Disclaimer: All characters and canon situations are the sole property of J.K. Rowling.

Notes: This was written for quilter in the tenth and final round of dmhgficexchange on LJ. It was inspired by my favorite poem, T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." It's more minimal than I usually write, but I figured I'd try something new. I hope you enjoy it. I'm aware that it ends abruptly (like many of my stories), and I know some people don't enjoy those kind of "endings" as much as I do. Unfortunately, the fact is that I can't stop because I am tragically addicted to French cinema, and that's how those films all end, and I just absolutely love that feeling when the screen goes black before you're ready. So, this one's for Jean-Pierre Jeunet: elle le regarde.


The Voices Dying

by riptey


There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create,

And time for all the works and days of hands

That lift and drop a question on your plate;

- T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"


Letters Written to Hermione Granger (never sent)

On the back of a hotel receipt, twenty galleons for one night but only there for two hours-

If you left I'd go with you. Anywhere.

Our lives here are dead. Maybe not dead, but anesthetized. We're awaiting surgery. They thought they scraped out the whole tumor-those Muggle doctors you told me about with those metal scoops and scalpels-but it came back.

The sick growth got so big that the rest of me can't keep up.

He almost left it on the bedside table, but instead he wrote another on a cocktail napkin intersecting the ring from her drink: See you next time, Granger. If there is one.

On the inside front cover of a book he thought he might one day give her but had to leave behind when he ran-

I saw you today in Flourish & Blotts. I wiped off the glass with my sleeve to make a hole and pressed my hands against the windowpane. I stared like some kind of pervert until I made eye contact with an old lady.

You didn't see me.

I wanted to dive through that window face-first. I wanted to lick the glass and taste you. My shoes soaked up the water in the gutter, my mouth was so dry it hurt, but you went behind a shelf and I couldn't see you anymore. I came back later and bought this. I saw you looking at it.

On the sidewalk with dirt, three days off the grid-

What are you doing right now?

On his hand in the middle of nowhere-

Everything got so dirty that I forgot why I thought you were. That's why it was O.K. and also because no one else was around.

On parchment found at the bottom of his bag that he wished was food, one hundred kilometres out of London-

I think we used to fight just to pretend our words mattered. It wasn't convincing, but if some little thing I said-without even thinking, maybe that I didn't even mean-if it could make you scream or cry, then there was power left in me. There was power left to be had in the world. So it's true that my intent was to hurt, but not to hurt you. You were just the only one around.

On the back of a café receipt-

There's a question I want to ask you. It's about my mother and father. But this isn't the way I want to do it.

On a cocktail napkin-

Let's go back to that hotel one more time and have just one more fight. I think this time I might actually have something to say.

On the back of that same parchment that was somehow still in his bag, five hundred kilometres out of London after eating stale bread-

You used to say it was never too late. You would say that with conviction, and I want you to know that it's the dumbest thing I've ever heard and I still don't believe you. Everywhere I sleep now is dirty like that old hotel, but the beds aren't as comfortable. I wish you were here, but only so you could see how bad it is and pity me because nobody else will.

Eight unsent love letters are all a man can write in a year without feeling pathetic. He had to stop for a long time and take a break from it.

On the front of his train ticket back to London, written small and smudged-

I've been preparing myself to see you again, but I won't be ready either way. I'll always need more time.


Letters Not Written to Hermione Granger (neither spoken nor heard)

On the pavement outside the Ministry guest entrance-

I can tell I care about you because I actually considered whether I'd be messing up your life by coming back. The funny thing is that the only way I could complicate anything would be if you still gave a shit about me, too. So, I hope I turn your universe upside-down.

In the Atrium, after asking for directions to her office-

I've been thinking about turning back exactly twice per step: once as I lift each foot and again as it hits the floor. If I did leave, I think I would run like a child.

In the long corridor-

There's a new scar on my forehead. It's not from anything exciting, really-I slept in some Muggle farmer's barn. Yes, in straw. I slept with animals, and I can still respect myself, thank you very much, on the days that I know who I am at all.

Anyway, this Muggle farmer hit me with his shovel, so I left.

