A/N: I lied! This isn't the last chapter – obviously, which you'll understand why at the end of this chapter. Sorry for the 3 embarrassingly long years it took for this fic to finally get an update. I'm an atrocious fanfic writer. I'll wear that badge because it's true. Anyway, I hope you enjoy, and thank you for reading and keeping up with my fics despite my bad habit of inconsistent updates!
At ten o'clock the Grangers have started up on an electronic Muggle singing device, otherwise known as the "karaoke machine," with the food platters half-gone and the alcohol free-flowing. In this fumbling attempt at showcasing homegrown musical talent, the children have taken to hiding underneath the tables, grabbing the ankles of any passerby for fun like the little bastards they are.
Draco stands by as the Grangers take turns singing into the machine, following along – some terribly, some quite expertly – at the words lighting up on the screen, which are superimposed on an over-saturated, cheesy landscape. He keeps glancing at Granger, who is sitting next to her mum and dad on a very dated paisley couch. He wonders if she is going to have a go at it, too. She doesn't look nearly drunk enough – her hands are folded very primly on her lap, posture rigid, brow furrowed like a disturbed Headmistress – as one should be to musically humiliate themselves in front of family and an ex-boyfriend. This he notes with disappointment. What a way to get the party really started – for Granger to do something wild and reckless like sing karaoke.
It is during Uncle Ned's painful rendition of a Muggle pop song when Granger's parents slip away to the kitchen, and Draco settles himself in the vacant spot next to Granger. It's a weird feeling – yes, just one specific weird feeling in a night full of weird feelings. But see, the last time he and Granger were on a couch, they definitely weren't sitting, and his nostalgia sets in.
"I've heard that the face you wear on New Year's Day is the face you'll wear for the rest of the year," he says to her. "And for the past twenty minutes your expression would be best described as 'constipated.'"
Granger rolls her eyes but keeps her face ahead of her, boring holes into Uncle Ned's lumpy, tragic, snowman-infested Holiday sweater that is five days too late. "Better than 'smug bastard.'"
"I think the females in this room would beg to disagree." She scoffs. "Well? Aren't you going to be delighting us with a special number?" He gestures to the karaoke mic currently being manhandled by Uncle Ned.
They both wince when Uncle Ned's voice cracks in an admirable effort over hitting a high note.
"I don't sing," Granger says, her expression morphing into one of exasperation and mortification.
To which Draco replies, "And I don't date Gryffindors." This he regrets immediately, because he then watches the stone wall come down over Granger's face.
"We never dated," she says, with a hint of ice, and he is left mentally kicking himself as she gets up from the couch and walks out of the living room. In a very dramatic moment set up against the confusing sound of a grown man singing falsetto in the background, he promptly follows after her, leaving his drink behind. Every cringe-worthy, wrong note makes his heart rate spike and his body flinch and he wonders how Granger could endure this, year after year, listening to drunken middle-aged men sing, of whom it should be a criminal offense. Cruel and unusual punishment. That would be it.
He finds her shrugging on a thick beige coat, flicking her hair out from underneath the collar.
"Granger—" What should he say after this? What could he say after this? 'Let's have a chat.' They'd never done that before. They'd argued and thrown curses at each other and kissed and groped and fucked but they'd never had something so simple and so uncomplicated as "a chat." Chats were for people who barely understood each other, who wouldn't know electric chemistry if it sat on their lap with Galleons hanging from its nipples.
No, he and Granger did not and would never "chat."
Suddenly, her mum pops her head in from the kitchen. "Hermione dear? That blasted cat's got out again." She glances between the two of them with a hint of suspicion, and Draco has to bite his tongue from being his rude, smug bastard-y self and tell her to go away, wasn't she aware she was interrupting a very important, perhaps even life-changing moment?
And as if Granger knows exactly the nature of the thoughts going through his mind, she glares at him. "I'll find him, Mum." And without another word, she walks out of the door.
Draco sighs and quickly locates his coat in the coat closet before stepping out and following after her. The snow is old and crunchy under his feet, with the roads slick and rainbow-colored from the reflection of the jolly Christmas lights still strung up on every roof. He can hear the roar of people in houses that'd had the same idea of a New Year's Eve party – a sad mob of Muggles waiting for the clock to chime midnight, and drinking the old year away in the meantime. It fascinates him. He can even make out the faint sounds of another badly-sung karaoke song from down the street. Apparently New Year's Eve is the perfect day for inflicting some humiliation on oneself, which makes him feel a little bit better about what he needs to do. But only a little.
She is half a block ahead of him, but he catches up. He is a good deal taller than her, so his long strides eat up the distance quickly. As he gets closer he hears her calling out the cat's name. It's the same blasted cat she's had since Hogwarts.
"Crookshanks," she calls out. "Here kitty, here Crooks."
"You know you could just Accio the stupid little hairball," he says from behind her.
"Magic's not permitted here, Malfoy. You know that." He remembers that Granger is such a diligent rule-follower that she hides her wand in her bedroom every time she visits the Muggle world. She doesn't even touch it until she's back in the wizarding world. On that thought, he pats himself down, searching his coat pockets.
