Grasping to control,
So I better hold on…
There was something… not quite right about Hermione Granger.
Draco couldn't put his finger on it. Whatever it was, it lay just beyond his reach – something blurry, hidden beneath murky waters, obscured again by bathroom glass.
But it was there, plain as day, and as much as it stung to acknowledge, it was familiar.
When he had taken the menial job as a proof-reader at the tiny wizarding publishers only a few short weeks ago, he had scarcely expected to find her perched behind the reception desk. Granger belonged in the ministry, changing the world one piece of legislation at a time, not earning pittance as a glorified door-bitch. Eyes drawn, pallor dull, thin cheeks, oddly silent and so, so thin – Draco hadn't a clue what to do with Granger now. Just where had that girl – woman – who had spit fire at him whenever she spied him in the halls at Hogwarts gone to?
Her behaviour, too, once planned and most likely rehearsed to the point of absurdity, was another thing his mind put up to fretful debate. Something that confused him even more, because since bloody when did he care? Hermione Granger didn't do anymore, she only drifted.
Some days she would disappear from her desk for hours. Other days she would curl up inside her own head, and nothing he could say – scream – could draw her out again. None of the other employees said a word, no one so much as blinked, and certainly no one made even the slightest effort to find out just what was going on. Why didn't they make an effort to find her, anyway? Why was he the only one who thought there was a fucking problem?
No one had a reason to, he supposed, but since the war had ended, Draco had thought that common decency might have won out somewhere, particularly where a war heroine was concerned. Granger's purpose at the office seemed little more than ornamental, and whether or not any of those sodding plebes knew she was there or why was anyone's guess. She floated by as though invisible, unseen and ignored, a gift Draco found himself wishing fervently for in the new post-war world. She returned, though, she always did, but something about her would be… different.
It was wrong, though. An utter affront to nature. Of that, Draco was quite certain. And it was so fucking annoying, too. If he could make an effort to roll out of bed and pretend like everything was fine with the world, that everything was just fucking dandy, then so could she.
With all the purpose of a man with a well-honed talent for shit stirring – especially where the illustrious Golden Trio was concerned – Draco wondered just what it would take to fix her, to jerk Granger out of her shell and have her spitting fire at him again, as though the war and everything else never happened.
Because, fuck – what he wouldn't give for that to be the case.
Draco stood swathed in early morning sunshine, wearing determination like it was just another layer. He squared his shoulders just outside the office's ostentatious, gilded doors – and it really counted for something when a Malfoy considered anything to be ostentatious – and pushed his way through, jingling the little bell, and came to a pause in front of Granger's desk. A sharp, sterile chemical scent itched his nose.
Her back was turned to him, her head hunched down over her lap, and for all the acknowledgement she made, Draco might have been dust on the wind – pale and insignificant.
If that wasn't the most perfect description for him and his life, Draco didn't know what was.
"Good morning, Granger." He played perfectly the role of considerate co-worker and upstanding member of society, a warm cup of coffee held in one hand and a briefcase clenched in the other to complete the look.
She spun to face him as though stung. Her eyes darted about the room, looking for something he knew she wouldn't find – because there was nothing in that damn reception room but her and her desk and a whole lot of white wall.
"Malfoy," she returned, slow and tentative. It was a true testament to his half-worry for her, because the Granger of old would have surely torn him a new one just for venturing within six feet of her person. Her eyes were bloodshot, puffy and drawn tight, and her skin held the dull, colourless nothing of the sick. It was only because of practice with such haunted looks that he refused to flinch.
When he didn't move, she coughed, cleared her throat and asked him, "How are you adjusting to the office? I wouldn't have pegged you for an editor."
He shrugged and looked about the wide, sparse room. For a place of business so concerned with the encouragement and distribution of creativity, the workspace left much to be desired. It looked more like his Healer's office, or a mental health patient's room.
"I don't mind it," he answered. "But, to be completely honest with you?" He leaned over her desk, invading her personal space as though he could see right through her to the heart of whatever problem was plaguing her and fix it, because this version of Granger did not sit right with him. "I never saw myself here. Not even in my mildest dreams."
