“Where are you taking me, woman?”
Hermione giggled as she skipped down the street, playfully beckoning to Draco over her shoulder as he followed in her wake.
“I dunno. That’s the beauty of it! It’s good to be spontaneous once in awhile!” Her arms wide at her side, she skipped down the sidewalk and spun in circles as giggles spilled from her perfectly pink lips.
He barked out a laugh at her antics and shook his head lightly. “I have a feeling it’s not a once in awhile thing for you, is it Granger?”
She winced, a movement so small that he almost missed it, but plastered a radiant smile on her face a moment later.
“Nope, not really.” The forced cheerfulness in her voice tugged at something inside him, though he was hard pressed to identify the emotion. “I’m spontaneous, what can I say?”
He laughed outright as he checked the time on his watch. After midnight. Now that is a surprise. He’d been having such fun, he’d completely lost track of time. “I must be barmy. This-this was not how I thought my night would end.”
She giggled again, genuinely this time, as she grabbed his hand and tugged him toward Leicester Square on the other side of the road. Draco raised an eyebrow.
“Who said this is the end? Oh! Let’s go in the fountain!”
Hermione took off running and Draco laughed loudly as he gave chase, tripping in the early morning darkness. Bloody hell, that girl could run! Aftereffects of the war, he presumed.
He guffawed loudly as he caught sight of his companion, splashing merrily in the fountain, her smile beatific.
“Come on!” He shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest, content to let Hermione have her fun. “Draco! Stop being such a fuddy duddy!”
“A fuddy duddy?! I’ll show you a fuddy duddy!”
With an agile leap born from years of Quidditch, he caught her around the waist and spun her through the streams of water as he laughed. His expensive clothes were being drenched, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Hermione wiggled out of his arms and bent to throw a handful of water at him, shrieking as he retaliated with a manly chuckle.
He looks like an angel. Hermione smiled as the lines of worry began to disappear from his face as he chased her like a little boy. Her boots squished noisily as she hopped over the wall of the fountain and streaked around the small area, reveling in the small spark of something he’d awakened flaring within her.
Twenty minutes later, they stumbled out of the water laughing like hyenas. Hermione tugged him to the small patch of grass beside the fountain and flopped down as he remained standing above her.
“As much fun as tonight has been, surprisingly, I really must be going, Granger.”
He caught the dramatic mood change as her face fell and he sighed deeply. “O-okay.” She gulped audibly and raised herself to her feet, the palpable tension between them crackling sharply. “Oh, here. Don’t forget this!”
She reached into the back of her skirt and produced his wand. How did I almost forget that? Their fingers brushed against each other lightly as she handed his wand over. Draco’s heart skipped a beat at the small momentary contact, suddenly unwilling to end this surreal experience.
“Actually, now that I think about it, my furniture hasn’t arrived to my flat yet. I don’t really fancy going back to bare walls just yet.” Her heart clenched happily in her chest and the witch started at the foreign feeling.
Hermione glanced around the deserted park, then grabbed his hand and yanked him away. “Come on. Not here.”
Draco let her tow him along, completely enamored with this new incarnation of his childhood enemy and not caring a whit where she was leading.
Two blocks later and Draco gaped up at the building before him, frozen in disbelief. “You live here?!”
Hermione glanced over her shoulder as she surreptitiously withdrew her wand to trace a complicated pattern on the door. “Yeah. So?”
“Granger, this is The Saint Martins Lofts on Charing Cross Road. Do you have any idea how expensive this place is?!”
She spun to face him and cocked her head to the side. “Yeeeees. I bought it last year once Jo found me and signed on to be my agent. Apparently my last flat was ‘dangerous and inappropriate’, whatever that means.”
She shrugged nonchalantly and rolled her eyes as she threw the door wide and stepped into the dark entrance. Draco stood frozen on the street, his eyes wide and mouth open in astonishment.
“Well? Are you coming?”
Unbelieving, Draco pinched his arm gently as he moved forward. That did indeed hurt, so this wasn’t a dream.
He gingerly stepped over the threshold and moved to the side as she closed the door, activating whatever wards she had established. He smirked as he felt the shimmer of magic settling around them, pleased that she at least had the sense to protect herself even if she’d mostly left the magic world behind her.
She skipped up the stairs and Draco followed, not at all unhappy at the view before his eyes. Her short skirt flipped upward with every step as their boots clomped in synchronization.
