0 minutes 0 seconds
For two weeks they pass each other like ghost ships in the night, their outlines faint in the fog where men dared not follow. The Janus Thickey Ward specializes in ghosts.
Hermione often stumbles onto Gilderoy Lockhart in the canteen as he signs autographs on spare tablecloths. It is difficult to recall those jitters she felt in second year when the handsome young professor looked at her with a smile that included only her. When she runs into Neville, she wishes it is similarly difficult to remember the horrific jolt she felt in fifth year when she met his parents and learned that the world was so much more terrible than she thought possible.
It never once crosses her mind that she can be the perpetrator of such horrors until she arrives in Australia one humid afternoon and sits down to tea with Wendell and Monica Wilkins. Her father putters around in the garden, lazily hosing down shrubbery. Her mother serves a tray of her favorite pastries and asks about Hermione’s people. This is her cue to pull out her wand. They glance at it puzzled and think she means to perform a magician’s trick. She does mean to and she does. Suddenly they know her for their daughter and the three of them cling to one another and weep.
They demolish more tea and pastries as she pours out all that happened in the year they spent as amnesiac settlers in a new land. Her father takes exception to her unilateral decision-making until her mother wags her eyebrows at him in the haunting familiar way Hermione knows like her own reflection. They agree to pack and return to England in the morning. She is shuffled off into their guest bedroom and all is well.
In the morning, she comes down for breakfast and at the first glimpse of her, Monica Wilkins gasps and drops her skillet on the floor. It clatters loudly on the linoleum tiles and scatters sausages like confetti. Wendell Wilkins charges in, clutching a razor, his face half covered in shaving cream and skids to a halt in the doorway.
“Mum?” asks Hermione, confused.
“Oh my god,” her parents say, and the tidal wave of memories crashes down on them again. Yes, they have a daughter. No, they aren’t the Wilkinses. Yes, their home is in England. No, they have not gone mad.
Unsteady pulse throbbing in her wrists, Hermione clenches and unclenches her wand. Something is wrong; something has gone viciously wrong. She doesn’t know for certain what it is until she leaves the kitchen for the loo, returns five minutes later and faces her shell-shocked parents again. Her mother drops the plate she is washing. Her father nearly tears his newspaper in two. Ten minutes later, the three of them huddle against each other, their fingers linked around the broken wristwatch that Portkeys them home. In another five, they arrive at St. Mungo’s.
She explains as best as she can what she did, the mirage she wove over her parents to protect them, one that followed the lines of their memories and snipped Hermione from their minds' picture. She demonstrates the wrong resulting from restoring their minds by leaving the examination room for five minutes then returning to startle her parents into re-remembering all over again. They repeat the experiment until everyone is satisfied that when Hermione disappears from their sight or goes out of earshot, the Wilkinses reemerge and purge her again.
“It may be residual effects of lifting the Memory Charm,” says one Healer.
“We need to keep them under observation for a few days,” agrees the other.
4 minutes 9 seconds
Sixteen days later, they move into the Janus Thickey Ward for permanent spell damage. Their suite is next door to Lockhart's and down the hall from the Longbottoms. Twenty days after that, the Healers take Hermione aside and suggest that the constant cognitive recalibration from repeatedly remembering then forgetting her is exacerbating the fragile state of her parents’ minds.
By now they have it timed down to the second; she has four minutes and nine seconds before they forget her. She moves in and never leaves their side for longer than four minutes. She is the first thing they see when they wake and the last when they sleep. She feels increasingly grateful for the past year spent roughing it in the wilderness. Four minute showers are nothing after living out of a tent while on the run.
Hermione hems and haws then finally explains everything to her friends when she can no longer avoid it. They cram the hall and leave a hurricane trail of gift-wrapped debris in their wake. She tells them she loves them and will send Owls once she has a handle on the situation but in the meantime, their constant dropping in bewilders her parents.
“Lovely boys,” says her mum.
“Tall one fancies you, I think,” says her dad.
Ron flushes crimson to the roots of his hair, staring at everything but Hermione. “Er, well, we all love her, you know.”
“She’s our glue,” adds Harry, grinning, “except not carcinogenic.”
She swats both of them on the back of the head and pushes them outside. They leave for Auror boot camp soon after and she is glad they are too busy to feel obligated to visit. Somehow, this is her burden and hers alone. This weight is meant to be hers to bear. If Atlas did not shrug, neither will she.
7 minutes 13 seconds
The room across the hall from her parents’ suite remains vacant for weeks. Two days after the Grangers move into the ward, the occupant passes away. Hermione is used to the door hanging open, granting the illusion that the whitewashed, harshly lit world is bigger than the girth of a single corridor. Then one morning the door is closed.
“A new patient,” explains Healer Thompson, “arrived last week. Was touch and go for a while there but he’s stabilized now. Your new neighbor looks to be staying a while.”
In the jargon of the ward ‘a while’ means forever. They are all visitors, the hospital staff insists, even those who leave on gurneys.
The door stays shut for the next three days, meals wheeled in and out by mediwitches. People begin speculating that he is a cripple or hideously disfigured. On the fourth day she is waiting in the hall for her parents when Draco Malfoy opens the door with an empty breakfast tray in his hands. He looks startled to see her, his eyes sweeping up and down her casually rumpled pyjama-clad form. Once surprise passes, Malfoy’s jaw clenches. Hermione sways on the balls of her feet debating what to say. Her internal commentary track races.
Hi. Too casual.
Hello, what are you doing here? Too nosey.
Well, this is unexpected. Too judgmental.
How are you? Too stupid. He's living in a mental ward, isn’t he? She’s heard that question too often to inflict it on anyone else.
