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, Substance Abuse
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: 12,222
TRIGGER WARNING: This chapter contains mentions of self-harm.
* * *
Draco was lying flat on his back on the top of his covers, his one arm covering his eyes, trying to keep his mind a blank. Granger had left his office hours ago. He'd lain like this, listening to the soft sounds of her getting dressed and then opening and closing the door as she'd left. He couldn't believe what had just happened, what he'd allowed to happen. What she had wanted to happen. He'd never even been kind to her, so why hadn't she run away at the first chance? Why had she allowed him to put his hands on her? Didn't she realise who he was? What he was? Didn't she realise... He shivered as a chill went through him and settled in his chest. No, she didn't realise, did she? And now it was all on him. He was the one that should have known better. He was the one that should have said no and locked the door.
He'd had one rule and one rule only: do not touch Granger. Sleeping with Granger was the best way to destroy himself, so of course in the end she'd been all but irresistible. Flirting with disaster was what he did best. But with Granger... it could not only destroy him but her too. It had been a testament to his all-consuming weakness for sex that he'd been unable to stop, unable to push her away, unable to deliver the harsh blow that would make sure she'd turn away from him. And now he was flooded by the guilt and shame that had lingered at the edge of his consciousness ever since she'd come to work here.
Guilt and shame. Not hatred. He'd really wanted to simply hate her instead, but trying so hard was exhausting. He'd honestly given up on hate years ago--he didn't have the energy for it--so it had been silly of him to think he could do it now. Hate was pointless. It drained you of everything you had and left you with nothing to show for it. Usually the object of your hate didn't even know or care much, so it was just wasteful. He did resent many things about being around her, though. He resented how she wouldn't leave him alone. He resented how sexually frustrated he became around her because, damn it, those lips were made for sin. He resented that she'd destroyed his life and maybe he'd been part in destroying hers too and there was nothing he could do to fix it. Nothing at all. He was doomed and she was damaged, and there was no way to undo it.
But most of all, he resented the monster he inevitably became around her. What kind of man took advantage of the attraction of a woman whose memory he'd wiped?
Clearly, a man like him.
And karma had got back at him for sleeping with Granger, by afterwards having her stand before him as a grown-up copy of the teenage Hermione he'd kept so carefully alive in that locked cabinet of his. Blood and everything. Oh, Merlin, the blood. He'd been all but paralysed with the realisation that they'd had their first time on a desk--again--and she was bleeding--again--and there was no way they could continue to do this or truly horrible things would happen--again.
Last night he'd only wanted to scare her off with that first kiss, really. He was almost certain of that. It had simply been too difficult to be violent towards her when she'd been so damn vulnerable, bravely offering up those delectable lips. He'd seen himself and his past mistakes in her and he'd wanted to soothe her, to tell her that it wasn't really her fault... And then he'd lost himself and barely managed to stop before he'd defiled her amongst every conceivable kind of human filth. At that point, he should have cut her loose and found some other distraction. Another woman, maybe. Granger would even have expected that of him. Or maybe he should've gone back to the Hog's Head for some of the more shady dealings he'd been there for. Merlin knew his arm wouldn't stop bothering him without help these days.
He should have done so many things differently. Instead he'd found himself unbelievably hard for the one witch he couldn't allow himself to have. When she'd come to his room, he'd greedily reached out and grabbed her, telling himself that he was doing her a favour, that she too needed this. It had been a very poor excuse indeed. Still now, the memory of the innocent way she'd bit him and then kissed it better had him hardening for her all over again in spite of himself. He'd shamelessly manipulated her desire to keep her from thinking, her moans and the tightness with which she surrounded him heightening his own pleasure to unbearable levels. He still couldn't quite bear it. He ached for more. He wanted to lose himself in her oblivious innocence over and over again, wanted to forget why he shouldn't. He wanted to erase their history with the present.