I dressed up today, as nice as I could considering the circumstances. These clothes I'm wearing used to be somebody else's. I've lost so much weight that I wouldn't have fit my old stuff anyway. I wonder how many fractions of a second it'll take you to recognize me.

While staring at the door that says her name-

I came here to shake your tree. I came here to see what falls.

I hope that I don't change my mind when I see you.


Words Spoken Back and Forth (mostly lies and half-truths)

He knew already the moment of eyes meeting, for across space and time it had not changed. She had seen him from dawn to dusk and at high noon. He'd watched her sun cross his sky and wait on the horizon as he killed time on the longest night he'd ever known, and their reunion was so normal that it approached routine.

She had no new scars on her face, none at all for that matter, but he saw her notice his. His voice died and his jaw tightened, and he fixed his gaze on the wall behind her.

"So, you aren't dead," she said blandly. It wasn't like her to state the obvious, but he could forgive her in this situation. It was, in a word, extreme; furthermore, he had learned, alone, how to forgive.

"No," he said. "I'm not."

"A lot of people thought you were."

"Did you?"

"No."

"Yes, you did. I know you did." It was weird to talk, especially to another real person. He hadn't done much of that in a while.

"Only-No. You know, I didn't think much about it at all." She was a terrible liar, just like he remembered. It still strung, though, and he didn't think very hard about the consequences of what he said back.

"I didn't think about you, either."

She nodded, and he knew he must have confirmed some inaccurate little suspicion she'd been carrying around. "Then what are you doing here?"

"I just want what's left of my house."

"Oh." She exhaled audibly, and he reckoned she was relieved that she wouldn't have to be the one to tell him what happened. He'd been reading the news, Daily Prophet's left on cafe tables next to plates of pastry crumbs. He'd been keeping himself abreast and informed.

"I heard there isn't much." She shook her head. "And that my parents were all gone except their teeth." She winced. It was nice to see, and he wondered how far he could push it. "But what's a little collateral damage when you've got a revolution to deal with? There probably just weren't enough caskets to go around-" his voice cracked, and he told himself it was from disuse- "so how could you have had a funeral?"

"There was a funeral," desperately now.

"Oh, really? You forgot to invite the only person who cared."

"We couldn't publicize it, in case-" She gestured with her hand instead of finishing the thought. "And no one knew where you were."

"Were you there?" Another nod. "Was it... respectful?"

"It was, Draco." She spoke softly now. He turned his eyes down, and all of the fight was officially out of both of them. "I promise it was. I made sure."

"Good," he said. "So. My stuff."

"Right." She turned and walked to the other side of the room, where she reverently picked up a mahogany box with his family crest on the lid. "There's more, but we can't release it yet. This was charmed to resist cursed fire. We couldn't open it."

"But you tried."

"We had to," wringing her hands, "I'm...sorry. But, you know-" She cut herself off.

"No, what? What do I know?"

"Fine," rubbing her temples. "You should be sorry, too."

"For making you think I was dead?"

"For making me almost think you were dead."

"Maybe I will be someday."

"Dead or sorry?"

"Both," he said.

He ran out of words and left her office after that, cradling that box under his right arm. It was his mother's jewelry box, and he knew how to open it even without a key.

The people who'd burned his whole past life to the ground had called themselves Pure Humanity. After the war, they had shrouded themselves in the chaos and brought their own brand of mayhem to all the upper-class pure-bloods they could get to. When the arsonists were caught, they'd testified that they hadn't known his parents were home. He knew they were lying. That was why he ran in the first place. Most of their members were behind bars now, which was why he came back. Part of it, anyway.


Thoughts Between Events (the relevant ones)

Now that he was back, he had decisions to make and questions to answer. For example: were they staring at him in the street, or was it only his imagination? When was the right time to open his mother's box? Where were they buried (what was left of them), and could he, should he visit them there? At what stage was he, currently, in the grieving process? Was he grieving his parents, his home, or himself?

Did Hermione Granger seem more important than the rest because he actually still loved her like his teenage self had-if he ever had-or simply because she was the only thing that wasn't burned all the way to ashes?

