Disclaimer: This is a non-profit derivative work based on the world and characters of J. K. Rowling.
Characters: Draco Malfoy, Hermione Granger, Others
Genres: Angst, Drama, Romance, Smut
Main Pairing: Draco/Hermione
Story Warnings: Dubious Consent, Epilogue? What Epilogue?, Psychological Trauma, Smut
Overall Rating: NC-17
Summary: Nine years after Voldemort's defeat, Hermione decides to take a holiday from her life to work out who she is and what she wants to do with herself. She soon gets the feeling that Draco Malfoy might be the key to her salvation, but Draco seems to be consumed by a need to keep secrets that are destroying him and does not want her interfering. Armed with a determination to save someone who doesn't want to be saved, she sets out to see how he might fit into the oddly shaped puzzle that is her life.
Credit: Thank you to dollfaced and mazvn for the comprehensive beta and filigree1 for the Britpick. Extra thank you to dollfaced for the banner.
Chapter Length: 7,899
Draco was trying very hard to bite back his frustration as he was pleading with the woman in front of him. Fresh out of bed, she was clad in a sensible nightgown and her hair was down, making her look much younger than she usually did wearing her cap and nurse's robes. She was very competent at what she did, although coming from a long line of various Healers and nurses--and with a name like Aloe Vera--he didn't suppose she'd had much choice in the matter. The title of 'Madam' was in Draco's estimation earned twice over, and he didn't mean that as a compliment.
"Please," he said when she didn't stop staring at the faded but still ugly and discoloured scar on his arm. "It really does hurt."
"Take off your robes," she said, and he complied. "Do any of your other scars hurt?" she asked, moving her wand along his torso to his back, examining all of the history he would prefer to forget. She moved back round to the front, hesitating for only the fraction of a second at the barely visible scar from a bite on his shoulder, but not commenting.
He was very grateful that she didn't comment. He didn't have the energy for even that. When she stood back in front of him, he sat down on the closest bed in a calculated move to appear more vulnerable. He wasn't lying about the pain in his arm, but he'd found that telling this woman the truth wasn't always enough to get what he wanted. Sometimes he had to embellish a bit.
"No. Just that one," he said.
"That old mark of yours can't hurt, Draco. It's dead tissue. That is, unless you think..." She hesitated. And with good reason, too. Nobody ever liked to bring up that particular possibility.
"The Dark Lord isn't back," he calmly said. "I already checked it for any signs of active magic like I always do. There is none. It just... hurts. It burns. Like fire and acid."
"I hate to say it, Draco, but if there is any pain, then it's probably just... well..."
"Another symptom of me having the crazies?"
"Don't talk like that."
"But it's what you meant, isn't it?" He couldn't quite conceal his bitterness. They all saw him as either crazy or broken or both. They all both feared him and pitied him and he was quite sick of it. What he wouldn't give to simply be a person again.
"Just because your pain is rooted in something psychological rather than something physiological doesn't mean that it's to be scoffed at and called 'the crazies'. Have you been taking that other potion I gave you?"
He snorted, actually a little amused at that question. "What? The one that made me constantly drowsy yet unable to sleep, and also quite unable to... perform, whether it be in the classroom or in bed? That potion? No, thank you."
"I know the initial side effects can seem quite severe--"
"Can't you simply give me something for the pain like I asked?"
She sighed. "You know I can't."
Draco wasn't surprised, but disappointment still burned through him almost rivalling the pain in his arm. "Then how about something to help me sleep?"
"You know my rules. If you want something to help you sleep, you have to sleep up here where I can keep an eye on you. I can ready a bed for you--"
"For fuck's sake, Vera. Can't you just... help me for once?"
Her golden brown eyes looked so wounded that he almost regretted his outburst. Almost. "I am helping you," she quietly said. "You know as well as I do that giving you what you're asking for will hurt you far more than it will help you."
"That one time was an accident. It won't happen again."
"No, you're right it won't. I'm here to see that you have no more 'accidents'."
"I'm not suicidal. I miscalculated, that's all."
"And when I took your potions from you, you had such awful withdrawal symptoms that I had to keep you up here for a week and monitor you for a long time after that. It would have caused that scandal you so wish to avoid and you certainly wouldn't have a position here any longer if I hadn't told the Headmistress that it was the flu."
"How many times do I have to tell you that I'm grateful for what you did, but it's not what you think. It never was."
"Self-medication isn't that uncommon, Draco. Unfortunately, your skill with making your own potions merely gave you stronger things to work with."
"And it worked beautifully until you got me banned from getting most of the supplies," he muttered.