He ends up taking matters into his own hands once he sees she doesn’t intend to comment on his presence. His grey eyes flick over her shoulder at her parents framed in the doorway and dart back to meet her neutral gaze. He nods once, a sharp salute to a comrade, places his tray on the ground and disappears back into his room. She sees him again at lunchtime, heading past each other in opposite directions. Carrying another tray, Malfoy narrows his eyes speculatively at her parents.
Hermione reaches instinctively for her wand and steps physically between them. He stares at her for a long breath then his lips curl in a familiar sneer. He wipes them from his field of vision, like they are so much disposable riffraff and if he ignores them long enough they’ll cease to exist. Whatever tentative understanding pureblood scion Malfoy saw fit to bestow on her that morning shatters beyond repair.
“Who was that boy?” asks her mum.
“Don’t much like the look of him,” weighs in her dad.
“He lives across the hall,” says Hermione. “I don’t expect we’ll see much of him.”
This is true for the most part except during mealtimes. Gossip reaches a fever pitch when old Mitchell with the knobby knees who is the ward's oldest resident accosts him in the queue and introduces himself. Not an hour later, he has to do it again when Malfoy doesn’t recognize him in the exercise room. No matter how often the residents of the ward identify themselves, Malfoy can’t stop forgetting them. He isn’t rude about it and speaks to everyone, except for Hermione, in the same cordial tone he probably reserves for people who claim to be his acquaintance at social functions.
Besieged by a mob of patients, a harassed Healer Thompson finally reveals that he has anterograde amnesia. Malfoy’s ability to create new, long-term memories is malfunctioning. He knows who he is; he remembers everyone he met before his ‘accident,’ but he can't learn new things and make them last. Hermione’s parents shake their heads and tut to each other. At least there is hope for their condition.
Once the excitement of novelty wears off in this place where time moves in fits and jerks, everyone leaves Malfoy alone. As frustrating as dismissing Lockhart’s delusions of grandeur are, at least he never forgets who you are mid-conversation. By the second week after his arrival, she and Malfoy have perfected their technique of mutual disregard. If they meet in the dining area or the corridor, he never acknowledges her, instead using his height advantage to look above her, around her, through her.
It invariably gives Hermione the impression that they are all passengers on the Titanic and she is too third-class to be noticed. She hopes he chokes on the iceberg.
12 minutes 34 seconds
At first she chalks it up to residual paranoia from the war. No matter where she is or what she’s doing, she keeps constant tabs on her parents. It isn’t until they fall silent for the umpteenth time when she absently eavesdrops that realization dawns. Somehow over the past few weeks, she has morphed into their prudish spinster chaperone. She might be tickled at the role reversal if the whole thing isn’t so damn tragic.
The Healer prescribes special exercises in an attempt to expedite their progress. The time Hermione can stay away before they forget her has elongated over time naturally, but it is slow and incremental. They decide to wear silver lockets carrying her old childhood gap-toothed picture. If she starts to fade in their memory they can open the locket and concentrate. They experiment some more and discover that if she remains within earshot they can yell at each other through the walls every twelve minutes and that is enough. But pictures, recordings, even a smuggled-in Muggle mobile phone are not. Their minds have to register her physical proximity to hold the Wilkinses at bay.
Meanwhile, Hermione pores over the hospital’s collection of books on mental spell damage. Every other day, she bursts from her cubbyhole to subject her parents to her latest brand of mad scientist.
15 minutes 52 seconds
The front page of The Daily Prophet announces that Lucius Malfoy is sentenced to twenty-five years in Azkaban for conspiracy, attempted murder, hate crimes and aiding and abetting the darkest Dark wizard in modern history. He won't be considered for parole for another ten or fifteen years.
Hermione is on her way to the recreation room to get the Scrabble board for her dad when she collides with Malfoy in the doorway. On the floor behind him are balled up and torn pages of the Prophet. When he sees what she's looking at, two stripes of pink streak his angular cheekbones, but he keeps his head held high. The page closest to his feet shows a picture of Narcissa Malfoy valiantly ignoring the camera flashes. She thinks about the woman who saved Harry’s life, who now spends most waking moments without the comfort of husband or son, and says nothing. Whatever he reads in her face transforms his heat into cold anger. His jaw works as though he longs to snap at her but he brushes past clipping her shoulder instead.
An hour later, she emerges from the impromptu Scrabble tournament to stretch her legs and catches the faint strain of music. Curious, she follows it and peers through the door crack to see Narcissa in the flesh swaying to the beat, the train of her gown swishing round her legs, with her sinuous arms wrapped around Malfoy’s neck as they slowly dance in a circle. Narcissa says something inaudible and Malfoy smiles down at her, the smallest hint of a dimple in his cheek. He presses a kiss to his mother’s forehead then raises his head as they turn, his line of sight connecting with the door. His eyes abruptly meet hers. The planes of his face harden to granite.
Hermione jumps back, her heart beating a tattoo into her ribcage, and rushes back into her parents’ suite, slamming the door behind her. She has intruded on an indelibly private moment, stolen from one of the few pleasures remaining to Malfoy. Even if he forgets catching her spying, she will not.
22 minutes 6 seconds
She and her parents take a daily constitutional in the courtyard. She waits alone on a wood bench languidly watching her parents when Neville approaches.
“How are you holding up?” he asks, sitting down beside her.
“Good, fine. Sort of.”
He nods, understanding crinkling the corners of his eyes. “How are your parents?”
“Better, I think, since I figured out constant surveillance isn’t conducive to a healthy parent-daughter relationship. What about you? How’s the rebuilding?”
“Not bad. The pace’s picked up since they drafted everyone on probation.”
The gate into the courtyard creaks open, Malfoy entering with his mother. They fall into the lockstep of the general walking pattern and follow the train of people looping around the garden.