Her chapped lips pulled into the tiniest of smiles, a minute flicker on her lips before it was gone again. "Neither did I," she said to him, in a low, subdued whisper.
He grinned and watched the warm blush paint her cheeks. She was as innocent as ever, it seemed, but the quick bloom of colour did her a world of good. "Have a wonderful day, Granger," he said, winking, before disappearing to his office, to the company of an unread pile of manuscripts that nearly scraped the ceiling.
He set his briefcase down on his desk and shed his outer robe, slinging it over the back of his chair before sitting to resume his newest hobby: Granger-watching. His tiny desk, in his even tinier office which seemed to perpetually stink of fresh paint, was perfectly positioned to watch her, facing his doorway and out the corridor to the reception area. Draco had been surprised to find himself strangely invested in her behaviour, especially when he considered that he seemed to be the only one who thought there was a problem.
He supposed his watching her was hardly a new occurrence. If he wanted to be technical, he could say he'd spent close to a decade watching her. First in Hogwarts when they were something like enemies; but that, he felt, wasn't exactly an apt description of what they were to each other. Enemies was too strong a word to use for a woman he wasn't sure he even hated in the first place. After seeing her descend the staircase at the Yule Ball, he wasn't sure he could ever use the word against her ever again. He'd watched her during the war and even after the war had ended, too. He noticed himself stopping on her name in the papers, too, before it seemed to disappear from print overnight.
To now, today. Six years since he'd seen her last. He still felt as invested as he did the first time he saw her and learned who she was.
Only now, he was studying – obsessing over – her, observing and even taking notes like he might be tested on All Things Granger later. Entire days had been wasted with him simply staring out the door at the place where Granger's head should be. Once, he'd ventured outside the office for coffee just so he'd have an excuse to inspect Granger properly on his way back after one of her… episodes. When he'd returned, it was as though nothing had happened.
That morning, it was a child's screaming laughter on the streets outside that forced Granger from her post only an hour into their shift. A scream, then a panicked sort of scuffling. She coursed down the hallway to a room he didn't know, and was long gone with only a door echoing behind her by the time he was up enough to follow her. He had a feeling he knew exactly how she felt upon hearing the sound, a sound that could so easily be mistaken for something else, if only because he felt the exact same thing.
He had no room to judge her for fleeing, though. No room to talk to her, no room to say a damn word. Nobody wanted advice from a person who could barely hold their own shit together. There was nothing in her that he couldn't already see in himself. Nothing he didn't recognise from some of his worst moments. Nothing that didn't make his heart race and seize with a fear unparalleled, both for his sake and for hers.
Like attracts like, and all that jazz.
Rain fell in sideways sheets, bursts of wind turned umbrellas inside out and whipped like a blade, stinging Draco's cheeks. Perhaps they would see snow soon, but not before it began to hail, turning streets to muddy slush.
Draco's mood was a lost cause before he even walked through the door. He slipped, stumbled and fell through the gilded doors, landing in a soggy heap in the stark, sharply chemical-scented reception. A puddle spread out from his sodden coat to the floor, tinged brown from dirt, and he slipped again even as he tried to stand.
"Oh, fuck me!"
"Good morning, Draco," called out a calm voice.
"Granger," Draco grunted out in return as he attempted to force the door shut against the gale of icy air. He slammed it back into the jamb with a rattling bang, but not before the gust blew in a treasure trove of rubbish behind him – food wrappers, torn posters, disassembled pages from The Daily Prophet. Draco swore to himself and used his wand to pick up the scraps behind him, levitating it into the bin beside her desk.
He took a deep, calming breath and turned to watch her sip on her tea. She didn't look much better. Not that she ever looked any better. Her eyes were still – always – red and itchy-looking, ringed by deep, dark circles. The only change in her expression was the tiny, wry smile pulling at her chapped lips.
Combined with his soaked coat, his flat, dripping hair and almost certainly bruised knees, that unfamiliar smirk was like a slap in the face.
She regarded him with a look of amusement and said, "You're certainly looking… windswept this morning."
He glared at her and brushed off his coat; he was covered in an odd assortment of blown leaves and random litter. He ran a hand through his soaked, messy hair, wincing and scowling when his fingers caught on a knot. "And you're looking just lovely, too, Granger, really," he snarked back. "The insomniac look is a real winner, I assure you."