Oh sod it all, he groans to himself. She'd hidden his wand, too.
In a freakish moment of psychic ability, she then says, "You'll get your wand back when you leave," without turning around. "I couldn't risk it. Not around my family."
"Right. As aware as I am that you've cast me as the epic villain of your ultimate happiness, you should know by now that I'd never hurt your family." He lets out a breath, which comes out as a white wisp. "Despite the pain they cause my eardrums with their vocal chords," he mutters.
She doesn't stop walking. "If you hate it so much, I would very enthusiastically invite you to leave and never come back. Nothing here is detaining you from your own very posh party." Her tone is biting and he knows that the same kind of thoughts have been going through her mind about tonight, too. "You can go back and tell your lot about the Muggle circus show you witnessed tonight. Go on, I'm sure you'd all like to end the year feeling very superior."
This, for him, is the last straw.
"Hold on," he calls out, stopping on the sidewalk. "What the hell's got your knickers in a bunch? I don't know if we were at the same party, but I was very civil to your family, thank you very fucking much."
"You," she hisses, whipping around, her cheeks flushed from the cold and also from what he imagines to be her boiling disdain for him, "don't get to talk about my knickers. All right? In fact, please remove yourself from this deluded notion that you have any right talking about my life – especially my undergarments – at all. Let alone showing up at my house! On New Year's eve! And eating my Aunt Marsha's tamales!"
It's likely she is very drunk and this is her way of manifesting it. This is a feeling native to any and all her dealings with Draco, right from the beginning. It was sordid and electrifying and made her want to bash her head into anything concrete.
"I mean, who do you think you are?" she asks him. "You might be the tits in the magical world, Draco, but not here. You don't belong here. Not in my house, not with my family, not on my aunt's couch, judging my tone-deaf relatives – who, despite their quirks," she says hesitantly, "I actually love, thank you very much. And you certainly do not belong out here, on the street where I broke my first bone learning how to ride a bloody bike, making me feel horrid on New Year's Eve."
For a moment he mentally goes back in time and tries to step out of his body. Yes, he was very aware of how misplaced he felt in her home, with her family, scrutinizing her quaint and borderline tacky Muggle furnishings, and their comfortable confidence in singing very badly in front of each other. But hadn't he been trying to prove something to Granger? He imagines it was how she'd felt, coming to his 21st birthday party, surrounded by frivolity and extravagance and purebloods with bloodlines so undiluted and ancient they practically had mercury running through their veins.
But of course he doesn't divulge his inner workings to her. She'd probably have a stroke.
"I think you're missing the point, Granger, which is that despite all of your silent, tortured, stewing, you never actually threw me out."
It's a valid point, and Draco, ever the chaser of useless arguments that involved Granger, would gladly pursue this part of the conversation to the end of time, if provoked.
Granger seems stunned for a minute, her eyes sort of glazed over with the realization that no, she actually fucking hadn't, before she blinked it away and restored her usual, stern-Head Girl demeanor. "Because I wanted to know why. And maybe I thought it'd be like the consolation prize after enduring a night of discomfort and pain, I don't know."
Discomfort and pain? He is so sure she can only be referring to the karaoke, which is practically the musical equivalent of Russian Roulette.
"Oh come off it, don't patronize me, Draco. You didn't just show up here for nothing. You don't just go strolling into the Muggle world because you felt like popping in for a visit."
"You're right, I don't show up anywhere just for nothing," he says quickly. They meet eyes, her cheeks flushing as she discerns a hint of what he'd meant, before he goes on. "And I don't stroll. It cramps my style." He spits this last part with disgust.
"So then what is it?" she asks impatiently. "What's here you couldn't find in the wizarding world, in your poncy little shops, or in your Gringotts vault?"
His heart starts beating a little faster. He notices, out of the corner of his eye, that there is a tiny little face peeping out at them from a window of the house they are in front of. And one house over, an entire segment of Christmas lights are dim and flickering. He thinks it is a perfect metaphor for his hope. Dim and flickering, hoping to last through the night.
"It's a funny story," he starts.
"Then skip to the end."
So he does.
"I'm sorry," he says, except the problem is that he wants to keep saying it, needs to, until she forgives him, which is a terrible place to be in but he deserves it, yes he does, every bit of it. He tells himself he deserved the cold shoulder, the sleepless nights, the loneliness, the lack of meaning in his life – so glitzy yet profoundly lackluster in precisely the way motivational speeches preach against. He knew the cruelly unjust side of life but also that circumstances had a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right – either you had it coming or not – and that most of the time it had been spot on for him.
Even when the mystic had told him he was going to die a lot sooner than he'd predicted – he deserved that, he deserved the pathetic emptiness that resulted from a thorough (though drunken) evaluation of his life.
Everything that happened to him in his life he deserved, except Granger, whom he did not deserve, and thus lost. Not even in a dignified sort of way – the way he wished he did.
