"There's a good story in there somewhere," he says. "You falling in love with the girl you vowed to spend your whole life hating." Blaise lets out a puff of smoke from his cigar. "I think we were on patrol once – was it patrol? God, I can't even fucking remember – and you said that if God had ever been so fond of you and gave you the opportunity, you'd push her off the Astronomy Tower."
He remembered that night. He'd had a flask of vodka in his robes and he and Blaise and patrolled almost completely drunk. Granger had known but hadn't said a peep – just flashed those angry brown eyes in their direction.
"You," Draco says, lying down on his couch and staring at the ceiling, "are absolutely, one-hundred percent, completely fucking right." This was the part where he tries to laugh. Like in some painful way it was funny, him being stuck in this situation. It wasn't funny, Blaise would tell him later. It was pathetic. Should be his new middle name. Draco Fucking Pathetic Malfoy.
There's a little stretch of silence then. Draco stares up at his friend's ceiling and imagines it crumbling inwards and pinning him down, every limb and vital organ, a gush of blood and guts spilling all over Blaise Zabini's plush imported carpet handmade by blind Indonesian children. The Zabinis tended to have some sort of story behind every piece of furniture in their house. It was either made by some decapitated children or shat out by some holy monk. Draco didn't have the mental capacity to remember them all. Neither did Blaise.
Blaise smokes on. "Lucius, that poor bastard. He must be dancing in his grave as we speak." Then he suddenly lets out a guffaw. "Jesus. Poor you."
Zabini has nothing else to say besides words of pity for him, as well as the occasional chuckle of irony and shake of the head. It figures. Blaise had never been much of a help, really. He was a good cigar and scotch buddy, but he had never been good at much else concerning life.
They were really quite fucking alike.
He gets up and begins passing by all of the sordid Zabini trinkets when Blaise calls out to him. He hasn't gotten up from his Italian leather armchair. Blaise played off being blasé very well.
"How do you know, anyway?" He pauses to get in a drag. "That you're in love with her, or whatever it is."
To the naked ear, it sounds as if Blaise really couldn't give much of a shit, but after more than enough drinks and cigars, Draco knows better. He's genuinely curious. He doesn't blame him, either. It was as curious situation as it was stupefying.
He doesn't know the answer to this question even though it's one he's mulled over countless times. By this point it was feckless and if he had been any regular idiot he would have been happy with the answer that maybe, just maybe, there is no damn answer to such a stupid question. How and Why and all of that blathering bullshit that people try to conjure up answers to, to somehow validate their purpose for whatever the hell it was they were in.
"I don't," he just says.
"Right," says Blaise. He takes another drag. "Right."
He works at a bookstore. It paid shit – literally – but it was the only job that he could get with integrity, having no resume or living contacts but having a somewhat impressive knowledge of literature. He spends his days ringing up self-help books to insecure customers and smoking in the back during his breaks. He's forced to read Muggle books, because now he is one. He'd never admit it, but they were sometimes fascinating. So volcanic and self-torturing, obsessed with morality and pureness as well as everything that taints it. All so very fucked up, in other words.
He loves every word of it.
That day he'd seen her. She's perusing the classics section – figures, Granger was a classics sort of girl – and he dog-ears the page he's on and puts it down. Hers is the first familiar face he's seen in Muggle London ever since he'd been stripped and, in a nutshell, banished. He was allowed visits every month, which he spent at his only living contact's abode: Blaise Zabini, always covered in cigar smoke and his familiar ignorance to life.
He watches as she moves down the shelf, before moving on to somewhere he can't see. He gets up quietly and follows her. He doesn't know why he does this. Maybe it's because he was suddenly plunged into a world where nothing was familiar besides the basics of life itself – tragedy, death, poverty, reality – and when he sees her there's a change in him that he can feel – what it is, he doesn't have a fucking clue – and he has to follow it. Down the rabbit hole. Where the fuck ever. Something – he doesn't know what – is just telling him to chase it.
He watches her from behind a shelf through the gaps in between the shelves. He's never felt so creepy, yet he can't really manage to care.
