Week 1

"What happened on the night of the 27th of December of last year?"

"Fuck you."

Scritch-scratch-scritch-scratch.

"I… I'm sorry. Come off it, Healer Wallace, you don't have to write that down. There was an… an accident, I think. I can't remember. It was dark. It was a long time ago."

There was a squeaking, choking sound. I realised that it was coming from me; I was digging my fingertips into the armrests, the sweat on my palms slicking against leather. I wondered if I had the strength to squeeze right through the upholstery and the wooden frame and whatever else goes into expensive, antique armchairs. I'd go about it systematically. Start with the armrests, then that oppressive-looking desk, the potted plant, the tapestry. That fucking clock that won't stop ticking. I'd watch the blood rise under the skin of his whey-coloured, jowl-heavy face as I ground his pretentious furniture into dust with my fists. Then I'd pay for all of it. How much for this chair, Wallace my boy? Three-hundred Galleons? How much for your dignity? I'll take the lot. Keep the fucking change, you cunt-starved sycophant.

One by one, I made my fingers relax.

"That's quite alright. Can you tell me what you do remember?"

(Wind whistling smug-faced through a forest of blue-black trees. An aftertaste of orange hysteria.)

"There was a tree. One tree, right outside my bedroom window."

"I understand, Mister Malfoy. And was it an ugly tree?"

(It looked like death grown over with bark.)

"Sorry?"

"What I mean to say is, did the tree arouse any particular feelings of repulsion, or disgust, any negative sentiments or associations at all? Did you think about this tree often?"

Healer Wallace was an old-ish man of tremendous gravitas. I bet he used that word on a daily basis too, gravitas. He knew my father, and apparently thought that this association granted him the right to nod condescendingly at my answers to his absurd questions. I put up with it because I had to, and they would put me back here for good if I didn't pass the evaluations, but something about this bastard's eyes rubbed me the wrong way. They were too shiny. Chillingly reflective, almost in a duplicitous way. Like the mirror image of a mirror image of a mask. Like looking outside through the window, and the window is clean and so perfectly clear, but the awareness of cold glass is ever-present and impossible to shake.

"—Goyle like trees too?"

"What?"

"Did your friend Mister Goyle like trees?"

(I just want to take my life and pack it up and bring it with me in a box. That's what Goyle said. Goyle in a box. Goyle in a box.)

"What the fuck does that have to do with anything?"

"Alright, then." Healer Wallace made a point of scribbling in his fancy clipboard. It was a test, I just knew it. The wanker was deliberately provoking me with the scratch of quill on parchment. Well, he'd be glad to know that I didn't do violent outbursts anymore. Psychotic breakdowns are so last season, a voice that sounded remarkably like Pansy's simpered in my head. I sucked my tongue off the back of my teeth and counted to ten in my head. I tried not to think about trees.


Week 4

"Malfoy."

Enter Granger, stage right.

She spat my name as if it were the basest of imprecations. I gave her the customary disparaging once-over, settling in certain areas just long enough to convey the impression of vaguely interested disgust. Like a glance you might give roadkill.

"Granger," I sneered.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"I don't have to answer you."

She furrowed her brow but otherwise seemed to accept the fact that she did not own the waiting room and that I had just as much right to an imperfect constitution as she did. Granger huffed and tutted and garrumphed her way to the seat furthest away from me. She settled herself in her seat like a drunk, or like a convict, limp-lipped and loose-limbed, just filling in space for the time being.

Sorry, did you need this chair? I'm terribly sorry, but I have to sit in this chair now, and I do hope you'll forgive me for taking up this much oxygen.

I'd heard rumours about her husband, and I admit I may have been hoping to run into her here, if only to rub Weasley's comatose in her face. And it did feel good, for the first ten seconds of our encounter. Calamity Granger all snuffed out, all her joists and beams and all those little fiddly parts that once held her spine so self-righteously erect now rusted, too big for their sockets. I could almost hear the metal rattling around inside her as she moved. Everything about her screamed burnout! Burnout! Burnout!

And then, like she felt my contempt all the way across the room, she dragged her sorry head up and met me right in the eye.

(Burn, burn, burn, burn, burn.)

Something in her eyes—the steely shock in them, maybe, or the way she looked as though she'd just missed out on the final slices of sunlight to be had in the world—made me look away.

We ignored each other for the next hour until she was called. Her presence buzzed in the back of my mind like static.


Week 6

"What happened on the night of the 27th of December of last year?"

I'd learned that it was easier for everyone if I just went along with the questions.

"Someone got hurt. In a forest, I think. There was a forest with gigantic trees."

"What do the trees look like?"

"I don't bloody know, do I?"

"Well, let's start with something simpler." Healer Wallace bestowed me with a paternalistic smile. I wanted to feel his front teeth breaking the skin across my knuckles. I wanted to bury my thumbs in his eye sockets and feel for his brains. How do you like it now, Wallace my boy? Doesn't feel so good when it's someone else's meddling fucking fingers in your mind, does it?

"Why don't you tell me how many trees there were?"

(Too many. Too many.)

"A lot, I suppose."

Scritch-scratch-scritch-scratch.