Obviously, he needed another way to take the edge off. And he already knew that attempting to do that with another witch would be pointless now that he'd tasted forbidden fruit. It would only frustrate him and make him weaker. He needed something more powerful. Something to numb him so he wouldn't make more mistakes.
* * *
Vera shot Draco a look and then sighed. That wasn't really an uncommon occurrence. He made her sigh a lot, but never for any pleasurable reason. They were in one of the back rooms for privacy. Vera had set this one up to be a cozy little conversation room where students could come to talk about broken hearts and exam anxieties. It served Draco's darker topics just as well. And, apparently, today it suited his injuries.
"Aren't you going to do something about it?" Draco asked with a forced smirk. "Maybe kiss it away." He winked at her, fully knowing how much he annoyed her right now. It was his main reason to be here, after all. That and getting numbed. If he couldn't persuade her to numb him, he'd have to risk his neck by going to some very shady people that didn't like him very much and would like him even less after they heard about him snogging the pillar of society Hermione Granger last night. Unfortunately, there was no doubt that they would hear about it. Too many witnesses had seen him follow her from the Hog's Head.
"We both know that you're very capable of healing a swollen lip without my help, so I'm assuming you want to rub your unhealthy coping mechanisms in my face as a way to bully me into letting you have more potions. You had sex, congratulations."
He'd never counted on it being easy, but Vera was cleverer than he'd given her credit for. He went for bold. "She even managed to shred my back, which was quite amazing considering that she didn't have much in the way of nails. Want to have a look at the glory?"
"No, thank you. But I'm intrigued. Short nails, you say. You tend to prefer clawed ones that make your back look like you've either been whipped or had a run-in with a crazed hippogriff. She doesn't sound like your usual type."
Draco's smirk faltered. "I suppose not."
"I want to hear more about that. What made you choose her?"
His mood was rapidly darkening. He did not want Vera to be this curious about Granger. Usually she simply changed the topic. "She was willing," was all he said.
Vera sighed again as it became apparent that he was in no mood to share any particulars about last night. "Why are you here, Draco?"
He pointed at his lip. "Still not healed." He puckered up.
"All right." She got to her feet. "Take off your shirt."
He instantly got wary. That wasn't part of the plan. He should have considered that when he'd mentioned his back, but he'd counted on her dismissing him as usual. "I don't think that's necessary."
"I might as well have a look at all of your scratches. Off with it."
"They're really not that bad... I was only joking, trying to get a rise."
"Now you're making me suspicious. What are you hiding? Off. With. It."
Sighing, he opened his shirt and bared his back and shoulders without completely removing it.
"All the way," she demanded.
When he didn't comply immediately, she took her wand and made his shirt disappear and reappear on a chair in the corner. He flinched and prepared for a lecture. He wasn't, however, prepared for the silence followed by a stinging slap. He stared at her, quite at a loss for words. Vera could be stern at times, but this was so unlike her that he wasn't sure who this woman before him was any more.
Vera was practically shaking with anger as she was unwrapping the soaked bandage around his marked arm. "You... would come here... with a bloody fat lip, but you'd hide that from me?"
"It's nothing," he muttered, feeling more ashamed than he'd like to admit. There was a reason he hadn't wanted to tell her. He knew how it came across, but it was just one of those things... The sight of his own blood and the feel of the controlled burn sometimes calmed him when he was too far gone to be calmed any other way. "I'm not sure slaps are considered medically helpful." He rubbed his cheek.
"That is not nothing! Since when do you cut yourself again?" Her anger was approaching the stage he hated and also would never have expected from her--the stage that involved tears. It worried him. She'd told him off a few times, but usually she was very understanding, and one time she'd hugged him, which had almost felt as uncomfortable as this.
He squirmed in his seat. "See, that's why I didn't tell you! You make it sound like I'm trying to off myself. I'm not. There's no need to be so upset. It's just... the Mark, it burns me. It kept me from sleeping and you wouldn't give me anything for it, so I was trying to remove the reminder and it got a little... much."