Neville jerks his head to indicate the newcomers. “Come to think of it, haven’t seen Malfoy there. All his old Housemate chums have been put to work at Hogwarts. What’s his story?
Hermione tries and fails to visualize Malfoy as a construction worker. “I don’t know any details but he had some kind of accident that damaged his memory." She clears the throat to change the subject. "His friends working hard or hardly working?”
“Couldn’t tell you. The Slytherin probationers travel in packs, all broody and mysterious-like. If I didn’t know every one of them for a coward I’d think they were up to something.”
“Well, if they weren't cowards they’d be in Azkaban now or dead,” she reasons. “I reckon we should be grateful most of them ran away instead of staying to fight on the wrong side.”
He considers this new viewpoint. “S’pose you’ve got a point there.”
“In any case, Malfoy’s in no condition to ring-lead any uprisings. He spends all his waking hours glowering at everything and everyone except his mother who’s practically haunting this place.”
“Maybe she’s making amends, you know, for his father not being able to visit. My gran used to feel guilty when I was young and kicked up a fuss about visiting so she’d come twice as often.”
Hermione hesitates, chewing the inside of her cheek. “Do you think your parents . . . mind that Narcissa’s here so often? I mean, because of her sister.”
Neville shakes his head. “I don’t think they’re capable of making that connection. They hardly recognize me.”
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“It’s okay,” he replies with a rueful smile. “I mostly come for gran’s sake. Visiting helps her get through the night. And sometimes, I think my mum knows me and for the rest of the day, I feel like I’m walking on air.”
She reaches over and squeezes his hand. “Do you believe in karma, Neville?”
“You know, like kismet. You get what you deserve and cosmic justice and all that.”
He eyes her shrewdly. “It is not your fault what happened to your parents. You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”
“That transparent, huh?” she says, sheepish.
“Think about it. If that’s how the universe worked, you’d have won the lottery, cured your parents, invented some crazy useful thing and retired to the world’s largest library by now.”
“Har har, very funny.”
“I know I am,” he says, doffing an imaginary hat.
Hermione elbows him in the side. When he doubles over, she swoops in and pecks him on the cheek. “For your impudence, Neville Longbottom, the universe says you deserve a slobbery sneak attack.”
He rolls his eyes and elbows her back. In the corner of her peripheral vision, she catches Malfoy staring at them, a strange look on his face. He glares when he sees her watching him and leads his mother out of the courtyard, his heels clicking impatiently on the cobblestones.
30 minutes 27 seconds
Hermione rolls her shoulders and stretches, working out the knots in her back. Her wristwatch is set to alert her when thirty minutes are up, so she ducks out to give her parents some privacy. She is two steps into the stairwell when footsteps sound behind her and she is wrenched backwards by the wrist. Her spine smacks against the stone wall.
She stares up at Malfoy. “What the hell was that?” she demands, too angry to realize the import of him voluntarily seeking her out.
“What did you tell Longbottom?” he snarls, his breath harsh against her face.
“Tell him about what?”
“You couldn’t wait to spill your guts about me, could you? Longbottom’s been hounding me every time he comes here, hinting he knows everything.”
She rolls her eyes. “First of all, it can hardly be a secret you’re here when you charge around like you own the place. And second, I didn’t say a thing to Neville,” she snaps, trying to yank her wrist out of his grasp. He tightens his bruising grip and refuses to let go. “And even if I did, he’s the last person to spread rumors about someone in this place in case it slipped your mind that you and his parents are hall-mates!”
“Then what’s he playing at, Granger? He’s been hovering around since that day I saw you two with your heads together. If he keeps inflicting his abominable attempts at conversation on me, people are going to talk.”
She tries not to laugh, but the way he looks, stone-faced and deadly serious like they are discussing state secrets, breaks her resolve. She doubles over clutching her ribs, her forehead brushing the fabric of his shirt. His scowl deepens and he tugs at her wrist, pulling her back to herself. “I wish you could see the look on your face right now, Malfoy,” she gasps, laughter tickling the back of her throat.
“And what exactly is so bloody funny?”
“You are,” she informs him, grinning. “I have no idea what people you mean but no one is talking about you. Are you that socially inept you can’t recognize an overture of friendship when you see one? Neville came to see his parents, saw you with yours, felt sorry for you and decided to let bygones be bygones. What’s the matter, your nonexistent pals threatened by his dashing wit?”
“The only one under threat is me,” he says icily. “My other pals, as you so eloquently put it, aren’t in the business of fostering inter-House relations. I had the devil of a time convincing them that I’ve not forgot where I come from, which Longbottom is ripping to shreds every time he says hello.”
“Really scraping the bottom of the sympathy barrel these days, aren’t you? You must be if you’re trying that sorry excuse for a sob story on me of all people. If your so-called friends are spying on you and want to revoke your membership to the Death Eater clubhouse, it’s no concern of mine.”
“I will make it your concern,” he hisses, banging her wrist on the wall with every syllable, “if anything happens to my parents because they decided my loyalty isn’t sufficiently motivated.”
“That's ridiculous. Why should anything happen to them?”
“You can’t be this dense, Granger. This brainless act won't facilitate conversation, I am not Weasley or Potter.”
“What are you on about now?”
He makes a disgusted noise that whistles through his clenched teeth. “Why do you think I’m here? My mother betrayed her family, her allies, everyone when she lied about Potter. What’s left of the Death Eaters, the old families, they all think it’s her fault. I'm her punishment. What do you suppose is likely to happen if I’m not seen toeing the line? Use your head!”
“Wait, what? Someone did this to you on purpose? Who?”
“That is beside the point. It was a message to my family,” says Malfoy, his voice harsh as gravel in her ears.
She clutches a handful of his shirt, pulling him so close she can see his pupils dilating. “If you know who attacked you then you have to speak up!”