"Good, good. Would you say they were in the dozens? Or perhaps hundreds? Maybe in thou—"

"They blocked out the light. That's how many there were," I snapped. I felt drawn and tense, as if all my tendons tightened against my bones without my permission. "And they smelled…"

"Yes?"

"It's daft. It's not important."

"Mister Malfoy, every detail counts if you want me to help you. Please let me help you. Do you want me to help you?"

I bit down so hard I thought I might break my skull. Then, slowly, I nodded. I hated myself for it.

"Now, what did the trees smell like?"

My tongue was welded to the roof of my mouth. "Like… fire. Sulphur and brimstone. Like the burnt outer edge of an old iron cauldron. Have you heard of… of bombs?"

Scritch-scratch-scritch-scratch.

"Yes, I have. Do you mean Muggle explosive devices? There are quite a large variety of them. Can you tell me about them?"

I stared at him hard, trying to catch him in the act of mocking me. I wanted him to flinch under my gaze, but he just sat there.

"I don't know why I brought it up. It's a terrible comparison."

"Tell me about the bombs, Mister Malfoy."

I heaved a sigh. I wasn't about to let him think that—though I was obliged to participate in his cute little entry level, pop-psychology quiz sessions—I was having a good time. "Well, you know the biggest ones? The atom bombs? There's the initial blast, which is bad enough, but there's also radiation. I don't quite understand radiation. It seems to be some sort of unconfined, left-over energy that fries your cells and they accelerate and accumulate at an alarming rate until…"

"Until?"

"Until… Until your shell explodes…" It came out as a whisper. I cleared my throat. "Anyway, like I said, it doesn't have to do with much. I just get the sense of an explosion happening nearby. It's always hot and dry and… scratchy."

I rubbed at the skin of my arms. They always itched during these sessions.

"This is good progress, Mister Malfoy, very good progress."

"Yeah, alright. Whatever. Can I leave now?"


Week 10

"Finally gone round the bend, have you?" I asked her. I couldn't help it. The room was too white and my options were either to jump out the window, or talk to Granger.

"No," she said through her nose. Such a prim little bitch, she was.

"Then why are you here?"

I knew exactly why she was here, of course. They said Weasley came out of the war just fine, better than the rest of their jolly bunch, in fact. He and Granger got hitched, and then, without warning, he fell into convulsions while chatting with some poor, unsuspecting Ministry clerk or other. I heard he lost a tooth when he banged his face against a desk as he went down. It's not that I was following their story closely or anything, it's just, with them being who they were and all, it was impossible to remain unaware. Potter used to come with her in the beginning, but he stopped visiting. Granger continued to come, regular as clockwork. Sometimes she brought a book. Sometimes flowers.

"You know why I'm here, you stupid fuck," she whispered vehemently, hunching her shoulders.

Her response was far more intense than I was hoping for. All I wanted was a bit of harmless sparring, but there she went and got all defensive and disproportionately hurt, ruining the whole thing for me. I had to admit though, I was a little impressed. Impressed isn't quite the right word. Maybe... relieved? Something about watching her mope around all dressed down like a wet firecracker—all shaken out and rubbed raw—made me think of great causes, and how everyone always forgot about them in the end.

I'll have whatever Live Wire Granger over here is having, bartender. Get me a fix of some of that vicious hypnosis.

(Fish in a bowl, Goyle used to say. We're all just fish in a bowl.)

Still, I had no idea what to say to her. Without our roles of Pureblood and Mudblood, we were just two people in a boring-as-fuck waiting room in St. Mungo's. I almost asked her: How's that coma going for Weasley? But I was tired, and I just wanted the day to be over. The seat was perfectly formed for my body shape. I thought I might fall asleep here forever. I wouldn't have minded.

"Are you crazy, Malfoy?"

I opened one eye in surprise. She was looking at my arms, and I looked down to find myself rubbing at them unconsciously. I stopped.

I don't know why I said what I did next. I wasn't trying to be funny. I didn't want to see her laugh.

"There is a fifty-fifty chance that I may or may not be clinically insane at any given point in time. Unless you put me in a box with a cat, then I am simultaneously crazy and not crazy."

Her lips twitched. "That's not how Schrodinger's cat works, though I wouldn't expect you to know anything about quantum mechanics."

My face felt suddenly warm like it was too close to a flame, and it pissed me off. "Fuck you, Granger."


Week 11

"What happened on the night of the 27th of December of last year?"

"I'm not crazy."

"No, of course you aren't."

"Don't... Don't say it like that, like..."

"Like what, Mister Malfoy?"

"Like what? Like what? You bloody know like what, you condescending, pompous prick."

"My dear boy—"

"Don't fucking call me that!"

"—aren't crazy. You are simply—"

"Say it!"

"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I don't follo—"

"Fucking say I'm not crazy! Don't—don't patronize me, just say it. Just say it like you mean it."

"You are not crazy."

"Say it! Say it or I'm never coming back to this fucking place! Say it or I'll—I'll burn your bloody office down!"

"You are not crazy."

"I'm not, am I?'

"You are not crazy."

"I'm not."

"You are not crazy."

"Please..."

"You are not crazy."

"That's not good enough."

"I'm sorry, Mister Malfoy. It's all I have for you."

"I... Yeah, yeah alright. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have... I'm sorry."

"Would you like to end this session a little early?"

"No. No, I'm fine. What was your question?"