She opened her mouth but made no sound. Her eyes cast downwards and her fingers traced a grain in her desk, nails scraping over the swirls.
A forceful something punched him in the gut, settling heavy within him. He was an insufferable prick sometimes – it had to be terminal. "Shit." He let out a sigh. "Granger, I'm… sorry. I didn't mean –"
"Don't worry about it," she muttered. With a clatter, she forced back her chair and shot to her feet. "I have to… go."
"Go where? Granger?" he called out, taking two steps towards her, but she had already disappeared. A short moment later a door slammed shut, rattling the windows in their frames.
Draco sighed and pulled his hand through his hair, tugging through the knots that time. He couldn't have felt like a bigger piece of shit if he possibly tried, but with Granger's reaction just then, he had all the confirmation he needed.
Draco lurked back to his office, shooting menacing glares to what few of his co-workers had bothered to show up at such a fucking unforgiveable hour on such a horrid day. He threw his briefcase to the floor and fell into his chair, focusing his gaze towards the ceiling.
There was no possible way it could be true, though. He'd spent night after night trying to rationalise his thoughts and assumptions into something that would have to make more sense than what he was guessing. Nothing else was forthcoming, though, and Draco had always been a firm believer in the principle of Occam's razor.
Hermione Granger had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He watched her for weeks, turning to months, waiting for a change that never came. He greeted her every morning and bade her goodnight every evening to gauge her moods, flirted with her to make her blush so she wouldn't look like Death warmed over for even just a minute. The longer he watched and the more he prodded, the clearer the answer became; that blurry thing became visible as the murky waters parted and that bathroom glass shattered.
He couldn't be absolutely certain, but it made perfect sense. He had played witness to her torture, known only well after the fact the complete and utter magnitude of her sacrifice to aid Potter in his quest, had even seen the same horrors on the grounds of Hogwarts that she had, not to mention anything else she would have seen on the frontline at Potter's side. No one, not even the very strongest of them, could go through such hell without anything to show for it.
And it had to be obvious to anyone with eyes that Granger was suffering because of it, and had likely been suffering for a very long time.
Then he'd asked himself – again and again and again – why he cared. After all, he was fucked up enough himself without adding too much else to the tally.
The war changed plenty of things. Draco knew this better than most. Playing host to a veritable 'who's who' of evil, witnessing their revels and being whored out to perform their bidding left scars that didn't bear thinking about, and changed him in ways that left him unrecognisable. There had been more than one occasion since the war ended – in the past month – where Draco would bolt upright in bed, his heart hammering, brow soaked, sheets twisted in knots around his legs.
Strobe memories – nightmares – his mind healer had referred to them as: the sort that flashed and burned bright in your memory – of rape, of murder, of such perversions that Draco couldn't bear to remember without the acid burn of bile rising up his throat. Hard to un-see, impossible to forget.
Such intimate knowledge, though, had been the key to making sure those perverted fucks never saw the light of day again. Only knowing that monsters like Greyback, the Lestranges, Seniors Nott, Goyle and Crabbe and other hooded tormentors were Kissed and secreted away in the darkest pits of that horrific prison let Draco sleep at night. His burden turned into a blessing, one that he could only wish to be free of.
In the end, it had been his own PTSD that spared him a stint in Azkaban. He hated to think it, but his mind healer had been right when he stood before the Wizengamot and said that Draco would likely suffer a complete mental break if ever handed over to the place that held the many figures of his nightmares. With his aid in convicting the Death Eaters and his cooperation in doing so, Draco was sent home with a spent conviction and a ministerial order to attend therapy thrice-weekly, something which he happily complied with.
Now, nearly six years later and down to one therapy session a week, everything was almost the same as it was before, if a little more… subdued. Potter was as fucking self-righteous as ever, his ginger wife was spitting out spawn like the act was going out of style. Weasley still fancied himself on the Quidditch pitch, and Gryffindors still acted like they ran the world.
Everything, except Granger.
Granger was the only part of the equation he had never banked on. If she couldn't see past the last six years, then what hope was there for the rest of them?