"You simply be grateful that Professor Slughorn was willing to assist in this matter, or I would have had no choice but to reveal everything for your own good."
"Yes, yes, my own good." He didn't even try to hide his bitterness any longer.
"Yes! Your own good! And you will not bully me, Draco Malfoy. Now. I'm sorry that the other potion isn't working for you, but there are other similar options and--"
"Oh, don't be such a baby."
He had to blink at that. That was quite a scoff, coming from the stern but always mild-mannered Madam Vera. "I'm serious," he insisted. "I don't want any of those potions."
"They come as pills and powders as well."
"Now I know you're only missing the point to irritate me."
"You need treatment, Draco. But not for the pain in your arm. The pain in your soul is much worse, and since you refuse to talk to anyone about it..."
"...You're simply going to suppress the few joys I do have? Where's the logic in that?"
"That one was a bad fit. I'm sure we can find a better one for you."
"And I'm sure that I don't need it. I'm fine except for the pain in my arm." And a few pains in my neck.
"Then I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do for you." She turned her back on him and disappeared back into her private area.
Draco scowled, but he knew when he wasn't going to get anywhere. Lovely. Another sleepless night was already taking its toll on him, and now he was expected to tolerate this pain for an unknown duration? He could already tell it would be a marvellous day. Reluctantly, he got to his feet and pulled his robe back over his head, absent-mindedly adjusting it as he walked towards the doors leading from the Hospital Wing. He was no more than two steps away from them when one door suddenly swung open and he was nearly run down.
"Oh!" Granger said, and then her eyes widened as she took him in. "Oh..."
"Be right with you!" Vera called from behind him and came out from her quarters, fastening her robes.
Granger's mouth dropped open, and it didn't take a lot of imagination to figure out what was going through her head. Draco's own hair was still a bit messy from pulling on his robes, and Vera hadn't put hers up yet. Draco couldn't help but grin. Granger really did think he'd shag anyone, didn't she? Well, he supposed he might've gone for Vera if she hadn't been so forbidding at times. And if she'd cared for male companionship at all.
Granger didn't seem to realise that, though, since she was currently doing her best impression of a fish, and Draco was in the mood to make trouble. "Always a pleasure, Aloe," he smoothly said, "but it seems like I'd best be going now."
Vera shot him a semi-annoyed glance as she wasn't particularly fond of her own first name or anyone using it, but merely said, "Do come back tonight, Draco, and I'll see about fixing a bed up for you."
Her response couldn't have been any more perfect, and Draco left with a huge grin on his face.
In spite of the brief burst of humour in the morning, Draco soon found that his day was becoming every bit as miserable as he'd predicted. The students were annoying; he bored himself during his classes; when he made it to lunch only his least favourite foods were left; he became more and more exhausted; and his damn arm hurt like hell.
The sideways glances Granger was sending him weren't helping. She had a growing fascination with him, it didn't take a genius to figure that much out. He'd hoped for weeks now that his constant hostility and apparent whoremongering ways would put her off, but he had to face that they didn't. If anything, she was beginning to look more and more curious. Curious, of all things. He didn't need her to be curious about him. Especially not in the way that some of her looks suggested. She was now part of the reason he was losing sleep. He was rapidly approaching his wits' end concerning what to do about her and how to keep her at an arm's length. She already wouldn't be dissuaded from constantly bothering him about her projects no matter what he did, and now this.
He'd been scared of many things in his life, but nothing terrified him quite as much as Hermione Granger being persistent.
By the end of the day, he'd decided he had two choices. He could either sit around and wait for the other shoe to drop--as in, Granger somehow working everything out and contacting Magical Law Enforcement to have him incarcerated for life--or he could avail himself of the fact that it was Friday and go and distract himself.
He chose distraction.
It was long overdue anyway. Carys, the least clingy girlfriend in the history of relationships, had become worried enough about his absence that she'd actually owled him to hear if everything was all right up at the castle. It wasn't even as if he'd never stayed away for long periods of time before. He had his moods and she respected that. The very fact that she'd been worried enough to owl him said something about exactly how long it had been, and how unstable he'd been lately. He didn't fool himself one bit that people weren't running to Carys with every bit of gossip about him and what he was doing that they could find. She was clever enough to take it all in her stride, fortunately, but he supposed he had been a little bit off even for him lately.