"What happened on the night of the 27th of December of last year?"

"I don't know. There were trees. There was fire. I don't know."


Week 13

Mother had been opposed to my moving out of the Manor. She'd convinced Father to offer me a wing of my own to entice me into staying. I didn't particularly want to leave, but it seemed that all the windows of the East Wing looked out into the forest that bordered our property. I didn't like looking at the trees. Mother said that we could black out all the windows, but that wouldn't really have helped much.

I was certain that Mother had Dooley come over to my new flat whenever I'm not in to restock the cupboards. I kept finding little tidbits of my childhood insinuating their way into my life. First it was a framed photo of the three of us that I had no recollection of bringing with me when I moved out. Then it was the duvet I've used since I was five. A pair of old bedroom slippers that haven't fit me since puberty. A miniature broomstick, the one with the crook in the handle. A chipped coffee mug that I kept my quills in. It wasn't Mother's style, so I assumed it was Dooley acting all on her own. I let her do it. It was easier for me if both Dooley and Mother convinced themselves that I was being taken care of.

The point of all this being that my flat was nothing much more than four bare walls built around a vacuum of inertia, a few mementos, and a single bed. There was a fireplace hitched up to the Floo network, and sometimes when I was feeling particularly self-loathing, I would light it up and think of how eight of them could fit in any single fireplace in the Manor. It was a nice practice—somewhat cathartic—but I didn't do it often. There wasn't much else to do at my flat, and much as I loathed Wallace's quivering jowls, I usually arrived here a bit early.

The thing was, there wasn't much to do in the waiting room either.

I leaned against my chair, resting the back of my neck against the hard edge of the seat. The room was too white. It burned into the back of my eyeballs, and I couldn't help but blink in an attempt to flush the naked blaze of it searing into my retinas. Granger was here too, her nose determinedly stuck in a copy of the Daily Prophet. She was trying not to look at me, I could tell. I shut my eyes and opened them, shut and open, shut and open, trying to catch Granger in the act of sneaking a peek.

There was a poem I heard once. Something, something, shut my eyes and the world drops dead. Something, something, I lift my lids and all is born again.

(I think I made you up inside my head.)

It was a funny poem, not in the funny ha-ha way, but funny in the way that I don't know what the hell it's talking about, and yet I feel as if it's completely appropriate for the situation. A jagged edge of light curved through the glass of the window—like a crack yawning in the atmosphere, or a fraying hole into another dimension—and it hit my eye at just the right angle that, every time I blinked, it was like squinting through the flickering haze of a bonfire. The world dissolved and reborn in a waiting-room bonfire.

I thought of light and heat and phosphorescence. Of how something can be so hot that it starts to emit a radioactive glow, like the aftermath of an atom bomb. Of dry heaving desperation and the sensation of your insides turning slowly into powder. Too-tight skin and aching bones and heat, heat, heat. The smell of burning leaves (or was it hair?).

Something, something, shut my eyes. World drop dead. Something. Something. Born again. How did it go?

(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The light refracted like a shard of pure malevolence and suddenly the white room was gone, and it was all shadow everywhere. The shadows were leaves, and the chairs were trees, and my skin was calcifying into bark all over and it was impossible to bend my joints. Smoke coming out of my pores.

(Goyle in a box. Goyle in a box. Goyle in a burning orange box.)

"You smell like blackberries."

The forest was gone. I shook my head.

It was the way Granger said it—like I'd somehow insulted her deeply with my scent—that got my attention. And anyway I've never been told that I smell like anything before, much less blackberries.

"You wanna make something of it?" I retorted. It wasn't my best, but I spent all of last night rearranging what little furniture I had and my eyeballs felt like they were coated in sand, so I gave myself a free pass.

She frowned. There was a small crinkle in the center of her forehead that stretched and folded at the movement. Then I had a funny thought. I thought: this is how it starts. Little dry papery folds here and there that criss-cross their way across your face. You don't notice them at first. They take advantage of your leniency and pretend like they aren't there to stay, that they're only sleeping over for the night because they're in town and your face was so conveniently spacious. You weren't using all that extra skin anyway, were you? And your eyes have just the right amount of sheen and your cheeks so blank and empty so they invite their corrugated cousins and their pleated pals and before you know it your face is rumpled and puckered and tucked and you've forgot how to smile. Then it spreads out until it eats you, and you are just one big wrinkle. One big, sad wrinkle in the fabric of space and time.

"—ust odd, that's all." Her voice was one of the most recognizable parts of her.

"Huh?"

"I said, it's odd that you smell like blackberries."

I can smell like whatever I fucking please, you stupid girl. I would have said it too, if she'd given me enough time to react. Instead I opened my mouth and closed it, then moved my lips around as if I did not know how to shape them to form vitriol anymore. Granger had small hands.

"Oh. Yes."

She looked at me strangely, but before she could get her words out the Mediwitch called her name and she was gone in a flurry of robes and hair and angly elbows and the faint lingering bitterness of fresh newsprint and post-war ennui.


Week 15

"Do you like poetry, Mister Malfoy?"

"I'm not paying you two hundred Galleons an hour to sit here and listen to you bombard me with asinine questions."

"I'm sure you're not, as I seem to recall that it was your father's signature on the check, and not yours."

