DISCLAIMER: The characters and canon situations in the following story belong solely to JK Rowling. I am not making any money from the publishing or writing of this story.

This was plaguing my brain.

I would like to thank ravenswing34 for being my beta and Ayden for reading it and giving her opinion.

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Can one merely exist? Can one truly be hollow?

He sat alone in the corner of the dark pub, nursing a glass. The bottle of Firewhiskey, sitting in the middle of the table, was now nearly half empty.

He sighed and swallowed the contents of his drink, then poured himself another.

He existed. This was his life, his penance, his punishment. Wake, eat, work, eat, work, home, eat, work, sleep. An endless cycle with one action bleeding into the other. Indistinguishable and mundane. His life was empty, but what did it matter?

He hated himself. He lived in darkness.

Despite the wealth, despite the name, despite the blood, despite power – he had nothing. Living as the one always looking in, nose pressed upon the proverbial cold glass; staring at what he couldn't touch, let alone have.

Like her.

No, he promised himself he would NOT do this. He would NOT think of her. She was too good for him. After all he'd done, after all he'd allowed to be done to her; she would never want him. Never see him, see what he hid from the world, from himself. His regret and bitterness ate at him, constantly.

He took another drink from his glass.

Hiding. He was so good at hiding and burying what he'd thought was unnecessary. What he could do without. And he'd succeeded in convincing himself that life was . . . bearable, yes bearable. He needed nothing, no one. When the time came for an heir, he would do what was necessary, his duty. Do as all his ancestors had done before him, what his father would have expected and wanted. Love need not be part of the equation.

He would ignore that dull ache, that . . . pain . . . that seemed to have ingrained itself into his very essence. The pain that made it so difficult to breathe, that made every inhale of air seem as if he were taking in large, raw remnants of cotton that would settle in his lungs and clog his windpipe with every gasp.

He had to still his body when he began to feel it claw at his very innards. Else he would suffocate, drown in his own blood and guts.

No, he wouldn't picture her. Yet her image came, unbidden, to the forefront of his mind. Golden-honeyed curls framing a lovely heart-shaped face. Wide inquisitive eyes that seemed to pierce the very heart of whatever issue before her, seemed to pierce his soul.

Seeing her weakened his defenses. The desire for them to crumble before her, like the walls of Troy under siege of the bloodthirsty Greeks, burdened him with a weight so heavy, it made walking a difficult task.

He recalled the last time he saw her, standing in the Ministry's Atrium. She was beautiful, her long, insane mane cascading past her shoulders, down her back. The all-male instinct to grab her, bury his hands in those silky strands and crush her lips with his, taste her, feel her . . . he'd nearly buckled under the desire. His legs were clumsy and leaden; his footfalls scrapping along hard marble floor, echoing in his mind until he would surely go mad. He had walked past her quickly, a sneer on his handsome features; fervently praying she wouldn't see the emotions swirling behind his storm-cloud eyes.

Seeing her made his heart hurt.

Stop it! Stop thinking of her. Damn it! Unconsciously, he rubbed his chest as the ghostly pain seemed to wrench his heart in two. She was everything he could want: kind, intelligent, witty, fierce, loyal and so beautiful. She blasted all his ludicrous Pureblood notions to dust. She challenged his familial doctrines turning them into insignificant, out-dated nonsense. He nearly snorted out loud at his younger self's ignorance.

He took another swig of his Firewhiskey. The burning sensation oozed down his throat, helping dull the images and burn away the pain.

If only for a little while. Night time, alone in his bed, brought fresh, wandering thoughts.

Would anyone ever see him for more than what they expected? Would anyone ever bother?

He could only wonder. But never hope.

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She studied him.

He was sitting alone, as was his habit, in the Leaky Cauldron nursing a glass of Firewhiskey.

He was . . . different. Not the same boy she knew.

She recalled seeing him dash past her in the Ministry, not two days ago. She was sure he had glanced her way. She was sure he had caught her eyes roving his tall, impressive frame. She was, dare she say it, admiring his fine physical features. In fact, she'd always admired them; she'd be blind not to notice.

Her friends thought she was mad when she had first noted his changed demeanor, but she didn't care. They scoffed at her determination to break his shell, and need to understand him. She was determined to bring about the collapse of the misguided Pureblood way of thinking. But how was that to happen if old prejudices and continued ignorance was allowed to seed and take root? No, the war had changed them all, including Purebloods. No one escaped unscathed.

And she believed there had to be some good in everyone. She believed in, and clung to the idea of, mankind's higher and better nature. Yes, even he could change, and, if given a chance, fling off the manacles of his family's narrow mindedness. Even he should have the opportunity to begin anew.

From the corner of her eye, she would watch him, surreptitiously. Watch as his mask of indifference would slip. No one else saw this. Not her friends. Not even his, she surmised. No one.