He's not surprised she knows he's watching her. "I don't need any help," she says, moving down, scanning the shelves.
"You're looking for something," he says, finally showing himself.
She doesn't even spare a glance his way. "I'm fine."
Something strange happens inside him. He suddenly is overcome with this urge to grab her by shoulders and make her look him in the eye and acknowledge him. Him. His presence. Whatever.
"What are you doing here?"
"I thought," she says, before finally raising her eyes to him, "I was looking for a book. But now I'm getting pestered by an employee."
"There are other bookstores."
"This one was on the way."
"On the way to where?"
She looks at him, saying nothing. Then she laughs – just a quiet chuckle, one not really meant to convey amusement. "Oh, how low you've fallen. Right?"
She doesn't wait for a response. Instead she passes him and just walks out. He hears the bell and it rings in his ear throughout the whole day. He can't read his book because something bothers him about her. Not just the usual, either. It was something different – something so different he almost couldn't stomach it.
He had been in the backroom, smoking. He hadn't expected to fall asleep.
When he wakes up, smoke is streaming into the room. He scrambles to his feet, using his shirt to cover his nose and mouth, but the smoke was filling the room too fast. His eyes start to water. He kicks the door open to see the entire place lit up, ablaze. Everything is on fire. Shit.
The ground is hot. He hears the crackling and sees the angry glowing embers flying out into the air. He runs back into the backroom and tries the emergency exit. Jammed. Lastly, the fire extinguisher, a red tin Muggle contraption – he manages to figure it out, but it doesn't do much to slow the fire that was already eating up everything around him.
He stands there for a moment – exactly something a person isn't supposed to do in the midst of a fire – and he thinks to himself. It's beautiful and terrifying and unexpected and he is going to die. In a fire. He laughs at this and gets smoke into his lungs. Hell had ruptured open right underneath the place he worked just to get him. It deserved a standing ovation.
For some reason he makes peace with this fairly fast. He is going to die tonight and he thinks it's okay. Okay, he thinks. Completely fucking okay.
The sweat has soaked through his shirt by now and the smoke suffocates him. Everything becomes hazy, and slow, and suddenly the searing brightness around him turns to black.
He wakes up in a dark alleyway a few blocks from where he was supposed to die. His head hurts and his body feels weak, but then he hears breathing. Not just his. Somebody else's.
He's on something soft. He feels warmth when there shouldn't be any.
He knows it's her before he even opens his eyes. At this point, he's not even sure he wants to – but he does, anyway, and there she is, hovering right above him. There's a slight furrow in her brow and a concerned pull on the sides of her lips. He doesn't want to notice, but he does. And he hadn't expected this, so he couldn't have been prepared.
He sits up immediately and begins to cough. It hurts. His head swims and his stomach lurches; he feels like throwing up. Behind him he hears her get up.
When he stops wheezing, he doesn't know what to do. He resists the urge to turn around. His tongue feels like sandpaper and he can taste the smoke in his mouth and feel it deeply sunken into his skin. He feels frozen but he can feel his heart beating for the first time, and he doesn't know what it means.
He can't yet register what it means to be saved by someone. He's afraid to. He's afraid it might make him feel guilty, or obliged, or undeserving – things he's sure he isn't ready to feel yet.
"You should have left me," he hears himself say to her. He sounds coarse, like a stranger. "You could have. Nobody would have had to know."
The air is so tense. Almost heavy with a history he's not sure he knows completely. The air – he's afraid to breathe it in but he knows he'll die if he doesn't.
"I know," she says. She stops, as if she's not really sure what to say, before she finally goes on. "I've killed people before, but I've never left them to die."
She means that there's a big difference between the two. Draco had never known that.
He swallows hard. It's painful. There's hardly any moisture left in his mouth. He feels like choking. "Thanks."
He says it, yet he doesn't really feel all that grateful. That's the thing with having made peace with the fact that you are going to die. It's almost disappointing when you don't. You have to get used to the fact that you're going to be alive again, doing the whole living thing. He isn't used to it anymore.
"Yeah." That's all she says.
When he turns back around, she's gone, and he can't tell whether he feels disappointed or relieved.