She mournfully shook her head. She was looking at least ten years older. "It's only a scar, Draco. It's dead. Stop trying to deface it all the time, you're only making it worse and risking infection."
"I know. I cleaned it."
"I thought all this stopped months ago. You haven't spoken of the Mark for so long, and now suddenly it starts to bother you again. I told you that I'm not qualified to treat you, that you have to get outside help or I'll be forced to tell the Headmistress that you're a danger to yourself! You know what will happen then."
"I know." He didn't know what else to say. Of course he knew what would happen. They would ship him off to some protected facility... again. And this time, they might not let him back out. He wasn't considered a danger to anyone else--if he had been, he doubted they'd let him teach children--but apparently a man wasn't allowed to despise himself on his own terms either.
Vera sighed again. "I don't think you're a bad person, Draco. I didn't mean to... I'm sorry I hit you. I know it was unprofessional and wrong, but... I fear for you. I fear that one day I will miss something like this and then you will take it even further and it will be too late. If you refuse to see a specialist, then unload on me, or Carys, or that woman, or anyone. This can't go on and something has to be better than nothing." She'd cleaned and healed the wounds to a light pink and was now carefully re-bandaging his arm before she moved onto healing all those little delicious reminders from last night that he desperately needed to be rid of so he could pretend none of it had ever happened.
He wrinkled his nose in distaste. "You would have me unloading on a stranger?"
"At this point, I think unloading on your cat might help. You have far too many things bottled up in there."
"I don't have a cat."
"Then get one!"
He shook his head, part of him a little amused that he should get a pet and use it for therapy. "All this work when most of it could be avoided if only you'd give me potions to help me cope and sleep..." There was still one potion she was willing to give him, though. One potion he was loath to ask for that would keep him out of Granger's knickers beautifully, seeing as he wouldn't be able to perform at all any longer. He'd pay any price to make certain last night wouldn't happen again, even that. He'd rather have the potions that would help the pain in his arm and make him care less, but at this point, anything would do.
Vera motioned for him to put his shirt back on. "Tell you what, Draco. I'm willing to offer you a deal. If you actually talk to me at least once a week, I will let you have a few pain potions. Supervised and rationed."
Draco clenched his jaw. He wanted to decline so badly, but even the vague promise of actual pain potions he could get without getting stabbed in an alley was far too tempting at this point. Maybe he could appease Vera with some of his demons. "What would this 'talking' entail?"
"Let's try it and we'll find out." She sat back down. "I will not tolerate any lies, mind you. If I find out you're lying to me, it will have nasty consequences. In return, I promise you that everything you tell me will be considered strictly confidential. So, your girl from last night. What made you deviate from your usual type?"
His jaw clenched even more, making it very difficult for him to speak. "That's what you want to talk about? Who I sleep with?"
"I'm not interested in all the things I already know. I'm interested in what I don't know. And I don't know what's so special about the witch from last night that you felt the need to hurt yourself afterwards and get that constipated look on your face every time I bring her up."
"You make her more important than she is."
"All right." She motioned towards him with her hand. "Is there any particular reason why do you keep touching that necklace of yours whenever I try to broach your issues?"
"Ah." His hand dropped. He hadn't even been aware that he'd been doing it. "Nervous habit. I dislike nosy nurses poking around my personal life."
Vera sighed. "I know that this is uncomfortable for you, but you need to be more communicative."
She wanted communication? He could supply that. "Did you know that I once slept with a student?" Of course she already knew, but it seemed like she could use a reminder of who he truly was.
"Former student," Vera said without as much as batting an eyelid.
"Barely. I don't think it had been a month since I'd last taught her class. I have to admit, the young ones really are more flexible..."
"It's interesting how you do this. It's almost like you enjoy testing people by constantly pointing out the worst things you've done, often going as far as to put yourself in a worse light than necessary, to see how far you can push your relationships with others before they break."
"Oh, sometimes I do worse than that. There was that one time I slept with my girlfriend at the time's sister. Well, I say one time when in reality we did it at least--"
"And why did you do that?"