She is silent, one adorable brow furrowed from the abrupt turn in their conversation. "For what?" And he knows exactly what she is asking. Is he apologizing for her ruining her New Year's Eve or for ruining what they had and possibly the Nameless But Great Thing they could've had, had he not given into his tendency to sabotage anything that would destroy him to truly lose?
His voice is grim, lodged in a dark trench somewhere in his throat. "I pretended it was nothing."
"It was nothing," she says cruelly. "We were young and it was nice. But it was nothing."
Instantly he goes from repentant to indignant. How dare she use the two N-words he hates the most? "Nothing" and "Nice"! If he truly had any sodding power in this world, he would eradicate those two words from the English vocabulary. He would set them on fire, drown them, blast them into oblivion. They were substitute words – words meant to veil the things they really meant and demean the other person in the conversation.
"Now you apologize."
She scoffs. "For what?"
"For lying out of your arse, is what," he snaps at her. He is irritated that his attempt at redemption is being ridiculed and degraded by her bitterness. "If what we had was nothing, I would not have crossed the magical-Muggle threshold for you, Granger – but I did, and now I'm here. So the least you can do is treat me like a proper human being."
"You don't get to lecture me on how to treat people properly." Her voice is strung intensely tight, eyes blazing in a wet world blanketed in white. For the first time he is glad magic isn't allowed here. "I was doing fine without you. And my guess is that you're such a sadistic prick that you sensed this and came strolling in here—"
"For the last time, I don't stroll!"
"You're like a tornado, you know? You drop down on people having a perfectly all right time in life, God forbid an actually pleasant one, and you turn over tables, rip out the walls, and make house pets disappear."
"I had nothing to do with your blasted hairball going missing. That was completely on his own accord. And while we're on this topic of proper treatment, maybe you ought to respect his decision."
"Right!" she scoffs. "Like you respected mine when I decided not to go to your stupid, frivolous, little party tonight?"
He didn't realize that their voices had begun to rise in volume until this last part, where her voice rang out in the empty, snow-laden street. They are fighting. He had come here to reconcile, maybe even to win her back in the last moments of this life he'd known for so long (and yet so short), and they are fighting. It occurs to him that the absence of each other in their lives has traumatized them both so deeply that they can't even be civil with each other when they are alone, when there is no one and nothing to pretend for. Here they are, on New Year's Eve, mere minutes away from ringing in the New Year, and they are airing out all of their dirty laundry on this suburban Muggle street.
He is running out of time, isn't he? What shall he say? He doesn't want it to be "I love you, I always have, which is the most terrifying thing to become conscious of" because he knows how those stories end. They end. It's an irrational fear, sure, because all things end – one of them certainly being his life, tonight. But despite their sordid break-up, he had always seen him and Granger as this ever-extending limb, or like a mythical creature. If you cut its head off, two more would grow back in its place, and so on. It certainly felt that way for him sometimes.
Everything else the mystic had told him had come true. She said that harm would befall his mother, and she was right – her mother slipped and fell in the bath, breaking her hip. She also said that new life would be introduced into his, which it had – Crabbe had gotten some girl pregnant.
So, they are arguing about the wrong things. They should be arguing about how he's supposed to die not knowing she's mad about him like he is about her. Over how she should pledge never to love any other man after he's gone. And how he's supposed to leave this body knowing he hasn't kissed her in well over two years.
Finally, he says, through his teeth (oh how he'll miss those grinding veneers when he's gone): "It wasn't nothing. Or, at least, if you insist it be nothing, then it is a nothing that exists in complete contradiction of its nothingness. A very big, sleepless nothing. A very still-not-over kind of nothing."
Here, Granger just stares at him. She is a healthy combination of speechlessness and skepticism. He knows she is the last person to ever be won over with words, but he wants permission to kiss her. He wants her brains in their correct position before he jostles them out of place again by how passionately he could disorient her with one last – and long overdue – kiss.
"I'm not here to fuck with you, Granger," he says seriously. " I'm here to tell you—"
He is cut off by a shout across the street. "Oi! You two bickering! Is this your mangy cat?"
Both he and Granger look towards the voice. There is a man holding a beer in one hand and a large, hairy, four-legged thing by the scruff of its neck. Granger sighs with both frustration and relief, confirming that it is, in fact, her mangy cat.
And then many things happen at once.
Crookshanks shrieks and manages to leap from his grasp, darting down the street into the main road, just as a pair of headlights speed into view. Granger screams. Draco doesn't think and just acts – his Snitch-grabbing instincts kick into gear and he sprints after it, barely scooping it up and tossing it across the way as he hears the shrill sound of faulty brakes. The car pummels into his flesh and sinew and bones, and past the roaring in his ears, there is the sound of shattering glass.
And then, in every essence of the word, he's down. From the sheer force of the vehicle and its speed, his body is thrown into the air and folds uselessly, like wet paper, where he lands. And for once in his life, there is no magic to save him. Or if it is, the magic is too late. And his last fading thought is, How funny.
He'd been too late, too.