"Hold on a fucking minute," Blaise says. "She saved you? Your pitiful little ass?" He shakes his head. "God in Heaven, what was she thinking?"
It was a very good question. Draco asked it himself a few times. Nothing sane ever came to mind, besides the answer that she was genuinely a good person. Which he doesn't believe, of course.
"Hermione Granger," Blaise mutters to himself, "what is going on in that little Muggleborn mind of yours?"
He's read through her mail and made a fresh pot of tea before she finally comes home. When she sees him, she's not surprised, but he still manages to catch that little twitch of annoyance in her brow.
"So, a little birdie told me," says Blaise, setting down his teacup, "that you saved Draco Malfoy's life a few weeks ago." He watches her as she takes off her coat, her hair damp from the rain. He could smell her right from where he was sitting. "Is that right?"
"What does it matter?" she says.
"I don't know. What does it matter? You're the one who saved him from impending death, after all. So, I mean, come on, now." He watches her closely. "It must mean something."
She gives him a look before entering her own kitchen and pouring herself some tea. There's fog on her window. She can hardly see a thing – just blotches of color, and shapes. She resists the urge to wipe it all away.
"Do you like him?"
"So why save him?"
"It was the decent thing to do."
"Decent is for decent people. Both you and I know Draco Malfoy doesn't have a decent bone in his body." He closes his mouth, then. A few beads of silence roll by. "I did it for his own good, you know."
She scoffs. "I don't believe that."
"Well, I don't really give a fuck if you do," says Blaise. "What did you think? Honestly? Draco Malfoy banned to the Muggle world and stripped of his magic – the boy born with a silver spoon lodged into his throat? How did you think he was going to live? Did you think he would enjoy it? That he would appreciate the second chance of life he'd been given? He was going to kill himself sooner or later."
"You're his friend," she says.
"Exactly. I know him. I know what's best for him. If he doesn't belong here, he doesn't belong anywhere."
He lets out an angry sigh. She watches him from where she is, holding her cup firmly near her, her fingers tightly gripping the cold porcelain. He looks older, skinnier. His smell burns the inside of her nose, like cigars and scotch.
"It's pathetic. He's pathetic. He says," Blaise states, meeting her eyes, "he's in love with you."
She laughs. "Right."
"What if he is?"
She shakes her head. "He's not."
As he looks at her, he knows she tries to hide her face. He's read his journals. He'd written down every single detail about her. Draco had written her down like a book. It was infectious, the way he had talked about her. Funny. What Blaise Zabini hadn't understood in the beginning soon became the clearest thing in the whole universe.
When he's leaving, she calls out to him.
"Don't try to kill him again, Blaise."
He smiles just slightly. "Oh, I wouldn't dare."
After he leaves, she takes a cold bath. She thinks about what he said.
He says he's in love with you.
She tells herself it's impossible. It's impossible. He doesn't know her. He'd forgotten all about her.
She puts herself underwater, chilling her entire body. She holds her breath and stays still as long as she possibly can before she comes up again, heaving, taking deep, painful breaths. Her chest wants to explode.
You can't love someone that way.
I'm committing treason and she's the only thing I can think about.
Oh, how low I've fallen, Father.
Blaise pours himself another glass of scotch and reads on to pages he'd already memorized.
He finds another job. He delivers packages around Muggle London on a bike. He tells himself frequently that he is done dissecting what had happened the night of the fire – how mysterious everything had been, and how it continued to bother him, like he'd eaten something bad that just refused to settle. It was deep in his gut, and while he ignored it the best he could in the daytime, it became unbearable at night. He took sleeping pills that he'd stolen from a clinic. It was the only thing he could do to get any rest.
Sometimes, when he slept, he had dreams. Dreams that felt so familiar, that often made him wake up in a cold sweat. She was in them a lot. At first his dreams had been ambiguous, like he'd been in a fog, but ever since that night they had started to become clearer, more vivid. He saw her. Sometimes he talked to her. And once, just once, he'd kissed her.
That convinces him that maybe not being able to sleep was the better of the two choices.