Distracted as he was, his face nearly ran straight into her luscious backside as she stopped suddenly a few steps above him.
“Fuck? Fuck what?” Great, I sound completely daft! Draco shook himself out of the slight daze he’d drifted into and peeked around Hermione. Canvases blocked what he assumed to be the door to her flat and he raised an eyebrow at her back.
With a sharp flick of her wand, the paintings vanished and she ascended the last few steps to her door. “Any paintings that don’t sell are charmed to come back here at night. Jo’s had a problem with break ins at the gallery and I didn’t want to risk losing them.”
His jaw dropped again, unattractively he was sure, as she ushered him into her personal space. The foyer was dark until she flicked a switch to bathe them in red light.
His eyebrow raised and she shrugged. Uncaringly, she bent from the waist and began to unlace her boots. “Do you mind?”
It took a moment for Draco to shake himself from the stupor her arse had once again caused. “Oh! Sure.”
She waited patiently as he divested himself of his shoes and giggled at the green polka dots decorating his socks. His explanation of ‘My mom’ and his casual shrug evoked those delightful giggles he’d come to adore over the course of the evening.
“Come on.” Draco followed obediently as she padded toward the light at the end of the hallway.
“You’re not leading me to my death, are you Granger? Is this one of those ‘don’t go into the light’ situations?” Her features were blanketed in astonishment as she swung around to stare at him, her hair nearly smacking him as she spun. “What?! I know things.”
He should feel embarrassed at the very least and yet, for the first time in…gods, years, he felt calm. Content. He couldn’t tell if the slight red tint on her cheeks was a blush or the cast off from the foyer light, but he didn’t care. She was unbelievably beautiful in that moment. Then again, she’s always been beautiful, even if I would’ve never admitted it before.
He followed her and paused with her as she glanced up the darkened stairway. After a moment, she bounded gracefully up the stairs and rounded the landing before Draco could register her movement.
“Sorry!” Her disembodied voice floated down to him and he began climbing the steps unsurely. “I forgot we were wet until I got cold. Do you need to change?”
He followed her voice as he reached the landing, glancing first into what appeared to be an office, then spotted the only other door on the landing.
He chuckled lightly as he stepped through to the bedroom. “Have you forgotten you can use mag-ahhhhh!”
Draco’s brain ground to a halt as his eyes rested on the figure in front of him. The fishnet half shirt she’d worn rested on the floor between them along with the red contraption that barely passed for a bra. Her back faced him as she glanced over her shoulder, though with the ink decorating her skin, he’d be unwilling to call her bare exactly.
Without conscious thought, he found his fingers lightly tracing the intricate designs etched into her skin. Her sharp inhalation barely registered, though the shiver that raced down her spine drew his attention. “I’m-I’m sorry. It’s just…”
“No, it’s-it’s okay. It’s only fair after I-well, it’s okay.”
Permission granted, Draco continued his exploration of her body. Hermione stood as if she’d been petrified once again, her heart beating a rapid staccato in her chest at his feather light touches.
“These are…there aren’t words, Hermione.”
She spun around wildly, uncaring about her nudity, though Draco choked at the sight of her breasts. “You just-you called me Hermione.”
Silently, he nodded. The only sound between them was the hitch in his throat and their rapid exhalations. His calloused fingers gingerly gripped her shoulder and spun her around once again, his eyes sweeping greedily over her form.
Hermione’s hands shook as she gathered her hair and pulled it over her shoulder, giving him more access to the art splashed across her body.
“Tell me.” She could feel the vibration as his voice lowered and she bit back a sharp gasp. “Please.”
She nodded silently and fumbled blindly with the buckles on her skirt, gratified at the slight stutter in his breathing as the fabric pooled around her feet.
“Um,” She cleared her throat quietly, “garters too?”
Draco ‘hmm’ed’ an affirmative and she unhurriedly divested herself of the lingerie, leaving only her small black knickers.
“Um, I need…need,” Hermione swallowed audibly as she took a tentative step toward her rather large bed. “I need my wand.”
He followed, unwilling to break the spell they’d found themselves immersed in. Never had he imagined he’d be in this position.
He’d been with women, of course. Many different women over the course of many years, yet it had never felt like this. His chest pressed into her back as she stood beside her bed and his hands skimmed up her sides. He relished the shivers coursing through her small body, the feeling of satisfaction settling somewhere low in his gut.