Besides, nothing ever distracted him quite as well from whatever was ailing him as sex. True, sometimes he was in a dark enough mood that he didn't even want sex, but eventually he came around and that was when it was handy to have a girlfriend like Carys. Not that he couldn't get any other offers, but tangling with other witches around these parts would probably get messy rather quickly. Just look at Variel, for one. She claimed she understood him, but it was clear from the way she looked at him that she fancied she could cure everything that was wrong with him and thought everything would then be fluffy kittens, wedding bells and lots of babies.
He might be persuaded to get a cat, but everything else was quite out of the question. He'd tried curing himself via the love of a good woman, and it hadn't worked. It was a ridiculous, unrealistic fantasy, and he wished witches would stop applying it to him. He wasn't some dark and tortured soul who only needed a kiss and a hug to feel all better. He was legitimately fucked up. There was never going to be any way out of this hell that was contained within his own skin, his own brain, for him. He would have to live in it until he died, and Merlin only knew what would await him after that happened. It was quite fortunate that he wasn't a religious man, or he would have been really scared, everything considered.
Carys wasn't like that. She accepted him for who he was and didn't ask for more than he could give. He supposed it was because she in many ways resembled him--except she was a lot nicer--and like him, didn't tend to get tangled up in complicated romantic emotions that did nothing but ruin everything good.
But more importantly than all that--Carys was always ready and willing to distract him with her glorious feminine attributes, and the more he thought about it, the more he was reminded exactly how long it had been since he had last availed himself of that perk. She probably wasn't the least lonely without him, but fortunately for him, she favoured him above everyone else, even if he couldn't quite fathom why.
So tonight he would forget about one Hermione Granger and all the dangers she posed to him, at least for a few hours.
The Three Broomsticks were crowded, but that was hardly surprising. Draco leisurely made his way in and took his time locating a seat. It wasn't really imperative to find Carys yet. She'd be working until midnight when they closed, anyway. Draco was only here because he felt like he might otherwise fall asleep and then wake up far too late to visit Carys, yet far too early to be productive. At least here the noise should be able to keep him awake.
Not many minutes after he'd sat down, a lovely young witch hesitantly began approaching him, biting her lip and obviously debating whether to speak to him or not. She couldn't be quite out of her teens yet. It was even possible that he'd taught her, although she'd clearly left school by now. Not that it made much of a difference that she was out of school. Minerva McGonagall would have his head--or another body part--if he should dare to dally with one of his former students. Again.
She seemed to have finally worked up the courage when she was rather firmly interrupted. "Oy, off with you. Go and find someone your own age to play with," Carys said to her, taking a seat on Draco's lap. "What took you so long, tiger?"
He couldn't help but snort a laugh at her address, but didn't comment on it. "What was that? I didn't think you were the jealous sort."
"When I don't see you in an age and a half, I'm not about to hand you over to some chit, am I?" She wasn't angry. She was never really angry, except when he didn't want to help fainting witches. Currently her eyes twinkled and her dimples were showing, although she seemed to be trying very hard to suppress her smile.
"Sorry about that," he said, encircling her waist with his arms. "I've been... worse, lately."
"You know not to worry about that," she said, putting her arms around his neck and studying his face. "You look tired. You want to go to my rooms for a nap?" As the current owner of The Three Broomsticks, Carys lived in her own private section of the inn. The proximity would've been more handy if she weren't so insistent on being a responsible owner who didn't sneak away for quickies.
"No, that's fine," he said, although it would probably have been a better idea to accept. "I'll simply wait here until you close up if that's all right with you."
"You know that isn't until midnight."
"I know." He bent forwards to kiss her. "Don't you have thirsty customers to attend to?"
She snorted and got up. "Always. Can I get you anything?"
"Maybe some of your own mead when you can find the time."
Unsurprisingly, he had his mead only a few minutes later, and he then proceeded to spend the next few hours watching his girlfriend work. As always, he was surprised at how she could even do it. How she could constantly be surrounded by loud, drunk, obnoxious people--some of which would very unsubtly attempt to cop a feel--and yet still be so happy and friendly to everyone she talked to. He'd have broken an arm or two by now if it had been him. In fact, he had half a mind to break one certain wizard's arm. Except that might upset Carys. It would be bad for business, and she was nothing if not protective of her business. So the wizard kept his arm unbroken. For now.
Draco's head was swimming with the lack of sleep, the throbbing in his arm, and a slight excess of mead when Carys finally let them both into her private quarters that night. It wasn't the first time that had happened, though, so he didn't think anything of it, other than to make a mental note not to perform in ways that might make him sick. Being sick during sex was definitely not one of his kinks. He barely allowed them to enter her bedroom before he grabbed her to kiss her and they tumbled towards her bed. She followed every bit as willingly as he'd expected, whilst helping him relieve them of their clothes.