Draco smiled. He knew he smiled rarely enough that it would unsettle Vera, but she didn't let it show. "She was a lot like you. My ex, I mean. Kept glossing over anything bad I said I'd done. So I needed to show her. And then when she saw it, of course she couldn't take it. They never can."
"And how are you going to show me?" Vera asked, now all calmness and poise.
He held up his injured arm. "Are you giving me a challenge?"
"Yes. I want you to tell me the worst things you've ever done. The absolutely worst thing. And then I want you to accept that it's not as bad as you think it is. You aren't as bad as you think you are. You're only sabotaging yourself because you think you're bad. Because you think you can't be redeemed."
"I mean it," Vera said, all doe-eyed naïveté. It was really kind of irritating. "Because to be frank, I don't think you've done anything worth--"
"What makes the witch from last night so special?" he cut Vera off, reluctantly returning to the topic of Granger. "I'll tell you what makes her special. She... reminds me very strongly of someone whose mind I manipulated without her consent years ago. I took away her every memory of us, even though she begged me not to. To this day, she has no idea that she once loved me, that I was her first lover, and that she was willing to die for me, had it come to that. And I did it all so I wouldn't have to look her in the eye when I betrayed her, everything she stood for, and everyone she cared about. I did it so I wouldn't see the heartbreak, so I wouldn't have to feel it. She will never remember us. I wouldn't let her even if I could. Seeing... seeing that other witch... how could I possibly resist having her in my bed?"
Vera stared in stunned silence and Draco knew he'd won this round.
But winning had come at a very steep price indeed. Now he had to keep an eye on Vera for possible damage control. It was a pity. He liked Vera. But he'd risk her mind breaking in a heartbeat if it meant keeping his secret.
"So... any chance of some potions today?" he asked. His arm was throbbing worse than ever.
* * *
Deciding to grab the dragon by the tail--because getting in front of a dragon was always a bad idea--Draco decided to seek out Granger to get a few things cleared up. To his great annoyance, he found her cosily gossiping with Dorky down in the staffroom, as if the idiot hadn't left her all by herself down in Hogsmeade the night before. It was more than he could stomach, so he simply snapped an order to follow at Granger and then turned on his heel, completely ignoring the other man.
He was very relieved that she did follow.
Eventually Draco entered a classroom that looked dusty enough to be relatively private, plus it had the added bonus of no paintings. "Sorry for interrupting your cosy time with Dorky," he said, going around a few tables to put distance between himself and Granger.
She crossed her arms over her chest. "No, you're not. What's your game now, Malfoy? What do you want from me?"
Her guarded manner didn't at all surprise him. "I'm amazed you haven't hunted me down to 'talk' yet."
"Well, that would've been rather pointless, wouldn't it?"
He cocked an eyebrow. "Since when has that stopped you?"
Grangers lips pursed. "You actually want to talk? You?" She seemed unduly amused at that.
"Not particularly. But we may need to."
"There's no need to talk about contraception."
Her pursed lips had turned into a smile and it felt like she was laughing at him. He didn't like that. "What?"
"Contraception. It's taken care of. We may, however, have to discuss the possibility of you sexually transmitting a disease to me."
He gaped at her. "First off, I'd have thought you'd read Trials and Tribulations at Hogwarts..."
She frowned and her eyes became unfocused. "Doesn't sound familiar..."
He hurried on. "Second, a disease? Really? You think I run around giving witches diseases?"
"That's how those diseases work, actually. You have sex, you get infected. You have sex again, you infect someone else."
"I know how it works, thanks."
"If you're not going to be cooperative, then I'll have to assume the worst."
He gritted his teeth. "Carys is very careful and demands the same of her partners. So unless you gave me something, we should both be fine." Because he hadn't been careful with Granger, not at all. He hadn't had the mental capacity for it. If he'd had, he would've stopped altogether. At least he'd like to think that he would've, but there was no real way of measuring the extent of his weakness.