Draco growled to himself and pressed his fingertips to his temples, attempting in vain to quell the rising headache in his skull. She still hadn't come back to her desk – everyone had come and gone from lunch, crowds rose and fell outside the door, but Granger…
He knocked his chair back into the shelf behind him and grasped his wand in a grip liable to snap the thing. He only got two steps outside of his office when Granger slammed into his chest, invisible, unseen, ignored. Only a quick arm around her waist kept her from falling.
"Careful there, Granger," he said, moving his hands from her waist to her shoulders to steady her trembling form.
"Yeah, thanks," she muttered. She wrapped her arms around herself, her eyes trained on the floor.
"Not a problem," he replied cautiously. "Where are you off to in such a hurry, anyway?"
Why are you here, he wanted to ask. He wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her until she screamed all of it, everything out. What are you doing?
"I just…" Her voice faltered, broke, and stopped. "I need…"
"Hermione," he asked her quietly, using her first name out loud for the first time that he could recall. She stared back at him with wide, glazed eyes that seemed to stare right through to the heart of him. "Are you all right?"
Her doe-brown eyes went glassy, and he swore her jaw quivered. She drew in a deep, rattling breath and nodded before turning on her heel and fleeing back down the hall, the flats of her little black shoes clipping the floor with a steady clack clack clack as she went. Draco stared after her, his feet rooted to the ground, before she disappeared. He was a cowardly piece of shit – that much he knew for certain.
He stood perfectly still, feeling the lingering warmth of Granger's body disappear from his hands. He felt frozen when his body began to move before his brain, leading him further down the hall until he came to a pause in front of a plain, white door marked 'storage'. Draco swallowed the lump in his throat and pressed his ear against the door. From the other side came a painful symphony of sobs and gasps. He felt himself slump, pressing his forehead to the wood and closing his eyes.
Yes, there was something off about Hermione Granger. Mad, broken and beautiful, and just as screwed up as he was.
And it was fucking heartbreaking.
Granger didn't come in the next day. Or the day after that. Draco busied himself with puzzles from the morning copy of the Prophet to keep his mind occupied.
It had been a long time since Draco had gone to work with the intention of ever actually doing any.
The stories he was sent for editing – adult contemporary and crime, mostly – were just so dull. First-time authors for whom proofreading was little more than a fanciful idea, established writers so far up their own arses that the mere idea of him rejecting their work was a fucking travesty – it was little wonder that the back of Granger's head, or the air it would usually occupy, or the air which occupied it, was a far more interesting focus.
Focus was a generous term, though. 'Obsession' or 'scary preoccupation' were better. When he had mentioned his 'interest' to his mind healer, the preposterous man suggested that Draco might have a tiny bit of a crush. Draco had felt his cheeks burn and his wand bend and bow in his grip as he held back the urge to hex the bastard.
That morning, though, unedited manuscripts teetered in unstable towers all over his desk. Even the slightest jostle of the door would send him drowning in a sea of paper – enough of which there was, he was sure, to comprise a small forest.
Having a job, though, however dull and commonplace, was vastly preferable to staying at the Manor. That place echoed with ghosts and set his nerves on edge with doors that had long been sealed shut. He shuddered at even the fleeting idea of his ancestral home now.
Where he would usually recline on his dragon-hide-upholstered work chair, Draco leaned forward instead. He slipped the topmost sheath of bound papers from the stack nearest to him and took up a quill dipped in a pot of red ink.
He was sixty-two pages of almost entirely red with struck-through lines into a monstrosity of a first novel when Granger slid through the front, gilded door, disturbing the bell.
Since he had begun at the tiny publishers, Hermione had always been at her desk long before his arrival. He'd never observed her morning rituals before, but he felt compelled to watch her now. She stood still in the middle of the white room, closed her eyes, and took three deep breaths in slow succession. She seemed to almost float towards her desk, where she peeled her bag from her shoulder and set the strap around the back of her chair.
"Granger," he called out to her across the corridor, tipping his head in greeting.
"Draco." She craned her head to look over her shoulder. Her jaw dropped at the sight and she rounded forward to stand in his doorway. Her face was one of aghast awe when she said, "Merlin, Draco. What are they even paying you for?"