It had been so long since he'd been naked with a woman. So long. Ever since Granger had arrived at Hogwarts, he'd been so busy fretting and he simply hadn't had the energy. But now he was here, and he'd be damned if he'd think of that blasted witch when he had soft, pretty, eager Carys here with him, under him, on him...
Carys tugged at his underwear, but he grabbed her hands and put them on his chest instead. "Not yet," he muttered, kissing her again.
She complied, although she was a bit slow to hide her confused frown. He knew what she was thinking. It had been weeks and he didn't usually go for anyone else, so why wasn't he ready yet? He had absolutely no idea. And now his head was beginning to spin in a rather unpleasant way. Damn it. He really had had too much to drink. No matter, he could work through that. It wasn't like he'd never done it before. He flipped onto his back, and Carys quickly took the cue, straddling him with a knee on either side of his waist, but when she bent down to kiss him, he had to stop her only a moment later, as being on his back didn't make things better as he'd anticipated, but was rather speeding up the spinning of the room.
"Wait," he said with a rather pathetic groan.
She sat back on his thighs, looking extremely puzzled. "You're that drunk on only a few mugs of my mead?"
He didn't know what to reply to that. He should've thought it impossible as well. "Lack of sleep, I suppose," he muttered.
She looked down. "Even so..."
He knew. How could he not know? He wasn't getting the least bit hard tonight. He'd had plenty of sex when feeling sick, or drunk, or tired, or even all three, so why the hell not now?! He wanted to. He really, really, really wanted to. Having sex meant losing oneself in touch, taste and scent until bliss took over, followed by lovely dreamless sleep. It was his favourite way to exorcise the demons, at least for a little while.
Carys bit her lip and then looked him up and down. "I'm sure I can do something about that..." she said in a husky voice.
He sighed. He very much wanted that as well, but it wouldn't be fair to her to get her hopes up. Even though he wanted her to do every naughty thing in the book to him, he simply wasn't rising to the occasion. "Unfortunately, I'm fairly certain you can't," he said. "Not tonight."
She sighed as well and moved off him, instead lying down next to him with her head on his chest. "You should probably see that Hogwarts nurse about the nausea," she said. "You didn't have enough to drink for that. And then there's the... well, that probably won't be a lasting problem. You did seem fairly distracted this evening."
'That Hogwarts nurse' will just diagnose me with more of the crazies. He was too exhausted to talk about his disagreements with Vera or listen to Carys theorise about why he couldn't get hard, though. "You know what? It must be this new potion I'm taking," he lied.
Carys lifted her head. "Potion?"
"Yes. You know. Like that other time."
She pulled back and leaned on her elbow to get a better look at him. "I thought you refused to take more of those potions."
"Vera convinced me to try again." The lie dripped smoothly from his tongue, as they always did. "Obviously this one is every bit as nasty as the last one. I'll stop taking it immediately."
Carys shook her head. "Don't do that."
Draco stared at her. "What?"
"These side-effects could be only temporary, you never know. And even if they aren't... well, it's not the end of the world, is it? There are more important things in life. Like being healthy. You said it yourself--you've been worse lately."
"Does this seem like being healthy to you?" Draco was all incredulous outrage and had half-forgotten that he wasn't actually taking any potions.
"It's at least healthier than... some things." She looked away.
Draco felt a powerful stab of betrayal. He'd thought she accepted him, but wasn't this just a sign that she too wanted to fix him and make him all better to fit her picture of what he should be? "I see," he coldly said. "So it's all about at least giving the appearance that I'm fine, is that it?"
That earned him a glare. "Don't you dare take that tone with me, Draco Malfoy. You know perfectly well that I'll take you any way I can have you. But that does not mean that I enjoy helplessly watching as you shut everyone out and attempt to destroy yourself in whichever way you feel like. Sometimes... I'm so afraid..." She blinked, having a hard time maintaining the stare through the rising tears. "I don't give a fig about appearances. I don't give a fig about a limp noodle. What I do give a fig about is you!"
"And what will you do with me if I can't shag you?" He knew his voice was devoid of emotions, because that was how he felt at the moment--completely detached from the situation. And he really couldn't see what possible benefit there could be to this relationship without sex.
Carys blanched as she took his meaning, but then she shook her head. "Where do I get whatever else you can't give me?" she asked. "Sex, I can actually live without. Certain other things... not so easily." Then she got up and went to the bathroom, where he heard the water come on.
Rather than wait for her to finish so they could talk about all his many shortcomings and how her other lovers made up for them, he left.