"Oh, that's a relief. You know, I very much like your girlfriend."
She liked Carys? He was fairly certain there had to be some kind of rule against that. She was really pissing him off by now and he tried to tamp it down. "Could you shut up for a minute? I wanted to talk to you!"
She blinked at him. "I thought we were talking?"
"Not about this," he growled.
"Oh, all right then. Go ahead. Talk."
He took a very deep breath. Some things were better not asked in a sneer or a snarl or a growl. "When we... when we... yeah." He ran one of his hands through his hair. He couldn't even say it now. How stupid and immature was that? Merlin's beard, he was hardly sixteen any longer!
"When we had sex?" she helpfully suggested.
He winced. "Yes, thank you. Did I... hurt you?"
"Hurt me? Well, you weren't pleasant. But then, you rarely are, so..."
"No!" he bit out. "I meant physically. The blood."
Her face softened. "No. I wasn't hurt. It was just a scratch."
But there had been blood! Then a thought hit him, something so ludicrous and far-fetched that he hadn't even considered it before. Maybe... maybe she herself still thought...
"Were you a virgin?" he hoarsely asked.
He didn't know much about the finer specifics of the female body, but if it was somehow possible that he'd taken her virginity again a decade later, there really was no way out of hell of for him.
Her eyes widened at the question. "I'm twenty-eight years old, Malfoy!"
"And you were together with that prude Weasley for how long? Plus you didn't answer my question."
"Believe me, he's not that much of a prude, and neither am I!"
"I'm not a prude!" she repeated.
"Of course you aren't, Granger dear. That's why you were so eager to have me perform oral sex on you." Annoyance seemed to be the key to blunt speech for him today.
She blushed. "So there's one thing I'm not that comfortable with a virtual stranger doing. That doesn't make me a prude."
He barely suppressed the urge to object to being called a stranger. "So... you've done it before? And I didn't hurt you? Merely somehow scratched you?"
"Yes. But thank you for caring."
"Oh, really." She was rolling her eyes at him. "Of course you don't, Malfoy dear. That's why you made a big deal out of asking."
"Believe it or not, but I don't make a habit of injuring women during sex and then going on my merry way."
"So you do care."
He bared his teeth. Merlin, she really was annoying. "There is something else."
"Then what is that?"
"It really shouldn't have happened."
"I'll hardly die from a scratch. Look, I don't even walk funny."
This whole thing was rapidly giving him a headache and he grimaced and rubbed his temple. "You're only pretending to be obtuse now, aren't you?"
Granger didn't look particularly contrite. She only shrugged. "I think of it more as giving you a way out before I get really angry at where this is going."
"But I mean it. I lost my head and--"
"And I was the innocent maiden merely swept away by the raw sexuality of the big brutish... brute. Yes, I understood where you were heading before."
"It lacked a little something there at the end."
"I know. I'll work on it. Seemed a little harsh to call you an oaf, though. But then, you are a bit of an oaf, so..."
Draco couldn't help but sigh. "Granger..."
"I'm trying to tell you that I'm really not an innocent maiden, Malfoy. I can take care of myself. You can stop acting like I had no say in the matter, thank you. If you don't want it to happen again, that's fine, but you have to live with the fact that I didn't mind the first round at all."
He stared at her, then. Simply stared. "You really are different," he muttered. At some point in time she had grown up. For some reason, when this realisation should have calmed him, it made him anxious. If he didn't anticipate her moves, something disastrous could happen.
"Different from what?" Granger asked. "The witch you slept with last night? I have to tell you, I didn't change that much in a few hours."
He took a deep breath. He should treat her as a stranger. He should be detached and from now on try to see the woman in front of him, not the girl he used to know. It was the only way he stood a chance against her. "From the witch I thought I slept with," he sneered. "I have you worked out now. You really aren't a naïve little thing looking for a rebound shag."
She tilted her head at him. "Then what am I?"