Malfoy shoves her back. “And risk them slipping my mother poison or shanking my father? Not a chance!”
“If the Ministry knew about these threats they’d do something about it,” she insists. “They’d put your parents under protective custody.”
Malfoy looks at her like she is babbling in gnomish. “The Ministry doesn’t give a damn about us. Even if they did, jumping into their pocket will guarantee swift retribution. And they won't quit with a warning this time.”
“So you’re just going to what—keep your head down and appease them? Great plan. I’m sure that’ll end well.”
“Your opinion means less than nothing to me, Granger,” he grits. “Get Longbottom off my back or I’ll make him regret it.”
She pulls out her wand and jabs it over his heart. “You even think about following through on that threat and I will throw you in Azkaban so fast your head will spin.”
Malfoy tears viciously on her wrist to throw her off-balance. He wraps his fingers around her wand hand and smashes her knuckles on stone. His weight holds her immobile. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” he spat.
Hermione angles her body, taking careful aim and strikes with her knee. He flinches to avoid the blow, releasing her in surprise. He stares at her stunned then barks incredulous laughter. She trains her wand on him again. “What?” she asks, annoyed. “I took self-defense.”
He retreats a step, raising his hands in mock surrender. “Just amazed you’re not completely useless.”
She prepares to deliver a blistering retort except it flies out of her brain the moment he smiles, still chuckling. The sides of his mouth crease and that dimple she convinced herself was the work of her imagination reappears on his right cheek. She doesn’t know how she ever missed it because it changes everything about his face, rendering him instantly boyish and unintimidating. No wonder he smirks and snarls so much to hide it.
Malfoy frowns when he catches her transfixed and points at her menacingly. “Remember what I said, Granger. And if you think I won’t, you can think again.”
He snatches the door open, venting his feelings by flinging it into the wall. She raises her aching wrist to her mouth, pressing her lips to where his touch still throbs and ponders the exodus of her sanity. For one fractured moment she mistook him for someone attractive. It’s the dimple’s fault, she decides. Anyone blessed with such an adorable feature would give that impression. Anyone.
42 minutes 50 seconds
The next time Neville visits she tells him about Malfoy’s conspiracy theories. They both agree it’s all in his head even if the attack on him isn’t. There are no Dark Lord sympathizers in the ward.
When she spots Malfoy in the dining room, she sets her tray next to his and sits across from him. “I talked to Neville. He’ll stop bothering you with his sunny disposition.”
He narrows his grey eyes at her as though trying to decipher where she fits in the grand scheme of things. She wonders if he even remembers their conversation in the stairwell. Her wrist twinges in remembrance, and she contemplates asking him until she sees his fingers curve around the small notebook beside his tray. She’s seen it on him before.
“Is that to keep track of things, so it won’t be lost when you forget?” she asks, pointedly ignoring his glare.
“If I say yes," he says, irritated, "will you go away?”
Hermione itches to find out what he writes when he is alone with his thoughts. Maybe if she steals it from him, pages through it quickly then returns it, he won’t remember her taking it. Instantly she feels chagrin at the thought. She may be going mad cooped up in the ward but she is not yet a petty criminal. “No, but I might consider it if you’ll behave like a proper human being and talk to me.”
He closes his eyes, this suggestion too overwhelming. When he opens them again she jumps into the breach before he can change his mind. “So what’s wrong with you?”
“You’ll have to be more specific,” he mutters.
“Thompson says you have trouble making new memories, but that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Got your Healer’s certificate already, have you?”
She ignores this spiteful rejoinder. “I mean, let’s say you do have anterograde amnesia. But I’ve never seen you get lost or forget where a room is. Or freak out that you’re in hospital. Clearly you’re not incapable of learning new information. On the other hand, you can’t remember anyone’s name here on pain of death.”
“I’m beginning to wish I could forget yours.”
She wags a finger at him. “No chance of that. You haven’t got retrograde amnesia.”
“Unfortunately,” he murmurs.
“So if it’s not a generating new memories problem then it must be a retrieval problem.”
He sighs, drumming his fingers in an irritable staccato. “Do tell, Granger.”
“You make new memories just fine but something’s preventing you from retrieving them properly. It’s like organizing books in a library,” she says, warming up to the subject, “only when it’s time to find a specific one your filing system is corrupt. It’s hit or miss if you get the right book.”
“Because all problems can be reduced to book analogies a simpleton could work out. Are you always this predictable?”
“My point, Malfoy, is that if the Healers are only treating you for amnesia then they’re treating the symptom not the cause.”
“Whereas your medical genius has figured out what an entire hospital of Healers couldn’t.” He snorts. “Why don’t you shove off and entertain your parents with these little theories? No one else is interested.”
She picks up her tray and harrumphs at him before turning her back. Stay sick forever, see if she cared.
57 minutes 33 seconds
Returning from the exercise room, she slips and nearly cracks her head open on the floor. Clutching her skull, she looks under her foot to find Malfoy’s little notebook. Curiosity wars against innate respect for privacy. Then she remembers that he was a nasty git to her when she tried to help him and decides to hell with his privacy.
She flips the cover to the first page. In all capital letters it reads at the top: TRUST NO ONE. The rest is a heart-wrenching list.
1. You are voluntarily institutionalized in Mungo’s mental ward.
2. Do not panic. Do not react.
3. You have anterograde amnesia and cannot make new memories.
4. Do not sign your name to anything without Mother.
5. Do not accept any other visitors. Pretend you remember Mother’s visits. She likes that.
6. Father is in Azkaban with SC.
7. Write down everything. Trust no one.
The first half of the notebook is filled with dossiers of people he’s encountered: Lockhart (avoid, delusional); Longbottom (avoid, dangerous); Mr. & Mrs. Granger (she is kind, he is suspicious); Granger (mostly harmless)—dismissing them with a simple 'her parents forget about her if she stays away too long'. The second half is a diary, the last entry noting yesterday’s conversation. ‘Granger claims not amnesia but memory retrieval problem. Consult Thompson,’ he scrawled in slanted, cramped script.