In the days to come, Draco actually began feeling rather bad about how he'd treated Carys. Sometimes he really hated having a conscience. But at the same time, he didn't know what to do about it without making concessions he wasn't quite willing to make. He didn't want to take those potions regularly, and he wasn't up to fulfilling any needs of Carys's that weren't sexual. Up until that night, he'd thought their arrangement was perfect for both of them, but now... it would seem it wasn't. Carys, like almost any other witch out there, needed something from him that he couldn't give. He'd tried before and somehow it simply didn't work. He was broken in that aspect. Even when he had all the right feelings for a witch, he couldn't show them properly. He couldn't express them. He couldn't trust her with his secrets. He certainly couldn't ignore the ever-present pain that ultimately made him too self-absorbed for even the most compassionate witch to handle. They all thought that if only he'd drink more potions, he would be fine, but he knew better. He'd tried the numbing potions, and all it did was making him into some kind of living dead that only felt the pain and the hollowness.
If only it were that easy.
Granger wasn't helping his worsening mood at all. At some point, she'd decided that the thing to do when he scowled at her was to tease and mock, and it drove him out of his mind. He hated being the object of other people's amusement. He hated the way she laughed when he inevitably reacted negatively to her. And most of all, he hated the way that her amusement didn't even make a good job of hiding her interest in him. He hated being the object of her attention, and he wanted to shout at her for not knowing any better. She had to have the worst bloody instincts in the whole world not to reject him on sight.
Draco didn't think he was being very conceited in thinking that he got more than his fair share of female attention. Clearly, it must be the self-loathing that acted like an aphrodisiac for all these women. He wasn't grateful for the attention, but he didn't make a habit of scoffing at it either. It was what it was. Yet, to have Hermione Granger of all people exhibiting the same signs that he'd seen in dozens of other women over the years... it disappointed him. Somehow he'd thought she'd be cleverer, or at least subtler. Harder to reach. Less like everyone else. In his mind, she had been aloof and unwilling to even talk to him. But then again, in his mind, she knew.
One thing Granger certainly wasn't, was the same person as when they'd been teenagers. She was somehow, in spite of ribbing him, quieter, and maybe a little bit sadder now. She championed her projects, but it was half-hearted compared to what it used to be. Sometimes he caught her stopped, in the middle of eating or writing something, or sometimes even in the middle of a conversation, simply staring blindly ahead. Other times, she'd laugh, but she would look like she would much rather cry.
And that was when she wasn't like everyone else, but a little bit like him, and he found himself reluctantly sympathising with her in those moments. As others prodded her to continue or asked her if she was all right, he simply watched her, knowing exactly how she felt, and knowing that she wasn't all right. He didn't know if she had secrets weighing her down or if she was merely still heartbroken over Weasley, so he didn't know if she might one day heal, but he did know that right now she was hurting. Because she was like him, she suffered. But because she was unlike him, she tried to pretend that she didn't. He wanted to say something to her, to explain that pretending didn't make it go away, but how could he? He was spending every hour of every day trying to pretend that his secrets had nothing to do with her, when in fact his recent issues had everything to do with her. She was the key to his suffering, yet she didn't know it. She couldn't know it, because she would shatter. Even if he could somehow secure his own freedom and still tell her, she would shatter. She would break. The boundaries in her mind would become unclear and she would start confusing fantasy and reality, but that wouldn't matter much, because she'd probably suffer from blackouts and memory losses as well.
At least that was what the books all said. There was a chance that everything would be fine, of course. But it all depended on the skill of the brewer, the amount of time one waited before reversing the effects, and the general shock associated with the truth. So, basically, there was little to no hope. He'd brewed his memories into the potion at sixteen years old, it had now been a full decade since then, and the shock would be devastating to her. He could only imagine how Granger might feel about her reality, her history, her choices. She would almost definitely have chosen him, back then, perhaps changing the outcome of the very war by protecting him. She wouldn't have become engaged to Ron Weasley, and wouldn't have been so hurt by his new engagement. She probably wouldn't have been here at Hogwarts a decade later, licking her wounds. But what would have happened instead... he didn't know. Nobody would ever know. Probably, his crazies, which he would have caught even if he hadn't ever been with her, would have been too much for her as well.
He needed to stop thinking about this. There was only one reality. He'd known for years already that her mind was best left alone, so why he was even visiting it again was beyond him.
Yet he couldn't stop himself from helplessly watch her be like him, and waver between sympathy at her damage and anger that after everything he'd done to keep her blissfully unaware of how bad it could've been, she couldn't even be happy.