"Good on you, Wallace. As long as we both acknowledge it."

"Well, do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Mister Malfoy, we can go back to talking about the 27th of December, or you can answer my question."

"I do not know what it is about you that closes and opens, only that something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses. Nobody, not even in the rain, has such small hands."

"That was lovely, very lovely, thank you. Was that... hmm, let me see... Dickinson?"

"Cummings, actually."

"Of course, pardon me. Cummings, yes, such a talented fellow. A shame, really."

"What's a shame?"

"That he's dead."

"Oh."

"Have you heard of this passage, Mister Malfoy?"

"When the fierce soul has quit the fleshly case
It tore itself from, Minos sends it down
To the seventh depth. It falls to this wooded place—"

"No, never heard of it."

"Then perhaps these next lines will jog your memory.

No chosen spot, but where fortune flings it in—
And there it sprouts like a grain of spelt, to shoot
Up to a sapling, then a wild plant: and then

The Harpies, feeding on the foliage, create
Pain, and an outlet for the pain as well.
We too shall come like the rest, each one to get

His cast-off body, but not for us to dwell
Within again: for justice must forbid
Having what one has robbed oneself of—still,

Here we shall drag them; and through the mournful wood
Our bodies will be hung, with every one
Fixed on the thornbush of its wounding shade."

"I don't... I don't... I've never..."

"It's the thirteenth canto of Dante's Inferno, Mister Malfoy. The wood of the suicides."

(I just want to take my life and pack it up and bring it with me in a box. That's what Goyle said.)

"That's not... What does that have to do with anything? That's not what happened."

"What happened on the night of the 27th of December of last year?"

"Shut up. Shut up. Shut up."

"Mister Malfoy, what happened to your friend, Gregory Goyle, on the night of the 27th of December?"

"He didn't—he'd never have done... that. Goyle is alright. He's fine. He's a bloody idiot, but he's alrigh—"

"At the time this was written, suicide was considered by the Muggle Christian Church as at least equivalent to murder. Have you heard of the Ten Commandments, Mister Malfoy? Of course you have."

"Goyle wouldn't... You're lying..."

(Fish in a bloody bowl. Instinct wrapped in impotent flesh. Smoke and coloured water. Where's that vicious hypnosis I asked for, bartender?)

"Which of the Ten Commandments would you say stands out the most? Personally, I always think of 'Thou shalt not kill.' You see, many theologians believed suicide to be a deeper sin than murder, as it constituted a rejection of God's gift of life."

"I need... water. I'm thirsty. I'm so thirsty. Shut up. Please. Shut up."

"Dante punishes the act of suicide by encasing the offender in a tree, thus denying eternal life and damning the soul to an eternity as a member of the restless living dead, and prey to the harpies."

(I've heard of a bomb, of radiation, of cells bursting outwards forever and ever.)

"Goyle got hurt, but he wasn't like that. You don't understand. This type of... existential despair isn't Goyle's style. He's a simple bloke. No harpies and damnation for him."

"What happened on the night of the 27th of December of last year?"

"I don't... I can't... Do you know, Wallace? Why don't you just tell me yourself?"

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Mister Malfoy. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. You've made yourself forget, and so you are ill. My job is to help you create a new way to remember."


Week 18

"Do you want to hear a secret?"

She had a talent for saying things in ways that were horrendously inappropriate for what she was actually saying. For example, this time she said it casually, like it was her habit to spew out her soul's innermost workings to unsuspecting strangers like me. Well, I suppose we weren't strangers, but that wasn't the point.

"Why are you talking to me?" I snapped.

"Because there is no one else to talk to, and I am sick of this book." She held up the cover. It was the blandest shade of yellow I've ever seen, but I was of the don't-judge-by-a-cover school of thought.

Who was I kidding? I judged things left and right.

"Well, do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Want to hear the secret," she said slowly, as if she were talking to a child. "Try to keep up, Malfoy."

"Not particularly, Granger, but thanks anyway."

She gave me that same crinkly frown. "You already know I'm going to tell you anyway. It's inevitable."

(Blood and foam. That's what we are. Snape told me so.)

"Only death is inevitable," I said solemnly, trying for some sort of Snape impression. It was terrible, not only because the man was dead, but also because I was never good with impressions.

She laughed. Again, I wasn't trying to make her laugh, but it wasn't an unwelcome sound. And then I laughed too, not as loudly or as obviously as she did, because she was looking at me so expectantly that I felt almost obligated to join in. I sort of just huffed in amusement. I'd meant for it to come out as some grand, nihilistic proclamation and make her shut up, but even I could tell how bloody stupid I sounded just then.

(We're all dead in the long run. In the end we're dirt. Our whole civilization is a layer of sediment. How's that for a secret?)

She stopped laughing and looked at me. She was skinny, but I suppose we all were. It was a symptom of our generation. War as we knew it was obsolete, and it left behind it a bunch of jittery, half-awake, underfed twenty-somethings cracking lame jokes in crazy wards.

"You're funny, Malfoy, but not in the way that you think."

(Wanna make a bet, Granger?)

"Thanks, I guess."

She looked away and put her nose back into her banal book. I tried to scan the title, but she was sitting too far away from me and I decided I didn't care that much. I tapped my foot. The Welcome Witch gave me a bracing look and I tapped harder.