Inside his room at the Leaky Cauldron, he found her through his dreams. She had a way of looking at things that could almost transform them, but she had not been able to change him. It had taken long days of rain and wind and pulsing sun to suck the venom from his wounds, and he had lived through it all. He felt now that he could live through anything.

And yet she still had him, spread wide open across a mattress, eyes closed and chest aching. He couldn't make sense of it no matter how hard he tried, and indeed he did try hard. He felt himself dangling from a hook fixed to the cord stretched between them, and that was how he knew it still had strength sufficient to support his weight. What he did not know was how to move himself back to her. Conversation would get easier-how could it not?-but there wouldn't be a point to it until he was capable of something like honesty.

He'd have to find a better place to live, too, but it wouldn't be London if she didn't want him there. There was nothing else here for him. When she'd wanted him, he would wake up in empty beds that smelled like her perfume on the nights when she left first. He would make his hands into shackles on her wrists and pin her down, urgent moans floating up to the sky through open windows with a war outside. When he let go, she pressed smooth long fingers into his hair. He would hold his lit wand near her face to see her, not speaking, only looking. He didn't have to talk because she could read his mind.

And now he didn't know where to start.


A Meagre Attempt to Say What They Mean (first of many)

She came to visit him one week after he'd gone to her office. She met him downstairs at the pub, having made arrangements by owl; she said it was official Ministry business, lying poorly once again. He had watched her arrive through his window, taking short steps, walking quickly through the alley in the cold.

They sat together and ordered drinks despite her reluctance to stay long. She had only brought so much business to discuss, after all.

"I can give you the rest of your family's property now," she said. "You just need to come in and sign some paperwork."

"Is there anything good?" He wasn't getting his hopes up.

She pulled her shoulders in tighter and dipped her head, clutching her drink against her chest. "I don't know. That's up to you."

"Probably not, then."

"No, probably not." She paused to fish a torn piece of parchment from her bag. "I have this, too. That's where your parents are."

She placed the paper on the table and pushed it across until it touched his hand. She'd hand-written the location of the cemetery plot, just for him. He supposed it was thoughtful of her, especially considering how much she'd hated his parents and how much they had hated her. There was a long silence, during which drunk men nearby laughed too loudly and a waitress broke a glass.

"Is that all you came to say?" he asked, once his patience had run out. He remembered her fidgeting a lot when she was nervous, a long time ago, but now she sat so still that he wondered if she could move anymore.

"No," she said, with difficulty. "I have a lot to say, but I don't even know where to start. I even wrote down a list of questions I had for you, but that seemed so silly, but I suppose it's just as silly that I'm telling you about it-" She sighed, as if to signal that she was starting over. "Why did you leave?"

It was a stupid question, if he'd ever heard one. "You've got a knack for the obvious lately," he said, grinding the words across his teeth. "I wanted to be farther away from the people who were trying to kill me."

Her face was hard and cold. "You didn't have to run away. There were people here who could have kept you safe. I would have, and you left because you didn't trust me."

"You think this is about you?"

That transformative gaze was upon him again, and he found himself unable to look at her directly. "Be honest, Draco: after you found out what happened, did you think I was involved? Because of my blood?"

"No." He knew it wasn't her when he found out they hadn't spared the house-elves. He should have known it sooner, that was true, but it hadn't been a time of clear thought. "But I wouldn't have been safe with you anyway. You think they weren't watching you? You think they trusted you because of your blood?"

"We could have-never mind. Where did you go?"

"You came here to interrogate me?"

"Why don't you want to tell me?"

"I went away. Do you want an itinerary?"

"I want-" Hands to her temples now. "I want to know where you got that scar."

"I got hit with a shovel."

"What? A shovel?" He nodded. "Okay. Okay. Now tell me why you came back."

He shrugged his shoulders. "I wanted to."

"Why?"

She didn't need to ask. He knew she could still read his mind, and he didn't bother lying. "I needed to see if there was anything left of my life."

"While you were gone-No, forget it." She shook her head as if to clear it, angry now. "There isn't anything except what I've already given you and the scraps in the Ministry's vault. You can get those and then go back to wherever you were."

He had said the wrong thing, apparently. He'd answered incorrectly and failed some sort of test. Hermione liked to test people, and he was out of practice. "Fine," he said. "I guess I'll do that, then."