Draco Malfoy, she decides, is a dodgy bastard and a giant fraud for pretending her theory is without merit. She can’t wait to give him a piece of her mind; there are only so many hours in the day someone can study for their N.E.W.T.s and he is the most interesting head-case in the ward. She walks back to their little corridor and is about to knock on his door when she hears a loud crash inside. Then something thuds against the wall. Maybe Malfoy was right and there is someone after him. She’s suddenly grateful none of the doors in the ward can be locked and barges in, wand out, primed for action.
Malfoy turns at her entrance, clutching parchment rolls and books. His bedroom looks like the aftermath of a cyclone, his desk overturned, miscellaneous papers in piles bunching up against walls that he has decorated with a blinding number of lists. He stares at her, his eyes wide and manic, the fringe of his unkempt hair askew on his forehead, damp from sweat. She freezes in place, instinctively sensing that sudden movements might set him off; he is in fight or flight mode. His gaze slowly drifts to the leather notebook in her hands and before she can make a sound, he lunges at her. She windmills back, thinking he means to attack her but he only has eyes for the notebook, snatching it and nearly tearing the cover off.
When she figures out how to breathe again, Hermione can kick herself for not realizing why he’s upset. Without his list and diary, he has no way to gauge what he remembers and what he doesn’t but needs to. “You dropped it," she explains. "Nearly cracked my head open tripping over it.”
He brushes his thumb over the words ‘trust no one’ and eyes her speculatively. “Okay,” he says finally.
She waits but there’s no more. “That’s it? Just . . . okay?”
“What else were you expecting, Granger? Cake and candles? I dropped something, you returned it. I realize you lot are used to everything you do being a big fucking deal—”
“That is not what I mean! Look at this place. This is the kind of bedroom serial killers have! I mean, I realize you’ve gone mad but—”
“Visit a lot of their bedrooms, do you?” he replies snidely.
“—when I walked in you were in the middle of a fit or something which means this is not okay! You are the furthest thing from okay, Malfoy. You need help.”
“Brilliant observation. I realize you’re naturally a battering ram for the bloody obvious, Granger, but I can’t be arsed to listen to you all damn day.”
“Oh, really? You have something better to do with your time, do you?”
“Make your point or bugger off,” he snaps.
The words tumble out in a rush. She doesn’t know how long she has before whatever is wrong with him goes wrong again. “Look, I’ve spent weeks reading up on my parents’ condition and there’s nothing I can do besides be here for them. But there were some books about your kind of amnesia. I remember something about a potion designed to stimulate recall. Look, if I’m right and your problem is remembering, not making new memories, then this could be your ticket out of here.”
“And you want to help me leave, why?”
She sees him flex his fingers over the first rule in his survival guide, ‘trust no one,’ words that tighten something in Hermione’s chest. She doesn’t know why she cares but she has spent her whole life diving into the path of the vulnerable and needy, whether they liked it or not, and after interminable weeks in this lonely, overly sanitized place, here is someone whose life she can maybe improve, someone who she can matter to, the solution for once instead of the problem. Hermione thinks about how to phrase this without getting his hackles up that he’s her pity case or charity subject. Then the vacant pause between them shifts; somewhere, somewhen while she was wrapped up in her thoughts, his expression changes from frustration to anxiety.
His jaw works and his eyebrows crease together. He looks at her, puzzled, his eyes darkening to slate. Ever so casually, he glances down at his notebook, scans it rapidly with practiced efficiency and tucks it into his trouser pocket. “What do you want, Granger?” he asks abruptly.
She doesn’t know what to say. Malfoy is so used to being dropped into the middle of a jagged moment, cutting himself on it repeatedly, with no notion of how he arrives or where he comes from that were she not observing him, she may have blinked and missed it. This is what he looks like forgetting and pretending he hasn’t, a little petulant and a lot stubborn.
“I came to tell you about a book I was reading. There are potions in it for improving recall. If the Healers are treating you for inability to make new memories, it can’t hurt to check if you can but simply can’t access them,” she says carefully.
He crooks his head, as if he can’t make out what she’s after and she was must be after something. Finally he nods, a cautious bent to his posture. “Bring it over.”
65 minutes 8 seconds
He has a new entry in his diary. She peeks over his shoulder before he slants her an annoyed glance and continues writing. ‘Granger wants to test her theory with a potion. She probably won’t poison you on purpose but you’re not the only one stark raving mad in here.’
Hermione sets down the cauldron and supplies she purchased from Diagon Alley and nicked from the surgery. “Right. Because that's what I do. Get off on randomly poisoning people.”
He taps the book on memory potions she brought him. “I want to know nothing about what gets you off, Granger. Not if this is what you do for fun.”
“You’re a riot,” she mutters. “A bloody riot.”
77 minutes 49 seconds
“—does not say to shred the Jobberknoll feathers, Granger. You’re supposed to pluck—”
“I am plucking!”
“Give that here before you inhale the stuff. Or worse, sneeze on it and put me in a coma.”
“It is not my fault that I’m allergic to birds and birdy things!”
“Birdy. Things. Good god, did you bribe all your professors at Hogwarts because—”
“Oh, you’re one to talk considering the blatant favoritism Snape showed you!”
“You know what, sneeze away. I’d rather be in a coma than put up with your hacking all over me for another bleeding second—”
“Oh, that can be arranged, Malfoy!”
90 minutes 42 seconds
Hermione squints at the bubbling liquid. “Does this look dark olive to you? It looks asparagus green to me.”