What's your secret, Granger? I wanted to say, only I didn't want to look too eager because after all, we weren't friends. We were just two people who happened to be in the same place at the same time at four in the afternoon every Saturday. And anyway the atmosphere wasn't right for secret-telling. It was too bright, for one thing, and the air smelled of antiseptic, and cold, reflective surfaces, and too much white. It smelled white.

Secrets were meant to be shared under an unbreakable mantle of darkness, perhaps in a ditch somewhere. Or under a mattress. Or that spot at the base of your spine. Or between the walls, plaster dust caking your throat. Or high up in a tower, with an old man about to die and you didn't really want him to die—please don't die—but he has to die anyway because He said so. Or in a forest with moaning trees that bled black out of their broken limbs, with heat and the smell of burning hair, and your jaw is clenched so hard you think you might shatter your skull and the shards of it will be embedded in your brain so deep you can taste it, and your heart is somewhere far away, the pace running away from you, and your friend in a blaze of orange plucking life like a yellowed page out of an old book (What are you doing, Goyle?) and how did this wand—how the fuck did this wand get in my hand—

"—anger, Hermione." The Mediwitch's voice was pleasantly tinny, like an attractive woman's voice heard from the other room, except the Mediwitch was right in front of me and wasn't attractive at all. I liked her, though. She gave me a nod as she saw me.

Granger stood. "See you later, Malfoy," she said as she passed me, her small hands clasped at her back.

(I'll take you anywhere you want, Granger.)

"Hmm," I replied. I never actually saw her after she was called, as I was usually called right after she was.

It was Granger, Hermione.

And then Jones, Mallory.

And then Jackman, Wayne.

And then Malfoy, Draco.

(How did this wand get in my—in my—)

Jones was a middle aged man who was on some sort of juice-fast, judging by the plastic container of green glop he carried around with him and the way he lovingly eyed the sandwich I brought with me last week. Jackman was a weedy boy perhaps a few years older than me who had the air of an eager anarchist who fell into bad times, like live wire wrapped in a wet blanket. I didn't know exactly how I could tell. It must have been the way the tips of his ears were always red, or how he always held his fists clenched in his lap.

(This wand—wand—wand—)

We were all nutters, I suppose, so I had no right to judge. But I knew I'd judge the lot of them anyway.


Week 20

"What happened on the night of the 27th of December of last year?" I said, cutting Wallace off before he'd even got the chance to open his mouth.

"Why... yes. Good. Why don't you tell me what happened?"

"Goyle got hurt, didn't he?"

"Yes, he did."

"Is he... Is he going to be alright?"

"Mister Malfoy, your friend Gregory Goyle has been dead for over a year."

I cleared my throat and flexed my back against my seat. "Yes, of course. Goyle died. He is dead. That's what I meant."

"Do you need to take a moment?"

"No, no, I'm alright. Is... Crabbe's dead too, right?"

Scritch-scratch-scritch-scratch.

"Vincent Crabbe died during the war, well before Mister Goyle did. I am sorry for your loss. I understand you were great friends."

"No, I... I mean, yeah, we were friends. I think they both hated my guts. Anyway, never mind that. I just wanted to make sure I haven't got things mixed up." I ran my tongue under the rim of my front teeth. Wallace peered up at me from over his spectacles.

"Do you remember how he died, Mister Malfoy? Mister Goyle, that is."

(You see all that orange? The sun's ecstatic to be ending the day. I'm tired too, Draco.)

"It was... sunset. In the Manor Grounds. I... I've never seen petrol, but I knew what it tasted like, on that day."

"How did he die, Draco?"

(I am the heir to white gold decay, Draco.)

"He just... died." Funny how one little syllable—duh—aye—uhd—duh—could take so much effort to force out through my teeth. They caught on a lump swelling in my throat. I looked down at my arms to find them shimmering. I was hot and dry and high, like a bedraggled kite caught up in the gust of a heat haze. Incandescent. One step—and into the chasm I go. One movement—and the cusp crumbles. How I'd love for it to crumble. It'd be the highlight of my shit day, my shit week, my shit year. Sweat dripped down between my shoulderblades, and the sound of silver rang through my head.

I thought to myself: Here it comes.

I waited for the cold spatter of oblivion across my vision.

"It's alright, Mister Malfoy. Do you need a moment?"

(We'll never get away, Draco. And even if we could—even if we could—)

"No, no, just... water. Please. Could I have some water?"

I imagined a pocket of empty colour. Flickering festoons of run-for-your-life orange and delirious green and supernova blue licking sinuously at each other in a forgotten corner of space and time. That was me. I was a rumbling riot of existence. I was a fissure of broken flames. I was a cavity gorged into the universe, crammed into a fleshy cage, and named after a northern constellation that was too far away to have anything in common with me. Draco Malfoy, the black hole.

How do you like me now, Wallace? I'll suck all your ugly furniture and your toupe and your fucking clipboard into my gravity. And then where will you be? Where will you be without your scritchy-scratchy clipboard, Wallace?

(We'd just fall asleep. We'd fall asleep by the fire, Draco. And we. Will. Burn.)