"A messed up excuse for a witch looking for a way to justify her self-loathing."
Granger's jaw dropped.
"You know, it seemed odd to me," Draco continued, "how persistent you were, no matter how nasty I was towards you. But I thought that maybe you were simply too thick-headed and used to getting your way to take a hint. If I'd known what was really going on, I'd never have touched you. You feed off the nastiness, don't you? You enjoy being made to feel miserable."
"It would seem so," she softly agreed.
"You'll have to find someone else to help you with that from now on. It's not my game." He began moving towards the door, still keeping a couple of desks between them for good measure.
"Does that mean you'll stop being nasty to me, then?" she blithely asked.
He stopped in his tracks. She wasn't doing this on purpose. She could not possibly comprehend what she was doing, and rationally he knew he should let it go. Unfortunately he wasn't a very rational human being. He began slowly walking towards her, distance be damned. "No," he bit out. "Because it wouldn't change a thing. You hate my name, my face, the boy I was, and the man I am now. I'll bet you anything that my very presence makes your skin crawl. It's only a testament to how much you for some reason hate yourself that you even let me touch you last night." He stopped right in front of her. "I'd never have encouraged it, had I known. Sex is one of the few things I do right. I've even been known to sleep with some women I wasn't particularly attracted to, in order to make their day." The last sentence was delivered with a small smirk and a rather telling perusal of her body. It was low, but then... if they were strangers, she should be able to take it.
"Hmm." She looked pensive. "Say that is true..." she then began and then caught him completely off-guard as she stood on the tip of her toes and grabbed his neck to kiss him.
With no warning, searing lust shot through him, and he instantly felt himself grow hard. Her lips were so soft and warm, and he recalled everywhere they'd been, everywhere he'd wanted them to be...
She drew back, wearing a smirk of her own and he realised he'd pulled her closer. Fuck. He immediately let go. So maybe his body hadn't yet quite got the memo that she was simply some stranger to be mocked, derided and discarded. It would happen eventually.
"Don't ever try to play the 'I didn't actually want you' card again, Malfoy," she coolly said. "I'm not that stupid. Any objections you had last night were not from a lack of enthusiasm."
"You have it all worked out, don't you?" Draco asked, not even bothering to hide the bitterness in his voice.
"Yep," Granger cheerily agreed. "I don't hate myself, Malfoy. At least not that much. And I don't hate you either. I know you worry about how I will handle this, but there is no need for that. For years I've been put on this 'sweet, virginal, pure-hearted' pedestal by every public voice ranging from Witch Weekly to Harry's autobiographer, and the whole wizarding world has bought it. It's all a lie, Malfoy. You aren't tainting or corrupting anyone. I'm already there. I'm just better at hiding it than you are."
Then she flounced off, leaving Draco to consider whether Granger's taint was truly hidden or merely forgotten.
* * *
Granger had got the better of him and the woman knew it. It didn't take long for Draco to get tired of her smug little smiles whenever she saw him, but what was a man to do? He certainly wasn't going to talk to her again. Disastrous things happened whenever they communicated. So instead he ignored her. He knew that would bother her, even if she wouldn't show it. He also knew that flirting a bit with Variel would annoy her, but he kept that to a minimum so Variel wouldn't get any ideas. Unfortunately, he still had to at least appear sociable inside the castle, so not only did he have to endure Granger and Dorky's yammering at every meal, but he had to occasionally endure it in the staffroom as well.
Today, to top off Draco's increasingly bad mood, Granger and Dorky were now enthusiastically covering the trite topic of love. It was disgusting how transparent Dorky was in his interest, really, and Draco knew he was wearing a facial expression that perfectly conveyed how he felt.
Of course, as soon as Dorky noticed, he was unable to ignore it. "Look at Malfoy pulling faces. I'll bet you anything he's never been in love."
"Oh, leave him alone," Granger replied, not even looking up from the essay she was marking. "He's been engaged once."