Unfortunately, the sympathy was what made him make his biggest mistake with regard to her yet. He was sitting in the staffroom, fulfilling his obligation to at least appear sociable every once in a while--he had a rather unique contract, mostly due to his crazies--and trying very hard to ignore Dorcas and Granger merrily chatting, when he noticed a change in the dynamics. Glancing up, he found that Granger had paled, her eyes growing darker. Dorcas was working on another stupid Muggle-made project whilst talking, so he hadn't noticed, and Granger was obviously working hard to try to keep on pretending that nothing was amiss. Draco hadn't heard what they were talking about, so he wasn't certain what had triggered it. Something about families, he thought. But as Dorcas merely kept on going, her breathing became faster and more erratic.
"Enough!" Draco snapped, causing Dorcas to shoot him a confused look. Granger didn't even seem to register him, but was simply staring off into space, her lips slightly moving although no sound came out. It only took a moment before Dorcas noticed as well and jumped to his feet.
"Hermione!" Dorcas said, hurriedly moving around the table to grab her shoulder and give her a shake. "Hermione!"
"Stop it!" Draco growled, quite unable to deal with the damn squib's stupidity. "Go to the Hospital Wing. Tell Madam Vera. Go!"
Dorcas looked both scared and confused, but after only a short hesitation, he did as asked.
Draco stayed seated for a few minutes, watching Granger. Only her lips still moved. He sighed. He'd have to be the one to move her if Dorcas's idea of trying to help was to shake her. Bloody hell, what a clueless git.
"All right, Granger," he said calmly if not gently. This was such a bother. "It's anyone's guess whether you're registering anything at the moment, but I don't want you to panic. Panicking is bad, so don't, all right?"
He paused as if waiting for a response, but he knew he wouldn't get one. Instead he got up and went over to stand in front of her. She didn't move. Her eyes were wide and unfocused, her pupils dilated.
He sighed again and shook his head. "It's yourself doing this, Granger. It can happen even without magic, but be careful that you don't try to seal the world off. You could end up at St Mungo's for life, a breathing statue."
"I'm going to touch you now," he said. "And I really hope you don't react poorly to touch. I sometimes do, you know. One time I broke a bloke's nose and didn't even know about it until later. Personally, I'm rather fond of having an unbroken nose."
He reached out and took her hand. It was warm. He supposed that was always something. It was completely limp, though. He tried giving it a squeeze, but she didn't respond. What on earth could they have been talking about to make her need for escape so complete?
"Now walk," he said. "I don't fancy carrying you up all those floors, so let me lead you."
She followed with no resistance when he gave her hand a tug. Good. Maybe this might still be easy. Now he could only hope that they weren't spotted. How on earth was he supposed to explain her looking like she was under the Imperius Curse whilst he was holding her hand?
Fortunately, however, as he began leading her up the stairs, they didn't see anyone. Only the paintings. Those bloody things might also spread gossip, but there was really nothing for it. She couldn't go on her own. About four floors up, her step faltered and he looked back to see her gaze flickering. He abruptly let go of her hand.
"Back from your little holiday, then?" he asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets, and continuing his walk without waiting for her.
She automatically tried to keep up. "Wh-what... did you do something to me?"
"Yes, absolutely!" he drily responded. "Your conversation with Dorky annoyed me so badly that I felt the need to hit you with the Confundus Charm."
"Why would y--oh. You didn't, did you? I remember now. You were... talking to me. Thank you. I didn't mean to be rude but I... couldn't... respond. Or maybe I could, I don't know. I didn't very much feel like it."
Draco glanced over at her. She looked genuinely confused and unhappy. Had this never happened to her before? "There's a word for what happened to you," he said. "But I don't like it. In fact, I don't like any of the words they use about these things. Suffice it to say that you and Dorky must've covered some topics that were very unpleasant for you."
She frowned. "I don't understand, though. It's never happened before."
Working from a theory that the less he knew, the less he had to be involved, he smoothly said, "You can tell Madam Vera all about it in a few minutes when you get to the Hospital Wing."
Granger smiled, the strain showing around her eyes. "This is new."
"You being nice to me."
He tensed. "I am not being nice to you."
"No, perish the thought!" Was she mocking him? After he'd helped her? Now, wasn't that gratitude!
He clenched his jaw. "I'll just leave it to Dorky next time, then, shall I? It'll at least be fun to watch, what with his idea of delicate care being a rough shake. You'd probably punch his teeth out and then cry about it."