I never realized-she’s so tiny. Her presence had always been huge, her confidence and knowledge making up for whatever she lacked in physicality. But now, in the semi darkness of her bedroom, the vulnerability blanketed her like a cloak.
Haltingly, she lowered herself to the plush comforter and stretched out across the king size bed. She felt the bed dip as Draco sat beside her and her eyes drifted closed as he stretched out alongside her.
“Tell me about this one.”
x . x . x . x . x
Four years. She gazed at the man, and he had truly grown into a man since she’d last seen him, asleep on her bed. It had been four years, almost to the day, since she’d decided to disappear.
She had many regrets, but despite the sharp spike of fear she’d felt when he’d appeared at the gallery, she couldn’t count this among them. Hermione snorted lightly to herself as she brushed a lock of silvery blonde hair away from his cheek. So beautiful. So…heartbreakingly beautiful.
Unlike Ron, and to a lesser degree Harry, she’d never hated Malfoy. Draco, she corrected herself silently. He’d made the best decisions he possibly could with the impossible choices laid before him. She remembered, in vivid detail, that night at Malfoy Manor. It still haunted her nightmares, robbing her of what precious little sleep she managed to steal from the Gods. She also remembered his face, the hopeless desperation etched into every line of his young face.
“There are new therapies, you know. Charms and potions that can minimize cursed scars.”
She nodded as her arm rested palm up in his lap. The slur etched into her skin stood out in vivid relief; ‘Mudblood’. A reminder of her place in society, a warning for anyone contemplating defiling their bloodlines with her.
“You knew that though. After all, you helped with the creation of at least two.” Hermione’s head whipped to stare at the man beside her. “The healers at St. Mungo’s are some of your biggest fans and they like to talk. A lot.”
A giggle escaped her lips again and Draco grinned. “Why wouldn’t you use them?”
Silence descended on them again, though it was far from uncomfortable. Draco drifted back into the trance he’d been in most of the night, letting his mind wander through the past as his fingers wandered over her moonlit skin.
“I wanted to.”
Three words. Three words was all it took to shatter the walls she built up so carefully and a tear slipped down her cheek. Her nose wrinkled as she tugged her hand away to scrub roughly at the wetness.
“By the time they were ready to be used, I was gone. I’d left and I couldn’t-wouldn’t go back. And…” She paused to gather her thoughts. “…I needed to face it. I had to face what had been done to me. All of it.” She laughed, though Draco cringed at the cold, bitter note in her voice. “Trust me I tried…many different ways. But nothing worked until I found Bryant.”
A low growl ripped it’s way from his throat before he could properly digest her words. If Hermione noticed the oddly possessive sound, she ignored it.
“Bryant’s done all my ink. He…helped. And he gets it.” She rolled her eyes and smiled sadly up at him. “Well, not completely, since he’s a Muggle. But he’s probably the only person besides Jo I’ve let get close to me in almost 5 years. He’s the one that suggested an Asiatic lily.”
Draco’s pale eyebrow raised and she chuckled. “For one thing, they’re hard to grow. Bryant took great pleasure in telling me that, since he thinks I’m notoriously difficult to get along with. “ He snorted an agreement and she smacked his leg lightly. “The red symbolizes blood, war, intensity, strength, creativity and passion. Of course, he didn’t tell me that until after they’d been done for about a year. Strange how well he seemed to know me.”
The low growl began again as Hermione smirked. He shook his head, trying to drive the odd feelings out of him. Malfoy’s didn’t have feelings, at least not ones that they acknowledged.
His magically dried clothes lay scattered on the floor beside the bed and the pajama pants she’d conjured were bunched around his knees as he lay sideways across her bed. She laughed lightly when she contemplated his reaction to the Gryffindor red color of his pants. But her smile fell as he shifted uncomfortably, twisting his shoulder in an almost unnatural way. Even in sleep he hid his left arm as if he couldn’t escape the shame.
Hermione sighed and carefully extracted herself from the loose arm he’d slung across her body. A small furrow appeared between his eyebrows as she stood, summoning a loose tank top, sports bra and some yoga pants. Her bare feet padded toward her bathroom, squinting slightly at the glare of the overhead light bouncing off the brilliantly white tile. Her eyes strayed to the medicine cabinet, then back to her reflection in the mirror.
She looked awful, even she could see that. Her eyes were shadowed and haunted, her hair hung lank around her head and her skin was far too pale. Her breathing shuddered and her knuckles whitened as she gripped the sides of the porcelain sink. No. I don’t need to. I shouldn’t need to yet! I don’t-I don’t….fuck.