"I wonder that myself sometimes."
She took a step closer, her brow furrowed as she surveyed the room. "Do you do any work at all?"
Draco flicked a speck of dust from where it was marring the crisp sleeve of his robes. "Not really. Today is a bit of a novelty."
She pursed her chapped lips at him. "You're terrible," she said, her tone teasing.
He made a grand gesture of a bow with just his head and shoulders. "Thank you for noticing."
"Management will notice, too, before long."
"Good thing I'm charming, too."
She quirked a brow and let a tiny smile tug at her lips. "Get back to work, Draco."
He grinned at her. "Only because you asked so nicely."
She turned back to her desk without so much as a glance back. Her hips swayed as she walked, clad in a form-fitting pencil skirt. Only when a stray length of drool hit the manuscript he was valiantly trying to edit did Draco tear his eyes away. He shook his head and wiped the corner of his mouth.
"Don't be stupid," he muttered to himself as he took the red-inked quill in hand and struck through another sentence. Then another and another. The late afternoon sun was bright in the window behind him and his hands were stained with ink by the time he set the manuscript down.
He stretched, yawned, and glanced up to the doorway –
Granger was gone again.
There was a stillness in the air that lent itself to a strange sense of urgency. Any other time Granger disappeared he had felt a queer sinking in his gut, but nothing quite like the odd unease that was swirling in his stomach then.
Draco swore to himself and clambered from his desk with such force that the chair kicked back, slamming into the shelf behind him, showering the ground and his head with loose-leaf parchment and thick, bound books. He paid the mess and the pain no mind, though, when he stalked down the line of offices in hall, head twisting this way and that for any sign of her. He came to a halt at the end of the corridor, where the trail ran cold.
"Merlin's balls, Granger," he huffed, bracing his hands high against the wall. "Where the hell did you go this time?"
He was about to turn back to search over the printing rooms when he heard something soft, like a muffled sob, from behind the door to the storage room.
He looked up and down the hall for any sign of being watched before taking the doorknob in hand and twisting it slowly. It creaked on rusty hinges, loud and obtrusive in the otherwise quiet.
He found her huddled in a corner, pressed tight into a crevice made by gaps between boxes. Her hands were clamped tight over her ears, her cheeks damp with her tears, her face contorted into a look of palpable terror.
"Grang – Hermione?"
He ducked down to her level and took a firm hold of her hands, dragging them from her ears. They were red and dry, cracked along her knuckles. "Hermione," he said again, firmly. Her head snapped up, nearly clipping his chin. "Can you hear me?"
"Draco?" she whispered. She stared at him with wide, glassy eyes that looked as though they were seeing something else, seeing back in time. It was the same look he had spied in his own mirror for nearly all of his teenaged years. "She's going to kill me. Don't let her kill me, Draco!"
"No one's going to kill you, Granger," he whispered, squeezing her hands tighter. They were freezing, and he rubbed them between his own hands, hoping to at least impart some warmth to her trembling form. "Listen to me: you're safe, it's all over now. She can't hurt you."
"But I saw her!"
Draco let out a deep, rattling breath, as though some deep part of him had been dislodged. What she was suggesting was impossible, and he knew it. He'd seen Bellatrix receive the Kiss himself. He'd seen them cart her off to her Azkaban cell. He'd taken the Floo-call when she died only two short months later. He'd been scared shitless for months afterwards, too, thinking she would have had a few Horcruxes of her own buried away and that she was surely going to reappear on the doorstep one night, before deciding that sharing the secret to eternal life hardly seemed Voldemort's style.
He squeezed into the cramped hollow beside her, still holding her hands tight in his. "She's dead, Granger," he told her, to appease himself as much as her. "She's dead and she's never coming back."
She shook her head, burrowing even deeper into his chest. Her hands squeezed his in kind, until he was sure the bones would shift and snap under the force. "Don't let her find me, Draco, please!"
Her voice cut right through him, a direct, relentless path to his heart. The soft, plaintive sound of it took him back to a time he'd vastly prefer not to remember. He let go of her hands, prising them free from her tight grip, and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, pulling her close to his side. He said low against her temple, "I've got you, Granger. No one's going to find you."