“I’d tell you if I knew what in blazes asparagus green is supposed to be.”
She mimes eating the vegetable. “You know, like the color of an asparagus.”
Malfoy continues scribbling in his notebook. “Do the world a favor, Granger. Never take up teaching.”
“It’s not my fault your diet consists entirely of steak and chips.”
“Right, because it’s not enough to be condemned to this hellhole. I have to be tormented by your crackpot lectures on my diet.”
“Maybe if you subscribed to clean living instead of doing your best to ape the Bloody Baron you wouldn’t be in this mess to start with!”
He rolls his eyes dramatically. “Would-be Dark wizards everywhere, cower before Granger and her mighty vegetable.”
103 minutes 14 seconds
“So you’re really not going to tell anyone who did this to you?”
“How many times do I have to say ‘no’ before you’ll shut up—”
“I won’t go blabbing it to everyone! You can’t know that it’s not important for fixing you.”
“But how do you know—”
“It’s whoever S.C. is in your notebook, isn’t it?”
Malfoy pushes to his feet and leaves the room, slamming the door behind him. She doesn’t see him again for hours.
125 minutes 51 seconds
When she is satisfied the memory potion is truly, absolutely, undeniably olive green she decides it’s finished. She’s jittery with excitement, having accomplished the first thing worth doing in months, and can’t wait to share the good news. Hermione turns to tell Malfoy and closes her mouth so fast her teeth click.
He lies slumped on the headboard of his bed and she realizes that for all the hours she has spent in his room, this is the first time he has slept in front of her. Now that she can observe him without provoking a nasty comment she realizes how much older he looks. She remembers how sixth year slowly decimated his vainglorious pride, transforming swagger into black smudges below his eyes and the fearful clench of his jaw, only now this is how he appears all the time. Malfoy has become so adept at hiding his disease that she can’t always catch when his mind resets and she has to repeat herself. Sometimes it’s only a few minutes; other times much longer.
In the beginning, he wore the hospital-issued clothes with disdain. Now he is just as crumpled as they are, hanging loose on his frame. She watches him breathe in and out, tracing the collar of his shirt bunching above the swell and collapse of his chest. He has always buttoned them up to his throat but in his slumber, the top one has slipped loose to reveal his collarbone. Without realizing it, she’s tiptoeing closer until she spots a scar shaped as a hook that puckers his skin like a badly sewn lining. It flows lower and disappears under his shirt, and she thinks about how she has never seen him wear short sleeves. The biggest scar of all is on his left arm.
Hermione decides the potion can wait.
143 minutes 47 seconds
“Fine, I’ll drink first,” she says, giving into his rampant paranoia. The potion is all about stimulating recall of memory in the memory-impaired. There are some risky variants that people take to get ahead on exams or in combination with other drugs for an even more vivid high. Not that she knows anything about that, but she isn’t blind. Not everyone who got O’s on their O.W.L.s deserved to.
Hermione inhales deeply and swigs it down. It tastes coppery on her tongue but not unpleasant. “There. See? No horns, warts or coma. Your turn.”
He glares at the vial she holds out as if he expects it to spontaneously combust or turn into acid and melt the glass. “Tomorrow. I’ll wait until tomorrow.”
She releases a pent-up noise of aggravation. “You are so impossible. There aren’t any bad side-effects to it. At worst, nothing happens!”
“If you brewed it correctly.”
“If,” she repeats, outraged.
“Tomorrow,” he says again and she knows he means it. She contemplates telling him it’s already tomorrow the next time his mind slips away then shirks from the brief evidence that she too can be cruel. It isn’t fair to abuse his trust, whatever little of it he has in her, and as she hasn’t walked in his shoes, she can’t begrudge him what survival habits he’s acquired.
170 minutes 3 seconds
Hermione doesn’t feel any different but that isn’t surprising. She shouldn’t. They are sitting on his bed, his back against the bedpost with his arms crossed staring at her staring back, from where she sits at the foot of the bed, cross-legged and waiting.
“It’s pointless waiting for you to forget. We should do a test,” she proposes.
He rolls his eyes at her. “Only you would still be obsessed with school while living in a mental ward.”
“No, listen, this will work,” she continues over him, “if you don’t skive off. Okay, pay attention. My middle name is Jean. I’m Hermione Jean Granger.”
“Granger, I’m not mentally challenged—”
“My middle name, try to remember it. I mean, this is the first time you’re hearing it, right?”
“You tell me,” he says sourly.
“Well, okay, you didn’t know it before so it is. I’m going to write down some options and then you tell me which one is right.” She scribbles down four names: Jennifer, Jane, Joanna, Jean. She stares at him expectantly. “We have to wait until you can’t remember why I’m here but you have to tell me instead of pretending nothing’s wrong.”
Time never ticks slower than when you’re waiting for it to fly. Hermione tries not to fidget but there is too much built-up tension in her bones. This might be it, their breakthrough, and it’s hard to pretend she isn’t thrumming with impatience. She looks at his face, at the bed sheets, the ceiling, his mismatched socks and finally settles on the notebook in his hands. The leather cover is frayed along the sides and worn thin at the bottom where he has flipped it open again and again. Then his fingers still and he doesn’t breathe for one long heartbeat.
Her eyes snap to his and she can read the signs, the corners of his mouth clamping down, his sudden absence of motion, his gaze darting around to capture his environment. His shoulders, braced for unknown impact, loosen when he recognizes his bedroom and acknowledges that the only other person with him is not a threat. He pages open his notebook and re-reads his rules for the hundredth, thousandth time, and the subscript he has added since they began their project. Granger is making a potion to fix your memory. Listen to her.
“Is the potion done?” he asks for the twelfth time.