Resigned, she pulled open the mirror cabinet and reached inside.
x . x . x . x . x
A soft smile lit Draco’s face as he snuggled up to the coverlet beneath him. But, wait-it didn’t smell right. It smelled delicious, he had to admit, but not like his own bedding. His eyes cracked open and confusion muddled him momentarily before he remembered where he was.
Never would he have believed he’d be waking up in Hermione Granger’s flat. Especially after he’d fallen asleep next to her nearly naked body as she told him about one of her various pieces of body art. Guilt tore through him again, as it always did when he thought about her stretched out on the parlor floor of the Manor. He’d been helpless, impotent to do anything worthwhile except pray to the Gods he didn’t believe in that she made it through.
Although seeing her now, maybe that was one of the cruelest things he’d ever wished upon her. Her spirit, that indomitable and infuriating spirit of hers, was broken; shattered in the wake of the war and whatever had come after.
Draco reached a hand out, expecting to feel warm, bare skin under his fingertips. But he ended up disappointed. The room was dark and the odd glowing numbers in the corner informed him that the time was 4:26. Yet beside him, the bed was empty. And she’d been gone long enough for the warmth she left to leach away. He sat up slowly and glanced around. A plain white shirt laid on the pillow to his right and he pulled it over his head thankfully. Her flat had an eerie chill, one that made the small hairs on his arms stand at attention and his stomach knot uneasily.
He stretched lazily and stood to make his way to the slightly open door he assumed to be the bathroom. Draco blinked owlishly at the much too bright room. Oh thank Salazar! He rushed to the toilet to relieve himself, wondering where his flighty companion drifted off to in the middle of the night. He grumbled good naturedly as he pulled up the annoyingly red pajama pants and stepped to the sink with a small smile on his face.
The grin slipped from his face as his eyes landed on a splash of red marring the pristine surface before him. He glanced around and noticed the half empty bottle of liquor perched precariously on the edge of a large bathtub along with the wadded white towel streaked with crimson.
Fear shot through him like ice, freezing him with a terror he’d never known before. Draco crept from the bathroom and reached for his wand on the bedside table, the surge of magic through his veins comforting him slightly. He made his way toward the plexiglass railing at the end of the hall, his steps silenced with a muttered spell. Wand at the ready, he approached the open space before him and peered down.
His breath caught in his throat at the magnificence below him. Moonlight streamed through large windows, unfettered with coverings of any kind. Paintings were littered around the space, bursts of color standing in stark relief against the blankness of the room. But nothing stood out as much as the woman at the epicenter of it all.
A goddess among chaos, Hermione stood stark still, draped in shadows and mystery. Draco’s heart stuttered, the drum beat echoing in his ears so loudly he was positive she must’ve heard it. She was beautiful, agonizingly so. He pinched himself once again. Nothing he’d ever done would warrant the good luck to gaze upon her. She looked positively skeletal, the dips and curves of her body thrown in stark contrast in the war between darkness and moonlight.
The undeniable urge, a need so achingly present, surged through him; a protectiveness he’d never felt for anyone, even himself. It was no accident he’d ended up at her exhibition, he was sure. Call it fate, call it destiny, call it sheer dumb luck for all he cared. But he knew, deep in his as yet untouched soul, that this was where he was meant to be.
x . x . x . x . x
Hermione sighed, the soft material of her clothes scratching painfully against her overly sensitive skin. She’d failed. Again.
Story of my life, huh? This isn’t why I fought the war. This…this isn’t how I thought my life would end.
Her cinnamon eyes skipped over painting after painting, her heart hammering in her chest as she remembered creating each and every one. A labor of love, Jo had called it. She called it lancing a wound. The wound she so desperately craved to heal however, was the one that stubbornly refused to relinquish its hold on her. The pressure in her chest choked her, strangling the life out of her slowly; an agonizing death she tried to help along as best she could.
And the crux of it all, isn’t it? All that famed Gryffindor courage-hah! She was no better than an Inferius, reanimated and forced to do someone’s bidding. She scoffed at herself. No, she’d made sure no one had that power over her. The Ministry had tried, fuck they’d tried. Instead she’d disappeared, determined to live and die on her terms alone.
