Disclaimer: I'm not J.K. Rowling; I'm only visiting her universe for nonprofit fun and edification. (No profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended).
Author's notes: This little snippet occurs in an alternative universe to Amends, or Truth and Reconciliation. It is the first time I heard the voices of Rowling's characters. Rating is for bad language.
It's four o'clock in the morning when the outer defenses trip a warning. Hermione has just poured her first cup of coffee for the morning and is waiting for the toast to finish when she feels the tug. Front walk. Someone or something that can actually see this house through the layers of charms that say boring boring boring to any non-magical passer-by. Not that there should be passers-by, of any description, at this hour in this suburban neighborhood.
And there's been no one, these last eight months.
She peeks in the mirror that watches the front walk and the hairs go up on the back of her neck: a hooded figure, all in black. It hesitates on the front step; she can't make out a face in the deep shadow thrown by the hood of the cloak. No reflection, at least, from a silver mask. Death Eaters don't ring the doorbell, she reminds herself. And in any case the war is over.
A pause, and then there's a soft knock.
She checks the other mirrors; no one in evidence on the perimeter. The foe-glass is dark.
She stands to one side, drops the barrier over the threshold, says, "Come in."
And it—he—lunges, wand out, shouting, "Granger, you're going to tell me what you're doing to me!" Things slow. She steps inside the circle of that arm, seizes the wrist, drops, twists, and the wand clatters on the floor.
She scoops it up, turns, faces him. The hood has dropped back over his shoulders. She sighs.
"Malfoy, you fucking idiot."
"Gone native, have we?" he says. "Or should we say, reverted to type?"
His sneer is reflex, she reminds herself. Defense mechanism. He doesn't even see you.
"Minimum use of force," she says. "Unless you have a serious death wish, in which case go find someone else to fulfill it for you."
She can't resist adding: "I understand there would be plenty of takers."
The sneer wobbles a little.
"Sorry," she says. "You came in with a question. And I'm surly before I've had my coffee, so if you don't mind, can we talk about this over breakfast?"
He accepts a cup of tea, and two slices of toast. She pushes the butter and jam to the center of the table and watches. She occupies herself with her own breakfast and watches his face and listens to the scratch of butter knife against toast. No drama-queen noises about poisoning, so whatever has him bothered, that's not it. She keeps one hand on the captured wand and eats with the other and doesn't take her eyes off that pale pointy face.
She realizes that she's never watched him before at such close quarters, nor under electric light. It's cold, merciless, raking light and under it she sees the fine network of scars over cheekbones and forehead, running up to his eyes. When the chandelier fell, yes. She's walked through that memory in the Pensieve, weird and dissociated, picked her way around her own body screaming on the floor to look at the figures on the periphery and it was only a flash before they all disappeared but he was screaming with his hands over his face and blood running between the fingers and his mother lifting or dragging him out of the way.
She's never seen that face under electric light, always under the light of candles or torches or daylight in another world. Not in the kitchen of her parents' house at four o'clock in the morning, buttering toast. Here he isn't her old enemy—or annoyance—from school, but a visitor from another world. Pale hair grown out, combed back from his forehead and hanging loose over his shoulders, not long enough yet to tie back like his father's, severe black robes with just a touch of silver and green embroidery at the collar. Understated Pureblood style. No jeans and T-shirt under that, either, she would guess. The full layered look, muggle clothes under open traditional robes, that's a fashion statement he's not ever likely to make.
Pointy pale face. Pointy-faced git, Ron's sneering epithet. Ferret.
Look at the face; forget the name-calling. Pointed chin, yes, sharp cheekbones, high forehead under the pale fine hair that flops forward to be absently brushed back. Thinner than she remembers, with a bruised look under the eyes. Not sleeping, evidently. Nice work, she thinks, eyeing the almost invisible scars, whoever repaired that must have done it quickly. There's almost no scarring. She wonders, professionally, if the repairs run over the eyes. He took a face full of broken glass and can still see.
"Beautiful work," she says, and then realizes she spoke aloud. A hazard of living alone. He looks up, meets her eyes, little square of toast halfway to his mouth. Raises one eyebrow.
She traces with a fingertip on her own face. "The cuts from the glass," she says. "From the chandelier… It must have been your mother who healed it."
Arctic grey gaze now, neutral as water, little flecks of blue and green in it like sparks. Mouth in a thin line, nostrils flaring, everything compressed, furious… "Don't talk about my mother."
"No disrespect meant. She does beautiful work." She really loved you. Loves you. You don't get work that fine without real intention. Which she knows better than to say aloud.
He finishes the toast, pushes the plate away, puts his hands on the table.
"So tell me what curse it is, Granger, because it must be something obscure."
"I think you need to back up a little. I don't know what you're talking about."
"It takes a pushy mudblood to find something everyone else has forgotten. You haven't been back to Hogwarts. They told me you were catching up on your reading. What a joke. I have a good guess what you've been reading."
Her heart starts to race, and she takes a few deep breaths to slow it down.
"Malfoy, if we're going to have a conversation about whatever this is, we're going to drop the name calling. You don't use that word in my house, and I don't call you ferret, inbred git, junior Death Eater wannabe scum… agreed?"
He stares at her another hard second or two, and nods.
Think of this as another intake. "So tell me the symptoms."
"I have dreams—when I sleep at all—and you're always in them. When—when you were at the Manor. And the fire in the Room of Hidden Things." His voice quavers a little and he stops to steady. Takes a visible breath, a shallow one—she sees the tension in his neck. "I wake up with my heart racing. And I get them sometimes when I'm awake. Waking nightmares. Something happens and I'm back there. I can't sleep and I can't study. I can't concentrate."
"Why do you think this is something I'm doing to you?"
"Because I can't study. And we have NEWTS in two weeks, and I'm not ready. Last year was a waste, and now I can't study. And I heard you were taking them too even though you're not at school…" He's glowering now, but he sounds as if he's on the brink of tears.
Christ and Merlin on a tandem bike, this boy is seriously paranoid. And petty. As if I give a flying fuck about NEWTs at this point.
But he doesn't know that.
Deep breath now.
"I have the same symptoms," she says. "The nightmares. And I don't sleep very much, and it's disturbed. I'm not normally awake at four in the morning. Or I wasn't, before."
Another pause. You can say it.
"And you turn up in my nightmares too. Not as a star player, I should confess. I'm afraid your late aunt and Greyback have that honor. But you're there at the periphery. It can't be helped. We were both there."
She pauses, prepares to recite another version of the words she's already said to half a dozen of her friends.
"I don't think this is a curse, either. I've checked mine out with the people who would know. And I know you hold the so-called muggle world in utter contempt, but I crossed the border and had them check me out. And I have a diagnosis, which is probably fits your case too. Post-traumatic stress."
He's staring. "Not a curse?"
"Only if being human is a curse. But the bad news is, St. Mungo's doesn't do PTSD counseling. There is help. But you're going to have to cross the border to get it."