He muttered soothing platitudes into her hair, recited random facts he could recall from his studies of Hogwarts, A History, even hummed a song from his childhood his mother liked to sing. It felt like an age, but she slowly relaxed, leaning into his body and resting her head on his shoulder.
"Talk to me," she whispered.
"About what?" he asked, just as quiet as she. Something about the moment, huddled as they were beneath a mound of boxes with Hermione's demons in plain sight, called for a gentle, calming quiet.
He felt her shrug. "Anything."
He considered her for a long moment before he dropped his voice to a low, soothing tenor, and asked, "Have I ever told you about the first time I ever flew?"
There was absolutely no good reason why she would know, but she shook her head all the same, her curls whipping to and fro from where they had fallen from her functional pony.
"You'll appreciate the tale, I'm sure. It makes me look like a monumental idiot." He pulled her even tighter against him, feeling the tense, coiled tightness of her muscles. "I was five and had only just discovered – by complete accident, you understand – that house-elves existed to cater to my every possible wish."
"You were only five when you realised this?" she piped up beside him, a note of amusement in her tone.
"Hush, Granger," he gently admonished. "I'm telling you a story. Now, needless to say, I felt rather like Merlin himself, strutting about the manor, my whims made flesh. Naturally, I demanded the most lavish things I could think of: strawberry ice-cream for dinner, my favourite toy dragon brought to life, the eradication of all cauliflower crops across the United Kingdom.
"But, it wasn't until after Father took me to a Falmouth Falcons game that I truly began to entertain the idea of flight. I'd never flown before that point; Father capitulated to my mother on that count – she didn't want me anywhere near a broom until I was at least eight – or ten if she could manage it."
Draco felt her relax at his side, not enough to release the white-knuckled grip she had taken his shirt in, but enough that her body seemed to meld into the planes of his. He moved his hand in a slow back-and-forth at the top of her arm, hoping to coax out another wave of calm.
"I went home that night and called down Eddy into the garden. He was the elf who was tasked with my care once I outgrew the elf charged with caring for me as an infant. I could barely get my words out, I was that excited. I asked to be able to fly, expecting Eddy to conjure a broom – I did not expect to float into the air on my own."
"Your elf levitated you?" Hermione whispered against his side.
"He did," Draco confirmed with a nonchalant nod. He let out a shaky laugh at the memory and said, "I have never been scared so completely shitless as I was back then.
"Anyway, I screamed out for my mother," he continued. "I don't think I'd ever seen her as frazzled and angry as she was when she stomped down the steps and saw me probably fifteen feet in the air. She never suspected Eddy, though, thankfully. The elf had enough sense to disappear before Mother arrived. She just thought it was a strange burst of accidental magic. I never thought to clarify her on the matter."
"Eddy wasn't punished?" Hermione asked, a hint of reproach in her voice.
He had to chuckle – nothing could tamp down her bleeding heart. "No, thank Merlin," Draco said, casually running his blunt nails up and down the length of her upper arm. "Heaven forbid I lose my ice-cream dinners."
She laughed then, weakly, but he felt very nearly emboldened. Prideful. Proud. Pleased.
He went on, "Mother was able to bring me down, and I was banned to the lower levels of the manor for three months. Never mind the multitudes of safety charms installed on my third-floor bedroom; she wouldn't risk my being up there, levitating myself over the balcony and over the drop. Father thought she was coddling me, that I ought to have been congratulated for such an impressive display of magic."
"He didn't suspect either, then?"
"No. He was… proud, actually. I had contemplated many times over the years, especially during sixth and seventh years, telling him that my first display of magic wasn't something as stellar as flight. That the last scion of house Malfoy perhaps wasn't the incredible pinnacle of ability he always seemed to think I was. I doubt anything would have shamed him more, next to your constant besting of me."
She snorted then, hardly apologetic. "So, what was your first instance of magic?"
He waved his free hand. "Nothing so impressive. I kept making my bath soap disappear. My logic being, if Eddy couldn't find the soap, there was no possible way I would have to have a bath."