"Take a moment, dear boy." Wallace Charmed a glass of water into my waiting hand. I hefted the weight of it, taking comfort in the drip of condensation into the grooves of my knuckles. "We'll work through this."

(Hang me up to dry, Draco.)

I felt calmly detached. The water was soothing in my throat. I imagined it flowing down, down, down, ever downhill, through my pores and bleeding out into a puddle beneath me. I imagined my skin turning translucent and melting with it. In the background, Wallace was yammering on about how this was all 'very impressive progress' and how I was on my way to 'complete recovery' soon. It was strange. I thought this moment would be more violent, but I suppose I hadn't quite hit the wall yet. The water brought me back. I took another sip and felt the beat of my heart slow down.

"Are you alright, Mister Malfoy?"

(Floo me when you get this, Draco.)

"Yeah. Yeah. I'm fine. I'm sorry about that. It's just... It's unbelievably hot in here. What was your next question?"


Week 22

"Oh, can I tell you a joke?"

Granger seemed to think that having to see each other once a week for the past five months made us best buddies or some such bullshit. I supposed it was marginally better than her acting so twitchy around me, like I was continuously plotting her demise. I'd never noticed before, but I realised that—for someone so booksmart—Granger was oddly childish in some aspects. A person had either her affection or her contempt. She was very rarely neutral, always insisting on taking a side even with the most insignificant, most hopeless of matters.

I guess I was struck by it because it's a rare thing, looking at the world through her eyes, and I didn't know how to feel about the fact that she'd categorized me with the things she didn't hate.

Surprisingly, her delivery wasn't too discordant this time. She turned to me, an eager tilt to her mouth, and I could just tell that she'd been waiting all week to tell me. It was rather sweet.

"No."

"Well, a bloke walks into a bar and sees a horse tending, apron and all, wiping out a glass."

"Please shut up." I wasn't sure if she was supposed to be joking at a time like this. You'd think that Hermione Granger of all people would be the one upholding the sanctity of the no-joking policy of St. Mungo's waiting rooms.

"So the guy stares at the horse for a few minutes without saying a word, completely shocked. The horse returns the stare and breaks the silence by asking, 'Hey mate, what's the matter? You can't believe that a horse can tend bar?' And you know what the guy says?"

Granger was the sort of person who could not pronounce a single word without an accompanying gesture. I tried not to stare at her hands, and so looked down at mine instead. They felt like they were encased in old bandages. "He says: my children are dead and my wife just left me. I don't care what species you are, just help me get shitfaced."

"Jesus, Malfoy," she scoffed incredulously. Five seats down to my right, Jackman, Wayne snorted. Granger arched an eyebrow at him before turning back to me. "Anyway, that's not what he says. The guy says, 'No, I just can't believe that the ferret sold the place."

She was sitting two seats away from me and giggling to herself. She was wearing blue, her hair piled in a frizzy bun on the top of her head, making it look disproportionately large. She looked good in blue. Her hand was resting on the seat next to her and I had a funny thought: this was the closest I'd been to her since the war.

"It's not catching, you know," I blurted out to my hands. "My crazy. It's not catching."

I immediately regretted what I said. I didn't want her to think I was opening up. I didn't want her to sit next to me. I didn't want any part of her stupid fucking jokes.

"Yes, I know. But mine might be." I looked up too quickly and everything was caught up in the black-and-blue swirl of my headrush. Everything except for Granger. She was the only solid thing in the entire fucking place, looking so put-together and serene with her dainty bloody hands and her blue dress and that horrid frizz-ball. How did she do it? She wasn't allowed to be so peaceful.

(Who put these chairs between us, Granger?)

"—ou know, because you're a ferret."

"Excuse me?"

(Lend me some oxygen, will you?)

"Oh, I was explaining the joke. I said it reminded me of you because of that time Moody Transfigured you into a ferr—"

"No, really? When did that happen?"

She ignored my sarcasm and smiled at me instead. "So why do you smell like blackberries?"

"It's Dooley," I muttered.

"Pardon?"

"Dooley. My House Elf. She came to my flat and charmed my tap water to smell like it. She thought it would be a thoughtful gesture."

"Well I think it's charming," she said simply.

"Sorry?"

"You should be more appreciative of the things Dooley does to make you happy. It's the little things like that."

"The little things like what? You sound like a cheap, self-help manual. In fact, you ought to write one and they can quote you on your gravestone. Hermione Granger: A woman who lived for the little things."

"Oh, shut up. It's true. I wouldn't have made it—" she cut herself off with an odd look on her face. I wondered if she was thinking about her vegetable of a husband, who was presumably lying within the same building in his own version of a waiting room. For a second she got that slump around her again, that limpness to her joints that I thought I relished seeing in her. I opened my mouth to apologise, or at least to change the subject, but she spoke before I could get it out. "That's what my Healer told me, anyway. Like the smell of coffee in the morning. Or seeing a really funny-shaped cloud that reminds you of your old Uncle Ellis' nose. Or finding a Knut on the floor under your chair."

"You'll forgive me if I say that what you just said is probably the most inane thing that I've ever heard. What would I ever do with a Knut?"

"Oh yes, I forgot how filthy rich you are," she said without malice.

I laughed. "It's not something that people often forget about me."

"You could always start a Knut collection. You know, like wonky, old Knuts that aren't in circulation anymore."