"Good." She'd barely touched her drink, but she left it on the table as she gathered her things. She went away and didn't say goodbye.


A Stroll Out of Doors (the unpleasant kind)

Three days later, he took that torn parchment she'd given him and used it. His parents weren't buried with the rest of his family; no one had been there to make arrangements. Instead, they were buried in the ground like everybody else.

But there was almost nothing left of them, and it occurred to him that someone must have insisted on cemetery plots anyway. The bodies had already been cremated well enough, so someone must have kicked up a fuss until they carved out headstones to shut her up. He was equal parts grateful and angrier than he'd ever been in his life.

He hadn't slept since he'd seen her. He was tired and alone, and he was not yet strong enough to face her again. Neither was he strong enough to leave.

On the way home, he wrote a letter to Hermione Granger in his head, because he realized that he was not actually on the way to anywhere because he didn't have a home-

It doesn't matter anyway. Someday we'll all be dead. Someday you would leave me or I'd leave you. Soon I'll have to figure out what else to do with my life. Soon and someday could come tomorrow or in a hundred years, for all we know, and the most cowardly you've ever been in your life was braver than I am right now. What does courage feel like? If I asked you, could you tell me?

And what if my father could see me now.

He wandered. He put one foot in front of the other.


Another Conversation (with all the wrong words)

He was reading her name again. He was hearing in his head how it used to sound in his voice-to no one, to her, to the universe in one great sigh and hanging in the air. He was there to sign some papers. She let him in when he knocked and told him to sit.

"I suppose you want the rest of your things," she said. He could sense her discomfort, but she wasn't angry anymore. Maybe sad.

"This wasn't supposed to be your job, was it?" He had to ask, just to make sure.

She laughed nervously. "Actually, I'm fairly certain it is. Didn't you see my name on the door? Unless there's been some sort of strange misunderstanding-"

"That's not what I meant. It's not your job to keep track of my family's half-burnt tapestries."

"There aren't any tapestries left, I'm sorry to say."

He shook his head. She was avoiding it, which meant he was right, which made him glad. "Who gave you this assignment, Granger?"

Flustered, "I take on-that is, we... do you want your things or not?" Pink circles on the tops of her cheeks. "I don't have all day."

"I'd hate to waste your time."

"Then stop." She ruffled some papers on her desk and brought him a small pile with a quill, moving one finger across the pages as she turned them back and forth. "Sign here, initial here, signature here and here, initial the top of this page, and sign once more at the bottom. That's all you have to do, and you can leave."

He held her quill and brushed the end of it across the back of his left hand, staring at the top page. He hadn't written his real name on an official document in over a year, he realized. When he put down the ink, he would be Draco Malfoy again forever.

"Were my instructions unclear?" she asked, while he sat in a trance. He was Draco Malfoy still whether he liked it or not.

"Give me a minute," he said. "You've got time. I know you do."

"Do you want me to wait outside?" She was being sarcastic. She was mocking him, and he reckoned he couldn't blame her. It shouldn't be this hard for a fellow to write his own name.

"No. Fine, if you're so busy." His first stroke tore the paper.

Draco Malfoy. D.M.. Draco Malfoy. Draco Malfoy. D.M.. And once more at the bottom. Draco Malfoy.

After he was finished, she handed him the key to a Gringott's vault. "We've stored it for you here, but we'll be closing out this account now that you've signed for it. You'll want to transfer it to your own as soon as possible."

He nodded. "Thanks, Granger. I appreciate your patience."

"Believe me, it's mutual."


The Last Dress Rehearsal (killing time behind the curtain)

A few years ago, Draco Malfoy would have been an extra in the theatrical adaptation of his own life. He would have forgotten both of his two lines. He would have fallen off the stage, impaled on a prop sword, drunk and bleeding on opening night. That was how things had worked out so far. A main character, you see, has to seem important. He needs profound speeches and bold gestures. He needs to be relatable.

Make no mistake: if he could have, Draco Malfoy would have been happy to entertain you all. He would have made you laugh and cry and learn something. You would remember him forever. It's just that not everyone's cut out for lead roles.