She hummed, sending a shock of vibration through his chest. "I can't imagine you as a filthy child having to be chased down for your baths."
"Looking back now, nor can I. Showers are wonderful, baths even better."
"I do some of my best thinking in the shower."
"As do I. I firmly believe some of the greatest epiphanies in the world have stemmed from a good shower-think."
"I think you might be right."
There was a long, drawn out pause of strange, but not uncomfortable silence, then –
"Hey, Granger?" Draco began, quietly.
She huffed a light laugh. "I would think, Draco, given the circumstances, you could call me Hermione now."
"All right. Hermione?"
"Have you…" Draco hesitated. Lowering his voice, he went on, "Have you ever considered getting help?"
Her answering sigh was low and heavy. "Sometimes," she admitted.
"But I'm not supposed to feel like this."
He tensed. "What makes you think that?"
"I have no right," she whispered. "Ron, maybe. Harry, definitely. But not me."
Draco hit his head against the wall. Of course she would have the dumbest, most asinine – completely Gryffindor – reasons not to help herself. "Why the fuck do you think that, Granger?"
She shifted against his side and flinched when he swore, his arm and chest going cold where she was no longer pressed against him. Draco let out a breath and attempted to force out the irritation that tasted bitter and nostalgic on his tongue. "I mean," he tried again, "why do you think you can't feel the way you do?"
"Don't bullshit me, Granger. Of course you do."
"No, I don't! Sometimes I just… it's hard sometimes. But's it's all right, really. I get by."
He snorted. "Liar. What does Saint Potter have to say about this, anyway?"
"He doesn't even know, does he?"
He could almost feel the guilt roll off her in waves.
"Merlin, Granger." He sighed. "I thought you were smart."
"But I am," she whispered.
One beat of silence, then two, then three. "Oh, fuck." Draco shook his head. "That's it, isn't it? You think you're too bloody smart to be depressed, don't you?"
She said nothing.
Ire crept up on him, coursing hot. "Let me tell you something, Granger: that's not how it fucking works."
"Draco, I –"
"No, Granger! You are not too good for depression. Last I checked, we fought in the same war. If it's in my capacity to lose my fucking mind over it, it's certainly within yours."
"I can't lose my mind!" she snapped. "That's not how I work!"
"And yet here you fucking are!"
"Would you stop swearing?"
"I'll bloody well swear if I want to!" he snapped. "You're pissing me off!"
He stopped and sucked in a breath through his clenched teeth. "You need help, Granger," he told her. "Trust me, this shit doesn't go away by itself. I know for a fucking fact that Potter would bend over backwards and sideways to help you, and I'm sure you know that, too."
She nodded, her eyes reddened. "I know."
"Being a Gryffindor does not give you a reason not to feel the way you do, and anything that makes you feel as shitty as this isn't something that should be ignored, no matter how fucking frivolous you seem to think it is."
"And if you really prefer not to tell Potter about everything… you could tell me. I'd help you."
Her tone was curious when she asked, "Would you really?"
Draco dropped his chin to his chest and quietly replied, "Yes, Granger. I would."
Her sharp gaze turned accusing, boring through his skull with its intensity. "You only went to your sessions because they were court ordered."
Draco sighed. "I would have gone eventually, Granger. There's only so much a person can take." He looked over at her, running his gaze down and over her thin body. "And I think you're hitting the end of your limits."
Her eyes widened and her mouth gaped. "I don't… I mean, I'm not sure I can –"
"I'm not trying to force you into something you don't want to do," he cut in. "I'm not asking you to traipse along with me to my next appointment. Whether or not you ever get help is up to you. I'm just saying that it can get better… but only if you let it."
When Draco had first started attending their appointments, his mind healer had suggested that perhaps seeking forgiveness from those Draco believed he had wronged would absolve him even when he couldn't forgive himself. For years, he had been reluctant. Instead, he'd sent anonymous notes, starting with the very woman who sat in front of him now. Whether or not she had ever received it, let alone read it, Draco never knew. When he had told his healer what he had done, the smarmy prick jotted something down on that stupid piece of parchment and told him he'd know when the time was right to apologise properly.
Like now. Now felt good. Right.
