower to flower. He has suddenly dropped into the golden iris, a vast space of color swallowing him whole, catching him right where he fell. Dead, still, and silent. And as Draco Malfoy hears the panicked thudding of this heart begin to slow, it is this that finally convinces him that maybe he did still have a heart, and that he's had it all along; it has just finally gone silent after a twenty-eight-year-long stupor.


Post-A/N: The Alchemist is a real book. I totally rec it to anybody who wants a good, meaningful read. Other than that -- dare I ask you to review? It should be a compulsion by now, people.