And when that mask would fall, she would glimpse, in those mysterious slate-colored irises . . . someone else. Someone she didn't know and hadn't ever seen. Someone approachable. Someone she could reach out too.

So she did.

Summoning all her courage, she rose from her table and bid her group goodnight as she made her way towards the booth tucked in the back. Towards the one sole occupant hidden among the shadows. Oh, yes, her friends thought she was quite mad. She waved them off, ignoring their questioning voices and crossed the room to stand before his table.

"Malf . . . Draco?" Sharp, suspicious grey eyes seemed to penetrate her very soul.

Soft, rich, velvet. His voice caressed her skin like a tender breeze on a warm, spring day. "Granger."

A child-like curve of sweet, pink lips. "May I join you?"

Her body shivered as his eyes roamed over her from the very top of her curly, unruly hair down to her simple, flat ballet flats and back up again, resting on her face. "Why?"

She resisted the urge to try and flatten out her wild tresses. Swallowing thickly, hands played with the folds of her delicate robes. "I . . . well, it appears as if you need company, and no one should drink alone."

No words. No movement.

Her eyes shift nervously, body flushing warmly. Her heartbeat thumping loudly and rapidly, embarrassment and regret clear in her voice. "I-I'm sorry. Have a nice evening." She turns to leave – away from him, the pub, her friends; she was so sure he . . .

Deep, dark and dangerous. His voice was a whisper. "Please . . . please, sit."

Pausing, she looks at him.

Moving tentatively, shyly; she slides into the booth alongside him. Her hands sit on her lap as she gazes at him. Curiosity tinged with a faint of nervousness blushes her cheeks a shade of pale pink.

A nod of a head and shrug of strong, broad shoulders. He asks, "Well?"

He grins unexpectedly as she tugs at her lower lip. His body leans forward and, with it, his masculine scent assaults her very being. Cinnamon, juniper and a hint of musk. "Yes?" Again, he queries.

Long lashes dance prettily along the edge of chocolate brown eyes. "You seem different."

He tilts his head. "Different?" Sipping his drink, he sits back casually. As usual, he is reserved, aloof.

Wild, loose hair bounces on her shoulders as she nods, assertively. "You're different. You're not the same. You've changed." Suddenly, she smiles. Her cheeks color a furious shade of deeper crimson.

"Is that so?" He's enthralled. "And your friends agree?"

Tiny shoulders shrug, but she still smiles. "Sometimes people don't want to see or believe that true change is possible. I believe it is. It's what makes the world so wondrous. The potential for goodness in our fellow human beings. The desire and courage to change for the better. To not just want something different in life, but to actually act on it and grasp it securely with both hands and not let go. It takes great courage."

"And you see this, in me?" The normally cool grey orbs have darkened slightly to a smoky hue.

Her smile deepens as she gives a curt a nod to the handsome blonde sitting still as a statue across from her. His beautiful eyes narrow as he stares back.

The noise around them dulls, the lights dim, the world fades.

Brave yet unsure, she raises her hand. Warm and small, it hesitantly rests along a hard jaw line, hoping it won't be rebuffed. Grey ice melting as they close. A low mumble. "Hermione."

A feminine voice invades this waking dream. "I-I . . . see you, Draco. I do."

Long, masculine fingers intertwine with delicate, graceful ones.

Eyes flash open in shock, strong stone meeting warm cocoa.

"Don't shut me out. I-I . . ."

"No one sees me." She sees nothing, he assures himself. This can't be real.

"I see you." There. Yes, his mask slips. Hanging treacherously by a thin string; nearing a breaking point.

"I'm alone." Not possible. No one has ever bothered to look beyond his carefully constructed borders.

"I'm here." Ah, yes, there he is – he's real. Here is the man she's seen little pieces of recently.

"I'm not worth it." The need to run and hide is overwhelming. He's on sensory overload.

"You are." Don't run. Don't hide.

"I . . ." Cotton, gasping, throat clogging.

"Draco, I see you." The world lights up with her smile. "Walk with me, talk with me."

His hand in tow, she tugs gently and forces him to follow her from the pub.

Hot, quivering lips brush across her knuckles. Two hearts beat like hummingbird wings.

Stunned stares, disbelieving eyes, gossiping whispers. All trail in their wake. All disappear.

They stroll slowly. Through the door. Into the warm night.

Hope and wonder shine from both their eyes as they embark on an unknown journey of trust, friendship and . . . possibly . . . no, not possibly . . . definitely, yes definitely, more.

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Everywhere I'm looking now
I'm surrounded by your embrace
Baby I can see your halo
You know you're my saving grace

You're everything I need and more
It's written all over your face
Baby I can feel your halo
Pray it won't fade away

-- Beyonce, Halo