"I'm sorry," he said, the words heavy with sincerity over a decade in the making.
She glanced up at him, her brow furrowed in puzzlement. "What on earth for?" she asked.
Draco let out a deep breath. "For… everything, I suppose. Hogwarts, especially, and what happened… after. Just… everything."
There was a long moment of silence. It stretched out so long Draco thought she mustn't have heard him. Draco was just beginning to wonder if he should repeat himself, or take her silence as a sign of not getting the forgiveness he craved, when she finally spoke.
"I forgive you, Draco." She paused for a beat. "But I hardly think you should be apologising to me."
"I was an utter arse to you," he grumbled. "More than that – I was the prick who made a sodding sport of bullying you, for what reason, exactly? Fuck, even I'm not sure why anymore."
"You were an arse," she agreed. "But holding grudges from school makes one look petty, and frankly? Looking back on then… you and your words hardly register. You're forgiven."
"Thank you, then," he murmured. "I'm sorry for what happened… after, too."
She let out an exasperated sigh. "Please, Draco –"
"I know there was nothing to be done without everyone dying," he broke in, his words running together as they tumbled forth uncensored, "but I'm still sorry it happened, sorry I stood by and witnessed it like it was nothing more than wholesale entertainment –"
"– No! I need to say that I –"
He couldn't hold back the growl that bubbled up from low in his throat. "Damn it, what?"
She turned a tiny smile on him. "If it will make you feel better, consider yourself forgiven, on all counts."
He shot her a bland look. "I want the forgiveness, Granger, but I think you need the apology more."
She looked up at him for a long moment, her focus intense as she searched through every part of him. She seemed to vacillate this way and that before letting out a deep, heavy sigh.
"Thank you, Draco," she whispered, sounding lighter.
"You were right, by the way."
She shifted slightly and looked up at him, surprising him with the smile on her face. "That story did make you sound like a monumental idiot."
He feigned hurt, making a wounded sound and holding a hand over his heart. "You would poke fun at my misfortune, Granger? Shame."
"Misfortune?" She sniffed. "Stupidity, more like. By your own admission."
"You wouldn't have listened if I called it a tale of treachery and adventure."
"On the contrary, Draco. I'm a great lover of fiction."
"You're aiming low, Granger. Not nice."
"I'm not sure why so many people think I should be nice."
"I happen to think niceness is overrated."
"You're Slytherin. Of course you'd think that."
"Don't disparage my House, Granger."
She let out a tiny chuckle. "My deepest and most humble apologies, then."
"We've been over this. I owe you the apology, not the other way around."
"Not even for disparaging your House?"
"If you heard half the things I've said about your House over the years, you wouldn't be so generous with the apologies."
They both jumped at the sound of muffled voices and shuffling footsteps on the other side of the door and the dark flash of shadows in the narrow gap. Draco chanced a glance down at the watch on his wrist – it was just gone five in the afternoon.
"Come on, Granger," he said, moving to stand. "I'll buy you dinner."
She clutched his forearm, her fingers sliding down to wrap tight around his slender wrist. "Don't go, please."
Draco paused and looked back at her. She looked stricken, as though everything was about to be taken away from her with no hope of ever getting it back.
"I'm just… I'm not ready to go out there just yet," she admitted, looking down again. "I don't want to go home, either. It's too… quiet."
He settled back down beside her, crossing one long leg over the other. He gently extricated his wrist from her grip and moved his hand down to twine her fingers with his. "All right," he said.
She pressed against his side and leaned her head on his shoulder. "You don't mind staying with me?"
He let out a shaky sigh and nodded. He was veering into dangerous territory, he was sure. "I'll stay for as long as you want, Granger. For as long as you need."
"Thank you, Draco."
"Don't thank me, Hermione. Not for this."
Years later, after they married and had their first son, Draco found himself grateful for those moments of shared pain, horror and healing. Not because they weren't difficult, or even because they were pleasant. They weren't. Even his years in therapy didn't compare to beginning a relationship with a woman so similarly, severely damaged. But she crept up on him in those moments, so much so that he wasn't sure he could function properly without her. He was hers and she was his, and they would tackle whatever else life had to throw at them together.