"He's starting to remember." He fiddles with her letter opener. "He's having dreams."
Her body tenses up. He can read her spine.
"You don't know that."
"I do. He tells me." He sets it down in front of him. "He feels something."
"What do we do?"
"I've already tried to kill him," Blaise shrugs. "The question is, what are you going to do?"
We could run away. Nobody would have to know.
It would be like a fresh start.
Granger says there's no such thing as a fresh start.
Sometimes he has the same dreams. But sometimes they were new.
"Kill her, Draco. Just fucking kill her. If you don't kill her," Blaise hisses, "she'll kill you. Her or Potter. They'll kill you, and they won't give a shit if you beg for mercy."
In his dream, he's watching from inside himself. He doesn't control anything. He's just a spectator. Yet it always feels like he's seen it before. He knows the lines before they say it. He knows what happens before it happens.
He knows he doesn't kill her. He gives her the chance to kill him. And he knows, even before it happens, that she doesn't, either.
My trial is in a few hours. She's telling me that everything is going to be just fine, but her palms are sweaty and she's holding my hand so tightly my fingers have turned blue.
I tell her I believe her.
He thinks he sees her. Everywhere. Anywhere. Frizzy brunettes on the sidewalk are her until he gets close enough to get a good look, and then that's when she disappears. It drives him fucking nuts. She was everybody, but nobody was her.
The more he has the dreams the more he feels anxious. There's something pulsating in his body and it's making him itch from inside-out. There's something missing, something important, and he becomes furiously obsessed with finding out what it is. He feels like clawing his skin off. He knows it's her. It's something that has to do with her. It had to be. He has to find her.
He has to know or he'll just, he'll just die.
She saved him when she didn't have to, when she shouldn't have, and there had to be a reason why.
He doesn't know where to find her, but he starts with the Zabini manor. He searches it. Blaise knows something. He always does.
He makes a mess. He's gone insane with his obsession. He hasn't slept for days but his body is thriving. He doesn't quite know what the hell it is he's looking for, but he knows that he'll know when he finds it.
Blaise watches him from the doorway. He should have known this was going to happen. The spell had never worked for very long, not in these cases, and never for Draco Malfoy. The Ministry had been idiots to think it would.
As he watches him he thinks that he doesn't recognize him. Then he thinks twice. As a matter of fact, he does. This was the man he was, the one he used to be. The man, he had come to believe, he was meant to end up being all along. He seems familiar because Blaise sees himself in him. That same frenzy, the scramble, the desperation for a woman. The same woman. It had always been about her.
He laughs at this. He tries, at least, and only succeeds halfway.
He has his journal behind him. He's read it countless times and had vowed never to let it back into the hands of Draco Malfoy. But as Blaise watches him, he knows he doesn't have much of a choice.
"Malfoy," he calls out. Draco freezes. "I believe this is yours."
Tell her I love her, will you?
He reads it, all of it, and everything adds up.
He goes to find her.
When he sees her, he realizes he has planned absolutely nothing out. He'd gone on feeling, because it had been too violent to ignore, and now that he's here, he feels overwhelmed. Everything rushes back to him and he feels lightheaded, yet heavy – as if he's torn between gravity and floating up into space at the same time. He wants to get closer to her but as he reads her face, he can tell she's afraid.
Is she afraid of him? Has he made a mistake?
He feels his pulse everywhere in his body. It booms like thunder inside his ears.
"Hi," he finally says.
"Hi." She tries to smile, and it makes him hurt. He doesn't even realize until now just how much he's missed her. He can't for the life of him remember how he's lived for this long without her. He feels like crumbling but he knows he has to keep his knees up, and strong.
"I remember," he breathes. "I remember every single fucking thing." He laughs to cover up the thick, suffocating silence between them. He's nervous and so damn terrified. His palms are covered in cold sweat. He feels a little weak, vulnerable. "Well?"
She looks at him, pressing her lips together, not saying a word.
"Come in," she says softly.
A few weeks later, they've disappeared.
A note is found crumpled in Blaise Zabini's hand, cold and stiff. His cigar has long burnt out.
Tell her I loved her, will you?