"What's marriage got to do with love?" Dorky asked. For once Draco was inclined to agree with him.
Granger huffed out a breath. "Really, Darius. The man isn't a robot. He just likes to pretend he is." To her credit, she almost didn't smirk, but then, the insult would have worked better if Draco had actually been certain what a robot was.
"Why do you two always have to talk about me like I'm not here?" Draco pointedly asked.
"Oh, I don't know," Granger replied. "Maybe because you're always ignoring us?"
He glared at her. "Or trying to, at any rate. Yes, I loved my fiancée," he hissed. "Satisfied?"
Granger shrugged. "I already said you did. No surprises there."
"Maybe you can tell us how necessary you think love is?" Dorky pushed on with an insufferable smirk. "Hermione and I have yet to settle our differences." He flashed Granger a grin that may have passed as charming to some.
"Please!" Granger actually giggled back. Giggled. "I only said that romantic love is vastly overrated. I didn't say it wasn't nice or even necessary to some."
Draco frowned. "Necessary? Never thought of it in terms of necessity. It just is. Like breathing."
"So... it's as necessary as breathing?" Dorky asked. "Never thought you'd agree with me." And he didn't look too happy about it either. No, of course he'd have thought that Draco would scoff at the very existence of an emotion like love, wouldn't he?
Draco scowled. Even if he always enjoyed getting in the way of Dorky's agendas, he didn't like it that he'd come off as a sap. "I didn't say that. I meant it happens the same way as breathing. You don't really realise you're doing it, but you can't stop either. And you want to, because when you do realise what you're doing, it's usually because it's exhausting and painful and every gasp feels like it will kill you. You can try to hold your breath, but at some point you're forced to take another big gulp of air, and then you're back at square one."
Granger tilted her head. "Love as breathing. I like that."
Granger's reaction somehow annoyed Draco even more. "Then you weren't listening. It isn't desirable. It doesn't even give you anything valuable, the way breathing does. It only sneaks up on you and then drains you of everything you have until you finally drop dead--at least emotionally--from the strain of it all."
"Sounds like you've had some healthy relationships, mate," Dorky said.
"At least I have a girlfriend," Draco muttered, well and truly pissed off by now.
"I actually think Malfoy is right," Granger then surprised both of them by saying. "To some extent, of course. Love does bring something valuable with it, but it's largely involuntary and if not felt under the exact right circumstances it can be very painful, even crippling. And you can't simply will yourself to stop." She had to be talking about Weasley. Draco had to grit his teeth against the flash of a memory of Granger and Weasley embracing among the survivors in the Great Hall as he'd felt the last of his own doomed teenage hope for a brighter future shrivel up and die in his chest. She'd condemned him to a lifetime of keeping secrets that day, and he strongly resented the fact that she hadn't even managed to marry the git and have a bunch of ugly red-headed children.
"You two make love sound so wonderful," Dorky said.
"Well, it can be," Granger softly replied.
Draco snorted. "Not as I recall."
Granger shot him a withering look. "Malfoy, I know it's awfully hard to remember that not everyone is you, but people have different lives and experiences and some of them are actually positive. Really."
"That's possible, but I for one never want it to happen again. As you said, the concept really is overrated."
"Your fiancée must have hurt you very much." There was sympathy in Granger's eyes. He hated that more than anything. She knew nothing. Nothing! Who was she, of all people, to feel sympathy for him?
He forced his lips into a smile. "How could she have hurt me? She agreed to marry me because of what I could give her, not because of who I was. She never agreed to love me and I didn't truly expect her to. I only expected her to marry me, and she would have done that no matter her opinion of me. I only let her go because I looked at her and couldn't see either of us ever being happy together. If I'd at least seen my own happiness, I'd have made her stay to suffer through her own misery. Such is the nature of my blessed love."
Feeling that this was a good time to make his exit and go and lie down, Draco left the room. The cuts on his scar were driving him mad with their itching and burning.
Chapter 6 Part 2