"Why is the idea of being nice to me so abhorrent to you?"
Because he couldn't risk her seeking him out, that was why. "Survival," he said without thinking, and then he could've hit himself.
"Survival?" she asked, frowning. "What do you mean by that?"
"Nothing. Look, I'm certain you're a very nice witch and all that, but you really aren't my type."
"Do I need to be your type to be your friend?"
He stopped walking and turned to her, his darkest, most unpleasant smirk firmly in place. "But it's not friends you want to be, now, is it?" Then as she quite predictably stared at him in horror, he pointed up and said, "The Hospital Wing is that way. This is my stop." Then he left her without even a backwards glance to turn down the corridor that led to his quarters.
He didn't get much sleep that night. He was much too busy trying to avoid going to a very dark place.
Draco was drinking. It was his second least favourite way of dealing with his thoughts--his least favourite way was to share them--but it didn't seem like he had much choice these days. Carys was being more of a girlfriend than he could handle, and Vera refused to give him any potions. He'd brew his own, but even the people down at Dogweed and Deathcap wouldn't sell him what he needed. He could attempt to order something in from London, but he highly doubted that would be a success either. Even most of the illegal vendors were wary of doing business with him. Everyone was watching his every move, and he hated it. He'd gained a few points for helping Granger that day, but only a few. Dorcas had been on his case about not seeing her all the way to the Hospital Wing. If the sodding bugger had been that concerned, he could've come back down to help after alerting Vera, but he hadn't, had he? Idiot. McGonagall had known better than to chastise Draco, but had instead expressed pleasure that he'd shown such gentleness towards someone he'd been so adamantly against coming here in the first place.
What had he been supposed to do, then? Leave and allow Dorcas to traumatise her further? Maybe that kind of behaviour was the key to truly being left alone. He should consider it for next time. But as of this moment, he was getting thoroughly pissed, and tomorrow he would go and teach his classes with a bloody hangover, and he would still be the best damn Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher they'd had in decades.
There was a soft knock on his door. He ignored it. He wasn't obligated to make himself available tonight, so he didn't plan to. That door wouldn't open unless he could hear screaming or feel the heat of a roaring fire.
Or, of course, unless the knocker was cheeky enough to try the doorknob uninvited and he'd forgotten to lock it.
"Oh, you're here!" Granger said. She sounded cautious, but wasn't cautious enough not to enter and close the door behind her.
Why had he forgotten to lock it? Maybe he should have hid in his bedroom instead. At least then his office would have been empty, and she wouldn't have gone that far looking for him, would she? Oh, who was he kidding? She'd have invaded every single layer of his privacy if she'd felt the need to. "I'm unavailable," he curtly said, pouring himself another one.
"I see that," she said and tilted her head. "Do you always drink on a Tuesday?"
"I drink whenever the fuck I please," he responded. "What do you want?"
"Charming as always," she muttered.
"Anything for you." Naturally, she didn't understand the depth of his sarcasm, but she identified the tone well enough to narrow her eyes at him.
"So drinking is your solution to your problems, huh?" she said, a bite to her words that he didn't think he'd ever heard before. He really didn't know her any longer, did he?
"What can I say, Granger?" he drawled, pouring himself yet another one. "Not all of us can withdraw from whatever bores us that easily. We need actual reasons to display our crazies." Except that Draco's reason to display his was that he didn't give a rat's furry arse about other people any longer and practically dared anyone to comment. He simply didn't want this to turn into some bonding moment where she explained what had happened and all that rubbish. He didn't care. He only wanted her gone.
She was staring at him now, but he made no effort to break the silence. Finally she said, "You know I wasn't merely bored."
"Do I, then?"
"Would you have helped me if it had been that trivial? I think not!"
He grimaced at that. She had a point. "If you want me to commiserate on having issues, don't bother. Everyone has them, and I honestly don't give a fuck about anyone else's problems."
"You're really a people person, aren't you?"
"I'm a bitter excuse for a wizard, waiting for my turn to die. What's it to you?"
She looked away. "I simply... hate seeing you that way."
He laughed, but he was far from amused. "So you're one of those witches. Well, that can be fun too, I suppose. Want to come over here and comfort me?" He hated even saying the words, and he knew she could tell from his sneer.
She tilted her head again. "Why do you do that? Why do you make such a crude come-on when the whole idea obviously repulses you."
It didn't repulse him. It scared him. The very idea of her touching him like that terrified him no end. "To make you go away, Granger. That's all. Won't you please go away?" He knew he sounded about as exhausted as he felt, but he didn't even care any longer. He just needed peace. Why wouldn't she let him have it?