“Yes. You drank it a few minutes ago after watching me drink it first with nothing bad happening for twenty-four hours.”
His throat bobs as he swallows, probably searching for a physical hint what she says is true. “So. I don’t feel any different.”
She flips over the square of parchment on her lap. “Which one of these is my middle name?”
“You’ve got to be joking, Granger.”
“Come on, try to remember,” she cajoles. “I told you what it was. Or just, I don’t know, follow your gut. Which one feels like it’s the right one?”
Malfoy scowls and studies the names like they might jump off the page and bite him. “Jane. No, Jean.”
“That’s right.” She tosses the parchment aside and rushes forward, gripping his shoulders in elation. “Malfoy, you remembered!" she yells into his face. "Don’t you see what this means? You can make new memories, and not just muscle memory ones like where is the loo, where do I eat, but new information. If we can get the potion right then you might remember everything! Quick, write it down before you forget!”
“I don’t see what you’re so excited about, I guessed. I could’ve got lucky.”
She refuses to let his cynicism rain on her parade. “Fine. My birthday is September 19th. Keep repeating that to yourself. The next time you come back you’re going to tell me my birthday and my middle name. No guessing. Just say the first thing that pops in your head.”
By the time her wristwatch beeps that time’s up and she has to fly out the door to ward off the Wilkinses, he has crossed out, ‘You have anterograde amnesia and cannot make new memories’ and replaced it with, ‘You do not have anterograde amnesia. You can remember things after the attack. Granger is working on a cure.’
191 minutes 23 seconds
She spends the next week poring over all the potions she can find that reference recall and amnesia. Altogether there are hundreds and many of them are unverified, black market or a homebrew variation. Thompson is working down the Ministry-approved Memory Potion list. She decides to take up the less legal alternatives.
Malfoy is asleep again behind her; he is in fact the heaviest sleeper she has ever met in her life. Since the door is always unlocked, it’s become habit for her to come in as soon as she’s roused her parents and hunch over his book-laden desk until he condescends to grace her with his presence. This morning, she arrives armed with two mugs of strong coffee and the strongest feeling that she read something very important the night before if only she can recall what it is. The tantalizing within-reach, on the tip of her tongue, but still out there somewhere must be how Malfoy feels all the time, and she wonders how he can stand it. She's dead certain she could never hold up as well as he has.
“What’re you doing?” he mumbles over her shoulder.
She nearly jumps out of her skin. He likes sneaking up on her and turning her inside out in some demented attempt to equalize the playing field. “There’s a potion to strengthen emotional memory. It’s very vague. I can’t tell if it improves storage or recall.”
Malfoy leans down over her shoulder and rests his right palm on the desk. She can feel him mouthing the words by her ear from the passage she has highlighted, his breath tickling her neck and the exposed skin of her shoulder. Belatedly, Hermione realizes she is still in her pyjamas, a tank top and shorts, and somehow even though he’s at her mercy and constantly vulnerable, she is the one who feels naked, trapped in the circle of his arms. If she moves back, her head will be on his chest. She moves forward.
“What is that?” she asks, startled. There is ink on his wrist, circling his arm and looping up to his elbow.
He bares his forearm so she can read his tattoo. They are a succinct repetition of his rules. “I got tired of the notebook,” he whispers, warm air kissing the side of her neck.
The first rule reads: Trust Granger.
225 minutes 37 seconds
Her flash of insight about emotional memory pans out spectacularly. After he downs the latest round of potions, he can remember everything he’s felt since he arrived at St. Mungo’s even if he can’t recall the details or why he feels. Hermione’s not sure when he stopped regarding her with thinly veiled suspicion and started watching her with something approaching approval.
The tenth time she catches him reading the rules on his arm and then scrutinizing her like an ant under a spyglass, she throws up her hands. “What?”
“I’m wondering if it’s a sign that I’m losing or regaining my mind that I’ve tattooed you on my arm.”
“Well, it’s about time you got yourself a proper tattoo,” she says haughtily.
Malfoy instinctively cups his left arm. “Does it bother you?”
“Does it bother you?”
“Yes.” A muscle twitches in his jaw. “But probably not for the reasons it does you.”
“Try me,” she invites.
His eyes drift down to the vicinity of his kneecaps. “It’s like . . . losing a limb but it still twinges. Phantom pain or something. Only it’s not a limb. It’s everything inside. Safety, family, trust—I’ve been hollowed out by fear. He scooped out my insides and left them to hang, but I don’t know how to piece them back together or in the right order. I have no idea what right or proper is anymore. Don’t look at me like that. I’m not less hateful or threatened by people different from me because I’ve seen the light or some rubbish.”
“Then why are you?”
“I’m less . . . colorblind, maybe. The world used to be so simple and drawn with clear lines. Nothing’s black and white anymore. Everywhere I look everything is grey.”
“When I think about the Dark Mark, Malfoy, all I feel is sad. It doesn’t bother me because it’s a living reminder of what we survived. If it ever slips our minds,” she sighs because that’s his entire problem in more ways than one, “then all we have to do is look and remember.”
256 minutes 50 seconds
“What kind of middle name is Jean anyway?”
“What kind of—this coming from someone named Draco Abraxas?”
“It’s my grandfather’s name.”
“Well, if that’s going to be the catch-all excuse for names then I’ll have you know that Jean is my grandmother’s.”
“Snooty's not a good look on you. Besides, it could be worse. If I’d had siblings, they’d be named Scorpius and Orion.”
“You’re right. That is much worse. I’ll stop snickering about Draco. Seriously, what is with your family’s obsession with stars?”
“It’s tradition. That’s how it’s always been.”
“So you’re not even going to question it?”
“Question what? I happen to like my name.”