And now Draco Malfoy is growing up because he has to, even though he needs more time.


Finding Out If There Is Time (there always is)

A key fact to remember was that it must have always been worth it because they had always known the risks, but now there was no more test. The only risk was reality. Here in reality, he went to her flat like crossing an ocean. The journey was long, he almost capsized, and he arrived with salt crystals in his hair. He hadn't been invited, but it was time for this by his clock: the contents of the Ministry's vault had been transferred, he was sick of living above a pub for no reason, and it was all black and white now.

Either she wanted him here or she didn't. Either she was his home or he didn't have one. It would be best if he found out right now.

She was surprised to see him, so much so that she tried to open the door before taking out the chain. It caught and made a loud noise, and she was embarrassed. He stuck his hands in his pockets and waited for her to sort herself out.

"I thought you'd be gone by now," she said, once the door was open all the way.

"No," he said. "Still in town." Looking at the ground, anywhere but her, palms sweating.

"Did you get your things?"

"Yes." Hadn't he come here with something to say?

"Do you want to come in? It's messy, though, I wasn't expecting company-"

"Yes," he said again. His words had sunk to the bottom of the sea.

"Would you like some tea?" He nodded. He watched her walk away and followed her to the kitchen. Too nervous to sit, he rested one hand on the table and saw that her hands were shaking. Just as he'd suspected, it was time for black-and-white. It was time for electric shocks. In her discomfort, she began to pitch more meaningless words into the void. "I was just about to make some for myself, actually. I brought some work home this evening, but it might do me good to take a break. You know, I'm actually rather glad you stopped by-I mean, I don't know how long you'll be staying, but it can be nice to, um, reconnect. With old," a wide hand gesture as she searched for the right word, "friends."

"When were we friends?" he asked. He was trying to be funny, and she smiled.

"I didn't know what to call it, I guess." She stood close to him as the teapot grew hotter. "I lied to you before," she said.

"Which time?"

"When I said I never thought you were dead. I did, sometimes," turning her face away, flowing back into anger. "But you're the one who shows up here uninvited, after letting me think for nearly a year-"

He held up his hands. "Stop." If only he could say it.

"Well, what am I supposed to say?" She was so mad at him, he realized. She wanted to see him, but she was madder at him than she'd maybe ever been in her life. "Just offer you tea and sit here and talk about, what, old times? In seedy hotels under fake names? We weren't thinking then, and I wasn't thinking when I let you in tonight."

"Hermione," he said. He hadn't called her that since before he ran away. "I couldn't tell you where I was. You, of all people, should understand that."

"I never said I didn't understand." She made a face and smacked the table, curling tiny hands into fists. The tea kettle whistled, and she took it off the heat and rounded on him again. "Why can't you say you're sorry? I know you are. Why can't you say it?"

"I'm sorry," he said. It hit the floor like a rock.

"I don't believe you," shaking her head. "You only said it because I told you to. It doesn't count."

"It doesn't count? What are we, children? I said I was sorry. I tried to write to you, okay? I wrote you more letters than I've ever written in my life," as the dam began to break,"and I missed you more than I've ever missed anyone," the pressure building, "and you tell me it doesn't count. You tell me you thought I was dead." She stared at him. Her fists unclenched. "And you don't know what it was like. They burned my whole life, Granger, and you have the nerve to yell at me for how I responded to that?" Her eyes so wide open. "Well, fuck that. I'm here because I need to find out if you give a shit whether or not I stay in London, because if you don't, I'm leaving. That's what I'm here for."

"It is?" Her voice was so, so small. "Really?"

"You heard me the first time."

She stepped closer, closer and laced her fingers into his, looking up with bright round eyes. Now she was changing him, but he couldn't explain how. There was something in his chest turning and unlocking. There were good things rising and bad things falling. He drew her against his chest like a waltz, one hand in hers and the other at the small of her back, ready to twirl and dip her, keeping time. Ready to move more slowly than either of them would think they had to. He put his head on her shoulder and pressed his lips behind her ear.

"I'm sorry for thinking you were dead," she whispered.

"I wanted you to," squeezing her hand.

"I know."

"I don't want you to anymore."

"Okay. I won't."

- fin -