"You know what I think?" she asked, obviously not going anywhere, but rather moving towards him.
"No, please do enlighten me." He sighed and took another swig. He was going to need it. Hopefully she would get it out of her system and then leave.
"I think I scare you."
He almost choked on his drink. This was becoming too dangerous for words. "Right. How was it? I hate myself and not you? Why don't we test that theory by, say, you leaving me alone for a very, very long time. If that makes me happier, then we can probably deduce that it's not me, it's you."
She snorted at that. "Oh, please. I think that you've put the face of all of your demons on me, and that's why I terrify you so. It won't get better until you deal with them."
"Or you go away. That will work too."
"No! It won't! Don't you think I've watched you? I don't know what happened to you, but I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."
"I am your worst enemy."
"I betrayed you!" Fuck. That was saying too much. "I-I mean all of you. Everyone here." He looked down at his glass, for the moment quite unable to look at her.
He knew she watched him with those big brown eyes that saw too much as she quietly said, "And you still feel so very guilty for that, don't you?"
Every day, every night, he searched his brain for something--anything--else he could have done to somehow prevent the war, maybe prevent some of the death and destruction. He had never come up with a single thing, because it would have meant that his life, her life, his parents' lives, would all have been put in so much more immediate danger, and never would he have allowed that. So other people had died and her mind was forever altered. Because of his selfishness. And he wouldn't even change it if he could.
"What's to feel guilty about?" he said, feeling nausea set in. "I did what I did. No use in crying about it now." He studied his glass again, wondering how it had emptied itself once more.
"Then why won't you look at me?" She was coming closer. He didn't like it. "You really need to--"
"Do you know how many witches think they know what I need?" he abruptly asked, raising his eyes to hers again. "Almost every single one I meet. Do you know how many of them are right?"
She stopped and crossed her arms. "My guess would be almost every single one!"
That took him aback. "What?"
"Have you ever even tried doing anything you didn't want to do? Simply to see if it might work?"
"You have no idea what I've tried in order to shut people up, Granger," he said, deciding that pouring another drink was a good choice.
"Really? Truly tried? You didn't just make one half-hearted attempt and then say, 'Sorry, this won't work--here, let's have sex instead'?"
He had to fight not to gape at her. The gall of this woman. "You're so clever, aren't you?"
"Yes, so I've been told many times. By people far more trustworthy than you."
"All right." He put down the glass. "Then what do you propose, Little Miss Know-It-All?"
She sniffed. "You can stop with the condescension, for one thing. But why don't you try facing your issues, instead of running away from them?"
"Facing my issues? That's your big suggestion? I'm rather disappointed. I'd have thought you could at least come up with something a little less cliché."
She took the last couple of steps to bring her up to his desk and put her hands down on it. "Face me."
He narrowed his eyes at her. She wasn't nearly fuzzy enough around the edges for this. "And how do you suggest I do that?"
She straightened again. "I'm not completely sure. It depends. What is it that frightens you so much?"
He slowly rose, taking some pleasure in how she warily eyed him. "What frightens me?" he asked, feeling a strange calmness come over him. That calmness was in itself a warning sign, but he was beyond caring. He'd asked her to leave repeatedly and now she'd wasted her chance. If she wanted to challenge him so badly, then he would oblige her.
"If you're hoping to intimidate me--" she began.
He leisurely walked around his desk, making her abruptly stop talking as he reached her. "Then what? I've succeeded?" he mocked. He looked down at her. She wasn't actually that petite, but she was still shorter and slighter than him. He had the physical advantage, but that shouldn't matter if she had her wand. Would she really be stupid enough to walk unarmed into an unstable wizard's private rooms? He thought not.
She might be stupid enough not to want to use her wand on him, though.
Unexpectedly she squared her shoulders. "Go ahead," she said. "Do your worst. Tell me how you don't want me or want to be friends. I don't care. You can ridicule me until you're blue in the face."
Her eyes softened a fraction. "Because you held my hand when I couldn't find my way out. I want to help you find your way as well."
What sentimental drivel was that? Finding one's way? Positively disgusting. He opened his mouth to say so, but the words wouldn't come. Those damn expressive eyes of hers were rooting him to the spot and completely silencing him.
It must be the alcohol that had finally hit.
He tried again, but not a sound would come. He shook his head in frustration, to clear it, and made an aggravated sound. She immediately stepped closer and put her hand on his chest. "Draco, it's ok."
What was ok? What was even happening? He had no idea, because suddenly he was pulling her closer and covering her mouth with his.