But she was tired, so very tired. The carefully constructed lie she lived had fractured beyond comprehension. Draco had seen to that. He’d looked so fucking vulnerable tied to that damn chair and her heart broke again for the tragedies he’d suffered. No one deserved that. His adorable confusion as she’d led him blindly toward the diner endeared him to her and his playful antics in the park were the proverbial nail in her coffin. One night and her life turned into a fun house mirror. She couldn’t go back. She couldn’t pretend that the dormant aching need she’d pushed down for so long hadn’t resurfaced.
He didn’t deserve the misery she’d bring him. They didn’t deserve it either, yet it hadn’t kept her from clinging to them. And she knew she’d do the same to Draco; she’d drag him down to the depths with her if she stayed. Hermione laughed bitterly into the darkness and stepped toward her window. She opened the pane and held an arm out as her fingers caressed the three envelopes she’d left on the windowsill. A moment later a soft hoot sounded in her ears as sharp talons dug into her forearm.
“Hello, Nyx. Deliver these please?” The pure black owl nudged her gently and nipped playfully at her finger. Hermione smiled sadly at her familiar. “Harry’s last, please. And…stay with him. He’ll take care of you.”
The beautiful bird took flight, melting into the night as Hermione stared after her. She stepped back a moment later, batting away the traitorous tear slipping down her cheek.
Her knees buckled slightly and she deliberately crumpled to the floor, her paintings her subjects as they surrounded her. Or possibly her accusers. Her breath caught in her throat as her eyes caressed the two paintings directly in front of her. They were her favorites by far and despite the ludicrous amount Jo had offered for them, she refused to sell. She just…couldn’t.
x . x . x . x . x
The bottle was halfway to her lips when she paused. Hermione’s eyes drifted shut in something akin to defeat, though she had no idea what the battle had been about. She dropped her arm and the resounding thunk of the bottle sounded strangely ominous in the silent flat.
She glanced over her shoulder to find Draco leaning casually against the wall, his face shrouded in the shadows. Even still, she could sense the anger, the rage, the desperation roiling under his skin.
“Does it matter? Tell me why.”
He tried to calm his frantically beating heart as he stepped hesitantly forward. One step, then another until he stood before her, gazing down at the sight before him.
The stench of liquor rose to greet his nose, though that wasn’t all that made him want to retch. She’d obviously glamoured her right arm heavily before and, now that the charm had worn off, he couldn’t help but wish he’d never seen it.
The small pool of blood staining the light wood floors was the same color as his. A fact he’d known for years, even before Voldemort’s downfall, and yet he’d never seen it laid so starkly before him. Scars littered her skin, faded white to livid red to open wounds still oozing her precious life force. Her fingers clenched convulsively around the razor still in her grip.
Her hand trembled violently and Draco dropped to his knees, some inner agony compelling him to cover that small appendage with his own larger one. The urge to empty his stomach became all the more pressing as he caught sight of the word across her scars; ‘Sectumsempra’.
The blade skittered across the floor as he tossed it away and he grabbed Hermione’s bleeding arm, nearly pulling her into his lap. His breathing sped up as the beginnings of what promised to be a beautiful sunrise began creeping across the floor.
“No! How-how the fuck…I just-”
Abruptly, Hermione yanked her arm free and staggered to her feet. She swayed dangerously and nearly fell headfirst to the floor as she grabbed the forgotten bottle of liquor. Her delicate features twisted in rage as she backed away from him.
“What the fuck do you care?!” Glass shattered as she reared back and hurled the bottle against the pristine white wall. The deep brown stain echoed the chaos he felt as he watched his beautiful nymph implode right in front of him.
No words passed between them as he let her go, the anger and hate driving her broken body as he waited. He waited, his heart breaking with each scream, each upturned table, each smashed bottle. The war had cost them all so much. He’d been foolish and arrogant to think that he’d had it so much worse than anyone else.
“What happened to you, Hermione?”
His whispered words, so quiet he’d been sure they’d go unnoticed, were all it took. She crumpled to the floor, her limbs splayed awkwardly around her as she screamed into the hardwood beneath her.
He’s seen much worse in his young life. His home had been the Dark Lord’s headquarters after all. And still, after all the atrocities he’d witness, even been a part of himself, this-this he couldn’t watch anymore.
Uncaring of the glass littering the space around him, he crept forward and gathered the broken girl into his arms. He stroked her hair and whispering words of endearment, of comfort, anything he could think of to help her. He had to. He had to help, had to fix her-no. Draco paused his racing thoughts as he continued to rock the sobbing girl in his arms.
He had to help her want to fix herself.