The door to the inner office opened and the white-clad Mediwitch came shuffling out with her pristine clipboard. She looked so tightly organised that I wouldn't doubt it if she came out of the womb that way, starchy robes and all.

"Granger, Hermione."

"You'll find your special Knut someday, Malfoy. You'll know it when you see it."

"Whatever, Granger," I said, looking down at my chest to hide the twitch in my mouth.

"You know, I like blackberries."

I looked up. Her grin was honeysuckle and prairie breezes, glycerine and flying too fast and sun-drenched pavement, heart stuttering on the sly and sugar quills and fire-starters and opiates and white, white teeth. I felt my ears heat up and sneered at her to make up for it.

Later, when I got home, I dreamt of trees. Of trees burning wildly on a darkling plain. And then the smoke dispersed, and there I was standing in a field surrounded by funny-shaped clouds, the smell of coffee and blackberries in the middle distance. And there, in the center of it all, was Granger.

Granger in blue, her eyes wide and her hair hopelessly unkempt, holding up to me in her pretty little hand a single, shining Knut.


Week 25

"I think... I think I know how Goyle died."

"Do you?"

"I keep thinking back to it, and sometimes it's night time, sometimes it's high noon. But the trees are always there. The trees and... and the smoke. And the smell."

"The smell of what, Mister Malfoy?"

"Of burning... burning... burning flesh."

"Go on." I met his eyes across the dark space. He was sitting, calmly as ever, and making notes in his clipboard. I wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake him until he understood. Don't you get it, Wallace? Please tell me you do. Please tell me I'm not just seeing things.

"His house burned down. He was trapped inside. He went just like Crabbe did."

"That's not quite what happened, Mister Malfoy. Mister Goyle's ancestral home is still standing. I understand his mother lives there with her sister."

"So they built it up again, what's the big deal? We can do magic, can't we?"

"You know what happened, Draco. I know you know it. I know you understand. Do not fight me on this one, please. This is crucial to your recovery."

It was raining outside. The sound of it shot straight through my flesh and buried itself in my spine. We were somewhere underground, or underwater, somewhere that wasn't real.

Father used to say that I was a sensitive boy. He said it like it was the worst of sins. Mother would hold my hand and stroke my hair and tell me: The nerves were always strong in my family. It's the Black blood running in your veins. Don't be afraid. Tell me what you're thinking. I never know what you think anymore.

"Goyle... Goyle set himself on fire."

"You are getting very close to the truth, Draco. It's alright. We don't have to push it today."

I leapt up and swayed on my feet. "Why can't you just... Why don't you just tell me?"

"I cannot. You know very well that I want to help you in any way I can, but I cannot suggest, Draco. You have to remember this all by yourself. Memory is a tricky thing. It will compensate for what it has lost by filling in the blanks with whatever is available. You must take this journey alone."

His voice reached me through a murk. My head was swimming.

The little things, Granger said. Like how Goyle's flesh bubbled and popped like the viscous dregs of some potion in an old cauldron. Like how he shut his eyes desperately, as if doing so would make the flames go away. Like how there was a crackling and a hissing like a piece of meat on a spit. Like how he screamed. And how I couldn't get close enough to him to save him.

I looked down at my arms. The skin on them was puckered and completely hairless, coming together in unnatural swirls of melted and reconstructed flesh.

I dropped my body back into the chair.

"Do I have to come back?"

"I'm afraid you do, Draco. I'm sorry. We're not quite there yet."

"Goyle always had a penchant for drama. He could have just offed himself the normal way, but no. He had to go and choose the most theatrical way possible."

It didn't feel quite right leaving my mouth. Goyle was a simple fellow. He wasn't dramatic at all. It wasn't his style. But I had to tell myselfsomething.

My legs were numb, my throat dry. I imagined my toes lengthening and bursting forth through the seams of my shoes, burrowing into the ground beneath. I imagined my arms growing past the ceiling in a desperate yearning for unseen sunlight. I imagined my lips sealing together, my face layered over with bark as I succumbed to the stupor of the Wood of the Suicides.


Week 28

There is that space in time that I like to occupy. It's small and fleeting, and if you look too hard, you will lose it altogether.

It's that stretch of seconds between a thought and a word, the silence that predicates a contraction of muscle against bone. It's a pretty little capsule of frozen time when your mind is blissfully blank. It is getting a glass of water and being entranced by the stream of clear sparkle pouring from the spigot, or scratching the back of your neck, or staring out the window at various moving nothings, or making indeterminate, never-to-be-fulfilled plans to skip town. It's a century crammed into a heartbeat, when life decides that you deserve a breather.

This is my time. This is when the voices are quiet, and Goyle is alive and making an absolute fool of himself somewhere, and I'm not so thirsty all the time, and there is nothing but me, the waiting room, and the wasted, faded daylight. Not a single tree in sight.

"You know what's funny... Ron thought I was too cynical for my own good."

This was Granger's attempt at luring me back into conversation. I hadn't been too forthcoming the past few weeks. I still dreamt of her though.

"He's got quite the temper on him, but I swear Ron's one of the most childishly happy people I know. You know what he told me, once? He said that it's the illusion that all of us logical types suffer from, that there is nothing more to the universe than the mindless gyration of atoms and molecules, that there is no deeper reality behind appearances. It is the logical delusion that after death there is nothing but a timeless void."