“Okay. Riddle me this. Let’s say you bamboozle someone into procreating with you—”
“Procreating. Are you always so devastatingly romantic?”
“—two of you somehow manage to have a son—”
“Somehow? It’s not that complicated, Granger. If you didn’t nitpick and overthink everything, you’d have some personal experience by now and—”
“—not the point, Malfoy! You have a son. What do you name him?”
“I am not going to answer that.”
“I knew it! You better hope you have a daughter because little Scorpius will never live it down.”
“As opposed to Hermione? Only a nuthouse would consider that an average, run-of-the-mill name.”
“Hey pot, kettle here to remind you that you’re always calling me abnormal. Maybe it’s the name’s fault. I should’ve been born Jean. And you’d be less of a git if you were—hey, come back here!”
377 minutes 2 seconds
Somehow half the contents of her cubbyhole have migrated to Malfoy’s room. All her books are here. It’s the middle of the night and she tosses and turns until she rolls out of bed, resolved to use the time to study. She sees light beaming from the crack under his door and knows he’s awake.
As usual, she raps on the door once, twice then lets herself in. She doesn’t see him at first because he’s standing in the doorway of the loo but as soon as she spots him, she freezes in her tracks. Malfoy is in the middle of changing into his pyjamas with only the bottom half on. Vaguely, in the back of her skull she is aware that she’s gaping at his chest, lightly speckled with blond hairs, his skin reddening and his nipples hardening under her stare, but it is a quiet, stunned voice in her head and not nearly enough to drag her eyes away from the long scar. It is the continuation of the one that begins at the collarbone and ends in a curl around his ribcage.
“Is that,” she swallows, the roof of her mouth the texture of sawdust, “from Harry?”
He hesitates then gives a clipped nod. He watches her approach warily, as trapped by her fascination as she is. “Does it still hurt?” she asks.
“That’s good,” she murmurs. “May I?”
She has no idea what she’s asking but maybe he doesn’t either. His scarred skin feels rough under her fingers. He flinches at her touch, light though it is with only the tip of her fingers. Liar, she thinks. Like the Mark, all cursed flesh carries residual scars, unseen but never unfelt. Hermione removes her hand; she doesn’t want to hurt him and doesn’t know how to say it. Words mean so little, and he will too soon forget them.
He hauls in air and holds his breath with a slight shiver when she leans in and gently presses her lips to his collarbone. She wants him to know that she won’t hurt him; she will never be able to, not now. She has been too much in his company, even if for him, it is only snatches of moments on a loop in an infinite vista of déjà vu and feelings he can't trust and can't ignore. Hermione smiles against his shoulder when she feels the heat of his palm over the small of her back, pushing her nearer.
413 minutes 10 seconds
“I talked to Harry. They moved Sebastian Crabbe to solitary. He won’t be on the same floor as your father anymore.”
Malfoy jerks away from her as if she struck him. “I didn’t tell you. I couldn’t have.”
That last comes out half statement, half question. “You didn’t have to," she tells him. "He’s the S.C. in your rules, isn’t he? The one you were afraid would hurt your family if you outed him?”
She reads in the resigned lines of his face that he is finally going to tell her what happened that night months ago, the one Thompson said was ‘touch and go,’ and condemned him to the ward. “He’s due for parole in a few years. If you testify, they’ll keep him locked up.”
“Why not?” she demands.
“He’s Vince’s father.”
“That doesn’t give him the right to do this to you!”
“Doesn’t it? I got his son killed.”
“But you didn’t kill him yourself. That’s the difference. He meant to hurt you.”
He smiled, revealing the dimple she can never resist. “That’s your problem, Granger. You still see the world in black and white.”
1739 minutes 5 seconds
They sit with their backs against his headboard, his knuckles brushing hers. Between them is a rack of vials, his final round of treatment. They are all empty but for one.
“What if it doesn’t work?” Malfoy scrunches his eyes shut, so tight his fine blond lashes curve.
“What if it does?” she asks.
“If it doesn’t I might never get better.” This is the crux of the issue. There are specialists who can be consulted, new ingredients to test, new exercises to ponder, but there always hovers in the horizon the possibility that it will all be futile. He is as complete now as he will ever be.
“There’s no way to know unless you try.”
He chuckles ruefully. “Do you never tire of being so damn brave all the time?”
“Is that what I am? I wonder sometimes,” she says, tilting her head to rest against his shoulder. It seems wrong to see him when he can’t see her, when she already knows so much more of him than he does of her, so she closes her eyes too. “I was deathly afraid for a long time that I was being selfish keeping my parents here, forcing the memory of me on them when all it was doing was hurting them. They were happy in Australia. They didn't need me. I could've sent them back. They’d forget me after a while, and in the end, maybe that’s better for them.”
“What changed your mind?”
“I decided that if I was going to be selfish, I was going to be thoroughly, full-throttle selfish. I was not going to back down even if it turns out I have to remind my parents that I exist once a day for the rest of their lives. I love them. They love me. It’s worth the effort and the risk of there being no cure. It’s worth it even if there is no hope for a full recovery.”
He shifts so their foreheads press together and laces his hand through her savage curls. She has learned that for him, it is as seductive as his smile is to her. “It’s a good thing my condition isn’t entirely without advantages.”
“I can spill oceans of romantic drivel and if the potion doesn’t work, I won’t remember doing it. Have to keep some pride, you know.”
“You can rest assured,” she says dryly. “Your pride is very much intact.”
He moves, brushing his nose against hers. “Not for much longer, I think,” he breathes over her lips.
His mouth is wet and tastes of the potion she has spent weeks brewing. He kisses her for the first time, hard and demanding until she yields and it becomes soft and hopeful, and they move as one, tangled in each other. Maybe he’ll forget and maybe he won’t.
She will remember for the both of them.