"Weasley didn't say that," I snapped.

"Alright, you caught me. Ron didn't say that, precisely. It was an approximation."

I clenched my jaw. "If you have a point, make it."

"Look, I'm not saying that we're all going to end up in a lovely field dressed in togas when we die. Or that there's going to be an infinitely unlimited buffet on the other side or something. That's what Ron thought Heaven would be like. If God knew at all what He was on about, Ron said."

"The fucking point, Granger."

"My point is that seeing death doesn't mean you can't heal anymore. There is peace to be had, somewhere, somehow. It may not be apparent now. Or two years from now. But it's there."

"You're not fooling anyone with the 'I'm-stronger-than-anything-life-can-throw-at-me' act, Granger."

"It's not about being the strongest, Malfoy. It's not about being sane or... whole at the end of it all. You don't have to keep this up. It's about finding the little things that get you through the day. I think... in the end it's all about surviving. Any way you can."

My head made a quick spastic return to reality.

"Excuse me?"

"I... I know about Goyle. I'm sorry."

So my friend killed himself. So he went out into the woods and doused himself in Muggle petrol and set himself on fire. Big fucking deal.

"Yeah? That's special, Granger. Real deep stuff." My eyes were immediately drawn to her hands, so I dragged my gaze upwards. But I wasn't prepared to meet her eyes full on, and I closed mine again. I could feel her glare through my shut eyelids.

"I was just trying to be nice. You don't have to be such a wanker about it."

"Just stop it, Granger. I know you've somehow convinced yourself that you're the appointed saviour of all mankind, but I really don't want to hear it."

"I don't care what you think, Malfoy. Clearly, you don't have everything all figured out."

"Get off your high fucking horse. Just because your husband is in a bloody coma doesn't mean you're privy to all the suffering in the world."

My eyes flew open as I realised what I just said. Jesus fucking Christ. Yes, I'm a bastard arsehole, but even I could tell that I'd gone way over the line.

She was smiling at me. She had a smile like a false start. It was a perfectly calm smile, but something in it made me want to yank my words back from the empty space between us and stuff it back down my throat. Calamity Granger all snuffed out, but not quite.

"Thank you for that, Malfoy," she said sweetly. She was completely still, nothing but the tendons pulling taut in her white throat giving way to the tension of the moment. "Thank you ever so much for reminding me that you are scum, and that you deserve everything that comes your way."

"I'm sorry, Granger. I'm sorry about what I said." I swallowed the fist-sized clot of sand bobbing in my trachea. "How... how is Weasley?"

She had this look on her face—like she wasn't sure if she should laugh or cry—and I had the funny feeling that she was veering more towards laughing. It was unsettling. I wanted to look away. I wanted desperately to look away. Why the hell did I apologise?

"Ron will never wake up again."

Her words smashed into me, ramming their way one by one into my reality. I scrutinized her face for... something, but it was perfectly blank. She delivered that line perfectly. The only explanation was that it was rehearsed dozens of times in front of a mirror. Rehearsed brutally over and over until it became inescapable. And there she sat, unmoving and unmoved. My lungs were filled with the cruelty of it. I waited for the earth to crack under the weight of her pronouncement, for our flimsy chairs to tip and fall into the abyss, but it did not come.

(Hang me up to dry, Draco.)

"Calm down, Malfoy. It's alright. I'm alright. I'm sorry too. You're not scum. You're actually quite alright."

"I don't care."

"You don't? I could have sworn you were starting to hyperventilate."

"Shut up." It came out as a hoarse whisper. I cleared my throat.

"We've all lost someone in the war, and the longer we live, the more we will lose. Your problem, Malfoy, is that you've seen death and now you think things are either laughter or despair. Everything is both, so you might as well get something out of it. The little things, Malfoy. Keep the little things to yourself. Keep them close to your heart, and you'll be fine."

(Tell me something that makes you cry, Granger.)

Her lips were just as dainty as her hands. Gently parted, breathing in and out. I wondered what it would feel like to be a word conceived in her mouth, the shape of me formed through those lips of hers.

"—at's what my Healer told me. Look for the little things."

"Like the funny Knuts?"

"Like the funny Knuts."

It wasn't fair. Her husband was permanently damaged, and yet here she sat, unruffled in the face of human mortality.

(I fought the war, but the war won.)

"Granger, Hermione."

She gathered her belongings together and stood. Did I think she looked like a burnout? Because I was dead wrong. That thing in her that pissed me off so much—that core of steel and dignity and huffy, self-righteous conviction—it was still there. She'd lost some of it, maybe. The showy, dangly parts that weren't really important. It wasn't fair. What deity decided which people got to keep themselves?

(You and me, baby, we're like entropy. We are spontaneous combustion in a sealed chamber. We are stars dying an ecstatic death. We are perpetual motion machines breeding rust in our gaskets, and I think you are flash-bang beautiful.)

Granger left. There was no backward glance, no parting quip.

She was bulletproof porcelain and I? I am her shock waves. I am the shrapnel. I am the plume of dust around her unmoving feet.

I almost said goodbye, but I remembered that I'd be seeing her again in a week. And later, in my dreams.


A/N: To be continued.

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